NEW WAR CLOUDS

But if a clearing of the international political atmosphere was hoped
for or expected in Halifax the following morning, the disappointment
there was as sad and deep as it was in a dozen national capitals, all
the chancellories of Europe, and in the State Department at Washington.
Deep depression seemed to prevail everywhere, and indeed not without
good reason.

The two newspapers of Halifax gave little additional news to that of the
day before, but even this was of the most discouraging nature. It began
to look, in fact, as though the representatives of the Japanese
government had been instructed to seek a quarrel.

It turned out later that that was not at all the case, but who could
discern the real motives behind the demands of that critical time?

Crowds hung about the local newspaper bulletin boards, but throughout
the day they added little to the meagre enough news that had been given
early in the morning.

Shortly before noon Jack received another code message from the makers
of their machine, and with this the young men eagerly hurried to their
hut, where they shut and locked themselves in, to avoid interruption
during the process of deciphering, which, under the circumstances, was
delayed rather than hastened by their own natural impatience.

But if the message, when finally translated, foreboded serious
difficulties ahead, it also bore the seeds of an almost unbounded
enthusiasm upon the part of the four young men.

“Consider yourselves in Government service,” the message read, “and
prepare for eventualities.”

Of course, if this seemed to hold some indefinite sort of promise of
more adventure, it also was filled with mystery, and might, after all,
be entirely meaningless so far as concerned our four young friends,
virtually for the time being chained in Halifax.

“What the deuce do you suppose it means, anyway?” asked Fred, when they
had for the tenth time tried at further diagnosis of the baffling
message.

“Guess about the only thing we can do under the circumstances is to sit
pat and wait for further developments or additional instructions,” said
Big Jack.

“Yes,” added Don, “and under those same aforementioned circumstances
that’s about the most tedious and difficult thing in the world to do.”

“Well, admitting all that, what are you going to do about it?” asked
Andy, by this time utterly oblivious to a pair of swollen hands which
still showed clear evidences of the battle of the day before.

“Under the said circumstances, nothing; that’s what we’ll all do for the
present,” Fred answered gloomily.

“Righto! And it won’t keep us very busy, either,” assented Andy, who was
of a nature which refused to be suppressed.

“Fine weather, too, just by way of cheering humanity up,” suggested Big
Jack, as he gazed morosely out of the window. It was cloudy to the point
of threatening more rain, which, of course, under the most favorable
circumstances otherwise, would only mean further inevitable delays in
any attempt at the across-sea flight.

“Oh, what’s the use of growling? Let’s have a game of cribbage,” Andy
the cheerful suggested.

“You three can,” Fred answered, “but as for me, I’m going down to the
station to wait for the outside newspapers to come in. I’m the original
little handy guy when it comes to bringing home the news. I’ll see what
I can do this afternoon.”

And while the other three, for the want of anything better to do, sat
down to the game, Fred wandered off toward the station, knowing that
fully half an hour more must elapse before the train would be in.

That interval was not to be put in entirely without profit, however, for
Fred was to learn the natural sequence of the enforced departure of the
treacherous pilot, Henryson. He got it from another member of Henryson’s
crew, who, either by message from the former, or by some intuition,
seemed to know what had happened. This fellow merely informed Fred that
Braizewell had decided not to enter his machine or crew in the
Transatlantic flight.

A lot of things were becoming apparent since first discovery was made of
Henryson’s treachery, and not the least among them was the fact that
Braizewell, being of that stamp, did not care to match his product
against others in any honest competition.

Fred digested the statement about Braizewell’s withdrawal without
comment. What was the use of discussion with a man who was probably
familiar with, and subscribed to, all of Braizewell’s and Henryson’s
carefully cooked-up but eventually unsuccessful perfidies? Fred merely
heard the bit of gossip and passed on. He wasn’t interested in either
Braizewell or Henryson, now that neither was in any respect a factor in
the projected America-to-Europe flight. He just loafed around the
station until the train came puffing in, and from the baggage car a
bundle of papers were tossed to the platform; and then his spirits
awakened again and he was the first to get one from the news man.

His spirits awakened, did we say? One glance at the front page and he
flopped into one of the rough station seats to read half a column before
he remembered his equally curious companions back at the hut, who were
awaiting his arrival with the latest news.

And it was news. Conditions were reaching a crisis in the Peace
Conference! Not that conditions hadn’t approached other crises there
before; but they had been concerning minor matters as compared with the
present difficulties.

In a way it concerned the celebrated “open door” policy as regards
China, which the illustrious John Hay had established years before when
Secretary of State of the United States. It dealt with the disposition
of Shantung and Chinese provinces which Japan wanted; and it related
intimately to Japanese inquiries as to American guarantees to China, and
American loans floated in behalf of that nation which today typifies the
oldest and the slowest of civilizations.

But the crux of the whole situation lay in the Japanese demand to see
the important documents. Not that her envoys doubted the veracity of
other delegations to the Conference or the authenticity of reports and
records which were shown. Oh, no; of course not! Time and again this was
politely and diplomatically reaffirmed. There wasn’t any doubt,
only–well, Japanese statesmen would like to see the documents and
treaties; in fact, insisted upon it.

At any other time the representatives of the United States might have
adopted different tactics. But here were involved more issues than one;
more governments than two; more nations than half a dozen.

And there seemed to be a prevailing feeling in the Peace Conference
that, aside from the rather roughly insistent way in which she was going
about it, Japan was within her rights in demanding to see and to know
exactly what she was subscribing or binding herself to, especially since
the President of the United States had himself, during the war, laid
down the principle of “open covenants, openly arrived at.”

Fred read enough of the article to give him an intelligent idea of the
whole delicate situation, and then hurried off to the hut and his three
waiting friends.

They received the news with mingled feelings. There was the one of
natural resentment at any delegation or government using pressure
approaching force in dealing with the United States. There was that of
speculation as to how it would end, and when. There was the uppermost
question of all: What effect would this suddenly developed and new
international situation have upon the proposed Transatlantic flights?

Big Jack strolled over again to the window to gaze out at the muddied
atmosphere of Halifax. From every viewpoint and everywhere it seemed to
be a gloomy outlook. Men fresh from war are wearied of it and have no
desire for a new outbreak of that international pestilence. The glamor
of it has gone; while they will of course fight if need be, they prefer
the arts and the comforts of peace. They have learned to appreciate them
a great deal more than they ever did before. Certainly no one in this
group wanted to see any renewal of blood-spilling conflict.

“Well,” said Big Jack finally, turning from the window and addressing
the other three who had been debating the problem among themselves, “the
thing resolves itself into this: apparently the American delegation has
yielded to the pressure of unanimous opinion, or nearly unanimous
opinion, in the Conference. But so far as I can grasp from reading this
latest article, Japan is attempting to demand to see something within a
period almost impossible for it to be produced at the Peace Conference
to be seen. That’s the ugly part of it all. It looks like any pretext
for balking–if not worse.”

“What I can’t understand,” said Don, “is the reason for her insistence
and hurry.”

“If we were familiar with the tricks and schemes of international
dealings and diplomacy, perhaps all that might be clear,” Andy answered.
“We don’t know, of course, what Japan has in mind, or what her envoys
may have been led to believe.”

“True,” said Jack, “and after all, I guess that’s a matter which safely
can be left with the American delegation, headed by our President. But
it does look like a ticklish situation.”

“The head-lines here seem to state it,” Fred added. “They’re brief but
to the point: ‘Japan Demands Immediate Presentation of Important
Treaties.'”

“Yes, under veiled threats of withdrawing from the Peace Conference,”
Don supplemented. “I guess all this is sad news to the Huns, eh?”

“There’s probably German trickery back of the situation somewhere,”
assented Jack.

“Which doesn’t settle the question of who’s going to fry the steak and
potatoes for supper,” interjected Andy. “Only, if it’s Fred, for the
love of Mike will he please see that the frying process reaches the
in’ards of the steak.”

Accepting the reminder that it was near dinner time, and that it was,
indeed, his day as cook, but utterly ignoring the suggestion that he
didn’t cook things through, Fred arose to prepare the meal, and the
useless consultation broke up with Don starting to the store for lard,
butter and other necessities, and Big Jack accepting the assignment of
bringing in the wood.