Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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A story of the American conquest of Europe, showing how three
persons came to enthrone themselves as Lords of the Air and Sea,
and the consequences thereof to the existing order of things.
Gold! Gold! Gold! Bright and yellow, hard and cold,
Molten, graven, hammer'd and roll'd;
Heavy to get, and light to hold;
Hoarded, barter'd, bought and sold,
Stolen, borrow'd, squandered, doled:
Spurn'd by the young, but hugg'd by the old
To the very verge of the churchyard mould;
Price of many a crime untold; Gold! Gold! Gold!
OF all the material forces in existence the power of Gold is the greatest. It has, indeed, in too many instances, proved more potent than the strongest of human passions and moral sentiments. The maiden, loving one man, has been sold to another—for gold. Statesmen and Kings have sold their country's trust—for gold. Men and women have changed their faith and even turned their backs on their God—for gold. There is no crime that has not been committed, no dishonour that has not been incurred—for gold.
In the following chapters an attempt has been made to forecast the possibilities—Moral, social and political—of the control of a practically unlimited supply of gold in the hands of two or three people who are prepared to use it well or ill as circumstances, which they themselves to a great extent create, may demand.
The first use they make of their illimitable wealth is to enthrone themselves as Lords of Air and Sea, in other words Dictators of Human Affairs. The outcome of such a situation is not far to seek. As that Power was used for good or ill the world would become a more or less imperfect imitation of Heaven or Hell.
The vast accumulation of wealth in a few hands—not always of the cleanest—is undoubtedly the most ominous feature of Modern Commercial life. Whether the exercise of such a terrific Power by rich despots as too many of these men have proved themselves to be—would in the end work out as a blessing or a curse to Humanity is a problem which, in accomplishing their destinies, the characters of this story may possibly help in some measure to solve. —G.G.
"WELL, I guess that's fixed it as far as figuring can fix anything. If dad was right and I'm right—and I'll take my iron-clad oath I am—the Great Problem is solved at last.
"It's curious how near dad got to it, and yet managed after all to stop so far away. It was just the placing of those disks, his gravity destroyers as he called them, only he didn't make them destroy gravity. I shan't either, but I'll do a lot to counteract it.
"Good night, my beauties. We've had a good many pleasant evenings together, and now it's all over, except finding the money to change you from drawings on cardboard into real things of steel and glass and aluminum—cruisers of the air and sea!
"Ah! If I only had a million or a half! Yes, getting that is the dream now—not the air-ships or the submarines. It's just dollars now—dollars or nothing!"
During his little soliloquy Paul Kingston had collected the carefully drawn plans and elevations, sections, and scales with which his big table was littered, put the sheets of cardboard and paper together with loving care, and stowed them away in a big drawer.
Then he picked up a corncob pipe, filled and lit it, and went out on the veranda which ran along the end of the house fronting the southeast.
Lake City, Colorado, was still a town with a certain amount of business and prosperity, but nothing to what it had enjoyed in the great days of the Silver Boom.
In fact, its fall from greatness was still amply manifested in the ragged fringe of unoccupied houses and deserted stores which had once formed its flourishing suburbs. The present Lake City, a town between six and seven thousand inhabitants, which had once had fifty, stood on the southeastern slope of a range of hills which was an offshoot of the once famous Sierra de la Plata, or Silver Range.
Paul's veranda looked out over the lake, which now lay shining silver-blue under the moonlight, fringed with a broad, somber border of giant pines.
Another range of hills rose, pine crowned, beyond it, and beyond this again, nearly a hundred miles away, but looking only half the distance in that wonderful atmosphere, the snowy pinnacles of the Sierra Blanca twinkled like diamonds against the blackness of the midnight sky.
"Fancy being able to fly over there," he went on, continuing his waking dream aloud, "to think no more of a mountain range than a bird does of a house roof! Fancy being able to rise from the earth just when you like, start your engines, and away to where you want to go in a bee line! No need to creep round curves and under snow sheds, worrying all the time about landslides and washouts. Then away over the sea, not caring a cent whether it is rough or smooth, and looking down and watching the big steamers crawling along, fighting the stream for every mile they make, while the lord of the air rides on the wings of the wind. Yes, it will be glorious—glorious, if I can only get those dollars!"
"Paul, don't you think it is time you were getting to bed? Have you any idea what o'clock it is?"
"Ah, mother, is that you? Say, mother, how would you like to be mistress of the world?"
"Mistress of the world, Paul! What on earth are you talking about? You've not been thinking too much again, have you? You know what I've told you about the trouble I had with your father to keep him from doing that!
"I've been listening to you here for the last minute or so, dreaming about flying over land and sea. My dear Paul, I hope for my sake, and your own, that you're not going to waste your time and your talent as he did, dreaming about that impossible air-ship, which he was always going to make perfect and never did."
"Don't you worry about that, mother," exclaimed the lad—for as a matter of fact Paul Kingston was but little more. "It wasn't dreaming, it was all hard thinking dad did; only for some reason or other he didn't think quite far enough. And there's no such thing as wasting time in hard thinking.
"Every hour he put into this is going to be worth a few million dollars to us, if I can only get the money to start with. If I get that, what you call his dreaming over the air-ship will be the biggest legacy a man ever left to his son; it will be nothing less than the mastery of the world, and that is what I meant when I asked you if you would like to be mistress of it."
"But surely, my dear Paul, are you quite serious? You know that no one would be more delighted at your success than your mother, but to be able to fly in a ship through the air! Are you really quite sure you haven't been dreaming one of your father's day dreams again?"
"Serious, mother?" he replied, putting his arm round her shoulders. "Never a man, or a boy if you like, had better reason to be serious than I have just now! I've done it, at any rate as far as theory and calculation go.
"I've worked everything out to thousandths of inches and ounces and hundredths of horse power. I've got his anti gravity disks into the right position, I've perfected his conversion principle for turning petroleum and coal dust into actual working energy right away without boilers or furnaces, and so I've been able to get motors that will exert a horse power for about every half pound of their weight.
"Of course, with that the problem of direct flight is solved. The other puzzle, which no one has ever been able to find an answer to before, how to balance yourself perfectly in the air as a bird does, is solved by the gravitational disks.
"Now just come in and have a look at my plans," he went on, drawing her towards the door. "I'm not going to bother you with figures or mechanics or mathematics or anything of that sort; they will he for the millionaire and his experts when they come along. I just want to give you a general idea as to what the thing will be like if I can only get it materialized."
They went to the drawing table and he took out his beloved plans again and showed her everything, from the smallest details of machinery to the beautifully drawn and tinted representation of the complete air-ship—as she might be some day.
His mother, full for the moment of sadly tender memories of the hours she had spent with his father looking at similar drawings and listening to just such confident talk of instant success, followed his rapid description as well as she could, with more fear than hope in her heart; for if it had not been for dreams such as this, her husband, so all his friends had told her, might have lived a millionaire instead of breaking his neck at the bottom of a mine shaft doing his work as an ordinary, though a very successful, engineer.
"And now," said Paul, when he had finished his glowing description, "you've asked me what would one of those ships cost. Well, say two hundred thousand dollars, about the twenty fifth of the price of an ordinary battleship like the Iowa, and yet she could fight twenty Iowas.
"It isn't only money, mother, it's mastery. A syndicate that owned ten of these ships could run the earth; in fact, the earth just wouldn't have anything to say about it.
"England pays thirty million pounds a year to keep her navy going. We spend about eighteen, and yet ten of these ships could tackle the English and American navies and knock them into scrap iron just as fast as the ships came in sight. It's just a question of money to begin with, and that is all there is to it."
"Ah, but, my boy, two hundred thousand dollars! Why, we haven't twenty thousand outside our income, and, of course, no one would advance you anything on just a lot of sheets of paper with drawings on them."
"No, I guess not, unless I happened to strike the right man, and there's maybe ten men like that wandering around between Maine and Mexico. Only a million dollars! Why, a hundred men in the States could put that down without missing it, and—there's the empire of earth and sea!
"Oh, I forgot, I haven't shown you these yet. See, this is the same principle applied in the reverse way—submarine navigation—and I believe I've found a variant of the Hertz rays that will give me a light that I can see by under water as well as you can see by electric light through the air, and that would solve the problem of submarine navigation at once. It is only a question of dollars between us and an empire that might be as big as the solar system."
"Yes, I see, dollars!" said the mother, putting her arm over the son's shoulder. "Your father always said that it was just dollars, or rather the want of them, that kept him from being rich and famous. I hope it won't be the same with you, Paul."
"It won't," he replied, full of the daring dreams of trustful twenty. "It won't. I've done the work, and the dollars will come somehow; they must."
"They will, I hope," said the mother. "And now, don't you think that you had better go to bed? Do you know that it is nearly two o'clock?"
"Fourteen, you mean," he replied, getting up. "You haven't forgotten that the twenty four hour system was made legal in Lake City last week?"
"Well, it doesn't matter whether it is two or fourteen, it is very late and quite time you went to bed and gave that poor brain of yours a rest after all that thinking. We must talk about the dollars another day."
"All right, mother," he said, beginning to pack up his papers, "and I'll dream about myself as emperor of the air, and lord paramount of the sea. I've done a better night's work than any other man in the States, and I reckon I've earned a good sleep. Good night, I hope you have not been waiting up on my account."
"No, not altogether," she replied, with a somewhat sad little smile. "Now be off to bed, and I hope your dreams will be happy and come true."
Mrs. Paul Kingston had dreams of her own that night, but they were mostly waking ones.
Her son's enthusiastic belief that he had solved the problem on which his father had spent so many years had set her thinking about a letter which she had received that morning. It was from one of her husband's friends and former associates in engineering and mining enterprises.
Paul Kingston, now dead nearly two years, had been a man of great genius, not only in civil engineering and mining work, his own profession, but even still greater in mechanical engineering.
He had, in fact, left England quite early in his career mainly because he was too far ahead in his ideas for English enterprise. He soon got on far enough in the States to marry Shiela Cornell, a bright and pretty American girl whom he had met on the ship, and, under her father's advice, had migrated West.
In Colorado he had met Gillette H. Marvin, a man a few years older than himself, and they had become great friends.
Marvin was a typical Westerner, and he possessed that genius for accumulating dollars which Kingston almost totally lacked. In fact, where money making was concerned, Marvin was as hard as a nail, as unscrupulous as a brigand, at least so those he had worsted at the financial game were wont to declare.
But in private life no one had a bad word to say against him. Tall, blue eyed, golden bearded, straight as a pine, and strong as a horse, he was the incarnation of gentleness, good humor, and generosity.
In fact, those who knew him intimately would tell you that if he did rob ruthlessly with the right hand of business, he gave a great deal of the plunder away again with the left hand of charity.
He was also, always apart from business, a visionary with a strong vein of poetry, and his favorite theory of the future was a millennium brought about by an intellectual despotism of money.
At this time he was good for some seven or eight millions, and had interests in half the industries of the United States.
This man had written the letter which Mrs. Kingston read over again for about the fifth time when she reached her room:
My dear Mrs. Kingston:
I am afraid this letter will cause you considerable surprise, but not, I trust, either pain or anger. It is now nearly two years since poor Paul died, and I am going to tell you a secret which I hope you have never guessed before. Anyhow, I have taken all the pains I know to prevent your doing so.
I loved you from the first time I saw you. I did it just because I couldn't help it; but I know Paul never guessed it, and I don't think you did, so there is no harm done, but you know now why I didn't marry the English lord's daughter.
Of course I know nothing of your feelings towards me, if you have any, which maybe you have not. You see I am playing this hand blind, but if there is any chance for me; I mean, if you will give me permission to try and win the greatest prize the whole earth could give me, just send a couple of lines to say that I may take a run down to Lake City.
Gillette H. Marvin.
Shiela Kingston had thought a great deal about this letter during the day, and now she put in some more thinking, because the brief conversation with her son had given her new ideas.
She had married at seventeen, and was now nearly thirty seven, but she came of a good old American stock that wore well, and she didn't look more than thirty two.
Her figure was as straight and as shapely as it had been at twenty five, and her fair, soft skinned face, with its small regular features and laughing brown eyes, looked very sweet and fresh in its framework of abundant chestnut hair.
She had known Marvin for over five years, and they had been excellent friends; but for all that the letter came to her as an absolute shock.
She had always liked and admired him, but this was a thing that she had never dreamed of, so well had he kept his secret. That certainly was a point in his favor, and a great one. She liked the letter he had written, too. It showed a delicate consideration, which she could not help but appreciate.
If she did marry again—and there was no reason why she shouldn't—why not her husband's old friend and hers, a man she had known and liked for years, rather than a stranger—a man, too, who had been a good friend to her son, and had mainly made it possible for him to step into his father's place with such striking success as he had done?
And then his millions! Ah, that was the other thought.
Not a mercenary one exactly, for if she decided to permit him to make the attempt, it would not matter whether he had ten millions or ten thousands—still, if she did, would he not be just the man to be fascinated with Paul's splendid schemes?
And then what if Paul's genius and Marvin's millions did realize the miracle!
Her son, her only child, would verily be one of the greatest among men, raised by his own genius above all the thrones of the world. It was truly a magnificent prospect for a mother's fancy!
She had another good think over it in the morning, and another talk with Paul, who seemed even fuller of hope and confidence than he had been the night before.
Nothing but the money to construct the models was needed to convince any engineer or practical person that both air-ships and submarines would do everything that he claimed for them—only the experiments would cost about five thousand dollars, and it was quite out of the question to take such a large sum as that out of the little fortune his father had managed to save. Yet without such a sacrifice all Paul's labor must go for naught.
When the talk was over, and Paul had gone back to his work, Mrs. Kingston sat down with a bright, almost girlish flush on her cheeks, and wrote:
Dear Mr. Marvin:
Your letter has astonished me very much. I can make no promises, but if you really wish to pay a visit to Lake City, both Paul and myself will be glad to see you. Paul, by the way, has some wonderful ideas about flying ships and submarines which I am sure he would very much like to talk over with you. Sincerely yours,
GILLETTE MARVIN arrived six days later from San Francisco. It was the quickest time he could make without having a special, and he knew that that would find anything but favor in Mrs. Kingston's eyes.
He came just in the ordinary way, as he had done many times before, and so perfectly guarded was his manner that Paul never had the remotest notion of the real object of his visit until the secret came out several weeks later.
All he noticed was that his mother flushed a little as they shook hands, and turned away rather quickly; but this of course could not convey to his mind the slightest hint of the real state of affairs.
Marvin's first impression on Shiela was a distinctly favorable one.
Of course she could not help looking at him with other eyes now. It was quite impossible that she should not, since she had gone so far on the way to meet him as to give him permission to woo her if he wished, and win her if he could, and she knew, of course, that he was here beside her for that very purpose.
She was well aware, too, that Marvin had the reputation of having carried through successfully every enterprise that he had set his hand to, and she was bound to confess to herself that he looked it.
"I'm going to bring some other visitors down to Lake City in a few days," he said, in half response to Mrs. Kingston's request for news from San Francisco, "and I reckon that will be the most interesting of all the news to you.
"What do you say to having a real gilt edged English duke and his lovely and only daughter stopping right here in Lake City? Not a brewer or a dry goods man, or a stock rigger that has bought a title with big subscriptions to his party; but a regular high toned aristocrat, with blood as blue as a Spanish grandee, and with no more of the nobility nonsense about him than I have."
"Ah, that is a piece of news!" exclaimed Shiela. "A real duke—the highest title next to royalty, isn't it? But what in the land is so much nobility coming here for?"
"You've guessed it the first time," laughed Marvin. "It's just the land his grace is after; certain chunks of God's own country, those with metals and ores for choice.
"You see, although his title and his family are about as old as the English throne, and he has money to burn, he's also one of the new sort of nobility they are getting in England; men who like enterprise for its own sake, who go in for running just as much of the earth as they can get hold of for the mere sport of the game, as we do over here. That's how I came to strike him in London."
"And now what's his name—and what is his daughter like?"
"His name and style, as they say over there, is Godfrey Lorraine Lovell, Duke of Romney, and Marquis, Earl, Baron, and all the rest of it of half a dozen other places. He's about my age, or perhaps a year or two older.
"He lost his eldest son, the Marquis of Chesney, about six months ago in the South African war—shot leading a charge like many other good old English noblemen. Of course it was a terrible sorrow to him, and that is one reason why he is over here.
"His wife died of influenza and pneumonia only about a year before that, so he is left with a young lad at Eton and the Lady Margaret."
"Poor man!" said Mrs. Kingston. "Well, I suppose even dukes have their sorrows like the rest of us. And now we come to the daughter."
"The daughter—say, Paul, if your heart isn't in some one else's safe keeping already, you'll need to get a good grip of it and hold it hard when Lady Margaret is on hand. She's just a daisy, as sweet and pretty and good a girl as the Lord ever put blue blood into.
"She's rising seventeen, tall, dark, and with a pair of eyes! Well, I guess you will not be long finding out what they're like."
"It's to be hoped you won't, Paul. I'm afraid you will find the distance between a duke's daughter and a poor mining engineer in Colorado a little bit too great for your peace of mind, unless, of course, you get your wonderful inventions to work, and then, perhaps—"
"What's that?" exclaimed Marvin. "Have you turned inventor like your father, Paul? I hope you will do more of it. I always told you that that flying ship business of his was a regular wildcat scheme. Yours isn't anything of that sort, I suppose."
"That's just what it is, Mr. Marvin," laughed Paul; "only I've added submarining to it. I've found out where father went wrong, but of course I have had all the good of his work in the experiments. I dare say you think I am talking through my hair, but I'm dead sure I can fly when I get my ship made."
"My dear Paul," said Marvin seriously, "I never knew of an inventor yet that couldn't fly or do any other thing on paper."
Then, remembering his errand, he laughed and went on: "Still, I'm not a man to discourage genius. I know something about engineering and mechanics, and so you must let me have a look at those plans of yours. Have you made your model yet?"
Paul smiled and said somewhat sadly: "A proper working model of the air-ship would cost five thousand dollars."
"Well, five thousand dollars is considerable money to burn over an experiment," said Marvin; "still, we'll have a look at it later on."
There was a slight change of tone in the last few words which caused Paul's mother to look out of the window.
What if Marvin had guessed her thought—or perhaps was it a thought of his own? She hoped so, for the other would be really too terrible.
What would he think of her? He would just think that she was to be bought for her son's sake, and she would rather that Paul should remain in obscurity all his days than have him think that.
That evening after supper Marvin went with Paul into his workroom, and they spent a couple of hours going over the plans and calculations.
Gillette Marvin was a man of many parts, and among those he had played not a few had been connected with mechanics. Like so many of the successful men in the States, he had started as a workman at the bench, whence he had risen to the post of foreman of a big machine shop.
He had done this, as the American workman generally does, by a thorough study of the theory underlying his trade. He had done the same thing when he had made some money by a patent and went in for mining engineering.
He had studied the subject both literally and metaphorically to the bottom, so that he might know exactly what he was putting his money into, and the natural result had been a rapid transition from the workman's bench to the board table of half a dozen big mining and engineering corporations.
He went through the plans and figures and listened to Paul's explanations and enlargements, and the longer he bent over the papers, and the more closely he examined the plans and figures, the keener grew the glint of anticipation in his eyes and the harder the lines of his face.
The other side of his nature was coming out—the business side.
The best friend Paul Kingston had ever had, save his father and mother, the man who had loved his mother in silence for six years and had now come to win her if he could for his wife, disappeared, and in his place came Gillette Marvin, millionaire and money maker at all costs and hazards.
If Paul was only right—and he certainly could find no flaw in his calculations—he saw not only money in this, but the means of controlling the whole commerce and communication of the globe, which, of course, meant practically being money lord of the whole world.
"Well, young man," he said in a totally changed voice that made Paul lookup suddenly from a sheet of paper on which he was jotting down some numbers, "I reckon there's something in it as far as figures can show. You've done all you can so far, but I needn't tell you that figures can lie like politicians. Everyone knows that, and so, you see, no matter how carefully they have been fixed up, they are not much to gamble on, especially when it comes to thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"Now suppose—mind, I just say suppose—I felt inclined to go into this business, what sort of a deal would you be ready to make?"
"Deal?" exclaimed Paul. "Well, I guess if the thing is a success, if I find the ideas and the work, and you find the money, half shares would be about a square deal, wouldn't it?"
"No, sir!" said Marvin, slewing his chair round and looking at the other with hard, unmoving eyes, "not by half. I don't do business that way, and this is business.
"I'm not talking to my friend's son now. I am talking to a young man who thinks he has got a good idea—and maybe he has—and wants money to work it out. You are making sure of success. I've got to look out for failure. To put it quite straight, what are you prepared to gamble on failure?"
"I'm afraid I've nothing but these and the work I should put in making the ships," said Paul, laying his hand on the papers; "you see, suppose I came to grief down a shaft like poor dad did, there wouldn't be much left for mother except the twenty thousand dollars or so that he left behind, and I couldn't touch that. Yet I'm so certain of this that—well, I'd stake my life on it."
"Good enough!" said Marvin quietly. "If you are solid on that, I'll take you. This is no child's play, and I want to have you in dead earnest about it.
"Now, look here, they call me a pretty hard man to do a trade with. So I am; but what I say I do, and if the other man gets left at the bottom end of the deal, well, that's his funeral. I am ready to gamble money on this business, and plenty of it; but I never lost on a deal yet, and I'm not going to start now."
"I think I understand you," said Paul quite steadily, although, perhaps, he turned a shade paler. "It's my life against your money, gambled on the success or failure of these air-ships and submarines. Well, I'm on it. What do you propose?"
"That sounds good for a start," said Marvin, with no more emotion than if he had been discussing a stock speculation. "That's a square proposition on your side. Mine is this:
"On the day that I give you a certified check for five hundred thousand dollars, which you will use as working capital, you will give me a bond guaranteeing me joint ownership and control of the fleets of air-ships and submarines, half the profits of all operations we may find it necessary to make, dating from the time we begin work, and lastly the bond shall contain a promise from you to me as between gentlemen and men of honor that, if at the end of two years from now the first air-ship and the first submarine are not fully equipped and have not made their trial trips successfully, you will take your own life in any way you may choose, provided I ask you to do so.
"That is necessary from my point of view, for I shall insure your life for three years against accident for a sum sufficient to cover my advance and interest in it. Now, how does that strike you?"
"It's perfectly straight," replied Paul quietly, and with the shadow of a smile on his lips. "I've said I'm ready to gamble my life on the success of this thing, and I'll do it; but, anyhow, I've got the best of the proposition. I'd sell my life tomorrow for half a million, as long as she knew nothing about it. I'd be sure then that she would have a good time."
"Don't talk such all fired rubbish as that, boy!" said Marvin almost roughly. "Do you suppose she would take that for your life? You just get down to work on your scheme, and I guess you'll make a bigger provision for her than that, if she should happen to want it. Now, what are you going to do first? Make a model?"
"Not now," said Paul. "If I had five thousand dollars, I'd have spent it on a model. Now I have got half a million I shall build the air-ship right away. You see that saves time and gives me another chance.
"It would take six months or so to build a model, nearly as long as a ship. Then I dare say you know that when you build a ship or a machine to scale from a working model it sometimes happens that the full sizer doesn't do what the model promised it should do. It's due to something in mathematics that we don't understand, and many an inventor and even practical engineer has got badly left over it.
"These plans and calculations of mine are for the full sized ship. If I find an error in the first, I can either alter it or build another. That's my best hold, I believe, and I'm going to act on it."
He spoke with all the confidence and assurance of American youth; but also with the absolute faith of the inventor who believes in his creation.
Marvin, being an American, liked and respected him for it. His manner changed at once.
He stretched out his hand, smiling for the first time since he had come into the room, and said:
"Well, Paul, that's straight talk anyhow, and I guess if anybody can put this business through you can. Now we're partners. But you will remember that the bond between us is hard business, and concerns no one else but ourselves. Naturally, Mrs. Kingston will know nothing about it."
"Well, hardly," said Paul, "or about the half million either. I shall just tell her that you've taken hold of the idea and advanced me money enough to make a start on it; then when I've got the ship built, I'll take her a trial trip on it."
"No," said Marvin after a little pause, "I wouldn't do that. I mean, tell her that I've advanced you the money. There's no blazing hurry, and I'd rather you said I was interested enough in it to try to form a little syndicate to run you. Yes, I really would prefer you put it that way."
"As you please," said Paul, "any way you like; all I want is the money and a quick start."
"Which you will have, Paul," replied the other, hoping that his little scheme would not be suspected by Mrs. Kingston, and thereby proving that that lady's fears were quite groundless.
The next morning, while Paul was telling his delighted mother about Mr. Marvin and the syndicate he was going to form, that gentleman went down to the telegraph office and wired the manager of the Bank of California to have half a million dollars on deposit payable to the order of Mr. Paul Kingston of Lake City, Colorado, and to send him a certificate to that effect and a check book.
He also sent a lengthy telegram to his grace of Romney, telling him that he could have no better center from which to make his proposed excursions than Lake City, where he would be himself located for some time, and where he had a friend who knew every rood of the country for fifty miles round and would probably be delighted to join the exploring party.
If his grace would reply as to the date of his arrival, he would have everything arranged for him.
Then he went back to his hotel and wrote letters and looked at the papers until the replies were brought to him.
From the bank came a letter to say that his instructions should be immediately attended to, and from the duke a word of thanks and an intimation that he and Lady Margaret would arrive on the third day.
Marvin went to the clerk and said:
"See here, Mr. Sellerd, you are going to have a duke and his daughter, British, mind, stopping here for a few weeks from Thursday, and I want you to understand that the best of everything isn't too good for them. If your best veranda suite—I mean the one at the south corner—is occupied, you'll have to fix it up with the people somehow to change or leave. I'll pay."
"That's all right, Mr. Marvin," replied the clerk. "They are occupied just now. Senator Schuyler and his wife and daughter have had them ten days, but they will be away by the first train to Denver in the morning, so I reckon we will be able to get them fixed up all right, and, duke or not, you know we will do our best for any friend of yours. Anyhow, it's not his fault being a duke, I guess."
"You won't say so when you see him," was the somewhat curt reply as Marvin turned from the counter and walked out of the office.
When he got back to "Lake View," Mrs. Kingston's home, he met her on the veranda and told her half of what he had done, which, of course, was the half containing the coming of the duke and his daughter.
"Why, that will be just lovely!" she exclaimed, flushing and clapping her hands like a girl of twenty. "It's no very high toned place for them to come to, but the Rockies don't beat it for scenery, and if they're out here looking for mining property, ranches, and that sort of thing, why, what's the matter with making ourselves into an exploring party and doing the thing up in the good old style?"
"I Bee what you mean," he interrupted, his eyes lighting up and the tan on his face deepening. "As an inspiration, Mrs. Kingston, that's just splendid, and I'm sure nothing would delight the duke and Lady Margaret more.
"I'll start on the equipment right away. We can get all we want either here or at Guneston, and we'll just have a royal time. Besides," he added, looking her in the eyes, "there is nothing better than roughing it a bit like that in the mountains to get people better acquainted, something like being on board ship, only better if anything."
"Yes, perhaps it is," she said, smiling and turning her head away. "There's only one thing I'm afraid of, Mr. Marvin. What about Paul? You know, after all, he's only a lad. He's hardly seen any society at all, and nothing on earth like this Lady Margaret as you describe her.
"Suppose now, and you know things like that have happened before, he were to fall madly in love with her, having the very best opportunities for doing so? It would be a terrible thing for him—why, it might ruin the poor boy's whole life. He'd never forgive us—I mean me."
"I quite understand you, Mrs. Kingston, and nobody could sympathize with him better than I could; but don't you worry about the storm before the clouds come along. Paul's got an old head, though it's on young shoulders, and, remember, he has another love already—that invention of his, and, what's more, if that materializes I don't think he'll have to ask even a duke's daughter twice a couple of years or so hence."
"Ah, yes," she said, "if—I know what you mean; that dream of conquering the world with air-ships and the other things he was telling me about. I'm afraid, Mr. Marvin, that there is a very big capital 'I' to that if."
"I'm not so dead sure on that, ma'am," he replied, his nature instantly changing as he thought of the bond which her son had agreed to give. "I've been through those plans and figures, and I'm gambling considerable money on the game myself, and you know I'm not much of a man on wildcat schemes."
NEVER on any continent did five people pass a more delightful time than the pioneers and explorers who had set out from Lake City a few days after the duke and Lady Margaret arrived.
Mr. Marvin, who had taken charge of the expedition with Paul as guide, had got together a lavish equipment of riding and baggage mules, tents, commissariat in liquid and solid form, and cooking apparatus.
They had a couple of peons to look after the animals and pitch and strike the tents, but, on Lady Margaret's suggestion, they had decided to "do" for themselves in the way of cooking and purely domestic arrangements.
They avoided the towns as much as possible, save when it was necessary to make inquiries as to mining prospects or to replenish provisions, and so the greater part of their month's journey lay by choice through the wildest parts of the country.
Their turning point was the summit of Pike's Peak, and when Paul, who was roped in front of Lady Margaret, had helped her up the last few feet, their eyes met and their hands remained clasped for a few moments while she steadied herself on the ice.
The world with all its little social distinctions was far away below them. About them was only the magnificent severity, the unchanging solemnity, and the everlasting silence of sky and mountain.
It was only a moment, but it was enough. If they had been alone—who knows what might have been said when they found breath in the thin, dry air?
But Marvin caught his breath first, and began to congratulate Mrs. Kingston and Lady Margaret, who had already made two very respectable Alpine climbs, on their pluck and endurance.
That broke the spell, and then every one surrendered to another, the spell which falls upon every human being who possesses a soul, the spell of the awful solitude and the utter silence which wraps the crest of every mountain giant.
When they got back to Lake City both what Marvin hoped and Mrs. Kingston feared had taken place. He had made short but ardent work of his wooing, for his love had given him his youth back, and he wooed like a fellow of twenty, and the end was that Shiela Kingston capitulated during a stroll under the pine trees on the evening that their camp was pitched for the last time.
But as a set off to this good happening, Paul came back irrevocably and, apparently in the most literal sense of the word, hopelessly in love with Lady Margaret.
It seemed to him that he was something more than in love with her; but it was his first experience, and so he was quite ignorant of the real heights and depths, the brightness and the gloom, of all that is meant by that most meaning of all words.
Of her social altitude he thought nothing. He was too genuinely American for that, in spite of his English blood.
Moreover, his love seemed to him so vast, so all embracing, that the social difference between them was the tiniest of little spaces in comparison with it.
It may also have been that he was so utterly blinded by her beauty, her girlish grace, and the indescribable charm of her manner, that he literally couldn't see anything else.
Naturally, he kept his secret—which he loved next to Lady Margaret herself—deep buried in the bottom of his heart. Of course, now and then their eyes met in moments of delicious torture to him.
To her they were moments of vague, awakening wonder as to what was happening or was going to happen within that magic fortress which is never entered save by the human soul that dwells in it.
Still, she remembered those moments and the dim, unshaped thoughts which came after them, and when they said good by the memory of them dwelt with her, inseparable somehow from the delightful experiences of the trip from Lake City to Pike's Peak.
That evening Marvin called Paul into the workshop, and Paul came down with a run from the seventh heaven of dreamland to the hard realities of earth when he said to him in his cold business voice:
"Now, young man, we've had a good time, and I guess we'd better get down to work. Have you got that bond drawn out?"
"Yes, I have," replied Paul, taking a paper out of his breast pocket. "I've dated it from the first of the month, the day before yesterday, as I guessed we should be getting to business some time about now."
It might seem curious at first sight that Paul should have given his attention to such a grim bargain as this in the midst of the ardent dreams and the glowing fancies of his first love, and yet the very intensity of his love was the reason for his doing so.
The terms of the bond gave him the only possible chance he could ever have of reaching a position which he could ask Lady Margaret to share with him. If that chance didn't come off, his life was forfeit in two years.
That suited his mood exactly; if he failed, he never could have any hope of winning her, and if he hadn't that, he didn't want to live.
"That's business," said Marvin, taking the paper and running his eye over it. "Yes, I guess there's nothing the matter with that."
He folded the sheet and put it into his pocket, then took out a long envelope and went on: "Now, here's my part of the contract. There is a certificate from the Bank of California that they hold five hundred thousand dollars to your order, and there's your check book. Now you can take your money and use it as soon as you are ready. Have you anything fixed up yet in the way of plans, I mean for construction?"
"Yes," replied Paul. "I shall send complete specifications of different parts, and, for the matter of that, parts of parts, to the best engineering firms in the States, pretty well separated. I shall take care that none of them knows any more than that they are just making certain cranks and shafts and wheels, beds, sockets, and so on of steel and alluminum and iridium of certain shapes and sizes. I shall have these sent to Lake City."
"Well, that is all right so far," said Marvin; "you can leave the choice of the firms to me. I know them all, and they all know me, and I reckon I can drive a harder bargain with them than you can. Besides, they won't do any scrap work for me, although they might for you. And now what about assembling the parts when you've got them?"
"I think I can fix that up all right," said Paul. "Over yonder beside that spur on the other side of the lake there is what is left of a big mine that petered out about five years ago. When it bust up, the people went away and left things standing. There weren't dollars enough left to shift them.
"There's machinery there, though I don't calculate much on that, but there are a lot of big sheds and workshops that will suit me down to the ground. Five hundred dollars will buy the whole outfit, another five or less would repair the place and put the sheds and shops in proper shape. Then I should say, just to choke off curiosity, that I had bought the mine for a trifle from the trustees, and was putting down more machinery just to have another go at it."
"That's OK as far as I can see," said Marvin, "but what about workmen? You'll want some pretty skilled mechanics, won't you?"
"Oh, no. If the manufacturers do their work properly, as of course they will, half a dozen men, with the machinery I shall put down, will answer. In fact, less.
"I shall get a couple of big Chinese laborers from San Francisco to do the pulley-hauling part, then there's a big peon down here, José Montez, who worked for my father and has done several things for us. He'll be very useful. He's as strong as a horse, faithful as a dog, and, curiously enough, though he hasn't got the wit of a mule, he is as good a mechanic as ever held a hammer. You've got to tell just exactly what to do. When he's done that he just comes and asks you what to do next.
"You see, none of these fellows will have any notion what they're doing, and, to make quite sure, when we've got the heavy work done and the hull put together, I shall send the Chinamen away one by one and finish up with José. He will be perfectly safe. He wouldn't know the difference between an air-ship and a prairie schooner if he studied them for a month.
"In fact, I think I shall be quite safe in making him engineer of the ship. She'll only need one man to work her and one to steer."
Marvin put out his hand and said with one of his swift changes of manner, one might almost say nature:
"Sonny, if you don't pull this thing through, no one can, and I believe you will. Now see here, I have another proposition to make. I'm a pretty good hand with the tools, though I haven't done an honest day's work for quite a while now; and a job like that would just fit me better than a Chicago girl's boots fit her feet.
"So, if you let me in, I reckon we will be able to put that little job through without any more help, and without risking more people knowing what we are about."
"Why, certainly!" exclaimed Paul. "I couldn't have anything I like better."
"Except some one with black hair and pansy blue eyes and the prettiest face in the United States," laughed Marvin.
"Well," laughed Paul in reply, "you see, to get her I've got to get this, and if I get this, I guess I'll have her if I have to wreck the British constitution to do it."
Now that everything was settled, Paul Kingston was feverishly anxious to get to work, and so was Gillette Marvin, so the next day they set to in real earnest.
Paul devoted himself to a minute and intricate division of the plans and specifications in duplicate, arranging them so that it would be quite impossible for any maker of a part to form any idea as to what the whole was going to be like.
Marvin went over to the old mine, made a thorough examination of the works, and, finding them just what Paul had said, set quietly to work through one of his agents to buy up the whole concern, which the agent did within a month for the modest sum of two thousand dollars.
He also communicated with twenty of the best engineering firms in the United States, informing them that he had certain mechanical constructions in hand which must be done by their most skilled workmen, sworn to secrecy.
Money was no particular object, but thework must be of the very highest class and nothing said about it. The specifications were then sent off one by one as completed, and when the parts were all in hand, Paul set to work on the submarines, which were to be constructed in similar fashion.
In a month everything was ready at the workshop in the misnamed Canyon de la Plata, in which the played out mine was situated, and within six weeks the parts began to arrive, packed, of course, as machinery at the depot, and were carted across to the canyon on mule wagons.
At first Lake City seemed to be a little curious about the new inventions, but Paul managed to satisfy the questioners by saying that he had been commissioned by a syndicate that had bought the mine to put down machinery and get everything ready for the new workings.
After this Lake City contented itself with saying that as long as he could get fool people to sling their dollars down the old mine with his hands, it was bully for him, and there Lake City's interest in the great enterprise ended.
As soon as the working plan was in place—it consisted mostly of cranes and slings for carrying purposes—and the parts began to arrive, the work of construction started, and the farther it went the greater was the change that developed itself in the two men to whom the completion meant so much.
Paul's nature hardened and became more masterful. He knew perfectly well that his life lay upon the success of his labor, but Marvin's keenest glance never detected the slightest sign of nervousness in him.
The hard, logical determination to do or die, the English side of his character, was coming out more and more strongly every day, while the keenness of wit, quickness of criticism, and readiness of resource which formed his mother's legacy to him, were also brought out in stronger relief.
In fact, Marvin spoke neither more nor less than the truth when he said to Mrs. Kingston one evening as they were walking back alone from the works to their private ferry on the lake:
"Shiela, that son of yours is going to be a big man. Yes, he's going to bring this thing off. What he told you that night in his workroom is true, every word of it. He'll do this thing, and when it's done, well, the world is going to hear something drop, and it won't be that air-ship." As for Marvin himself, the change in him was, if anything, more wonderful still.
The business side of his nature seemed to have receded indefinitely into the background. The sterner, sharper, and more masterful Paul grew, the more boyish and enthusiastic the other became.
He worked like a coolie, and allowed Paul to boss him around as though he had been a nigger, as he put it himself.
If he made suggestions in anticipation of difficulties he foresaw, he was met with a polite rebuff.
"Oh, that's all fixed," or "Don't worry, that will come all right," and he took it as quietly as a schoolboy would have done—perhaps more quietly.
With the exception of keeping his agents up to the mark by mail and wire, he paid no personal attention to his own business.
He was wholly engrossed by his part of the task in bringing to completion the marvelous creation which every day grew bit by bit towards perfection under his eyes and hands; and when his day's toil was over, his nights were gorgeous with splendid dreams of the gold empire of which this wonderful thing which he was helping to make was to be the aerial throne.
At Marvin's request, nothing had been said to Paul about Mrs. Kingston's promise to marry him.
He wouldn't give any definite reason. He just asked it as a favor, and backed it up with the suggestion that the best place to announce it would be on the deck of the new ship when she was making her first demonstration of the conquest of the air.
This, of course, appealed too strongly to her imagination for her to do more than insist on the condition that she was to be on board during the trial trip, for, as she put it gently, but very firmly, if anything happened on that occasion to Paul or her promised husband, it was going to happen to her, too.
At last, after six months of incessant toil, the Shiela, as Paul's mother was to christen her on the eve of her first flight, was very nearly completed.
The Chinese laborers had been dismissed, one by one, each with sufficient dollars to make it absolutely certain that he would at once return to the land of his ancestors.
José stared, uncomprehending, at the shapely, glittering fabric, with its fans and propellers and air planes, with no more admiration or curiosity than if it had been a factory boiler.
Mrs. Kingston looked at it with loving pride and wonder, as though it were, in some sort, an offspring of her own, as indeed it was in a certain sense, for was it not the mental offspring, the very creation, of her own flesh and blood?
As a matter of fact, she was wont afterwards to talk of the Shiela as her steel granddaughter.
Not even José was allowed to see the putting in and adjustment of the last of the mechanical and motive essentials which transferred the Shiela from an inherent mass of machinery into an almost vital organism, capable of motion swifter than a bird's flight, and yet docile as a well trained dog under the hands of her captain and controller.
At last one glorious, crisp morning in the brief southern autumn, Paul said to his mother at breakfast—Marvin had been sleeping for the last few weeks at the works with José, armed with a Colt repeating rifle and a brace of seven shooters to receive any too curious callers:
"Well, mother, we finished her last night, and now she's ready for you to make an official inspection. We tried the motors last night, and everything worked like a charm, though, of course, we didn't raise her, for we have to take the roof off the shed yet. We're going to do that today, and as soon as it is dark enough tonight you shall christen her, and we shall start on the trial trip.
"And do you really think, dear," she said, leaning back in her chair and looking at him, her eyes glowing with love and pride, "do you really think that she will be a success—that she will really fly?"
"I don't think, mother," he said seriously, "I know. I'm gambling nothing on chance this time, there's too much on the game. She will fly, and tonight you shall take a midnight trip across the Sierra de la Plata and back before breakfast."
MRS. KINGSTON'S heart was beating a good deal faster than her son's as they approached the huge shed from which Marvin and José were already removing the roof.
The moon, though beginning to descend towards the saw tooth ridges of the western hills, still gave ample light for what work remained to be done outside.
As Paul opened the door for her to enter she said:
"But, my dear boy, you will never get your ship out through this."
And then as he looked round and laughed, she went on:
"Oh, of course, I forgot. If she goes out at all, she will go through the roof."
"That is the way she is going, mother," replied Paul, "as soon as we have got it off. Now suppose you go aboard and make yourself at home, and 111 turn to and lend a hand."
He opened a door in the side of the long, gray painted hull, which was shaped something like a flattened cigar, save that it was almost as broad at the stern as amidships, and pulled down a light steel telescope ladder.
He went up first and turned a couple of switches in the wall. Instantly the whole interior was lighted by a bright glow, which was everywhere, and yet seemed to come from nowhere.
As he helped his mother up into the lower cabin, or general living room, which was about fifteen feet long by ten broad, she glanced about her with a look of astonishment and said:
"Why, Paul, I haven't seen this before. Where do you get your light from; where are your lamps?"
"Oh, we don't have any lamps," he laughed. "Besides, this is not light in the way you mean. It's my improvement on electricity;'what I call illuminated air. This place is lit just as the atmosphere is lit by the sun, by vibrations set up through radiators; little suns, in fact.
"There they are," he went on, pointing to ten little circles which his mother thought were mirrors.
There were two of them at each end, and three on each side of the room.
"But you must excuse me now; I must get to work. You just make yourself comfortable and have a look round your aerial home. I guess you will find everything comfortable."
The roof of the shed had been built so that the two slopes could be slid off to the ground in sections, running in grooves and operated by pulleys. These were nearly all off when he got outside.
Then the roof tree was taken down in sections, and the inside supports removed. This left the Shiela open to the sky, and all was now ready for the start.
She had three movable air planes on each side. The midship ones measured fifteen feet by twelve, and the fore and after ones narrowed towards the bow and stern, so that their whole outline corresponded to that of the hull.
Under each of these was a lifting fan ten feet in diameter driven by independent motors capable of a thousand revolutions a minute.
There were two ten feet driving fans at the stern, and one with a sweep of eight feet at the bow, each driven by its own motor at speeds varying from fifty to eight hundred revolutions a minute.
Above the hull, amidships, rose a low, oval structure about thirty feet long by ten in its greatest width, paneled all round with plate glass and sliding windows. The middle portion of the roof was also made to slide fore and aft, so that in fine weather the upper cabin could be used as an open air promenade.
In front of this was a smaller oval chamber eight feet long and a little higher than the cabin. This was the conning tower and instrument room, from which the motors could be started and stopped, and every motion of the ship directed.
In fact, as long as the supply of energy, which was derived from refined petroleum by a process of direct conversion, was kept up, one man could manage the ship entirely.
This process had been one of Paul Kingston's uncompleted discoveries which his son had perfected.
In front of the conning tower rose a slender steel signal mast, twenty feet high.
"Now I think we are about ready. José, you can go home now, and mind, on your faith, keep your mouth shut or you'll never open it again."
"Si, señor," replied the huge peon, thrusting his hands into his pockets and lumbering away down the path towards the ferry without taking the trouble to look back at the miracle he was leaving behind him.
While his mother was making a tour of the various apartments, which she had had a considerable share in furnishing according to her own excellent taste, Paul and Marvin gave a thorough final inspection to the motors and driving machinery.
There was no engine-room, for each motor stood in its own compartment, connected by carrying cables of insulated copper strands with the main storage batteries on either side of the ship below the cabin. Nothing more was needed to start or stop them than the making or the breaking of the circuit.
When they were satisfied that everything was in perfect order, Paul called to his mother:
"Now then, if you please, ma'am, come right along to the conning tower and say good by to the earth for an hour or two. We're just off."
There was a little table at the fore end of the room, and on this stood an oblong rosewood board with three switches on it. In the center of the table was a silver wheel with an upright handle and a pointer moving over a semicircle marked out to a hundred and eighty degrees.
This was the steering wheel, and operated a triangular, vertical fan which projected beyond the stern propellers.
Paul put his hand on the center switch and said quite steadily: "This starts the disks. We've had one little struggle with gravity and come out on top. Now we will have a bigger one. Listen."
He turned the switch, and the next moment Mrs. Kingston heard a strange, low, musical, humming sound.
As he moved the handle farther to the right, the sound grew deeper and more intense, and she began to feel an extraordinary sensation of lightness and exhilaration.
"What's the matter, Paul?" she said. "I'm beginning to feel as if I could fly myself."
"So you will in another minute or so," laughed Marvin. "That's what spiritualists call levitation or taking the weight out of things so that they will float in air. They say they do it by spiritual force, Paul, here, does it by pure mechanics.
"We've got two hundred toughened glass disks three feet in diameter whizzing round underneath us, and they are getting up to three thousand revolutions a minute. You see, there isn't the slightest vibration.
"Well, it seems they set up some sort of mysterious force, maybe electrical or something else, that appears to drive the weight out of the ship. See, there's the indicator," he continued, pointing to a little clock hand moving on a dial; "they're getting on. One, fifteen, two, twenty five, that is twenty five hundred three thousand. Now, see here!"
He took Paul by the elbows and lifted him from the floor and set him down again.
"He doesn't weigh a quarter of what he did ten minutes ago."
"May I try, Paul?" exclaimed his mother, half laughing and half frightened. "It's a long time since I carried you."
She put her arms round him, and, to her amazement, lifted him quite easily.
"My!" she exclaimed with a little gasp. "Why, this ship of yours must be a piece of Wonderland, Paul."
"You will see more wonders than that soon, mother," he laughed, putting his hand on the top switch and moving it slightly to the left.
Instantly a low whirring sound pierced through the hum of the disks.
"Those are the lifting fans making that noise," he said.
He put the switch over a little more, and the whirring grew shriller. Then, to his mother's marvel and delight, she saw the walls of the shed begin to sink below them.
She didn't say anything. Her mother heart was too full of joy and pride for speech.
She put her arms round Paul's neck and kissed him, and then with a murmured "Thank God!" she burst into tears.
Paul's eyes were wet, too, and, as a matter of fact, so were Marvin's. He turned the switch back and the ship sank slowly into the shed.
Tears of joy soon pass, and smiles come quickly after them, as the sun after a summer shower, and ten minutes afterwards the three were standing outside the shed beside the bow.
Mrs. Kingston had in her hand a bottle of champagne, slung by a cord to the upper rail. Paul and Marvin stood on either side of her, bare-headed.
She drew the bottle towards her, and said in a low voice, which trembled with emotion:
"You were created by the genius of my husband and my son. Take the name of their wife and mother, and bear it stainless to the skies!"
"Amen!" said Paul and Marvin with one breath.
She let go the bottle, and the golden wine streamed down the Shiela's side, and so, with much simple ceremony, was the first conqueror of the air christened.
"Now I think it is about dark enough to make a start," said Marvin when they got back into the upper cabin. "The moon will be down in ten minutes. It's nearly twelve o'clock, and I guess there aren't many people looking this way."
"Start it is!" said Paul. "Come along, mother; we're going to fly in real earnest this time."
"Fly!" she echoed, as she followed them into the conning tower. "Why, it's like a dream—and so it is, the dream of ages, and you've made it real. If there's another woman in the world happier tonight than I am, I don't envy her."
"I should think not," said Marvin, looking at her with frank fondness. "It isn't every woman who has a son that can make her mistress of the air."
Paul went hack to the switch hoard. The disks were still running three thousand revolutions a minute.
He turned the upper switch again, this time more quickly. The whirring sound broke out louder and shriller than before. The walls of the shed again sank below them, but this time out of sight.
The tops of the cliffs round the canyon came nearer to them; then these, too, sank.
Presently the lake and Lake City came into view. The water shone a bluish white under the stars, and the white painted houses of the town showed gray against the dusky gloom of the pines around it.
The Shiela mounted swiftly, higher and higher in a direct vertical line, until the hills, too, commenced to sink and the snowy peaks of the Sierra Blanca began to show above them.
No one spoke. It wasn't a time for talking, but just for looking and wondering, and so for nearly half an hour there was silence in the conning tower until Paul said in a low tone:
"I think we might try the propellers now. Keep your eye on the speed gage, Mr. Marvin, please, and we'll see what she can do."
The speed gage was an apparatus almost exactly like the one used for measuring the force of wind, and it communicated with a dial inside the room.
Paul put his hand on the lower switch and turned it slowly towards the right. Mrs. Kingston saw the fore propeller begin to revolve. It spun faster and faster until it became a dim circle, almost invisible in the starlight.
She looked astern and saw that the after propellers had also disappeared. Then Marvin began counting the miles off the dial.
"Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty," he read out in quick succession.
Lake City had vanished, and they were within a few miles of the eastern hills, ever rising.
"I'll try the planes now," said Paul, taking hold of a lever to the right of the table which worked in a graduated ratchet.
He pulled it slightly towards him, and the ridge of the hills instantly sank.
"That is all right," he said. "Now I think we can do without the fans."
He turned back the top switch and put the propellers on three quarters power.
"Sixty—seventy five—ninety—a hundred! Good!" exclaimed Mr. Marvin. "Bully for you, Paul. You've won. Shake!"
Paul let go the lever and gripped his hand while Mrs. Kingston exclaimed:
"What, not a hundred miles an hour! Surely, that can't be possible. We don't seem to be moving at all."
"Yes," said Paul, "that's it. Look down at the earth and these hills. See, now I'm going to jump them."
He pulled the lever a few degrees towards him. The hills rushed towards them and sank down. The next minute they were far astern, almost out of sight. The lofty peaks of the Sierra Blanca rose in front of them for an instant, then they too sank down and fell astern.
Paul looked at the barometer and said:
"Eight thousand, five hundred. I guess that will do for tonight. If she can soar that, she can soar fifteen, and now we'll see how she steers."
He turned the wheel ever so slightly, and the Shiela swept round in a swift and splendid curve.
He slowed her down to fifty miles and began to put her through her paces, turning and curving and strolling round the peaks with bewildering rapidity, until he was satisfied that he had her under complete control.
"Magnificent!" said Marvin at the end of half an hour of wondering silence. "But look here, Paul, it is after two o'clock. I think we had better be getting home."
"Yes, dear, I think we had," added his mother. "I've seen wonders enough for one night. I'm nearly dizzy with them, and I shall be glad to get to bed and dream of them."
"OK," said Paul, with a glance at the compass in front of him. "Northwest by north is the course from here, and full speed it is. We'll be home inside the hour. Mother, you're mistress here, suppose you go and get us a bottle of wine and a cold pie. I'm growing hungry."
There was nothing to be seen of the earth except a dim blur as the Shiela rushed through the air at her full speed of a hundred and fifty miles an hour. After fifty minutes' run Paul slowed down to twenty five and started the fans. In five minutes the lake came in sight, and in ten more the Shiela was resting on the stocks in the shed and they were walking to the ferry.
The next morning after breakfast Marvin asked Paul to come into the workroom, and said to him as he took the bond of death out of his pocket:
"Paul, sonny, you've done it, and I haven't got any more use for this."
He tore the bond in two pieces and gave them to Paul.
"Of course I didn't mean anything about that life clause except that, of course, I meant to see that you were in dead earnest and had the proper sort of grit before I gambled my money on your ideas. And now I'll tell you why, and I hope the news won't be unpleasant to you.
"I've loved your mother ever since I met her first. Naturally, I kept my head shut, as any gentleman would, but when I came down here seven months ago it was with her permission to win her if I could. Well, I've done it, but she won't say 'yes' unless you do. Now what do you say?"
"Yes, with all my heart," said Paul, putting out his hand, "but I think you're the only man I would say 'yes' to, and the only one she would say 'yes' to."
"Thank you, lad," said Marvin simply as he gripped the hand. "Well, now we're partners for good and all, partners against the whole world if need be. Come along and tell her, and we will have a wedding next week."
Nothing was of course more natural or inevitable than that the honeymoon trip should be taken in the Shiela under the care of Captain Paul, as Marvin had now dubbed him.
The air-ship had made several night voyages since her trial trip, for the purpose of testing her machinery thoroughly and proving her speed and soaring powers and her fuel consumption.
It was found that, using both fans and air planes, she could rise comfortably to twenty thousand feet. Her utmost speed in calm, dense air was a hundred and sixty miles an hour, and her fuel consumption averaged fifty pounds weight of petroleum per thousand miles, which about verified Professor Cayley's calculations that if all the solar energy that is stored up In coal could be extracted and applied directly, as Paul's petroleum energy was, a clothes basket full of coal dust would suffice to drive the Scotch express at full speed from London to Edinburgh.
A start was made the third night after the wedding. José was left in charge of the works, with orders to say nothing save that Paul and his mother had gone on a trip to Europe.
There was no moon, and the Shiela soared into space and darted away southward without being seen. By day she traveled either well out to sea or at a sufficiently high altitude to make it impossible to see her.
The course of the trip was naturally left to the choice of the bride, and she selected a run along the great mountain chain of Central and South America, from the tropics down to the desolation of Tierra del Fuego.
Never was a woman's choice of more moment to the fortunes of humanity.
They had made a run of five thousand miles in about ten days, and were skirting the mountains of Patagonia between the forty fifth and fiftieth parallels of south latitude. It was a brilliantly moonlight night in the middle of the far southern summer when Mrs. Marvin, who was standing with her husband in the upper cabin, watching the somber shapes of the mountains as they flitted past a few hundred feet below them, suddenly pointed forward and downward to the right hand side.
"Look, Gillette," she said, "isn't that a lake yonder? See, right in the top of that mountain—and look, it's smoking! It must be a volcano."
Her husband looked, but he didn't speak for a few minutes.
There was something very extraordinary about the surface of the lake that was troubling him.
It was not the light steamy vapor that was rising from it, but a strange metallic glint which the waters showed where the moonlight fell upon them.
"I see," he said, "a lake in the crater of a volcano. Curious, though; they don't have takes in the craters of active volcanoes. I'll go up and tell Paul. I reckon it's a bit of a curiosity which is worth investigating."
But Paul had already noticed the strange appearance of the lake, and he had flowed down the Shiela and headed her towards the mysterious mountain.
He put his head through the door of the conning tower and said:
"See that lake yonder? What is it? Doesn't look like water to me, something more like metal. I guess we had better go and prospect."
"By thunder, you've got it!" exclaimed Marvin. "That volcano is active. How could it have water in it? Why, certainly we'll prospect. I'm on metals every time, hot or cold."
Paul brought the Shiela to a rest on a little sandy level beside the crater wall, but they found it impossible to descend the other side towards the lake. The acrid, suffocating fumes compelled them to go back at once.
It was impossible to breathe within twenty yards of the edge of the lake.
"No mistake what that smell is," said Paul. "That's chlorine, and the lake is metallic; no doubt about that. Now, how are we going to get some of it? Ah, yes, I've got it. Come back into the ship."
He found a small iron bucket and a thin wire cord about a hundred feet long, made one end fast to the bucket and the other to the rail by the gangway door.
Then they closed up the Shiela until she was practically air tight, rose and passed over the lake. Then they dropped till the bucket fell on the surface.
It lay there as if it had fallen on rock.
Paul made the Shiela take a little jump forward, the lip of the bucket caught in the fluid and the vessel was dragged under.
"Got it!" said Paul as he turned the switch and the Shiela rose up out of the hot steaming vapors.
When they got back into pure air Marvin opened the door and hauled the bucket up about three parts full of a greenish, yellowish fluid which was rapidly turning into yellowish white powder.
"It's mighty heavy," he said as he brought the bucket on board. "Why, darn it, it has gone solid into a powder! Here, Paul, you're a better chemist than I am. Take a look at it."
Paul smelt it, picked some out in a spoon, and when it was cool enough rubbed it with his finger; then he said rather unsteadily:
"Mother, go and get me some boiling water and a basin."
"What's the matter?" said Marvin. "Do you think it's worth anything?"
"Think so; can't say yet," he replied shortly.
Mrs. Marvin came back from the kitchen with a kettle of boiling water and a china basin. Paul tipped out several spoonfuls into the basin, poured the water on the powder, stirred it up for two or three minutes, and strained the water off. The powder had now changed to a deep red crystalline color and form. His hand trembled a little as he scraped this aside with the spoon.
Underneath it lay a layer of what looked like dull yellow mud.
"I thought so," he said. "That lake is full of aurous chloride, and that," he went on, stirring the yellow mud, "is pure, finely divided gold and water. There's enough in that lake to buy the earth!"
NO one said anything for over a minute. They just looked at one another and the few spoonfuls of liquid gold.
Paul had put in less than a handful of the whitey yellow powder, and yet there was half an ounce of gold in the basin.
"Are you sure, Paul?" said his mother. "Gold! That can't be possible, can it? No one ever saw gold in such quantities as there must be there."
"You've hit it there, Shiela," said her husband. "No one ever did see it before, and that is just where our luck, our wonderful, amazing, incredible luck, comes in. Why, Caesar's ghost, there must be hundreds of tons of it in that lake! What do you say, Paul—when you've come out of your trance?"
"Yes, it's gold," he replied in a half dreaming tone, "and there's gold in this, too," he went on, taking up a spoonful of the red crystals. "Not so much, but still plenty. This is the trichloride. It will melt away of itself soon, and then we can evaporate the gold out.
"And about the quantity—oh, yes, I beg your pardon. Of course there must be thousands and thousands of tons of it there, and the proportion of gold will be about eighty five per cent by weight, perhaps more.
"Well, mother, you remember I asked you would you like to be Mistress of the World. Now you are, for if we go third shares you'll have plenty to buy it, if you want it."
"Well," said Marvin in his practical voice, "Shiela, I guess we've got to congratulate you on the first result of your name child's maiden voyage so far. We three are the richest people on earth now.
"In fact, we're so rich that money hasn't any more meaning for us. We can just play with it, and raise such a high toned sort of Cain in the financial world that I guess they will soon be glad to let us do what we like.
"Why, Dumont Lawson and his steel trust is a small tradesman compared with us now. I owe that gentleman one, and John D. Rockefeller another, and now they shall have it where the turkey got the ax—right in the neck.
"Now suppose we turn to and see how much gold we've got here in this bucket. We'll take it down to the kitchen and wash it out there. Great Scott, what would the old Forty Niners have thought of washing gold out like this—half an ounce from a handful!"
There was plenty of hot water in the boiler of the electric stove on which Mrs. Marvin did her cooking. She got out two large basins, and they proceeded to wash out the contents of the bucket.
When they had separated the suspended gold from the red crystals, Paul asked his mother for a saucepan, tipped the gold into it, and said as he gave it back to her:
"There, mother, put that on the stove. I guess you never had a more valuable stew than that. You've got about two pounds and a half of pure gold there—twenty four carat. Say, you've got eighty ounces at twenty one dollars an ounce, so you see that pot is worth over eight hundred dollars. Just steam the water off and you will have it in powder."
"I could go on cooking like this all day," laughed his mother. "Fancy eight hundred dollars in about five minutes."
"Yes, and we've got this stuff now," said Paul, stirring up the red crystals. "We can't treat this here, though, because we'll have to rig up a furnace with a flue to carry off the chlorine gas. That's what stopped us getting into the crater, and if any one else has found this lake before, I reckon it would have driven them off, too."
"And a mighty good thing for us," added Marvin, "but anyhow, they hadn't a genius with them, and I reckon they didn't come exploring in an air-ship. If it hadn't been for the Shiela we'd never have known what was in that lake, even if we had found it. How do you feel as a billionaire?"
"Mighty hungry," said Paul. "Mother, I guess that stew of yours is about cooked now, and supper or breakfast or whatever it is wouldn't be a bad thing just now."
All the water had been driven off, and the bottom of the saucepan was covered with a thick layer of yellow powder, almost impalpably fine. In fact, when Paul poured it gently out into a soup plate some of it rose in the air.
It was gold, chemically divided and absolutely pure. Marvin had already weighed the plate accurately, and when he put it on the scale again the indicator showed that it contained very nearly two pounds seven ounces of the precious powder. This, at the English price of pure gold, worked out at nearly one hundred and twenty two pounds sterling.
"I should think that ought to pay for a supper with a bottle of the best thrown in," said Marvin as he took the plate off the scale. "Now suppose we go and mix ourselves a little cocktail while our dear housekeeper gets the supper ready."
In half an hour the table in the parlor, as they called the lower cabin, was spread with a very dainty little feast, and when Marvin had opened the bottle and filled the glasses with the very finest champagne that money could buy, he raised his own and said:
"Well, here's to the three richest people on earth—our noble selves—and the somebody else who, I hope, will be sitting one day at the end of this table opposite her lord, the conqueror of the air."
"Thank you," said Paul, laughing and blushing like a girl. "I hope she will. Anyhow, I can give her a bigger place in the world now than any of their old British dukes can."
"Paul," said his mother, "I'm afraid you are forgetting that you are half British yourself. You know your father was an aristocrat; in fact, he was only two lives off an earldom."
"That is all right, mother. Any one could see that dad was a gentleman, as good as the best, or I reckon you wouldn't have married him; but I reckon it was the American in me that spoke that time. Still, we needn't worry about titles now, sitting here on the throne of the kingdom of the air.
"And now, Mr. Marvin, as you are going to be prime minister, foreign secretary, chancellor of the exchequer, and lord high everything else, what do you propose in the wav of opening operations?"
"Well, you see," replied Marvin slowly, "the discovery of this gold naturally alters everything. The few million dollars that I had to begin work with on the old basis will look mighty like a dirty deuce in a new deck of cards now. That means that all our plans will have to be altered."
"It's a terrible responsibility," said Mrs. Marvin, with half a sigh in her voice. "A power greater than all the rulers of the world could wield, even if they worked together for the same end. Do you know, I'm beginning to get a little frightened of it already."
"No need for that, mother—not yet, at any rate," put in Paul, speaking more seriously than before. "It might be in worse hands, I think. Now, if a few of our trust monarchs had got hold of it, it might be different.
"The earth wouldn't be fit to live in in twelve months, except for their slaves; but we're not going to make slaves; we're just going to try to stop other people making them. Isn't that so, Mr. Chancellor of the Empire of the Air?"
"It is, your majesty," laughed Marvin, nodding at him over his glass. "You know my theory that mankind can only be ruled properly by a benevolent and intellectual despotism. Democracy is only a makeshift, and a pretty poor one at that. It's just what Bismarck called it, ruling a household from the nursery.
"On the other hand, a political or military despotism is even worse. Anyhow, they've ruined every country that has tried them. Now there is only one other possible, and that is the despotism of money."
"But surely, Gillette," said his wife, "our experience of the despotism of money in the States hasn't been very encouraging. You must know as well as any one, and better than most, that the most soulless tyrant on earth is the man who rules by money power."
Marvin flushed slightly at this very decided home thrust, for he had done a little of this same ruling himself, and when he replied he spoke slowly, as though he were weighing every word before he uttered it.
"You're quite right there, Shiela, as far as your argument goes. I know I've sinned a bit that way myself. I had to keep my end up! It was just a matter of competition, and, you see, these money kings of ours have to compete among themselves for their millions just as small, store keepers have to for a few dollars, and where competition comes in at the front door, justice and mercy get out at the back, and make good time going.
"These money despotisms are cruel and pitiless, because they're only partial, because they've to fight one another, and of course in the scrimmage smaller people get badly hurt. I grant that if it hadn't been for finding this lake we should have been forced to fight on the same lines, though we should have had a big pull with the air-ships and submarines.
"But now, you see, we can't compete with them for money. It would be like a man with a hundred million dollars playing poker for five cents and opening a pot with a million. We don't want their money.
"We can't get covetous any more than a man living near an everlasting spring can get thirsty. What we've got to do is to stop these people from making other folk thirsty.
"Then," said Paul with a smile, "my Lord Chancellor evidently believes that all human ills can be cured by gold, that is to say golden salve properly applied?"
"I'm not saying quite that, Paul," the other laughed in reply, "but it can do a lot, properly applied, as you say. I reckon the world is going to see some pretty strange things when we begin to flood these gentlemen out with the golden tide of their own prosperity."
"You're getting almost poetical, Gillette," said his wife. "That somehow reminds me of the old story about King Midas, who wanted everything he touched to turn to gold, and then found that he had to eat and drink it."
"You've got it first time there, Shiela," he replied, "that's just what I mean. These men, myself among them, I confess, have in their time sacrificed every human consideration to the lust of gold getting. Now, with his majesty's approval and yours, they shall have gold.
"They shall have it until it is as common as the dirt in the gutter, till the monarch's crown is worth no more than a tramp's hat. They shall—but I guess I've done enough preaching for tonight. Suppose we get down to business."
"Well, if we do that," said Paul, "we shall still want to listen to you, so I shall put the proposition. Say we three form ourselves into a trust for the protection and material redemption of mankind from tyrannies of all sorts and the inauguration of a new golden age.
"Our present assets are—the Shiela, your millions in coin and securities, and a practically unlimited supply of gold, which can be worked at no expense, and by a couple of men, till the markets of the world are flooded out with it. Now, what does the Lord High Chancellor propose?"
"The first thing to do," answered Marvin, "is to get the charts and find exactly where this mountain is. By its nearness to the sea I reckon it's in Chile, but, anyhow, it's a sort of no man's land that people don't come to once in ten years unless they get shipwrecked, so we've got to do a bit of surveying, and, if we find it is in Chile, get a lease for, say a hundred years, of a twenty mile strip from the border down to the sea, with Mount Kingston, as I think we had better call it, in the middle.
"We are sure to find some little snug inlet where we can build a port and put our submarines together after we have brought the parts round the Horn. That would be a handier place, too, to build the other air-ships in. There won't be so many curious eyes about.
"When we've got our lease, and it won't take very much bribery and corruption in Santiago to get us that, and something like sovereign rights as well, we'll start mining operations, just as an excuse to put up our workshops and build our quays.
"You see, we just want the world to take us for a couple of cranks who are boring holes in these God forsaken mountains for the fun of throwing good American dollars down them. When the world once thinks that, it will take no further trouble with us, and Wall Street will just wait until Gillette Marvin, ex-millionaire, comes round looking for a clerking job."
"I see, excellent!" exclaimed Paul. "Couldn't have been better! Still, we can't go to Santiago with an air-ship, can we, to ask for a mining concession?"
"I guess not," said Marvin, with a smile; "they might want her and ask for her with a Maxim gun. No, the Shiela must lie pretty low just now, and the best place for her is the old shed at Lake City. No one there will be looking for a miracle like this unless José gives the show away, and I guess there is not much fear of that.
"Then, when we get back, we'll just go to work on our concession, and at the same time place orders for parts enough to build two more air-ships and half a dozen of the biggest submarines, to be delivered at San Francisco. We'll charter a steamer there, take our machinery and building materials down to Port Kingston, bring along a crowd of coolie laborers, and get to work on our machine shops and building docks.
"Meanwhile we'll bore a hole in the side of this crater, put a pipe through, and run the stuff out into tanks, as if it were crude petroleum, mold the gold into ingots, and load up the steamer with them."
"Excuse me," said Paul, interrupting him, "but doesn't it strike you that a steamer laden with gold would raise rather curious suspicions? What about the customs' examination?
"Of course there is no duty on gold either in England or America, and I suppose we shall operate from both countries, but if some smart customs officer happened on one box of gold and he insisted on having the others opened, what's to become of our secret? They will begin to ask questions at once, and a ship load of gold, say a thousand tons, would be mighty awkward to account for."
"You're right, Paul," said Marvin after a pause. "I didn't think of that. Guess I was letting my imagination run away with me. What do you propose?"
"It strikes me it would be very much easier and safer to make the boring you suggest, run the stuff out into tanks or ditches, and, when the fused chloride has cooled and turned to powder, just dig it out, head it up in casks, and ship it as fertilizer or something of the sort. There isn't a customs officer on earth who would guess what it is.
"We could easily hire some of those old wharves and workshops down the Thames and up the Hudson River, and in half a dozen other places, and do our separating and melting out right on the spot. We could do the same thing in France and Spain, and of course the more distributing centers we have running under different names the less chance there is of people finding out what we really are about."
"Paul," exclaimed Marvin, filling his glass, "I'll take a back seat there. I drink to that idea of yours; it's just masterful in its simplicity. We'll do it."
"And now," said Mrs. Marvin, "that you've settled up everything for the present, suppose I give you some coffee, and we'll go to bed to dream about more marvels."
NEARLY eight months of silence and strenuous activity followed the return of the Shiela from Mount Kingston.
The survey had proved, first, that the mount of the Golden Lake was just a few leagues within Chilean territory, and, secondly, the fact, which was of much more importance, that it was situated on an island severed from the mainland by a very deep but narrow channel varying from three to five miles wide.
Between it and the open sea was a cluster of a dozen or more smaller islands, all barren and uninhabited, and showing, like the Isle of the Golden Lake, no traces of human occupation.
A perfect natural harbor had been found less than five miles from the base of the crater wall, which a comparatively small expenditure would turn into a perfect basin for the submarines.
Marvin's agents at Valparaiso and Santiago had done their work well, and spent a few thousand dollars very judiciously.
The expenditure of a few more thousands secured to the Kingston-Marvin Mining and Prospecting Syndicate a lease for one hundred years of "all the lands, islands, and territories from the Argentine border to the Pacific Ocean, between the forty fifth and forty sixth degrees of south latitude, with rights to all metals, minerals, and oil deposits, and so forth, found in the said territory; the right to build all docks, workshops, stamp batteries, furnaces, and such other works as might be necessary to the carrying out of the enterprise in view."
Further, the sovereign republic of Chile undertook to protect the said syndicate against all comers in the peaceful possession of said territory, and further to permit the syndicate and its officers to take all reasonable measures for self defense against natives, pirates, etc., etc., in the usual terms of such concessions—all of which privileges were subject to a yearly payment by the syndicate of ten thousand dollars gold into the treasury of the Chilean republic.
Four new twelve knot steamers of one thousand tons register had been bought and fitted out immediately the concession was obtained. These had been carrying men and materials from San Francisco and Panama to Port Kingston, and the Shiela had made several rushes southward through the night and the upper regions of the air, carrying Paul or Marvin or both on voyages of inspection, which they took very good care should not be suspected by any one about the works.
At the end of eight months three more air-ships of the type of the Shiela had been built. One of them, a magnificent vessel nearly twice her size, was at present without name, but Paul hoped one day to call her the Lady Margaret.
Six submarines, each two hundred feet long with a capacity of twenty thousand horse power and a speed of forty knots, were also lying in the basin at Port Kingston, ready for action.
'Twenty of the biggest engineering firms in the United States had been working night and day to turn out the parts, and the moment the steamers delivered them at Port Kingston an army of coolie mechanics had set to work under the supervision of Paul and Marvin to get them together.
No white man was allowed in the territory. Not even the officers and crew of the steamers were permitted to land, and the moment a Chinaman or a Jap showed any signs of understanding what he was doing, he was shipped off with a pocketful of dollars and a draft to cash a few hundred more at San Francisco.
Of course many rumors concerning this extraordinary syndicate had already begun to fly about the States; but so far the keenest witted of the newspaper men had been baffled in every attempt to get at the facts.
At length one James K. Hacker, the smartest reporter on the San Francisco Examiner, took a five thousand dollar commission from his proprietors to get through the mystery, or, as he put it, to get out on the other side of it.
His features lent themselves to Chinese disguise, and he had several friends in Chinatown, and these helped him for a consideration to ship as a Chinese laborer on one of Marvin's ships for Port Kingston.
He happened to arrive just when both Marvin and Paul were there, superintending the final operations of shipbuilding and boring through the crater wall.
They were taking a stroll round the dock one night, talking over immediate plans for the future, and were just turning a corner of the sheds when Paul put his hand on his companion's shoulder and pulled him back.
"What's the matter, Paul?" whispered Marvin. "Seen anything?"
"Look down there in the dark," whispered Paul in reply. "See, there is a man swimming. He's been on board one of the submarines. It's after hours, and no one can get into the dock yards but ourselves. That means treason or something like it."
"Mighty like it," said Marvin, putting his hand hack to his hip pocket. "I don't like taking human life, but that chap's either got to give a good account of himself or take a single ticket to the other side of Jordan. We're not going to have this show given away just when we're ready to start."
"Not much," whispered Paul in reply, "but I don't think there will be any need for shooting. He's got to come this way, and we can easily cover him. He must mean something serious or he wouldn't face water as cold as that."
PAUL KINGSTON and his mother live in Lake City, Colorado. He has inherited his dead father's tasted for scientific investigation, and has perfected an air-ship which he needs only the means to teat. These are supplied by Gillette Marvin, a millionaire and an old friend of the family. He also arranges a month's trip to Pike's Peak with the Kingstons and a British friend, the Duke of Romney, who is traveling through America with his daughter Margaret. The outcome of the excursion is the marriage of Mr. Marvin and Mrs. Kingston, and the loss of Paul's heart to Lady Margaret.
In due time the wonderful air-ship, the Shiela, named for Mrs. Kingston, is completed, and on her trial trip proves a magnificent success, and as Paul has plans for the building of submarine boats of incredible swiftness, the day seems not far distant when he will in truth be ruler of the air and sea.
But there is a still more marvelous thing yet to come. In the honeymoon flight of the Shiela over South America, Mrs. Marvin spies a strange looking lake beneath them in the crater of a volcano. It turns out to be a lake of gold, and the three now realize themselves to be masters of the world. But great secrecy is necessary for the present. A syndicate is formed, ostensibly to operate apparently useless mines in Chile, but James K. Hacker, a newspaper reporter from San Francisco, has resolved to investigate, and disguises himself as one of the coolie workmen engaged in the construction of the parts from which the air-ships and submarines are made. Paul and Mr. Marvin happen to see him as he is swimming from one of the submarines, and the latter declares that the fellow mutt either yield up his life or give a satisfactory explanation of his act
THE two men waited and watched, straining their eyes in the moonlight to find out whether the swimmer was alone or not.
He swam to the slip down which the submarines had been launched, and as he came out of the water Marvin and Paul whipped out their revolvers and ran to meet him. At the same moment the moon came out bright and clear from behind a cloud, and they saw a naked, shivering man, with face and neck stained the correct Chinese yellow, and the rest of his body perfectly white.
"And who might you be?" asked Marvin, covering him with his revolver. "Chinamen don't count for much down here, you know, so you had better speak up and tell us how you lost your pigtail."
"Gentlemen!" he began, speaking as well as he could through his chattering teeth.
"That will do," said Marvin. "You're no Chinaman, and therefore you must know that white men are not allowed down here. Where are your clothes?"
"Up there in the shed, sir, just inside the gate."
"Come along and get them, and no fooling, mind," said Marvin as they drove him up before them and watched him dress in his Chinese clothes.
Then they took him to their private office, and the explanations began, in the course of which Mr. James Hacker had to make a clean breast of it.
When he had finished, Mr. Marvin said:
"You've got sand in you, young man, and you deserve to get on; but you struck a particularly hard streak when you came down here. You're a brave man, and you believe you've been doing your duty to your proprietors, and so we don't want to abolish you as a Chinese coolie unless it is absolutely necessary. What have you found out?"
"Well, sir," replied Hacker, "I know you can do as you like with me, so I may as well be honest. I've been through that submarine, and I think I know all about her. It's the fourth visit I've paid, and I've gone through her pretty thoroughly."
"What were you to get for this trip if you put it through all right?"
"Five thousand dollars, and a life insurance for ten thousand for my wife in case I didn't get back."
"Well, Paul," said Marvin, "I reckon we could do with a nervy man like this. He looks honest in spite of his paint, and a man who takes on a proposition like that has the right sort of grit in him. What do you think?"
"Same thing," answered Paul. "If he's faithful, he might be a lot of use to us, and if he isn't, he'll just have to disappear, that's all. We don't want to frighten you, Mr. Hacker," he went on, turning to the reporter, "but you've got to understand that you've struck a very much bigger thing here than you had any idea of; how big you may learn later on if you don't betray our trust, which is the same thing as saving if you live."
James Hacker was a brave man or he wouldn't have taken that little job on, but the passionless coldness of Paul's voice struck a chill through him such as he had never felt before.
"Yes, sir," he replied, "it seems as though I had, and as I am pretty obviously bottom dog in this scrap, perhaps the closer I keep my head shut the better."
"That's just it," said Marvin; "the closer you keep it shut, the safer your life and the better your fortune will be.
"You will now please consider yourself, and also allow the Examiner people to consider you dead. Later on you can come to life again, perhaps; meanwhile your wife can draw the insurance money. That won't hurt the Examiner much, but, anyhow, I own half of it, and propose to buy the other half shortly.
"You will get your five thousand dollars as soon as you sign a contract which I shall give you, and you'll get a thousand dollars extra every year as long as you remain faithful. When you cease to be that you will have no further use for dollars. Does that suit you, Mr. Hacker?"
"Down to the ground, sir," replied the reporter. "I don't know what you're driving at, but it isn't my business to know. Anyhow, that is a fair proposition, and I'll gamble my life on my honesty all the time."
Paul looked across at Marvin as he said this and smiled, remembering that other bargain which Marvin had made with him.
"That's good enough, I think," he remarked. "Mr. Hacker will, I presume, sign the contract, and will become the confidential agent of the syndicate. The undertaking will state, Mr. Hacker, that your life is forfeit, and that you have sold us your right to live for certain cash payments, which will be stated in the bond; and the rest, I suppose," he continued, turning to Marvin, "will be as we arrange."
"Yes," said Marvin, "that's so. Now, Mr. Hacker, the work you're going to do is just this. When you've signed the bond, you are going to New York to-night."
"What?" exclaimed Mr. Hacker, half rising to his feet in astonishment. "Did you say New York? But how? There isn't a steamer in port now, and New York is over eight thousand miles from here. How am I going to start tonight?"
"That is not a question which concerns you at present, Mr. Hacker," replied Mr. Marvin coldly. "I told you just now that you had struck a much bigger thing here than you expected to find. You have your choice between blind, unquestioning obedience—and disappearance. We didn't ask you to come here, but those are the only terms you can get away on."
"And as I have already agreed to them, sir," said Hacker quietly, "perhaps I may be allowed to ask what sort of work you want me to do."
"There's no harm in telling you that," replied Marvin. "In fact, the sooner you know it the better. When you land in New York, as you will do in forty hours from now."
"In forty hours from now!" exclaimed Hacker, jumping to his feet in uncontrollable wonder. "What! Eight thousand miles! Say, gentlemen, what are you trying to give me?"
"The cold truth, Mr. Hacker. Sit down and don't worry. It is now half past eleven on Wednesday evening. Allowing for necessary preparations for the journey, you will find yourself, with me, pretty adjacent to New York at midnight on Friday. How you will get there is not at present any business of yours, but I hope that the fact that you will get there will be enough to convince you that your best hold with as is to go straight."
"I guess if you can do that, sir," said Mr. Hacker, speaking for the first time in his life with something like a note of fear in his voice, "you don't want to worry any more about my fidelity. When I find myself on the side of the gods, as they used to say, I reckon I shall know enough to stop there. And when I get to New York?"
"When you get to New York," continued Marvin, "you will find yourself alone, with your own intelligence and twenty thousand dollars in gold. You will also have a copy of the bond which I will give you to sign before you go, and your business will be just to go around and find a hundred or so other men like yourself, or as nearly like yourself as may be, who are willing to sign that bond on the same terms as you will sign it.
"The pay for faithful service will be five thousand dollars a year in gold, paid per quarter. The penalty for the slightest act of dishonesty will be death, and we shall have ample sources of information, unknown to you, by which to learn of any defections either in your own case or in your men's.
"They must all be white men, Americans or English, and none of them must be over thirty, or at the outside thirty five, that is allowing you a margin for experienced men. You have two months from now to do the work in.
"The way of doing it will be suggested by your own intelligence and discretion. You will be watched, but you will not be interfered with unless you make a bad break, and then you will be pulled up pretty short
"At the end of the two months you will take your men, dressed as laborers, to Panama, and there you will find one of our steamers ready to take them on board. I shall be there to receive and go through them, and you will be responsible for any errors of judgment that you may have made."
"It's a pretty tough job, sir, I must say," observed Hacker, with a look of undisguised admiration at the two masters of his fate, "but I'm in on it. It's the first show I've had to do something worth doing, and I reckon it's going to get done, or I don't want to come out alive at the other end."
"Well, we don't want anything better than that, Mr. Hacker," said Paul. "You've just got to serve us faithfully and you will have no more worries for the rest of your natural days. If you don't—well, as my friend gave you to understand just now, those days won't be very long in the land—and now suppose we go and have some rapper."
James P. Hacker had a better supper that night than he had had for some considerable time, living as he had been doing on coolie rations. His new masters treated him royally, and after the coffee and cognac he went to sleep.
When he awoke he was in a sleeping berth in a train running into the New York Grand Central Station.
He didn't know, of course, that he had been hurled through the air at the rate of two hundred miles an hour in a bee line from Port Kingston to Albany, landed in the dead of night in a lonely little road a couple of miles outside the city, with Mr. Marvin, properly equipped with gripsacks and other impediments.
Nor did he know that while he was sleeping peacefully on a hank by the roadside his companion had gone to the town and fetched a carriage, in which he had been taken as drunk and incapable to the depot—the driver holding his tongue for golden consideration—and there put on board the train.
They put up at the Murray Hill Hotel that night, and the next morning, after breakfast, Marvin fulfilled his part of the contract, and started Mr. Hacker out to do his work.
Marvin himself, after a few brief but pregnant interviews with agents summoned by telephone, called a carriage and drove off to Wall Street to have a look round and see and hear how the financial world had been wagging during his absence in the far south.
A FEW weeks after the arrival of Marvin and Hacker in New York, Lady Margaret and her father were sitting over their toast and coffee in the breakfast room at Romney Abbey, one of the stateliest of the stately homes of England.
"Well, papa, any news in your letters?" said Lady Margaret, looking up from a pile of her own beside her plate. "What is the matter? You look as if some one had asked you a riddle you couldn't answer."
"My dear Madge, you really seem to have made me a special subject for your studies in physiognomy," laughed her father. "You're quite right. I have not only had one riddle asked me, but many, and I can't answer any of them."
"Nothing serious, I hope, dad. What is it—finance or high politics?"
"To tell you the truth, dear, it's both," replied the duke, who was beginning to make quite a confidante of his brilliant, quick witted daughter. "In the first place Sir John Morton, the under secretary—this is of course strictly between ourselves—tells me that France and Russia are both in reality quite exasperated over the Japanese Alliance, and are intriguing desperately to detach Italy from the Triple Alliance, so as to deprive us of our only friend in the Mediterranean. If they succeeded it would almost inevitably mean a European conflagration.
"Then, again, Germany is so furious at the practically barren results of Prince Henry's visit to the States that she is more bitterly Anglophobe than ever. Of course the German press puts the failure down to English influence, and it is doubtful if even the Kaiser would be strong enough to bring Germany into line with us if the trouble really became serious."
"Think of the abominable way they have behaved about the South African War, and all the lies they have told about our brave fellows in the field!" exclaimed Lady Margaret, the angry tears rising to her eyes as she recalled her gallant brother falling dead with his body torn by a Boer expanding bullet. "We should be very much better without such allies. In fact, I don't believe for one moment our men would fight beside them. I think they would very much rather fight against them."
"I shouldn't be at all surprised if you were right, Madge," said the duke. "Germany, or, at any rate, the press and the people, have shown up very badly over this war. They have been worse even than the French, for, of course, one would naturally expect them to go into hysterics over a thing like this.
"Then it seems that General Mentschikoff, the new Governor of Manchuria, has had practically a free hand in the Far East, and is using it by intriguing for what seems to be neither more nor less than an informal alliance with that precious old Empress Dowager as a set off to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance.
"That means, of course, more trouble with China in the near future, for the old wretch's influence is stronger than ever since the Powers made the terrible mistake of permitting the legations to recognize her again. All together, I'm afraid things are looking decidedly black."
"If that's the case, they certainly do," said Lady Margaret, who, under her father's training, was rapidly arriving at a comprehensive grip of international politics. "And now, what about the high finance. You said you were troubled about that, too. I hope there's nothing that will affect your properties?"
"Oh, no," replied her father, "except that for some reason or other I appear to have been making a great deal of money lately. Of course, as you know, the stock markets are the barometers of the political world, and almost infallibly foretell any depression or disturbance. But for the last week or two there have been some extraordinary movements which are not to be accounted for in this way.
"For instance, I hear, not only from London and New York, but also from Berlin and Paris, that there has been a steady and almost phenomenal rise in railways and steamboats, and also in the shares of the big construction companies—I mean ship and locomotive builders."
"Well, that ought to be good news for you, dad. You hold a good many of them, don't you? I've noticed, for instance, that American rails have been going up very fast. And all the transatlantic lines are up, too."
"That's curious reasoning for a girl of your age, Madge," said her father, not without a feeling of pride, "but still, I must say, I would rather see you taking an interest in serious things of this sort than the fooleries that the modern young woman seems to think so much of."
"I am only going in the way you taught me, dad," she laughed, "and it's infinitely more interesting. Still, as for the fooleries, you know no one loves a good dance better than I do, and you also know I can ride and golf and skate and steer a boat against most of the butterflies, and I'm sure I'm quite as well dressed as any of them.
"But to return to the muttons. You say you've made a lot of money out of these rises, why, then, aren't you quite satisfied with them?"
"Because, my dear Madge, they do not appear to be what one may call natural rises. There is no economic reason for them.
"You know the prices of stock rise and fall in accordance with definite laws unless, of course, a particular market is being manipulated for a given purpose.
"But there is a general rise over a very wide field, and none of my brokers appears able to give any reason for it. That is what puzzles me."
"And yet," said Lady Margaret, after a little pause, "don't you notice, dad, that this wide field, as you call it, is, after all, only one field. Railways, steamers, shipyards, and locomotive construction works, all of which are practically engaged in the same work—transportation."
"Good heavens! I never thought of that, Madge. Why, yes, and, now I come to think of it, cable shares have gone up, too, and so have Marconis. It almost looks as if somebody were trying to corner the world's communications.
"But no, that is out of the question. Even Dumont Lawson's so called billion-dollar trust would be a mere flea bite to that. It would be impossible for a sufficient amount of money to get into the hands of one syndicate, or even a group, to accomplish such a colossal piece of work.
"However, I suppose we shall learn in time. Meanwhile I shall buy you Lord Densmore's yacht out of the winnings. Poor fellow, he's come sadly to grief, but site is a beautiful craft, and will just suit us for our next cruise to the Mediterranean. And now, Madge, what is your news?"
"Well, for one thing," replied Lady Margaret, turning over her letters, "Mrs. Marvin—you know that charming woman who went with us on that delightful trip in Colorado, and who afterwards married the millionaire—has taken Grafton House in Park Lane for the season, so she will be quite near us.
"She writes to say that she is coming over in about a fortnight, and means to have a real good time, as she puts it. Her husband is coming, too, but only as a sort of bird of passage.
"She says he is very busy with the usual number of irons in the fire, and will be constantly flitting between New York and London and Paris, and—oh, dad," she went on after a little pause, "an idea has just struck me.
"Do you think it would be possible to get her presented when I am? She is a delightful woman, quite a lady, and you know she is connected by marriage with the Wyngraves."
"H'm, yes," replied the duke slowly, "and why, yes, of course—that son of hers, a remarkably smart young fellow he was, too—there are only actually two lives between him and the earldom. Certainly, Madge, I don't see that there will be any difficulty in the way. I'll speak to the lord chamberlain about it as soon as I get back to town. By the way, does she say anything about her son?"
"Only," said Lady Margaret, wondering why she felt so pleased at her father's words, "only that he's been down in some outlandish place in South America looking after some mining work, and, she says, doing very well indeed."
"Ah," replied her father, "I'm very glad to hear it. I think he deserves to get on. He seemed to me to have all the best of both races in him.
"It never struck me before that he was a Wyngrave. It's a fine old stock. Well, well, it's just another proof that blood will tell, after all."
Somehow Lady Margaret seemed to feel more and more pleased as her father went on. She had not seen Paul Kingston for nearly two years now, but the memory of that moment when he had held her hands and looked into her eyes on the summit of Pike's Peak was still as fresh as it had been the day after.
"Well, Madge," went on the duke, "anything else interesting?"
"Not much, I think, that would interest you, dad," she replied, turning her letters over again, "Oh, yes, here's one from Mrs. Franklin Deventer. They've taken that big corner house in Grosvenor Place for the season, and I suppose they are going to make quite a considerable splurge, as they say in Chicago. I expect they're more disgustingly wealthy than ever."
"But, my dear Madge, why disgustingly rich? There are other rich people in the world whom you don't describe in that way. Your own father, for instance, is not exactly a pauper, and I should think Gillette Marvin is worth his two millions sterling at the very least. And these people are worth their twenty millions, I suppose, and they work with Dumont Lawson and people like that—at least, I mean I don't like their methods, and, after all, I think it is quite possible to have too much money."
"H'm," smiled the duke. "I think, my dear Madge, that most of us would find a little difficulty in drawing the line between just enough money and too much. You know, when I was a comparatively poor second son, I used to look forward to five thousand a year as an almost impossible dream of wealth. I don't think so now—and if two millions, why not twenty or forty? However, that's a very big subject. I presume young Franklin is coming with the family."
"Oh, yes," replied Lady Margaret, with a little flush; "he's coming."
"I thought he wouldn't be left behind," smiled her father. "Did it strike you, Madge, that he was remarkably attentive to you the last time we were in New York? It certainly struck others, myself among them."
"Did it?" said Lady Margaret carelessly, still flushing. "Well, yes, I suppose he was; but so were a good many others. In fact, I wasn't at all sorry to get away before things became embarrassing. I must confess that one evening during the dance at the British Embassy I was rather afraid that Master Franklin was going to commit himself."
"Commit himself—what do you mean, Madge?"
"Oh, the usual thing," she replied, with an admirable imitation for eighteen of the blase woman of twenty five. "I do think men might leave one alone, at any rate till one has come out properly."
"Dear me," laughed her father, "what a grievance! I was under the impression that being left alone was exactly what young ladies did'nt want.
"But seriously, you know, Madge, I don't suppose there are many girls in England, even duke's daughters, who would be inclined to turn up their nose at young Deventer. He comes of the best old Knickerbocker stock, and his people, quite apart from their money, are as proud as Lucifer."
"My dear dad, for goodness' sake don't begin matchmaking, if you please," she laughed; "it really doesn't suit you, and it isn't half so interesting as politics or finance. At least, it isn't so to me at present And now I think it's time I went about my household duties, and if you're going to catch your train to town, I'd better ring and order the horses."
That afternoon when the duke took his seat in his favorite corner of the smoking room at the Carlton, a waiter brought him a somewhat bulky letter bearing the New York postmark. He recognized the handwriting of the address as Marvin's.
"Dear me—Mr. Marvin—how curious? Funny we should just have been talking about him this morning. Very good of him, I'm sure, to take the trouble to write such a budget as this—sure to be something good in it, too. Marvin doesn't waste his words, especially in writing.
"I wonder the extravagant fellow didn't cable. Well, it has come very conveniently, and will help to pass the time until those fellows turn up for dinner."
But before he had read half way through the first page, his grace of Romney found that the letter was going to do a great deal more than merely pass the time for him, and as he read on he became more and more deeply interested.
True, he was somewhat at a loss to guess why Gillette Marvin, a man of millions who was under no obligation whatever to him, should have taken the trouble to do this, or should have been so gratuitously generous as to send to him the almost priceless information which the letter contained. Such generosity, he well knew, was not in accord with Marvin's reputation in the world of finance.
The duke would have been considerably enlightened on the subject if he had been present on board the Shiela the last time that Mr. and Mrs. Marvin and Paul had supped together in the lower cabin.
The letter was too lengthy for reproduction here, but the following are some of its most pregnant paragraphs:
You will have noticed some rather remarkable movements in the stock markets, both on this side and in England and the Continent, and it will not have escaped your attention that these movements are practically confined to descriptions of stock connected with transportation and communication.
I can assure your grace on the very best authority that, however unaccountable the rise may seem, it will be steadily maintained for the next four months at least. You may therefore invest with perfect confidence, even at present prices, especially in transatlantic lines. This information is, of course, confidential, but it is at your grace's disposal as far as your personal friends are concerned.
Within the next few weeks a steady inset of the best European securities, especially national and state credits, may be expected in the direction of London and New York, particularly the latter.
The New Russian Loan which will be offered two months hence in Berlin, Paris, and London will be a failure. Ample measures are already being taken to insure that event. On the other hand, the Japanese loan of forty million will be subscribed in gold at least twice over.
In the course of the year it is probable that the United States government will approach his majesty's government with proposals for a preferential tariff in favor of Great Britain and her dependencies as against the impending customs union of Europe. Your grace may take this information as practically definite, and it is left to your judgment to approach his majesty's ministers on the subject in any way that you may think best.
In the event, which is not at all likely, of the troubles which are now brewing in the far east coming to a head, Great Britain may depend with perfect confidence, not only on the moral, but, if necessary, on the material support of the United States, provided that she does not entangle herself in any European alliance, and, more especially, refrains from entering into any understanding with Germany.
Such a course as this would be practically fatal to any rapprochement between the two branches of the Anglo-Saxon race. I would suggest that this is a point of the most vital importance for the consideration of his majesty's ministers.
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the duke, as he folded up the letter after reading it twice over. "That's very extraordinary—and yet Marvin is certainly not the man to write like that unless he had the best of reasons for doing so. He couldn't have the smallest possible object in misleading me; but why should he favor me with information, evidently exclusive and about as valuable to a private individual as a secret state paper might be?
"Why, there's enough there to set all the chancelleries of Europe agog, and perhaps start a European war in a week. Fortunately, there are no outsiders coming tonight, and so I shouldn't wonder if our little gathering resolved itself into something like an informal cabinet council."
For the duke was dining at the club that night with the under secretary and two or three members of the government.
THE little dinner at the Carlton proved, as the duke had expected, a function of almost international importance; but the following day there was another little dinner, held in a private room at the Waldorf-Astoria, New York, which subsequent events proved to be of still greater moment.
There were only three men present. One was Gillette Marvin, blue eyed, golden bearded, and more boyish looking than ever.
The man sitting opposite to him was a big, burly man, slightly inclined to corpulence, with the face of a bulldog and the head of a prize fighter. His eyes were small and gray and intensely bright; his nose thick and prominent; his lips full, but not loose, the upper covered with a thick gray mustache.
The lower jaw was heavy, massive, and slightly protruding. It was essentially the face of a fighter, the face of a man who would take all he could get by any means, and hold on to it, bulldog-like, till a greater strength forced his jaws apart, or his grip loosed in death.
This was Henry Dumont Lawson, head of the great steel and iron corporation which had by this time practically absorbed the whole of the hardware industries of the United States, and was rapidly invading the industrial markets of Europe.
It had a capital of more than a thousand million dollars, and its net profits for the last year had been over a hundred and twenty millions.
It had also just concluded a sort of offensive and defensive alliance with the Rockefeller group of companies, and the great combine was rapidly reaching a position from which it would be able to control, not only the principal railway systems of the United States, but also all the transatlantic traffic, with the exception of the North German Lloyd and the Cunard lines.
There were indeed already rumors to the effect that the North German Lloyd were on the point of surrender, under threat of a rate war.
The third man, who was sitting on Marvin's right, was a square built, well set up, fair haired, clean shaven man of a distinctly Teutonic type.
His face was almost expressionless, save for the inflexible determination of the thin, sharp cut lips and the steady brightness of the steel blue eyes. This was Augustus L. Schmidt, manager of the corporation, and Dumont Lawson's right hand man.
The dessert was still on the table, but the time of cigars and coffee had come—and also of business.
It was avowedly a business dinner, for Marvin had invited his brother millionaires for the purpose of a friendly discussion on certain matters closely affecting their mutual interests.
The great Dumont Lawson would perhaps have declined such an invitation, even from Gillette Marvin, on some plea or other, but for the fact that he and his associates were growing a little uneasy at the steady and yet unaccountable rise in the very class of securities that they themselves had been quietly buying for some weeks past.
For over a month now, the moment that any of their agents had attempted to purchase railroad or steamer stock, large buyings had begun in various unknown quarters, and prices had gone up.
It was the same in shares and debentures in construction companies, such as Baldwin's and Cramps' and the Schenectady Works, and only the day before a disquieting rumor had reached them to the effect that options were being bought at fancy figures on the output of all the principal shipyards and locomotive factories for the next twelve months to come.
Evidently there was some big movement going on under the surface which, in the circumstances, could only be more or less hostile to the interests of the corporation.
Gillette Marvin was not a man to invite his financial rival out to dinner for nothing, and so Dumont Lawson and his lieutenant had decided to accept.
Their host had opened the subject with an almost boyish frankness, which immediately aroused their deepest suspicions.
They both knew him as a sort of financial brigand, an operator in a smaller way than themselves, but every whit as pitiless and unscrupulous.
They were well aware, too, that when he once took hold of a thing he was never known to let go until he had twisted it into the shape he wanted, and so they felt that if a fight was coming it was going to be a stiff one.
The calm assurance of his first proposition almost staggered them.
It was just this—that he, Gillette Marvin, should be admitted into the inner councils of the corporation with a one third interest and sole control of that section of its operations which had to deal with railways, shipping, and cables.
"That is what I want, Mr. Lawson," he said, "and so I thought I would ask you gentlemen to have a bit of dinner with me tonight to see if we could hit upon any way of my getting there,"
If anybody else but a man who had made himself famous and feared by the daring and splendor of his operations during the past two years had made such a proposition, they would have looked upon it as merely the babbling of a madman, but the quiet, even tone in which he spoke, the smile under his mustache, and the cold, clear glint in his eyes, showed that he was perfectly in earnest.
Dumont Lawson's face flushed from red to purple, and a pinky tinge crept up to the pale brow and sallow face of Mr. Schmidt.
"Good heavens, sir!" spluttered the president at last. "I can hardly believe that Mr. Gillette Marvin would ask us here to waste our time listening to propositions like that. Are you aware, sir, how much it would take to buy a third share in the iron and steel corporation, if it were for sale—which it is not!"
"Somewhere around four hundred millions would be about a fair figure, I reckon," replied Marvin as carelessly as if he had been talking about ten cents.
"Well, Mr. Marvin, that might be a fair figure if the shares were in the market. But you know as well as I do that they are not. In short, I may as well say, and I think Mr. Schmidt will agree with me, that there is no part of the stock of the iron and steel corporation for sale."
"No," said Mr. Schmidt, in perfectly good American, and without a trace of German accent. "I reckon that's so. You see, Mr. Marvin, we have our own capital fully subscribed among ourselves. We have certain plans for the future which that capital will enable us to put through, and, well, without wishing to say anything discourteous, we propose to put them through without any assistance from outside."
"And there's another thing, Mr. Marvin," said Dumont Lawson, leaning back in his chair and taking a voluminous puff at his cigar. "Since we're getting to hard business, you will just excuse my suggesting that four hundred million dollars is a pretty big figure even for Mr. Gillette Marvin to talk about as though he had it right in his wallet."
"My dear sir," replied Marvin, still smiling, but looking all the time straight into the president's eyes as though he could see through the back of his head, "if it were four thousand millions, or forty thousand millions, it would be equally a matter of the most perfect unconcern to me."
Never had such astounding words been spoken in such a calmly careless voice within the confines of the United States, and these two men, accustomed as they were to think in millions and tens of millions, were for the moment paralyzed by the mention of such immeasurable sums.
They stared at each other, bit pieces off the ends of their cigars, spat them on the floor, took sips of coffee, and looked at each other again, and then at Marvin, wondering whether they had to deal with a madman or a twentieth century Crcesus.
"I see, gentlemen, that you don't believe me," said Marvin, breaking the silence with one of his tormentingly boyish laughs. "Well, of course, if you don't, you don't, and that is all there is to it.
"I asked you to meet me here tonight hoping that we might be able to join our forces on a reasonable basis and work together for the good of humanity in general and the American people in particular.
"I'm sorry. I'd sooner be a friend than an enemy, but, as I am a good American, too, if you want a fight I reckon you'll have it, that is, of course, if you can't see your way to reconsider my proposition—which is just four hundred million dollars gold for a third share in your corporation, and sole control of railroads, steamboats, and cables."
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Dumont Lawson, biting half an inch, off his cigar and leaning forward with his big arms on the table. "Do you mean that you are talking seriously about fighting the iron and steel corporation, to say nothing of the other trusts which you must know are allied with it? Why, there aren't dollars enough, in the United States to do it I hope you will excuse my being a little warm on the subject, but really, your proportion is so utterly beyond all bounds of common sense that I find considerable difficulty in treating it at all seriously. What do you say, Mr. Schmidt?"
"With every courtesy to our worthy host, Mr. President," replied the manager, "I'm bound to say that I see right eye to eye with you there. The thing is just impossible, and that's about all there is to say, even if Mr. Marvin, just for the sake of argument, was actually prepared to put the four hundred millions down, in hard money."
"I think I said four thousand millions afterwards, Mr. Schmidt, didn't I?" observed Marvin softly, shifting his eyes from Lawson's and looking into his as though he wanted to see into his soul. "Suppose we say forty thousand millions? No, I'm not joking."
"But, damn it, sir," Dumont Lawson burst out in a passion of anger and amazement, "have you found the Philosopher's Stone, or have you the world's gold reserves at your back? Four thousand millions—four thousand millions! Oh, say, I guess we had better change the subject before we lose our tempers."
"Well, you'll excuse me, Mr. Lawson, but I can't see any reason for losing one's temper over an ordinary proposition. The question is whether I am to take that as your last word—that there is none of the corporation stock for sale, and that you are not going to let me in at any price."
"That's so, Mr. Marvin," replied the president more calmly. "You see, we have our business and our own plans, and we propose to run them in our own way. If it should ever happen that we want outside help, why, we should ask for it, and one of the first men we should ask would be yourself."
"I see," laughed Marvin; "that's straight anyhow. In other words, you don't want me and you won't have me."
He picked up a fresh cigar from the table and went on rather more seriously:
"Well, gentlemen, I'm sorry; but I suppose I'll have to take that refusal as a declaration of war. I would rather have worked with you, but as I mean to work anyhow, I reckon I'll have to work against you. But as I carry a heavier metal than you do—don't laugh, you'll find it true some day—I'll give you a month to think it over in,
"At the end of that month, my terms will be one half share, and the position which is now so ably filled by yourself, Mr. President. And now, as you suggest, we will change the subject."
"Say, Schmidt," remarked Dumont Lawson to his manager in his private room, "what's Marvin on to? What sort of a game is he playing? He's not mad. He is one of the hardest headed, hardest hearted operators between here and the Golden Gate; he's made ten millions if he's made a dollar in the last two years, and I've heard on pretty good authority that he has had something to do with this ridiculous rise in railroads, steamboats, and cables, and if that is so he has more than ten millions behind him.
"But four hundred millions—four thousand millions—why, the man must be mad, after all—talking through the back of his bead like that What do you think?"
"To tell you the straight truth, Mr. President, I don't know what to think," replied Mr. Schmidt in a somewhat uneasy tone. "For my part, I wish he was mad; but he isn't, not by a lot—and yet the thing is unbelievable.
"No, sir, I believe it's just a bluff. It can't be anything else, and it's just the bluff that Gillette Marvin would try to play."
"I guess you're right, Schmidt; it's just a bluff, and I reckon we'll see it."
When Mr. Dumont Lawson received his first tape message the next morning, he found to his amazement that nearly all the stocks in which the corporation was interested were being bought up freely on overnight deals at an appreciation of from fifteen to twenty per cent.
He telephoned to Mr. Schmidt, and told him to have the most searching inquiries made as to the buying, and the answer came back:
"I have had men on it all night, but they've nothing to report. The buyers are small firms scattered all over the States and in Canada, and they pay cash every time. The public is also coming in on the rise. Every one seems to have good information. If we don't buy now, we shall lose control. Wall Street will very likely go mad today when the market opens."
"Very well," said Lawson, "we've got to have them—buy!"
When the market opened, the first news that flew from lip to lip was that a five million dollar buying order for transportations, as the railway and steamboat group had now come to be called, had been placed with three of the biggest booking firms in New York, and that instructions were to buy quickly and at any price. Whoever the foes of the corporation were, they not only meant business, but they meant putting it through quickly.
Adolphus Schmidt had scarcely arrived, pale and perspiring, on 'Change when he heard the alarming news that every available share of the descriptions he wanted had been "optioned" the night before, and was being taken up for cash as fast as the transfers could be completed.
There was not a single share on the market, and owners were holding on, waiting for further development, well knowing that the enormous prices gave them an ample margin for profit, even if the market broke, and of that there was not the slightest sign.
Towards the middle of the morning Marvin strolled into the Street and met Mr. Schmidt talking very anxiously to one of the biggest of the railway operators.
"Oh, good morning, Mr. Schmidt, good morning, Mr. Sprigge. What's the matter with the market? Here I've been trying to buy a few Lake Views, Centrals, and Western Unions, just for investment, but some one has knocked the darned things kite high for some fool reason or other. Why, none of them would pay an eighth interest at those prices. What's got the market now?"
"That's what every one on the Street would like to know, Mr. Marvin," snarled Schmidt, with a look of angry suspicion at him; "perhaps you could give us a tip about it."
He was on the point of blurting out something about a four hundred million share in the corporation when Marvin interrupted him with a laugh and the remark:
"My dear Mr. Schmidt, what in thunder should I know about it? Nearly all my interests are down West and South, you know. Besides, you will admit that I know enough to come in out of the wet, and if I wanted rails seriously I should bear them first, not boost them up to the zenith as some one with more dollars than sense seems to be doing.
"Well, so long. I'm going down South tonight. I guess there'll be an almighty slump when some one begins unloading."
"Lawson," said Mr. Schmidt that day to the president at lunch, "I don't know who or what that fellow Marvin has got behind him, but I'm absolutely certain that he's the man who is working this boost.
"Five million dollars' worth of transportations changed hands this morning, and every darned stock was opted. I couldn't get five cents' worth. I'd give fifty thousand to know the facts.
"I'd give a million," growled Lawson. "Why, if that's so, the control is gone. Whether it's Marvin or any one else, he got up a bit earlier this morning than we did and just walked 'round us.
"Yes, sir, 'round us—the iron and steel corporation of America! Look here, Schmidt, this is getting serious. Call a board meeting for this afternoon, and we'll go into the matter thoroughly. The board has got to know about Marvin's offer some time, and they may as well know about it now."
While the meeting was being held, Gillette Marvin was speeding to New Orleans as fast as a special could carry him. He was on his way to join his yacht, which was to convey him to Aspinwall, where, as he had already been advised by wire, Mr. James P. Hacker was waiting for him with his recruits.
THE month of grace went by without any further startling developments. .
Transportations stuck at the figure they had reached on that fatal morning in Wall Street when the iron and steel corporation had found itself practically frozen out.
Towards the end of the month, however, the invisible power which had then paralyzed the market began to make itself felt again in new and ominous fashion. The New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads sent out orders for certain new express and freight locomotives, and their managers and presidents were astounded by receiving an intimation to the effect that no locomotives were available; that all those under construction had been bought, and that the total output of the works for the next three years had been preempted by certain firms whose names the Baldwin Company were not at liberty to disclose.
Within the same week the American Line wanted to place an order with Cramp for a new fifteen thousand ton liner. The manager was informed that it would be impossible to accommodate them, as the yards were working to their full capacity and would not be in a position to accept any more orders for two years to come.
Here, again, the company was not at liberty to disclose the names of the firms to whose order it was working.
Inquiries from other yards produced almost exactly the same replies. Even in England the great building firms had been laid under the same mysterious embargo.
Meanwhile the true secret of these tremendous operations lay headed up in barrels, packed tight in the holds of ocean tramps, one of which left Port Kingston almost every day, bound northward to San Francisco, or southward through the Strait of Magellan, en route for New York and London.
From San Francisco the barrels of yellow gray powder—certified to be mineral fertilizers—were shipped across to New York, consigned to John K. Norton & Co., Hudson Wharf, Hoboken.
The steamers for London discharged at Esperance Wharf, Rotheride, a tumble down, forlorn looking structure, backed by a group of dilapidated, smoke blackened sheds and factories.
It had been taken at length by the Mineral Fertilizer Company, Limited, of whom no one could tell anything save that it had not offered any shares for subscription, and that its list of signatures did not contain a single name known to commerce.
The day that the first of the Kingston-Marvin freight ships tied up alongside the Esperance wharf, the Duke of Romney received an envelope posted eight days before in New York. It contained a single sheet of note paper on which were written the pregnant words:
I write in haste to tell you, on the very best information, that the market in Transportations will break badly in forty eight hours after you receive this and have cabled me to the effect that you have sold all you hold. You had better tell your friends to get out, too.
Gillette P. Marvin.
The same morning, allowing for difference of time, Mr. Dumont Lawson received a telegram from San Francisco worded thus:
MONTH OF GRACE IS UP SIX TONIGHT, YOUR TIME. MY TERMS ARE NOW HALF SHARE AND FULL CONTROL OF TRANSPORTS AND CABLES. IF I DO NOT RECEIVE ACCEPTANCE WITHIN FOUR HOURS, TROUBLE BEGINS TOMORROW.
Dumont Lawson held a brief and anxious conference with Mr. Schmidt and a few other leading men of the corporation who happened to be in town, and the result was that a couple of hours later Marvin received the following wire:
Offer declined; do as you please.
Still, there was yet another lull of forty eight hours—forty eight hours of silent, oppressive suspense.
The transportation market was absolutely stagnant; holders wouldn't sell, and buyers didn't dare buy. Hundreds of millions of dollars had been locked up for several weeks, and in London hundreds of thousands of pounds were lying idle.
The magnates of the corporation and the oil trust, still confident in their millions, looked upon the non-fulfilment of Marvin's threat as evidence that his bluff had failed.
"I told you that we ought to see him," said Dumont Lawson to the oil president after the market had closed on the second day. "Well, we've seen him, and he had gone out like a scared rabbit. I guess that is the last well hear of Gillette Marvin. He's been working this little game, and I reckon it's cost him about every cent he's got!"
"He's a nervy chap, though, and it wasn't a bad bluff while it lasted," said the other president. "He's just the sort of man I would like to have in our company, and if he wants a billet now, I guess he has only got to ask for it."
The moment he received Lawson's telegram, Marvin went to the telegraph bureau in Market Street with three clerks, and for a couple of hours he kept the wires of America and the Atlantic cables hot with messages.
Then he took a special train for Lake City, put up at his old rooms at the hotel, and walked down to the lake.
At the ferry steps he found José waiting for him in a boat, and within an hour he was shaking hands with Paul outside the gangway door of the Shiela, lying as snugly in her shed as though she had never left it.
"Well, Paul, how are things going down south? Everything fixed up for a start, eh?"
"Yes," replied Paul. "There is not much more to do now. All the men have settled down to their work very nicely, and I have been able to pick out some excellent officers."
"You feel pretty sure of them, I hope? It will be an awkward thing if any of them turn crooked after the operations begin in dead earnest."
"No, I think you weeded out all the suspicious ones at Panama. They all signed the declaration quite readily, and so of course every man is responsible for every one else. Besides, why should they risk their lives to play us false when they all have the prospect of unlimited pay?
"Oh, no, I think we are quite safe on that score. But come on board. Chin Su, my new Chinese cook, will have supper ready in a few minutes, and then we'll make a start. Have you heard anything from England? I suppose you fixed it up all right for the duke?"
"Oh, yes, I had a cable from him just before I left San Francisco, to thank me for the hint to get out. I reckon he's made a pretty good pile by this time. The slump starts in New York tomorrow morning. The agents have started paying in gold in London and New York this week, and I have opened up another conversion place at Antwerp. I thought that would be handier than Paris."
"That sounds all right," said Paul. "I've been shipping the stuff off at the rate of about two thousand tons a week, and the old lake is as full as ever. I reckon it just bubbles up out of the volcano as fast as ever we take it out. By the time we get to London there will be about ten thousand tons on the way."
"Ten thousand tons—say seven thousand tons net gold! Well, I reckon that will do to go on with. It's enough to flood out all the markets in the world. By the way, you're a nice sort of boy—you haven't asked anything about your mother yet."
"Just going to," said Paul. "Why didn't she come with you?"
"Well, there wasn't any point in hustling her down and back again in such an almighty hurry when she's got lots more important things to attend to in New York. You see, she's got the house in Madison Square to fix up; then there's her fit-out for Europe, and all the arrangements to make about the London house as well, and you bet she's just reveling in it."
"Well, that's good hearing," laughed Paul. "As long as she is enjoying herself, that is all right. And now, when do you want to get back to New York?"
"Eight days from now will just do me," replied Marvin. "Express I is ready and taking in freight, and she is about booked up full, I believe, although we haven't advertised yet. The notices will be out tomorrow. She sails on the fifteenth, the same day as the Deutschland.
"We are guaranteeing a hundred hour passage from Sandy. Hook to Southampton, passage money returned if we don't do it. I guess the shipping trust is going to sit up and scratch its head pretty hard tomorrow morning; though of course no one will believe us until we have done it.
"Sorry you can't come with us, Paul, we'll have quite a sport with the old Deutschland. Oh, by the way, that reminds me; the Franklin Deventers are going over by the Deutschland. They've taken a big house in Grosvenor Place, and mean to make a considerable splash, by all accounts."
"Oh, yes," said Paul, suddenly becoming grave, "and of course young Franklin is going with them?"
"Well, you don't suppose he is going to stay around New York while his people are over in London renewing the acquaintance of His Grace of Romney and Lady Margaret. Well, never mind, Paul; you will only be out of the running for a bit, and, remember, you will have your mother there, and you couldn't have any better ally than she.
"Then remember, too, that it won't be very long before your majesty makes his royal entry into Europe as Lord Paramount of the Air; and when you do that, I reckon Master Franklin Deventer will take a back seat."
"I'm not so sure about that," said Paul rather gloomily. "I don't believe air-ships or tons of gold, or anything else, would have the slightest influence with Lady Margaret if she preferred one man to another. She's not that sort.
"However, that's not the subject at present. It's as likely as not she has forgotten all about me. Suppose we get to supper and make a start?"
"I hardly think, somehow, she has forgotten you, Paul," replied Marvin as they moved towards the table, "but anyhow, you'll soon have a mighty big show for bringing yourself back to her ladyship's recollection. You see, when we're once fairly started, there is no need for any further concealment about the air-ships. The only thing we want to keep out of sight for the present are the submarines. I hope you are quite sure that you can trust your captains with them."
"Absolutely," said Paul as they sat down. "They have no interest in going anything but straight, and if they had, they couldn't do it, simply because no one knows the secret of the converters but our two selves, and therefore, when they came to the end of their present stock of fuel, they would just have to come to the top and lie there until some one picked them up. They all know that, so I think we can depend upon them turning up at the depot at the proper time."
Immediately after supper the Shiela rose from the shed and began her southward journey at full speed. On the afternoon of the following day she came to rest in her quarters under the crater wall.
The last of the cargo ships was just ready to sail for the Thames, and she was sent off the next day.
Marvin and Paul then made a final inspection of the hundred men under the command of James P. Hacker, now the most devoted and enthusiastic of all the servants of the syndicate. They were as likely looking a lot of men as could have been picked off the three continents.
Adventurers to a man, they had embarked on this extraordinary campaign with a whole souled enthusiasm which was perhaps a better guarantee of their trustworthiness than the death bond which they had signed and sworn to.
About half were English, and half American. Each submarine carried a captain, lieutenant, a chief engineer, and six men. The largest and most powerful of them was commanded by Commodore Hacker himself.
Paul commanded the Anonyma, as he had named the magnificent craft which was to be the flag-ship of the air. He had a captain, two lieutenants, two engineers, and six men to work the pneumatic guns and aerial torpedoes in case it became necessary to resort to force.
The other air-ships were left at Port Kingston under the charge of their captains and the remainder of the men, with orders to hold the port and prevent any access to the Mount of the Golden Lake at all hazards.
On the morning of the fifth day the submarines started with orders to rendezvous at an island off Nova Scotia, which Marvin had leased for fifty years from the Canadian government.
The same night, after a farewell supper to the temporary exiles, the Anonyma rose into the air and headed direct for New York at a hundred and fifty miles an hour. Forty eight hours later she deposited Marvin in a lonely valley in the Catskills, whence, with Paul, he walked to a station on the West Shore line and took train for New York.
As he fully expected, he found the Empire City in a state of almost frantic excitement.
The slump had been running a week now, and panic reigned supreme. The bottom had fallen out of Transportations, and they were not salable at any price.
On the first day of the slump there had not been a very great reaction until it was known that London and Paris were selling heavily. Then came the rush. For the moment the iron and steel corporation, the oil, the shipping trust, and the Vanderbilt group did their utmost to stop the downward run, and on the second day succeeded in achieving a slight rally; but after that blocks of shares of five hundred, a thousand, and two thousand each were flung upon the markets as though the scrip was only so much waste paper.
Other stocks, even the most heavily gilt edged, went down in the universal panic, and yet—strangest feature of the situation—the gold reserves at the banks kept on rising, fed from unknown sources.
Gold bullion was pouring into the Washington mint by the hundred weight at a time all through office hours, and the assay office was kept busy testing and stamping bars of gold to the amount of nearly a ton a day.
Meanwhile the same thing was happening in London, Paris, and Brussels. The money markets of the world were in a state of absolute demoralization.
The most experienced and best informed operators were as utterly bewildered as the merest amateurs. Confidence, even in the most firmly established firms, was shaken.
No one knew which class of security would be attacked next. Hundreds of thousands of pounds had been lost in a few weeks—vanished no one knew where.
And yet, to set against all this, there were other features, absolutely contradictory, which made the situation all the more bewildering.
In the first place, the gold reserves in England, the United States, and in Canada were rising with a steadiness and rapidity unparalleled even in the golden days of Forty Nine and Fifty One, when California and Australia gave up the secrets of their treasure houses.
But this gold did not get into circulation. It was simply held to the order of certain firms acting for principals whose names they were not permitted to disclose.
At the same time, while industrials, steam lines, and railways were in a state of chaos, British consols, United States stock, India four per cents, and all British and Colonial inscribed stock had been climbing steadily since the panic began.
Consols had jumped in a week from ninety four and seven sixteenths to a hundred and ten and a half, and other government securities had risen in proportion to almost prohibitive prices.
Then on Monday, the twenty fifth of May, another bombshell fell on the commercial world of New York. It took the form of a very simple and brief announcement in the papers which ran thus:
The Atlantic Express Company's Express I will leave the company's wharf at 4 p.m. tomorrow. All berths are now taken, and no more freight can be received; but other ships of the company, Express II and Express III, are now completed, and passages and freights may be booked at the office, and cabins secured at all principal hotels and through Messrs. Cook and Gaze.
These vessels are guaranteed to do the trip from Sandy Hook to the Needles in one hundred hours. Passage rates the same as by other first class lines. Money returned in full if the guarantee is not kept.
Express II will sail at noon Saturday, and Express III at noon Tuesday, and the company will maintain a try weekly service until the completion of vessels now building makes a daily service practicable.
To say that consternation reigned supreme in the shipping offices that night would be only a feeble description of the actual state of affairs. The statement, if true, spelled ruin.
All sorts of rumors had been flying about since it had become known that three magnificently appointed vessels of ten thousand tons had been launched from Cramp's yard, but when Express I had come round from Philadelphia to take her place at the express wharf, and it was found that she was not driven by steam, since she had no funnels, amazement became mingled with dismay, and ship owners and managers of lines began to ask themselves and each other:
"What if this mysterious company had come into possession of some new motive force which would end the era of steam and make every steamship that floated worthless except for freight carrying?"
PAUL KINGSTON and his mother live in Lake City, Colorado. He has inherited his dead father's tastes for scientific investigation, and has perfected an air-ship which he needs only the means to test. These are supplied by Gillette Marvin, a millionaire and an old friend of the family. He also arranges a month's trip to Pike's Peak with the Kingstons and a British friend, the Duke of Romney, who is traveling through America with his daughter Margaret. The outcome of the excursion is the marriage of Mr. Marvin and Mrs. Kingston, and the loss of Paul's heart to Lady Margaret.
In due time the wonderful air-ship, the Shiela, named for Mrs. Kingston, is completed, and on her trial trip proves a magnificent success, and as Paul has plans for the building of submarine boats of incredible swiftness, the day seems not far distant when he will in truth be ruler of the air and sea.
But there is a still more marvelous thing yet to come. In the honeymoon flight of the Shiela over Sooth America, Mrs. Marvin spies a strange looking lake beneath them in the crater of a volcano. It turns out to be a lake of gold, and the three now realize themselves to be masters of the world. Bat great secrecy is necessary for the present A syndicate is formed, ostensibly to operate apparently useless mines in Chile, and four more air-ships are built, with the most magnificent of the lot, the Anonyma, commanded by Paul Kingston, as the flag ship of the fleet. But as yet the public at large knows nothing of them.
Meantime, at a conference with Dumont Lawson and Augustus L. Schmidt, magnates of the great steel and iron trust, Gillette Marvin offers four thousand million dollars for a third interest in the corporation, which he proposes to operate for the good of humanity. This is refused and the new syndicate determines to put on the screws. A terrible slump takes place in Transportation stocks, and then, on the 25th of May, another bombshell bursts on the commercial world of New York. This takes the shape of an announcement that the Atlantic Express Company will send a new steamer, Express I, across the ocean in one hundred hours.
THE memorable morning of Tuesday the 26th of May broke in a swift flood of sunlight over the stately Empire City.
Alongside the Hamburg American wharf on the Hoboken side lay the huge Deutschland, the greyhound of the Atlantic, the smoke curling in light wreaths from her four gigantic funnels. She was to sail at nine o'clock. Almost exactly opposite to her on the New York shore lay the long, white, yacht-like shape of Express I. She was built somewhat after the same model as the Empress boats of the Canadian Pacific Line, with overhanging prow and very fine lines fore and aft. She carried four tall masts, and, save for the absence of funnels, her appearance was that of an ordinary steamer.
The announcement of the day before had, of course, been taken as a direct challenge to the great record breaker, hitherto undisputed queen of the Western Ocean, and sporting New York was rapidly losing its head over the excitement of the event.
The Deutschland had just lowered her own record to a hundred and thirty hours, and here was this mysterious stranger, driven no one knew how, lying smokeless and silent at her berth, ready, according to the advertisement, to cut even that record down by no less than thirty hours.
On the whole, the betting was strongly in favor of the ship which had proved what she could do; but there was a distinct reaction when Gillette Marvin strolled into the Union Club about ten o'clock on the Monday night, and, after casually remarking that he was taking his wife to Europe in the Express, began raking in all the bets he could get against the mysterious craft.
At the end he stood to win nearly two hundred thousand dollars or to lose fifty thousand.
The next morning the odds had shortened to two to one on the Deutschland, and Marvin had asked the whole crowd to lunch at one o'clock the next day on board the Express.
Soon after eight next morning he turned up on the Deutschland to say good-by to the Deventers and several other friends and acquaintances who were going over on her.
There is perhaps nothing more exciting than a frankly declared ocean race, for in no other form of racing are such large numbers of people personally concerned, and consequently the excitement on board the Deutschland far exceeded that of an ordinary departure.
The challenge of the Express Company had been tacitly accepted. During the night extra quantities of the finest steaming coal had been taken on board, and the captain had shipped as extra hands twenty four of the best stokers that could be found in New York.
"And so you really think, my dear Mrs. Marvin," said Mrs. Deventer, "that you are going to cross the Atlantic in a hundred hours and get into Southampton thirty hours ahead of the fastest liner afloat? Really, it seems a hit incredible, doesn't it?"
"More like impossible, I should be inclined to say," chimed in Miss Eirene Deventer, with ever so slight a curl of her beautiful lip. "For my own part, I shall be inclined to believe it when I see the Express waiting for us alongside Southampton quay. A steamer that isn't a steamer, and has no funnels and doesn't go by steam, is just a little bit too Jules Verney for me. How do you drive her, anyhow?"
"With screws, I believe," replied Mrs. Marvin, "but how the engines work I really can't tell you."
"And I guess if you could, you wouldn't, would you?" laughed Miss Deventer not over pleasantly. "Well, if you get across to Southampton safely, I suppose we shall meet some time."
"We shall meet before then, I hope," said Marvin. "We are taking the same track as the Deutschland, and we hope to be somewhere alongside about sunrise on Saturday oft the Lizard. You see, we are giving you a pretty long start—over thirty hours out of a hundred and thirty—so I reckon we will do pretty well if we overhaul you there by daybreak Saturday morning."
"Well, Mr. Marvin, I must say you seem to have pretty considerable confidence in this new craft of yours, if it is yours, as people seem to say," observed Franklin Deventer, "and if you haven't got your hook full—"
"That is all right, Mr. Deventer," rejoined Marvin quickly, taking out his pocketbook. "The Express is not my boat, but I don't mind saying that I have shares in the company, and as for bets—well, I am just taking all that come along. What is yours?"
"I'll lay you twenty five thousand dollars to ten that you don't get over in a hundred hours, and another twenty thousand to fifteen that you don't see the Deutschland till you find her alongside Ocean Quay, Southampton."
"I'll take them both, Mr. Deventer," said Marvin, jotting the figures down, "and I'll tell you what I'll do. Ill hold the Express special for you at Southampton and land you in London two hours ahead of the Hamburg American train. Well, now, there's the bell, and we'll have to be getting ashore.
"Hope you will have a pleasant voyage ana a quick one. I hear Captain Adler has laid himself out for another record run, so I guess we may have quite an exciting time between the Lizard and the Needles.
"Hello, Mr. Schmidt! Good morning, I didn't know you were going across. Little pleasure trip, eh—after the trying times we have been having lately?"
"Oh, good morning, Mr. Marvin," replied the other with a fairly successful assumption of cordiality. "Why, yes, I only made up my mind last night. Partly a little business, partly a pleasure trip as you say. Some of our interests on the other side want looking up, as they do every now and then, you know, and it's best to see after that sort of thing yourself."
"Quite so, quite so," replied Marvin, shaking hands with him. "Now then, my dear, there's the second bell. If you will finish your farewells we had better hurry. We don't want to cross in the Deutschland this time."
"Not exactly," said his wife as she finished her hand-shakings.
Ten minutes later the Deutschland's whistle sent a hoarse booming roar across the river. It sounded like a blast of defiance burled at the silent Express.
At five minutes past ten a message was received from Sandy Hook to say that the Deutschland had passed, and the news was immediately flashed over the wires of the American continent and under the ocean to England and Germany.
After that all interest centered in the beautiful challenger, who was now rapidly taking in the last of her freight. At nine o'clock the next morning the Express was thrown open to her passengers and their friends, and Marvin also invited several of his business acquaintances to inspect the new marvel of the sea.
The first thing that struck all the visitors was the immense amount of room devoted to passenger accommodation.
The staterooms were twice as large as those on the biggest liners. Only first class passengers were carried, and there was ample accommodation for a thousand of them.
There were no engines or boilers visible, and no smoke or steam or smell of oil and grease. There was not even a trace of smoke from the kitchen.
In fact, from stem to stem there was not a coal fire or an oil stove on board her.
From the promenade deck to the lower the visitors were at liberty to wander where they would, but the secrets which the lower deck covered remained secrets.
In fact, Marvin had caused it to be quite distinctly understood that no questions with regard to the motive power of the ship were expected, and that, if asked, they would not be answered.
Precisely at fifteen minutes to three a deep, mellow boom sounded from the huge whistle on the foremast, high up above the navigation bridge.
People looked up for the steam, but there was none—only a blast of invisible air. The guests at once began to file down the gangway on to the wharf.
Presently a bell tinkled in the depths of the great ship, a broad stream of foam rushed out from under her stern, and the Express, driven by her invisible energy, glided away down stream. At four o'clock precisely a message was received announcing that she had passed Sandy Hook.
Meanwhile, far away on the summer sea, the Deutschland was flinging the ocean leagues behind her, as even she had never done before. Although no one on board her, and least of all her captain and officers, believed for a moment that her mysterious rival would really accomplish the unparalleled feat of crossing the ocean in a hundred hours, still every one clearly understood that a serious and determined effort was to be made to depose the great German liner from the queenship of the seas.
Moreover, the glamour of the unknown was about the Express. She was a floating mystery, and, after all, there was no telling what she really could do.
Added to this, a considerable number of the anxious millionaires on board had an uncomfortable consciousness that Gillette Marvin was hardly the man to put his millions, as he must have done, into such a venture as this without feeling pretty confident of at least some definite measure of success.
Never was so much money gambled and spent on an Atlantic voyage before. The ship had scarcely started before a committee of millionaires was formed in the smoking room which resolved to send a thousand dollars a day down to the engine-room for every knot over the six hundred and twenty covered in the twenty four hours, and a final bonus of five thousand if the Deutschland passed the Needles ahead of the Express.
At noon on Wednesday the captain announced amid a scene of enthusiasm that the total run was seven hundred and forty two miles for the twenty seven hours, and this gave a speed of very nearly twenty four knots an hour, allowing for the necessary slowing down in the river and while passing through the Narrows.
The weather was absolutely perfect—smooth sea and clear sky, and light westerly breezes, which, of course, became head winds for the great liner, rushing eastward as she was doing at a speed of nearly thirty statute knots an hour.
Everything worked with perfect smoothness. The engine-room staff toiled day and night to keep every portion of the giant engines in perfect condition, for the slightest mishap would mean either a stoppage or a loss at best of two or three knots an hour.
The stokers labored incessantly in shifts of three hours each, hurling coal into the insatiable furnaces, and raking out the grates so that every possible unit of heat could be got out of the fuel.
Day and night the passengers stood round the engine-room skylights and watched the giant piston rods leaping up and down like the shining arms of steel Titans. Some of the more anxious timed them with stop watches, and looked personally aggrieved if they seemed to fall behind by a fraction of a second.
Every minute the surplus steam hissed from the safety valves, and on the second day out a deputation actually waited upon the captain with the suggestion that they should be lashed down in the old Mississippi style; but this proposition Captain Adler, keen as he was upon the record, was obliged to decline.
Twenty-four knots were all he could promise, and that she was making consistently, and if the Express had really given them thirty hours' start it would be impossible for her to overtake the Deutschland unless her propellers drove her through the water at a speed of at least thirty five knots an hour.
Morning after morning dawned bright and clear over the calm sea, and still the telescopes and long range binoculars which were so anxiously directed astern failed to show the threatened white shape looming up out of the west.
A hundred and fifty miles from Land's End a wireless message was picked up which stated that the Express had left New York punctually at three on the Wednesday, and had passed Sandy Hook inside the hour.
"That doesn't cut any ice," remarked Franklin Deventer to Mr. Schmidt as they met on deck in the early dawn of the fifth day; "I reckon he's got to quicken up a lot on that before he overhauls us now."
"Why, yes," replied Mr. Schmidt, "he's got to do some pretty smart steaming, or whatever he does, to get in tomorrow. As for today, why it's just ridiculous. Another of Marvin's bluffs, and I reckon our money is on the right horse this time."
But breakfast was scarcely over when the Marconi receiver in the captain's room began to buzz and click again, and the operator spelt out the ominous message:
"Marvin on board Express I, a hundred miles east, desires compliments to captain and passengers ana hopes to join Deutschland off the Lizard."
"I DON'T believe a word of it. I think those Marconi people are working off a bit of a racket on us!" exclaimed Mr. Franklin Deventer as he went with Mr. Schmidt into the smoking room, where there was already quite a crowd of anxious looking men discussing the ominous news.
"That is just what I think about it," said Mr. Schmidt angrily. "Why, the thing is impossible—outside all reason. If one part of the message is true, the other can't be. If this thing left the wharf on Wednesday at three o'clock, and she is now a hundred miles astern of us, it means that she's steamed about two thousand knots in ninety hours. Well, if that message is right, he must have been moving through the water at, at least, thirty six knots an hour, and, so far as I am concerned, I'll believe the darned thing possible when I see it."
"That's so!" exclaimed a grave looking United States Senator, who was in the gamble for ten thousand dollars.
"Just what I think," added a well known Wall Street plunger, who stood to win over a hundred thousand if the news was false, or to lose nearly half a million if it was true. "I reckon that is about the sire of it. Why, the fastest destroyer afloat couldn't do it on a river."
AH the same the plunger looked over his book with somewhat anxious eyes, and his fingers trembled a little as he turned the pages.
"What does the skipper say about it?" exclaimed Franklin Deventer, Jr., who had also plunged very considerably against the apparent impossibility; "and are they whooping her up all she is worth? She don't seem to me to be shivering quite so much as she was yesterday. Oh, here he is. Well, captain, what sort of a rag are the Marconi people working off on us?"
There was an instant hush in the chorus of half angry, half incredulous exclamations as Captain Adler entered the smoking room.
He was looking very grave.
The smoking room crowd at once shaped itself in a semicircle round the captain to listen to the words of fate which were about to fall from his lips:
"Gentlemen," he began slowly and even a little huskily, "I regret very much to be obliged to say that I see no reason for disbelieving the message from Land's End."
He was interrupted by a loud and prolonged "phew" of amazement from the crowd, followed by several much more definite expressions of anger and disgust Which may be left to the imagination of the reader.
"Yes, gentlemen," Captain Adler continued, "I can well understand your feelings, and I know that you can sympathize with mine. Immediately after receiving the message I asked for confirmation. I have just had an answer stating the message to be perfectly authentic, and further informing me that the station has been in communication with the Express for nearly an hour.
"It deeply grieves me, gentlemen, I can assure you, but still, it seems plain that this extraordinary craft must have traveled from New York at the amazing speed of nearly forty knots an hour, or more than one and a half to our one, and at that rate—unless something happens to her—I'm afraid it is only too certain that she will keep her appointment with us off the Lizard."
The captain's little speech was followed by a silence of blank dismay. In the saloon alone something like two million dollars had been laid against the Express even getting in first, and quite another million against her catching the Deutschland at the Lizard; and the second cabin was heavily hit in proportion.
But there were infinitely greater interests than the individual bets at stake. A hundred hour passage from Sandy Hook to the Lizard meant the loss of tens of millions of capital on both sides of the Atlantic, and that, to many a man on board the Deutschland, meant absolute ruin.
Meanwhile, the unbeaten Greyhound was doing her best, and doing it gallantly. The saloon had already paid over thirty thousand dollars to the engine-room, and now another message was sent down, raising it to fifty thousand if the Deutschland passed the Lizard first, and a hundred thousand if she won the race at the Needles.
She was still a hundred miles westward of the Land's End, and now, for the first time, she met the heavy cross roll coming northward from the Bay of Biscay.
This, of course, was all in favor of the sixteen thousand tonner as against the ten thousand tonner. In fact, the great ship hardly felt it, and no one on board even noticed it, so intense was the excitement which possessed every one from the saloon deck to the steerage; and in an hour she had swirled through it and entered the smooth waters of the Channel.
Land's End was still some miles distant when the Marconi receiver began to buzz again:
"Express reports she can see your smoke; you will probably sight her in half an hour."
It seemed incredible, and yet there was now no reason to doubt. Still, a stern chase is a long chase, and only two hours and a half of steaming lay between the Deutschland and the Lizard lights.
Every man who could get his work in at the furnace was slaving away as though his life depended on it.
A few minutes after she had settled down into the smooth water of the Channel, the chief engineer came up to announce that she had reached the twenty fifth knot.
More by way of relieving their feelings than anything else, several of the passengers raised a cheer at this, but it had hardly died away when young Franklin Deventer, who was up in the mizzen shrouds with a powerful binocular telescope, screamed out in a voice shrill with passion:
"There she comes and sink her!"
Something like a groan rose from the deck.
Women turned white, and some found relief in tears. Others began to laugh hysterically.
Men went pale and looked at each other with fiercely questioning eyes. Some shouted out wild oaths which they would never have dreamed of uttering in the presence of women, others turned away alone and cursed everything that floated on the waters under their breath; and some of the hardiest sportsmen walked off stolidly to the smoking room and ordered drinks.
Then there was a general rush aft, and every point of vantage was crowded with men and women, and bristling with telescopes and field glasses.
Yes—it was only too true. Far away astern, a tiny white speck gleamed out every now and then in the brilliant sunshine, rising and falling on the cross channel swell.
If it had been a steamer they would, of course, have seen its smoke long ago; but now at the most it was only twenty miles away. Still it was over seventy five miles to the Lizzard yet, and a vessel traveling nearly thirty miles an hour through the water takes a lot of overhauling in such a distance; so there was hope still.
But the next twenty minutes showed that the Express must he traveling at a tremendous speed, for at the end of that time she was plainly visible to tho naked eye. In half an hour they could see her masts plainly. Then her beautiful, white gleaming hull came distinctly into view.
Five and twenty miles ahead the twin lighthouses of the Lizard twinkled white in the Bun, high above the blue, lake-like water. It was almost a matter of minutes now, and every minute told against the throbbing, panting giant that was making her last struggle for the supremacy of the sea.
Higher and higher the Lizard lighthouses rose ahead, and plainer and bigger the white shape showed astern.
There was no talking on board the Deutschland now. It was all agonized suspense, hard thinking, and, if possible, harder work.
Within fifteen miles of the first goal the Express has crept up to the Deutschland's starboard quarter, and was now scarcely three miles astern.
The exquisite beauty of her shape and the marvelous smoothness of her motion extorted admiration even from those to whom her almost miraculous performance spelt something like ruin.
Yard by yard she crept up, sweeping smoothly and swiftly through the water, carrying no "bone in her teeth," as sailors call the foam under a ship's bows, but dividing the calm waters almost without a ripple, as a razor's edge might have done.
Only two huge, glassy swaths of water rolled away from either side of her forward, and astern there swirled three long lines of curling eddies, but never a bubble of foam.
"Mein Gott!" whispered the captain to a few of the more distinguished passengers whom he had allowed on the bridge, "it is a miracle, but it is true. Gentlemen, we are beaten. The Deutschland is no longer queen of the sea. That infernal, beautiful craft is traveling forty knots if she is doing a yard.
"See, there is not even a soul to be seen on deck. What does that mean? It means that a wind of fifty miles is sweeping over her, and that no human being could stand against it."
No one answered him. Every mind was strung too tense for words. The men on the bridge watched, as all the other passengers did, with frowning eyes and tight shut lips.
The Lizard was very near now, only two or three miles away, a distance that the Deutschland would devour in a few minutes; but they were enough to decide the fate of the great ocean race.
The Express suddenly jumped ahead at a quite incredible speed. Her forward sloping prow and short bowsprit came in line with the German liner's stern. Only five hundred yards away now, it crept up and up, yard by yard, along her huge, black painted side.
From stern to midships—from midships to the bridge—and from the bridge to the high, straight stem which was flinging up the water in two vast wreaths of spray, it crept on and on, remorseless as Fate—until, within half a mile of the Lizard, a throng of watchers on the headland saw the white prow forge ahead of the black one.
Then a quarter, then a half, and then the whole of the white shape came in front. A gun boomed from the shore, and at the same instant three flags broke out on board the Express.
The Stars and Stripes at the flagstaff, the Red Ensign at the fore, and a great yellow golden flag at the main, emblazoned in the center with the Stars and Stripes and Union Jack corner to corner, with a crimson £ and $ sign between them.
So great was her speed that the flags stood out straight and stiff as boards. The German ensign was flying from the Deutschland's flagstaff, and Captain Adler, bitterly chagrined as he was at such an amazing defeat, still did not forget his sea manners, and ordered it to be dipped in acknowledgment of the Express' victory.
The Express immediately dipped the Stars and Stripes three times in answer, and slowed down till she and the Deutschland were traveling at exactly the same speed.
Then the officers appeared on the bridge and saluted as the White Queen of the Atlantic came up within a hundred yards. Next the saloon doors opened and her passengers streamed out upon the broad deck.
Captain Adler and his officers returned the salute with true German precision and politeness. They were beaten, but for all that the Deutschland had even excelled herself, and that was something.
As soon as the two racers came within speaking distance, Marvin went up on the bridge of the Express, raised his cap, and shouted across the fifty yards of swirling water which ran like a mill race between the two ships:
"Good morning, captain! You see we're just on time. I congratulate you on a magnificent passage!"
"And I congratulate you, sir, on an absolutely miraculous one!" Captain Adler shouted back, all his other feelings overcome for the moment by a sailor-like admiration for his beautiful rival and the marvelous feat she had just accomplished.
He was a gentleman and a sportsman, and he knew how to take a handsome beating handsomely.
There were many other gentlemen and good sportsmen on board the Deutschland, and now that the terrible suspense was over, and the great issue decided, they forgot all about the lost dollars and the imperiled interests, and waved their hats and cheered and flung catch cries and greetings across the water in answer to their friends and fellow countrymen on board the Express.
Then Captain Adler bethought him of something which had better be said now than afterwards, and as the Express edged nearer and nearer to the Deutschland he put his hands to his mouth and shouted:
"In the name of my company I want to thank you for not crossing my bows, as you could have done."
"Never thought of it, captain. This ship is run by gentlemen like yourselves!"
The two greetings were hailed with cheers and wavings of handkerchiefs from both decks, and the only men and women who did not join it were Franklin Deventer, his wife, daughter, and son, and Mr. Schmidt.
The men were all a little too hard hit for cheering just then, and the women were not the sort who take defeat in a hard fight as something only a little less than victory. Mrs. Deventer and Miss Eirene kept the rancor of it in their hearts and used it afterwards with well nigh disastrous effect.
Now that the contest was practically decided, bar a break down on either side, the Express moderated her pace to that of the Deutschland, and the two splendid craft swept up the Channel side by side at about thirty statute miles an hour.
But as the two racers passed Durleston Head, twenty miles from the Needles, Marvin mounted the bridge again, accompanied by his wife, and took off his cap to the captain of the Deutschland.
Captain Adder returned the salute, and Marvin shouted:
"Well, so long, captain and ladies and gentlemen; we will have to be getting along now. See you in Southampton."
There was more cheering and fluttering of handkerchiefs, and then every one on board the Express disappeared under cover.
A mellow blast sounded from her whistle, answered by an angry snort from the Deutschland's steam horn, and then the white flier began to creep ahead again.
Minute by minute she gained speed, until the astounded spectators saw a clear length of swirling water between the two hulls. In half an hour she was almost out of sight, and in forty minutes she was flying up the Solent.
Then happened the most marveloua of all miracles of that day of wonders.
As the Express moved slowly up towards Ocean Quay a mighty shout went up from the thousands of spectators who had thronged down to the shores to see the end of the great race. Thousands of arms were pointed towards the western sky. Tens of thousands of eyes from shore, docks, and city looked up at the same moment.
Something glittering brilliantly in the sunlight was dropping down, apparently from the midmost heaven. A few minutes more and the wondering eyes saw a winged shape swoop down in a magnificent slanting curve, make the complete circuit of the ancient City of the Waters, and drop as lightly as a bird on the vacant ground behind the sheds of Ocean Quay.
Instantly there was a rush of every one to the dock gates to see the new miracle; but before they could approach, the air-ship rose, again to a height of about thirty feet. The Stars and Stripes ran up the flagstaff head, dipped three times in greeting to the White Ensign on the guard ship, and then came down to be replaced by the golden banner of the Lords of Sea and Air.
The crowd took the hint, and, with the help of a dock police, remained at a respectful distance while the Anonyma sank back to earth just as the Exp rest came to her moorings alongside the quay.
The door in her side opened, the gangway ladder dropped, and Paul Kingston jumped down it and walked quickly towards the Express' berth. A plank was thrown out for him, and he ran on board, and the next minute he had his arms around his mother's neck.
"Somehow I thought you would come, Paul!" she said when the embracing was over.
"Well," he said as he gripped Marvin's hand, "you didn't think I was going to let the other fellow do all the running?"
"Ah, there they are!" exclaimed his mother.
Then he looked round and saw the duke and Lady Margaret walking quickly down the quay.
"AND how many more miracles are we to see today?" asked the duke when the first greetings were over and the five were sitting in Marvin's private saloon. "Really, my dear Marvin, I must say that you and Mr. Kingston here are just a little too generous with your orders. Surely a rush across the Atlantic in ninety six hours, which all England is talking about already, should be enough for ordinary mortals one day—and now, just as you have completed your triumph, Mr. Kingston drops from the skies like the old Greek god in the machine and utterly eclipses even your splendid performance. Seriously, you know, we steady going Britishers can't stand too ranch of that sort of thing."
"I guess you will get accustomed to it in time, duke," laughed Marvin, "but anyhow, you see I didn't plan this other little surprise. Master Paul has done this on his own account for some reason or other."
"And may I ask, Mr. Kingston," added Lady Margaret with a bewildering smile, "how long you have been crossing the Atlantic in that other mirage of yours?"
Paul did his best to return her glance steadily, succeeded for a moment, and then his eyes dropped and he replied, blushing and stammering like an embarrassed schoolboy:
"I—well—we didn't make a very fast passage for the Anonyma—"
"For the what, Mr. Kingston?" interrupted Lady Margaret, with just a little deepening of the color in her cheeks. "Surely you don't mean to say that that wonderful air-ship of yours that has just flown across the Atlantic hasn't even got a name?"
"No, she hasn't got exactly a name yet," said Paul's mother, coming to his rescue; for the Conqueror of the Air was looking very much as if he would like to get outside the cabin and take refuge in the clouds; "we're not been able yet to decide what she is to be called. To tell you the truth, quite among ourselves, we have a little fleet of these aerial cruisers.
"The first one that Paul built I was name mother to, and she is called the Shiela. There are two others, the same size, which are called the Britannia and the Columbia, and this one, the flag ship of the squadron, is about twice the size and far more swift and splendid than the others; but we couldn't hit on quite a satisfactory name for her, and so Paul just called her the Anonyma provisionally. Perhaps he will find a better name for her some day."
"But, I say, Paul," put in Marvin, "you haven't answered her ladyship's question yet. When did you leave the other side, and what sort of time did you make?"
"Let me see," answered Paul, taking out his watch; "it's half past ten now. I left the Catskills twenty one hours ago, say half past seven yesterday morning, English time, or twenty five minutes past two New York time."
"Bless any soul!" exclaimed the duke. "Why, you landed here more than half an hoar ago—and you really mean to say that you have traveled, say, roughly, three thousand miles in twenty hours! That is about a hundred and fifty miles an hoar. You will pardon my saying so, but really it seems quite incredible."
"Yes, I suppose it does to your grace," replied Paul, quite at his ease now that he was talking to a man on the subject that was dearest to him save one. "You see, aerial navigation is quite different from sea navigation. At sea the faster you go the more resistance you get. In the air it's the other way about. The higher your speed the less power you have to extend for support, and the more you have to give for driving.
"But I'm really quite serious as to the passage. Our average speed was a hundred and fifty miles an hour; but the Anonyma can do two hundred easily if we are in a hurry."
"Two hundred miles an hour!" said Lady Margaret, with something like a gasp. "Oh, and did you make her, Mr. Kingston?"
"Well no, not exactly," he replied, flushing again. "You see, Lady Margaret, my father was also an engineer, and he almost solved the problem before he died. I just finished his work, and was lucky enough to get at the correct solution. Then I found what my father didn't find—a millionaire who believed in me. If it hadn't been for Mr. Marvin, neither the Express nor the Anonyma would have existed, except, perhaps, on paper."
"Ah," said the duke, turning quickly to Marvin, "and so now the murder is out! This is why transportation stocks have gone down with such a rush. Naturally, a man who practically held the command of the sea and the air, and had a few loose millions to play with, could do what he liked with the ordinary means of communication."
"Well, duke, that is about the size of it," replied Marvin. "Only it isn't quite big enough. I will tell you the rest later on. Just now I think it wouldn't be a bad thing if we got out for a little trip through the clouds. It will be rather a new experience for Lady Margaret and yourself."
"A journey through the air!" exclaimed Lady Margaret, clapping her hands in sheer girlish delight. "Wouldn't that be altogether too glorious! Dad, we will go, won't we? Oh, we must!"
"Certainly, my dear Madge, if you wish it, and if Mr. Kingston is kind enough to bestow such a very great privilege on us," replied the duke rather gravely, "though I am almost afraid to think what some of my noble and reverent colleagues in the House would say to my beginning aerial navigation at my time of life."
"That is all right, sir," said Paul; "you will be even safer on the Anonyma than you would be on the express Special to London, for we don't get off the track, and we don't have collisions; so if you accept, what I propose is this—Ah, there is the Deutschland's whistle!
"Mr. Marvin, I believe you promised the Deventers a trip to London in your special; now suppose instead of that the Express' passengers go up to Town in the train, and, as Lady Margaret and his grace know the Deventers already, let us invite them on board the Anonyma, take a trip round the Isle of Wight, and then run them up to London in half an hour? They've got to know all about the air-ship some time, and they may as well learn now."
"Oh, that would be quite too delightful, dad," exclaimed Lady Margaret. "Do let us go."
"Your ladyship has spoken," laughed the duke, "and therefore we will go."
"Very well," said Marvin; "that's settled. Now, if you will excuse me, I will see the people off by the train, and meanwhile Paul will take you round to the Anonyma and show you over her, and I will send a launch down for the Deventers. Their baggage can go on by rail."
They found the Anonyma hovering, about thirty feet from the ground to avoid the pressing attentions of two or three thousand people who had got somehow into the docks.
Her commander, Harry Vinton, a young English engineer who had been associated with Paul in some of his mining ventures in Colorado, saluted from the conning tower as they approached, and the air-ship sank slowly to ground.
As she did so a dozen newspaper correspondents slipped through the wing of police who were keeping the crowd in some sort of order, and Mr. Vincent, the Times' special correspondent, asked for a few words for himself and his colleagues on the new wonder that had just been revealed to the world.
"Well, gentlemen," replied Paul, "I'm afraid I haven't time to give it to you just now; but you axe quite welcome to come on board and have a little run round before we start for London. You will then be able to form your own impressions of the craft, and if you like to meet me at the Carlton this afternoon, say four o'clock, I shall he glad to give you any particulars you want, as long as you don't ask me how I drive the ship. It will be no use asking that, for I shan't answer it truthfully, and I don't want to tell you any lies."
The delighted reporters followed Paul up the companion ladder and into the lower cabin under the envious gaze of thousands of eyes. Then the ladder was drawn up, the door swung to, the hum of the disks deepened, the fans whirled and whistled, and the great air-ship rose slowly to a height of a couple of hundred feet.
Then the propellers began to revolve, and the golden flag was run up to the top of the mast. She swung round to the southward, the whirling propellers became two interlacing circles of light, and, with one tremendous leap up into the blue distance, she passed out of sight behind the hills of the Isle of Wight.
A quarter of an hour later she rose again over Spithead, sped across the Solent and the Southampton Water, and dropped again on exactly the spot she had started from.
The door opened and the ladder dropped, the reporters came out, looking very solemn and important, and, as some of the spectators said afterwards, also just a trifle scared.
By this time the launch which Marvin had sent down to the Deutschland had returned, and he was already standing with the Deventers near the sheds when the Anonyma came down.
They had, of course, seen the marvelous flight round the island and back, and when they realized the fact that they were actually invited guests for a trip to London in the first air-ship that had been seen in British skies, they accepted the priceless privilege with very mixed feelings.
Both Franklin Deventer and his son knew perfectly well that a million dollars apiece would not have bought them the privilege, and they knew equally well by this time that Gillette Marvin had no particular reason for inviting them out of pure friendship.
It was perfectly plain to them now, as it was to Mr. Schmidt and other passengers on board the Deutschland, that Marvin had engineered the slump in transportation stocks after making several millions out of the unnatural rise which had preceded it.
The brilliant triumph of the Express made that certain beyond question, but the voyage of the air-ship going over to England in twenty hours was simply a stunning blow, and both father and son were keen enough to see how tremendous was the power that these two almost miraculous achievements placed in the hands of those who controlled them.
It was impossible for them to refuse the invitation—for one thing, Mrs. Deventer and Miss Eirene would never have permitted it—but all the same they accepted it with the distinctly uncomfortable sensation of defeat and humiliation.
To a certain extent Mrs. Deventer and her daughter shared the same feelings, but in their minds these sensations were entirely dwarfed by the splendor of their triumph over all the other lady passengers of the Deutschland and the Express. It was all very well to cross the ocean on record breakers and complete the journey in special saloon trains; but to finish the journey through the air was a very different matter.
The fame of such a trip would encircle them as a halo during the whole of the coming season, and the fact that they had made the extraordinary journey in company with the Duke of Romney and his daughter would scarcely detract from the glory of the achievement.
The gentlemen of the press had already made their thankful and wondering adieux to Paul, and had also accepted Marvin's invitation for a compartment in the Express special to take them back to town. As soon as the party were on board, Paul said to his mother:
"Well now, mom, you're mistress of the ship, and I'm going back with you to London. There isn't room for all of us in the conning tower; but you can really see just as well from the upper cabin, so I'm going to take two of the ladies with me and leave you to entertain the rest of the company. I'll leave it to the ladies to say who are coming in."
A swift glance passed between Eirene Deventer and her mother not altogether unnoticed by Mrs. Marvin.
"I must confess that I am just a little nervous," said Mrs. Deventer. "You see it is a very novel experience for us, my dear Mrs. Marvin, but I can see that Eirene is just dying to go. May she?"
"Why, certainly," was the reply; "and, if I can read faces at all, I think Lady Margaret would like to make the third."
"I should just think I would!" laughed Lady Margaret, with a very direct glance at the almost perfect face and big, blue, melting eyes of the girl whom she was most incomprehensibly beginning to dislike as far as it was in her thoroughly healthy, sweet nature to dislike any one. "I want to see how this wonderful thing is worked. Don't you, Miss Deventer? Just fancy such a miracle! Here we are in the middle of Southampton Docks, and we are going to fly—actually fly—through the air to London!"
"Why, yes," said Miss Eirene, rather coldly, as Lady Margaret thought, "it's just so wonderful that I have hardly thoughts enough to think about it properly."
"And therefore," laughed Paul, moving towards the door of the conning tower, "in order to produce the full dramatic effect we'll make a start before you have time to get accustomed to what will be commonplace to you in less than an hour. This May, please. Captain Vinton, will you be good enough to see that the motors and fuel supply are all right We're going to make this trip at full speed."
He followed them into the conning tower, and, after showing them the switches, the steering machine and the lever which controlled the air planes, he told them very briefly about the lifting and driving part of the ship, and ended by saying:
"I am afraid that is about all you will be able to see of the works. The rest, if you will excuse my saying so, is a secret, and I am not at liberty to answer any questions regarding them—and now we will get away."
He turned the lower switch, and the disks began to hum. Then he touched the upper one, and the fans commenced to whistle and then to scream.
His guests saw the docks and Southampton Water sink away below them, although they were conscious of no movement. Then Paul turned the center switch half over.
"Hold tight," he cried; "we're off!"
They both gripped the silver rail running round the walls of the conning tower. Still there was no perceptible jar.
Then the forward propeller began to whirl into a circle of light, and they felt a swift backward motion. They gave a simultaneous gasp, looked down towards the earth, and exclaimed in one breath:
"Oh, where is Southampton?"
"Five miles behind us!", laughed Paul. "You will be in Hyde Park in less than an hour."
THE next half hour or so the guests on board the Anonyma were all eyes. Their wonder at their strange surroundings left them no time for speech, and, even if their thoughts had been translatable into words, they could hardly have made themselves heard through the deep roar of the air and the shrill whistle of the propellers.
They could see nothing of the earth immediately below and around them save a confused blur; for towns and villages, woodlands and meadows, all seemed to rush together into an indistinguishable mass.
Lady Margaret afterwards compared the landscape to an oil painting which had been rubbed from end to end with a cloth before it was dry, and she was about right.
Far away to right and left of them, however, they could make out hills and woods and towns which seemed to be circling round the ship in the maddest of dances.
Twenty minutes after the start Paul pointed ahead and nodded to his two companions. They looked ahead and saw a vast gray brown patch, with a bright thread running through it, lying in front and below.
"London already?" cried Lady Margaret.
Paul put his hand on the center switch and turned it back three quarters of a half circle.
Instantly the roar outside died away as the speed of the propellers slackened. He turned the upper switch to forty five degrees and the fans began to sing.
"Yes," he said, taking out his watch, "that's London. We've traveled eighty miles in twenty five minutes; but, of course, we haven't been going at full speed all the time. Now, as we have plenty of time to spare, and as I, at any rate, haven't seen London since I was a boy, suppose we take a trip round the little village, as you Londoners call it, and then I will drop you in Hyde Park."
Details of the amazing occurrences at Southampton had already been telegraphed to all the London clubs and newspaper offices. The papers had rushed out special editions containing further particulars of the great Atlantic race, and the astounding occurrence that had put the climax on that marvelous performance. As the Anonyma passed Croydon, the news had been flashed to London, and when she appeared over the crest of Greenwich Hill the steamers in the rivers began to hoot and the signal was taken up by the other ships in the docks of the Isle of Dogs, and from there it went booming and roaring up the river to London Bridge.
Every one knew as though by instinct what it meant, and millions of eyes were turned eastward and northward in the hope of catching a glimpse of the shining ship of the skies.
The Anonyma crossed the Isle of Dogs at an elevation of a thousand feet, so that it was quite easy to follow her passage without the help of glasses, although hundreds of telescopes were already pointed towards her.
From the Isle of Dogs she ran northward, hovered for a few minutes over the roof of the Alexandra Palace, then doubled southward and westward to Hampstead, made the circuit of the Heath, and then started in a straight line for Richmond Hill, across Hammersmith and Chiswick.
"Say, mother," said Paul, pushing open the door of the conning tower, "what is the matter with coming down in Richmond Park and having a bit of lunch at the Star and Garter dad used to talk about?"
"A very good idea, Paul," she replied. "What do you think, Gillette?" she added to her husband.
"There is nothing the matter with a proposition like that," said Marvin, "always supposing that our guests agree. Mrs. Deventer, what do you say?"
"Well, Mr. Marvin," replied that lady, with an unwonted touch of humility in her voice, "you have given us such a wonderful and magnificent experience, and got us so deep into your debt, that I think we can't do better than to leave ourselves in your hands entirely. For my part, I should think lunch on the terrace would be just too lovely a day like this; that is, if the people don't crowd up too much. You know if we came to lunch like this in America, they would just mob us, and we wouldn't have room to use a knife and fork."
"Oh, they won't do that here," said her husband. "I must say that the English have a bit better manners in that way than our people."
"Then lunch it is," rejoined Marvin. "The proposition has passed, Paul, and you can drop her in the park just near the hotel."
By this time they were within three miles of the Park gates. Paul slowed down to twenty five miles and started the fans at half speed.
Hammersmith, Putney, Barnes, Chiswick, and Mortlake were already pouring forth endless streams of bicycles, tricycles, motors, carriages, and brakes towards Richmond; and Richmond itself, when it saw to its huge delight that the air-ship was slowing down with the apparent intention of stopping, simply turned out of doors to a man and a woman and swarmed up the hill towards the Park gates.
Shops and banks and offices were closed pro tem, or left in charge of a few unfortunate clerks whose detention exasperated them almost to mutiny.
It was no use trying to sell anything when there was no one to buy. Even the great spring sales at the drapery and millinery establishments failed to attract a single bargain hunter during that hour of intense wonder and excitement.
The Anonyma skirted the slope of the hill, swung round past the terrace, and turned into the park about a hundred feet over the tree tops, and came to a standstill some fifty feet above the ground and a couple of hundred yards inside tho gates.
Fortunately, the chief constable of Richmond had risen very promptly to the occasion, and a considerable force of mounted and foot police was already on hand for the protection of the visitors from the skies against undue molestation.
He himself rode into the park with half a dozen men, and as he got under the air-ship one of the side doors opened and Marvin said in a most matter-of-fact tone:
"Good morning, sir. We want to come down and have lunch at the hotel, but we can't do it if the crowd is not kept off. If you can keep the people from coming within fifty yards of the ship we will alight; if not, we'll have to be off again."
"That will be all right, sir." replied the constable, touching his cap in answer to Marvin's salute. "We'll see to it. I suppose this is the air-ship that has come across from New York?"
"Yes," assented Marvin; "but just now we are only from Southampton."
The police at once made a wide circle round the air-ship as she sank to the ground, and as the wondering crowd poured in through the gates, every one was given to understand that if any one went near she would simply rise again and disappear, and Richmond would lose the honor of entertaining the conquerors of the air.
The people saw the logic of this at once and so the police has very little difficulty in keeping the charmed circle round the air-ship when, amidst a roar of cheers, the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack went up to the top of the flagstaff and the Anonyma sank gently down to the turf.
The crowd had expected her to be manned only by men, hard featured engineers and possibly sailors, and so their amazement became, if possible, even greater when they saw the four beautifully dressed women come down the companion ladder with as little concern as though they were landing from an ordinary yacht.
Again the cheering broke out as the crowd parted of its own accord and made a broad lane to the gate through which the ladies from the sky walked to the hotel.
Never had there been such a lunch at the Star and Garter. Marvin and Paul, with their royally American hospitality, had up the manager and bought the hotel for the rest of the day.
It was thrown open to everybody who had a decently respectable appearance on the condition that the Terrace was reserved for the American party; and the payment for that and the lunch was a check for a thousand pounds on the Bank of England, signed Gillette P. Marvin for the Kingston Marvin Atlantic Express Company.
After lunch they boarded the Anonyma again, and she rose from the ground, borne up as it were on a mighty wave of cheering, made a graceful sweep round, clipping her flags in answer to the shouts, and then she sprang forward and upward, darted like a flash of light through the sunlit air, and vanished to the northeastward.
In ten minutes she was circling over Hyde Park and came to rest just behind the Achilles statue.
Before the crowd had time to gather, her passengers had landed. Captain Vinton assumed command, after taking his instructions from Paul, the disks began to hum and the fans to scream, and she sped away back to Southampton to wait for her next trip in the fenced in area which the company were already preparing for her reception.
Her passengers walked to the gates, and the Deventers took cabs to the Carlton, where they had engaged rooms while their house in Grosvenor Place was being made ready for them.
Mr. and Mrs. Marvin and Paul walked across the park with the duke and Lady Margaret to Romney House, and soon afterwards a somewhat important conversation took place in the duke's study. When it was over, his grace was the most astounded man in London.
After some considerable discussion, Paul and his partner had decided to take the duke entirely into their confidence, and also into their partnership. Paul's personal feelings had, of course, a great deal to do with this decision, but at the same time he had not bad much difficulty in convincing Marvin that it would also be a stroke of sound practical policy.
The duke's name, and his vast social and political influence, would give them a certain amount of advantage which no amount of money could buy, and his intimate knowledge and wide experience of the highest and most intricate development of English social life would also be of priceless advantage to them in carrying out their plans.
Wherefore His Grace of Romney, having bound himself to absolute secrecy even as regarded Lady Margaret herself, for this was a point which Paul insisted upon most urgently, came forth from his study joint master of illimitable millions, and drove off in his barouche with his two partners, to take part in the most momentous press interview that had ever been held since newspapers were first printed.
PAUL KINGSTON and his mother live in Lake City, Colorado. He has inherited his dead father's tastes for scientific investigation, and has perfected an air-ship which he needs only the means to test. These are supplied by Gillette Marvin, a millionaire and an old friend of the family. He also arranges a month's trip to Pike's Peak with the Kingstons and a British friend, the Duke of Romney, who is traveling through America with his daughter Margaret. The outcome of the excursion is the marriage of Mr. Marvin and Mrs. Kingston, and the loss of Paul's heart to Lady Margaret.
In due time the wonderful air-ship, the Shiela, named for Mrs. Kingston, is completed, and on her trial trip proves a magnificent success, and as Paul has plans for the building of submarine boats of incredible swiftness, the day seems not far distant when he will in truth be ruler of the air and bob.
But there is a still more marvelous thing yet to come. In the honeymoon flight of the Shiela over South America, Mrs. Marvin spies a strange looking lake beneath them in the crater of a volcano. It turns out to be a lake of gold, and the three now realize themselves to be masters of the world. But great secrecy is necessary for the present. A syndicate is formed, ostensibly to operate apparently useless mines in Chile, and four more air-ships are built, with the most magnificent of the lot, the Anonyma, commanded by Paul Kingston, as the flag ship of the fleet. But as yet the public at large knows nothing of them.
Meantime, at a conference with Dumont Lawson and Augustus L. Schmidt, magnates of the great steel and iron trust, Gillette Marvin offers four thousand million dollars for a third interest in the corporation, which he proposes to operate for the good of humanity. This is refused and the new syndicate determines to put on the screws. A terrible slump takes place in transportation stocks, and presently another bombshell bursts on the commercial world. The Atlantic Express Company sends a steamer, Express I, across the ocean in one hundred hours, and inaugurates a regular service of such swift going ships. Close upon this Paul arrives in his air-ship, Anonyma, and astounds all who behold the marvel. He and Marvin take the Duke of Romney into partnership, and he accompanies them to a meeting with newspaper reporters, destined to be the most momentous ever given to the press.
THE reporters were received in Marvin's private sitting room, a large apartment on the first floor overlooking Cockspur Street. A table covered with a deep red cloth stood at one end of the room. The duke sat behind it, with Marvin and Paul at each end. Two rows of chairs stood in front of the table. Promptly at four o'clock a footman opened the door and the gentlemen of the press came in.
They took their seats, and notebooks and pencils came out. Somewhat to their surprise, however, the duke rose and opened the interview more after the fashion of a formal board meeting.
They were a good deal more surprised when he sat down.
"Gentlemen," his grace began in the low, clear, far-reaching tones which were so well known in the Upper House. "I dare say you will be a little astonished at seeing me here this afternoon with my friends Mr. Marvin and Mr. Kingston. You will naturally ask yourselves what I have to do with ocean racers, record breakers and aerial cruisers such as that marvelous vessel in which some of you, like myself, had the very great privilege of taking a trip this morning.
"Well, gentlemen, you will perhaps be still more surprised when I tell you that up to a couple of hours ago I had no business connection whatever with either of the gentlemen sitting at this table. During that time, however, they have been good enough to admit me into partnership and a share of their council.
"That is a very commonplace announcement, which will not interest you very much until you learn from my friend Mr. Gillette Marvin, as he shortly will show you, how vast are the operations with which I have identified myself and how heavy are the responsibilities which I. have undertaken to share with him and his partner.
"It is for this reason that we have thought it well to impart to our meeting with you somewhat of a formal character, and that is also the reason why, instead of giving isolated interviews, we have considered it our duty to our fellow countrymen in England, America, and the colonies, and, in another sense, to Europe as well, to make this meeting as representative and as cosmopolitan as possible.
"Gentlemen, you came here at my friends' invitation to learn from Mr. Marvin the particulars of the maiden trip of that wonderful vessel Express No. I, whose sister ship Express No. 2 left New York this morning, and is expected in Southampton on Tuesday morning. You will hear also from the lips of her inventor and creator the story of the first cruiser of the air that has visited English shores, or perhaps I should rather say English skies, from that modern wonderland the United States of America.
"But, gentlemen," the duke went on, with an added note of gravity in his voice, "you have been asked here to hear something more important than that."
At this the gentlemen of the press, who, so far, had been listening with respectful attention, but without any signs of eager interest, suddenly pricked up their ears, and their pencils and stylographs began to scribble hurriedly over the leaves of their notebooks.
"The fact is, gentlemen," the duke continued, "that we have asked you here with the partial object of making you our ambassadors to the powers of the world."
If any one else but the Duke of Romney, one of his sovereign's personal friends and most trusted counselors, had uttered such words as these, the correspondents would perhaps have felt inclined to smile; but they knew that the duke did not use weighty words without weighty reasons, and it was here that the first fruits of Gillette Marvin's wisdom in asking him to join Paul and himself were made manifest.
There was no lack of interest now among the cosmopolitan company of pressmen who sat on the two semicircles of chairs. They waited for what was coming next in such absolute silence that the scratching of the pencils on the paper could be distinctly heard.
"And now, gentlemen," proceeded the duke, "as I have said so much I must needs say more, although I shall, not much longer stand between you and the men whom you have really come to listen to. What I have yet to say is this, and strange, perhaps even incredible, as it may seem to you a I first hearing, I wish you to understand that I say it in all seriousness and with a full knowledge of all the circumstances.
"Gentlemen, within the last twelve months a new power has been born into the world. It is neither an empire nor a republic, neither an aristocracy nor a democracy. It has neither politics nor traditions; neither has it laws, nor countries, nor frontiers. It owes no allegiance to the constituted powers of earth.
"I have said that it has neither country nor frontiers, and yet its possible dominions are as wide as the world, as deep as the sea, and as universal as the atmosphere.
"Those, I admit, are weighty words to utter, and you will, I hope, believe me when I tell you that I do not speak them without very good reason.
"The plain truth is that these two men sitting here to the right and left of me have conquered the air and the sea, realms infinitely wider than those which any earthly monarch has yet reigned over, and behind the power which this conquest gives them there is another power, the nature of which I am not, at present, at liberty to reveal. All I can say about it is that, of its kind, it is illimitable and practically irresistible.
"Now, gentlemen, that is all I have to say at present, saving only to ask you, as representatives of the world's press, to put quite plainly to the world the appalling consequences which must have befallen humanity if this tremendous power had been acquired by men who might have used it, as it most certainly could be used, for purposes hostile to the best interests of the human race.
"The imagination shudders at the conception of fleets of aerial cruisers and seagoing ships capable of their forty knots an hour controlled by men who would be willing to use them for the purposes of terrorism and plunder.
"Armies and fleets and fortresses would alike be at their mercy, and if their powers were only equaled by their unscrupulousness, civilization itself might fall to pieces under the stress of a universal reign of terror.
"Therefore, gentlemen, the pleasantest part of my duty this afternoon has yet to come—it is to ask you to congratulate the world upon the fact that this power has fallen into the hands of men who, as I have every reason to believe, are the friends and not the enemies of civilized society; men who will use it, not as pirates and terrorists, but just as ordinary citizens of the world for the greatest good of the greatest number.
"That is all I have to say, and now I shall ask Mr. Paul Kingston to tell you something about these marvelous inventions of his which have practically placed him on the throne of the realms of air and sea."
The pencils and pens had been scratching most industriously during the latter part of the duke's speech, and as he sat down the correspondents looked at each other with eyes full of wonder, not unmixed with apprehension.
Those twenty men represented every newspaper and news agency of importance in the world, and they were well aware of their own power and responsibility; but the duke's words had pointed very clearly to possibilities hitherto quite beyond their ken, as well as to facts which had never been described or hinted at in the columns of newspapers before.
When Paul got up a low hum of intense expectancy ran round the two semicircles, but at his first word it was instantly hushed, and the pencils began to scratch again.
He had a little pile of drawings on cardboard before him, and beside these several photographs which, as he modestly put it, he hoped would enable his hearers to follow more easily descriptions which must of necessity be more or less technical. Copies of all the drawings and photographs would be at the disposal of the correspondents during the course of the evening.
Then he began at the beginning and told his entranced hearers in very simple, and, therefore, in very graphic words, the story of his father's attempted conquest of the sea and air, and his own successful accomplishment of the tremendous task.
He described everything in most minute detail and with perfect frankness until he came to the secret of the motive power, and there he stopped, saying quite openly and with an almost boyish smile:
"You see, gentlemen, I can hardly give that away. After what I have told you, any one can build an air-ship or a forty knot cruiser, but they will have to come to me, or rather to the Kingston Marvin Syndicate, of which his grace, the Duke of Romney, has just been good enough to accept the chairmanship, to get the driving power.
"That is my father's legacy to me, and I wish to say quite frankly that I intend to keep it. Now I think have told you everything else. You have had a trip on the air-ship, during which, I may tell you, you traveled for a few minutes at a speed of two hundred miles an hour, and any one who wishes photographs of plans for purposes of illustration will be heartily welcome to them.
"I think that is about all I have to say, and so I will ask my friend, President Marvin, to put before you a sketch of the practical results which we hope to obtain by the use of the inventions which I have been fortunate enough to make as perfect as our present resources of mechanical knowledge will permit."
There was absolute silence in the room as ho sat down. It was not a time for applause or any of the commonplaces of ordinary speech making. The correspondents were far too busy thinking of the work in hand, and of the tremendous effect which the plainly spoken words would produce upon the world the next day, to give any attention to mere personal considerations.
A few of them sharpened their pencils or took out new ones as Gillette Marvin rose; and then they looked at him with glances of eager, silent questioning, knowing, as they did, after what they had heard, that it was from his lips that the words of fate would fall.
The moment he began to speak Paul recognized that it was not his friend and partner, nor his mother's lover and husband, who was speaking, but the man who had compelled him to gamble his life on the success of his inventions—the man who, as he still believed, would have exacted the death penalty if he had failed.
The correspondents appeared to feel something of the same sort. They had never heard a man speak so much like a machine as he did.
There was not the slightest trace of feeling or emotion in his tone as he let fall the words which, for all they knew, were pregnant with the fate of humanity.
"Gentlemen," he began, "after what you have heard from his grace, the Duke of Romney, and from my friend and partner Mr. Paul Kingston, all that is left for me to do is to tell you, and through you the world, what we propose to do; that is to say, what use we intend to make of those powers which the genius of Mr. Kingston's father and himself have placed in our hands.
"You are, of course, perfectly well aware that for the last two or three years a determined effort has been made by certain combinations of American capitalists to control the most important lines of communication by sea and land throughout the world. We have practically broken up that combination, and we did it because we came to the conclusion that these combinations were beginning to get more power into their bands than it was right for such people to hold.
"I don't know whether the idea has ever presented itself to you in this form before, but we believe that for all practical purposes, communication means civilization. For instance, we have it in our power now to starve this country to death inside a month.
"Your politicians have made no provisions against anything like an effective blockade of your ports. You have allowed your wheat producing lands to go out of cultivation. You depend for the bread you eat on foreign supplies.
"We could stop those supplies in a week, and in a month a thousand pounds would not buy a decent sized loaf of bread in the United Kingdom. I am not asking you to believe this now, because within a short time we propose to give a practical demonstration of our power to do what I say, and this demonstration will not be confined to the British Islands."
He paused for a moment, and his hearers began to look at each other as though they were wondering whether they were listening to the words of a maniac or to the utterances of a man who held the fate of civilized humanity at his mercy.
Then they remembered the voyage of the Express and the miracle of the air-ship, and looked down at their notebooks again.
"What we propose to do is just this," he went on, speaking with no more feeling in his tone than if he had been proposing an ordinary resolution at a board meeting. "We are going to take charge of the world's communications. We shall offer a fair price to the steamship and railway companies, and also to the cable companies.
"We have already concluded an agreement with the Marconi Company which will enable us to send messages across the Atlantic, or round the world for the matter of that, at the rate of a penny a word, therefore if the cable companies don't like purchase, they can have competition.
"They will take the same choice as the shipping combine: but, as his grace told you just now, we do not propose to use the facilities at our disposal for the ordinary purposes of commercial profit or financial tyranny.
"To be quite candid with you, we are too rich to worry about that. If we wanted the earth we could take it or buy it, but we don't want it. All we wish to do is to run it on more common sense lines than it is being run at present.
"We propose, in short, to break the tyranny of money—the most heartless and soulless tyranny that ever enslaved humanity. We shall tight money with money, despotism with despotism, force with force—and we shall win."
Here the speaker made another pause. Some of his hearers looked up in blank incredulity, others in dazed dismay, for never had such weighty words fallen from human lips before, and never had such a tremendous pronouncement been made in such passionless and utterly commonplace tones.
"You are, of course, as well aware as I am," he went on, picking up a piece of paper from the table, "that both in Europe and in the far east very serious international complications have arisen, complications which, in the ordinary course of affairs, would almost certainly lead to war, possibly to a general conflagration in comparison with which, the Napoleonic wars would only seem an ordinary kind of bonfire.
"You may take it from me that war will not happen! We shall not permit it to happen, and the way that we shall stop it is just this: The British Empire and America are solid for peace, and they are going to have peace.
"If any other country attempts to break the peace of the world we shall just take their rulers, kings or queens or emperors, as the case may be, together with an assortment of statesmen and political agitators, and plant them in some lonely spot where they will be free from all distractions of statecraft and have plenty of leisure to think the matter over quietly and come to a reasonable judgment.
"If they object—well, we may be compelled to take stronger measures, although we don't want to do so, but peace we will have, and at any price—saving only the price of surrender—a price which is too high to pay for any kind of peace.
"That, gentlemen, is all I have to say at present. It is no concern of ours whether the readers of the papers that are represented here do or do not believe what has been said in this room. To those who do not believe we shall be able to bring conviction by other means, and to those who do believe, I shall ask you to convey the absolute assurance that, whatever measures we may find it necessary to take, they will be carried through by every means within our power in the interests of real Christianity and civilization; and those, gentlemen, are the interests of the man who can't help himself."
While this momentous talk was taking place in Marvin's sitting room, another was taking place under the roof of the same hotel between Franklin Deventer and his sister, and this was the way it ended.
"In short, Eirene, to put it quite plainly between ourselves, it comes to this. I want Lady Margaret and the air-ship. You want the inventor and the air-ship, and our respected father wants air-ships and steamers, or whatever they are, with an option on Gillette Marvin's life and liberty.
"Well, I don't see that under the circumstances our interests are so hostile, and that we shouldn't be able to fix up a common plan of campaign and work together, at any rate for the present."
"Certainly," said his sister, "we will have to work together, and, what's more, we will have to work close and carefully. It's a big thing to play for, and Gillette Marvin, mind, is a pretty bad man to play a game like tins against, and we'll have to be ready to go to any lengths if necessary.
"You know. Franklin, if we do this we shall be playing for nothing less than the mastery of the world, and when you are gambling for stakes like that you've got to take big risks. But of course you know that just as well as I do."
Franklin Deventer looked for a few moments in silence at the lovely face lying back on the cushion at the other end of the long sofa. He had admired his beautiful sister with an honest brotherly devotion ever since they had been boy and girl together, but he did not admire her just now.
Her expression was totally strange to him. She seemed to have become quite ten years older during the last few minutes, her mouth somehow looked more like a man's than that of a girl of twenty.
Her lower jaw had come forward, and through her slightly parted lips he could see the little white teeth set edge to edge.
All the soft lights had gone out of her eyes, and the soul that was looking at him was that of a woman who had made up her mind as to what she wanted and was prepared to go to any lengths to get it.
"Eirene," he said slowly after a pause, "I don't think I should give much for Gillette Marvin's life if you had the disposal of it just now."
"It wouldn't be worth five cents," she replied with a snap of her teeth.
"I reckon so," he said, getting up and walking across to the other side of the room. "Well, I like your grit, and I'm there with you, even to that extent."
THERE was quite a delightful little dinner party that evening at an oval table placed somewhat apart from the others in the big dining-room of the Carlton.
Lady Margaret had voted for dinner in their own rooms, and both her father and Paul had agreed with her, but the Deventers, more especially Mrs. Deventer and Miss Eirene, were too full of the triumphs of the morning to forego the delight of shining in the reflected but somewhat artificial light of the evening.
They knew that the dining-room would be crowded, as it was, and that half the notoriety hunters in London would be thronging to the great hotel to catch a glimpse of the famous air-ship proprietors, and of those who possessed the distinction of having traveled in her from Southampton to London.
The evening papers had, of course, published special editions containing fairly full particulars of the momentous interview which had taken place during the afternoon.
The Deventers had already learned all the particulars of the press interview from their guests, and the conversation on the subject round the dinner table had been perfectly frank.
There was neither need nor possibility for concealment, and therefore the great project of cornering the world's communications was discussed with perfect candor.
Between the dinner and the dessert no small sensation was created by the entrance of a royal messenger accompanied by the manager of the hotel, who had conducted him to the table at which Paul was sitting.
The duke smiled as he saw them approach, and whispered:
"From the king. Stand up."
Paul immediately rose, and the messenger handed him a black bordered envelope sealed with the royal arms in black wax.
"Mr. Paul Kingston?" said the messenger, with a note of interrogation in his voice:
"This is Mr. Kingston." said the duke.
"In his majesty's name," said the messenger, presenting the letter. "I am commanded to await your verbal reply, and," he went on, turning to the duke, "I am also commanded, your grace, to request that you will present Mr. Kingston to his majesty at Marlborough House tomorrow morning at ten o'clock."
"His majesty's commands shall be obeyed," replied the duke.
Meanwhile Paul, still standing, opened the letter and read:
I am commanded by his majesty the king to request your presence at Marlborough House tomorrow morning at ten o'clock in company with his grace, the Duke of Romney, for the purpose of a presentation to his majesty.
The presentation will be quite informal. I am further commanded to say that his majesty is deeply interested in the extraordinary performance of the passenger ship Express I. which arrived at Southampton from New York this morning, and in the still more wonderful feat of the air-ship under your command which arrived from America about the same time. It will afford His Majesty much satisfaction to personally inspect these vessels at as early a date as may be suitable to your arrangements.
I have the honor to be your obedient servant,
Paul passed the letter to the duke, and said to the messenger:
"You will be good enough, sir, to present my respectful homage to his majesty, and also my deep appreciation of the honor he has done me. His commands shall be obeyed. The air-ship will be in St. James' Park at nine tomorrow, and I trust that his majesty will still further honor me by allowing me to convey him in her to Southampton for his inspection of the Express."
"I have to thank you, Mr. Kingston, in his majesty's name," replied the messenger in his even, official voice. "I will convey your intimation to his majesty at once. I trust that the nature of my mission will be of sufficient excuse for interrupting your dinner. Good evening. Your grace, good evening."
Paul looked around in reply, and the royal messenger, escorted by the manager, moved towards the door, followed by respectfully wondering glances, which, as soon as he disappeared, were concentrated with even greater wonder and admiration on the party at the oval table in the corner.
"Well, Mr. Kingston," said Mrs. Deventer, "that was quite a sort of surprise party, wasn't it? You are already the most famous man in the world, and now I suppose you will be the most envied as well."
"Why, I should think so," said Miss Eirene, looking at him with eyes whose very frank admiration was just a trifle embarrassing to him, and somehow not at all pleasing to Lady Margaret.
"It is a very great honor," he replied quietly, "and I hope tomorrow we shall be able to give his majesty a new experience. Do you think he will come for the trip, your grace?" he went on, turning to the duke.
"Come?" the other replied with a laugh. "Well, it sounds somewhat disrespectful, I'm afraid, but I'm perfectly certain that his majesty will just jump at it. You know there isn't a better sportsman in the world than Edward the Seventh, and there certainly is not a man alive who would enjoy such an experience more than he would. It's the Bank of England to a bad penny that he will come; and I shouldn't be surprised if the Prince of Wales came, too."
"That is all right," said Paul. "Then I'll have a special down to Southampton to-night, and go through the Anonyma thoroughly, and meet you at half past nine in St. James' Park."
Of course all sorts of rumors had spread over London and through the provinces from the dining-room of the Carlton Hotel with reference to the visit of the royal messenger, but the real facts did not leak out until the next morning, when practically all the world was discussing the marvelous story which had been flashed over the wires to the ends of the earth within a few hours of the interview in Marvin's sitting room.
But shortly before eight o'clock the news was telegraphed from Southampton that the air-ship had risen from her berth, and, after making a series of complicated, evolutions in the air, apparently with the object of testing her efficiency, had started in the direction of London at an almost incredible speed, which caused her to be lost to sight in a minute or two.
The keen witted reporters instantly put two and two together.
The king had requested the presence of the air-ship in London. The king would personally inspect her, and possibly take a trip in her—and so in the same hour special editions were rushed out and London's streets became vocal if not harmonious with yelling newsboys and brazen throated newsmen, hurrying hither and thither with still wet placards which did great credit to the varying imagination of rapid thinking sub editors.
Big Ben had just chimed the half hour after nine when a shining shape flashed up, gleaming in the sunlight, and came to a standstill fifty feet above the ground over St. James' Park.
The Duke of Romney's cavalry was ready on the spot to keep the air-ship inviolate from the attentions of too curious sightseers, and as they trotted into the park the Anonyma came down close to the drive, and at the same moment the duke's carriage drove up alongside.
The presentation at Marlborough House was as informal as such a function could be, and did not occupy more than twenty minutes. His majesty's first remark put Paul absolutely at his ease.
"My friend, the Duke of Romney, tells me," he said as he shook hands with the conqueror of an empire wider than his own, "that you are an Englishman as well as an American, Mr. Kingston, and that you are closely connected with one of our oldest families.
"I am delighted to hear it. We do not grudge America any of her splendid triumphs, but we English people are very glad that we are able to claim something like a half share in the greatest of them all. And now, before we go and see her, I want you to tell me something about this wonderful creation of yours."
Paul had been vaguely expecting the necessity of falling on one knee and kissing the royal hand and so forth, and so he was delightedly surprised when he found himself greeted just as a gentleman by the first gentleman in the land; and the perfect frankness and cordiality of his reception, though absolutely honest and spontaneous on his majesty's part, were afterwards referred to as one of the finest strokes of policy that the royal diplomatist had ever achieved.
When Paul had finished his description of the Anonyma and the Express, the king said:
"Thank you very much, Mr. Kingston. Now I shall go aboard your wonderful craft with some sort of knowledge of her, and as you are good enough to offer me a trip through the air to Southampton to see your other record breaker, I shall be very glad to accept. If the duke will give me a lift in his brougham, we will start at once. To he frank with you, I am rather in a hurry to feel what this new sensation will be like."
As the duke's brougham drew up alongside, the guard presented arms, the king alighted and looked with frank wonder and admiration at the graceful, littering shape of the air-ship. Before e went on board he walked round her, attended by Paul and the duke, and her creator pointed out and explained all the details of her exterior construction.
Meanwhile the gangway door opened and the ladder dropped to the ground. Captain Vinton ran down the steps and stood bare headed at the foot of them.
"I hope your majesty will allow me to present the chief navigation officer of the air-ship, Captain Vinton, who brought her across the Atlantic," said the duke.
"With pleasure," replied the king, smiling and holding out his hand. "Captain Vinton, I am glad to be able to congratulate you on the magnificent appearance of this aerial cruiser of yours, and on her very amazing performance."
Captain Vinton bowed his acknowledgment, and as the king mounted the companion ladder, the royal standard—a careful overnight thought of the duke's—broke out at the masthead.
Nearly half an hour was spent in an inspection of the interior of the ship, and then the royal guest was taken to the conning tower, where Paul explained the use of the switches, the lever, and the steering wheel.
Then for the first time in the world a crowned monarch rose into the realms of the air.
Tens of thousands of people had already assembled in the park and in the roadway leading past Buckingham Palace. A roar of cheers broke out as the flying of the royal standard told that his majesty had gone on board; then, as the shining shape rose, another roar went up.
"Would you have any objections, Mr. Kingston," said the king, "to showing our good folk down there something of what this miraculous craft of yours can do? I'm sure they would like it very much."
"Anything your majesty wishes," said Paul. "The vessel and all on hoard her are entirely at your disposal. We will show them a little maneuvering first."
He turned the upper switch, and the propellers began to whirl. Then he pulled the lever over a few degrees and moved the pointer of the steering wheel a couple of inches to the left.
The earth began to spin round and sink again below them, and the hundreds of thousands of eyes that were watching the air-ship saw it rise in a magnificent spiral curve, moving ever faster and faster till it looked almost like a ring of light in the brilliant May sunshine.
It soared up and up until it vanished in the blue distance, and presently Paul said with a look at the barometer:
"Your majesty, we are now ten thousand feet above sea level. Perhaps you would like to take a look around London on our way down."
"Ten thousand feet!" exclaimed the king. "Bless my soul I Yes, so it is, absolutely marvelous, my dear duke, isn't it? Yes, certainly, Mr. Kingston, anything you please, but how on earth or in the air have you managed to get so high in such a short time?"
"We have been traveling over a hundred and fifty miles an hour, your majesty, since we left the earth," replied Paul, "and we shall go back at about two hundred miles an hour."
"But with absolute safety," added the duke. "We averaged that speed yesterday from Southampton."
"You must have, to have made the trip in the time you did,"
Paul shut off the driving power, started the lifting fans at half speed, moved the lever back a couple of notches, and the Anonyma rushed down with bewildering rapidity in a spiral course, but this time with very much extended curves.
So wide were they, indeed, that the air-ship had twice made the circuit of London before her captain brought her once more to a standstill over the roof of Buckingham Palace.
"Magnificent! Miraculous!" said the king as the roar of welcoming cheers reached them from the earth. "And now, how long will it take us to get to Southampton and see the other miracle that you have accomplished?"
"Twenty minutes, your majesty," replied Paul, taking out his watch with his left hand, and with his right moving the steering wheel till the Anonyma's head pointed to the southwest.
He turned the upper switch. The vast, dark mass of London slipped away behind them, the wind whistled and shrieked past the superstructure, and the shriek deepened into a roar.
The earth became a blurred smear beneath them. The king, seeing nothing and yet seeing much, had sat down in an armchair which had been, brought for him, and took out his watch.
The momentous minutes passed, and when he had counted eighteen Paul, after a glance at the chart, turned the steering wheel a couple of degrees to the right, switching off the driving power and turned on the lifting fans.
The air-ship made a swift swoop downwards, rushed over Hurst Castle, crossed the Solent, swung over Osborne House, and, precisely as the long hand of the king's watch pointed to the twentieth minute, passed like a flash up the Southampton Water, and came to a standstill fifty feet above Ocean Quay.
Within another ten minutes Marvin was being presented to his majesty at the gangway of the Express.
The new record breaker immediately cast off her moorings, and was slipping down the water at about ten knots.
It happened that as she passed the Needles one of His Majesty's vessels, the Falcon, a craft of the new and larger destroyer type which had just been delivered by the Parsons Company, was sauntering down the Solent on her way to do a three hours' steaming trial at her top speed of thirty six knots an hour.
The king had expressly requested that the royal standard should not be hoisted, and he was therefore able to indulge in a quiet chuckle when the Falcon signaled:
"Will you race us to Plymouth and back?"
The king nodded as he read the signal, and the Express replied;
"Yes, and give you half an hour."
The Falcon signaled back laconically: "Thanks! Full speed from the Needles."
On a line due south between Hurst Castle and the Needles the Falcon blew her whistle and rushed away westward, losing herself under a dense cloud of smoke at the speed of over forty statute miles an hour.
For the next half hour the owners of the Express entertained their royal visitor at lunch. Then they went up into the navigation room, and Kingston signaled for full speed ahead.
The triple screws began to whirl at their utmost velocity, and the long white shape sprang forward like a living thing, a fourth of her length out of the water. Then she settled down to her work.
The Falcon was out of sight by this time, nearly twenty miles ahead, but in ten minutes her smoke showed above the horizon. In twenty her signal mast and funnels were visible, in half an hour her hull was raised, in an hour she was abeam, carrying the most infuriated crew that ever sailed under the White Ensign—and then the Express went racing away past at forty-five knots, or nearly sixty statute miles, an hour.
She covered the three hundred miles of the double journey inside six hours, rounding the Eddystone Lighthouse and passing the Falcon still on her way out, and within seven hours after leaving London the king was sitting in the upper cabin of the air-ship, speeding back to St. James' Park at a couple of hundred miles an hour.
NEVER had the newspapers of the world had so many topics of absorbing interest to deal with as on the day which followed his majesty's cruises in the Anonyma and the Express.
The aerial trip would, of course, have sufficed in itself as a sufficient theme for many columns of descriptive matter, but when, in addition to this, the business world was faced with the grim, uncompromising pronouncement made by Marvin at the Carlton Hotel and already reproduced in every newspaper in the world, something very like a panic set in.
It was perfectly plain now that the Kingston Marvin Syndicate really had the means of fulfilling the threat which he so plainly uttered.
A perfect tempest of criticism burst out from end to end of Europe, and the dominant note of alarm was sounded by the Journal des Débats in a leading article which ended as follows:
Having thus dispassionately reviewed all the circumstances, we find ourselves forced to the conclusion that the amazing developments which have been astonishing the world during the last few days, point to nothing less than a deliberate and organized attempt on the part of the Anglo Saxon peoples to establish their absolute domination over the other nations of the earth.
It is perfectly plain, as the president of this astonishing syndicate said in his astounding delivery to the representatives of the world's press, that those who control the world's communications have civilization at their mercy.
This miraculous air-ship in which the king of England, obeying that infallible instinct which invariably causes him to do the right thing at the right time, has traveled from London to Southampton and back at the incredible speed of two hundred miles an hour, is in itself sufficient evidence of the almost illimitable power possessed by these few men.
Those who can build one such ship can build fifty, a hundred, a thousand if they wish to, and what more would be necessary to terrorize the earth into submission to any demands which they chose to make?
With a perfectly full sense of our responsibility, we say deliberately that we are only voicing the opinion of the Continent when we state that it is now the duty of the nations of Europe instantly to combine for their common protection against a tyranny which in a few weeks or months may easily assume such giant proportions that the enslavement of humanity must of necessity follow.
It is almost unnecessary to point to recent events, such as the Spanish American War and the merciless suppression of the two free republics of South Africa, to prove that the two branches of the Anglo Saxon race, Great Britain and America, have recognized at last the tremendous fact of their common kinship and their ownership of nearly half the habitable globe.
To this they have now added the unbounded and universal Empire of the Air, and if this tyranny is not broken instantly by the armed might of Europe, allied in a common cause for its own preservation, nothing can save the world from a perpetual enslavement under the iron of Anglo Saxon despotism.
Such words as these, published in one of the soberest and most influential journals in Europe, produced an instant and wide spread effect, and the next day the whole Continent rang with passionate appeals for a European alliance against the new tyranny.
"Europe," said the Novoye Vremya the next day in an obviously inspired article, "can within a week put ten million men in the field, and two thousand war ships on the sea. Let us forget our own little quarrels, which sink into insignificance beside this tremendous calamity with which we are threatened.
"Let a conference of the sovereigns and statesmen of Europe be immediately convened, and let that conference tell the Anglo-Saxon despots that their tyranny can only be established, if at all, at the cost of millions of lives and hundreds of millions of treasure, and that these few men, having by their own diabolical inventions placed themselves above human law, have also placed themselves outside its protection.
"Well," said Paul to his partner when he had read this extract, quoted in the Times, "I reckon that's about as plain an incitement to assassination as ever appeared in a respectable semiofficial newspaper. Now, what's the matter with giving these people a start? They seem to think that we want to enslave the world, and that therefore we ought to get bullets or knives into us. Why shouldn't we show them that we could if we wanted to, but that we don't."
"That's not half bad, Paul," replied Marvin, chewing the end of his cigar. "Let me see now. France has been swaggering a bit over those submarines of hers, and Russia is only waiting for half a chance to tear up the treaty of Berlin and run her war ships through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles whether any one else likes it or not. I reckon it's about time we set to work. If we don't we'll have trouble."
"These European people," remarked Paul, "seem to me to be spoiling for a fight, and we must stop that, for I have promised my mother and Lady Margaret that if I can help it our air-ships and submarines will never be the means of taking a human life. I propose to keep that promise and make the rest of the world understand it, too. Now look here, that hospital arrangement is all fixed up, and the cash will be paid tomorrow. That will go some way towards showing that we are not quite the enemies of humanity that our friends on the other side of the Channel want to make us out.
"We ought to have by this time about five hundred million pounds in hard gold ready for operations, and another hundred millions a week coming in here and over in the States. Express II will bring five hundred tons from New York tomorrow.
"Now I propose," he went on, lighting a fresh cigar, "that you and I should get on board the Anonyma tonight, run over to Long Island, and order the submarines into the English Channel to await further instructions. Then we'll run down to Port Kingston, see how they are getting on there, and bring up the Shiela, the Britannia, and the Columbia, leaving the Ariel and one submarine to guard the place.
"We will give these European gentlemen what they would call a demonstration in force. What is your opinion of the idea?"
"Pretty perfect, Paul," laughed his partner. "I see you are a general as well as a genius. Well, look here, there is something more to do, and you must leave that to me," he went on, taking out his stylographic pen and pulling a sheet of paper towards him.
He covered half the sheet with his strong characteristic handwriting and passed it over to Paul, saying:
"What is the matter with that for a sort of royal proclamation?"
Paul took the paper and read:
The Kingston Marvin Syndicate and Atlantic Express Company request the attention of the governments of Europe to the following statements, which are made in the best interests of humanity and with the knowledge that, if necessary, the principles contained in them can be duly enforced.
1. The preparations which certain European nations appear to be making with a view to a war which can have no possible excuse must immediately cease, and pledges must be given to the governments of Great Britain and the United States that no mobilizations of troops or fleets shall take place within the next six months.
2. Failing compliance with this request, within a fortnight communications by sea and cable will be stopped, and trains will not be permitted to cross the frontiers of European countries. Any war ship attempting to leave the port in which she is stationed at the time this notice appears will be disabled. The submarines belonging to the French, Russian, and Spanish governments must be confined to ports for at least six months. If found at sea they will be either captured or destroyed.
3. Any Russian ships of war, whether belonging to the regular or the volunteer fleet, which attempt to leave the Black Sea or the Baltic within six months from this date will be either destroyed or disabled.
4. European journals are requested to at once cease misleading the peoples of the Continent by their anti British and American campaigns. The Anglo Saxon race has no enmity against other inhabitants of this world; possessing the power, it has also the will to compel the rest of the world to behave itself in peaceful and orderly fashion. All European newspapers neglecting this warning will be suppressed.
Signed for the Kingston Marvin Syndicate.
Gillette P. Marvin.
"Pretty drastic," said Paul, "but I think it will do. Yes, I'll sign that. Now we'll have the carriage and take it to the duke, and when he has signed it, we'll send it round to the news agencies. I guess the papers will have something to talk about tomorrow."
"Yes," laughed Marvin, "and I guess that inside a fortnight there'll he music in the air. Things will be humming in Europe as they haven't done since Napoleon was spreading himself over the Continent."
The next day this amazing proclamation appeared in the form of an ordinary advertisement in all the influential papers of Europe, saving those of Russia and the German semi official journals, and again the tempest of political abuse burst out.
The same issue of the English papers contained a brief announcement to the effect that his majesty, King Edward, had been pleased to accept from the Kingston Marvin Syndicate a check on the Bank of England for five millions sterling to clear off all debts on the hospitals in the United Kingdom, and to endow with the sum of two millions institutions for the study and treatment of consumption and cancer in which the king had taken great interest.
Another paragraph, in its way not less interesting, stated that the Anonyma had disappeared from her berth at Southampton docks, and that the sister ship to the now famous Atlantic record breaker Express I had broken even her record and landed her passengers at Ocean Quay within ninety two hours of leaving New York.
Then followed in a few words the amazing information that she had landed five hundred tons of bar gold consigned to the Bank of England, which had been conveyed to London in two special trains.
The name of the consignors did not appear, but the fact that the immense treasure coming from no one knew where had been carried in one of the mysterious vessels of the Atlantic Express Company sent a shudder through the financial world, which, as Mr. Schmidt remarked when he read the amazing news, "looked mighty like a preliminary symptom of a financial earthquake."
Nothing more happened for the next ten days, although this time was fully occupied by the journalists of Europe in raging furiously together over the pronouncement of the syndicate, rending them to tatters and stamping them into the mire of the journalistic gutters.
On the morning of the eleventh day a very disquieting occurrence took place.
The Normandie, one of the finest of the French transatlantic steamers, had started from Havre on her usual voyage to New York, and unaccountably broke down a few miles to the northward of Barfleur. Her rudder disappeared, and two of her propeller blades were wrenched off.
She was rescued by tugs from Barfleur just in time to save her drifting on the rocks. On the evening of the same day the Ville de la Ciotat, passing the Isle de Kiou on her way to Port Said, had her rudder torn off, and immediately afterwards her head was polled round until it pointed towards the port.
She also was towed back and docked for repairs.
During the same night all the submarine telegraphs connecting France with the rest of the world ceased to act. Divers were sent down and found that the shore ends of the cables had been cut clean through, and that lengths varying from one to three miles had been carried bodily away.
The following morning as the Calais-Douvres was leaving Calais harbor she was stopped, although her engines were working at full power and she should have been driven at twenty knots through the water.
As in the other cases, her rudder was wrenched off, and her head was pulled round towards the harbor mouth.
Telegraphic orders had been sent to Brest and Toulon directing the French submarines and the torpedo squadron to put to sea at once in search of these under sea depredators that were evidently bent on disorganizing the world's commerce.
They obeyed orders, and that was the last that was heard of them for nearly a fortnight, at the end of which time their officers and crews began to come back with strange stories of capture by steel monsters moving at incredible speed through the depths and equipped with a new form of searchlight which only illuminated the object that it was turned on and not the water through which it passed.
The most exasperating part of the stories was that, whereas the said monsters could easily have smashed the French submarines into scrap iron, they had merely disabled them, taken their officers and crews out, landed them on the nearest shore, and left the vessels to drift helplessly about the wastes of ocean as though they were not worth capture.
Both officers and men had been treated with perfect courtesy and consideration by their captors, who were in all eases either English or American, and not only had the officers been allowed to bring all their private property away, but in cases where the men were without money they received presents of a hundred francs in gold to see them home.
It would take pages properly to describe the condition of panic and consternation into which Europe was plunged by these extraordinary events, coming as they did as an absolute fulfilment of the direct threat made by the Kingston Marvin Syndicate.
But the next day fresh marvels happened.
The main telegraph lines between Paris, Berlin, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Rome, Constantinople, and Madrid were destroyed in a night. A Russian war ship attempting to pass the Bosporus had been crippled and dragged back into the Black Sea, and a tremendous submarine explosion, most curiously unattended by any loss of life, had completely blocked the entrance to the fortified harbor of Kronstadt, the watch dog of Russia, at the gates of Petersburg.
Then, like a bolt from the blue, fell literally from the skies the most paralyzing blow of all
The German emperor had received the ultimatum of the syndicate at first with a disdainful incredulity, and then with an uncomfortable but fast growing conviction that, after all, there must be something in it. So on the thirteenth day he boarded the imperial yacht Hohenzollern at Bremen and started for Dover to talk the matter over with his royal uncle of England.
It was not, however, in accordance with the plans of the syndicate that such a meeting should take place in that way, and so it happened that as his majesty was taking the air on the navigation bridge just before lunch the sinning shape of the Anonyma swooped down from the midmost haven.
At the same time something black, with a glass domed conning tower at the fore end came swirling along the surface of the water at a speed of about fifty miles an hour. This object made a complete circuit round the Hohenzollern, while the Anonyma did the same in the air.
No one in Europe has much better nerves than the German emperor, but even his were a little shaken by this strange happening.
He was far too good a sailor not to see that if the cruisers of the air and the under sea had come with any hostile intent he with his yacht and all on board her were absolutely at their mercy.
While the Anonyma swung round and dropped until her gangway door was on a level with the bridge of the imperial yacht, the black, half submerged shape of the submarine prowled round, silent but menacing.
The Hohenzollern was traveling at nearly twenty knots through the water, but the mysterious submarine had not the slightest difficulty in keeping up with her and making rings round her as well.
Then the door in the side of the Anonyma opened. Paul appeared at it, took off his cap, and said:
"I have the honor to wish your imperial majesty good morning. You are, I believe, going to England to learn certain particulars which I shall be most happy to give you now if your majesty will honor my vessel by coming aboard and taking lunch with me."
PAUL KINGSTON and his mother live in Lake City, Colorado. He has inherited his dead father's tastes for scientific investigation, and has perfected an air-ship which he needs only the means to teat. These are supplied by Gillette Marvin, a millionaire and an old friend of the family. He also arranges a month's trip to Pike's Peak with the Kingstons and a British friend, the Duke of Romney, who is traveling through America with his daughter Margaret. The outcome of the excursion is the marriage of Mr. Marvin and Mrs. Kingston, and the loss of Paul's heart to Lady Margaret
In due time the wonderful air-ship, the Shiela, named for Mrs. Kingston, is completed, and on her trial trip proves a magnificent success, and as Paul has plans for the building of submarine boats of incredible swiftness, the day seems not far distant when he will in truth be ruler of the air and sea.
But there is a still more marvelous thing yet to come. In the honeymoon flight of the Shiela over South America, Mrs. Marvin spies a strange looking lake beneath them in the crater of a volcano. It turns out to be a lake of gold, and the three now realize themselves to be masters of the world. But great secrecy is necessary for the present. A syndicate is formed, ostensibly to operate apparently useless mines in Chile, and four more air-ships are built, with the most magnificent of the lot, the Anonyma, commanded by Paul Kingston, as the flag ship of the fleet But as yet the public at large knows nothing of them.
Meantime, at a conference with Dumont Lawson and Augustus L. Schmidt, magnates of the great steel and iron trust, Gillette Marvin offers four thousand million dollars for a third interest in the corporation, which he proposes to operate for the good of humanity. This is refused and the new syndicate determines to put on the screws. A terrible slump takes place in transportation stocks, and presently another bombshell burst on the commercial world. The Atlantic Express Company sends a steamer, Express I, across the ocean in one hundred hours, and inaugurates a regular service of such swift going ships. Close upon this Paul arrives in his air-ship, Anonyma, and astounds all who behold the marvel. He and Marvin take the Duke of Romney into partnership, and later the king of England is taken for a sail in the air-ship, and becomes deeply interested in the plans of the syndicate. The emperor of Germany, however, is inclined to hold aloof, and after several warnings are served on the Continental powers by the work of the submarines, the royal yacht, the Hohenzollern, is held up in the English Channel Then Paul invites the Kaiser to come on board the Anonyma and take lunch with him, while they talk things over.
THE Kaiser, in common with the officers and crew of the Hohenzollern, had been gazing in undisguised wonder at the beautiful shape of the Anonyma, and with somewhat different feelings at the dark, swiftly moving bulk of the submarine.
It was perfectly plain that the two were working together, and that if their intentions were hostile they could do up the imperial yacht between them in very short order.
At the same time, although Paul's tone was perfectly friendly and respectful, still there was something in it that conveyed to the Kaiser an uncomfortable impression that it carried somewhat of a command as well as an invitation. His German majesty was not accustomed to that sort of thing.
"I presume," said the Kaiser in his stiffest, haughtiest tone, "that I am talking either to Mr. Paul Kingston or to Mr. Marvin; that is to say, to one of the authors of that preposterous proclamation by which the European Powers were insulted a fortnight ago. In that case, I'm afraid I must decline your invitation."
"My name is Paul Kingston, and I am quite at your majesty's service," was the reply, politely but somewhat more formally spoken. "I can assure your majesty that my invitation is given in the friendliest spirit, and that no harm is intended to your person or to your royal dignity.
"The king of England, as you know, has already trusted himself on hoard this ship; therefore I hope your majesty will come aboard with perfect confidence. I may say that my only object in asking your majesty to honor me with your company is the absolute necessity of our having a little private conversation before your visit to England. When we have had that I will land you on the terrace at Windsor Castle, where you will find his majesty, King Edward, awaiting you within three hours from now."
The Kaiser found himself in a decided dilemma, but he had already grasped the fact that it was no use arguing from the deck of a steamer with the master of an air-ship, especially while that submarine monster, which could sink the Hohenzollern in five minutes, was swirling round her.
With his infallible rapidity of thought he found the means of saving his own dignity and avoiding what might have been a very serious complication.
"Ah, that is quite a different matter, Mr. Kingston," he said, with a good humored laugh. "If you had put your invitation that way at first I could not possibly have refused it, but how am I to get on board? Shall we stop?"
"There is no necessity for that," replied Paul. "I will come closer alongside, and you will find no difficulty,"
Captain Vinton, who was steering in the conning tower, heard this and brought the air-ship so accurately alongside the imperial yacht that when the gangway steps were lowered they rested on the Hohenzollern's bridge.
The Kaiser, secretly delighted at the prospect of personally inspecting this marvelous craft, turned to his commander and ordered him to proceed to the Solent. Then, returning the salutes of his officers, he went up the ladder, and quite frankly took Paul's hand.
"Well, Mr. Kingston," he said when the door was shut and they were alone, "I'm not accustomed to accepting compulsory invitations, but you put yours so nicely, and backed it up with such unmistakable display of force that—well, I could hardly do anything but avail myself of your hospitality. The submarine. I presume, is also under your orders."
"Yes, your majesty," replied Paul, "we have two fleets, one of the sea, and one of the air, and we are working together,"
"So I see," said the emperor rather grimly, "and I should say you would make a very effective combination. In fact, if you only had enough of these cruisers and air-ships it would be difficult for any of us to do much without your permission."
"We have enough to control the communications of the world," replied Paul quietly, "and that is all we want at present, but within a month we shall have quadrupled our fleets, and that will put us into a position to enforce the terms of the manifesto which we published a fortnight ago."
The War Lord of Germany looked at the young man in eloquent silence, for there was no mistaking the inner meaning of the quietly spoken words. The Kaiser recognized instantly that he was talking to a man who wielded a greater power than even he, the master of armed millions, did.
Paul saw that the conversation bade fair to become a little strained, so he changed the subject by saying:
"And now, your majesty, perhaps you would like to inspect the air-ship. She is entirely at your disposal for the time being, and I will show you everything. There is only one secret that I am not permitted to tell you."
"Quite so, quite so," said the Kaiser. "I fully understand that. You mean the secret of your motive power. That, of course, is no business of mine. I only wish it was."
The next half hour was, as he told King Edward that evening, the most bewilderingly entertaining that William of Germany had ever spent.
After Captain Vinton had been presented to him, he went with Paul into the conning tower, and then the Anonyma was put through her paces.
The Hohenzollern was steaming away southwestward at about twenty knots. The submarine had risen to the surface, showing the whole of her three hundred feet length of black, shining whale-back hull and her glass domed conning tower. The air-ship passed over her, dropped to a height of about fifty feet, and then a telephone wire was passed down.
The Kaiser heard Paul speak the following message:
"We are going to do a little maneuvering; please stand by to accompany us when we have finished. You will also keep in sight of the Hohenzollern. Remember that his majesty is our guest, and that no accident must happen to her. Good by!"
"Pardon me, Mr. Kingston," said the Kaiser, "but may I ask whether there is any inner meaning to that message!"
"I cannot say for certain," replied Paul. "As your majesty is aware, many very strange things have happened in the last few days, and others stranger still may have to be prepared for. Your majesty's safety is at present in my hands and I cannot, of course, accept such a situation without taking all due precautions, and now, if you please, I will show you a little of what our ship can do."
The next moment the Hohenzollern was a tiny white speck five thousand feet below in the distant ocean. The Anonyma, rushing at full speed through the air, described a swiftly ascending spiral until the Kaiser saw the barometer indicating an elevation of fifteen thousand feet. He asked afterwards how it was that he had not experienced any inconvenience from such a sadden change of elevation, and Paul explained that the interior of the Anonyma could be made perfectly air tight, and that therefore the pressure inside did not alter.
Then she swooped down to the sea once more, stopped within a couple of hundred yards from the surface about a mile astern of the Hohenzollern, leaped forward again, made a complete circuit round her, then slowed down and hovered a hundred feet or so above the tops of her masts.
"Mr. Kingston," said the Kaiser, "you must allow me to withdraw what I said about a certain precaution. The owners of a fleet of ships like this, to say nothing of your submarines, could, I'm afraid, enforce any proclamation that they chose to make. The empire of the air and sea means practically the empire of the world. It seems to me that we people who sit on earthly thrones will have to revise our ideas of government considerably."
"Only in the direction of peace and the best interests of humanity, I hope, your majesty," replied Paul with a seriousness that was not lost upon his imperial guest. "And now, if you please, I will call my captain to take my place, and we will have some lunch."
"And I am quite ready for it, too," laughed the Kaiser. "Aerial voyaging and wonder-seeing seem pretty good for the appetite."
The lunch, simple as it was, was one of the pleasantest meals the Kaiser had ever eaten. His infallible tact caused him lo drop all ceremony and treat his host on exactly equal terms.
Pleasant as it was, however, the meal was destined to come to a sudden and somewhat startling conclusion. The coffee had just been served, and Paul was offering the Kaiser his cigar case when a dull hang came out of the sea, accompanied by the whistling shriek of a shell. The next moment the first officer of the Anonyma presented himself at the door, saluted and said:
"A large cruiser flying French colors has just fired on us, sir."
"The deuce he has!" exclaimed Paul, rising to his feet. "No harm done, I hope. Tell Captain Vinton to rise to four thousand feet. Quicken up to half speed and go directly over him. Signal to the submarine to sink and cripple hi in.
"I was half afraid of this, your majesty," he went on to his guest. "I don't suppose they would dare to fire on your flag, but you see they look upon us as outlaws, and apparently they are going to treat us as such."
"I'm afraid I didn't quite understand you, Mr. Kingston," said the Kaiser, also rising. "Am I to understand that your orders are to sink the French cruiser? You will perhaps forgive me saying that that would be an act that would place you outside the pale of international law."
"Oh no, I didn't mean that," answered Paul, smiling. "If you will come into the conning tower with me 111 show you how we propose to wage war. We don't shed blood if we can help it."
"That must be a curious kind of fighting, Mr. Kingston," remarked the German War Lord, thinking of the flood of devastation which a few words of his would let loose on Europe.
"Yes, sir, it is, but I hope to be able to show you that at any rate it is quite as efficient as other modes of warfare."
They entered the conning tower as Paul spoke.
The Anonyma was already high above the French cruiser, which afterwards proved to be the Dupuy de Lome. The submarine had vanished, and the Hohenzollern, flying the German imperial flag, was proceeding on her way with an apparent carelessness born of the absolute uncompromising German spirit of obedience to orders.
"Your majesty will see," said Paul as he took his place at the table, "that it is now practically impossible for him to shoot at us. We are five thousand feet above him, and he hasn't a thousand to one chance of hitting us even if he had guns that could shoot straight up. The Anonyma doesn't look any bigger to him now that a soda water bottle would. Now, I will just show you what we could do with him if we wanted to wage war on the old barbaric lines."
As he said this he touched a button in the side wall of the conning tower, and Captain Vinton opened the door just as the Kaiser was saying:
"All war is barbarous, my dear sir, but all the same it is a necessity. It is the tonic of nations, and a people that is not ready or willing to fight for its existence is not fit to exist."
"To that extent I agree with your majesty," said Paul, "but there is another way of doing these things. Pardon me for a moment."
The Kaiser bowed, and Paul continued:
"Captain Vinton, put a torpedo into the port forward tube and drop it a couple of hundred yards on the other aide of that Frenchman. Be very careful that you don't hit him. We don't want to hurt anybody. If that isn't enough to convince him that we are not fooling, you can have the after one ready, and let that explode about a thousand feet above him. By that time I suppose the Nautilus will have got hold of the fellow."
"Very good, sir," replied Captain Vinton, touching his cap and disappearing.
"Now, your majesty," Paul continued, "our friends the enemy down there are going to have a little surprise."
"I should think so," said the Kaiser; "if you can only do what you say—as of course you can."
"Oh, yes," said Paul; "there is no doubt about that. Ah, there she goes!"
The Kaiser looked down and saw something like a flash of light dart out from the left hand side of the air-ship. It passed over the French cruiser, plunged into the water a couple of hundred yards on the other side of her, and the next moment a mountain of boiling foam leaped up out of the sea and sank down again in the midst of a wide area of yeasty, seething water.
Even the Kaiser's iron self control gave way under the stress of this terrible demonstration of power.
"Great heaven, sir; that would have sunk a battle-ship!"
"It would, sir," replied Paul, "and it would have wrecked the strongest fortress in Europe with just as little trouble. Now you shall see something else."
He unhooked a telephone transmitter from the wall, and called into it:
"That was very well aimed, Captain Vinton. Now let him have the after one—a thousand feet above him, please."
Another streak of light flashed out from the Anonyma's side, and a few seconds later the Kaiser saw a brief glare, so intense that it seemed for the moment to darken the midday sun. A blaze of greenish-blue radiance burst out between sky and sea, and a spasm, accompanied by a terrific report, shook the atmosphere so strongly that even the Anonyma shuddered as the returning air wave struck her.
"If we had hit him with that, as we could have done," said Paul, "he'd have been scrap-iron by this time. Those torpedoes carry fifty pounds of an explosive which is a hundred times more powerful than guncotton.
"If it had been a thousand feet nearer, the atmospheric concussion would have killed every man on board the ship."
"I believe it," said the Kaiser shortly. "I've seen quite enough for that. It is only a matter of ammunition. Half a dozen ships like these could fight the navies of the world. God forbid that you should ever fight mine."
"That, your majesty," replied Paul, "I hope we shall never do. Ah, the Nautilus has begun. You see the cruiser is helpless, she won't steer. That means that the submarine has torn her rudder off."
"But what are you going to do with her, Mr. Kingston?" exclaimed the Kaiser. "She may be an enemy, but surely you won't leave her helpless in the middle of the German Ocean?"
"No, sir," said Paul. "We don't propose to make war in that way. She will have to surrender whether she likes it or not, and the Nautilus shall tow her down to Dunkirk for repairs.
"And now, if it is your Majesty's pleasure, we will get away to Windsor," he went on, taking out his watch. "It will require nearly a couple of hours, and King Edward expects you to dinner. My captain will take charge, and we may as well go back into the cabin and have some fresh coffee and another cigar."
"I think," said the Kaiser, "that, under the circumstances, I will ask you to let me send the Hohenzollern to our friend's assistance. You see, after all, it would only be a little act of international courtesy."
"With pleasure, if your majesty wishes it," replied Paul. "We will run alongside at once and fix it up."
TWO hours after the disabled French cruiser had disappeared in the distance, the Anonyma, flying the German imperial ensign by the Kaiser's own request, slowed down alongside the parapet of the terrace at Windsor Castle.
King Edward and Queen Alexandra were waiting to receive their visitor, and a few minutes afterwards the Prince and Princess of Wales drove in through the great gateway.
The Kaiser gave his rapid sketch of the afternoon's proceedings in such sardonic humor that the king and queen both burst out laughing, and his majesty said:
"I'm afraid our friends across the Channel will be something more than angry when the cruiser gets back to Dunkirk. There will be a terrible commotion in the French papers tomorrow morning."
"Yes, I'm afraid so," added the queen. "The idea of a French cruiser being towed into a French port by a German imperial yacht will not strike our friends as being exactly in the perfection of things."
"Ah," said the Prince of Wales, coming out onto the terrace at this moment, accompanied by the princess, "there she is at last, May—this wonderful cruiser of the air—and the emperor! Have you come over in her?"
"Yes," said the Kaiser as he saluted the princess and shook hands. "I've just been telling the king and queen what a wonderful experience I have had as Mr. Kingston's guest. Perhaps you will allow me to present the Lord of the Air to you."
"With pleasure," laughed the prince, "but I'm not so sure whether it ought not to be the other way about, for, after all, the Lord of the Air owns larger realms than we do; and, another thing, he can be a despot if he pleases, and we can't."
"Well," laughed the Kaiser, "here is Mr. Kingston, despot of air and sea. No, I am not joking. He really has proved that to me conclusively this afternoon. His majesty knows it, and so do I, but you will hardly believe that that air-ship can travel two hundred miles an hour."
"Two hundred miles an hour!" repeated the prince as he shook hands with Paul. "Mr. Kingston, you have conquered the earth! I'm going to ask you if you will take me for a trip, and I think, possibly, my wife would like a new sensation, too."
"I was just going to ask Mr. Kingston for the same privilege myself," said the queen as the princess smiled and nodded assent.
Paul bowed and replied:
"If your majesty and your royal highnesses will give me a few minutes more I shall be able to provide you with a fitting escort. I ordered the rest of our English squadron to rendezvous here this afternoon at four, and it is just four now.
"Ah, yes, there they come. I knew they wouldn't be late. You see, we don't have stoppages or collisions in the air. That is one of the advantages of aerial navigation."
"Especially," laughed the Kaiser, "when you happen to own the only aerial fleet in existence. Ah, and so these are your auxiliary cruisers," he went on as three shining shapes rushed up abreast out of the eastward, tailed out into a long line, swept round the castle, and came to a rest, one ahead and two astern of the Anonyma.
The golden banner of air and sea instantly broke out from their mastheads and dipped three times in salutation to the royal standard floating over the round tower.
"That is very marvelous maneuvering," observed the Kaiser.
Paul bowed and signaled with his hand to Captain Vinton in the conning tower.
The Anonyma swung round, passed over the parapet, and sank gently to the pavement. The door opened and the gangway ladder fell down.
"We will pay a visit first to the fleet at Spithead," said Paul, "but I shall have to haul the flags down or they will be torn to threads in a few minutes. We shall reach the Solent in half an hour."
"Over a hundred and twenty miles an hour!" exclaimed the prince. "Well, sir, I have come prepared for miracles, and I'm not going to be astonished if I can help it."
The landscape began to slip away behind the squadron, and in a few minutes it became a blur as the air-ships rushed through the whistling atmosphere at a hundred and fifty miles an hour.
In twenty minutes the speed of the propellers slackened, and within half an hour the squadron was floating over the Solent with the royal standard once more flying from the Anonyma.
Tens of thousands of men, from admirals to ordinary seamen, gazed up in wonder at the spectacle, and many and picturesque were the remarks made by the "Handymen" and the "Jollies" as to what might happen if the variously and luridly described cruisers of the air were to turn to and drop torpedoes on the decks of his majesty's ships.
But the sight of the royal standard flying on the Anonyma, and the knowledge that the king had already taken a trip on her, at once removed all fear of possible unpleasantness, and, moreover, telegrams had been received at all the southern ports announcing the departure of the squadron for the south with the royalties on board.
So the white ensigns dipped in homage, and the guns of the fleets and forts began to boom out their welcoming salute. The aerial squadron had no means of replying. Its weapons were silent and flameless, and, as the Kaiser had seen, they were meant only for annihilation.
The queen had just requested Paul to descend and make a tour of the fleet, and he was preparing to obey when the prince exclaimed:
"Halloa, they are signaling us from the east fort!"
The king looked round and saw the arms of the big semaphore begin to wag furiously.
"Is the king on board?" said the prince, translating.
"Shall I reply, your majesty?" asked Paul.
"Say 'yes' if you please, Mr. Kingston," replied the king. "The admiral commanding may have something to say."
The Anonyma at once replied in the affirmative, and the semaphore arms at once began wagging again. They wagged a good deal longer this time, and the prince translated:
"Will his majesty be pleased to grant interview to admiral commanding? Important news to communicate."
"I presume that your majesty will wish to descend?" said Paul.
"If you please, Mr. Kingston," replied the king. "I don't think the commander would have said that without some good reason. You see a king is never his own master!"
Paul went into the conning tower, and in a few minutes Portsmouth witnessed the strange spectacle of a cruiser of the skies settling down on the parapet of one of its forts.
A guard of honor had already turned out, and the king was received at the officers' quarters by the commander in chief of the port.
For about half an hour they were alone together in the admiral's private room. When the king came out he was looking very gravely at some official telegraph forms he had in his hand.
"Mr. Kingston," he said when he reached the air-ship again, "will you favor me by rising again? I may tell you that I have just heard some serious news, and I wish to hold what I am afraid we must call a council of war on it. As it directly concerns yourself, I shall ask you to join the emperor and the prince and myself in some apartment where we can talk freely."
"With pleasure, your majesty," replied Paul. "I will put Captain Vinton in charge, and you can rely on our privacy in the lower cabin."
The king, of course, presided at the momentous council, and he began the business in hand without any formality by saying:
"News has just been received from the Foreign Office that France and Russia, with the approval of Italy, Spain, Austria, and Holland, have decided to unite for the defense of national and international liberty against the new despotism, as they call it, which has just come into the world. The fact that I have been in personal relation with one of the signers of the circular, and have even taken a trip in one of the air-ships, is accepted as direct evidence that Great Britain indorsee the policy of the Syndicate.
"Further," he went on, smiling across at his nephew, "it seems that you have got yourself into trouble. Soon after your yacht took the Dupuy de Lome in tow, the Frenchman sent a long Marconi message to Dunkirk describing the incident fully. It was immediately telegraphed to Paris, and thence all over the world, no doubt, by this time.
"Of course it follows that the visit of this vessel to Windsor with you on board and our embarking with you for another trip has become common property already. Now, these telegrams go on to say that there is the highest probability of concerted action, possibly amounting to an ultimatum to Germany, England, and America to the effect that if the circular is not withdrawn and operations stopped they will report to force—which, I need hardly say, would mean a European conflagration, and possibly a world-wide one, and a large part of the civilized world would be devastated, no matter which side won.
"Now, Mr. Kingston," his majesty continued, turning to Paul, "I think it is quite plain to us that the primary action in this matter lies with you. You and your partner possess powers which nobody else does, and it seems to me that any reply to such an ultimatum would be impossible without, at least, a knowledge of your intentions—to say nothing of your assistance, since the operations cannot possibly be stopped without your assent. What is your opinion?" he added, appealing to the emperor.
"I am afraid I shall have to agree with you," the Kaiser replied with a smile and a half envious glance at the youthful master of the situation. "To be quite frank about it, after what I have seen to-day I am in the position of the man who found himself in a town where there was a riot, and announced that he was on the side of the man with the big ax. I'm on the side of the air-ships and the submarines."
"And so am I, most decidedly!" laughed the prince. "And now the question is, what side are they going to be on?"
"Well, Mr. Kingston." the king continued, "that is practically all we have to say at present, I think. We have, of course, not the slightest intention or desire of trespassing on your confidence, or of prying into your plans. At the same time, you will, I trust, consider it a natural desire on our part to know anything of your plans that you are able to tell us."
"Your majesty," replied Paul, "I'm afraid it will be impossible for me to give you anything like a complete answer until I have consulted with my colleagues as to the attitude we shall take in the development of this situation. Mr. Marvin returns from the States in the Express boat which is due to-night. It will then probably be necessary for one of us at least to cross the Atlantic and find out the position that America considers herself to be in.
"Of course, if these countries persist in wanting war, they can have it, unless we find ourselves strong enough to stop it without battle. I may say further, right here, that we are not at war, and don't propose to be so with any governments or nations or peoples; but simply, as we have stated, with the commercial combinations and dollar despotisms, which we believe to be the worst enemies of the human race.
"Those we are determined to break up by any means we may have to use; but I do not think we could take sides in any international conflict—except," he went on, with a smile at the Kaiser, "making it as difficult as possible for the combatants to hurt each other.
"What I mean is this. As your majesty saw, I could easily have sunk the Dupuy de Lome either by ramming or dropping a torpedo on her; but instead of that I thought it better to render her so incapable of mischief that she would have to be taken care of, though she had committed an act of war against me.
"That is all I can say for the present, except, perhaps, that we clearly foresaw that this would happen, and that is why I endeavored to assist Destiny so that, if possible, you should first hear the news in company with his majesty of Great Britain and talk it over personally rather than through your foreign offices."
"An excellent stroke of diplomacy, I must say, Mr. Kingston!" laughed the Kaiser, remembering the inflexible firmness with which Paul's invitation had been given.
"Excellent," added the king, "and I shouldn't be surprised if we found that you had assisted Destiny to a very considerable extent."
MARVIN arrived at Southampton at six that evening, four hours ahead of time, in Express III, and with him came Mr. Lawson Dumont, summoned by a very urgent cable from his partner and lieutenant.
In the United States things had been going from bad to worse with the corporation.
All the securities in which its members were interested had steadily depreciated. Most of its works, even the great establishment at Pittsburg, were running short or shut down altogether.
Its best officials were resigning, and its men kept going on strike and not apparently worrying about the means of subsistence.
There was an enormous difficulty in obtaining coal and raw material, even from its own mines, in consequence of perpetual strikes oil the most frivolous excuses, and the president had begun to notice that if it placed orders from abroad for fuel or raw material, the Arms which accepted them speedily lost their men, however well they were paid.
In fact it was this apparently worldwide boycott of the corporation and all its works that had so desperately alarmed the usually imperturbable Mr. Schmidt, and had brought the angry and mystified president over to Europe.
It had been a sore humiliation to him to be forced to travel on board one of the boats whose performances had almost wrecked both the prospects and the finances of the great snipping combine, but hours might mean millions now, and, therefore, time was of consequence.
Besides, many mysterious accidents, such as the breaking of shafts and the loss of propeller blades had been happening to the ships of the combine, while the Express ran with unfailing regularity and invariably within their contract time of a hundred hours.
Meanwhile, too, that inexplicable gold tide had been rising higher and higher both in America and England, and obscure firms, with apparently illimitable capital to play with, had been keeping up such a state of utter uncertainty in Wall Street, by means of the most reckless buying and>selling, that legitimate business had come practically to a standstill.
The same, too, in a lesser degree, was happening on the London stock exchange and the Continental bourses, and every foreign loan, no matter how good the security, had somehow come to grief.
On the passage Mr. Lawson had had several very interesting conversations with Marvin, who now made no secret of the air-ships and submarines and the uses for which they were intended.
He also owned in a sort of noncommittal way to knowing something about the mysterious millions which were automatically piling themselves up, flowing from nowhere into the banks and treasure houses of Britain and America.
But as to the origin of this seemingly magic flood Lawson could learn nothing. The moment that subject was even indirectly touched upon, he might as well have been talking to the Sphinx itself. All the poor satisfaction that he could get was just:
"Well, Mr. Lawson, I made you a fair offer to begin with, and you thought it suited your book best to decline. I guess you've got to fight now, and if you have overrated the strength of your commercial opponent, that is your funeral, not mine."
The Anonyma had immediately returned to London from Portsmouth, doing the seventy-two miles under the half hour, and, after depositing her royal and imperial passengers at the gates of Marlborough House, had found a temporary resting place in the courtyard of St. James' Palace under a strong guard of wondering sentries with loaded rifles and fixed bayonets.
A message had been left at Southampton for Marvin, asking him to join Paul and the duke at dinner at Park Lane, and so he had come up in the Columbia, which set him down in Hyde Park, and immediately returned to the general quarters of the squadron at Southampton Docks.
There were three other guests at dinner that night, who came in strict incognito—the king, the Kaiser, and the Prince of Wales.
But there was another dinner party of at least equal importance that night at Franklin Deventer's mansion in Grosvenor Place.
There were only two ladies present at each party, Lady Margaret and Paul's mother at Park Lane; and Mrs. Deventer and Eirene at Grosvenor Place; but there was another guest at Mr. Deventer's table whose presence would have occasioned some little surprise if not apprehension at Park Lane.
This was Count Feodor Dourinoff, one of the principal secretaries to the Russian embassy in London.
He had been introduced to Miss Eirene at a ball at the embassy to which Mr. Schmidt had secured an invitation for the family on the strength of the enormous interests owned in Russia by the corporation. Miss Deventer's dazzling beauty, and the perhaps equally dazzling glitter of her father's millions, had speedily added the handsome young Russian to the already long list of her victims; and after a long and earnest consultation with her father and brother, she had decided to turn her conquest to the best possible use.
The first result of an interview which Dumont Lawson had had with Mr. Schmidt immediately on his arrival, was a decision to put the whole resources of the corporation, if need be, in money and material, at the disposal of the Powers which had now definitely declared war on the Kingston-Marvin Syndicate. That was why Count Feodor had his legs under Mr. Deventer's mahogany that night.
No politics were talked at dinner, although, as was only natural, the conversation ran entirely on the extraordinary events which had kept the world agog with wonder and excitement since the arrival of Express I and her aerial consort; but when the gentlemen had accepted Mrs. Deventer's invitation to take their coffee and liqueurs and smoke their cigarettes in what their hostess called the divan—a cozy room luxuriously furnished in oriental style—the real business of the evening began.
Count Feodor knew perfectly well that he had not been invited out of sheer hospitality. He was too well practised in diplomacy for that; but, at the same time, if he had been invited for a purpose he had also come with very definite intentions and instructions.
He had been given quite plainly to understand that his business was to conclude if possible—and the word impossible is an ugly one in the mouths of those who serve holy Russia—to conclude an informal but none the less binding alliance between the European League, as it might conveniently be called, and the corporation and its allies, considered always as the financial foes of the Kingston-Marvin Syndicate.
In consequence of the failure of the loan, which had come to grief through sudden and enormous withdrawals of gold from the Bank of France and the Austrian Reichsbank, Russia was rapidly approaching an almost desperate financial position.
It had, in fact, become a certainty that in spite of the perfection of her naval and military preparations, she would not be able to keep her armies and fleets on a war footing for many weeks longer unless she found an ally able and willing to furnish her with that most potent weapon of all—gold.
This ally Count Feodor and his chiefs hoped to discover in the great Dumont-Lawson Corporation and its associates—all of which facts were just as well known by Lawson and his friends as they were to the Russian government.
"The central fact of the whole situation seems to me," said the president, after a little introductory talk, "that it will be very difficult if not impossible for us to make this suggested alliance effective as long as what I may call our friends the enemy retain possession of those air-ships and submarines, to say nothing of the Express transports. Whether the people who control them also are engineering this extraordinary increase in the world's gold supply, and the equally unaccountable disturbance in the stock markets, can't of course be proved, but I don't think myself that there is very much doubt about it. If they don't, they ought to."
A little silence, a silence of intense thought, followed this speech.
There was no mistaking its meaning. With the usual directness of his pitiless logic, the great American steel king had gone straight to the root of the matter, and it was perfectly evident to those who heard him that he, at any rate, was perfectly prepared to carry out his implied proposition to any lengths and by any means that might be found necessary.
Eirene looked across at her brother, and he remembered a portion of a certain conversation which had passed between them not very long ago.
He saw now more clearly than before why, longing as she did for the Lord of the Air, she had condescended to enslave an ordinary secretary to a possible hostile embassy.
"Would it be allowable," began Count Feodor slowly, "to conclude from that, the absolute necessity of treating these people, the owners of these air-ships and submarines, as the common enemies of the human race?"
"I should certainly entirely agree with you there, count," said Miss Eirene, leaning back in her chair, holding a little eggshell coffee cup poised very daintily between her finger and thumb, "and if our interests are identical, as they seem to be, I think we should bring matters to a head quicker if we started out understanding one another quite frankly. Don't you think so, count?"
If anybody else in the room, her mother for instance, had made such a remark, it would have had the effect of sending Count Feodor Dourinoff definitely back into his official shell, but there was a good deal more than words could ever convey in the accent which accompanied them.
As had happened to many another of his kind before him, Feodor Dourinoff did not know that when a woman is born for diplomacy, no man not a genius has a chance with her.
He heard the tones rather than the words, and, perhaps, he paid more attention than he should have done to the smile of those lovely lips and the glance of those bewildering eyes.
At any rate, he was thrown off his guard for the moment, and he said with just a tinge of hesitation, which was instantly appraised at its true value by the keen intellects that were waiting to make use of him:
"I quite see the great importance of your meaning, Miss Deventer. What you really mean is, I suppose, that we should play this game, of which the stakes are practically the mastery of the world, as the English say, with the cards on the table."
"If we are all playing for the same hand, count," said Dumont Lawson, getting up and putting his hands in his pockets, "and I reckon that is what you mean, we've got to show each other what cards we hold so that we can play them as required. But, of course, you don't suppose that the other side are going to do that for us!"
"Not half!" laughed Franklin Deventer. "I reckon they have got too many trumps in their hands for that, and perhaps one or two up their sleeve that we know nothing about yet. No, I reckon that if we are going together into this game to win or lose all there is to be got hold of, the best we can do is to be absolutely honest with each other. Now, count, our hand is mostly composed of diamonds—in other words, dollars."
"Hearts don't appear to come into the game just here," laughed Eirene softly, with a swiftly passing glance at the count; "maybe they will come later on."
"The game of life was never yet played without them," said Feodor Dourinoff with an unmistakable emphasis, "and it never will be."
"No, I don't suppose it will," said Dumont Lawson, "but just here I reckon it's a case of heads more than hearts.
"Now," he went on, "to use the language of poker, which I reckon every one in this room understands, we are playing for a mighty big pot, and we haven't a show of winning unless we know what cards we've got and play them as such, so I suggest a show down to begin with. Mine, as Miss Eirene said just now, are diamonds, and I think I can pretty well call a flush at that."
"We're leaving the ladies out for the present," said Mr. Deventer. "I guess we may pretty well declare the same. What do you say, Mr. Schmidt?"
"The same," he replied, "with clubs if necessary. What's your price, count?"
"Since hearts are to be left out," said the Russian, "I should declare a hand full of clubs."
"That sounds like business," laughed Eirene, quickly seizing the occasion, "and how—how big are they, count?"
She leaned back in her armchair and looked at him over the top of her feather fringed fan as she said this. Their eyes met for a moment—and in that moment the remains of Count Feodor's reserve melted away.
"I have said that I would declare clubs," he began with an assurance that was perhaps born of a certain form of intoxication, "because clubs in cards are the symbol of force. You gentlemen are possessed of the force which moves armies and fleets and keeps them effective for war. I have only spoken of the force which might be employed swiftly, even rudely, perhaps, to suddenly wrest their most potent weapons from the hands of those whom I suppose all here will agree with me in calling our enemies."
"You've got there at once, count," said Dumont Lawson, putting his hands on his knees and straightening his back. "I guess every one here takes your meaning—which, put into plain American, is just this: We've got to have those air-ships and submarines.
"It doesn't matter about spending a few million dollars on it. They're worth the money, and if anybody gets hurt over the transfer of the property, well, we have all got too much at stake, financially and politically, to worry much about that. And now, since we seem to understand each other fairly well, in the language of the immortal game, it's your call. What's it to be?"
"BRIEFLY this," replied the count. "None of us here owes any loyalty to Great Britain, and none of us, as far as I know, has any particular reason to love her. My own government, I may say quite confidentially now that we are allies, is practically on the brink of war with her, and I might add that Russia does not wage war after the ridiculous fashion of the English in South Africa. With us all is fair in war—and love—provided only that it is expedient; and all methods would, I think, be expedient to obtain possession of such priceless instruments of warfare.
"But, as I said just now, it will be very expensive work. Besides, I am not at all sure that my chief would consent to my taking part in such a venture."
"But I should say, count," rejoined Lawson, "that we had better play a lone hand in this game. It isn't one for government interference, anyhow. I reckon that if Uncle Sam got an official hand in it, it would be a pretty cold day for some of us."
"Ugh!" laughed Eirene with a mock shudder. "I should think so! Why, they might even have the bad taste at Washington to call such a thing an act of piracy against a friendly Power, and that is a hanging or an electrocuting matter, isn't it, papa?"
"That's so, Eirene," replied her father. "Those ships don't fly any regular flag, but they have flown the eagle of Germany and the royal standard of England, and so what we propose to do would be quite enough to get every one here penal servitude for life at the very least."
"Well, I must say," remarked Mrs. Deventer, looking round the room, "that you are as respectable looking a lot of pirates as ever came together; still," she went on more seriously, "I don't think this is a sort of thing for women to be mixed up in, so I guess you had better leave Eirene and me out."
"Certainly not, mother!" replied her daughter, answering an admiring glance from the count with one that set his nerves tingling. "Why, it's my idea! Say now, Franklin, didn't you and I talk this over at the Carlton, days and days ago, and didn't we decide to do it at any price? Yes, any," she repeated, glancing half defiantly round the little circle. "This is as big a thing as Cleopatra herself ever went in for; in fact, it is a lot bigger, and I'm ready to take big risks for it."
"That's so, Eirene!" assented her brother with a laugh which only she understood. "It was your idea first, and I reckon you've got the grit to see it through. Yes, gentlemen, this is the original conspirator, and I was No. 2."
"And if we succeed," interposed the count in his soft Russian voice, "the realms of the air could have no fairer queen!"
"That was very prettily said, indeed!" laughed Eirene, rewarding him with a glance into which he put a great deal more meaning than she did. "But I'm not so sure that Franklin here will agree with you. You see, there is another queen already, or, anyhow, what looks like a claimant to the throne, and I reckon the present Lord of the Air wouldn't he at all sorry to have her share it with him."
An unwonted hardness had crept into her tone as she spoke the last few words, and its significance was not by any means lost upon Feodor Dourinoff.
His quick, highly trained intellect instantly divined her real meaning. She was ambitious—this beautiful daughter of the new democracy—she would be Queen of the Air, and, as she had practically said, she was ready to go to any lengths to accomplish her ambition.
And now came the question—who was to be Lord of the Air?
One thing was quite certain; failure in such a desperate enterprise would mean for him disgrace and ruin, probably Siberia for life, for Russia never forgives those who fail. At the same time she rewards success, however attained, with lavish hand.
If he could only capture this wonderful winged squadron, or even a single cruiser, and take it to Petersburg or Kronstadt flying the Russian flag, he could ask his imperial master for anything, and no one would trouble very much as to how he got it.
And then he would be able to ask another question, to win another prize.
Nevertheless, he recognized with perfect clearness that the girl who had just spoken as Eirene Deventer had done would put ambition before everything, and that she meant to be Queen of the Air, whoever her consort might be.
"I should say from what I saw when we were taking that trip on the Anonyma," said Mrs. Deventer, after a little pause, "that Lady Margaret wouldn't have to beckon twice to have the present Lord of the Air at her feet, and I think she is ready to beckon just as soon as the time comes along.
"But this is hardly the sort of talk for conspirators," she went on, "and I suppose I must join in after what you have said, though personally I would rather you all left it alone."
"We can't do that, my dear," said her husband. "We've lost millions over it already, and there is only one way of getting them back. It's a desperate case, and it wants desperate measures.
"If we let these people go on running things as they are doing, every cent we've got will go after what we have lost, and if the count has found, as I suppose he has, a workable scheme, well, I guess I for one am going into it with both feet."
"That's so," added Dumont Lawson, "and I reckon that is about the opinion of all of us. And now, count, you can bring along your scheme as soon as convenient."
There was a few moments' silence before the count replied. He was perfectly well aware that he was dealing with men, and for the matter of that with women, too, who would make use of him with a quite impersonal unscrupulousness just as long as he was necessary to their purpose, and no longer.
These men were going to conspire with him to rob their own countrymen, and, for all he knew, their own country, of what must in the end mean the control of the world. It was only another proof of the old principle that capital has neither patriotism nor country.
The Jews had proved that long ago, and the modern money kings were proving it again. It was dollars to begin with and to end with—dollars first, last, and all the time.
He could do nothing without these men's dollars, but he was risking something more than money, the honor of an ancient house, his liberty, and, perhaps, his life, while these men were only, after all, gambling with hard cash.
It was only fair that the risks should at least be equal, and so, turning to the president of the corporation, he said:
"I fully agree with you that we are playing, as you said some time ago, for very large stakes, and that therefore we must run great risks. This, I am sure you will agree with me, is not a matter to be entered upon lightly, and I am quite sure that gentlemen as deeply versed in affairs as yourselves would think none too well of me if I were to lay an imperfect scheme before you.
"You know we Russians have an old saying which has a good deal of wisdom in it, e Take thy thoughts to bed with thee, the morning is wiser than the evening. That is what, with your permission, I propose to do.
"I must remind you also that we shall have to be guided to a considerable extent by the events of the next few days. We do not know yet what reply our friends the enemies will make to the joint note of the Powers which will be officially communicated to-morrow. Seven days is the period which will be given for consideration, and if the reply is not favorable, the result will be war."
"But look here, count," said Dumont Lawson, bringing a heavy hand down on his knee, "that will never do. We don't want war, and we can't have it. As matters stand now, it would mean absolute ruin."
"Quite so, quite so, my dear sir," replied the count in his gentlest tones. "I fully agree with you that as matters stand now, war would be disastrous, both to your interests and those of my imperial master and his allies; but once we are in possession of this aerial squadron or even the flag ship, which is, I believe, larger and much swifter than the others, war would be all to our advantage. That one vessel could terrorize a continent—a world—and the levying of what we may call indemnities would be a matter of the most perfect ease."
"Exactly, count," replied Lawson, "but suppose we haven't got her before the seven days are up, or suppose she has vanished into the skies before then? What is to happen? How are we to prevent war in that case?"
"Before that, sir, the inevitable will have happened one way or the other." answered the count. "To-morrow I will meet you, say in one of the arbitration rooms at the Middle Temple, at four o'clock, and put my scheme before you before you in the shape of a document which will set forth our mutual obligations. Meanwhile, my preparations will already be far advanced, and I can assure you that, if my proposals are found acceptable, we shall have succeeded or failed within three days of the signing of the documents I shall have the honor of placing before you. I may add that I do not anticipate failure."
"Well, that's business, anyhow, Lawson," commented Mr. Deventer, "and I reckon for the present we have got to leave it at that. And now, we may as well declare this conspiracy séance closed."
PAUL KINGSTON and his mother live in Lake City, Colorado. He has inherited his dead father's tastes for scientific investigation, and has perfected an air-ship which he needs only the means to test. These are supplied by Gillette Marvin, a millionaire and an old friend of the family. He also arranges a month's trip to Pike's Peak with the Kingstons and a British friend, the Duke of Romney, who is traveling through America with his daughter Margaret. The outcome of the excursion is the marriage of Mr. Marvin and Mrs. Kingston, and the loss of Paul's heart to Lady Margaret.
But there is a still more marvelous thing yet to come. In the honeymoon flight of the Shiela over South America, Mrs. Marvin spies a strange looking lake beneath them in the crater of a volcano. It tarns out to be a lake of gold, and the three now realize themselves to be masters of the world. But great secrecy is necessary for the present. A syndicate is formed, ostensibly to operate apparently useless mines in Chile, and four more air-ships are built, with the most magnificent of the lot, the Anonyma, commanded by Paul Kingston, as the flag ship of the fleet But as yet the public at large knows nothing of them.
Meantime, at a conference with Dumont Lawson and Augustus L. Schmidt, magnates of the great steel and iron trait, Gillette Marvin offers four thousand million dollars for a third interest in the corporation, which he proposes to operate for the good of humanity. This is refused and the new syndicate determines to pat on the screws. A terrible slump takes place in transportation stocks, and presently another bombshell bursts on the commercial world. The Atlantic Express Company sends a steamer, Express I, across the ocean in one hundred hours, and inaugurates a regular service of such swift going ships. Close upon this Paul arrives in his air-ship, Anonyma, and astounds all who behold the marvel. He and Marvin take the Duke of Romney into partnership, and later the king of England is taken for a sail in the air-ship, and becomes deeply interested in the plans of the syndicate, as does also the emperor of Germany.
But plotters are at work in the Dumont Lawson camp. This, for the time, is pitched in the dining-room of the wealthy American, Franklin Deventer, who has taken a London mansion in Grosvenor Place. There are present Mr. and Mrs. Deventer, Franklin, Jr., his sister Eirene, (who was once rather fond of Paul Kingston), and Count Feodor Dourinoff, one of the principal secretaries to the Russian embassy. It is decided that the air-ship Anonyma must be captured, and Count Dourinoff agrees to lay before Mr. Deventer the next day a plan by which this may be accomplished.
MEANTIME a council of war was being held in Park Lane. After dinner Lady Margaret had taken Mrs. Marvin into her own daintily furnished little "den," and the conversation which took place there was in its ultimate effects not less important than the discussion in the duke's library, for before it ended certain confidences had been exchanged which were not without considerable effect upon the future fortunes of the world.
Gillette Marvin's keen, cold intellect had served both himself and his friend in good stead during the consultation with the king and the emperor. The Kaiser, of course, like the excellent man of business that he is, was playing to a certain extent for his own hand, but even he had met his match in the quick-witted, widely-informed Westerner, and both the king and the Prince of Wales were vastly amused by the progress of the politely waged contest.
There was now no doubt as to the practical alliance between the empire and the lords of the sea and air. That had been to all intents and purposes settled in Lady Margaret's "den."
She was England's most potent ambassador, and Paul's mother was, in diplomatic language, the other high contracting party. But although the Kaiser recognized that such an alliance would be practically irresistible, especially if supported, as Marvin had indirectly given him to understand it would be, by the vast resources of the United States, and another power which he only vaguely hinted at, still the pride of the German war lord would not permit him to come into even such an alliance, as it were, on sufferance.
He was playing for a guarantee that, if he added his signature to King Edward's on a document which was to be carried to Washington next morning by the Columbia, the air-ships and submarines should he placed under the joint control of a new Triple Alliance, consisting of Great Britain, the United States, and Germany.
"I'm afraid I shall have to tell your majesty that you are asking a little too much," said Marvin, after the question had been thrashed out at a considerable length. "We cannot consent to anything in the nature of political or military control, If we did, we should become exactly what we don't propose to be, and that is part and parcel of the European international system.
"Your majesty will see, I think, that if we did that we should of necessity bind ourselves to use a practically irresistible force in political quarrels which don't concern us in the slightest.
"Our interests are not in any sense political, military, or financial. We are not worrying over politics; we are too strong to trouble about military or naval matters; and, to be quite candid with you, we are too rich to care about finance.
"What we want is peace, and the removal of all restrictions on the industrial activities of mankind.
"In other words," he went on with a half sarcastic smile, "we really want and somehow we are going to have what the European nations have been saying they want for quite a long time without making any particular efforts to get it."
The Kaiser had never had anything put to him quite so plainly before, but he saw the situation and accepted it with perfect frankness.
"I quite catch what you mean, Mr. Marvin," he said, with a laugh; "I agree with you perfectly in the abstract, but you know philosophy and politics are not always the same things. I wish they were, and I can assure you they would be if I had my way.
"That is just why I have made the proposal that this power of yours which you rightly call irresistible shall be vested in what I may term the Triple Control.
"No one suspects your intentions, but I must remind you that states and empires live longer than men, and that those who may inherit this power from you might possibly be tempted to use it less unselfishly and philosophically than you would. You can, of course, see that under such circumstances the lordship of the air and sea might develop into an intolerable tyranny against which the whole human race would revolt."
"Quite so, your majesty," rejoined Marvin, "but I might as well remind you that states and empires have a habit of tearing up treaties when it doesn't suit them to keep them in force any longer, and that is our reason why we cannot consent to the control."
The war lord frowned and then laughed, and King Edward, seeing that matters were approaching something like a crisis, put his elbows on the table, leaned forward, and said with one of his all-convincing smiles:
"It seems to me there is a way out of this difficulty. It would of course be perfectly idle for the German emperor or the king of England, or any one else who knows the circumstances, to ignore the fact that the genius of Mr. Kingston and the enterprise of Mr. Marvin have created a new world-power which has to be reckoned with just as seriously as any of the regularly constituted states.
"We have their assurance that they intend to use this power solely in the interests of peace and for the removal of all unfair restrictions of commercial development.
"Under the circumstances, do you not think it would be enough if our three friends signed a joint document with us binding themselves to work not under, but with, the Triple Control, provided always that the President of the United States finds himself able to subscribe to the agreement?
"If this is done we shall be able to publish the document as soon as it returns from America, and I think that it would prove a very effective reply to the joint note which, I believe, we are to expect tomorrow."
"I think you have found the golden mean," laughed the Kaiser, accepting the compromise with the perfect good temper of the accomplished diplomatist. "I shall not have the slightest objection to signing the document your majesty suggests."
"And I shall have the greatest pleasure in signing it on behalf of what his majesty the king has been good enough to call the new world-power," replied the duke; "and in saying that I think I am speaking for my colleagues."
"That's all we want, Paul, isn't it?" observed Marvin.
"Everything," the other replied.
Then, looking up, he continued very quietly, but in a tone which perhaps meant more even than his words:
"I think this is as good a time as any to tell your majesty and your royal highness that this power, the secret of which is known only to myself and the man who made it possible for me to realize it will never be used save in the interest of peace. If I find reason to believe that he would use it otherwise, although he is the husband of my mother, I would shoot him without hesitation, and I am convinced that if he believed it of me he would do exactly the same thing."
"That's so, Paul," said Marvin. "I would—just because you wouldn't be fit to live, any more than I should if I had that sort of idea."
"And after that," said the prince, "I don't think the world can ask for any further guarantee of our friends' good faith."
"For my part, I am perfectly satisfied," remarked the Kaiser. "When men like Mr. Kingston and Mr. Marvin tell us they are prepared to shoot each other for the sake of a principle, I don't think any minor difficulties need be considered. And now the nest thing, I suppose, is to put the matter into writing."
It so happened that just at this moment two somewhat important questions were being asked and answered in Lady Margaret's den in Park Lane and in a corner of the big drawing-room at Grosvenor Place.
The questions were practically identical; the answers were somewhat different.
"I wonder," said Feodor Dourinoff, almost in a whisper, to Miss Eirene, who was sitting beside him on a low, broad sofa, "why his present majesty of the air has called his flag ship the Anonyma? Of course the name can only be a provisional one."
"I suppose so," she said, turning one of her swift, dazzling glances upon him; "it must be, since 'Anonyma' means nameless anyhow. Perhaps he is waiting for some one to give her a name."
"Yes," replied the count, looking at her from under his long black lashes, "her name, for example."
"Hers—whose?" she asked almost angrily.
"I don't think there can be very much doubt about that," he replied, seeing his advantage and instantly seizing it. "But when she is mine, as she will be in a week, I shall not ask Lady Margaret Lorraine to be her name mother. According to the old legend, the first men who attempted the conquest of the air were Greeks, and when the Anonyma belongs to me she shall bear a Greek name—if you will christen her."
"We will talk about that, count, when you have won the ship," Miss Eirene replied, smiling again. "Now mother is going to bed, and I am going, too. Good night!"
They rose, and as they shook hands she allowed hers to remain in his just long enough to give him the assurance that when the Anonyma really was his there would not be much difficulty about the renaming of her.
The other question was asked by Lady Margaret.
"Why is it," she said to Mrs. Marvin, "that your son has given names to his four small ships and none to the flagship? Of course it was only natural that he should name the first one after you; but the swiftest and most splendid of them all—why should she be the Anonyma, the nameless?"
"It may be that Paul hasn't found a suitable name for her yet," replied Mrs. Marvin; "or perhaps he is waiting for some one to name her as I did the Shiela."
The words were spoken quietly and almost impersonally, but they were accompanied by a glance which brought the blood swiftly to Lady Margaret's cheeks. She didn't know exactly what to say, so she contented herself with remarking:
"Oh, yes., of course; very likely," and then she promptly changed the subject.
Before dawn the next morning the Columbia was winging her way at full speed toward Washington. Shortly after sunrise the following day she descended in front of the White House, and Marvin alighted to request that the President would receive him as early as possible as the envoy extraordinary of their majesties of Great Britain and Germany.
The stories of the strange doings of the air-ships and submarines had already been published, in some cases with, lavish, embroideries, by the American press, and as even a President of the United States does not every day receive an envoy from the two most powerful empires in the world, who comes riding royally on the wings of the wind across three thousand miles of ocean, Mr. Roosevelt, always an early riser, got up a little earlier that morning, and by six o'clock Marvin was breakfasting with him in the White House.
Meanwhile, the President had sent urgent invitations to the members of his Cabinet to attend a council as soon as possible for the discussion of the most momentous document that had ever been presented to the government of the United States.
But after all there proved to be very little to consider.
The same quietly and firmly put arguments that had convinced the king of England and the German emperor also convinced the President and his advisers, and their winning over was all the easier since the policy of the States was practically identical with that of the lords of the sea and air, save in one particular.
The secretaries kicked vigorously and unanimously against the clause which provided for the abolition of all protective tariffs within the Triple Control, and a universal and prohibitive tariff against all countries which stood outside it.
Marvin heard their arguments in respectful silence, and then he astounded the assembled company by a speech which, to use an Americanism, would have considerably shaken up Messrs. Dumont Lawson and Schmidt had they heard it.
"Mr. President and gentlemen," he began, "I am, of course, speaking to you now as statesmen in council, and therefore in the most absolute confidence."
The President bowed assent, and Marvin went on.
"I see that we differ on one point only—that of the tariffs—and I am going to dispose of that difficulty in a way that you do not expect, but which I hope you will find on the whole satisfactory.
"I am not going to talk at large about the material powers which I and my partners possess. You know just as well as I do from what you have read that if we chose we could paralyze the armies and fleets of the world and terrorize its greatest cities into submission. That we do not propose to do, because we are the friends and not the enemies of humanity.
"At the same time it is necessary to tell you that when this document is published in reply to the joint note which by this time will have been received in London, and which the powers will probably present to his honor the President today, it is rather more than probable that war will be declared."
"Are matters really as serious as that, Mr. Marvin?" said Mr. Roosevelt. "Of course with these marvelous air-ships of yours you have a wonderful advantage over us as regards news. I may say, gentleman," he added, "that Mr. Marvin has brought a copy of yesterday's London Times, and if you don't believe me—well, there it is."
The miracle was passed around. For the first time Americans saw in America a London paper bearing the date of the previous day.
"Good enough," said the Secretary of State, putting the paper on the table, "I imagine we don't want any more convincing than that. Now, Mr. Marvin, please, you've got a pretty attentive audience, what about tariffs?"
"Well, sir," replied Marvin, "tariffs have got to go unless the United States wants to be left out of this deal, and the reason is just this. We shall stop the war in Europe, if it is declared, by crippling war ships and wrecking a few fortresses, just to convince our friends the enemy that we are not fooling with them.
"But we shall do more than that. We have the gold supplies of Europe at our command, and I needn't tell you that nations can no more fight without gold than they can without powder and shot."
"The gold supplies of Europe!" exclaimed the Secretary of the Treasury, with something like a gasp. "Well, Mr. Marvin, there is only one explanation of that. You must not only by the men who have made the conquest of the air, you are also the people who have been turning the money markets of the world in general and at Wall Street in particular upside down.
"In other words, it is you who control this almost miraculous flood of gold that has been flowing into the United States Treasury and keeping the assay office and the mint working over time for months past,"
"That is so, Mr. Secretary," replied Marvin drily. "We are the gold bugs, and I may say quite frankly that that is the weapon we propose to use against trusts and tariffs. We think civilized humanity has had all it wants of them, and they've got to close down or find worse trouble than the iron and steel corporation and the shipping ring and that inhuman beef trust did a few months ago.
"That sounds pretty tall talk, I know, but it is just the cold truth. If our proposals are not agreed to, we will fight money with money. For every dollar that the trusts can put down, we will put down a hundred. If necessary we will make gold as cheap as copper. In other words, we will absolutely destroy its purchasing power."
"But my dear sir," interrupted the President, completely startled out of his official reserve, "that means that you must possess some unknown and inexhaustible source of gold!"
"I am not going as far as that, Mr. President," replied Marvin, "but I will say this—that if necessary we can put three thousand tons' weight of standard gold on the markets of the world here and in Europe within a fortnight, and if you find it impossible to believe me, I will sign an order before I leave for London for five hundred tons of it to be delivered to the United States assay office within twenty-four hours.
"In fact, I will hand the order to the Secretary of the Treasury right here, and he shall prove it for himself."
"I think I'll take your word for it, Mr. Marvin," laughed the Secretary. "We've more of your stuff than we can handle now, and if it got out that we had as much as that on hand, the bottom would fall out of every market in the country to-morrow."
This was practically the end of the argument, and after about an hour's discussion of details the President, with the consent of his cabinet, signed his name alongside those of the other high contracting parties. The Secretary of State countersigned, and then Marvin invited the President and his Cabinet officers to lunch on board the Columbia. He took them for an aerial trip along the eastern coast to Boston and back by Niagara and Chicago, landing them in Washington again by dinner time.
THE task which Feodor Dourinoff had set himself appeared practically impossible of accomplishment to his fellow conspirators.
To carry off the most celebrated craft in the world from her berth in the midst of the busy Southampton docks, constantly guarded by the Anonyma's two consorts was a task which might well test the subtlest intellect and the most daring courage.
The Russian, as he told his associates frankly, relied upon three factors for working out the problem: first bribery, then treachery, and then, if needs be, force.
But the bribery had to come first, and after Franklin Deventer and Dumont Lawson had put their names to the bond by which they undertook to pay a million sterling for the Anonyma, or for her consorts, they each signed a check for five thousand pounds on account, one payable to Waiter H. Johnson, Esq., and the other to H. Sydney Lowell.
These were endorsed by the count in different handwritings, and that evening he had ten thousand pounds in notes and gold in his American writing-desk in his chambers at Hyde Park Court.
He had not given his confederates any definite idea of how he was going to work.
He told them quite plainly that they could give him no further assistance for the present. They had placed in his hands the money to work with, and that was all he wanted.
His methods were not theirs, and he was not at liberty to disclose them; but within a couple of days or so they would be able, he hoped, to judge them by results.
Precisely at ten that evening there was a knock at his sitting-room door, and a servant came in with a card.
He looked at it and read the name: "Mr. Marcus Nowells."
"Show Mr. Nowells up, and set out the spirit case and the cigars, Dmitri," he said in Russian.
"Yes, nobleness," replied the man, vanishing.
Mr. Marcus Nowells, a tall, well set up, well groomed man of about forty, who would have been a good deal more distinguished looking if his eyes had been further apart and not quite so deep set, returned the count's greeting with a suspicion of deference which would have suggested to a keen observer that their mutual relationship was not exactly that of friendship on equal terms.
Feodor Dourinoff unmistakably took this view; for as soon as Dmitri had put out the spirit decanter and soda water, and placed beside them a carved oak box containing cigars and cigarettes, he said, quite in the tone of a superior addressing a subordinate:
"Help yourself, Mr. Nowells, and sit down. You had better make yourself comfortable, because our chat will be rather a long one."
Mr. Nowells thanked his host and did as he was bidden.
The count lighted a cigar and leaned back in his deep armchair, and, after one or two thoughtful whiffs, began to speak with a slowness and deliberation which immediately told his hearer that something important was coming.
"You have served my imperial master for a good many years now, Mr. Nowells, in one capacity and another, and your intelligence and devotion have, as you know, been both recognized and rewarded. Russia knows how to recompense fidelity as well as she knows how to punish bad faith, and that is why you stand as well as you do at Petersburg.
"Everything you have done for us has, I may say, been done skilfully and with a secrecy which does great credit to your intelligence. At the same time, I need hardly tell you that the path of a man of your profession, as we may call it, is beset with pitfalls, and of course governments can only reward their agents when they succeed; they cannot protect them when they fail."
"That is one of the conditions of the service," replied Mr. Marcus Nowells quietly, "and of course it has to be accepted as such; but I hope, count," he went on, "that I am not to infer from what you have just said that there is any suspicion of failure in the last piece of work it was my duty to do for you?"
"Oh, no," replied Dourinoff, "quite the contrary; in fact, Mr. Nowells, I only give you your due when I say that you are one of the very few English agents who have never made a mistake, and that is the reason why I have selected you to help me in the most difficult and dangerous, but at the same time and for the same reason, the most important piece of work that was ever undertaken by the Russian secret service.
"I may tell you before I go any further that no one at the embassy save myself knows anything of it, and no one will know till we have either succeeded or failed.
"Personally, I am risking every tiling—the honor of my name and all my future prospects, because if I fail and get found out, I know that I can expect nothing else but disgrace and banishment for life. On the other hand, if I succeed, Russia will give me and those who have helped me everything that we ask for.
"For you, if you accept my offer, failure will also mean ruin, and success five thousand pounds down and honorable retirement on a thousand a year for life."
The Englishman winced slightly at the words honorable retirement, for he felt instinctively that only some daring deed of utter treachery against his own country would be rewarded with such munificence.
Still, he had pursued his despicable trade too long now, and he had committed himself too deeply, to trouble about such scruples as this, so he took a pull at his whisky and soda, and said, looking keenly across at the count:
"I understand you perfectly, sir. And now is it permissible to ask what the work is?"
"It will be when you have signed this document," replied the count, "but not before."
He pulled open one of the drawers of the desk behind him, took out a folded slip of blue paper, and went on:
"It will be necessary for you, Mr. Nowells, to sign this first without seeing what is written on it; but that you have done before, so I don't suppose you will find any difficulty in doing it now. When you have signed, I will take you completely into my confidence."
Marcus Nowells knew what signing these unseen bonds meant—it meant that the spy and instrument delivered himself over, body and soul, to his employers; that he took all responsibility for the work in hand and confessed his guilt to the power which would punish him if he were caught.
He knew, too, that these bonds were never signed save when some greater act of treachery than usual was contemplated; still it was all in the day's work for a man like himself, and so he took out his stylographic pen and signed it with two names. Of one, Marcus Nowells was an alias. The other was the name of a man who ten years before had been in the British diplomatic service at Petersburg, and had sold an official secret to save himself from ruin of another sort.
It had been the old story, of course. Nations have need for such menus these, and it is usually in this way that they are able to command their services.
He handed the paper back to the count, well knowing that he was now committing himself with tope of redemption. "There, sir," he said, "I think that is in order, and now, I suppose, I may ask what there is to be done."
When the count had finished telling him, he expected to see the man halt paralyzed by the splendor and daring of the scheme. Hence he was somewhat astonished when the secret agent said quite calmly:
"Yes, count, I thought that was it. In fact, when that first Express boat came in and the airship followed her, it struck me that a million or so wouldn't be too little for your government to give for them, and I began to make inquiries at once.
"It is my duty under the circumstances to tell you that, unless you are prepared to use force and go to the extreme of bloodshed if necessary, there is not the remotest chance of success."
"Indeed, Mr. Nowells," replied the count, looking at him with surprised and angry eyes from under his slightly lifted brows, "that is hardly the sort of language we are accustomed to hear from you."
"And that, count," replied the spy, more boldly than before, "is the very reason why, if you will permit me to say so, you should find the greater reason for believing what I say.
"You know, sir, tetter than most people in this country do, that a man who has risked life and liberty in your service as often as I have done would not use such words without sufficient cause."
"There is no such word as impossible in the dictionary of the Russian secret service, Mr. Nowells," replied Feodor Dourinoff in a hard, dry tone that held a threat in it, "and no one ought to know that better than you. Now, what are your reasons for that extraordinary speech? Why is this impossible without force and bloodshed?"
"Because, sir," replied the spy, just as quietly as before, "the resources of the Russian secret service have never been pitted against such an enemy as this, and, if you will pardon my saying so, I have some reason to believe that you yourself have not made a very accurate estimate of the strength of the other side."
"What on earth do you mean, Mr. Nowells?" exclaimed the count, startled for a moment out of his reserve and staring at his companion with angry, questioning eyes. "There is no enemy that Russia is not prepared to meet."
"Pardon me, count; there may not have been a few months ago, but there is now. To put it into a dozen words," the Englishman went on, dropping the ash from his cigar into the tray, "two of our most potent weapons are useless here. You cannot make traitors of men who have no reason to be unfaithful, and you cannot bribe people for whom the very name of money has lost all meaning."
"I should like to get at your meaning a little more directly," said the count, rising from his chair and standing over the man with his hands behind his back. "Come now, let us have it in plain language, please. You seem to think you know something more about these people than I do. What is it?"
"As I was going to say just now," replied the spy, "the servants of these people cannot be bribed; therefore they cannot be made traitors. Without treachery, the only possible means of accomplishing what you propose is force.
"It so happened that the very day the Express and the first air-ship arrived, I had some business with our people down at Southampton. It was only natural that such an extraordinary occurrence should make a person like myself want to know more about it, and so instead of coming back to town, as I intended doing, I stopped in Southampton and made some inquiries.
"As good luck would have it, I met two men I knew in other days. One was a quartermaster on board the Express, and the other an assistant engineer on the air-ship."
"Then what in the name of common sense do you want more than that to begin with?" exclaimed the count. "Of course I need not ask whether a man of your proved intelligence and good faith grasped such a magnificent opportunity or failed to make use of such very convenient acquaintances?"
"I did neither, sir," returned the spy, with some approach to dignity. "I, of course, recognized at once the enormous power which the possessors of such craft must wield, and therefore what Russia could do with them if she had them.
"You will understand me when I say that I approached the subject very delicately with my friends; but as soon as we became anything like confidential I discovered at once that they had taken service under a power which neither Russia nor Europe, for the matter of that, could hope to fight against."
"Oh, come now, Mr. Nowells," said the count; "surely that is a little too much to ask me to believe. Too great for Russia—for all Europe—to fight against!
"Really, I don't want to accuse you of romancing, but isn't that just a little too much to ask a man of affairs to believe? And as for bribery, to put it into quite plain language, I can hardly believe you.
"But perhaps you don't understand the circumstances. I, for example, am ready to authorize you to bribe to the extent of half a million sterling to get possession of even one of those air-ships."
"And she would be well worth it, sir, if you could get her for that The trouble is that you couldn't."
"What—half a million!" exclaimed the count. "Nonsense, man I What sort of a fairy tale are you trying to tell me?"
"It would sound more like a fairy tale if you knew it all, count," said the spy, taking another sip at his glass. "One of these men, the man on the air-ship, happened to be a very old friend of mine. In fact, before I entered my present profession, I was able to do his family a very great service.
"Or course," he continued, with a little note of disgust in his tone, "though he knew who I was at one time, he did not know what I am, and so he told me more than he would have done if he had known.
"He told me enough to convince me that v/hat I have just said to you is perfectly true; that, in other words, you are fighting a force which is perfectly irresistible, at least in regard to all the ordinary measures of what we may call diplomacy."
"But you have still not told me, Mr. Nowells, what that force is," interrupted the count somewhat impatiently.
"What is it?"
"Gold," replied the spy, rising to his feet and facing his master. "I tell you, sir, that these people have fenced themselves round with a bulwark that no human power can penetrate.
"You tell me of half a million—a million. Are you aware, sir, that these people employed in the air-ships and the submarines, which also belong to them, have as much gold as they choose to ask for? The last of their ships that came into port brought five hundred tons of it, and every ounce was their own.
"Where it comes from no one knows, but it is there, and therefore it comes from somewhere.
"You spoke just now of giving me five thousand pounds down and a thousand a year for life if I succeeded in capturing one of these air-ships. Well, only three days ago this friend of mine, a very good fellow, and a very highly skilled engineer, but occupying quite a subordinate position, offered to give me ten thousand pounds merely for old acquaintance's sake, and because, for purposes of my own, I had thought it well to hint that I was not in quite as good circumstances as I had been.
"Now, sir, I think you will agree with me that the million you spoke of would not go very far toward bribing people like that."
"Of course I believe you, Mr. Nowells," said the count, "but it is simply because I have had no reason so far to doubt your word. Still, you will allow me to ask you why you didn't accept your friend's offer?"
"Pardon me, count," rejoined the spy with a little laugh, "I haven't said yet that I didn't."
"Ah, I understand you, I think!" exclaimed the Russian. "I offer you five thousand when you have already been offered ten. If that is so, why did you sign that paper? If these people can pay you a better price than Russia can, why do you remain in our service?"
"Because, sir," replied Nowells, "there occurred to me an idea which I am surprised did not occur to you."
"And what might that be, Mr. Nowells?" Dourinoff spoke very stiffly, and yet with a note of expectancy in his voice.
"I think the inference from such a state of affairs is perfectly obvious," was the reply. "Who are these people?
"How have they been able, within the last few months, to emerge out of nothing—for no one ever heard of them before—to build ocean cruisers which have easily knocked the bottom out of all records; to conquer the air; to take the king of England and the German emperor for two hundred miles an hour trips over sea and land; to cripple one of the most powerful of the French cruisers; to land five hundred tons of gold in England; to give the king a five million pound check for his hospital scheme; and to pay their servants so well that one of them could offer me a loan of ten thousand pounds just as though he were talking about half a crown? Surely you must see what I am driving at now."
"You mean of course," said the count, "that we have to deal with the richest people in the world."
"I mean more than that, sir. I mean that we must be dealing, if we deal at all, with people who have some unknown and quite abnormal supply of gold at their command.
"It must surely be plain to you that people who can unload gold by the five hundred tons at a time, as Messrs. Kingston and Marvin have done, are in a position to put every man in their employment far beyond the reach of ordinary bribery."
"Yes, I see that. Of course it follows as a natural consequence of what you have just said, and I must admit that I did not see it from that point of view before; but I quite see your meaning now, and also why you suggest that force is the only possible means of attaining our end.
"If you can seize the air-ship—of course I mean the Anonyma—and use her to capture or destroy the others, you would then employ her to discover this unknown source of gold. That once clone, everything else would be easy. The only question is now, have you men enough in your service down at Portsmouth and Southampton to do it?"
"Plenty, sir, if you can let me have a thousand pounds on account and a few more as I find necessary. About five thousand would be enough in all, I think.
"That would get us into the air-ship, or at any rate within striking distance of her. The rest must be force.
"I shall direct the operations personally. If I am killed I have only accepted one of the conditions of my service. If I succeed—well, if I succeed we can talk about the price of victory later on."
"Yes," said the count slowly, "that is another affair. A man can't risk much more than his life, and so I think we will consider that settled."
WHEN Nowells left Hyde Park Court he walked home to his rooms in Charlotte Street instead of taking an omnibus as he would have done under ordinary circumstances.
It was a fine night, and he had a good deal to think about.
Like all clever men who have brains enough to succeed conspicuously in the despicable but necessary profession which he had adopted, the idea of changing sides was always present in his mind when some great crisis such as the present arose.
It was, of course, only natural that a man who would worm out the secrets of his own country and sell them to an avowedly hostile power should be equally capable of selling the confidence of his employers if he could get a higher price elsewhere.
The problem which the count's proposition had put before him was a very tangled and complicated one; and, moreover, there were elements in it which were totally strange to all human experience. He knew quite enough of treason and traitors to be perfectly well aware that the possession of one of these air-ships and the command of a practically unlimited supply of gold would be enough to make almost any man a traitor to his fellows.
He easily pictured to himself, for instance, what might happen on board the Anonyma if the plot succeeded and he put Count Dourinoff in command of her.
Every member of the crew might become fascinated by the idea of possessing such an irresistible instrument of terrorism. Nothing in the annals of the old piracy could compare with the possible achievements of the man who held control of one of these cruisers of the air.
In fact, he had not walked half a mile before the idea possessed him so strongly that he felt perfectly certain that, the air-ship once captured, not a man on board her would be able to trust another sufficiently to go to sleep with any confidence.
It was, of course, a narrow and, as had already been proved, an erroneous idea, but it took complete hold of him, and, by a curious apparent contradiction, compelled him to keep faith with his employers.
"If I betray the count to these gold kings," he muttered to himself as he walked along the almost deserted streets, "what will they do for me? For me, an Englishman, once an English gentleman, who has become a spy in the pay of Russia?
"They might give me a few thousands out of their unlimited treasures and then expose me for what I am and make decent life impossible for me. In that case, too, I should never even get on board one of the ships, and—that other possibility would be impossible.
"On the other band, there will always he the chance that the servant may become the master—and then—well, then, who knows what might happen—what glorious revenge I might take? I, alone in possession and command, with a few niggers or Chinamen as a crew, fellows who would look upon me as a god and no more think of rebelling against me than they would against an archangel.
"Yes, I believe for the present, at any rate, my dear count, it will pay me to play your game and your master's. Afterwards we shall see what there is on the knees of the gods. Ill go down to Southampton in the morning,"
During the rest of his walk he worked out, detail after detail, the crude scheme which had begun to form itself in his mind even while he was having his first interview with Peters, the engineer of the Shiela. Through him he had made the acquaintance of James P. Hacker, and that unerring instinct which had already served the spy in such good stead in so many other difficult and dangerous negotiations had told him instantly that this was the man, if any, who was to serve his turn.
Peters would be a good intermediary; a young man, honest enough in the ordinary concerns of life, but quite incapable of grasping great issues or withstanding great temptations.
But in Hacker he had seen the keen, clever man of great and, so far, unsatisfied ambition—in short, the man who believed he could do great things and had never had his chance. . "Yes," he said aloud to himself as he closed his bedroom door; "that's the man I've got to deal with. If I get him I've got the Anonyma, and I think I ought to be very much obliged to my good friend Peters for that very interesting little story of Hacker's escapade at what they call Port Kingston. Simple as he is, I think Peters must have been a little drunk when he indulged in such a confidence as that; though, of course, he wouldn't have said a word if he had known the sort of person he was talking to.
"It was a gorgeous stroke of luck to meet him like that, and I should be a hopeless ass not to take full advantage of it. Yes, Hacker's the man, and tomorrow's work may perhaps decide the fate of empires.
"Nearly one o'clock! Well, that gives me three hours' sleep. Pity I haven't one of those air-ships to run down in, but in forty-eight hours matters may be different."
He set his little alarm for four o'clock and went to bed. At half past eight he was breakfasting in Southampton, and then he went to the headquarters of the dock police and asked for Sergeant Smithson.
The sergeant was off duty, and he was directed to his house. He went there, found him at home, and had an hour's very serious and confidential chat with him.
As he rose to go he said:
"Now, Smithson, I hope I have made you understand that this affair is quite the most important that we have ever asked you to take part in. Of course we shall trust you implicitly.
"You and I know perfectly well what a breach of trust means in such work as ours. I am risking everything, and you have consented to do the same.
"If we succeed there will be a thousand pounds down for you and a retiring allowance of two hundred a year for life. Your men will have two hundred each and fifty pounds a year, and, of course, if England gets too hot to hold any of you, we shall take good care to find you good appointments elsewhere.
"It fits in very nicely. You will be on duty to-night, and, of course, you will see that you have the right men with you. You will have a uniform for my friend, who, as I told you, is almost the same build as I am. You see to that and we will see to the rest."
"Very well, sir," replied the sergeant, "there will be no difficulty about that. We shall go into the docks on duty at ten until four. The uniforms will be here ready for your friend and yourself, and you can depend upon it that the other men will be all right."
After the interview with Sergeant Smithson, Nowells sent a short code wire to the count and went into the docks, where he joined the wondering crowd of sightseers which every day assembled round the air-ships lying in their big barbed wire domain. The police patrol were constantly marching up and down, while two policemen stood at the only entrance, to prevent any unauthorized person from passing within the enclosure.
Nowells had already visited the Shiela in company with Peters and her commander, and so he had no difficulty in having his card taken to the former by one of the policemen. The engineer at once came out to meet his old friend, and, followed by many envious eyes, the spy passed through the jealously guarded gate and went with Him toward the air-ship.
As he was introduced by Peters, Hacker received him without the slightest suspicion, and he spent one of the most interesting hours of an interesting, if not too creditable, career in going over the three air-ships.
Of course nothing was shown him that any one might not have seen, but still he saw quite enough, especially on board the Anonyma, to convince him that the stake for which he and his employers were playing was well worth any amount of risk.
Naturally he did not even approach the subject that was ever uppermost in his mind. That was a matter for a keener wit and a better skilled tongue than his to deal with, so he contented himself with being as pleasant as possible to every one, especially Hacker, and taking copious mental notes of every little personal peculiarity that the conversation revealed.
He saw almost at a glance that the captain of the Anonyma and Arthur Howard, his first lieutenant, were the last sort of men to be tampered with. To allow either of them to glean the slightest suspicion of the work that he had in hand would be to ruin everything.
Still, he managed to pick up certain information as to watch keeping and hours of rest on hoard the cruisers, which proved useful to him afterwards.
He also learned that the air-ships were not expected to move for some days, and that therefore their officers were at liberty to follow their own devices, as long as they remained near enough to the squadron to respond to any sudden call.
This being so, he had no difficulty in persuading Hacker and Peters to accept an invitation to dine with him at Radley's at six o'clock, to meet a friend of his, a distinguished Russian engineer, who had for years been deeply interested in the problem of aerial navigation.
The dinner was the very best that the management could put on the table. It was, of course, served in a private room, and somehow both Hacker and Peters immediately felt that they had been suddenly and imperceptibly lifted into a higher social sphere, whose atmosphere they found to be peculiarly intoxicating.
Count, or as he was for the present known, Professor Dourinoff, had played many an intricate game for high stakes, but he had never played for such a prize as he hoped to win now, and so he had thoroughly prepared himself.
All the brilliant subtlety of his highly trained intellect was brought into play. Every ruse that his diplomatic training had taught him; every charm of conversation and manner that even a Russian diplomatist could call to his aid, he used as skilfully as he did unscrupulously.
Nowells seconded him ably and almost brilliantly, and the result was that their two guests, led on by almost imperceptible degrees, found themselves on the brink of treason before they had any clear idea of the direction in which they had been so cleverly led.
Hacker's quick Western intellect grasped the true state of affairs long before Peters' did, and when the count put a distinctly leading question to him as to the possibility of a change of control of the aerial squadron, or any part of it, he leaned back in his chair, looked Dourinoff in the eyes across the table, and said with a slightly exaggerated drawl:
"Say, professor, I reckon I see what you are driving at. You've done it very prettily, but you have come along a mighty roundabout track when you might just as well have taken a bee line through the bush.
"You and your friend, or those you are working for, want those air-ships. That's the plain American of it, and you've got us here to see if you can make a deal. That's so, eh?"
"My dear fellow," replied the count, with a little graceful wave of the hand which held his cigar, "to be quite frank with you, that is so. We and those for whom we are acting are, as we believe, working in the best interests of humanity."
"I reckon humanity don't cut any ice just here, professor," laughed Hacker, interrupting him with a briskness that suited Dourinoff's purpose very well. "To drop into plain figures, it's just this way.
"You want us to betray our trust and hand over to you something that might give you the control of the world, or anyhow the power of making yourself mighty unpleasant to any one who happened to disagree with you. Now you'll agree with me that, just supposing I and by friend Peters were inclined to consider a proposition of that sort, it's a mighty big order, and it's going to take mighty big money to fill it; so I may as well tell you right here that if you owned Europe you wouldn't have money enough to do it."
"My dear sir," replied the count with his frankest smile and in his smoothest tone, "of that I may say I am already perfectly well aware. You are right in supposing that we do hope to gain your indispensable services in the carrying out of this enterprise; but we never had any idea of insulting gentlemen in your almost unique position by the offer of mere bribes of money.
"What I should like now to suggest to you is the fact that the world—I mean the world that we live in, the European world of monarchs and statesmen, and of the most brilliant society that has ever existed—has rewards to offer which money has never been able to buy. Those, Mr. Hacker, are the rewards which I am authorized by some of the leading powers of Europe to offer to you.
"They are offered as an inducement to exchange the service of these money kings and gold despots for that of a league of European sovereigns who have the best interests of humanity at heart, and who have united to protect the world against the most pitiless despotism that has ever threatened the liberties of mankind."
Now it so happened that for some considerable time Mr. James P. Hacker had been evolving certain ideas of his own on the subject of despotism.
He had pictured himself as a lord of the air of a sort quite different from Gillette Marvin and Paul Kingston, and he had come to the conclusion that, in spite of the fact that he could now have gold for the asking, he would be happier as a despot than as a servant.
In short, he believed himself capable of great things, a man of large possibilities who had never had his chance, and while he was listening to the count's carefully chosen words, he had come to the conclusion that this might very possibly be the chance.
"Well, if that's so, professor," he said, with a look round at Peters, who so far bad hardly added a word to the conversation, "I reckon the next thing is to come to a clear understanding about these same rewards you talk of. It will save time if, as they say in the stores, you mark them in plain figures. From what I know of the movements of our people, I can tell you there isn't very much time to lose in talking."
"My dear sir," replied Dourinoff, with an air in which he blended a skilful suggestion of deference, "that is exactly what I was about to say myself in other words. For all of us this is a time for action rather than words, although, of course, words are the necessary preliminaries to action.
"To put it as briefly as possible, the proposition which I wish to place before you is simply this: You are at present commander of one of these air-ships, and your friend is, I believe, chief engineer on the same ship.
"You are the servants of the men who own these vessels, and who also control an apparently illimitable supply of gold. If you remain in their service, is it possible that you can ever be anything more than you are now, servants of despots whose object it is to enslave the world?
"It is true that they give you as much gold as you ask for, but what is that? Were you to ask for a million it would only be like a child filling its little bucket on the seashore."
"Yes," drawled Mr. Hacker, taking a sip at his glass, "as far as I know, that's about the proportion, and the bucket hasn't much show against the ocean anyhow. I've been thinking that myself for quite a long time. From what you have said so far, I should calculate that you were ready to go one better, if you understand the language of the immortal game."
"I not only understand the language, my dear sir," laughed the count, "but I know something of the game, and I will go not one, but ten, fifteen, twenty, a hundred better. Let me put it to you this way," he went on, laying down his cigar in an ash tray and looking smilingly across at the other.
"In the first place, my imperial master, to whom I will present you very soon after our bargain is made, will appoint you admiral of the aerial navy which shall be built and modeled after the vessel which conveys us to his presence. He will decorate you with his own hands and confer upon you a title worthy of your rank and your inestimable services.
"Europe will hail you as its deliverer from this threatened tyranny of gold. You will be an honored guest at every European court, save, perhaps, that of Germany. Kings and emperors will greet you as their friend and will not be sparing of their honors.
"No circle of society, not even the highest, will be closed to you. The noblest born and the loveliest women from Petersburg to Madrid will smile on you, and, if perchance your heart is still unfettered, it will be possible for the Admiral of the Air to choose his bride from among the fairest and noblest maidens of Europe.
"Of course, too, your friend Mr. Peters, to whom we are primarily indebted for our introduction to you, will not be forgotten when the allied sovereigns of Europe reward those who have served them well."
"Well, professor." replied Hacker, "there's not much the matter with that as far as I can see, as long as you can make good what you say. What do you think, Peters?"
"Well," replied the engineer, who had been listening eagerly to Dourinoff's glowing word picture, "if that's so, it's only a matter of proof, and if the professor can prove what he says, I'll do it. The prospect is certainly better than anything we have before us, and, after all, so far as I am concerned, it would only serve them right for not giving me command of the Britannia, as they ought to have done."
"As regards proof," said the count, putting his hand into the breast pocket of his frock coat and taking out a few folded parchments and papers, "I hope these will satisfy you for the present."
He had somewhat abused his position as confidential secretary to the embassy in getting possession of one or two of these documents and bringing them outside the precincts, but he had done so, confident in the knowledge that in Russian diplomacy the end justifies the means.
"Here," he went on, passing one of the parchments across the table, "is the commission of his highness Prince Amaritcheff, Ambassador and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James, signed and sealed by his imperial majesty, the Emperor of the Russias. There is ray own commission, signed by the same august hand.
"Here is a copy officially certified of an agreement signed, as you will see, by the sovereigns of the three great powers and the president of the French Republic by which they bind themselves to act in concert against this threatened tyranny and appointing his highness the ambassador or his deputy—a post which I have now the honor of filling—to act on their behalf as may be necessary pending further instructions.
"Lastly, with regard to a minor and yet a necessary detail, here is a bond which pledges the gentlemen whose names you, of course, will recognize, to pay the sum of one million pounds sterling in cash for the possession of the air-ship called the Anonyma. I hope, sir, that you will find this evidence of my frood faith satisfactory."
Jamcs P. Hacker took up the documents one by one with reverent fingers and looked at them with something like awe in his eyes.
Collectively they represented to him all that was great and splendid on earth, and when he held the document signed by the emperor of Russia in one hand and one bearing the signature of Dumont Lawson and Franklin Deventer in the other, any last scruples of loyalty that he may have retained vanished.
He put the papers together, handed them back across the table, and said;
"Good enough, professor, or I suppose I should now say count. That's all I want, and I reckon it will do for Mr. Peters, too. But what about a guarantee. You know, after all, business is business."
"How will this do?" said the count, pulling out his own commission and throwing it back to him. "Keep that until I ask you for it in the presence of the emperor."
"I reckon a plain American citizen doesn't want much more than that," said Hacker, putting it in his pocket. "The Anonyma is yours as far as I and Peters can help you to get her, and now I reckon the only question is—how?"
"That, Mr. Hacker," said Nowells, speaking for the first time for nearly half an hour, "you can leave to the count and myself. Subject to your consent, everything has been arranged. Now we have just one bottle left to drink to the success of our great enterprise, and when we have done that I will explain the details to you."
But there is a still more marvelous thing yet to come. In the honeymoon flight of the Shiela over South America, Mrs. Marvin spies a strange looking lake beneath them in the crater of a volcano. It turns out to be a lake of gold, and the three now realize themselves to be masters of the world. But great secrecy is necessary for the present. A syndicate is formed, ostensibly to operate apparently useless mines in Chile, and four more air-ships are built, with the most magnificent of the lot, the Anonyma, commanded by Paul Kingston, as the Mag ship of the fleet.
Meantime, at a conference with Dumont Lawson and Augustus L. Schmidt, magnates of the great steel and iron trust, Gillette Marvin offers four thousand million dollars for a third interest in the corporation, which he proposes to operate for the good of humanity. This is refused and the new syndicate determines to put on the screws. A terrible slump takes place in transportation stocks, and presently another bombshell bursts on the commercial world. The Atlantic Express Company sends a steamer, Express I, across the ocean in one hundred hours, and inaugurates a regular service of such swift going ships. Close upon this Paul arrives in his air-ship, Anonyma, and astounds all who behold the marvel. He and Marvin take the Duke of Romney into partnership, and later the king of England is taken for a sail in the air-ship, and becomes deeply interested in the plans of the syndicate, as does also the emperor of Germany.
But plotters are at work in the Dumont Lawson camp, including Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Deventer, Franklin, Jr., his sister Eirene (who was once rather fond of Paul Kingston), and Count Feodor Dourinoff, one of the principal secretaries to the Russian embassy.
The count undertakes to capture the air-ship Anonyma, and calls to his aid one Marcus Nowells, an Englishman who has become a spy against his own country. Realizing that money will be no temptation to those who can get all they want of it apparently, the count offers to Peters and Hacker, two men on the Anonyma whom he meets through Nowells, all sorts of honors at the hands of the Czar, and they succumb. After drinking to the success of the enterprise, Nowells announces that he will now explain the details of how it is to be accomplished.
HACKER and Peters got back to the Shiela before nine, and as soon as they left the hotel the count and Nowells once more went over the whole scheme, detail by detail, to make sure that nothing had been neglected.
This took them nearly an hour, and when they had finished they lit their cigars and started out for a stroll. The stroll ended at the door of Sergeant Smithson's house.
Nowells knocked and they entered, admitted by the sergeant himself.
"It's all right, sir," he said in a low tone to Nowells. "This, I presume, is your friend?"
The secret agent nodded and answered: "Yes, this is the gentleman I spoke of, and he would like to have a few words with you if convenient."
"Certainly, sir," replied Smithson; "this way, if you please."
He showed them into a little sitting-room, closed the door after them, and locked it.
"We are quite private now, gentlemen," he went on. "What may be your pleasure?"
"Our pleasure, Mr. Smithson," said the count, putting his hand into his hip pocket and pulling out a roll of Bank of England notes, "is just this: My friend, Mr. No wells, tells me that you have arranged your part of the business in hand to his satisfaction and therefore to mine.
"You have been, promised a thousand pounds for your services. Here are five one-hundred-pound notes on account, and here is a letter from myself, which, when you can obtain leave, you can take to the Russian embassy in London with the bank notes, and you will receive in exchange smaller notes or gold or a check in your favor to the amount of a thousand pounds.
"Meanwhile I shall give you the bank-notes, and the letter will be yours when the work is done. At the same time, I shall also hand you a credit for the amount due to your men, and, if they like, they can each have a hundred on account to-night. Mr. Nowells has the money with him. Is that satisfactory?"
"Perfectly, sir; that is to say, my lord," replied Smithson, half stammering, as he took in charge a far bigger sum than he had ever handled in his life. "I have arranged everything. There will not be an officer near the ships that is not one of us. The rest, of course, I shall have to leave to you."
"Quite so," said the count. "We are entirely satisfied, and now where are the uniforms? Time is getting on."
"They are here, gentlemen," replied Smithson, moving the sofa which stood across one corner of the room and taking out a bundle of clothing and two helmets. "I have guessed the fit as nearly as I could, and I think if you put these on over your own clothes they will just be about the measure.
"And, to make quite certain, I've got a couple of pairs of regulation boots which you had better wear, because there might be some sharp-eyed person at the gates who'd notice that those boots of yours don't go very well with the police uniform. You'll find them big enough to get into, I think, and I'll take your own inside."
In ten minutes the count and Nowells had transformed themselves into a very smart-looking pair of policemen, and they strolled out with Sergeant Smithson towards the dock entrance beside the railway offices.
They of course passed in without any suspicion, and took their places within the barbed wire enclosure after regularly relieving the men on duty. It happened to be a very dark night, which was all the better for the conspirators.
The Anonyma was lying in the middle of the enclosure, with the Shiela and the Britannia on either side of her. Sergeant Smithson reported himself and his men to Captain Vinton, who at once put his lieutenant, Arthur Howard, in charge, and went to take his watch below until four o'clock in the morning.
Lieutenant Howard then went into the upper cabin and began his sentry-go. The two other members of the crew, the engineer and the signalman, had gone to their berths, and all lights were put out except one in the upper cabin, by which the figure of Lieutenant Howard could be seen pacing up and down.
Nothing happened for an hour, and then, when everything was absolutely quiet in the docks, a policeman appeared at the gate of the enclosure and was immediately admitted.
Sergeant Smithson met him and took a telegraph envelope from him. Mr. Hacker happened to be strolling about, smoking a last pipe before turning in, and the sergeant touched his helmet and handed him the message.
Hacker tapped on the side of the Anonyma to attract Howard's attention, and, when he looked round, beckoned to him with the envelope in his hand.
The lieutenant at once descended to the lower cabin and opened the door. Hacker ran up the steps, saying:
"Here's a wire from one of the chiefs, just arrived. Sailing orders for you, I suppose."
As he reached the deck, Howard put out his hand to take the telegram which Hacker held in his left hand. As he did so, Hacker, whose right hand was armed with a knuckle-duster, hit him hard in the throat and knocked him backwards, choking him speechless.
The next moment Peters, followed by the count and Nowells, ascended the steps, and inside of a minute Howard was safely gagged and handcuffed.
Everything had happened within a couple of minutes. Nothing had been done to excite any suspicion, for it was quite a common thing for the police-guards to go on board the air-ships, and, as a matter of fact, on this occasion no one saw them board the Anonyma, for the only people within the docks were the police and watchmen on duty.
Never had such an important capture been made with such ridiculous ease. The perfection of all such schemes as the count's consists in absolute simplicity, and for this reason this had succeeded perfectly.
The engineer and signalman were taken one by one in their berths, gagged, and tied up, and Captain Vinton only woke out of his sound sailor sleep to find himself in the grip of three men, who overpowered him before he had time to utter a sound.
He, too, was gagged, tied up, and locked in his cabin, and then, when the count and Nowells had got out of their uniforms, Dourinoff said to Hacker;
"Now, then, Admiral Hacker, you are in command of the ship for my imperial master. You have done excellently, and everything I have promised will be yours. Will you take charge, please?"
"Certainly, your excellency," replied Hacker, not a little flattered by the count's form of address. "We are quite ready. Where do you wish to go?"
"London, at once," replied the count, "and put us down in the middle of Hempstead Heath as soon as you can."
"You shall be there in half an hour, your excellency," rejoined Hacker, moving toward the entrance of the conning-tower.
A couple of minutes later the Anonyma rose into the dark sky, and then the propellers began to revolve, and the count saw the lights of Southampton slipping away behind him. Those of Portsmouth came up to the right, and almost instantly vanished as the airship gathered wav.
"Well, Mr. Nowells," said Dourinoff, putting his hand on the other's shoulder, "this is the greatest coup the Russian secret service has ever brought off, and we have mainly you to thank for it. After London we shall go to Petersburg, and there you will only have to ask to have. How do you like traveling in an air-ship?"
"It is magnificent, marvelous!" replied the spy. "Just listen to the wind roaring past us! At what a terrific speed we must be going! It really seems almost supernatural, doesn't it?"
"Yes, it really does," replied the count. "Admiral Hacker, how fast are we traveling?"
Hacker looked at the speed-indicator and answered:
"A hundred and fifty miles an hour, your excellency. We shall be going two hundred soon, and in twenty minutes you will be over Hampstead Heath."
He was as good as his word, and before the count's watch had marked the half hour after leaving Southampton Docks, the air-ship slowed down, and they saw the myriad lights of London twinkling beneath them. Ten minutes later the Anonyma had dropped silently and unseen on the slope of Parliament Hill.
The count left Nowells in charge, with strict instructions to shoot either Hacker or Peters on any sign of treachery or disobedience, and walked quickly toward the Highgate Road.
A brougham was moving slowly towards the entrance to Parliament Hill Fields. It stopped at a low whistle from him. He got in, saying:
"Grosvenor Square as fast as you can, Dmitri."
"Yes, nobleness," replied the coachman, touching his hat, and away the brougham went at the best speed of one of the best pairs of horses in the stables of the Russian embassy.
In three-quarters of an hour Feodor Dourinoff entered the drawing-room of the Deventers' mansion.
"It is done," he said; "the Anonyma is ours. Are madame and mademoiselle ready to accompany me to Petersburg? I have done my part of the work so far, and I have come to ask for my reward:"
As he said this, he looked straight in Eirene's eyes. His tone was just sufficiently changed to give them to understand that he was now master of the situation.
He had played a desperate game and won, and Eirene Deventer knew perfectly well that she had now to choose between keeping her bargain with him or standing out of the great game altogether.
She took her choice instantly; in fact, she had taken it already, for a couple of hand-bags and a dress-basket, already packed, were even then standing in the hall.
She went up to the count, holding out her hand, and said:
"Count, I ought to be the first to congratulate you, and I do it heartily. To the victor the spoils! You have kept our word, and, if you still want me to, will keep mine."
He took her hand between his and said, half to her and half to the others: "I have done this thing, not only for Russia,'but for you, and I hope it will not be the only success that your beauty and your grace will inspire me to win. So far, you will admit, I have won my reward, and now I claim it at your hands and at those of your honored parents."
Even in that moment of mingled triumph and surrender, Eirene could not repress a sudden emotion of regret which was nearly akin to remorse.
She had both suggested and inspired this colossal theft, this unspeakable betrayal of all the obligations of friendship and hospitality; and the cruelest irony of the situation lay in the fact that the man who, through her instigation, had been robbed of the greatest triumph of his genius, was the only man who had ever inspired her with a single tender sentiment since she had been old enough to realize the possibilities of serious love.
The revelation of it had come to her in a flash, and yet she had scarcely realized it before her woman's intuition told her that it was already too late. She had read in Lady Margaret's eyes what Paul Kingston was only just beginning to dare to look for, and her instinct told her that, for him, there could be no question of choice between herself and this exquisite patrician, this perfect product of a thousand years; of selection and civilization.
Although this knowledge reconciled her in some measure to the blank, brutal fact that she was literally selling herself in cold blood to the Russian for the gratification of her ambition and lust of power, in another sense it made the crime in which she had become an accomplice seem unutterably mean. Still, it was done now and there was no undoing it.
She turned her face toward her father and mother, and said very quietly, with her hand still resting between Dourinoff's:
44 You know I promised the count that if he succeeded in doing what he has done I would marry him when he chose to ask me, but I'm not going to deceive him or any one else. This is not going to be a love-match on my part. I ought to say that, because it isn't. Still, I shall keep my promise and do my best.
"That's all I have to give you now, count," she went on, turning to him again. "Some day it may be different. At least, if I can't give you my heart now, it isn't because I have given it to anybody else," she continued again, after a little pause, telling the half-lie with a perfect air of truth, "and so you will have the first chance of teaching me the Great Lesson."
"That," he replied, with a distinct note of triumph in his tone, "is all that I have hoped for, and more than I have dared to expect. The most delightful of all tasks is before me, and if I fail to accomplish it, may I never know any other happiness. To-morrow I shall, I trust, have the joy of presenting to my imperial master the future Queen of the Air.
"And now," he went on, releasing her hand and moving toward her parents, "my happiness can demand only one thing more—your consent and blessing, monsieur and madame."
"You have mine, of course, count," replied Mrs. Deventer rather limply.
In her heart of hearts she hated the whole transaction, and she had frankly described the proposed stealing of the air-ship as a mean and treacherous deed. But her husband, utterly careless of the means as long as the end was attained, and Eirene, absolutely determined to have rank and power and splendor even as Paul's enemy, if she could not have them as his wife, had been too strong for her, and so she had gone with a stream of events which she was powerless to control.
"I guess blessings aren't much in my line," added Mr. Deventer, somewhat grimly, "but you've got my consent and my best hopes that you'll both be as happy as you want to be. Now, I don't reckon you've too much time in hand for love-making just yet. What's the next proposition, count? St. Petersburg?"
"Yes, certainly," replied Dourinoff; "the sooner we are there, the better for us and the safer for the air-ship. I propose we start as soon as the ladies can prepare themselves for the journey. It will only be a matter of a few hours."
"Very well," replied Mr. Deventer, "you'll have to leave me out; I've too much of the dollar-work to look after here, but my wife and Eirene are, I believe, packed and ready for a flying start."
"Excellently put, my dear sir!" laughed the count. "It will, indeed, be a flying start, and if the ladies are ready, there is every reason that it should begin as soon as possible. My carriage is at the door, and within an hour we can be on board and on our way."
Even the dog-like fidelity and Russian stolidity of Dourinoff's coachman were not a little shaken when his master came out with two ladies and ordered him to take the dress-basket on the box beside him. He was still more astonished when he told him to drive at his best speed back to the lonely region where he had picked him up.
Still, he was far too well drilled to make the slightest sign, so he touched his hat brim, drew the whip lightly across the horses' backs, and three-quarters of an hour later he felt a jerk of the check-string and pulled up in the Highgate Road.
Dourinoff and the ladies got out, and Dmitri, in silent wonder, obeyed his master's order to carry the dress-basket some distance out on the turf, and then drive back to his stable at once.
As soon as the carriage was out of sight, the count whistled a couple of bars of the most popular music hall catch-song of the hour, whereupon Hacker and Peters came out from behind a clump of bushes, touched their caps in salute, picked up the dress-basket, and walked away with it toward the Hill.
Presently the dim shape of the airship loomed in sight, and Dourinoff, laying his hand lightly on Eirene's arm, whispered:
"There she is—no longer Anonyma, for as soon as you set foot on board her she shall bear another and a sweeter name."
Eirene only murmured: "Yes, it is very good of you to say so," in reply.
Her mind was too full just then of conflicting thoughts, some sweet and some very much the reverse.
As they reached the side of the airship the door opened, the gangway steps dropped, and Nowells greeted his master and his companions with a silent bow.
No time was lost in getting the passengers on board, and as soon as that was done Dourinoff gave the order, and the Anonyma, henceforth the Eirene, rose into the air and headed away to the eastward.
In an hour she came to rest again in one of the loneliest parts of the Essex Marshes, and here the count released his prisoners with many ironical apologies for the inconvenience which the exigencies of state had compelled him to put them to, and an equally sardonic message of thanks to the creator of the air-ship for his "involuntary loan" of her.
By dawn the Eirene was crossing the German Ocean on her way to Petersburg.
WHILE the stolen air-ship was winging her way across Europe, Marvin was speeding over southern England in the Columbia.
He reached Southampton about eleven, in the hope of meeting Express III there with the last American mail. To his intense surprise, he found that the Anonyma had left shortly before for London in obedience to a wire from
Paul, and that Captain Hacker and Mr. Peters had gone with her.
Obviously, he thought, something out of the common must have happened during his absence, as it had been arranged that no further step was to be taken until his return.
He went on board again at once, and thirty-five minutes later he alighted on the turf in Hyde Park and walked hurriedly toward Grafton House.
When the door opened and the footman, in answer to his question, informed him that Mr. Kingston was at home, he felt the nearest approach to a sensation of fear that he had ever experienced in his life.
"What's the matter, Paul?" he said, as they shook hands. "What have you done with the Anonyma? I suppose you know that she is not at Southampton?"
"Not at Southampton!" exclaimed Paul, dropping his hand. "What in thunder do you mean? I've given no orders—"
"I was half afraid of that somehow." interrupted Marvin quietly. "Well, if she's gone without orders, she's been stolen, and that's all there is to it, so we may as well look the thing squarely in the face."
Paul gazed at him in silence for a moment or two. His face turned a shade or so paler, his teeth came together, and his hands clenched.
It was a heavy blow, as heavy as it was unexpected, and, to him, for personal reasons, a very grievous one; but he took it just as Marvin expected he would.
"That's so," he replied between his teeth. "Do you know who went with her?"
His friend and partner looked at him in frank admiration, and said, with a laugh that would have had an ugly sound for the thieves:
"Bully for you, Paul! I guessed you'd sand enough in you to take it like that. Yes, Hacker and Peters are missing from the Shiela, and Vinton and Howard have gone off with the Anonyma, most likely as prisoners. I'd bet my life on their straightness."
"So would I," said Paul; "and I'll gamble mine that Hacker and Peters have done the steal. But why? What inducement could they have? They couldn't be bribed, when they had all the gold they wanted."
"Men like that can be bribed with other things than gold, Paul," replied Marvin, "but, anyhow, that's not the question now. She's gone, and we've got either to get her back or destroy her before they can do any mischief with her, and we must act right away. Is the duke at home?"
"Yes, mother and I had breakfast with him and Lady Margaret, and he told me he was going to be at home all the morning. You haven't seen mother yet—oh, here she is."
The door opened as he spoke, and Mrs. Marvin appeared.
Her husband had too much delicacy of feeling ever to indulge in any marital familiarities with her in Paul's presence, so they just shook hands as usual and then he told her.
She turned white to the lips, but for all that she took the blow as steadily as her son had done.
"That is very terrible news," she said, after a little pause. "But one thing is certain: Those men have not stolen her alone. You'll find, I think, that Dumont Lawson and our friends in Grosvenor Place have had something to do with it," she continued, her woman's intuition leaping at once unerringly to the truth.
"Great Caesar, you've struck it, mother!" exclaimed Paul. "They're getting pretty desperate just now, and they'd go to any length—even murder, I wouldn't wonder—to get the Anonyma. It wouldn't shake me up so much, either, to learn that that Russian count they've all been so friendly with lately had a hand in the game."
"Leading hand most likely, Paul." said Marvin. "And now," he continued, taking up his hat, "I guess we had better get a move on us and see the duke as soon as possible."
They were shown into the morning-room at Romney House and found Lady Margaret alone. When she heard the news she too turned white, as Mrs. Marvin had done.
Then instantly the fighting spirit of her warrior race sent the hot blood back to her cheeks and a glint of anger into her eyes. Paul thought he had never seen her look quite as lovely as she did in that moment of righteous wrath.
But her anger did more than paint her beauty in glowing colors. It made her forget her patrician reserve for just a moment and to remember only a certain question she had asked Paul's mother some time ago in her "den."
"The despicable scoundrels and traitors!" she cried hotly, and then before she could stop the fateful words, she exclaimed in quite an altered tone: "Oh, my poor, beautiful Anonyma!"
Her eyes met Paul's as she suddenly checked herself, and the blood left her cheeks for an instant, only to flush them rosier than ever the next.
The Lord of the Air read her soul in her eyes in that second of bewildering revelation. He felt the tell-tale color rush to his face, but, though he knew that he was looking something like a nervous schoolboy, he took his fate in his hands, and, stepping close to her, said in a low but quite steady voice:
"Lady Margaret, I have been rash enough to hope that some day she would be yours and be the Anonyma no longer. I will bring you another like her in a week. If I do, will you give her your name?"
Their eyes met again for a moment. Some subtle instinct impelled him to hold out his hand. She put hers, trembling a little, into it.
Then she nodded, smiled, and said "Yes" very softly, and, as Paul thought, more sweetly than that particular word had ever been spoken before. The next moment she exclaimed:
"Oh, those people have left us I Don't you think you had better go and join the Council of War?"
"Yes," he replied instinctively, feeling that enough had been said for the present. "But won't you come, too?"
"No," she laughed, still allowing her hand to remain in his. "That is men's work. Besides, I have my housekeeping to attend to, so good-by for the present."
"For the present," he repeated, raising her hand, unresisting, to his lips.
Both the duke and Marvin looked up with a smile as he entered, and, as his grace shook hands with him, he said, with a tone in his voice which carried a good deal of meaning:
"Ah, Mr. Kingston, we were just waiting to ask you a question. No, don't apologize; I dare say you had a very good reason for not coming sooner. This is very serious news about the Anonyma, isn't it? Now, what we wanted to ask you is this: Can you replace her, and, if so, how soon?"
"That's easily answered, your grace," responded Paul, almost merrily, for even the loss of his splendid craft did not seem such a very grave calamity to him just at that moment. "I have one of the same type, but slightly improved, and, if anything, more powerful, on the stocks at our place in the Alleghenies. She'll be quite ready by now, and I can run over, install the power in her, and be back here inside a fortnight. How's that for a start?"
"Excellent!" replied the duke. "And, meanwhile, I would suggest that, for safety's sake, I should ask his majesty to allow us to station the others in different barracks about London, say one at Knightsbridge, one at Hounslow, and one at Woolwich?"
"Why, certainly, your grace," replied Marvin. "That would be a lot better than having all our precious eggs in one basket."
As he was speaking, Lady Margaret knocked and came in to say that luncheon was ready, so the rest of the plans were discussed at table:
"There's one great difficulty, by the way, that we haven't thought of yet," said Paul, when practically everything had been arranged as far as possible.
"And what is that, Mr. Kingston?" asked the duke.
"Why, it's just this," replied Paul: "After what has happened, I don't see that we can trust any one to command an air-ship until, of course, we have the king's consent to give us officers and men. Now I shall take the Columbia, and Mr. Marvin will take the Shiela, I suppose, but who is going to command the Britannia for the present? We don't want her stolen, too."
There was a little pause, and then Lady Margaret looked across at him with a most disquieting smile, and said:
"Mr. Kingston, will you teach aerial navigation, and let me command her?"
Then she went on, looking round the table with laughing eyes:
"I'm perfectly serious, and the thing is quite practicable, papa. While you are going to see the king this afternoon, Mrs. Marvin and I can take a trip to Southampton in the Columbia, and Mr. Kingston can, if he will, give me a lesson. I half know how to do it already, you know, Mr. Kingston. You told me that a child could learn to manage the Anonyma in an hour, and I'm not a child.
"Besides, I think you can trust me; and if there is going to be any excitement, I want to have some of it. I am not a New Female, but I would most dearly love to be the first woman to command an air-ship."
"But, my dear Madge," said the duke, when he had sufficiently recovered from his amazement to speak, "granted that Mr. Kingston found himself able to do as you say, think of the risks you and Mrs. Marvin would run if the people who have stolen the Anonyma set themselves to destroy the smaller airships. It would be terrible!"
"Not at all," she said decisively. "I should be as safe there as here—safer, perhaps. If these people mean war and piracy, why should they not destroy this house or Mr. Marvin's—or, for the matter of that, Marlborough House or Buckingham Palace? Remember, they are beyond all human law now, and they can do as they please. Don't you agree with me, Mr. Kingston, and you will teach me to manage her, won't you?"
Naturally it was quite impossible for Paul, under the influence of those bewildering eyes, to say no, and yet he was no less startled by her utterly unexpected request than the others.
A brisk discussion followed, but Lady Margaret stuck gallantly to her guns, and so far carried her point as to gain her fathers consent to her taking a trip with Mrs. Marvin in the Columbia and having her first lesson in aerial navigation.
After which, as Paul said laughingly, when he was able to give her a navigating certificate she might possibly be appointed to a command.
At this moment, however, a striking and quite unexpected turn was given to the conversation by the entrance of a footman, who announced that Captain Vinton and Lieutenant Howard desired to speak to Mr. Kingston or Mr. Marvin on very important business.
"I guess what it is!" exclaimed Marvin. "And you were right, Paul. If you hadn't been, they wouldn't be round here now."
"Of course," said the duke, "I quite agree with you. Show the gentlemen into the library at once, Simmons. Madge, I think we may dispense with the rest of luncheon for the present."
"Oh, yes!" she exclaimed, rising with the others. "I suppose you'll let me come and hear the story, won't you?"
"I don't think these gentlemen will have any serious objection to that," smiled the duke, with a glance at Paul, and with that they left the room.
In the library they found Vinton and Howard standing by the window, looking very dejected. Marvin spoke first, and said in his hardest tone:
"Well, gentlemen, I suppose you have come to give us some account of this extraordinary disappearance of the Anonyma?"
"Yes, sir, we have," replied Vinton quietly and steadily, and looking the other straight in the eye. "We lost her. I haven't a very long story to tell, and when I have told it, you will be able to judge how far we are to blame for the misfortune."
"Go ahead," said Marvin shortly.
Vinton began with what had happened to his lieutenant. His own share of the story was very short, but all he had to say was said with such obvious sincerity and deep regret that it would have been impossible to doubt his good faith, even if the very fact of their immediate return to report had not been clear proof of his and his colleague's innocence.
When he had done, Paul said quietly:
"We all believe you, Vinton. In fact, we could not even have doubted either you or Howard without the clearest proof that you had broken faith with us. Any one might have been deceived, as Howard was, by that scoundrel Hacker coming in with the telegram as he did; and as for you, well, any man may be taken in his sleep if traitors bring thieves to his bedside.
"I don't think there's any more to say," he went on, turning to the others. "It was clearly a misfortune that we cannot blame them for. For my part, I see no reason why we should not trust them as fully as before, and I propose that they shall at once take command of the Shiela and the Britannia."
"I can see no possible objection to such a course," said the duke; "as a matter of fact, I suppose any of us would have lost the vessel under similar circumstances."
"That's so," said Marvin. "I'm agreed."
And there, for the present, the incident ended.
Unfortunately, Vinton was totally unable to give any definite description of the men who had made the capture of the air-ship, or of the man who had released him so that he could set his comrades free on the Marshes, hence all that was certain was that the theft must have been accomplished through the treachery of some members of the dock police. This was almost impossible unless, traitors to their country, the police were in the pay of a foreign power.
This certainly pointed to the probability of Count Dourinoff's complicity, but that was as far as they could go.
"Of course I'm very glad those poor men have got back safe, when those scoundrels might have thrown them into the sea," said Lady Margaret to Paul, when they returned to the dining-room, "but now what becomes of my vaulting ambition to be the first woman navigator of the air, and commander of an aerial cruiser?"
"I'm afraid the command will have to be postponed for the present," he laughed in reply, "but of course you shall have your lesson in navigation all the same, if you and mother will come to Southampton. And later on, when we have brought these foolish people to their senses, and the Lady Margaret goes into peace commission, she shall, if you like, be your private yacht, and you may command her, and—well, anybody else you please."
She looked up at him with flushed cheeks and shining eyes, and whispered:
"I won't be bribed, even as splendidly as that—but I will come to Southampton."
At that moment the others entered the room, and she turned quickly away and looked out of the window.
THE brief run to Southampton was quite the most delightful experience the
Fates had ever vouchsafed to Paul. He had Lady Margaret alone with him in the conning-tower, and, as was natural under the circumstances, the conversation did not entirely consist of a lecture on the art and mystery of aerial navigation.
The mechanism which governed the movements of the air-ships was so exquisitely simple that before the voyage was half over—Paul for one or two reasons did not travel at full speed—Lady Margaret was at the wheel running the Britannia by herself.
She slowed down, quickened to full speed, sent her soaring up to ten thousand feet, and brought her down again to five hundred, and ended by rushing her round the Isle of Wight and bringing her up with a beautiful curve over the Southampton Docks.
"Splendidly done!" exclaimed Paul. "Now slow the fans."
Their hands met for the last passage on the lever, and they moved it together. Then she took hers away and held it out to him, saying:
"Thank you a thousand times, Mr. Kingston. I need hardly tell you that it has been the most interesting lesson by far that I have ever had."
The moment they left the vessel, Marvin took charge of her, and Howard of the Shiela, while Paul assumed command of the Columbia. This was done to guard against the possibility of the other captains having been corrupted by those who had conspired to steal the Anonyma.
Paul took Vinton with him, and as soon as the good-bys had been said, he mounted into the air and vanished through the clouds to the westward.
Marvin took his wife and Lady Margaret back to town in time for them to pay an afternoon call at Grosvenor Place, where they, of course, learned that the family were "away from home for an uncertain time." Then, after sending off a score or so of cables, the immediate effect of which was the tightening of the Gold Chain which now encircled half the world, he went back to Portsmouth to attend to the repowering of the submarines which were due to mobilize in the Solent that evening.
Express III reached Southampton that night, and was at once ordered to cancel all her freight and passage contracts and to mount her armament, which consisted of four pneumatic guns capable of throwing shells, containing one hundred pounds of the same explosive as that contained in the aerial torpedoes, to a distance of twelve miles.
These were mounted en barbette fore and aft. In addition she carried six twenty-pounders, with a range of seven miles, and a score of dirigible torpedoes reliable up to two miles.
The two other Expresses were armed in precisely similar fashion, and had already been instructed by cable and aerogram to prepare for active service.
It was a full week before these preparations could be completed, and it was a week of intense anxiety for the duke and Marvin, as well as for the British and German governments. It had been impossible to keep the theft of the Anonyma a secret from the newspapers, and those of the more sensational sort indulged in so many lurid imaginings as to the frightful havoc such a terrible engine of destruction could work by land and sea that the public rapidly fell into a state of nervous apprehension bordering closely on panic.
The Shiela and the Britannia were kept almost constantly on the move, partly because it was considered the safest thing for them to do, and partly in the hope that they might discover the whereabouts of the lost air-ship.
When either of them returned to England she was berthed in the gardens of Buckingham Palace under a strong guard, and sentries "patrolled the roof day and night, while others were posted on the Duke of York's Column, the Monument, the Dome of St. Paul's, and other elevated positions around London, to give warning of the approach of the dreaded enemy. Still the days passed and she gave no sign of her existence, though she had already had time to do immense and irreparable damage.
Meanwhile the Gold War went on unceasingly, waged with ruthless activity by the president of the syndicate. Dumont Lawson, Mr. Deventer, and Schmidt held daily, almost hourly consultations, trying desperately to find some escape from the ever tightening coils which were closing around them.
"What in thunder have they done with that all-fired air-ship that was to get us out of this mess in three jumps of a jack-rabbit?" exclaimed the sometime steel king angrily at the end of one of these futile conferences. "Here she's been ours for a week and we haven't even heard from her. Wonder if that darned Dourinoff was just playing for his own hand all the time?99
"Likely enough," growled Schmidt gloomily. "Scratch a Russian and you get a Tartar. But anyhow, we couldn't have got her away without him, and there's just this good about it, that our friends Marvin and Kingston have lost the use of her. That's something."
"Mighty little, while she does nothing and they still have the other three," snapped Deventer, who was perhaps even more furious and mystified than his colleagues, for both his daughter and Dourinoff had promised to pay a literally flying visit to Parliament Fields.
They were now a day overdue, and his apprehensions were increasing with every hour.
"Then look here," Deventer continued, "what about our properties and interests in the States? Franklin went over nearly ten days ago, and we haven't had so much as a cable from him.
"How do we know that the bottom hasn't fallen out of everything by this time; that we may be worth as many cents as we had dollars six months ago? I tell you, gentlemen, things are looking mighty serious, and if that darned air-ship doesn't materialize soon and shake em up a bit, we'll just have to climb down and ask the Kingston-Marvin Syndicate for a job."
And Mr. Deventer's summing up of the situation was not by any means far from the truth.
The men who a few months ago had been absolute masters of tens of millions could not now have realized ten thousand pounds among them. Their paper billions had been swept away upon the ever rising flood of gold over which they had not the slightest control.
For all purposes of commerce and finance, they were as isolated in London as they would have been on a South Sea coral island.
During the last few months the whole civilized world had been silently but swiftly falling under the control of the intangible but omnipresent gold power. By this time the syndicate had bought up all the transatlantic and colonial lines and cables. All the continental cables had been cut, save those connecting England with Germany, and these were under the direct control of the Kaiser's government.
No code messages could be sent out of Great Britain, and none at all that were not censored by the authorities. All the ports of hostile Europe were rigidly blockaded, and no oversea trade was possible without the consent of the Syndicate and the Triple Control.
On land matters were not much better. The Britannia and the Shiela had blown up every railway and foot bridge connecting the hostile countries, and destroyed all the international telegraph lines.
With the exception of Denmark and Scandinavia, which had assented to the Triple Control, Europe was already almost entirely drained of gold. Even silver was already running short, and had a purchasing power nearly equal to that of gold a couple of months before.
Imports and exports had practically stopped, and international trade was nearly at a standstill. Food stuffs had, of course, risen enormously as stocks shortened, and as holders were beginning to sit on them, the governments were hurriedly passing laws to compel them to sell at fixed prices and take payments in credit, notes, and copper.
One of the reasons for this measure of despair was that the governments themselves were making every effort to get what was left of the gold and silver stocks into their own hands for state and military purposes, for strikes and riots were already growing to the proportions of revolution, and, as day after day went by, the half-starved soldiery were less and less to be relied upon.
One very curious feature of the unheard of situation was that the tens of millions' worth of precious stones, from crown jewels to personal ornaments, had suddenly become almost valueless. They could not be sold, for there was not money enough even to buy a sufficiency of food at current prices.
They were worthless as articles of exchange, for no one wanted them, and many of their owners were even now selling their gold settings at an enormous premium. In a word, the Slav and Latin nations were beginning to starve inside an invisible ring of gold.
In the United States trusts and tariff batteners were having a time that was a good deal more exciting than pleasant.
Immediately on his arrival Paul, acting on agreement with his partner, proceeded to put into force his threat to make gold as cheap as copper. An attempt had been made to put the Anti-Trust Laws into action, but bribery and wire-pulling had rendered them practically a dead letter, and the trust tyranny remained unshaken.
But matters quickly assumed a very different complexion when Paul presented to the assay office and the mint the mandate of the Syndicate, signed by Marvin and himself.
Gold began to pour through the former into the latter by tons, and thence by a hundred streams to the already demoralized markets.
In three days panic universal reigned from Maine to Mexico. Original gold values dropped to 75 cents, 50 cents, and finally to 10 cents. As Marvin had promised in the interview with the Cabinet, the bottom fell out of everything.
There was a terrific clamor, of course raised mostly by the trust despots, for the government to put a summary stop, by force if necessary, to this new gold tyranny that was "ruining the industries of the Republic." But the American Constitution was searched in vain for any lawful pretext for doing this.
Moreover, the President and his Cabinet had already received quite satisfactory guarantees that everything would be put right in good time, so the government was able to look on with equanimity.
The food trusts naturally held out longest, for they owned vast stocks, and, for a few days, went on gaily doubling, trebling, and quadrupling the prices of the necessaries of life.
Then the last blow fell on them. With a stroke of his pen, Paul ordered a free distribution of gold coin throughout the poorer quarters of all the great cities and towns, and cleared off the mortgages from every farm in the United States.
In short, exactly the reverse was happening in America to what was taking place in Europe.
There gold was at a ruinous premium; here it was at an equally ruinous discount. There food could hardly be bought for lack of money; here there was so much money that food, as an article of commerce, had suddenly lost its trade value.
People who had come to look upon fresh or even canned meat as an almost unattainable luxury, now paid ten and twenty dollars a pound for it with a laugh which sounded the financial death-knell of the food tyrants. What anybody could and would give anything for was worth nothing.
By a strange irony of fate, the trusts went under beneath a flood of that very metal which they had been perfectly willing to starve their fellow creatures to obtain.
Again, as Marvin had predicted, the tariffs went with the trusts. They automatically abolished themselves because no one wanted the gold in which the duties had ultimately to be paid.
The net result was that a brief fortnight saw the end of the ruthless financial tyranny under which nearly half the Anglo-Saxon race had suffered impotently for more than a generation.
Such was the general state of affairs in America and on the Continent when, on the fifteenth morning after Paul's departure from Southampton, London was suddenly thrown into a fever of conflicting hope and fear by the appearance of a splendid, shining shape circling about a thousand feet in the air above the roof of Buckingham Palace.
Was it the long dreaded Anonyma, in the hands of the Russians who were popularly credited with having stolen her, or was it her eagerly expected duplicate from New York?
If the former, she might, within the next few minutes, be raining death and destruction over the great city. If the latter, then the end of the strange conflict between gold and steel, between peace and war, must surely be close at hand.
ABOUT half an hour before the appearance of the air-ship over Buckingham Palace, the duke and Lady Margaret were sitting at breakfast in the morning-room at Romney House. They were reading their letters, when suddenly the duke startled his daughter by exclaiming:
"Bless my soul, what a tragedy!"
"Why, what on earth has happened, papa?" asked Lady Margaret, looking up from her own correspondence.
"Just read that, Madge," answered her father, tossing a black-edged letter across to her. "It's from Elliston, poor Wyngrave's steward, you know."
She took the letter almost with a feeling of relief, for a sudden fear had sprung up in her heart.
Lord Wyngrave was an old friend of her father's, but personally she had seen very little of him outside the usual social circles. She picked up the letter and read;
I deeply regret to inform you that early this morning Viscount Ooulston met with a fatal accident while turning a sharp corner on his motor car. It is feared that he was going at too great a speed, an unfortunate penchant of his, as you know, for when one of the front wheels struck a stone in the road, as it evidently must have done, the machine swerved and dashed into a deep ditch, hurling his lordship with such force against a stone as to fracture his skull and dislocate his neck as well.
On hearing the sad news the earl was taken with a very severe seizure of the heart, which his physician expects to be almost inevitably fatal. As your grace is one of the trustees to the estate I have thought proper to acquaint you at once with the sad event.
"How awful!" said Lady Margaret in a low voice, passing the letter back to her father. "Then if poor Lord Wyngrave dies he will be the earl."
"He—who, Madge? Hullo, what's the matter? Oh, yes, of course! Why, you little goose, what are you blushing so furiously about? Do you suppose we haven't known all about that ever since—well, as a matter fact, ever since he took us for that trip to the clouds?"
"Yes, I was afraid you—oh, there, it doesn't matter as long as you did know and weren't angry. Only, to be quite honest, dad, it really wasn't then, it was ever so long ago."
"Indeed, miss! And may I ask what you call 'ever so long ago'?"
"Well, I suppose I had better make full confession while I am about it. As a matter of fact, dad, it was during that mountaineering trip in Colorado."
"Why, you precocious young person! Are you aware that you were hardly seventeen then? And have you the impudence to tell me that you and this young gentleman—"
"No, papa, certainly not! I wonder you could imagine such a thing." She drew herself up and flushed again, this time for a different reason. "Only," she went on with a sudden change of tone, "I must honestly admit that I have thought a good deal about—well, about the trip—wasn't it delightful? And, yes, I suppose I really did begin to care for him a little bit even then."
"I'm very glad to hear it, Madge," replied her father more seriously than he had spoken before.
"Oh, you darling dad! But why?"
"Because, dear, it shows that you now love the man, not the genius who has conquered the air, and could conquer the world if he liked, or the gold-king who has apparently bought the best part of it—though, of course, there could be no question of that. Still, the other's much better. Love the man and admire all the rest. And so he wants you to be his empress of the air, does he?"
"His imperial majesty hasn't exactly asked me to share such an exalted position—yet," she replied demurely, looking down at her plate.
"Of course not. Being a gentleman, he would naturally speak to me first. But I think he asked you to give your name to the new Anonyma, didn't he?"
"Yes, dad—and I said yes."
"Which, of course, means that you will say the same when he asks you a more important question?"
"I certainly shall, if you will let me, dad. After all, his blood on one side is nearly as good as ours, and his mother's a perfect darling. But what does all that matter with a man who will be greater than any king when he comes back."
"Hullo!" exclaimed the duke, getting up as the last word left her lips and going toward the window, "what's the matter out there in the park and in the streets? See, they are all running toward the corner and pointing upward."
"Then he has come back," exclaimed Lady Margaret with a ring of joyful triumph in her tone—"back in my airship! And now he'll conquer the world."
"Or else it's the other one," said the duke, with apprehension. "God forbid that it should be, for the people who were dishonorable enough to steal her would be capable of anything."
"I don't believe that for a moment," said Lady Margaret, almost indignantly. "It's Paul. He promised me he would bring her. Besides, he couldn't fail."
Almost at the moment she spoke, Mr. Deventer, who was breakfasting with Dumont Lawson and Mr. Schmidt, happened to look out over the palace gardens. He sprang from his chair with a cry of anger and ran to the window.
"There's that confounded air-ship at last!" he exclaimed in a voice half choked with fury, "and she's flying the Syndicate flag. Darned if they haven't got her back! Say, gentlemen, I guess it's about time we went to look after that clerking job we were talking about giving to Marvin when he wanted to go shares with us. I wish to glory we'd let him."
His two partners got up and joined him at the window.
Yes, there was no doubt about it. There was the stolen air-ship, as they thought, flying the golden ensign of the Syndicate and settling gently down into the space between the front entrance and the palace railings.
"That's so," said Dumont Lawson in the quiet tone of a hardened gambler who has played his last coup and lost. "I reckon the game's over, and we've just got to pass in our checks. That's about all there is to it."
Mr. Schmidt said nothing. He was not made of such hard stuff as his chief. The fresh color faded out of his cheeks. His lips moved as though he were cursing behind his teeth. He went back to the table and finished his tea at a gulp, got up, and left the room without a word.
"Hard hit," said the chief laconically, and went on with his breakfast.
As the air-ship hoisted the now familiar flag a mighty roar of welcoming cheers rose from the delighted crowds which had collected in the park and round the palace railings.
The king, who was also at breakfast when the first alarm was given, got up, clapped on a deer-stalker hat, and went out to meet friend or enemy as the case might be.
Another roar ran round the railings as he appeared, and the air-ship at once dipped her ensign in salute. When she touched the ground the steps fell out and Paul came down bare-headed.
Many of the crowd recognized the Conqueror of the Air, for his photographs were even more in demand than those of the favorite actress or music hall "artiste," and yet another ten-thousand-voiced cheer greeted the young American as his majesty held out his hand and said:
"Good-morning, Mr. Kingston. Very glad to see you back. To tell you the truth, we have been a little anxious lest you, too, should have fallen among thieves. And so this is the new aerial cruiser. 'Pon my word, she is even more magnificent than her lost namesake. I hope she brings good news."
"Yes, your majesty," replied Paul, "the best. We have smashed or swamped the trusts, and the tariffs have abolished themselves. The United States government and ninety-nine hundredths of the American people are with us. The President requests me to convey to your majesty his informal but none the less sincere and respectful greetings."
"I am much obliged to him and to you, sir," said the king, with a slight inclination of his head. "Informal or not, they could not have been conveyed by a more distinguished messenger or in more royal fashion. I thank you heartily for your good news. There is to be a meeting of the Privy Council this afternoon to confer with Mr. Marvin. I hope I shall have the pleasure of meeting you there. And now, I suppose you will be anxious to say good-morning to your mother and your friends in Park Lane, so I won't detain you."
The last words were spoken with a subtle change of intonation which brought the blood to Paul's cheeks. The king smiled as he bowed his adieux, and in a couple of minutes the air-ship, upborne as it were on the cheers of the delighted crowd, rose slowly from the ground and headed across the gardens to the park.
As she came to a rest opposite Grafton House, the Columbia flashed up from the southwest, slowed down, and began to circle above her.
Paul at once signaled to Vinton to keep on guard, and soon learned, not a little to his satisfaction, that both his mother and Marvin were at Romney House.
He was, however, not a little disappointed to find that Lady Margaret was not in the library, where the duke received him, but his apprehensions as to her not being at home were speedily set at rest when, after the greetings had gone round, his grace put his hand on his shoulder and said, with a quiet twinkle in his eyes:
"Mr. Kingston, I received a confession this morning on a subject which, I believe, is of considerable interest to you. I have given the parental absolution, and I have every confidence in leaving the rest of the matter in your hands.
"No, no, don't trouble to say anything now. You can thank me afterwards, if you wish. Meanwhile I am sure you would not like to keep a lady waiting. You will find Madge in the morning-room."
As Paul opened the door Lady Margaret got up from the window-seat and came towards him, prudently keeping her back to the light. Paul closed the door, and this time there was no question of kissing hands.
* * * * *
THE Privy Council held that afternoon, to which "strangers" were for the first time admitted by royal command, practically decided the fate of the world.
The governments composing the Triple Control were now entirely in agreement with those who had brought this extraordinary state of things to pass. It was fairly certain that those who had stolen the Anonyma were for some reason unable to put her to the terrible uses they might have done.
They had not even used her to make terms with those who were now virtually masters of Europe, and so it was decided that she might now be left out of the calculations of the Council.
The result of the deliberations was that an ultimatum should be at once delivered to the hostile powers to accept unreservedly the terms of the Syndicate's original proclamation within seven days.
The alternative was subjugation by blockade and absolute isolation, not only from the rest of the world, but from each other, until their political, military, and naval systems fell to pieces by natural process of decay.
The ultimatum was, however, never delivered. The powers had already had enough of the Syndicate's pitiless and yet bloodless methods of conquest. They had to choose between submission and a swift descent into anarchy and barbarism, and they very wisely chose the former. Just as the Council was rising, the king received a telegram which he glanced over and then read aloud. It was brief, but pregnant:
I HAVE PLEASURE TO INFORM YOU THAT THE POWERS HAVE EXPRESSED A DESIRE TO SEND A DEPUTATION OF MINISTERS PLENIPOTENTIARY TO LONDON TO DISCUSS CONDITIONS AND TERMS FOR ENDING THE PRESENT STATE OF AFFAIRS, WHICH ARE NOW RECOGNIZED TO BE INTOLERABLE AND IMPOSSIBLE. IF AN AERIAL SQUADRON WERE SENT TO CONVEY THEM, EXCELLENT EFFECT WOULD BE PRODUCED.
Just a shadow of a smile passed under the royal mustache at this eminently wise, but thoroughly characteristic suggestion.
"Well, my lords and gentlemen," said the king, handing the telegram to the prime minister, "I think we may congratulate ourselves on the fact that our meeting this afternoon has, after all, proved unnecessary. I trust you will agree with me that such a conference would be most desirable as a means of arriving at a settlement satisfactory to ourselves, and honorable to what I may, perhaps, call the other side. If that meets with your views it only remain? to ask our friends, the Admirals of the Air, whether they are prepared to fall in with the emperor's suggestion."
The assembled councilors bowed assent, and Marvin rose at a look from the king and said:
"You majesty, our ships are entirely at the disposal of the Council."
"We are greatly obliged, sir," was the reply. "A telegram shall be sent to the emperor at once, and I think that if you could make it convenient to arrive at Berlin at ten to-morrow morning his majesty will then be able to arrange all the details with you."
With that the Council rose, and, having taken their leave, Paul and Marvin and the duke drove to Grafton House to make arrangement for raising the gold blockade in the event of terms being arranged—a matter about which there could now be but very little doubt.
At dinner that night at Romney House another important question was settled between the high contracting parties most concerned. Lady Margaret agreed to give her title and Christian name to the flag ship of the aerial squadron, and to exchange her surname for Paul's on the day that peace was once more formally proclaimed among the nations of the world.
PRECISELY at ten the following morning a mighty chorus of hurrahs and "hochs" went up from the huge crowd assembled in the neighborhood of the Schlossplatz before the royal palace in Berlin, hailing the arrival of the aerial squadron.
Tens of thousands of eyes had been looking up into the bright blue western heavens for hours, but nothing had been seen until at five minutes to the hour what looked like four rays of white light streamed across the sky, made the circuit of the city at ever decreasing speed, and came to rest five hundred feet above the great, soldier-lined square.
The Britannia was flying the Union Jack, the Columbia the Stars and Stripes, and the Shiela the German ensign. The new Anonyma flew only the golden banner of the Lords of the Air.
As they sank gently in a straight line to the ground, all the flags were dipped in salute to the imperial standard flying above the palace portico, and as the massed bands blared out the first bars of what most of the aerial navigators took for "God Save the King," but which in reality was "Heil Dir im Siegerkranz," the Kaiser, gorgeously uniformed and gloriously helmeted, came forth to greet his guests.
The troops presented arms with machine-like precision, the war lord touched his eagle-crested helmet and walked unattended to the side of the flagship.
Never had William the Second stood so high in the esteem of his people as he did at the moment when he shook hands with the men who in a few months had conquered the air, taken possession of the sea, and reduced all Europe, saving only the Fatherland, to submission without fighting a battle or taking a single life. But for him, they thought—and rightly—Germany would now be in the same humiliating position as the Slav and Latin Powers.
During the next five days the Kaiser, as the Representative of the Triple Control, made such a royal progress from capital to capital of Europe as crowned monarch had never made before, and right splendidly did he play his regal part.
It had, of course, been primarily due to King Edward's infallible sense of the fitness of things that no one less than an emperor should receive what was practically the submission of emperors and kings.
The condition of the capitals, even in what had once been their wealthiest quarters, bore piteously eloquent testimony to the terribly effective nature of the Gold Blockade.
Everywhere starvation and stagnation had taken the place of plenty and activity. Nothing could have proved more eloquently how artificial and unnatural are the foundations upon which modern society really rest.
Its gold basis being partially removed, here, in a few weeks, its once magnificent fabric was already falling to pieces.
At Petersburg the Kaiser and his fellow-voyagers met with their first and only surprise.
The Czar requested a private interview with his brother of Germany. Exactly what passed between them was never made public save that their conversation partly cleared up the mystery of the Anonyma, and resulted in the instant deportation of Mrs. Franklin Deventer in the Shiela from the Russian capital to London, where she, together with her husband, Mr. Dumont Lawson, and his lieutenant, were at once charged in the most commonplace fashion before a magistrate with conspiring to commit a felony within the king's dominions.
It was a pretty mean ending to their dream of world-wide dollar-despotism, but the fifteen years' penal servitude which the three male conspirators ultimately got was after all only what they and a good many more of their sort richly deserved. Mrs. Deventer was at once released on their joint testimony that she had nothing whatever to do with the conspiracy, but had been dead against it all along.
So peace was proclaimed, and the blockade raised. There had been, in fact, nothing to discuss save the broad question of immediate peace on the Syndicate's terms or war to the bitter end.
All details were left to a series of international committees. Lady Margaret had therefore no excuse for deferring the fulfilment of her promise, and so, while the bells were pealing and the cannon thundering from one end of Europe and the United States to the other, she christened her splendid name-daughter in the presence of the king and the Kaiser and the American minister, in Buckingham Palace gardens.
For the other and more important ceremony she had managed to obtain a day's respite, as she called it, although Paul had a reason quite other than the natural impatience of a lover for taking possession of his promised bride.
On the morning of his wedding day the world woke up to witness a very strange phenomenon.
The sky was perfectly cloudless, and yet the sun rose through a thin, golden mist which, as the rays became more powerful, lit up and shone with almost inconceivable radiance. Mysterious as it was, all but two men hailed it as a happy augury—the herald of the golden age of peace.
But when the almost private, but none the less splendid ceremony in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, was over and the bride had held her reception, by the king's desire, in the state apartments, the Lady Margaret left almost immediately for London, and Paul at length found himself alone with his wife in the morning-room at Romney House, where he had first learned that the wish of his heart was to be granted to him.
He put his hands on her shoulders, and, when he had taken the first real kiss—the sweetest a man ever gives or takes—he said somewhat seriously:
"Madge, how would you like to spend the first part of your honeymoon trip in the air?"
"And where else should the Lord and Lady of the Air take their first journey together?" she asked with laughing lips and glistening eyes. "I thought it was quite understood that we were to go down to the Abbey in my beautiful namesake."
"I am going to ask you to take a much longer trip than that, dear," he replied; "one, in fact, to the uttermost ends of the earth, and, believe me, I have very good reasons for asking."
"Of course you have, Paul," she said, laying her hands on his arms, "and equally, of course, I will go wherever you want me to. But what is the new matter? Has anything serious happened?"
"Nothing less than a catastrophe, I am afraid, dearest. I don't like to be the first to tell you of bad news, especially to-day, although, happily, it does not affect us personally."
"Thank Heaven for that at least!" she said with a little sigh of relief. "I was afraid it had something to do with your fortunes, and so, of course, with mine—now."
Naturally there was a brief interlude after this, she said it so sweetly. Then Paul led her to the window-seat, saying:
"Come and sit down. It's quite a little story, but I must tell it you or you won't understand."
Then he told her for the first time the wonderful tale of the discovery of the Lake of Gold, the source of the boundless wealth that was now as much hers as his.
She listened in silent, almost breathless amazement till he had finished, and then said very quietly:
"It is very, very marvelous, too marvelous for me to quite understand it yet. But now I suppose you are coming to the catastrophe. What has that to do with your Aladdin's lake?"
"That I can't say for certain," he replied slowly, as though his thoughts were running ahead of his words, as indeed they were, "but I feel perfectly certain that there is some connection between them. To begin with, I can now tell you what is something like a state secret.
"The Anonyma was stolen by an agent of the Russian government, Count Dourinoff, in fact, as my mother suspected, but without the knowledge even of the embassy. He took her to Petersburg, and Mrs. Deventer and Mi?? Eirene went with him. Miss Eirene, it seems, offered herself as a sort of prize packet to go with the air-ship if the steal came off. Dourinoff was pretty daft about her, and took her at her word."
"A woman in the case, of course!" said Lady Margaret. "I see it all now. That young lady wanted—no, I mustn't interrupt you or I shall never get to the mystery. Go on, please."
"Of course a woman had something to do with it," he laughed, "but that is not the story. When he took the vessel to Petersburg, and had to confess to the Czar how he had got hold of it, his majesty, like the honorable gentleman that he is, wanted to insist on its being immediately sent back, and threatened to send Dourinoff to Siberia into the bargain.
"But, you know, in Russia not even Czars can have things all their own way, and so, when Dourinoff told the ministers about the lake of gold, they couldn't resist the temptation of fighting us with our own weapon, and they brought such pressure to bear on his majesty, that in the end they compromised, and, instead of the Anonyma being let loose to sink, burn, and destroy, as our friend Dourinoff wanted to do with her, he was allowed to marry Miss Eirene and take her off under the guidance of that scoundrel Hacker, to find and annex the few million tons of gold that we left in the crater."
"Very mean of them, I must say," said Lady Margaret, "but still even that was better than coming over here and smashing everything up with those awful torpedoes of yours. Now, of course, I see why you want me to go to the uttermost ends of the earth. Very well, dear, I will be ready in an hour if you like. But we haven't got to the catastrophe yet, have we?"
"Only this far," he replied very seriously, "that we left an air-ship and a submarine there to guard the place, and as the Ariel has not come home to report, I'm afraid Dourinoff must have destroyed her, and perhaps the submarine, too."
"And so you are going to destroy Dourinoff, or take him prisoner. Splendid! When shall we start?"
"You would not start at all, darling," replied Paul, "if there was going to be any destruction about the trip. We may take them prisoners, because my theory is that when Hacker played traitor he thought he could renew the power by just patting the fuel into the converters, but there's something else to do which only two men on earth can do, and that he didn't know or he wouldn't have gone into the treachery business.
"Now, you see, dear, if the power had not given out, or some other thing had happened to her, she would have been back days ago with some of the gold. On the other hand, if the Ariel hadn't been crippled or destroyed she would have come, and so I propose to go and look things, up for myself."
"Yes, and it will be awfully interesting."
"Well, then," Paul continued, "you remember, or else you've read of the great eruption of Krakatoa, the volcanic island near Sumatra, some years ago. Well, for weeks after that the sun and moon all over the world shone through skies of all sorts of colors, just as we saw this morning, and the end-of-the-world prophets did quite a heavy business, I'm told.
"In the end the astronomers and the chemists found that colors of the sky were caused by vast clouds of very fine volcanic dust floating in the upper regions of the atmosphere. Now I believe —of course it's only my theory—that—"
"That your beautiful golden lake has exploded and gone off into thin air. Oh, what a pity—and what a waste!"
"It would be a pity," he laughed, "because I wish you might see it, but as for the waste—well, I reckon we've about enough to go on with without worrying much about the poorhouse. But still it's my firm conviction that this beautiful golden halo which kindly arranged itself around the sun on your wedding morning has cost a good few billion dollars' worth of our gold to fix up. Still I don't grudge it, for even the heavens themselves ought to look more beautiful to-day for your sake."
There was another little interlude after this lover-like speech, and then, when Lady Margaret had got free, she went away to tell the others of their sudden change of plans.
By the evening of the third day after the departure of the Lady Margaret for the far south all the general conditions of peace, military and financial, had been agreed upon and ratified, thanks to the swiftness of intercommunication made possible by the three air-ships, all of which had been placed at the disposal of the commission.
Put briefly, they were as follows: Free trade and open competition were proclaimed throughout the civilized world with the exception of a schedule of certain articles—all luxuries—upon which import duties were to be levied, at the direction of the importing country, for revenue purposes.
All trusts, combines, and "corners" formed for the purpose of artificially raising prices were prohibited by international law under penalty of confiscation of property and penal servitude for life for the promoters and active managers of such concerns.
A sliding scale of prices for the necessaries of life in strict accordance with laws of supply and demand was adopted, subject to annual revision by permanent committees working under the International Commission. Similar committees were appointed to revise rents and ground values every three years.
Absolute freedom of contract between capital and labor was enforced. Strikes and lock-outs were made penal offenses, the punishment to fall on leaders of trade organizations and heads of firms and their partners and shareholders.
All disputes had to be referred to the Permanent Trade Commission, from whose decision there was no appeal.
The material forces of destruction at the command of the Syndicate having put fleets and fortifications out of date, the Powers agreed to stop all warlike developments and reduce armaments to a fixed standard with reference to population and amount of seaboard to be policed.
Existing war-ships were to be used for this purpose only, save in the event of any Power violating the international convention.
The gold reserves of all countries were to be restored at the expense of the Syndicate to the amount at which they stood before the blockade was declared. The surplus was to be gradually withdrawn from circulation, and to guard against any possible return to the old condition of financial brigandage, two thousand tons of bullion were stored respectively in the Bank of England and in the United States Treasury, ready to be let loose in a devastating flood upon the devoted heads of any rashly-daring speculators who might feel tempted to upset the natural equilibrium of the world's markets for the sake of personal gain or aggrandizement.
The final ratification of the terms of peace was celebrated by a dinner given by King Edward at Windsor to the crowned heads of Europe, the Mikado of Japan, the French President, and the President of the United States, to whom a unanimous vote of the Senate had given due leave of absence.
This was accompanied by a vast number of other dinners, diplomatic, political, and commercial, and by universal popular rejoicings all over tie civilized world—and so the great work begun in Paul Kingston's little study in Lake city was duly brought to a triumphant conclusion.
THE Lady Margaret, flying at full speed on a bee-line, covered the six thousand odd miles between Hyde Park and Mount Kingston in thirty hours.
She had taken the air at six in the afternoon, and as the clock in the conning-tower struck twelve, London time, the following day, Paul stopped the propellers, started the lifting fans, and swung the vessel round in a wide semicircle.
She came to a standstill over the desolate, mist-clad wilderness of mountain, rock, and sand forming the promontory on which the Lake of Gold had been discovered on that other memorable wedding-trip.
"We shan't be able to see anything from here, dear," he said after a long look over the cloud-sea through which the rock-peaks and domes of the mountains showed like scattered islands. "We shall have to go down, but I don't think there's any danger. They can't have stayed here all this time unless they had to, and if they had to they're pretty helpless by now."
"Oh, yes," she replied, slipping her arm through his. "Do let us go down at once. You don't know how I am longing to see this wonderful Aladdin's lake of yours."
"You shall see it right away," he said, slipping his arm round her waist and taking a very justifiable liberty with the tempting lips that had come so near his own, "always supposing there's any lake left, which I hardly expect."
He slowed the fans, and the Lady Margaret dropped down through the mists to within five hundred feet of the earth.
"Why, this is not the place at all!" exclaimed Paul after a careful examination of the ground, "and yet there can't be any mistake in the reckoning," he went on, looking down at his chart.
"No, this is the latitude and longitude of the lake to an inch, and so I guess I was right. There's been an earthquake and a general bust-up, and that's about all there is to it. I'm afraid you'll just have to take what I told you about the lake for granted, dear, for mortal eyes will never look upon it again."
"Of course I will, Paul," she said, giving his arm a gentle little squeeze, "but what a pity! Still, after all, I suppose it is a good thing for the world, for if it had remained there till some one else stole an air-ship or invented one, people would have fought over it as long as any one was left to fight. But what has happened to the Anonyma and the Ariel and the submarine you left here?"
"There's no telling now, dearest," replied Paul, almost gloomily; "it isn't likely that there's much left of them after a smash-up like this. Still, we won't go back till we've had a good look for them. It's a pretty mean place for you to spend the first part of your honeymoon in, Madge, but I reckon you wouldn't like to go away before we've had a try."
"Of course not. I don't care if we spend the whole of it here. After all, this is our world for the present, and I'm quite sure I don't want any other—at least, not for the present."
Of course Paul was entirely of the same mind, and so the Lady Margaret spent the rest of the day and most of the night cruising about very slowly at an elevation of a couple of hundred feet 10 A or so among the valleys and round the now utterly changed coast-line.
As soon as it grew dark Paul turned on two searchlights ahead and two astern, two tilted downwards and two up. They were power-rays rather than lights, for, though they lit up whatever they fell on brilliantly, they were themselves invisible.
It was, in fact, their discovery that had enabled Paul at last to solve completely the problem of submarine navigation.
A little before midnight Lady Margaret had gone to lie down, but so anxious was she that she was back by Paul's side in the conning tower again before dawn, and it so happened that she had scarcely finished her first look round the broad fields of the searchlights than she pointed downwards in front of the vessel, which was then heading southward, and exclaimed:
"Look, Paul, look! There is something; surely that is not rock. See, it has a shape—like a huge fish. Is it the submarine!"
"Looks mighty like it," said Paul, picking up his field glass and turning it on what looked like the shape of some huge stranded leviathan. "So it is, by all that's wonderful—but how in thunder did it get there? It's five miles from the sea, and plumb on the top of a precipice that looks about a thousand feet high from here."
"Aren't there such things as tidal waves usually connected with earthquakes near the ocean?" suggested Lady Margaret, half quizzically. "It can't have got there out of the sea any other way, can it?"
"Of course not. What a fool I am!" he replied. "That's it, and I hope we've come in time, for no mortal man could get away from that eagle's nest except in an air-ship. We'll go down right away."
The Lady Margaret rose in a slanting direction toward the submarine, and came to a rest on the narrow rocky plateau on which it was lying. As the gangway door opened for Paul to go and reconnoiter, a grisly head showed itself above the hatch-coamings and a weak voice with a strong American accent exclaimed:
"Well, I'm darned! Is that you, Mr. Kingston, after all? We was beginning to allow that you never was coming, and I reckon you've not come any too soon."
"Doesn't look it, Pullitzer," replied Paul cheerily; "anyhow, we're here now. Have you got all hands there?"
"Yes, sir," replied the captain of the submarine, "all ours and the Ariel's, too, but some of them's pretty badly hurt, like the rest of us. Will you come on board, sir?"
"Certainly," replied Paul, running down the steps while Pullitzer and another got out the side-ladder of the submarine.
Lady Margaret, watching him from the lower cabin, at once guessed what was the matter and immediately set to work with the assistance of the cook and steward to get things ready for the invalids. Captain Vinton and the rest of the crew went on board the submarine, and within an hour nine sorely wounded and battered men, most of them with broken arms or legs or both, were safely laid in the berths of the air-ship.
Captain Pullitzer, a big-boned, leather-skinned "Nantucker," though badly shaken, was the only really whole man on board, and so it fell to him, when the wrecks of the Ariel and the submarine had been blown up, to tell as an eye-witness the story of the catastrophe which Paul had suspected in faraway London.
He told it at lunch that day when the Lady Margaret was winging her way home at full speed.
His story was brief, but it had a lot of tragedy in it.
"It was this way, Mr. Kingston and your ladyship," he began. "Getting on for five weeks agone now—I can't fix the day by the calendar 'cause most of us were delirious for quite a while after the bust-up—the Ariel was aloft scouting as usual in the first of the dawn when she sees something flashing in the sun above the clouds, and presently the Anonyma comes rushing up out of the nor'east'ard, slows down, runs alongside, hoists a foreign flag—Russian, I believe—and half paralyzes Cap'n Forrester by calling on him to surrender his ship.
"Well, sir, I don't need to tell you that he wasn't taking any surrender in his just then, so, obeying the maneuver instructions, he drops the Ariel plumb through the clouds right under the other. She dropped after him, shot ahead, and let go a torpedo. It just missed him and hit the earth below.
"Whether that started the earthquake or not, I don't know, but it made a mighty good imitation of one on its own account.
"Forrester, bein' bottom dog, as you might say, couldn't use his torpedoes, so he shot ahead, too, rose a bit, and just as the Anonyma slipped another torpedo, he let go with one of his after guns. Then no one knows just what did happen.
"Maybe the shell hit the torpedo, maybe the darned thing went off of itself. Anyhow, there was an explosion that seemed to heave the earth up and bring the heavens down to meet it. When things settled down a bit we, down in the harbor, of course, saw the Ariel slithering down slantways a lot too fast for her health. Still, she reached ground without quite smashing herself, though she broke pretty nearly every darned thing inside her, including the crew, as you see."
"And what became of the Anonyma, Mr. Pullitzer?" asked Lady Margaret, who had so far listened with rapt attention, but could control her impatience no longer. "Did she come to grief, too?"
"Your ladyship," replied the captain very seriously, "I'm not a superstitions man. Maybe I might have found more religion when I was about it, and kept more than I did, but I'm certain there was a lot of bad, hard cases aboard that craft, and they went home a darned sight sooner than they expected.
"What I saw of their going was this way. When the smoke cleared we could see the Anonyma p'r'aps a thousand feet plumb over the lake, twisting round and dropping like a winged duck. Then all of a moment she up-ended and flashed down stem first into the golden sea they'd come to steal. It may have been a judgment or just, their mean luck, but my dollars would go on judgment every time."
"Awful, isn't it, Paul?" gasped Lady Margaret, whose cheeks had paled as she followed the simply worded yet graphic recital. "What a fate! And what happened then, Mr. Pullitzer?"
"That, my lady," he replied, with something like a look of fear coming into his clear gray eyes—"that is what no man alive can tell you. Cap'n Forrester, who's a bit of a boss at science, allowed that when the air-ship plunged from that height into the lake, she stuck in the throat of the volcano and sort of corked it up. And then what he calls the natural forces underneath got heaving around, and, finding the safety-valve, so to speak, jammed, sent lake, mountain, and all kite high.
"Anyhow all we ever knew was that the earth went up and the heavens came down and mixed themselves up in one almighty tangle of smoke and flame, and then the Pacific Ocean took charge, as if it wanted to put the fire out.
"Bay and harbor were gone in a minute. The mountains came down, and we whooped over them at about a thousand miles an hour.
"Then there came a mighty smash, and knocked us all to sleep in less than a wink. I guess that was when we grounded where you found us.
"When we came round there was hardly a whole bone in the ship. I was the only one that wasn't broken up, and when I could walk I started out to see if I could find anything of the Ariel.
"She was lying, as you saw, about half a mile further along the slope. We didn't stop to find out what sort of miracle had planted her so near to us, but somehow we managed to get all hands into the submarine, and there you found us. If you hadn't, it would have wanted another miracle to get us off that precipice.
"Now I reckon that's about all I can tell you, your ladyship and you, Mr. Kingston, about the final bust-up of the Lake of Gold."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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