DESPERATE HASTE

“Well, everything being as it is–in other words, things being as they
will be,” shouted out Fred Bentner after they had landed, experiencing a
reaction of joy and relief at finding himself and the others safe and
uninjured after the most harrowing experience of their lives, “I wonder
just where we are?”

“Simple as A-B-C,” Andy Flures responded, without the ghost of a smile.
“We’re on the good old Atlantic–nice little Atlantic–somewhere between
the Equator and the North Pole.”

“Yeh,” Fred answered back. “As simple as I-D-I-O-T. Where on the
Atlantic? is what I’d like to know. For all any of us can prove right
now, we might be in the Gulf of Mexico. I feel as though we’d traveled
further than that since midnight.”

“We’ll know where we are in a few minutes,” Don promised, laying out a
pad of paper, some charts and astronomical measuring instruments. “Old
Sol will tell us.”

“How?” asked Fred, speaking perhaps before he gave the matter a second
thought.

“Why,” Don answered in surprise, at the same time glancing at his watch,
“it is now 8.30 o’clock. If I know the sun’s exact position with
relation to Halifax at 8.30 in the morning, I can pretty nearly get our
position with relation to Halifax by the sun’s position toward us at
that time.”

“I-D-I-O-T,” laughed Andy, and stepped quickly out onto one of the
pontoons to begin the examination of the first of the flying wires. Fred
pretended not to hear the remark, and it required only a suggestion from
Big Jack to remind them that their troubles and difficulties were by no
means over; that the worst, although of a different character, might yet
be ahead; that above all else now haste was necessary in getting repairs
made so that they might speedily be under way again.

But they found more to be done than they had at first thought, because
the plane had ridden so evenly after weathering the storm.

Two or three twists had to be given to the turnbuckles on practically
every flying, landing, drift and bracing wire on the plane, and this of
itself is no simple matter if every wire is to be subjected to its
proper relative tension in order that an extra stress or strain may be
so distributed that it will not warp some part out of position.

But the worst damage, and the one which required the longest time to
thoroughly repair was to the upper right wing, where a camber rib had
snapped and one jagged end pierced the “dope”-treated canvas covering.

Big Jack, the best mechanic of the crew, took personal charge of this
repair, but it required the aid of the others. The covering had first to
be loosened from the tail edge, and, making this opening no larger than
was absolutely necessary, the fractured camber rib sawed off between the
two stringers on either side of the break. The two remaining stationary
pieces of the camber–that between the leading edge and the main spar,
and the other between the rear spar and the trailing edge, were left in
as false ribs, but between either of these spars and the center stringer
struts had to be placed and fastened, and first fashioning to proper
length and size from the little extra material carried for repairs, and
afterward fixing them rigidly in place, was a task to try the ability
and patience of the best mechanic.

This job alone required four hours of their precious time, and then the
canvas had to be warped back taut and fastened again at the trailing
edge, with the specially prepared glue, which took two more hours to
knit the repair tight.

While the glue was setting they found a crack in the canvas of the lower
left wing, which, while not so difficult of repair, nevertheless
required attention before they could renew the trip; and it was these
and a dozen other more trivial things that detained them, though they
worked with a haste born of disappointment.

For Don’s observations had brought tragically disconcerting results.
They found themselves, according to his computations, at almost the
exact spot which they had passed at eight o’clock the preceding evening.
They were, therefore, some sixteen hours behind schedule time, and
would, for a second time, have to traverse the distance between their
present point and that at which the storm had overtaken them on the
preceding night.

There was no use in being pessimistic about it, however, for it was
nothing that could have been prevented, and they had reason to be
thankful that they had escaped with their lives and without injury.

“Well,” said Andy Flures finally, for Andy always could be depended
upon to come forward with something sane and logical, even intensely
practical, when things looked gloomiest, “I don’t know how you fellows
feel about it, but my stomach is whispering to me that if there isn’t
something forthcoming in the food line pretty soon there’s going to be
certain and painful rebellion. My suggestion is that we take ten minutes
or so before we start to feed up against any other emergencies which may
arise. All in favor please say ‘eats.'”

“Eats,” agreed the other three, and they dove into their greatly
diminished rations. They had expected to make the trip in not more than
twenty hours, and the eating of this meal, therefore, meant that they
had but slight refreshment left to tide them over the balance of the
journey.

“The rest of the trip’s got to be made without serious incident,” Jack
said musingly after an inspection of the petrol gauge, “or we’ll be
running out of fuel. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?”

“I’ve thought of that,” Fred replied, “and the situation may arise yet
when the radio will pull us out of a tough hole.”

“Meaning?” queried Don.

“That we may have to summon a vessel and, if she has any, borrow some
gas,” explained Fred.

“In a pinch, of course, it would have to be tried,” Jack agreed, “but if
nothing extraordinary happens I think we can make Ireland with what fuel
we have. We wouldn’t be at all sure that we could reach a vessel anyway,
you know, and especially one carrying petrol.”

“Yes, I know,” Fred agreed. “Nevertheless I’m more satisfied that we’re
equipped to speak out our wants in event we have to.”

“Well,” said Jack, again surveying the plane preliminary to their second
start, “all’s set; let’s go.”

They climbed into the nacelle, closed it tightly, took their respective
places, again gave the gas to their good old engines, again the
propellers whirled and the rapid-fire explosions within the cylinders
were as music to their ears. They skimmed out across the surface of the
ocean for perhaps a hundred yards and then once more rose to the flight.

“Wonder what happened to Braizewell’s plane, and whether it got away or
had to turn back,” Don speculated, as they settled down to good going
again.

“I hope to Hector it got hit by that storm that caught us, and that it
put them completely out of business for all time,” said Andy Flures
fervently. “That machine and those connected with it have been our
hoodoos since we arrived at Halifax. It certainly hasn’t been
Braizewell’s fault that he hasn’t put the jinx on us.”

“Yep,” Don answered, “but nevertheless I’ll bet it was just their luck
to escape that storm. You remember it took a sudden northward course,
and I’m pretty certain it turned before they came up with it.”

“Too bad, if that’s true,” said Andy morosely. As a matter of fact,
there hadn’t been anything to so ruffle his nature in years as this
series of incidents which had begun with his having to stand Pilot
Henryson on his head in the mud and mire of the Halifax aero field.

“Do you think we ought to wireless back that we were damaged and delayed
by the storm?” Don asked, addressing himself to all three. “They’ll be
wondering what happened to us long before we arrive on the other side.”

“Wouldn’t do at all,” said Jack quickly. “In the first place, we
probably couldn’t reach a shore station with the strength of our radio,
and in the second we’d be more likely to give that other plane our exact
location; and with the papers we’re carrying I’d rather not have a
scrimmage if it can be avoided.”

“That’s right,” Don agreed. “I hadn’t thought about the other machine
following us.”

“Listen!!” said Fred sharply only a few moments later.

Everyone instantly ceased talking, and to make things quieter both
engines were shut off and the plane was allowed to float along on her
own tremendous momentum.

“What is it?” asked Jack, looking anxiously at Fred, who remained
intent, with the earpieces of the radio apparatus held close to his ears
with both hands. “Getting something?” Jack continued, almost
unconsciously, but at the same time having to give ninety per cent of
his attention to steering and manipulating the plane, which was going
along without power.

“Yes,” answered Fred slowly. “And it’s that other plane. They’re not far
behind us. They’re talking to an ocean liner, and asking the ship if
she’s sighted us.”

“By golly, if we weren’t carrying these Government documents–” Jack
began.

“The ship is asking who we are and who they are,” Fred interrupted.

“And what are those crooks answering?” demanded Andy Flures.

Fred held up his hand for silence. Of a sudden his face took on a dark
scowl. “Well, the highbinders!” he suddenly exclaimed.

“What now?” asked Don.

“They’re saying,” Fred answered, “that we’re wanted by the Federal
Government; that we have stolen papers and are seeking to transfer them
to a foreign cruiser that is to meet us somewhere in the Atlantic. They
say they are a Government craft in pursuit.”

“All right,” said Jack, again throwing full power on the engines. “One
more score to settle when the reckoning comes–and I’m thinking its
going to come before we reach the other side.”

“The sooner the better,” said the now aroused Andy, at the same time
crawling forward to put the first strip of ammunition into the machine
gun. “Yes, sir, the sooner the better; and when the time arrives, I want
to work this little spitfire here,” indicating the gun.

They were now racing ahead at the highest speed the two motors would
develop. There was scarcely a perceptible adverse wind, and their course
was due east.