THE TAMPERER CAPTURED

As a preliminary to his plans for catching this dangerous meddler
red-handed if he ever returned to meddle again, Fred first asked Big
Jack to return to their hut and bring up to the hangar a box of heavy
and powerful auxiliary batteries which had come to them by express, to
be carried along on their flight for use in any emergency in which the
electrical equipment of their plane, either with respect to engine or
radio service, might go wrong.

While Jack was on this errand, Fred set Donald to work digging a hole
beneath the plane large enough to contain this battery box when it
should arrive.

With the aid of Andy he began the secret wiring of the plane in such a
way that the wires could be charged without danger of damage to any of
the vital parts of the plane–and it may be said here that practically
every part of an aeroplane not only is essentially vital, but vitally
essential.

When Jack returned, rather breathless from lugging a load that a weaker
man could not have managed, they carefully wrapped the battery box in an
oilcloth tarpaulin, to prevent any damage to it from the dampness of the
ground, then buried it with only the wires protruding, and with still a
layer of two inches of dirt to be put on after a single small cable of
many insulated strands had been attached.

Fred then took a length of heavy ordinary hemp rope, a little longer
than sufficient to reach from one of the bracing wires to the ground.
From this bracing wire he directly and indirectly connected up every
metallic part of the aeroplane, except the engine.

He then heated a small straight iron rod almost white hot, and, with a
bucket of water close at hand, forced the hot rod through the center of
the strand of rope, immediately dropping the latter into the bucket to
prevent it from burning through.

By this time his scheme was becoming apparent. He ran the cable of wire
through the rope, attached one end to the batteries, then completed
their concealment and finally hung the strand of rope over the fusilage
of the plane as though it had been carelessly tossed there, but with a
complete connection established.

No one, without picking the rope up for careful examination, could
possibly have detected or even suspected its purpose. It just looked as
though it had been left there for no particular purpose whatever.

Fred then went to the engine, did a few secret tricks that he knew of
there, and then turned on the battery switch of the plane.

“Now,” he said, “I think the trap’s all set for our friend, the enemy.
Let us hope he walks into it.”

He gathered up all the tools and implements with which he had been
working, carefully replaced them where they belonged, with his own hands
again smoothed off the ground where the auxiliary battery box had been
buried, and then, with a final survey of his surroundings and a gentle
pat or two to the rope, pronounced their work completed.

“Let’s go eat,” said Big Jack. They started for the hangar, but had
gotten but a few feet away when he halted.

“What’s up now?” Don demanded.

“Forgot my pipe; be with you in a second,” Big Jack answered, and
returned to the hangar.

An instant later there was a loud and sudden masculine howl.

The others jumped in consternation, but Fred merely grinned. “Forgot it
was loaded, I suppose,” he said, as they retraced their steps.

“Holy Christmas,” gasped the big pilot as they entered. He was tenderly
rubbing his right arm and hand. “I got it first,” he grinned.
“Fool-like, laid my hand right on one of the wires in reaching for my
pipe. I’ll say you’ve connected up the juice, all right. Enough there to
run a trolley car.”

Fred, however, was not listening. He was at the doorway, looking in all
directions. “I guess you didn’t give it away,” he said, “but you sure
yelled like a stuck Dutchman.”

“Try a little of your own medicine, maybe you’ll yell, too,” Jack
retorted.

“Didn’t rig it up for that purpose, thank you,” said Fred, a little
sarcastically. “But let me suggest that if you’re really after a little
electrical treatment, put your hand somewhere on the engine. That will
tickle you to your toes.”

“Toes don’t need tickling,” Big Jack responded. “I’ve got my pipe; let’s
get out.”

They were on their way to the express office when two newspaper
correspondents stopped them to get their views as to who had started the
preceding night’s fire.

“Bully story as it is,” said the one who represented a large New York
daily, “but a hundred times better if the guilty party should be found.”

“Yes,” said the other, attached to a Boston paper, “and we’d like to get
your own dope on the subject.”

“Guess you know about as much as we do,” Jack said easily, with a
guarded glance of warning at his companions. He knew that to reveal the
discovery of the deliberately damaged wire, coming directly after the
incendiary fire, would be a sensational story in the hands of any
first-class reporter; but he had no mind to warn the enemy of how far
his activities were known.

“Hear there’s to be a regular all-night watch from now on,” suggested
the New York man.

“Yes,” Jack answered. “Just as a sort of precaution, you know. It
wouldn’t be fair to ourselves and what we represent in this contest–and
I’m speaking of each crew now, and not merely this one–to permit
anything to happen that might be prevented.”

“Then you do expect something more to happen?” the Bostonian persisted,
the instinct of his profession catching something in Jack’s way of
phrasing his last remark that instantly sharpened his news sense.

“Well–” Jack began, but Fred interrupted, with a sly wink at Andy and
Don.

“We’ll put it this way,” he said, “if one thing happens probably two
will. No,” he hastened, as he saw the men getting ready to question him
further, “no further explanations. And don’t take what I said too
seriously, either.”

They passed on, leaving the two newspaper men to speculate as to what
Fred could have meant, if anything.

“Publicity won’t hurt,” said Fred, laconically. “And we didn’t tell them
anything.”

At the express office there was a note for Jack. It was from the
telegraph office, asking that he call there for a telegram.

Needless to say, they lost no time in going to the latter place.

“Wire here for me?” Jack asked. “Name’s Carew.”

“Yes, sir; much obliged to you for stopping in for it,” the telegraph
operator answered, at the same time shooting a queer look at the group
as he passed over the long yellow envelope.

Jack tore it open, unfolded and glanced at the yellow sheet within,
then gave a short laugh.

“It’s from the weather man at Washington,” he said to the operator, “and
he says we’ll probably have a snowy Christmas.”

“Humph!” was the only expression of the knight of the key as the four
filed out of his office. “Smart Aleck!” he muttered, when the door had
closed behind them and they were well out of hearing.

It was, in fact, a code telegram from the Henckel-Bradley Company,
makers of the plane in which the lads were about to attempt the overseas
flight.

“Guess we’d better go over to the quietude of the hut to try and dope
this out,” Jack suggested, and they headed immediately in that
direction.

There, to facilitate matters, the work was divided between three of
them. Jack, word by word, read off the almost nonsensical conglomeration
of unconnected nouns and verbs, while Don, with the code key book,
looked up their meanings, which he called out in low tone to Fred, who
was seated at the rough table in the center of the room.

“Bannister knock hounding snowstorm Christmas joy hat euchre brains,”
Jack read off the entire code telegram. “Well, I’ll admit that’s one to
stagger the wisest operator, although on its face it seems to indicate
both snow and joy next Christmas. However, let’s see what it actually
means. Are you ready, Don?”

“Shoot,” said the other laconically, thumbing the code book impatiently.

“Bannister,” Jack called off.

Don turned several pages, ran a finger down one column, came to a halt.
“This looks interesting,” he exclaimed. “Bannister: Take every
precaution.”

“Right,” announced Fred, writing down the words.

“Knock,” Jack read off again.

The process was repeated, and: “Knock: against,” Don gave the
interpretation.

“Hounding.”

Don found it, and read off, while Fred wrote: “Attempt to.”

“We’re progressing,” Jack encouraged. “And now we come to the
snowstorm.”

“Snowstorm?” Don repeated. “Let’s see. Yes, here it is: damage plane.”

“Holy smoke!” exclaimed Fred, reading the telegram as thus far
translated. “‘Take every precaution against attempt to damage plane.'”

“Yes, but we’re not through yet,” said Jack. “Don, tell us what
Christmas means.”

“Why, the season of good cheer, when you spend all your money on
presents for others,” Andy quickly interrupted.

“Here,” Jack warned, “you’re just an outsider in this. Let’s hear what
‘Christmas’ stands for.”

“Braizewell,” Don announced from the book. “By George, the maker of
Henryson’s machine.”

“Right you are,” the others agreed.

“Joy,” Jack next called out.

“May,” Don almost instantly replied.

“Hat,” Jack went on.

“Hat! Hat!” murmured Don, skimming through the pages, “Where the deuce
is my hat? Ah, here she be. Hat: employ.”

“Braizewell may employ,” Fred read from the balance of the completed
code message.

“Euchre, what’s euchre?” insisted Big Jack.

“Euchre seems to be ‘desperate,'” Don responded.

“And now the last,” from Jack. “Brains.”

“Cinch,” Andy interrupted again. “What you haven’t got.”

“Methods,” Don gave the translation, ignoring the interruption.

“Well, this is interesting anyway,” said Fred, with the now completed
message before him. “Here’s the whole of it: ‘Take every precaution
against attempt to damage plane. Braizewell may employ desperate
methods.'”

“Phew!” Don ejaculated. “It seems to me that Braizewell, through that
scoundrel of a pilot of his, already has attempted to employ desperate
methods. This holds out a mighty pleasant prospect for our peace of mind
so long as we’re held here, I’m thinking.”

“Guess old Cap. Allerson ain’t a whale of a sleuth, eh?” put in Jack.

“Looks as though he had doped Henryson out all right,” Fred agreed.

“Yes, I wish when I was doing the job of sticking him into the mud I’d
shoved him clear through to China,” added Andy, apparently the least
concerned of the four, and actually smiling in spite of the gravity of
the situation that confronted them, as he recalled the ridiculous
picture of the scheming pilot, Henryson, planted head-first in the mire,
his feet waving frantically in the air.

“Say,” he added, a sudden thought hitting him. “That fellow ought to be
stuck up that way for life, with a sign hanging on him, ‘Don’t approach;
I’m contaminated.'”

“I’m not afraid to predict that before long he’ll be stuck up before
the whole world as a cowardly trickster,” said Jack. “He’s bound to be
caught at his dirty game sooner or later. He can’t get away with it
forever. Why, right now half the fellows suspect that he had some sort
of a hand in that fire.”

“Well, for the sake of our friend Captain Allerson, if the fellow is
trapped I hope it’s the whaling cap.–the town constabule–who lands
him.”

Of a sudden it seemed that the whole comparative quietude of Halifax was
stirred by a series of shrieks and howls, not by one person, but in a
ripping, blood-stirring, inharmonious duet.

“What in the name of sense is that!” exclaimed Jack, hurrying to the
door of the hut and throwing it wide open.

“Leggo! For the love of Mike, leggo!” a strident appeal came to their
ears.

“Saints of the seven seas, leggo yerself, ye fool; I’m hitched an’
cain’t,” came a heavier but no less pained and angered tone in answer.

“Ow! Oh, Ow!!” the weaker voice continued to cry.

“Crabs of the Caribbean,” the gruffer one added. “What in the name of
Neptune did ye do to this thing. It ain’t no flying contraption; it’s
alive.”

There was no longer the slightest doubt about it. The cries of distress
came from their hangar, and unquestionably from the town constabule,
Captain Allerson, and the fire-brand pilot, Henryson.