STARTLING REPORTS

The lads had no snowshoes to impede their progress this time, and the
race to the hangar was a real contest, given zest by the anticipation of
the ludicrous spectacle that was to greet them there. Slim-limbed Don
won out, but he had hardly poked his head in the partially opened door
when the other three were on the scene.

For a moment all four of the young men went into veritable convulsions
of laughter. They roared out in gales of merriment which they could not
suppress. For the time they forgot either to pity poor Captain Allerson,
“town constabule,” or to resent the evident malicious interference of
Henryson, which evidently had brought both men into their present
predicament.

Here was the despised Henryson, apparently clutching for dear life at
one of the heavier braces of the plane, although in reality the trap had
worked and he was caught there, unable to separate himself from the
stiff current which the lads had connected up; while Captain Allerson
seemed to be in an even worse plight, his present attachment being to
the engine, through which an even heavier current of electricity was
flowing.

“What in Heck ye laffin’ at, anyway?” the captain finally managed to
bawl out, at the same time tossing his head quickly to throw off the
streams of perspiration which were coursing down his wrinkled brow.

“Oh, ho! Oh, my golly,” gurgled Andy, half doubled up with laughter.

“Grab it! Capshure it! Step on it! Do somethin’. Kill it!” the old
whaler yelled in strident panic.

Henryson, however, who knew exactly how he had been caught–knew not
only that, but that his previous schemes must have come to light, else
the trap would not have been set for him–kept a pained silence, his
face aflame with anger and shame.

At length Big Jack managed to put on a stem judicial appearance,
although only with the greatest difficulty. He viewed the pair severely
for a moment, and then, grave of visage and in the most biting tones he
could control, he pretended not to understand the situation at all, and
demanded an explanation.

“What does this mean, anyway?” he stormed. “I find you two in our
hangar, apparently about to carry off our plane, according to your
positions, and all the time yelling ‘Leggo!’ and ‘kill it!’ and a lot of
other nonsense like that. ‘Leggo’ what? And who do you want killed?”

“Oh, don’t try to be funny,” Henryson, snarled. “Guess you know all
‘about it inasmuch as you arranged it. Turn off the juice.”

“The juice?” echoed Captain Allerson, still squirming in the clutches of
a power he could neither see nor understand.

“If I were you I wouldn’t criticize anybody, or even make suggestions,”
Andy Flures blurted out, in real anger, and advancing on Henryson
threateningly. “You’re in a pretty tough hole, and you ought to know
it.”

Henryson drew back suddenly as though he had been struck. For the
instant he even seemed to forget the direct cause of his present
predicament.

“I’ll turn off the juice, all right,” Big Jack announced. “But after I
do we’ll have a little conversation. We’d like to know some of the facts
relating to this rather–er–unusual situation.”

“Turn ‘er off first, an’ we’ll conversation afterward,” Captain
Allerson blurted out sharply. “I’ve had enough o’ this stuff to last a
life time.”

Fred severed the connection to the buried battery, and Don swung off the
engine switch. The two men nearly dropped over with their sudden
release, but the ex-whaling captain hadn’t finished rubbing his injured
hands together before he turned almost murderously upon the not
completely dejected Henryson.

“Now, you,” the officer of Canadian law thundered. “Yer under arrest. I
dunno jest yet what the charge is, but if it’s anything like what I got
from this thing here it’ll hold ye fer life. I’m warnin’ ye not to try
to get away.”

“Let’s get at the facts,” Big Jack suggested, pointedly.

“We’ll do that, and mighty quick,” Captain Allerson answered, forceful
if not grammatical.

The four men gathered around, and in such a way that they were between
Henryson and the door, so that he could not possibly make his escape.

“It was this here way,” the police force began ponderously, all the time
glowering at the discovered trickster, who refused to meet the gaze of
any of the others. “I didn’t know how much you suspected concernin’ this
mean meddler, but I had ‘im marked from the very beginning as the
original messenger of misery. Consequent thereto, I nachurally had an
eye peeled fer him ever since that little fracas with the snowshoes when
he showed up his sweet disposition.

“I ain’t ‘zactly pinned that fire to him yet, but I guess this is what
them lawyer fellers calls circumstantial evidence of a convictin’
nature.

“I sees him headin’ this way a while ago, an’ all the time actin’ zif he
didn’t want to invite the general public to whatever festivities it was
he was about to attend. So I thought I’d just nachurally trail along,
sufficient in the rear an’ out of sight so he wouldn’t know what an
interestin’ cuss he’d become. I didn’t want to arouse his suspicions,
ner flatter his vanity neither.

“Well, just as I expected, he took a roundabout way, but his general
direction was toward this place, and finally he reached it. Once he was
inside, I wasn’t long gettin’ here either. I peeked in, and sure ‘nough,
there he was a-monkeyin’ around, with no good in his twisted mind, I’ll
bet.

“I tiptoed in just as he was about to do somethin’ to one o’ them there
wires. I sneaked around the side o’ the plane, and was jest about to ast
him sudden like what he was doin’ in this here hangar, when I put my
hand on somethin’ thet seemed to run hot and cold both at the same time,
an’ be full o’ needles, too; and I give a surprised little remark which
causes him to jump, and touch his tender hand to thet wire, which seemed
to be loaded the same way.

“The resultin’ general conversation directed toward effectin’ our
release, I believe you heard.”

“Just as I thought,” said Big Jack, turning furiously toward Henryson.
“Now, you pup, what were you doing here?”

“Why,” Henryson stammered confusedly, in a quavering voice, “I just
dropped in to see whether any of you fellows were here. I wanted to find
out how you had outrigged your machine against extraordinary winds.”

“Yeh, wanted to loosen it up a little, so that the first wind would
cause the whole plane to collapse, eh?” demanded Andy, advancing again
upon the culprit.

“What do you mean?” Henryson could hardly more than whisper.

“You know well enough what’s meant,” Fred interjected, while Don, his
mind’s eye picturing the tragedy which might and probably would have
overtaken them if the treachery had not been discovered in time, stood
silently by, merely clenching and unclenching his hands as an
unconscious way of working off some of his pent-up anger and disgust at
such inhuman and underhand work.

But before Henryson or anyone else could say anything further, Big Jack
had grabbed that misguided young man by the scruff of the neck, and,
with no one, not even Captain Allerson, attempting to interfere, thrust
him toward that part of the plane where the cut strands of the wire had
been discovered.

“I suppose you don’t know anything about that little job, eh?” Jack
demanded, shaking Henryson as a terrier might shake a rat.

“What do you–Why, I–I–I–”

“Oh, shut up, you cowardly idiot,” interrupted Captain Allerson. “If you
can’t say one honest word, don’t say anything at all. You’re convicted
already, and I guess it means a nice term of solitude fer you, too.”

“Now look here,” Andy broke in. “This bird’s as guilty as Satan, and he
knows it, and he knows we know it. However, I’m of no mind to let one
crook like him besmirch a science, a sport and a profession which decent
men have kept decent and clean and far above that sort of thing.

“Captain, if you’ll agree, I’ll tell you what we’ll do. If this fellow
will get out of Halifax and clear out of Canada immediately after he has
fought me, we’ll let it go at that, and it’ll save you spoilin’ your
hands on him. Will you do it?”

Captain Allerson was not the only one who turned in surprise on Andy.
But nobody said anything, and finally Captain Allerson said: “Well, if I
can be a witness to the scrap, and afterward see that he leaves on the
first train, I’ll agree. I’ll admit it ain’t just the thing to do under
the circumstances, but then it would be a shame to let the government
spend its money in prosecuting such a skunk. Are you game fer that there
proposal, which is a dern sight easier than you deserve, although I
suspect yer going to get the deservin’ lickin’ of yer life?” he
demanded, turning on Henryson.

“Oh, I guess the five of you could frame me up, all right,” Henryson
answered sullenly, seeking some way to agree to this comparatively easy
way of escape without seeming to entirely admit his guilt.

“It ain’t no frame-up,” snapped Constabule Allerson sharply. “You can
take yer choice, providin’ you do it within the next sixty seconds. You
can employ a lawyer and fight the charges, if you prefer to take yer
chances there.”

“Oh, I’m not afraid to fight,” Henryson retorted, seeing the way opening
for him to take that alternative. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Without
disputing any of the points further I’ll accept this challenge, with the
idea that if I win I stay and there’s nothing more said. If I’m licked
I’ll leave.”

“Well, you brazen pup!” ejaculated Captain Allerson.

“Agreeable to me,” Andy retorted, “for it amounts to the same thing
after all. You’re going to be licked, and licked so you won’t forget it
for some years to come; and then you’re going to sneak out of here as
rapidly and as quietly as you can. You can make your own explanations to
the other crews if you want to. We won’t discuss the matter after you’re
gone.”

“Well, where’s this here struggle to take place?” demanded the former
whaling captain, much more favorably disposed to this method of solving
the difficulty than by merely placing the meddling pilot under arrest.

“Why not here?” asked Don. “We’ll roll the machine out, then close the
door and start proceedings.”

“Guess that’s best, providing no one else finds out what’s going on,”
Captain Allerson agreed. “But I’m going to be referee of this match, and
there ain’t going to be any funny work, either.” He shot another vicious
look at Henryson.

While Big Jack remained within to see that the captured pilot did not
escape the consequences of his misdeeds, the other three young men
rolled the machine out, left it standing in front of the hangar, as
several other machines were then before other hangars at some distance
away, and then returned, locking the door behind them.

“Inasmuch as this is to be a fight, and not a boxing exhibition,” said
Andy, “I’d suggest that there be no rounds, and that the only rules to
be the rules of fair play–not to hit below the belt.”

“That’s settled as soon as sed,” declared Captain Allerson with
finality.

Both combatants stripped off their collars, neckties and shirts, and in
two minutes stood before each other, ready for the fray. Big Jack
surveyed them appraisingly. So did all the others. No doubt about it,
both were magnificent specimens of masculine physique. Andy was the
shorter by perhaps an inch and a half, and to the same extent had the
disadvantage in reach; but as offsetting that he had a greater depth of
chest and breadth of shoulder, was undoubtedly the stronger and
therefore the harder hitter, and in addition was as quick as a tiger on
his feet.

Above all, Jack concluded as he compared them, Andy had the great
additional psychological advantage of being in the right, while
Henryson, no matter how callous his conscience might be, could not evade
the knowledge that he was so entirely in the wrong as to be mighty close
to being within the criminal class.

“Odds on Andy,” Big Jack murmured to himself as the men squared off
before each other, Captain Allerson just outside of the large ring which
he had marked off with the toe of his heavy boot.

“Are you ready?” Captain Allerson demanded, suppressing his own
excitement with some difficulty.

The men nodded, but neither uttered a sound, so intent was each in
measuring and watching the other.

“Then go to it,” Captain Allerson announced, and involuntarily stepped
back a couple of paces as the two men began sparring around for an
opening. In another instant it became apparent that this was to be no
child’s play. It was the cruelest sort of a fight that can be had–with
bare knuckles.

Biff! Henryson landed the first blow, but only a glancing one, across
Andy’s shoulder. It seemed to have needed that and only that to touch
off the spark of fury in the usually good-natured Andy Flures.

Like a whirlwind he came at his antagonist, his arms working like
irresistible pistons, and so rapidly that even the onlookers could
hardly count the blows. They landed on Henryson’s face, head, body and
stomach. But he was no weakling, nor was Andy endowed with the stamina
to keep up such a ferocious attack indefinitely. If nothing else,
neither he nor any other man had the lung power to keep up the breath
necessary for such an onslaught.

[Illustration: LIKE A WHIRLWIND HE CAME AT HIS ANTAGONIST.]

Realizing that he might be wearing himself down too early in the
struggle, Andy slowed up. Henryson, mistaking this for a weakening, and
being somewhat fresher, though badly battered, by having been entirely
on the defensive, tried to rush. Andy deftly stepped aside, and
Henryson staggered to the opposite side of the ring before he regained
his balance.

As he did so Andy came at him again. The brief respite seemed to have
given him renewed strength and determination. He landed a blow on
Henryson’s chest with his left, and almost at the same instant broke
down the latter’s defense and landed on his nose with his right.

The jolt of the two terrific impacts, and the spurt of blood which
followed the second, sent Henryson into a blind and impotent rage. He
attempted Andy’s rushing tactics and came to an abrupt halt on a right
hand jab that sent him reeling out of the ring.

“Get back there and fight, you yellow pup,” growled Captain Allerson, at
the same time giving the badly battered Henryson a vicious shove.

Andy, however, did what his adversary never in the world would have
done. Instead of putting him out of his misery then and there, he
waited, with hands down, until Henryson had again put up his fists in
defense. They came together with another rush and whirled about the
hangar like two savages in a wild dervish.

“Break that clinch,” ordered the erstwhile sailor of the northern seas,
bringing to bear the little knowledge he had gained from newspaper
sporting pages, and at the same time rushing in to perform the duties of
referee.

Whether purposely or by accident, Henryson at just that instant reached
forward with a quick short jolt. It caught Captain Allerson a clout
under the chin.

“Holy mackerel!” exclaimed the amateur referee, jumping back in pained
surprise.

But the men separated, and the fight was on again with such earnestness
and bitterness that no one, not even Captain Allerson himself, paid
further attention to this accident.

Henryson landed a stiff jolt to Andy’s short ribs which elicited a deep
grunt. His adversary again made a fatal mistake. He interpreted it as
the first signs of a weakening. He didn’t know Andy.

That young man simply came back like lightning. Both men were breathing
heavily by now, and Henryson was almost covered with blood, while he had
been unable to inflict a single cut or serious bruise on his wary
opponent, who seemed to be in half a dozen parts of the ring almost
simultaneously.

“Get at ‘im,” Don muttered, hardly aware that he had given expression
to his thoughts or feelings. But Andy heard, and it seemed as if it had
required only this urge, this expression of confidence from his friend,
to put him into what was to be the grand finale of the fight.

He swung viciously with his left and caught the unprepared Henryson with
terrific force just above the heart. Before Henryson could even recover
his balance, Andy let go with his right. It landed with the power of a
motor truck behind it. It caught Henryson on that fatal spot, the point
of the jaw, and lifted him clear of the ground. He staggered for an
instant and then dropped in an unconscious, and for the moment a
seemingly lifeless, heap. Andy looked at him for only a second, and then
dropped his clenched hands. He, as well as the others, knew that the
blow had been struck which had ended the fight. Henryson was _out_.

Captain Allerson glanced at the defeated pilot, and then walked over to
Andy.

“Young man,” he said. “I’m not supposed to watch fights without
interferin’. I want to congratulate you upon makin’ a most excellent job
of this one.”

Henryson stirred and muttered something incoherent. He was still only
half conscious. Don stepped outside the hangar for a moment and returned
with a basin of water.

“For him to wash up with, so he won’t be delayed in getting out of
town,” he said laconically, to no one in particular.

“Oh, I’ll escort him, all right. And I’ll examine his ticket and have a
word with the conductor, too, before he starts,” Captain Allerson
promised.

Henryson moved again, and this time opened his eyes.

“Get up, wash your face and put your clothes on,” the minion of the law
ordered brusquely. “You couldn’t win your chance to stay here, even when
you were given an opportunity to fight for it. Come on; hustle. We don’t
want you contaminatin’ the atmosphere around here any longer.”

Slowly Henryson seemed to regather his wits and to realize what had
happened to him. He glanced at his person and involuntarily shuddered as
he saw that he was literally covered with blood. One eye was nearly
closed, and his nose was swollen to nearly twice its normal size.

He arose stiffly, but without a word.

“There’s only one thing I want to say to you before you go,” said Big
Jack, standing squarely in front of him. “You got your licking here
today; you got it fair and square; you’re getting off mighty easy at
that. If I ever hear of your being in aviation again, or if I ever catch
you around a hangar or an aviation field, I’ll instantly have you
arrested and reveal all the facts of what has happened here in the last
few days. Do I make that clear?”

Henryson nodded sullenly, but his features had been so distorted that
none of the men could tell whether he was sneering or not.

At last clothed, and his general appearance made as presentable as
possible, Henryson briefly signified that there was nothing to keep him
there longer.

“We’ve just time to catch a train that don’t make a stop until it gets a
long way from here,” Captain Allerson announced. “Come on, stir
yourself. And if you try to get away I’ll shoot you. As a matter o’
fact, I wouldn’t be disappointed at havin’ the chance.”

The odd pair strode out of the hangar and toward the railroad station.
The four youths, watching them, saw several members of other crews at
different points along the route hesitate, regard the two curiously,
seem on the verge of saying something, and then hold their silence as
the two passed hurriedly on.

“Well, that being over with, I think I’ll go get some arnica for my
wrists and knuckles,” Andy announced. “I haven’t had such violent
exercise since I came up with a fresh Fritz in the Argonne.”

“Want me to go for you?” asked Fred. “I’d be glad to. Somebody might ask
you a lot of questions, you know.”

“All right,” Andy agreed. “Thanks.”

“And we’ll replace this brace wire and test out the others while you’re
gone,” Jack supplemented. Then, turning to Andy, “You’d better sit
around and rest for awhile It was pretty strenuous.”

Fred departed, and the other two set themselves to the task of going
over the entire plane. The drug store was a considerable distance away,
and they had about completed their work when Fred hove into sight on a
dogtrot. They saw him half shout something to a couple of other men as
he passed, and they noted too that in so doing he seemed to refer to a
folded newspaper which he gripped tightly in one hand.

He was almost breathless when he arrived. But he managed to blurt out
enough to make Big Jack hastily grab the paper.

“Great Scott!” he exclaimed as the big headlines caught his eye. He read
them aloud.

No need to recite them in detail here. They were pointedly to the effect
that the Peace Conference had struck a serious snag; that Japan was
suspicious; her envoys obdurate; that a virtual ultimatum had been
pronounced, and in such a way as to threaten a new war worse even than
that which had just ended.

“Well, what do you think of that?” Don ejaculated, more to himself than
anyone else.

“Looks as though it might stop the flight, even if it doesn’t develop
into anything worse,” said Andy, who immediately had forgotten his
painful knuckles.

Big Jack was still reading the balance of the story, which was under a
London date line. There was no question but that a very serious
situation existed. Within an hour all Halifax was so agog with it that
no one seemed to miss Henryson, or to mention it if he did.

Even Captain Allerson gave way to new sensations as he measured the
possibilities of a new war, and he merely reported briefly that
Henryson had been “deported,” and with instructions to the conductor not
to let him off the train within the next two hundred miles.

That night half a dozen other would-be Transatlantic contestants dropped
into the hut which had come to be known as “Big Jack’s.” There were
lengthy discussions and all sorts of predictions, but all they could do
was to await the morning papers, which might contain further and more
definite news.