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Title: The Airship Boys in the Great War
or, The Rescue of Bob Russell
Author: De Lysle F. Cass
Illustrator: Harry O. Kennedy
Release Date: December 31, 2020 [eBook #64184]
Language: English
Character set encoding: UTF-8
Produced by: Demian Katz, Craig Kirkwood, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (Images courtesy of the Digital Library@Villanova University (

The Airship Boys in the Great War
The Rescue of Bob Russell

The “Ocean Flyer” Surrounded by Zeppelins.

Title page

The Airship Boys
In the Great War

or, The Rescue of
Bob Russell


Publisher icon

Illustrated by Harry O. Kennedy

The Reilly & Britton Co.

Copyright, 1915
The Reilly & Britton Co.



IWhat the Newspaper Told 9
IIIn the Offices of the New York Herald 17
IIISomeone Tries to Buy the “Flyer” 27
IVGetting the “Flyer” Ready 33
VBuck Stewart—and a Warning 46
VIEscaping From Deadly Shadows 54
VIIWhat Happened to Ned 62
VIIISix Miles Up in the Air 70
IXParis Proves Unfriendly 78
XAn Adventure in the Ardennes 86
XIThe Fight in the Forest 95
XIIBuck Takes His Life in His Hands 100
XIIITo Be Shot at Sunrise 107
XIVThe Rescue 115
XVIn Deadly Peril 124
XVINed Saves the “Flyer’s” Crew 129
XVIIBob Russell’s Story 134
XVIIIHow Bob Was Captured as a Spy 142
XIXA Strange Country 149
XXA Fight With Wild Cossacks in Poland 157
XXIInside of Besieged Przemysl 165
XXIIThe Boys Perform an Act of Mercy 173
XXIIIStrange Sights in Vienna 182
XXIVOn the Trail of the Conspirators 191
XXVThe Boys Get Worried Over Ned 199
XXVIAn Attempt to Assassinate the Emperor 209
XXVIIThe Man in the Cloak Surprises Everybody 216
XXVIIISurrounded by German Zeppelins 225
XXIXThe Battle Above the Clouds 230
XXXThe Most Terrible Accident of All 236
XXXIThe End of the “Ocean Flyer” 244


The “Ocean Flyer” Surrounded by Zeppelins Frontispiece
A Narrow EscapePage 60
The Rescue of Bob RussellPage 118
The Mysterious Man in the CloakPage 220


The Airship Boys in the
Great War


“Great Guns!” exclaimed Alan Hope, bending down over the newspaper which he had spread out upon the table in front of him.

Ned Napier, who was deep in a pile of blue prints on his desk, glanced over at his chum.

“Great guns exactly describes it, if you’re reading those accounts of the war in Europe,” said he with a grin, “or maybe you’d better say the great-est guns, because that’s what they are using over there just now. But then, we shouldn’t worry as long as they aren’t shooting up the good old Stars and Stripes.”

“That’s just it, Ned; we should worry,” answered Alan, his face puckered into unaccustomed wrinkles, and his eyes still swiftly scanning the pages of the newspaper before him. “We ought to worry about this piece of[10] news, because it concerns a mighty good friend of ours.”

“Who! How’s that? Where is it?” cried Ned, swinging around in his swivel chair so as to face the other boy. Seeing that Alan was still staring as if bewildered at the paper, he arose and hurried over to the table. Leaning down over Alan’s shoulder, he at first could only see flaring headlines of three and four-inch black-faced type.

As Ned’s eye roved down the outspread sheet, however, it finally was caught by a smaller sub-head, sandwiched in between reports on the latest scandal on the Subway Investigation and alleged atrocities in Belgium. He gave a gasp of mingled astonishment and consternation as he read the following:


“Will Be Tried as a Spy!

“Associated Press Syndicate, Muhlbruck, via Brussels, November 13, (Delayed by censor).—Robert Russell, said to be an American newspaper man, has been arrested here and put under guard, pending trial as a spy by Gen. Haberkampf,[11] commanding the division of the West Battalion. The Germans are taking every precaution to safeguard the secrecy of their maneuvers, and this arrest is said to be only one of their determined efforts to discourage the presence of alien war correspondents. Russell is in grave danger of being shot unless he can satisfactorily explain certain papers found upon his person at the time of his arrest.”

No wonder that both Ned and Alan turned pale and looked at each other in a dazed, stupefied sort of way. Bob Russell was one of their oldest and dearest comrades, a lad only slightly older than themselves, who had gone through innumerable adventures with them. He had so often accompanied them in sensational exploits, that his name was often linked with theirs: The “Airship Boys.” He had accompanied them on the famous twelve-hour flight of the Ocean Flyer from London to New York; he had braved death with them in Mexico when the Airship Boys put a stop to the smuggling of Chinamen into this country; he had proved himself an intrepid comrade when they had dared wild Indian tribes in Navajo land in search of the hidden Aztec temple; he had risked death with them on their dash for the North Pole.


The Airship Boys and their adventures have been written up in newspapers and books and Bob Russell was no small factor in the success of his friends.

Bob Russell! As tried and true a comrade as ever a boy had—always cheerful, full of expedients, and “game” to the core. They could hardly realize that it was he who was now threatened by such frightful death, without a single friend near to aid him.

“Poor Bob!” exclaimed Alan, and was not at all ashamed of the unaccustomed lump that crowded further speech from his throat. “Poor Bob!” he repeated.

Ned had dropped his face into his hands and with closed eyes mentally pictured the crowded, ill-smelling prison where Bob sat unshaven and forlorn, surrounded by other wounded and miserable beings who felt no sympathy for him nor even spoke his language—who only shrank with wide, scared eyes from the suspicious glare of the armed Germans on guard. Maybe Bob was thinking of him too just then, wondering what the Airship Boys were doing, picturing them skimming luxuriously out over the sun-kissed ocean in careless forgetfulness of him, their devoted comrade of past days.


Alan interrupted Ned’s mournful imaginings again.

“Just think,” he cried, “of all the terrible barbarities which the newspapers say that the Germans have inflicted upon their captives. Think, they may perpetrate some similar awful atrocity upon poor old Bob!”

Ned shook his head impatiently.

“No, I don’t believe they would do anything like that,” said he. “Two-thirds of these torture and massacre stories we read about are hysterical exaggerations, prompted either by their enemies or newspaper writers with a lively imagination. The Germans are a kindly, civilized people, just as the English or French, and certainly more so than the Russians. If they shoot Bob it will be because they honestly believe him to be a spy.”

“But they mustn’t shoot him! It must be stopped some way!”

“Yes, but how? If all of the influence that Uncle Sam can exert won’t protect him, what can?”

We can, Ned. There is no time to wait for diplomatic negotiations, which may accomplish nothing anyway. Remember that this newspaper says that certain incriminating papers[14] have been found on Bob’s person. If he is to be saved it must be done immediately and by us two alone. We can take the Ocean Flyer and reach Belgium in twenty or twenty-one hours, just as easily as we made that trip from New York to London in eighteen hours last year.”

“I admit that we can get there soon enough,” answered Ned, “but what about the third man whom we’ll need to help us manage the airship?”

“Why not ‘Buck’ Stewart, who went with us on the Flyer’s trip to London? We know that he is absolutely dependable, and is familiar with the workings of the ship besides. Then, too, the Herald will be more than glad of the chance to send one of its reporters with us to see the war at close range.”

Alan’s intense enthusiasm began to communicate itself to the slower-thinking, more practical Ned, but he was not ready to act without mature consideration of all the difficulties involved which might make a failure of their attempt.

“I don’t want you to think me lukewarm about doing anything in our power to save Bob,” said he, “but we’ve got to look carefully at all sides of this thing. Don’t you realize that the United States government wouldn’t sanction any high-handed breaking of[15] neutrality laws that might drag it into the war, just because an American citizen was held captive?”

“Then let’s go without the government’s permission! Who is there to stop us? We can get enough credentials from Mr. Latimer, managing editor of the Herald, to tide us over small passport difficulties, and further than those we certainly can depend upon ourselves. We won’t have to flaunt the Stars and Stripes under the nose of every foreigner we happen to meet over there anyway. Remember what Senator Bascom said in his speech on the Mexican war: ‘If the life of a single United States citizen is at stake, it is worth all of the millions of mere money that international war may cost us.’ We can’t desert good old Bob in an emergency like this, can we?”

“No!” shouted Ned, jumping to his feet and banging his fists on the desk in front of him. “You’re right, Alan. We’re going to show those chaps over there that it’s not such ‘a long, long way to Tipperary,’ after all, providing one can travel in the Airship Boys’ Ocean Flyer at the rate of two hundred miles an hour. Get on your hat and overcoat, Alan! We’re going over to the Herald office right now to see[16] what the editor of the Herald will do for us.”

“Hip, hip, hurrah!” shouted Alan, and grabbing Ned’s out-stretched hands they did a truly boyish war-dance around the sober, stately offices of the Universal Transportation Company, of which they were the heads.



The managing editor of the New York Herald received the engraved visiting cards of Alan Hope and Ned Napier with mingled pleasure and surprise.

“The Airship Boys! Send them right in,” said he to the young woman who had announced them from the outer office. Then the great newspaper man turned with an apologetic smile to the gentleman who still stood, hat in hand, beside his desk, as he had been about to leave just before the boys’ cards were brought in.

“Please excuse me, Mr. Geisthorn, for seeming to hurry you away in this manner, but I believe our little interview was about terminated anyway.”

“Yes, it is so,” replied the other, speaking with a strong German accent. “It is not for me yet to take too much of your precious time. As I have before said, I am myself a journalist, and know the value of even a minute’s time.”

The editor of the Herald arose to shake hands[18] in parting with his visitor. At the door the latter turned, hesitated momentarily, and then said:

“My excuses again, mein herr, but what was it that you called these gentlemen? The Aeroplane Children? What is that?”

The managing editor permitted a smile to edge his lips as he turned and pointed to a framed front page of the Herald, dated over two years ago. It was double headlined in heavy, black-letter type, and profusely illustrated with photographs of the coronation of King George V of England.

“I called them the Airship Boys,” said the editor. “That is a title they have won as a result of their astounding feats and innovations in aerial navigation. The page of the Herald which you see there on the wall represents a bit of newspaper history as well as the beginning of a new epoch in aeronautics. Those two young men, Ned Napier and Alan Hope, two years ago last June accomplished a flight from London to New York in twelve hours, bringing back with them photographs of the coronation ceremonies, and enabling us to publish them nearly a week earlier than any other American newspaper.”


“London to New York in twelve hours! Impossible!” ejaculated the visitor, gaping at the picture.

“I don’t wonder at your surprise,” responded the managing editor, “but that’s exactly what they accomplished in their Ocean Flyer—the largest and highest-powered aircraft ever devised—a vessel capable of carrying six or seven passengers at a consistent velocity of two hundred miles and more per hour; an airship which can be easily operated at a height of eight or ten miles, where the driver of any other machine would either freeze to death or die from lack of oxygen.”

“You are not what you call making funnies of me?” queried the astounded visitor, blinking at the editor fixedly through narrowed eyelids, as if to read his inmost thought. “All this that you tell me is true then?”

“Sir!” said the managing editor with a touch of temper.

“Pardon, mein herr; I do not mean to offend, but—”

“Mr. Napier and Mr. Hope,” announced the private secretary from the doorway.

Ned and Alan appeared, hat in hand, and were cordially greeted by their newspaper friend.[20] As they entered the room, the earlier visitor brushed past them on his way out, staring almost rudely in each boy’s face as he passed.

“Well,” said Alan, when the door clicked shut behind the man, “I hope whoever that is will know us the next time he sees us.”

The managing editor laughed as he waved his guests to seats and offered them cigars, which both boys refused with thanks.

“You’ll have to excuse Mr. Geisthorn, boys,” said he. “He is a newly appointed local correspondent for the Tageblatt, and I nearly floored him with an account of that London-to-New York flight of yours.”

“Oh, he was a German then,” said Ned, exchanging a significant glance with Alan.

“Why, yes, and seems to be a very nice fellow from what little I know of him. He arrived in this country only shortly after the war broke out and seems quiet and inoffensive,—never gets excited over the war news nor yells Bloody Murder when the ‘Vaterland’ is mentioned. He calls here every now and then to give me interesting bits of news which filter through to him but are cut out of the Herald’s regular Berlin cable service by the censor. Ever since our Mr. Russell got into difficulties over[21] there we haven’t been able to get anything like the exclusive copy we used to.”

“That’s just what we’re here to see you about, sir,” Ned remarked. “We read in this morning’s papers how Bob has been imprisoned as a spy and is liable to be shot at any minute. President Wilson naturally doesn’t want to embroil the United States unnecessarily in the war, and Bob may be backed up against a wall with the firing squad aiming at him before this ‘watchful waiting’ policy evolves any means of interceding in his behalf. Something must be done to help him right away.”

The lines of care around the great journalist’s mouth deepened with melancholy as he nodded.

“The Herald has of course registered a formal protest. We can do no more,” he said. “The life of a single individual doesn’t seem such a very big thing to war-crazed men who are blinded with cannon smoke and have been literally wading through human blood for three months past. We can get no satisfactory answer of any sort from the German field headquarters. The most that they will promise is that the affair will be investigated and rigid justice meted out.”

“But, hang it all—” broke in Alan, only to be silenced by the calmer, more practical[22] Ned. Pulling his chair closer to the editor’s desk and lowering his voice, he explained:

“Alan and I feel that for Bob’s sake we can’t afford to take chances on any such vague promises as have been given you. We propose to rescue him ourselves and without a moment’s unnecessary delay.”

“But how can—”

“Sh! In this case we must be careful that we aren’t overheard. There might be some German sympathizer about who would send word of our plans, or, on the other hand, even the federal government agents would interfere if they got wind of our scheme.”

“You are right,” answered the managing editor.

He pressed the electric button on the side of his desk, summoning the young lady secretary from the outer office.

“Miss Bloomfield, is there anyone out there waiting to see me?”

“No, sir.”

“Good! Kindly contrive to knock the big dictionary off your desk the moment anyone comes in, so that I may be warned of any visitors without their knowing it. That is all.” She closed the door.


“Now, boys.”

Ned resumed his explanation.

“The Ocean Flyer is still there in the hangar of the Newark plant of the Universal Transportation Company. Neither Mr. Osborne, president of the company, nor Major Honeywell, the secretary, have any financial interest in the airship. It belongs absolutely to Alan and me, and we intend to use it immediately for the trip to Muhlbruck, where we understand that Bob is awaiting trial.

“The Flyer is in the best of condition and almost ready for use at any moment. All that we need to do is to equip her with a few mechanical supplies, food, firearms, and so on. We can make the trip in less than twenty hours. To-day is Tuesday. If all goes well, we can have Bob back here ready to go out on a city assignment for you by next Monday.”

Wrinkles of deep thought lined the great newspaper man’s forehead as he listened attentively to the brief outline of the Airship Boys’ plan. He would have met such statements from any other boys not yet twenty-one years old with absolute ridicule, but he knew that, despite their youth, Ned Napier and Alan Hope were fully capable of carrying out their scheme.


“One thing more, though, boys,” said he, after a short period of silence. “Just how are you going to get Mr. Russell out of prison after you arrive in Muhlbruck? You won’t be able to overpower a whole German garrison, you know. Then, too, the chances are that when they see an airship of such unusual design as yours floating down upon them, they’ll recognize it as being of foreign construction and fire upon you.”

Alan answered him:

“We haven’t had time to plan that far ahead yet; we’re going to let that part of it take care of itself. We’ll have to be governed by circumstances after we get there anyway.”

“And in regard to their firing upon us as a hostile airship,” supplemented Ned. “I think the chances are that they may take us for one of their new types of dirigibles that Count Zeppelin is said to have almost ready for a big aerial raid upon England.”

The editor smiled a bit sadly at their shining eyes and enthusiastic faces. Then he shook his head.

“I don’t believe that even a German private could mistake the unusual build of the Ocean Flyer for the bologna-shaped gas bag of a Zeppelin,” said he. “Still, you are very brave boys,[25] and I want to compliment you sincerely upon your pluck in attempting this thing. All luck go with you. Now, what is it that you came here to have me do in your behalf?”

“Just this,” said Ned. “We would like to have you furnish us with full credentials as war-correspondents for the New York Herald to protect us from petty annoyances in case we should, for some unforeseen reason, have to abandon the Flyer and make our escape on foot. We promise you that the passports will not be used in any way that might implicate the paper in a breach of neutrality courtesies, and, anyway, we’re not going to do any actual fighting if we can help it.

“Also, we would like to have a personal letter to General Haberkampf, the German commandant at Muhlbruck, explaining that Bob Russell is an authorized and fully-accredited representative of the Herald, and the last person in the world to be concerned in secret service for the Allies.”

“Certainly you shall have all that you ask for,” cried the managing editor. “And here’s hoping that you make that bigoted old General Haberkampf come to his knees with—”


Further utterance froze on the editor’s lips[26] and both boys sprang startled to their feet. Miss Bloomfield’s big dictionary had fallen to the floor with a bang in the outer office!

The editor strode to the private door just as it was pushed open by none other than Mr. Geisthorn, the new correspondent for the Berliner Tageblatt. Miss Bloomfield’s face showed angrily over his shoulder.

For a breathless moment all four of those in the private office stared quizzically at each other. The German was the first to recover his composure.

“Excuse, gentlemen,” said he, bowing low to each in turn, “I did not mean to interrupt, but did I not leave my gloves there on the desk?”

“I think not, sir,” replied the editor gravely. “Come in. You do not interrupt us. My conference with these gentlemen is already concluded. Mr. Napier, Mr. Hope, good day. I shall send you by boy this afternoon the copies from our files about which you inquired. Good-bye!”

As the Airship Boys passed out of the office, Mr. Geisthorn again bent upon them his peculiarly disconcerting stare. They remarked that his pale blue eyes were as hard and cold as steel.



“Well, young men, I’ve good news—truly surprising news for you,” said Major Baldwin Honeywell, as he shook hands with Ned and Alan the next morning when they returned to the offices of the Universal Transportation Company.

“We hope that you’re right, Major,” answered Ned. “What is the good news?”

“First let me ask you a question. How much did it cost you to build the Ocean Flyer and at what figure do you estimate the time you spent upon it, the only model of its kind yet completed? Your mechanism, parts, et cetera, are, of course, fully protected by international patents. The question is simply: For how much will you sell the Ocean Flyer just as she stands there in our Newark factory?”

“The machine itself cost us about twenty-five thousand dollars, Major. I should say that the market value of the craft itself, allowing compensation for our time and the fact that the[28] airship is absolutely unique, ought to make it worth at least a hundred and fifty or two hundred thousand dollars.”

Major Honeywell was rubbing his hands delightedly.

“Fine, fine! I knew that you would estimate it at about that amount. Boys, what do you say to a prospective purchaser who is willing to pay three hundred thousand dollars spot cash for this single model, leaving the company full patent and all further construction rights?”

“But the machine isn’t for sale at any price,” said Alan quietly. “We intend to use it ourselves immediately, and until we are finished with it, no consideration would tempt us to sell.”

“But, Alan—boys!—think of the sum you are offered: twelve times the actual cost, if the new owners are given immediate possession, and providing you agree not to dispose of another similar machine within a period of one year. You can build another airship just like the Flyer within two or three months at the longest, and you are at liberty to use it yourselves as you may please. To what immediate use can you put the vessel that will in any way compensate for the loss of three hundred thousand dollars in cold cash?”


“Major,” said Alan, “we are deeply grateful for your interest in the matter, but we feel that we can’t look at it as a mere matter of dollars and cents just now. Something a great deal more valuable to us is at stake—the life of Bob Russell, whom you know.”

Then Alan went on to tell Major Honeywell all about Bob’s predicament and how they proposed to save him. The old gentleman’s face grew more and more grave as he listened, and several times he shook his head disapprovingly.

“But, my dear boys,” he exclaimed, after Alan had concluded outlining their plans, “have you sufficiently considered the terrible dangers that you incur by this rash procedure? Quite aside from the momentary probability of aerial mishap, you must realize that the Germans would shoot you without scruple under the circumstances. Moreover, the entire United States government would be powerless to help you if once you were caught in a breach of neutrality laws, as your act certainly would be construed.”

“Thank you kindly for the well-meant word of caution, Major,” answered Alan, “but there is nothing you could say which would make us give up this chance of saving poor Bob’s life.”

“Then, if that is the case, here is my hand,[30] boys, and my heartiest well wishes go with you. While I cannot conscientiously endorse so dangerous a proceeding, I still can admire the pluck which prompts it.”

Both boys flushed under their kindly old friend’s praise, and Ned, who up to this time had played the part of a listener, said:

“Just who were these prospective purchasers of the Ocean Flyer? Why did they insist on taking immediate possession of it, and why the stipulation that we were to sell no other similar airship to anyone else within one year’s time?”

Major Honeywell shook his head.

“I am as much in the dark in that regard as you are, Ned. Just before you arrived this morning, I was visited by a Mr. Phillips, whose business it is to act as go-between and buyer for concerns which do not wish their own names to appear in a transaction. Mr. Phillips would not state for whom he was acting or for what purpose the Flyer was to be used, but said that he was authorized to pay spot cash for it. He seemed to be very much excited and anxious to close the deal at once.”

“Do you suppose that he could be representing one of the belligerent countries in Europe and wanted the Flyer for war?” asked Ned.


This was a new thought to Alan, who slapped his knee, exclaiming:

“I’ll bet that’s the whole secret. The war departments over there are all wild over this armored aeroplane idea anyway. England probably wants the Flyer to protect her from air invasion by Germany.”

“Or France wants it to use in dropping bombs along the western battle front in Belgium,” said Major Honeywell.

“Or maybe Germany wants it to supplement their rumored fleet of Zeppelins for the long-planned raid on England,” added Ned.

All three could not help but laugh heartily at the diversity of opinions thus expressed. In the midst of their merriment the telephone on Major Honeywell’s desk began suddenly to ring insistently.

“Hello,” called the Major, with the receiver to his ear. “Yes, yes. This is the offices of the Universal Transportation Company, Major Baldwin Honeywell, the treasurer, talking.... What?... Speak a little louder and more slowly, please; I can hardly understand you.... Yes.... Mr. Phillips approached me about the sale of the Ocean Flyer this morning.... Oh! you are speaking for him. I see.... No,[32] we have decided not to sell the airship.... No, not to sell it.... No, no, the price was quite gratifying, but the Flyer is not for sale.... Positively, sir!... You are wishing to give twenty-five thousand dollars more?... Hold the wire.”

Major Honeywell rolled a wild eye at the intently listening boys. Both shook their heads emphatically. The Major turned again to the telephone.

“I’m sorry, sir, but our decision is not to sell the Flyer at any price whatever.... No, I am sure that we shall not change our minds about it.... All right. To whom have I been speaking, please?”

As the Major asked this final question, Ned sprang to an adjacent extension of the telephone. He caught the distant guttural rumble of a heavy voice:

“My name, it is of no matter since you have not the airship for sale. Good-bye.”

The words were spoken with a marked German accent that in some way seemed peculiarly familiar to Ned. He had heard that voice before, and recently too. But where?



The rest of that day was a very busy one for the Airship Boys, even though Major Honeywell himself lent as much assistance as he could. There was a variety of miscellaneous supplies to be purchased, hurried letters to be written to Ned’s parents in Chicago and to Alan’s sister, Mary. Both boys agreed that it was best not to state the destination or object of their trip for fear that their beloved ones might suffer all sorts of anxieties until their safe return. So they wrote briefly that they were going off upon a little three or four days’ business trip in the Ocean Flyer and that it was the urgency of the business in hand that prevented their making the farewell visit they desired.

Their shopping for necessary supplies did not take the boys long, for they could estimate pretty closely what they would need. On account of the extremely high altitudes at which they would fly it was necessary for them to buy especially heavy underwear, felt boots, wool jackets, fleece-lined[34] fingered mittens and heavy caps for four persons—as Alan said: “The fourth outfit for Bob Russell, so that he won’t freeze coming back with us.”

Then there were food supplies (the Flyer was equipped with a regular cook’s galley) to be bought, a dozen hair-trigger automatic revolvers, half a dozen light-weight repeating rifles of the latest pattern, cartridge belts, rounds of ammunition, and a large American flag. Neither the firearms nor the flag were to be used except in case of absolute necessity.

Major Honeywell got the aeroplane works in Newark, where the Ocean Flyer was being kept in storage, on the telephone, and issued instructions to the manager there to run the big aircraft out of the hangar into the inclosed experimental field ready for inspection, and to lay in fresh supplies of the special grades of gasoline and ether needed for power.

All incidental shopping completed, Major Honeywell placed his big automobile at the disposal of Ned and Alan, and the trip between Greater New York and Newark was accomplished at a rate that turned the speedometer needle halfway around its circumference and raised angry protests from every traffic policeman as[35] the car whizzed by. This was not, of course, a wise thing to do, but the Major’s chauffeur was an especially good driver and the boys felt justified by the exceptional matter in hand.

An unusual stir was apparent inside the field of the aeroplane works as the Major’s automobile raced up to the high brick wall which insured privacy for the grounds. At the far end of the ground stretched the squatty brick buildings of the factory, with a wireless station and various other signaling devices on the parapeted roof. Extending out from the yard front and ending at the edge of the big experimental field, was the “setting-up room,” a drop of heavy canvas roofing, supported every hundred feet by rough, unpainted posts. Under this tent-like structure was to be seen almost every size and variety of flying craft made in America, to say nothing of several flying machines of obviously foreign design. Most of these were covered by heavy tarpaulins to protect them while not in use. A whole corps of mechanicians was just then pushing out into the aviation field another and very different type of flyer, the heroic proportions of which dwarfed all the other machines into insignificance.

The eyes of the Airship Boys lighted up.


“There she goes!” they cried in unison. “They are getting her all ready for us.”

They jumped out of the automobile and hurried across the field to where the peerless wonder of the world’s aircraft stood, a literal monument to their inventive genius.

The Ocean Flyer has been too fully commented upon and described in scientific journals, magazines and newspapers from coast to coast to require any very detailed account of it in this story.

Overlapping, dull glinting plates of the recently-discovered metal magnalium covered the entire body of the vessel like the scales of a fish. The planes and truss were likewise formed of this substance, which is a magnesium alloy with copper and standard vanadium, or chrome steel. The extreme lightness of magnalium, combined with a toughness found in no other metal or alloy, made possible the perfection of this largest of all airships.

The vessel was modeled after the general form of a sea gull, with wings outspread in full flight, its peculiarly ingenious construction insuring not only the maximum of speed, but also that hitherto elusive automatic stability of the planes which for years past has been the despair of aeroplane[37] builders on both sides of the “big pond.”

Braces extending from the bottom of the car body and metal cables from the top partly supported the vast expanse of magnalium steel sheets, but toward the outer ends, the wings, or planes, extended unsupported in apparent defiance of all mechanical laws. Three sets of “tandem” planes projected with slight dihedral angles for a distance decreasing from eighty, to sixty, to forty feet, on each side of the ship body, affording a wing-spread never before successfully attained, and giving the whole the exact resemblance of a gigantic metal bird.

Each of these planes was made of three distinct telescoping fore and aft sections, with a full spread of twenty-one feet. By means of the immense pressure gauges almost concealed under the curved front of the main plane, the rear sections were drawn in by cables on a spring drum until the width of each of the three planes was reduced to seven feet. The moment the air pressure was lessened by descent or lessening of speed, the narrow wing surfaces automatically spread. In rapid flight the reverse pressure on the gauges allowed the spring drums to reel in the extension surfaces, housing all extensions securely, either beneath or over the[38] main section of the wings. In this way the buoyancy of the airship remained always the same.

The body of the Ocean Flyer consisted of two decks or stories, with a pilot house, staterooms, fuel chambers, engineroom, bridges above and protective galleries. The completely enclosed hull, pierced with heavy, glass-protected ports, and doors, was twelve feet wide, thirteen feet high and thirty feet long, ending in a maze of metal trusswork at the rear, and a magnalium-braced tail, seventy-three feet more in length, exclusive of the twenty-foot rudder at the stern.

To drive this huge craft, a much higher percentage of motor power than ever before secured had to be transformed into propulsive energy. The ordinary aeroplane propeller permits the escape of much of the motive power, but the Ocean Flyer was equipped with the new French “moon” devices, which do away with the “slip,” and allow the full power of the engine to be applied to the greatest advantage. Viewed sidewise, this new form of propeller looks exactly like a crescent, its tips curving ahead of its shaft attachment. The massive eleven-foot propellers of the Ocean Flyer, with a section five feet broad at the center, gave ample “push.”[39] They were located just forward of and beneath the front edge of the long planes. Powerful magnalium chain drives connected these with the shaft inside the hull. Behind the chain drives, a light metal runway extended twelve feet from the car to the propeller bearings, so that the latter might be reached while the car was in transit, should adjustment or oiling be found necessary.

Within the hull of the vessel, four feet from the bottom, a shaft extended carrying a third or auxiliary “moon” propeller, differing from the exterior side propellers by being seven instead of eleven feet in length. This reserve propelling force was for use in case either of the other propellers became disabled.

The motive force of the Flyer was secured by a chemical engine, run by dehydrated sulphuric ether and gasoline. Magnalium cylinders sustained the shock of the tremendous “explosions” as the cylinders revolved past the exploding chamber and developed a power previously undreamed of.

Each of the two huge engines used was six feet in diameter, with four explosion chambers cooled by fans which fed liquid ammonia to the cylinder walls in a spray and then furnished[40] power for its re-liquefaction. In form, each engine resembled a great wheel, or turbine, on the rim of which appeared a series of conical cylinder pockets. These, when presented to the explosion chambers, received the impact of the explosion, and then, running through an expanding groove, allowed the charge to continue expanding and applying power until the groove terminated in an open slot which instantly cleansed the cylinders of the burnt gases. By this arrangement there was only a twentieth part of the engine wheel where no power was being simultaneously imparted, thus giving practically a continuous torque.

Weighing over five hundred pounds each, and with a velocity of one thousand five hundred revolutions per minute, those big turbines generated nine hundred and seventy-three horse power, natural brake test, and this could be raised to more than a thousand horse power without danger. Revolving in opposite directions, they eliminated all dangerous gyroscopic action. As has been said, power was applied to the propellers by special magnalium gearing.

The Ocean Flyer was equipped with the first enclosed car or cabin ever used on an aeroplane. The compartments of its two decks connected[41] with each other, but all could be made one air-tight whole. Even the engines were within an air-tight compartment. Attached to the bow of the hull was a large metal funnel with a wide flange. Tubes leading from the small end of this passed into each room on the vessel. Flying at sixty miles or more an hour caused the air to rush into this funnel with such force as soon to fill any or all of the compartments with compressed air. At a speed of two hundred miles per hour, this was likely to be so great that, instead of having too little air, there would be far too much were it not for regulating pressure gauges which shut off the flow from time to time. Thus the aeronauts were not only assured plenty of breathing air even in the highest altitudes, but the pressure gave sufficient heat to prevent frost bite from the intense cold which prevails beyond a certain height above the earth’s surface.

A supply of oxygen was of course carried for use in case of necessity, although the Airship Boys had in the past proved that their funnel device obviated all need of it.

The pilot room was located at the bow on the second deck. In appearance it largely resembled the wheel-house of the ordinary ocean liner. The[42] compass box, with its compensating magnetic mechanism beneath, stood just in front of the steering wheel, below and parallel with which, but not connected with it, was a wheel for elevating or depressing the planes. Both of these wheels operated indirectly, utilizing compressed air cylinders to move the big rudder and wing surfaces. At the right of these wheels was the engine control, consisting of a series of starting and stopping levers for each engine and the gear clutch for each wheel.

At the left, in compact, semicircular form, was the signal-board, the automatic indicator recording at all times the position of each plane, the set of the rudder and the speed of the engines. Below this was the chronometer and a speaking tube which kept the pilot always in communication with every other part of the vessel. Immediately behind the pilot’s wheel was a seeming confusion of indicators and gauges for the making of observations. There was the aerometer, the automatic barograph, the checking barometer, the equilibrium statoscope, a self-recording thermometer, the compressed air gauge for all compartments, chart racks, indicators to show the exact rate of consumption of fuel and lubricating oil and so on.


As may be surmised, the duties of the pilot were not merely to steer and keep a lookout ahead, but also to watch the machine and counteract the influence of unexpected air currents and those atmospheric obstructions like “pockets,” indistinguishable puffs of air, and the like, which are always very dangerous and will jolt an airship exactly as a rock or piece of wood will bounce an automobile into the air and maybe completely overturn it. Among experienced aeronauts, these air-ruts are recognized as being one of the chief perils in aviation.

Ned Napier and Alan Hope usually took turns acting as pilot on a three-hour shift, any longer interval of duty being too nerve-racking a strain. The third man whom they usually took with them on the Ocean Flyer was supposed to be stationed in the engine room. It was his duty to watch the automatic fuel and lubricator supply feed pipes, the compressed air gauges and pipe valves, the signal and illuminating light motor, the oxygen tanks and the plane valves, in addition to the wireless apparatus for communication with the outside world.

On long flights one of the three aviators slept while the others remained on duty. Thus one of them was always kept fresh and alert to meet[44] the demands of any unforeseen emergency.

Ned, Alan and Major Honeywell made a careful investigation of every detail of the Ocean Flyer, satisfying themselves that it was in all respects perfect for their hazardous trip. They found everything to be absolutely shipshape, and those additional supplies which had arrived, were already being stowed away on board.

“Well,” said Alan, “everything seems to be attended to properly, and there is no reason why we can’t start any time we like. The sooner the better, because there’s no telling what they may be going to do to Bob over there in Belgium any one of these days.”

“Right,” echoed Ned. “Let’s see. To-day is Wednesday. What do you say to starting off to-morrow morning early. Then we can arrive in Muhlbruck not later than some time early Friday morning. We will have darkness to cover our arrival there.”

“That’s a good idea,” supplemented Major Honeywell. “I don’t like to see you boys risking this thing, but if it must be done you should take every possible advantage. And now, if you’re through inspecting the Flyer, what do you say to riding back to New York with me in the automobile and taking dinner at my house?”


“The major is a man after my own heart,” cried Ned.

“My stomach cries out for him,” grinned Alan, as they made their way back to the waiting motor car.



It was not a particularly jolly meal at Major Honeywell’s that night. The major was oppressed by grave fears of what might happen to his young friends on their journey, and the Airship Boys felt the seriousness of the step they were about to take. However, youthful spirits are buoyant, and the good-smelling, appetizing dishes that were served them soon drove away dull gloom and revived the boys’ spirits. As Alan said:

“What’s the use of sitting here staring at each other across the table as if we were at a funeral? Nobody is going to die or even get hurt. It’s no use trying to be melancholy on a full stomach, and I, for one, am going to laugh right now.”

The dessert course was just being served when there came a ring at the doorbell, and a few minutes later the maid announced that a reporter from the Herald wanted to see either Mr. Napier or Mr. Hope.


“Show the gentleman right in here,” said Major Honeywell, after the boys had agreed to see him.

The young man who came in was slightly larger and older than either Ned or Alan. He was tall, wiry, and had the cool, assured bearing of one who has survived many rebuffs and still got what he wanted. As he entered the dining room door, both Ned and Alan sprang to their feet and rushed impulsively to meet him.

“Buck Stewart!” they shouted joyously, pumping his arms up and down. “Well, if this isn’t both the most unexpected and the luckiest thing! We’ve been wanting to have a talk with you for two days past, and meant to ask the managing editor about you Tuesday, only we were interrupted and got so flustered over it that we left before remembering that you were one of the main reasons for our call.”

“What good fairy brought you here to-night, Buck?” asked Ned, pulling the newcomer down into a chair at the table and shoving a piece of pie in front of him.

“I’d rather eat that pie than talk right now, but I suppose I’ve got to answer your question first,” said Buck. “We reporters always are in hard lines. You ask how I happen to be[48] here? Well, it was this way: The night city editor called me over about an hour ago and gave me an assignment on you two chaps.”

“Why, what news is there about us that the Herald could use?” asked Ned, exchanging a rapid glance with Alan and the major.

Buck removed a longing eye from the piece of pie to reply:

“We learned in some way that unknown parties had made you a cash offer of something like three hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars for the Ocean Flyer and that you turned them down cold. Is that true? Also, who were the people who wanted to buy the Flyer at such an astounding cash figure, and for what purpose did they want it? If you’ll give me full details I’ll be much obliged.” This as the reporter pulled a folded bundle of note paper and a pencil from his pocket. “These prospective buyers didn’t represent any one of the warring nations in Europe, did they?”

“That’s just what we don’t know and what we feared,” said Alan. “I’m afraid that we can’t give you much dope for a story, though, Buck, because we know as little about them as you do.”

Then he went on to tell about Mr. Phillips,[49] the go-between’s mysterious call, and the telephone conversation with the man with a strong German accent.

“I’m sure that I’ve heard his voice somewhere before and that not so very long ago, too,” added Ned. “I’ve racked my brains ever since trying to place him.”

“Huh, sounds funny,” commented the reporter musingly, “but you certainly haven’t given me much of a lead for the ‘story’ I was after. Well, I’ll be going and not interrupt your little party here any further.”

“Wait a minute, Buck,” said Ned. “We haven’t told you yet why we wanted to see the Herald’s managing editor about you.”

“That’s so,” said Buck, sitting down more comfortably in his chair. “Now if one of you gentlemen will hand me a fork, I’ll dispose of this mince pie while you’re spinning the yarn.”

So, while the reporter was busy making the pie disappear, Ned told him of Bob Russell’s predicament in Belgium and what they proposed to do towards a rescue.

“We want you to go with us, Buck,” said he, “just as you did the time we made the ‘twelve-hour’ London-to-New York flight two years ago with the coronation pictures for the[50] Herald. The managing editor will surely let you go for the two or three days needful when you ask him, especially as it will enable the paper to get a representative right at the front, with no bull-headed censor to edit his ‘copy.’”

“If the boss won’t let me off, I’ll throw up the job anyway,” shouted Buck, jumping up in great excitement. “Why, Bob Russell and I are old friends, just as you are, and I don’t want to leave him in the lurch any more than you do. It’s mighty good of you to give me this chance to make one of the rescue party. Count on Buck Stewart, boys—hair, tooth and nail!”

The reporter’s enthusiasm was contagious. All three sprang to their feet, and, with exclamations of mutual pleasure, were shaking hands to seal the compact when—

“Ting-a-ling-ling! Ting-a-ling-ling!” went the telephone bell.

“Ned,” called the major, who answered the call, “it’s somebody that wants to speak with you personally—a man with a marked German accent.”

The little company around the dining table stared curiously at each other as Ned Napier took up the receiver.


“Hello! This is Mr. Napier.... Yes, I’m one of the owners of the Ocean Flyer. Who is this speaking and what do you want?”

The voice at the other end of the line was harsh and guttural. The words were spoken in a truly menacing tone:

“You do not need to know who I am. It is sufficient that I warn you. We who are banded together in this country know this thing that you think of doing. We know that you intend a trip in your flying ship to the war zone. Take our advice and do not attempt it. You are being closely watched and we will not hold ourselves responsible for what may happen if you try to carry out your plan. You are young and life is dear to you. Beware!”

The telephone clicked abruptly at the other end of the line and the threatening voice was still. Ned sat as if petrified, his face a study of mingled amazement, indecision and indignation.

“What’s the matter, Ned? Who was it? Was it that same person who called up about the Flyer?” cried the others crowding around him.

“Yes,” replied Ned, “it was the same voice and I am sure that I have heard it before.”

Then he went on to tell them of the ominous[52] threats of the mysterious stranger. A chorus of exclamations followed his recital.

“The blackguard!” ejaculated Major Honeywell. “We ought to set detectives on his trail.”

“Small chance of ever catching him that way with the meagre clues we have,” said reporter Buck. “Besides, we haven’t time to monkey with anything like that,—unless, of course, you boys decide that it is better not to risk the enmity of these unknowns. They evidently mean business.”

Ned’s lips had fixed themselves into a grim, straight line, and Alan’s frown was no less determined.

“All he hopes to do is to frighten us into selling the airship to him,” said Alan, “and I don’t believe that his big threats were anything but sheer bluff. Why, they wouldn’t dare attack us right here in the heart of civilized New York.”

“Whoever they are, or whatever they may try to do, we’re not going to let a phone call scare us out of this effort to save Bob Russell,” said Ned. “We’re all ready to start now except for getting the Herald’s permission to let Buck here go with us. He can see the managing editor about that the first thing in the morning, and then we’ll be off immediately.


“But if this gang really has you boys spied upon, they will certainly make some attempt to stop you,” argued Major Honeywell.

“Nobody stands any chance of stopping us once we get up in the air,” answered Ned, “but, as you say, we may as well try to make our get-away as secretly as possible. I would suggest that instead of starting out by daylight to-morrow, as we planned, that we wait until midnight. Each of us can leave his house at a different time during the day and go about as if we have changed our minds and called the trip off. Then, just in time to reach the Newark factory, each one can start off alone. We should be able to disarm any suspicion in that way.”

Everybody approved heartily of Ned’s scheme and parted that night with a little more earnestness in their handshakes than usual. All of the road back home the Airship Boys cast furtive glances over their shoulders every now and then, but no sign of any followers was visible.



Alan Hope spent most of the next day at the offices of the Universal Transportation Company, and was inclined to scoff at the idea of his being watched. Nevertheless he had a loaded automatic revolver tucked away in his hip pocket, and, as night drew on, his assurance began to ooze gradually, and he felt more than once to make sure that his weapon was still there ready for defense.

Ned Napier was really impressed with the threats of the mysterious German, and, though he did not arm himself as Alan had, he kept a sharp lookout for suspicious characters about him. All day long he wandered with an air of affected carelessness through the downtown shopping district, made a couple of short business calls, ate leisurely at the Ritz, and seemed to have no thought of anything but home and bed for that evening.

Buck Stewart arose early that morning, ate a hearty breakfast, and when he started out took[55] with him what was apparently an ordinary cane, but which really was a rod of steel, encased in leather. Many reporters carry them when they are sent out on assignments into dangerous sections of the city.

Swinging his stick jauntily, he made his way first to the offices of the Herald, where a brief chat with the managing editor readily procured him permission to accompany the Airship Boys on their trip. The editor, in fact, made a regular assignment of it and cautioned Buck to take along with him plenty of pencils, notebooks and a small camera that could be swung over one shoulder with a strap.

Thus burdened, Buck again sought the street. Leaving “Newspaper Row” behind, he sauntered along, stopping now and then to look at articles in the shop windows, and finally decided to see the matinee at the Casino.

Broadway was thronged with the usual afternoon crowd of beautiful women and fashionably dressed idlers for which it is famous. The reporter shouldered his way through these, a little self-conscious of the bumping camera-box over his shoulder and the way his pockets bulged with surplus notebooks. Once a tall, plainly dressed man with a close-cropped beard bumped[56] into him. There was a mutual exchange of apologies and the crowd soon swallowed him. Later on Buck met a fellow newspaperman in front of the Astor and stopped to chat with him. An inadvertent side glance during this conversation discovered the same bearded stranger standing just to one side of the hotel entrance, as if hesitating whether to go in or not. There was no recognition in his cold eyes as Buck’s glance caught his, but the reporter’s heart gave a little jump.

“Pshaw!” growled Buck to himself, “I’m getting to be a regular old granny! Here I see the same passer-by twice in an afternoon on Broadway and am afraid that he’s a spy waiting to sandbag me.”

His uneasiness was not thus to be laughed off though, and spoiled his enjoyment of the performance at the theatre. He scanned the audience around him narrowly to see if the bearded man was among them, and was relieved at failing to find him.

After the show Buck again wandered aimlessly through the streets. He was keenly on the alert for spies, and found merely killing time to be harder than he had thought it would be. The strain was beginning to tell on his nerves. At[57] dusk a million lights flashed out in a dazzling array of figures and designs and the Great White Way made good its name. But Buck was tired of it by then. He strolled over to near-by Fifth Avenue, where there were fewer people to jostle him and the rattle of the streets was less distracting. He felt, for no apparent reason, increasingly sure that he was being followed.

To make sure of his suspicions Buck walked at times very slowly; at others rapidly; but he observed no suspicious “shadows.” True, there were a number of people walking behind him, but his inspection revealed nothing sinister about them.

Buck told himself that his fears were silly—that he was as bad as a girl in the dark. Still the vague dread oppressed him.

He ate in a small restaurant just off Fourth Avenue, entering the place at the same time as two other men whose dress indicated them to be shop clerks, or something of the kind. When he arose to pay his bill and leave, they did also. At the counter, one of them brushed as if accidentally against him, and Buck felt deft fingers pass swiftly over his pockets as if searching for something. Was the fellow feeling to see if Buck carried a revolver?


The reporter wondered, but said nothing to the strangers. Their faces were innocent enough and their eyes met his questioning glance candidly. Buck went on out into the night and they followed close on his heels. As he stood quietly in the doorway there, however, the men bade each other good night and parted—going in opposite directions along the street. Finally they disappeared in the darkness.

Buck was sorely perplexed. He felt absolutely certain that it was unsafe for him to be wandering about alone, yet it was several hours too early to start for Newark. Finally he decided to take in several moving picture shows as the safest way to keep out of danger. One of the men whom he had seen in the little restaurant was lounging outside of the first playhouse Buck visited. Before the films were fully run the reporter slipped out through one of the side exits into an alley.

It was so dark there that he hardly could see the ground under foot. Twenty assailants might be waiting in the gloom for aught he could tell. The reporter was not ashamed to take frankly to his heels and rush out onto the lighted street as fast as he could. He noticed that the lounger had disappeared from the theatre doorway.


Hoping now that he had thrown his unknown pursuers off the trail, Buck visited a second moving picture playhouse. There a drunken man plumped roughly down into the vacant seat next to him and tried to pick a quarrel without any excuse at all. The reporter would have taken this as rather a joke had it not been that there was no vile odor of intoxicants on this drunkard’s breath. Shoving the rough to one side, Buck hurried out of the theatre, walked quickly down the street to the next corner; crossed there to see if he was followed; turned the next corner; walked two blocks along an ill-lighted deserted side street and there jumped into a dark doorway to listen.

Yes! there was no mistake about it! He could hear the patter of running feet less than a quarter of a block behind. Ere Buck had time to flee, rubber heels on the pursuers’ shoes deadened their footfalls again and two shadowy figures appeared directly in front of his hiding place. They paused there, breathing hard, and holding a hasty conference.

“How ever did he get away from you, Hermann?” snarled the bigger of the two men to the other, whom Buck now recognized as the “drunken man” of the theatre.


“Why talk about that now that he has again eluded us?” he growled. “If only we had him here on this dark street, we could soon finish with him.”

“Yes, we must catch him at once. He must still be in the neighborhood and isn’t armed. I made sure of that in the restaurant a couple of hours ago. But anyway, he can’t go far without Otto, Wilhelm or some of the others seeing him. They are covering all of these three streets, you know.”

The man addressed as Hermann grunted his assent.

“I’m winded from that run after the fool,” said he. “Let’s sit down in this doorway and rest for a few moments.”

Buck’s heart began to beat faster. He knew that his discovery and assault were only a matter of a few seconds. The scoundrelly pair had now approached within arm’s reach of him, so without further delay the reporter swung aloft his loaded cane and brought it down in a smashing side blow on the head of the nearest man.

A Narrow Escape.

A bellow of rage and pain shocked the neighborhood into wakefulness. As the second man leaped savagely at him, Buck evaded a wicked[61] knife stab and struck him full between the eyes with his clenched fist. The fellow reeled, jerked a pistol from his pocket and emptied it blindly at the place where his combatant had stood an instant before.

But Buck was bounding down the street as fast as his legs could carry him, his camera bumping clumsily against his back. A cross-town trolley car was clanging the bell down the next street and the breathless reporter made a running jump to catch it. Just as he did so a third man with a closely-cropped beard sprang after him from the curb. He caught the camera and gave a mighty tug at it which broke the strap, and, with the box in his hands, sent him sprawling backwards in the street. The rushing trolley car did not stop, and Buck’s extraordinary agility was all that enabled him to swing aboard safely.

“It’s a fine night, mister,” said the conductor, as he rang up the fare.

Buck answered him with the sourest of stares.



Alan Hope reached the Newark factory of the Universal Transportation Company shortly before eleven o’clock that night, after an uneventful trip out via the suburban railroad service. He found the big plant gloomy and silent, without a light to show that activity was really going on within. In response to a prearranged code of rings on the bell at the great main gates, he was admitted.

The Ocean Flyer had been wheeled to the extreme end of the big aviation field where she might have plenty of room for her initial rise into the air, and the factory foreman informed Alan that all was now ready for departure at any minute.

Ned Napier arrived within ten minutes after his chum. Although he had sustained no actual mishap on the way out, it was by sheer luck only that he escaped the trap which had been laid for him. He had attended the performance at the Winter Garden, purposely leaving early. In[63] the foyer as he went out a stranger in full evening dress (apparently one of the spectators finishing his between-acts cigarette) accosted him with extreme politeness:

“Dear gentleman, your pardon,” said he, “but are you not Mr. Edward Napier, the aeronaut?”

“No,” Ned answered him coldly. “My name is Lloyd Jenkins. I am a traveling shoe salesman.”

“My mistake, then,” laughed the stranger lightly. “Just to show that there’s no hard feelings, won’t you join me in a little drink down at the bar?”

“No, thank you,” the boy answered, “I never use intoxicating liquors,” and then, being already suspicious, brushed on past the stranger and out into the street.

The usual line of taxicabs lined the whole curb on both sides of Broadway for a block or more. As soon as Ned appeared there was a hoarse-voiced chorus of shouts:

“Taxi! Taxicab, sir? This way, sir! Taxicab?”

Several of the chauffeurs crowded around Ned, trying to persuade him to patronize them rather than their fellows. One driver, muffled deep in[64] a fur-collared overcoat, even went so far as to lay his hand on the boy’s arm.

“I have a big, comfortable limousine car here,” he said. “Same price as those stuffy little taxis.”

Out of the corner of his eye Ned just then saw the persistent stranger of the theatre lobby coming out of the entrance towards him, and, not being anxious for any further acquaintance, the boy turned hastily to the chauffeur, saying:

“All right! Your limousine for me!”

“Where to, sir?”

Ned was properly cautious.

“The Grand Central Station,” he answered, intending then to change to another taxicab which could double on his tracks and take him on to the rendezvous in Newark.

The gentleman in evening clothes was hurrying towards Ned, signaling wildly for him to wait.

“Drive ahead!” called the boy to his chauffeur, and plunged into the black, cushioned depths of the big limousine. Ned kept right on going through, however, tore open the door on the opposite side, and was plunged headlong to the pavement by the sudden rush of the machine as it fairly leaped into high speed. There in the[65] gloom of the car he had vaguely observed the uneasy stir of a man hidden beneath the heaped-up rugs in the corner.

The boy raced across the street, dodging whizzing motors and heedless of angrily-honking horns, sprang inside the nearest taxicab and yelled to the driver:

“Give her all the juice you can! Five dollars extra if you can get me to Brooklyn Bridge within twenty-five minutes!”

“I’ll do my darnedest,” the chauffeur, a grizzled man of fifty, assured him.

They were off in a jiffy, amid a grating of gear-shifts and thunderous explosions of the opened exhaust. The motor began to whine as the gas was fed more and more rapidly; the white glare of Broadway slipped past the cab windows in a dull blur. Traffic policemen’s whistles were merely unheeded incidentals of the mad race.

Peering back through the little window in the rear of the machine, Ned saw at least two other automobiles join in the pursuit from the front of the theatre. The big limousine was one of them. The stranger in evening clothes and another man were craning their necks out of the other.


“Turn over onto Fifth Avenue and double up and down some of the side streets as fast as you can,” called Ned through the speaking tube to his chauffeur. “Never mind about Brooklyn Bridge. There are two machines behind that I want to shake off our trail.”

“All right, boss,” replied the chauffeur. “You just leave it to Barney O’Dorgan to lose any other chasing taxi in this old town.”

From then on it became a game of hide-and-go-seek. Finally away over on the East Side, it looked as if the pursuers had been shaken off. No sign of them had been apparent for at least half an hour, and Ned was just congratulating himself, when the car turned a corner, and right there, at a standstill under the arc-light, in the center of the otherwise deserted street, stood the big limousine, with the three men arguing violently beside it.

Chauffeur Barney O’Dorgan caught sight of it as soon as Ned did. Simultaneously the trio recognized their lost quarry and started towards it at a run. There was neither time nor space for Barney O’Dorgan to turn his car about, so, as cool as you please, he simply threw his gear lever as far as it would go, flooded the cylinders with gas, and the taxicab began to race backwards[67] at as furious a pace as it had previously gone forward.

Seeing their prey escaping, all three of the pursuers jerked revolvers from their coats and opened fire. Two bullets shattered the windshield in front of intrepid Barney’s face; another tore its vicious way through the wooden body of the cab and imbedded itself with a dull thud in the back wall not a foot from Ned’s head. All of the other shots went wild. Two blocks down this side street and the cursing pursuers were left more than half of that distance behind. Then chauffeur Barney reversed his gears, turned the machine about, and sped on his way, with Ned exulting behind him.

“Barney, you’re a peach, and you won’t ever regret the way you’ve stuck by me to-night,” Ned called gratefully.

“Oh, that’s all right,” the Irishman made answer. “I knew by your looks that you weren’t a crook, and certainly I wouldn’t let that gang of high-binders nab you. Where to now, sir?”

The driver certainly had proved himself trustworthy, so Ned decided to tell him his true destination.


“Have you gasoline enough left to drive me to the plant of the Universal Transportation Company in Newark?” he asked.

“Plenty of gas,” grinned Barney, “but I’m not so sure about the air in my tires. Wait until I look at them.”

The tires proved hard and sound, however. Once more Barney took the wheel, and from there on the ride to the rendezvous was uneventful. Ned presented the chauffeur with thirty dollars as a reward for his fidelity.

“That was a mighty close shave of yours, Ned,” said Alan, after he had heard the story, “but where can Buck Stewart be? It’s already past the time we agreed upon. Do you suppose they could have caught him?”

“Not yet, my boys,” cried a hearty voice behind them, and there stood the reporter, his clothes rumpled, his hat dented out of shape and with pockets a-bulge with notebooks. “There are only two parts of me missing—my camera and cane, and I had to leave them in other hands without stopping to argue about it.”

Then Buck told the story of his thrilling night’s experiences and mutual congratulations followed.

“Well, I guess that we’ve given them all the[69] slip at last,” said Alan, “and since it’s away past the hour we fixed for starting, let’s take our places aboard the Flyer and be off. We haven’t any too much time to lose, you know.”

“Right-o!” echoed Buck and Ned.

So the trio made their way to where the huge airship stood ready. They swung up the ladder into the main port. Ned took his position in the pilot room; Buck in the engine room. Alan made a hasty survey of the vessel, poking around here and there with a powerful hand-searchlight to see that all was as it should be. Their hearts beat high with excitement, which likewise agitated the little group of factory mechanics who had gathered to see them off. Just as Ned was about to signal Bob for their start, there came a tremendous battering upon the great barred doors of the factory.

“Open and admit us!” roared an authoritative, bull-like voice. “Let no man leave here before we enter—in the name of the United States of America!”



For an instant the hearts of all the boys stood still and each looked at the other in consternation.

“In the name of the United States of America!”

That meant that in some inexplicable way their project had leaked out and that the federal government had sent officers to prevent their going.

The heavy pounding on the great gate had resumed and now the same commanding voice shouted:

“Are you going to open to us, or is this intended as resistance of the law? I give you two minutes to open these doors before we smash them in!”

“That fellow means business,” whispered Alan. “Whatever can we do? We dare not oppose them, yet to let them in means the indefinite postponement of our flight.”

“We’ll go anyway,” said Ned, his eyes lighting with determination. “This is only another[71] scheme to delay us. Are you all ready there, Mr. Engineer?”

“Whenever you say the word,” answered Bob up through the tube.

“Then start your engines! We’ll be a mile up in the sky before they can break in those heavy doors.”

So saying, Ned jammed down hard on his starting lever, the whir of the big turbines swelled forth. But not a tremor shook the Ocean Flyer. It did not budge an inch.

Someone had been tampering with the pilot room apparatus.

With a groan of desperation, Ned bent over the complexity of gears. He located the trouble almost immediately and was relieved to note that it was merely superficial—a matter of minutes to repair. But too late! At that moment the big yard gates were burst open forcibly and in strode four burly federal plain-clothes men, displaying their badges of authority. One other man accompanied them. Alan, who went out on the lowest exposed gangway of the Flyer to meet them, recognized him in an instant. It was Mr. Geisthorn, the local correspondent of the Berliner Tageblatt.

“Is this Mr. Napier?” growled the leader.


“No, I am Mr. Hope. Mr. Napier will be here presently.”

The officer pulled an official looking document from his breast pocket and extended it towards Alan.

“We have a warrant for the arrest of both of you gentlemen. Also for that of one Stewart, said to be connected with the New York Herald.”

“Mr. Stewart will also be here presently,” said Alan. “Upon what charge are we to be detained?”

“Conspiracy—attempting to violate the federal neutrality by lending aid to one or another of the warring nations in Europe.”

“That is untrue.”

“I have nothing at all to do with that. My instructions are simply to place a man on guard over this vessel and to escort you gentlemen to the secretary of state at Washington.”

Alan’s wits were working fast. He was fighting to gain time, and the taffrail beneath his fingers was aquiver with subtle tremors; he could feel the premonitory hum of the engines as first one and then the other of the big turbines began moving. Ned had fixed the damage and things were going down in the engine room. The hum became a whir, a buzz and steady purr. The[73] Ocean Flyer trembled momentarily from stem to stern. The eleven-foot “moon” propellers began to whirl with rapidly increasing velocity. Then suddenly the streams of compressed air began to sing in a way that was like the terrifying moan of a cyclone near at hand. Then the tornado burst. Driven irresistibly forward by the most powerful propellers ever devised by man, that vast mass of steel surrendered and slid jolting forward for twenty yards or so, scattering the spectators wildly. With a bound the huge craft rose into the still air and plunged forward and upward on a forty-five degree angle at rapidly increasing speed.

“Stop, in the name of—” The official’s thunderous voice was lost in the distance. The factory buildings and the little group of detectives seemed to be dropping farther and farther down below, and, were it not for the rush of the wind, the Flyer might have seemed to be stationary. The figures on the aviation field already were dwarfed by distance and half obliterated in the darkness. A sudden flash of red light stabbed the shades far beneath, and the report of the officer’s revolver was faintly audible.

Already the airship was sailing out over[74] Greater New York. The lighted streets far below checked the area into rectangular figures like a gigantic chessboard. Broadway became a hazy blur of white, and the atmosphere took on a different quality—biting, hardy, more rarified. The stars which sparkled coldly down there on earth, became blazing, golden jewels in a setting of black velvet, which was the sky. The noise of the engines was now a low, steady drone.

The trip to Europe and the great war had begun.

There is nothing in particular to tell about the three-thousand mile air voyage across the Atlantic. To Alan, Ned and Buck, snugly encased within the automatically heated interior of the Ocean Flyer, the sense of aloofness from solid earth was lost, and it seemed much as if they were seated at their office desks back on Fifth Avenue.

The height of six miles from earth level at which they traveled, blotted out all sight of tangible objects, the comparative distance from which might have made the altitude terrifying to less experienced aviators than the Airship Boys. Sometimes the Flyer cut its way through clouds, but the main strata of these even lay far below[75] them. All that was visible through the heavily glassed portholes was a dull, grayish void. The terrific rate of speed at which they were traveling was not at all apparent.

The young aeronauts were kept too busy managing the ship to have spent much time star-gazing if there had been something of outside interest. Ned and Alan took turns in steering the course and taking hourly observations upon one or another of the exceedingly delicate instruments at their command. Buck stood to the engines in the hold, being relieved by one of the other boys when it came his turn to sleep or prepare meals.

Speaking of eating; those little repasts that Buck Stewart prepared in the cook’s galley were absolutely mouth-watering. Had he not been so able a newspaper reporter, he would have made a better chef. Oh! those luscious, thick, juicy steaks, oozing such odoriferous steam and a-swim in milk gravy from the same pan; hashed, golden-brown potatoes, one mouthful of which was to implant an insatiable craving for more; little green pickles with a real tang to them and flavored by the cinnamon, nutmeg and tasty spices in which they were bottled; flap-jacks, rich with molasses; sugar cakes and rich[76] coffee that warmed one down to the very toe tips; and fruits! Well, there were big, rosy-cheeked apples, that kind of oranges which can be smelled all over the room, nuts, raisins and what not. The larder was well stocked, and Buck Stewart certainly knew how to prepare it appetizingly if ever anyone did.

Fortunately the weather continued fair and no dangerous air-pockets or unexpected whirlpool wind currents were met with. The eighteenth hour of their flight found everything going as well as possibly could be wished. Their watches were still set to New York time; it was now six P. M. in America, but midnight in London. There was a full moon, and it was quite light.

“By this time,” observed Ned, “we ought to be pretty near the English coast, so I would suggest that we drop the Flyer down to an altitude where we can locate ourselves more definitely by actual landmarks.”

This was done. With the huge wing-like planes expanded to the full, the Ocean Flyer coasted aslant the air-waves. The cloud belt encircling the globe was penetrated and passed through, leaving small drops of moisture glistening all over the glass of the portholes. The moon’s rays made the metal body of the vessel[77] glitter like so much silver. As they dropped lower and lower, the world became dimly visible, seeming to be literally rising to meet the descending aviators. At an altitude of three thousand feet, the downward planing was discontinued and level flight again maintained.

To the one hand stretched the seemingly endless expanse of gray, breaker-crested ocean, but on the other, due ahead, lay the rock-bound, irregular coast of the British Isles. Not so very far away now, was poor Bob Russell on trial for his life.

All three boys were thinking about him. It was not necessary to mention his name.

“Not long now,” said Ned.

“No, not long,” agreed Alan and Buck.



The course of the Ocean Flyer was altered slightly so as to avoid passing over England and risking pot-shots from a people who were already in a semi-hysteria over the threatened invasion by German Zeppelins. The next land they saw was the coast of northern France. They followed the Norman coast for a short distance and then once more headed inland.

The flying speed had been reduced to thirty miles per hour, when the airship first sank to a three thousand foot level, and, traveling thus slowly, the boys had a pretty good chance to observe the country beneath them through their powerful binoculars.

Normandy, the district where the Airship Boys first began flying over France, had not yet been touched by hostile invasion, and, save for the absence of the usual fleets of fishing smacks along the coast, was to all appearances the same quaint, sleepy region as ever. Farther inland, however, the ravages the war had made were[79] more plainly visible. Few trains could be seen, and in many cases railway bridges or the tracks themselves had been torn up. Fields lay, for the most part, untilled; smoke no longer belched from the long, finger-like chimneys of busy factories. Nantes, Angiers, Le Mans and Chartres, all huge cities over which the Flyer passed, showed little activity save that even at this early hour crowds were congregated in the principal squares and in front of the government offices where daily returns from the battle front were posted.

The appearance of the Ocean Flyer was invariably the cause of intense excitement. People scurried frantically about, church bells rang the alarm and soldiers ran to their posts on the fortifications. Observed from the boys’ elevated position, the scene greatly resembled an ant-hill disturbed with a stick.

The city of Chartres was only a comparatively short flight, even at their reduced speed, for the boys from Paris, the capital of France. Twenty minutes after passing over the former city, the Eiffel Tower, tallest structure in Paris, appeared, and soon other world-famous landmarks were easily discernible through the glasses. There arose the imposing, ages-old[80] towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral, set on an island in the middle of the river Seine, which, under its many handsome bridges, wound like a silver ribbon through the gray expanse of buildings which go to make up the fourth largest city in the world. There lay the Palais Royal, with its celebrated shops and restaurants; there the Louvre, Luxembourg and the Tuileries, stored with priceless art treasures and famous in history as the palaces of great kings. There was the green shrubbery of the public parks and the white, ribbon-like lines which marked the Bois and the Champs Elysees, those famous boulevards and promenades of fashion, radiating from the Tuileries like the points of an immense star.

But what a vast change from the gay, teeming metropolis of less than a year previous. The streets were nearly deserted, the pleasure seekers were fled before the hot, scathing blast of war, like chaff in a strong wind; the tables before the gay little cafes lining the boulevards were turned bottom-side up and dusty with long disuse. There was no roar of traffic, no shrill cries, no rumblings of passenger-filled omnibuses. The Avenue de l’Opera was as quiet and deserted as a village street. Automobiles had[81] disappeared; only here and there meandered ancient cabs driven by doddering grandfathers and drawn by skeleton horses with sprung knees. A mournful, oppressive silence brooded over the lightest-hearted city in the world.

The grass in the Tuileries gardens was unkept and stood ankle high. The wooded shades of the Bois de Boulogne had been turned into a great pasture for herds of cattle, goats and sheep, to provide food in case the Germans again succeeded in actually besieging the city. Palaces and celebrated public buildings were converted into hospitals. The young men were all at the front fighting; only the aged and wounded remained in Paris.

The city had not yet recovered from its fright of four months previous when the conquering regiments of the Kaiser trampled Belgium underfoot and advanced almost within cannon range of the walls. Even then the battle was raging and bayonet charges were daily occurrences in the trenches less than an hour’s automobile drive to the northeast.

Lookouts were stationed on all of the higher buildings to give warning of the approach of bomb-dropping German aviators in their wide, white, flat-winged “Taube” aeroplanes.


The coming of the huge, shining Ocean Flyer was seen while it was yet a considerable distance from the city and a whole flock of French military aeroplanes arose birdlike into the sky to meet it. They resembled hornets defending their nest. As the big airship planed down towards them with its seventy-two feet of planes, extended like wings on each side, the flock of smaller French aircraft shot suddenly apart in different directions, realizing their helplessness to combat this new threatening monster of the air. Some planed down like arrows into the city again seeking safety. Others began to sweep in wide circles around the Ocean Flyer, not daring to approach nearer. The harsh roar of their motors and propellers could be heard even within the pilot house where Ned stood guiding the Flyer’s course.

Then the alarmed Parisians unlimbered their much-talked-of aerial cannon on this new menace from the clouds. As each ugly black nozzle was tilted skywards, there came a puff of greenish smoke, flame spat forth and a huge shell was hurled straight at the approaching airship. Most of these terrible missiles fell far short of their mark, but the gunners of a battery stationed in the top of the Eiffel Tower were quick[83] in getting a better range and made it very dangerous for the Airship Boys to continue their descent.

“Holy smoke!” gasped Alan, as one cannon shell burst with a terrific detonation less than one hundred feet to the left of the Flyer and almost keeled it over sidewise. “This is getting too hot for me. They think we’re a new type of German Zeppelin. Shoot her up higher, Ned. Let’s get out of here quick.”

“I’ll raise her higher, of course,” answered Ned, at the wheel, “but it’s a shame that we can’t get a closer view of Paris in wartime. That would be something to tell the folks about when we get back home.”

Cr—cr—cra-sh! Boom!

The whole metal-plated frame of the Flyer shook violently and careened wildly to one side from the concussion of another lyddite shell. Only quick action on Ned’s part prevented their capsizing.

“We won’t ever get home to tell anybody about anything if you don’t drive the ship higher pretty soon,” yelled Alan.

Ned was the cooler of the two.

“All right,” said he, “but I do wish that you could manage to signal some of these aeroplanes[84] skimming around us that we are friends instead of enemies, and that we want to alight down there in the city.”

Alan looked doubtful, but finally agreed. As Ned jammed the elevation lever down hard in its socket and forced the Ocean Flyer slowly forward on a decided up-slant, his chum made his way out onto the runway which encircled most of the Flyer’s hull, and there, clinging firmly to the iron taffrail with one hand, wig-wagged pacific signals with a white flag gripped in the other.

Either the circling French aviators did not understand his signals, or thought that the white flag was merely intended to deceive them, for all save one of them totally disregarded it. That single dare-devil bird-man drove his monoplane—like a flea going against an elephant—straight, head-on, at the Ocean Flyer the moment Alan made his appearance outside. His face was set in frantic determination.

A startled cry of warning escaped the boy clinging in the terrific wind there on the narrow runway, who thought that the madman intended to crash into the bigger airship and so sacrifice his own life in the attempt to disable the supposed enemy.


But that was not the daring Frenchman’s intent. When the roar of his whirling tail propellers deafened Alan’s hearing and it seemed as if in another second the little monoplane would be dashed against the Flyer, the Frenchman tilted his planes sharply, swerved on a perilous angle that almost overturned his light craft, and, as he swept past in a rush of wind, jerked a revolver from his belt with one hand and fired full into Alan’s blanched face. A second later he swooped down towards the watching city below.

Alan felt a sudden stinging sensation on his cheek and could not suppress a cry of pain. Something warm began to trickle down his cheek. A sudden giddiness made his head swim. His eyes blurred and he felt that he might topple over the narrow taffrail at any moment.

Blindly he groped behind him for the handle of the door leading back into the ship—found it, tried to call for help—then stumbled forward and sank huddled to the airship floor unconscious.



Both Ned and Buck were too busily engaged in getting the Ocean Flyer out of range of the aerial guns to miss Alan for fully ten minutes. They shot the airship almost obliquely upwards over the city until the clouds shut off all sight of it from them and even the most daring of the pestering French aeroplanes could follow them no higher. Then Ned noticed for the first time that Alan had not returned to the pilot house.

“Is Alan down there in the engine room with you, Buck?” he called through the speaking tube.

“No. Good gracious! Isn’t he with you either?” exclaimed Buck anxiously. “Everything here seems to be running smoothly, so I’m going to risk leaving it a few minutes to look for him.”

It was not a hard matter to find Alan where he lay huddled up just inside the port door. With a cry of consternation Buck dropped upon his knees beside the silent figure, turned it over[87] gently and was shocked to note the bloody ghastliness of his comrade’s face.

Severe newspaper training was strong in Buck Stewart though. He did not turn squeamish or raise Ned’s anxieties by shouting that Alan had been wounded. Ned needed his whole mind for the management of the Flyer, and Buck realized that.

Gathering the insensible boy up in his arms, Buck carried him into one of the small staterooms, hurriedly bathed his face in warm water, and was relieved to discover that what had at first appeared to be a mortal wound was merely an abrasion of the flesh where the Frenchman’s bullet had grazed its way. Alan revived a few minutes afterward, and while his legs were still a little shaky he protested that he felt quite his usual self.

After their hostile reception at Paris, the Airship Boys realized that it would be folly to attempt a similar daylight descent upon Muhlbruck, where Bob Russell was imprisoned. Also the appalling screech of bursting shells going past had given them a heartfelt disinclination to get the Ocean Flyer anywhere between the lines of fire on the battle front.

Examination of a war map presented to them[88] by the editor of the New York Herald showed plainly that the nearest trenches of the opposing armies lay about forty miles to the northeast of Paris, extending thence in the form of a rough semicircle, indented towards the north, for a length of nearly two hundred miles. One end of this titanic battle front ended on the shores of the North Sea in Belgium; the other in French territory in the Meuse prefecture. In order to reach Muhlbruck it was necessary for the Flyer to pass directly over the firing-lines somewhere in the Ardennes forest region, and then to proceed northerly, tending somewhat to the east until crossing the Belgian frontier, near which Muhlbruck is situated. The latest reports of the war showed the fiercest fighting just then to be going on far to the south along the river Meuse, and northwesterly along the Aisne, a few miles within French territory, where the Germans were making desperate daily assaults upon the allied French and English intrenchments. The severe guerrilla fighting which had nearly turned the Ardennes region into a shambles had then ceased almost entirely, while General von Kluck, commanding the German army of the west, was endeavoring to force the arms of his crescent battle line westward in[89] around the Allied forces and by so doing compel them either to be surrounded and captured, or else to fall back upon Paris once more.

“It looks to me,” said Ned, outlining the positions on the map with one finger, “that it will be best for us to cross the firing line there in the Ardennes, flying high so as to be out of the range of those tremendous German field guns which they say can carry a cannon ball fifteen miles or more. If you boys think well of it, we might even drop the Flyer in the Ardennes forest, get a chance to stretch the cramps out of our legs there, and still get to Muhlbruck long before dark.”

Both Alan and Buck approved heartily of this plan and so it was decided upon. Estimating the distance between their present position and the Ardennes by their maps and instruments, the Ocean Flyer proceeded on its way, concealed from sight by the heavy cloud banks beneath. While the sun was still high, they saw that they had arrived somewhere in the neighborhood of the intended stopping-place. Ned then began planing as straight downwards as he dared and shortly afterwards shouted:

“There it is, boys! We figured the time and distance exactly. There are the tree-tops!”


Sure enough, there extended the green expanse of the great Ardennes wood, with the dull glint of the setting sun gilding the leaves and branches. Afar in the distance, a mere speck in the flame-colored sky, a solitary observation balloon was ascending. Somewhere away to the northwards the dull, monotonous booming of cannon could be heard like the rumble of distant thunder. The woods showed no signs of life; there were no spirals of smoke rising into the still evening air to warn the young aeronauts of near-by camp fires.

Sailing slowly over the tree-tops and gradually dropping lower and lower, the Flyer finally came upon an open glade perhaps half a mile square and ideally located for a landing. Its only obstruction was a clump of maybe half a dozen ancient oaks standing almost in the middle of the area.

There Ned brought the big airship to earth as lightly as a bird, and the three boys jumped out to enjoy their first touch of Mother Earth since leaving New York nearly a day before. The air was mild and odoriferous with the smell of the forest and all took huge breaths of it gratefully. Buck pranced about like a colt let loose in pasture, and he and Alan ran short[91] races up and down the glade to stretch their cramped muscles.

“Now, boys,” called Ned, “it is time that we held a serious council of war to decide just how we are going to manage Bob’s escape. Let’s sit down under these trees here and make final arrangements, because by midnight we’ll be at Muhlbruck and won’t want to waste any time in that dangerous vicinity.”

So they sat there under the biggest tree in the center of the field and talked things over.

Alan said: “I don’t see how we can decide upon any very definite plan until after we get there and find out the lie of the land. For all that we know, the prison where they have Bob locked up may be right in the center of the town with a couple thousand watchful soldiers around it. I don’t believe that we’ll ever be able to get near enough to the prison to get Bob out without some leg-work.”

“I’ve been thinking of that too,” said Ned, “and feel pretty sure that some one of us will have to go into town disguised to get exact information, while the other two of us remain to guard the Flyer and be ready to lend assistance whenever we are called upon. The difficulty is to say which one of us ought to undertake the[92] perilous mission of spy. You know if the Germans ever caught him he would be in an even worse fix than poor old Bob.”

“Let me go, Ned,” pleaded Alan, his face aglow with enthusiasm. “I’m perfectly willing to take the risk.”

“No, let me go,” said Buck. “Both of you boys are absolutely needed to manage the airship, and in a pinch can get along well enough without me. Besides that, I can speak German well enough to pass in the dark, and my newspaper work has given me more practical experience in the sleuthing line than either of you two have had.

“Personally I don’t think the chances are that I would run much danger of detection there in disguise after midnight, but, even if they do get suspicious, I could show them the war-correspondent’s credentials given you by the Herald. I don’t believe that even grouchy old General Haberkampf is crazy enough to risk getting the American press down on him by mistreatment of me should I have to shove those papers under his nose.”

“I think that you exaggerate the importance of the New York Herald over here in the war zone,” said Alan with a smile. “Remember[93] that the Herald card didn’t prevent the Germans from throwing Bob into their beastly prison.”

“But that was quite a different case,” explained Buck. “Bob Russell was caught with certain papers on his person which are said to have branded him as a hostile spy.”

“However—” began Alan again.

Ned interrupted him.

“Buck is right, Alan,” said he. “I don’t like to think of his risking his life in this way, but he is clearly better fitted for the job than either you or I. I understand how disappointed you are in not getting the chance to risk it for good old Bob’s sake, and I’m just as sorry that I can’t do it. But Buck’s knowledge of the German language, his experience in this sort of thing, and the fact that he can the better bluff about being a regular newspaper correspondent, all make him the logical man for it. You and I will have to give in.”

Alan was very much disappointed that things turned out so and tossed back his head to conceal his chagrin. As he did so his eye caught sight of something strange in the bushy tree-top directly above their heads.

“Look, boys, isn’t that a little house up there?” he cried, pointing.


As he did so there came a chorus of guttural exclamations from the concealing leaves up above, and, before the startled Airship Boys had time to do more than scramble to their feet, at least a dozen shaggy-bearded German soldiers, in ragged, dirt-stained gray uniforms, came sliding one after another down the surrounding tree-trunks.

“Hands up!” roared one who seemed to be in command, and, even though he spoke in German, there was no mistaking the meaning of the musket barrels pointed threateningly at the three boys.



For an instant the heart of each boy stood still. Then things began to happen. Ned shot straight from his hip, the revolver bullet tearing its way straight through his coat pocket and wounding the nearest soldier.

Buck grappled closely with the soldier closest to him, beat down the threatening gun muzzle, felt the discharge scorch his leg in passing, and rolled over and over on the ground, arms interlocked in deadly combat.

Alan sprang behind the nearest tree and opened fire on the assailants, with a revolver in each hand spitting lead as fast he could pull the trigger.

Muskets belched flame and smoke in a half-circle around them, but Ned was safely behind a sheltering tree-trunk before the deadly leaden hail could reach him. Another soldier fell, howling with pain, and a third clapped one hand to his shoulder where a well-sped bullet from Alan’s revolver had lodged. The Germans took[96] shelter behind adjacent trees, as the boys had done, and only Buck and his opponent still rolled out, exposed to fire. Yet neither the boys or the Germans dared shoot at the struggling men for fear of wounding one of their own party.

Ned cast a longing, regretful eye at the Ocean Flyer where it stood not fifty yards away. He blamed himself for their folly in ever leaving its protecting walls. Besides, he knew that their revolvers were nearly empty and that they had no spare cartridges in their pockets.

He shouted to Alan in English, which the Germans could not of course understand, to work his way back towards the airship.

Dodging from tree to tree, the two boys gradually came within about twenty yards of the Flyer. In the meantime, the Germans had divined their intentions and had followed them closely, keeping up a hot fire all the time. The intervening distance between the airship and the boys would have to be covered by a dash across the exposed open ground, where the Germans could hardly fail to get them.

“Don’t risk it, Ned,” cried Alan.

“One of us absolutely must,” answered the other boy desperately. “We are all lost if we don’t.”


Then before Alan could protest further, the courageous lad darted from cover and was bounding across the dangerous open space towards the Flyer.

Twenty German bullets went hissing after him and the entire crowd pursued with hoarse shouts of rage. Alan bowled over one of them as he ran, and then himself rushed after Ned. None of the soldiers took time to pause, aim and shoot. They were too anxious to catch the fleeing boys.

Up the swaying rope ladder leading to the open portway clambered Ned, with Alan crowding close on his heels. The former threw himself inside, but the Germans were too close for Alan to risk it. He felt hot breath on the back of his neck, heard the man behind him panting heavily, and, with one foot on the first rung of the ladder, wheeled with clubbed revolver to defend himself. His arm swung back to dash it into the man’s face, when—

Buck!” cried he.

It was the reporter, who had finally succeeded in mastering his assailant and had followed his two chums in their desperate race for the safety of the Flyer.

There was no time for further conversation,[98] however, for the yelling Germans were now fairly on top of them. Alan’s revolvers snapped harmlessly. They were empty. Buck fired his remaining four bullets right into their faces and then struck out with his fists. It looked as if it were all up with the brave boys until suddenly Ned appeared on the airship runway overhead. In his hand he held raised a black, round, metal object about the size of a football.

“Stand back!” he shouted in a terrible tone. “Every one of you Germans stand back or I swear I will blow you all to pieces with this lyddite grenade!”

The deadly explosive hung there almost above their heads and every man of them knew what it was.

Involuntarily they fell back, and in that minute while they hesitated, Alan and Buck bounded up the companion-ladder into safety in the hold of the airship. As the metal door clanged shut and locked automatically behind them, they heard the enraged Germans hammering upon it with the butts of their muskets.

“To your engines, Buck!” shouted Ned from above. “Quick! Alan, help me in the pilot house here!”

The starting lever was jammed down into[99] place. The hum of the great turbines became a roar. The huge propellers swished mightily round and round. The Ocean Flyer began to slip over the grass, with the frantic Germans giving ground reluctantly. Then the huge bulk gradually lifted itself from the earth and skimmed like a swallow heavenwards over the now dusky tree-tops. German bullets rattled like hail over the metal sides of the vessel.

Alan smiled grimly at Ned.

“They don’t realize that magnalium alloy is as good as armor plate,” he said. “Unless a stray bullet happens to snap some mechanical part of the tail propellers, they’re welcome to shoot as much as they want to now.”

Ned nodded as he shaped the Flyer’s course towards the north where the frontier and Muhlbruck lay.



Black night had already fallen, blotting out sight of all lower landmarks, and the Airship Boys had only their maps and instruments by which to guide their path. But, as had been before proved, those were ample for the purpose.

The young aeronauts were unable to tell just when they passed over the long zig-zagging double line of trenches, which marked where the hostile armies crouched, menacing each other, because all camp fires were blanketed there. Experience in the early days of the war had taught both Germans and Allies that a shining camp fire is an excellent mark for bombs from any prowling aviator overhead.

Several villages sparsely lighted, and several cities with all lights extinguished, were passed over before the Flyer reached a point where the boys knew that Muhlbruck must lie very nearly below them. They planed down gently, found no place adequate for a safe landing, and finally were forced to circle uncertainly there in mid-air,[101] straining their eyes down into the gloom below. They did not dare to investigate the lie of the land with their searchlights, as that would instantly have betrayed their presence to everyone within miles of the spot.

At last Alan observed a comparatively open and flat stretch of ground, and they decided to take a chance on it. Fortunately it proved to afford a better landing area than had been apparent from above, and the Ocean Flyer was once more brought to rest on firm ground.

The boys instantly discovered that they were in a large farmyard, with a broad, dusty highway on the one side and a small unlighted cottage near by. They were afraid at first that the inhabitants, if there were any, had observed their approach and had slipped away to give warning.

Further examination of the premises showed this dread to be groundless, however. As they stealthily tiptoed around the cottage, the boys could plainly see that war had long since passed that way and driven off its occupants. The walls were charred with fire, half of the straw-thatched roof had fallen in and the door swung crazily askew on one hinge.

Investigation on the inside made clear that[102] whoever the owners were, they had left in great haste. Furniture was broken and overturned; linen, bed-clothes and wearing apparel lay scattered all over the floor. One wall was riddled with bullets.

Stooping, Buck gave vent to a pleased exclamation. He had found enough old clothes out of which to disguise himself completely as a Belgian peasant. Even the clumsy wooden shoes were unearthed from one corner of the room.

“This simplifies everything,” he cried to Alan. “I’ll put these things on right now and be off into town to see how things are. Unless I’m much mistaken, this road beside us is the main highway into Muhlbruck, which itself can’t be much more than a mile away if those maps of ours are correct.

“In the meantime, you and Ned can wait here for me. If I’m still alive and at liberty, I’ll be back here by sun-up sure. If I don’t show up by then, you can rest assured that something unforeseen has happened to detain me. In case anyone comes snooping around here while I am gone, you boys had better go aloft in the Flyer and return here again for me to-morrow night. But be sure and wait here until daylight for me, unless you are discovered.”


This plan was about the best that any of the boys could suggest, so Buck donned the old clothes he had found, dirtied his face with dust from the roadway and bade his chums good-bye cheerfully. They stared regretfully after his retreating figure in the gloom.

“If anything happens to him, I never shall forgive myself,” said Ned.

Alan laughed in a brave attempt to seem lighter-hearted than he was.

“If anybody can come through this stunt safely, it’s Buck Stewart,” he said. “Mark my words, he’ll be back here chipper as a sparrow by sunrise, with a full plan of how and when we are to rescue Bob.”

“I certainly hope so,” muttered Ned, doubtfully.

Meanwhile, Buck was striding rapidly along the road into town, with his cap pulled low over his eyes and his right hand nursing the handle of a big revolver in his hip pocket. He skulked mostly along the side of the way, where the black shadows from the hedges tended to conceal him. His eyes kept shifting warily from left to right and his ears were strained to catch any sound that might warn him of other prowlers on the road.


Frequently he passed wayside graves—sometimes a single mound of earth; at other times a number of them side by side. Every somber mound of earth was marked by a wooden cross, on the apex of many of which the fallen soldier’s hat was hung. Buck noticed that in many cases, the rough cap of a French infantryman hung side by side with battered German helmets. The German army does everything neatly, thoroughly. Whenever there is time it buries the fallen enemy as well as its own dead.

By and by little gloomy houses began to appear straggling along the wayside and Buck knew then that he was in the outskirts of the town. No lights were shown in any of the windows. Not a cow lowed, nor dog barked. The hush of either dread or desertion seemed heavy in the dark night air.

Buck had not gone much farther when he was startled by a sharp:

Wer geht da?” (Who goes there?) as a stalwart, gray-cloaked sentry stepped out from the shadows of the roadside, with leveled and bayoneted musket.

Ein Freund, ein armer Landsmann, Excellenz,” (a friend, a poor farmer, your excellency) answered Buck, gripping his revolver firmly.


“Stand out in the middle of the road where I can see you more plainly in the moonlight,” gruffly ordered the sentinel, poking at the seeming peasant with his sharp bayonet.

Buck obeyed him, feigning great humility. There was nothing suspicious to the German in his appearance, but—

“What are you doing out so late and alone on the highroad here?” demanded the sentry.

“Excellency, three weeks ago I had a home—such a nice cozy little place!—down the road a mile or so. I ran away into Muhlbruck when your army marched past on the road to Paris, and to-day I went back to see if there was anything left for me.”

“And did you find anything, Landsmann?”

“No, excellency. The place was swept clean; even the nice little cottage was half torn down.”

The burly German guffawed, as if at a huge joke.

“Now I know that you are telling me the truth, fellow,” he said. “I know your place well. Why, I myself helped burst in the door you locked so carefully on leaving. But you don’t bear me any ill-will for that, do you, now?”

“No, excellency.”


“You had better not,” growled the sentry. “Pass on and don’t let me catch you prowling around here any more of nights. I have orders to shoot anybody whose looks I don’t like.”

“Yes, excellency, I will remember,” said the seeming peasant, and slunk away in the direction of the town.



The streets of the town were unlighted, but several houses on the public square showed illumination through lowered window shades. There were no citizens to be seen, and very few soldiers about. In front of the Hotel de Ville (townhall) a sentry paced restlessly to and fro on duty, with a musket laid across his arm. He took no notice of the dirty peasant stalking past.

Buck made it his first business to locate the civic prison where he knew that Bob would be confined. This he found not far from the main thoroughfare of the town, a massive, square, gray-stone building, with iron doors and many little grated windows high up on the walls. A sentry-box beside the door was occupied, so Buck spent no time loitering around there. He made his way back to the public square in search of an inn where he might sit down, and while eating inquire casually about news in general and the trials of war prisoners in particular. He felt pretty sure that the down-trodden Belgians[108] present were sullen and discontented under the iron German rule, and would be willing to discuss almost any topic relative to the oppressions.

The first tavern to which Buck came was large and pretentious; evidently the main hostelry of the city. Even at this late hour people were passing in and out of the big entrance. The disguised boy noted, however, that many of these guests were German officers, and rightly guessed that this being the chief inn of the city, it would be most largely patronized by the conquerors, so he passed on in search of some less popular place.

A little farther on down the street he came upon a smaller, more dingy-looking public house, with apparently less revelry going on inside. Buck determined to take a chance here, and, pulling his disreputable cap lower over his eyes, pulled open the door and slouched in.

He found himself in a small, low-ceilinged room, the walls and oaken rafters of which were dirty and smoked black by the huge open fireplace at one end. Rickety little wooden tables stood here and there, none too clean nor inviting. A doorway at the far end of the room led out into the kitchens, from which a vile odor of cabbage and onions penetrated.


There were only a few people present, and they appeared to be merely scared townsfolk. Buck dropped into a chair at one of the greasy tables, and a slatternly servant-maid took his order for something to eat.

While she was serving him a little later on, she said:

“I do not recognize you as one of our regular customers, goodman. Are you a stranger in Muhlbruck?”

“Yes,” replied Buck, “I was a farmer near Dinant before this war broke out, but since then—well, you know how it is!”

“We here in Muhlbruck should know if anybody does,” grumbled the girl. “The Germans have overrun the town, taken all the best for themselves, half of the time without paying for it, and treat us honest people as if we were born their servants. Now, old General Haberkampf, who is in command of the division stationed here, is throwing all of our best citizens into prison on trumped-up charges of one kind or another.”

“Ah!” said Buck. “Is he doing such an outrageous thing as that? But then, maybe he thinks that they are playing him double—are spies, in other words.”


“Bah! Spies nothing!” exclaimed the girl indignantly. “That is an old yarn! There is that young American newspaper correspondent now! The Germans have thrown him into prison too and claim that papers were found upon him. And now they are going to shoot him at sunrise to-morrow.”

To shoot him at sunrise?” ejaculated Buck, with difficulty restraining himself from showing his agitation. “Surely you cannot mean that!”

“Oh, but I do,” replied the girl. “They tried him before a military tribunal in the Hotel de Ville this afternoon. No outsiders were admitted, and that beast of a General Haberkampf wastes no time in carrying out his decisions. The poor young man will be taken out and shot at sunrise in the fields just west of the town. That is where all these ‘acts of justice’ have been taking place since the terrible Germans came to Muhlbruck.

“They back the condemned man up against the remaining wall of the old church there; the firing squad stands off at a distance of thirty paces; ‘Ready! Aim! Fire!’ says the corporal in charge, and pouff! another life is snuffed out.”

Buck was horror-stricken at the terrible fate that threatened his old friend within less than[111] three or four hours. Almost the Airship Boys had come too late, and even now it was a question whether or not he could get back to the airship and make plans for a rescue in time to save him.

Buck easily recalled the place set for the execution. He had passed it not a hundred yards from the highroad, about a quarter of a mile from town.

His brain was in a whirl. He was unable to formulate any practicable scheme of effecting the rescue. The sun at that time of year rose about five o’clock, or five-thirty at the latest. All preparations must be made before then.

Paying his bill at the inn, Buck hurried out into the damp night air again and set out for the place where he had left his comrades. Once clear of the town, he broke into a run. Approaching the vicinity of the sentinel who had challenged him on his way in about an hour before, the reporter made a wide detour through the dew-wet fields to the left of the road. He got by that danger point in safety, struck the highway again and resumed his breathless race against time.

Finally, panting with his exertions and bathed in perspiration, he arrived at the peasant’s[112] ruined hut and saw the vast black shape of the Ocean Flyer looming up behind it. Then something icy cold and round was suddenly pressed against the back of his neck, strong arms pinioned his arms to his sides, and a voice said sternly in English:

“Not so fast there! One outcry and you are a dead man. Where do you think you are going?”

“Alan!” breathed Buck in relief. “Don’t shoot! It is I—Buck Stewart—with news of Bob.”

“Hurrah!” cried Alan. “Come along over to the Flyer where Ned is anxiously waiting. You are back sooner than we expected.”

It did not take Buck long to tell his story.

“Now,” said he, “what’s to be done? We have less than three hours left to do it if ever we want to see Bob alive again.”

Half a dozen wild plans were suggested and discarded as quickly. Finally it was resourceful Ned who said:

“Let’s work it this way, boys. You, Buck, will have to go back afoot to the ruined church where the execution is to be, and wait there until the firing squad arrives with Bob at sunrise. Hide behind the wall against which they[113] back him up to be shot, and then, when they are pacing off the firing distance, jump out, cut his bonds and run around to the other side of the wall again with him. With a couple of loaded revolvers in each of your hands and one of you at each end of the wall, you ought to be able to keep even the dozen soldiers in the guard at bay until we can arrive.

“We will have the Flyer all ready for instant flight the minute the squad shows up, and at the first shot, we’ll be on hand. At the rate of speed we can travel we oughtn’t to be more than a few moments covering the distance. A couple of hand grenades tossed down among those Germans ought to send them about their business pretty quickly.

“Of course I know that this is a pretty risky plan, but it’s the best we have been able to hit upon so far.”

“But won’t those soldiers be able to shoot Buck down before he has time to free Bob of his bonds?” Alan queried. “Buck can’t be shooting at them and cutting the rope off Bob’s hands at the same time?”

“No, I don’t think so,” answered Ned. “I believe that it is customary for only a certain number of guns in a firing squad to be actually[114] loaded with bullets. Blank cartridges are used in the others, and no soldier knows just who carries the fatal weapons. This is to keep any self-respecting man among them from feeling that he is committing cold-blooded murder by shooting down a prisoner with his hands tied. Undoubtedly the officer in charge will be loading the guns while poor Bob is being given a last chance to think it over. That’s the time.”

“You think of every little point, Ned,” cried Buck admiringly. “Of course I’ll go and do my best to save Bob. As time is slipping away fast, I’d better set off right now, too. But remember that you are to show up the minute you hear the first shot fired.”

“Count on that, old boy,” answered both of the others.

Then, with four “six-shooters” weighting down his coat pockets, Buck Stewart again disappeared into the night.



Buck arrived at the ruined church just as the first pallid gray of morning light was smudging the eastern sky line. The air was cold and damp. It bit to the bone. Shivering, the reporter drew his coat more tightly around him, made sure for the eleventh time that his supply of revolvers was all loaded and in good working order, and then tramped up and down on that side of the crumbling wall which best sheltered him from the wind.

The hush of dawn pervaded the entire landscape. Not a single human being was to be seen.

Gradually the dull light on the horizon spread up into the sky and widened. It changed color from yellow to pink, and finally the sun rose through the mist of the deserted fields like a great round globe of fire.

A quarter of a mile distant the chimes of the cathedral in Muhlbruck could be faintly heard, calling the people to early mass. Somewhere far off to the right a cock crew lustily, welcoming[116] the sunlight. Little birds began to chirp and hop through the grass.

It was the time!

Waiting in that way was unbearable to Buck. The strain on his nerves drove him nearly frantic. Once more he took out his revolvers for examination, paced restlessly up and down, up and down, and wished that they would come.

A distant rumble far down the highway warned him of other travelers. He crouched down behind the wall, fingering his weapons with heart-strings taut—waiting, watching.

Finally a vehicle hove in sight, but it was only a farmer’s cart drawn by two big black dogs, and loaded with vegetables for sale in town. The blue-smocked peasant striding alongside was whistling a little song, all unconscious of the grim-faced figure behind the old church.

The cart vanished around a bend in the road towards Muhlbruck. Then all was silence again. The sun rose higher, dissipating the mist before its warmth. It was not fully daylight. Then it was that Buck’s straining ear caught the distant rhythmic footbeats of marching men. It was the firing squad with Bob.

Tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp!

Around the bend in the road they came, a[117] dozen soldiers whose uniforms and spiked helmets were a dull gray, like the dust they stirred up underfoot. They marched in a little column of twos, with a corporal in command at one side. In their midst was the condemned prisoner.

The watching Buck was moved to great pity at his old friend’s haggard and unkempt appearance. There were great bluish hollows under his eyes, his cheeks were unnaturally pale, and the growth of a two-weeks’ beard made his face almost unrecognizable. But, although he knew that they were taking him to his death, Bob marched with shoulders squared and his head thrown back. It would never do for an American to show fear before foreigners.

Zum Recht! Halt!” (Wheel to the right! Halt!) snapped the corporal.

The firing squad was now on the other side of the wall from Buck, standing like so many statues, with their rifles stiffly presented.

The corporal grasped Bob roughly by the arm and backed him up against the wall.

“If you wish to pray, do so now,” he said in German. “Make it brief.”

Bob closed his eyes for a few moments, while he thought of his old friends away back in New York, wondering what had become of him.


“I am ready, corporal,” said he, shortly.

His hands were bound tightly together behind his back and a bandage tied over his eyes.

“Pace your distance,” the officer ordered his men.

They retreated for about thirty paces, the corporal counting gruffly: “Hup! hup! hup!” as they marched.

It was at that instant that Buck Stewart darted around the corner of the old wall with a sharp knife in his hands. He was at Bob’s side and in a trice had slashed the rope free of his hands. The blindfold followed in less time than it takes to tell it.

Just then the firing squad reached their appointed position and wheeled machine-like about. They saw in a flash their prisoner about to escape.

“Donnerwetter!” roared the corporal, brandishing his sword. “Fire, men! Shoot them down!”

The roar of a dozen German muskets crashed out just as the boys turned the corner of the wall. The bullets shattered the masonry in a cloud of flying debris. Buck shoved two big revolvers into Bob’s hands as they dashed behind the wall.


“Stand guard there at the other end of the wall, Bob,” he shouted. “I’ll take care of this end.”

The Rescue of Bob Russell.

Then, before the Germans had scarcely recovered from their surprise, each boy was peppering away at them in deadly fashion from opposite ends of the protecting masonry. Their first fusillade brought down three groaning soldiers, one of them the corporal. The rest made for cover, the nearest shelter—the tumbled masonry of the church itself.

“Spread out on each side of the young devils!” yelled the raging German corporal from where he lay. “Scatter and surround them! Work up on them from behind!”

His commands were quickly obeyed, and even such a rapid fire as the boys were able to pour into the enemy could not prevent three or four of them from running far around on either side, where, lying flat in the long weeds, they opened a dangerous flank-fire that immediately made the wall of no further protection to its gallant defenders.

“It’s all up with us now,” called Bob, as he took another ineffective shot at one of the sharp-shooters.

“If only the Ocean Flyer would come!”[120] groaned Buck. “I can’t understand why it hasn’t arrived before this!”

At that moment, as if in answer to his desperate cry, there came the ominous roar of a powerful motor, high up in the air, and there came the great airship, swooping down with its seventy-two feet of planes magnificently outspread, and Alan Hope standing out on the lower runway, swinging deadly bombs in his hand.

The Germans saw the approach of the strange aircraft at the same instant, and startled cries of: “Ein Flieger! Ein Flieger!” (an airship) broke from them as they diverted part of their fire upon it.

The Flyer swept on down in gradually narrowing circles and lessened speed until it hung almost directly over the hard-pressed boys by the wall. Then a hundred-foot rope ladder, one end of which was attached to an opened port, was tossed down to them and Alan, making a megaphone of his hands, shouted:

“Climb up! Quick! There is a whole division of cavalry dashing down the road!”

Buck caught the loose end of the ladder first, and ran up the tough spruce rungs like a monkey, despite the sway of the rope supports. Bob did[121] his best to weight down the end of the ladder with one hand, while with the other he emptied his remaining pistol at the Germans who now came at him in a body and on the run. Chips of masonry from the wall were flying all around his head as the bullets struck it.

Buck reached the top of the ladder and was dragged safely inside through the porthole, while Bob made a flying leap, caught the fifth rung and began to climb as fast as he could. German bullets whizzed past his ears, but fortunately none hit him. As he climbed, he yelled:

“Tell Ned to shoot her on up into the sky! Full speed! I’ll be up there with you in a minute or two!”

Buck rushed to the engine room, while Alan hurried to tell Ned. The porthole was left open so that Bob could crawl in. Ned was excited; with his right hand he jammed the long starting-lever down as far as it would go; with his left he tugged at the lever of the lateral control rudder. It stuck. With both hands he gave one desperate pull. The sudden give, and the quick swerve upward of the Flyer threw him off his balance. He lunged heavily against the rod. It broke off short in his hands.


The sudden burst of power shot the big airship suddenly skyward on an angle of almost eighty degrees and with a suddenness which nearly threw both Ned and Alan off their feet. The huge propeller began to whirl with dizzying velocity, and the wind screeched and whined through the propellers like an animal in pain.

With blanched cheeks both boys bent low over the broken lever, but though they broke their finger-nails trying to loosen it, they were unable to pry it up even with such tools as they could lay their hands on.

Horror showed in each face. With a ghastly attempt at composure Ned turned to Alan.

“Well, I’ve certainly done it now!” he groaned. “There seems to be no hope of being able to pry that broken lever up. And I don’t dare to shut off the speed; no telling what would happen going at this angle. At present it is driving the Flyer at maximum speed almost straight upwards into the sky!”

Alan was speechless, and could only gulp; his eyes were bulging in mortal terror.

At that moment a frantic call came up through the tube from Buck.

“Great heavens, boys!” he screamed, “look down below! There is Bob clinging sixty feet[123] down the ladder, beaten nearly insensible by the terrible wind, and unable to climb further because the current is sweeping that light rope ladder straight out behind us like a ribbon. If we don’t stop in a minute or so, he is as good as dead!”



Here was a condition the boys had never foreseen; they were undoubtedly “rattled.” At their present high speed the wings were folded in their utmost. Let the speed be reduced, the planes would automatically expand; they were headed into the wind—an extra inch of surface to catch the terrific pressure might cause the Flyer to turn turtle.

The only possibility that remained for those on board to save Bob was the desperate chance that they might be able to haul the ladder in, hand over hand, until the boy was near enough to crawl into the hull himself. None of the boys had much hope of being able to accomplish the feat, and indeed the first minute of tugging on the rope ladder convinced them that it was an utter impossibility to haul it in against the terrific wind current created by the machine.

“No hope!” sighed Buck, wiping the perspiration from his face.

“Wait! I have it! Rig up that windlass in[125] the storeroom. I’ll bet we can haul him in on that,” exclaimed Alan.

The windlass was brought and the loose end of the ladder finally lashed to it. The barrel crank of the windlass they attached to one of the machines in the engine room, and then the previous ladder attachments were cut loose. Buck started the donkey-engine, and all were delighted to see that with each chug of the engine another lap of the ladder was dragged aboard and wound about the windlass.

Buck speeded the little engine up faster and the clinging figure below rapidly rose from sixty to fifty, to forty, to twenty, to ten, to two feet of the porthole, when strong, eager arms were outstretched to drag him aboard. Poor Bob was so numb with cold and so exhausted from the frightful strain he had undergone, that he collapsed almost as soon as he found himself in safety.

“Safety” is, however, no word to describe the situation of the Flyer’s crew. The big airship was shooting on, on, on at an abrupt angle up into uncharted space, the limits of which are beyond the deductions or comprehension of science. The highest cloud strata had been surmounted long since; a strange darkness seemed[126] to close over them, making it necessary to turn on the electric lights.

The Ocean Flyer was passing into a region of the most intense cold. First frost appeared on the plate glass of the portholes; then this rapidly thickened to a thick coating of ice which prevented all view of the outside. Even the wind funnel device on the Flyer’s prow, which had in past flights proved practical in keeping the interior heated, was now inadequate. The ship became so cold that the boys’ breath steamed; their hands turned blue and their noses reddened. Soon it even became necessary for them to put on their heaviest underclothing and fur overcoats. They had to huddle close together for warmth.

The altitude gauge began acting queerly; it had long since passed the ten-mile mark.

The young aeronauts had the choice of only two expedients in this desperate emergency. They could keep on going as they were, trusting to luck; or they might shut off the gas supply and take a chance of having the Flyer turn on its back. Their chances of coming right-side-up were better now; there was no air-movement in this high altitude. But suddenly Buck made a discovery that made a choice unnecessary.


“Look, fellows!” he cried, pointing at the gauge which showed the angle of flight. “Sure as you live, her nose is dropping every second.”

Ned nodded his head gravely. “I’ve been hoping for that. The air’s getting too thin to give the rudder enough resistance. Our speed’s lessening every minute. We’ll soon be on an even keel—and then we at least stand a chance.”

“Won’t we just drop like a rock?” gasped Alan in dismay.

“Why no. Not if we keep our engines going. We simply won’t gain any ground. I’ll give you an exhibition of fancy flying about that time. We’ll try ‘dodging.’”

“Play tag with the clouds?” grinned Buck.

“We’ll play tug-o’-war with our rudder. We’d naturally drop headfirst without the propellers. We’ll use our power just often enough and strong enough to keep level. In other words, we’ll jump down.”

“And where will we land?” asked Buck. “We’re headed west, aren’t we?”

“We won’t be in Belgium when we see terra firma, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we got pretty well across Germany—”

“We can’t land there.”

“Well, we can’t land here, that’s sure. We’ve[128] got to take a chance. Me to the engines—we start dropping in five minutes.”

The floor of the cabin was nearly level; then it began to rock violently. From the alternate hum and silence of the engines, the others knew that Ned had begun the descent. Aside from that, the airship was as steady as ever.

In the meantime Buck busied himself in the cook’s galley, and when he finally emerged carrying steaming hot pots of coffee and savory-smelling victuals, you may well believe that the half frozen boys greeted him with enthusiasm. They shouted up to Ned through the speaking-tube:

“Lash the plane gears fast where they are and come on down. Buck’s got ready a fine lot of stuff for us to eat.”

“You boys go ahead and enjoy it without me for a little while,” Ned answered from his place in the pilot house. “I’m going to have just one more try at that broken lever.”



Dull despair gripped even the ordinarily cheerful Ned’s heart as he stared at the broken lever, flush with the metal work around the socket where it had defied all efforts to pry it up and loose. If only there were a half inch or so of the lever still projecting above the metal frame so that one might get a purchase on it with pincers, or—

“Silly that I am!” shouted Ned. “Here we have all been wasting our time and effort trying to pry the lever up, when we can just as easily rip off the metal top casing around the socket. That will certainly leave at least three-quarters of an inch of the lever sticking up where we can get at it. Boys! Oh, boys! Come here, quick, and bring some screw drivers, a cold chisel, a hammer, and a pair of good strong plyers with you!”

The other lads came running with the desired tools and Ned explained his idea in a few words. All looked at each other sheepishly, but with[130] vast relief they began at once to carry out Ned’s instructions.

“What ninnies we were not to think of so simple a thing long before this!” exclaimed Alan.

“I guess it was because the idea was too simple,” Buck said wisely.

Ned cut short further discussion.

“To work! To work, you fellows!” he cried. “Remember that every instant wasted in chatter carries us so much the nearer to earth where there’s no telling what may await us.”

So thereupon all of the boys set to work with a will. In their excitement they forgot the freezing cold and their own discomfort. While Ned kept the Flyer in its course, Bob and Alan and Buck were working loose the screws which held the heavy metal top plates in place and hammering and prying with the razor-edged chisels. It was far from being easy work, but they made good headway for all that.

Presently Alan gave a triumphant shout and tossed the first dislodged screw to the floor. Others soon followed it. By that time Buck had cut free the entire upper plate of metal from the wooden box base on his side, and Bob had pried it almost as loose on the other side. Soon[131] the whole thick sheet of metal came loose and could be lifted free of its pedestal.

As Ned had surmised, its removal left fully three-quarters of an inch of the broken end of the lever protruding where it was easily possible to get a grip on it with the heavy plyers.

Getting a firm grip on the shaft and pulling it out were two entirely different matters, however, as the boys soon found out. For a long time the jammed lever resisted their every effort to loosen it and faces again began to look grave. It was not until they were almost ready to give it up as a hopeless job, that, all of a sudden, Buck, who was tugging with might and main, felt the lever give slightly. A second later the whole length slid smoothly up into view.

“Hurrah!” shouted Alan, throwing his cap wildly into the air. “Saved! saved! Now we can get her under control again and laugh at whoever may be waiting down there on Mother Earth!”

The boys certainly were justified in performing a war-dance of jubilation around the walls of the little pilot house.

It only remained for them to repair the broken handle, and then the Ocean Flyer was once more responsive to the slightest touch of the hand[132] upon her delicate steering mechanism. Fully two hours had elapsed; Alan’s watch showed nearly eight o’clock.

As the airship continued to drop, the ice melted on the port windows and a grateful warmth began to make the blood circulate freely again. The heavy overcoats were discarded and everybody began talking excitedly about what they were going to do when they reached the earth once more. All agreed that, even if it were only for a few minutes, they wanted to land and feel good solid ground beneath their feet.

“But where do you suppose we’ll strike terra firma?” asked Bob. “It’s pretty certain that we won’t find ourselves over Belgium as when we left.”

“What difference does it make anyhow?” exulted Alan. “We’ll be on earth again, and that’s enough of a guarantee for me just now. I don’t care whether we land in Germany or Japan.”

“Hold on there! It does make a difference to me though,” cried Buck. “Remember that the New York Herald really sent yours truly along on this expedition as a war correspondent, and I haven’t yet had a chance to write a word of ‘copy’ or even to see a battle in progress. I[133] didn’t bring along all of those notebooks for nothing, Alan!”

Everybody had to laugh heartily at that. Bob agreed with Buck.

“I’m a newspaper man too, you know,” he said, “and I also would like to see the actual fighting at close range.”

“Thanks, old man,” rejoined Alan dryly, “but I’ve seen quite enough fighting lately to last me the rest of my natural life. However, your words remind me that we haven’t yet heard the story of your experiences in the war zone, or how it was that the Germans came to arrest you as a spy. Now that none of us have anything much to do for a while, give us the yarn, won’t you, Bob?”

Bob nodded, but before he could begin, Buck cried:

“Wait a minute. Let’s all go up to the pilot house where Ned can hear the story too.”

“That’s only right,” agreed Alan, so the three of them rejoined Ned, where he sat at the wheel, and Bob Russell related his adventures as follows.



“Shortly after international war was declared last July, the Herald decided that it needed a personal representative at the front, and I was selected for the job because I had been over here several times on pleasure trips before, knew the lie of the land pretty well and moreover could speak half a dozen languages. As you may guess, I was mighty proud of being honored by so responsible a position.

“Before leaving I called at the offices of the Universal Transportation Company to bid Ned and Alan good-bye, but found that they were visiting their families in Chicago, and so had to leave without seeing them.

“Following instructions, I landed first in England, where I interviewed both Lord Roberts, commander-in-chief of the British army, and Sir Edward Grey, the prime minister. At that time no one in London seemed to be much worried over the war and it was prophesied that the Kaiser would soon be treating for peace.


“Knowing the truly magnificent organization of the German military machine as I did, I didn’t think so, and really I don’t believe that gallant Lord Roberts did either, despite his remarks in our interview.

“I crossed the channel from Dover to Calais on August fifteenth, shortly after the fall of Liege and while sharp fighting was going on between the Germans and French in Alsace-Lorraine. Everything was in confusion. Train service was disrupted, the French army was only half mobilized yet, the Belgians, despite their wonderful resistance, were being crushed by the invading Germans on every hand, and the country people were fleeing in abject terror to get out of harm’s way.

“Contrary to expectations, I found that foreign war correspondents were not at all welcome and I was subjected to all sorts of petty annoyances from both civic and military officials. It was then that I began showing my neutral newspaper credentials less frequently, and tried wherever possible to pass myself off as a tourist unable to return home.

“The allied French, Belgian and English forces engaged the conquering German host all along a two hundred and forty-eight mile battle[136] line on the Alsatian frontier about that time, and the Germans threw millions of men into Belgium, seeking a shortcut to already terrified Paris. There were wild rumors afloat that Brussels, the Belgium capital, would resist German occupation. This promised to be a big ‘story’ for my paper, so I hurried there with what haste I could.

“As you know, however, the terrible fate of other Belgian cities which had resisted the invaders, had pretty well cowed the citizens, and Brussels surrendered without a shot being fired. I was there when that wonderful German army marched in and took possession, and I want to tell you boys right now that it was the most imposing spectacle I ever hope to see. The crowds were packed eight and ten deep along all the principal streets to watch the triumphal entrance. They waited there anxiously from early morning until two o’clock, when we heard that the burgomaster had officially turned over the keys of the city to the advance guard and removed his scarf of office.

“‘They are coming! The Germans are here!’ ran through the tremendous throngs of citizens.

“On they came, preceded by a scouting party of Uhlans, horse, foot, artillery and sappers,[137] with siege train complete. There were fully a hundred armored motor cars on which rapid-firing guns were mounted. Every regiment and battery was headed by a band.

“Then came the drums and fifes, the blare of brass and hoarse, lusty-voiced soldiers singing ‘Die Wacht am Rhein’ and ‘Deutschland Uber Alles.’

“The legions of the war-king of Europe swept down through the ancient streets of Brussels like a great flood. But the gorgeous garb of the German army was missing—the cherry-colored and lilac uniforms of the horsemen, the bright blue of the infantry. All wore greenish, earth-color gray, which made them less conspicuous for hostile marksmen. All of the spiked helmets were painted gray. The gun carriages and even the pontoon bridges were gray.

“To the quick-step rattle of drums, the Germans marched to the city square. Then at a sharp word of command, the gray-clad ranks, like one grand machine, broke into the famous stiff-legged ‘goose step,’ while the simple folk of the town gazed with mouths agape. They did this after a long, grueling night of continuous marching, when we expected that they would be staggering with fatigue.


“There were the renowned 26th and 64th regiments, already battle-scarred veterans. There rode on prancing black horses the famous Brunswick Death’s Head Hussars, and their comrades on many bloody fields, the Zeiten Hussars. There the dashing, reckless Uhlan lancers, some of whom had Belgian officers manacled to their stirrup leathers and caused a subdued murmur of resentment to run through the crowd. Instantly the German horsemen backed their steeds into the densely packed ranks of the spectators, threatening them with uplifted swords and effectually quelling the outward manifestations of momentary revolt.

“All day long and far into the night that ominous gray column kept passing through the streets, and it seemed for days afterwards as if I could still hear the muffled tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp, and the rumble of heavy gun carriages over the cobblestones.

“The difficulties of my position were immensely increased after this, for the Germans proved very strict about signing passports or letting noncombatants wander about the country. While I was detained thus in Brussels, reports came of the fall of Liege, fierce fighting around Malines and the terrible sacking of[139] Louvain. The German hosts invaded France, Rheims fell, the French government fled south to Bordeaux, and it was commonly said that the Germans would eat their Christmas dinner in Paris.

“As you may guess, I was wild to get nearer the battle front, but no efforts of mine could persuade or bribe the German officers to let me accompany the army on the march. About the only news that I could cable back to the Herald was made up of sketchy little sidelights on how the Belgians lived under the conquerors, and even those were grossly edited by the official censor.

“Early in September we heard that the Allies had rallied, however. The English had imported Sepoys from India, and the French, black men from Algeria to help them in fighting, and had thrown themselves between trembling Paris and the advancing Teuton. Then, on the 7th, I think it was, came news that the German right wing had been checked almost within cannon shot of the French capital, and that the whole auxiliary army of the Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm had been hurled back by a masterly flank movement on the part of the French under General Joffre.


“That seemed to be the turning point. Reinforcements were daily arriving for the Allied army from England and elsewhere; it was difficult for the hard-pressed Germans to get sufficient supplies so far from their own boundaries, and, moreover, the Russian hordes had in the meantime overrun all of East Prussia and had become a dire menace there. A party of the Army of the West was rushed across Germany to help General Von Hindenburg resist the Russian assault, and Von Kluck reluctantly fell back from Paris to the French frontier, fighting desperately every inch of the way.

“There the most sanguinary battles of the war were fought as the Allies pressed on after the retreating Germans. All of you boys have read in the newspapers of the battles of the Meuse, of the Marne, at Mons, and along that tremendous battle line of the Aisne.

“Those terrible conflicts will go down in history as the most awful of their kind ever known on earth. The dead filled the trenches and river bed so deep that they formed a solid footing for their comrades to fight hand to hand with Englishman, Frenchman, Hindu, Belgian, Algerian and Lorrainer.

“Winter came with cold, ice, sleet and snow,[141] to intensify the sufferings of the inadequately protected soldiers. Thousands of wounded died from exposure on the field where they fell. They fought on the earth, in tunnels under it, high up in the air, on the sea and under the sea. They mined the whole North Sea and the English Channel. Antwerp surrendered and Ghent fell before the Germans.

“And all of that time I was cooped up in one Belgian town or another, stopped every time I tried to get anywhere near the battle front, with the Herald cabling me every day or so for some real news—the stuff that they didn’t get through Associated Press channels—‘copy’ that would enable them to print something that everybody else didn’t have.

“So finally I grew desperate and determined to get closer to the scene of actual fighting, at no matter what hazard. Right then my real troubles began.”



“Now,” said Buck with a grin, “we are about to get down to something that hasn’t been printed forty times in the newspapers.”

Bob could not help getting a little huffy at that.

“You’d be a mighty poor newspaper man,” he said, “if you hadn’t heard something about all of those things by this time. But of course if you don’t want to hear the rest of this, why all right.”

“Shut up, Buck,” said Ned, himself smothering a smile, for Bob was really funny when he flared up in this way. “Go on with your story, Bob, please. Of course we’re interested. You were just going to tell us about what really happened when you finally determined to take matters into your own hands and go to the front, whether the German authorities wanted you to or not.”

Somewhat mollified, Bob continued his narrative:


“I happened to be in Malines at the time and the point where the heaviest fighting was going on was in the Yser River district, a considerable distance to the south. Nothing but military trains were running between the two points and naturally I wouldn’t have been permitted to take one of them. My only remaining course was to buy a horse and to take my chances of getting there alone. It took me four days to buy that horse and then I had to pay about four times what he was worth, owing to the fact that the cavalry had long before appropriated every sound animal in the country.

“This noble charger of mine was wind-broken and wall-eyed, those probably being the only reasons why he had not been commandeered previously. He was such an awful looking object that I hated to be seen riding on him, but beggars can’t be choosers and I had to make the best of it.

“While staying there in Malines I had struck up quite a friendly acquaintanceship with several young officers, one of whom—Hoffmansthal by name—was good enough to volunteer his services in securing a passport for me from the commandant. There was all sorts of red tape to be gone through before I finally got it, and when I[144] did I found out that it was made out in the name of ‘Philip Maestrich, citizen of Malines, and by trade a silversmith.’ The papers went on to say that I had been given official permission to travel to Namur, not far from where the fighting was, to the bedside of my sick wife. My friend, Lieutenant Hoffmansthal, explained that he could never have got the passport for me except by this subterfuge.

“So I set out on my wobbly old mare and as far as Corbais all went well. From there on every patrol guarding the roads stopped me and acknowledged the passport with extreme ill-grace. I took to avoiding the main hotels in the towns and slept in all sorts of unpleasant places—sometimes even under a haystack out in the open fields.

“Near Wasseige I found all of the roads blockaded with reinforcements marching to the front, and, rather than risk detection by them, I made a wide détour to the east, turning south again somewhere in the neighborhood of Villers le Temple. That night a dreadful rainstorm drove me to take shelter in a peasant’s cottage, and he, while I slept, galloped on a plough-horse to the nearest German outposts and won a reward for declaring me a spy.


“I was jerked roughly out of bed by a big, red-bearded Uhlan captain, my saddlebags were searched and even the linings cut out to discover the presence of secret papers. There they found my Herald credentials, which said that my name was Robert Russell and not ‘Philip Maestrich.’ That was enough with the blockhead who had arrested me, and, all puffed up with his capture, he sent me with a special detail of men to Combret. Later I was transferred from one camp to another until a hospital train happened along bound for Muhlbruck. They bundled me aboard this for trial by ferocious old General Haberkampf, whose field headquarters were located at our destination.

“Never will I forget the ghastly horrors of that five-hour ride on that hospital train. The engine barely crawled along, bumping over rails which the Belgians had torn up in the early days of the war, and which had subsequently been re-laid by the Germans. Every railway coach was packed to suffocation with wounded, some of them so frightfully mangled as to appear scarcely human any longer.

“Groans and piteous cries for water or more air echoed in my ears both day and night. Each morning we stopped to put out three or four[146] poor fellows who had died overnight. Some were delirious with pain and would scream, sing or curse frantically, defying the Red Cross nurses to come near them. The smell of blood, ether and arnica made the air sickening. I myself was wholly unnerved by it, but my soldier guards maintained the appearance of stolid indifference. Perhaps they had become used to seeing such suffering as that.

“Finally we arrived in Muhlbruck. I was completely fagged out by then, and really scarcely cared whether they shot me or not. My brain was numb with the horrors with which I had been surrounded. I couldn’t think, let alone invent a story that would plausibly account for my traveling about under an assumed name.

“When they hauled me up before old General Haberkampf, he hardly gave me a chance to defend myself. He is a soldier of the old, hard school of the Emperor Wilhelm I—the sort of fellow who makes militarism his god.

“‘In other words,’ he growled at me, ‘you confess that you are not the person whose passport you use, and that you have for some time past been penetrating our lines under false colors. You now say that you are an American newspaper man, yet you know that war correspondents[147] have been officially ordered out of the war zone. How do I know but that you are lying to me as you already have to all of my officers between here and Malines? You are a spy!’

“I tried to bring him into a reasonable frame of mind, but that is a hard thing to do with a man whose army is being daily beaten further back. He would not listen to me.

“Then they took me to a foul prison where I stayed for three weeks with about fifty other wretched men—some of them Frenchmen who had been captured in battle; a couple of them peasants who had been caught looting dead bodies on the battle field; and three or four common malefactors. We were treated well enough there, but sanitary conditions were unspeakable, and, really, the news of yesterday that my case was at last to come up for final decision, struck me as an actual relief.

“Long before this I had given up all hopes of ever escaping and I expected to be condemned. My trial was a mere form. All the way down that road to the place of execution this morning I kept thinking about you boys, wondering what you were doing and if you would have tried to rescue me had you heard of my plight.


“All of the adventures and happy times we ever had together in the past recurred to me vividly. Good old pals! How I wanted to see you just once more before I died!

“When they backed me up against that wall, I closed my eyes, expecting to hear the death volley ring out at any moment. Then I suddenly felt something tugging and slashing at my wrists, the hard ropes fell away, and I turned, half-dazed, to find Buck shoving two big revolvers into my hands, with word that you other boys were near with the Flyer.

“You know the rest of the story, and I can’t say anything more except that words don’t suffice to express my opinion of the perfectly bully way you have acted towards me.”

“Land! Land!” shouted Ned just then. “I can see the trees down below!”



The shout of the lookout on Columbus’ ship when he first sighted the New World created no greater excitement than did Ned’s words among the boys on the Ocean Flyer. Each and every one of them rushed to the port windows with binoculars through which to scan the view more closely.

The scene was, however, most disappointing. As far as the eye could reach below stretched an expanse of sparsely-wooded uninviting plain, with white patches of snow still showing upon it. Far off to the southwest the peaks of a mighty range of rugged mountains loomed hazily. Not a bird flew in the sky; not a human habitation was to be seen. Away to the northwest a narrow ribbon of something gray was twisting slowly across the country. Little points of light flickered above it where the sunbeams struck.

“What is that?” asked Alan, pointing out the snake-like thing. “Is it a river?”


“No, I don’t think so,” answered Buck. “Ned, let’s get nearer to that thing and see just what it is.”

Accordingly the course of the Flyer was altered and, flying at an elevation of about 1,100 feet above the ground, she rapidly drew near the mysterious object.

Closer approach gave the boys a genuine surprise. The “snake” proved to be five battalions of soldiery on the march—infantry, cavalry and artillery. There seemed to be thousands and thousands of them—more men than any of the boys had ever seen gathered together before. The uniforms were of a dark blue. Some of the regiments wore little round caps of the same color, set rakishly on one side of their heads; others wore huge flat fur or wool hats. Most of the soldiers seemed to be unusually large and rough looking. The majority of them were bearded.

“Russians!” exclaimed Bob. “See those flags! Russians on the way to reinforce either the army invading Austria or their comrades fighting the Germans in East Prussia is what they are!”

The appearance of the big airship caused the greatest confusion in the ranks. The cavalry[151] galloped wildly this way and that; infantrymen broke their regular marching formation to scatter and fire their guns futilely at it; the cannon were hurriedly unlimbered and efforts made to elevate their muzzles which would bring the Flyer within range.

The young aeronauts could not help laughing at the disorder their approach caused, and agreed with Ned that it was better not to get too close to the Russians. So the airship was raised to a greater altitude and took a southwesterly course.

“Why this particular direction?” queried Alan. “We have no idea where we are except that it is Russian territory, which may mean Siberia or Lapland.”

“Well,” said Ned, “we want to get back to the seat of war, and it’s a pretty safe bet that those Russians are bound for there by the shortest possible route. They are headed in a southwesterly direction, so it stands to reason that if we follow the same course, we’ll arrive somewhere near their destination.”

This was a logical deduction, so the Flyer was held to that position, and all sight of the army was soon lost in their rear.

For perhaps three hours the character of the[152] underlying landscape remained the same as when it first was sighted. After that it gradually began to vary, assuming a more rolling aspect, with considerable stretches of forestland. Indications of snow became less frequent; cultivated fields began to appear here and there, then little villages and finally a large city. Several towns of considerable size were passed over, but the airship was flying at too great an altitude for the boys to see much of them or to locate more exactly where they were.

By this time the sun was sinking, and there was danger of the Flyer’s passing completely over and beyond the “theater of war” in the darkness. Alan and Bob counseled a descent to earth for the night. This seemed to be a pretty safe procedure, as the vessel could be got under way again within a few minutes should any unexpected need arise, and it would, further, give the weary young aeronauts a chance to stretch their limbs and inhale some fresh air.

After a short discussion it was decided to do this. Sweeping in a diminishing spiral downward, the boys sighted a little village nestled snugly in a valley. The smoke from fires where goodwives were cooking the evening meal, arose in delicate streams in the calm air. Here and[153] there a light already twinkled in a cottage window. Peasants were just driving the lowing cattle home for milking.

“Let’s land over there!” exclaimed Buck. “I’m fairly hungry for the sight of somebody who won’t shoot before asking who you are, and, aside from that, I’ll bet that these simple folk would be willing to set us up a regular homelike meal!”

“How do you know that they won’t shoot at us, Buck?” asked Alan.

“I guess that we’re pretty safe on that score,” Bob broke in. “These people are evidently honest countrymen who’ll be far more afraid of us than we need be of them.”

“Yes, and besides,” added Buck, “we can find out from them just where we are and how near we are to the battle front.”

“That’s a good point,” Ned said, “but they’re probably Russians or Poles, and they wouldn’t understand what we wanted to know. None of us speak their outlandish language.”

“I know a little Russian—at least enough for our needs,” volunteered Bob. “If you boys think that it’s safe to make a landing, I’ll guarantee to do all interpreting.”

“Fine!” chorused the others, and so the landing[154] was made in the meadows within a stone’s throw of the first cottages.

There was, of course, immediate excitement throughout the town. The rusty bell in the steeple of the weather-beaten old church pealed an alarm, lights were immediately extinguished, and everybody came rushing out from their house-doors. At sight of the monster airship settling down there in the pasture with the blood-red rays of the sunset turning her metal body into the seeming of molten steel, a genuine panic ensued.

The women and children fled within, slamming and barring their doors behind them. The male villagers hastily caught up the first objects of defense that came to hand—flails, pitchforks, scythes, an old-fashioned muzzle-loading musket or two. They huddled together like so many frightened sheep in front of the town church, uncertain whether to fly or fight.

“Look!” called Buck. “We’re frightening these poor people to death. Show a white flag, some of you, and show them that we mean to be friendly.”

Alan complied by jumping down from the lower runway, waving a flag of truce, and both Buck and Bob followed him, holding their empty[155] hands high in the air to show that they were unarmed. The trio walked slowly straight towards the group of peasants, while Ned remained on one of the outer galleries of the Flyer, rifle in hand, ready to defend them if need be.

“Don’t be alarmed, good people!” shouted Bob in Russian. “We don’t intend to harm you. All that we want is a good square meal, a chance to walk around a bit, and a little information as to our whereabouts.”

Although their suspicions were not altogether allayed, the peasants showed immediate relief, and three, who seemed to be the ringleaders, advanced hesitatingly to meet the approaching boys.

Gott gruessen Ihr, Gefremde,” (God bless you, strangers) said one of them, extending his right hand.

“Holy smoke! Did you hear that, boys? He’s addressing us in German,” cried Bob and Buck together. “This is better than we looked for, but surely we can’t be back in Germany!”

Everybody shook hands solemnly all around, and Bob explained to the villagers.

“We are American newspaper men, over here to gather war news and find photographs for our[156] papers,” said he. “We had an accident yesterday and lost our way, and now are simply looking for a chance to rest a little before going on.”

“You are all welcome to do that here,” said the spokesman for the villagers with true Teutonic hospitality. “We shall be glad to have you eat with us. In return you can tell us about the great war.”

“We certainly will take you up on that,” cried Buck, and led the way back to the airship to tell Ned of their cordial reception. All of the villagers—the women and round-eyed children too—crowded gaping around the strange aircraft with exclamations of wonder.

“I guess it will be safe for us to leave the Flyer here unguarded,” said Ned. “These people don’t act as if they would tamper with it, and I want to get in on those ‘eats’ too. Anyway, we won’t have to go very far away, and can get back here in a jiffy if we have to.”

All of the boys agreed to this and so it was settled. Before leaving the ship, to accompany the villagers, they all secretly slipped revolvers into their coat pockets. As Bob said:

“It’s always better to be on the safe side.”



The leader of the villagers escorted his young guests to the largest house in the town, where immediate preparations were made for the finest dinner that German housewives—and there are no better!—could make. All of the townspeople who could crowd into the room did so, and both windows and the doorway were jammed with the curious faces of others who wanted to hear news of the Great War.

There were not stools enough to go around, so they all sat cross-legged on the floor and talked as they ate.

“First of all,” said Bob, “what is this place called and in what country is it?”

The question struck the simple villagers as being very funny and they all laughed uproariously.

“You will have to excuse us,” smiled the spokesman, “but we supposed that everybody had heard of Kolwinsk, which is the name of our town. You are now in East Prussia, about[158] twenty miles over the boundary from Poland, and perhaps thirty or thirty-five miles from where the nearest fighting is going on. Lying this far to the northwest, we are out of the line of invasion and so far have been lucky enough to escape Russian raiding parties about which such terrible stories are told. They say that the Cossack horsemen have perpetrated the most inhuman atrocities. No village through which they pass is left unpillaged. They butcher or torture the aged in cold-blood, dash out the brains of babies against tree-trunks, and reduce the screaming, helpless women to worse than shame. If they resist, the Cossacks mutilate them in awful fashion.”

“Oh, I can hardly believe all that,” interposed Alan. “The Russians are civilized people.”

“Maybe so,” replied the village head-man with some heat, “but remember the old saying: ‘Scratch a Russian and you’ll find the Tartar underneath.’ This war has made brutish beasts of everyone taking part in it. Also remember that this Russian army is made up not only of full-blooded Russians, but also of Baltic Province men, Jews from Riga and Libau, huge, hairy Siberians, barbarous Circassians and Kalmuck Tartars, who are half Chinese—as mongrel[159] and savage a horde as ever devastated a Christian country. But, of them all, the wild Cossack from the steppes is the worst and most to be dreaded. He knows no religion, no law, no pity, and couples with that a daring which even our own gallant Uhlans cannot surpass.”

Ned tried to get the German to change the subject, for he was working himself into a frenzy.

“How has the war progressed here in the east?” he asked. “We Americans, you know, have been watching the western struggle more closely.”

The village spokesman shrugged his shoulders.

“Here it has been now in favor of the Germans, now with the Russians. At first General Rennenkampf led millions after millions of his wild men swarming into Poland. We had too few men on the frontier to resist and so were beaten back. Then the Kaiser sent us General Von Hindenburg, a hero who won the Iron Cross for distinguished services when we captured Paris in the time of the present Emperor’s father. Von Hindenburg is of the old hard school, but he is a great commander. He rallied our troops and in turn pressed the Russians back. He lured Rennenkampf into a trap at Tannenberg and nearly annihilated the whole[160] Russian army. Then the Grand Duke Nicholas arrived from Petrograd with millions more Russians. The struggle seesawed back and forth all of the way from Angerburg to Gumbinnen and between the Warthe and the Vistula. We lost a big battle before Warsaw in Poland, lost again at Lodz, and then won on the same battlefield, and again at Lowicz, in which two engagements we captured over 120,000 prisoners. So it is going on even now. We are still fighting hand to hand with the Russians around Warsaw; and Lowicz, which was ours yesterday, may be theirs to-morrow. Our army is holding eight times their number of Russians in check, and that’s enough to be proud of.”

“But what about the Austrians? Haven’t they helped any here in combating the Russian invasion?” asked Bob.

“No, the Austrians have had quite enough to do protecting themselves at home, and have left Germany to fight the whole world single-handed. The Austrians invaded Servia six months ago, captured Belgrade, the capital, and then were driven out of the country altogether. Now the Serbs and Montenegrins are themselves invading Austria in the south and east, while the Russians have completely overrun Galicia and Transylvania.[161] No, Austria has been of no real help to Germany in this war.

“But you, sir, were going to tell us about what has been going on in the west. Who is winning there now?”

So Bob and Buck, both of whom spoke German with fair fluency, went on to outline the operations in France and Belgium. They were still in the midst of this when all at once there came a noise as if bedlam had broken loose on the other side of the village.

The thunder of furiously galloping horses filled the air. Then came fusillade and fusillade of shots and hideous demoniacal yells, with which were intermingled the shrieks of terrified women and children and the clang of the alarm bell.

“Help! Help! Ah, help! The Cossacks are upon us!”

Everybody gathered in the big room leaped to their feet. Terror seemed fairly to paralyze the peasants. Some few seized clubs or knives to defend themselves, but most ran aimlessly about wringing their hands and calling upon heaven to save them. Those men having wives and children at home unprotected, rushed forth into the street directly into the path of the wild riders from the steppes.


The boys dashed for the door at the first warning, but the raiders were thundering down the street almost upon them. There were perhaps sixty Cossacks all told—barbarous looking, swarthy fellows with flying long black hair and sheepskin jackets. Their beards were a-bristle; their eyes rolled red and wickedly; they brandished curved Mongolian swords or shot to right and left with sawed-off carbines pressed against their thighs. The shaggy, under-sized ponies were as wild-looking as their worse than savage masters.

Seeing them come galloping pellmell not a stone’s throw away, the boys dodged inside the house again, barely escaping a random volley which was fired at the cottage as the horsemen swept past. In a few minutes they had overrun the whole village, and the horrid noise of the slaughter was half drowned in shrill, uncouth Siberian yells and the roar of flames from houses which had been ruthlessly set on fire.

The glare of the burning hut across the street shone weirdly through the doorway, making the boys’ faces look ghastly. The rolling clouds of smoke half choked them and smarted their eyes.

“We’ve got to get out of here—quick!” gasped Ned. “Those fellows may discover the[163] Ocean Flyer at any moment, and there’s no telling what may happen then. Follow me and have your weapons ready!”

Straight out into the street they plunged and found themselves in the midst of a scene more frightful than words can adequately describe. Half of the village was already ablaze, the thatched roofs of the cottages spurting yellow flames high up into the air and giving off an intolerable heat. The scene was almost as light as day. Silhouetted against the lurid glare, wild Cossacks were cutting down the fear-crazed peasants.

One fleeing woman with a babe in her arms was caught by her unbound hair and dragged screaming to her knees. As her frantic husband leaped at her assailant, the Cossack shot him deliberately through the heart. The dead lay fallen in grotesque postures half out of doorways or huddled bleeding on the street. Here and there a wounded man was crawling away to die in the fields.

Crack! Crack! Crack! sounded the revolvers of the intrepid boys as they charged down the street. Shot for shot answered them from the surprised marauders, who had not expected quarry like this. They leaped upon their prancing[164] ponies again and tried to ride down these determined opponents, but, sheltered behind a yet unburnt hut, the boys met them with so withering a fire that they galloped on past.

“Run!” yelled Buck. “It’s our only chance!”

The boys did. It was heart-breaking work, but they arrived unwounded at the side of the Flyer. As they bounded up the hanging rope-ladder, their pursuers galloped madly up behind them. Shots rattled against the metal hull of the airship like hail against a window-pane, and half a dozen wild fellows tried to follow their escaping prey up the ladder before it could be drawn in.

It was a matter of seconds, but just in time the ladder was jerked out of the reach of clutching hands.

“All ready there, Mr. Engineer,” shouted Buck from up above the pilot room.

Buck made a dash for his post, the current was turned on, and in a minute more the Flyer was soaring high above the scene of the massacre.



“The fiends!” exclaimed Alan, staring horrified down upon the heap of blazing ruins which so short a time before had been happy, peaceful homes. “It would be only right if we were to drop a few lyddite bombs down upon them!”

“No,” said Bob, “we mustn’t do that, because we would be almost certain to blow up a good many of those poor German villagers along with the guilty Cossacks.”

“I don’t believe that there are any Germans left alive there,” grumbled Alan.

“Nevertheless, we shouldn’t bombard the Russians,” interposed Ned. “Remember, Alan, that we aren’t in Europe either to fight or take sides in any way, unless we absolutely have to in order to protect our own lives. The United States is a neutral country, and we must do nothing which might later imperil that neutrality. I know that it’s hard to spare such wretches as those we have just escaped, but we ought to do it.”


“Ned is right,” chimed in both Bob and Buck, so Alan had to forego the bomb-dropping, richly as the Cossacks deserved it.

“Well, where to now?” asked Ned, when the Flyer had continued on her course in a westerly direction for about ten minutes. “Shall we head for Russian Poland and see what General Von Hindenburg is doing towards capturing Warsaw?”

“Don’t go there because you may think that I want to,” replied Bob. “I’m sick of the way they fight here on the eastern frontier. They may kill more men in Belgium with their big cannon, but at least they do it in a soldierly fashion.”

“I’d rather go somewhere else too,” said Alan. “How about a flight to Asia Minor? I read in the papers just before we left America that the Allied fleets were knocking the Turkish forts on the Dardanelles to pieces with thirteen-inch guns. That might be an interesting sight.”

“No, let’s not go there,” Bob objected. “Let poor little Turkey die alone. She had no business getting mixed up in this war in the first place. We’ll pass up the scrap there and the Japanese assault on Tsing-Tau. As far as I’m[167] concerned there’s only one place more I’d like to see before we start for New York again, and that is Przemysl.

“You know that it is one of the great strategic fortifications in Galicia, and was the first real stumbling-block in the way of the Russian invasion of Austria-Hungary. When the Austrian army was crushed at Jaroslaw and retreated in disorder to protect Budapest, they asked for volunteers to garrison Przemysl. It was pointed out at that time that the town and fortress would surely be besieged, and that there was very little hope of any Austrians remaining ever escaping with his life. The orders were to hold out at no matter what sacrifices.

“Volunteers came forward a plenty. Then millions of Russians poured down around the city. These burned the town, shelled the citadel and tried actual assault. All in vain! So the Russians left three army corps of men besieging the fortress and marched on to the conquest of Hungary. Those besiegers are still camped around the brave fellows in Przemysl. Six months and more of famine rations, terrible disease and unceasing bombardment have not quenched their determination to hold out until the last man drops.


“Now, don’t you boys agree with me that a visit to Przemysl ought to prove worth while?”

“Przemysl it is then,” cried Ned. “You’re a wonderful speech-maker, Bob.”

“Quit your kidding,” grinned the newspaper man. “Also, if you really want to reach Przemysl, I’d advise you to ship our course more to the southeast.”

“Aye, aye, sir!” grinned Ned, with a mock-serious salute. “Sou’ by sou’east it is, sir!”

“Humph!” grunted Bob. “I hope that Buck Stewart has our breakfast ready.”

The jagged summits of the Carpathians—mountains more rugged and awe-inspiring than those of Switzerland itself—scalloped the southern horizon and seemed to overshadow the countryside for leagues, when Ned announced from the pilot-room that Przemysl was in sight.

For an hour past they had been traversing a region of wild grandeur, where broad rivers rushed tumbling and foaming down from the rocky heights, where wild sheep browsed on lonely hillsides and where the binoculars showed natives as fantastically garbed as the bandit chorus of a popular musical comedy.

They had seen whole brigades of Russians on the march, plodding sullenly along like slaves[169] under the driver’s whip. They had seen signal fires leap flaming from hill crest to mountain crag. They had seen a flotilla of Russian barges being poled down the broad, glistening waters of the Vistula, an ugly, snub-nosed cannon on every boat. They had seen the remnants of a once natty Austrian regiment being hunted down and shot like rabbits by mounted Cossacks. All this they had seen and much more.

Away off to the west the dull rumble and muttering of heavy cannonading vibrated through the air. That was the battle of Cracow in progress, although the boys did not know it then.

Death and devastation was everywhere. Smouldering villages with unburied bodies among the embers lay in the track of each army, whether Serb, Russian or Austrian.

“Przemysl is directly ahead!” called Ned down through the speaking tube, and the Ocean Flyer began to plane slowly towards it.

The shell-battered citadel stood upon a little rise of ground with the ashes and fire-charred walls of what had been the flourishing town surrounding it. The tattered red, white and green flag of the dual empire still flapped defiantly upon the walls. All around the fortress, for miles and miles, stretched the vast encampment[170] of the great horde of Russian besiegers.

They had dug a zigzag line of shallow trenches as close to the walls as they dared, and sharp-shooters lay flat on their stomachs in these, watching for an incautious head above the battlements. Every now and then a little puff of bluish smoke somewhere along the line showed the alertness of the marksmen.

Some distance farther back three batteries of artillery had been planted behind earthworks and these every now and then belched forth fire, shaking the ground as their shells went hurtling towards the obstinate defenders.

As always before, the appearance of the Ocean Flyer created an instantaneous disturbance among all who saw it. Aerial guns were trained upon it from both the fortress and the Russian lines, and several smaller military aeroplanes shot bird-like into the sky to reconnoitre it.

The first of these rose directly from Przemysl itself and Alan signaled to it from one of the Flyer’s outside runways by waving a white flag. The Austrian aviator swung near enough for Bob to explain that their mission was peaceful and that they wanted to alight inside the walls.


“Wait until I report concerning you,” called back the Austrian.

He volplaned down into the city and returned with the message that the Flyer would be permitted to descend.

It seemed as if every man in the garrison not on guard duty gathered to see the big airship as it settled down upon the parade ground, and the commandant himself was there to meet his unusual visitors. After learning their identity, he greeted the boys cordially, but said:

“I confess that I am disappointed too, because the general outline of your vessel suggested to me that it might be a new form of German dirigible, come with news of a relief army on the way. You have heard, of course, of the great fleet of Zeppelins which they are getting ready for the aerial invasion of England?”

“We have heard rumors of something like that,” answered Alan, “but were inclined to believe that it was all just a bugaboo to frighten London.”

“Oh, no! Not at all,” the commandant assured him warmly. “You will see in the course of the next few weeks. Yes, and England shall see too!”

After that the young aeronauts were shown[172] over the fortress, which really was a small town in itself. Many of the buildings had been set afire or demolished by bursting shells, but a corps of engineers was kept ready at all times to repair damages as fast as they were made.

Food supplies had run short some time before and the garrison was then reduced to starvation rations, consisting of a little soup with a few crumbs of black bread and, twice a week, a bit of tinned meats. Horses and even rats had been eaten with relish. The soldiers presented a pathetic but inspiring spectacle. The hospitals were crowded with sick and wounded; the walls were gradually crumbling under incessant shell fire, yet that garrison of heroes remained undaunted.

It was as Buck said, “just as if they had been Americans.”



The Austrian commandant’s story of the frightful privations which his garrison had undergone, stirred all four of the boys deeply. Buck took Ned to one side and said:

“Did you note all of the awful things that the governor there says these poor chaps have had to eat?”


“Well, what do you say to inviting him on the sly to have one little square meal with us aboard the Flyer before we leave? Just leave it to me to make it a Jim dandy! I’d like to feed the whole lot of them if only we had the victuals.”

“Let’s ask the commandant if he will accept,” said Ned, brightening.

The Austrian listened gravely to their well-meant offer, but the boys could feel him stiffening.

“You forget, gentlemen, that whatever hardships the soldier of the dual monarchy may[174] have to suffer, his officers are proud to endure with him. I thank you for your courtesy, but cannot honorably accept it.”

Many pitiful sights were seen by the Airship Boys on their tour of the fortress, but none impressed them more deeply than that of a young man in one of the hospital wards. He was wasted to mere skin and bones with fever which flamed insanely in his eyes. His feet they had swathed in great layers of bandages, at the ends of which wooden splints protruded. All the time in his delirium he would keep whispering in the most heart-rending accents:

“Ah, Liebchen, dich kann ich nicht mehr gruessen!”

“What is that he keeps saying?” asked Alan of their guide.

“He is speaking of his young bride in Vienna—bemoaning the fact that he may never see her again. Lieutenant Racoszky here came of a comparatively poor middle-class family but fell in love with the heiress of Count Polnychek, one of the most influential noblemen of Budapest, and the head of one of the oldest families in Hungary. The girl was a reigning beauty of the fashionable set, but that did not keep her from falling in love with Racoszky here.[175] He was handsome, gay, dashing, in those days before the war. So they were married secretly.

“By and by the old Count found out about it and would not permit Racoszky to see his girl-wife any more. Then she eloped one night and they fled together. They settled in a little town not far from Budapest and were happy. And one day she told Racoszky that she was about to bear him a child.

“That was one week after war had been declared. Already the Serbs were across our borders and Montenegro was daily threatening to join them. The war office was in a panic. All available troops were rushed to the southern frontier, where we were defeated badly. A second army was sent and it too met with reverses. Then the Russians began to cross our northeastern frontier by the millions. Every able-bodied man in the land was drafted.

“Racoszky here hoped to escape until after his child was born, but that he was not permitted to do. It was the hard-hearted old count, her father, who himself told the recruiting officers that Racoszky was a coward and was trying to avoid his duty. So one day they came and seized him in the market place as he was coming out of the doctor’s office.


“‘Come with us. You are called to the colors!’ they told him sternly.

“Racoszky was desperate. He tried to plead off.

“‘Good sirs,’ he pleaded, ‘I am but now come to hasten a doctor to the bedside of my wife. See, he is running there now. Let me at least wait until the crisis is past.’

“‘No!’ growled the recruiting sergeant roughly. ‘We have heard all about you and your trickiness. Come along now before we make you.’

“Then Racoszky became like a madman. He tried to break away from them and run back to his suffering wife. All in vain. They clubbed him insensible with their pistol butts, handcuffed him and took him away to Koloszvar, where the regiments were forming. For whole weeks thereafter he remained like one distraught. It was then that I first met him and learned the story. Finally a sort of dreadful calm came over him. He no longer raved nor wept nor tried to escape. His face lost all expression and he went methodically about his work like a person in a trance.

“Word had come that his old enemy, the count, had gone for his daughter and taken her[177] away with him down the Danube to Vienna. All of the idle rich fled there when they saw there was really danger that the invading foe might overrun all Hungary.

“Poor Racoszky never has heard from his girl-wife since then. He never spoke of her to any of us until the delirium of this fever began to rack him. He became a terrible fighter. His ferocity in hand-to-hand combats with the Russians was appalling even to us who fought shoulder to shoulder with him. He was that way at Slovno, on the blood-soaked field of Lemberg, at Doukle in Galicia, where our great retreat first began.

“Then we came here to Przemysl, and Racoszky was among the first to volunteer to be one of the garrison which everybody agreed was doomed to certain death. I said to him at that time:

“‘Racoszky, my friend, why do you not go on with the main army? They are falling back upon Vienna, and there maybe you might see your cherished wife again.’

“He gave me so terrible a look that I never have dared mention the subject to him again.

“After that the army marched away and left us to our fate. Then came the Russian hordes,[178] until the whole plain was black with them. They assaulted, they bombarded, they dug mines, and blood ran as freely as water. We beat them back. So then they camped all around us here like so many of their own Siberian wolves, waiting until the poor dog dropped from hunger and they could rend him limb from limb.

“We of the garrison all suffered cheerfully together. There was very little grumbling. The commandant’s hair turned white when we served up the roast flesh of his favorite charger as a delicacy on his birthday.

“Two weeks ago it seemed as if we all were about to starve at last. Only our spirits remained strong. Racoszky came forward and volunteered to lead a sortie out into the enemy’s camp if twenty men would follow him. He promised to bring back food, and did, but he came back with his legs riddled with bullets. All but two of them who accompanied him fell somewhere outside there.

“Long before this we had run out of all adequate medical supplies. Our surgeons could not probe Racoszky’s legs properly to remove but one of the three bullets which had lodged there. They wanted to amputate, but he swore that he would kill himself if they did. So there he has[179] lain ever since, poor fellow, with his wounds festering, and blood poison getting more assured every day. Always he keeps moaning in that way for his girl-bride and the baby he has never seen.”

This touching story moved all of the boys profoundly and weighed on their spirits to such an extent that Alan finally said:

“What do you fellows say to playing the Good Samaritan and taking Lieutenant Racoszky out of here in the Flyer to some place where he can get the medical attention that his bravery deserves?”

“That’s just what I was thinking,” answered Bob.

“And I,” echoed Buck. “But where shall we take him?”

Ned spoke up.

“Why not to Vienna, the capital? The very best hospitals and surgeons in the country are there and—so are his wife and baby. The sight of them would undoubtedly do him as much good as all of the expert medical attention he would receive.”

“The very thing! A great idea!” exclaimed the other boys. “But what about that crabbed old count, her father! Do you think that he[180] will relent enough to permit Racoszky to see his daughter?”

“That,” said Ned briefly, “is up to us and can, I think, be managed. Anyway, it certainly is worth the trial. Now let’s go to the commandant and see if he will permit us to remove the lieutenant.”

The governor, they found, was only too pleased to afford his faithful officer this unexpected chance of recovery, and helped remove the invalid to a soft bed they had made ready in the airship’s spare stateroom.

“By nightfall we shall have him in competent hands there in Vienna,” said Ned, already at the wheel.

“Good luck and tell them there in the capital that Przemysl still holds out,” called the commandant.

“No fear that we won’t do that!” the boys cried, and, amid the increasing whir and roar of the powerful propellers, the Ocean Flyer once more swept up into the sky and out over the great plain where the Russian encampment lay.

Buck threw a large, black, pear-shaped object overboard and down at the crowd below waving good-byes.


“Great heavens, what was that? A bomb?” exclaimed Bob, startled.

“No,” Buck replied solemnly, “that was a smoked ham—our last one, too.”



The course of the Flyer to the Austro-Hungarian capital was southeasterly, and it was already dusk by the time the vicinity was reached. Had it only been lighter the boys might have been treated to a magnificent view of the outlying ranges of the Alps directly in front of them, with the ancient historic city lying there below on the right bank of the lordly Danube.

Their approach had, however, been seen, and long before they reached the city ten or twelve military aeroplanes were hovering excitedly about them. According to directions given by the commandant at Przemysl, the boys hung out two flags—one German, the other Austrian—and, encouraged by the sight of these, one aviator more daring than his comrades, planed up parallel with them, shouting in German:

“Who are you, aeronauts?”

Bob answered him from one of the outer runways.


“Friends from Przemysl with a wounded soldier,” he shouted through a megaphone. “We want to alight in the city as near the largest hospital as possible. Will you show us the way?”

“What is the code word?” questioned the circling Austrian aviator, still suspicious.

“The Double-headed Eagle and a Third Crown,” replied Bob, as instructed by the governor.

This apparently satisfied the airman, who at once passed the word to his flying companions and the whole crowd of aircraft descended upon the city like a flock of sparrows settling down upon a telegraph wire. The Austrian flyers guided the Ocean Flyer’s direction of descent.

A landing was successfully accomplished in the Prater, which is a vast expanse of wood and park on the east side of the city between the river Danube and the Danube “canal.” Here in former times the fashionable and the blue-blooded rolled in stately carriages along the Haupt-Allee, and the light-hearted, pleasure-loving middle-classes whiled away their time boisterously in the Wurstel Prater.

Now all was very different though. This plaisance of indolent fashion was changed to a[184] military aviation field. Flimsily constructed plank hangars dotted the terraces all around the celebrated Rotunda, and wireless apparatus towered gaunt and skeleton-like into the air. High-powered automobiles, driven with reckless speed, were rushing between there and the city across the canal.

It is hardly necessary to relate here the astonishment and curiosity of the Austrian aviators over the Ocean Flyer as it finally alighted in their midst. Alan was selected to remain in charge of it, while the three other boys and the wounded Racoszky were whirled rapidly into Vienna in one of the waiting automobiles. On the way Bob told the two officers who accompanied them the pathetic story of the invalid, and they were at once all sympathy for him.

“Since the old count is the sort of man you say he is, you will probably find him to-morrow dawdling in the ‘Inner City’ where the palaces are, or else driving here along the Ringstrasse,” said one of the officers. “You may not believe it, sir, but practically no steps have been taken to fortify Vienna here against capture. The military aviation corps is supposed to guard aerial approach, and nobody save the good old Emperor seems to take other dangers seriously.


“Our nobility is too pleasure-loving, too loath to acknowledge responsibility. To-day, with all of our outside territory in the throes of a death struggle, with three nations across our borders, and with the ugly rumble of national revolution, the fashionables still parade grandly about, affecting to ignore conditions. Last week there were bread riots and the scum of the city’s alleys and back streets sacked shops throughout the Leopoldstadt district. It took two regiments of soldiers to drive them back. Conspiracy is rank around us; pestilence stalks abroad through the byways. I hear that Bohemia is already in revolt. No one knows what terrible disaster will come in the next news from the front.

“The aged Emperor can do nothing but sit there in the Hofburg, while his peers, fled here in terror from all other parts of the kingdom, spend their time in the gambling casinos, dance as if frenzied in the Zinspaeleste or, believing the end of the world at hand, are lost to religion, morality and the commonest decencies of mankind in debauching there in the Tabarin and vice-sinks like it.

“All day long they ride in landaus with silk parasols, lap-dogs and frippery, where cavalry divisions should be maneuvering. Silk hats are[186] seen where helmets ought to gleam. The cane is more widely flourished here than the sword! But ‘drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die.’”

As the indignant officer paused in his tirade, the automobile wheeled into the Alsergrund district and in a few seconds more was at the foot of the great flight of gray stone stairs leading up to the official military hospital.

“We want to get a light, airy, private room for Lieutenant Racoszky,” Ned explained to the tired, white-uniformed attendant who met them.

He shook his head wearily, shrugged his shoulders and replied patiently:

“That is what they all say. Each day I hear it hundreds of times—as if there were room in all of the Alsergrund for half the sick in Vienna! Is this one of the plague-ridden too?”

Finally, however, accommodations were found for poor Racoszky, and the boys left, promising to return on the morrow. The officers then escorted them to their military headquarters, where their story had to be retold before they were given the liberty of the city. They told too of the gallant defenders in Przemysl and evoked loud cheers from all who heard them.

“Ah!” exclaimed one old soldier, “would[187] that I were there to die a hero’s death with them, rather than standing guard over this madhouse here!”

Inasmuch as the night was still young, the boys decided to look about the city a bit before returning to Alan and the Flyer out in the Prater. In a rented taxicab they toured the city and found conditions much as they had been described to them. All of the street lamps, cafes, dance halls and places of amusement were ablaze with light and thronged with patrons as if on a gala night. The dreamy strains of a Strauss or Gungel waltz were weirdly intermingled with the barbaric staccato of banjorines thrumming the latest tango.

The shocked and astounded boys sat for a few moments in the gallery surrounding one of the huge dance pavilions where hilarity was at its height. The babel of incongruous noises beat all around them, but every now and then during a momentary lull in the clamor, they were conscious of a subdued conversation going on at an adjacent table.

The four men who sat there were neither noisy nor bent on amusement. That was plain. One was of gigantic physique and wore a huge black, bristly beard. One was short and unwholesomely[188] fat. He had pouches under his wicked little pig’s eyes and his skin was blotchy. On his one hand three rings set with magnificent jewels sparkled. The third man was evidently from a different social class, for his hands were stubby, with black-rimmed finger nails and a loose, brutal mouth. The fourth man at the table sat with his back to the boys and wore a cape pulled high up so as almost completely to muffle his face. They all were leaning with heads close together over the table, scarcely having tasted the wine in their glasses.

Ned, who sat nearest to them, at one time heard the little fat man with the rings, saying:

“... best done as you say. To-morrow night I know from His Excellency the Grand Chancellor that A Certain Distinguished Personage will remove for the week-end to the imperial chateau of Schoenbrunn. That is only fifty-five minutes run by motor car from the Hofburg and certainly we can——”

The blare of music beneath the gallery as the giddy dance resumed, drowned his further utterance. By and by, though, Ned again caught a disjointed phrase or two:

“... only a guard of ten Hussars ... servants in the chateau all bribed.[189] We’re sure of them ... he sleeps ordinarily in that suite in the southwest wing, easily reached by a ladder against the wall.... No! no! Don’t use your knife, Ottaker, you fool! He is so old and feeble that a good minute’s grip on his windpipe will finish him!”

“And the Lerchenfeld cathedral chimes will go ‘Ding, dong, ding! Ding, dong, ding! Franz Joseph dead! Franz Joseph——’”

Both the fat little man and he of the enveloping cape swung quickly around and eyed the near-by boys sharply. Ned met their scrutiny innocently enough.

The iron jaw and full eyes of the man in the cloak impressed themselves indelibly upon his memory.

“Huh!” grunted the fat man, as he turned, back to his companions.

“They don’t matter—only young boys—maybe tourists caught over here by the war!”

Ned furtively motioned Bob Russell closer to him.

“Bob,” he whispered, “those men are talking in French, although they are every one Austrians, and I can understand them.”

“Well, what of it?” asked Bob, puzzled.


“Just this!” breathed Ned. “They are plotting to assassinate the Emperor to-morrow night!”



The effect of this announcement upon the boys was of course electrical.

“Quick!” whispered Buck to his companions, “let’s get right out of here and call the police. We’ll nab the scoundrels as they try to leave.”

“No, sit still, Buck,” Ned said in an equally cautious tone. “The arrest of these four conspirators wouldn’t necessarily stamp out the plot. For as bold and big a scheme as this, there must also be a good many others implicated. It may be more important to capture them than these fellows. Besides, even if we were to call in the police and have these four arrested, we couldn’t actually prove anything against them.”

“True enough,” agreed Bob. “What do you propose to do, Ned?”

“This: I’ll sit quietly here. You and Buck get up leisurely, bid me good night and appear to leave. Instead of that, each of you secrete himself somewhere near the bottom of the stairs leading up to this gallery. When the men here[192] get up to leave, I’ll follow the man with the cape muffled around his face, and you boys each take one of the others.”

“But there are four of them and only three of us,” objected Buck.

“That’s all right. I don’t think that the shabby man with the dirty finger nails is anything more than a mere tool anyhow, so we can afford to let him go. You, Bob, shadow the little fat man with the rings, you, Buck, trail the fellow with the big black beard. Follow them around all night if necessary, but make sure that you trace them to their homes finally. We can all meet with Alan at the Ocean Flyer over in the Prater at, say, sunrise by the latest.”

This scheme struck the other boys as feasible and soon Bob and Buck drifted off as arranged, leaving Ned alone at the table. He had sat there, seemingly half asleep, for perhaps ten minutes more, when the four conspirators arose from their table together and started down the stairs. Ned followed slyly at a safe distance, screened by the jostling crowd.

All four men passed out of the place in company, chatted for a minute or two at the street entrance and then parted. The ruffianly looking individual plunged straightway into the[193] nearest alley, after a furtive look behind him. The pudgy man with the wicked pig’s eyes and bejeweled rings took a taxicab at the curb stall and chugged away, followed by Bob in a second taxi. The herculean black-beard, after leisurely lighting a cigar, walked aimlessly a little way down the thoroughfare; paused and felt of his hip pocket as if to make sure that something quite important was still there; and at last he too hailed a taxicab and disappeared, with Buck still in his wake.

The fourth conspirator—he who kept his face so carefully concealed in the collar of his cape—stood thoughtfully in the lighted doorway of the dance hall until all of his companions were gone. Then he glanced with affected nonchalance at the faces in the crowd around him and turning, strolled slowly westward along the street. Ned followed.

At the second square the man suddenly quickened his pace until it was all that Ned could do to keep up with him. At the fifth square, he all at once wheeled about abruptly and stared after him; then plunged into an ill-lighted side street. By the time that Ned got to the corner, the quarry was just turning the next corner, running at top speed.


Ned sprinted after him, turned the corner and found himself again on a brightly-lighted thoroughfare thronged with revelers. The man had vanished into the crowd. Bitter disappointment choked Ned until suddenly he saw his man again, this time on the opposite side of the street, hesitating as if at a loss which way to go. Finally he again turned westward, with Ned keeping closer on his heels this time.

Thus the pursuit went on for more than an hour’s time. Had not the boy been himself a good walker, the man would soon have tired him out. The chase ended at last in what your Viennese calls “Die Innere Stadt,” (The Inner Town) which lies in the heart of the city and is the most aristocratic section. The Hofburg, or Imperial Palace is there, the palaces of many of the nobility, the government offices, the now abandoned foreign legations, the opera house and principal hotels.

The man in the cloak strode swiftly past the hotel section into the palatial residence district. He now had the manner of one who knew exactly where he was going and was in a hurry to get there.

At the gates of a great iron fence enclosing the park-like grounds of one of the palatial residences[195] with which the street was lined, the stranger paused, then entered without a glance behind him. Ned followed him swiftly up the gravel walk, to drop flat behind a spreading rosebush as his quarry wheeled like a flash and stood stock still, staring intently back at the street.

For a few moments the boy dared scarcely to breathe. Then, to his relief, the man again turned, but instead of mounting the imposing flight of stone steps, flanked by two carved lions bearing an armorial crest in their mouths, he slipped a key into a little half-concealed postern door and vanished inside, leaving the door slightly ajar behind him.

Ned hesitated but an instant, then himself plunged into the yawning black hole. It was so dark that he had to grope his way forward with hands outstretched in front of him, shuffling his feet along, one after the other. Scarcely had he gone three steps forward when two muscular hands closed around his throat from behind, half strangling him, and a heavy voice boomed through the narrow confines of the entry:

“Ho! Emil, Oscar, Friedrich! This way! Hurry! I have caught a burglar!”

Ned’s sight began to blur. There was a loud buzzing in his ears and sparks of red, vivid blue[196] and yellow light danced before his eyes. He was helpless in the iron clutch of the man behind him. Then came the heavy sound of running feet and three husky servants in livery arrived and overpowered him. One tripped him flat on his face, while the others bound his arms immovably to his sides with a piece of rope. They mauled him about and gave him a couple of kicks for good measure.

“Bring him up here,” commanded the master of the house abruptly, leading the way up a narrow little flight of stairs.

As Ned stumbled upward, pushed by the excited serving-men, he saw for the first time that a very comely young woman was standing at the head of the staircase, with a loose dressing gown thrown around her, just as if she had been frightened from her bed by the noise of the scuffle and shouts below stairs.

“What are you doing here, Marya?” demanded the mysterious man in the cape in what seemed to Ned to be an unjustifiably gruff tone. “Why aren’t you in bed where you belong at this hour?”

The girl’s hands were pressed to her heart, but she was making a brave effort to conceal her agitation.


“Oh, I thought—I hoped that—father?” This last in piteous appeal.

The man in the cloak scowled savagely and shoved her aside, while he and his men pushed Ned into a large, sumptuously furnished room.

“I know what you thought well enough,” he growled. “You thought that Racoszky, that scoundrelly husband of yours, had come and tried to see you secretly. That’s what you thought! Well, you are a fool and, though I’m ashamed to say it, a daughter of mine at the same time. Look at him as much as you want, Marya! You see that this doesn’t happen to be your husband. Instead, he is a rascally fellow who—you can go now, men!” The servitors went out silently. “Instead of that, he is a fellow who has been dogging my footsteps for the last hour or so and whom I trapped at the foot of the stairs there just to find out who he was and why he has followed me in this way.”

Ned did not quail before the menace in his captor’s eye. Instead it is to be doubted if he even had heard his last words. One poignant thought was ringing through his head:

Marya? The man in the cloak whom he knew to be a conspirator was her father and he had called her the wife of Lieutenant Racoszky.


Then this would-be assassin was none other than old Count Polnychek of Budapest!



It was about half-past eleven when Alan, nervously pacing the outside runways of the Ocean Flyer there on the Prater, heard Buck Stewart’s welcome voice greet him cheerily from the darkness.

“Are the others back here yet?” asked the reporter.

“What! Aren’t they with you?” exclaimed Alan, peering through the gloom. “Where on earth have you fellows been all night? I got as nervous as a girl thinking that something might have happened to you.”

“Well,” drawled Buck, enjoying Alan’s impatient curiosity, “we did bump into a little adventure.”

Then he went on to give Alan the details of their chance discovery of the plot to assassinate the aged Emperor Franz Joseph on the following evening.

“Bob followed one man, Ned another, and I the third—a gigantic chap who could almost[200] pulverize me with a single blow. I followed him about for an hour or more, going to first one low dive and then to another, but always in the poorer, more squalid sections of the city where there were few street lamps and where the second stories of ramshackle old houses nearly met overhead. The smells were awful, and every street corner had its individual knot of evil-looking loafers being harangued by wild-eyed, long-haired chaps, looking as if they would cut one’s throat for a nickel. Each demagogue was working his little gang of listeners up to a point of frenzy. Some of the orators were preaching socialism, others a reversion to pious living. Some waved their arms in an impassioned plea for absolute anarchy; still others stood on old soap boxes, with thin lips that alternately sneered or snarled, preaching atheism, revolution, murder.

“You may well believe that I wasn’t at all at ease passing through throngs of that sort all the while and having to stop every now and then because Black-beard’s taxi did, while he leaned out of the window to note the attitude of the rabble. Once in a while he would be recognized by persons loitering in the street-corner aggregations. Several times men sidled slyly up to his[201] taxicab and seemed to be making reports or getting fresh instructions from him.

“I followed my man around that way for more than two hours without anything in particular happening, and finally trailed him to bed at a middle-class boarding house in the Neyban district. Then I came on back here.”

The last words were hardly out of his mouth before Bob Russell joined them, his manner triumphant.

“Hello, boys!” cried he. “I don’t know what luck you may have had, but I ran my little fat man to ground and have found out enough about him to hang him higher than Haman.”

“Tell us about it,” both boys said.

Bob continued:

“It turned out that the man I followed was so eminent a dignitary of the realm that I myself now can hardly believe it to be true. The chase in the taxicab led me straight into the ‘Inner Town’ and to the very steps of the Hofburg itself. My man paid off his chauffeur and went on up the grand stairway with all the assurance of proprietorship. Liveried lackeys saluted him respectfully on all sides, but the gorgeously uniformed guards at the entrance stopped me when I tried to follow him.


“‘It’s all right, my man,’ I tried to explain, in my best Austrian, ‘I am with—’ pointing after the vanishing figure—‘him.’

“The guardsman raised his eyebrows in polite disbelief.

“‘But His Excellency the Chancellor did not tell us that you were accompanying him.’

“‘His Excellency the Chancellor?’ I nearly fell over backwards when I heard that this arch-conspirator was he. Then in reckless spirit of bravado and with a fine assumption of haughtiness, I said:

“Go ask him. Bring him back here, and mind that you do not keep me waiting long either!”

“Impressed by my tone, one of the guardsmen went in after my quarry, who came back with a face that was like a mask.

“‘You wished to see me, sir?’ he queried, taking me in from head to foot at a single glance.

“‘No,’ said I, ‘you forget that I am with you.’

“‘Ah!’ said he, without exhibiting the slightest interest. ‘I have indeed forgotten. Will you not enter with me? His Imperial Highness is waiting now.’


“‘No, I must leave you now,’ I told him. ‘We shall see the Emperor again to-morrow night, I think.’

“For a brief second his brows knit in a puzzled frown. Then his face cleared and he bowed very graciously.

“‘Until then, good friend,’ he murmured.

“‘Until then, your Excellency,’ I parroted and, turning, descended the steps with all of the dignity that I could muster. So here I am again.”

“Well, of all the unmitigated nerve!” Alan burst forth. “Now I see how it is that you newspaper men get your ‘stories.’ It’s a wonder that he didn’t either have you kicked downstairs or thrown into prison on general principles!”

“He was suspicious all right,” grinned Bob, who was highly pleased with himself, “but he didn’t dare risk forcing my hand too strongly there with all of the servants standing about. Believe me, though, I’ve given him something to think about!”

“I can’t understand why Ned doesn’t show up,” broke in Bob. “It’s past sunrise now. What can be delaying him?”

The anxiety in Bob’s tone was reflected in the faces of the other two boys.


The hours dragged slowly by. Broad daylight came and wore on to noon. Still no sign of Ned. Late afternoon found his chums pacing restlessly up and down the area about the Ocean Flyer. No one of them dared voice his fears to the others. The sun’s rays became more slanting; the shadows longer and heavier. And still no Ned.

The man with the cloak, Count Polnychek, whirled his captive around facing him with a heavy grip on his shoulder.

“So?” cried he, “I know you now! You sat with two others at an adjacent table there in the tanzenhaus! You are a spy then? You were eavesdropping on our conversation. Did it interest you so much that you were constrained to follow me all this distance?”

“It interested me,” said Ned shortly, meeting his glare coolly, eye to eye. His calmness enraged the old count still more.

“And what did you hear, you snake?” he growled, stepping closer and thrusting his bearded face close to that of the undaunted boy. “Quick now! Tell me what you overheard!”

“It would be no news to you, Count Polnychek, of Budapest,” said Ned.


“Donnerwetter! You even know my name then! You show your teeth to me, do you? Are you aware that your life is wholly at my mercy?”

Ned disdained to answer him.

“Will you tell me how much you know?”



The distracted girl jumped with fright at the explosive force of the command.

“Marya, heat your poker in the flames of the fireplace and then bring it here to me!”

“Oh, father—dear father, no! no! no! Not that! You wouldn’t torture this poor boy?” she pleaded.

The old wretch snarled savagely at her as he ripped open the bosom of Ned’s shirt, showing the soft, white skin underneath.

“Did you hear me, Marya!”

Trembling violently, the girl did his bidding. Shortly the white-hot iron was glowing in his threatening hand. He held it so close to Ned’s shrinking flesh that the heat it gave off was almost intolerable.

“Now will you tell?”

The boy shut his eyes and with gritted teeth awaited the scorching touch upon his chest. But it never came. A harsh voice that one would[206] never have recognized as that of the girl who a few minutes before had cowered in terror, said:

“Father, throw up your hands, or, as there is a hereafter, I will shoot you with your own revolver!”

Marya Racoszky stood with one arm steadily pointing a huge revolver at her parent’s head.

“Drop that poker!”

He did so. The iron fell into the thick woof of the carpet, sizzling and causing a vile odor.

Still covering the astounded old wretch with her weapon, the girl sidled over to Ned and slashed the rope from off his arms with a penknife. Instantly she shoved the revolver into the boy’s hands and collapsed swooning into the nearest chair. Ned kicked the smoking poker over into the fireplace. A grim smile edged his lips.

“Now will you tell me the things that you know are planned for to-morrow night out at the Schoenbrunn chateau where Franz Joseph will spend the night?” he asked sternly.

No! Shoot if you wish, but I never desert my comrades. I am a man of honor.”

“‘A man of honor?’ You, who in cold blood contemplate the assassination of your[207] sovereign—a poor old man, already shattered in health and spirit over the miseries of his country? You are a disgrace to the ancient name you bear!”

Old Count Polnychek winced under the scathing scorn in the boy’s voice. The red blood suffused his deeply lined face.

“You would not dare insult me in this way were I not unarmed and at your mercy.”

“How about when you threatened to scar me with that hot poker? Count, you are—keep away from that bell or I fire!—are going to do my will this time. Let us sit down while you tell me all about it.”

Tausend Teufeln, no!”

“I said sit!”

The Count plumped down abjectly into the depths of a big easy chair. Ned likewise seated himself, with the ugly-looking revolver still ready.

“Now, Count,” said he evenly.



Old Count Polnychek shrank before the rising black muzzle not two yards away.

“Well, a curtained limousine is to call here for me at ten to-night. The chauffeur understands[208] that he is to drive me to Spvodka, ten minutes’ walk from the chateau where the Emperor is to sleep. All ten of us who head the plot are to meet there at eleven. Then we are to ...”



Alan, Bob and Buck were nearly frantic with worry over the still-missing Ned by the time darkness closed in.

“If any harm has come to that boy,” vowed Buck fiercely, “I swear that I’ll leave no stone unturned until I find out the guilty parties and punish them!”

Bob bit his lip gloomily.

“We’re all hoping for the best, of course,” said he, “and really I believe that Ned can take care of himself all right.”

“A knife in the back—a blow from a dark doorway as he passed—any of a score of possibilities here,” muttered Buck.

Alan shuddered and made a desperate effort to change the conversation.

“What are we going to do to frustrate this plot on the Emperor’s life!” he asked. “If we do anything on that, it must be pretty soon, because time is flying, and I recall that Ned overheard them say at that other table that the[210] meeting hour had been set for eleven o’clock.”

“That’s right,” chorused the other boys. “We mustn’t let our anxiety for Ned permit us to neglect the other thing. How shall we go about it?”

They missed their chum’s ready foresight in planning a course of action then, but, on the whole, did succeed in mapping out a pretty fair course of procedure. It was Bob Russell’s idea. He said:

“Ned stated that some of the servants in the chateau had been bribed into sympathy with the conspirators and will admit them secretly into the house. The man with the big black beard and he of the twisted mouth were to slip into the sleeping Emperor’s bedchamber through a window reached by a ladder against the wall. The Emperor was to be strangled.

“Now what I suggest is that we use the Ocean Flyer to get there. Landing some distance away so as not to be heard from the chateau, we can then lie in wait hidden by the lawn shrubbery until the miscreants arrive. We can then pounce upon them and nip the murder right in the bud.”

“Would it not be better first to warn the inmates of the chateau of what is afoot?” asked Alan.


“No, that wouldn’t do at all, because neither we nor the Emperor know which of the attendants are faithful and which are treacherous. We’ll have to play this game single-handed, boys.”

So finally it was agreed to adopt the scheme as originally suggested by Bob. Their preparations for departure at that hour of the night were noted with great curiosity by the other aviators from the Austrian hangars, and Capt. von Schleinitz, the young officer who had driven to the hospital with them and told them about local conditions when they first arrived, said casually:

“You choose a peculiar hour for starting off again, gentlemen.”

“Yes,” Bob answered him, “we are only going on a small flight. Mr. Napier is not returned yet, so we will, of course, be back for him.”

“How I wish that I might be privileged to accompany you on one of your flights!”

Alan and Buck overheard his remark, and after excusing themselves for the seeming discourtesy, took Bob aside.

“Listen, Bob,” Alan whispered. “Why not take Captain von Schleinitz along with us on[212] to-night’s expedition. He impresses me as a brave, good fellow, and the presence of a regular Austrian army officer aboard might prove of great help in several ways. Patrolling military aeroplanes might stop us with all sorts of questions once we get into the air.”

“I guess you’re right, Alan,” said Bob thoughtfully. “Let’s take him into our confidence then and explain the whole matter.”

This was accordingly done. The Austrian was horrified by the revelation of the plot and urged all possible haste. By ten-thirty the Flyer’s engines were started and the short flight to Schoenbrunn was begun. No lights were shown aboard as the boys were anxious to avoid all unwelcome attentions.

No attempt was made to hinder their progress, and a landing was made almost noiselessly not far from the enclosed gardens of the chateau.

No one of the boys was willing to be left behind in charge of the airship while the others went forward into the adventure, yet it was imperative that someone should stay. After considerable heated discussion it was finally decided to draw lots. This method determined upon Buck as the one to remain behind, which he submitted to with much disappointment.


Alan, Bob and Captain von Schleinitz gripped his hand hard in a last good-bye, and slipped stealthily away into the darkness. Buck was left alone.

There was no moon visible that night. The sky lowered with the threat of storm, streamers of clouds scudded as if frightened before the strong wind. In a near-by marsh the frogs and crickets made melancholy music. Afar off to the right somewhere a dog howled mournfully.

Nine cloak-shrouded figures stood in close conference at the Spvodka turnpike, a bare ten minutes’ walk from the Chateau Schoenbrunn. Their manner was mysterious, sinister. They were impatiently waiting for someone.

Far down the road the purr of a motor could be heard, growing rapidly lower. Suddenly it ceased altogether and a tenth sepulchral figure stalked towards them through the gloom.

A subdued murmur of satisfaction greeted his approach.

“At last you are here, Count Polnych—”

A quick hand was clapped over the mouth of the big black-bearded man who spoke.

“Hush, you fool! No names here!”

The newcomer did not address the others, but[214] with a finger to his lips enjoining silence, he led them towards where the high walls enclosing the grounds of the Chateau Schoenbrunn loomed up through the darkness.

Tiptoeing close to the huge iron gates, the leader of the band shoved gently. The ponderous gate swung inwards upon hinges that had been freshly greased to preclude all danger of squeaking. Just inside the gates a sentry lay securely bound and gagged on the damp grass. The chateau servants had earned their blood money.

Alan, Bob and von Schleinitz were crouched behind the thick shrubbery so near that they could have reached out and touched the stealthy intruders. Revolvers were held ready for instant use.

“Look!” whispered Bob. “The huge bearded man there is the one whom Buck trailed down. There is the thug with the twisted mouth. That fat little man shivering in the wind is the Grand Chancellor and—yes, by Jove! That fellow there who seems to be giving them directions is the very man whom Ned set out to follow. If he is here, where is poor Ned?”

The tall man whom the conspirators had addressed as “count” did very little talking. At a signal from him, Black-beard and Twisted[215] Mouth slipped away around the corner of the chateau, and the remainder of the band slunk noiselessly over the grass to where the silent black pile of the building showed through the trees.

Alan, Bob and von Schleinitz skulked close at their heels, dodging from bush to tree-trunk, to shrub. It was harrowing work.

Once a stone crunched under Bob’s foot as he darted across a gravel path.

“What was that?”

The group of conspirators had whirled about in consternation, weapons shining dully in their hands. Only a deathly stillness rewarded their listening, however. Finally the little fat man, who was chancellor of the realm, laughed nervously.

“Bah! It was nothing! We are unstrung to-night,” he said in a low tone. “But to-morrow—”

Evil anticipation lit up the faces of his companions.

“Ready now!” whispered he whom they had called “count.”

The ten of them slipped through the unlocked door into the house where the aged Emperor slept all unconscious of the hands at his throat.



Franz Joseph, the aged Emperor of Austria-Hungary—whose life history is one of the most tragic of all contemporary royalty—tossed uneasily as he slumbered on the great four-posted bed, around which heavy damask curtains had been drawn, shutting off all view of the bed chamber. The Emperor had fled here to his Chateau Schoenbrunn for at least a day or so of quiet and ease from the heavy cares of state.

“Go, your Imperial Highness, and sleep in peace,” his trusted friend the Grand Chancellor had told him. “For the time being I will take the burden from your shoulders.”

“There are couriers waiting there in the ante-room, from Plotz and the army at Lublin. There is a messenger from the routed army before Belgrade. There is yet another ultimatum from Bulgaria to be considered,” said the aged monarch doubtfully, passing a listless hand across his careworn brow.


“Highness, cannot I attend to all that?”

The Emperor, broken in spirit and body, acquiesced weakly.

Rest!” he murmured, as if invoking a saint, “undisturbed slumbers and a few hours in which to forget a bleeding, beaten nation that cries out for the help I cannot give.”

Thus it was that Franz Joseph came to go to Schoenbrunn, but forgetfulness did not come to him with the darkening of the lights around his bed. The whole sad picture of his reign passed in review before him like a horrid nightmare—murdered relatives, degenerate heirs who had disgraced his name, and, finally, apparitions of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the Duchess of Hohenberg, whose assassination by Serbs at Sarajevo had been used as the excuse for the war now convulsing the world.

There stood the ghastly shades of the Emperor’s dearly beloved son and his wife whom Franz Joseph never would recognize. They extended bloody, mutilated hands to the old man and seemed to say:

“See, we are come to take you with us to where countless thousands of our countrymen lately have gone. Come, Franz Joseph!”

With a strangling cry of terror, the aged[218] Emperor awoke and half started up in his bed. At that instant there came quick, catlike footfalls in the outer rooms, a gurgling shout that ended in a groan from the halberdiers who kept watch by the door, and then the heavy curtains screening the bed were wrenched violently aside and a terrible figure towered over the palsied Emperor.

It was Black-beard, his huge, knotty hands working spasmodically as if already strangling the poor old man in imagination. Behind him appeared the villainous visage of the Twisted Mouth. A knife in his hand was stained red to the hilt with the life-blood of the door guard whom they had caught unawares. Behind the pair the window was open and the upper rungs of a ladder showed above the sill.

Fate was upon him. The Emperor knew that, and in that crucial moment when his life seemed worth but a farthing, the noble bearing of his forbears came suddenly to him, straightening the bowed shoulders, throwing back the bent head and putting the truly regal blaze of eleven generations of Hapsburgs into his watery eyes.

“Dogs! what do you here in our presence unannounced?” Franz Joseph thundered, and even the pajamas covering his wasted form did[219] not detract from the impressiveness of his mien. “Begone!”

The Emperor pointed one long forefinger from the wretches to the door.

Neither assassin vouchsafed a word in reply. Black-beard crouched to hurl himself upon his defenseless victim when—

Crash! the whip-like report of a revolver sounded from the doorway and through the drifting smoke the figure of him they had called the “count” was visible.

“Perdition!” groaned Black-beard, half-rising from the floor. “You have killed me, Polnychek!”

Twisted Mouth had dodged in amazed terror behind the table, whence he now flourished his knife uncertainly.

Pandemonium had broken loose below stairs. Cries of alarm, screams, curses, stentorian commands mingled with a thunderous fusillade of shots. The staircase resounded with the rush of many feet upon it. The treacherous Grand Chancellor burst wildly into the room. He took in the scene with one sweeping glance.

“What is the meaning of this, Polnychek?” he cried threateningly. “Are you playing us false?”


In answer, the “count” dramatically threw aside the familiar cape and hat which had up to this time concealed his face. A ferocious curse burst from the astounded Chancellor.

The Mysterious Man in the Cloak.

Instead of facing Count Polnychek, he was confronted by the glinting muzzle of a revolver in the hands of Ned Napier!

What followed thereafter happened far more swiftly than it can be told. Seeing the entire plot crumbling about him, and lacking the moral courage to fight it out, the Chancellor sprang to an open window and cast himself headlong down into space. They later found him lying with his neck broken in the gardens. Twisted Mouth threw up his hands and surrendered as Ned advanced upon him.

Meanwhile the sound of Ned’s shot had awakened the entire household downstairs. Weapons were quickly seized and haste was made to secure the safety of the Emperor. The faithless servants were among the loudest in proclaiming their horror of the attempted assassination.

Alan, Bob and Captain von Schleinitz had attacked the nine conspirators skulking down stairs the moment Ned’s shot rang out, and, although the trapped men fought with unparalleled[221] ferocity, they were driven at bay against one wall of the building and forced to yield to their intrepid assailants who were by then reinforced by thirty or more domestics and imperial guardsmen.

Owing to the already disturbed conditions in Vienna it was the Emperor’s wish that all news of this dastardly attempt on his life be kept absolutely secret. He rode back along the Ring Strasse, the main boulevard encircling the city, in state the next morning and made it a point to rise up and bow frequently in acknowledgment of the cheering sidewalk crowds. This effectually counteracted any premature stories of his death which might have been circulated in preparation for the plotted revolution.

The Airship Boys were given a formal audience in his private reception chamber of the Hofburg on the following afternoon and Captain von Schleinitz also was ordered to be present. The grateful emperor conferred the Order of St. Stepan upon his faithful officer and promoted him to the rank of lieutenant colonel of the Imperial Aviation Corps. To the smiling boys Franz Joseph said:

“It is a matter of difficulty for me to decide how best to acknowledge my life-long indebtedness[222] to you young gentlemen. The fact that you are not of the nobility nor yet soldiers precludes my decorating you with any of the Orders of Merit in my power. So, gentlemen, I am going to leave it for you yourselves to say how I best may please you.”

Of course all of the boys blushed and were much embarrassed by such a gracious reception. None of them knew exactly what to say until Buck blurted out:

“Why, we wouldn’t think of taking any rewards ourselves for a thing that it was our plain duty to do, sir, but we have a favor that we’d like to ask for a friend who, by the way, happens to be a subject of yours.”

“Your request is already granted—even though the man be one of those implicated in the conspiracy,” said the Emperor kindly.

“While we were in Przemysl,” continued Buck, “we met an infantry officer, one Lieutenant Racoszky, who lay dying in the hospital for lack of proper attention to his wounds. He is one of your most devoted subjects.”

Then Buck went on to tell how the lieutenant had married above his station in life and of his subsequent misfortunes as a result of the old count’s brutal enmity.


“We want you to intercede with the count on Racoszky’s behalf and bring the young couple and their child together again,” Buck concluded.

“Mr. Stewart hasn’t told you the entire story yet, though,” Ned here interrupted. “It seems that Count Polnychek was one of the moving spirits in this plot. While trailing him down, I fell into his power and probably would have been murdered had it not been for his brave daughter, Racoszky’s wife, who forced him at a revolver’s muzzle to liberate me.

“Armed with the weapon she had given me, I forced him to reveal the full details of the conspiracy and now have him bound and locked there in his daughter’s room. She agreed to stand guard over him while I impersonated him at the conspirators’ rendezvous. The lady has asked that I beg leniency for her parent in view of her own great services on your behalf.”

The Emperor paced the room thoughtfully for a few moments. Then he said:

“Young gentlemen, you shall have both of your wishes. Lieutenant Racoszky need no longer dread separation from his family, and Count Polnychek shall not be accorded the sentence he so richly deserves. But he must[224] leave Austria at once, and the first time that he ever again sets foot across our boundaries shall be the signal for his arrest.”

Thus the happiness of Racoszky was assured and the boys were left once more free to pursue their way.



The war had by this time begun to pall upon the boys, and Alan voiced the sentiments of all four when he said:

“I’m sick of all this treachery, thunder of cannon, wails from the wretched common people and indiscriminate bloodshed. The United States is good enough for yours truly, and I wish that I was there right now.”

So it was decided that the Ocean Flyer be headed homeward without further delay and, after bidding good-bye to the genial von Schleinitz and Racoszky and his courageous little wife, the boys early one morning started their engines and let the hectic life of Vienna sink into a miniature panorama far beneath them.

The course was set northwesterly and a spanking breeze in a murky sky accelerated their speed.

“Off for America again at last!” shouted Bob jubilantly, and the other boys echoed him in three rousing cheers.


By ten o’clock, however, there was a marked change in the atmosphere. The barometer fell low in the glass, and every delicate instrument in the pilot room gave ominous indications of nasty weather.

Ned’s face showed his worry, but he forced a cheerful smile before his chums.

“It will blow over, I am sure,” he said.

The Flyer was being held to an elevation of perhaps 2,500 feet. The lower cloud banks cut off all view of the world beneath, and Alan suggested that they descend to a lower level where, although they might feel the effects of the rainstorm from the clouds, the rapidly increasing velocity of the wind would not hold them so surely in its grip.

Ned listened to the demoniacal shrieks of the wind as the Flyer scudded along, and was not slow to acknowledge the common sense of Alan’s advice. So the airship was dropped down to a considerably lower level below the clouds.

In that region a terrible storm was raging. The thunder burst in crashes that seemed louder than ten thousand cannon. The air vibrated with the shocks. Appalling zigzags of lightning shot yellow across the sky. The rain fell in torrents from an inky sky and dashed dismally[227] against the metal sides of the speeding airship.

Being mistrustful of air eddies or whirlpool currents as a result of the hurricane, Ned reduced the Flyer’s speed to the minimum. As he wisely observed, “No use taking unnecessary chances.”

Thus the big vessel fled before the storm for half an hour or more when, with astonishing suddenness, the reverberations of thunder ceased and the sun turned the rainfall into a fog so dense that it seemed that the Flyer was cutting its way through a solid substance. It became so dark inside that the boys had to turn on the electric lights.

“I don’t like this at all,” muttered Ned at last, as he strained his eyes through the mist-clouded observation-port.

“Well, anyway, we aren’t flying low enough to hit any trees or church steeples,” grinned Bob.

“No, but all the same I don’t like to keep going even this slowly through vapor as thick as this is. If I could only see the character of the ground below, I’d try to make a landing.”

The earth, however, continued wholly shrouded and Ned had to hold on his unwilling way.

It was perhaps a quarter of an hour later that[228] Buck, who had been calculating at the speedometer, and referring to various charts, announced that the Ocean Flyer was probably over northern Germany. Shortly afterward the increasing strength of the sun’s rays began to dissipate the fog, which assumed fantastic forms that writhed and squirmed as they floated away into nothingness. It amused the boys to pick out these patches of mist and to note their outline resemblance to one animal or another.

“There’s a cow!” laughed Bob, pointing.

“And over there is a giraffe—see his long neck?”

“Look straight ahead, boys, and see the bologna sausage,” called Ned from his station at the wheel.

Sure enough—there it was, gigantic and dull gray, directly ahead of them. But strange to say, while it kept moving along in the same direction as the Flyer, it did not soon dissolve into thin air. Instead of that it took vast tangible form. Other vapor forms began to appear transparent beside it. The vague outlines of complicated rigging extending down from the sausage became easily apparent. Then a suspended metal body, punctured with many windows, appeared.


By this time the speeding Ocean Flyer was almost upon it, and only Ned’s presence of mind in veering the huge right side planes abruptly averted a sure collision. The Flyer swept down past the other huge voyager of the sky at an acute angle and did not right itself until a considerable distance below.

“Holy smoke!” gasped Bob. “What is that curious looking thing?”

Ned was deadly pale, but his lips were pressed grimly together.

“That, boys,” said he, “is one of the famous German armored Zeppelins. Look up there to the left—three more of them sailing close together. See over there to the right—two more of them. I can see more flitting along down below us, and I think that there are more ahead. We have descended into the very midst of them. Look out for trouble now, because I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that this is the long-dreaded aerial raid upon England!”



Almost before the words had passed Ned’s lips, an ugly black muzzle was protruded from a window in the hanging body of the nearest Zeppelin. Then came a puff of bluish smoke, a dull roar and flash of flame:


A huge shell had passed athwart the Ocean Flyer’s bows in stern warning for her to stop and await inspection.

Perspiration started out profusely on the boys’ foreheads. The huge German war balloons were approaching in a rapidly narrowing circle. There were at least fifty of them, and soon an advance patrol of military “Taube” aeroplanes came skimming back to support them. Cannon were shoved menacingly out of a score of portholes. There was no mistaking the determination of the Germans.

“Heavens!” groaned Alan, his cheeks blanched. “What shall we do? If we don’t stop in a minute, they’ll all get our range and[231] blow even our stout magnalium covering to bits. We haven’t a single weapon on board that can compare with those heavy cannon!”

“Don’t surrender unless there is absolutely nothing else for us to do,” cried Buck.

Bob added: “No, because then they’d simply lock us up in some German prison and use the Flyer for their raid on England!”

The two nearest Zeppelins could now be seen letting gas out of their huge sausage-like bags as they settled down towards the almost stationary airship. As they changed position, it left a narrow break in the ring of enemies.

“Shall we risk a chance on breaking through there? That’s our only hope,” said Ned quietly.

“Yes, yes. Quick—full power ahead before they think to close the gap!”

Ned jammed the acceleration lever hard down in its socket; the machinery groaned with the pressure of too suddenly added power; the exterior planes folded automatically before the rapidly increasing rush of air. The Ocean Flyer swept upwards at an abrupt angle, heading straight for the only opening left unguarded.

Simultaneously the Zeppelin crews saw the boys’ desperate intent. Flame belched from twenty cannon mouths. Shells burst screaming[232] all around. Four light aeroplanes skimmed like swallows up and over to cover the gap in the ring. The two huge Zeppelins bearing down upon the Flyer from above converged and charged her, head on.

“There’s only one thing for us to do,” groaned Ned, “and that is to ram them. We can do it, but it means that the Zeppelins we hit will be destroyed and with them I don’t know how many men. Those craft carry a crew of forty or more, you know.”

“I hate to think of it too, but they themselves have made it our lives or theirs!” yelled Alan. “So go to it, Ned.”

The Ocean Flyer had now attained an incredible velocity. It was only a matter of minutes, of seconds, or instants, before it would crash straight into the huge but clumsier enemy advancing to meet it. There was a bare glimpse of drawn, panic-stricken faces crowding the hanging compartment. The pointed snout of the Flyer tilted suddenly at an eighty-degree angle and—

B o o m—m—m—psthsh—sh—sh—ss!

She had struck and pierced the huge gas bag of the Zeppelin, leaving a huge, gaping rent from which the gas rushed as the craft sagged sidewise[233] more and more. Several of the heavy cables supporting the car from the bag parted with reports like shell explosions. The Zeppelin began slowly to sink, while her sister craft sheered off from the rushing destroyer.

Wild-eyed and remorseful for the awful necessity of their deed, the boys now saw the light aeroplanes darting up to block their path. The futility of their trying to stop an airship when a Zeppelin twenty times their size had failed, did not seem to occur to those daring German aviators.

They sat braced there in their narrow seats among the intricacy of wire rigging, guiding their frail craft with one hand and shooting rapidly with the other. Rifle and revolver bullets rattled against the Flyer’s magnalium sides like hailstones.

The rush of wind set in lateral motion by the velocity of the huge airship nearly capsized two of the little craft. The planes of a third one were brushed roughly by the Flyer as it rushed past.

The sun had now dissipated the last of the mist and the shapes of the other Zeppelins could plainly be seen sailing down upon their prey. The whole sky seemed to be full of them. No[234] wonder England was terrified by such a menace as this!

The Ocean Flyer now had, however, a clear field in front of her and the situation resolved itself into a race to get out of range. Here was where the tremendous motive power of the airship stood her in good stead. No Zeppelin could maintain such a terrific speed as Ned set.

The guns of the Zeppelins roared almost continuously, but a moving target is hard to hit. Most of the deadly shells either fell short or went wide of their mark. One by one the huge “bologna sausages” began to drop behind and abandon the pursuit. Finally there were only two left—one a quarter of a mile in the rear and the other hanging almost stationary to the left of the Flyer’s course. The last Zeppelin had evidently been foremost of the raiding squadron.

“Good-bye, old chaps,” Bob yelled mockingly, just as the Zeppelin to the left let fire a broadside with every one of her seven cannon. The “kick” of the discharge caused her to careen backward amid clouds of powder smoke.

Shells droned gruesomely past the speeding Flyer—overhead, beneath, on both sides.

A rending thud that hurled the airship on her beam ends ... the splintering crash of[235] wood and metal ... frenzied cries for help from Buck down in the engine room. A perceptible “missing” of the engines and an alarming tilt to one side.

The Ocean Flyer had been hit!



“What in goodness’ name is the matter down there? Where did that shell strike us?” shouted Ned, anxiously, through the speaking tube, while both Alan and Bob tumbled downstairs in answer to Buck’s frantic appeal from the engine room.

“Put on every ounce of pressure you can,” they signalled up to the boy in the pilot room presently. He did so, and for a bit the Flyer showed a spurt of her old speed, leaving the Zeppelin a dwindling speck in the distance. Within twenty minutes, however, despite the application of every power appliance in the equipment, the speed again began to diminish until the airship was not making more than fifteen miles an hour.

As the velocity gradually decreased, the huge wing-like exterior planes automatically unfolded, but, to the horror of the boys, no sooner had they attained full expansion than the whole lateral series on the right side of the hull collapsed into mere wreckage, dragging the Flyer violently[237] over in that direction and hurling the young aeronauts off their feet.

The bursting shell had indeed done effective damage. It had struck the armored magnalium hull just about amidships, ploughed its way through the metal, leaving a great jagged hole in the twisted sheets of steel, and had exploded just outside the engine room, one partition of which was demolished with various alarming damage to the machinery. At the same time, some flying pieces of the exploding shell must have struck the exterior plane and propulsion mechanism, snapping the supports and rendering the entire outside wings wholly useless.

In his confusion, when the right lateral plane series collapsed, Ned threw on every particle of power at his command, mindful that an increase of the vessel’s velocity would cause the disabled planes to fold away again automatically out of the wind and so lessen the imminent danger of overturning. The acceleration was only momentary though, and the Ocean Flyer seemed in danger of rolling over sidewise at any minute.

“Ned, shut off ‘juice’ on those main outside propellers and try to run on the interior auxiliary propeller!” yelled Buck up the speaking tube.

“That ought to give us a little extra speed while[238] we are trying to cut away the plane wreckage which is dragging us over sidewise!”

Ned was rattled. He had not thought of that before, but he instantly did as he was bid. Despite the damaged mechanism, the Flyer responded to this new application of power and speeded up until a fifty mile an hour velocity was registered on the instruments.

Leaving Buck on his knees beside the half-incapacitated engines, Alan and Bob seized sharp axes and rushed out upon the exterior runways extending two-thirds of the way around the hull. A cry of astonishment burst from both boys simultaneously:

“The sea! We are passing out over the ocean!”

It was true. Dim in the distance behind them stretched the broken coast line of Germany, while beneath, to north, to east, to west, tossed the angry gray waters of the North Sea. The misty shape of the British Isles lay like a low-hanging cloud to the southwest. Almost directly below the airship a huge merchant vessel could be seen steaming grandly along.

“Say, I wish that we were all down there aboard that big ship instead of where we are,” said Allan.


“Not for me!” replied Bob, emphatically. “Don’t you remember hearing how both the English and Germans have declared an absolute embargo on all merchant ports and have mined the entire ocean to interrupt each other’s commerce? Dangerous as our position up here now is, I’d lots sooner be here in a crippled airship than down there.”

Even as he spoke, there came a terrific explosion far down below. Sparks and broken spars were hurled high. The big merchantman appeared suddenly to rise straight up on her beam’s ends. Immense funnels of ocean water spurted hundreds of feet in the air all around her and, as the vessel settled down again, she seemed to snap in the middle and to disintegrate as if the bolts and bars from every clinch and support had been suddenly removed. Her stern began slowly disappearing beneath the churning, white-crested waves. Fire broke out amidships and dense volumes of black smoke half obscured the terrible disaster from the horrified boys’ view.

They saw the attempted launching of two long lifeboats. Both were swamped almost before they had been lowered into the water. The sea all around the doomed ship became dotted with[240] human heads and floating pieces of wreckage. Then, all at once, a whirlpool seemed to form about the ship and to be dragging it resistlessly down into the icy depths. The water boiled over it and nothing save a few scattered bits of driftwood remained to mark the spot.

Alan shuddered and closed his eyes as he leaned against the Flyer’s taffrail.

“Awful!” he muttered huskily. “All of those poor souls—noncombatants at that—hurled into eternity without warning or provocation. Do you suppose that the vessel struck a submerged mine?”

“Either that or it was torpedoed,” answered Buck. “They say that the whole North Sea and English Channel swarms with German submarines for this sort of thing. But quick now, Alan; to work cutting us free of these dragging planes, or we ourselves will soon feel the water at our necks!”

It was hard work getting through those rivet supports of the huge planes. Bolts had to be cut away, steel cables to be sawed through, and seasoned wood supports hacked away. The boys’ hands became sore and calloused, and their fingers stiffened. Despite the cold air sweeping past, their faces were damp with perspiration.


The airship staggered in bewildering fashion, but the auxiliary engines kept it going at a speed that quickly put England beneath them. The young aeronauts had no leisure to study the effect of their appearance upon spectators below, however, for the airship was sagging more and more surely to one side. Fortunately they passed over no large towns and so were not fired on.

“At last!” gasped Alan, as with a final vicious blow he chopped loose the final attachment of the great lateral planes on his side of the airships and saw them plunge downward into the sea.

“Same here!” shouted Bob from the gangway on the other side. “I’ve just managed to cut us free over here!”

The beneficial effect of this lightening of the drag was at once apparent. The Flyer righted itself and picked up a fair degree of speed. The elevation was increased to 2,000 feet, where propulsion was less modified by earthly wind currents. The little auxiliary propeller was performing its extra duties gallantly. It was now getting well along in the afternoon and daylight was failing rapidly. Far ahead of them showed a thin rim of silver beyond the dark shadow of the land.


“A river?” questioned Alan.

“The Irish Sea,” replied Ned shortly.

“Where we going to land?” asked Bob, a bit anxiously.

“It’s not safe here. I had thought of crossing to the coast of Ireland and following along as far as our gas holds out—supply’s running mighty low—in the hopes of getting as close to Queenstown as we dare. Then we’ll drop in some deserted spot and arrange to ship the Flyer back, while we get passage out of Queenstown for good old New York.”

“But we haven’t the slightest idea where we are,” objected Alan.

“We’ll know after we hit land again; we’ll light long enough to get our bearings. Somebody go down below and relieve Buck. He must be about worn out.”

But Buck refused to leave the wrecked engine room, where, stripped to the waist and grease from head to foot, he still tinkered with the faulty-acting machinery. In spite of his efforts the speed gauge needle steadily shifted back. A bare twenty miles an hour was all it showed.

Sunset flamed across the sky. Then gloaming came, and by and by the stars appeared one by one.


Towards midnight there was a perceptible lessening of the airship’s momentum which no mechanical efforts of Alan in the pilot room could counteract. When the velocity had decreased to ten miles per hour, he grew so alarmed that he was tempted to call Ned and Bob.

“But no!” said he. “They are worn out, poor fellows. As long as there’s no land in sight I’ll let them sleep as long as I dare.”

It was about five in the morning when Buck’s voice coming up through the speaking-tube startled Alan out of the doze into which he had fallen as he sat there at the wheel.

“What is it, Buck?” Alan asked anxiously. “Nothing new has developed, has there?”

The voice at the other end of the tube was hoarse with desperation:

“Wake up the other boys! Quick, Alan! This is the end! The sulphuric ether and gasoline won’t mix properly in the engines any longer. Two of the magnalium cylinders are damaged beyond all hopes of repair and I can’t get any concussion in the explosion chambers. The ammonia fans are gradually slowing down and the turbines are getting red hot. Within ten minutes more the engines will stop altogether and we will drop into the sea like so much lead. This is the last of the Ocean Flyer.”



Ned and Bob were immediately awakened and a hasty examination of the engines showed plainly the terrible truth of Bob’s prophecy.

“We’ll drop like a rock!” he repeated hoarsely, trying to control the tremor in his voice.

The boys stared at each other, blank horror in each face.

“Oh, if only we had not been forced to chop away the big wing planes,” groaned Alan. “With them spread, the force of our fall would surely have been checked and given us at least a fighting chance for our lives!”

“No use of crying over spilt milk,” said Ned. “We’ve got to decide upon something quickly. The engines are slowing down now and a fall of 2,000 feet upon the surface of the Atlantic will dash us to pieces just as surely as if we hit bed rock. What can we do?”

“Nothing,” answered Bob with grim resignation, “nothing except to shake hands and tell each other we hope to meet in the hereafter[245] again. We are doomed, boys, and you all know it.”

Outside it was already getting light. Morning sunlight blushed rosily over the eastern sky, and the gray tossing surface of the pitiless ocean far below became dimly visible. At first sight it appeared to be wholly devoid of any sail, but closer inspection through the binoculars finally brought to view a large ship beating its way toward them, perhaps three miles to the north. Long streams of smoke hung on the horizon line in its wake.

“See!” exclaimed Ned. “One of the big passenger liners—a Cunarder by her build, I should guess. If only they were near enough to see and save us!”

“No hope,” muttered Bob dully.

The wireless!” yelled Buck, springing suddenly to his feet. “We can signal to them with that!”

In a trice he was gone and his nervous fingers were flashing out a frantic call.

S. O. S! S. O. S! S. O. S!

Two more seconds passed. Then a blue electric spark leaped across the instrument. The big ocean liner had intercepted the message and was asking for information.


Buck’s fingers ticked out his plea like lightning:

“Airship falling three miles south of you ... help quickly ... help quickly.”

The eagerly watching boys by the portholes could see the effect of this message upon the distant vessel. Great volumes of black smoke began to vomit from her three funnels as full steam ahead was put on. Her course was changed slightly and she forged as rapidly as might be in their direction. Tiny black figures could be seen crowding the decks and rigging of the distant liner.

The boys were a-quiver with excitement and hope until a sudden, unaccustomed quiet around them forced itself upon their notice.

“What is it?” queried Bob.

Ned answered him quietly:

“Boys, the engines have stopped running—we are about to fall!”

Each was ashamed to show the mortal fear that agitated him. White-faced they gripped hands in silent farewell.

“Hurry now,” Ned cried, in command to the very last, “run and get into pneumatic life-jackets and each one lash his hands to the handle of a parachute. When once the Flyer begins to drop, we’ll have to jump quick, or the[247] force of the contrary air will turn our chutes inside out. Be quick, boys!”

For perhaps three minutes the Ocean Flyer hung motionless, as if suspended there in the air. Then she wavered slightly and suddenly the stupendous plunge straight downwards began.

With each passing second, as earth gravity took a more relentless hold upon the falling vessel, the momentum increased until it attained a velocity past computing. Like a stone it whizzed down through the whistling air to an unmarked resting place in the foam-crested waves far below.

All of the four boys jumped wide out from the outer taffrail the instant the fall began. Their parachutes spread and bellied to meet the upward rush of air, which struck the stout umbrella-like frames with a reactionary force that nearly tore the boys’ arms from their sockets. The Ocean Flyer shot swiftly down past them before their own more gradual descent became perceptible.

Down, down, down, down, through seemingly endless space they sank with that intolerable strain on their arms and the blood pounding madly at their temples.

Down, down, down!

Ned ventured a hasty glance below him. There[248] swung the big Cunard liner not a quarter of a mile away. There raced the lifeboats filled with jackies in white, bending rhythmically to and fro, while the long oars glistened like silver in the morning sun. A raucous blast of encouragement from the liner’s whistles half stunned the senses.

Ned closed his eyes again. It seemed as if he had been hours floating down through the air. Had it not been for the stout cords which secured his blue, swollen wrists to the handle of the parachute, he could not have kept his hold.

Hearty shouts—English words—resounded almost beneath him. A little puff of wind carried the parachute off a hundred yards to one side and then it began sinking again.

Ned felt something icy cold lave, submerge and rise higher and higher up around his body. It was the waves.

Up they crept, first to his ankles, then to his thighs, then above his waist, then closed around his neck. The parachute collapsed, but the pneumatic life-jacket buckled around him buoyed Ned up. The spray buffeted saltily against his mouth and smarted in his eyes. His body became numb from the chill of the icy water. Then—

“All aboard there, mates!” shouted gruff, cheery voices, and strong hands seized upon Ned[249] and dragged him half-insensible into the lifeboat. Alan and Buck were already huddled shivering there, and Bob was rescued a few minutes later.

Propelled by the powerful arms of sixteen sailors, the lifeboat fairly leaped over the waves toward where hundreds of curious, pitying faces lined the taffrails of the big liner.

“Where are you bound?” asked Bob of the boatswain.

“From Liverpool to New York, U. S. A.,” came the cheery answer. “We’ll sight the Statue of Liberty in the harbor within six days.”

Ned felt the clasp of Alan’s hand in his.

“Well, we’ve seen the last of the Ocean Flyer,” Alan said drearily. “We’ve lost the finest craft of its kind in existence.”

“Never mind, Alan,” answered Ned, renewed vigor sparkling in his eyes. “We’ve accomplished all that we set out to do and I promise you that, back in New York again, we’ll build a brave new airship beside which the old Flyer would have seemed like a joke. Remember that we’re now bound for the ‘land of the free.’”

“And ‘the brave,’” rejoined Bob quickly, casting an affectionate glance over at Alan and Buck.

Transcriber’s Notes:

Illustrations have been moved to paragraph breaks near where they are mentioned.

Punctuation has been made consistent.

Variations in spelling and hyphenation were retained as they appear in the original publication, except that obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

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