OFF TO EUROPE

Accustomed as they were to excitement and thrills, it was with an
exuberance which they could not entirely submerge or control that Big
Jack, Don and Andy Flures repeated their instructions to Fred Bentner.

“We return at once to Halifax,” Jack continued, “replenish oil and
petrol, mount a machine gun which already has been ordered there for us
by wireless, and which will be secretly put into the hangar, so that no
one will begin gossiping, and then we’re off.”

“Weather permitting, of course,” suggested Fred.

“The international crisis is not being affected by the weather,” Jack
answered. “Only an impossible brand will prevent our getting away just
as soon as we are ready. This is not to be a test flight under the most
favorable conditions, but under whatever weather happens to prevail,
once we get under way.”

“Whew!” ejaculated Fred. “This isn’t to be any play or sporting
contest.”

“It most certainly is not,” said Andy. “And it’s very likely to develop
into one of the toughest jobs we ever tackled, for more reasons than
one.”

“Relate them,” Fred urged.

“Well,” Andy continued, “why, for instance, the machine gun? These
fellows in Washington are not given to useless delays or to heroics.
Their attitude was mighty serious, and although they didn’t mention it,
I grasped that there might be interests which, if they knew we had these
documents, might go a mighty long way to come into possession of them,
or at least prevent their being presented at the Peace Conference in
time to accomplish their purpose.”

“You’re right,” said Don, seeming to catch the full significance of
their possible difficulties for the first time. “By golly, I never gave
that a thought.”

“Well, all of us may before we’re over,” said Andy.

But by now they were ready for their return flight to Halifax, from
which it was necessary that they make their start, though for new
reasons developed in the foregoing conversation, all of them wished
that it might be possible to begin their flight from another and less
prominent place.

Back over almost the identical route they had traveled on their journey
to the capital, they flew the return trip, passing Philadelphia and New
York by daylight, however, at such a tremendous height that they were
practically lost to view, coming along the rugged coast of lower New
England as darkness began to close in on them.

Dense clouds entirely obscured the moon, and of necessity they reduced
speed to “feel their way” against the strong east wind which tended to
drive them inland.

“It looks bad for a start tomorrow,” Jack said, as he glanced at the
barometer which showed a downward tendency.

“That’ll change as we get further north, if I’m not mistaken,” said Don,
casting a keen glance downward. “What’s the altimeter show?”

“We’re up about 2300,” Andy answered, reading the register of their
height.

Don again measured the angle between due north, as indicated by the
compass, and their line of direction as shown by the longitudinal line
of the plane. It showed that unconsciously in the dense blackness of
the night they were again bearing inland.

A few brief words from the navigator, and there was a slight increase of
speed, accompanied by a bank and outward turn, and then, as the mist on
the glass-encased nacelle showed they were on the cloud line, a drop of
a couple of hundred feet.

As they passed the rugged coast of Maine they could hear great waves
pounding on the rocky shore, but it came up to them only dimly against
the throbbing of their engines and the soothing song of the resistless
propellers.

Dawn found them above a coast line which none of them knew. It was bleak
and barren, with no evidences of population upon it.

“Just as I reckoned,” said Don, easily. “The wind got behind us stronger
than we knew. We’ve more than covered our destination. We’re heading for
Labrador, and, at this rate, the North Pole.”

The navigator was right. They banked and turned, and in three hours came
within sight of welcome Halifax.

They made an easy descent and rolled their machine onto the portable
skids to take it into the hangar.

But so easily and logically had Big Jack explained their apparent
purpose in being away that there was nothing more than an ordinary
curiosity about them on their return.

“Took it easy,” Andy explained to one pilot who started inquiries. And
then, as though in reality he was trying to hide some defects which had
developed: “We stopped two or three times, of course, to look her over,
or we would have been back sooner.”

The other pilot tried to hide a smile. Andy had succeeded beyond
measure. Before noon they heard whisperings of the weaknesses their
plane had developed while out.

But while this speculation was running the gamut of the aero field, the
four youths were working with all the speed they knew how to expend, to
get the machine gun mounted, store aboard the necessary fuel and oil for
the long and hazardous trip, stock up with two days’ provisions, and get
their rounds of ammunition and other incidentals in place.

It was two o’clock that afternoon when Big Jack, with a final critical
survey, announced everything complete.

Don went to the door and glanced out. There were not more than four or
five persons in sight anywhere, and none of them near. It was instantly
decided that the propitious moment was at hand. The four of them got
behind the big plane, mounted upon its portable skids, and threw their
weight against the well-balanced craft. But at that it was about all
they could do to get it started, for in addition to its own weight, the
plane carried four and a half tons of petrol, oil, ammunition, machine
gun and rations.

Once started, however, the momentum made the job a comparatively easy
one. Glancing sideways, they could see that one or two men had stopped
at a distance to watch them. Apparently satisfied, however, that at most
it was to be nothing more than another trial spin, they soon passed on.

The giant bird-like machine was now floating on her own pontoons on the
surface of the none-too-smooth water.

“Ready?” asked Jack, curtly.

“All set,” the quick answer came back.

“Then,” said Big Jack, in steady measured tones, as he grasped the
throttle which flyers know as the “joy stick”, “we’re off.”

The engines banged, the propellers whirled, the stately craft glided
down the waters with rapidly increasing speed, and in a few moments rose
majestically into the air.

Like a bird loosed from its cage, it swerved about in an ever-widening
circle, and then, to the manner of a homing pigeon picking up the scent,
it turned its nose toward Europe and soon was lost to sight.

In the exhilaration of the “hop-off” the men had forgotten the
difficulties that might lie ahead.

Could they have looked backward through a telescope as powerful as the
one which was trained upon them they would have seen four strangers
standing intently in the doorway of that which had been Henryson’s
hangar, while within three mechanics worked furiously while two other
men with equal haste were putting aboard supplies almost identical with
those on the plane which already was under way.

And could they have diagnosed this activity they would have known that
Germany had had not yet given up all hope–that a last desperate effort
was to be made to divide the Allies and to align Japan with the Huns.

They might have guessed then that this effort would be directed toward
intercepting or delaying the all-important documents now on their way to
the Peace Conference by a Transatlantic service never before attempted.