Part 3 out of 8
THE BATTLE OF VIBRATIONS
Two, five, a dozen, now a score of tiny specks dotted the mist,
some moving right across the broadening face of the sun itself. As
_Nissr's_ flight stormed eastward, and these gnats drove to the west,
their total rate of approach must have been tremendous; for even as
the men watched, they seemed to find the attackers growing in bulk.
And now more and ever more appeared, transpiring from the bleeding
vapors of dawn.
"Looks like business, sir!" exclaimed the Celt, his jaw hard.
"Bad business for us, eh?"
"It might be, if we had only the usual means of defense. Under
ordinary circumstances, our only game would be to turn tail and run
for it, or cut away far to the south--or else break out a white flag
and surrender. But--"
"That must be the Azores air-fleet," judged Bohannan. "The others
couldn't have made so much westing, in this time. Faith, what a
buzzing swarm of mosquitoes! I had no idea there were that many planes
on the Azores International Air Board station!"
"There are many things you have no idea of, Major," replied the
Master, sharply. "That, however, is immaterial. Yes, here come the
fringes of attack, all right enough. I estimate forty or fifty in
sight, already; and there must be a few hundred back of those, between
here and land, north and south. Technically, we're pirates, you know."
"Pirates?" demanded the major, lowering his glass.
The Master nodded.
"Yes," he answered. "That's what the wireless tells us. We'll get
short shrift if--my apparatus fails."
"How do they make us out pirates?" Bohannan ejaculated. It was not
fear that looked from his blue eyes, but a vast astonishment. His
ruddy face, amazed under the now strengthening light of day, brought a
smile to the Master's lips.
"What else are we, my dear fellow?" the Master queried. "To seize a
ship--a water-ship or one of the air matters nothing--and to overpower
the crew, kill or wound a few, throw them outboard and sail away,
comes pretty near constituting piracy. Of course the air-rules and
laws aren't wholly settled yet; but we're in a fair way of giving the
big-wigs a whacking precedent to govern the future. I fancy a good
many cases will be judged as _per_ the outcome of this expedition.
"We're pirates all right--if they catch us. And they _will_ catch
us if they get within gunshot. The next few minutes will settle that
question of whether they're going to, or not!"
"Nice, comforting prospect!" muttered the Celt. "What do they do
with pirates, anyhow, these days? They can't hang us at the yard-arm,
because airships don't have 'em. Of course they might stage a
hanging-bee with this Legion dangling from the wings, but that would
be pretty hard to manage. It'll be shooting, eh?"
"Probably, if my neutralizer fails."
"You're cheerful about it! The neutralizer may be all right, in its
way, but personally I'm rather strong for these!" He laid a hand on
the breech of the Lewis machine-gun mounted in the gallery, its grim
muzzle pointed out through a slit in the colloid screen. "The six guns
we've got aboard, in strategic positions, look like good medicine
to _me_! Wouldn't it be the correct thing to call the gun-crews and
limber up a little? These chaps aren't going to be all day in getting
here, and when they do--"
"I admire your spirit, Major," interrupted the other, with undertones
of mockery, "but it's of the quality that, after all, can't accomplish
anything. It's the kind that goes against artillery with rifles.
Six guns against perhaps six hundred--and we're not built for rapid
maneuvering. That swarm could sting us a thousand times while we were
giving them the first round. No, no, there's nothing for it now, but
"My will is made, anyhow," growled Bohannan. "Faith, I'm glad it is!"
The Master gave no reply, but took from the rail the little phone that
hung there, and pressed a button, four times. He cupped the receiver
at his ear.
"You, Enemark?" asked he, of the man at the neutralizer far down in
the penetralia of the giant air-liner. "Throw in the first control.
Half-voltage, for three minutes. Then three-quarters, for two; and
then full, with all controls. Understand?"
"Yes, sir!" came the crisp voice of Enemark. "Perfectly!"
The Master hung up the receiver, and for a moment stood brooding.
An intruding thought had once more forced itself into his brain--a
thought of "Captain Alden." In case of capture or destruction, what
of the woman? Something very like a pang of human emotion pierced
his heart. Impatiently he thrust the thought aside, and turned with a
quiet smile to Bohannan.
The major, red with excitement and impatience, still had a hand on the
machine-gun. He was patting it slightly, his face eloquent of longing
"Still pinning your faith to steel-jacketed streams of bullets,
are you, as against ion-jacketed streams of vibrations?" the Master
rallied him. "We shall see, immediately, whether you're right or _I_
am! Bullets are all well enough in their place, Major, but electrons
are sometimes necessary. Vibrations, Major--I pin my faith to
"Vibrate all you want to!" exclaimed the Celt, irefully, his eyes on
the thickening swarm of flyers, some of them now plainly visible in
detail against the aching smears of color flung across the eastern
reaches of cloudland. "Vibrate away; but give me _this_!" He fondled
the gleaming gun as if it had been a pet. "I tell you frankly, if
I were in charge here, I'd let the vibrations go to Hell and begin
pumping lead. I'd have all gun-crews at stations, and the second we
got in range I'd open with all six Lewises!"
"Yes, and Nissr would go crumpling down, a minute later, a blazing
sieve fore-and-aft--wings, tanks, fuselage, everything riddled
with thousands of bullets. Vibration is the trick, I tell you. It's
"All life is vibration. When it ceases, that is death--and even dead
matter vibrates. All our senses depend on vibration. Everything we
feel, see, hear, taste, comes to our knowledge through vibrations.
And the receptive force in us is vibration, too. The brain is just one
great, central ganglion for the taking in of vibrations.
"The secret of life, of the universe itself, is vibration. If we
understood all about that, the cosmos would have no secrets from us.
So now--ah, see there, will you? See, Major, and be convinced!"
He pointed eastward, into the blazing sunrise. The out-fling of his
arm betrayed more human emotion than he had yet shown. Exultation
leaped to his usually impassive eyes. Surely, had not this
expedition--which he had hoped would give surcease from ennui and stir
the pulses--had it not already yielded dividends? Had it not already
very richly repaid him?
"See there, now!" he cried again, and gripped the rail with nervous
"Lord above!" ejaculated the major, squinting through his binoculars.
"Astonished, eh?" demanded the Master, smiling with malice. "Didn't
think it would work, did you? Well, which do you choose now,
Major--bullets or vibrations?"
"This--this is extraordinary!" exclaimed Bohannan. His glasses
traveled to and fro, sweeping the fringelike fan of the attackers,
still five or six miles away. "Faith, but this is--"
The binoculars lowered slowly, as Bohannan watched a falling plane.
Everywhere ahead there in the brazier of the dawn, as the two men
stood watching from the wind-lashed gallery of the on-roaring liner,
attackers were dropping. All along the line they had begun to fall,
like ripe fruit in a hurricane.
Not in bursts of flame did they go plunging down the depths, gyrating
like mad comets with long smoke-trailers and redly licking manes of
fire. Not in shattered fragments did they burst and plumb the abyss.
No; quite intact, unharmed, but utterly powerless they fell.
Some spiraled down, like dead leaves twirling in autumnal breezes,
with drunken yaws and pitches. Others in long slants volplaned toward
the hidden sea, miles below the cloud-plain. A few pitched over and
over, or slid away in nose-dives and tail-spins. But one and all, as
they crossed what seemed an invisible line drawn out there ahead of
the onrushing Eagle of the Sky, bowed to some mysterious force.
It seemed almost as if _Nissr_ were the center of a vast sphere that
moved with her--a sphere through which no enemy could pass--a sphere
against the intangible surface of which even the most powerful engines
of the air dashed themselves in vain.
And still, as others and still others came charging up to the attack
like knights in joust, they fell. One by one the white wool cushions
of the cloud, gold-broidered by the magic needles of the sun, received
them. One by one they faded, vanished, were no more.
So, all disappeared. Between a hundred and a hundred and twenty-five
planes were silently, swiftly, resistlessly sent down in no more
than twenty minutes, while the watchers stood there in the gallery,
fascinated by the wondrous precision and power of this new and
far-outflung globe of protection.
And again the blood-red morning sky grew clear of attackers. Again,
between high heaven's black vault and the fantastic continent of cloud
below, nothing remained but free vacancy. The Master smiled.
"Vibrations, my dear Major!" said he. "Neutralize the currents
delivered by the magnetos of hostile planes to their spark-plugs, and
you transform the most powerful engines into inert matter. Not all the
finely adjusted mechanism in the world, nor the best of petrol, nor
yet the most perfect skill is worth _that_," with a snap of the strong
fingers, "when the spark dies.
"My device is the absolute ruler of whatever spark I direct it
against. Our own ignition is screened; but all others within the
critical radius become impotent. So you recognize, do you not, the
uselessness of machine-guns? The groundlessness of any fears about the
Air Patrol's forces?"
"Lord, but this is wonderful!" Bohannan ejaculated. "If we'd only had
this in the Great War, the Hun would have been wiped out in a month!"
"Yes, but we didn't have it," the Master smiled. "I've just finished
perfecting it. Put the last touches on it hardly twenty-four hours
ago. If there's ever another war, though--ah, see there, now! Here
comes one lone, last attacker!"
He pointed. Far at the edge of empty cloudland, now less blood-stained
and becoming a ruddy pink under the risen sun, a solitary aerial
jouster had grown visible.
The last attacker appeared a feeble gnat to dance thus alone in the
eye of morning. That one plane should, unaided, drive on at _Nissr's_
huge, rushing bulk, seemed as preposterous as a mosquito trying
to lance a rhinoceros. The major directed a careful lens at this
"He has his nerve right in his baggage with him," announced the Celt.
"Sure, he's 'there.' There can be no doubt he's seen the others fall.
Yet--what now? He's turning tail, eh? He's on the run?"
"Not a bit of it! He's driving straight ahead. That was only a dip and
turn, for better air. Ah, but he's good, that fellow! There's a man
after my own heart, Major. Maybe there's more than one, aboard that
plane. But there's one, anyhow, that's a real man!"
The Master pondered a moment, then again picked up the phone.
"Enemark?" he called. "That you?"
"Hello! Yes, sir! What orders, sir?"
"Cut off the ray! Quick, there!"
"Yes, sir!" And through the phone the Master heard the _snick_ of a
switch being hastily thrown.
"What's the idea, now?" demanded the major, astonished. "Going to let
that plane close in on us, and maybe riddle us?"
The Master smiled, as he made answer:
"I'll chance the bullets, this time. There's a _man_ on board that
plane. A _man_! And we--need men!"
The Master smiled, as he made answer:
"I'll chance the bullets, this time. There's a man on board that
plane. A man! And we--need men!"
LECLAIR, ACE OF FRANCE
Swooping, rising, falling like a falcon in swift search of quarry, the
last plane of the Azores squadron swept in toward the on-rushing Eagle
of the Sky.
Undismayed by the swift, inexplicable fall of all its companions, it
still thrust on for the attack. In a few minutes it had come off the
port bows of the giant air-liner, no more than half a mile distant.
Now the watchers saw it, slipping through some tenuous higher
cloud-banks that had begun to gather, a lean, swift, wasplike
speedster: one of the Air Control Board's--the A.C.B.'s--most rapid
aerial police planes. The binoculars of the Master and Bohannan drew
the machine almost to fingers' touch.
"Only one man aboard her, with a machine-gun," commented the Master,
eyes at glass, as he watched the flick of sunlight on the attacker's
fuselage, the dip and glitter of her varnished wings, the blur of her
propellers. Already the roaring of her exhaust gusted down to them.
"Ah, see? She's turning, now. Banking around! We may catch a burst of
machine-gun fire, in a minute. Or, no--she's coming up on our tail,
Major. I think she's going to try and board us!"
"You going to let her?" protestingly demanded Bohannan. His hand
twitched against the butt of the Lewis. "In two seconds I could sight
an aft gun, sir, and blow that machine Hell-for-leather!"
"No, no--let that fellow come aboard, if he wants," the Master
commanded. And with eager curiosity in his dark eyes, with vast wonder
what manner of human this might be who--all alone after having seen
more than a hundred comrades plunge--still ventured closing to grips,
the Master watched.
The air-wasp was already swerving, making a spiral glide, coming up
astern with obvious intentions. As the two men watched--and as a score
of other eyes, from other galleries and ports likewise observed--the
lean wasp carried out her driver's plan. With a sudden, plunging
swoop, she dived at the Eagle of the Sky for all the world like a hawk
stooping at quarry.
A moment she kept pace with the air-liner's whirring rush. She
hovered, dropped with a wondrous precision that proved her rider's
consummate skill, made a perfect landing on the long take-off that
stretched from rudders to wing observation galleries, atop the liner.
Forward on _Nissr_ the wasp ran on her small, cushioned wheels. She
stopped, with jammed-on brakes, and came to rest not forty feet abaft
the Eagle's beak.
Quite at once, without delay, the little door of the pilot-pit in the
wasp's head swung wide, and a heavily-swaddled figure clambered out.
This figure stood a moment, peering about through goggles. Then with a
free, quick stride, he started forward toward the gallery where he had
seen Bohannan and the Master.
The two awaited him. Confidently he came into the wind-shielded
gallery on top of _Nissr's_ port plane. He advanced to within
about six feet, stopped, gave the military salute--which they both
returned--and in a throaty French that marked him as from Paris,
"Which of you gentlemen is in command, here?"
"_Moi, monsieur!_" answered the Master, also speaking French. "And
what is your errand?"
"I have come to inform you, in the name of the A.C.B.'s law,
recognized as binding by all air-traffic, that you and your entire
crew are under arrest."
"Indeed? And then--"
"I am to take charge of this machine at once, and proceed with it as
per further instructions from International Aerial headquarters at
"Very interesting news, no doubt," replied the Master, unmoved. "But I
cannot examine your credentials, nor can we negotiate matters of such
importance in so off-hand a manner. This gallery will not serve. Pray
accompany me to my cabin?"
"_Parfaitement, monsieur!_ I await your pleasure!"
The stranger's gesture, his bow, proclaimed the Parisian as well as
his speech. The Master nodded. All three proceeded in silence to
the hooded companion-way at the forward end of the take-off, that
sheltered the ladder. This they descended, to the main corridor.
There they paused, a moment.
"Major," said the Master, "pardon me, but I wish to speak to
our--guest, alone. You understand."
The major's glance conveyed a world of indignant protest, but he
obeyed in silence. When he had withdrawn into the smoke-room, where
a brooding pipe would ill divert his mind from various wild
speculations, the Master slid open his own cabin door, and extended a
hand of welcome toward it.
"_Apres vous, monsieur!_" said he.
The A.C.B. officer entered, his vigorous, compact figure alive with
energy, intelligence. The Master followed, slid the door shut and
motioned to a chair beside the desk. This chair, of metal, was itself
placed upon a metal plate. The plate was new. At our last sight of the
cabin, it had not been there.
Taking off goggles and gauntlets, and throwing open his sheepskin
jacket, the Frenchman sat down. The Master also plate was new. At our
last sight of the cabin, it had not been there.
Taking off goggles and gauntlets, and throwing open his sheepskin
jacket, the Frenchman sat down. The Master also sat down at the desk.
A brief silence, more pregnant than any speech, followed. Each man
narrowly appraised the other. Then said the newcomer, still in that
admirable French of his:
"You understand, of course, _n'est-ce pas?_ that it is useless to
offer any resistance to the authority of the A.C.B."
"May I take the liberty of inquiring what your credentials may be, and
with whom I have the great pleasure of speaking?" returned the Master.
His eyes, mirroring admiration, peered with some curiosity at the
dark, lean face of the Frenchman.
"I," answered the other, "am Lieutenant Andre Leclair, formerly of
the French flying forces, now a commander in the International Air
"Leclair?" demanded the Master quickly, his face lighting with a
glad surprise. "Leclair, of the Mesopotamian campaign? Leclair, the
"Leclair, nothing else. I deprecate the adjectives."
The Master's hand went out. The other took it. For a moment their grip
held, there under the bright white illumination of the cabin--for,
though daylight had begun fingering round the drawn curtains, the
glow-lamps still were burning.
The hand-clasp broke. Leclair began:
"As for you, monsieur, I already know you, of course. You are--"
The Master raised a palm of protest.
"Who I am does not matter," said he. "I am not a man, but an idea. My
personality does not count. All that counts is the program, the plan I
"Many here do not even know my name. No man speaks it. I am quite
anonymous; quite so. Therefore I pray you, keep silent on that matter.
What, after all, is the significance of a name? You are an ace, an
officer. So am I."
"True, very true. Therefore I more keenly regret the fact that I must
place you under arrest, and that charges of piracy in the high air
must be lodged against you."
"Thank you for the regret, indeed," answered the Master dryly. Save
for the fact that this strange man never laughed and seldom smiled,
one would have thought the odd twinkle in his eye prefaced merriment.
"Well, what now?"
The Frenchman produced a silver cigarette-case, opened it and extended
it toward the man now technically his prisoner. As yet he had said no
word concerning the tremendous execution done the air police forces.
His offer of the cigarettes was as calm, as courteous as if they two
had met under circumstances of the most casual amity. The Master waved
the cigarettes away.
"Thank you, no," said he. "I never smoke. But you will perhaps pardon
me if I nibble two or three of these khat leaves. You yourself, from
your experience in Oriental countries, know the value of khat."
"I do, indeed," said the other, his eyes lighting up.
"And may I offer you a few leaves?"
"_Merci_! I thank you, but tobacco still satisfies." The Frenchman
lighted his cigarette, blew thin smoke, and cast intelligent, keen
eyes about the cabin. Said he:
"You will not, of course, offer any resistance. I realize that I am
here among a large crew of men. I am all alone, it is true. You could
easily overpower me, throw me into the sea, and _voila_--I die. But
that would not be of any avail to you.
"Already perhaps a hundred and fifty air police have fallen this
morning. It is strange. I do not understand, but such is the fact.
Nevertheless, I am here, myself. I have survived--survived, to convey
organized society's message of arrest. Individuals do not count.
They are only representatives of the mass-power of society. _N'est-ce
"Quite correct. And then--"
"Sooner or later you must land somewhere for petrol, you know. For
_essence_, eh? Just as sea-pirates were wiped out by the coming of
steam-power, which they had to adopt and which forced them to call
at ports for coal, so air-pirates will perish because they must have
essence. That is entirely obvious. Have I the honor of your signed
surrender, my dear sir, including that of all your men?"
"Just one question, please!"
"A thousand, if you like," smiled the Parisian, inhaling smoke. His
courtesy was perfect, but the glint of his eye made one think of a
tiger that purrs, with claws ready to strike.
"What," demanded the Master, "is your opinion of the peculiar and
sudden fall of all your companions?"
"I have no opinion as to that. Strange air-currents, failure of
ignition due to lack of oxygen--how do I know? A thousand things may
happen in the air."
"Not to more than a hundred planes, all in a half-hour."
The Frenchman shrugged indifferent shoulders and smiled.
"It does not signify, in the least," he murmured. "I am here. That
"Do you realize that I, perhaps, have forces at my command which may
negative ordinary conditions and recognized laws?"
"Nothing can negative the forces of organized society. I repeat my
request, _monsieur_, for your unconditional written surrender."
The Master's hand slid over the desk and rested a moment on a button
there. A certain slight tremor passed through the Frenchman's body.
Into his eyes leaped an expression of wonder, of astonishment. His
mouth quivered, as if he would have spoken; but he remained dumb.
The hand that held his cigarette, resting on his knee, relaxed; the
cigarette fell, smoldering, to the metal plate. And on the instant the
fire in it died, extinguished by some invisible force.
"Are you prepared to sign a receipt for this airship, if I deliver her
over to you, sir?" demanded the Master, still speaking in French. He
No answer. A certain swelling of the Frenchman's throat became
visible, and his lips twitched slightly, but no sound was audible. A
dull flush mounted over his bronzed cheek.
"Ah, you do not answer?" asked the other, with indulgent patronage.
"I assume, however, that you have the authority to accept my surrender
and that of my crew. I assume, also, that you are willing to sign for
the airship." He opened a drawer, took a paper, and on it wrote a few
words. These he read over carefully, adding a comma, a period.
Leclair watched him with fixed gaze, struggling against some strange
paralysis that bound him with unseen cords of steel. The Frenchman's
eyes widened, but remained unblinking with a sort of glazed fixity.
The Master slid the paper toward him on the desk.
"_Voila, monsieur!_" said he. "Will you sign this?"
A shivering tremor of the Frenchman's muscles, as the ace sat there so
strangely silent and motionless, betrayed the effort he was making
to rise, to lift even a hand. Beads of sweat began to ooze on his
forehead; veins to knot there Still he remained seated, without power
to speak or move.
"What? You do not accept?" asked the Master, frowning as with
puzzlement and displeasure. "But, _allons donc!_ this is strange
indeed. Almost as strange as the fact that your whole air-squadron,
with the sole exception of your own plane, was dropped through the
"I have no wish unnecessarily to trouble your mind. Let me state the
facts. Not one of those machines was precipitated into the sea. No
life was lost. Ah, that astonishes you?"
The expression in the Frenchman's face betrayed intense amazement,
through his eyes alone. The rest of his features remained almost
immobile. The Master smiling, continued:
"The fleet was dropped to exactly one thousand feet above the sea.
There the inhibition on the engines was released and the engines began
functioning again. So no harm was done. But not one of those machines
can rise again higher than one thousand feet until I so choose.
"They are all hopelessly outdistanced, far down there below the
cloud-floor. Midges could catch a hawk as readily as _they_ could
overhaul this Eagle of the Sky.
"Nowhere within a radius of twenty-five miles can any of those planes
rise to our level. This is curious, but true. In the same way, on much
the same principle, though through a very different application of it,
you cannot speak or move until I so desire. All your voluntary muscles
are completely, even though temporarily, paralyzed. The involuntary
ones, which carry on your vital processes, are untouched.
"In one way, _monsieur_, you are as much alive as ever In another you
are almost completely dead. Your fleet has enjoyed the distinction of
having been the very first to serve as the object of a most important
experiment. Likewise, your own person has had the honor of serving
as material for another experiment, equally important--an experiment
whose effect on your body is similar to that of the first one on the
"You can hear me, perfectly. You can see me. I ask you to watch me
closely. Then consider, if you please, the matter of placing me under
His hand touched a small disk near the button he had first pressed;
a disk of some strange metal, iridescent, gleaming with a peculiar
greenish patina that, even as one watched it, seemed to blend into
other shades, as an oil-scum transmutes its hues on water.
Now a faint, almost inaudible hum began to make itself heard. This hum
was not localized. One could not have told exactly whence it came. It
filled the cabin with a kind of soft murmuring that soothed the senses
like the drowsy undertone of bees at swarm.
For a moment nothing happened. Then the pupils of Leclair's eyes began
to dilate with astonishment. Immovable though he still remained, the
most intense wonder made itself apparent in his look. Even something
akin to fear was mirrored in his gaze. Again his lips twitched. Though
he could form no word, a dry, choking gasp came from his throat.
And there was cause for astonishment; yes, even for fear. A thing
was beginning to take place, there in the brightly lighted cabin of
_Nissr_, such as man's eye never yet had beheld.
The Master was disappearing.
MIRACLES, SCOURGE OF FLAME
His form, sitting there at the desk--his face wearing an odd
smile--had already begun to grow less distinct. It seemed as if the
light surrounding him had faded, though everywhere else in the cabin
it still gleamed with its accustomed brilliance. And as this light
around him began to blur into a russet dimness, forming a sort of
screen between him and visibility, the definition of his outlines
began to melt away.
The Master still remained visible, as a whole; but the details of him
were surely vanishing. And as they vanished, faintly a high-light, a
shadow, a bit of metal-work showed through the space where he sat.
He seemed a kind of dissolving cloud, through which now more and more
clearly objects beyond him could be distinguished. Impossible though
this seemed, it was indubitably true.
As he disappeared, he kept speaking. The effect of that undiminished
voice, calm, slow, resonant, issuing from that disintegrating vapor,
stirred the hair on the captive Frenchman's neck and scalp.
"Vibration, _mon cher monsieur_," said he, "is everything. According
to the researches of the Ecole Polytechnique, in Paris--no doubt you,
yourself, have studied there, _n'est-ce pas?_--vibration of the first
octave from 2 to 8 per second, give us no sense-impression. From the
fourth to the fifteenth octave, 16 to 32,768 per second, we get sound.
The qualities of the 16th to the 24th are--or have been, until I
investigated--quite unknown. The 25th to the 35th, 33, 554, 432 to 34,
859, 738, 868 vibrations per second, give us electricity. Thence to
the 45th, again unknown.
"The 4th to the 48th give us heat. The 49th gives light The 50th,
chemical rays, vibrating 1, 125, 899, 906, 842, 624 per second. The
51st to the 57th have never been touched by anyone save myself. The
X-ray group extends from the 58th to the 61st octave. The 62d, with 4,
611, 686, 427, 889, 904 vibrations per second, is a field where only
I have worked. And beyond these, no doubt, other octaves extend with
"You will note, _monsieur_," he continued, while the dun penumbra
still more and more withdrew him from Leclair's sight, "that great
lacunae exist in the scale of vibratory phenomena. Some of the
so-called lower animals take cognizance of vibrations that mean
nothing to us. Insects hear notes far above our dull ears. Ants are
susceptible to lights and colors unseen to our limited eyes. The
emperor-moth calls its mate--so says Fabre--by means of olfactory
vibrations totally uncomprehended by us. The universe is full of hues,
tones, radiant phenomena that escape us, because our senses are not
attuned to them."
Steadily he spoke, and steadily the humming drone that filled the
cabin kept its undertones that lulled, that soothed. The Frenchman,
staring, hardly breathed. Rigid he sat and pale, with sweat now slowly
guttering down his face, his jaws clamped hard and white.
"If the true nature of the universe could suddenly be revealed to our
senses," went on the Master, now hardly more than a dull blur, "we
could not survive. The crash of cosmic sound, the blaze of strange
lights, the hurricane forces of tempestuous energies sweeping space
would blind, deafen, shrivel, annihilate us like so many flies swept
into a furnace. Nature has been kind; she has surrounded us with
natural ray-filters of protection."
His voice now seemed issuing from a kind of vacancy. Save for a slight
darkening of the air, nothing was visible of him. He went on:
"With our limited senses we are, in a way, merely peeping out
of little slits in an armored conning-tower of life, out at the
stupendous vibratory battles of the cosmos. Other creatures, in other
planets, no doubt have other sense-organs to absorb other vibratory
ranges. Their life-experiences are so different from ours that
we could not possibly grasp them, any more than a blind man could
understand a painting.
"Nor could those creatures understand human life. We are safe in
our own little corner of the universe, comfortably sheltered in our
vestments of clay. And what we cannot understand, though it is all
perfectly natural, we call religion, the supernatural, God."
From a great vacancy, the Master's words proceeded. Leclair, tugging
in vain at the bonds that, invisible yet strong as steel, held him
powerless, stared with wild eyes.
"There is no supernatural," said the now disembodied voice. "What
we call spirit, psychic force, hypnosis, spiritualism, the fourth
dimension, is really only life on another scale of vibration. If we
could see the whole scale, we would recognize it as a vast, coherent,
perfectly natural and rational whole, in which we human beings fill
but a very insignificant part. That, monsieur, is absolutely true!
"I have investigated, I have ventured along the coasts of the unknown
vibratory sea, and even sailed out a little way on the waters of
that unknown, mysterious ocean. Yet even I know nothing. What you are
beholding now is simply a slightly new form of vibratory effect. The
force that is holding you paralyzed on that chair is still another. A
third, sent down the air-squadron. And--there are many more.
"I am not really vanishing. That is but an illusion of your senses,
unable to penetrate the screen surrounding me. I am still here, as
materially as ever. Illusion, _mon cher monsieur_, yet to you very
The voice seemed moving about. The Frenchman now perceived something
like a kind of moving blur in the cabin. It appeared a sort of hole of
darkness, in the light; and yet the light shone through it, too.
Every human eye has a blind spot in the retina. When things pass over
this blind spot, they absolutely vanish; the other eye supplies the
missing object. To the French ace it seemed that his eyes were all
blind spots, so far as the Master was concerned. The effect of this
vacancy moving about, shifting a chair, stirring a book, speaking to
him like a spirit disembodied, its footfalls audible but its own self
invisible, chilled the captive's blood. The Master said:
"Now I have totally disappeared from your eye or any other material
eye. I cannot even see myself! No doubt dwellers on some other planet
would perceive me by some means we cannot imagine. Yet I am materially
here. You feel my touch, now, on your shoulder. See, now I put out the
lights; now I draw aside this curtain, and admit the golden morning
radiance. You see that radiance, but you do not see me.
"A miracle? _Pas du tout!_ Nothing but an application of perfectly
natural laws. And so--well, now let us come back to the matter under
discussion. You have come hither to arrest me, _monsieur_. What do
you think of arresting me, now? I am going to leave that to your own
His voice approached the desk. The chair moved slightly, and gave
under his weight. Something touched the button on the desk. Something
pressed the iridescent metal disk. The humming note sank, faded, died
Gradually a faint haze gathered in the chair. Dim, brownish fog
congealed there. The chair became clouded with it; and behind that
chair objects grew troubled, turbid, vague.
The ace felt inhibitions leaving him. His eyes began to blink; his
half-opened mouth closed with a snap; a long, choking groan escaped
"_Nom de Dieu_" he gulped, and fell weakly to rubbing his arms and
legs that still prickled with a numb tingling. "_Mais, nom de Dieu!_"
The Master, now swiftly becoming visible, stood up again, smiled,
advanced toward his guest--or prisoner, if you prefer.
A moment he stood there, till every detail had grown as clear as
before this astounding demonstration of his powers. Then he stretched
forth his hand.
"Leclair," said he, in a voice of deep feeling, "I know and appreciate
you for a man of parts, of high courage and devotion to duty in the
face of almost certain death. The manner in which you came ahead, even
after all your companions had fallen--in which you boarded us, with
the strong probability of death confronting you, proves you the kind
of man who wins and keeps respect among fighting men.
"If you still desire my arrest and the delivery to you of this
air-liner, I am at your complete disposal. You have only to sign the
receipt I have already written. If--" and for a moment the Master
paused, while his dark eyes sought and held the other's, "if,
_monsieur_, you desire to become one of the Flying Legion, and to take
part in the greatest adventure ever conceived by the mind of man, in
the name of all the Legion I welcome you to comradeship!"
"_Dieu_!" choked the lieutenant, gripping the Master's hand. "You mean
"Yes, that you can be one of us."
"Can that be true?"
The Master's right hand closed firmly on Leclair's. The Master's other
hand went out and gripped him by the shoulder.
To his feet sprang the Frenchman. Though still shaken and trembling,
he drew himself erect. His right hand loosened itself from the
Master's; it went to his aviator's helmet in a sharp salute.
"_J'y suis! J'y reste!_" cried he. "_Mon capitaine!_"
The day passed uneventfully, at high altitudes, steadily rushing
into the eye of the East. In the stillness and solitude of the upper
air-lanes, _Nissr_ roared onward, invincibly, with sun and sky above,
with shining clouds piled below in swiftly retreating masses that spun
away to westward.
Far below, sea-storm and rain battled over the Atlantic. Upborne on
the wings of the eastward-setting wind, _Nissr_ felt nothing of such
trivialities. Twice or thrice, gaps in the cloud-veil let dim ocean
appear to the watchers in the glass observation pits; and once
they spied a laboring speck on the waters--a great passenger-liner,
worrying toward New York in heavy weather. The doings of such, and of
the world below, seemed trivial to the Legionaries as follies of dazed
No further attack was made on _Nissr_, nor was anything seen of any
other air-squadron of International Police. The wireless picked up,
however, a cross-fire of dazed, uncomprehending messages being hurled
east and west, north and south--messages of consternation, doubt,
The world, wholly at a loss to understand the thing that had come upon
it, was listening to reports from the straggling Azores fleet as it
staggered into various ports. Every continent already was buzzing with
alarm and rage. In less than eighteen hours the calm and peaceful ways
of civilization had received an epoch-making jar. All civilization was
by the ears--it had become a hornet's nest prodded by a pole no one
could understand or parry.
And the Master, sitting at his desk with reports and messages piling
up before him, with all controls at his finger-tips, smiled very
grimly to himself.
"If they show such hysteria at just the initial stages of the game,"
he murmured, "what will they show when--"
The Legion had already begun to fall into well-disciplined routine,
each man at his post, each doing duty to the full, whether that
duty lay in pilot-house or cooks' galley, in engine-room or pit, in
sick-bay or chartroom. The gloom caused by the death and burial at
sea of Travers, the New Zealander, soon passed. This was a company
of fighting men, inured to death in every form. And death they had
reckoned as part of the payment to be made for their adventuring.
This, too, helped knit the fine mass-spirit already binding them
together into a coherent, battling group.
A little after two in the afternoon, _Nissr_ passed within far sight
of the Azores, visible in cloud-rifts as little black spots sown
on the waters like sparse seeds on a burnished plate of metal. This
habitation of man soon slipped away to westward, and once more nothing
remained but the clear, cold severity of space, with now and then a
racing drift of rain below, and tumbling, stormy weather all along the
The Master and Bohannan spent some time together after the Azores had
been dropped astern and off the starboard quarter. "Captain Alden"
remained in her cabin. She reported by phone, however, that the wound
was really only superficial, through the fleshy upper part of the
left arm. If this should heal by first intention, as it ought, no
complications were to be expected.
Day drew on toward the shank of the afternoon. The sun, rayless,
round, blue-white, lagged away toward the west, seeming to sway in
high heaven as _Nissr_ took her long dips with the grace and swiftness
of a flying falcon. Some time later the cloud-masses thinned and broke
away, leaving the world of waters spread below in terrible immensity.
As the African coast drew near, its arid influences banished vapor.
Now, clear to the up-curving edge of the world, nothing could be seen
below save the steel-gray, shining plains of water. Waves seemed not
to exist. All looked smooth and polished as a mirror of bright metal.
At last, something like dim veils of whiteness began to draw and
shimmer on the eastern skyline--the vague glare of the sun-crisped
Sahara flinging its furnace ardor to the sky. To catch first sight
of land, the Master and Bohannan climbed the ladder again, to the
take-off, and thence made their way into the starboard observation
gallery. There they brought glasses to bear. Though nothing definite
could yet be seen through the shrouding dazzle that swaddled the
world's rim, this fore-hint of land confirmed their reckonings of
latitude and longitude.
"We can't be more than a hundred and fifty miles west of the
Canaries," judged the major. "Sure, we can eat supper tonight in an
oasis, if we're so minded--with Ouled Nails and houris to hand round
the palm-wine and--"
"You forget, my dear fellow," the Master interrupted, "that the first
man who goes carousing with wine or women, dies before a firing-squad.
That's not the kind of show we're running!"
"Ah, sure, I did forget!" admitted the Celt. "Well, well, a look at a
camel and a palm tree could do no harm. And it won't be long, at this
A sudden, violent concussion, far aft, sent a quivering shudder
through the whole fabric of the giant liner. Came a swift burst of
flame; black, greasy smoke gushed from the stern, trailing on the
high, cold air. Long fire-tongues, banners of incandescence, flailed
away, roaring into space.
Shouts burst, muffled, from below. A bell jangled madly. The crackle
of pistol-fire punched dully through the rushing swiftness.
With a curse the major whirled. Frowning, the Master turned and
peered. _Nissr_, staggering, tilted her beak sharply oceanward. At a
sick angle, she slid, reeling, toward the burnished, watery floor that
seemed surging up to meet her.
A hoarse shout from the far end of the take-off drew the Master's eyes
thither. With strange agility, almost apelike in its prehensile power,
a human figure came clambering up over the outer works, clutching at
stays, wires, struts.
Other shouts echoed thinly in the rarefied, high air. The climber
laughed with savage mockery.
"I've done for _you_!" he howled exultantly. "Fuel-tanks afire--you'll
all go to Hell blazing when they explode! But first--I'll get the boss
pirate of the outfit--"
Swiftly the clutching figure scrabbled in over the rail, dropped
to the metal plates of the take-off--now slanting steeply down and
forward--and broke into a staggering run directly toward the gallery
where stood Bohannan and the Master.
At the little ladder-housing sounded a warning shout. The head and
shoulders of Captain Alden became visible there. In Alden's right hand
glinted a service-revolver.
But already the attacker--the stowaway--had snatched a pistol from his
belt. And, as he plunged at full drive down the take-off platform, he
thrust the pistol forward.
Almost at point-blank range, howling maledictions, he hurled a
murderous fusillade at the Master of the now swiftly falling Eagle of
"CAPTAIN ALDEN" MAKES GOOD
The crash of shattered glass mingled with the volley flung by the
murderously spitting automatic of the stowaway. From the forward
companion, at the top of the ladder, "Captain Alden" fired--one shot
No second shot was needed. For the attacker, grunting, lunged forward,
fell prone, sprawled on the down-slanting plates of the take-off
platform. His pistol skidded away, clattering, over the buffed metal.
"As neat a shot as the other's was bad," calmly remarked the Master,
brushing from his sleeve some glittering splinters of glass. A lurch
of _Nissr_ threw him against the rail. He had to steady himself there,
a moment. Down his cheek, a trickle of blood serpented. "Yes, rather
neat," he approved.
He felt something warm on his face, put up his hand and inspected red
"Hm! A sliver from that broken shield must have cut me," said he, and
dismissed it wholly from his mind.
Major Bohannan, with chromatic profanity, ran from the gallery.
"Captain Alden" drew herself up the top rounds of the ladder, emerged
wholly from the companion and likewise started for the wounded
interloper. Both, as they ran aft toward the fallen man, zigzagged
with the pitch and yaw of the stricken airship, slipped on the plates,
staggered up the incline.
And others, from the aft companion, now came running with cries, their
bodies backgrounded by the leaping flames and smoke that formed a wake
behind the wounded Eagle of the Sky.
Before the major and Alden could reach the stowaway, he rallied. Up
to hands and knees he struggled. He dragged himself away to starboard.
Trailing blood, he scrambled to the rail.
The major snatched his revolver from its holster. Up came the
"Captain's" gun, once more.
"No, no!" the Master shouted, stung into sudden activity. "Not that!
Alive--take him alive!"
The stowaway's answer was a laugh of wild derision; a hideous, shrill,
tremulous laugh that rose in a kind of devilish, mockery on the air of
that high level. For just a second the man hung there, swaying, at the
rail. Beyond him, up the tilt of the falling _Nissr_, brighter flames
whipped back. Came a burst of smoke, another concussion, a shuddering
impact that trembled through the whole vast air-liner. White-hot
fire ribboned back and away, shredded into little, whirling gusts of
incandescence that dissolved in black smoke.
"Take me alive, eh?" the stowaway shouted, madly. "Ha-ha! I see you!
You're all dead men, anyhow! I'll go first--show you I'm not afraid!"
With astonishing agility he leaped. Hands on rail, with a last supreme
burst of the energy that innervated his dying body, he vaulted clear.
Out and away he hurled himself. Emptiness of space gathered him to its
dizzy, vacant horror.
The Master, quite unmindful of the quickening bloodstream down his
face and neck, looked sharply--as if impersonally interested in some
problem of ballistics--at the spinning, gyrating figure that with
grotesque contortions plummeted the depths.
Over and over, whirling with outflung arms and legs, dropped the
stowaway. Down though _Nissr_ herself was plunging, he fell faster.
Swiftly his body dwindled, shrinking to a dwarf, an antlike thing, a
black dot. Far below on the steely sea-plain, a tiny bubble of white
leaped out, then faded. That pinpoint of foam was the stowaway's
"Very good," approved the Master, unmoved. He lurched against the
rail, as a sudden maneuver of the pilot somewhat flattened out the
air-liner's fall. The helicopters began to turn, to buzz, to roar
into furious activity, seeking to check the plunge. The major came
staggering back. But quicker than he, "Captain Alden" was at the
"He shot you?" the woman cried, pointing.
"Bah! A splinter of glass!" And the Master shook off the blood with
a twitch of his head. "That was a neat bull's-eye you made on him,
Captain. It saves you from punishment for forgetting you were under
arrest; for climbing the ladder and coming above-decks. Yes--I've got
to rescind my order. You're at liberty. And--"
"And I stay with the expedition, sir?" demanded Alden, her hand going
out in an involuntary gesture of appeal. For the first time, she
was showing eagerness of a feminine sort. But she suppressed it,
instantly, and stood at attention. "If I have done you any service,
sir, reward me by letting me stay!"
"I will see. There may be no expedition to stay with. Now--"
"Life-belts, sir? And take to the small planes?" came a voice from
the companion-way. The face of Manderson--of him who had found the
stowaway--appeared there. Manderson looked anxious, a trifle pale.
Aft, more figures were appearing. In spite of the iron discipline of
the Legion, signs of disorder were becoming evident. "We're hard hit,
sir," Manderson reported. "Every man for himself, now? Orders, sir?"
"My orders are, every man back to his post!" cried the Master, his
voice a trumpet-call of resolution. "There'll be no _sauve qui peut_,
here!" He laid a hand on the butt of his pistol. "Back, every man of
Came another dull, jarring explosion. _Nissr_ reeled to port. The
Legionaries trickled down the companion-ladders. From somewhere below
a cry rose: "The aft starboard float--it's gone! And the stabilizer--"
Confused sounds echoed. _Nissr_ sagged drunkenly, lost headway and
slewed off her course, turning slowly in the thin, cold air. Her
propellers had been shut off; all the power of her remaining engines
had now been clutched into the helicopter-drive.
The Master, indifferently smearing off the blood from his neck, made
his way toward the forward companion. He had to hold the rail with one
hand, for now the metal plates of the observation gallery were sharply
canted. _Nissr_ had got wholly out of control, so far as steerage-way
was concerned; but the rate of her fall seemed to have been a trifle
Alden and the major followed their chief to the companion. All three
descended the ladder, which hung inward and away from them at a sharp
angle. They reached the strangely inclined floor of the main corridor,
and, bracing themselves against the port wall, worked their way aft.
Not all the admirable discipline of the Legion could prevent some
confusion. Such of the men as were on duty in pilot-house, pits,
wireless, or engine-room were all sticking; but a number of off-duty
Legionaries were crowding into the main corridor. Among them the
Master saw Leclair and Rrisa. No one showed fear. The white feather
was not visible; but a grim tension had developed. Death, imminent,
sobers the boldest.
From the engine-room, shouts, orders, were echoing. The engine-room
door flung open. Smoke vomited--thick, choking, gray. Auchincloss
reeled out, clutching at his throat.
"What chance?" the Master cried, staggering toward him.
"If--the fire spreads to the forward petrol-tanks, none!" gasped the
chief engineer. "Aft pit's flooded with blazing oil. Gorlitz--my God!"
"What about Gorlitz?"
"Burned alive--to a crisp! I've got four extinguishers at work. Two
engines out of commission. Another only limping! And--"
He crumpled, suddenly, dropping to the metals. The Master saw through
the clinging smoke, by the dimmed light of the frosted disks, that the
skin of the engineer's face and hands was cooked to a char.
"If he's breathed flame--" began the major. Alden knelt beside him,
peered closely, made a significant, eloquent gesture.
"Volunteers!" shouted the Master, plunging forward.
Into the fumes and smother, half a dozen men fought their way. From
the bulkheads they snatched down the little fire-grenades. The Master
went first. Bohannan was second, with Rrisa a close third. Leclair in
his forward rush almost stumbled over Alden. The "Captain," masked and
still unrecognized as a woman by any save the Master, was thrust back
from the door by the Celt, as she too tried to enter.
"No, not you!" he shouted. "You, with only one arm--faith, it's worse
than useless! Back, you!" Then he and many plunged into the blazing
Thus they closed with the fire-devil now licking ravenous tongues
about the vitals of _Nissr_.
An hour from that time, the air-liner was drifting sideways at low
altitudes, hardly five hundred feet above the waves. A sad spectacle
she made, her wreckage gilded by the infinite splendors of the sun now
lowering toward the horizon. Her helicopters were droning with all the
force that could be flung into them from the crippled power-plant. Her
propellers--some charred to mere stumps on their shafts--stood starkly
Oddly awry she hung, driven slowly eastward by the wind. Her rudder
was burned clean off; her stern, warped, reeking with white fumes that
drifted on the late afternoon air told of the fury that had blazed
about her. Flames no longer roared away; but the teeth of their
consuming rage had bitten deep. Where the aft observation pit had
been, now only a twisted net of metal-work remained, with all the
plate-glass melted and cracked away. The body of Gorlitz, trapped
there, had mercifully fallen into the sea. That ghastly thing, at any
rate, no longer remained.
Four Legionaries were in the pilot-house: the Master, Bohannan,
Leclair, and "Captain Alden." For the most part, they held silence.
There was little for them to say. At length the major spoke.
"Still sagging down, eh?" he commented, his eyes on the needle of the
altimeter. "Some situation! Two men dead and others injured. Engines
crippled, propellers the same, and two floats so damaged we couldn't
stay on the surface if we came down. Well, by God!"
Leclair looked very grim.
"I regret only," said he in broken English, "that the stowaway escaped
us. Ah, _la belle execution_, if we had him now!"
The Master, at the starboard window, kept silence. No one sat at the
wheel. Of what use could it have been? The Master was looking far
to eastward, now with the naked eye, now sweeping the prospect with
binoculars. He was studying the African coast, clearly in sight as a
long, whitish line of sand with a whiter collar of foamy surf, fifteen
A few gulls had begun to show--strange, small gulls, yellow-beaked
and swift. Off to northward, a native dhow was beating down-wind with
full-bellied lateen sail, with matting over its hatches. Heat was
beginning to grow intense, for no longer was _Nissr_ making a gale
that cooled; no longer was she at high, cold levels. Africa, the
tropics, had suddenly become real; and the sudden contrast oppressed
Through the shimmering, quivering air, an arid pallor extended up the
eastern sky; a pale, milky illumination, dull-white over the desert,
that told of the furnace into which _Nissr_ was drifting--if indeed
she could survive till she reached land. The glasses showed tawny
reaches of sand, back a little from the coast; and beyond these, low
hills, or rather rolling dunes, lay empurpled by vibrant heat-hazes.
"It won't be much like navigating over that Hell-spot, three or four
miles in the air," muttered Bohannan. He looked infinitely depressed.
The way he gnawed at his red mustache showed how misadventure had
raveled his nerve.
No one answered him. Leclair lighted a cigarette, and silently
squinted at Africa with eyes long inured to the sun of that land of
flame. Alden, at the other window, kept silence, too. That masked
face could express no emotion; but something in the sag of the woman's
shoulders, the droop of her head, showed how profound and intense was
"Faith, are we going to make it, chief?" asked the major, impatiently.
Not his the temperament that can wait in silence. He made a singular
figure as he lounged there at the pilot-house window, huge elbows
on the sill. One hand was wrapped in bandages, well saturated with
croton-oil. Chars and burns on his uniform showed where blazing petrol
from the final explosion had spattered him.
His eyes, like the Master's, were bloodshot, inflamed. Part of his red
crop of hair had been singed off, and all his eyelashes were gone,
as well as half his bushy red brows. But the ugly set of his jaw, the
savage gleam of his eyes showed that no physical pain was depressing
him. His only trouble was the thought that perhaps the expedition of
the Flying Legion had ended before it had really begun.
"What chance, sir?" he insisted. "It's damned bad, according to my way
"What you think and what you say won't have any weight with this
problem of aerial flotation," the Master curtly retorted. "If we make
land, we make it, that's all, sir." He relapsed into silence. Leclair
muttered, in Arabic--his words audible only to himself--an ancient
Islamic proverb: "Allah knows best, and time will show!" Then, after a
moment's pause, the single word: "Kismet!"
Silence again, in which the Master's brain reviewed the stirring
incidents of the past hour and a half--how the stowaway had evaded
Dr. Lombardo's vigilance and (thoroughly familiar with every detail
of _Nissr_) had succeeded in making his way to the aft port fuel-tank,
from which he had probably drained petrol through a pet-cock and
thereafter set it afire; how the miscreant had then scrambled up the
aft companion-ladder, to shoot down the Master himself; and how only
a horrible, nightmare fight against the flames had saved even this
shattered wreck of the air-liner.
It had all been Kloof's fault, of course, and Lombardo's. Those
two had permitted this disaster to befall, and--yes, they should be
punished, later. But how? The Master's mind attacked this problem.
Each of the four Legionaries in the pilot-house was busy with his own
On and on toward the approaching shores of Africa drifted the wounded
Eagle of the Sky, making no headway save such as the west wind
gave her. Steadily the needle of the altimeter kept falling. The
high-pitched drone of the helicopters told that the crippled engines
were doing their best; but even that best was not quite enough.
Like a tired creature of the air, the liner lagged, she sank. Before
half the distance had been covered to that gleaming beach, hardly six
hundred feet lay between the lower gallery of _Nissr_ and the long,
white-toothed waves that, slavering, hungered for her gigantic body
and the despairing crew she bore.
Suddenly the Master spoke into the engine-room telephone.
"Can you do any better?" exclaimed the chief. "This is not enough!"
"We're doing our best, sir," came the voice of Frazier, now in charge.
"If you can possibly strain a point, in some way, and wring a little
more power out of the remaining engines--"
"We're straining them beyond the limit now, sir."
The Master fell silent, pondering. His eyes sought the dropping
needle. Then the light of decision filled his eyes. A smile came to
his face, where the deep gash made by the splinter of glass had been
patched up with collodion and cotton. He plugged in on another line,
by the touch of a button.
"Simonds! Is that you?"
"Yes, sir," answered the quartermaster, in charge of all the stores.
"Have you jettisoned everything?"
"All we can spare, sir. All but the absolute minimum of food and
"Overboard with them all!"
"And drop the body of Auchincloss, too. This is no time for
"My order, sir!"
Five minutes later, cases, boxes, bales, water-tanks, began spinning
from open ports and down through the trap-door in the lower gallery.
Then followed the seared corpse of Auchincloss, a good man who had
died in harness, fighting to the end. Those to whom the duty was
assigned of giving his metal-weighted body sea burial turned away
their eyes, so that they might not see that final plunge. But
the sound of the body striking the waves rocketed up to them with
Lightened a little, _Nissr_ seemed to rally for a few minutes. The
altimeter needle ceased its drop, trembled and even rose _.275_
"God! If we only had an ounce more power!" burst out the major, his
mouth mumbling the loose ends of that flamboyant mustache. The Master
remained quite impassive, and made no answer. Bohannan reddened,
feeling that the chief's silence had been another rebuff. And on,
on drifted _Nissr_, askew, up-canted, with the pitiless sunlight
of approaching evening in every detail revealing--as it slanted in,
almost level, over the far-heaving infinitudes of the Atlantic--the
ravages wrought by flame.
Bohannan could not long be silent. The exuberance of his nature burst
forth with a half-defiant:
"If _I_ were in charge, which I'm not, I'd stop those damned
helicopters, let her down, turn what power we've got into the
remaining propellers, and taxi ashore!"
"And probably sink, or break up in the surf, on the beach, there!"
curtly rejoined the Master. "Ah! _What_?"
His binoculars checked their sweep along the coast, which in its
absolute barrenness looked a place of death for whatever might have
"You see something, _mon capitaine?_" asked Leclair, blowing smoke
from his cigarette. "Allow me also to look! Where is it?"
"Just to north of that gash--that wady, or gully, making down to the
beach. You see it, eh?"
Slowly the French ace swept the glasses along the surf-foamed fringes
of that desolation. Across the lenses no tree flung its green promise
of shade. No house, no hut was visible. Not even a patch of grass
could be discerned. The African coast lay stretched out in ivory
nakedness, clean, bare, swept and garnished by simooms, by cruel heat,
by the beatings of surf eternal.
Back of it extended an iron hinterland, savage with desert spaces of
sun-baked, wrinkled earth and sand here and there leprously mottled
with white patches of salt and with what the Arabs call _sabkhah_,
or sheets of gypsum. The setting sun painted all this horror of
desolation with strange rose and orange hues, with umbers and pale
purples that for a moment reminded the Master of the sunset he had
witnessed from the windows of _Niss'rosh_, the night his great plan
had come to him. Only eight days ago, that night had been; it seemed
Carefully Leclair observed this savage landscape, over which a
brilliant sky, of luminous indigo and lilac, was bending to the vague
edge of the world. Serious though the situation was, the Frenchman
could not repress a thought of the untamed beauty of that scene--a
land long familiar to him, in the days when he had flown down these
coasts on punitive expeditions against the rebellious Beni Harb clans
of the Ahl Bayt, or People of the Black Tents. Africa, once more seen
under such unexpected circumstances, roused his blood as he peered at
the crude intensity of it, the splendid blaze of its seared nakedness
under the blood-red sun-ball now dropping to rest.
All at once his glass stopped its sweep.
"Smoke, my Captain!" he exclaimed. "See, it curls aloft like a lady's
ringlet. And--beyond the wady--"
"Ah, you see them, too?"
The major's glass, held unsteadily in his unbandaged hand, was now
fixed on the indicated spot, as was "Captain Alden's."
"I see them," the Master answered. "And the green flag--the flag of
"The flag, _oui, mon capitaine!_ There are many men, but--"
"But what, Lieutenant?"
"Ah, do you not see? No horses. No camels. That means their oasis is
not far. That means they are not traveling. This is no nomadic moving
of the Ahl Bayt. No, no, my Captain. It is--"
"A war-party. What you in your language call the--the reception
committee, _n'est-ce pas?_ Ah, yes, the reception committee."
"And the guests?" demanded the major.
"The guests are all the members of the Flying Legion!" answered the
Frenchman, with another draw at his indispensable cigarette.
THE WAITING MENACE
"Ah, sure now, but that's fine!" exclaimed the major with delight, his
eyes beginning to sparkle in anticipation. "The best of news! A little
action, eh? I ask nothing better. All I ask is that we live to reach
the committee--live to be properly killed! It's this dying-alive that
kills _me_! Faith, it tears the nerves clean out of my body!"
"That is a true Arab idea, Major," smiled Leclair. "To this extent you
are brother to the Bedouin. They call a man _fatis_, as a reproach,
who dies any other way than fighting. May you never--may none of
us--ever suffer the disgrace of being _fatis_!"
"There's not much danger of that!" put in the Master. "That's a big
war-party, and we're drifting ashore almost exactly where they're
waiting. From the appearance of the group, they look like Beni Harb
people--'Sons of Fighting' you know--though I didn't expect we'd sight
any of that breed so far to westward."
"Beni Harb, eh?" echoed the Frenchman, his face going grim. "Ah,
_mes amis_, it is with pleasure I see that race, again!" He sighted
carefully through his glass, as _Nissr_ sagged on and on, ever closer
to the waves, ever nearer the hard, sun-roasted shores of Africa.
"Yes, those are Beni Harb men. _Dieu_! May it be Sheik Abd el Rahman's
tribe! May I have strength to repay the debt I owe them!"
"What debt, Lieutenant?" asked the chief.
Leclair shrugged his shoulders.
"A personal matter, my Captain! A personal debt I owe them--with
"You will have nearly a score and a half of good fighting men to help
you settle your account," smiled the Master. Then, to Bohannan: "It
looks now, Major, as if you'd have a chance to try your sovereign
"Faith! Machine-guns, eh?"
"Yes, provided we get near enough to use them."
"No vibrations this time, eh?" demanded the Celt, a bit of
good-humored malice in his voice. "Vibrations are all very well in
their way, sir, but when it comes to a man-to-man fight--"
"It's not that, Major," the chief interrupted. "We haven't the
available power, now, for high-tension current. So we must fall back
on lesser means.
"You, sir, and Lieutenant Leclair, get the six gun-crews together at
their stations. When we drift in range, give the Beni Harb a few trays
of blanks. That may scatter them without any further trouble. We want
peace, but if it's got to be war, very well. If they show real fight,
rake them hard!"
"They will show fight, surely enough, mon capitaine," put in Leclair,
as he and the major made their way to the oddly tiptilted door leading
back into the main corridor. "I know these folk. No blank cartridges
will scatter that breed. Even the Turks are afraid of them. They have
a proverb: 'Feed the Beni Harb, and they will fire at Allah!' That
says it all.
"Mohammed laid a special curse on them. I imagine your orderly, Rrisa,
will have something to say when he learns that we have Beni Harb as
opponents. Now, sir, we shall make all haste to get the machine-guns
Major Bohannan laughed with more enjoyment than he had shown since
_Nissr_ had left America. They both saluted and withdrew. When the
door was closed again, a little silence fell in the pilot-house, the
floor of which had now assumed an angle of nearly thirty degrees.
The droning of the helicopters, the drift of the sickly white smoke
that--rising from _Nissr's_ stern--wafted down-wind with her, the
drunken angle of her position all gave evidence of the serious
position in which the Flying Legion now found itself. Suddenly the
Master spoke. His dismissal of Bohannan and Leclair had given him the
opportunity he wanted.
"Captain Alden," said he, bruskly, with the unwillingness of
a determined man forced to reverse a fixed decision. "I have
reconsidered my dictum regarding you."
"Indeed, sir?" asked the woman, from where she stood leaning against
the sill of the slanted window. "You mean, sir, I am to stay with the
Legion, till the end?"
"Yes. Your service in having shot down the stowaway renders it
imperative that I show you some human recognition. You gained
admission to this force by deception, and you broke parole and escaped
from the stateroom where I had imprisoned you. But, as you have
explained to me, you heard the explosion, you heard the outcry of
pursuit, and you acted for my welfare.
"I can weigh relative values. I grant your request. The score is wiped
clean. You shall remain, on one condition."
"And what is that, sir?" asked "Captain Alden," with a voice of
"That you still maintain the masculine disguise. The presence of a
woman, as such, in this Legion, would be a disturbing factor. You
accept my terms?"
"Certainly! May I ask one other favor?"
"Spare Kloof and Lombardo!"
"I know their guilt, sir. Through their carelessness in not having
discovered the stowaway and in having let him escape, the Legion came
near sudden death. I know _Nissr_ is a wreck, because of them. Still,
we need men, and those two are good fighters. Above all, we need
Lombardo, the doctor I ask you to spare them at least their lives!"
"That is the woman's heart in you speaking, now," the chief answered,
coldly. His eyes were far ahead, where the war-party was beginning
to debouch on the white sands along the shore--full three hundred
fighting-men, or more, well armed, as the tiny sparkles of sunlight
flicking from weapons proved. As _Nissr_ drew in to land, the Beni
Harb grew visible to the naked eye, like a swarm of ants on the desert
"The woman's heart," repeated the Master. "That is your only fault and
weakness, that you are a woman and that you forgive."
"You grant my request?"
"No, Captain. Nor can I even discuss it. Those two men have cut
themselves off from the Legion and signed their own death warrant.
The sentence I have decided on, must stand. Do not speak of this to me
again, madam! Now, kindly withdraw."
"Yes, sir!" And Alden, saluting, approached the door.
"One moment! Send Leclair back to me. Inform Ferrara that he is to
command the second gun-crew."
"Yes, sir!" And the woman was gone.
Leclair appeared, some moments later. He suspected nothing of the
subterfuge whereby the Master had obtained a few minutes' conversation
alone with "Captain Alden."
"You sent for me, sir?" asked the Frenchman.
"I did. I have some questions to ask you. Others can handle the guns,
but you have special knowledge of great importance to me. And first,
as an expert ace, what are our chances of making that shore, sir, now
probably five miles off? In a crisis, I always want to ask an expert's
Leclair peered from under knit brows at the altimeter needle and the
inclinometer. He leaned from the pilot-house window and looked down at
the waves, now hardly a hundred feet below, their foaming hiss quite
audible. From those waves, red light reflected as the sun sank,
illuminated the Frenchman's lean, brown features and flung up wavering
patches of illumination against the pilot-house ceiling of burnished
metal, through the tilted windows that sheerly overhung the water.
"_Eh bien_--" murmured Leclair, noncommittally.
"Well, can we make it, sir?"
The ace inspected the vacuum-gauges, the helicopter tachometers, and
shrugged his shoulders.
"'_Fais tout, toi-meme, et Dieu t'aidera_,'" he quoted the cynical old
French proverb. "If nothing gives way, there is a chance."
"If we settle into the sea, do you think that with our damaged floats
we can drive ashore without breaking up?"
"I do not, my Captain. There is a heavy sea running, and the surf is
bad on the beach. This Rio de Oro coast is cruel. Have you our exact
"Almost exactly on the Tropic of Cancer, half-way between Cape Bojador
to north of us, and Cape Blanco, to south."
"Yes, I understand. That brings us to the Tarmanant region of the
Sahara. Fate could not have chosen worse for us. But, _c'est la
guerre_. All I regret, however, is that in a crippled condition we
have to face a war-party of the Beni Harb. Were we intact, and a match
for them, how gladly would I welcome battle with that scum of Islam!
Ah, the _canaille_!"
SHIPWRECK AND WAR
"You call them dogs, eh?" asked the chief. "And why?"
"What else are such apostate fanatics? People who live by robbery and
plunder--people who, if they find no gold in your money-belt, will rip
your stomach open to see if you've swallowed it! People who boast
of being _harami_ (highwaymen), and who respect the _jallah_
"People who practice the barbaric _thar_, or blood-feud! People who
torture their victims by cutting off the ends of their fingers before
beheading or crucifying them! People who glory in murdering the
'idolators of Feringistan,' as they call us white men! Let me advise
you now, my Captain, when dealing with these people or fighting them,
never use your last shot on them. Always keep a mercy-bullet in your
The Master pondered a moment or two, as _Nissr_ drifted on toward the
now densely massed Arabs on the beach, then he said:
"You seem to know these folk well."
"Only too well!"
The Master's next words were in the language of the desert:
"_Hadratak tet kal'm Arabi?_" (You speak Arabic?)
"_Na'am et kal'm!_" affirmed the lieutenant, smiling. And in the same
tongue he continued, with fluent ease: "Indeed I do, _Effendi_. Yes,
yes, I learned it in Algiers and all the way south as far as the
headwaters of the Niger.
"Five years I spent among the Arabs, doing air-work, surveying the
Sahara, locating oases, mapping what until then were absolutely
unknown stretches of territory. I did a bit of bombing, too, in the
campaign against Sheik Abd el Rahman, in 1913."
"Yes, so I have heard. You almost lost your life, that time?"
"Only by the thickness of a _semmah_ seed did I preserve it," answered
the Frenchman. "My mechanician, Lebon, and I--we fell among them on
account of engine trouble, near the oasis of Adrar, not far from here.
We had no machine-gun--nothing but revolvers. We stood them off for
seven hours, before they rushed us. They captured us only because our
last cartridges were gone."
"You did not save the mercy-bullet that time, eh?"
"I did not, _Effendi._ I did not know them then as I do now. They
knocked us both senseless, and then began hacking our machine to
pieces with their huge _balas_ (yataghans). They thought our plane was
some gigantic bird.
"Superstition festers in their very bones! The giant bird, they
believed, would ruin their date crops; and, besides, they thirsted for
the blood of the Franks. As a matter of fact, my Captain, these people
do sometimes drink a little of the blood of a slaughtered enemy."
"True, I tell you! They destroyed our plane with fire and sword,
reviled us as pigs and brothers of pigs, and named poor Lebon 'kalb
ibn kalb,' or 'dog and son of a dog.' Then they separated into two
bands. One band departed toward Wady Tawarik, taking Lebon. They
informed me that on the morrow they would crucify him on a cross of
palm-wood, head downward."
"And they executed Lebon?"
Leclair shrugged his shoulders.
"I suppose so," he answered with great bitterness. "I have never
seen or heard of him since. As for me, they reserved me for some
festivities at Makam Jibrail. During the next night, a column of
Spanish troops from Rio de Oro rushed their camp, killed sixty or
seventy of the brown demons, and rescued me. Since then I have lusted
revenge on the Beni Harb!"
"No wonder," put in the chief, once more looking at the beach, where
now the war-party was plainly visible to the naked eye in some detail.
The waving of their arms could be distinguished; and plainly glittered
the blood-crimson sunset light on rifle-barrels, swords, and javelins.
The Master loosened his revolver in its holster. "About twenty minutes
from now, at this rate," he added, "some of the Beni Harb will have
reason to remember you."
"Yes, and may Jehannum take them all!" exclaimed the Frenchman,
passionately. His eyes glowered with hate as he peered across the
narrowing strip of waves and surf. "Jehannum, where every time their
skins are burned off, as the Koran says, new ones will grow to be
burned off again! Where 'they shall have garments of fire fitted upon
them and boiling water poured upon their heads, and they shall be
beaten with maces of iron--"
"And their tormentors shall say unto them: 'Taste ye the pain of
burning!'" the Master concluded the familiar quotation with a
smile. "Waste no time in wishing the Beni Harb future pain, my dear
Lieutenant. Jehannum may indeed reserve the fruit of the tree Al
Zakkum, for these dogs, but our work is to give them a foretaste of
it, today. Kismet seems to have willed it that you and the Beni Harb
shall meet again. Is it not a fortunate circumstance, for you?"
"Fortunate, yes," the Frenchman answered, his eyes glowing as they
estimated the strength of the war-party, now densely massed along the
shining sands, "But, thank God, there are no women in this party! That
would mean that one of us would have to kill a woman--for God help
a woman of Feringistan caught by these _jinnee_, these devils of the
Silence again. Both men studied the Beni Harb. The Frenchman judged,
reverting to his native tongue: "Certainly more than three hundred
of these 'abusers of the salt,' my Captain. And we are hardly thirty.
Even if we reach land, we must soon sink to earth. Without food,
water, anything--_ce n'est pas gai, hein?_"
"No, it is not gay," the chief answered. "But with machine-guns--"
"Machine-guns cannot fight against the African sun, against famine,
thirst, delirium, madness. Well--'blessed be certainty,' as the Arabs
"You mean death?"
"Yes, I mean death. We always have that in our grasp, at any
rate--after having taken full toll of these devils. I should not
mind, so much, defeat at the hands of the nobler breed of the Arabian
Peninsula. There, in the _Ruba el Khali_ itself, I know a chivalric
race dwells that any soldier might be proud to fight or to rule over.
But these Shiah heretic swine--ah, see now, they are taking cover
already? They will not stand and fight, like men!"
[Footnote 1: _Ruba el Khali_ (The Empty Abodes), a name applied by
the Arabs to the Peninsula, especially the vast inner region never
penetrated by any white man.]
Scornfully he flung a hand at the Beni Harb. The fringes of the
tribe were trickling up the sands, backward, away, toward the line
of purple-hazed dunes that lined the coast. More and more of the
war-party followed. Gradually all passed up the wady, over the dunes
"They are going to ambush us, my Captain," said Leclair. "'In rice,
strength; in the Beni Harb, manhood!'"
Nearer the land, ever sagging down but still afloat--though now at
times some of the heavier surges broke in foam over the rail of the
lower gallery--the Eagle of the Sky drifted on, on. Hardly a half-mile
now lay between air-liner and shore. Suddenly the Master began to
"Listen, Lieutenant! Events are at a crisis, now. I will speak very
plainly. You know the Arabs, good and bad. You know Islam, and all
that the Mohammedan world is. You know there are more than 230,000,000
people of this faith, scattered from Canton to Sierra Leone, and
from Cape Town to Tobolsk, all over Turkey, Africa, and Arabia--an
enormous, fanatic, fighting race! Probably, if trained, the finest
fighting-men in the world, for they fear neither pain nor' death. They
welcome both, if their hearts are enlisted!"
"Yes, yes, I know! Their Hell yawns for cowards; their Paradise opens
to receive the brave! Death is as a bride to the Moslem!"
"Fanatics all, Lieutenant! Only a few white men have ever reached
Mecca and returned. Bartema, Wild, and Joseph Pitt succeeded, and so
did Hurgronje, Courtelmont, Burton, and Burckhardt--though, the Arabs
admit only the two last.
"But how many hundreds have been beheaded or crucified? No pilgrimage
ever takes place without a few such victims. A race of this type is a
potential world-power of incalculable magnitude. Men who will die for
Islam and for their master without a quiver--"
"My Captain! What do you mean?"
The lieutenant's eyes had begun to fill with flame. His hand tightened
to a fist.
"_Mon Dieu_, what do you mean? Can it be possible you dream of ruling
the races of Islam?"
Something whined overhead, from the beach now only about a
quarter-mile distant. Then a shot from behind the dunes cracked out
across the crumbling, hissing surf.
"Ah," laughed Leclair, "the ball has opened, eh? Well this is now no
time for talk, for empty words. I think I understand you, my Captain;
and to the death I stand at your right hand!"
Their palms met and clasped, a moment, in the firm grip of a compact
between two strong men, unafraid. Then each drew his pistol, crouching
there at the windows of the pilot-house.
"Hear how that bullet sang?" questioned the Frenchman. "It was
notched--a notched slug, you understand. That is a familiar trick with
these dog-people of the Beni Harb. Sometimes, if they have poison,
they dip the notched slug in that too. And, ah, what a wound one
makes! Dum-dums are a joke beside such!"
Another shot sounded. Many cracked out along the dune. All up and down
the crest of the tawny sand-hills, red under the sun now close to the
horizon, the fusillade ran and rippled. On _Nissr_, metal plates rang
with the impact of the slugs, or glass crashed. The gigantic Eagle of
the Sky, helpless, received this riddling volley as she sagged ashore,
now almost in the grip of the famished surf.
"Yes, the ball is opening!" repeated Leclair, with an eager laugh. His
finger itched on the trigger of his weapon; but no target was visible.
Why waste ammunition on empty sand-dunes?
"Let it open!" returned the chief. "We'll not refuse battle, no, by
Allah! Our first encounter with Islam shall not be a surrender! Even
if we could survive that, it would be fatal to this vast plan of
mine--of ours, Lieutenant. No, we will stand and fight--even till
'certainty,' if Allah wills it so!"
A sudden burst of machine-gun fire, from the upper starboard gallery,
crashed out into the sultry, quivering air. The kick and recoil of the
powerful Lewis sent a fine, swift shudder through the fabric of the
"There goes a tray of blanks," said the Master. "Perhaps that will
rout them out, eh? Once we can get them on the run--"
Leclair laughed scornfully.
"Those dog-sons will not run from blanks, no, nor from shotted
charges!" he declared. "Pariahs in faith, despoilers of the Haram--the
sacred inner temple--still this breed of _Rafaz_ (heretic) is bold.
Ah, 'these dogs bare their teeth to fight more willingly than to eat.'
It will come to hot work soon, I think!"
Keenly he scanned the dunes, eager for sight of a white _tarboosh_,
or headgear, at which to take a pot-shot. Nothing was visible but
sand--though here, there, a gleam of steel showed where the Arabs had
nested themselves down in the natural rampart with their long-barreled
rifles cuddled through carefully scooped rifts in the sand.
Again the machine-gun chattered. Another joined it, but no dust-spurts
leaped from the dune, where now a continual play of fire was leaping
out. The Beni Harb, keenly intelligent, sensed either that they
were being fired at with blanks, or that the marksmanship aboard the
air-liner was execrable. A confused chorus of cries and jeers drifted
down from the sand-hills; and all at once a tall, gaunt figure in a
brown and white striped burnous, with the hood drawn up over the head,
leaped to sight.
This figure brandished a tremendously long rifle in his left hand. His
right was thrust up, with four fingers extended--the sign of wishing
blindness to enemies. A splendid mark this Arab made. The Master drew
a fine bead on him and fired.
Both he and Leclair laughed, as the Arab pitched forward in the sand.
Unseen hands dragged the warrior back, away, out of sight. A slug
crashed through the upper pane of the port window, flattened itself
against the main corridor door and dropped to the sofa-locker.
The Master reached for the phone and switched in the connection with
the upper starboard gallery.
"Major Bohannan!" he ordered. "No more blanks! The real thing,
now--but hold your fire till we drift over the dune!"
"Drift over!" echoed Leclair. "But, _monsieur_, we'll never even make
"So?" asked the chief. He switched to the engine-room.
"Frazier! Lift her a little, now! Rack everything--strain
everything--break everything, if you must, but lift her!"
"Yes, sir!" came the engineer's voice. "I'll scrap the engines, sir,
but I'll do that!"
Almost as if a mocking echo of the command and the promise, a dull
concussion shuddered through _Nissr_. The drone of the helicopters
sank to a sullen murmur; and down below, waves began combing angrily
over the gallery.
"Ah, _nom de Dieu_!" cried Leclair, in sudden rage at seeing his
chance all gone to pot, of coming to grips with the hated Beni Harb.
From the penetralia of the air-liner, confused shouts burst forth. The
upper galleries grew vocal with execrations.
Not one was of fear; all voiced disappointment, the passion of baffled
fury. Angrily a boiler-shop clatter of machine-guns vomited useless
Wearily, like a stricken bird that has been forced too long to wing
its broken way, the Eagle of the Sky--still two hundred yards from
shore--lagged down into the high-running surf. Down, in a murderous
hail of fire she sank, into the waves that beat on the stark,
sun-baked Sahara shore.
And from hundreds of barbarous throats arose the killing-cry to
Allah--the battle-cry of Beni Harb, the murder-lusting Sons of War.
"La Illaha illa Allah! M'hamed rasul Allah!" Raw, ragged, exultant, a
scream of passion, joy, and hate, it rose like the voice of the desert
itself, vibrant with wild fanaticism, pitiless and wild.
The wolflike, high-pitched howl of the Arab outcasts--the robber-tribe
which all Islam believed guilty of having pillaged the Haram at Mecca
and which had for that crime been driven to the farthest westward
confines of Mohammedanism--this war-howl tore its defiance through the
wash and reflux of the surf.
The pattering hail of slugs continued to zoon from the sand-hills,
bombarding the vast-spread wings and immense fuselage of Nissr. For
the most part, that bombardment was useless to the Beni Harb. A good
many holes, opened up in the planes, and some broken glass, were about
the Arabs' only reward.
None of the bullets could penetrate the metal-work, unless making a
direct hit. Many glanced, spun ricochetting into the sea, and with a
venomous buzzing like huge, angry hornets, lost themselves in quick,
white spurts of foam.
But one shot at least went home. Sheltered though the Legion was,
either inside the fuselage or in vantage-points at the gun-stations,
one incautious exposure timed itself to meet a notched slug. And a cry
of mortal agony rose for a moment on the heat-shimmering air--a cry
echoed with derision by fifteen score barbarians behind their natural
There was now no more shooting from the liner. What was there to shoot
at, but sand? The Arabs, warned by the death of the gaunt fellow in
the burnous, had doffed their headgear. Their brown heads, peeping
intermittently from the wady and the dunes, were evasive as a mirage.
The Master laughed bitterly.
"A devil of a place!" he exclaimed, his blood up for a fight, but all
circumstances baffling him. A very different man, this, from the calm,
impersonal victim of ennui at _Niss'rosh_, or even from the unmoved
individual when the liner had first swooped away from New York. His
eye was sparkling now, his face was pale and drawn with anger; and the
blood-soaked cotton and collodion gave a vivid touch of color to
the ensemble. That the Master had emotions, after all, was evident.
Obvious, too, was the fact these emotions were now fully aroused.
"What a devil of a place! No way to get at those dog-sons, and they
can lie there and wait for _Nissr_ to break up!"
"Yes, my Captain, or else starve us where we lie!" the lieutenant put
in. "Or wait for thirst and fever to do the work. Then--rich plunder
for the sons of theft!"
"Ah, Leclair, but we're not going to stay here, for any such
contingency!" exclaimed the chief, and turned toward the door. "Come,
_en avant_! Forward, Leclair!"
"My Captain! You cannot charge an entrenched enemy like that, by
swimming a heavy surf, with nothing but revolvers in hand!"
"Can't, eh? Why not?"
"The rules of war--"
"To Hell with the rules of war!" shouted the Master, for the first
time in years breaking into profanity. "Are you with me, or are you--"
"Sir, do not say that word!" cried the Frenchman, reddening ominously.
"Not even from you can I accept it!"
The Master laughed again, and strode out into the main corridor, with
Leclair close behind him.
"Men!" he called, his voice blaring a trumpet-call to action.
"Volunteers for a shore-party to clean out that kennel of dogs!"
None held back. All came crowding into the spacious corridor, its
floor now laterally level but sloping toward the stern, as _Nissr's_
damaged aft-floats had filled and sunk.
"Revolvers and lethal pistols!" he ordered. "And knives in belts! Come
Up the ladder they swarmed to the take-off gallery. Their feet rang
and clattered on the metal rounds. Other than that, a, strange silence
filled the giant air-liner. The engines now lay dead. _Nissr_ was
motionless, save for the pitch and swing of the surf that tossed her;
but forward she could no longer go.
As the men came up to the top gallery, the hands of the setting sun
reached out and seized them with red ardor. The radiance was half
blinding, from that sun and from light reflected by the heavily
running waves, all white-caps to shore. On both aileron-tips, the
machine-guns were spitting intermittently, worked by crews under the
major and Ferrara, the Italian ace.
"Cease firing!" ordered the Master. "Simonds, you and Prisrend deal
out the lethal guns. Look alive, now!"
Sheltering themselves from the patter of slugs behind stanchions and
bulwarks, the Legionaries waited. The sea wind struck them with hot
intensity; the sun, now almost down, flung its river of blood from
ship to horizon, all dancing in a shimmer of heat.
By the way _Nissr_ was thumping her floats on the bottom, she seemed
about to break up. But, undismayed, the Legionaries armed themselves,
girt on their war-gear and, cool-disciplined under fire, waited the
order to leap into the sea.
Not even the sight of a still body in the starboard gallery--a body
from under which a snaky red line was crawling, zigzagging with each
pitch of the liner--gave them any pause. This crew was well blooded,
ready for grim work of give-and-take.
"A task for me, sir!" exclaimed "Captain Alden," pointing at the body.
The Master refused.
"No time for nursing, now!" he negatived the plea. "Unless you choose
to remain behind?"