SUMMONED TO WASHINGTON

Could our friends have been in Washington early the following day and in
the confidence of the inner circles of the Government, their spirits
might have been far above what they were.

In the first place, the State Department had received word during the
night, from no less an authority than the President himself, that the
questioned documents in which Japan had shown such an interest were to
be sent to France at the earliest possible moment, by the quickest and
most expeditious way, in the care of the most trustworthy messengers to
be found.

That of itself was a large order, and one likely to cause more than
ordinary perturbation in the State Department; but when a Cabinet
meeting was called and held a little later, and those present, knowing
the seriousness of the situation as no outsider could know it, decided
that the mission should be accomplished in record time, and that
incidentally in so doing America would set a pace for the world by
sending the documents over by aeroplane, then among the staid and
conservative old-school statesmen of the service there was a great
wagging of heads, whisperings and forebodings.

Nevertheless that decision was arrived at, and right speedily, too. The
question then remained, who was to be trusted with the double
responsibility of getting a plane across the Atlantic, and of carrying
the documents of world import?

The head of the Government’s aero service was called into the secret
conference, and to him the decision was revealed. The men selected must
be of the finest caliber in ability, trustworthiness and capacity to
hold their own counsel, and if necessary depend upon their own resources
in any emergency which might arise. Whom could he recommend?

The sharp-visaged, snappy-eyed, gray-haired head of the air service
listened in silence until the whole plan was outlined and the great
question put to him. Could he supply such men? Such an aero crew? Men
who could be trusted not only to get to Europe, but to get there with
the documents?

Very calmly, as though answering an inquiry of everyday routine, the
official who suddenly and for the moment had become the most important
man in the United States, replied that he had such men.

“And who are they?” demanded the Assistant Secretary of State, who,
after all, would be called upon to bear the greatest part of the burden
if any mishap occurred.

“Americans,” snapped the aero service head, who, for his own reasons
held no very friendly feelings toward this temporary chief of another
and even more important governmental department.

“Yes, yes,” replied the Secretary of War, showing some impatience. “But
who are they? Where are they?”

“They are now in Halifax, waiting for opportune conditions to make the
Transatlantic flight. Of course you all know their names.”

“Halifax? Halifax?” snorted the Assistant Secretary of State. “But,
Great Scott, man, we want men who are here–at least in the United
States–to start upon this trip at the earliest possible moment.”

“Well, you can’t start an unprecedented trip of this sort without
preparation, and you can’t start it at any old hour, or from any old
point along the coast,” retorted the air service man with equal spirit.

“Are they prepared for such a trip–for such an important mission, now?”
asked the Secretary of the Navy.

“They are prepared for such a trip, as well as any crew could be, and
they are as capable, as courageous and as trustworthy as anyone could
ask,” was the response, “but of course, they did not contemplate a
diplomatic mission at the same time. However, there is no reason why, if
they are going across by plane, they should not carry documents,
important or otherwise, with them.”

“But these documents are such that if they once start with them they
must get across,” interrupted the Assistant Secretary of State testily.

“I see,” remarked the air service man with fine sarcasm. “Wind, sea,
fate, predestination and everything else be hanged. They’ve just got to
suspend all elements for the time being and get across. That’s perfectly
clear.”

The Assistant Secretary of State sputtered for a moment and got purple
with rage. But before he could explode into language more violent than
diplomatic, the Secretary of War intervened.

“How long would it take that crew to come from Halifax to Washington?”
he asked.

“By plane?”

“Yes.”

“If they were given orders by telegraph now, and barring mishap, they
could be on hand here tomorrow morning easily.”

“Very well then,” said the Secretary of State, turning to address his
colleagues of the Cabinet, “I suggest that we ask General Bronson to
issue such instructions by wire or wireless to these young men at once,
so that they may personally receive their instructions here tomorrow
morning.”

“Yes, but–” the Assistant Secretary of State, still scowling in the
direction of General Bronson, started to say something; but inasmuch as
it sounded like a remonstrance, and as his innate conservatism and
antipathy to things modern were well known, he was interrupted by the
Secretary of the Navy.

“It is the only feasible thing to do,” he said. “Therefore it ought to
be done at once.”

“Very well, then,” answered the Assistant Secretary of State
reluctantly, while the others present agreed without further question or
qualification.

“My understanding is, then,” said General Bronson, rising and making
ready to depart to carry out his share of the problem, “that I am at
once to get in touch with the members of this crew, to have them come
here by plane, and if possible be on hand by tomorrow morning.”

“Correct, sir,” responded the Secretary of War. “You probably will
instruct them to land on the field over near Fort Meyer?”

“Yes, sir,” responded General Bronson, and, saluting in true military
style, left the room.

Thus it was, although the four young men in far-off Halifax could not
know the preliminaries which had led up to it, that before 11 o’clock
that morning a code message that was to be of world importance went
sizzling through the air from one powerful wireless station to another,
finally to be relayed by wire to the point outside Halifax proper, where
the flying field and hangars marked the point from which the first
Transatlantic aeroplane flight was to be attempted.

When they had received and translated it, the young men stood for a full
minute looking at each other–as Big Jack explained it afterward,
entirely flabbergasted.

“Come to Washington immediately by plane,” the wireless read. “Land
Potomac below city. Secrecy important.”

And they didn’t know that as he wrote this message General Bronson had
had his own little chuckle at the expense of the Secretary of War, who
seemingly knew so little about hydro-aeroplanes as to suggest that they
land at Fort Meyer.

“Shoemaker should stick to his last,” the head of the air service had
muttered into his mustache as he penned the summons.

Among the four men in Halifax, however, there was almost uncontrollable
excitement and anticipation. They had put two and two together, and true
to the law of mathematics it had made four. In other words, they were
convinced that their summons to the national capital was directly
connected with the international situation.

Everything pertaining to their plane had been ready even for an over-sea
attempt since the careful inspection which had followed the capture of
Henryson in the hangar. They hurried there after reading the summons, to
add the final details before their flight to the capital. This done,
they ran the big bird-like machine out on its skids and down to the
surface of the water. In less than an hour they were ready for the
start.

“Trial on a day like this?” asked one pilot who sauntered up curiously.

“Not exactly a try-out,” Big Jack replied, instantly realizing that here
was a chance to lull suspicion and still idle gossip which otherwise
would be awakened by their strange trip and stranger disappearance.
“We’re going to put her to some real preliminary tests in a long flight
over land. Of course, with the pontoons on, instead of wheels, we’ll hug
the coast line, so as to be able to land quickly if necessary; but we
don’t anticipate any trouble, although we may make it a two-days’ trip.”

“H’m,” the other man responded, looking at them queerly, as though he
thought they were joking and expected them to laugh.

“See you in a day or two,” Andy sang out as he opened the throttle. The
engine began to bang out its challenging explosions and the propellers
started to whirl.

“So long,” the other pilot shouted, apparently still dubious, as Jack
swung the plane round gently and she started to skim the water,
gathering speed every second in preparation for taking the air.

In fifteen minutes they were completely lost to the view of those who
had hastily run to the shore line when the powerful chug-chug of the
giant motor had first rent the air. For the double purpose, however, of
saving time and giving their disturbed colleagues every assurance that
they were not in fact making the Transatlantic attempt, they headed due
south, and were still keeping that direction when they disappeared from
sight.

An hour later Fred opened up the wireless and finally got the Halifax
station.

“Headed south, putting plane through tests,” he tapped off by radio.
“May be gone day or two.”

He might have added, but didn’t, “On important government business.”