The Outlaws of the Air - George Griffiths - ebook

The Outlaws of the Air ebook

George Griffiths

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George Griffiths is a lover of classic adventure novels. „The Outlaws of the Air „ tells the story of the future of air battles and the creation of a utopian colony in the Pacific. Here, as always, there are many unusual things: Utopians, Anarchists, War Ships of the Air, ultra fast Sea Vessels and even the hokey-named „Anarchite” super-explosive. This story captures readers from the front pages.

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Contents

Prologue

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

Chapter XX

Chapter XXI

Chapter XXII

Chapter XXIII

Chapter XXIV

Chapter XXV

Chapter XXVI

Chapter XXVII

Chapter XXVIII

Chapter XXIX

Chapter XXX

Chapter XXXI

Chapter XXXII

Chapter XXXIII

Chapter XXXIV

Chapter XXXV

Chapter XXXVI

Chapter XXXVII

Chapter XXXVIII

Chapter XXXIX

Chapter XL

Chapter XLI

Chapter XLII

Chapter XLIII

PROLOGUE–IN THE CAMP OF ISHMAEL

A few minutes before one A.M. on Sunday, the 1st of July 1894, a man was walking with quick if somewhat irregular strides, as some men do walk when deeply absorbed in thought, up the Caledonian Road from King’s Cross Station. By his dress he might either have belonged to the aristocracy of the craftsman class, or he might have been one of the poorer members of that class which is popularly considered to be above it.

But, whatever doubt there might have been as to his station in life, there could have been none as to the character of the face on which his slightly back-tilted black felt hat allowed the light of the gas-lamps to fall, as he walked with his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, and his head thrown back just a shade from the perpendicular. It was a dark, clear-cut, clean-shaven face, with bright blue eyes, contrasting strongly with the black straight brows above them; a slightly aquiline nose, with thin, sensitive nostrils; short upper lip, firm, resolute mouth, square chin, and strong though not heavy lower jaw.

A single glance would have been enough to show that it was the face of a man in whom strong convictions were united with the will and the courage to translate them into action, no matter what difficulties or dangers might lie in the path marked out for him by what he considered to be his duty.

In stature, he was over the average, and but for a slight stoop of the shoulders which gave a suggestion of the student, borne out by the broad, square forehead and two little perpendicular lines between the eyes, he would have stood very nearly six feet in the low-heeled walking shoes which he wore.

To the casual glance of the passer-by, there was nothing to differentiate him from any other young fellow of his apparent age and station; and, therefore, it was quite out of the question that the policeman who was beginning his night’s work by flashing his bull’s-eye into the doorways, and trying door handles and shop shutters, should bestow more than a passing glance, quite devoid of interest, upon him as he strode by. He was sober and respectable, and seemingly making his way quietly home after a decently spent Saturday evening.

There was nothing to tell the guardian of the peace that the most dangerous man in Europe was passing within a few feet of him, or that if only he could have arrested him on some valid pretext that would have enabled him to lock him up for the rest of the night, and then handed him over to the Criminal Investigation Department at New Scotland Yard, the officers of which had been hunting for just such a man as he for the last twelve months, he would have prevented the commission of a crime which, within twenty-four hours, was to plunge a whole nation into panic and mourning, and send a thrill of horror through Europe.

But he would have done far more than this, for by laying Max Renault, electrician and anarchist, by the heels just that moment, he would have ensured the discovery of documentary evidence which would have procured his extradition to France, and subsequent proceedings which would have saved the world from a reign of terror and an epoch of carnage and destruction in comparison with which the worst that society had so far learned to fear from anarchy would prove to be the merest trifle.

But how was that most unimaginative and matter-of-fact of mortals, a British policeman, to know that in his waistcoat pocket he carried a foreign telegram, which, properly interpreted, conveyed the intelligence that Caserio Santo was on his way to Lyons, to await there the order, in obedience to which he would with one stroke of his knife send a shudder through the civilised world; or how was he to divine that in the brain behind that open, honest- looking brow there were thoughts working which ere long might set the world in a blaze?

In St. Petersburg, or even in Paris, such a man would have been shadowed, his every movement would have been watched, all his comings and goings noticed, and at any moment–such a one as this, for instance–he might have been pounced upon and searched as a suspicious person; and assuredly, if he had been, the toils of the law would have closed about him in such fashion that little but a miracle could have set him free again.

But here in London, the asylum of anarchy, and the focus of the most dangerous forces in the world, he went on his way unquestioned and unsuspected, for, although the police were morally certain that such a man existed, they had no idea as to his personality, no notion that this smart, good-looking young fellow, whose name had never been heard in connection even with such anarchist clubs as were known to have their quarters in London, and much less, therefore, with any of the crimes that had been laid to the charge of anarchy, was in reality even a greater criminal than Vaillant or Henry, or even the infamous Ravachol himself

These were only the blind if willing tools, the instruments of political murder, the visible hands that obeyed the unseen brain, those who did the work and paid the penalty. But Max Renault was the brain itself, the intellect which conceived the plans for the execution of which the meaner and cheaper disciples of the sanguinary brotherhood of the knife and the bomb died on the scaffold, or wore out their lives in penal prisons or the mines of Siberia.

In a word, he was the moving spirit and directing intellect of what was soon to become the most dreaded body of men and women in the world, but which was now only known to the initiated as “Autonomie Group Number 7.”

But the stroke which, if his true character bad been known, would have cut short his career, whether by rope or axe, would have done more than paralyse the brain which had plotted half the crimes that had been committed in the name of anarchy during the previous five years, and others in which the red hand had never been seen. It would have stopped his career at the most important moment of his life, and prevented him acting as the connecting link between two sets of circumstances which, though naturally of the utmost antagonism to each other, would, when united in such a personality as his, produce an explosion which might shake the world.

A few hundred yards past the top of the hill, Max turned sharply to the left, walked along a side street, turned to the right at the end of this, and went into another. Three minutes’ quick walking brought him to the side door of a house which had a small timber yard on one side of it, and on the other a deserted beer-house, which had lost its licence, and remained unoccupied because the premises were fit for no other kind of business.

The house itself had a low shop front, with the lower half of its windows painted a dull green, and on the upper part was an arc of white letters making the legend: “Social Club and Eclectic Institute.” A lamp over the shop door bore the same inscription in white letters on blue glass, but the lamp was out now, for it was one of the rules of the club that all members should leave the premises not later than twelve o’clock at night on week-days and half-past eleven on Sundays.

This rule, however, seemed only to apply to a certain section of the members. After Max had opened the side door with his latch-key, and ascended the stairs at the end of the passage, with a familiarity that enabled him to dispense with a light in the absolute darkness, he knocked at the door of an upstairs room which he found without the slightest hesitation. It was opened, and he found himself in the presence of four men and three women sitting round a table on which were the remains of what had evidently been a substantial and even luxurious supper.

Renault’s action on entering the room was one which more than bore out what has been said of his character and the desperate work that he was engaged in. He acknowledged with a brief, curt nod the salutations of the company, then, putting his back against the door, he pulled his right hand out of his trouser pocket, and said, in a quiet, almost well-bred voice, which had just the faintest trace of foreign accent-

“Victor Berthauld, sit still!

There was a small slender-barrelled, six-chambered Colt in his hand, and the muzzle was pointed at a little lean, wiry, black-muzzled, close-cropped Frenchman, who had begun to wriggle uneasily in his seat the moment Max had made his appearance. His black eyes rolling in their deep sockets took one frightened glance from face to face, and then he said, in a voice to which he in vain tried to impart a tone of bravado-

“Well, Comrade Renault, what do you want with me, and what is that revolver drawn for?”

“Don’t `comrade’ me, you little rat,” said Max, with a short, savage laugh. “Tell me who tried to warn the Paris police that Carnot’s life was in danger. Tell me who would have had Santo arrested at Marseilles if his telegram had only got into the hands it was intended for.

“Tell me who means to repeat the message to-morrow morning to Paris and Lyons, and who means to have this place raided by the English police at an inconvenient hour within the next week, on the ground of unlawful gambling being permitted here. Tell me that, you dirty hound, and then I’ll tell you, if you don’t know, what we usually do with traitors.”

Berthauld sat for a moment speechless with fear. Then, with an imprecation on his lips, he leapt to his feet. Not a hand was moved to restrain him, but as he rose to his full height, Renault’s arm straightened out, there was a crack and a flash, and a little puff of plaster reduced to dust leapt out of the angle of the wall behind him; but before the bullet struck the wall, it had passed through his forehead and out at the back of his head, his body shrank together and collapsed in a huddled heap in his chair, and Max, putting his pistol back into his pocket, said, just as quietly as before-

“It’s a curious thing that even among eight of us we must have a traitor. I hope there aren’t any more about. Take that thing down to the cellar, and then let us get to business; I’ve something important to tell you.”

So saying, he walked round the table to a vacant armchair that stood at the end opposite the door, threw himself back in it, took out a cigar and lit it, and, with the same unshaken hand that a moment before had taken a fellow- creature’s life, poured out a tumblerful of champagne from a bottle that stood half empty beside him.

Meanwhile, two of the men had risen from their seats. One of them tied a red handkerchief tightly round the dead man’s skull, to stop what little bleeding there was from the two clean-cut wounds, and then the two picked him up, and, without a word, carried him out of the room.

“I hope I haven’t shocked you by such a rough-and-ready administration of justice,” said Max, half turning in his chair and addressing a girl who sat next to him on his right hand.

“No,” said the girl. “It was obviously necessary. If half you charged him with is true, he ought to have been crucified, let alone shot. I can’t think what such vermin are made for.”

And as she spoke, she flicked the ash off a cigarette that she held between her fingers, put it between as dainty a pair of lips as ever were made for kissing, and sent a delicate little blue wreathing cloud up to mingle with the haze that filled the upper part of the room.

“And now, What is this interesting something that you have got to tell us, Monsieur Max?”

“All in good time, Ma’m’selle. I must ask you to wait until Casano and Rolland have come back; but meanwhile I will whet your curiosity by telling you I am thinking seriously of exiling myself for a couple of years or so.”

As he said this he looked keenly from under his half lowered eyelashes into the girl’s eyes, as if expecting, or, perhaps, only half hoping for, some sign of emotion.

Two dark-fringed lids lifted suddenly for an instant, and then dropped again, and in that instant two liquid deep grey eyes, which before now he had seen grow almost black with passion, looked at him inquiringly. And that was all.

“That is news indeed,” she said. “It must be something very important that takes Monsieur Max away from the scene of action at such a critical time as this.”

“Yes,” said Renault coldly, and with an almost imperceptible contraction of the brows, “it is important; so important, in fact, that I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that if I had not come back to-night, instead of to- morrow, and had given that fellow twelve hours more grace, the fate of the whole world would have been changed.”

“What! the fate of the world?” said she half incredulously, while the others ceased their conversation and turned to listen to this strange passage of words.

“Yes,” said Max, slightly raising his tone till it had a note of triumph in it, and at the same time bringing his hand down on hers, which was resting on the arm of her chair. The quick blood came to her cheeks and a flash of anger to her eyes, and she made an effort to withdraw it, but he held it fast, and, before she could speak, went on-

“Yes, Lea, if the venture that I am going to undertake turns out a success, I shall hold the fate of human society in my hand, just as I hold this pretty little hand of yours, only in a somewhat rougher grip, and then-“

“And then, Monsieur Max,” interrupted the girl, snatching her hand away as the pressure of his relaxed for a moment. “I suppose you will have what you have not got now, the right to take what you want by the universal law of might.”

“Yes,” he said, with another laugh, a somewhat more pleasant one this time. “And as I have the power; so will I use it, whether in love or war. Are you agreed?”

Lea looked at him steadily for a moment, and then, with a swift flush overspreading as fair a face as ever man’s eyes rested upon with love and longing, said in a low voice that had just a perceptible tremor in it-

“Yes, I suppose might is right after all, in love as well as war and nineteenth century society. He who can take can have; but, if you please, we will wait until you can take.”

“Agreed!” he said. “That’s a bargain. And now we’ll get to business. Have you found Comrade Berthauld a quiet resting-place?” he continued, addressing the two men, who had just returned to the room.

“Yes,” said Casano in his pleasant Italian tenor. “Ve haf gifen him a bath. I don’t sink zere vill be very mooch left of him or his clothes by ze morning.”

“Very well,” said Max, taking some papers out of the breast pocket of his jacket. “Now, sit down and listen.”

They obeyed in silence, Casano first bolting the door.

“First,” said Max, looking up from his papers and giving a quick glance at the expectant faces round the table, “Comrade Caserio Santo of the Cette Group has been chosen by lot to execute the sentence passed by this group on the 6th of February on Sadi Carnot in return for the lives which he refused to spare. Santo will be at Lyons soon after daybreak. If that rat Berthauld had got out of this room alive, Santo would have been arrested, and Carnot would have escaped. I have the proofs of his treachery here, if you wish to see them. As it is, is it agreed that I shall direct him to offer our congratulations to M. le President on his visit to Lyons?”

He stopped and looked round the table again. The others nodded in silence, but Lea looked up with something like softness in her eyes, and said-

“What a pity! Poor Carnot is an excellent fellow in his bourgeois way, isn’t he? Quite a model husband and father, incorruptible in politics, and all that sort of thing. Wouldn’t some one else do as well, say, Casimir-Perier or Dupuy? Incorruptible politicians are not so plentiful in France just now.”

“The better the man the better the effect,” said Max drily. “It is just as easy to strike high as a little lower. There are plenty of politicians in France, but only one President.”

“Ja! dass is so,” said a bright-faced, square-headed little German sitting opposite to Lea. “Strike high and hit hart. Dat is de vay to make dese sheepsheads open deir moufs and stare ven dey reads de papers on Monday. Let Carnot go first, and den–veil, den someone else. Dere are plenty of dem to spare.”

A laugh followed this speech of Franz Hartog, who may as well be introduced here as elsewhere as the cleverest engineer in Europe, and an anarchist heart and soul-if he had a soul, which some of his nearest acquaintances were very much inclined to doubt.

“Very well,” said Lea; “I withdraw my objection, if, indeed, I ever had one.”

The veto of one member, by the rules of the Group, would have been fatal to the execution of the proposal. As Lea withdrew hers, she flicked some more ash off the end of her cigarette, and with it virtually fell the man whose death all Europe would be mourning within forty-eight hours.

“Then that is settled,” said Max. ” I will wire to Lyons the first thing in the morning. Now, Hartog, have you anything to tell us about this gunboat of yours?”

“Ja, dot is all arranged. Her keel vill be laid on de slips next mont. I have designed de engines mineself, and de speed contracted for by de firm mit de Russian Government vill be thirty-five knots, and you can bet dat my engines vill make her do it. She vill make her private trial, mit all her coal and arms and ammunition on board according to de contract, mitin eighteen monzs from now, and you can depend upon me to be on board her at de time, mit a suitable majority of de firemens and crew to do vat ve vants snit her.

“You can be sure, too, dat de oders vill have got someting inside dem dat vill not make dem mooch good if ve have to have a small scrimmage after all to get possession of de boat. Den ve vill rendezvous at de proper place, and den dere vill be some vild time on de Atlantic and de Cape routes ver dey bring de specie and de diamonds.

“Ja, you believe me, Monsieur Max and comrades, Franz Hartog vill make you de masters ov de sea, and you shall laugh at all de fleets of Europe ven dey try to catch you. Dat vill be anarchy vot vill be worth calling somdings. Ja, it is a great scheme, and ve shall do it, you believe me.”

The little German stopped and looked round the table, rubbing his hands, and amidst the murmurs of approval that followed his speech, Max nodded laughingly to him and said-

“Yes, my friend, you are quite right. That, is a great scheme, and if you can capture that little greyhound for us when she is built and armed, you will have done more for anarchy, and driven a bigger nail into the coffin of the tyranny of commercialism, than ever any man did yet. And now I am going to tell you of a greater scheme than that.”

“Greater as dot!” exclaimed the German, his steely blue eyes glittering through his spectacles with excitement. “How can any scheme be greater as dot?”

“Listen and you shall hear,” said Max, “and I won’t take very many words to tell you.”

“Some years ago now, when I was little more than a lad, and before I came to believe that there is no remedy for the present state of affairs except force and terrorism, I joined a society of amiable idiots who meet at each other’s houses in different parts of London, and who call themselves the Brotherhood of the Better Life.

“I have kept up my membership, partly because it amused and interested me, and partly because I had a sort of idea that some day something might come of it. For a long time they have had a scheme on foot to emigrate to some out- of-the-way part of the world, and start one of those social colonies which of course always come to grief in some way or another, as the Freeland one has just done; but, up to a few weeks ago, they never had a chance of making a start, for lack of money.

“Then, about a month ago, we had a regular romance, and something occurred that I would never have credited if it hadn’t happened under my own eyes. Nearly six months ago, one of our members who pretended to be a craftsman–but who was really nothing of the sort, for he was what they call a gentleman from head to foot-disappeared.

“For five months we heard nothing of him, and then, one night, after a lecture by a sort of latter-day prophet of ours, a very clever but misguided fellow called Edward Adams, a stranger came out from the audience and asked to be allowed to say a few words.

“Of course, we allowed him to, and then he started out and told us that he was the father of the young fellow who disappeared from amongst us, that his son was dead, and that on his death-bed he had converted his father to his own social views; and not only this, but he had made him promise to give what would have been his inheritance to the society to carry out the scheme of the social colony. Then he told us that he had come to fulfil this promise, and, if we would allow him, to take part in the venture himself.

“Well, we consented, on condition that he accepted the Constitution which we had been, as I always thought, playing at drawing up, and this he agreed to do, and then staggered us by saying how much he was prepared to devote to the carrying out of the scheme. We expected a few hundreds at most, perhaps just enough to give us a start with what we could get together of ourselves, so you can imagine what we felt like–and I in particular–when the figure came out at over a hundred thousand pounds.”

“Ein hundert tousand pound!” cried Hartog, unable to restrain his enthusiasm. “Vy, I could build nearly tree ships of tirty-five knots mit so mooch! Can you get hold of it, Monsieur Max?”

“I’m not going to get hold of that, friend Franz, but of something a good deal more important than money. It turned out that our fairy godfather was no other than Frederick Austen, the head of the big engineering firm of Austen and Son, of Queen Victoria Street and Woolwich. The death of his son has made it impossible for an Austen to succeed him in the business, and that, combined with his change of social views, has decided him to give up the business altogether.

“Of course, I needn’t tell you that we accepted him and his money with thanks. But there was something stranger to come yet. Last night, at a meeting of the committee, of which I have the honour to be a member, he confided to us a secret which, as he said, would enable the colony not only to hold its own against any who might wish to interfere with it in case it prospered, but which will enable the colonists to enforce an object-lesson in peace, goodwill on earth, and all that sort of thing, on the first nations that go to war with each other, after they are in a position to wield the power that it will give them.

“Then”–and here Max Renault leant forward on the table and instinctively lowered his voice while the others leant forward also to catch what was coming–”he told us that just before his last illness his son had completed a series of experiments which enabled him to say with truth that the problem of aerial navigation had at last been solved, and that he had solved it.

“He told the secret to his father, and he at once placed all the resources of his business at his disposal, and, comrades, believe me or believe me not, as you like, but I tell you that less than twenty-four hours ago I saw in action a working model of a flying ship which Frederick Austen is going to build with my assistance in the Brotherhood’s New Utopia.”

A murmur half of amazement and half of incredulity ran from lip to lip as Renault uttered these momentous words, and Lea suddenly straightened herself up in her chair, stretched her shapely arms upward, and then, folding her hands behind her head, looked at Max with undisguised admiration in her eyes, and said, with a ring of exultation in her voice-

“Ah, now I understand you, after wondering all this time what your parable was going to lead up to. Excellent, Monsieur Max, excellent! You have not been playing the anarchist wolf in the socialist sheepskin for nothing. You will emigrate with these good folks to their New Utopia, wherever they may find it, absorb such ideas as may be useful, appoint yourself aerial engineer to that excellent converted capitalist, and then-“

“Yes, and then,” said Max, with a significant movement of his hand towards the pocket that contained his revolver, “when the Cruiser of the Air is built and equipped, and I have satisfied myself of her working power, she will be found missing some fine morning, and so shall I.

“I’m not going to exile myself with a lot of people like that for nothing, I can tell you. If I’m the man I take myself for, within three years from now that air-ship shall carry the red flag through the clouds, and terrorise the whole earth from east to west and pole to pole.

“And now,” he continued, rising to his feet, under the stimulus of his own words, “if you’ve any more champagne, fill up. I’ve a toast for you. For another year or two you must carry on the work without me, or stop it altogether, as seems best to you; and meanwhile you, Hartog, shall get your thirty-five knot sea-devil afloat and to business till you’ve levied ocean tolls enough to give us funds to build an aerial fleet on the model of the ship that I’ll bring you, and then we’ll have no more hole-and-corner assassinations and no more pettifogging bomb-throwing. We’ll declare war–war to the knife–on the world that we hate, and that hates and fears us, and then- “

“Here’s your glass, my Lord of the Air that is to be,” said Lea, rising and handing him a full tumbler of champagne with a gesture of deference that was not altogether assumed. “And so let us have your toast.”

“You shall have it, short and sweet,” said Max, taking the glass and lifting it above his head. “Here’s life to those we love, and death to those we hate–Vive L’Anarchie and the Outlaws of the Air!”

“Mein Gott, but dat is a great scheme! He vill set de vorld on fire if he only comes properly to bass,” said Franz Hartog, as he drained his glass at a gulp, and then stood gazing at Max Renault with a look that was almost one of worship in his little twinkling eyes.

I. UTOPIA IN THE SOUTH

ON the 21st of November 1898, the Calypso, a team yacht, rigged as a three-masted schooner, and measuring between four and five hundred tons, met with a rather serious accident to her engines in one of those brief but deadly hurricanes which are known to navigators of the South Seas as ” southerly busters.”

They are the white squalls of the South, and woe betide the unhappy ship that they strike unawares. Over the smooth, sunlit waters there drifts with paralysing rapidity a mass of hissing, seething billows, churned into foam and then beaten down again by the terrific force of the wind that is roaring above then. Often there is not a breath or a puff of air felt by the ship until the squall strikes her, and then the blow falls like the united stroke of a hundred battering-rams.

If the ship is stripped and ready for the blow, she heels over till the water spurts in through the lee scupper holes and half the deck is awash. If there is a rag of sail on stay or yard, there is a bang like the report of a duck-gun, and, if yon have quick eyes, you may see it flying away to leeward like a bit of tissue paper before the gale, and if it has not yielded with sufficient readiness to the shock of the storm, a sprung topmast or a snapped yard will pay the penalty of resistance.

Meanwhile, what was a few minutes ago a smoothly-shining sea, scarcely ruffled by a ripple, is now a white, boiling mass of swiftly rising billows, amidst which the straining, struggling vessel fights for her life like some stricken animal.

It had been thus with the Calypso. A stout new forestaysail that had been hoisted in the hope of getting her head before the squall had been struck square, and had resisted just a moment too long, at the cost of a sprung foretopmast. Then, an effort to bring her round with the screw had resulted in the disaster that practically crippled her.

A big sea came rolling up astern, her nose went down and her stern went up, her propeller whirling in the air, and, before the engine could be stopped, there came a grinding, thrashing noise in the engine-room, and, a moment later, the yacht was drifting helplessly away before the storm with a broken crankshaft.

When this happened, the Calypso was on a voyage from New Zealand to the Marquesas Islands, between four and five hundred miles to the north-east of Auckland. The screw had been hoisted out of the water and a spare foretopmast fitted; but only five days after this had been done she was caught in a heavy gale from the south-westward, and got so badly knocked about that when every spare spar on board had been used in refitting her, she could only carry sail enough to take her at four or five knots an hour before a good topsail breeze.

The result of this double misfortune was, that a month later she was still on the southern verge of the tropics, beating about in light, baffling winds, unable to make her way into the region of the south-east trades.

The Calypso was owned and sailed by Sir Harry Milton, Of Seaton Abbey, Northumberland, landowner and ironmaster, who rather less than three years before had come of age and entered upon his inheritance of broad acres, mines, and ironworks, which yielded him an income not far short of thirty thousand a year, and in addition to these a comfortable nest-egg of nearly half a million in hard cash and good securities.

For the last year and a half, he had been seeing the world in the pleasantest of all fashions–cruising about from port to port, and ocean to ocean, in his yacht, in company with his sister Violet, a pretty, healthy, high- bred brunette between eighteen and nineteen.

Sir Harry himself was a good specimen of the typical English gentleman, standing about five feet ten in his deck shoes, well built, broad-shouldered, ruddy-skinned, and clear-eyed, with features that were frank and pleasing in their open manliness, rather than strictly handsome, and yet saved from mediocrity by that undefinable, yet unmistakable, stamp of good breeding which distinguishes, as was once wittily if somewhat cynically said, the man who has a grandfather from the man who only had progenitors.

Apart from the officers and crew of the Calypso, there was only one member of the yacht’s company who needs introduction in special terms. This was Herbert Wyndham, second lieutenant of Her Majesty’s gunboat Sandfly, an old schoolfellow and bosom friend of Sir Harry’s, and just now on a year’s invalid leave in consequence of a nasty bullet wound received in storming a stronghold of a West African slaver chieftain, at the head of his blue-jackets. Sir Harry had picked him up at Cape Town, when he was beginning to get about again after the fever that had followed on his wound, and, with his sister’s assistance, he succeeded without much difficulty in persuading him to spend the rest of his leave on a cruise to the South Seas in the Calypso.

In person, Lieutenant Wyndham was a well set-up, clean-limbed young fellow of twenty-six, with a good-humoured face and bright hazel eyes, which looked alertly out from under a square, strong forehead that matched the firm chin, which, according to the modern fashion of naval officers, was clothed with a close-clipped, neatly-trimmed beard a shade or so lighter than the close, curly chestnut hair that formed not the least of his personal attractions.

k As week after week passed, and neither land nor sail appeared in sight from the decks of the half-crippled yacht, Sir Harry began to feel a little natural anxiety for the ultimate safety of his beautiful craft and of those near and dear to him on board her. Another such a squall or a gale as she had already suffered from would almost infallibly wreck her in her present state, and both he and his sailing-master would have been glad to reach even the shelter of a coral lagoon, within which she could take refuge until she could be thoroughly overhauled in a fashion that was not possible out in the open sea.

But most things have an end,–even calms in the South Pacific,–and by Christmas Eve the Calypso had at last crept out of the zone of calms and had begun to feel the first fitful puffs of the trade winds. Then, about an hour before sunrise on Christmas morning, the unexpected, but none the less welcome, cry of “Land, ho!” brought everyone, from Sir Harry himself to his sister’s maid, or the “Lady-in-Waiting,” as Lieutenant Wyndham was wont to call her, tumbling out of their berths and up on deck.

No one who has not seen the sun rise over an island in the South Pacific can form any adequate idea of the scene that greeted the eyes of the crew of the Calypso, as the light broadened and brightened to the eastward in front of them. The island paradises of the South Sea are like no other part of the earth. Their beauty is entirely their own. No word-painting can ever do full justice to it, and the reader must therefore fain be content with the purely geographical description, which will follow in its proper place, of the island that was seen rising out of the smooth sapphire sea to the poop-deck of the Calypso on Christmas morning, 1898

In less than half an hour after the welcome hail had run along the deck, Sir Harry and the sailing-master were eagerly scanning the land, now about ten miles distant, through their glasses.

“What do you make it, Mr. Topline?” asked Sir Harry, after a good long stare at the mysterious land, taking his binoculars from his eyes and looking at the old salt with a puzzled expression.

“I can’t say, Sir Harry. I’ve never seen the island before, and I don’t believe it’s down in the chart. You see, we’ve got clean out of the track of the trading vessels and mail steamers, and this part of the South Sea is even now very little known. I’d no idea there was land within three hundred miles of us,” replied the sailing-master.

“No, it’s not on the chart, for I was following Mr. Martin yesterday when he was pricking off the course, and there was nothing near us. Confound the wind! There it goes to a dead calm again. Hullo, what the deuce is that?”

As he spoke, Sir Harry jumped, glass in hand, on to the rail that ran round the flush deck of the yacht, climbed half a dozen rounds into the main shrouds, and again levelled his glasses in the direction of the island. A moment later he sang out to the sailing-master-

“Topline, what do you say to a steam launch coming off from your unknown island?”

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