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´╗┐Title: With Airship and Submarine - A Tale of Adventure
Author: Collingwood, Harry, 1851-1922
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "With Airship and Submarine - A Tale of Adventure" ***

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With Airship and Submarine, by Harry Collingwood.

________________________________________________________________________
This is the second book about the strange vessel, the "Flying Fish",
that can travel on the surface of the waters, or below them, and that
can rise in the air to a great height, and travel to great distances.
All this is achieved by the fact that the vessel is made of the novel
metal aethereum, which is lighter than air, and that the power is
among the very first authors to explore the science-fiction genre,
which makes this book very important in the history of literature.

The other book about this vessel, "The Log of the Flying Fish", has
several characters in common with this one, and some of their deeds, in
particular the relations with various African chieftains, are
continuations of the same adventures.  However there are plenty of new
episodes in this book.

The book dates from slightly after the Victorian era, though many of the
episodes have a strongly Victorian flavour.  Makes a brilliant
audiobook, great fun to listen to.

________________________________________________________________________
WITH AIRSHIP AND SUBMARINE, BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD.



CHAPTER ONE.

A LUCKY MEETING.

It was late afternoon, on a certain grey and dismal day, toward the
latter part of February, that two men happened to encounter each other,
after a long interval, upon the steps of the Migrants' Club.

The one--a tall, well-built, and exceedingly handsome man, with blond
curly hair, and beard and moustache to match--was entering the building;
while the other--a much shorter and stouter figure, with a cast of
features which rendered his German origin unmistakable--was standing
upon the top step, puffing at a cigar, as he leisurely drew on his
gloves preparatory to his emergence upon the street.

As the two men glanced at each other the light of mutual recognition
leaped into their eyes, and in a moment the right hand of each was
locked in the cordial grip of the other.

"Ach, mine vriendt," exclaimed the shorter of the two, as he beamed up
at the other through his gold-rimmed spectacles, "how are you? and how
is her ladyship?  Both quite well, I hope!"

"Thanks, Professor, yes; we are both as hale and hearty as we can
possibly wish.  But I am sorry to say that my little daughter--by the
way, are you aware that I have a daughter?"

"Ach, yes; I heard of it; zomebody toldt me of it, but I vorget who it
vas, now.  Led me gongradulade you upon the zirgumstance, if it be nod
doo lade."

"Thanks very much, Professor; congratulations upon such an event are
never too late, especially when they are sincere, as I know yours to be.
But condolence is more appropriate than congratulation just now, for I
am sorry to say that the poor child is far from well; indeed, Lady
Olivia and I are exceedingly anxious about her; so much so that we have
brought her up to town to secure the opinion of a medical specialist
upon her case, and he advises complete change of air and scene for her.
And that is what brings me to the Migrants' to-day, where, by the
greatest piece of good luck, I have found the very man--yourself,
Professor--that I was most anxious to find."

"Good!" exclaimed the professor; "you wanted to vind me, and here I am,
quide at your service, my dear Sir Reginald.  Whad gan I do vor you?"

"A very great deal, if you will," answered the baronet,--"or rather, if
you have nothing particular on your hands just now, I ought to say; for
I feel sure that, if you are not otherwise engaged, I may depend upon
your falling in with my scheme, now that I have happily found you."

"Of gourse," replied the professor.  "That goes midoudt zaying.  Well, I
am not engaged at bresend upon anydings bardigular, excepd the
elaboration of a rather Utopian scheme for the benefit of mangind
generally, and esbecially those unfordunate beobles who, in gonsequence
of the over-bobulation of the gread zentres of indusdry, vind themselves
unable to brogure embloymend and earn a living.  Bud this scheme is only
in my brain as yed,"--energetically pointing to his expansive forehead
as he spoke--"and gan be worked oudt anywhere widoud obstruction to
other projecds; so, my dear Sir Reginald, if you require my aid in any
way you may gommand me.  Berhaps we may be able to help each other."

"You are, of course, more than welcome to any aid that I can afford
you," answered the "handsome baronet," as Sir Reginald Elphinstone's
friends sometimes called him--behind his back, of course.  "But where
are you going?" he continued.  "Anywhere in particular?  If so, I will
walk a little way with you.  Or, if you are not bound upon the
fulfilment of any engagement, let us go up into the smoking-room and
have a chat there."

"I am not boundt anywhere in bardigular, and the smoking-room is quide
empty, so led us go there, by all means," exclaimed the professor, as he
linked his arm in that of his companion; and together the strongly
contrasted pair wended their way through the handsome entrance-hall of
the building and up the spacious marble staircase to the cosiest
smoking-room in all London.

The taller and more striking-looking of the two was Sir Reginald
Elphinstone, a baronet, and an immensely wealthy man, with a magnificent
estate in the heart of the most picturesque part of Devonshire, a lovely
wife, and a most charming, lovable little daughter, now just five years
old.  The baronet himself had barely passed his fortieth year, and was a
superb specimen of English manhood, standing full six feet two in his
stockings, with a fine athletic figure, blue eyes that ordinarily beamed
with kindliness and good-humour, but which could, upon occasion, flash
withering scorn or scathing anger upon an offender, and curly golden
hair, with beard and moustache to match, that made him look like a
viking got up in the style of a twentieth-century English gentleman.

His companion, much shorter and stouter of figure, was Professor
Heinrich von Schalckenberg, a German by birth, but a cosmopolitan by
nature and by virtue of his own restless disposition, which would never
permit him to settle down for very long in any one place, however
attractive.  He was a perfect marvel in the matter of learning, a most
accomplished linguist, and an indefatigable delver in the lesser-known
fields of science, wherein he was credited with having made discoveries
of vast importance and value.  If such was the case he was in no hurry
to make his discoveries public property, chiefly, perhaps, because--as
some of his more intimate friends suggested--they were of such a nature
as rendered them capable of disastrous misuse in the hands of the
evil-disposed, especially those enemies of society and the human race,
the Anarchists.  Be that as it may, it was undoubtedly the fact that he
had discovered two hitherto unknown substances, the properties of which
would render them of priceless value whenever he should see fit to make
them known: the one being an unoxidisable metal of extraordinary
strength and tenacity, yet of so little weight that it was the lightest
known solid, to which he had given the name of _aethereum_; while the
other was a new power, derivable from certain chemically prepared
crystals which, treated in one way, yielded electricity in enormous
volumes, while, powdered and treated with a certain acid, they evolved
an expansive gas of stupendous potency, capable of being advantageously
used in place of any of the known explosives, or of steam.  And it was
known to a few of the more intimate friends of the professor and of Sir
Reginald, that the former had designed and constructed of his wonderful
metal a marvellous ship, appropriately named the _Flying Fish_, capable
not only of navigating the surface of the ocean, but also of diving to
its extremest depth, and--more wonderful still--of soaring to hitherto
unapproachable altitudes of the earth's atmosphere.  And it was further
known that in this extraordinary ship--constructed for and at the
expense of Sir Reginald Elphinstone--the baronet, the professor, and two
other daring spirits had already accomplished two voyages; on the first
of which they had actually succeeded in penetrating to the North Pole;
while, on the second, they had visited a hitherto unexplored region of
the great African continent, discovering the site and ruins of ancient
Ophir; and, of course, in both cases meeting with many astounding
adventures.

Such were the two men who unexpectedly met on the steps of the Migrants'
Club, and, after an interchange of greetings, made their way together to
the smoking-room of that rather exclusive institution, whither the
reader is now invited to follow them.

As we enter the apartment, unobserved, we note, with some astonishment,
that it is evidently one of the largest rooms in the building; the
reason being that the Migrants are, almost to a man, ardent devotees of
the goddess Nicotina; and as it seemed probable that the smoking-room
would be the most-used room in the building, they very wisely determined
that it should also be one of the largest.  Another peculiarity which we
notice is that, with the exception of the space over the massive and
elaborately carved black marble mantelpiece--which is occupied by an
enormous mirror--the walls are almost entirely covered with pictures in
oils, water-colours, crayons, photography, ay, and even in pencil; most
of them bearing evidence in their execution that they are the
productions of amateurs, although here and there the eye detects work
strong enough to suggest the hand and eye of the veteran professional
painter.  But, although so much of the work is amateurish, it is
nevertheless thoroughly good, no picture being permitted to be hung upon
the walls until it has been subjected to the scrutiny, and received the
approval, of a Hanging Committee of artistic members.  Looking more
closely at these pictures, we note that--with the exception of the
photographs, which mostly portray scenery of an exceptionally grand or
otherwise remarkable character--they all illustrate some singular
incident or adventure.  Here, for example, is a water-colour sketch of a
rent and collapsed balloon falling to the earth from a height that must
be appalling, if we are to accept as faithfully represented the neutral
tones and dwarfed dimensions of the several features of the landscape
that occupies the lower half of the picture.  And next it we observe a
very powerfully executed oil painting representing a schooner-yacht,
with topmasts struck and all other top-hamper down on deck, hove-to
under close-reefed storm-trysail and spitfire jib, in close proximity to
an evidently disabled and sinking ocean steamer, over whose more than
half-submerged hull the mountain seas are breaking with terrific
violence, sweeping away boats, hencoops, deck-fittings, bulwarks, and
even some of the unfortunate people, who are dimly seen through the
torrents of driving spray and cataracts of pouring water clinging here
and there to the stanchions and rigging: the fury of the gale in which
the great ship is perishing is admirably conveyed in the height and
shape of the huge olive-green seas, their crests torn off and swept away
to leeward in horizontal showers of spindrift, and the black, menacing
hue of the sky, across which tattered shreds of smoky-looking cloud are
careering wildly.  And next to this, again, is a large water-colour,
admirably executed, representing a broad moon-lit river, concealed amid
the tall reeds of which a man is portrayed, picking off the game as it
comes down the opposite bank to drink, the character of the sportsman's
"bag" being indicated by several prone shapes that, indistinctly as they
are seen in the misty moonlight, yet admirably suggest the idea of slain
rhinoceros, buffalo, lion, and giraffe.  And so on, all round the walls,
each picture in fact being a more or less truthful delineation of some
specially thrilling adventure experienced by a member of the club.

The Professor and the baronet, having entered the smoking-room, which
they found empty--as was quite usual at that hour of the day--selected
two of the capacious and exceedingly inviting-looking armchairs that
were scattered about the room; and, drawing them up to the fire--for the
weather was very bleak and chilly--ensconced themselves therein, and
settled themselves comfortably for a chat.

"Well, my dear Professor," began Sir Reginald, as he carefully selected
a cigar from a handsome and capacious case that he drew from his pocket,
"I need scarcely ask how you are, for you appear to be in superb
condition; but where have you been, and what doing, since we parted--
which is it, five or six years ago?"

"Rather over six years," answered the professor, in the strongly
German-accented English which he prided himself upon being
undistinguishable from the genuine British accent, but which it is not
necessary to inflict further upon the reader.  "Rather over six years.
How time flies when a man is busy!  Yet during those six years I have
done scarcely anything.  Would you believe it?  Beyond the writing of my
five-volume treatise on `Ancient Ophir: Its Geographical Situation, and
Story, as revealed in the Light of certain Recent Discoveries';
undergoing eighteen months' imprisonment in the fortress of Peter and
Paul, in Saint Petersburg, as a suspected Nihilist; and a two years'
fruitless exploration of central Mexico, I have done absolutely
nothing!"

Sir Reginald laughed heartily.  "Upon my word, Professor, you are
insatiable," said he.  "Why, the writing of your five-volume treatise--
which, by the way, I have read with the keenest enjoyment--should, of
itself, have found you ample occupation for those six years, one would
have supposed.  But, not content with this, you have experienced for
eighteen months the manifold miseries of a Russian prison; and have
topped off with two years of wandering in Mexico--with more thrilling
adventures and hairbreadth escapes than you can count, I'll warrant--and
still you are not satisfied!"

"Ah, my friend," answered the professor, "it is all very well for you,
who have a lovely wife and a sweet little daughter, to laugh at me.  But
I am a bachelor; I have no wife, no daughter, no domestic ties of any
sort to beguile my restless nature and render me content to settle down
in the monotonous placidity of a home; I must always be occupied in some
exciting pursuit, or I should go mad from very weariness and ennui; and
since our memorable cruise in your _Flying Fish_, I have been unable to
find anything exciting and adventurous enough to suit my taste.  That
cruise has spoilt me for everything else, and I am sometimes inclined to
wish that I had never participated in it."

"Oh, but you must not feel like that," remonstrated Sir Reginald.  "Why,
my dear sir, you were the backbone, the life and soul of the cruise!
Without you the whole thing would have been a dreary failure!  Besides,
I want you to join us in another."

"What!" exclaimed von Schalckenberg, springing to his feet excitedly,
while his broad German visage fairly beamed with delight; "what!
Another cruise in the _Flying Fish_!  My dear sir, of course I will join
you, with the greatest possible pleasure.  But upon one condition," he
added, more soberly, and after a moment's reflection.  "I am at present
engaged, as I told you a little while ago, upon the elaboration of a
colonisation scheme for the relief of those who, although perfectly
willing to work, find themselves unable to obtain employment in
consequence of the present overcrowded condition of every conceivable
avocation.  I can see my way perfectly clearly up to a certain point;
but there I find myself brought to a standstill for want of means--for I
must tell you that although my colony, once fairly launched, would be
self-supporting, the launching of it would be a terribly expensive
operation.  I therefore want money--or money's equivalent--as much as I
can get; and there are enormous sources of wealth accessible to the
_Flying Fish_, and to her alone; if, therefore, you will permit me to
avail myself of such opportunities to acquire wealth as may present
themselves during the progress of the cruise, I will join you with the
utmost pleasure.  But, if not, I must remain where I am, and endeavour
to hatch out of my brain some other method of obtaining the means that I
require."

"No need for that, my dear fellow," exclaimed Sir Reginald.  "If you
will but consent to become one of our party, you may make use of the
_Flying Fish_ exactly as if she were your own--with one reservation
only, namely, that you do not take us to a cold climate.  This cruise is
projected especially with the object of restoring my daughter's health,
and I am informed that pure air and a genial climate are absolutely
necessary for this.  But, keeping this in mind, you have my full
permission to map out our route yourself if you please."

"By no means," answered the professor.  "That would be the height of
presumption on my part.  The wishes and inclinations of all concerned
must be fully considered in the decision of so important a question.
But, of course, I shall be very happy to be allowed to offer
suggestions, or to afford any information that I may happen to possess
in relation to such localities as it may be proposed to visit.  By the
way, how many shall we be, and who are the other members of the party?"

"I have not yet decided," answered Sir Reginald.  "But I should
naturally prefer to have Lethbridge and Mildmay again, if I can find
them and induce them to join us.  Indeed, it was with the object of
ascertaining whether I could learn any news of either of them and of
yourself that I called here to-day."

"Well," said the German, "I can tell you something about them both, for
I saw the colonel only a few days ago, here in town.  I met him in the
Park.  He was looking very ill, and in reply to my inquiries I learned
that he had been down with typhoid fever, and had only been up and out
again about a week.  He said that he was trying to brace himself up to
go away somewhere for change of air, so I have no doubt that you will
find him more than willing to fall in with any proposal you may make to
him.  As for Mildmay, I met a man here only yesterday who had seen him a
few days ago at Cowes, on board his yacht, which I understood he had
retained in commission all through the winter.  But I also understood
that he was now about to lay her up; and, if so, you will probably find
him also disengaged.  A letter addressed to him at the Royal Yacht
Squadron Club House will no doubt find him."

"I will write to him forthwith," said Sir Reginald.  "And, by the way,
do you happen to know Lethbridge's address?"

"No, I do not," confessed the professor, apologetically; "but I dare say
we can discover it by inquiring of the steward, here; and if he does not
know it we shall perhaps be able to obtain it by inquiring at the Army
and Navy, of which he is a member."

It proved unnecessary, however, to seek so far, for, upon inquiry of the
steward of the Migrants', it was ascertained that Colonel Lethbridge had
dropped in at that club every evening regularly for the last four or
five days, and might be expected to put in an appearance there again on
that evening, a few hours later.  Sir Reginald therefore wrote two
letters--one to the colonel, which he left in the hall letter-rack, and
one to Captain Mildmay, which he posted--setting forth the particulars
of his projected cruise, together with the information that von
Schalckenberg had consented to make one of the party; and concluding
with a cordial invitation to the individual addressed to join the
expedition as a guest.  This done, he invited the professor to dine with
him that night and make the acquaintance of his little daughter, as well
as to afford an opportunity for the full discussion of the details of
the projected trip.  On the following day, he journeyed down with his
wife and child to their magnificent Devonshire home, Chudleigh Park.



CHAPTER TWO.

THE FINAL PREPARATIONS.

Chudleigh Park was an estate of some fourteen hundred acres in extent,
situate, as has already been mentioned, in the most picturesque part of
Devon.  It had been acquired by Sir Reginald Elphinstone about six years
before, just prior to his marriage, the area at that time consisting
chiefly of moorland, of so hilly and broken a character that it could
scarcely be cultivated profitably, although for Sir Reginald's purpose
it was everything that could possibly be desired.  Having secured the
land, a site was chosen on a sheltered hillside, overlooking a long
stretch of beautiful valley, through which a fine trout stream
picturesquely meandered; and here, under the superintendence of an
eminent architect, a charming mansion, fitted with every luxury and
convenience of modern life, was erected, the entire estate being
meanwhile laid out to the best advantage by a skilled landscape
gardener, who, with the aid of quite an army of underlings, eventually
so completely changed the aspect of the locality that it became one of
the most lovely and picturesque little bits of landscape to be found
within the confines of the British Isles.

It was about a month after the date of the meeting of Sir Reginald and
the professor, recorded in the preceding chapter, that, late in the
afternoon, the baronet, with his wife and their little daughter,
descended the short flight of broad steps that gave access to the chief
entrance of their stately mansion, built in the Elizabethan style of
architecture, and began to saunter slowly to and fro along the spacious
terrace that graced the front of the building, the weather happening to
be of that delightfully mild and genial character which occasionally in
our capricious British climate renders the early spring the most
charming period of the year.

From the frequent glances cast by the trio along the valley--through
which a splendid carriage-drive wound its way beside the brawling
stream--one might have guessed that they were expecting the arrival of
visitors.  And indeed shortly afterwards two vehicles appeared round the
shoulder of a hill far down the valley, which, as they rapidly
approached, resolved themselves into a smart dog-cart drawn by a tandem
team of thoroughbred bays and driven by an upright soldier-like figure
in a tweed travelling suit, with a groom occupying the back seat, and an
equally smart game-cart loaded with baggage.

"Here they come!" exclaimed Sir Reginald, as, turning in their walk, the
trio first caught sight of the rapidly approaching vehicle.  "At least,
here comes _one_ of them," he corrected himself, "and that one
undoubtedly Lethbridge; there is no mistaking that figure for any other
than that of a soldier!  But where is Mildmay, I wonder?  I hope no
hitch has occurred in the arrangements!"

"I sincerely hope not," agreed Lady Olivia--a lovely brunette, with a
rather tall, superbly moulded figure that yet looked _petite_ beside her
husband's lofty stature.  "I shall be supremely sorry if, after all,
Captain Mildmay finds himself unable to join us."

"Yes," assented the baronet.  "But I do not anticipate anything quite so
unfortunate as that.  My worst fears point to nothing more serious than
a certain amount of delay.  However, we shall soon know; for I dare say
Lethbridge will be able to tell us something about him."

A few minutes later the dog-cart came rattling up the gentle slope of
the winding drive, and pulled up at the foot of the broad flight of
stone steps that led up to the terrace.  The groom dropped lightly to
the ground, and ran nimbly to the leader's head.  The tall,
soldierly-looking figure divested himself of the rug that covered his
knees, and, alighting from the vehicle, made his way slowly up the
steps, at the top of which his host and hostess awaited him.

The newcomer was Cyril Lethbridge, late a colonel in the Royal
Engineers, but now retired from the service.  He had been a successful
gold-seeker in his time, a mighty hunter, a daring explorer--in short,
an adventurer, in the highest and least generally accepted form of the
term.  He had also been one of the quartette of adventurous spirits who
formed the working crew of the _Flying Fish_ in her first two
extraordinary cruises, and was therefore an old and staunch comrade of
Sir Reginald Elphinstone, and an equally staunch, though more recent,
friend of Lady Elphinstone, whose acquaintance he had first made some
six years before under startling and extraordinary circumstances.  He
was a man in the very prime of life; tall, and with a very fair share of
good looks--although certainly not so handsome a man as his friend the
baronet--upright as a dart, and, when in his normal state of health,
singularly robust of frame; but now, as he slowly mounted the broad, yet
easy, flight of steps, there was a perceptible languor of movement and a
general gauntness of visage and figure that told an unmistakable tale of
very recent illness.  Nevertheless, his eye was bright, and his voice
strong and cheery, as he returned the greetings of his friends on the
terrace, and replied to their inquiries as to his comfort during the
long journey from town.

"But where is Mildmay?" inquired Sir Reginald at length, as the party
turned to enter the house.  "How is it that he is not with you?"

"He is with von Schalckenberg," answered the colonel.  "When we met last
night at the Migrants', to make our final arrangements for to-day, we
came to the conclusion that for the professor to go alone in search of
the _Flying Fish_ would entail upon him a great deal of unnecessary
trouble and labour--although von Schalckenberg himself would not admit
it--and therefore Mildmay determined to accompany him.  So they arranged
to meet at Waterloo this morning, and to run down to Portsmouth by the
eleven fifteen, which is a fast train, you know; and I have no doubt
that they are at this moment engaged in getting the bearings of the
_Flying Fish_, in readiness to descend to her as soon as the darkness
has set in sufficiently to conceal their movements from too curious
eyes.  And if the staunch old craft is in the perfect condition that von
Schalckenberg anticipates, we shall probably have them with us by ten
o'clock or thereabouts."

"Ah!" exclaimed Lady Olivia, "that is just the point about which I
cannot help feeling apprehensive.  Do you think, Colonel, that it will
be quite safe to trust ourselves to a ship that has been lying all these
years neglected and uncared for at the bottom of the English Channel?"

The colonel shrugged his shoulders.

"Why not?" he demanded with a smile.  "No possible harm could happen to
her, so far as I can see, beyond the penetration of a certain amount of
dampness into her interior.  But even that the professor will not admit.
He insists that all the openings in the vessel's hull were so carefully
made and accurately fitted as to be absolutely impervious to damp, much
less to any more serious influx of moisture.  And, as to her machinery,
the good man declares that, with the precautions that he took for its
preservation when she went out of commission, it ought to remain in
perfect working order for at least a hundred years."

"Well, we shall soon know, shall we not?" remarked the lady.
"Meanwhile, Colonel, you must come and have a cup of tea before you go
to your room.  I remember your weakness for tea, you see; and a cup will
refresh you after your journey."

Dinner at Chudleigh Hall that night was a very quiet, unostentatious
function; for the numerous guests that were usually to be found beneath
its hospitable roof had now gone their various ways, and Lady Olivia
had, of course, at once ceased to issue further invitations as soon as
the projected expedition had been finally determined upon.  The party,
therefore, consisted merely of Sir Reginald, Lady Olivia, and the
colonel; and when Lady Olivia rose from the table the two men merely
dallied over their wine long enough to smoke a cigar, and then rejoined
her in the drawing-room.

It was then about half-past nine o'clock--time for Sir Reginald and the
colonel to set out, if they wished to witness the arrival of the _Flying
Fish_--and the baronet was altogether of too courteous and hospitable a
nature to allow his expected friends to arrive at their destination, and
make their way to the Hall unwelcomed.  The two men, therefore, after
swallowing their coffee, sallied forth into the park, and strolled off
in the direction of the spot where it had been arranged that the ship
should come to earth.

This was a level, open glade, some ten acres in extent, completely
surrounded and hemmed in by noble forest trees, at a distance of about a
mile from the house; it was the only part of the estate that had been
fully wooded when it came into Sir Reginald's hands, and the trees were
consequently full-grown, thus affording perfect concealment for the huge
and marvellous fabric that was expected so shortly to make her
appearance on the spot.  A carriage-drive led through it; but Sir
Reginald and his friend took a short cut through the quaintly arranged
old English garden that lay at the back of the house.

Arrived at the glade, the two friends settled themselves comfortably
upon a rustic seat, and chatted animatedly upon the prospects of their
forthcoming adventure, as they waited the appearance of the _Flying
Fish_.  Nor had they to wait very long.  They had scarcely been seated
twenty minutes when Sir Reginald, who had kept his gaze fixed steadily
skyward, exclaimed--

"Ah, there they are at last!"

And his companion, glancing in the direction indicated by the baronet,
was just able to see, far up, as it seemed among the stars, a dim, misty
shape that, even as he looked, grew rapidly in bulk and in distinctness
of form as it descended from aloft, until it became an enormous
cigar-shaped structure of such gigantic dimensions that it seemed
doubtful whether there would be space enough in the glade to accommodate
it.  This appearance, however, was to a certain extent delusive, due no
doubt to the semi-obscurity of the starlit night, for when at length it
came to earth, lightly as a snowflake, it was seen that there was
abundance of room for it.

The moment that it had fairly settled down, Sir Reginald and the colonel
rose to their feet and sauntered toward it; but they were still several
yards from it when suddenly two figures emerged from the deep obscurity
under the flying ship's bottom, each carrying a small travelling bag.
One figure, short and stout, was instantly recognisable as that of the
genial Professor von Schalckenberg; while the other, taller, yet of a
sturdy build and an easy swinging carriage, that bespoke the athlete and
the sailor, was, with equal ease, identified as Captain Edward Mildmay,
R.N.

The friends shook hands heartily, and the newcomers handed over their
bags to George, the baronet's valet--who at that moment mysteriously
appeared upon the scene--as Sir Reginald inquired--

"Well, gentlemen, how have you managed? and in what condition did you
find the old ship after her long submersion at the bottom of the Hurd
Deep?"

"Oh!" answered the professor, "we managed well enough.  We reached
Portsmouth at three o'clock, and found the boat all ready for us--that
man, Sparshott, who has had the care of her, is a really good man, and a
thoroughly discreet fellow--so we at once got on board and made our way
very soberly out of Portsmouth harbour, not putting on the speed until
we were well clear of all observation.  We cut ourselves rather too
fine, however, in the matter of time, not arriving at our destination
until it was nearly dark; consequently we had some difficulty in finding
our bearings, and at one moment I almost feared that we should have to
defer our search until morning.  But at length, just as we were
seriously thinking of giving it up for the night, a lucky cast of the
lead showed us to be immediately over the ship; so I at once donned my
diving-dress, went down, turned on my electric light, and found myself
within half a dozen fathoms of the _Flying Fish_.  After that,
everything was easy.  I opened the trap-door in her bottom without the
slightest difficulty, entered the chamber, expelled all the water, and
passed into the diving-room, which I found absolutely dry.  Then I
divested myself of my diving-suit, entered the engine-room, and
forthwith proceeded to charge the generator from the reserve stock of
crystals which we had left on board.  Everything was looking exactly as
we left it six years ago; there was not a sign of damp discoverable
anywhere; and the only objectionable thing noticeable was that the air
in the hull smelt decidedly stale and offensive.  However, I soon had
vapour enough generated to start the dynamo, when I switched on the
light in the pilot-house lantern, as a warning to Mildmay to get out of
the way; after which I slowly ejected the water from the water chambers,
and rose very gently to the surface.  Then, throwing open the door of
the pilot-house--and so letting some fresh air into the hull--I went out
on deck to look for Mildmay, and immediately fell heavily to the deck,
which I found completely covered with a thick growth of slippery
sea-grass.  Ach, my friends, I reproach myself that I did not think of
and guard against that when we sank the _Flying Fish_ to the bottom for
her long rest, six years ago!  But I am only human, you see, after all;
I have not yet acquired the gift of thinking of everything.  It is a
trifle, however, and I will soon put it right to-morrow.  Well, I found
the trap-door in the deck, despite the sea-grass, opened it with some
little difficulty, raised the davits into position, and dropped the
tackles into the boat which Mildmay had by this time brought alongside,
and in a few minutes we had that boat hoisted up and stowed away.  By
this time there was vapour enough in the generator to move the engines,
so we created a partial vacuum, rising in the air to a height of about a
thousand feet, after which we wended our way hither, finding the spot
without difficulty, thanks to the light displayed in the tower of your
house.  And--here we are."

The next three days were devoted to the shipping and storing away of the
enormous quantity of stores of all kinds which Sir Reginald had ordered
for the voyage.  This brought the time up to Saturday evening, it being
about 6:30 p.m., when George, and the chef who was to have charge of the
kitchen on board, reported that the last case had been conveyed on board
the _Flying Fish_, and stowed away.  There was, of course, no reason why
a start should not now have been immediately effected; but, as the
completion of the arrangements had brought them so very close to Sunday,
Lady Olivia expressed a wish that the departure of the expedition should
be deferred until the following Monday, in order that she might have an
opportunity to attend one more service at the quiet little parish church
close at hand.  The wish, of course, had but to be expressed to meet the
ready acquiescence of the other members of the party, and, accordingly,
they all with one consent appeared at the church on Sunday morning; the
afternoon being devoted to a final visit to, and inspection of, the
_Flying Fish_, with the twofold object of making assurance doubly sure
that nothing in the least likely to be wanted during the forthcoming
expedition had been forgotten, and to afford Lady Elphinstone the
opportunity to satisfy herself, before starting, that every arrangement
for her comfort and convenience was complete.

The _Flying Fish_ was still lying concealed in the spot where she had
alighted four nights before; and it happened that, Lady Olivia having
been too fully occupied to visit the ship until now, this was the first
time that she had beheld the wonderful craft for fully six years.  It
was also only the second time--save on one memorable and
never-to-be-forgotten occasion--that she had ever obtained an exterior
view of the vessel, and, upon the first occasion referred to, the
conditions had been such as to impress the appearance of the ship upon
her ladyship's memory only very vaguely.  It is not to be wondered at,
therefore, that upon emerging from the forest path into the open glade,
and catching for the first time a full view of the vast proportions of
the structure, her ladyship should stop short with an exclamation of
astonishment at what she beheld.



CHAPTER THREE.

THE FLYING FISH.

Towering high in the air, and almost filling the glade from end to end
with her enormous length, was an object measuring no fewer than six
hundred feet long, of cylindrical shape, sixty feet in diameter at her
so-called "midship" section, and tapering away fore and aft by a series
of finely curved lines, to the pointed extremities of the bow and stern.
The bow portion of the structure was considerably longer and more
sharply pointed than the after extremity, to which was attached, by a
very ingeniously devised universal joint, in such a manner as to render
a rudder unnecessary, a huge propeller having four tremendously broad
sickle-shaped blades, the palms of which were so cunningly shaped and
hollowed as to gather in and concentrate the air--or water, as the case
might be--about the boss and powerfully project it thence in a direct
line with the longitudinal axis of the ship.  To give this cigar-shaped
curvilinear hull perfect stability when resting upon the ground, it was
fitted with a pair of deep and broad bilge-keels, one on either side of
the ship, extending fore and aft for just a third of her length.  These
bilge-keels contained four grip-anchors--one at either extremity of each
keel--by means of which the ship could, when necessary, be firmly
secured to the ground, as she now was, in fact; and they also formed
chambers for the reception of water-ballast, when such was required.
Immediately over the "midship" section of the hull, and extending one
hundred and fifty feet in either direction fore and aft from this point,
placed upon the "back," so to speak, of the hull, was a superstructure
shaped somewhat like the above-water portion of a double-ended Thames
steamboat, with a deck, thirty feet in width at its broadest part,
protected by an open railing in place of the usual bulwarks.  And in the
exact centre of this deck stood a two-storey pilot-house, the lower
storey of which permitted ingress and egress between the promenade deck
and the interior of the ship, while the upper storey--completely
surrounded by large circular scuttles, or windows, which afforded an
unobstructed view all round--constituted the navigating platform from
which the ship was worked.

The whole of this enormous fabric, with the exception of the planking of
the promenade deck, was built of the wonderful metal called aethereum,
discovered by Professor von Schalckenberg, which, being unpainted, shone
in the sunlight like burnished silver.  There was only one exception to
the rule which appeared to have forbidden the use of paint on the
exterior of this wonderful ship, and that was in the case of the
superstructure supporting the promenade deck and the pilot-house.  This
portion of the hull was painted a light, delicate, blue-grey tint, which
was relieved by an ornamental scroll-work of gold and colours at each
end of the ship enclosing the name _Flying Fish_ on each bow and
quarter, the whole connected by a massive gold cable moulding running
fore and aft along the sheer strake of that portion of the ship.  The
painting and gilding had all been done when the ship was built, nearly
seven years ago, and it had then been coated with a transparent,
protective varnish of the professor's own concoction, which had proved
so absolutely water-tight and imperishable that, although the _Flying
Fish_ had lain submerged at the bottom of the Hurd Deep for more than
six years, the paint and gilding now looked as fresh and clean and
brilliant as though it had been newly applied.  It may be as well to
mention here that all the interior decks, bulkheads, doors, staircases,
machinery, and furniture of every kind, even to the boats, and the guns,
firearms, and weapons of every description with which the ship was
liberally provided, were, like her hull, constructed of aethereum, the
most striking properties of which metal were its extraordinary
lightness, toughness, hardness, strength, and its stubborn resistance to
all tarnishing or oxidising influences.

There were two modes of ingress to the interior of the ship, one, as has
already been mentioned, from the deck, by way of the pilot-house, and
the other by way of a trap-door in the bottom of the ship, behind the
starboard bilge-keel.  This latter was used when it was desired to enter
or leave the ship when she was resting upon the solid ground, either
above or under water, and it was the means of entrance which the party
used upon the present occasion.  The professor, to whose genius was due
the entire design of the wonderful ship, undertook, at Sir Reginald's
request, to point out to Lady Elphinstone a few of the most remarkable
characteristics of the structure; and accordingly, when her ladyship had
exhausted her wonder at the enormous proportions of the _Flying Fish_,
Herr von Schalckenberg conducted his hostess forward and into the space
between the starboard bilge-keel and the bottom of the ship, where there
was just sufficient room for a tall man to stand upright close to the
inner face of the bilge-keel.  At a certain point in the tunnel-like
passage the professor came to a halt, and remarked--

"Now, Lady Olivia, kindly favour me with your attention.  Although you
cannot distinguish it, there is a trap-door here, giving ingress to the
interior of the ship, and as it is possible that you may at some time or
other wish to make use of it when none of us are at hand to help you, I
should like to show you how the door is to be opened or closed.  Now, in
the first place, you will observe that there is a vertical and also a
horizontal joint in the plating, meeting just here--it is the only
junction of the kind in this passage-way, so you cannot possibly mistake
it.  Now, kindly take notice of these vertical and horizontal rows of
rivet-heads, and especially of this particular rivet that is common to
both rows.  There is nothing whatever to distinguish it from the others,
is there?  No.  But if you will place your finger upon it, thus, and
push firmly to the left, thus, you will see what happens."

And, as the professor spoke, a section of the polished silver-like
plating of the ship's bottom folded gently out until its outer edge
rested upon the ground, forming a kind of sloping gangway, by means of
which it was easy to enter the yawning aperture that now appeared in the
ship's bottom.

"Supposing, however," continued the professor, "that you are leaving the
ship, and wish to close the trap-door behind you, all that you have to
do is to push the rivet back into its original position, and the
mechanism operating the door at once responds, closing the flap, thus,
and leaving no indication whatever of its existence.  Now, Lady Olivia,
let me see whether you can open the flap."

Thus invited, Lady Elphinstone laid her finger upon the rivet-head and
gave it a vigorous push to the left, upon which the flap folded out as
before, and von Schalckenberg, taking her ladyship's hand, led her with
old-fashioned gallantry up the gangway, the others following.

As well as the party could discern in the obscurity, they now found
themselves standing in an apartment some ten feet square by seven feet
in height, with no other perceptible means of egress from it than the
trap-door by which they had entered; but upon the professor stretching
forth his arm and groping for a moment about the wall, the room became
suddenly illumined by the radiance of an electric light set in a very
thick and strong glass globe let into the ceiling, and it now became
apparent that there was a door in the bulkhead opposite them as they
entered.

"This small room," said the professor, "is known as the chamber of
egress, because, as is quite obvious, it is from here that one leaves
the ship for the outer world.  But it has also another purpose besides
the mere furnishing of access to the trap-door, as I will endeavour to
explain to your ladyship.  You are, of course, aware that one of the
objects with which the _Flying Fish_ was constructed was to enable her
crew to explore the ocean depths, and to examine and, if necessary,
operate upon the ocean's bed.  Now, in order to leave the ship and walk
out upon the sea floor, an aperture of some kind in the hull is clearly
necessary, through which we may pass; and that aperture you see before
you in the shape of the trap-door.  But you will readily understand
that, with the ship sunk to the bottom, the water will pour violently
through that trap, if it is opened without the observance of proper
precautions; and unless some special means are adopted to prevent such a
catastrophe, the water will quickly invade and fill the entire hull.
Hence this room.  Its use, in actual practice, is this: having donned
our diving-suits in the diving-room, we pass into this small chamber by
means of the door of communication, which you see in that partition,
close the door carefully behind us, and turn on this tap, which admits a
small stream of water into the room from outside.  The pressure of water
being considerable, the room quickly fills; but the partition, with its
water-tight door, effectually prevents the water from penetrating any
farther into the hull of the ship--and we then throw open the trap-door,
and walk forth on to the sea floor.  Upon our return we close the
trap-door behind us, thus, turn on this air tap, and immediately a
stream of densely compressed air rushes into the chamber, expelling the
water through this valve in the floor.  And when the water is all out,
we turn off the stream of compressed air, and open this valve, which
allows the compressed air to pass into the habitable portion of the
ship, quickly reducing the air-pressure in this room to what it is in
the other habitable portion of the ship; then we open this door, and
pass into the diving-room."

The professor then threw open the door and, with a profound bow, stood
aside to allow Lady Elphinstone to pass through.

The room in which the party presently found themselves was an apartment
about twenty feet square, one side of which was wholly occupied by four
cupboards labelled respectively "Sir Reginald Elphinstone", "Colonel
Lethbridge", "Captain Mildmay," and "Von Schalckenberg."

"This," explained the professor, "is the room wherein we shall equip
ourselves for our submarine rambles; and," throwing open the door of one
of the cupboards and disclosing certain articles neatly arranged upon
hooks fastened to the walls, "here is a suit of the clothing and armour
that we shall wear upon such occasions."

"Oh yes," responded Lady Olivia, "I remember having heard Sir Reginald
speak of his `diving-armour'; what a very handsome suit it is,"--as she
touched and thoughtfully opened the folds of a surcoat of scale armour
that looked as though made of silver; "but it seems a queer idea to don
armour for the purpose of walking about at the bottom of the sea.  Yet,
what a man of foresight you must be, Professor!  My husband has often
told Ida the story of your terrible fight with the conger eels, the
first time that the party ever sallied forth from the _Flying Fish_.
You appear to have foreseen and provided against every possible danger."

"No, no!" exclaimed von Schalckenberg, laughingly disclaiming any such
prescience; "I am not nearly as clever as that.  For instance: the
armour was not provided as a protection against the attacks of savage
animals or fish, but for quite a different purpose."

"Indeed!" exclaimed her ladyship; "for what purpose, then, was it
provided?"

"For the purpose of protecting the wearer against the enormous pressure
of the water to which he would be subjected when moving about on the bed
of the ocean at a great depth below the surface," answered the
professor.  "You must understand," he continued, "that water exerts a
pressure upon everything immersed in it; and the deeper the water, the
greater is the pressure upon the immersed body.  So rapidly does this
pressure increase, that divers attired in an ordinary diving-dress are
only able to descend to a depth of about fifteen fathoms, or ninety
feet; there are a few cases where this depth has been exceeded, but they
are few and far between.  Now I have always held the opinion that to
descend into the sea to merely such a trifling depth as this, for the
purpose of scientific investigation, is scarcely worth the trouble; so
when Sir Reginald was good enough to furnish me with the means to
materialise, as it were, in this ship, the fancies and longings that had
haunted me, day and night, for years, I determined that it should not be
my fault if we did not, all of us, completely eclipse all previous
achievements in diving.  The great difficulty that I had to contend with
was the enormous water-pressure of which I had spoken.  Could I but
contrive to encase our bodies in some garment that would receive and
successfully resist this terrible pressure, and yet be flexible enough
to permit of free movement to the wearer, the problem would be solved.
And these diving-suits are the outcome of my efforts; they sustain and
resist to perfection, without permitting them to be transmitted to the
body, the most severe pressures to which we have ever exposed them,
while at the same time they afford complete protection in other respects
to the wearers--as when, for example, we were attacked by the conger
eels."

Lady Olivia thanked the professor for his explanation, and murmured an
additional word or two of admiration for the wonderful armour; whereupon
von Schalckenberg--perceiving perhaps that her ladyship's interest in
what was really one of his masterpieces of ingenuity was not, after all,
particularly keen--opened a door opposite the one by which they had
entered the diving-room, disclosing a small vestibule from which sprang
a spiral staircase made of the same beautiful white metal that was
everywhere to be met with on board this marvellous ship.

Leading the way round past the foot of the staircase, the professor
halted before a door inscribed with the words "Engine-Room."  This door
he threw open, and, as before, with a profound bow, motioned Lady
Elphinstone to enter.  The first emotion of those who entered this
important compartment for the first time was invariably one of
disappointment; for the room, although full of machinery, was small--
disproportionately so, it appeared, compared with the bulk of the ship
and the power required to drive it at the enormous speeds that had been
indisputably attained by the _Flying Fish_.  And this emotion was
further increased by contemplation of the machinery by means of which
these high speeds had been attained.  The main engines, consisting of a
set of three-cylinder compound engines, constructed throughout of
polished aethereum, and consequently presenting an exceedingly handsome
appearance, suggested rather the idea of an exquisite large-sized model
in silver than anything else, the set occupying very little more space
than those of one of the larger Thames river steamers.  But the
impression of diminutiveness and inadequacy of power merged into one of
astonishment nearly approaching incredulity when the professor casually
mentioned that the vapour by which the engines were driven entered the
high-pressure cylinder at the astounding pressure of five thousand
pounds to the square inch, and that, although the engines themselves
made only fifty revolutions per minute, the main shaft, to which the
propeller was attached, made, by means of speed-multiplying gear, no
fewer than one thousand revolutions per minute in air of ordinary
atmospheric pressure!

From the engine-room the professor led the way up the spiral staircase
for a considerable distance, passing landings here and there, with doors
in the bulkheads, giving access, as von Schalckenberg explained, to the
several decks of the vessel.  Arrived at length at the top of the spiral
staircase, the party found themselves in a spacious vestibule extending
the whole width of the ship, and lighted on each side by a large,
circular port.  The vestibule floor was covered--with the exception of a
margin about three feet wide all round--with a magnificent carpet, the
margin of floor beyond the edge of the carpet being occupied by a number
of beautiful flowering plants and shrubs in spacious and ornamental pots
and boxes.  From the centre of the vestibule floor sprang the grand
staircase--a magnificent example of sculptured aethereum--leading to the
pilot-house and promenade deck above; and immediately opposite the foot
of the staircase, forming, in fact, one side of the vestibule, was a
bulkhead of aethereum decorated with a series of Corinthian pilasters
surmounted by a noble cornice, from which sprang the coved ceiling of
the apartment.  The panels formed by the pilaster were enriched with
elegant mouldings of scroll-work and painted in creamy white picked out
with gold.  Two of the panels were occupied by massive, handsomely
mounted doors of frosted aethereum, the panels of which were decorated
with fanciful scroll-work of the polished metal, imparting a very rich
and handsome effect.  These doors, the professor reminded Lady Olivia,
gave admission to the dining and drawing-rooms.

Behind the grand staircase was another bulkhead, similar to the one
already described, but having one door only--and that in its centre--
instead of two, as in the case of the other bulkhead.  This single door
gave access to a long corridor, on either side of which were to be found
the staterooms, or sleeping apartments, the bathrooms, and the domestic
offices generally of the ship.  Lady Elphinstone was tolerably familiar
with this part of the ship already; and as she wished to peep into the
room which she and her husband were to occupy, she now took the lead
and, opening the door leading into the corridor, passed through it,
while the men turned in the other direction and entered the dining-room.

Passing along the corridor, Lady Elphinstone presently reached the
stateroom which she was desirous to inspect, and, turning the handle of
the door, entered.  The room in which she now found herself was an
apartment about twenty feet square, lighted at one end by two very large
circular ports, or scuttles, let into the side of the ship, affording
ample illumination during the daytime, while the hours of darkness were
provided for by half a dozen electric lights disposed about the cabin,
mounted on handsome aethereum brackets, and furnished with opal shades,
shaped and tinted to represent flowers.  The bulkheads were of frosted
aethereum, divided up into panels by fluted Corinthian pilasters of the
same metal, supporting a massive cornice and a coved ceiling, the wall
panels being enriched with graceful designs in polished aethereum
surrounding choice paintings in water-colour, while the ceiling was
painted to represent a cloud-dappled sky, with cupids flitting hither
and thither among the clouds.  Handsome wardrobes, chests of drawers,
wash-stands, toilet tables, couches, and chairs of most exquisite
workmanship in frosted aethereum, upholstered in richest silk and
velvet, were conveniently grouped about the apartment; and in the
centre, automatically balanced on gimbals, hung a spacious and
beautifully carved and chiselled bedstead of aethereum, upon which the
occupant would find luxurious repose.  The deck, or floor, of the
apartment was covered with a thick, rich Turkey carpet, the colouring of
which matched the upholstery of the furniture; and the ports were draped
with costly silk and lace curtains of the finest texture, to soften or
exclude the light when desired.

Finding everything here to her liking, her ladyship joined the rest of
the party in the dining-room, and intimated that her inspection of the
ship was ended, whereupon the spiral staircase was descended, and in a
few minutes the little group once more found themselves outside the ship
and wending their way back to the house.



CHAPTER FOUR.

A MAIDEN IN DISTRESS.

As the party passed in through the principal entrance of the stately
building, laughing and chatting animatedly together upon the
possibilities of the forthcoming expedition, a footman came forward and
announced that a young lady, who most urgently desired to see Professor
von Schalckenberg, had been waiting for fully an hour in the library, to
which apartment she had been conducted.

The professor looked momentarily surprised and disconcerted by this
intelligence; but, quickly recovering himself, and excusing himself to
Lady Olivia, he hurried away to the library, to see who this unexpected
visitor might be.

Entering the apartment, von Schalckenberg at once found himself
confronted with a singularly handsome young woman, closely veiled, and
quietly but richly attired, who, throwing back her veil and stretching
forth both hands in eager, joyous greeting, exclaimed in Russian--

"At last, Professor, at last I have found you, thank God!"

"What?" stammered the professor, as he gazed in astonishment at his
lovely visitor, holding both her hands in his meanwhile.  "Can it be
possible that this is my dear little friend Feodorovna Sziszkinski?
Ach! yes, it must be; there can be no mistaking that charming face!"
And he forthwith kissed his fair visitor on both cheeks, in true
continental fashion.  "Welcome, my dear child, welcome a thousand times
to England," continued the professor, beaming benignantly at his visitor
through his spectacles.  "And how is your father and my dear friend, the
colonel?"

"Ah, Professor, would that I knew!" answered the girl, as tears sprang
to her eyes.  "I fear the worst for him.  I am in bitter trouble about
him; and it is on that account that I have sought you.  My father had a
foreboding that trouble was in store for us, and only a few weeks ago he
said to me, `Child, if anything should happen to me, and you are plunged
into trouble or difficulty, seek out our dear friend, von Schalckenberg.
He will help you, if any man can.'"

"Of course, of course," answered the professor, beaming more
benevolently still, if that were possible, upon his visitor.  "Your
father and I are old, staunch, and tried friends; and he does me no more
than justice in feeling that he, or his daughter, may absolutely rely
upon me to do gladly the utmost in my power for either of them.  Now,
sit down, little Feodorovna, and tell me all about it."

The girl, with a sigh of relief and renewed hope, sank into the chair
that the professor placed for her, and began by asking--

"Did you ever, while in Saint Petersburg or elsewhere, meet a certain
Count Vasilovich, Professor?"

"Often, my dear; much more often, indeed, than I at all desired,"
answered the professor.

"He is a bad man, Feodorovna; a thorough-going scoundrel, without a
single redeeming trait.  Has he anything to do with your trouble?"

"Alas, yes! he has everything to do with it, dear friend," answered
Feodorovna.  "It was my misfortune to meet him last winter at a ball at
the Imperial Palace, and from that moment he began persistently to press
his odious attentions upon me.  My dear father saw, with the utmost
alarm, the unfortunate turn that affairs had taken, and warned me
against the count.  Not that any warning was necessary, for I seemed so
clearly to divine the nature and character of the man at a glance, that
nothing would have induced me to afford him the slightest encouragement.

"For a time the count contented himself with following me everywhere,
and making violent love to me upon every possible occasion; but at
length, about two months ago, finding that his attentions were so
clearly distasteful to me that there was no prospect whatever of his
suit being successful, he began to threaten--vague, covert threats at
first, but afterwards so outspoken that I felt I must fly from Saint
Petersburg, and seek safety in concealment.  I spoke to my dear father
about it, and he--distressed as he was at the prospect of being
compelled to part with me--agreed that my only hope of safety lay in
flight; and twenty-four hours later I was, as I hoped, safe in the house
of a friend at Boroviezi.  But on the day following my arrival at this
refuge, one of my father's servants, named Petrovich, appeared with the
information that on the night of my flight from Saint Petersburg, a
domiciliary visit had been paid by the police to our house, and my
father had been dragged off to the fortress prison of Peter and Paul,
and that search was everywhere being made for me.

"I had not the least doubt that this was the work of Count Vasilovich;
but, feeling myself to be quite safe where I was, and knowing the
count's power and influence at the palace, my whole anxiety was on my
father's account, for Vasilovich is not only unscrupulous, he is
mercilessly vindictive, and I feared that, finding himself baulked in
his desire to get me into his power, he would wreak his vengeance on my
father.  And, oh, Professor, my fears proved to be but too well founded;
for, five days later, Petrovich appeared again with the information that
my father had been convicted of high treason, and was even then being
hurried away south to Odessa, at which port he was to be placed, with a
large number of other unfortunates, on board a convict-ship for
transportation to Sakhalien.

"Oh, my friend, I cannot describe to you the depth of my despair at this
intelligence, which I soon learned was only too true.  In my desperation
I would have returned to Saint Petersburg, sought out the count, and
consented to marry him upon condition of his saving my dear father.  But
my friends denounced such a scheme as utter madness, and would not hear
of it; they asserted that the count, having gone to such extremes, would
not now be at all likely to undo his own work--even if that were
possible--and that if I were so imprudent as to enter into negotiations
with him, he would soon find the means to get me into his power and at
his mercy; while, my father having been convicted of high treason, the
whole of his property would certainly be confiscated, and what I had
always regarded as the count's chief reason for desiring to marry me--
namely, the command of the wealth which I should inherit from my
father--would no longer exist.

"These arguments prevailed with me, and I abandoned the mad idea of
appealing to Vasilovich; but I was in despair for my dear father, until
in a happy moment I remembered the words that he had spoken to me about
you only a short time before this dreadful misfortune befell us; then I
felt that, if I could but find you, something might yet be done.  I
spoke to my friends about it, and they approved of my proposal to seek
you.  But when I mentioned that it would be necessary for me to come to
England in search of you, another difficulty arose.  Count Vasilovich
had no doubt already anticipated and provided against the possibility
that I might endeavour to leave Russia; and to make the attempt openly
would but too surely result in my falling into his power.  But my
friends were very, very kind to me; they were determined that I should
escape, and at length they were fortunate enough to find a lady who was
about to travel from Saint Petersburg to London, and who consented to
bring me with her as her maid.  In this way all difficulties were
overcome; and yesterday I arrived safely in London, and at once went to
the address that my father had given me when he spoke of the possibility
of your being able to help me, should trouble come upon us.  I had some
difficulty in finding the place--being a stranger in London--and when I
did so it was only to learn that you had last been heard of as being
here; so I determined to follow you at once, taking the midnight train
from London, and staying in the village only long enough to get some
lunch--of which I stood sadly in need--before driving over here.  And,
thank God, I have been fortunate enough to find you!"

"Ah, thank God, indeed, my dear child," echoed the professor, "for I
assure you it is only by a combination of the most trifling
circumstances that I did not leave here yesterday; in which case further
pursuit of me would have been equally useless and impossible.  But never
mind that, now; `all is well that ends well,' as they say here in
England; you have found me, and that is enough for the present.  Now,
tell me, are you absolutely certain of the accuracy of Petrovich's
information as to your father being _en route_ for Sakhalien?"

"Oh yes," answered Feodorovna; "there is, unfortunately, no room for
doubt as to that.  The son of one of the under-gaolers at Peter and Paul
happen to be affianced to Petrovich's sister, and it was through this
man that Petrovich obtained the information."

"Just so," assented the professor.  "And in any case," he added, "I
suppose Vasilovich would be certain to possess full and perfectly
accurate information as to the whereabouts and ultimate destination of
your father?"

"Oh yes," answered Feodorovna, "he would be sure to know everything.
But I do not see how that fact is to help us; because, you see, dear
friend, we have no power to compel him to reveal what he knows."

"Have we not?" retorted the professor, good-humouredly.  "Ah, well, we
shall see; we shall see!  Meanwhile, patience and courage, little one; I
think I can already see my way to the bringing of this business to a
satisfactory conclusion.  And now, come with me, and let me introduce
you to a very dear and gentle lady friend of mine; and, later, to three
men friends--who will not only listen to your story with the most
sympathetic interest, but will also--unless I am vastly mistaken--assist
me to right effectually the wrong that has been done to your father and
my friend, Colonel Sziszkinski."

So saying, the professor conducted his young Russian friend to Lady
Elphinstone's boudoir, where, having craved permission to enter, he
forthwith introduced his _protegee_ to his hostess, and briefly
recapitulated the story of wrong to which he had so recently listened.
Lady Olivia listened with deep sympathy to the story, and at its
conclusion, said--

"Of course, my dear Professor, there can be no question as to what you
ought to do; if you really have the power to help your friend, this poor
girl's father, in his present terrible situation, you must go to his
assistance, regardless of everything else, and we must manage as best we
can without you.  We shall heartily wish you the most complete success
in your arduous undertaking, but we shall miss you dreadfully; and your
absence will be a terrible disappointment to us all."

"Ah, dear lady, you will completely spoil me if you talk like that,"
protested the professor.  "But," he continued, "as to my leaving you, I
do not contemplate any such step; indeed, it is only by remaining with
you, and by virtue of the assistance of your good husband and the
others, that I hope to be of any real assistance to my friend.  My idea
is this.  If you all consent, we will, in the first place, go to Saint
Petersburg in the _Flying Fish_, seize Count Vasilovich--I know his
chateau well, and I already have a plan whereby we can obtain possession
of his person without any one being the wiser--and compel him to
disclose everything that he knows respecting the colonel.  Then, armed
with this information, we can easily follow and overtake the
convict-ship, rescue my friend from his gaolers, give them Vasilovich in
his place, and--_voila tout_!"

"That seems simple enough, so far as my limited understanding of such
matters will permit me to judge, and I have not the least doubt that,
when you have laid the facts before Sir Reginald and the other members
of the party, they will one and all help you to the utmost extent of
their ability," answered Lady Olivia.  "Meanwhile, my dear child," she
continued, turning to Feodorovna, "since we seem to be about to attempt
the rescue of your unhappy father, you must do us the favour to become
our guest on board the _Flying Fish_ during the progress of the
adventure.  You will naturally be anxious to know what is happening, and
you can only possess that knowledge by becoming one of our party.  Did
you bring any baggage with you from London?"

"I brought a small portmanteau, so that I might be prepared for any
emergency; but I left it at the village inn," answered Feodorovna,
hesitatingly.

"Very well," said Lady Olivia, "then you had better send for it at once.
The fly that brought you over is still waiting, I see; so you can give
the driver a note to Collins, the landlord, informing him that you are
staying here, and asking him to send over your baggage forthwith."

Gratefully accepting Lady Elphinstone's invitation, the young Russian
lost no time in penning the suggested note to the landlord; and then, as
the first dinner bell had already rung, the trio separated to dress, a
maid conducting the new guest to a room, and assisting her to prepare
herself, as far as was possible, for the impending function.

When, about twenty minutes later, the party re-united in the
drawing-room, Feodorovna--introduced to Sir Reginald, Colonel
Lethbridge, and Captain Mildmay by Lady Elphinstone, who had made a
point of being down early to receive her--created quite a little
sensation by her refined and delicate loveliness, and her perfect yet
unaffected manner; and when they were given to understand by Lady
Elphinstone that the unexpected guest had a tale to unfold that would
enlist their deepest sympathy, they were all impatience to get through
the ordeal of dinner, so that they might be free to listen undisturbed
to the story.  Sir Reginald, of course, took the young stranger in to
dinner, and soon contrived, by the polished courtesy and gentle
kindliness of his manner, to win her entire confidence.  The gentlemen
that night sat over their wine only long enough to enable them to smoke
a single cigarette each, and then hastened to the drawing-room, where
they listened with breathless interest to the story, as told by von
Schalckenberg, of Colonel Sziszkinski's wrongs; and when the history had
come to an end, they were unanimous in their conviction that there was
but one thing to be done--namely, to carry out the professor's scheme
without a moment's unnecessary delay, especially as von Schalckenberg,
in reply to a delicately veiled question by Lethbridge, declared himself
ready to stake his life upon Colonel Sziszkinski's absolute loyalty and
fidelity to the Tsar.

"But, of course," continued the professor, "loyalty and fidelity are not
allowed to count in Russia; while Justice finds but few worshippers, at
least among the nobility.  There exists an unwritten law among the
Russian nobles that they, as a class, are to stand by each other through
thick and thin, under all circumstances and conditions, quite
irrespective of any considerations as to what may be right or just;
hence the stubborn tenacity with which Nihilism maintains its grip upon
the middle and lower classes.  If the `Little Father' wishes to stamp
out that terrible scourge of secret and deadly conspiracy which is the
bane and menace of his existence, he must purge the Russian nobles of
their present lust of cruelty and oppression, and must render it
possible for every one of his subjects, from the highest to the lowest,
to obtain absolute justice.  When he has accomplished _this_ herculean
task, he may go where he will, unarmed, unguarded, and unhurt; but not
until then."

"Meanwhile," remarked Sir Reginald, "until the consummation of that
much-to-be-desired reform, wrong must either remain unrighted, or be
righted by the only process which appears to be possible in `Holy
Russia'--namely, a resort to physical force.  And so, my dear young
lady," he continued laughingly, addressing himself to Feodorovna, "we
three respectable and responsible Englishmen--to say nothing of our
amiable friend, the professor, there--are about to become abductors and
pirates, on behalf of your father--since there seems to be no help for
it.  But do not let that very trivial circumstance distress you in the
least; we mean to deliver your father; and when we make up our minds to
do a thing, we generally do it.  And now, Professor, as to details.  If
I understand your scheme aright, our first step must be to kidnap your
very estimable friend, Count Vasilovich?"

"Ach! do not call him my friend; he is no friend of mine!" exclaimed the
professor, with such indignant energy as to provoke the whole party to
hearty laughter, at which the worthy man first stared at them in
amazement, and then, perceiving that he had allowed himself to be
"drawn," joined heartily in the laugh against himself.  "Yes," he
continued, suddenly becoming grave again, "we must kidnap the count, for
two reasons; first, because it is necessary that we should obtain the
fullest and most complete information as to Colonel Sziszkinski's
whereabouts and movements; and, secondly, because it would not satisfy
me merely to release my friend.  He has been beggared, rendered an
outlaw in his own country--to which it will be impossible for him ever
to return--and his career destroyed by this unscrupulous scoundrel,
Vasilovich; and justice cries aloud for the punishment of such
wickedness; therefore Vasilovich must be punished.  Moreover, the
mysterious fate which I have in store for him may possibly exercise a
salutary influence upon such of his fellow scoundrels as happen to be
aware of the wrong that he has wrought upon poor Sziszkinski; for I will
make it a part of my business to leave behind me a statement to the
effect that Count Vasilovich has been `removed' as a punishment for his
conduct to Colonel Sziszkinski."

"That is all right; such a statement _may_ do good, while I cannot see
that it is likely to do any harm, so we will prepare a conspicuous
placard, worded to that effect, and will place it where it is certain
that it will be found," remarked Sir Reginald, cheerfully.  "There is
one point, however, upon which I should like a little enlightenment,
Professor; and that is as to the course you propose to pursue in order
to obtain possession of Vasilovich's person in this awe-inspiringly
secret fashion."

"I do not anticipate much difficulty as to that," answered the
professor.  "When I was in Saint Petersburg a year ago, Vasilovich held
a post of responsibility at the War Office, and it was his habit to ride
into Saint Petersburg from his chateau at Pargolovo in the morning, and
out again at night, arriving home about seven o'clock, in time for
dinner at eight.  And I imagine we shall find that he does so still.
The chateau stands in a park of considerable extent, and is approached
by a drive nearly a mile and a half long, up which Vasilovich usually
rides at a foot-pace.  Now, at this time of the year, it will be quite
dark in the park at seven o'clock, and nobody will then be likely to be
out about the demesne.  I know the place well, and happen to be aware of
a spot, about midway between the chateau and the lodge gates, where the
_Flying Fish_ can be effectually concealed for the moment, close to the
road, and near which it will be easy for us to secure our man and convey
him on board the flying ship, where we will simply put him in irons and
lock him up in the tank room; he will be perfectly safe there, without
the power to do the slightest harm."

"And, having got him, how do you purpose to make him speak, Professor?"
demanded Mildmay.

"I shall simply tell him what information it is that I require of him;
and if he evinces any disinclination to speak, I shall add that he will
be kept without food or drink until he communicates it," placidly
answered the professor.

"And supposing that he should tell you a pack of lies?" suggested
Lethbridge.

"Oh, he will not do that, I think," replied von Schalckenberg.  "He is a
cruel, unscrupulous, and absolutely selfish man, but, if I have read his
character aright, we shall also find that he is far too much of a coward
to attempt to deceive us."

"But what if he should?" persisted the colonel.

"In that case, as soon as I make the discovery that he has deceived me,
I shall tell him that he will be kept without food or drink until
Colonel Sziszkinski has been found and is actually in our hands,"
answered the professor, triumphantly.

"It appears to me," remarked Mildmay, reflectively, "that unless Count
Vasilovich keeps his weather eye lifting, there is rather a rough time
ahead of him."

"There is, in any case," observed von Schalckenberg, "but it will be no
part of my plan to tell him so until I have obtained from him all the
information that I require."

"Well," said Sir Reginald, "having secured our man, and compelled him to
divulge all the information we require of him, what will be our next
step?"

"We shall proceed forthwith to Odessa, and ascertain, first of all,
whether the convict-ship has sailed," answered the professor.  "If she
has not, I shall make it my business to see her, and to take such
particular notice of her name and appearance that I may be able to
identify her again at sight; but if, as I anticipate, she has sailed, I
shall find out, if possible, the date of her sailing, her name, rig,
tonnage, and any other particulars that will help us to recognise her
when we see her.  If she has not sailed, it will be necessary for us to
lie in wait for her either in the Black Sea or wherever else may be
deemed a suitable spot at which to effect her capture; while, if she has
sailed, we shall simply go in pursuit of her."



CHAPTER FIVE.

THE BEGINNING OF A STRANGE VOYAGE.

"Just so," remarked Sir Reginald.  "And here," he continued, "it seems
to me that we reach the most important point in the whole adventure.
This convict-ship will, of course, carry a small detachment of troops as
a guard over the convicts; do you think that we four are sufficient to
capture a ship carrying a crew of, say, thirty or forty men, with
probably, a like number of soldiers?"

The professor seemed to be rather taken aback at this question.

"It has not occurred to me that there will be any difficulty in the
matter," he answered.  "What do our military friends say?"

"Well," responded the colonel, "the task you propose to set us seems to
be, at first sight, rather a tall order.  Remember, we have thus far had
no experience of the capabilities of the _Flying Fish_ as a fighting
ship; and, to tell you the truth, I have almost forgotten the details of
her armament, and how it is worked."

"I have not," answered Mildmay.  "She is fitted with a torpedo port
for'ard, for firing what the professor called `torpedo-shells'; two
10-inch breech-loading rifled guns, fired through ports in the
dining-saloon, and six Maxim guns, fired from the upper deck, to say
nothing of small-arms.  Such an armament is ample for every occasion
which is at all likely to arise; and if the professor will only furnish
me with the particulars of which he has spoken, as to the sailing and so
on of the ship, I will undertake to find and capture her.  But I presume
you are all fully aware that such capture will be an act of piracy?"

"Y-e-es," replied Sir Reginald, hesitatingly; "but thus far I have been
influenced by the conviction that the end justifies the means.  Still,
if you, Mildmay, or you, Lethbridge, have any qualms of conscience--"

"`Nary a qualm,' as our cousins, the Yankees, would say," answered
Mildmay, cheerfully; "only, remember this, we must take the whole onus
and responsibility of the act upon our own shoulders; we must show no
colours--unless you feel disposed to sport a `Jolly Roger' for this
occasion only.  What I particularly mean is, that we must take care not
to betray our nationality, and so involve Great Britain in a difficulty
with Russia.  So long as that contingency is avoided, I shall be ready
to become a pirate of as deep a dye as you please."

"We will take whatever precautions you may deem necessary in that
respect," answered Sir Reginald; "in fact, I thought it was quite
understood by us all that every such precaution _would_ be taken, or I
would have especially mentioned the matter.  And now, Professor, as to
the disposal of Vasilovich--when we have caught him.  Your idea, I
believe, is to hand him over to the authorities aboard the convict-ship,
in place of Colonel Sziszkinski; but will the authorities accept him,
think you?"

"Yes," said the professor, "I believe they will.  So long as they are
able to account satisfactorily at Sakhalien for the full number of
convicts placed in their charge, I do not think they will care whether
one of them declares himself to be Count Vasilovich, or not; they will
simply assign to him the number which Colonel Sziszkinski now bears, and
that will end the matter.  If not, we must maroon the fellow upon some
spot from which it will be practically impossible for him to escape, as
he is altogether too wicked a man to be permitted the opportunity to
perpetrate further wrong."

"Oh, we will find a means of satisfactorily disposing of the fellow,
never fear," rejoined Sir Reginald.  "And now, our plan of campaign
being complete, when do we start?  To-night?"

"That is for you to say," answered the professor.  "So far as the
capture of Vasilovich is concerned, if we arrive within sight of his
chateau by nightfall, or in time to berth the _Flying Fish_ in his park
with the last of the daylight, we shall be quite early enough.  And if
the weather happens to remain calm, as it is at present, we can
accomplish the run from here to Saint Petersburg in eight hours; while,
with a moderately fresh breeze against us, we can do the distance in
about nine and a half hours.  But we must not forget that Saint
Petersburg time is two hours and five minutes fast on Greenwich time,
and we must make our dispositions accordingly.  Taking everything into
consideration, I am of opinion that if we leave here to-morrow morning
about seven o'clock, it will be early enough.

"There is, however, one other point to consider: I presume you will
desire to attract as little attention as possible; in which event I
would suggest that a start from here should be made, say, about two
hours before daylight to-morrow morning, which will afford us time to
make a long circular sweep in a north-easterly direction, clearing the
British Isles before dawn.  After that we shall almost certainly meet
with weather which will enable us to conceal our movements by remaining
all day above the lower cloud level, a mode of procedure which will
possess the further recommendation of being advantageous to your
daughter's health by keeping her in a dry, pure, bracing atmosphere."

"Such an arrangement would mean that we must all take up our quarters on
board to-night," remarked Sir Reginald.  "How would that suit your
convenience, dear?" he inquired of Lady Olivia.

"Quite well," answered her ladyship.  "Everything that Ida or I shall
require is already on board, and, so far as we are concerned, it makes
no difference whether we go on board immediately, or some time
to-morrow.  Only, if you should decide to accept Professor von
Schalckenberg's suggestion, I should like to know soon, as it is nearly
Ida's bedtime; and if we are to start early to-morrow morning, I will
send her and Nurse on board at once."

And so it was presently arranged, the whole party making their way to
the ship together, and there and then taking possession of their
quarters.

It wanted a few minutes of four o'clock the next morning, when Professor
von Schalckenberg rose from his couch and, wrapping himself in a
gorgeous dressing-gown, made his way quietly to one of the luxurious
bathrooms with which the _Flying Fish_ was fitted, where he took his
matutinal cold tub, returning, a quarter of an hour later, to his cabin,
fresh and vigorous, to find that, according to orders, George, the chief
steward, had already brought a cup of coffee for his delectation while
dressing.  And punctually at a quarter to five the professor might have
been seen making his way, on slippered feet, into the pilot-house.
Arrived there, he turned on an electric light of moderate power and,
with the assistance of the illumination thus furnished, peered about him
as he satisfied himself that everything was in perfect order.  Then he
laid his hand upon the crank of a large wheel within reach, and gave the
wheel three or four turns, directing his gaze, meanwhile, upon two large
dials which were attached, side by side, to the wall of the pilot-house.
Each of these dials was provided with an index hand, both of which
began to move almost simultaneously with the first movement of the large
wheel by the professor.  One of the dials was simply a very sensitive
and accurate pressure gauge; the other was an instrument for registering
the weight of the ship, or the pressure with which she bore upon the
ground.  The index hands of both dials were travelling backwards towards
zero along their respective graduated arcs; and simultaneously with the
registration by the pressure gauge of a pressure of six pounds--which
indicated the air-pressure in the air-chambers of the ship--the other
dial registered zero, thus indicating that the partial exhaustion of the
air in the air-chambers had rendered the ship so buoyant that she was
now deprived of weight and was upon the point of floating upward,
balloon-like, in the air.  Another moment, and the incredible was
happening; the ship had become converted into a gigantic metallic
balloon, and the professor, extinguishing the electric light which
illuminated the interior of the pilot-house, peered out through one of
the circular ports in the walls of the structure, to see by the
starlight that the _Flying Fish_ had already left the earth, and, in the
still air, was rising in a perfectly horizontal position past the tops
of the trees in the park.

"Good!" muttered the lonely scientist to himself.  "Everything works
just as sweetly as it did that night, six years ago, when we backed out
of the building-shed on the banks of the Thames, and started upon our
first memorable journey!"

He reversed the great wheel controlling the valve which admitted the
vapour that drove the air out of the air-chambers of the great ship,
thus creating a vacuum there by the subsequent and almost instant
condensation of the vapour, and, softly made his way out on deck where,
walking to the rail, he looked forth upon the landscape that was dimly
widening out beneath him as the _Flying Fish_ continued to float gently
upward.

It was a beautifully fine, clear, starlit night, without the faintest
suspicion of a cloud anywhere in the soft, velvety blue-black dome of
the sky; and presently, when the professor's eyes had grown accustomed
to the dim, mysterious radiance of the twinkling constellations, he was
able to see the landscape steadily unfolding around him like a map, in a
rapidly widening circle, as the great ship steadily attained an
ever-increasing altitude in the breathless atmosphere.  For some ten
minutes the scientist remained thoughtfully leaning upon the rail,
watching the noble expanse of park beneath him dwindle into a mere dark,
insignificant blot upon the face of the country, dotted here and there
with feebly twinkling lights, until the sleeping waters of the Channel
came into view to the southward.  Then he returned to the pilot-house,
turned on the electric light once more, and glanced at the barometer.
It registered a height of nearly six thousand feet above the sea-level.
This seemed to satisfy the professor; for he opened a valve which
admitted air into the hull, leaving it open until the mercury ceased to
fall in the tube.  Then he drew from his pocket a paper which he had
obtained from Mildmay a few hours before, carefully studied for a few
moments the instructions written thereon, and, refolding the paper,
began to manipulate certain of the levers and valves by which he was
surrounded.  As he did so a gentle, scarcely perceptible thrill stirred
the gigantic structure which bore him--a humming sound, low at first,
but rapidly increasing in intensity, arose and came floating in through
the pilot-house windows--all of which the professor thereupon closed--
and, seizing the tiller, the lone watcher thrust it gently over, fixing
his gaze meanwhile upon the illuminated compass card of the binnacle.
Presently a certain point on the compass card floated round opposite the
"lubber's mark," whereupon the professor pulled toward him a small lever
upon which he had laid his hand, and two slender steel arms forthwith
slid in through a slit in the side of the compass bowl, one on each side
of a slender needle that projected up through the edge of the compass
card.  This ingenious piece of mechanism at once caused the ship to
become self-steering.  Then the professor gave three or four turns to a
wheel which controlled the valve admitting vapour to the engine,
throwing the valve wide open, whereupon the humming sound suddenly rose
to a loud and rather high, but pleasing, note as the huge propeller
whirled round at its full speed of one thousand revolutions per minute.
At the same moment the professor noted the exact time by a clock that
formed a portion of the complicated furniture of the pilot-house, and
then, seating himself in a comfortable deck chair, he proceeded to make
certain calculations upon a leaf of a notebook which he drew from his
pocket.  At the expiration of a period of twenty minutes the professor
threw the self-steering apparatus out of gear for a moment, altered the
course a trifle to the eastward, threw the self-steering apparatus into
gear again, and waited another twenty minutes, when the same process was
repeated a second time, and so on, a slight alteration of the ship's
course being effected at intervals of twenty minutes.  The professor was
causing the ship to make the long, circular sweep of which he had spoken
to Sir Reginald a few hours earlier.

At length, as the lonely scientist sat there in the pilot-house, plunged
in deep thought, and mechanically performing the simple operations
necessary to enable him to alter the course of the ship from time to
time, the mirror-like discs of the scuttles in the walls of the
pilot-house gradually underwent a subtle change of colour--from deepest
black, through an infinite variety of shades of grey, to a pure, rich
blue which, in its turn, merged into a delicate primrose hue, while the
incandescent lamp in the dome-like roof of the structure as gradually
lost its radiance until it became a mere white-hot thread in the growing
flood of cold morning light.  Meanwhile the moment arrived for a further
alteration in the course of the ship; and as the professor rose to his
feet to effect it he realised that not only had the day broken, but also
the sun was about to rise, for long, spoke-like shafts of clear white
light were radiating upward into the blue from a point broad on the
starboard bow.

As he realised this, he reached forward, turned a button, and the
glowing film of the electric lamp overhead dulled into blackness and
disappeared.

Then, stepping to one of the scuttles, the professor looked out through
the thick disc of plate-glass, and beheld a sight of beauty that is
given only to the adventurous few to look upon--a sea of dense, opaque,
fleecy cloud, white as the driven snow in the high lights, with its
irregular surface, some sixteen hundred feet below, broken up into a
thousand tender, delicate, pearly shadows that came and went, and
momentarily changed their tints as the _Flying Fish_ swept over them at
a speed of one hundred and twenty miles an hour.

"Ha, ha!" exclaimed the professor, as he gazed forth upon the wondrous
sight.  "Good!  I expected as much.  Now we are safe from observation so
long as this cloud-bank intervenes between us and the earth; when it
passes away we must--But what am I thinking about?  The sun is about to
rise.  I must call her ladyship, and my little friend Feodorovna--it
will be far too splendid a sight for them to lose!"

So saying the worthy man turned and hurried down the staircase toward
what may be termed the main, or principal, deck of the ship.  As he
descended he became aware of the sound of gay voices, male and female;
and when he reached the vestibule he found one of the doors of the
dining-saloon wide open.  It was from this apartment that the voices
proceeded, and, entering, he found the entire party--with the exception
of little Ida and her nurse--seated at the table, warmly attired, and
partaking of coffee.

"Hillo, Professor, good morning!" shouted Sir Reginald, as his eyes fell
upon the newcomer.  "You are just in the nick of time.  George, a cup of
coffee for Herr von Schalckenberg!  So you have made a start, Professor;
but you must have done it very gently, for none of us was awakened by
the movement of the ship.  Where are we now?"

"If it is as calm now as it was when we started, we ought to be over the
mouth of the Humber, and just leaving the shores of England behind us,"
answered the professor.  "But I cannot tell for certain," he continued,
"because, as you may have noticed, there is a dense sea of cloud below
us, through which we can see nothing.  My object in leaving the
pilot-house was to call Lady Elphinstone and my young friend,
Feodorovna, to come up and see the sun rise over the clouds.  But you
must come up at once, or you will be too late."

"Where are we to go, Professor--out on the deck?" asked Lady
Elphinstone.

"Certainly not, dear lady," answered the professor, earnestly.  "You
must witness the phenomenon through the closed windows of the
pilot-house.  If you were to go out on deck, you would be swept away in
a moment by the hurricane force of the wind created by the ship as she
rushes through the atmosphere.  And if perchance you were fortunate
enough to escape being blown overboard, you would be made seriously ill
by the sudden change, from the dense air which you are now breathing, to
the highly rarefied air outside.  For this same reason it is also
necessary that, while the ship is in flight, all ports and doors
communicating with the exterior atmosphere should be kept tightly
closed.  But come, the sun is rising," he said, as a flash of golden
light darted in through the scuttles; "you must not miss this sight."

With one accord the whole party rose and followed the professor, as he
eagerly led the way up the double flight of steps into the upper storey
of the pilot-house; and in another moment the two ladies were
advantageously placed at two contiguous scuttles whence they could
obtain the best possible view of the phenomenon, while the men grouped
themselves elsewhere.

It was a magnificent spectacle upon which the party looked out.  Beneath
them, and as far as the eye could reach on every hand, stretched the
vast, unbroken sea of cloud, heaped together in gigantic masses of the
most extraordinary shapes, as though some giant hand had strewn a
boundless plain with great, carelessly heaped piles of light, soft,
fleecy, snow-white cotton wool, over the eastern edge of which the sun
was just rising into view, while his brilliant, lance-like beams darted
and played over and through the piles of vapour in a glory of prismatic
colour that beggared description.  The beauty and glory of the scene
consisted indeed solely in the shimmering and shifting play of every
conceivable shade and tone of richest and purest and most brilliant
colour; and its most charming effect lasted only a brief minute or two,
when the colours gradually became lost in an all-pervading white of
dazzling purity.

"It was lovely, Professor; the most beautiful sight I have ever beheld,"
exclaimed Lady Elphinstone, as she presently turned away from the
ice-cold glass of the scuttle.  "What did you think of it, dear?" to
Feodorovna.

"I can only say, with you, dear Lady Elphinstone, that it was the most
beautiful sight I have ever beheld," answered Feodorovna.  "It was as
wonderful, too, as it was beautiful, but an even greater wonder, to me,
is the undoubted fact that this huge--ship, I suppose I must call it--is
actually floating in the air at a greater altitude than the clouds
themselves.  Although I know it to be the case, from the evidence of my
own senses, my imagination is scarcely powerful enough to realise the
circumstance as a sober fact.  And I am lost in wonder, too, at the
magnificence of everything around me.  The ship is literally a palace;
and everything is so solid and substantial that, although I know myself
to be hundreds--perhaps thousands--of feet above the earth, I have not a
particle of fear!"

"Fear?" exclaimed the professor, with a laugh.  "You would not be
Colonel Sziszkinski's daughter if you were afraid.  But in very truth
there is nothing to be afraid of, here; this ship is as safe as any ship
that ever rode the sea; and for precisely the same reason.  In the case
of an ocean ship, she will float upon the sea so long as the water is
excluded from her hull; and, in the same way, _this_ ship will float in
the air so long as the air is excluded from her vacuum chambers.  The
same natural law applies in both cases."



CHAPTER SIX.

THE CHATEAU VASILOVICH.

"How long do you think we have been flying over this sea of cloud,
Professor?" demanded Mildmay, as the party turned to leave the
pilot-house.

"I am ashamed to say that I cannot reply to that question," answered the
professor.  "The fact is," he continued, "that I have been so busily
thinking about our adventure of to-night, and endeavouring to arrange
for every possible contingency, that I failed to notice when we first
encountered the cloud.  Why do you ask?"

"Well, I heard you tell Sir Reginald, when you came down into the
dining-saloon a little while ago, that, according to your reckoning, we
ought to be somewhere off the mouth of the Humber.  Now, don't you think
it would be a good plan for us to dip below this cloud-bank for a minute
or two, just to verify our position?"

"Certainly; we will do so, if you wish," answered the professor, with
the utmost readiness.  And therewith he manipulated a lever and a valve,
and turned to the ladies, who were now in the act of descending the
pilot-house staircase.

"If you care to wait a minute or two, ladies," said he, "you will have
an opportunity to go out on deck and take a look round, while the
Captain, here, is making his observations.  I have stopped the engines,
so that there will be no danger of your being blown overboard; and we
are now sinking rapidly, so that presently we shall be low enough to
enable you to breathe without difficulty."

Even as von Schalckenberg spoke it became evident that the _Flying Fish_
was descending, for she now plunged suddenly into the very heart of the
sea of cloud, where she was in a moment enveloped in a dense mist
through which nothing could be seen, not even the two ends of the
promenade deck.  For nearly a minute the airship remained wrapped in the
fleecy whiteness of the cloud stratum, then she emerged as suddenly as
she had plunged into it.  At the same moment the professor manipulated
another valve, intently watching the barometer-tube meanwhile; and
presently it became apparent that the descending movement had ceased,
and that the _Flying Fish_ was hanging suspended in mid-air, about a
thousand feet below the vast cloud-veil that now obscured the heavens.

"Now," he remarked, as he joined the party, who were standing at the
foot of the pilot-house staircase, "we may venture outside; we are only
three thousand feet above the sea-level, and the ship is almost
motionless.  Permit me."

So saying, the professor threw open the door giving egress to the deck,
and the whole party passed outside into the raw, nipping morning air.

With one consent the whole party made straight for the rail, and looked
downward, past the bulging sides of the ship, until their gaze rested
upon the grey sea below, the sight of which proved that the professor's
calculations could not be very far wrong.  The first glance at the
far-spreading sheet of water at which they were gazing sufficed to show
that, thus far, the calm of the preceding night still continued
unbroken, for the surface was as smooth and lustrous as that of
plate-glass, save where, here and there, a steamer or two--dwindled to
the dimensions of toys--ploughed up a ripple on either bow that swept
away astern, diverging as it went, until it gradually faded and was lost
a mile away.  In addition to the steamers, there were perhaps a dozen
sailing craft--colliers and fishing-smacks, mostly--in sight, the
wrinkling canvas of which, as they rolled gently upon the invisible
swell, with their bows pointing all round the compass, afforded further
confirmation, if such were needed, of the absolute stillness of the
atmosphere.

Meanwhile, Mildmay, after a single glance over the side, walked aft to
the extremity of the promenade deck, whence he levelled a pair of
powerful binoculars into the misty distance for a minute or two.  Then,
apparently satisfied, he closed the glasses, and walked forward to where
von Schalckenberg was chatting to the others, and directing their
attention to such objects as happened to be in sight.  As Mildmay
approached, the professor turned to him and said--

"Well, Captain, have you succeeded in identifying our position?"

"Thanks, yes," answered Mildmay.  "The air is not very clear this
morning, but I have just managed to make out Spurn Point and the mouth
of the Humber in the far distance, astern.  I have no doubt, therefore,
that your reckoning is absolutely correct.  It is just in the single
matter of keeping a `dead reckoning' that an ocean ship has the
advantage of this craft.  In the ocean the currents flow in fairly
well-defined courses, and at moderate and pretty well-known rates; it is
therefore an easy matter to make proper allowance for them.  But up
aloft, here, the speed and direction of the air-currents are so
uncertain that it is impossible to take them into one's calculations;
hence it becomes necessary to check one's reckoning by means of frequent
observations."

"Do you think that any of the people in those ships down there will see
us?" asked Feodorovna.  "We can see them very plainly, and it is only
reasonable, therefore, to suppose that they can see us equally plainly.
Yet, when I looked at them just now through Sir Reginald's telescope, I
could not detect any indication that we were seen.  One would suppose
that the sight of such an enormous object as this, floating in the air,
would occasion tremendous excitement among the beholders."

"And no doubt it would; indeed, we have had proof that such is the case
whenever we happen to be seen," replied the professor.  "But we have
also had the best of reasons for believing that this polished hull of
ours, perfectly reflecting, as it does, every hue and tint of the
surrounding atmosphere, renders it difficult, if not impossible, to
distinguish the ship when she is afloat among the clouds.  Nevertheless,
you have reminded us that some keen-eyed individual may by chance
discover our presence, so, as we are really anxious not to attract
attention, we may as well get above the clouds again, when you have all
looked your fill."

This hint proved sufficient, and five minutes later the _Flying Fish_
was once more above the clouds, with the pilot-house door and every
scuttle closed, sweeping to the northward and eastward at full speed.

At length, well on in the afternoon, the professor announced that,
according to his reckoning, they had reached their destination, and the
engines were stopped.  It had remained cloudy all day, and after that
one brief descent early in the morning, nothing had been seen.  Mildmay,
after studying the clouds attentively, was of opinion that a breeze had
sprung up, and had been blowing for some two or three hours--a
circumstance that, if his opinion proved correct, would have an
important influence upon their position--and he was anxious to ascertain
how far his surmise was verified by facts.  A descent was therefore
effected until the ship was once more below the cloud curtain, when it
was found that, instead of being immediately over the city of Saint
Petersburg--as she should have been, according to the professor's
reckoning--the _Flying Fish_ was floating almost exactly over a town of
considerable size situate on the northern shore of a lake of somewhat
triangular shape, measuring some forty-five miles long by about twenty
miles wide.  This town the professor, who knew this part of Russia well,
at once identified as Novgorod, nearly a hundred miles south of Saint
Petersburg.  Captain Mildmay's suspicions were thus confirmed, and a set
of observations that were at once taken revealed the fact that the
_Flying Fish_ was drifting southward with the wind at the brisk pace of
close upon thirty miles an hour.  This, however, was a matter of no
great consequence, since the travellers had plenty of time in hand.  The
direction and speed of the wind having been ascertained, due allowance
was made for it, the engines were once more sent ahead, the course was
altered, and in a trifle over an hour the _Flying Fish_ was within sight
of the towers and spires of the Russian capital.  The engines were then
slowed down again until the ship was just stemming the fresh breeze that
was now blowing, and an ascent was made until the cloud canopy had been
once more placed between the ship and the earth, thus preventing any
possibility of premature discovery.

This altitude was maintained until the sun had set magnificently beneath
the cloud horizon, when the four men entered the pilot-house and, the
professor taking charge as pilot, the descent to Pargolovo was very
leisurely commenced.

The chateau of Count Vasilovich was situate on the western side of the
lake and on the northern slope of the hills that stretch away in the
direction of Konnaia, at a point as nearly as possible eight miles from
the northern bank of the Neva; and as soon as the _Flying Fish_ emerged
from the stratum of cloud that shrouded the landscape, the professor
went out on deck with his binoculars to look for the spot at which he
had decided that the great ship was to be brought to earth.  He soon
found it, and shouted his instructions to Mildmay, who was tending the
helm and the engines; and twenty minutes later the descent was quietly
and safely accomplished, the _Flying Fish_ finding a very easy berth
among some trees, within a hundred yards of the road leading from the
park entrance to the chateau, and within a mile of the latter.

It was by this time a quarter to seven, Russian time.  The professor,
therefore, and Mildmay, who had volunteered to accompany him, quickly
made their way down the spiral staircase to the trap-door in the bottom
of the ship, and let themselves out, carefully closing the trap behind
them.

The night was overcast, dark, and inclined to be stormy, a cold, bleak,
blusterous, northerly breeze was blowing off the lake and roaring
through the branches of the leafless trees, and the look of the sky
threatened rain; yet the wide, white carriage-drive loomed up ghostly
through the darkness, and presently, when the eyes of the watchers grew
accustomed to the gloom, they found that it would be easy for them to
discern a mounted figure on the road at a distance of a hundred yards or
so.  They sheltered themselves under the lee of a giant elm, and set
themselves patiently to await in silence the approach of their
unsuspecting prey.

The minutes sped slowly away, until at length it seemed to the two
watchers that they must have been in ambush for a full hour, yet neither
Vasilovich nor any other person had put in an appearance.  They began to
compare notes in a low voice, and at length Mildmay determined to run
the risk of striking a match for a moment to ascertain the time.  This
he did, von Schalckenberg assisting him to observe such precautions as
should insure the tiny, momentary flame against being seen.  Mildmay's
watch declared the hour to be a quarter to six, British time.

"Why, that makes it about ten minutes to eight, Russian time!" murmured
the captain, as he blew out the vesta.  "Do you think he has been
detained, Professor? or is it possible that he is no longer residing
here?  He may be away on a visit somewhere, you know."

"True, he _may_ be; but I do not believe he is; he is not a sufficiently
sociable man to render it at all likely that he is visiting, either in
Saint Petersburg or elsewhere," answered the professor.  "Of course," he
continued, "the man may have been detained, as you suggest; indeed, that
is probably the explanation of his non-appearance.  Or he may be
unwell--too unwell to leave his chateau.  Those are the only two
alternative explanations I can suggest to account for his
non-appearance."

"Well, what is to be done under the circumstances?" demanded Mildmay.
"Is it any use to wait here any longer, think you?"

"No," answered the professor, "I do not think it is; he is not likely to
pass here now, as he has not done so already.  I will go up to the
castle and ascertain his whereabouts."

"All right," returned Mildmay, "I will go with you.  It is scarcely safe
for you to go alone.  The fellow may--"

"Have no fear on my account, I beg," interrupted von Schalckenberg.  "I
assure you it will be quite safe for me to go alone; more safe, indeed,
than were two of us to go together, because in the latter case he
might--assuming that he is in the castle--suspect something, while if I
go alone he will suspect nothing."

"Very well," assented Mildmay, "let it be as you will.  But I will, at
all events, accompany you to the castle, and stand by, outside, to lend
you a hand if needful."

"You sailors are very masterful men," observed the professor; "you must
have your own way, I suppose.  But be careful that you are not seen by
anybody, as the suspicions of these Russians are easily aroused, and it
would then, perhaps, be very awkward for us both.  Shall we go at once?"

"Yes, certainly," answered Mildmay.  "But I think we had better return
to the ship for a moment, and acquaint Sir Reginald with our non-success
thus far, and what it is that we propose to do.  It is always well to
provide against contingencies as far as possible."

"Right!" assented the professor.  "Let us go at once.  I am chilled to
the bone with so long a waiting."

A quarter of an hour sufficed the pair to return to the ship, explain
the state of affairs to the rest of the party, and make their way back
to the spot at which they had been so patiently maintaining their watch;
and another half-hour of steady walking took them within sight of the
chateau, where Mildmay snugly ensconced himself behind a big clump of
laurels, through the boughs of which he was able to maintain a close
watch upon the main entrance of the building.

The chateau did not, in this instance, belie its designation, being, in
fact, a massive, gloomy-looking, castellated, stone building, with
battlements, turrets, small windows, a moat, a drawbridge, and a
portcullis, the lower portion of which showed in the head of the archway
that gave access to the interior of the building.  The drawbridge was
lowered, and, from his coign of vantage, Mildmay saw the professor
boldly cross it and walk up to the gate, through which, after a brief
parley with the gate-keeper, he disappeared.

Von Schalckenberg's inquiries were of a very prosaic and commonplace
nature.  He simply asked whether Count Vasilovich happened to be at
home; and upon being informed--somewhat to his surprise--that he was, he
scribbled a word or two in Russian upon one of his cards, and directed
the gate-keeper to send it up to the count at once.  The gate-keeper
very civilly invited the professor into his lodge, a small room formed
in the thickness of the castle wall, and, ringing a bell, sent in the
card by a servant who appeared some three or four minutes later.

An interval of some ten minutes now elapsed, during which the professor
warmed himself at the gate-keeper's fire, contriving meanwhile, by a few
skilfully put questions, to extract the information that, the count's
horse having fallen lame that day in the streets of Saint Petersburg,
Vasilovich had returned home by rail, and had reached the castle by way
of the other gate, which sufficiently accounted for the watchers having
missed him.

At length the servant who had taken in von Schalckenberg's card returned
with the information that the count would see the professor; and
forthwith the pair set out across the courtyard, entering the building
by way of a heavily studded oaken door, which the servant carefully
locked and barred behind him, to the momentary dismay of the visitor,
who was scarcely prepared to find the observance of so much precaution
on the part of the man whom he had come to take prisoner.  However, he
slipped his hands into the side pockets of his heavily furred overcoat,
and then withdrew them again with a quiet smile of renewed confidence;
he was essentially a man of resource, and his faith in himself quickly
reasserted itself.

The professor's conductor led him through a long, stone-vaulted passage,
dimly lighted at intervals by oil lamps, that flared and smoked in the
draughts that chased each other to and fro, until at the very end he
paused before a door, at which he knocked deferentially.  An
inarticulate growl answered from the other side, whereupon the servant
flung open the door, motioned von Schalckenberg to enter, and promptly
closed the portal behind him.

Pushing aside a heavy curtain, or _portiere_, that stretched across the
doorway, the professor found himself in a large and lofty room, ceiled
and wainscoted in oak, the walls hung with oil pictures so completely
darkened and obscured with smoke and grime that it was impossible to
distinguish what they were meant to depict.  The stone floor was
carpeted with skins, and a long, massive oak dining-table ran the length
of the room, which was lighted during the day by three heavily curtained
windows, and now by a solitary lamp.  At the far end of the room stood
one of the enormous porcelain stoves, which are such a feature of
Russian interiors, balanced at the other end by an immense sideboard.
The table was undraped, save at the far end, where sat, with his back to
the glowing stove, a burly, thick-set man, attired in an undress
military uniform.  He appeared to be about forty years of age; he wore
his hair cropped short, and his face was partially hidden by a heavy,
unkempt beard and moustache.  He had evidently just dined, for the
draped extremity of the table was littered with the remains of a repast,
he was smoking an immense pipe, while a tumbler of steaming vodki stood
close to his hand upon the table.  This individual was Count Vasilovich;
and he was alone.  He made no movement to rise at von Schalckenberg's
entrance, but stared intently at his visitor, twisting the card in his
hand in a nervous, impatient way.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

THE PROFESSOR BRINGS IN A PRISONER.

"I have met you before, I think, Herr Professor," Vasilovich at length
remarked.  "And your card says that you have important business with me.
What can I do for you?"

"You can do a great deal for me, Count," answered von Schalckenberg,
composedly.  "But first of all," he continued, "I have a little thing
here that I wish to show you; you are a connoisseur in such things, and
it will interest you."

So saying, the professor slipped his hand into his pocket, and produced
a pistol, made apparently of polished silver, but really of aethereum.
He held it by the barrel and offered it to the Count, remarking--

"There, Count, that is a simple enough weapon, to all appearance, is it
not?  Kindly examine it, and see if you can discover anything remarkable
about it."

A sudden look of terrified anxiety leapt into Vasilovich's eyes as the
professor produced the handsome little weapon; but the placid manner of
the latter as he tendered the pistol for examination seemed to reassure
him, and grasping the butt, he looked at it intently.

"Is the pistol an invention of yours which you wish the Russian
Government to adopt?" he demanded, as he turned the weapon about in his
hand, eyeing it curiously.

"That is as it may be," answered von Schalckenberg.  "At present,
knowing you to be, perhaps, as good a judge as any man in Russia of such
tools, I merely wish to obtain your unbiassed opinion of its merits."

"Its merits?" demanded Vasilovich, impatiently.  "What _are_ its merits?
I see nothing peculiar about it excepting this cylinder from which the
barrel projects.  Is that a magazine?"

"It is," answered the professor; "it accommodates twenty cartridges.
But that is not the most extraordinary thing about it.  Can you discover
the method of firing the weapon?"

"No," answered Vasilovich, "I cannot.  I was about to ask you as to
that."

"It is perfectly simple.  Permit me," remarked the professor, in the
easiest and most matter-of-fact tone imaginable.  And, so saying, he
took the pistol from Vasilovich's unresisting hand.

"There are still two other peculiarities connected with this weapon,"
remarked von Schalckenberg; "namely, the marvellous rapidity with which
it can be fired, and the fact that it is absolutely noiseless when
discharged.  Please observe, Count.  You see those two decanters upon
the table?  Kindly fix your eyes upon their stoppers."

The decanters referred to were standing upon the table, some twelve
paces distant from von Schalckenberg, and some eight feet apart, where
they had been carelessly placed by the servant before leaving the count
to the solitary enjoyment of his tobacco and vodki.  As the professor
spoke, he suddenly raised his hand and levelled the pistol with
lightning quickness first at one decanter and then at the other.  There
was a sharp _clink-clink_, and the tops of the smashed stoppers fell
upon the table all but simultaneously.

Vasilovich looked astounded.  He stared first at the decanters, then at
von Schalckenberg, then back again at the decanters.

"Did you break those stoppers by firing at them with that pistol?" he at
length demanded, in a tone of mingled apprehension and rage.

"Certainly," answered the professor, placidly.  "Did you not see me do
it, or was I rather too quick for you?  Shall I do the trick again?
Just watch the _necks_ of the decanters this time--"

"Stop!" shouted Vasilovich, springing from his chair in a paroxysm of
fury.  "How dare you, you scoundrel!  What do you mean by coming here
and destroying my property in this insolent way, eh?"  And he reached
towards a hand-bell that stood near him on the table.

"Sit down, and keep your hand from that bell," retorted von
Schalckenberg, sternly, levelling the pistol, quick as light, at the
count's head.  "Utter a sound above a whisper, or move so much as an
eyelid, and I will riddle your worthless brain with bullets.  My little
exhibition just now was simply intended to convey to you, in a
thoroughly practical manner, some idea of the capabilities of this
weapon of mine.  I have fired two shots from it, and there are
consequently eighteen left; furthermore, I have another weapon of the
same kind in my other pocket, fully loaded.  I have, therefore,
thirty-eight shots at my disposal, and, if I please, I can kill you so
silently that no one shall be any the wiser.  And I will do it, too,
without a moment's hesitation, if you refuse to give me the information
I require.  Do you understand me?"

"Yes, I understand you," answered Vasilovich, slowly and reluctantly, as
his fascinated gaze peered down the barrel of the pistol with which von
Schalckenberg relentlessly continued to cover him.  "What is it you
want?"

"I want the _truth_ as to the present whereabouts of Colonel
Sziszkinski.  I know all about his imprisonment, at your instigation, in
the fortress of Peter and Paul.  Is he there still?" demanded the
professor.  "Consider before answering," he continued, "and remember
that I want the _truth_.  I shall not trust to your statements, I shall
verify them through other sources of information; and I caution you to
be very careful indeed in what you say, because if you dare to lie to
me, or to withhold from me the smallest scrap of information, or to
deceive me in any way, you will simply be pronouncing your own
death-sentence."

"There is no need to caution me so elaborately," retorted the count.  "I
have no objection to giving you the information you require, and I give
it the more readily that it will not be of the slightest use to you.
You are a friend of Sziszkinski's, I presume, and your anxiety to
ascertain his present whereabouts leads me to suppose that you may have
planned some mad scheme to effect his rescue.  If so, it will perhaps be
a disappointment to you to learn that he left Odessa this afternoon, as
a convict, bound to Sakhalien, on board the convict-steamer _Ludwig
Gadd_, from which ship, and from the officials in charge of her, no
human power can now deliver him."

"Have you any proof of the truth of what you say?" demanded von
Schalckenberg, still keeping his pistol levelled at the count's head.

"Yes," answered Vasilovich, with a ring of triumph in his voice; "I
received a telegram this afternoon from Odessa, informing me of the
departure of the _Ludwig Gadd_, with Sziszkinski on board."

"Is that telegram still in your possession?" inquired von Schalckenberg.

"Certainly it is," answered Vasilovich; "it is in my breast pocket.
Would you like to see it?"

"Yes," replied the professor, "I should.  Produce it, if you please.
But," he continued, warningly, "be very careful what you are about; bear
in mind that I am covering you, and I warn you that if I detect the
slightest appearance of haste in your movements, or if you produce
anything except the telegram from your pocket, I shall shoot you,
without a particle of compunction."

The count, keeping a wary eye upon von Schalckenberg, proceeded, with
much care and deliberation, to feel in his pocket for the telegram,
which he presently produced, in its envelope, and placed upon the table
before him.

"Are you sure that is it?" demanded von Schalckenberg.

"Quite certain," responded Vasilovich.

"Then, have the goodness to take it out of the envelope and spread it
open on the table," commanded the professor.

Without a word, Vasilovich did as he was ordered.

"Now," resumed the professor, "rise from your chair, turn your back to
me, and march slowly forward until you are against the wall.  March!"

"Confound you!" exclaimed Vasilovich, his eyes gleaming with fury, "you
will not give me a chance!"  And he rose, obedient to von
Schalckenberg's command, faced about, and moved forward to the wall, the
professor following him until the telegram was within his reach, when he
stretched out his hand, took possession of the document and, still
watching his prisoner out of the corner of his eye, read as follows, in
Russian--

"Convict-steamer _Ludwig Gadd_ just sailed for Sakhalien with
Sziszkinski safe on board.

"Tchernigov."

The message was dated that same day, and timed as having been despatched
from Odessa at four-forty.

"Thank you; that will do," remarked von Schalckenberg, as he thrust the
paper into his pocket.  "Now," he continued, "I want you to take a walk
with me in the park.  We shall pass out through the principal entrance
of the chateau.  But I wish to warn you again to be extremely careful,
for I assure you that your life hangs by a hair, and if I see that there
is even a possibility of anything going wrong I shall shoot you at once,
taking my chance with your servants afterwards.  So, in the event of our
encountering any of your domestics on our way out, you will instantly
order them to retire.  Now, sir, have the goodness to lead the way."

And, as the professor spoke, he laid upon the table a document setting
forth the fact that Count Vasilovich had been "removed," as a punishment
for the many crimes of which he had been guilty.

The glitter of deadly hate in Vasilovich's eyes as he faced round and
began to move, in obedience to von Schalckenberg's order, warned the
latter to be on his guard; but the professor was not the man to be taken
unawares in the prosecution of such an adventure as he had now
undertaken, and no doubt Vasilovich saw it, for he led the way so
circumspectly as to show plainly that he fully appreciated the imminent
peril of his situation.  Fortunately for both, perhaps, no one was
encountered, either in the house or in the courtyard, as the pair made
their way toward the park; and a whispered reminder from von
Schalckenberg proved sufficiently effectual to carry them safely past
the gate-keeper's room.  Once clear of this point, the rest was easy,
and a few minutes later, as the pair passed a clump of laurels, Mildmay
stepped forward from his place of concealment and stationed himself on
the other side of the prisoner remarking cheerfully--

"So you have captured your man, eh, Professor?  Had you any trouble with
him?  I was beginning to feel a trifle anxious about you."

Thereupon the professor proceeded to relate briefly his experiences at
the chateau, thus beguiling the way until the curiously assorted trio
reached the _Flying Fish_, at the vast bulk of which Vasilovich stared
in stupefied amazement.  His captors, however, afforded him but scant
time for indulgence in surprise or conjecture, conveying him forthwith
to the tank chamber, wherein they securely locked him, taking the
additional precaution of placing his hands and feet in fetters and
attaching him thereby to a ring-bolt, thus rendering it absolutely
impossible for him to do the slightest mischief.  Having made everything
secure, they hastily changed their attire and joined the rest of the
party in the drawing-room, preparatory to sitting down to dinner.

The chief topic of conversation at the dinner-table that night had,
naturally, more or less direct reference to the professor's capture of
the tyrant, Vasilovich, and everybody was keenly anxious to learn from
von Schalckenberg the full details of the feat.  There was nothing for
it, therefore, but for the hero of the adventure to describe the
incident _in extenso_.  When the relation came to an end Colonel
Lethbridge remarked--

"Well, all I can say, Professor, is that it was an exceedingly plucky
thing to attempt, and you appear to have carried it through with the
most admirable nerve and _sangfroid_.  Were you not afraid that the
fellow would raise an alarm and bring all his retainers about you, like
a nest of hornets?  Had he done so, you would have been a lost man!"

"No doubt," assented von Schalckenberg, imperturbably.  "And of course I
had to take the risk of his doing so.  But I succeeded in thoroughly
convincing him that any attempt of that kind, however successful it
might be, would not help him in the least, because I should shoot him
dead at the first indication of such an intention, and long before
assistance could possibly arrive.  And, as I had anticipated, his regard
for his own life was sufficient to deter him from throwing it away for
the sake of the very doubtful posthumous gratification of knowing that
he had placed mine in jeopardy.  In a word, he was simply too great a
coward to risk so much for the sake of mere revenge."

"Well," observed Mildmay, "it was as magnificent an exhibition of
`bluff' as I have ever heard of.  You have been completely successful
thus far, Professor; and now, the most difficult part of your scheme
being accomplished, I see no reason whatever why we should not be
equally successful in the other part; in which event," turning to
Feodorovna, "I shall hope to have the pleasure of witnessing your
reunion with your father to-morrow."

"Oh, Captain--oh, Sir Reginald!" she exclaimed, the tears starting to
her eyes, "if you can but compass that I will for ever bless and pray
for you all!"  And, springing to her feet, the poor girl retreated
precipitately to her cabin to conceal her emotion.

"The next question that arises," remarked Sir Reginald, discreetly
ignoring the young lady's hurried retreat, "is: At what time ought we to
start in pursuit of the convict-ship?"

He seemed to address this question to the professor, who shrugged his
shoulders expressively as he replied--

"That is for our friend Mildmay to say; he will know better than any of
the rest of us what will be the most favourable hour at which to
overtake her."

Thus appealed to, Mildmay replied--

"Oh, I should say about daylight; call it half-past six to-morrow
morning.  That will necessitate our starting from here at--um!  Before I
can determine that I must see which way the wind is, and at what
strength it is blowing.  I will have a look round on deck after dinner,
and let you all know."

Accordingly, as soon as Lady Olivia had retired from the table, Mildmay
rose from his seat, went on deck, and returned in about five minutes
with the information that a bitterly keen, northerly wind was blowing at
a strength of about twenty miles an hour.

"That," he remarked, "is a dead fair wind for us, and will enable us to
progress at the rate of one hundred and forty miles an hour over the
ground, if we proceed at full speed, and we shall therefore--Stop a
moment; I must work this out on paper."

He drew an envelope from his pocket and proceeded to make a few rapid
calculations upon it.

"Yes," he resumed at length, as he ran over his figures a second time,
"that is right.  If we start at midnight we shall--assuming the wind to
hold all the way as it is now--overtake the convict-ship about half-past
six o'clock to-morrow morning at a point, say, one hundred and
sixty-five miles south of Odessa, which is practically halfway across
the Black Sea.  The time and place are both suitable, and I do not think
that we can do better."

As this was essentially a point for a sailor to decide, the other
members of the party at once fell in with this virtual proposal of
Mildmay's, and it was forthwith agreed, without further discussion, that
a start should be made at midnight.  The men then rose and joined the
ladies in the drawing-room, or music-room, as the apartment was
indifferently called.

This music-room was a most noble chamber, both as to dimensions and
appearance, being the largest room in the ship.  It was situated
immediately abaft the dining-saloon, from which access to it was gained.
It was, however, a much larger apartment than the other, being, like
the dining-saloon, the full width of the ship, and forty feet in length
between the fore and after bulkheads, its height being ten feet to the
lower edge of the massive and richly moulded cornice from which sprang
the coved and panelled ceiling.  The walls were divided up into panels
by a series of fluted pilasters surmounted by elegantly and fancifully
moulded capitals upon which rested the above-mentioned cornice.
Centrally between the pilasters, the side walls of the apartment were
pierced with circular ports, or windows, about eighteen inches in
diameter, glazed with plate-glass of enormous thickness that had been
specially toughened, by a process invented by the professor, to enable
it to withstand the terrific pressure to which it would be subjected
when the ship should be submerged to great depths in the ocean.  The
frames of these ports consisted of foliated wreaths of polished
aethereum, presenting the appearance of burnished silver, and were
exceedingly decorative in effect.  A light rod of aethereum above each
port carried a number of burnished rings from which drooped handsome
lace curtains, that could either be looped back or allowed to veil the
window, according to the fancy of the occupants.  Above these, again,
were hung a number of exquisite pictures in water-colour.  The floor was
covered with a very rich and handsome Turkey carpet, into which one sank
almost to the ankles, as into a thick bed of soft moss; chairs, couches,
and divans of exquisite shape and seductive capacity were scattered here
and there about the apartment, and at its fore or wider end stood, close
together, a grand piano and a chamber organ, both in superbly modelled
aethereum cases, and both, it need scarcely be said, of the finest
quality and workmanship obtainable; while the narrower or after end was
almost filled by a capacious electric stove, or fireplace, with a most
singularly handsome mantelpiece, supported on either side by a
beautifully modelled female figure.  The centre of the mantelpiece was
occupied by a handsome clock, having a set of silvery chimes for the
quarters and a deep, rich-toned gong for the hours, and on either side
of it were a number of elegantly shaped vases, full of choice hot-house
flowers.  But the most striking feature of the whole apartment was its
beautiful coved and panelled ceiling, with its exquisitely moulded
interlacing ribs, the choice and dainty paintings that adorned its
panels, and the magnificent skylight that occupied its centre.  This
skylight, it may be mentioned, was such only in appearance, as it did
not pierce the deck or derive its light from the outside; it was merely
a fanciful and decorative device of the professor's, the light emanating
from a series of electric lamps shaded by coloured glass screens, so
tinted as to permit, by the simple manipulation of certain concealed
mirrors, the effect of every description of light, from that of the
unclouded midday sun, through every gradation of morning or afternoon
light, to that of sunset, the softest dusk of evening, or even the light
of the full moon.

The apartment presented a charmingly cosy and comfortable as well as
attractive appearance as the four men entered it, the electric stove
emitting a cheerful glow and diffusing just the right degree of warmth,
while an afternoon effect of brilliant sunlight streamed richly down
through the magnificent stained-glass of the skylight in the centre of
the ceiling.  Lady Olivia and her guest, the young Russian girl, were
sitting together on a large divan, in close contiguity to a handsome
music cabinet, turning over books and sheets of music, for Feodorovna
had consented to sing, and was now searching her hostess's stock of
music in quest of something with which she was familiar.

"Ach, that is good!" exclaimed the professor, as he noted the occupation
of the ladies and guessed its import.  "My little Feodorovna is about to
sing?  Then we shall all have a treat, for let me tell you, Lady Olivia,
that my young friend possesses the voice of an angel, and the knowledge
how to use it properly.  Now, what is it to be?  Tschaikowski,
Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Handel, Mozart?  Ah, here is something that
will suit your voice, little one, `Caro mio ben!' by Giuseppe Giordani--
quaint, delicate, old-fashioned.  Come, I will play your accompaniment
for you."  And, taking the girl's hand, von Schalckenberg, who was an
accomplished as well as an enthusiastic musician, led her to the piano,
at which he forthwith seated himself and at once proceeded to play, with
crisp yet delicate touch and manifest enjoyment, the prelude to the
song.

And then, indeed, as the professor had promised, the listeners had a
treat, for Mlle. Sziszkinski's voice was of a rare quality, rich, pure,
flexible, clear as a silver bell, under perfect control, sympathetic,
and peculiarly adapted to render with precisely the correct feeling the
pleading words--

"Caro mio ben, credimi almen, senza di te languisce il cor," etcetera.

Tears gathered in her fine eyes as she sang, and the final note of the
song was almost a sob; for she possessed the comparatively rare ability
to evolve the feeling and sentiment of the words she sang and make them
her own, thus bringing them home to the hearts of those who listened.
Yet she laughingly apologised for herself the next moment, as she turned
away from the piano, upon receiving the hearty thanks of her little
audience; for, although she was a true artist, she was entirely free
from any morbidity of feeling, being, in fact, a perfectly natural,
light-hearted girl.  And her gay and cheerful disposition was already
reasserting itself now that, if she might accept the assurances of the
professor and her new-found friends, her father's troubles were nearing
their end, and his deliverance from persecution was a matter of but a
few hours more.

Then the professor sang a rollicking German students' song.  He was
followed by Lady Olivia, who sang Gounod's "Ave Maria," accompanied by
her husband on the piano, and the professor on the organ.  Then Mildmay
produced his violin.  And so the time slipped rapidly on until the clock
upon the mantelpiece struck the hour of midnight, when "Good-nights"
were said, and the ladies retired to their respective cabins; while the
four men wended their way to the pilot-house to indulge in a final
smoke, and incidentally to raise the _Flying Fish_ into the air and
start her upon her long flight across Russia, from north to south.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE RESCUE.

It was a matter of but a few moments to raise the _Flying Fish_ five
thousand feet into the air, start her engines, and head her on her
course for Odessa, which lies practically due south of Saint Petersburg.
Then, there being no mountains in the way--nothing, in fact, that, at
the height of five thousand feet, could possibly interfere with their
flight--the little party retired to their respective cabins and turned
in, leaving the great ship to take care of herself and pursue her way
unwatched; Mildmay and the professor undertaking to rise betimes in the
morning and call the other two early enough to assist in the capture--
for that was what it amounted to--of the convict-ship.

Mildmay possessed the very useful faculty of being able to awake at any
prearranged moment, and, in the exercise of this faculty, he rose from
his cot as the first faint streaks of dawn filtered in through the port
of his berth, and proceeded forthwith to the bathroom, growing
conscious, as he went, of the fact that the temperature had become very
much milder during the last few hours.  This, however, was only what
might be naturally expected, since the ship had been speeding to the
southward all through the night at the rate of one hundred and twenty
miles per hour, in addition to such further speed as she might have
derived from the favourable gale that had been aiding her flight.

The rise of temperature, however, had not perceptibly communicated
itself to the water of the bath, which the gallant captain found to be
icy cold.  There was, therefore, no temptation for him to linger, and a
few brief minutes sufficed him to complete his ablutions and return to
his cabin, rousing the professor as he went.  Then, dressing with the
expedition of a seaman, he wended his way to the pilot-house, where,
some ten minutes later, he was joined by von Schalckenberg, who in his
turn was quickly followed by George, bearing on a tray two cups of
scalding hot coffee and a small plate of biscuits.

The light of the coming day had by this time so far increased that the
occupants of the pilot-house were enabled to see somewhat of their
surroundings.  The first discovery made by them was that they had outrun
the gale of the previous night, and were now sweeping through an
atmosphere that, judging from the appearance of the few small shreds of
cloud that floated about and above them, must be nearly or quite
motionless.  And the next was that, as a result of this change of
weather, the _Flying Fish_ was fully one hundred miles from the spot
where, in accordance with their calculations of the previous night, she
ought at that moment to have been.  According to those calculations she
ought then to have been clear of the land and well out over the Black
Sea, whereas the land was still beneath the ship, although, so clear was
the atmosphere, the gleam of sea could just be detected on the extreme
verge of the southern horizon, some eighty-five miles ahead.  But this,
after all, was a matter of very trifling import; it would defer the
capture of the _Ludwig Gadd_ to the extent of about an hour only, which
Mildmay and the professor agreed was "neither here nor there."
Meanwhile, there was just one trifling item of preparation to be
attended to, and, having leisurely imbibed their morning coffee and
munched a biscuit or two, they stopped the engines of the _Flying Fish_,
and retired from the pilot-house to attend to it.  Treading noiselessly
in their india rubber-soled shoes, they descended to one of the
storerooms, throwing open the door giving access to the deck on their
way, and there loaded themselves with a number of queer-looking objects
constructed of aethereum, with which they wended their way to the deck.
Arrived here, they sought out a certain spot on the deck, about midway
between the pilot-house and the fore end of the superstructure, and
quite close to the port rail; and, having found it, they at once
proceeded to remove three small aethereum discs from the deck,
disclosing three sunk bolt-holes so arranged as to form the angles of an
equilateral triangle measuring eighteen inches along each side.  The top
ends of the bolts in these holes revealed themselves about a quarter of
an inch below the level of the deck, and were easily grasped by the
fingers and drawn upward by about a couple of inches.  Over these three
bolts a base-piece was next carefully arranged, which done, the nuts
were put on to the bolt-ends and screwed up tight by means of a spanner.
Then, upon this base-piece was rapidly built up the component parts of
what, upon completion, proved to be a Maxim gun, constructed entirely of
aethereum, with an aethereum shield or turret, cylindrically shaped in
such a manner as to protect completely the entire person of the gunner,
the whole affair being so arranged that the gun could be trained in any
direction by the inmate of the shield.  The mounting of this gun and
shield, and the placing in position of an entire case of cartridges in
readiness for firing, occupied the two men but a bare quarter of an
hour, at the expiration of which time they returned to the pilot-house,
closed the door, and once more sent the engines ahead at full speed.
Meanwhile the pause, that had been necessary to enable them to execute
this task in comfort to themselves, had enabled them to determine the
fact that the atmosphere was practically in a state of calm, the ship
having revealed no perceptible drift in any direction, when once she had
lost her "way" or momentum through the air after the stoppage of her
engines.

The pair had scarcely settled themselves again comfortably in the
pilot-house when the sun rose, and they found themselves sweeping at
headlong speed over a vast plain intersected by a perfect network of
streams and rivers, and dotted here and there with towns and villages, a
few of which they were able to identify by means of a map which they
opened and spread out upon the table before them.  Minute by minute the
sea, gleaming like a polished mirror in the light of the new-born day,
spread itself ever more broadly before and to the left of them, and soon
the indentation of Odessa Bay, with the town stretching along its
southern margin, came into view.  They now decided that the moment had
arrived when the remaining male members of the party ought to be called.
The professor accordingly retired to perform this service, and
presently returned with the information that Sir Reginald and Colonel
Lethbridge were already astir and taking their coffee in the
dining-room.  A few minutes later these two gentlemen made their
appearance in the pilot-house with a cheery "Good morning" to Mildmay.

"The professor tells us that Odessa is in sight," remarked Sir Reginald,
peering ahead through one of the ports.  "Is that the place, right
ahead, on the far side of the bay, with the two lakes beyond it?"

"Yes," answered Mildmay, "that is Odessa.  But what you take to be the
second lake--the more distant and larger sheet of water--is Dniester
Bay, the estuary of the river Dniester; and if you will look away there
into the far distance on our right, you will catch glimpses here and
there of the stream winding through the landscape."

"Yes, of course; I see it quite distinctly," returned Sir Reginald; "and
the broad sheet of water ahead and on our port bow, I take it, is the
Black Sea.  When do you expect to sight the convict-ship?"

"In the course of the next hour I hope to be alongside her," answered
Mildmay.  "Fortunately for us, the weather is gloriously clear, and we
ought, therefore, to sight her at a very considerable distance.
Furthermore, since we know, within a very few miles, precisely where to
look for her, I think we need not anticipate any difficulty in the
matter of identification.  And, once alongside her, I propose to make
short work of the job, even should she happen to be in company with
other ships.  For, in such an event, no other craft--unless, indeed, she
should happen to be a Russian man-o'-war--will be in the least degree
likely to interfere with us."

"Have you decided upon your plan of operation?" demanded Lethbridge.

"Yes," answered Mildmay.  "I propose that as soon as we have sighted and
identified the steamer, we sink to the surface of the water, and
approach our quarry in the character of an ordinary ship of more or less
mysterious appearance, for by so doing we shall render our own
identification all the more difficult.  It will be necessary that the
professor and I should remain here in the pilot-house--I to manoeuvre
the _Flying Fish_, and the professor, prompted by me, to do the hailing
part of the business, since he is the only man among us who can make
himself thoroughly intelligible in the Russian language.  We have
mounted one of our Maxims, as you have, doubtless, already observed; for
it is improbable that the skipper of the other craft will concede our
demands until we have convinced him of our power to enforce them, and I
shall therefore be obliged to request one of you two gentlemen to take
charge of the gun, while the other stations himself in the torpedo-room
for'ard, and stands by to fire a torpedo-shell if necessary."

"Very well," said Sir Reginald.  "I will take the Maxim, and Lethbridge
will no doubt attend to the torpedo part of the business.  But I hope,"
he added, "it will not be necessary to use one of those terrible shells,
for, if it is, the loss of life will be frightful."

"Not necessarily," said the professor.  "Mildmay and I have talked the
matter over together, and our gallant friend is confident of his ability
to manoeuvre the _Flying Fish_ so that the firing of a shell shall
result in nothing more serious than the destruction of the
convict-ship's rudder and propeller, thus completely disabling her
without imperilling her safety."

"Very well," rather reluctantly assented the baronet; "if that can be
done, well and good, but for pity's sake, Mildmay, be very careful what
you do."

"I will," responded Mildmay.  "I am not altogether without hope that we
may be able to accomplish our purpose without the necessity to resort to
so stringent a measure as the firing of a shell; and in any case I
promise you that I will only do so after all other means have failed.
But here we are, clear of the land at last; and we must alter our course
a point and a half to the westward to intercept the chase."

It was exactly thirty-six minutes later, by the clock in the
pilot-house, that Mildmay, peering out through one of the port-holes,
pointed straight ahead, and exclaimed--

"There she is!  There cannot be any mistake about it, for yonder steamer
is exactly where the _Ludwig Gadd_ ought to be; and there is no other
craft anywhere in sight."

The other three men forthwith stepped to the nearest port that would
afford a view of the chase, and gazed eagerly ahead.  And there,
immediately over the long, tapering, conical-pointed bow of the _Flying
Fish_ they beheld, some ten miles distant, a small, faintly denned grey
blotch on the mirror-like surface of the sea, with a trail of black
smoke issuing from it, as though the furnaces on board her had just been
freshly stoked.

"We will descend and take to the water at once," remarked Mildmay.  "The
conditions could not possibly be more favourable for the success of our
plans; and I take it that we shall all be glad to get this business over
as soon as possible, and our suspense brought to an end."

Therewith he laid his hand upon a small wheel, and gave it two or three
turns, thus partially opening the main air-valve and admitting a thin
stream of air into the vacuum chambers of the _Flying Fish_, with the
result that the huge craft at once began to settle down toward the
surface of the sea, upon which, a few minutes later, she floated
buoyantly as a soap-bubble.  Then the main air-pumps were set to work,
forcing compressed air into the vacuum chambers, and causing the ship to
sink very gradually in the water, while at the same time, to facilitate
the operation of sinking, water was admitted into certain of the ballast
chambers in the ship's bottom until she floated at her ordinary trim for
cruising on the surface of the sea--that is to say, with the whole of
her immense propeller completely submerged, and her conical-pointed bow
buried to the depth of a foot or so.  During this operation of
submergence the engines had been stopped, but they were now sent ahead
again at full speed; and some ten minutes later the singular-looking
craft ranged up on the weather quarter of a big black-hulled steamer of
about three thousand tons register, the round stern of which bore the
name of _Ludwig Gadd_ in large, yellow-painted Russian characters.  This
alone was sufficient to identify her beyond question as the convict-ship
of which they were in search; but if further evidence had been needed it
was to be found in the "pen"--a stout, substantially built wooden
structure of closely set palings, about ten feet high, that occupied
nearly the whole of the fore-deck, except a narrow alley-way on each
side of it to allow of the passage of the crew fore and aft, and which
included the great main hatchway, the covers of which had been replaced
by a stout grating, with a small aperture in it just large enough for a
man to squeeze through, and at which a soldier with a loaded rifle stood
guard.

There were not many people visible about the convict-ship's decks, for
the hour was still early, and the business of the day had not yet
begun--although, had she been British, her crew would already have been
at the job of washing the decks and scouring the paint and brass-work.
But here a solitary seaman slouched to and fro on the topgallant
forecastle, keeping a perfunctory lookout; two or three others lolled
over the rail forward, staring in stupid, open-mouthed wonderment at the
silver shape of the _Flying Fish_; and the officer of the watch paced
the bridge athwartships with an air of great importance, pausing for a
moment every time he passed the compass, to glance into its bowl, or
murmur a word to quicken the vigilance of the helmsman.

As the _Flying Fish_, her name temporarily masked by tarpaulins
carelessly dropped over it, ranged up on the other craft's starboard
quarter, close enough to heave a biscuit aboard her, this man paused in
his strutting march, and, standing at the extreme end of the bridge,
gazed with quite visible perturbation at the strange apparition that
seemed to have sprung from nowhere in particular within a very few
minutes; and presently, having meanwhile seemingly made up his mind that
what he beheld was really a ship, hailed in Russian--

"Ho, the ship ahoy!  Port your helm, and sheer off a bit; you'll be
aboard me if you are not careful!"  At the same time he waved his hand
to his own helmsman to starboard his helm.

But Mildmay was a British naval officer--a man who, by training and the
tradition of the Service, had acquired the habit of prompt resolution,
and an equal promptitude of action in the conversion of such resolution
into an accomplished fact.  The helmsman of the _Ludwig Gadd_,
therefore, had scarcely begun to revolve his steering-wheel ere the
_Flying Fish_, with her speed accurately reduced to that of the other
vessel, had sheered still closer, while von Schalckenberg, prompted by
his companion, hailed in Russian, through one of the pilot-house ports--

"_Ludwig Gadd_, ahoy!  Is your captain on deck?"

"No, he is not," bawled back the Russian officer.  "Why should he be on
deck at this unearthly hour of the morning?  And if you do not instantly
sheer off, I will give orders to my men to open fire upon you!  What do
you want? and what do you mean by sheering up alongside me in this
manner?"

The professor rapidly translated this communication to Mildmay, and at
once, again prompted by the latter, replied--

"Be good enough to stop your engines at once, sir, and send a message to
your captain that his presence is required on the bridge.  I have an
important communication to make to him.  And, for your own sake, you
will do well to say nothing about opening fire upon us; for, as you may
see for yourself, our machine-gun is already trained to sweep your
decks, while a single torpedo would suffice to blow you out of the
water.  I beg to assure you that resistance is quite useless; you are
absolutely at our mercy, and you will therefore be well advised to yield
prompt obedience to our request!"

The Russian stood staring with mingled fury and bewilderment for a few
seconds; and then, having apparently arrived at the conclusion that
discretion would perhaps in this case prove the better part of valour,
he laid his hand upon the engine-room telegraph apparatus.  A tinkling
of bells in the ship's interior was distinctly heard by those aboard the
_Flying Fish_, and presently the churning of water about the
convict-ship's rudder suddenly ceased, showing that her engines had been
stopped.  At the same moment the officer on her bridge called a sailor
to him, and, with a few brief words, undistinguishable to those in the
_Flying Fish's_ pilot-house, dispatched him to the interior of the
vessel.

It is probable that the skipper of the _Ludwig Gadd_ had already been
awakened by the hailing that had passed between the two craft, for in
less than five minutes he emerged from the cabin under the poop, and,
making his way forward, leisurely ascended to the bridge, where he was
at once accosted by the officer in charge.  He listened gravely to this
individual's communication, glancing with much curiosity meanwhile at
the strange glittering shape that floated quietly close alongside, and
then, striding to the starboard extremity of the narrow structure upon
which he stood, he hailed, in true nautical fashion--

"Ship ahoy!  What ship is that?"

"Are you the captain of the _Ludwig Gadd_?" hailed back the professor,
ignoring the previous question.

"Ay, ay," answered the skipper, waving his hand impatiently.  "Who are
you, and what do you want?"

"You have on board your ship a certain Colonel Sziszkinski, who is being
transported as a convict.  Is it not so?" answered the professor.

"How do you suppose _I_ should know?" yelled back the skipper, savagely.
"I know nothing whatever about the convicts aboard here.  If your
business has to do with any of them, you had better see the officer who
is going out in charge of them."

"Of course," commented Mildmay, when this had been translated to him.
"I ought to have thought of that.  Ask him to send for the fellow to
come up on to the bridge."

This was done; and about a quarter of an hour later a man attired in a
green military uniform, with a sword belted to his side, and spurs
screwed to the heels of his boots, ascended to the bridge and was
promptly engaged in conference by the skipper.  Presently the latter
came to the starboard end of the bridge, accompanied by the soldier, and
hailed--

"This is Captain Popovski, the officer in charge of the convicts.  He
desires to know what is your business with him."

"Tell him," returned von Schalckenberg, "that we have on board a
prisoner to be exchanged for Colonel Sziszkinski, who has been unjustly
condemned."

The Russian soldier and sailor conferred together for a moment, and then
the latter hailed--

"You have, of course, a proper warrant for this exchange?"

"No," answered the professor; "we have no warrant beyond our power to
enforce our demands.  Yet I think this should be sufficient, since we
can sink you in an instant if you are foolish enough to prove
contumacious.  Be good enough, therefore, to bring Colonel Sziszkinski
on deck at once, and send him, unhurt, aboard us.  In exchange for him
we will hand you over a man who calls himself Count Vasilovich."

The two Russian officers again conferred together for several minutes,
frequently directing their glances at the _Flying Fish_, as though
searching her for confirmatory evidence of her power to enforce her
crew's demands; and at length the Russian skipper, facing about, waved
his hand and shouted--

"All right; we are willing to make the exchange.  One prisoner is as
good as another to us, so long as we can show the number contained on
our list.  We will send the colonel to you forthwith."

And thereupon he faced about and gave certain orders to his subordinate
officer, who in his turn bawled an order to the boatswain to pipe away
one of the quarter boats.  The soldier, meanwhile, descended from the
bridge and went below, doubtless to issue his own orders for the release
of the prisoner.  A minute later some Russian sailors were seen to go
shambling aft aboard the convict-ship and busy themselves upon the task
of lowering a boat, which they presently got afloat and took to the
_Ludwig Gadd's_ gangway.  And at this point in the proceedings Mildmay
shouted through the speaking-tube to Lethbridge that no torpedo-shells
would be required; and would he be good enough to bring Vasilovich up on
deck, in readiness to hand the fellow over in exchange for the colonel.

Lethbridge proved much more prompt in action than the people on board
the convict-ship, and within three minutes of the receipt by him of
Mildmay's communication he stood upon the deck of the _Flying Fish_, in
the company of von Schalckenberg and Vasilovich, awaiting the arrival of
the boat by means of which the exchange of prisoners was to be effected.

The amazement of Vasilovich was profound at finding himself afloat in
the open sea, with the convict-ship--the name on the bows and stern of
which was easily decipherable by him--close alongside.  He stared
alternately about him and at the steamer that lay gently heaving upon
the slight swell within a biscuit-toss of him with an expression of
mingled bewilderment and incredulity that proved highly diverting to the
two men between whom he stood; and presently, turning to the professor,
he gasped--

"Why, Herr Professor, what does this mean?  When you last night called
upon me I was in my own chateau at Pargolovo; and when you compelled me
to enter this ship--if ship it is--it was stationary on dry land.  Now
it is afloat, upon the waters of the Black Sea, if I am to believe my
eyes!  I cannot understand it!  What does it mean?"

"It means, Count," replied von Schalckenberg, "that what you deemed an
impossibility has been accomplished.  When you received that telegram
yesterday, announcing the departure of the _Ludwig Gadd_ from Odessa,
with Colonel Sziszkinski on board her as a convict, you believed that a
man who had dared to oppose certain nefarious plans of yours had at
length been effectually removed from your path, and was at the same time
undergoing a wholesome punishment for his temerity.  Instead of which,
you and he are about to change places; you to go on board the _Ludwig
Gadd_ as a convict, there and in the island of Sakhalien to pay the
inadequate penalty of your countless offences, and the colonel to come
here, as our honoured guest, until we are able to place him and his
daughter, finally and for ever, beyond the reach of other tyrants like
yourself."

"Sziszkinski and I to change places?" ejaculated Vasilovich.  "That
shall never be!  I know not who you are--you people who have perpetrated
this monstrous outrage upon a faithful servant and personal friend of
the Tsar--but I know this, that ere long you will curse the day upon
which you planned it.  Think you that his Majesty will allow such
colossal insolence as yours to go unpunished?  I tell you that--but
enough; I will not degrade myself by further bandying of words with
you."

The professor duly translated this blustering speech to Colonel
Lethbridge, causing the latter to smile, at sight of which Vasilovich
ground his teeth, and cursed the two men roundly in Russian.  But he was
biding his time.  He saw that a boat from the convict-ship was about to
visit the strange craft on board which he found himself; he noted the
fact that his abductors apparently consisted of four men only; and he
confidently believed that upon the arrival of the boat alongside it
would but be necessary for him to declare himself to her crew, and issue
to them his orders, to insure the capture of the strangers and their
extraordinary ship, out of hand.  Meanwhile the convict-ship's gig, with
four oarsmen and a coxswain in her, was hanging on to the foot of her
parent vessel's gangway-ladder; and presently a file of Russian
soldiers, with bayonets fixed, were seen to approach the gangway,
escorting between them a prisoner.  Arrived at the gangway, one of the
two soldiers descended the ladder and seated himself in the stern-sheets
of the gig; the prisoner, heavily ironed, was next assisted down the
ship's side into the boat, where he seated himself beside the soldier
already there; and the second soldier then followed, placing himself on
the other side of the prisoner.  A few minutes then elapsed, at the
expiration of which the officer who had been presented as Captain
Popovski appeared at the gangway, and with much care and circumspection
lowered himself gingerly down the side-ladder into the gig, where he
seated himself square in the centre of the stern-sheets.  He then gave
an order to the coxswain, who repeated it to the boat's crew.  The bow
oarsman bore the boat off from the ship's side, the oar-blades flashed
into the water, and a minute later Captain Popovski was standing on the
deck of the _Flying Fish_, exchanging the most elaborate and ceremonious
of bows with von Schalckenberg and Lethbridge, as his small deep-set
eyes flashed fore and aft in inquisitive scrutiny of the few visible
details of the extraordinary ship on board which he found himself.  He
appeared as though about to speak, but the professor forestalled him.

"Captain Popovski," said von Schalckenberg, in Russian, "I have to
tender to you my most profound apologies for having thus somewhat
unceremoniously interrupted the progress of your voyage; but
unfortunately the information upon which I have acted came to me too
late to render any other course possible.  Knowing, however, how
unpleasant this delay must be to you, I propose to render it as brief as
may be.  Perhaps, therefore, you will have the goodness to give
instructions to your men to bring Colonel Sziszkinski up the side to us,
here, forthwith; and we can then proceed with and complete the exchange
at once."

The captain bowed, though the expression of his features betrayed the
disappointment he experienced at such extreme promptitude of action on
the part of the strangers in whose company he found himself.  His
curiosity had been very keenly aroused by the mysterious appearance of
the _Flying Fish_ upon the scene, by the peculiar and indeed unique
model and structure of the ship herself, and by the singular blending of
politeness with autocratic authority that characterised the demeanour of
her crew; and he had hoped that an offer of hospitality by the strangers
would have afforded him an opportunity to view the interior of the
strange craft, and thus perhaps have enabled him to pick up some few
scraps of information concerning her.  But clearly this was to be denied
him.  He therefore proceeded to the head of the gangway-ladder and gave
an order that presently resulted in the appearance of Colonel
Sziszkinski, accompanied by the two armed guards.

A single glance at the prisoner sufficed to satisfy von Schalckenberg
that Captain Popovski was acting in good faith.  He bowed to the
officer, and said--

"Yes, that is the man we want.  Will you have the goodness, Captain, to
direct your men to remove his fetters and put them upon this man,"--
indicating Vasilovich.

"Stop!" shouted Vasilovich, suddenly stepping forward a pace from the
position he had hitherto passively occupied between the professor and
Lethbridge, and throwing out his arm with an authoritative gesture
towards Captain Popovski.  "Stop!  I forbid you to take the slightest
notice of what that man says.  I am Count Vasilovich, a personal friend
of his Majesty the Emperor--you have no doubt often heard my name, and
are fully aware of the power and influence that I possess.  In the name
of his Majesty I command you to seize this ship and make prisoners of
these men whom you see here, and any other persons whom you may find on
board.  There are but four unarmed men here to oppose you, as you may
see, while there are four of us, three being armed.  Soldiers,
attention!"

He paused suddenly, for von Schalckenberg's hand was on his collar, and
von Schalckenberg's pistol-barrel was making its presence uncomfortably
felt as the muzzle pressed coldly against his scalp just behind the left
ear.

"What?" ejaculated the professor.  "Is it possible that you have so soon
forgotten the capabilities of this little toy of mine?  Be silent, man,
if you do not wish your sinful, misspent life to come to a sudden and
violent end.  I give you your choice: Will you die where you stand, or
will you go peaceably aboard yonder ship?"

"I will go," sullenly answered Vasilovich, through his clenched teeth.

"Good!" remarked von Schalckenberg, cheerfully.  "Proceed, Captain
Popovski, if you please."

The Russian officer, who had been watching this little scene with a
kindling eye and swiftly changing emotions, waved his hand to his men,
who at once stolidly proceeded to remove the fetters from the limbs of
Sziszkinski, and place them upon those of the savagely scowling count.

"You shall pay dearly for this outrage, Captain Popovski," hissed
Vasilovich, as he felt the cold iron being clamped round his wrists.
"Only wait until his Majesty--"

"Silence!" exclaimed Popovski, angrily.  "Remember that you are my
prisoner, and learn to treat me with proper respect.  If you give me the
least trouble I will have you flogged.  I have broken many a prouder
spirit than yours, my man, and doubt not that I can break yours also,
should it be necessary.  Now, march!"  And he waved his hand imperiously
toward the gangway, through which Count Vasilovich and the two soldiers
who had him in custody promptly disappeared.

"I trust, Captain, that your new prisoner is not going to give you
trouble," remarked the professor, blandly.

"I trust not--for his own sake," grimly replied Popovski.  "If he does,
I shall know how to deal with him."

He lingered for a moment, to afford the strangers an opportunity to
invite him below; then, perceiving that no such invitation was to be
forthcoming, he resumed--

"Well, monsieur, I presume that the exchange which you have forced upon
me is now completed, and I may go?"

"Undoubtedly," answered von Schalckenberg, with much suavity of manner.
"And take with you, Captain, the expression of our profound appreciation
of the extreme courtesy wherewith you have acceded to our request.
Believe me, monsieur, we shall never forget it, but shall consider
ourselves as for ever indebted to you.  I very deeply regret that the
exigencies of the situation render it impossible for me to invite you
below, but if you will allow me to summon a steward--"

"On no account whatever, monsieur," answered the captain, hiding his
chagrin in a grim smile.  "You are doubtless as eager as I am to
proceed.  I have, therefore, the honour to bid you a very good morning!"

And therewith, bowing low, he turned and passed through the gangway,
down the ladder, and so into his boat, which a few minutes later was
once more dangling at the davits of the convict-ship, while Count
Vasilovich was being inducted into his new quarters among his fellow
convicts.



CHAPTER NINE.

COLONEL SZISZKINSKI JOINS THE PARTY.

Meanwhile, during the progress of the foregoing scene, Colonel
Sziszkinski, so full of amazement at what was transpiring that he found
it difficult to persuade himself that he was not the victim of some
fantastic hallucination, stood silent and watchful where he had first
halted upon the deck of the _Flying Fish_.  He had, of course, upon the
instant of his arrival, recognised among the strangers who, for some
mysterious reason, were thus interfering with his affairs, the somewhat
remarkable personality of his old friend von Schalckenberg, and he was
also aware, from the exclamation of the professor, that the latter had
recognised him.  But the colonel had recently, in the course of his
prison experience, undergone a course of hard discipline that had
speedily impressed upon him the wisdom of keeping his eyes wide open and
his mouth close shut until he was absolutely sure of all the details of
any situation in which he might find himself.  Moreover, he had observed
that, although von Schalckenberg had unquestionably recognised him, the
professor had vouchsafed no sign indicative of the existence of such a
sentiment as friendship for him.  So, believing that there was doubtless
good reason for this, he remained an impassive but none the less
profoundly interested spectator of what was happening.  But no sooner
were Captain Popovski and his satellites fairly clear of the _Flying
Fish_ than von Schalckenberg darted forward and, seizing the colonel by
both hands, while his eyes beamed ardent friendship through the lenses
of his gold-rimmed spectacles, exclaimed--

"Ach! mein friend, now that that prying Russian has gone we may act and
speak freely!  Welcome, thrice welcome, my dear Boris; and all hearty
congratulations on your escape from a fate that, to a high-spirited
fellow like yourself, would have been far worse than death.  But come
and let me present you to my friends.  This,"--indicating the baronet,
who, seeing that he was no longer needed behind the Maxim, came
sauntering up--"is Sir Reginald Elphinstone, an Englishman, and the
owner of this good ship, the _Flying Fish_.  You have to thank your
daughter first, and Sir Reginald next, for your deliverance from the
hold of yonder convict-ship.  This is Colonel Lethbridge, late of the
British Army; and this is Captain Mildmay, whose retirement from the
British Navy has deprived his country of the services of one of her most
brilliant sailors.  This, gentlemen," he continued, "is my very
excellent friend, Colonel Sziszkinski, one of the Tsar's most faithful
and zealous officers, had his Majesty but known it!"

The party shook hands all round, and Sir Reginald, in a few well-chosen
words, bade the newcomer heartily welcome to the unique shelter afforded
by the _Flying Fish_ for as long a time as he chose to avail himself of
it.  Then the baronet led the way below, saying to his guest--

"Let me conduct you down into the saloon.  I rather fancy you will find
a quite agreeable little surprise awaiting you there."

The "agreeable little surprise"--in the shape of the colonel's
daughter--was indeed found, alone, awaiting the arrival of the newly
released convict in the music-room.  But we will imitate the delicacy of
those on board the _Flying Fish_, and leave father and daughter to
exchange greetings and confidences in private.

Meanwhile, Sir Reginald, having conducted his guest below, and witnessed
the first rapture of the meeting between father and daughter, returned
to the deck, where he found his three male companions standing together,
discussing the events of the last few hours, and watching the receding
convict-ship, which had resumed her voyage, and was by this time nearly
a mile distant.

"Well, Professor," he said, as he joined the group, "having happily
accomplished the rescue of your friend, what is to be our next move?"

"I have been thinking of that," answered von Schalckenberg; "and in view
of the fact that this expedition has been undertaken for the benefit of
your daughter's health, I would suggest that we work our way slowly
southward.  We are now exactly on the meridian of 30 degrees East
longitude, so our friend Mildmay informs me; and by following this
meridian southward we shall cross Asia Minor, hitting the coast some
fifty miles to the eastward of the Black Sea entrance to the Bosporus,
shave past the head of the Gulf of Ismid--which is the easternmost
extremity of the Sea of Marmora--and leave the coast again about halfway
between the island of Rhodes and Gulf of Adalia.  Then, crossing the
easternmost extremity of the Mediterranean Sea, we shall strike the
African coast at Alexandria--sighting the historic Bay of Aboukir--
passing over Lake Mareotis, and plunging into the Libyan Desert.  Then,
if you please, we can turn off at this point and follow the course of
the Nile, visiting the Pyramids, Memphis, Luxor, the ruins of ancient
Thebes, and all the rest of the interesting places that are to be found
on the borders of the grand old river.  But I do not advise this latter
course, for the Egypt of to-day simply swarms with tourists; and I
imagine that you, Sir Reginald, are not anxious to attract that
attention to this ship of yours which it would be practically impossible
for you to avoid by following up the course of the Nile."

"You are quite right, Professor.  We must avoid attention--that is to
say, the attention of civilised folk--as carefully as possible,"
answered Sir Reginald.  "Besides, I think we have all done Egypt pretty
thoroughly already.  Therefore I am in favour of continuing due south
into the very heart of Africa.  We can penetrate into solitudes that
ordinary travellers dare not attempt to reach, and I shall be rather
surprised if we do not find ourselves amply rewarded by some very
interesting discoveries, as was the case during our last cruise.
Furthermore, there are those unicorns to be hunted for afresh.  I shall
never be entirely happy until I have secured a perfect specimen or two
of those beautiful creatures."

"Ach, doze unicorns!" exclaimed von Schalckenberg, throwing out his
hands excitedly; "the very mention of them sets me longing to be after
them again.  Yes--yes, we certainly must not return home until we have
obtained a few specimens of so wonderful an animal.  Fortunately, the
record of our previous voyage enables us to know exactly where to search
for them."

"Quite so," assented Sir Reginald.  "I think, however, Professor, that
before we proceed further we ought to ascertain from your friend,
Colonel Sziszkinski, what are his views respecting the future of himself
and his daughter.  Of course, I hope it is scarcely necessary for me to
say that, as friends of yours, they are most heartily welcome to the
hospitality of the _Flying Fish_ for as long a time as they may care to
accept it; but it is just possible that the colonel may have some plan
that he would wish to put into operation without delay.  In that case it
appears to me that the greatest kindness on our part would be to convey
him forthwith to the scene of his new sphere of action."

"Ach! yes, that is true," agreed von Schalckenberg.  "We might discuss
the matter with Sziszkinski at the breakfast-table--the mention of which
reminds me that I am hungry, while my watch,"--withdrawing the article
mentioned from his pocket and glancing at it--"tells me that breakfast
ought now to be ready."

He glanced round the horizon, which was bare save for the rapidly
receding shape of the convict-ship, and continued--

"I see no reason why, with the approval of Captain Mildmay as our
navigator, we should not remain where we are until after breakfast, by
which time yonder ship will be out of sight, and there will be no one to
note our next movement.  There is no particular object in moving from
here, I think, until our point of immediate destination is fixed.  What
say you, Mildmay?"

"We can remain here perfectly well," agreed Mildmay.  "As you say, there
is no object in moving until we shall have decided in what direction the
movement is to be made, unless, indeed, Sir Reginald has an amendment to
make to your proposition."

"Not I," asserted the baronet.  "I quite agree with the professor.  Ah,
thank goodness, there is the breakfast bell!  This early morning air is
a most wonderful sharpener of the appetite.  Come, gentlemen, let us go
below; _the Flying Fish_ is quite capable of taking care of herself for
the next hour or so."

As the four men filed into the dining-saloon from the vestibule, they
were confronted by Lady Elphinstone and her little daughter, Ida, who
were entering the apartment at its other end, from the music-saloon,
where they had already made the acquaintance of Colonel Sziszkinski,
who, with his daughter, followed them a moment later.

The colonel--who since we saw him last, on the deck of the _Flying
Fish_, had exchanged his exceedingly ugly convict garb for a suit of
clothes sent to his cabin by Colonel Lethbridge, who was about the same
height and build as the Russian--was a decidedly good-looking man, still
in the very prime of life, tall and well set up, as a soldier should be,
with ruddy-flaxen hair, moustache, and beard, and a pair of deep blue
eyes that looked one straight and honestly in the face, and could, upon
occasion, flash very lightnings of righteous indignation.  The professor
could remember the time when it had been an easy matter to bring a
twinkle of rich humour into those same eyes; but, for the present, at
all events, all sense of humour had disappeared in face of the constant
humiliation and petty tyranny to which he had been subjected ever since
his arrest.  For the rest, he was an educated, polished, accomplished
gentleman, with the absolutely perfect manner that seems to come quite
naturally to so many of his countrymen of his own class.

Breakfast, as may be supposed, was an exceptionally cheerful meal that
morning, for Feodorovna Sziszkinski was exuberantly happy in the fact of
her father's marvellous rescue from a fate too dreadful for calm
contemplation; the colonel was happier still, if that were possible, for
the same reason, and because his release had come to him absolutely
without a second's warning or preparation; and the others were in
buoyant spirits at the knowledge that they had been able to make two
very worthy people happy, and that, too, with no trouble beyond what had
brought to them a little pleasant and exhilarating excitement.  The
conversation consisted, for the most part, in a recital by the colonel,
at von Schalckenberg's request, of his experiences while in prison, and
although he touched lightly upon some, and glossed over others, he still
told enough to arouse the deep indignation of his hearers and cause them
to rejoice further at having been the means of delivering him from a
condition of such acute and continuous misery.

At the conclusion of the meal the entire party adjourned to the deck to
take a look round and enjoy the deliciously soft and balmy air.  There
was nothing in sight, and therefore no particular reason why the _Flying
Fish_ should make an immediate move.  Sir Reginald, therefore, deftly so
arranged matters that, while Mildmay undertook to entertain Mlle.
Sziszkinski, and Lethbridge alternately chatted with Lady Olivia and
played with Ida, he got the lately liberated Russian and von
Schalckenberg to join him in a promenade at the other end of the deck
from that occupied by the rest of the party.  Colonel Sziszkinski, who
had, of course, already learned from his daughter the leading
particulars of the circumstances that had led up to his rescue, eagerly
seized this opportunity to reiterate to the baronet his most heartfelt
thanks for his astonishing and most unexpected deliverance, and this
afforded Sir Reginald the opening for which he was looking.

"My dear Colonel," he said, "I beg that you will not say another word
about it, for I assure you that it afforded us unmixed pleasure to
circumvent the plans of that scoundrel Vasilovich and deliver you from
his toils.  Had you been a total stranger to us all, it would still have
been a pleasant task to have done what we have done, in the somewhat
unlikely event of the facts of the case becoming known to us.  But you
happen to be a friend of our dear professor, here, and to be the friend
of one is to be the friend of all of us; and, that being the case, we
all felt bound to help you, even before we had heard the particulars of
your story from your charming daughter.  Now it happened that, just
before breakfast, while you were below, we four adventurers were
discussing the question of the direction in which we should next head
the _Flying Fish_--for I must explain to you that, although we have a
programme of a sort, it is a very elastic one, and subject to alteration
at short notice for any good and sufficient reason,--and we eventually
decided to settle nothing until we had consulted you.  It may be that,
having recovered your freedom, there are certain things that you would
desire to do; and if so, it will afford us the greatest possible
pleasure to assist you to the utmost of our ability.  If, on the other
hand, however, you have as yet no definite plans, let me now say that it
will give us _all_ the greatest possible satisfaction if you and your
daughter will afford us the pleasure of your society during our cruise,
or for so much of it as may be agreeable to you."

"Sir Reginald," exclaimed Sziszkinski, with some emotion, as he grasped
the baronet's extended hand, "I am completely at a loss for words in
which to express adequately the gratitude I feel for your most kindly
and generous offer.  You will, perhaps, the better be able to appreciate
the depth of my feeling when I explain to you that, through the
machinations of that villain Vasilovich, my daughter and I are, save for
your kindly hospitality, homeless, and--with the exception of any money
or jewellery that my daughter may possibly happen to have upon her
person--penniless.  Furthermore, apart from yourselves, we have not a
friend on the face of the earth to whom we can turn for help or
shelter--or rather, who would dare to risk the anger of the Tsar by
affording us either?  Nor have I, at this moment, any plans; for I know
only too well that any attempt to secure the reversal of my sentence and
the return of my confiscated property would be worse than useless, since
it would not only end in failure, but also put me for the second time in
the power of the Tsar.  I therefore accept your most kind invitation to
join your party as frankly as it was offered, and with my most hearty
thanks.  Doubtless, with the advantage of a few days' calm reflection, I
shall be able to evolve some scheme for our future."

"No doubt," assented Sir Reginald.  "But please do not be in any hurry
about it, for the longer you can find it convenient to remain with us,
the better shall we all be pleased.  And if you happen to be anything of
a sportsman, I think we may venture to promise you some sport quite
worth having, and of a rather unique kind?  Eh, Professor?"

"Aha," agreed the professor, "yes, that is so; those unicorns, for
instance."  And forthwith von Schalckenberg plunged animatedly into a
description of the wonderful animals, followed by a recital of the
exciting circumstances under which they had first been seen.

Shortly after this the three men rejoined the rest of the party at the
other end of the deck, Sir Reginald remarking--

"Good friends all, I have a little bit of pleasant news for you.  You
will be glad to learn that von Schalckenberg and I have, between us,
succeeded in inducing Colonel Sziszkinski to give us the pleasure of his
own and his daughter's company during a considerable portion, if not the
whole, of our cruise.  There is, therefore, no need for any alteration
of our arrangements, and we may proceed to carry out our original plan
of travelling slowly southwards.  The question now is whether we shall
continue our journey on the surface of the sea, or take to the air.
What say the ladies?"

Travelling upon the surface of the sea, it appeared, had no terrors for
the ladies; _mal de mer_ never troubled either of them; they were in no
hurry; they found the present conditions exceedingly pleasant, but had
no doubt that it would be equally pleasant to be flying through the air;
and so on, and so on; in short, they were in that pliant state of mind
that predisposed them to assent cordially to any proposal.  It was
therefore agreed to potter along on a due southerly course all day, at a
speed of about ten knots, giving a wide berth to any craft that they
might encounter on the way, and take to the air after nightfall,
availing themselves of the hours of darkness to accomplish their journey
across Asia Minor.  This arrangement was carried out in its entirety,
the party spending a very enjoyable day on deck, although there was
little or nothing to be seen, only two craft--both of them steamers--
being sighted during the day.  They were steering north, and were
hull-down, so that they probably failed to notice the presence of the
_Flying Fish_.  The Maxim gun, being no longer needed, was dismounted
again and stowed away, in accordance with a recognised rule that the
ship was always to be kept in condition for either mounting into the
air, or descending beneath the surface of the sea, at a moment's notice.

Nightfall found the voyagers about sixty miles distant from the southern
shore of the Black Sea, at which point they took to the air, rising to a
height of ten thousand feet, and, with a light air of wind from the
southward against them, increasing their speed to thirty-five knots.

Asia Minor is distinctly a hilly country, but there are no very lofty
elevations under the meridian of the thirtieth degree of east
longitude--along which the _Flying Fish_ was then running--nor, indeed,
in its immediate vicinity, until the southern coast is approached,
where, at a distance of about forty miles from the point at which the
travellers would again pass out over the water, and some twenty-five
miles to the left of their proper course, the Bei Dagh peak rises to a
height of ten thousand four hundred feet, while, a few miles farther on,
and quite near to their track, the highest peak of the Susuz Dagh range
rises still higher by one hundred and fifty feet.  The _Flying Fish_,
therefore, skimming along at a height of ten thousand feet only, was
liable to dash into either of these peaks if it so happened that she
chanced to encounter an air current to deflect her to the eastward of
her proper course.  This, however, was exceedingly unlikely, for at the
height of ten thousand feet above the earth she was in what is known as
"the calm belt" of the atmosphere, where the air-currents--when such
exist at all--are very sluggish.  The danger of collision with either of
the peaks above-mentioned was therefore so remote as to be hardly worth
consideration, and in any case it could not arise until the early hours
of the following morning.  It was therefore decided that there was no
need for the maintenance of an all-night watch in the pilot-house,
Mildmay undertaking to be up in good time to obviate any possibility of
danger.

The first flash of sunrise next morning found the _Flying Fish_ just
passing over the border between land and sea on the southern coast of
Asia Minor, with the Casteloriza Islands practically beneath her, the
Susuz range safely astern, the island of Rhodes, like a pink cloud,
broad abeam on the western horizon, and a soft, delicate purple outline
broad on the port bow, which Mildmay informed them all was the upper
portion of Mount Troados, the highest peak of the mountain range which
forms, as it were, the backbone of the island of Cyprus.  The ship was
still maintaining her height of ten thousand feet above the sea-level,
and her speed of thirty-five knots through the air, both of which
circumstances rendered it necessary for those on board her to make such
observations as they desired from the interior of the ship, the outside
air being too rarefied and keen, and the ship's speed through it too
rapid for exposure to it to be at all agreeable.  It was therefore
arranged that, as their passage across the Mediterranean was likely to
prove uninteresting, and there would therefore be no inducement for any
of them to go out on deck, that passage should be accomplished at full
speed.  The voyagers would then have time to dress and take breakfast at
leisure, and be ready to go out on deck to witness their arrival on the
African coast.

Accordingly, at a quarter to ten o'clock, ship's time, the _Flying Fish_
having been lowered to a distance of three thousand feet above
sea-level, and her speed reduced to about ten knots, the pilot-house
door was thrown open, and everybody passed out on deck, where they found
the air dry and pleasantly bracing, with a temperature of about
fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit.  They were still over the sea, but the
African coast was in plain view some five miles ahead, with the towers
and minarets of the city of Alexandria broad on their starboard bow,
showing quite distinctly in the lenses of their telescopes; while, at
about the same distance, on their port beam, Aboukir castle could be
distinguished, with the historic Bay of Aboukir beyond it.  Half an hour
later the great African continent was beneath them, and they were
looking down upon the ruins of Nicopolisisoi, the line of railway from
Alexandria to Rosetta, and the island-dotted Lake Mareotis.
Thenceforward, for the rest of the day there was but little of interest
to attract the attention of the travellers, apart from the fact that
during the afternoon they caught a distant glimpse of the Pyramids, with
Cairo beyond, on the far eastern horizon.  Finally, at the end of a very
pleasant day's progress across the desert, accomplished at a low rate of
speed on Ida's account, in order that she might not be subjected to a
too rapid change of temperature in their southward progress, after
enjoying the spectacle of a superb desert sunset, they came to earth for
the night some twenty-five miles west of Lake Birket el Keroon.

Progressing thus quietly, at the rate of about a hundred miles per day,
and coming to earth at sunset every evening, the fifth day of their
journey over Africa terminated in the immediate neighbourhood of a patch
of rocky outcrop, some ten miles long by about three miles in width.
Hitherto the travellers had observed no signs of wild life during their
exceedingly leisurely progress southward; but the sight of a water-hole
or two, and a few patches of scanty herbage dotted here and there among
the rocks, led them to hope that here they might at last possibly get
the chance of a shot at game of some sort; and their hope became a
practical certainty when, as the men of the party were promenading the
deck after dinner, and enjoying their tobacco, a hoarse, coughing roar
reached their ears from the direction of the rocks.  The roar was
answered at intervals from other points, and the spirits of the party
rose high in anticipation of sport for the morrow, for the roars were at
once identified as those of lions, and it was forthwith arranged that at
least a portion of the next day should be devoted to hunting the brutes.



CHAPTER TEN.

AN EXTRAORDINARY SIGHT.

The chief topic of conversation at the breakfast-table on the following
morning was, as might be expected, big game shooting; and it then
transpired that the Russian colonel had never faced anything bigger or
more formidable than bears or wolves.  He was consequently much elated
at the prospect of encountering the lordly lion in his native wilds;
especially with so effective a weapon as the magazine rifle firing
twenty shots without reloading, upon the merits of which Colonel
Lethbridge expatiated eloquently.  His elation was of the kind that
easily becomes contagious, and the party were in high spirits when at
length they rose from the table and proceeded to the gun-room to select
their weapons and provide themselves with a supply of cartridges.  These
cartridges, it should be explained, were, like almost everything else
connected with the _Flying Fish_, of quite a unique character, and
totally unlike those used in the ordinary weapons of sport or warfare,
in that they were not charged with gunpowder, but with a preparation of
the singular substance employed for generating the motive power of the
ship's engines.  This substance was so tremendously powerful that a very
minute quantity was all that was needed to take the place of the usual
powder charge, hence the possibility of stowing away as many as twenty
cartridges in a magazine of only ordinary size.  Furthermore, the
cartridges were loaded with several different kinds of missiles.  There
was, for instance, the cartridge charged with shot of various sizes--
from dust-shot for the killing of humming-birds and such like, up to
ordinary buck-shot--enclosed in a case so fragile that the friction of
its passage along the rifling of the barrel destroyed it, causing it to
crumble to dust as it emerged from the muzzle of the weapon, and leave
the charge of shot free to do its work in the same manner as though
fired from an ordinary shot-gun.  Then there was the cartridge charged
with the usual sporting bullet employed for shooting such game as buck
and antelopes; the cartridge with a soft-nosed bullet for war purposes
and the shooting of the larger game, such as giraffes, lions, tigers,
leopards, and the like; and, finally, the cartridge charged with a
thick, heavy steel shell that exploded and blew to pieces upon striking
its mark, thus inflicting so terrible a wound as usually to prove
instantly fatal.  This last was intended for use in the shooting of
elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and other animals with exceptionally
thick hides, and for any case of exceptional emergency.  It was, of
course, the Numbers 2 and 3 cartridges with which the sportsmen provided
themselves on the present occasion.

The weapons having been selected and a sufficient supply of cartridges
slipped into each man's pocket, the hunters ascended to the deck to take
a preliminary look round with their binoculars, upon the off-chance that
they might catch a glimpse of something that would help them to a
decision as to the point to which to direct their steps.  And here they
discovered that the ladies had preceded them, Lady Olivia, Mlle.
Sziszkinski, and Ida being already there and intently searching the
rocks with their glasses.

"Well, Ida," demanded Sir Reginald, "how many lions have you already
seen?"

"None at all, papa," answered the child, in a playfully aggrieved tone
of voice.  "I saw a deer standing upon that highest rock, a few minutes
ago, but he did not stay there long.  As to lions, I think we are not
very likely to see any; we cannot see very much of the rocks from this
place, and I should like to be able to watch you when you go out to
shoot the lions.  Cannot we move the ship to a place nearer the rocks,
where we can see everything?"

"Of course we can, little woman," answered Sir Reginald, genially.
"And, while we are about it," he added, turning to the others, "we may
as well make a complete circuit of the entire patch--execute a
reconnaissance, in fact; it may enable us to discover some trace of our
quarry, and so save us a long, toilsome tramp in the heat."

And, thereupon, he returned to the pilot-house to put the big ship in
motion.

A few seconds later, with a gentle and almost imperceptible jar, the
_Flying Fish_ rose from the ground to the height of about two hundred
feet, and, with her engines only just turning, began to circle slowly
round the somewhat extensive outcrop, while the party on deck keenly
searched with their binoculars the several irregularities of its surface
as they swung into view.  For some twenty minutes or so the search
proved unsuccessful, and the men were beginning to feel just a trifle
anxious when Lethbridge exclaimed, with a sigh of relief--

"Ah! now we are getting `warm,' as Ida would say.  Do you see that small
bunch of gazelle drinking at the pool yonder?  Where they are, there
also--or not very far off--will our friend Leo be, I fancy."

In a moment every glass was directed full upon the half-dozen or so of
graceful animals that were now in full view scarcely a quarter of a mile
distant, but which had hitherto been hidden by a huge intervening mass
of rock.  It appeared as though Lethbridge's assumption would probably
prove correct, for the animals betrayed evident signs of uneasiness, as
though suspicious of danger, though unable to determine the point from
which to expect it.  They drank hesitatingly, taking small sips of water
and then throwing up their heads with a startled air, their ears
twitching incessantly, and their bodies braced as though in readiness to
bound off like a flash at the first suspicious sign.  The party who
watched them with such interest were at first disposed to attribute the
uneasiness of the animals to the presence of the _Flying Fish_, which
was now in full view; but von Schalckenberg, who was a good deal of a
naturalist as well as an experienced _shikari_, confidently asserted
that it was not, that it was something very much nearer that was
disturbing them; and presently, while the elders of the party were
discussing the matter, and intently watching the gazelles through their
binoculars, Ida cried out--

"Oh, look, mamma; look, Colonel; what is that great thing like a spotted
cat that is crouching behind that long ledge of rock to the left of
where the gazelles are standing?  Is it a leopard?  Surely it must be!
And, oh dear, I believe it is trying to get near enough to the gazelles
to spring upon one of them!  Please, _please_ don't let him do it; shoot
him, somebody, quick!"

"Where is this leopard of yours, Ida?  Show him to me," said Lethbridge,
coming over to the child's side, and kneeling down beside her.

"There," answered Ida, pointing.  "Don't you see him?  Oh, please be
quick--there, now he is standing up and looking over--"

"I see him, sweetheart," answered Lethbridge, springing to his feet and
reaching for his rifle.  "Six hundred yards," he muttered, adjusting the
sight of the weapon and raising it to his shoulder.

The head of the animal was now in plain view, showing dark against the
brightly illuminated background of rock, while the rest of its body was
almost invisible in the deep shadow of the ledge behind which it had
been stalking its prey, and it was only by the merest chance that the
child's quick eye had caught sight of the yellow, spotted form crouching
low in the deep shadow and stealing almost imperceptibly toward the
gazelles.

There was a faint, almost inaudible click as Lethbridge pulled the
trigger of his weapon, an equally faint little wreath of diaphanous
vapour leapt from its muzzle, and the leopard sprang high into the air--
startling the gazelles and putting them to instant flight--ere it fell
back, rolled over, and lay motionless on the rocky platform along which
it had been stealing.

"Good shot!" shouted Sir Reginald, from the open windows of the
pilot-house, through which he had been watching the scene.  "We had
better drop to earth at once, if you wish to secure the skin.  Vultures
have a trick of appearing from nowhere in an incredibly short time, you
know; and if we leave the skinning until we come back, there may be no
skin left worth the taking."

"Quite so; we must make sure of that skin at once, if we intend to have
it at all.  And we certainly must, for not only is it our first trophy
this cruise, but it belongs to Ida by right of first discovery, and she
must have it," answered Lethbridge, who had quickly developed a quite
remarkable affection for the child.

The _Flying Fish_ was accordingly brought to earth at once on a
tolerably level spot quite close to the carcase of the leopard, and the
five men quickly left the ship by way of what was known as the
"diving-chamber," and the trap-door in the bottom of the craft, and
forthwith proceeded to take the skin.  It was found upon examination
that the ex-colonel had made a really splendid shot, his bullet having
struck the creature fair in the centre of the back of the skull, and
passed out through the left eye.

They were still engaged upon the work of removing the pelt when the roar
of a lion reached their ears, the muffled sound seeming to suggest that
the animal was at some distance--possibly as much as two miles--from
them.  In about half a minute the sound was repeated, and again about
half a minute later, and so on, the sound coming to them pretty
regularly at half-minute intervals.

"Ach!" exclaimed the professor, presently, "I think I can guess what is
happening.  Now, if we are quick, we may be in time to witness a
somewhat remarkable sight."

"Yes," said Lethbridge, "I think I know to what you refer, Professor.  I
once saw it myself, and it certainly was, as you say, a very curious
sight."

"May we be allowed to know what this curious sight is of which you two
gentlemen are speaking?" inquired the Russian.

"Wait and see for yourself, Boris, my friend," exclaimed von
Schalckenberg.  "If you do not know what to expect, you will appreciate
the sight all the more when you see it.  There," as the last ligament
was severed and the skin came away from the carcase, "that job is
finished.  Let us wash our hands and be off at once, or we may be too
late."

Five minutes later the _Flying Fish_ was again in the air, and heading
at a twenty-knot speed in the direction from which the sound of roaring
appeared to proceed, while several vultures had already mysteriously
appeared high in the air above the carcase of the leopard, and were
rapidly dropping down toward it.

The roaring still continued, each repetition of it coming to them very
much more distinctly than the one that had preceded it, and presently,
as the ship swept along, a little valley among the rocks swung into
view, and there, in the very middle of it, was to be seen the singular
sight of which the professor and Lethbridge had spoken.  The valley was
really a shallow saucer-like hollow in the rocky outcrop, with a small
pool in the middle of it, the ground forming the interior of the saucer,
so to speak, being quite smooth, with no projections or inequalities of
any kind to form cover for stalking purposes.  The rock-surface was here
covered with a layer of soil which supported a crop of short, rich
grass, and had consequently been selected as the abode of a herd of some
thirty gazelles, which were now drawn up in line, close to the edge of
the water-hole.  To the professor and Lethbridge, both of whom had
witnessed a similar incident before, the matter was perfectly clear.
The gazelles had gone down to the pool to drink, and, while thus
engaged, had been approached by a magnificent lion and lioness, which
had succeeded in getting within about a hundred yards of the herd ere
the latter had discovered their presence.  Then the gazelles had faced
round upon their formidable foes, and stood at gaze, apparently
paralysed into inactivity, while the lions were evidently quite aware
that any attempt to make a dash at the herd would at once put it to
flight and send it hopelessly beyond their reach.  So there the two
groups remained about a hundred yards apart, the gazelles motionless.
The lioness also was motionless, lying stretched at full length upon the
ground with her head resting upon her outstretched fore paws, while her
lord, some four or five yards nearer the gazelles, had assumed a
half-crouching attitude, very similar to that of a barking dog, and was
still emitting deep-throated roars at intervals.

"Ach, it is all right; we are in time; and now you will see what you
will see!" exclaimed von Schalckenberg, as Sir Reginald stopped the
engines, and the _Flying Fish_, slowing down, drifted gently into a
position which afforded the occupants of her deck an excellent view of
the little drama that was in progress.

The ship finally came to rest in the perfectly still air, immediately in
the rear of the lion and lioness, which were apparently altogether too
profoundly interested in their own proceedings to have become aware of
the presence of the great ship behind them; while the gazelles also--in
full view of which the huge, glistening, silver-like craft floated, at a
height of some two hundred feet above the ground--appeared to be too
intently occupied in watching their ferocious enemy to have any
attention to spare for anything else.

As Sir Reginald emerged from the pilot-house, the professor, in a
low-toned murmur, advised his companions to take their binoculars and
note especially the behaviour of the gazelles.  They did so, and
presently became aware that one animal in particular--a fine fat buck--
was exhibiting symptoms of very acute distress and terror, tossing his
head and stamping on the ground with his feet at every roar of the lion,
and holding himself back in an attitude that almost appeared to suggest
the idea that he was being pushed or pulled out of the line toward the
lion; yet there was nothing to show that this was actually the case.
Presently, however, at another roar from the lion, the buck actually
advanced a few paces out from the ranks of his fellows, evidently with
the utmost reluctance, and stood shivering palpably in mortal terror.

"Take your rifles, gentlemen," murmured von Schalckenberg.  "We must
save that poor beast's life.  But do not fire until I give the word, for
I should like you all to see a little more of this really remarkable
performance before we put an end to it.  Boris, my friend, you have
never yet shot a lion, while the rest of us have.  You are therefore
fairly entitled to the privilege of first shot.  Take you, therefore,
the lion; one of us will account for the lioness.  And remember that
your rifle will afford you twenty shots without reloading; if,
therefore, you should fail to kill with the first shot, peg away until
you do.  Now, who is to be responsible for the lioness?"

"Let Mildmay take her," said Sir Reginald.  "Lethbridge has already had
his shot; and yours and mine, Professor, can come later."

And so it was arranged.  Meanwhile the lion, evidently encouraged by
what he had already accomplished, redoubled his efforts, sending forth
roar after roar, at every one of which the unfortunate buck, shivering
in every limb, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, advanced a pace
or two nearer the lion.  At length, however, the sight of the animal's
distress became too painful for Lady Olivia, and, lowering her
binoculars, she exclaimed, in low, tense accents--

"Oh, please put an end to it, somebody!  It is cruel of us to allow that
pretty creature to go on suffering such agonies of terror simply because
the sight happens to be of an interesting and singular nature.  Surely
we have seen enough, have we not?"

For answer Colonel Sziszkinski raised his rifle to his shoulder and,
taking steady aim, pulled the trigger.  There was the usual faint click
of the hammer, and immediately a little spurt of brown dust close to the
lion's fore paws showed that the Russian had missed.  The lion took no
notice whatever of the fact that a bullet had just missed him, but
crouched again for the emission of another roar, when the click of the
hammer again sounded, immediately followed by the loud thud of the
bullet, and the roar ended in a savage snarl as the great beast lurched
forward on to his head, and with a single convulsive extension of his
body lay quiet and still.  At the same instant the thud of another
bullet was heard, and the lioness was seen to twitch her head slightly,
but without making any further movement.  As for the troop of gazelle,
no sooner was the lion down than, throwing up their heads with one
accord, they wheeled sharply round to the left and dashed off across the
little plain, vanishing a minute later through a cleft of the rocks.

Meanwhile Mildmay was looking alternately at the lioness and his rifle
with a puzzled expression.

"I could have sworn that I hit the brute," he exclaimed, "yet there she
lies as coolly and comfortably as though nothing had happened.  Even the
tragic end of her lord and master seems to have no interest for her!
But I'll wake you up, my beauty, or I'll know the reason why."  And he
raised the rifle again to his shoulder.

"No need to waste another cartridge, skipper," remarked Lethbridge, who
had been inspecting the lioness through his binoculars.  "Take these
glasses, and look at her head, just behind the left ear."

Mildmay took the glasses, and, having used them for a moment, handed
them back with a grunt of satisfaction.

"Thanks," he said.  "I felt certain I had hit her; but I couldn't
understand why she never moved."

"She _did_ move, my boy," answered Lethbridge; "she twitched her head
when your bullet struck her, but she had no time for more, for you
killed her on the spot, just as she lay.  An uncommonly neat shot I call
it--for a sailor."

Mildmay laughed.

"Yes," he said, "it's not half bad--for a sailor, as you say, Colonel.
We sailors don't claim to be crack rifle-shots, you know; we leave that
for the soldiers.  But when it comes to shooting with a nine-point-two,
or a twelve-inch gun, I believe there are some of us who could show the
red-coats a trick or two."

These two--Mildmay and Lethbridge--had not wholly escaped the feeling of
professional jealousy that even to this day lingers in a more or less
modified form between the navy and the army; and if the occasion
happened to be peculiarly favourable, they sometimes exchanged a
chaffing remark or two at each other's expense.  But the sparring was
always perfectly good-natured, and absolutely devoid of all trace of
ill-feeling, for, first of all, both were gentlemen in the highest sense
of the term; and, in the next place, the friendship that subsisted
between them was far too thorough and whole-hearted for either ever
willingly to wound, though ever so slightly, the susceptibilities of the
other.

It now became necessary again to bring the ship to earth, in order to
secure the skins of the lion and lioness; and, the ground being
favourable, this was done quite close to the spot where the two carcases
lay.  A few minutes later the men were once more busily engaged on the
task of removing the pelts, both of which were exceedingly valuable of
their kind, the animals being exceptionally fine specimens, and in
perfect condition.  The lion, indeed, was unanimously pronounced to be
the finest that any of them had ever seen, being quite a young beast,
but full-grown, with a magnificently thick, black mane, and a truly
formidable set of perfect teeth and claws.  Colonel Sziszkinski was in
high feather at having been so fortunate as to secure so splendid a
specimen, and expressed a very keen desire to secure the skull as well
as the skin, if possible.  At this von Schalckenberg remarked that
nothing could be easier, provided that Sir Reginald was willing to
remain in the neighbourhood of the rocks for the night; for there was a
huge ants' nest close at hand, and all that was necessary was to place
the skinned head alongside the nest, and he would guarantee that the
insects would clean the skull bare of every vestige of flesh by the
following morning.  Of course, Sir Reginald, who was the very
personification of courtesy, readily agreed to this, and the _Flying
Fish_ was berthed for the night on the sand, a mile or two to windward
of the rocks--that their slumbers might not be disturbed by the
quarrelsome cries of the vultures over the carcases; and when, after
breakfast next morning, they returned to ascertain the result of the
experiment, it was found to be as the professor had said.  The skull was
picked so clean of absolutely every particle of flesh that it could
safely be stowed away without the least risk of becoming offensive.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

AN ELEPHANT AND RHINOCEROS DUEL.

The skull of the lion having been secured, the _Flying Fish_ rose into
the air, immediately after breakfast, and an hour was devoted to the
thorough examination of the remaining extent of the patch of rocks, to
ascertain whether any further specimens of the big carnivora had taken
up their abode upon it.  But no more were to be found, and the southward
journey was therefore resumed at the leisurely speed of about fifteen
knots, the noon observation for latitude showing that the ship had
entered the tropic of Cancer shortly after eleven o'clock that morning.

The remainder of that day passed uneventfully, as did the next, with the
exception that, the ship having been raised to an altitude of two
thousand feet above the surface of the earth, in order that the
travellers might be above and out of the layer of highly heated air
produced by the reflection of the sun's rays from the surface of the
sand, they again caught sight of the Nile, which swam into view on their
left hand during the forenoon of the second day, near the little village
of Dashi, and remained in sight thereafter until they descended to earth
for the night, some twenty-five miles west of the town of New Dongola.
Here they were again treated to the spectacle of a superb desert sunset.

This leisurely mode of progression, however, was beginning to pall
somewhat upon the travellers, or rather, upon the male portion of them.
It was altogether too uneventful for their taste; moreover, their
appetite for sport had been whetted afresh by their experience among the
rocks, and as they sat at dinner that night they unanimously decided
that, as the climate seemed to agree thoroughly with little Ida--who was
growing better and stronger every day--they would waste no further time
in dawdling, but would forthwith make the best of their way to the spot
where, on their previous cruise, they had seen that wonderful animal the
unicorn, almost precisely the creature depicted in the royal arms of
Great Britain, and endeavour to secure a specimen or two.  Accordingly,
after spending a very enjoyable evening in the music-saloon, the ladies
retired to rest about midnight, while the men, producing their
large-scale map of Africa, carefully laid down upon it the course, and
measured off the distance necessary to carry them to the point which
they desired to reach.  This ascertained, Mildmay--who usually performed
the duties of navigator--ascended to the pilot-house and, injecting a
sufficient quantity of vapour into the air-chambers to produce the
required vacuum, caused the ship to rise to a height of ten thousand
feet into the calm belt, sent the engines ahead, gradually raising their
speed to the maximum, and meanwhile heading the ship upon her proper
course.  Then he returned below, and reported to Sir Reginald what he
had done, and all hands retired to their respective cabins for the
night, quite confident, from past experience, of the ship's ability to
take care of herself during the hours of darkness.

They all slept well, as was usual with them while enjoying this
delightful, untrammelled, open-air existence; but the eager enthusiasm
of the scientist and explorer caused the professor to be astir with the
first streak of dawn, and rising quietly, he made his way noiselessly,
in pyjamas and slippered feet, to the pilot-house, out of the windows of
which he peered eagerly about him.

The _Flying Fish_ was still sweeping steadily along through the air at a
speed of one hundred and twenty miles an hour, with her sharp snout
holding steadily to the course at which it had been set overnight; but
beneath her nothing was visible save a vast sea of impenetrably thick
white fog.  The professor consulted his watch.

"We should be close to the spot by this time," he murmured.  "Let us get
down beneath that fog, and see where we are."

He stopped the engines, opened the air-valve, and the great ship
instantly began to settle quietly down.  In a few minutes she sank
gently into the fog-bank, and the professor, after touching another
lever or two, ran nimbly down the pilot-house stairs and out on deck,
that he might get a clear view of his surroundings.  Stepping to the
guard-rail that took the place of bulwarks in the _Flying Fish_, he
looked eagerly about and under him.  For a few seconds there was nothing
to be seen but huge wreaths of dense white steam-like mist writhing and
curling about the ship; then, here and there, great shapeless phantom
forms dimly appeared through the enshrouding fog, and the professor knew
that he was in the midst of a country thickly dotted with extensive
clumps of "bush."  A moment later a slight grating jar told that the
ship had grounded, and hastening back to the pilot-house, von
Schalckenberg brought the four grip-anchors into action, thus securing
the ship to the spot on which she had landed, after which he made his
way to one of the bathrooms, took his bath, and then returned to his
cabin and dressed.

The shock of the ship taking the ground, light though it was, sufficed
to arouse the other sleepers, and half an hour later the male contingent
of the party were assembled in the dining-saloon, taking their early
coffee and biscuit.  By glancing from time to time through the saloon
windows, they were able to see that the fog still hung thick about them;
but while they lingered, chatting over their coffee, the professor
suddenly cried out that the mist was clearing, and with one accord they
emptied their cups and made for the deck.

Yes, the fog was certainly thinning away under the influence of the now
risen sun; and in a few minutes it was possible to see with tolerable
distinctness, not only the ground beneath them, but also the clumps of
bush in their immediate neighbourhood, while other and more distant
objects were momentarily stealing into view as the mist-wreaths thinned
away and vanished.  A few minutes later the entire landscape lay clearly
revealed before them, sharp and distinct in the crystalline purity of
the early morning light.

And then exclamations of astonishment burst simultaneously from the lips
of four of the five male voyagers; for, as they glanced about them, they
instantly recognised their surroundings, and discovered that von
Schalckenberg, in the blindness of fog that had enveloped him, had
brought the _Flying Fish_ to earth within less than a hundred yards of
the identical spot which she had occupied upon the memorable occasion
when they had first beheld the unicorns.  Yes, there was the little
shallow lake amid the tall bordering reeds of which they had ambushed
themselves for the purpose of shooting the game that came down there to
drink at night; there was the streamlet from which they had replenished
their supply of fresh water; they were now in the same open, grassy,
bush-enveloped space that the ship had previously occupied; and over
there, to the left, within a stone's throw, was the precise spot upon
which she had rested; and they doubted not that within five minutes they
could find the actual holes in the soil made by her grip-anchors some
six years or more ago.  And there, some two miles away, rose the low,
bare hill upon the crest of which the professor had first seen the troop
of unicorns standing out against the background of pale primrose sky as
they grazed.  Ay, and there were animals of some sort up there now!  The
professor rushed below, and presently reappeared with a pair of
binoculars in his hand, which he hastily levelled at the tiny dots.
Alas! they were only black antelope, interesting creatures enough from
the mere sportsman's point of view, but not what he wanted and hoped to
see.  He lowered the glasses with a sigh of resignation, which said as
plainly as words, that he supposed it was too much to hope that they
would be lucky enough to find instantly what they were in search of.

And while they stood chatting together the ladies and little Ida stepped
out on deck and joined them; and then there were renewed exclamations of
wonder and delight at the change from the desert scenery upon which they
had gazed the day before, and for so many days previously that they had
begun to tire of it slightly.

The air was rapidly becoming heated under the rays of a sun that would
be very nearly vertical at noon; at Mildmay's suggestion, therefore, the
men of the party busied themselves forthwith in spreading the awnings
fore and aft, that the ladies might have a welcome shade under which to
sit during the day, and while they were still tying the last lanyards
the breakfast-gong sounded, and five minutes later the entire party was
gathered round the breakfast-table in a condition of exuberantly buoyant
spirits.

No one felt disposed to linger long over the meal that morning, and
within half an hour everybody was again on deck, each provided with a
pair of binoculars, while the men folk--attired in stalking suits of
thin but tough grey-green tweed, consisting of Norfolk jacket and
knickerbockers, with caps of the same material, and shod with stout
boots, surmounted by thick leather gaiters reaching to the knee, as a
protection against possible snake-bites--had taken the precaution to
bring up their rifles and bandoliers with them, in order that they might
be ready for any emergency.

Their first act was to sweep the entire visible surface of the country
with their glasses; but nothing more interesting than a few bunches of
deer and antelope were to be seen.  This, however, was not to be very
greatly wondered at, for the ground was so heavily encumbered with bush
that comparatively little of it was to be seen.  It was perfectly clear
that if they wished to find game, they must go and look for it.  And
there were two ways of doing this.  One was to sally forth on foot;
while the other, and much the easier, way, was to rise a few hundred
feet in the air, and then survey the country afresh.  It was but
necessary to mention the latter course for it to be promptly decided
upon; and Sir Reginald at once went to the pilot-house and did what was
requisite, with the result that, a minute or two later, the _Flying
Fish_ was a thousand feet in the air, and drifting very gently to the
southward before a languid northerly breathing of warm wind.

This new position of the ship disclosed a scene of a very different
character from that upon which they had just before been gazing; for not
only had they now a very much wider horizon, but they were also able to
see over and beyond a great deal of the bush in their near vicinity, and
thus survey much open space that had before been hidden from them.
Moreover, many sounds that had before been inaudible to them now reached
their ears.

Sir Reginald now emerged from the pilot-house and rejoined his
companions, who all this while had never ceased to search the country
with their binoculars.

"Well, gentlemen," he exclaimed, "have you discovered anything worthy of
your notice?"

"There is a small herd of elephant feeding in that clump of timber
yonder," answered the professor, "and a few buck and antelope scattered
about here and there; but I can see no sign of unicorns, as yet."

"Then," said Sir Reginald, cheerfully, "we must be content with what we
can get, and go for the elephants.  Probably we shall be obliged to go
into ambush at night for the unicorns.  They _must_ drink, I presume;
and, if so, we ought to get them, sooner or later, by watching among the
reeds of the pool.  What say you, gentlemen; do you care to try for a
shot at those elephants?"

Colonel Sziszkinski eagerly expressed his willingness to join a party,
and Lethbridge was altogether too keen a sportsman to let slip such an
opportunity; but Mildmay seemed rather disposed to be lazy that morning,
and linger with the ladies, while it soon became evident that the
professor could not be satisfied with any game other than unicorns.  It
was therefore speedily arranged that Sir Reginald, Lethbridge, and their
Russian guest should have a try for the elephants, while Mildmay and von
Schalckenberg remained on board the _Flying Fish_.

The clump of timber in which the elephants had been seen feeding was by
this time about two miles distant, and almost directly to windward, in
the midst of a wide open space, with no bush near enough to afford
effective cover for the hunters within range of their rifles.  It would
be necessary, therefore, for the animals to be stalked.  But there
happened to be a large clump of bush about a mile directly to leeward of
the timber, extensive enough almost to conceal the _Flying Fish_ behind
it, while affording those on her deck a very clear and uninterrupted
view of the movements of both hunters and hunted; and it was therefore
decided to head the ship for this.  Von Schalckenberg accordingly
retired to the pilot-house to navigate the craft to the chosen position,
and Mildmay joined the ladies, while the three sportsmen went below to
complete their final preparations and hold themselves ready to issue
forth by way of the diving-chamber as soon as they should feel the ship
take the ground.

At a low rate of speed, and keeping the ship dead end-on to the clump of
timber--to avoid alarming the elephants--the professor deftly manoeuvred
her into the berth chosen for her, and brought her gently to earth on a
spot which afforded those on her deck a clear view over the top of the
bush, while concealing practically the whole of her hull from the
keen-sighted pachyderms; and, a few minutes later, the three hunters
emerged from underneath the ship and waved a silent adieu to the little
group who stood on deck watching them.

During the first five minutes of their tramp no special precautions were
necessary on the part of the trio, for during that time they were
screened from the view of their quarry by the intervening clump of bush;
but upon reaching the extremity of this they were obliged to crouch low,
and sometimes even to go down on their knees in the long grass to avoid
detection.  The elephants were still busily feeding, as could easily be
seen by the occasional violent movement of the branches of the trees,
while one or another of them occasionally gave vent to his feelings by
trumpeting, the sound of which was distinctly audible on the deck of the
_Flying Fish_.

The little party of five there gathered were all now comfortably
ensconced in basket chairs, from which, under the grateful shadow of the
awning, they were able to watch at their ease for developments, with the
aid of their powerful binoculars.  For a quarter of an hour nothing
interesting happened.  The stalking party were still hidden from sight
of the others by the intervening bush; then their heads and shoulders
emerged into view.  By almost imperceptible degrees they slowly
advanced, one of them from time to time cautiously raising his head to
assure himself that they were still going in the right direction; and
this state of things continued for another half-hour, during which the
"stalk" appeared to be progressing most satisfactorily, and with every
prospect of success.  For the hunters were now within a quarter of a
mile of the wood; and it was obvious to the onlookers that they were
already eagerly watching for an opportunity to get in a shot, while
still steadily creeping ever closer to the unsuspecting quarry.

But quite unexpectedly the whole aspect of affairs became changed; for
the elephants, which had for some time been silent, presently sent forth
a terrific sound of trumpeting; and in another moment a herd of eleven
elephants, three of which were enormous "tuskers," suddenly broke cover
and stampeded down-wind with their trunks in the air, their great ears
flapping viciously, and the animals giving utterance to shrill screams
and trumpetings of rage as they headed directly for the spot where the
three hunters crouched in the long grass.  And a moment later they were
followed by a twelfth--a truly gigantic bull--which was evidently
engaged in furious combat with some other and smaller animal, which
could be seen persistently charging his huge antagonist, while the
latter, wheeling hither and thither with an agility that was truly
astonishing in so enormous a creature, seemed making strenuous efforts
to impale the enemy upon his tusks, or to crush him by kneeling upon
him.

Meanwhile, the remaining eleven elephants pursued their headlong flight
straight for the three sportsmen, who, with marvellous nerve, remained
hidden until but a short fifty yards intervened between them and the
panic-stricken brutes.  Then the trio rose suddenly to their full
height, and raised their rifles to their shoulders.  The next instant
two of the three tuskers were seen to stumble heavily and fall to the
ground, while the third pulled up short, and, with legs wide apart,
stood screaming with fear and pain.  Then, his legs seeming to give way
under him, he, too, sank to the ground and rolled over on his side,
while the remaining eight, evidently further startled by the sudden and
inexplicable fall of their leaders, scattered right and left, and were
soon lost to view behind the many clumps of bush that were thickly
dotted here and there.

Mildmay rose to his feet.  "That fight yonder is becoming interesting,
Professor," he said.  "I think it would not be amiss for us to move a
little nearer to the scene of action; for, in any case, it will be
necessary to have the ship fairly close to those three dead elephants,
to facilitate the cutting out of the ivory, to say nothing about saving
our friends a hot tramp back through the long grass.  What say you?"

"I was about to suggest it, but you forestalled me," answered von
Schalckenberg.  "Let us go at once."

A few minutes later the _Flying Fish_, having left her place of
concealment and risen into the air, came to earth again about a hundred
yards to windward of the carcases of the three dead elephants, and
Mildmay rejoined the others on deck to watch the combat that still raged
with unabated fury, and to observe the further movements of the little
party of hunters, who were now cautiously and watchfully creeping nearer
to the combatants.

The scene, as now viewed from the lofty elevation of the ship's deck,
was both interesting and exciting, for the drama was enacting at a
distance of not more than some two hundred yards from the spectators.
The great bull elephant and his antagonist--which was now identified as
an exceptionally large rhinoceros--were so completely occupied with each
other that the approach of the _Flying Fish_ had been quite unnoticed by
either of them, and they continued to circle round and charge each
other, making the welkin ring with their furious squeals and grunts and
trumpetings, with as much pertinacity and zest as though no flying ship
and no hunters had been within a hundred miles of them.  There could be
no doubt that this was a battle to be fought out to the bitter end.  The
elephant's enormous tusks were already ensanguined with his antagonist's
gore, while a long gash in his left foreleg, close to its junction with
the body, from which the blood could be seen to spurt in little
intermittent jets, testified to the skill and strength with which the
rhinoceros had used his long, curving horn; yet neither betrayed the
slightest disposition to retire from the contest.  Their wounds appeared
but to goad them to greater fury, and to stimulate them to redoubled
effort.  The truly amazing activity displayed by these ponderous and
unwieldy creatures was perhaps the most remarkable feature of the whole
affair.  They wheeled and doubled about each other with the nimbleness
of fighting dogs, the rhinoceros leaping in to deliver his stroke, and
then springing aside to avoid the thrust of the elephant's tusks with a
rapidity that rendered it difficult to follow his movements, while the
elephant countered with a quick alertness that was evidently very
disconcerting to his foe.  At length they paused, as if by mutual
consent, facing each other at a distance of about half a dozen yards,
the ridiculously inadequate tail of the rhinoceros switching in quick,
angry jerks from side to side, while the elephant watched him keenly
with uplifted trunk and swiftly flapping ears.  They stood thus for a
full minute, probably recovering their wind; and then the rhinoceros,
with a scarcely perceptible movement, began to edge stealthily round in
an apparent endeavour to work himself into position on his enemy's
broadside.  The elephant, however, was fully on the alert, and followed
his adversary's movement with a corresponding turn of his own body,
keeping the rhinoceros still full in front of him.  The movements of the
two animals gradually quickened, but it presently became apparent to the
onlookers that the rhinoceros was slowly lessening the distance between
himself and his enemy.  Then suddenly, with a furious squeal, the
rhinoceros dashed straight in, with lowered head, aiming for the
elephant's chest, between his fore legs.  The thud, as the two bodies
came together, could be distinctly heard by those on board the _Flying
Fish_, who also saw that the rhinoceros had at length got his blow home,
the full length of his horn being driven into his antagonist's body.
The elephant uttered a piercing shriek of pain as he felt the wound,
then he lowered his head, and, with a quick, thrusting toss, drove one
of his tusks into the groin of the rhinoceros with such tremendous force
that the weapon passed completely through the huge body, the point
coming out just above the root of the tail.  Then, with a mighty groan,
he crashed to the ground, dead, with the writhing body of the rhinoceros
still impaled upon his tusk.  The fight--a fight to the death, in very
deed--was over.

Meanwhile, the three hunters, who had been standing rooted to the spot
during the last few minutes of the combat, too profoundly interested to
move, rushed forward and administered the _coup-de-grace_ to the still
struggling rhinoceros.

Then the ladies and little Ida, at the professor's invitation, descended
the spiral stairway leading down to the bottom of the ship, passed out
through the diving-chamber, and sauntered over to inspect at close
quarters the three shot elephants, though they declined to take a nearer
view of the carcases of the combatants.  Mildmay proceeded to look out
the axes that would be required for the purpose of cutting out the
ivory.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

AN EXCITING NIGHT AMONG THE REEDS.

The task of cutting out the ivory and the ponderous horn of the
rhinoceros occupied the five men for the remainder of the day, at the
end of which the voyagers dined luxuriously upon the novel and dainty
dish of baked elephant's foot.  When the spoils had at length been
safely stowed away, the _Flying Fish_ was removed to a respectful
distance from the huge carcases--over which there would assuredly be
much snarling and fighting during the impending hours of darkness--and
berthed in the midst of a dense clump of bush about half a mile to
leeward of the small shallow lake already mentioned.  It was the
intention of the professor and Mildmay to lay up for an hour or two
during the coming night among the rushes on its margin, in the hope of
securing a shot at a unicorn, or, failing that, anything else worth
shooting that might happen to present itself.  They spent the quarter of
an hour that preceded nightfall in carefully reconnoitring the position,
and then retired to their cabins to make the necessary changes into
shooting rig before dinner, it being an understood thing that there was
no obligation upon any one to don evening dress if there were good and
sufficient reasons against it, as in the present case, although the
ladies made a point of doing so.

The meal over and the after-dinner cigar duly smoked, Sir Reginald and
his companion elephant-hunters having declared that they were too tired
to enjoy any further sport that day, the professor and Mildmay bade the
rest of the party good-night, and, taking their rifles, set out for the
margin of the lake.  As a matter of fact, they ought to have started
nearly three hours earlier than they did, and taken up their position
before nightfall, for many animals drink almost immediately after
sunset, and before the light has entirely gone out of the sky; but they
hoped to be still in time to get a shot, and hurried on, encouraged by
the sounds that floated down to them from the lake telling of animals
still there, drinking and bathing.  The bathers were most probably
elephants, but the pair decided not to interfere with them, arguing
that, after all, they were not ivory hunters, and that their object was
the acquisition of new or rare trophies, rather than an indiscriminate
collection of skins, horns, tusks, and what not.  Von Schalckenberg,
indeed, declared that if he could not get a unicorn he did not want
anything.

Their progress was slow, for although the sky was cloudless and studded
with stars that beamed with a clear, mellow radiance and brilliancy
unknown in the more humid atmosphere of the temperate zones, the light
that they afforded was sufficient only to reveal to the two men the
clumps of bush and other objects close at hand.  Moreover the grass was
long and matted enough to demand the expenditure of a considerable
amount of exertion to force a passage through it, and the night was
close and very hot.  To traverse the half-mile between the ship and the
margin of the lake cost them, therefore, nearly twenty minutes of
toilsome walking.  At length, however, the professor, who, as the more
experienced hunter, was leading the way, murmured--

"Ah! there is the water at last, thank goodness!  And now, my friend, we
must `go slow,' as you say, and be careful where we put our feet, or we
may stumble unawares over something that we have no desire to meet at
quite such close quarters."

The next moment the precise thing of which he had spoken happened.  His
foot encountered something bulky and firm that yielded and moved at the
contact, and before the unfortunate man could utter a cry of warning
there occurred a sudden and violent rustling and switching of the long
grass in front of him, something struck him a violent blow on the
shoulder, and in an instant he found himself enveloped in the coils of
an enormous python, the great head of which towered threateningly above
him, as it opened wide its gaping jaws within a foot of his face and
emitted a loud, sibilant, angry hiss.  Its hot, foetid breath struck him
full in the face and, in conjunction with the overpowering musky smell
of its body, affected him with a deadly nausea that, of itself, was
quite sufficient to rob him of all power of resistance, apart from the
fact that his arms were bound to his body so tightly by one of the
immense convolutions of the serpent's body--which it seemed to him was
nearly as thick as his own--that it was impossible to move them by even
so little as a single inch.  And those deadly coils were tightening
round him, too; he could feel the pressure increasing more rapidly than
he could draw the breath into his already painfully labouring lungs; and
he vainly strove to utter a cry to his companion for help.  His elbows
were being forced into his ribs with such irresistible pressure that he
momentarily expected to feel and hear the bones crack beneath it, while
the compression of his chest was rapidly producing a feeling of
suffocation, when, above the loud singing in his ears, he caught the
faint click of Mildmay's weapon.  Then the great threatening head
suddenly drooped, the constricting coils relaxed their pressure and
opened out, allowing the professor to struggle free of their encircling
folds, the huge body writhed convulsively, the great tail threshing down
the grass during the space of a full minute or more; then the writhings
gradually subsided, and finally the great reptile lay stretched almost
at full length before them, dead, with a bullet from Mildmay's rifle
through its brain.

"Thanks!" gasped the professor, as he wrung Mildmay's hand, "that was a
narrow escape for me, my friend, and I am indebted to you for my life.
I could do nothing for myself, and even your companionship would have
been of but little avail had you not acted so promptly.  Another fifteen
seconds in those great coils would have finished me off altogether.  I
thank you, Captain, and if ever the opportunity should occur I will do
the same for you."

"Of course you will, old chap, I know that," answered Mildmay, heartily;
"and likely enough the opportunity may occur ere long.  One never knows.
What a monster!  Why, he must measure at least five and thirty feet, if
an inch.  He is the biggest I have ever seen.  Now, how do you feel?
Would you rather go back to the ship, or shall we go on?"

"Oh, we will go on, of course," answered von Schalckenberg.  "I am not a
penny the worse for my little adventure, except that I feel bruised all
over, and I expect I shall be too stiff to move to-morrow.  The greater
the reason why I should move to-night.  Is not that so, my friend?"

"That, of course, is for you to say," laughed Mildmay.  "Such a narrow
squeak as you have had is enough to try any man's nerves.  But, if you
would rather go on, I am your man."

"Come, then," said the professor; "but let us pick our steps.  One
adventure of that kind, in a single night, is enough for any man."

After walking a few yards further the two men found themselves at the
edge of the dip in which lay the lake, with the tall reeds that fringed
the margin of the water rising some half a dozen yards ahead of them.
The surface of the lake was just visible in the soft sheen of the
starlight, and here and there, at no great distance, could be descried
certain bulky forms standing in the water, which, from their size, could
only be those of elephants; while a small pattering sound, as of falling
rain, told the watchers that the great brutes were treating themselves
to the luxury of a shower-bath.  The elephants were well out from the
shore, standing apparently knee-deep in the water; hence their
visibility; but the reeds were too tall to permit of animals being seen
if they happened to be drinking at the extreme edge of the water.  The
hunters had made what Mildmay characteristically designated "a bad
landfall."  What they desired was, to find a spot where there was a gap
in the bed of reeds through which they could at least catch a glimpse of
the various beasts drinking, and they were in the very act of turning to
seek such a spot when von Schalckenberg laid his hand on Mildmay's arm,
whispering excitedly--

"My friend, look there."

Mildmay glanced in the direction indicated and saw, standing on the very
crest of the bank over which they had just passed, a lion, that in the
deceptive starlight appeared to be of enormous proportions.  He was
within fifteen feet of them, but it is doubtful whether he saw them, for
they were below him and within the shadow of the reeds; but if he did
not see them it was quite certain that he winded them, for he was gazing
straight toward them, his eyes shining in the darkness like twin moons,
and he was slowly sweeping his tail from side to side, as though asking
himself what strange beings were these whose scent now greeted his
nostrils for probably the first time in his life.  But there was no time
to be lost, for even as von Schalckenberg whispered to Mildmay, "You
take him!" the beast crouched in preparation for a spring.

Mildmay wasted no time in argument upon questions of hunting etiquette;
he quite understood that the professor was offering him first shot as
some trifling recognition of the service so lately rendered, and,
throwing up his rifle to his shoulder, he aimed, as well as the darkness
would permit, immediately between but an inch or two above the level of
the eyes, and pulled the trigger.  The click of the hammer was instantly
followed by the thud of the bullet; a bulky body hurtled through the
air, knocking Mildmay and the professor right and left backward among
the reeds, and there lay the great beast, stone dead, between them.

"Just in the nick of time!" murmured the professor.  "Another second,
and he would have had one of us."

"Yes," agreed Mildmay, with zest.  "We are not having such bad sport,
are we, Professor, considering that we have only just come on the
ground?"

"Quite as good as could be expected," assented von Schalckenberg.  "But
the sport has not been all on our side.  Our friend, here, has at least
had the excitement of _stalking us_."

"Why, you surely do not mean to say that this beggar has been stalking
us?" ejaculated the sailor.

"As surely as that we are standing here," answered the professor.  "He
was standing exactly in our tracks, and has undoubtedly been following
our scent, which he probably crossed on his way down here to the water.
It is lucky for us both that he did not come up while we were engaged
with the python.  Had he done so, there would probably have arisen a
very awkward complication.  Well, let us get on.  We shall have to leave
the skinning of him and the snake until to-morrow morning; and I only
hope that the jackals will not spoil the pelts meanwhile."

Feeling their way carefully, they skirted the margin of the lake for
some distance until they came to what they were seeking, namely, a break
in the belt of encircling reeds.  It was a good wide break, too, nearly
a hundred yards across, as nearly as they could guess in the uncertain
light; and from the down-trodden appearance of the grass leading to it,
it appeared to be a favourite drinking-place.  This conjecture was
confirmed when the two hunters had forced their way into cover, by the
sight of several vaguely defined forms showing at the edge of the water,
about fifty yards away.

Settling themselves comfortably in their bed of dry reeds and grass, the
two hunters now concentrated their attention upon these indistinct and
stealthily moving objects, with the result that, as their eyes gradually
adapted themselves to the new conditions of light--or darkness, rather--
it became possible for them to form some sort of opinion as to the
species of the different animals there congregated together.  They
appeared to be chiefly bucks of various kinds, with a zebra or two, none
of which the sportsmen thought worth a cartridge; they were therefore
permitted to pass to and fro unmolested.  Gradually the number of
animals coming down to drink grew less and less, until at length no more
came at all, and the spot seemed to be completely deserted.  And then,
with the cessation of the coming and going, the vigilance of the
watchers gradually relaxed, and the thought occurred to Mildmay that
they might as well be getting back to the ship.  He made the suggestion
to von Schalckenberg, but the latter pleaded so earnestly for an hour or
two longer, urging the possibility of a visit from the unicorns, that
the good-natured sailor readily gave way, with the remark--

"All right, Professor.  `In for a penny, in for a pound;' I don't mind.
Only--I suppose a fellow mustn't smoke?"

"Smoke! oh no," answered the professor, in keen distress at thus being
obliged to deny his companion the solace of a pipe.  "Do you think I am
not pining for a smoke, too?" argued the scientist.  "But were we to do
so, the smell of the burning tobacco would scare everything away.
Nothing would come near us.  We will fill ourselves up with smokes when
by-and-by we walk back to the ship."

So Mildmay settled himself down as comfortably as he could once more,
and never knew when sleep overtook him.  As for the professor, he was
quite determined to remain where he was until daylight, if need were.
He told himself that the unicorns _must_ drink somewhere, and why not
here?  It was as likely a place as any, and quite worth watching, and--
and--yes--um!  The professor's eyes closed, his thoughts wandered, and
presently he, too, was asleep.

The grey light of dawn was in the sky when the slumbering pair were
startled into instant and broad wakefulness by the sound of a curious
barking kind of neigh.  They had heard it but once in their lives before
this, but they both recognised it in a moment.

"By Jove!" gasped the professor, laying his hand upon Mildmay's arm and
compressing it in a vice-like grasp, "the unicorns!"

Mildmay nodded, and seizing their rifles, the pair, with infinite
caution, parted the veiling reeds just sufficiently to afford them a
glimpse in the direction from which the sound had proceeded.  And there,
within half a dozen yards of them, their eager gaze fell upon a troop of
some thirty--horses?  Well, they were, in appearance, like the horses
one sees represented in Greek sculpture; rather short in the body, round
in the barrel, with slim, elegantly shaped, but apparently very strong
legs, and they carried their heads high upon thick, muscular, arching
necks.  They stood about fourteen hands high, and were of a beautiful
deep cream colour, with short black manes, black switched tails similar
to that of the gemsbok, and their legs were black from the knee
downward.  But their most remarkable characteristic was that the
stallions were provided with a single, straight, black, sharply pointed
horn, some three feet in length, projecting from the very centre of the
forehead, two or three inches above the level of the eyes.  They were
descending the slope that led down to the water, and were advancing at a
walk, their paces being singularly graceful and easy.  Their leader, an
exceedingly fine and handsome animal, was a yard or two in advance of
the rest, and, with arching neck and head carried somewhat low, he came
on, peering alertly right and left, evidently on the watch for possible
enemies.

"We must get a pair--two pairs if we can," murmured von Schalckenberg in
a low tone, rendered hoarse by excitement and anxiety.  "You take the
leader and another stallion, I will look out for the mares.  Aim for
just behind the shoulder.  Are you ready?"

"Yes," breathed Mildmay.

"Then _fire_!" whispered the professor.  And, as the rifle-hammers
softly clicked, the thud of the bullets was heard, and the leader and a
handsome mare dropped, shot through the heart.  The troop halted
instantly, snorting nervously and glancing quickly to right and left,
clearly puzzled at this sudden and unaccountable fall of two of their
number.  Quick as thought the hidden sportsmen each selected a fresh
victim, and ere one could count ten another pair of the beautiful
creatures were down.  This was enough; the unicorns now realised that
some mysterious deadly influence was at work among them, and, throwing
up their heads, they swerved short round and dashed off up the slope
again, over the ridge of which they vanished the next moment, uttering
shrill neighs of alarm.

The two hunters rose to their feet and shook hands in mutual
congratulation at their splendid luck ere they stepped out from their
ambush to inspect and admire this magnificent and unique addition to
their "bag."  The animals were all superb specimens, in perfect
condition, without a blemish; their coats smooth and glossy as satin,
the horns of the males long, straight, tough, and with points as sharp
as that of a bayonet.  The professor was in a perfect ecstasy of
delight; he declared that this was the supreme moment of his life; and
then corrected himself by saying that that moment would arrive when, in
the fulness of time, he would confront his brother Fellows of the
Zoological Society with the skins of a pair of unicorns, properly
prepared and set up by Ward, in confutation of the thinly veiled doubts
and scepticism with which certain of them had dared to receive a former
statement of his that unicorns actually existed, and that he had beheld
them with his own good eyes.  They had not scrupled to suggest that
possibly he might have been mistaken!  Donner und Blitzen! would they
still think so when they saw those skins?  Ha, ha!  When he, von
Schalckenberg, next made a definite statement, they would, perhaps, be
less ready to discredit it!

The next question was, would Mildmay be so very obliging as to go back
to the ship and bring her to the spot where the fallen unicorns lay?
The remainder of the party, and especially the ladies, would doubtless
like to see them, just as they were, ere the process of flaying had been
begun; moreover, they would need the assistance of the other men in
securing the skins, to say nothing of that of the lion and, possibly,
the python.  As for him, von Schalckenberg, he would remain there on
guard to protect those priceless trophies from depredation and injury by
vultures or wild beasts; they should never leave his sight until they
were safely removed and stowed away.  Danger?  Ach! what was danger
compared with the saving of those skins in perfect condition?  Besides,
he had his rifle and an abundant supply of cartridges; he was not
afraid.

"Very well," said Mildmay, "I shall go."  And away he started up the
slope forthwith, leaving the professor full in the open, seated upon the
body of one of the unicorns, with his pipe in his mouth and his rifle in
his hand, glaring round him warily through his gold-framed spectacles,
keenly on the watch for any predatory creature that should dare to
dispute the right of himself and his friend to their lawful spoils.

When Mildmay reached the ship he found Sir Reginald, Lethbridge, and
Sziszkinski already astir and taking their coffee in the dining-saloon.
They greeted his appearance with a shout.

"Hillo, Mildmay," exclaimed the baronet, "where have you sprung from?
Surely you have not been out all night?  And yet you look as though you
had.  Any luck?"

"_Rather_," answered Mildmay, with emphasis.  "Yes, thanks, George," to
the steward, "I'll take a cup of coffee.  Yes, the professor and I have
been out all night, although I don't think we really meant to stay so
long, but--"

"Well, but where is von Schalckenberg, then?  Did he not come in with
you?" interrupted Sir Reginald.

"No," answered Mildmay; "I left him by the margin of the lake, mounting
guard over four unicorns, and--"

"Unicorns?" ejaculated Lethbridge; "you lucky sailor-man!  Surely you do
not seriously mean to say that you have bagged any unicorns?"

"Four unicorns--two males and two females; one lion, and a python.  Not
so bad for one night's work, is it?  And I came in, Sir Reginald, at the
professor's request, to suggest that we should move the ship over to the
lake forthwith, to give you all a chance to see the beasts before we
start to flay them, and also to place them under the protection of the
ship, so to speak.  For now that we have them, the professor is afraid
to take his eyes off them for a moment lest something should get at them
and spoil the pelts."

"I should say so," concurred Sir Reginald.  "All right, Mildmay, you cut
away and get your bath.  I will take the ship over at once.  Whereabouts
shall I find von Schalckenberg?"

"Right at the southern end of the lake," said Mildmay.  "You can't very
well miss him.  Look for a gap in the reeds, and steer for that.  You
will find him there."

And, as Mildmay retired to his cabin to prepare for a bath, the other
three men hurried off to the pilot-house, eager to get a sight of the
professor and his interesting "bag."

As the _Flying Fish_ rose into the air, the occupants of her pilot-house
levelled their powerful binoculars upon the margin of the lake, and
almost immediately Lethbridge cried out--

"I see him!  There he is, away to the left, proudly mounting guard over
his spoils.  Starboard your helm a trifle, Elphinstone.  So; steady as
you go.  Do you see him?"

"Ay," said Sir Reginald, "I see him now," as he again raised his glasses
to his eyes.  "And, by Jove, he seems to be busy too.  Surely he is
using his rifle, isn't he?"

"He seems to be," observed Sziszkinski.  "Yes; he is down on one knee,
aiming at something.  Ha! look at that!  Lucky man! he is getting all
the sport.  Surely that was a lion that sprang into the air and fell
back among the rushes!"



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

IN THE HEART OF THE GREAT AFRICAN FOREST.

As the _Flying Fish_ settled down quite close to the spot where the
carcases of the four unicorns were lying, von Schalckenberg waved his
hand and shouted to the little group on deck--

"Ach! my friends, I am glad to see you.  Unicorns' flesh must be an
especially choice morsel with the carnivora in this part of the country,
for I have been literally beset since Mildmay left me.  I have had no
fewer than three lions, one leopard, and a whole pack of wild dogs
disputing with me the possession of these carcases."

"And how have you dealt with the disputants, Professor?" laughed
Lethbridge.

"Oh! there was but one way to deal with them, and I took it," answered
the professor.  "I shot them, and they are among those rushes.  The dogs
were the worst, because there were so many of them, and they were so
persistent.  But I drove them off at last."

"You appear to have had a busy time, to judge by the look of things!"
exclaimed Sir Reginald.

And indeed there was abundant evidence of this when the new arrivals
came to look more closely; for the carcases of eight wild dogs--
creatures as big as Siberian wolves, and quite as formidable-looking--
were in plain view, showing how determinedly they had attempted to
"rush" the professor, while others could be seen partially hidden among
the reeds, together with those of the leopard and one of the lions.

"Well, you have richly earned your breakfast, so come aboard and have
it," exclaimed Lethbridge.  "Nothing is likely to interfere with your
unicorns, now that this big ship is so close alongside.  But to make
quite sure that no accident happens, I will get a rifle and mount guard
up here if you like, while you get your bath and breakfast."

So it was arranged; and half an hour later von Schalckenberg entertained
the other occupants of the breakfast-table with a lively and graphic
account of the adventures of himself and Mildmay during the night, from
the moment of their departure from the ship.

That was a busy day for the five male members of the party, for of
course the professor insisted that the skins of the unicorns must be
removed with the utmost care, and the observance of every precaution
against stretching or otherwise injuring the rather thin and delicate
hides, which made the task of removal a somewhat protracted one.  And
when at length this was successfully achieved, there still remained the
carcases of four lions, one leopard, and a python to be dealt with.  It
was consequently well on in the afternoon ere the somewhat disagreeable
task was over, and the men were free to bathe, change their clothing,
and generally make themselves presentable.  This done, the _Flying Fish_
was taken back to her former berth on the bush-encircled area of open
ground, it having been unanimously agreed to spend a few days longer in
so splendid a game country as this seemed to be.  But all were agreed
that, after their exertions of the day, they were rather too tired to
enjoy a night's watching among the reeds of the lake.  The entire party
therefore adjourned to the music-room for an hour or two after dinner,
and retired early to their cabins to recuperate in readiness for
whatever the morrow might have in store for them.

For a full week the party hunted this grand game-producing district,
accumulating such a pile of lion and leopard skins, ostrich feathers,
ivory, rhinoceros-horns, and other trophies of the chase, that at length
Sir Reginald laughingly protested against any further slaughter,
declaring that unless an immediate move were made, the _Flying Fish_
would be unable to carry away the accumulated cargo, which, he reminded
his companions, would doubtless be largely added to ere they turned
their faces homeward.  But although the sport was good, it was
uneventful; there were no thrilling adventures or hairbreadth escapes to
record, due, so Mildmay half-grumblingly asserted, to the fact that
their weapons were so perfect that the poor animals had no chance to
show sport.  Accordingly, on the morning of a certain day, the great
ship once more rose into the air, and in leisurely fashion headed away
to the southward and eastward, on her way toward the ruins of ancient
Ophir, discovered by the baronet and his companions during the course of
their previous voyage of exploration in the _Flying Fish_.

Proceeding at the slow rate of one hundred miles per day, with
occasional pauses where game happened to be sighted that it was thought
worth while to hunt, the party arrived on a certain evening within sight
of a vast stretch of forest-land, extending east and west as far as the
eye could see, from the moderate elevation of three hundred feet at
which they were travelling.  This, von Schalckenberg declared, was the
Great Central African Forest discovered by Stanley, covering an area of
several thousand square miles of unexplored country, the home of the
pygmies, the gorilla, and heaven alone knew what other new, strange, and
interesting inhabitants, and offering innumerable possibilities to a
party of determined explorers.

"Well," said Sir Reginald, "_we_ are a party of determined explorers;
and I think I may say that if the element of personal risk is likely to
enter into the act of exploration, it would but add to the
attractiveness of the idea.  But we must not forget that we are not now
alone, as we were upon the occasion of our last cruise; we have two
women and a child with us now, who are absolutely dependent upon us for
protection.  It is true that, so long as they remain shut up in this
ship, little harm can happen to them; and there is also the fact that,
in case of emergency, my wife knows enough to be able to raise the ship
into the air and navigate her beyond the reach of a pressing danger; but
I am not so sure that, in the event of such an occasion arising, she
would be able to find her way back again to the starting-point after the
danger had passed.  And this, as I need scarcely point out, might prove
exceedingly awkward, both for them and for us--especially for us, who
would, in such an event, find ourselves stranded, without resources, and
with no possibility of knowing in which direction to look for the
missing ship.  Whatever we decide to do, therefore, I think we shall be
wise to act circumspectly.  I am quite willing to face any _legitimate_
danger that may be involved in our hunting or exploring undertakings;
but I confess that I should not be inclined to regard as legitimate any
such danger as that of these ladies being driven away from a given spot,
and lost."

"You are perfectly right, Elphinstone," concurred Lethbridge, gravely.
"The presence of the ladies and little Ida necessarily imposes certain
limitations upon our movements; and it is quite easy to imagine a dozen
or more undertakings that we might quite justifiably undertake, if we
were alone, that are not permissible under present circumstances.  A way
out of the difficulty that you have indicated would, of course, be for
one of us men who understand the working of the ship to remain with the
ladies; and it will afford me the greatest possible pleasure to do so."

"No, no, certainly not; by no manner of means, old chap," struck in
Mildmay, with quite unwonted eagerness.  "If anybody is to remain aboard
this ship I, obviously, am the man to do so.  For, in the first place, I
am such a confoundedly lazy beggar that it would be no pleasure to me to
go toiling and groping my way mile after mile through the thick
undergrowth of a forest like that, purely upon the off-chance of
stumbling up against something interesting enough to shoot or look at;
while you would enjoy nothing better."

"Excuse me, gentlemen," interposed Sir Reginald; "but a moment's
reflection, I think, will serve to convince you that, as your host, _I_
am the man who--"

"No, no," interrupted Mildmay, "that plea won't do at all, my dear
fellow; it is altogether too thin!  You, like Lethbridge and the
professor--to say nothing of Colonel Sziszkinski--would be in your
element prowling through that forest; while, as for me--well, I should
not go from choice, in any case.  So there you are!"

"Do you really mean that, Mildmay?" demanded Sir Reginald.

"Yes, upon my honour, I do," assented the skipper.  "I must confess," he
continued, "that I have a very strong predilection for a clear horizon
and an unimpeded view of the sky overhead, whether I happen to be ashore
or afloat.  Besides, it is not as though you needed me, you know; in
that case it would be very different, of course.  But--well, I think I
have fully made out my contention that, if it is necessary for either of
us to remain aboard, I am the man."

"Very well; then that is settled," agreed Sir Reginald.  "Now, the
question that next suggests itself is this: Are we to leave the ship
here, and endeavour to penetrate the forest from this point; or should
we take the ship into the heart of the forest, and use her as our
headquarters from which to make short day excursions?  There is
something to be said in favour of either plan.  For example, in
considering the first plan I mentioned, we all noticed a number of
native villages as we came along.  Two or three of these are only a few
miles distant; and it might be possible for us to engage any number of
those fellows to serve as bearers, to carry our _impedimenta_ for us,
cut a path through the undergrowth, and so on.  Under such conditions we
should certainly see far more of the forest than we can possibly hope to
do by adopting the other plan.  Plan number two, on the other hand,
appears to offer us the better chance to reach the heart of the forest.
Now, what say you, gentlemen?  Which plan appeals to you the more
strongly?  Or has either of you an alternative to suggest?"

"Let us try the second plan; and if that proves unsatisfactory we can
always fall back upon the first," said the professor.  And so it was
arranged.

Accordingly, on the following morning, the first streaks of dawn saw von
Schalckenberg astir, and on his way to the pilot-house, where he first
of all manipulated the lever that controlled the grip-anchors, drawing
it back, and thus causing the anchors to relinquish their hold upon the
ground.  Then he turned a sufficient stream of vapour into the
air-chambers to create a partial vacuum and cause the ship to rise in
the air to a height of about two hundred feet above the tops of the most
lofty trees; and finally to set the engines going ahead at a speed of
about fifty miles an hour, in accordance with an arrangement between
himself and Sir Reginald, made the last thing before turning in on the
previous night.  Then, the morning being perfectly calm, he set the
course due south, and returned below to get his bath and dress.

For the first three hours or so of this comparatively rapid flight the
forest was found to be by no means dense.  The trees grew more or less
in clumps, with plenty of open spaces between, many of which were
occupied by native villages, the inhabitants of which turned out _en
masse_ to gaze in awe at the wonderful sight of the huge ship rushing
through the air overhead, and to greet her appearance with weird,
blood-curdling cries and the beating of their great war drums.  Then
they crossed the Aruwimi River--an important tributary of the great
Congo, shortly afterward sighting the snow-crowned summit of Ruwenzori,
glistening in the sun.  And here the villages abruptly ceased, and the
forest growth rapidly thickened, until, with the arrival of noon, they
found themselves floating over a mass of foliage so dense that it was
impossible to see anything of the ground beneath.  They had by this time
traversed some two hundred and fifty miles of forest, and they came to
the conclusion that they were now near enough to the heart of it for all
practical purposes.  They therefore slowed the ship down to a speed of
ten knots, and rose to a height of two thousand feet, with the object of
searching for some opening in the great mass of multi-tinted green
beneath them large enough to receive the ship and allow her to come to
earth.  This they eventually found some ten miles farther south, on the
banks of an almost dry stream, flowing in a westerly direction.  Four
mountain peaks were then in sight to the eastward, at an estimated
distance of between forty and fifty miles.

By the time that the ship was moored luncheon was on the table; and at
the conclusion of the meal Sir Reginald Elphinstone, Colonel Lethbridge,
the professor, and Colonel Sziszkinski took their rifles and left the
ship upon what they termed a preliminary exploration of the forest in
their immediate vicinity.

They very soon discovered that any attempt to penetrate the forest
without the aid of axes and bush-knives would be utterly useless.  Let
them go in what direction they would, a few yards of laborious
struggling through the dense undergrowth was certain to bring them to a
spot where the thicket became so dense and so inextricably tangled that
further progress became impossible.  As a last resource, therefore, they
tried the river, and here they got on very much better, the water being
so low that much of the bed was dry; and by scrambling over boulders and
great piles of drifted tree-trunks and tangled scrub that were
encountered at frequent intervals, with, here and there, a few yards of
clear gravel or sand, upon which the going was perfectly easy, they
eventually reached an open space of some twenty acres in extent.  This
during the rainy season was undoubtedly a pool; but it was now merely a
chaotic agglomeration of rocky outcrop, boulders, coarse shingle, and
sand, in which lay, half buried, further tangled masses of tree-trunks,
branches, and undergrowth, with thread-like streams of water twisting
hither and thither through it and occasionally widening out into broad,
shallow pools.  The important fact in connection with this spot,
however, was that, upon careful examination, it was discovered that
several well-defined tracks through the forest converged here, the
imprints upon the soil of which showed that the various denizens of the
forest, for many miles round in every direction, used this spot as their
regular drinking-place.  It was obvious at once to them all that this
was the most favourable spot for an ambush that they could possibly wish
for; and at length, after careful examination of several promising
positions, they chose a pile of rocks near the centre of the open space,
and against which a great heap of tangled debris had been piled during
flood-time, as the spot where they would lie in wait for such game as
might come down to drink.  They improved the natural advantages of the
place so far as they could in the limited time at their disposal, and
then hastened back to the _Flying Fish_ to report themselves and make
their preparations for the coming night.

It was within an hour of sunset when, having snatched a hasty impromptu
meal and provided themselves with a few sandwiches and a well-filled
pocket-flask each, as well as a liberal supply of cartridges, the four
hunters left the _Flying Fish_ on their way to the ambush which they had
arranged.  The golden light of evening still gleamed brilliantly upon
the topmost boughs of the forest trees, but down below in the river bed
the twilight was already deepening as the quartette made their laborious
way over the many obstacles that impeded their progress; and the sight
of a deer or two that had already made their way down to the river to
drink was a reminder to them that they had no time to spare, and an
incentive to avoid dawdling on the way.  The multitudinous insect-life
of the forest was already awake and stirring, the hum and chirp of the
myriad winged things causing the air fairly to vibrate with softly
strident sound, to which was added the rolling chorus of innumerable
frogs inhabiting the marshy low-lying patches contiguous to the river
margin.  Great gorgeously winged dragon-flies swept hither and thither;
a few belated butterflies--some of which were so large and so
magnificently marked as to excite the professor's most enthusiastic
admiration--fluttered here and there in the more open spaces; birds of
various descriptions and of more or less brilliant plumage--some of the
smaller kinds being veritable winged jewels--flitted from tree to tree
uttering weird and startling cries, while an occasional soft rustling
sound in the adjoining thicket betrayed the movement of some larger
creature.

It was so nearly dark when the four hunters at length reached their
chosen hiding-place that they experienced some little difficulty in
satisfactorily bestowing themselves within it; and when at length they
had done so, there ensued a weary wait that was exceedingly trying to
their patience.  For the darkness soon became so profound that although
from time to time there came to their ears certain slight sounds, such
as the sudden swish of a bough, or the crackling of withered leaves and
twigs, betraying the stealthy movements of some wild creature, they
could see nothing, strain their eyes as they might.

At length, however, a soft, silvery radiance brightening the topmost
branches of the trees encircling them proclaimed the rising of the moon,
then well advanced toward her second quarter; and as the light gradually
brightened, they became aware of certain shadowy forms indistinctly seen
moving hither and thither in the deeper shadow of the trees, their
whereabouts betrayed by the momentary rattle of a displaced pebble, or
the soft plash of their feet in the shallow pools from which they drank.

At length there came a moment when, perhaps from some subtle atmospheric
change, affecting the quality of the light, they suddenly became aware
that the open space in the midst of which they were ambushed was teeming
with animal life.  The forest seemed to be pouring out its denizens from
every quarter, and all of them were flocking to this spot to quench
their thirst.  Yonder, for example, was a crowd of buck, of a dozen or
more different kinds, all congregated together in one spot, and more or
less vigorously hustling each other in their endeavours to get at the
most desirable pool, while, some distance away, three leopards,
flattened out upon a low overhanging ledge of rock until they were
scarcely distinguishable, lapped the water from a tiny streamlet that
trickled past them.  Here, quite close at hand, a troop of monkeys of
various kinds and sizes were softly yet fiercely chattering at each
other as they squabbled for the best places, while others, with quick,
excited gestures, ladled up the water in the palms of their hands, from
which they drank.  None of these creatures, however, were deemed by the
lurking hunters as worthy of their attentions, although Sziszkinski
would fain have had a shot at the leopards; but von Schalckenberg
explained, in a scarcely audible whisper, that everything in sight
belonged to well-known species, while they were avowedly out after only
rare specimens.  The leopards, therefore, were, like the bucks, allowed
to drink their fill and retire unmolested.

But now a sound of deep grunting and snorting, accompanied by the
occasional snap of a dried branch, gradually separated itself from and
became audible above the other noises of the forest, betraying the
approach of some beast that scorned concealment, and presently there
emerged into the opening a huge red buffalo, shaggy of hide, ferocious
of aspect, and with a pair of enormous, deep-curving horns.  He
clattered down the narrow, shingly, boulder-strewn bed of the river--so
noisily that the monkeys fled precipitately, with loud shrieks of
alarm--and stood fully revealed in a small patch of brilliantly white
moonlight, tossing his head, and sniffing the air suspiciously as he
turned it from side to side.

"Now, Boris, my friend, you may shoot, if you will," whispered the
professor, eagerly, to his Russian friend.  "That fellow is new to me; I
know him not.  His head is--but, ach! you would not understand if I
explained.  Wait until he turns his broadside to us, and then aim behind
the shoulder."

A few breathless moments followed, for the huge brute persisted in
facing the little party as he drank; but, at length, having quenched his
thirst, he turned to retreat into the forest depths again, and, as he
did so, Sziszkinski's hammer clicked, and, with a low, deep moaning
sigh, the great beast sank to the earth, kicked convulsively for a few
seconds, and was still.

"Good!" ejaculated von Schalckenberg; "that is a very valuable addition
to--"

He was silenced by the light pressure of Sir Reginald Elphinstone's hand
upon his arm, and turning, he saw the baronet raise his hand and point.
He looked in the direction indicated, and in a moment his frame seemed
to stiffen with eagerness as he gazed.  For there, standing knee-deep in
a pool, some two hundred yards away, and quite alone, was an animal not
unlike a giraffe, but very much smaller, and with a neck that, although
not so long in proportion to its body as that of a giraffe, was still
very long.  The creature was strongly silhouetted against a patch of
moon-lighted vegetation, and therefore stood out black against its
lighter background, with no indication of its markings.  The outline of
it, however, was clear-cut and distinct, and as the professor continued
to gaze at it he became an interesting study of growing excitement and
agitation.  He felt feverishly for the binocular glasses that he had not
brought with him, and held his breath until he could do so no longer,
letting it out suddenly with a gasp that he as suddenly checked, glaring
through his spectacles, meanwhile, as though he would fain hypnotise the
creature.  Then, as it bowed its head to drink, he turned to Sir
Reginald and whispered huskily--

"Shoot, my friend, shoot!  But, as you love me, don't miss; for, as I am
a sinful man, it is none other than the _okapi_!"



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

LOST!

The okapi!  That strange new animal of which so much had been heard of
late in zoological and scientific circles, the existence of which had
been so absolutely asserted, and the creature itself so definitely
described, by certain travellers; but of which, thus far, not so much as
a single bone, or even a fragment of skin, had been forthcoming!

Sir Reginald instantly recognised the supreme importance of securing so
pricelessly valuable a specimen, and carefully levelled his rifle.
Kneeling on one knee, and resting his elbow on the other, with nerves as
firm and steady as steel, he brought the two sights of his weapon in one
upon a spot immediately behind the shoulder of the creature, as nearly
as he could guess at it in that awkward light, and pressed the trigger.
And at that precise moment a small stone under his heel slipped, and the
jar of the movement, slight as it was, communicated itself to the
weapon, causing the sights to swerve slightly out of line!  An
expression of intense annoyance escaped his lips.  Had he missed?  No;
as the question presented itself to him he saw the animal throw up its
head, give a single bound forward, and roll over.  But, as an
irrepressible shout of triumph was raised by the excited von
Schalckenberg, the watchers saw the quarry scramble to its feet and limp
off into the darkness of the forest, evidently pretty badly hurt.

"We must follow it up!" cried the professor, eagerly; "we must secure
it, at all costs.  An okapi is worth a hundred other animals of any kind
that one can name.  And that one is wounded; we have but to follow it,
and we are certain to find it, sooner or later.  Come, my friends, let
us lose not a moment in pursuing it."

And utterly ignoring any further idea of concealment, forgetting also,
in the excitement of the moment, the imprudence, to say the least of it,
of attempting to pursue a wounded animal through the intricacies of a
dense forest, at night, and communicating his excitement to his
companions by his eager exclamations, the professor led the way out of
their ambush, dashing recklessly over rocks, loose boulders, and other
obstructions in his anxiety to arrive quickly at the spot where he hoped
to pick up the trail.

It took them but a few minutes to find the spot at which the okapi had
left the water, for the rocks were splashed with blood, leaving a clear
trail toward one of the innumerable alleys or "runs" through the forest
that debouched upon the drinking-place.  But they had no sooner left the
open and entered the particular alley along which the animal had
retreated than they recognised the absolute hopelessness of attempting
to follow the blood-marks without artificial light of some sort.  Sir
Reginald and Lethbridge, indeed, with a partial return to
reasonableness, suggested the abandonment of the chase for the night,
and a return to the _Flying Fish_ until the morning, when they could
come back to the spot, provided with everything necessary to enable them
to carry the pursuit to a successful issue.  But von Schalckenberg
protested so vehemently against this course, urging with so much
plausibility the likelihood that the creature would drop exhausted
before it had run a mile, and that, if the search for it were left until
the morning, all that they would find of it would probably be its
mangled remains, so torn and mauled by other animals as to be utterly
valueless, that at length the others allowed themselves to be persuaded
against their better judgment.  So gathering together such dry rushes
and other matters as could be converted into torches, they lighted
these, and with the illumination thus obtained, proceeded upon their
quest.

The fresh blood spoor was easily followed for the first half-mile or so,
at which point their hopes of success were stimulated by a sudden
scrambling sound at no great distance ahead of them, as though some
heavy animal had been startled by the light of their torches and the
noise of their approach, and had hastily betaken itself to flight.
Encouraged by the sounds, they hurried forward, and presently came upon
a small puddle of blood and a "form" in the thick carpet of ferns and
fallen leaves, with which the soil was covered, that plainly pointed to
the fact that the wounded animal had here sunk down to rest, and had
only just moved on again.  This last impression was clearly borne out by
the circumstance that, even as the party bent over the spot, examining
it, the crushed ferns were slowly raising themselves again.

"Ah!" ejaculated von Schalckenberg, as he commented upon this, "the
chase will soon be over; we shall come up with him again within the next
ten minutes, and then he will not escape us."

The ten minutes, however, became twenty, and the twenty lengthened out
to forty, and still they had not overtaken the okapi, although they
frequently heard sounds at no great distance ahead which led them to
believe that they were close upon its heels.  But they had been greatly
delayed by the constant necessity to pause while they renewed their
torches; and latterly the blood spoor had been steadily growing less
distinct.  It appeared that the wound had almost ceased to bleed, and
this had greatly added to the difficulty of pursuit.  Finally, the
blood-marks ceased altogether, and thenceforward they could do nothing
but press forward along what, in the uncertain light of their torches,
seemed to be the most well-defined track, finding encouragement for
their persistency in those occasional rustlings ahead of them.  At
length, however, these also ceased, and when they had been plodding
doggedly forward for at least a quarter of an hour without hearing a
sound save that made by themselves, Lethbridge called a halt.

"Look here, you fellows," he said, "I don't want to discourage you--and
especially _you_, Professor--but don't you think this affair has gone
quite far enough?  I am bitterly sorry and disappointed to be obliged to
say it, but I think there can be no doubt that we have lost that okapi.
Whether the poor beast has recovered sufficiently to have been enabled
to out-distance us, or whether, on the other hand, finding himself hard
pressed, he has made a dash ahead and then quietly slipped into cover
somewhere, I am not prepared to say, but I am morally convinced that we
shall not see him again.  Now, if your opinion upon this matter is the
same as mine, I would suggest that we turn back forthwith, since nothing
is to be gained by going any farther forward, while there is just a
possibility that we may experience some difficulty in finding our way
back out of this maze."

It appeared that Sir Reginald was of the same opinion as Lethbridge.
Von Schalckenberg, on the other hand, was so absolutely certain that
they were still upon the track of the okapi, and that they would soon
come up with it, also that there would be no difficulty whatever in the
matter of finding their way back, that, as he explained, he felt quite
justified in urging the others to continue the pursuit, pleading at the
same time the folly of giving up, now that they had come so far, and
done so much.  The result was that Sir Reginald and Lethbridge
ultimately yielded to the professor's entreaties, the baronet with a
certain amount of inward misgiving, and Lethbridge with a resigned shrug
of the shoulders.

The trail--or rather, what von Schalckenberg believed to be the trail--
was accordingly followed for another half-hour, but without the
discovery of any further sign of the okapi.  And then a difficulty arose
in connection with the torches.  There was nothing now available for
these but such dry twigs and branches as they could gather from the
ground, or the adjacent scrub, as they went; and while the small twigs
were so exceedingly combustible that they were consumed in a minute or
two, the larger ones refused to burn at all.  And finally even the
professor himself at length very reluctantly came to the conclusion that
the okapi was irretrievably lost, and that to seek further for it would
but be a useless expenditure of time and energy.

With the arrival of the professor at this conclusion, and his admission
thereof, the party at once turned back and began to retrace their steps;
the difficulty with the torches increasing as they went.  They struggled
on for a considerable time, however, von Schalckenberg leading the way,
until at length they came to a small open space in the centre of which
grew an enormous mahogany tree.  With one accord the four men came to a
dead halt, regarding each other with an expression very nearly
approaching to consternation.

"We have missed our way," exclaimed Sir Reginald, with decision; "I am
certain that we never passed that tree on our outward journey."

The others were equally convinced of the truth of this, as also of
Lethbridge's terse statement that there was nothing for it but to try
back by the way that they had come until they again hit the right path.
But they decided that, before doing so, they would endeavour to provide
themselves with a good supply of torches, a large quantity of dry twigs
and branches from the mahogany tree offering them the opportunity to do
so, and the professor blaming the inadequacy of the light for his
mistake in having led them into a wrong path.

They accordingly spent the best part of an hour in this manner, by the
end of which they had as many torches--of a sort--as they could
conveniently carry.  During this period the four men had been wandering
round and round the open space in which they had so unexpectedly found
themselves, seeking the most suitable material for their purpose; and
when at length they were ready to make a fresh start a question arose as
to the precise whereabouts of the spot at which they had entered.  Each,
it appeared, had his own opinion, which differed from that of the
others; and when, in order to settle the question, they decided to
search for their own footprints as a guide, they made the disconcerting
discovery that the imprints were altogether too faint to be traceable by
such comparatively inexperienced trackers as themselves.  Furthermore,
although before entering this open space it had appeared to them that
they had been following a tolerably well-defined path, or "run," now
that they came to look for such a thing it proved impossible to find
anything of the kind, an experimental advance of a few yards in any
given direction yielding a precisely similar impression.  The final
conclusion arrived at was that, having once got out of the proper track,
they had not been following a path at all, but simply making their way
at haphazard between the innumerable patches of underscrub.

At this point Sziszkinski interposed with a remark that offered a
possible solution of the difficulty.

"I know not, gentlemen," he said, "whether any of you took particular
notice of the appearance of that mahogany tree at the moment when we
entered this enclosure; but my recollection of it is that, as we first
became aware of its presence, that big lower limb extended almost at
right angles to our track, pointing to our left.  Carrying my memory
back to that moment, I think I must have been standing here, or
hereabout,"--placing himself in position to illustrate his remark--"and
facing this way.  And if I am correct, that,"--as he faced right about
and pointed--"must be about the point at which we entered."

With their memories thus jogged, the other three men presently came to
the conclusion that the Russian was right; and starting afresh, upon
this assumption, they instituted a further and still closer search for
their own spoor, eventually finding certain faint and indefinite
indentations in the carpet of withered leaves which they agreed must be
their own footprints.  Following these faint indications as well as they
could, they now pushed forward eagerly; for Sir Reginald had by this
time become seriously apprehensive that they might not get back to the
_Flying Fish_ by breakfast-time, in which case he knew that those left
behind on board her would quickly become alarmed, and suffer much
distress at the non-appearance of the absentees.  And a gratifying
assurance that they were going right was afforded the wanderers, about
half an hour after their departure from the mahogany tree, by the
discovery of the charred remains of one of the torches that had helped
to light them on their way.

This discovery put fresh heart into the little party; for if they had
come thus far all right there was no reason, they told themselves, why
they should not keep right, and soon hit the track back to the
drinking-place.  Then they found another charred brand, and another; and
now, quite happy in the assurance that they were passing back over
ground that they had already traversed, they pressed forward
light-heartedly enough until, after the lapse of nearly another
half-hour, Lethbridge again damped their ardour by saying--

"Look here, you fellows, doesn't it strike you that we are going a
little too fast?  It must be nearly half an hour since we passed the
remains of that last torch; and I have not yet seen another.  Have any
of you?  Because, if you haven't, we are going wrong again!  The best of
those things only lasted about ten minutes, you know."

This was perfectly true, and the inference drawn by the ex-colonel was
so obvious that, without pausing to discuss the matter, they at once
wheeled round and proceeded to retrace their steps.  But although each
one of them felt convinced that they were really going back again over
precisely the same ground that they had already traversed, that last
relic of a torch was not again encountered; and at length, having
wandered on for another hour or more, in the hope of getting back to the
mahogany tree, from which to make a fresh start, the alarming conviction
forced itself upon them that they were _lost_--utterly lost in this
great illimitable African forest!

"I am afraid there is no doubt about it," said Lethbridge, when, a
little later, the party had come to a halt in their perplexity, and the
grim truth had found expression in words, "and, that being the case, I
think the best thing we can do is to sit down--for I imagine that we are
all beginning to feel a trifle fagged--and nibble a sandwich or two,
washing it down with a nip from our flasks, as we discuss the
situation."

"Of course," remarked Sir Reginald, when they had seated themselves and
produced their refreshments, "although this is a rather awkward
adventure, there is no need for us to feel any alarm or apprehension.
We are certain to extricate ourselves sooner or later, and I think we
may take it for granted that we are not likely to starve, so long as we
have any cartridges left.  The thing that worries me is the anxiety that
our friends aboard the _Flying Fish_ will suffer when we fail to turn up
in decent time."

"Yes, certainly, that is the worst feature of the case," agreed
Lethbridge, "because, of course, they will know that something has
happened to detain us, but they will not know what it is; and there is
always a tendency among women to imagine the worst.  It would not matter
so much if we possessed a means of communicating with them, for although
we could not, perhaps, direct Mildmay how to find us, we could, at all
events, keep them advised of our welfare.  I suppose," he continued,
turning with a smile to von Schalckenberg, "you do not happen to possess
the power of telepathy, do you, Professor?"

"No," answered the professor, "unhappily I do not.  But your remark has
suggested to me the idea of a little experiment which I will attempt
when we get back to the ship.  If it should prove successful it may help
us on some subsequent occasion similar to the present.  But the question
is, how are we to get back to the ship?"

"Well," remarked Sir Reginald, "it appears to me that we cannot do
anything more until daylight.  We are lost in this forest, and have not
at present the slightest notion as to the direction we ought to take.
That, I think, is indisputable, and it is useless to shut our eyes to
the fact.  We may, therefore, as well stay here as anywhere, and rest
until daylight.  It is now just half-past four; we shall, therefore, not
have very long to wait.  Now, as to our position.  We know that we left
the river by way of its south bank; and, since we have not again touched
it, we must still be somewhere to the southward of it.  Therefore, if,
when daylight comes, we head northward, we are certain to strike the
river before long; and, once there, we ought not to meet with much
difficulty in finding our ambush again, from which, of course, we can
easily find our way back to the ship."

"Excellent, and thoroughly well reasoned out," remarked Lethbridge.  "I
quite agree with you, Elphinstone.  We cannot do better than remain here
until daylight, as you say; and then, with the coming of sunrise, we
shall get at the points of the compass and know which way to steer in
order to hit off the river again."

The professor and Colonel Sziszkinski also agreed that Sir Reginald's
plan was a good one.  They therefore settled themselves comfortably,
and, with the aid of their pipes and chat, beguiled the time as best
they could.

The moon had set some hours before this, and the forest was consequently
plunged in darkness so profound that it was impossible to see anything
beyond their immediate surroundings, which were illuminated for the
space of some four or five yards by the flickering light of their
torches.  The silence also was profound, for the buzzing _chirr_ of the
insect-life of the place had long since ceased, and only the occasional
crackle of dry leaves or twigs betrayed the fact that the great solitude
held other denizens than themselves.  At length, however, when their
watches marked the hour of seven a.m. they became aware of a dim,
ghostly light filtering down upon them from above and stealthily
revealing the presence of tree-trunk, twisted creepers, and tangled
underscrub at gradually widening distances from them.  Whereupon they
charged and lighted their pipes afresh, extinguished their torches, and,
after allowing themselves a few minutes longer to enable their eyes to
become accustomed to the dim, sombre twilight that alone pervaded those
illimitable forest aisles, set out upon a course which they agreed would
ultimately lead them back to the river.

Their course was anything but a straight one, for they were obliged to
wind hither and thither between and around enormous masses of tangled,
impenetrable undergrowth; and there were many occasions when they were
compelled to go some little distance in a direction the very opposite of
that which they wished to follow, ere they could again hit off a
practicable path leading northward.  Yet notwithstanding this, they
began to feel some disappointment and recurrence of anxiety when, at
eleven o'clock in the forenoon, they still seemed as far off as ever
from finding the river.  There was nothing for it, however, but to press
forward as they were going; and this they did, in somewhat noisy
fashion--for there seemed to them to be no very especial reason for
silence--until there suddenly broke upon their ears a deep, hollow,
drumming sound, speedily followed by a series of loud, fierce roars.
The sounds emanated from somewhere close at hand, and after a moment's
instinctive pause to listen, they all with one accord hastened forward
to investigate, with the result that they suddenly found themselves
emerging from the cramped and gloomy environment of the forest depths
into a comparatively open arena, roughly circular in shape, and nearly a
mile in diameter, thickly carpeted with rich, lush grass, and but
sparsely dotted with trees.

As the wanderers entered this space, they saw, about a dozen yards away,
a very fine gorilla, upreared, with his back toward them, fiercely
beating his chest with his huge fists, and giving vent to a succession
of savage, barking roars.  The exciting cause of this exhibition of
anger was not at first apparent.  But presently the little party of
interested witnesses caught sight of a dark object nearly hidden in the
grass; and as they watched this object, its details gradually revealed
themselves, and they recognised it as an animal of the leopard species,
of about the same size as the ordinary leopard, and similarly, marked,
save that the tint of the skin, instead of being tawny yellow, was a
rich brown, approaching very nearly to chocolate.

"Look! what animal is that?" ejaculated the professor, in a husky
whisper.  "I do not know him.  He is new to me--a new species!  And the
gorilla, too; what a splendid specimen!--"

Von Schalckenberg fell suddenly silent, constrained thereto by his
interest in the impending drama, for it was evident that the leopard
meditated an attack upon the gorilla.  The great cat was crouching low
in the grass, with its ears laid back flat to its head, its savage eyes
gleaming with hate as it watched every movement of its antagonist, and
its tail twitching jerkingly now to this side, now to that.  The
gorilla, meanwhile, as fully alert as the leopard, was advancing
craftily toward it, a single pace at a time, with the apparent intention
of getting within leaping distance, and then suddenly springing upon its
foe.  The leopard, however, appeared to be fully aware of its enemy's
intention, and also of how to frustrate it; for it remained patiently
crouching until the gorilla was in the very act of pulling itself
together for a leap, and then, at the psychological moment, sprang high
into the air, leaping clear and clean over the gorilla's head, and
landing a yard or so in his rear; then, before the huge creature had
time to recover from his astonishment at such extraordinary tactics, the
leopard again gathered itself together for a spring, and was in a moment
on the gorilla's back, with its teeth deeply sunk in the back of the
creature's neck, while with its terrible claws it dug and tore at the
gorilla's throat.  So completely was the latter taken by surprise, that
he seemed utterly incapable of striking a blow in self-defence.  Instead
he simply threw up his long, hairy, tremendously muscular arms,
staggered backward a pace or two, and fell to the earth, moaning and
groaning horribly as he clasped his terribly lacerated throat with both
hands, the leopard having meanwhile leaped nimbly aside and crouched
afresh as its enemy fell.  It was evident, however, that there was no
more fight left in the gorilla; the creature was, beyond doubt, mortally
injured, and lay there moaning piteously, with the blood streaming
through his fingers, making no attempt to regain his feet.  His enemy at
length seemed to realise this, for after remaining crouched and watching
for some three or four minutes, it rose to its feet and began to slink
away, but was promptly stopped and laid low by a shot from Sir
Reginald's rifle; while Lethbridge, cautiously approaching the prostrate
gorilla, sent a bullet through his skull, and thus put him out of his
misery.

"Now we must push on again," exclaimed Sir Reginald.  "I don't know,
Professor, whether or not you wish to have either of those skins; but,
if you do, we must wait until we get back to the ship, and then come and
look for them.  We cannot spare the time to take them now, or cumber
ourselves with them when taken.  Now, gentlemen, it is noon, and there
is the sun.  He is on the meridian, and consequently due north of us.
He certainly does not cast a very long shadow, but he casts enough to
show that yonder lies our path; so, forward!"

Their path happened to lead almost directly through the centre of this
wide, open space, and the going being easy they quickly traversed it,
and plunged again into the forest shadows on the other side, where their
slow, toilsome, groping style of progress was resumed.  For three long
hours they struggled on, weary, now, beyond power of expression, often
in grave doubt as to whether or no they were pursuing the right
direction, and every moment growing more seriously disconcerted at the
extraordinary circumstance that, although during the day they must have
journeyed many more miles than they had during the previous night, they
still failed to reach the river for which they were aiming.

At length, quite late in the afternoon, they again unexpectedly emerged
from the forest into another open space, very similar in size and
appearance to the one in which they had witnessed the combat between the
gorilla and the leopard.  As they stood for a moment in the open,
blinking their dazzled eyes in the strong and unaccustomed sunshine, in
a vain effort to classify the several objects, moving and motionless,
that they saw dotted about the plain, a shout reached their ears,
answered by another and another, and half a dozen more.  Then they
became aware of the sound of lowing cattle, and presently, as their eyes
adjusted themselves to the sudden change in the light conditions, they
recognised that they were on the outskirts, so to speak, of a native
village, and that the inhabitants, whose quick eyes had detected their
presence upon the instant of their emergence from the forest, were
already mustering, with spear and shield, in unquestionably menacing
fashion.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

A FOREST ADVENTURE.

"Natives, and savages at that," remarked Lethbridge, taking in the
situation in an instant.  "Now, you fellows," he continued, "our game is
to show a bold front, and to get well into the open straight away, so
that none of our black friends yonder can slip round, under cover of the
forest, and take us at close quarters in the rear.  Those chaps may be
perfectly harmless and peaceable, but I confess they don't look it, and
it is a wise thing to be prepared for the worst.  And now, Professor,
here is an opportunity for you to come out strong; you are acquainted
with no end of these African lingos, are you not?  Better lose no time
in conveying to their intelligences the fact that we are friends, and
that if they are prepared to supply us with food, drink, and a shakedown
for the night, and to pilot us to the river to-morrow, we will
graciously refrain from annihilating them.  But you will have to do it
quick, old chap, for it looks remarkably as though they were about to
make an uncommonly ugly demonstration against us."

It did, indeed.  For, even while Lethbridge had been speaking, the
blacks had gathered, to the extent of some three or four hundred, each
armed with shield and spears, supplemented in many cases by heavy clubs
with big knotted heads thickly studded with formidable spikes, and were
now arranging themselves in a kind of crescent formation, as though to
attack and surround the four white men.

Von Schalckenberg walked up to and seized a small leafy branch
projecting low down from the trunk of a tree close at hand, and wrenched
it off.  Then, raising this above his head, he boldly advanced toward
the threatening phalanx that was already moving forward.

"We must stick close to him," exclaimed Lethbridge, who by tacit consent
had assumed the direction of affairs in this crisis; "we must not allow
him to be cut off from us, or we shall never see him again."

The German boldly advanced, waving aloft his symbol of peace, and
shouting, in as many of the African dialects as he could call to mind,
that they were friends.  His assurances, however, if understood,
appeared to be quite unconvincing--to put it mildly--the attitude of the
natives growing momentarily more hostile and menacing, as though the
mere sight of a white man stirred their worst passions to their lowest
depths.

"Halt!" cried Lethbridge, in a low, tense voice.  "Those fellows are
about to make a rush.  Form up in line, and, the moment they start to
run, open fire upon them, _and keep it up_.  If we let them get within
striking distance of us, we are done for!"

Whether or not the sudden halt of the quartette conveyed to the native
mind the mistaken impression that the white men were afraid, or whether
it was that Lethbridge's intuition had rightly interpreted an already
fixed determination, it is impossible to say, but the fact remains that
as the four whites halted in line, a gigantic savage sprang to the front
and, waving his shield and spears above his head, shouted a few words to
the others as he started to run toward the little band.

"I will take the leader; the rest of you fire into the brown," cried
Lethbridge, levelling his rifle.  As the words left his lips the _click,
click_ of the rifle-hammers sounded, and the leading savage and three
others stumbled and fell prone to the earth, their shields and spears
flying from their nerveless hands, and ere they were fairly down, four
others rolled over and lay motionless, followed by another and yet
another four, until, within the brief space of some twenty seconds, no
fewer than forty black warriors lay prostrate, either dead, or badly
wounded.  And this had happened merely because those four terrible white
men had pointed at them with their long, straight, shining sticks!
There had been no fire, no smoke, no noise; the white men had simply
_pointed_ at them, and lo, forty of their best men were down!  The
native mind is quick in its appreciation of the hard logic of facts; and
by the time that those forty warriors were prostrate, it had assimilated
the conviction that the inhabitants of that village had rashly embarked
upon a distinctly unhealthy enterprise when they undertook the seductive
pastime of attempting to massacre that apparently insignificant little
band of white men.  And at this point in the drama the whole shouting,
yelling crowd suddenly became silent, pulled up short, and, as four more
of their number dropped, flung themselves on their faces to the earth,
grovelling and howling loudly for mercy.  And only just in the nick of
time, too, so far as the white men were concerned, for had the courage
of the savages lasted long enough to carry them a further fifty yards,
they would have arrived within striking distance, and a most
distinguished scientist, in the person of Professor Heinrich von
Schalckenberg, would have been "wiped out," and his three friends with
him.

"Ah!" ejaculated Sir Reginald, "that was `touch and go' with us, and no
mistake!  Now, Professor, if you can make them understand you, just ask
them what the dickens they mean by attacking white men in that
gratuitous and light-hearted fashion; and then explain to them that we
have no desire at all to do them the slightest harm if they will but
behave civilly to us."

The professor raised his hand and called, in half a dozen different
dialects, for silence, whereupon one of the savages presently rose to
his feet and delivered himself of a few remarks, in the tones of a
highly injured individual.  And then followed quite a lengthy dialogue
between him and the professor, at the conclusion of which the latter,
turning to his friends, explained--

"This fellow, who calls himself 'Msusa, and his tribe the Luewi, informs
me--so far as I can comprehend him--that they attacked us because, some
time ago--I cannot make out how long--some people, wearing long beards,
like ourselves, came here and stole a large number of their young men;
and the Luewi, when they saw us, mistook us for those same thieves come
back upon another man-stealing expedition, which they promptly
determined to nip in the bud."

"Quite right of them, too," agreed Sir Reginald.  "But you had better
explain to them, Professor, that it is unwise of them to jump to
conclusions with such lightning-like rapidity as they have just
exhibited, and also that white men are by no means all of them
slave-dealers--which, I take it, is what those other fellows are.  And,
by the way, did you mention that we are tired and hungry, and wish to be
guided to the river?"

"Not yet," answered the professor.  "Our friend 'Msusa was so busy
explaining and apologising for the attack upon us that I have not yet
had the chance.  But I will, though, at once."

And then ensued another long palaver between von Schalckenberg and the
savage, its excessive length being due, as the former explained, to the
difficulty experienced by the principals in understanding each other.
At length, however, 'Msusa turned to his friends and explained the
situation to them, with the result that the four white men were
ultimately invited to enter the village, partake of refreshments, and
remain there for the night, upon the understanding that a guide to the
river would be furnished to them the next morning.

"All right," agreed Sir Reginald.  "We will go to their village and
sample their hospitality.  But as to remaining with them for the night,
I must confess I do not at all like the idea.  Our friends aboard the
_Flying Fish_ will already have suffered several hours of cruel anxiety
on our account, and I am unwilling to prolong that anxiety a moment
longer than is necessary.  Why will they not let us have a guide
forthwith?  Surely the river cannot be so very far away!"

Von Schalckenberg tried 'Msusa again, but without success.

"The fellow speaks such a barbarous dialect that I find it almost
impossible to understand him," explained the professor; "but he informs
me that, for some reason or other, it is out of the question for us to
go forward to-day."

"Hm!" commented Sir Reginald.  "Do you think, Professor, that these
people are to be trusted; or is there some deep scheme to get us into
their power behind this reluctance to help us to go forward this
evening?"

"I don't know," answered the professor.  "'Msusa speaks fairly enough,
but one can never tell.  Treachery, so far from being a crime, almost
amounts to a virtue, under certain circumstances, with all these African
savages; and I must confess that I have noticed one or two little things
that, to me, seemed to bear rather a sinister significance.  But what
can we do?  We cannot take 'Msusa by the scruff of the neck and insist
upon his becoming our guide to the river."

"Can we not?" cut in Lethbridge, dryly.  "I am by no means so sure of
that.  But an idea has just occurred to me.  Mildmay will have been on
the look-out for some sign of us, at least from breakfast-time to-day,
and, if I know anything of him, he is still looking out, and will
continue to do so until darkness sets in--perhaps even later.  Now, my
idea is this--and I am sorry that it did not occur to me earlier in the
day.  Here are we, four lost men, in a fine open space, with ample room
to light four fires at a considerable distance apart.  The evening is
fine; there is no wind; and the smoke from those fires would rise to a
considerable height into the air.  Now, if Mildmay should happen to
notice four distinct columns of smoke rising above the tree-tops--"

"Of course," interrupted von Schalckenberg, "he would at once connect
them with us, and would come in the _Flying Fish_ to investigate.  It
shall be done at once."

And, turning away, he forthwith entered into energetic conversation with
'Msusa, which ultimately resulted in that savage giving certain
instructions to his friends, who, after a tremendous amount of palaver,
interspersed with frequent references from 'Msusa to the professor, at
length set to work to gather four large piles of branches, dry leaves,
and other combustibles, which they proceeded to arrange on spots
indicated by von Schalckenberg.  As soon as the piles were of sufficient
size to yield a good dense body of smoke they were simultaneously
ignited by the four white men--by the simple agency of an ordinary
match, to the intense astonishment and admiration of the blacks--and
then the quartette sat down patiently to await events, while 'Msusa and
his friends, incited thereto by the professor, continued to pile upon
the fires further quantities of grass, green branches, and other things
calculated to produce the maximum quantity of smoke.  The result was
that in a few minutes four distinct columns of brownish-grey smoke were
going up straight into the sky, some hundreds of feet above the tops of
the highest trees, and finally spreading out and mingling into one great
cloud that would be distinctly visible, in that atmosphere, anywhere
within a distance of twenty miles.

Lethbridge leaned back on his elbow and contemplated the four tall smoke
columns with an expression of very considerable satisfaction.

"That ought to prove effective; and I am prepared to bet that it will,
within the next quarter of an hour," he remarked.  "But what was all the
talk about, Professor?  You seemed to have some difficulty in persuading
those fellows to build the fires, I thought."

"Yes," admitted von Schalckenberg, "I had.  The fact is that, for some
reason which I do not understand, 'Msusa is very anxious that we should
remain in the village all night; and, since he has already discovered
that force will not avail with us, he is now trying guile.  He
understands perfectly well some of the things I say to him; but when I
told him that we wanted a guide to lead us to the river, he professed to
be unable to understand me clearly, and replied by gabbling what I
believe to be simply a lot of gibberish, ending up with the statement
that we shall be able to have a guide to-morrow.  The fact is that I
rather suspect him of entertaining a desire to possess himself of our
rifles, and believe him to be capable to going to considerable lengths
to get them; hence his extreme anxiety to keep us here all night.
Therefore, when I found that there was no hope of persuading him to let
us have a guide to-night, I informed him that we were four very great
and powerful witch-doctors, as he must already have seen; and that, if
he wished us to remain in the village all night to-night, it would be
necessary to light four large fires--one for each of us--to propitiate
the evil spirits, so that they should not enter the village during the
night and destroy any of the inmates."

"Well," exclaimed Lethbridge, "I shall be very greatly surprised--and
disappointed, too--if they do not in a very few minutes see an `evil
spirit' that will considerably astonish them, and--Ah, hurrah! there she
is!  Good old Mildmay!  I felt certain that he would be on the
look-out."

And, so saying, he sprang to his feet and waved his handkerchief
energetically in the direction of the great conical shape that, gleaming
and flashing like burnished silver in the rays of the setting sun, at
that moment hove in sight over the tree-tops on the north-western margin
of the enclosure.  Three white-clad figures were standing in the bows of
the superstructure, examining the open space through binoculars; and as
Lethbridge waved his handkerchief they waved in return, while one--the
smallest--was seen to run excitedly aft and dart into the pilot-house.
The savages also saw the portentous apparition, and fled, howling with
abject terror, to the shelter of their huts; while the _Flying Fish_,
sweeping gracefully round, came to earth within a few feet of the spot
where the four white men stood awaiting her arrival.  A minute later
'Msusa, watching the four white men from beneath a pile of skins heaped
up just within the doorway of his hut, saw them walk in under the huge,
mysterious thing that had just descended from the clouds, and
inexplicably disappear.

Great were the rejoicings of those left on board the _Flying Fish_ at
the safe return of the truants; and equally great, perhaps, was the joy
of the truants at finding themselves re-united to their companions, and
once more amid the familiar surroundings of their luxurious travelling
home.  The first brief greetings over, the returned wanderers retired
below and indulged in the luxury of a bath, after which they dressed for
dinner; and it was while the party were gathered round the dinner-table,
an hour or two later, that Sir Reginald related the adventures of
himself and his companions during the preceding twenty-four hours.

"It was shocking bad luck that you should have lost that okapi, after
all," remarked Mildmay, with the sympathy of a true sportsman, as Sir
Reginald brought his narrative to a close.  "However," he continued, "it
is something to have learned that we are in the okapi region; and
perhaps you will be more successful next time--that is, unless Sir
Reginald is anxious to get away from here."

Sir Reginald strenuously disavowed any such anxiety, asserting that, on
the contrary, he was quite willing to remain where he was for any
reasonable length of time, and to take turn and turn about on alternate
nights to watch at the drinking-place until they had succeeded in
securing a specimen of so interesting and rare an animal.  Then he
inquired in what manner the occupants of the _Flying Fish_ had passed
the day.

"Well," answered Mildmay, speaking for himself and the ladies, "it was
not until breakfast-time that we began to feel in the least degree
anxious about you; and, even then, our anxiety--or rather, mine--was not
very acute, for, as I explained to the ladies, you might have had
exceptionally good sport, and be anxious to save the skins before
leaving to return to the ship.  But when eleven o'clock arrived with no
news of you, I felt convinced that something had gone wrong, and then we
all felt ourselves to be in a dilemma.  For there were only two courses
open to us: first, to stay where we were and await your return; or,
secondly, to go in search of you.  By adopting the first alternative, we
should be on the spot where you would naturally expect to find us if
your detention should happen to be merely of an ordinary nature; or if,
having happened to encounter a body of hostile savages, you should be
holding them at bay while retiring upon the ship.  And I may tell you
that it was the recognition of some such possibility as this which made
me feel very reluctant to leave the spot where we were.  On the other
hand, however, there was an equal possibility that you might be beset,
or otherwise needing our help, at some spot several miles away.  I
therefore compromised matters as best I could by simply raising the ship
some three hundred feet in the air, and keeping a bright look-out in
every direction all day.  And when I saw those four columns of smoke
rise up from among the trees, it didn't take me above two seconds to
make up my mind that you had lighted the fires and that I should find
you alongside them."

The following morning witnessed the departure of the _Flying Fish_ from
the open space in which was situated 'Msusa's village; and profound was
the relief of that savage and his friends as, from the obscurity of the
interior of their huts, they watched the enormous shining mass, and,
by-and-by, saw it quietly rise into the air as of its own volition, and
go gently driving out of sight over the tree-tops.  Half an hour later,
having located the other open space, in which had been witnessed the
attack upon the gorilla by the leopard, the ship quietly descended into
it; and the hunters, refreshed by a sound night's sleep, sallied forth
and secured the skins of both animals, which proved to be quite
uninjured by the depredations of other animals, none of which seemed to
have approached them.  Then the _Flying Fish_ again rose into the air
and wended her way back to her original berth; and it was while she was
thus passing from one spot to the other that the mystery was solved of
the difficulty which the four lost men had experienced in their
endeavours to find the river and thus make their way back to the ship.
For, in order to satisfy themselves upon this point, the travellers rose
to a height of five thousand feet into the air, from which altitude they
not only got a sight of the drinking-place at which their adventure may
be said to have begun, but were also enabled to trace the course of the
river itself.  And they thus discovered that about a mile to the
eastward of the drinking-place the river made an S-like bend, some
eighteen miles across; also that, instead of wandering steadily south--
as they believed they had been, while in pursuit of the wounded okapi--
they must have gradually trended away toward the east, until they had
gone some miles beyond the double bend in the river; hence their failure
to find the stream again.

That same night, as keen as ever to get an okapi, the four hunters again
sallied out for their previous ambush, determined to make the utmost of
the waxing moon that nightly rode the sky; and, upon arriving at the
drinking-place, found--to von Schalckenberg's intense disgust--that the
carcase of the red buffalo had been so mauled and torn as to render the
hide utterly useless.  But they had compensation a little later, for
during that night they secured no fewer than five handsome leopards that
had evidently come down to feast upon the flesh.  Nor was this all.
Before the night was over, the professor had the satisfaction of
shooting a very fine and handsome black-and-white monkey of a hitherto
unknown species; while Lethbridge was made happy by the addition to his
"bag" of a magnificent white rhinoceros--a creature so rare that many
distinguished naturalists had pronounced it extinct.  But, to their keen
disappointment, no okapi made its appearance at the drinking-place that
night.  Yet they persevered, lying out night after night, and resting
during the day; and at length, on the ninth night after their adventure
in pursuit of the original animal, their patience was splendidly
rewarded, a pair of okapi making their appearance at the drinking-pool,
very late, after all the other animals had come and gone again.  There
was an exciting and tantalising ten minutes while these animals stood in
the full light of the moon and drank, one of them being immediately
behind the other, so that it was impossible to shoot both.  Then the
male, having drunk his fill before his mate had quite finished, wheeled
and moved a yard or two.  As he did so, the hammers of Lethbridge's and
the professor's rifles clicked simultaneously, and a great cheer rang
out from the ambushed party as the two animals dropped and lay
motionless.  Then the four men rose to their feet, and--regardless of
the possibility that they might thus be scaring away other desirable
specimens--scrambled over the boulders and other obstacles until they
stood beside their prey.  Then, having admired, to their hearts'
content, the singular creatures as they lay, the eager hunters drew
their knives, and proceeded to take the skins forthwith, determined to
leave nothing to chance and the morning.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

AMONG THE RUINS OF ANCIENT OPHIR.

The next few days were devoted by the men of the party to the arduous
and somewhat unpleasant task of completing the preparation for packing
the skins which they had taken; and then, after a rather late breakfast
on a certain morning, the _Flying Fish_ again rose into the air, and,
winging her way leisurely a hundred feet or so above the tops of the
forest trees, headed to the southward and eastward.  The morning of the
second day saw them clear of the forest and sweeping over a fine open
country, sparsely dotted here and there with detached clumps of bush,
and over which roamed immense herds of buck and antelope, troops of
zebra, giraffe, and other animals, a few elephants, and ostriches
innumerable.  But they saw nothing tempting enough to delay them; and so
they went drifting quietly along day after day--coming to earth only at
night, in order that they might miss nothing of the multitudinous
interesting sights that the country had to offer them--until at length,
one day, at noon, Mildmay announced that, according to his reckoning,
they were exactly fifty miles from the site of ancient Ophir.

And, indeed, there was no reason to doubt this statement.  On the
contrary, the voyagers had, some hours earlier, imagined that they
recognised certain spots which had been rather more distinctly impressed
than others upon their memories during their former visit.  For example,
as the _Flying Fish_ went driving gently along over the somewhat rugged,
well-wooded country, with its numerous streams winding hither and
thither, like silver threads, they sighted a native village some
distance ahead of them; and Sir Reginald remarked to Lethbridge, who was
standing beside him, examining the scene at large through his
binoculars--

"Surely, Lethbridge, that is the identical village from which we first
noticed the curious system of voice-telegraphy in vogue among the people
hereabout, and by means of which they sent forward the news of our
arrival, on the occasion of our last visit."

"Looks not at all unlike it," answered Lethbridge, with his binoculars
still at his eyes.  "Anyway, we shall soon see," he added; "for somebody
has spotted us already, and there comes the entire population of the
place, turning out to look at us.  And--yes--there goes a mounted man,
as hard as his nag can lay legs to the ground, doubtless to shout his
message.  I will watch him."

The ex-colonel relapsed into silence for a few minutes; then he
resumed--

"Yes, Elphinstone, you are quite right; that mounted fellow has just
pulled up, and raised his hands to his mouth.  Now, listen, Lady Olivia.
Do you hear anything?"

Yes, Lady Olivia heard, with singular distinctness, the sound of a
high-pitched voice shouting certain words, which, of course, she could
not understand, but every syllable of which was so slowly and clearly
articulated that she could easily have written them down.

"And there is the man who is uttering them," remarked Lethbridge--"that
little dot on the hill some two miles away.  I doubt if you can make him
out with the naked eye.  It is as much as I can manage, although I know
exactly where to look for him.  Can you see him, Ida?  Or you, Mlle.
Sziszkinski?  Oh!"--as he turned round and made the discovery that
Mildmay had emerged from the pilot-house, and had by some occult process
drawn mademoiselle away from the rest of the party and to his side.

Lady Olivia smiled.

"Has it ever occurred to you, Colonel," she said, "that a very pretty
little romance is gradually unfolding itself here in our small circle?"

"Well," replied Lethbridge, with a smile that lighted up his somewhat
saturnine features in a marvellous manner, "I must confess that there
have been moments when I have had my suspicions.  And I shall be by no
means sorry if those suspicions turn out to be well founded; for she is
an exceptionally charming girl, and as good as she is charming, I feel
sure; while, as for Mildmay--well, he is one of the very few men whom I
thoroughly admire and esteem."

"Yes," assented Lady Olivia.  "And they would make a handsome pair,
wouldn't they?"

"That," he answered, with a laugh, "is so obvious that it needs no
confirmation from me.  And--"

What further he might have said upon so interesting a subject Lady
Olivia was not destined to know; for at that moment an interruption came
from Sir Reginald, who exclaimed--

"Look yonder, Lethbridge!  Do you see that?  There is the village from
which that troop of native cavalry turned out to dispute our passage
when last we came this way; and I'll be shot if the fellows have not
turned out again.  Do you see them, drawn up there on that ridge?"

Lethbridge turned his binoculars in the direction indicated by his
friend, and presently saw a body of mounted warriors, armed with bow,
spear, and shield, drawn up in two divisions, one on either side of the
track over which the _Flying Fish_ was heading to pass; and their
formation was such as to suggest that they actually again intended to
oppose the passage of the ship.

"Yes, you are right; I see them," answered Lethbridge.  "I think, Lady
Olivia, it would be advisable for you to retire from the deck until we
have passed those fellows.  It is just possible that a stray arrow
_might_ reach the deck here, with unfortunate consequences to one of you
ladies.  And you can observe everything almost as well from below.
Permit me.  Come along, little sweetheart,"--to Ida--"let us go below,
and watch what happens from the cabin windows.  Mildmay, do you see our
old friends, the black troop of horsemen, yonder?  I am taking Lady
Olivia and Ida below, out of harm's way."

And, so saying, he conducted his charges down into the dining-saloon,
and placed them at one of the ports--the thick glass window of which he
closed--while Mildmay followed with Mlle. Sziszkinski.  But, as it
turned out, the precaution was needless, for presently, as the ship
swept past, above and between the two bodies of native horsemen, the
latter, instead of greeting the strange visitant with a shower of
arrows, as before, straightened themselves on their horses, and, at a
signal from their leader, raised their right arms above their heads in
salute, and shouted in deep-chested unison the single word--

"_Bietu_!"

Then, at another signal, they wheeled right and left, as one man, and,
at a break-neck gallop, dashed along on either side of the ship, forming
a kind of escort, or guard of honour, as long as they could keep pace
with her.

The sun was within an hour of setting when the hilly country over which
the _Flying Fish_ was sweeping gave place to a wide-stretching level
plain, grass-grown, with here and there an occasional isolated clump of
bush, a small grove of graceful palms, an irregular patch of tall,
feathery bamboos, an acre or so of wild plantains, and, further on,
occasional fields of maize or sugarcane.  A faint blue level streak on
the far eastern horizon indicated their close proximity to the sea,
while certain shapeless irregularities that began to show up against
that narrow streak of blue insensibly resolved themselves, as the ship
sped onward, into a vast assemblage of enormous columns, isolated and in
groups, some still upreared and perpendicular, others prostrate and
broken, the remains of great temples and other buildings, that, judging
from the elaborate and splendid carved work of the ruined entablatures,
fallen capitals, crumbling arches, massive cornices, and mutilated
statues, must, long ages ago, have formed part of a city of
extraordinary extent and magnificence.  The _Flying Fish_ came to earth
on, as von Schalckenberg asserted, the identical spot upon which she had
rested on the occasion of their former visit, in the very midst of the
vast ruined city, and the little company of travellers on board her
spent a never-to-be-forgotten hour on her deck watching, in an ecstasy
of delight, the constantly changing and magical effects of light, shade,
and colour as the sun went down in a blaze of glory, lighting up with
his departing beams the stupendously imposing and marvellous remains of
ancient Ophir.

As the party sat round the dinner-table that evening, Sir Reginald
entertained that portion of them who had not then been present with a
recital of what had occurred on the occasion of the ship's previous
visit to this interesting spot.

"We arrived here," said he, "about the hour of sunset, and, after
dinner, spent a very enjoyable evening in the music-room, retiring to
our cabins about midnight, neither suspecting nor fearing evil of any
sort.  But when we rose next morning, and went out on deck for a turn
before breakfast, Lethbridge very quickly discovered that the ship was
beset by some hundreds of savages, who were lurking in the long grass
and crouching behind the numerous small clumps of bush and flowering
shrubs that surrounded us, and which you may possibly have noticed while
we were watching the sunset effects upon the ruins this evening.

"Naturally we regarded this fact of our beleaguerment with perfect
equanimity, for we felt that, so long as we remained in the ship, we
were absolutely safe, except, perhaps, from a stray arrow or two, to
which danger, however, we attached very little importance.  But having
come here with the specific object of examining the ruins, it was, of
course, necessary that we should establish some sort of understanding
with the natives and get on friendly terms with them; so, after we had
finished breakfast, finding that the savages were still ambushed about
us, the professor arranged with Mildmay a little programme devised for
the purpose of duly impressing them with our tremendous powers and
wonderful attributes.

"Then, when everything was ready, von Schalckenberg advanced to the
gangway and, in his most imposing accents, demanded to know who was the
chief in command of the warriors who had assembled to pay homage to the
four Spirits of the Winds--meaning, of course, himself, Mildmay,
Lethbridge, and me.  The professor, as I suppose you all know, is
practically a universal linguist, and by a stroke of good luck he
happened to hit, at the first shot, upon a dialect which the fellows
were able to understand.  So you can picture to yourselves their
amazement at being asked such a question, and finding themselves
actually confronted with such mysterious and terrible beings as spirits.
They sprang to their feet, as one man, recognising the futility of any
further attempt at concealment; and a chief named Lualamba came forward
and modestly acknowledged himself to be the leader of the band.
Forthwith he was invited to come up on deck and talk to us, a rope
ladder being lowered to the ground for his accommodation.  He came, in
manifest fear and trembling, which feeling we quickly converted into one
of delight by investing him with a necklace of glass beads, and a mantle
consisting of a piece of flowered chintz.

"We then proceeded to question the fellow; and presently learned from
him that he was the emissary of a certain M'Bongwele--in whose territory
we now were--a king of fierce, cruel, and jealous disposition, as we
gathered, and so suspicious of strangers that he had issued a standing
order against the admission into his country of any such, under certain
gruesome pains and penalties.  And it was by his orders that Lualamba
and his warriors had come out on the previous night for the purpose of
slaying the mysterious monster that had been seen flying so fearlessly
and impudently over his sacred territory.

"There is no doubt that Lualamba was, for a savage, an exceedingly
shrewd fellow; and it was not very long ere we detected in him an
evident desire to lure the four Spirits of the Winds into the presence--
and perchance the power--of his master, M'Bongwele, who, he informed us,
would be highly gratified by a visit from such celestial beings,
whatever might be his sentiments with regard to mere men.  We were not
so easily to be had, however.  In accents of grave reproof the professor
pointed out to Lualamba that it was inconsistent with our dignity to pay
a visit even to so great a potentate as M'Bongwele; that, on the
contrary, it was M'Bongwele's duty to show his appreciation of our
condescension in entering his country by paying _us_ a visit within the
next few hours, for the purpose of rendering homage to us.  And,
finally, that Lualamba might be properly impressed with our powers, we
took him for a short excursion into the air, and then sent him back, a
humbled, frightened, and profoundly impressed savage, to make his report
to his master and urge upon him the very great desirability of paying a
duty-call upon us forthwith.

"Having at length got rid of Lualamba, the professor made a few simple
little preparations for the subjugation of the great M'Bongwele.  The
hours, however, passed, and we began to fear that Lualamba had failed in
the somewhat delicate and difficult mission wherewith we had entrusted
him.  But at length, somewhere about four o'clock in the afternoon, we
saw a cavalcade of some five hundred fully-armed and magnificently
mounted warriors approaching, headed by an individual riding a very fine
coal-black horse, and clad in lion-skin mantle, short petticoat of
leopards' skin, gold crown trimmed with flamingo feathers, necklace of
lions' teeth and claws, with a long, narrow shield of rhinoceros' hide
on his left arm and a sheaf of light casting-spears in his hand.  This
imposing person we rightly judged to be none other than M'Bongwele
himself; and in a few minutes the whole cavalcade, charging down upon
us, divided into two and, wheeling right and left, reined up and stood
motionless as so many bronze statues, within a few yards of the ship.
Then M'Bongwele--a fine but very stout man--rather laboriously
dismounted and, after some hesitation, came on board.

"Now, it is very necessary for you to remember, while listening to what
I am about to tell you, that the man with whom we were dealing was a
crafty, unscrupulous savage, and that we had entered his territory with
a certain definite purpose, in pursuit of which it was imperative that
we should be able to go to and fro freely, without fear of interference,
either direct or indirect, from him.  And, as we were only four men,
while his subjects numbered several thousands, all owing him the most
absolute obedience, and all perfectly ready and willing to `wipe us out'
at a word from him, our only chance of accomplishing what we wanted to
do lay in our ability to impress this man and his followers with the
profound conviction that we were something more than mere mortals, and
that any attempt on his part to interfere with us would inevitably be
followed by consequences of the direst description to his people at
large, and himself personally.

"In pursuance of this scheme, von Schalckenberg had, as I have said,
made certain arrangements which, after a little desultory talk with
M'Bongwele, he proceeded to carry out.  The first impression which he
desired to produce upon the king was that of our invulnerability to
injury; and with this object he produced a little red rosette, which he
offered to attach to any portion of his own person, and then allow
M'Bongwele to shoot an arrow at it, as at a target.  But here the dark
monarch's crafty disposition manifested itself, for, evidently
suspecting that the whole thing had been prearranged, he insisted on
fastening the rosette to Lethbridge's breast instead of that of the
professor.  There was nothing for it, of course, but to assent, or be
for ever discredited in the eyes of the king and his followers, and
Lethbridge very good-naturedly submitted, the more readily, perhaps,
since von Schalckenberg had insisted, as a measure of precaution, upon
our each donning a suit of aethereum chain mail under our clothes.  You
will guess the result.  M'Bongwele shot his arrow, the shaft pierced the
rosette, and then fell, splintered, to the deck, to the confusion of the
king and the awe-struck surprise of his immediate following, who were
grouped round him.

"Then, aided by a little skilful management on Mildmay's part, his
entire escort were induced to attempt to lift the _Flying Fish_ off the
ground; and when they had failed, one only of their number was bidden to
do the same thing, and, to their unmitigated amazement, this one man not
only accomplished the task with ease, but he also tossed us so high in
the air that we all--M'Bongwele and his chiefs included--went right out
to sea, until the land was completely lost sight of.  This seemed almost
to complete his Majesty's subjugation, for he no sooner found himself
out of sight of land than he grovelled abjectly at von Schalckenberg's
feet and promised anything and everything that we asked of him, if we
would but take him back home again.

"The professor, however, had still another card up his sleeve, and when
at length we returned to the spot from which we had started--by which
time it was nearly dark--he played it.  He ordered a number of
M'Bongwele's warriors to build a large fire, not very far from the ship,
and when this was well alight, and throwing out a dense cloud of smoke,
our friend von Schalckenberg used the smoke as a magic-lantern screen,
upon which he projected two pictures, the first showing M'Bongwele
himself and his warriors at the moment when they halted opposite the
ship upon their arrival from his village earlier on in the afternoon--
photographed by Mildmay and developed and printed during our trip out to
sea--and the second, a coloured slide, showing a review of a number of
our own British troops.  This, as you may imagine, reduced the king--
only temporarily, as it proved--to a condition of servile submission,
and he went home that night a humble and terrified man.

"But, later, he got even with us, for a time, at least; for while
pretending to assist us in our exploration of the ruins, by lending us a
number of women to do such digging as we required, he got an old hag to
drug our coffee, one day; and, while we were all lying insensible, had
us carried up to his village.  Matters looked rather bad for us for a
few days, but we eventually contrived to escape--how, I must tell you
some other time; and we then deposed and banished him, putting another
man, named Seketulo, in his place.  If events have gone well with this
fellow, I have no doubt we shall have a visit from him to-morrow
morning."



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

EVIL TIDINGS.

When, after breakfast, on the following morning, the party on board the
_Flying Fish_ stepped out on deck to enjoy the novel scene around them,
and take their ease under the awning while awaiting the expected visit
from Seketulo, they at once became aware of the fact that the ship was
the centre of an area of considerable activity.  For, glancing round
them, from the commanding height of the deck, they were able, with the
assistance of their binoculars, to detect the forms of armed savages
stealing hither and thither through the long grass and between the
numerous clumps of bush with which the plain was thickly overgrown.
Their first thought was that Seketulo had proved false to the trust that
they had reposed in him, and was repeating the folly of his predecessor,
M'Bongwele, by engaging in an attempt to capture the ship.  But, as they
continued to watch with curiosity the movements of the savages, this
idea became dissipated, for although the savages were everywhere in
evidence about them, in large numbers, there were none in the immediate
vicinity of the ship, the neighbourhood of which, indeed, they all
appeared to be avoiding with the most studious care.  At length the
watchers arrived at two distinct conclusions, the first of which was
that the savages were prosecuting a feverishly eager and anxious search
for some person or persons; and the second, that, while doing so, they
were practising every precaution which the guile of the native mind
could suggest to escape observation from the ship.

"What on earth can the fellows be up to?" remarked Sir Reginald, at
length, as he removed his binoculars from his eyes, and turned to
address the other members of the party.  "Are they, by any chance,
hunting for us, think you, under the impression that we have left the
ship and are taking a morning stroll among the ruins?"

"It is by no means impossible," answered Lethbridge.  "Of one thing, at
all events, I believe we may be certain, and that is, that our friend
Seketulo has no intention of paying us a duty-call.  Had he meant to do
so, he would have been here before now."

"Perhaps he has not yet been made aware of our presence here," suggested
Sziszkinski.

"Make no mistake about that," retorted Lethbridge.  "We saw them
yesterday afternoon sending forward, by means of their system of
voice-telegraphy, the news of our arrival.  And, as we were travelling
slowly all the time, you may take it as certain that Seketulo--if the
fellow happens to be still alive--was informed of the fact some time
before we actually reached this spot.  And even if we admit, for a
moment, such an improbability as that the news failed to reach him,
these fellows who are now lurking all round us are, every one of them,
painfully aware of the presence of the ship--as we can clearly see by
the trouble that they are taking to keep out of our sight; and the first
thing that they would do, in such a case as you have suggested, would be
to dispatch one of their number to the village with the news.  Oh no;
the king--whether he be Seketulo or somebody else--is fully aware of our
presence here, you may rest assured."

"Of course," said Sir Reginald, "Seketulo may be dead.  It is several
years since we were here, and much may happen in even less time than
that.  But, even so, the man who would be reigning in his stead would
know all about us, and would hasten, one would suppose, to assure us of
his loyalty to our commands."

"Ay," cut in Mildmay; "provided, of course, that he _has_ been loyal.
But, if he has not, I can quite conceive that he is feeling mightily
uncomfortable just now.  What think you, Elphinstone, of the idea of
taking a cruise up to the village, to see how matters stand there?  Or,
would you rather remain here, and await developments?  Hillo! whom have
we here, and what does he want?  Surely the fellow is signalling to us,
and trying to attract our attention!  D'ye see him, Elphinstone?"

And, as Mildmay spoke, he pointed to a small magnolia bush, within about
a hundred yards of the ship, on the hither side of which, and close
under it, a native warrior was crouching, and occasionally raising his
hand, as though endeavouring to attract the attention of the white men,
who, from the position which he occupied, were in full view of him.

"Where is he?" demanded Sir Reginald, searching with his glasses.  "Oh,
_I_ see him.  Yes; he certainly seems to be signalling to us.  Do you
see him, Professor?"

"Yes," answered von Schalckenberg, "I see him.  Shall I beckon him to
come to us?"

"By all means," answered Sir Reginald.  "I will get out the rope ladder,
and we will have him up here on deck."

And he went off to get up a light rope ladder intended for use upon
occasions when it was deemed politic to conceal the fact that a means of
ingress to the ship existed by way of the trap-door leading out of the
diving-chamber; while von Schalckenberg advanced to the guard-rail by
the gangway, and raising his hands above his head, proceeded to make
certain mysterious signals to the crouching savage.  The effect of these
was at once apparent; for the savage, after carefully concealing his
shield and spears in the foliage of the adjacent bush, flung himself
prone and was at once lost to sight in the long grass.  But a minute or
two later his head reappeared for a moment at a spot much nearer to the
ship, with the double object, apparently, of verifying his direction of
progress, and allowing those on board the _Flying Fish_ to see that he
was obeying their behest.  By the time that the rope ladder had been
fixed in position at the lower extremity of the light openwork metal
gangway-ladder that was permanently fixed to the ship's side, the savage
was close enough to be spoken to; and the professor called down to him
to ascend without fear.

The native--a fine, stalwart bronzed figure of a savage, naked save for
the usual front and rear aprons of skin usually worn by them--needed no
second bidding, but instantly sprang at the ladder, up which he shinned
with the agility of a monkey, drawing it up after him the moment that he
had reached the top.  Then, having carefully coiled it down upon the
bottom step of the permanent ladder, he ascended the latter to the deck,
and, stepping in through the gangway, halted as he raised his right hand
above his head in salute, with the single word--

"_Bietu_!"

Von Schalckenberg looked the man up and down for a moment, taking in
such details of his scanty costume as the fact that his aprons were of
leopard skin, and that he wore a necklace of lion's and leopard's claws
round his finely modelled neck; also that his body and limbs showed the
scars of several wounds; and he came to the conclusion that a chief of
some importance stood before him.

"Speak," said the professor, addressing him in the dialect that he had
found effective on the occasion of the previous visit of the party to
Ophir.  "You have somewhat to say to us.  Is it not so?"

"It is even so, O Great Spirit," answered the savage.  "I am
Lobelalatutu, a chief of the great Makolo nation which the four Spirits
of the Winds condescended to visit many moons ago; and I was present
when M'Bongwele, the king, was banished, and Seketulo was made king in
his stead.  And, behold, for the space of three rains and three dry
seasons, and the half of a fourth, things went very well with the
nation, and its people were happy; for Seketulo ruled wisely and well,
according to the precepts of the four Spirits.  The witch-doctors were
discredited, and there were no torturings as punishment; but if a man
transgressed, he was banished, unless his transgression was very great,
and then his head was struck off in the Great Place before the king's
palace.

"And then, behold, on a certain day, when the chiefs were all gathered
together in the Great Place, as usual, to take the king's commands, it
was M'Bongwele who came forth to them from the palace, instead of
Seketulo.  And M'Bongwele spoke, saying that he had grown weary of
remaining in exile; that his heart yearned for his people, who were
being changed into women under Seketulo's mild rule, and were growing
poor because they no longer made war upon their neighbours and took the
spoil; and therefore had he returned to them to restore the nation again
to its former greatness.  Then he turned to those who were within the
palace, and bade them bring forth Seketulo; and when this was done, lo,
it was but Seketulo's body that they brought forth, his heart having
been split in twain by M'Bongwele's broad-bladed war spear.

"And when Seketulo's body had been placed in the midst, and all had
looked upon it, M'Bongwele called aloud, commanding those of us who were
in favour of his restoration to the kingship to stand forth and range
themselves by his side.  And, behold, more than three-fourths of the
chiefs stood forth and placed themselves beside M'Bongwele, declaring
that the Makolo were a warlike nation, whose spears had grown rusty
through remaining so long unwashed in blood, while they were growing
ever poorer for lack of their neighbours' cattle, under Seketulo's
peaceful rule; and that M'Bongwele was far better as a king than had
been Seketulo.

"Then spake M'Buta, one of the few chiefs who, with us, had refrained
from declaring in M'Bongwele's favour, asking what would happen to the
nation, when the four Spirits of the Winds should return and find
M'Bongwele again in power, and Seketulo slain.  And M'Bongwele laughed
scornfully, and answered that the four Spirits were not likely to
return--for how should they find their way back, having once left the
country--but that, even if they did, he, M'Bongwele, would again find
means to get them into his power, as he had once before done, and that
this time he would see that they did not escape him.

"And, thereupon, the majority declared for M'Bongwele; while we who were
opposed to him agreed to bide our time and await the return of the
Spirits, recognising the futility of resistance at the moment, which,
indeed, could but have ended in M'Bongwele's triumph and our destruction
to no purpose."

"You did well, O Lobelalatutu," answered von Schalckenberg, approvingly.
"To engage in a hopeless fight is but folly.  And now, tell me, I pray
you, has M'Bongwele in any wise profited from the lesson which we gave
him, or has he reverted to his former barbarous methods of ruling you?"

"His rule is even as it was aforetime," answered the savage.  "On the
morrow of the day upon which he was re-elected king, he slew M'Buta with
his own hand, saying he would have no discontented chiefs under him; and
he would have slain the rest of us but for the interposition of those
who had gone over to his side, many of whom were our friends.  Also he
re-established the witch-doctors in their former power and authority,
with the result that many who paid them what they deemed an insufficient
tribute have died long-lingering deaths, upon the charge that they were
plotting against the king's authority.  And, but for the fact that I am
a powerful chief, with many friends, 'tis certain that I, even I,
Lobelalatutu, would also have been sent along the dark path ere now.
And now, behold, my life is forfeit.  For well I know that M'Bongwele
too truly suspects my intention to come out and acquaint the Great
Spirits with what has happened; for see ye those warriors searching
hither and thither?  They are looking for me; and when next I behold the
face of the king it will be to hear my death-sentence--unless,
perchance, the Great Spirits should, of their mercy, see fit to preserve
my life."

"Fear not, Lobelalatutu," answered the professor.  "You have done well
to come out and tell us these things, and no harm shall befall you.
Abide you here with us until we have dealt with M'Bongwele and his
witch-doctors.  You will then have naught to fear.  One thing more.
Tell me, now, have any white men visited this country since we were last
here?"

"Truly have they, to their great misfortune," answered Lobelalatutu.
"It is now some eight moons since that a party of twelve men and two
white women were found by certain of our people encamped yonder on the
shore, after a great storm.  How they came thither none can say; but it
is believed that they must have arrived in a great floating house, the
remains of which were seen at some distance from the beach, lying in the
great water which dashed over it furiously.

"The fourteen white people, who were like unto yourselves, O Great
Spirit, but were dressed in clothing that appeared to have shrunk and
become stained through long soaking in the great water that is salt,
were by M'Bongwele's order brought to his village, where he questioned
them.  But they spoke a tongue that none could understand; they were,
therefore, taken out and tormented, some in one way, and some in
another."

"So!" ejaculated von Schalckenberg, through his set teeth.  "There are
times when I am almost inclined to regret that I am not myself a savage,
and capable of adopting savage methods in dealing with such monsters!"

This exclamation he made aloud to his companions in English, as a
preliminary to the translation of Lobelalatutu's story.

"By George!  Professor, I sympathise with you in that remark of yours
about being a savage, and being capable of adopting savage methods when
it comes to punishing such a fellow as this M'Bongwele," exclaimed
Lethbridge, when von Schalckenberg had come to an end.  "Mere hanging
seems absolutely inadequate; yet what can we do?  Our sense of abstract
justice may be so keen that, for the moment, we are in full sympathy
with the old Mosaic law of `an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,'
but which of us could deliberately set to work to serve the savage as he
has served others?  We simply could not do it; and I suppose it is this
revolt of our souls against the idea of cruelty--the infliction of
unnecessary suffering--that makes the British such successful
colonisers, and wins them such universal respect among foreigners,
whether civilised or savage."

"Yes," agreed the professor, "your ineradicable disposition to temper
justice with mercy has doubtless much to do with it, although," he added
slyly, "there is a feeling abroad that there have been occasions when
you have permitted this national tendency to run riot and carry you to
quite ridiculous extremes.  For example--"

"Oh, pray spare us, Professor," laughed Sir Reginald; "there is no need
to quote specific instances; we all know the kind of thing you mean.
But then, you know, legislators as a body will do many things that no
sane man would ever dream of, and that make the ordinary level-headed
individual gasp with amazement at the folly of the `collective wisdom'
of our countrymen.  Such folly, however, always has been, and I suppose
it will continue to the end of time, so it is not of much use to worry
about it.  Meanwhile, we are straying from the point, which is: How are
we to deal with M'Bongwele?  Shall we be justified in assuming the
responsibility of undertaking to punish him?"

"Probably not," answered Mildmay.  "If we hang this savage, and the fact
should become known at home, I venture to prophesy that letters will be
written to the newspapers denouncing us as murderers, and proclaiming
that it is such people as we who, by our high-handed and ferocious
methods, get the white man into bad odour with the gentle savage.  Yet
this fellow richly deserves punishment, if any man ever deserved it, and
if we do not inflict it he will certainly escape scot-free, and live on
to perpetrate further barbarities.  I say, therefore, let us move up to
his place, bring him and his witch-doctors to trial, and, if they are
proved guilty, hang the lot of them!"

"Hear, hear, sailor-man, you speak like a book.  It is evident that
there is no sentimental nonsense about you," exclaimed Lethbridge.
"Sentimentalism does not pay when dealing with the noble savage; he does
not understand it, and indulgence in it simply means encouragement to
continue his playful practices of roasting people alive, and so on.
Sharp, salutary chastisement he does understand, and a little of it
judiciously and fearlessly meted out often teaches a wholesome lesson
that saves many lives.  I therefore say, with you, let us go up to his
village and bring the fellow to trial."

"Very well," agreed Sir Reginald, somewhat reluctantly.  "I suppose it
is really our duty to do this, so let us do it.  But it is rather a
disagreeable business to be mixed up in all the same."

"Disagreeable! undoubtedly," assented Lethbridge; "but certainly not to
be shirked on that account.  I can sympathise with you in your
reluctance to do this thing, old chap; merely to depose M'Bongwele was
one thing, to hang him and his crowd of murdering witch-doctors is quite
another, and this is the first affair of the kind that you have been
mixed up in.  With me it is different.  In my military capacity I have,
on several occasions, been obliged to try prisoners and condemn them to
death--and so, too, has Mildmay, I'll be bound.  It means the doing of
an unpleasant thing as the only means whereby to put an effectual stop
to something infinitely more unpleasant.  At least, that is how I look
at it."

"Yes, of course you are quite right.  Let us go at once and get the
affair over as soon as possible," said Sir Reginald, turning away to
enter the pilot-house and assume the control of the ship during the
proposed movement of her to the village.

"We are now about to move to M'Bongwele's palace and bring him to trial
for his many misdeeds," explained von Schalckenberg to Lobelalatutu.
"You will remain with us until the trial is over."

"_Bietu_!" answered the chief, saluting in token of his submission to
the will of these strange beings.  He stood deeply considering for a
moment, and then said, hesitatingly: "Since the Great Spirits are about
to right the wrongs which we have suffered at the hands of M'Bongwele
and his witch-doctors, it may be that they would be willing to save the
life of Siswani, one of the chiefs who was opposed to the reinstatement
of M'Bongwele.  Like myself, he has been a marked man from the hour when
he held back from joining those who supported M'Bongwele, and it was but
yesterday that the witch-doctors found a cause against him.  His
punishment was to begin this morning at sunrise."

"Oh, horror! and it is now nearly noon," exclaimed the professor, in
horrified accents.  "Why did you not mention it before, man?  What is
the nature of the punishment?"

"His eyelids were to be cut off, and he was then to be pegged down on an
ants' nest and smeared with honey, that the insects might devour him
alive," was the calm answer.

"Ah!" ejaculated the professor.  "Yes, I know that punishment; I have
seen it inflicted!"  And he shuddered and turned sick at the memory.
"Do you know where the place of punishment is?" demanded the professor,
sharply.

"Yes, I know it," answered Lobelalatutu.  "It is that much beyond the
village on its far side."  And, pointing to the sun, he described with
his finger a small arc representing the apparent travel of that luminary
across the sky during a quarter of an hour.

The professor turned to the pilot-house, through one of the windows of
which the baronet was seen looking out, with his hands on the
controlling levers, waiting the conclusion of the conference between his
friend and the savage.

"Quick, Elphinstone!" he exclaimed, "make for the village at once, but
do not stop there.  Pass on about a mile beyond it, to a spot which
Lobelalatutu will point out to us.  If we are quick we may be in time to
save a man's life!"

Sir Reginald needed no second bidding.  With one hand he threw back the
levers controlling the grip-anchors that held the ship to the ground,
while with the other he opened the valve that admitted vapour into the
air-chambers and created a vacuum sufficient to raise the ship about a
thousand feet into the air, from which elevation a wide extent of
country became visible.  Then he sent the engines ahead at a speed of
about twenty-knots, and put the helm over to turn the ship's head in the
direction of the distant village, now in clear sight from the deck.
Meanwhile the professor beckoned to Mildmay, and said--

"My friend, I think you had better persuade the ladies to go below for a
few minutes, for the chances are that we shall presently behold a sight
that would haunt them for ever, should they happen to see it."

Then he turned to Lobelalatutu and said--

"Now, if you can see the place of punishment, point it out to me."

"Behold, it is there," answered the savage, pointing.  "You may see the
guard that has been stationed round about the prisoner."

And, indeed, as von Schalckenberg looked ahead, a small dark blotch
beneath a group of thorn-trees resolved itself into a body of some fifty
fully-armed warriors grouped in a circle round something else that lay
stretched out upon the ground.

"Do you see that party of savages ahead, Elphinstone?" demanded the
professor.  "Make straight for them."

"Right!  I see them," answered Sir Reginald.  And, as he spoke, the
ladies, escorted by Mildmay, vanished within the pilot-house on their
way below.

A moment later the _Flying Fish_ was sweeping over M'Bongwele's village,
the inhabitants of which could be seen scuttling into their huts, like
so many rabbits into their holes, evidently in a state of lively terror
at the portentous reappearance of the well-remembered ship of the Four
Spirits wending its way toward the spot where the king's latest victim
had that morning been led forth to undergo the torture.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

THE END OF A SAVAGE DESPOT.

As the ship passed over the village and held on her way toward the place
of punishment, it became evident to the watchers on her deck that her
rapid approach was being viewed with great anxiety and perturbation by
the guards who had been ordered by M'Bongwele to surround the prisoner
and see that none of his friends interfered to shorten the period of his
sufferings with a kindly spear-stroke.  They could be seen pointing at
the ship, and excitedly conferring together; and when at length it
became quite clear that the _Flying Fish_ was making for the precise
earth upon which they stood, their superstitious fears so completely
overmastered every other feeling and consideration that, casting away
their weapons, they incontinently took to their heels and fled, howling
with terror.  A moment later the _Flying Fish_ came gently to earth upon
the spot which they had just vacated.

As she did so, the professor, closely followed by Lobelalatutu, made a
dash for the gangway-ladder, down which they hastily descended, and,
dropping the rope ladder over the side, rapidly scrambled down to the
ground.  A few yards away lay the object for which they were making, and
a dozen rapid strides took them to it.  Prepared as von Schalckenberg
was for the sight that met his eyes, he yet sickened with a deadly
nausea as he gazed down upon the dreadful object that lay stretched out
at his feet.  At the first glance an uninstructed observer would have
found it somewhat difficult to say precisely what it was that he was
looking upon; but the professor, compelling himself to look closely, saw
that it was the naked body of a tall and finely-built savage stretched
at full length upon the ground, the upstretched arms and outspread legs
being firmly secured by many turns of stout thongs to four long stakes
driven so deeply into the earth that by no possible exertion of strength
could the victim free himself.  Merely to lie exposed in this fashion,
immovably fixed to the earth, until death from starvation and thirst
came to the relief of the sufferer would, one might suppose, be
considered a sufficiently severe punishment to satisfy every demand of
justice--to say nothing of the exactions of revenge; but such a death
was much too easy to be acceptable to a man whose lust of cruelty was so
insatiable as that of M'Bongwele.  This monster's chief delight was to
gloat over the sufferings of others, and much of his time was very
agreeably passed in meditating upon and devising schemes of elaborate
cruelty for the punishment of those unhappy individuals who were so
unfortunate as to offend him, or incur the suspicion that they were his
enemies.  Siswani, however, the present victim, was not undergoing any
experimental form of torture of M'Bongwele's own invention; he was
simply suffering a form of death that, from the protracted and
exquisitely excruciating character of its agonies, enjoys a very wide
popularity among African savages.  It consists in the eyelids of the
victim being cut off, to expose the unprotected eyeballs to the fierce
glare of the sun--and, later, to other and even worse torments--after
which he is led out to some selected spot where an ants' nest of
suitable size is known to exist.  Arrived there, four stout stakes are
driven deeply into the ground at a proper distance apart round the nest,
stout raw-hide thongs are attached to the victim's wrists and ankles,
and the whole of his naked body is then carefully anointed with honey,
after which he is thrown to the ground and stretched out on his back on
the top of the ants' nest, and there immovably bound to the four stakes.
Then the nest is broken under him and the fiercely exasperated little
insects are left to work their savage will upon his unprotected body, to
which they are strongly attracted by the odour of the honey.

The unhappy Siswani had thus been exposed for fully five hours, when von
Schalckenberg at length stood beside him, and his body was completely
hidden beneath a swarming mass of ants, the collective movements of
which suggested a horrible wave-like creeping movement to the surface of
the body.  Apart from this, however, an occasional writhing of the
frightfully swollen form and limbs showed that life and feeling still
remained.  But it was, perhaps, the mouth of the sufferer that bore most
eloquent testimony to the extremity of the tortured body's anguish: it
had been forced wide open by the introduction of a thick gag of hard
wood, and into this the strong teeth had bitten until they were ground
to fragments, while the lips were drawn back in a fearful grin.

Upon this awful object Lobelalatutu cast a single glance, and then made
a dart at the nearest of the spears that had been flung away by the
flying guard, with which he quickly cut the thongs that bound the
victim, and those that secured the gag, removing the latter from the
sufferer's mouth.  Then, raising the quivering body in his arms, he bent
down and murmured a few words in his friend's ear.  There was no reply;
and, looking closer, the chief saw enough to convince him that the
unhappy Siswani's hearing was already completely destroyed.
Lobelalatutu had been reared in a school in which stoical indifference
to suffering, whether personal or in another, is esteemed a cardinal
virtue; yet even he could not wholly conceal the emotion which possessed
him as he turned to von Schalckenberg and drew the attention of the
professor to the ghastly injuries already inflicted by the terrible
ants.

"Great Spirit," said he, "you are very powerful, I know, for I have seen
you do many wonderful things.  Can you give Siswani new eyes and ears,
new flesh in place of that which has disappeared?  Can you extract the
poison from his body, and make him whole again, even as he was when the
dawn came into this morning's sky?"

"No," answered the professor, sorrowfully.  "We can do many wonderful
things, as you say, Lobelalatutu, but we cannot create a man anew.  We
can cure many diseases; we can heal many kinds of wounds; but our power
as yet stops short of repairing such frightful injuries as those.  The
utmost that we can do is to ease Siswani of his pain so that he may die
in peace."

"You cannot save his life?" demanded the chief; and there was a note of
keen anguish and fierce sorrow in his accents as he asked the question.

"I do not say that," answered von Schalckenberg.  "It may be possible.
But blind, deaf, dumb, as he is, what will life be worth to him, even if
I can preserve it?"

"True, O Spirit," answered Lobelalatutu.  "It would be worthless to him,
nay, worse, it would be a torment to him; for memory would remain to him
to remind him constantly of what he was, as compared with what he now
is.  And he could do nothing for himself; he would be dependent upon
others for every morsel of food, every drop of water that went to
sustain a worthless and miserable life.  There is but one act of
kindness that can now avail him, and I, Lobelalatutu, will do it for
him, even as I would pray him to do the like for me, were I as he is!"

And ere von Schalckenberg could intervene, the savage, with a quick
movement, raised the spear he held in his hand and, with unerring aim,
drove it deep through the heart of his friend!  Siswani's disfigured
body responded to the stroke with a scarcely perceptible shudder; a
faint sigh escaped the distorted lips; and the victim's sufferings were
at an end.

"The _coup-de-grace_! the stroke of mercy; the act of a friend indeed,"
remarked von Schalckenberg, as he rose to his feet and turned to meet
Sir Reginald, whose exclamation of horror was the first intimation of
his contiguity to the other two.  "Look at that poor mutilated and
disfigured remnant of what, a few hours ago, was a man, in the prime of
life, and in the full enjoyment of perfect health and strength; consider
what the future must have been to such a man, so mutilated--even had it
been possible to retain the life in him, which I gravely doubt--and then
say whether this man, his friend, has not done the best that it was
possible to do.  Yet, would you, my friend, hampered with the
sentimentality of your civilisation, have had the moral courage to do
the like?"

"How long do you think he would have lived, but for that stroke of the
spear?" asked Sir Reginald.

Von Schalckenberg shrugged his shoulders.

"Who can say?" he retorted.  "Had he been left alone, he would perhaps
have lingered in indescribable agony until sunset, when the poison in
his system would have done its work, and he would have died.  On the
other hand, had I employed my utmost skill, and been free to give my
undivided attention to him for, say, a month, I might, perhaps, have
been so far successful as to have prolonged his life to the extent of
two or three years; during which--deaf, dumb, blind, utterly helpless,
and every movement a torture to him--he would have been dependent upon
others for the necessities of life."

"Then," said Sir Reginald, "if I could know that the condition which you
have described was the best that the future held in store for him, I
would have put my sentimentality in my pocket and--"

"Quite so," assented the professor, with a nod; "and, in my opinion,
your act would have been a meritorious one.  Well, we were hours too
late to be of any use to the poor fellow; but it may be that we shall
still be in time to punish his murderer and the murderer of those
fourteen unhappy white people who died to gratify the ferocious
instincts of a savage despot.  Let us be going.  Come," he added, laying
his hand upon Lobelalatutu's naked shoulder, "we shall need you while
doing the work that lies before us.  After we have finished you can send
out men to do what is necessary here."

And, with a very grim expression of face, he turned and led the way to
the _Flying Fish_.

Ten minutes later the ship came gently to earth in the Great Place
before M'Bongwele's palace.  The village appeared at first sight to be
deserted, for not a soul was to be seen in any direction; but the low
wail of an infant, suddenly breaking in upon the silence, and issuing
from one of the huts, betrayed the fact that at least one small atom of
humanity still lingered about the place; and where so small a baby was,
the mother would probably be not far off.

The five white men--each with his rifle in his hand, as a safeguard
against possible accident--stared about them in perplexity.

"What has happened, Lobelalatutu; what has become of your people?"
demanded the professor.

"They are hiding in their huts," answered the chief.  "They remember
what happened when the Four Spirits last visited us, and they are
afraid!"

"So!" ejaculated the professor.  "Well, call to them, Lobelalatutu, and
bid them come forth; we have somewhat to say to them."

The chief advanced to the gangway, where he could be clearly seen, and
in a loud voice called upon every man to come forth into the open to
listen to what the Four Spirits of the Winds had to say to them.  And,
in reply, first one, then another came creeping reluctantly out of the
huts, until at length the Great Place was full of people, all standing
with their eyes fixed upon the figures of the four well-remembered
"spirits," and the fifth who now stood beside them.  A low hum of
subdued conversation arose from the densely massed crowd, for a minute
or two, but it presently subsided; and all waited breathlessly for the
communication to which they had been summoned to listen.

Von Schalckenberg permitted the silence to last long enough to become
almost oppressive; then he advanced to the gangway and, waving his hand,
demanded--

"Children of the Makolo, how many of your number are absent?"

For a full minute dead silence followed upon this question; then a man,
whose dress and weapons proclaimed him a chief, strode forward and
replied--

"We are all present, O most potent Spirit, save fifty of the king's
guards, who went forth this morning to execute the king's sentence upon
Siswani."

"Say you so?" retorted the professor.  "Where, then, is M'Bongwele?  How
is it that I do not see him?"

"_Au_!" exclaimed the chief, "the king abides in his palace.  He comes
not forth at the bidding of strangers."

"Does he not?" retorted von Schalckenberg.  "Yet shall he come forth at
my bidding.  Go, now, Lobelalatutu; descend the ladder to your people;
take as many men as may be needful, and bring forth M'Bongwele, that we,
the Four Spirits, may judge him, and punish him for his crimes.  Go, and
fear not,"--for Lobelalatutu rather hung back, as though somewhat
uncertain in regard to the matter of his safety--"you are under our
protection; and the man who foolishly dares to raise hand against you
incurs our displeasure, and will instantly fall dead!"

Thus assured, Lobelalatutu hesitated no longer, but, calling to certain
friends of his to support him, boldly descended the ladder--which
Mildmay took the precaution to draw up instantly--and, accompanied by
some eight or ten other chiefs, proceeded to push his way through the
throng toward the king's palace, while a confused hum and murmur of
excited conversation arose from the crowd.

Suddenly, the chief who had replied to von Schalckenberg's questions,
sprang forward, and raising his right hand, with a sheaf of spears in
its grasp, above his head, shouted--

"Warriors of the Makolo, what is this?  Why stand ye, silent, before
these strangers, as cattle stand before a hungry lion?  Who are they,
that they dare come hither to dictate to us and our king?  Once before
have they been here, and--"

As though unexpectedly pushed by some one behind, he suddenly fell
forward on his face, dead! while von Schalckenberg composedly lowered
his rifle from his shoulder.

"It had to be done," he explained to his companions, meanwhile keeping
his gaze steadily fixed upon the crowd of savages beneath him.  "In
another second or two those fellows down there would have been divided
into two parties, and we should have had a pitched battle raging at our
feet, with a loss of hundreds of lives.  Evidently, the fellow was one
of the king's friends, and can, therefore, very well be spared."

"Quite right, Professor," answered Lethbridge.  "You forestalled me by a
second or two only.  If you had not fired, I should have done so, for I
saw that the fellow meant mischief."

As the chief fell prone before them, the excited crowd of savages became
suddenly silent and rigid.  Then von Schalckenberg waved his hand toward
the motionless figure, and said in solemn and impressive tones--

"So perish those who presume to dispute the will of the Four Spirits!
Let no one touch him, but let him lie there as a warning to other
rebellious natures--if such, perchance, should be among you."

At this moment, Lobelalatutu and his band reappeared, with M'Bongwele in
their midst.  The king's heavy features wore a sullen, savage expression
as he was led forward through the narrow lane that the assembled
warriors opened out for his passage; and he threw upward a single glance
of mingled fear and defiance at the little group of white men as he
advanced.  As he reached the open space that intervened between the ship
and the thickly massed crowd of his people, and came to a halt, he
looked quickly about him, and suddenly demanded, in a loud, harsh tone
of voice--

"Where is Malatambu?  Let him stand forth!"

"Behold, he lies there, dead, slain by the mighty magic of the Great
Spirits!" answered a chief, pointing to the prostrate body of the man
who had fallen before the professor's rifle.

The king threw a single keen glance at the dead man, grunted
inarticulately, and was silent.

"Listen, M'Bongwele!" said von Schalckenberg.  "How is it that, having
banished you for your former evil deeds, we find you here again upon our
return?"

"I was unhappy away from my people, and therefore I returned," answered
the king, sullenly.

"And, having returned, your first act was to slay Seketulo.  Is it not
so?" demanded the professor.

"Why should I not slay him?" retorted M'Bongwele.  "The Makolo need not
two kings; and Seketulo knew not how to govern them."

"Therefore you slew him?" persisted the professor.

"Therefore I slew him," assented M'Bongwele.

"Also you slew twelve white men and two white women who were found in
distress by your people, although you knew that such acts were
displeasing to us, and that we had forbidden them," asserted the
professor.

"Nay," said M'Bongwele; "I slew but the twelve white men.  Of the two
women, the elder slew the younger, and then slew herself.  But what
matters it how they died?  Am not I the king; and may I not do as I will
in mine own country?"

"And how died the white men?" demanded von Schalckenberg.

"Some died on ants' nests; some were crucified; some were--nay, how can
I say?  It is long ago, and I have forgotten," answered the king,
sullenly.

"And they are not the only people who have died in torment since your
return.  Many of your own people have suffered at your word.  Is it not
so?"

"It is so," answered the king.  "They were rebellious subjects; so they
perished."

"How knew you that they were rebellious?" demanded von Schalckenberg.

"My witch-doctors told me so.  Is that not enough?" retorted M'Bongwele.

"And how knew the witch-doctors that they were rebellious?" inquired the
professor.

"They found it out through their magic; even as you, through your magic,
found out that I had returned to my people," answered the king.

"Are those witch-doctors present?  If so, let them stand forth,"
exclaimed the professor.

For a space of two or three minutes there was no direct reply to this
challenge, but merely a subdued commotion among the assembled multitude
of warriors.  Then the professor, growing impatient, called to
Lobelalatutu.

"Are the witch-doctors present, Lobelalatutu?"

"Nay, Great Spirit, they are not present.  Doubtless they are to be
found in their huts," answered the chief, saluting.

"Then, take men with you to those huts, find the witch-doctors, bind
them with thongs, and bring them forth to judgment," commanded von
Schalckenberg.

A few minutes of dead silence now followed, at the end of which there
arose, among the more distant huts, outcries and sounds of commotion,
and presently the chief and his party reappeared, leading forth ten old
and grizzled men of most villainously cunning and repulsive appearance,
whose hands were bound behind them.  These were brought to the front and
ranged in line by the side of the king.

The professor looked at them intently for a full minute, they returning
his look with an insolent glare of defiance.  Then he said--

"Which of you is the chief of the witch-doctors?"

"I, even I, M'Pusa, am the chief witch-doctor.  What want ye with me,
white man?" answered the most hideously repulsive-looking individual of
the party, sending a look of concentrated hatred and vindictiveness
upward at the professor.

"It is charged against you that you have cruelly and maliciously incited
the man M'Bongwele--who falsely calls himself `king'--to condemn many
people to suffer death by torture, under the pretence that they were
conspiring against him, knowing all the while that your accusations were
false.  What explanation or excuse have you to offer for your
wickedness?" demanded the professor, sternly.

The man pondered for a moment, as though considering what answer he
should make.  At length he looked up, and said--

"Why should I make excuse?  The men were my enemies, and I used such
power as I possessed to destroy them."

"It is enough," said von Schalckenberg.

Then, addressing the great assemblage before him, he continued--

"Men of the Makolo, ye have heard the questions that I have put to these
two men, and the answers that they have given to those questions.  They
have acknowledged that the charges brought against them are true.  They
have taken many lives, doomed many to die in lingering torment for the
mere gratification of their own personal enmity and their love of
cruelty.  Out of their own mouths are they judged and condemned; they
have misused their power, and therefore is it taken from them.  They
have wantonly taken the lives of others, therefore are their own lives
forfeit.  The sentence passed upon them is that they die a shameful and
ignominious death.  Take them, therefore, fasten strong ropes about
their necks, and hang them both from the great branch of yonder tree
until they be dead."

Dead!  The word touched M'Bongwele and stirred him as could no other
word in his own or any other language.  He?  Dead?  And by the hands of
others?  How many of his unresisting subjects had he condemned to suffer
death--the death of acute lingering, long-drawn-out, seemingly
interminable suffering?  And how he had laughed with ferocious glee when
he had succeeded in making some of them--not many, only one or two
occasionally--quail at the prospect of what lay before them!  But he had
never dreamed of a day when he himself should be doomed to suffer the
ignominy of public execution.  How should he?  Was he not the king? and
was his word not the law?  Who should dare to raise a hand against him?
The idea seemed to him preposterous, grotesque, an absurdity, until he
glanced upward and saw those set, stern white faces gazing down upon him
with eyes in which he read the truth that his doom was fixed, immutable,
inexorable.  Involuntarily he shuddered, and glanced wildly about him as
though looking for a way of escape.  Would his own people stand tamely
by and see him, their king, perish at the word of these mysterious,
terrible strangers?  Or would a single one of them dare to lay
sacrilegious hands upon him in obedience to the order of these
strangers?  With the half-formed hope that generations of iron
discipline and unquestioning obedience to the king's will might yet
avail to protect him in the moment of his utmost need, his glance
searched face after face.  In vain!  He had allowed his tyranny to carry
him so far that at length there was scarce a man among those present who
could say with certainty that his own life would not be the next
demanded to satisfy some savage whim of the king.  There were not twenty
among all those hundreds who would raise a hand to save him!  Too late
he saw the full depth of his rash, headstrong, criminal folly, and to
what straits it had led him; and, suddenly snatching a spear from the
hand of one of his astonished and unwary guards, he strove to drive its
point into his own heart.  But the owner of the spear recovered himself
in a flash, and, seizing the blade of the weapon in his bare hand, he
twisted it upward with such strength that the slender wooden shaft
snapped, leaving the head in his hand and the innocuous shaft in that of
M'Bongwele.  At the same instant half a dozen men flung themselves upon
the king, and in a trice his hands were drawn behind him, and securely
bound.  Then, from somewhere, two long thongs or ropes of twisted
raw-hide were produced and quickly knotted round the necks of the two
condemned men, and in a tense, breathless silence they were led away to
the fatal tree.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

THE KING'S NECKLACE.

With the return of Lobelalatutu from his gruesome task, and while the
bodies of M'Bongwele and M'Pusa still swung from the tree, the professor
turned to his friends and said--

"Having disposed of one king, the onus now rests upon us of appointing
another.  The question consequently arises: What is to govern us in the
somewhat delicate task of choosing a suitable man?"

"Yes," agreed Sir Reginald; "and it is a somewhat difficult question to
answer: very much too difficult to answer offhand.  We want a man--"

"Excuse me for interrupting you, old chap," broke in Lethbridge; "but I
should like to offer a suggestion, based upon my knowledge of the
peculiarities of the savage mind, as acquired in various out-of-the-way
corners of the globe.  In the light of what this chief, Lobelalatutu,
has told us to-day, I am of opinion that we made a rather serious
mistake when, on the occasion of our last visit here, we appointed
Seketulo as king without consulting the wishes of the other chiefs.  I
would therefore suggest that we instruct the chiefs to hold a pow-wow
to-night for the purpose of deciding upon, and submitting to us
to-morrow, the names of such individuals as they consider suitable for
the position.  What say you, Professor?  You, too, have had some
experience with natives; what do you think of my plan?"

"I think it excellent in every way," answered the professor, heartily;
"so excellent, indeed, that I very strongly support it."

"All right," agreed Sir Reginald; "I can see no possible objection to
the scheme.  What do you say, Colonel, and you--Hillo! what has become
of Mildmay?"

"It would not very profoundly surprise me if it should be found that he
is below, doing his best to entertain the ladies," observed Lethbridge,
with a grin.  "And, if so, there is really no need to disturb him; he is
sure to agree to anything that we may decide upon.  What think _you of_
our plan, Colonel?"

"Well, really, I have had so little experience in matters of the kind,
that I do not feel competent to express an opinion.  But since my very
excellent friend, von Schalckenberg, so thoroughly approves of it, I am
certain that it must be a good one," answered Sziszkinski.

"Very good, then; that is settled.  Will you tell those fellows down
there, Professor?" said Sir Reginald.

Von Schalckenberg did so, and then dismissed the people to their huts,
commanding the chief, Lobelalatutu, however, to ascend to the deck again
for a few minutes, as they had one or two further questions to put to
him.

"And now," remarked the professor, as the chief joined them, "our next
business, I take it, is to discover who were those unfortunate white
people who died under such barbarous circumstances, to amuse M'Bongwele
and set his jealous fears at rest."

"Certainly," agreed Sir Reginald.  "It is our manifest duty to do so.
And, if we can identify any of them, it will also be our painful duty to
make public the particulars of their most miserable fate, and, if
possible, communicate with their relatives; also to despatch to those
relatives any relics that they may have left behind them.  Ask
Lobelalatutu if he happens to know what became of the poor souls'
belongings."

Von Schalckenberg put the question, and learned in reply that whatever
may have belonged to the unhappy party would undoubtedly be found in the
king's palace.

"Of course," remarked the professor, "we might have guessed as much!
Well, is there anything more that we wish to ask our black friend?"

"Ask him whether any portion of the wreck still exists, and, if so,
where it is to be found," suggested Sir Reginald.

The professor and Lobelalatutu conversed together for a few minutes, and
then the former, turning to his companion, said--

"The chief tells me that the wreck has disappeared, but that he can
point out to us the spot where it lay.  I think we ought to examine it,
do not you?"

"Undoubtedly," agreed Sir Reginald.  "We may perhaps be able to go over
and take a look at it to-morrow, after this matter of the choice of a
new king is settled.  Meanwhile, there goes the luncheon-bell.  After
lunch we might give the `palace' an overhaul, and see what we can find
of interest there."

So it was arranged, and Lobelalatutu then received his dismissal.

In accordance with Sir Reginald's suggestion, he, the professor,
Lethbridge, and Colonel Sziszkinski quietly left the ship that same
afternoon, about three o'clock, to institute a search in the palace for
any relics of the shipwrecked party that M'Bongwele might have
preserved.  Mildmay very willingly agreed to remain on board the ship to
keep the ladies company, and see, generally, that nothing went amiss
with them.

But before they left the ship, von Schalckenberg handed to each of the
party a small box, about half the size of this book.

"Our experiences in the forest, the other day, when we were lost there,"
said he, "suggested to me the importance of providing some means of
communicating with the ship--and with each other, if need be--under
similar circumstances, and the outcome of my cogitations upon the
subject is these little boxes, which are all precisely alike."

He opened the one he held in his hand, and proceeded to explain the use
of the instrument.

"It is very simple," he said.  "Let us assume that you wish to
communicate with the ship.  You draw your box from your pocket, and
press firmly upon this small black knob, thus: and a bell instantly
rings in the pilot-house, and in every one of the habitable chambers of
the ship--for I have coupled them all up together in order that,
wherever the occupants of the ship may be, they will hear at least one
of the bells, and will know that one of us is calling.  Incidentally I
may mention that a bell will at the same time ring in each of our
instruments.  Listen!"

The professor pressed the knob of his own instrument; and as he did so
the sound of many bells, not very loud, but still perfectly distinct,
came to them from every part of the ship, and also from the instrument
that each man held in his hand.

"So!" said von Schalckenberg.  "Now, when any of us hears the sound of
the bell in his instrument, he at once withdraws that instrument from
his pocket, and touches the small _red_ knob.  This stops the ringing of
his own particular bell--as you may ascertain by experiment--and at the
same time informs the other person--by the momentary stoppage of _his_
bell--that some one is in touch with him.  Then the person who desires
to communicate proceeds somewhat in this fashion.  Releasing his
pressure on the black knob, he draws out this small tube from the box,
inserts its nozzle into his ear, and says into this mouthpiece--

"`Hillo, there!  Are you the _Flying Fish_?'

"`No,' comes the answer.  `I am von Schalckenberg.'

"`Thanks!  I want the _Flying Fish_,' you say; and you press your black
knob again until you get a reply from the ship."

"Why, what a splendid little device!" exclaimed Sir Reginald.  "When did
you invent this, Professor?"

"I thought it out that day when we were lost in the forest, and I made
my first experimental instrument the next day.  It is a wireless
telephone; and it is powerful enough, I believe, to permit of
intelligible conversation over a space of about fifty miles.  But I
cannot speak with certainty on that point without subjecting the
instrument to actual trial.  It is very roughly made, as you see, but if
it answers its purpose, it will serve until we can get smaller and
neater ones made."

"Precisely.  Utility before beauty, eh, Professor?" remarked Lethbridge.
"Not," he added, "but that this is neat and handy enough for anything.
Well, we need never fear being lost again, I think; for it would be hard
if, with these little instruments to ring up our friend Mildmay, we
could not give him some sort of a clue as to the direction in which to
look for us.  And now, I suppose, we may as well go."

It was but a few steps from the ship to the "palace," which, after all,
was only a somewhat larger hut than any of the rest, and a couple of
minutes sufficed the party to reach it.  They found it unoccupied, for
the king's wives were lodged in an adjoining hut, from which, as the
four white men neared it, they became aware of a subdued sound of
wailing, which they correctly interpreted as the mourning of the ladies
over the tragic end of their lord and master.  The interior of the
palace consisted of but one circular apartment, some twenty-five feet in
diameter, hung round with magnificent "karosses," or curtains, made of
the skins of various wild animals.  One of these karosses instantly
arrested their attention, from the fact that it conveyed to them the
information that Africa contained at least one other new animal in
addition to those already discovered by them.  It was made of zebra
skins; but there was a peculiarity in the marking which clearly
indicated that the animals from which the skins had been taken were of a
new and quite unknown variety.  The peculiarity consisted in the fact
that the head, neck, forelegs, and front half of the body were of a
dark-brown colour, while the hinder half of the body was striped like
that of the ordinary zebra.

Von Schalckenberg was at once plunged into an ecstasy of delight at the
discovery, and, with the ruthlessness of the true scientist, announced
his determination to despoil the palace of that particular kaross, let
the opinion of the Makolo upon his act of spoliation be what it might;
and he also there and then secured Sir Reginald's amused consent to
proceed eventually in search of the living animals, if it should prove
possible to learn from the natives where they were to be found.

The furniture of the palace was of the most primitive description,
consisting of a very roughly constructed bed, a low table, of equally
rough manufacture, and an armchair decorated with rude but very
elaborate carvings.  There was also a chest--obviously an ordinary
sailor's sea-chest--which Sir Reginald opened, under the belief that
here, if anywhere, would be found such relics of the unfortunate white
people as might still remain in existence.

The chest proved to be about three-parts full, and the first articles
that came to hand were the king's very handsome gold coronet, his
lion-skin mantle, and a necklace of what at first sight appeared to be
red pebbles.  Upon closer inspection, however, the stones were
pronounced by the professor to be uncut and unpolished rubies of
exceptional size and beauty, but which were ruined by the roughness and
size of their perforations.  There were ninety-three of them in all,
strung upon a thin strip of deerskin, and, had they been perfect, would
have been worth about ten thousand pounds.

The professor's eyes sparkled as he held the necklace up to the light
and noted the fire and deep, rich colour of the stones.

"Ah!" he ejaculated, "here is wealth with a vengeance, but reduced to
about a tenth part of its original value by the crass ignorance and
stupidity of somebody who did not know what irreparable mischief he was
doing when he chipped and punched those ghastly great holes.  I wonder,
now, where they were found!  Somewhere not very far from here, I'll be
bound, or they would not have found their way into M'Bongwele's hands.
I must ask Lobelalatutu about these; possibly he may be able to tell us
where they came from, and, if so, there will be an opportunity not only
for each of us to add considerably to our stock of precious stones, but
also for me to acquire a little of that wealth which I so urgently need
for the purpose that I mentioned to you, Sir Reginald, when you were
good enough to invite me to make one of your party on this cruise."

"All right, Professor; I remember," answered Sir Reginald, cheerily.
"If you can learn where these stones were found, we will go there, and
you shall have a full week in which to collect as many as you can."

The next articles in the chest upon which the searchers laid hands,
consisted of a soldier's castoff scarlet coat, buttonless, and very much
the worse for wear; an old pair of blue trousers decorated on the side
seams with tarnish-blackened gold lace; and a most shockingly battered
old cocked hat; all of which they recognised with laughter as gifts
presented by themselves to M'Bongwele upon the occasion of their former
visit.  And beneath these, again, they found two pairs of coarse
blue-cloth trousers, a thick pilot-cloth coat, two blue-striped shirts,
a pair of coarse worsted stockings, and one or two other oddments that
had evidently belonged to one or more of the ill-fated party of white
people who had fallen into M'Bongwele's hands, and of whose identity the
searchers were now endeavouring to discover some trace.  But the
clothing bore no name, not even of the maker, nor were there any letters
or documents of any kind in the chest to indicate the name or
nationality of the owner.  Nor was anything of the kind to be found
anywhere in the hut, although the searchers carefully examined it
throughout and also every article that it contained.  The only chance,
therefore, that remained to them was to visit the scene of the wreck,
and endeavour to find some vestige of the ship herself.

When, on the morrow of this somewhat eventful day, the male members of
the _Flying Fish_ party went on deck to smoke an after-breakfast pipe,
they found the chiefs assembled in the Great Place below, awaiting their
appearance for the purpose of submitting the names of those of their
number considered most acceptable for the vacant kingship.

And now a rather amusing difficulty arose; for when von Schalckenberg
invited the chosen chiefs to ascend to the deck of the _Flying Fish_, in
order that the Spirits might determine which of them should receive the
position, the whole of them, sixteen in number, gravely ascended the
side-ladder and ranged themselves in line before the arbiters of their
fate.  And when the professor demanded of Lobelalatutu an explanation of
this somewhat singular proceeding, he was informed that at the
conference of the preceding evening, each chief had calmly and
resolutely voted for himself.  This somewhat complicated the matter, and
brought about a situation full of troublous possibilities, calling for
very careful and diplomatic handling; the four "Spirits," therefore,
having seated themselves in deck-chairs, invited each chief to step
forward, in turn, and state briefly, first, the grounds upon which he
based his belief in his own fitness for the post of king, and, secondly,
the lines upon which he would govern, and the course of conduct which he
would observe generally in the event of his nomination.  To each man was
accorded a certain number of good and also of bad marks corresponding to
the nature of the replies given by him, the bad marks being deducted
from the good, and the candidate's fitness judged by the number of good
marks then remaining to him.  Thus carefully examined, three of the
chiefs were eventually found to be equally suitable, upon which
discovery the choice of one from among them was determined by the simple
process of "odd man out," as a result of which--to the great
satisfaction of the judges--Lobelalatutu proved to be the fortunate
individual.  The fifteen unsuccessful candidates were, naturally,
somewhat chagrined at their failure, but they had seen and understood
enough of the proceedings to satisfy them of the absolute fairness of
the test, and they therefore took their defeat with a good grace, and
made no demur when they were presently required to swear fealty to their
new sovereign.

This matter having been satisfactorily arranged, the bodies of
M'Bongwele and the chief witch-doctor were ordered to be cut down and
interred in the open country outside the village, after which the new
king was crowned by no less a personage than Sir Reginald himself, while
the professor invested him with the regal mantle of lion-skin, and
Lethbridge dropped the ruby necklace over his head, the ceremony being
performed on the deck of the _Flying Fish_, in the presence of the
entire populace of the village.

The ceremony of coronation having thus been duly performed, the new king
was at once called upon to exercise his regal functions for the first
time by fulfilling one of the promises that he had made, this being the
abolition of the power of the witch-doctors.  These functionaries were
accordingly summoned before him and bidden to pack up their traps and
quit the country forthwith under an armed escort, an assurance being
given them that if they were ill-advised enough to return after they had
been conducted across the border, they would be slain at sight.

"And now, Lobelalatutu," said von Schalckenberg, when this matter had
been arranged and the people dismissed, "there are two things that we
require you to do for us.  The first is, to tell us, if you can, where
M'Bongwele obtained those stones,"--pointing to the necklace of
rubies--"and the other is, to guide us to the spot where the ship of the
white people was last seen."

"I can do both with equal ease, and at the same time, O Spirit,"
answered the new king, "for these red stones were found by our people on
the beach and in the soil of the cliffs at the spot where they came upon
the wrecked white men and women.  A few were found, in the first place,
on the beach, and, being of a pleasing colour and shooting forth a ruddy
light, were offered to M'Bongwele, who so greatly admired them that he
sent the finders back to look for more, with orders to bring him enough
to make a necklace."

"And you know the exact spot?" demanded the professor.

"I know the exact spot; for my brother was one of the finders, and he
told me," answered Lobelalatutu.

"Good!" ejaculated the professor.  "Your brother shall go with us, and
point out the place."

"Nay," answered the king; "he cannot do that, for he is dead.
M'Bongwele slew him with his own hand."

"Indeed!" exclaimed the professor.  "Why?"

"Because he was my brother," answered the king, simply.

Von Schalckenberg turned to Sir Reginald.  "His most gracious Majesty,
here, tells me that he can show us where the wreck lies, and also where
those rubies were found," said he.  "If the rest of you are quite
agreeable, it appears to me that there is no very particular reason why
we should not go there at once.  We seem to have finished our business
here, at all events, for the present."

"All right," agreed the baronet; "let us go.  We will take Lobelalatutu
with us, and get him to point out the places; then one of us can run him
back here, and land him, while the others take a stroll along the beach
and fill their pockets with rubies--if they can find any."

The professor accordingly explained to the newly created monarch what
was proposed; and then Sir Reginald retired to the pilot-house to assume
the duties of navigator.  A minute later the inhabitants of the village
had the gratification of witnessing the flight into the air of their new
king, not as a prisoner, but as a friend of the Great Spirits, who were
doubtless taking him away with them on some business of importance
connected with the welfare of the whole Makolo nation.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

THE RUBY MINE.

The coast line was distant some twenty miles from the village, and about
as far from the ruins of Ophir; it was therefore easily reached within
an hour from the moment of starting, and King Lobelalatutu then had the
mystifying experience of beholding the ladies of the party, accompanied
by Ida, Sir Reginald, Lethbridge, and Colonel Sziszkinski suddenly and
unaccountably appear on the beach below him--having left the ship in
some mysterious and unknown manner--while the professor and Mildmay
remained on board with him, to have the position of the wreck pointed
out to them, and afterwards convey him back to his village and people.

"Now, Lobelalatutu," said the professor, "show us, if you can,
whereabouts the wreck lay, when you last saw it."

The king looked out to seaward, and pointed toward a spot about half a
mile from the shore, where the sea was breaking heavily.

"It was there," he said, "quite close to that end of the white line on
the water."

"Ah!" exclaimed Mildmay.  "There is evidently a reef there; and she
fetched up on the southern end of it.  We will take a run out there,
Professor, and see whether we can discover any signs of her; after which
we will run our friend, here, back to the bosom of his anxious family."

And therewith, he retired to the pilot-house.  The ship then rose to a
height of about five hundred feet into the air, and headed out toward
the southern extremity of the reef, over which she was hovering a few
minutes later, while the professor and Mildmay peered down into the
water below them.  At their height above the water it was quite easy to
see down into the depths; and, although the foam of the breakers baffled
them somewhat, they had very little difficulty in tracing the extent and
direction of the reef.  For some little time, however, they looked in
vain for any sign of the wreck; but at length Mildmay, pointing downward
at two dark shapeless blotches that could just be distinguished, one on
either side of the reef, remarked--

"That appears to me to be all that is left of her, Professor.  And, if
so, she has evidently broken in two and gone down, the one half of her
inside and the other half outside the reef.  Whether, however, I am
right in my supposition can only be determined by descending to the
bottom and getting into our diving-suits.  And, very fortunately for us,
the water on both sides of the reef appears to be fairly deep, so that,
when we are down there on the sand, we shall not feel the power of the
surf very much.  Had she remained on top of the reef I doubt whether it
would have been possible for us to have got near her."

"Quite right, my friend," answered the professor.  "No man could keep
his feet among those breakers; we should be helplessly knocked about,
like ninepins.  And now, do you wish to see any more, or shall we be off
back to the village?"

"One moment, please," said Mildmay, drawing out his pocket-book.  "It
will do no harm to take a set of cross-bearings for the identification
of this spot, and they might be useful in the event of an off-shore wind
springing up, during which it is quite possible that the sea may cease
to break on the reef, in which case we could not very easily find the
wreck unless we happened to have the bearings of her."

He went into the pilot-house accordingly, and took the bearings, having
done which he set the engines in motion, and headed the ship back toward
the village, where she duly arrived about an hour later.

As the professor drew up and stowed away the accommodation ladder by
means of which Lobelalatutu had left the ship he said--

"It has just occurred to me that the present is an excellent opportunity
for us to test our wireless telephones by calling up our friends on the
beach."

And, entering the pilot-house, he went up to the instrument that was
there fixed, and, opening it, laid his finger on one of two small knobs
that it contained.  The little bell that formed part of the instrument
at once started ringing--as did a similar bell in every room of the
ship--and so continued for about half a minute, when it ceased for about
two seconds, and then went on again.

"Good!" remarked the professor, removing his finger from the button, and
so stopping the ringing of the bell, as he drew out a small tube and
inserted it's end in one ear; "some one among our friends hears us."

Then he advanced his mouth to the mouthpiece, and spoke into it--

"Hillo! who are you?"

"I am Elphinstone," came the instant and clear reply.  "Is that the
_Flying Fish_?"

"Yes," answered von Schalckenberg.  "We are now at the village, and we
thought it an excellent opportunity to test the telephones.  They appear
to answer perfectly; for I can hear you as distinctly as though you were
at my elbow.  Can you hear me fairly well?"

"Splendidly; quite as well as you can hear me, I should say," replied
Sir Reginald.  "I congratulate you, Professor, upon the success of your
latest invention.  It is a most useful instrument; and I can easily
imagine a number of circumstances under which it might prove of the
utmost value to us.  An idea has just occurred to me.  How would it do,
while we are about it, to ascertain the greatest distance at which it is
possible to communicate intelligibly with each other?"

"Excellent!" answered von Schalckenberg.  "We will shut ourselves in,
ascend to a height of ten thousand feet, into the calm belt, and then
proceed at full speed directly away from you.  Keep your finger on the
black button of your instrument, please, for our guidance; and when our
bell ceases to sound we shall know that we have lost touch with you."

"Right!" came the answer.  And instantly all the bells in the ship again
started ringing.

At the same moment the professor closed the door and windows of the
pilot-house, and injected a strong jet of vapour into the air-chambers,
causing the ship to rise rapidly into the air.  Then he sent the engines
full speed ahead, and pointed the ship's sharp snout on a compass
bearing that left the party on the beach directly astern of her.

For three-quarters of an hour the bells in the ship continued to ring,
at first strongly, and then gradually with diminishing strength; and
finally, when the ship had been running continuously at full speed for
fifty minutes, they became inaudible.

The professor's face, meanwhile, was a picture of ever-growing delight.

"If we can continue to hear the bell for a quarter of an hour I shall be
quite satisfied," he had remarked to Mildmay, as the ship first rose
into the air; "for by that time we shall be quite fifty miles distant
from the beach."

And when the quarter of an hour had elapsed with no perceptible
diminution in the volume of sound, his growing satisfaction had been
faithfully mirrored by the steadily expanding smile upon his expressive
features.  Finally, when at length the bells ceased to ring, he
exclaimed--

"Well! who would have believed it?  Here have I, a poor silly scientist,
been hoping that my little invention would prove effective for as long a
distance as fifty miles; and behold, at the distance of one hundred and
twenty miles from our friends we have only just lost touch with them.
Let us try back, my friend; turn the ship round, and we will then note
how far we have to run before we can speak clearly to each other."

Mildmay accordingly put the helm hard over, and when the compass showed
that the ship was once more pointing directly toward the spot on the
beach where the remainder of the party had been left, the professor drew
out his watch, and carefully noted the time.  Almost immediately the
bells again began to tinkle, at first very faintly and intermittently,
but rapidly increasing in strength as the ship sped back over the ground
that she had traversed a few minutes earlier.  By the time that she had
run ten miles on her return journey the bells were again ringing quite
strongly.

"Stop her!" commanded von Schalckenberg.  "We are now one hundred and
ten miles from our friends, and I think we ought to be within speaking
distance of them.  Let us try."

He touched the red knob of the instrument, and at the same time inserted
the end of the tube in his ear.  Almost instantly a faint but quite
distinct shout came to him:

"Hillo, von Schalckenberg, where are you now?" he heard Sir Reginald's
voice inquire.

"We are just one hundred and ten miles distant from you," answered the
professor.  "Can you hear me distinctly?"

"Yes, quite distinctly; although your voice does not sound quite so loud
as it did," came the reply.  "It sounds as though you were about a
hundred feet away."

"Still, if you can hear me clearly enough to distinguish what I say, it
is good enough.  You will hear me more distinctly as we shorten the
distance between you and ourselves.  By the way, have you met with any
luck yet in your search for rubies?"

"Yes," answered Sir Reginald.  "During these experiments of yours I have
been lying down on the beach, turning over the pebbles within reach, and
have found two rather fine stones that look like rubies.  You will be
able to say whether they are or no when you see them."

"Which will be within the hour," answered the professor; "for we are now
about to return to you at full speed.  Many thanks, my friend, for
giving so much time to my experiment.  I need not now trouble you any
further; so get to work in earnest, and see how many more rubies you can
find by the time that we arrive."

It was exactly fifty-five minutes later that the _Flying Fish_, still at
a height of ten thousand feet above the sea-level, arrived over the
beach where the rest of the party were seen wandering slowly hither and
thither, and gently settled down in their midst.

"Well, my friends, what luck, so far?" demanded the professor, as he and
Mildmay emerged from the ship's diving-chamber, and joined Sir Reginald
and Lady Olivia on the beach.

"That is for you to say," answered Sir Reginald, with a laugh.  "I have
found another likely looking stone since I last spoke to you; and Lady
Olivia, here, has a whole pocketful, but most of them, I am afraid, are
rather more than doubtful."

"May I be permitted to see them?" asked von Schalckenberg, holding out
his hand, with a smile.

"Of course," answered Lady Olivia, detaching from her belt the little
leather bag in which she usually carried her handkerchief, scent-bottle,
and other odds and ends.  "_I_ think that several of them are quite
good; but my husband declares that they are not worth the trouble of
picking up."

"And he is quite right, so far as this one, at least, is concerned,"
remarked the professor, as he drew forth a stone and held it up to the
light for a moment.  "This also," as he drew forth a second, looked at
it, and threw it away.  "Ah!" he exclaimed, as he produced a third,
"this looks more promising."

He examined the stone very carefully--it was about the size of a
plover's egg--and presently said, as he handed it back--

"My dear lady, permit me to congratulate you.  You have been fortunate
enough to secure an exceptionally magnificent stone, without doubt.  It
is, of course, somewhat difficult to judge of the precise value of a gem
in its rough, uncut state, but I should say that you have there a stone
that will prove almost unique, not only as to size, but also for its
perfect colour.  Have you any more like it?"

Further investigation proved that Lady Olivia had another that was
almost, if not quite, the equal of the first, as well as three others of
somewhat smaller size, but equal beauty of colour; and when, presently,
the professor proceeded to examine Sir Reginald's find, it became at
once apparent that the rubies to be found in this particular locality
were likely to prove exceptionally valuable from their extreme richness
of colour.

"And these," exclaimed von Schalckenberg, enthusiastically, "are the
results of but a few hours' search!  Surely there must be a ruby mine of
almost fabulous richness somewhere close at hand.  Now is the time for
me to acquire a little of that wealth of which I am in such urgent
need."

And, raising his hat to Lady Olivia, he turned away.  But it was
presently noticed that, instead of examining the pebbles on the beach,
as the rest were doing, he went straight to the foot of the low cliff at
the upper edge of the beach, scrutinising its face very closely, and
foot by foot, as he passed slowly along it.  When last particularly
noticed, he was seen to be apparently digging into the soil of the
cliff-face, here and there, with his pocket-knife.

At length the sound of a gong beaten on board the _Flying Fish_ gave
notice that afternoon tea was ready for whosoever chose to partake of
that refreshment; and the two ladies and little Ida--all three of whom
held the institution in great respect--at once gladly turned their steps
toward the ship, for they were fatigued and hot with their unwonted
exertions, and felt that a cup of tea was precisely what they needed for
their restoration.  The men of the party, also, had by this time drifted
almost insensibly into the habit of joining the ladies at this function;
thus it came to pass that within the half-hour the entire party had
gathered beneath the awnings, and, ensconced in comfortable basket
chairs, were leisurely sipping the fragrant cup that is said to cheer
and certainly does not inebriate, while they discussed in desultory
fashion their afternoon's experiences, and compared their finds.  All,
that is to say, with the exception of von Schalckenberg, who, in his
usual absent-minded way, was to be seen, about a mile distant, still
prodding and poking at the cliff-face as industriously and with as deep
an absorption as though so important a function as afternoon tea was
quite unknown to him.

"Let us call the beggar up with one of his own telephones," said
Lethbridge, in response to some remark of Lady Olivia's anent the
professor's absorption.  "If we don't he will stay there until darkness
falls, and then wonder how the dickens he got there.  Here, Ida, come
you and call up the professor, sweetheart; he will perhaps listen to
you, though it is very doubtful whether he would to me."  And, drawing
his telephone from his pocket, he pressed the button, while Ida--with
whom the ex-colonel was a great favourite--came and stood obediently by
his side.  As usual, everybody else's telephone, as well as all the
bells in the ship, at once started ringing.

"Now," continued Lethbridge, gravely, "that is the fault that I have to
find with these otherwise wonderfully clever contrivances of von
Schalckenberg's.  You want to communicate with a certain person by means
of your own instrument, and you at once attract the attention of
everybody else who happens to possess one.  I must remember to ask the
worthy man if he cannot remedy that defect.  Ah, there he is," as the
bells ceased for a moment to tinkle.  "Now then, Ida, put this in your
ear, and then tell the professor, through that mouthpiece, that
afternoon tea is on."

The child at once did so, calling into the receiver--

"Professor, Professor, can you hear me?"

"Oh yes, of course I can," replied the professor's voice.  "What is the
matter, my dear?"

"Tea is ready!" proclaimed Ida, shortly.

"Is that so?" answered the professor.  "All right, little one; I should
like a cup of tea very much, for I am terribly thirsty.  But I cannot
come just now, for I am very busy.  So you take your tea yourself, and
enjoy it, eh?"

"What are you so dreadfully busy about, Professor?" demanded the child.

"I am busy at the making of my fortune," answered the professor.  "You
can tell your papa that I believe I have found the heart of the ruby
mine; and, if so, there will be rubies enough for us all and to spare.
I will tell you more about it when I turn up for dinner."

The professor duly turned up, very hot and tired--not to say dirty--as
the first star made its appearance in the eastern sky; and the result of
his afternoon's labour was represented by some forty rubies of a size,
and fire, and richness of colour that threw those found by the rest of
the party entirely in the shade.

His story was very simple.  He explained that the fact of rubies being
found upon the beach had led him to the conviction that they must
originally have come from the soil of the cliff-face; and he had
accordingly devoted himself to the task of examining the bare soil at
those spots where it had crumbled away.  The result, he said, was that
he had ultimately come upon a place where, upon careful inspection, he
had found no fewer than three rubies just showing through the soil,
within a foot of each other.  These he had, of course, straightway dug
out; and in the act of doing so had disclosed others, the ultimate
result being the unearthing of the superb stones that he had brought
back with him.  His opinion, he explained, was that, judging from the
indications already seen, there would be found to be a very considerable
"pocket" of rubies at no great distance in from the cliff-face; and that
the best plan would be for the five men to work conjointly, with picks
and shovels, finally dividing the proceeds between the members of the
party.  As for the ladies, if they chose to amuse themselves by
searching the beach, the professor was of opinion that they might meet
with sufficient success to render it fully worth their while.

On the following morning, accordingly, the _Flying Fish_ was moved close
up to the scene of the professor's discovery, and the men, suitably
attired and provided with picks, shovels, and bars, went to work upon
the top edge of the cliff, breaking down and shovelling away the soil as
directed by the professor; but up to lunch time their efforts had been
rewarded by the finding of but one ruby.  This, however, von
Schalckenberg explained, was not to be wondered at, as it would probably
take them two or three days to get down to the spot at which he expected
to find the "pocket."  This same "pocket," he further explained, might
possibly have been much more quickly reached, and with much less labour,
by digging into the face of the cliff, instead of downward.  This,
however, he asserted, would have exposed them all to the very great risk
of an almost certain fall of earth; he had therefore deemed it wise to
adopt the safer method, even though it involved the expenditure of a
very considerably greater amount of labour.

The afternoon's work was rewarded by the discovery of two medium-sized
and two small stones of very fine fire and colour; and the second day's
labour resulted in a find of five fine and eight medium-sized stones.
Thus the toilers progressed, each day yielding them a better return for
their labour, until late in the afternoon of the fifth day they struck
the "pocket," so confidently looked for by the professor.  Then the gems
were found in such abundance that it was scarcely possible to turn over
a shovel-full of soil without finding one or more; while it was by no
means uncommon to turn up as many as half a dozen at one stroke of the
shovel.  This extraordinarily prolific yield lasted for no fewer than
four days, during which they accumulated such an enormous quantity of
gems--practically every one of which was of exceptional value--that at
length, although the mine was very far from being exhausted, even the
professor declared himself satisfied, while Colonel Sziszkinski found
himself suddenly relieved of a very heavy load of anxiety by the
acquisition of a sufficient number of valuable gems to yield him a very
handsome fortune if discreetly placed upon the market.

"That, I suspect, will be your difficulty, Professor; you will be so
anxious to realise that you will flood the market, and cause a big
depreciation in the value of rubies," remarked Lethbridge, rather
caustically, when after their last day at the mine they met again at the
dinner-table.

Von Schalckenberg laughed.  "I will take my chance of that, my friend,"
he replied.  "But have no fear; I will not flood the market, or lower
the value of rubies.  There are plenty of people who are always ready to
buy fine stones--when they get the chance, which is not often; and I
have a friend in Amsterdam whose knowledge of the market is second to
none in the world.  I shall put my rubies into his hands to sell, and he
will know how to dispose of them without flooding the market.  You had
better let the same man have yours, Boris, my friend.  What do you think
of doing with yours, Sir Reginald?"

"I?" returned Sir Reginald.  "Oh, I shall pick out the finest, and have
them cut and set as a suite for Lady Elphinstone; and, as for the rest
of them--well, I don't quite know what I shall do with them.  But,
anyhow, I promise you that I will not put them on the market early
enough to spoil the sale of your stones."

"Ah!" exclaimed the professor, appealing to the company at large; "see
what an advantage it is to be a rich man.  What do you propose to do
with yours, Lethbridge?"

"Oh, I don't know," answered the ex-colonel; "follow Elphinstone's
example, I think, and have a suite made for this young woman," pinching
Ida's cheek, "against the time when she is old enough to get married;
and--perhaps sell the rest some time or other."

The professor glanced inquiringly at Mildmay.

"I think I, too, will have a suite made," observed the sailor; "it seems
rather a good idea.  Pretty sure to come in handy, sooner or later."

And his eyes turned, as though unconsciously, in the direction of
Feodorovna Sziszkinski, to the confusion of that young lady, and the
covert amusement of Lady Olivia.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

MILDMAY'S ADVENTURE WITH AN OCTOPUS.

The two succeeding days were very fully occupied upon the somewhat
difficult and delicate task of effecting an equal division of the
fabulously rich haul of rubies that they had so easily acquired in so
short a time; and on the third day--being Sunday--everybody took a rest,
as was usual with them whenever possible.

But on the following Monday morning, after breakfast, the _Flying Fish_
rose into the air, and, moving out to sea, proceeded to the reef upon
which the unknown ship had been wrecked.  It was determined to examine
first what was believed to be the after part of the wreck; for if any
documents, from the contents of which the ship could be identified,
still existed in decipherable condition, it would be in one of the
cabins that they would almost certainly be found.  The position of this
portion of the wreck, therefore, having been found, the _Flying Fish_
was sunk as close as possible to it, settling down upon a smooth, firm,
sandy bottom, in fourteen fathoms of water, on the seaward side of the
reef.  There were but four male diving-suits in the ship, but Lethbridge
and the Russian colonel were so very nearly alike in size and build that
there was no doubt that the suit of the former would fit the latter; and
Lethbridge therefore offered Sziszkinski the opportunity to experience
the sensation of walking about on the ocean's bed, and beholding
anything of a novel character that there might be to see--an offer which
the Russian had gladly accepted.  A diving-suit had been provided for
Lady Olivia, but it was deemed unadvisable that she should make her
first essay at submarine exploration until the others had first been
out, and had thus ascertained what difficulties and possible dangers
were likely to be experienced.  The four men who were going out--that is
to say, Sir Reginald, Mildmay, von Schalckenberg, and Sziszkinski--
accordingly descended to the lowermost depths of the ship, and entered
the diving-room, leaving Lethbridge to entertain the two ladies and
little Ida by pointing out such objects of interest as were to be seen
from the tightly closed windows of the saloon.

Going at once to the cupboard labelled with Colonel Lethbridge's name,
the professor drew forth the diving-dress and very handsome suit of
diving-armour which it contained, and instructed his Russian friend how
to don first the dress and then the armour, Sir Reginald and Mildmay
meanwhile leisurely assuming their own proper suits; and when at length
Sziszkinski was completely equipped, von Schalckenberg quickly donned
his own suit, after which the quartette left the diving-room and entered
what they called the chamber of egress, carefully closing and securing
the door behind them.  The water-tap was then turned on, and the chamber
gradually filled with water, which flowed in at the level of the floor,
and steadily rose about the four occupants until it was over their heads
and had reached to the ceiling.  Then, having first ascertained that
everybody felt all right and quite comfortable, the professor opened the
trap-door in the ship's bottom, and the four men walked out over the
flap and found themselves treading the sandy floor of the ocean upon
which the ship rested.

They were now in the tunnel-like passage formed by the starboard
bilge-keel and the ship's hull, which curved out over them vast and
ponderous as an overhanging cliff.  It was intensely dark here, though
at either extremity of the tunnel could be seen a small patch of sombre
green light, and they therefore switched on the electric lamps, which
were attached, _one_ to the helmet and one to the belt of each man; and
thus aided, they were enabled without difficulty to make their way out
to what Mildmay called the daylight.

Once there--that is to say, clear of the gloom of the overshadowing hull
of the _Flying Fish_--they were able to see with tolerable distinctness,
even without the assistance of their lamps, the depth of water being too
great for the surface disturbance to reach the bottom and stir up the
sand.  The water, therefore, was clear and transparent, allowing the
light of the sun, already high in the heavens, to pass through and
somewhat dimly illuminate the ground upon which they walked with a soft,
greenish-blue light.  The water was alive with fish, darting restlessly
hither and thither; and while some were evidently much alarmed at the
apparition of the four gleaming armour-clad figures, from whom they
retreated precipitately, others were as evidently consumed with
curiosity as to what they were, and came swimming about them with a
pertinacity that was highly amusing.  It was also very interesting to
look upward and watch the waves ceaselessly chasing each other overhead,
the shape and formation of each wave being clearly indicated by the
lines of rippling light that crossed and intermingled with each other in
the production of an endless succession of most beautiful and novel
effects.

The wreck was clearly visible at a distance of some three hundred feet,
lying at the base of the reef, which shot steeply up out of the sand,
and reached to within about a dozen feet of the sea-level.  As the four
men approached it was seen that the almost shapeless bulk before them
was, as had been anticipated, merely the after part of the ship, the
remainder doubtless lying on the other, or inshore, side of the reef.
That she had been a sailing-ship was evident, for the hollow steel main
and mizzen masts, with a portion of the yards and the standing and
running gear still attached to them, were to be seen lying upon the
steep slope of the reef, evidently where they had fallen when the ship
struck.  And from the circumstance that all canvas, except the
close-reefed topsails, was furled, Mildmay expressed the opinion that
she had struck during heavy weather, and doubtless at night, for it was
difficult to understand how a ship could have come stem-on upon the reef
during the hours of daylight, on a coast where fog is practically
unknown.  And, to the four curious observers standing down there
alongside the wreck, it was perfectly clear that she had struck with
tremendous force, for she had pushed half her length across the
obstructing reef, and had ultimately broken in two just forward of the
mainmast.  The half of her at which they were now looking had slid down
the side of the reef with such force that her stern had buried itself in
the sand to an extent which rendered it impossible for them to read her
name and port of registry on her counter, as they had hoped to do.  If,
therefore, they desired to ascertain any particulars concerning her, it
would be absolutely necessary for one or more of them to climb on board
and institute a search of the cabins, which, in consequence of the
peculiar posture of the wreck--that is to say, the fact that she was
reared nearly on end on her stern--appeared likely to prove a task of
very considerable difficulty, not to say danger.

Had they been mere ordinary divers, attired in the well-known regulation
diving-dress, they would have been unable to communicate with each
other, save by the somewhat slow and awkward means of a slate and a
piece of chalk.  The professor, however, with that foresight which was
one of his most remarkable characteristics, had met this difficulty, at
the time when the special diving-dresses for the party were in process
of manufacture, by the introduction into each helmet of a pair of small
but powerful microphones of his own design, with the result that wearers
of the dress could hear as distinctly as when they were in the open-air,
and could converse together with perfect facility.  Hence they were now
able to discuss the difficulty that thus unexpectedly confronted them,
and arrange a plan of action.

For some minutes the four men stood together, contemplating the wreck
and considering the situation generally.  Then Mildmay said--

"It appears to me that the only way is for me to climb up to the
skylight, open it, and lower myself down into the cabin by means of a
rope's-end, plenty of which are lying about athwart the deck.  That
skylight undoubtedly will give me access to the cuddy, and from that I
shall probably be able to make my way into the other cabins.  It is the
captain's cabin that we particularly want; and I shall probably know
better where to look for it than any of the rest of you.  One of you,
however, had better come up with me, as I may possibly require
assistance."

"All right," answered Sir Reginald; "I will go with you.  Shall I go
first, or will you?"

"I had better go first, I think; then I can help you up," said Mildmay.

And he forthwith laid hold of a rope's-end, and with some difficulty
hauled himself into position above the fore end of the skylight.  Having
firmly established himself upon it, he proceeded to haul the baronet up
after him.  Then, between them, they managed to force open the starboard
half of the skylight cover, when, swinging his legs over the ledge of
the skylight, Mildmay grasped a rope and lowered himself down into the
interior of the cuddy.

For a moment he could see nothing, for the only light penetrating this
interior came down through the skylight, and that was not much; he
therefore switched on his electric lamps and looked about him.  He found
himself standing upon the after bulkhead of the apartment, with his feet
on a door which apparently gave access to one of the stern cabins; and
stepping aside sufficiently for the purpose, he was in the act of
stooping to unfasten the door, when he suddenly found himself enveloped
by a number of long, strong, pliant, embracing arms, and violently
snatched off his feet!  His surprise was so great that for the moment he
could not imagine what had happened to him; he knew only that his arms
and legs were so tightly pinioned that, despite his utmost exertions, he
found it absolutely impossible to move.  But knowledge came to him the
next moment--the knowledge that he was in the embrace of an enormous
octopus!  And as he realised this fact, he heard the horrid rasping of
the fierce creature's powerful mandibles upon his helmet.

The sound sent a thrill of horror through him, for the thought flashed
through his mind, "If the brute should pierce my helmet, I shall be
drowned like a rat in a trap!"  But a moment later he became reassured,
as he remembered the extraordinary strength and toughness of the
aethereum of which not only his helmet but his whole suit of armour was
composed; and with the revulsion of feeling, he laughed aloud at the
amusing character of the situation--for it _was_ amusing to him to think
of the creature's disappointment at its utter inability to pierce his
shell and get at him.

But, stay--was the situation really so very amusing after all?  For now
Mildmay began to realise that the octopus was steadily working its way
backward and upward through a big breach in the fore bulkhead of the
cabin, carrying him with it; and presently he found himself outside the
cabin altogether, and in the open space at the bottom of the companion
ladder.  But the creature did not pause here.  Still working its way
upward, it dragged Mildmay along a wide alley-way between the ship's
side and the casing of the companion-way until it reached the bulkhead
between this space and the main hold.  The straining of the ship, which
had eventually resulted in her breaking in two, had also rent this
bulkhead apart, leaving an aperture some ten feet wide, and through this
in turn the octopus gradually worked its way, until it had passed into
what--before the ship broke in two--had been the main hold.  And now
Mildmay was able to understand what had been greatly puzzling him--how
it was that the creature had come to be inside the ship at all; it was
evidently through these breaches in the bulkheads that it had made its
way; and, just prior to the moment of his seizure, the sailor had caught
a momentary shuddering glimpse of something in the cuddy that went far
to explain why it had made its way there.

That the octopus had some definite objective now became perfectly clear,
for it still kept untiringly on its way, forcing its passage this way
and that, through the interstices between a confused heap of bales and
cases that had formed a part of the ship's cargo, until at length, after
about half an hour's arduous work, it emerged, clear of everything, into
open water, when it at once made for a cave-like aperture in the reef,
into which it passed, still firmly clasping its prisoner in the embrace
of its snake-like tentacles.

And now Mildmay began to realise the serious character of the
extraordinary plight in which he thus unexpectedly found himself
involved.  For it now flashed upon him that, in the astonishment
following upon his seizure, he had failed to raise any outcry, with the
object of making his friends acquainted with his predicament; indeed, he
had been so fully occupied in struggling to free himself from the
fettering embrace of his enemy that it had not occurred to him to cry
out until it had become altogether too late to make his voice heard; and
he now found himself thrust, how deep he knew not, into this submarine
cave, but certainly much too far for his voice to reach those outside
and bring them to his assistance.  And, meanwhile, the octopus still
held him in so tenacious a grip that he found it absolutely impossible
to free his hands and so get at his two-bladed, electric dagger, with
which, as he believed, he could make short work of his antagonist;
indeed, every time that he made the slightest attempt to move his limbs,
he felt the tentacles still further strengthen their grip upon him.  And
now that he had time to think of it, he became conscious of the fact
that he was feeling pretty completely exhausted by his previous
struggles and the extreme violence with which he had been dragged hither
and thither in his passage from the wrecked ship's cuddy to the cave.
He was bruised and aching in every joint of his body, and was,
furthermore, suffering severely from cramp due to the constraint upon
his limbs.

How was he to effect his escape?  His friends outside could not help
him, for the simple reason that they did not know his whereabouts.
Doubtless they were by this time beginning to feel uneasy about him--
were, perhaps, even instituting a search for him; but such a search as
they were likely to make would not benefit him, for the utmost that they
could ascertain would be that, after entering the cuddy, he had most
mysteriously and unaccountably disappeared.  For he was well aware that
there was absolutely nothing to show which way he had gone; more than
that, he had gone by a way that would have been absolutely impossible to
his own unaided efforts.  No, he told himself, it was quite useless to
look for help from the others; whatever was to be done he himself must
do.

And then he began to turn over in his mind the possibilities of the
situation.  How long would the creature be likely to hold him thus
prisoner?  Would it release him when at length it realised the
impossibility of penetrating his armour?  And, if so, how long was it
likely to be ere the release came?  Failing to make a meal of him, the
thing would undoubtedly be obliged to go forth, sooner or later, to seek
for food.  But Mildmay had only the most elementary knowledge as to the
habits of the octopus, and he had a hazy idea that, like certain snakes,
the creature might only feed at more or less long intervals, in which
case he might be held a prisoner for a week or more.  This was a
distinctly disquieting reflection while it lasted, but it presently
occurred to him that it was by no means probable that, let the
creature's habits be what they might, it would retain that vice-like
grip upon him for any very lengthened period, and his chance would come
when that grip relaxed.  And it was an easy step from that conclusion to
the next, which was that he must do what he could to cause the grip to
relax as quickly as possible.  He had already observed that the creature
tightened the clasp of its tentacles about him whenever he moved or
struggled; and the obvious corollary from this was that, the more
quiescent he could remain, the sooner would his opportunity come to
wrench an arm free and use his deadly dagger.

Meanwhile, on board the _Flying Fish_, Lethbridge, intent upon making
the time pass as pleasantly as possible for the ladies, cooped up below
deck in the saloons, conducted them to a window in the dining-saloon,
from which the wreck and the reef were clearly visible, and from which
they could watch the movements of the four adventurous divers.

For some twenty minutes or so after the quartette had left them, the
occupants of the saloon had to be content with such interest and
amusement as was to be obtained by observing the movements of the
numerous fish outside, including a little thrill of horror when a big
shark, which went drifting aimlessly past, turned aside for a moment to
thrust his great shovel-snout up against the tremendously thick and
especially toughened plate-glass window out of which they were gazing.
They were at once full of apprehension lest the monster should remain in
the neighbourhood, and attack the divers upon their appearance on the
sandy floor below; and Lady Elphinstone even begged the colonel to go
down below and warn the adventurers of its proximity as well as urge
them to defer their excursion.  But Lethbridge laughed so heartily at
the idea of their being in any danger from a mere shark, and explained
to them so clearly that the shark would have absolutely no chance
whatever against men equipped as the divers were, that they permitted
themselves to be reassured.

And while they were all discussing the matter, the four divers suddenly
appeared, forcing their way somewhat laboriously through the water in
the direction of the wreck.  They saw the little party reach the great
mass and stand for some few minutes, evidently in consultation; and
finally they saw one of them climb up the wreck and then assist another
of the party to mount beside him.

"Mildmay and Elphinstone," commented Lethbridge, as he looked over Ida's
shoulder.

"How do you know that, Colonel?" demanded Lady Olivia.  "To me they look
all precisely alike, except, of course, that the professor is much
stouter than the others.  It is impossible for him to conceal his
identity, even by encasing himself in a suit of armour."

"No; quite true," laughed Lethbridge.  "The worthy von Schalckenberg's
figure is such that one is bound to recognise him as far as one can see
him.  As to your other question, well, I recognised the first man as
Mildmay by his actions.  He is a sailor all over, and as strongly
indicated by his sailor-like motions as the professor is by his figure.
And I take the other to be your husband, because this is Colonel
Sziszkinski's first appearance under water; moreover, Elphinstone is not
the man to ask another to do anything which he himself can do.  Ah,
there goes Mildmay down through the ship's skylight.  He is doubtless
going to search the cabins for anything he can find that will help to
establish her identity.  We shall see no more of him for the next
half-hour or so, I suspect."

They saw Sir Reginald lean over the edge of the skylight for a moment,
and look down into the ship's interior; and then, as they watched, he
seated himself composedly upon the fore end of the skylight, upon which
he had been standing, and, with folded arms, leaned back against the
almost vertical deck, with the stump of the mizzenmast and a quantity of
wreckage that rested upon it, just above his head, overarching him in a
sort of canopy.  Then they saw the professor and his friend walking
quietly about the wreck, examining it, and pointing out to each other
such peculiarities as attracted their attention.  And when the two men
had exhausted the interest that attached to the wreck, the watchers saw
them climb somewhat awkwardly up it and seat themselves beside Sir
Reginald, who had two or three times peered down into the interior of
the skylight, and now seemed to be exhibiting some signs of uneasiness.

"Sir Reginald is beginning to grow fidgety at Mildmay's long stay below,
I fancy," remarked Lethbridge.  "But he need not; Mildmay is a sailor,
and a navy man at that; and he may be trusted to take care of himself.
He is very thorough in his methods, and you may depend that--Hillo!
What the--phew! it is an octopus, and I'll be shot if he hasn't--"

The ex-colonel pulled himself up short, and glanced anxiously at the
faces of his companions.  Had either of them seen?  He noticed a look of
horror and strong repugnance upon the faces of all three; but the horror
was the kind that raises from the sight of some dreadful object, not the
kind that is aroused upon witnessing some especially dreadful
occurrence.  He waited a moment to give one or another of them an
opportunity to speak.  He hoped they had _not_ seen.  He himself had
only caught the barest momentary glimpse, as the creature shot suddenly
up out of the body of the wreck, before it turned; but that glimpse was
enough: _he had seen_!

"Oh, what a dreadful creature!" exclaimed Lady Olivia, turning a pale
face to Lethbridge.  "What is it, Colonel, and where did it come from?"

Evidently _she_ had not seen!

"It is an octopus, or giant squid, as some people call it.  It is very
similar to the ordinary cuttlefish, only, of course very much larger.
And, so far as I could see, it appeared to spring from the hull of the
wreck.  If you will excuse me for a moment, ladies, I will go to the
pilot-house and endeavour to give our friends yonder some intimation of
its presence; the professor will be interested to know that a genuine
giant squid is within a few yards of him."

And thus lightly speaking, Lethbridge sauntered quietly out of the
saloon, closed the door carefully behind him, and dashed at break-neck
speed for the pilot-house.

He had already made up his mind what to do, and doubtless those other
fellows would understand; they were quick-witted enough, surely, to
grasp the meaning of such an action on his part.

His thoughts had reached thus far when he arrived in the pilot-house.
Grasping the switch-handle of the great electric lantern, he proceeded
to switch the light on and off rapidly, which act had the effect of
almost immediately attracting the attention of the three men who were
sitting on the skylight of the wreck.  He saw them look at each other,
as though speaking, and then von Schalckenberg rose to his feet and
raised both hands above his head, to indicate that he was attending.
And, thereupon, Lethbridge immediately began to signal, in the Morse
code, by means of long and short flashes, the message--

"Mildmay in danger.  Seized by octopus and carried into cave some
distance above your heads."

To this message the professor at once replied by waving his arms in
accordance with the "flag-waving" system used in the British navy and
army--

"Right.  We go to his rescue.  Guide us to the cave."

Lethbridge gave the flash that indicated his comprehension of the
communication, and then, with the switch-handle still in his hand,
intently watched, through one of the pilot-house windows, the movements
of the three.  He saw them lower themselves down on to the sand, and
immediately begin to climb up the rugged side of the reef.  The surface
of the rocks was slippery with weed, and their progress was, therefore,
painfully slow; but at length they reached a point above and clear of
the wreck, and von Schalckenberg then turned and faced the pilot-house,
evidently asking for guidance.

"Go higher and bear to your right," signalled Lethbridge; and the men
resumed their climb.

They were now making directly for the spot at which the octopus had
disappeared, and a _few_ minutes later they reached a ledge, with the
cave immediately in front of them.  The professor now again faced round
inquiringly, and Lethbridge signalled--

"That is the spot."

Von Schalckenberg threw up his arms to indicate that he understood; and
then Lethbridge saw the three men stand and confer together for a
moment.  Then, drawing their daggers and switching on their lights, they
all three plunged into the cave and vanished, leaving the solitary
watcher in the pilot-house in a state of painful suspense that endured
for fully ten minutes.  At length, however, the professor and one of the
others reappeared, each of them dragging at a long, limp tentacle; and
in another moment the huge body of the octopus came into view with the
remaining two men pushing it vigorously from behind.  As it reached the
edge of the ledge the professor and his companion stepped round to
assist the other two, and presently the great unwieldy body went rolling
limply and lifelessly down the face of the reef until it lay motionless
upon the sand.  Then the four men made their way carefully down after
it, when, having reached the sand, they turned and bent their footsteps
in the direction of the _Flying Fish_.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

THE PIRATE CRUISER.

When, having reached the dining-room of the _Flying Fish_, Mildmay
changed out of his diving-suit into his ordinary clothes, it was found
that he was so severely bruised and strained that the professor, in his
capacity of emergency medical adviser to the party, insisted upon his
immediate retirement to his cabin and his bed.  There the worthy man
subjected him to so vigorous a massage, and so generous an anointing
with a certain embrocation of his own concocting, that two days later
the genial sailor was again able to be up and about.  And, meanwhile,
Sir Reginald and Colonel Sziszkinski continued the examination of the
wreck, but unfortunately without any satisfactory result; for although
they succeeded in finding the captain's cabin, and bringing therefrom,
and from some of the other cabins, a considerable number of documents,
it was found that, owing to their long submersion, they had become so
completely sodden that any attempt to handle them, while still wet,
reduced them to pulp; and when the alternative of carefully drying them
was tried, they became so exceedingly brittle that they simply crumbled
to pieces, while, even on the fragments that they contrived to preserve,
the writing was so nearly obliterated as to be quite undecipherable.
Nevertheless, they preserved as much as they could, in the hope that the
experts in such matters, at home, might be more successful than
themselves.  But it may here be stated that the experts also failed; and
the name and nationality of the ship, as well as the identity of those
who perished in her at the murderous hands of the savage M'Bongwele,
remain a mystery to this day.

On the third day following Mildmay's adventure with the octopus, the
_Flying Fish_ being once more berthed on the beach near the spot where
the party had made their amazingly rich haul of rubies, all hands had
adjourned to the deck after dinner to enjoy the delicious coolness of a
breeze off the sea.  Ida had gone to bed somewhat earlier than usual
that evening, complaining that she was not feeling very well, her
symptoms being a feverish pulse and a slightly increased temperature,
toward the alleviation of which the professor had administered a fairly
liberal dose of quinine.

Sir Reginald and Lady Olivia, naturally anxious in everything relating
to their only child's health, were discussing the matter with von
Schalckenberg, who was endeavouring, without his usual success, to
reassure the pair, who were of opinion that the African climate was to
blame for their daughter's indisposition.

"Well," at length said the professor, "if you really think so, nothing
in this world is easier than for us to change it.  We can ascend into
the atmosphere to any height we please, thus obtaining any desired
temperature; we can, in a very _few_ hours, reach any other country that
you would care to visit; or, which is perhaps better than either, we can
go out to sea and leisurely cruise about in any required direction, and
in absolutely pure air."

"Hear, hear!" exclaimed Mildmay, who, although chatting with Mlle.
Feodorovna, had overheard the professor's words.  "There is no
sanatorium like old ocean; no doctor like Father Neptune, believe me,
Elphinstone.  A week's cruise somewhere away out there to the eastward
would set the little darling up far more effectively than all the
professor's drugs.  Try it, man; it can do no harm; and I'll bet you a--
a--well, let us say a peck of rubies, that you'll not regret it."

"Well, while declining your modest little bet, Mildmay, I really feel
more than half inclined to act upon your suggestion," answered Sir
Reginald, with a laugh.  "There is no particular reason why we should
not, I fancy, beyond the fact that the professor wants to shoot one or
two of those new zebras, and we can easily return here for that purpose.
The fact is that I am beginning to tire a little of shore life, and I
think a trip out to sea would do us all good.  What do the rest say?"

"So far as I am concerned I will gladly go anywhere, or do anything, for
Ida's sake," answered Lethbridge.

"Thanks, old chap; I know you will," said Sir Reginald.  "What say you,
Colonel?"--to Sziszkinski--"would you like to go with us, or would you
prefer to remain here until our return, and go in for shooting under the
aegis of our friend Lobelalatutu?"

"Thank you very much, Sir Reginald, for offering me the choice,"
answered the Russian.  "I prefer to accompany you.  I am quite of your
own opinion, that a change will do us all good; and, like my friend,
Monsieur Lethbridge, I will gladly go anywhere and do anything for the
sake of the charming little Mademoiselle Ida."

"And you, Mademoiselle?" asked Sir Reginald, turning to Mildmay's
companion.

"I?" she answered.  "Oh, Monsieur Edouard--Sir Reginald, I mean--I am so
happy on board this beautiful ship that I feel I shall never want to
leave her.  Please accept papa's answer as mine also."

"I am really very much obliged to you all for so cheerfully and readily
falling in with my wishes," said Sir Reginald.  "Very well, then; it is
settled that we go to sea for a week or two, as the mood takes us.  Now,
the next question is, Where shall we go?  We certainly ought to have
some definite objective, don't you think?  Does any one desire to go
anywhere in particular?"

There was silence for a minute or two.  Apparently no one wished to go
anywhere in particular; or, if they did, they were not sufficiently
eager to feel called upon to mention the fact.

At length Lady Olivia looked up.

"Has nobody a suggestion to make?" she asked, with a smile.  "Then I
will make one that I think will be sympathetically received by at least
one of us--yourself, my dear Feodorovna.  I have long had the wish to
possess a really fine set of pearls, not the kind that one can go into
any jeweller's shop and buy, you know, but something quite out of the
common; and it appears to me that this voyage of ours affords just the
opportunity for somebody to fish those pearls up for me from the bottom
of the sea.  And I dare say that your papa--or somebody else--would be
quite willing to do the same for you, dear.  What do you say?"

"What do I say?" repeated the lovely young Russian.  "Why, that I simply
adore pearls."

"Then, I think, Reginald, that you have your answer," said Lady Olivia,
turning to her husband.

"All right, dear," he answered.  "Pearl-fishing will suit me down to the
ground; and if the ocean holds pearls enough to satisfy you, you shall
have them.  Now, Professor--Mildmay--where must we go in order to get
those pearls?  For, of course, we must go to some definite spot to look
for them; we can't go grubbing along the sea-bottom at random until we
happen to stumble upon a bed of pearl-oysters, you know."

"The most famous pearl-fishing grounds are situated in the Persian Gulf
and off the coast of Ceylon," answered Mildmay.  "And I believe," he
added, "that in both cases they are Government property, and strictly
preserved.  But I have no doubt there are plenty of oyster-beds which
are beyond the reach of the ordinary pearl-diver; and it is one of those
that we must seek.  We shall not be poaching on anybody's preserves if
we do this; and shall also stand a better chance of securing some good
specimens."

"Before you come to any definite decision, I should like to refer to a
rather interesting manuscript book that I have in my cabin--the book
that I recovered from the sunken wreck of the _Daedalus_, under
circumstances which, perhaps, yet remain in your memory," observed von
Schalckenberg, addressing Sir Reginald.  "I seem to remember," he
continued, "having come across a passage in it relating to a bed of
pearl-oysters of immense value, the situation of which was then unknown
to any one except the writer.  If you will excuse me a moment, I will go
and fetch it."

"By all means," said Sir Reginald.  "From what you say, Professor, it
would appear that the bed to which you refer is the identical one we
want to find."

The professor accordingly retreated; and presently returned with a
small, leather-bound, and much discoloured book in his hand.  His
forefinger was between the pages, and he opened the book there.

"Yes," he said, "I thought I was not mistaken.  Here is the passage,
under the heading of `Pearls.  In Longitude 155 degrees 32 minutes 17
seconds East, and exactly under the Equator, there exists a small atoll,
unnamed, and, I believe, unknown, unless it be to the natives of Matador
and Greenwich Islands, which are in its neighbourhood.  The islet, which
is uninhabited, is little more than a mere rock, about a quarter of a
mile long, and some fifty feet wide, over which the sea makes a clean
breach in heavy weather; but the lagoon is about five miles long and
three miles wide, with good anchorage for ships in a pretty uniform
depth of ten fathoms.  Two miles due west of this island there is a
shoal, some seven miles long, by from two to four miles wide, with
twenty-eight feet of water over it.  And this shoal is almost entirely
covered with pearl-oysters, yielding some of the finest and most perfect
gems that I have ever seen.'  Now, what think you of that, my friend.
Is that good enough for you?" demanded the professor.

"Quite good enough," answered Sir Reginald.  "Now, skipper," he
continued, turning to Mildmay, "how far off is this famous oyster-bed,
and how long will it take us to get there?"

"What did you say is the position of the spot, Professor?" asked
Mildmay.

The professor restated the longitude.

"Um!" observed Mildmay, figuring upon a piece of paper that he drew from
his pocket; "it is a goodish step from here to there! roughly, about
seven thousand miles, as the crow flies.  As to how long it will take us
to get there; we can do the distance in sixty hours, by going aloft into
the calm belt, shutting ourselves in, and going full speed ahead.
Otherwise--"

"Thanks, very much; and never mind the `otherwise,'" answered Sir
Reginald.  "This is going to be a _sea_ trip; and we are going to do at
least a part of it in leisurely fashion, say, about ten to fifteen knots
an hour.  When we are tired of that, and at night, we can go aloft and
put on the speed if we wish.  And, now that I come to think of it, is
there any reason why we should not start at once?"

No one, it appeared, had any reason to advance against the baronet's
proposal.  Accordingly, he and Mildmay forthwith adjourned to consult
the chart and lay off the course; and ten minutes later the remainder of
the party, who were still sitting on deck, awaiting the return of the
absentees, became conscious of the fact that the night-breeze had
suddenly strengthened; and when they looked about them in search of an
explanation, they saw the sea about three hundred feet beneath them, and
the land slipping away into the gloom of the night astern.

The travellers had been at sea a week, pottering along on the surface
during the day, and rising some three hundred feet into the air at
night--just high enough, in fact, to take them over and clear of the
masts of any ships that they might happen to encounter during the hours
of darkness--maintaining a tolerably uniform speed of ten knots through
the air--not counting the acceleration or retardation of speed due to
the varying direction and strength of the several winds that they met
with.  Thus they had been able to sleep at night with wide open ports,
to their great comfort and enjoyment, and the manifest improvement of
their health, as was particularly exemplified in the case of little Ida,
who was by this time as well as even her parents could desire.

The hour was eleven o'clock in the forenoon--six bells, Mildmay called
it--and the ship had been running on the surface for about an hour.  The
entire party were sitting out on deck under the awnings, amusing
themselves in various ways, the two ladies, each with a book on her lap,
to which it is to be feared she was giving but scant attention, and Ida,
her father, Lethbridge, and the Russian colonel playing bull.  It was a
most lovely day, the sky without a cloud, the water smooth, and a soft
but refreshing breeze was breathing out from the southward.  The ship
was steering herself, the self-steering apparatus having been thrown
into action, as no other craft were in sight.

The horizon was not to remain bare for very long, however; for just as
Mildmay rose to his feet with some idea of going below, the dull,
muffled boom of a distant gun was heard, and, everybody at once looking
round the horizon in search of the source of so very novel an
occurrence, the topmast-heads and smoke of a steamer were seen just
showing above the ocean's rim, about three points on the starboard bow.
She seemed to be in a hurry, too, if the dense volumes of smoke that
poured from her as yet unseen funnels were to be taken as any criterion.

"Now, what craft will that be?" exclaimed "the skipper," as he studied
the two mastheads attentively.  "A liner, I should say, by the length of
her between her masts.  Probably an `Orient,' `Orient-Pacific,' or `X.
and Z.' boat.  But surely she did not fire that gun?  And, if she did
not--oho! what is this?  There is another craft astern of her!  I can
just make out her mastheads rising above the horizon.  Now, did number
two fire that gun; and, if so, why?  I must get my glasses; this
promises to be interesting.  And we shall see more of it presently; they
are crossing our hawse in a diagonal direction, and edging this way."

The game of bull was forthwith abandoned, as being of much less interest
than the advent of two strange ships on the scene--for, singularly
enough, these were the first craft that they had sighted since leaving
the African coast--and everybody at once made a dash below for his or
her own especial pair of binoculars.

The two strange craft were coming along at a great rate, and rising
above the horizon very quickly; thus, by the time that Mildmay returned
to the deck with his glasses in his hand, the leading ship was almost
straight ahead, and had risen sufficiently to show her chart-house above
the horizon, and to enable "the skipper" to see that she carried a
wheel-house on top of the fore end of it, and a short awning abaft the
wheel-house.

"Yes," he muttered to himself, "she is a liner, undoubtedly; and an X.
and Z. boat at that, unless I am greatly mistaken.  Two masts--the
mainmast stepped a long way aft; and two funnels amidships, pretty close
together--yes; she is an X. and Z.; I'll bet my hat on that.  And she is
steaming for all she is worth.  I can see the `white feather' blowing
away from the top of her waste-pipes.  Now, is she racing with that
other chap; or--is she running away from him?"

He turned his binoculars upon the sternmost ship, which was also coming
along at a great rate, and gradually lifting above the horizon.  About
half the length of her masts--two of them--was now showing; and as
Mildmay focussed his lenses upon them an ejaculation of astonishment
escaped his lips.

"A man-o'-war, by the Lord Harry!" he exclaimed.  "Yes; there are her
upper signal-yards, and her fighting-tops below them, clear enough.  By
the piper, this is growing interesting indeed.  Now, who and what is
she? and why is she chasing a British liner?--for she _is_ chasing her,
beyond a doubt!"

"Well, Mildmay, what do you make of them?" inquired Sir Reginald, as he
at this moment stepped out on deck.

"I make of it," answered Mildmay, "that the leading ship is an X. and Z.
liner steaming for all she is worth; and that the second ship is a
man-o'-war--a second-class cruiser, I should say--chasing her!"

"The dickens you do!" returned Sir Reginald.  "Then what does it mean?
Is it not something rather unusual?"

"It is so extremely unusual, that I am going to ask your permission to
haul up a point or two, presently, that we may investigate the matter,"
answered Mildmay.  "There is only one possible explanation of it; and
that is that war has quite suddenly broken out between England and some
other Power.  And yet that can scarcely be, either; for when we left
home everything was quite quiet; the political horizon was as clear as
it ever is, and--dashed if I can understand it.  But anyhow,
Elphinstone, I suppose we are not going to jog quietly along and see a
British ship bullied by a foreigner without having a word or two to say
about it, are we?"

"Not much!" answered Sir Reginald, emphatically, and with a flash of the
eye that delighted Mildmay.  "I know nothing of these matters," he
continued, "or how to proceed; but you do; so take charge, old chap, and
give us your orders.  We will obey them to the letter, I promise you."

"A thousand thanks," answered Mildmay.  "Of course I need not tell you
that to interfere in a case of this kind, with no knowledge of the
facts, is a somewhat ticklish business.  But, all the same, that is not
going to stop me.  I see, yonder, a British ship flying from a stranger;
and with your kind permission I am going to lend her a hand."

He raised his glasses to his eyes again.  The hull of the leading ship
had by this time almost topped the horizon, and it was now possible to
see something of her shape.  She was a fairly big craft, measuring,
according to Mildmay's estimate, about eight thousand tons; and her
whole shape and appearance confirmed him in his original conviction that
she was one of the X. and Z. Company's boats.  She flew no flag at her
masthead, it is true; but Mildmay could now see that she had hoisted a
blue ensign on her ensign staff.

"Under the command of a R.N.R. man," he commented, as he saw this.  "All
right, old man; there is a friend within a few miles of you, whose
proximity you probably don't suspect; and we will see that you don't
come to any harm.  Now let us have a look at t'other chap."

The second craft was still hull-down; but her masts, funnels, tops of
her ventilators, and the head of her ensign staff were all visible; and
Mildmay noticed that she was showing no colours.  This fact rendered the
whole affair more puzzling than ever; for there could be no possible
doubt that she was chasing the liner, and for a man-o'-war openly and
undisguisedly to chase another ship, and not show her colours, was
unprecedented, and most certainly not in accordance with any recognised
rule of warfare.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party had come on deck, and were all intently
watching the two ships through their binoculars as they animatedly
discussed the puzzling situation.

"When do you intend to haul up, `skipper'?" asked Sir Reginald.

"Not yet," answered Mildmay.  "Perhaps in about ten minutes' time--
unless anything occurs of a character that would make it desirable to do
so earlier.  I want to see a little more of the game first."

"Then there you have it!" exclaimed Lethbridge, as a flash, followed by
a puff of brilliant white smoke, issued from the bows of the pursuing
ship.

A jet of foam leaped up from the surface of the sea, about half a mile
astern of the liner, and dissolved like steam in the dazzling sunshine.
Then the boom of the gun came floating down to the ears of the watchers.

"A four-inch, by the sound of it," remarked Mildmay.  "And shotted, too.
Clearly, the fellow is in earnest, whoever he may be.  Now, what the
dickens is the explanation of this enigma?  And what is the nationality
of the craft?"

"Can't you tell by the build of her?" demanded Lethbridge.  "I have
always understood that you sailors had but to look at a ship to tell her
nationality at once; at least that is the impression that one gathers
from the general run of sea novels."

"Yes," answered Mildmay.  "But that refers to the old days of wooden
ships.  There was a distinctiveness in the model of the wooden ship that
was an almost infallible index to her nationality.  But nowadays ships--
and particularly war-ships--are built so much alike in shape that,
except in a few rather extreme cases, it is practically impossible to
identify them.  That fellow, yonder, for instance, might be British,
Dutch, German, Austrian, Italian, or Japanese, for all that one can tell
by merely looking at him.  Ah, there goes another gun!"

The shot this time struck somewhat nearer, throwing up three successive
jets of water, the last of which appeared to be unpleasantly close to
the stern of the chase.

"The fellow is overhauling her," exclaimed Mildmay.  "Now, Elphinstone,
with your permission, I will shift our helm and alter our course
forty-five degrees to the nor'ard."

And, so saying, he entered the pilot-house; and a moment later the
watchers saw the two distant craft swing back along the horizon until
the leading ship bore two points on the _Flying Fish's_ starboard bow.

"If you have no objection, Sir Reginald, I should like a torpedo-shell
put into our bow tube," observed Mildmay, as he emerged from the
pilot-house.

"Certainly," answered Sir Reginald; "I will go below and put one in at
once."

"Better let me do it," interposed the professor.  "I know more about the
working of them than you do; and, moreover, I am not so profoundly
interested in this affair as you all seem to be.  Besides, I shall not
be gone longer than five minutes at the utmost."

And, Sir Reginald offering no objection, the worthy man turned away and
vanished through the pilot-house door.

The leading ship was by this time within about five miles of the _Flying
Fish_, and steering a course that would take her square across the bows
of the latter; the two--or, indeed, the three--ships were therefore
nearing each other fast, and the men fell to debating the question
whether or not the _Flying Fish_ had yet been seen by either of the
strangers.  The craft was in her usual surface-running trim; that is to
say, considerably more than half of her polished hull was submerged,
leaving little to be seen except her small superstructure and her
pilot-house, both of which were painted a delicate blue-grey colour that
would be scarcely visible against the horizon astern.  The chances,
therefore, were strongly in favour of her invisibility.  On the other
hand, there was just a possibility that some keen eye aboard the liner,
anxiously scanning the horizon in quest of help, might have sighted her;
in which case a glimpse of the white ensign might be comforting.
Mildmay therefore went to the flag-locker and drew forth the white
ensign which, in virtue of his being a member of the Royal Yacht
Squadron, Sir Reginald was entitled to fly, and ran it up to the truck
of the ensign staff.

Whether it had been seen or not was difficult to say, for nothing in
particular followed upon its exhibition, unless the discharge of another
gun from the pursuing ship might be taken as a reply.  And this time the
shot went home to its mark; for as the observers turned their glasses
upon the chase, her mainmast was seen to totter and fall by the board,
cut short off by the deck.  Luckily the spar did not go over the side,
but lay, fore-and-aft, inboard; otherwise the rigging might have fouled
the propeller and brought the ship to a standstill.  As it was, she
continued her flight as though nothing had happened.

"This matter has gone quite far enough," exclaimed Mildmay, sharply, as
he saw the liner's mast fall.  "Come inside, all of you, if you please.
We may be under fire in another minute or two.  Perhaps the ladies had
better go below until this affair is settled--if you will be so kind,"
he added, with a bow to Lady Olivia as she passed in through the
pilot-house door, outside which he was standing.

When all the rest had entered, he followed, closing the door behind him,
and at once ascended to the working chamber of the pilot-house, whither
Sir Reginald and Lethbridge had preceded him.  His first act was to
increase the speed of the _Flying Fish_ to thirty knots; and as he moved
the lever forward, admitting a larger flow of vapour to the
engine-cylinders, Lethbridge, who was standing at one of the windows,
with his binoculars to his eyes, turned and said--

"What do you think of that, Mildmay?"

"What do I think of what?" retorted Mildmay, stepping to his side.

"That!" answered Lethbridge, pointing to the pursuing ship and handing
over his glasses for the other to use.  "The unknown has just hoisted to
her masthead a black flag with a white skull and cross-bones in its
centre.  Is not that--?"

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Mildmay.  "You surely do not mean it.  Let me have
a look."

He raised the glasses to his eyes for a moment and stared through them
as though he felt that he could scarcely credit the evidence of his own
senses.  Then, as he thrust the glasses back into his friend's hand, he
exclaimed--

"The `Jolly Roger,' as I am a living sinner!  Well, that `takes the
cake,' and no mistake!  Yes; the fellow is undoubtedly a genuine,
up-to-date, twentieth-century pirate.  If it had not been for that last
shot I might have been inclined to believe the whole affair an elaborate
joke in the very worst taste; but a man does not shoot another fellow's
mast away as a joke.  No; that chap means business--and so do _I_!  Ah,
another shot! and--yes, here it comes--he is firing at us!  Not at all
badly aimed, either."

As he spoke the loud rushing sound of the shot broke upon their ears;
and a moment later it struck the sea about three yards astern of the
_Flying Fish_, sending a column of white, steam-like foam and spray
shooting some twenty feet into the air.  Almost instantly another shot
followed, which, judging from the sound, must have passed close over the
pilot-house roof; to be followed, a few seconds later, by a third, which
struck the water within a fathom of the ship's sharp nose, which was
just level with the water's surface, and, owing to the speed of the
ship, was sending up a fine, perpendicular jet of glassy water some ten
feet high.

"Confound the fellow's impudence!" exclaimed Sir Reginald.  "Does the
rascal think that he is going to make a prize of _us_?  A fine rich
prize we should make, too, did he but know it!"

"It is not that," explained Mildmay.  "It is the white ensign that he
doesn't like the look of.  He probably takes us for some new-fangled
sort of British gun-boat, bent upon interfering with his little game;
and he wants to disable us.  He is one of those pestilently persistent
fellows who won't take a hint and sheer off; he is as full of obstinacy
as was the mammoth that chased me over yonder,"--with a jerk of his
thumb toward the north--"on our first trip, and must be treated as we
treated that mammoth.  For if we don't kill him, he will kill us--if he
can.  You see?  Here comes another shot!"

It was a very close shave that time, the missile passing so close
athwart the front of the pilot-house that its wind actually came, in a
sudden, violent gust, in through the pilot-house window.

"We must put a stop to this at once, or the fellow will do us a
mischief," exclaimed Mildmay.  "Kindly take the helm for a moment, Sir
Reginald, if you please."

Sir Reginald at once stepped to the tiller and laid his hand on it.
"Where am I to steer for?" he asked.

"Head for the liner, in the first instance," answered Mildmay, as he
threw the self-steering apparatus out of gear; "and then bring the
ship's head very gradually round until you are pointing for the pirate's
stern."

And, so saying, he stepped to the fore midship window of the
pilot-house, laid his finger lightly upon the firing-button that
controlled the discharge of the torpedo-shells from the tube in the
extremity of the ship's sharp snout, and so placed his eye that he
brought the jack-staff forward in a direct line with a very small notch
in the window-frame.  He stood thus, rigid and tense, while Sir Reginald
did his part of the work; and presently he saw the jack-staff swinging
slowly round toward the pirate cruiser.  He waited thus until his two
sights pointed something less than an eighth of a length ahead of the
cruiser, and then he pressed the button hard.  As he did so, something
flashed like a sudden gleam of sunlight from the _Flying Fish's_ stem, a
sheet of water some four or five yards in length leaped into the air
from under the bows, and some six seconds later a blinding flash started
out from the side of the cruiser, midway between her stem and her
foremast.  As the flash disappeared, Lethbridge, who was watching the
ship through his binoculars, saw a great black patch on the cruiser's
side, exactly where the flash had occurred; and while he was still
wondering what it could mean he became aware that the craft was rapidly
settling by the head.  And before he could sufficiently recover from his
astonishment to utter a word, the cruiser's bows sank to a level with
the water, her stern rose high in the air, with the propeller still
spinning round, and in another second she dived forward and disappeared,
with the black flag still fluttering from her main truck.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

A SHIP OF MYSTERY.

"Gone!" gasped Lethbridge, as he turned round and stared with startled
eyes at the other occupants of the pilot-house.  "By George!  Mildmay,
that was a splendid shot of yours; caught her fair, and tore a gap in
her side as big as a church-door!  Those torpedo-shells of yours,
Professor, must be truly frightful things, for a single one of them to
be capable of destroying a ship like that in a moment.  How big would
she be, Mildmay?"

"Oh, I don't know; something over four thousand tons, I should say--
hillo! what is the matter?  Have we stopped?" exclaimed Mildmay, as the
ship's way suddenly eased up almost with a jerk.

"Yes," said Sir Reginald quietly, "I have stopped her until we can
consider what is the proper thing to be done next.  Are we to go on and
speak that liner, or are we to let her go on her way without
communicating?"

"What has the liner herself to say about it?" asked Mildmay, picking up
his glasses from the small table upon which he had laid them down, and
bringing them to bear upon the steamer.

"Yes," he said, "she has stopped, which looks as though she wanted to
speak us.  And I see no very particular reason why we should not go
alongside and hear what they have to say about the affair.  We need not
tell them very much about ourselves, you know, except that we are the
yacht _Flying Fish_, cruising in these waters for our pleasure and to
test the value of a new principle in shipbuilding.  It is just possible
that he may have something of importance to communicate to us."

"Very well," said Sir Reginald, "let us go alongside, then, by all
means."

"In that case," said Mildmay, "I would recommend that the boats be got
up from below.  It is not unlikely that the skipper may wish us to go
aboard him, and, if so, it is scarcely worth while to trouble him to
send one of his own boats for us."

"As you will," agreed the baronet.  "You know what will be the correct
thing to do, under the circumstances."

Accordingly the engines were once more sent ahead, at a twenty-knot
speed; and while Sir Reginald took the helm and headed the ship for the
liner, Mildmay and von Schalckenberg stepped out on deck, raised the
deck-flaps beneath which the boats were housed, and swung them and their
supporting davits into position, one on each quarter.  By the time that
this was done, and the pair had satisfied themselves that the boats were
all right and quite ready for lowering, the _Flying Fish_ was within
easy enough distance of the liner to enable those in the pilot-house to
read her name.  As Mildmay had shrewdly surmised, she was an X. and Z.
boat, and her name was the _Baroda_.  Her engines were still motionless,
and she had by this time quite lost her way.  There were two men in
uniform on her bridge, and her promenade deck was crowded with
passengers, many of whom were women, attired mostly in white flimsy
muslins; and there were also several children playing about the decks.
A number of seamen were aft, busy about the fallen mast, and casting
adrift the rigging of it.

As the _Flying Fish_ crossed the _Baroda's_ stern, and ranged up on the
latter's starboard side, it was seen that the gangway-ladder had been
cast loose and lowered; it looked, therefore, as though her skipper
fully expected a visit.  Possibly the sight of the white ensign had
caused him to imagine that his rescuer was, as Mildmay had remarked but
a short time before, in connection with the pirates, "some sort of
new-fangled British gun-boat;" and past experience would doubtless have
taught him that the British naval officer has an inveterate habit of
getting right to the bottom of things whenever he encounters anything
that has the least smack of irregularity about it.

"All hands" were now on deck aboard the _Flying Fish_, and the ladies
looked up with marked interest at the decks of the towering liner, the
occupants of which looked down upon them with unconcealed wonder and
curiosity.

As the _Flying Fish_, handled by the professor, came to a halt within
fifty yards of the liner, Mildmay, accompanied by Sir Reginald, stepped
to the rail and hailed, in somewhat unconventional fashion--

"_Baroda_ ahoy!  This is the _Flying Fish_, Royal Yacht Squadron,
belonging to my friend here, Sir Reginald Elphinstone; and if it will
not be unduly detaining you we should like to pay you a visit, and learn
from you the full particulars of the extraordinary occurrence of this
morning."

One of the two officers on the bridge--a grey-haired, good-looking man,
wearing a navy cap with a badge upon it, and gold lace on his sleeves--
who had stepped over to the starboard side, on seeing that Mildmay was
about to hail, hereupon waved his hand, and replied--

"I shall be very pleased to see you; indeed, I stopped my engines in the
hope that you would pay us a visit.  Before I say anything else,
however, let me express my thanks, and those of my passengers, officers,
and crew for your most timely intervention just now, but for which I am
afraid that matters would have gone rather badly with us.  And now I
hope that you and your party will give us the pleasure of your company
to tiffin, which will be served in about an hour's time."

"Thanks, very much," replied Sir Reginald, "we shall be delighted to
accept your kind invitation.  We will board you a few minutes before
your tiffin-time, if that will suit you.  And meanwhile, if you are
anxious to proceed--as you doubtless are--pray do so, and we will keep
you company."

"That will suit me excellently," answered the captain.  "I will stop
again later to enable you to board me.  What is your best speed?  We can
do sixteen and a half comfortably, under natural draught."

"Make your own pace," answered Sir Reginald, with a laugh; "I dare say
we can manage to keep up with you."

Whereupon there ensued a muffled jingling of bells from somewhere down
in the liner's interior, and her propeller began to revolve, churning up
the water into a frothy swirl about her rudder as she gathered way and
began to forge ahead.  At the same moment the professor sent his own
engines ahead; and in a few minutes the two ships, as dissimilar in
outward appearance as they were in every other respect, were sweeping
along amicably on parallel courses, with about a quarter of a mile of
clear water between them.

When the question of how many of the party should accept the invitation
to tiffin on board the liner came to be discussed, it appeared that
Colonel Sziszkinski and his daughter preferred to remain on board the
_Flying Fish_.  The recent escape of the colonel from the convict-ship
rendered him desirous that his identity and whereabouts should remain a
profound secret, at least for the present.  The professor also expressed
a preference for the quietude of his usual surroundings over the bustle
and fussiness that he anticipated would ensue upon so unusual an
occurrence as the visit of strangers to a mail-boat.  The visiting party
therefore consisted of Lady Olivia, Ida, Sir Reginald, Mildmay, and
Lethbridge, most of whom availed themselves of the opportunity to
scribble a hasty letter or two to friends at home.

It was about a quarter of an hour after "two bells" had pealed out on
board the _Baroda_ that the visiting party stepped out on deck from the
pilot-house of the _Flying Fish_, equipped for their excursion; and it
was evident that the officer of the watch on the liner's bridge had
received instructions to keep a sharp look-out for them, for immediately
upon their appearance the steamer sheered in toward her consort until
she had approached within easy hailing distance.  When the hail came--

"_Flying Fish_ ahoy!  Are you ready to come aboard us?"

"Quite ready," answered Mildmay, with a wave of his hand.

"Right!" responded the figure on the bridge, as he rang down to the
engine-room the order to stop the engines.  "Will you come in your own
boat, or shall we send one for you?"

"Thanks very much," answered Mildmay.  "We will use our own boat."

Whereupon, the engines of the _Flying Fish_ also having been stopped,
Mildmay climbed into the starboard quarter boat, which Sir Reginald then
lowered.  Then, the tackles having been released, she was hauled up to
the gangway-ladder and the remainder of the party descended into her.
Two minutes later she was alongside the _Baroda_, and a seaman was at
the bottom of the accommodation ladder to assist the ladies out of the
boat.

The captain of the mail-boat was waiting at the head of the ladder to
receive his guests, and behind him a crowd of passengers, all eager to
get a nearer glimpse of the visitors, whose appearance upon the scene
had been so romantically opportune.

"Welcome aboard the _Baroda_, Sir Reginald," exclaimed the skipper, in a
bluff, hearty manner, offering his hand to the man whom he remembered
having heard so named when Mildmay had hailed the ship an hour or so
before; "welcome, ladies and gentlemen.  Permit me to introduce myself.
I am Captain Prescott, and this is Mr Mumford, my chief officer.
Perhaps you will have the kindness to introduce me to your friends?"

The ceremony of introduction having been duly performed, the tiffin-bell
rang, and everybody at once filed below into the liner's grand saloon.
Meanwhile the throb of the engines betrayed the fact that the great ship
was once more under way.  The saloon was a very spacious and handsome
apartment, elaborately decorated with paintings on the panels between
the ports, and with a double row of columns running fore and aft as
supporters to the great stained-glass skylight overhead.  And although
the ship was but a degree or two north of the equator, the place was
quite comfortably cool, for wind-catchers were fitted into each of the
ports, and created a pleasant little breeze by the mere movement of the
ship through the air; and this was further added to by the presence of
large, handsome, lace-draped punkahs waving to and fro above each table.

The guests were, of course, assigned seats to right and left of the
skipper, and the conversation soon became general and animated.  The
captain of the liner started it by remarking--

"That is a very extraordinary-looking craft of yours, Sir Reginald; and
small, too, for cruising so far afield, isn't she?"

"Well, she is not quite so small as she looks," answered Sir Reginald.
"The greater part of her bulk is below water; hence it is difficult for
one to get a fair idea of her size.  As a matter of fact, she is six
hundred feet long and sixty feet extreme diameter; her hull is
cylindrical in shape.  Her outside dimensions, therefore, exceed those
of this craft, and she is, I should say, about the same tonnage."

"By Jove!" exclaimed the skipper, "I had no idea that she was anything
like that size.  I noticed when you first came alongside that she is
modelled like a cigar.  I remember seeing some years ago a somewhat
similar craft cruising in the Solent.  She belonged, I believe, to an
American.  We used to call her `the cigar-ship.'  I fancy she was only a
very partial success--at least, in the matter of speed.  How does your
ship answer in that respect?  You seem able to keep pace with us fairly
well."

"Yes," said Sir Reginald, with a twinkle of amusement in his eye; "oh
yes.  And upon occasion I dare say we could squeeze an extra knot or so
out of her.  But, to change the subject, if you have no objection, I
should very much like to hear the full story of your adventure of this
morning."

"Well," observed the skipper, "after all, I don't know that there is
very much to tell.  My own opinion is that the whole affair originated
in the ill-advised publicity that is usually given to the fact when a
ship is about to sail with an unusually large consignment of gold in her
safe.  Thus, for a full week before we sailed the Melbourne papers were
daily proclaiming the news that we were to take home five hundred
thousand pounds' worth of gold; and people used to come down and stare
at us by the hour, as though we were a curiosity.  I don't like that
sort of thing at all, and I think the papers ought not to make public
such matters; for honest men are not very particularly interested to
know how much gold a ship is going to sail with; but such stories must
be a frightful temptation to rogues, and in these days, when roguery has
become almost a science, there is no knowing what the publication of
such information may lead to.

"Well, it happened that during this particular time there was a cruiser
belonging to a certain Power lying at anchor in the bay--I'm not going
to tell you her name or nationality, because it may be that my
suspicions of her are unjust--but, anyway, she was as like that craft
that you destroyed this morning--by the way, I suppose it _was_ you, and
not an accident aboard, as my chief officer maintains?  Yes.  I was
certain of it.  Well, as I was saying, this craft was lying there pretty
nearly all the time that this talk was going on in the papers about the
enormous consignment of gold that we were taking, and several of her
people kept coming aboard of us at different times, under the pretence
of showing their great friendliness for the British nation, and so on.
Well, of course we were as civil as we could be to them, never
suspecting anything, you know, especially as they scarcely ever referred
to the matter of gold--except once, I remember, one of them asked me if
all these statements in the newspapers were true, and like a fool I
answered that they were.

"Well, this cruiser that I'm talking about sailed two days before
ourselves, the news being that she was bound for the east coast of
Africa; and I thought no more about her until this morning when, upon
turning out, it was reported to me that there was something coming up
astern and overhauling us.

"Now, if I have a weakness, it is in connection with this ship.  She is
a good boat, and I am proud of her; proud of her size, proud of her
appearance, proud of her speed--yes, especially proud of her speed; I
don't like to be overhauled and passed by anything.  So I sent word to
the chief engineer to stir up his people in the stoke-holds.  But, in
spite of all that we could do, the craft astern steadily crept up to us
until she was hull up; and then, notwithstanding the fact that she was
differently painted, and was different in one or two minor respects as
to rig, from the craft that had been so friendly with us at Melbourne, I
couldn't help suspecting that she was the same.  And when I began to ask
myself why--if she really _was_ the same craft--she had turned up in my
wake instead of pursuing her voyage to the spot to which she was bound,
I at once thought of the gold in my strong--room; and, although I
couldn't help acknowledging to myself that my suspicion was ridiculous,
the idea seized hold of me that she had turned pirate, and was after
that gold.  Mumford, my chief officer, laughed in my face when I
whispered this notion into his ear; but he changed his tune when they
opened fire upon us, I can tell you.  Well--but there, you know the rest
of the yarn just as well as I can tell it you, for by that time you must
have been heaving up over the horizon.  But there was not an eye aboard
of us that saw you until the other fellow opened fire on you; and then
we couldn't see very much except your ensign.  But that was enough for
me; for, to tell you the truth, I thought you were a British man-o'-war
of some sort, though what, I couldn't, for the life of me, tell; for I
could see neither masts nor funnels.  And now, gentlemen, I want to ask
you to be kind enough, before you leave us, to sign--as witnesses to its
truth--the entry that I shall be obliged to make in my official log; for
the story is such a confoundedly queer one that, unless it is well
vouched for by independent persons, I very much doubt whether my owners,
or anybody else, for that matter, will believe it."

Sir Reginald, of course, readily undertook to do this; and while the
skipper was drafting and making the entry the visitors chatted with the
passengers, who insisted upon keeping them for afternoon tea.  The
visit, therefore, did not end until nearly six o'clock that evening, at
which hour the two ships parted company with mutual threefold dips of
their ensigns; and the _Flying Fish_ was once more brought round with
her head to the eastward.

Four days later, the ship being then within some three hundred miles of
the western end of the Straits of Sunda, the weather being stark calm,
with an absolutely cloudless sky, the craft at the time going about ten
knots, and steering herself, as the party stepped out on deck after
lunch and glanced around them, they became aware that during the period
of their absence from the deck they had raised the canvas of a large
full-rigged ship above the horizon.  The stranger was then bearing about
two points on the starboard bow.  As this was the first craft that had
been seen since they had dipped their ensign to the _Baroda_, she
excited enough interest to cause everybody to make an instant rush for
their binoculars; and within five minutes eight pairs of those very
useful instruments had been focussed upon her.  She was then hull-down,
and to the non-professional eye there was nothing at all unusual in her
appearance; she was simply a becalmed ship under topsails and
topgallantsails, with her courses clewed up but not furled.  A cloud of
minute spots--which could only be birds--hovering round her, bore no
significance to any one save Mildmay; and even he was not sure that he
knew quite what it meant.  For it is by no means unusual for whole
flocks of gulls to hover in the wake of a ship at sea--especially if
there happens to be land within a reasonable distance--for the sake of
the fragments of waste food that daily go over a ship's side after every
meal.  But whereas, under ordinary circumstances, a hundred gulls
constitute a very respectable flock, there appeared to be at least ten
times this number hovering about the stranger; and it was this unusual
circumstance that prompted Mildmay to suggest to Sir Reginald that they
should edge a little nearer to her, with the object of seeking an
explanation of the phenomenon.  The baronet raising no objection,
Mildmay stepped into the pilot-house, and, adjusting the helm, brought
the ship straight over the bows of the _Flying Fish_, and at the same
time raised the speed of the latter to eighteen knots.

Under these conditions it was not long ere the stranger was near enough
to admit of details being made out with the aid of the excellent glasses
of the party; and it then became apparent to all that the canvas set was
so old and thin and weather-perished, that it had become
semi-transparent, the brilliant light of the afternoon showing through
it so strongly that the masts and some of the rigging behind could be
traced through the attenuated fabric.  The next thing about the craft
that attracted attention was the fact that some of the running and
standing rigging had parted and was hanging loose, swaying gently to the
almost imperceptible heave of the ship on the glass-smooth sea.  And
finally, when they had arrived within a mile of her, they saw that her
paint was so bleached and blistered by the sun that it was difficult to
say what its original colour had been, while much of it had peeled off
altogether, exposing the bare wood which, in its turn, had turned
blue-grey from long exposure to the weather.  Not a soul was to be seen
on board her, no sign of life about her save the great cloud of birds
that swept hither and thither round her.  Her boats still hung at her
davits, therefore it was to be assumed that her crew had not abandoned
her; yet what had become of them?  The answer was supplied a little
later, for as the _Flying Fish_, with stopped engines, slowly drifted to
within about a quarter of a mile of her, the party of curious gazers
suddenly caught a whiff of horrible odour that told the whole story.
She was a ship with a dead crew!

The professor promptly dashed into the pilot-house, and backed the ship
off to a distance at which she would be safe from infection; and then
the men of the party held a consultation as to what should be done in
the matter of this ghastly tragedy upon which they had stumbled.  Here
was another case wherein it was desirable, for obvious reasons, that the
name, nationality, and other particulars of the ship should be
ascertained; and this, of course, could only be done by boarding her.
It is true that her name and nationality might perhaps be determined by
the simple expedient of running round her and reading the inscription
upon her stern; and this was tried, but with no very satisfactory
result, the only letters decipherable being "insch--en--otter--m."

It was at once apparent that Sir Reginald was distinctly averse from the
idea of boarding the ship; and this was not to be wondered at, for who
was to say of what disease the unfortunate crew had died?  It might be
plague, cholera, or something equally malignant; and if so, what
guarantee was there that the boarding-party would not bring the
infection of it back to the _Flying Fish_?  Even when Mildmay suggested
the possibility that life might still be lingering in some poor wretch
aboard the stranger, he still hesitated, questioning the prudence of
exposing eight healthy persons--or eleven, if they included Ida's nurse,
George, and the _chef_ below--to serious risks of infection upon so
remote a probability, as that there _might_ possibly be a survivor of
the tragedy still existing.  Yet, the idea having been mooted, he could
not bring himself to say the word that would leave the floating
charnel-house unexplored.  He therefore appealed to von Schalckenberg to
say whether there were any means, either by the use of disinfectants or
otherwise, whereby an examination of the ship might be rendered
possible; and upon the latter answering in the affirmative, it was
ultimately arranged that Mildmay should go alone on board her, and learn
what he could, but that he was to bring nothing away from the ship.
"The skipper" accordingly, following the professor's instructions, went
below and changed into the oldest and most worthless garments that he
could find; after which he joined the worthy German in the latter's own
cabin, and there imbibed a certain draught, and otherwise underwent
elaborate preparations for his projected expedition, that were
guaranteed to render him personally immune.

Meanwhile, Sir Reginald and Lethbridge got out, lowered, and brought to
the gangway, one of the boats, into which Mildmay presently stepped, and
pushed off for the strange ship.

He was absent a full hour, or more, and he had scarcely reached the
empty deck of the _Flying Fish_ upon his return, when those who had been
watching his movements from the dining-saloon ports saw thin wreaths of
blue smoke go soaring upward between the masts from the two ends of the
stranger.  Mildmay had carefully set her on fire.



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

CAPTAIN SILAS BARKER OF THE AMY PELHAM.

Pausing only long enough to hoist the boat to the davits, the
adventurous sailor descended to one of the bathrooms, where the
professor awaited him with a medicated bath already prepared, which was
to remove from his person every germ of infection that he might
perchance have brought with him from the ship.  And the moment that he
was safely immersed in this, and further seen to be vigorously applying
it to his face, hair, and beard, von Schalckenberg made the rejected
clothing into a bundle--which he carefully wrapped in a cloth saturated
with disinfectant--and, carrying it up on deck, dropped it overboard.
The result of these somewhat drastic, but perfectly justifiable
precautions was, that when Mildmay emerged, fully clothed, from the
bathroom, the professor announced him to be as clean and wholesome as
any of the others of the party.

Meanwhile, Sir Reginald, having noted Mildmay's return, and waited until
he was safely in the bathroom, at once proceeded to the pilot-house, and
starting the engines, put the _Flying Fish_ again on her course.  Thus,
when at length "the skipper" made his appearance on deck--exhaling a
powerful odour of disinfectants--the ship that he had visited was on the
horizon, and in flames from stem to stern.

"You did your work pretty effectually," said Sir Reginald to him,
nodding towards the blazing ship.  "I suppose it was the proper thing to
do, eh?"

"Undoubtedly," answered Mildmay.  "We could not salve her, you see; and
to leave her drifting about, derelict, would only be to expose other
ships to a very serious danger--not necessarily the danger of infection,
but the peril of a disastrous collision.  There is not the slightest
doubt in my mind that many a good ship has gone to the bottom, taking
her crew with her, as the result of collision with a derelict in the
dark hours of a dirty, windy night; and if a derelict is fallen in with
under circumstances which render the salving of her impossible, she
certainly ought to be destroyed.  Yet, in the case of yonder ship--
which, by the way, is the _Linschoten_, of Rotterdam, Dirk Dirkzwager,
master, bound from Batavia to Amsterdam--the necessity was rather a
regrettable one; for she carried a valuable cargo, consisting chiefly of
coffee, indigo, and tobacco.  Her logbook shows that she sailed for home
nearly three months ago, and was becalmed on her fourth day out, her
present position seeming to indicate that she has remained becalmed ever
since--at least, her logbook makes it clear that she met with no wind
for seven full weeks after running into the calm.  And about that time
it appears that sickness of some virulent and deadly kind broke out
aboard her--the log does not specify what it was, possibly because the
skipper did not know--and within twenty-four hours all hands were down
with it.  The entry conveying this information is the last in the book,
and the rest can only be guessed at; but it must have been pretty bad,
for there were nineteen corpses on board her, which is clear enough
evidence that the living were too ill to dispose of the dead.  And that,
I think, is all I need tell you.  I will not attempt to describe to you
what I saw aboard her; for, in the first place, no language of mine
could do justice to it, and, in the second place, there is no good to be
done by attempting to harrow your feelings.  In accordance with your
wish, I brought nothing in the shape of documents or otherwise away with
me; so, having told you all that there is to tell, I will now go below,
and write a full account of the affair in my diary while everything is
fresh in my memory."

When the party assembled on deck after dinner that evening, somebody
suggested that, as there was now a good moon coming on, rendering the
nights light and beautiful, the remainder of the voyage should be
proceeded with on the surface of the sea, by night as well as by day,
for the sake of securing a full measure of enjoyment of the delightful
weather then prevailing.  It was true that such a method of progression
would entail upon the men--or at least the four of them who understood
how to work the ship--the necessity to keep a watch; but they were
unanimous in declaring that this would be no hardship at all, but a
pleasure rather than otherwise, if only on account of the novelty of the
thing.  The new arrangement was therefore adopted that same night.  The
route chosen was through the Straits of Sunda, the Java Sea, the Straits
of Macassar, and the Sea of Celebes, into the Pacific, this route taking
them past many small islands, and perhaps affording them a few novel and
interesting sights.  The speed was, under ordinary circumstances, to be
the exceedingly moderate one of fifteen knots.

Java Head (the westernmost of the three headlands so named) was sighted
shortly after noon on the following day; and the ship entered the
Straits--at that point about forty miles wide--as the party sat down to
lunch, which Sir Reginald had ordered to be served on deck.  There were
several craft in sight, native and otherwise, under steam and sail, and
as the _Flying Fish_ drew farther into the Straits, and the waterway
narrowed, the scene became very animated.  They passed Krakatoa, and
gazed with interest and amazement at the evidences of the awful havoc
and ruin that had been wrought by the terrific eruption of '83; and
emerged into open water again in time to witness a magnificent sunset
behind the mountain of Radja Bassa, on the island of Sumatra.

It took them sixty hours to traverse the Java Sea, the helm being
shifted for the passage through the Macassar Strait at sunrise on the
third morning out from the Straits of Sunda.  The Balabalongan Islands
were safely passed that same evening, ere darkness fell; and twenty-four
hours later they emerged into the open Sea of Celebes, and again shifted
their helm.

Thus far nothing of importance had happened; they had enjoyed glorious
weather, and found almost constant entertainment in watching the various
craft fallen in with, and the beautiful pictures offered to their gaze
by the islands that they had passed.  But on the evening that witnessed
their entrance into the Sea of Celebes there were indications that a
change of weather was impending.  A somewhat rapid decline of the
mercury in the tube of the barometer was the first symptom, and this was
quickly followed by a dimming of the hitherto crystalline blue of the
sky that produced a wild, fiery, smoky sunset, suggestive of a whole
continent ablaze away down there to the westward.  As the darkness
closed in there were but few stars to be seen, and they quickly vanished
in the mistiness that gradually obscured the heavens.  The moon, now
near the full, appeared for a short time as a shapeless film of hazy
light, and then she also vanished.  The north-east monsoon, which had
been blowing fresh and steadily for the last few days, died away, and
the stagnant air became close and suffocatingly hot.

"Phew!" exclaimed Sir Reginald, as the party stepped out on deck; "this
is the hottest night we have had this trip, and stark calm.  What does
it mean, skipper?  I thought that we were now in the monsoon region."

"So we are; but, as you see, the wind has fallen calm," answered
Mildmay.  "Moreover, the mercury is dropping a good deal faster than I
like; and this thickening up of the atmosphere means bad weather; I am
sure of it."

"_Very_ bad weather, do you mean, Mildmay, or merely a bit of a breeze?"
questioned Sir Reginald.

"Something very much worse than `a bit of a breeze,' I imagine," was the
reply.  "Indeed, it would not greatly surprise me to find that we are in
for a regular typhoon."

"A typhoon!" ejaculated Lethbridge, who was standing close by; "that
means something pretty bad, doesn't it?"

"Well, about the same sort of thing as we encountered upon the memorable
occasion when we saved the life of the lady who is now our charming and
gracious hostess," answered Mildmay.

"What is that?  Are you talking about me?" demanded Lady Olivia, who, a
few feet away, had happened to catch the word "hostess."

"Mildmay has just been telling us, my dear, that appearances point to
the approach of a gale of somewhat similar character to that which
occurred in the Bay of Bengal on a certain memorable occasion,"
explained her husband.

"Oh dear, how dreadful!" exclaimed Lady Olivia.  "I shall never forget
that time,"--with a shudder--"it comes to me, even now, sometimes, in my
dreams.  Shall we be in any danger, Captain?"

"Danger! in such a ship as this?" cried Mildmay.  "None whatever.  But,
of course, if you feel nervous, we can go up aloft, and avoid it by the
simple process of rising above it; or we can descend one or two hundred
feet below the surface, and ride it out there."

"Oh, but I do not think I should like that; at least, certainly not the
last.  It is one thing to go down to the bottom in fine weather, as we
did when you were examining the wreck, and quite another to do the same
when a hurricane is blowing.  And, of the three alternatives, I really
think I should prefer to remain on the surface of the sea, and watch all
the wild commotion, if I could feel assured that we were quite safe."

"You certainly may feel assured of that, my Lady," exclaimed von
Schalckenberg.  "With this ship afloat and in the open sea, you may
laugh to scorn the fiercest gale.  The wind may smite her in its wildest
fury, the waves sweep her from end to end, and she will still go
unharmed and undeterred on her way."

"Then let us stay on the surface and risk it.  I should love to witness
a really furious storm, with the feeling that I was perfectly safe,"
said the lady.  And so it was settled.

But when Lady Olivia retired to her cabin that night the air was still
calm, and the only difference perceptible to her was that, whereas
earlier in the evening the sea had been almost perfectly smooth, her
swinging bedstead was now swaying with a very perceptible movement due
to the fact that a heavy westerly swell had arisen, and was now
following the ship.

It was not until close upon midnight that any very decided change
occurred; and then came a shower that burst upon the ship with true
tropical suddenness and violence, and in the midst of the shower the
wind came away strong out of the westward, blowing in fierce, sudden
gusts that quickly hardened down to a strong and rapidly increasing
gale.  When daylight laggingly came upon the scene the wind was blowing
with true hurricane force, and a very high, steep sea was running, which
would undoubtedly have been still higher had not the wind taken the
crests of the seas, torn them off, and sent them flying away to leeward
in blinding torrents of scud-water that lashed the walls of the _Flying
Fish's_ pilot-house with a sound like that of the continuous crash of
hail.  Although the ship's engines were set for a speed of only fifteen
knots, she was going through the water at something more than twenty;
yet, despite the fact that she was being swept from end to end by the
wildly breaking seas that followed her, her movements were so easy and
comfortable that Mildmay became quite enthusiastic upon the subject.
Shortly before noon they sighted and passed, within a quarter of a mile,
a big battleship.  She was riding head to wind, and apparently steaming
ahead dead slow, or, at all events, merely at a speed sufficient to give
her steerage-way.  She was making positively frightful weather of it,
diving deeply into every sea, as it met her, and literally burying
herself in a perfect smother of whiteness which had no time to flow off
her decks ere she plunged into the next sea.  And, strangely enough,
within the hour they fell in with and passed a small gun-boat,
undoubtedly British.  She was rigged as a barquentine.  Her three
topmasts were housed, and she was hove-to under the lee clew of her
close-reefed topsail and a small storm-trysail.  She was being flung
about in a manner that was absolutely appalling to look at, at one
moment standing almost upright, and anon thrown down on her beam-ends at
such an extreme angle that, to the onlookers, her decks seemed to be
almost vertical.  Yet, with it all, she was making better weather of it
than her bigger sister, for though the spray flew over her in heavy
clouds, she seemed to be shipping very little green water.  Still later,
they passed something that had the appearance of being a capsized junk,
after which they sighted nothing more; and on the following morning,
with sunrise, the gale broke, the sky cleared, the wind softened down
and finally shifted; and by the afternoon the north-east monsoon was
again blowing, and nothing remained of the gale save the turbulent sea
that it had knocked up.  The same evening saw them abreast and about ten
miles to the north of the island of Tagulanda, and twenty-four hours
later they sighted and passed North Cape, on the island of Moro, and
swept into the great Pacific ocean.

The weather had by this time again become all that the voyagers could
desire.  The sky was of a beautifully clear, rich blue tint, flecked
here and there with thin, fleecy, fine weather clouds; the monsoon swept
down upon their port bow in a cool gush, redolent of the exhilarating
smell of the open ocean, a very life-giving tonic; and the long, low
mounds of the Pacific swell, wrinkled with the sweep of the breeze, just
sufficed to give life in a long, easy plunging movement to the hull of
the _Flying Fish_, at one moment lifting her sharp-pointed nose and some
twenty feet of her fore-body clear out of the blue, sparkling brine, and
anon causing her to dive into the on-coming undulation until she was
buried nearly midway to her superstructure.

About mid-afternoon they passed a small island that lay some half a
dozen miles to the northward of their course, and about half an hour
before sunset another and still smaller one was sighted, almost directly
ahead.

As usual, every glass in the ship was at once brought to bear upon it;
for, despite the ever-fresh and ever-changing beauty of sea and sky, a
break in the monotony of it is always welcome, and even such an object
as a barren rock becomes interesting.

"Mildmay, do you notice anything peculiar about that island ahead?"
asked Sir Reginald, when he had been peering through his binocular for a
minute or so.

"Looks to me, very much like a wreck of some sort upon it," remarked
Lethbridge.

"It is a wreck," said Mildmay; "the wreck of a small craft--apparently a
schooner.  I have just been looking at her."

"Uncommonly awkward spot to be cast away upon," said Sir Reginald.
"Why, it is a mere rock, by the look of it.  And yet not quite a rock,
either, for there is grass on it, and a few stunted bushes.  But the
whole place cannot be much more than ten acres in extent.  And, as I
live, there are people upon it.  I can see smoke, and the flicker of a
fire."

"You are right, Elphinstone.  There is a fire there; I have just caught
sight of it," said Lethbridge.

"Well," said Sir Reginald, "we must stop and take them off, although I
don't much like the idea of admitting strangers to this ship, and so
`giving our show away' to a certain extent.  But, of course, we can't
allow any considerations of that sort to weigh with us where the
question is one of saving life.  And nobody could contrive to sustain
life for any length of time on that little patch of earth.  Why, if
another gale should spring up, they would be washed off, for a dead
certainty."

"Ay, that is a fact that there is no disputing," agreed Mildmay.  "And,
after all, you know, Elphinstone, there is no need for us to make those
people acquainted with the fact that we are on an aerial and submarine,
as well as an ordinary ship; they need know very little more about us
than those people of the _Baroda_ know.  And we can trans-ship them into
the next craft belonging to a civilised nation that we fall in with."

"Yes, of course we can," assented Sir Reginald.  "Their fuel seems to be
pretty damp, poor chaps; there is a good deal more smoke than fire
there, to my thinking."

"That, I take it, is intentional," said Mildmay.  "They have probably
seen us, and are making that big smoke to attract our attention.  With
your permission, Elphinstone, I will hoist our ensign, to let them know
that we have seen them, and will get one of the boats ready for
lowering."

"Right, skipper; I will come and lend you a hand with the boat.  Perhaps
it would be as well to get both boats to the quarters, wouldn't it, as
we are henceforth going to remain on the surface until we can say
good-bye to those people."

Mildmay agreed that it would; and in a few minutes both boats were
hanging from their davits over the ship's two quarters, and the ensign
flying from the staff.  By this time the ship was within two miles of
the island, and the interested watchers had caught sight of a man
standing upon the highest point of his mere hand's-breadth of territory,
waving his arms, as though still doubtful whether he had succeeded in
attracting their attention.

"There seems to be but one man there," observed Lethbridge, as the two
men joined him.  "If so, he must have had a pretty bad time of it.  How
long will he have been there, I wonder!"

"Not very long, I suspect," answered Mildmay.  "He probably got cast
away in the gale that we had two days ago."

Five minutes later the engines of the _Flying Fish_ were stopped; and
presently, when she had sufficiently lost her way, one of the boats was
lowered, and Sir Reginald and Mildmay went away in her.  There was no
beach to speak of on the island, and it was so exceedingly small that
the swell ran right round it, making the beaching of the boat both a
difficult and a dangerous matter.  The castaway, however--there was but
one--solved the difficulty by watching his opportunity and rushing down
into the water after a retreating wave and flinging himself and a bundle
into the boat before the on-rush of the next sea came.

He was an elderly man, rather tall, slim of build, and somewhat
cadaverous of feature, with light straw-coloured hair and goatee beard
that was fast changing to white.  He appeared to be about fifty years of
age, and was a Yankee from the crown of his hatless head to the soles of
his salt-stiffened boots.

"Thank 'e, strangers," he gasped, as he scrambled in over the bows of
the boat and recovered possession of the bundle that he had flung in
ahead of him.  "That's all right.  I guess you can shove off now."

"Are you alone, then?" demanded Sir Reginald, as he sent the boat's
engines astern.

"Yes, sirree, I'm as much alone as I ever want to be.  I, Silas Barker,
am the sole survivor of the wreck of the fore-and-aft schooner _Amy
Pelham_, of which I was owner and master.  My crew consisted of seven
hands besides myself, and every one of 'em is gone to his long home.
How I managed to escape is a solemn mystery; for when the schooner
struck I was knocked down and stunned by the first sea that broke over
her, and I knew no more until I woke up and found myself lyin' on the
shore of that lonely spot, clutchin' the grass with both hands, and the
water washin' up round me and tryin' to claw me off ag'in."

"And when did this happen, Mr Barker?" demanded Mildmay.

"Two days ago," answered Barker.  "And I don't mind admittin' to you
gentlemen that they have been the longest two days I ever spent.  Seems
to me a good deal nearer like two months.  To be two days alone, ashore
in the country, is nothin' more than a mere pleasant change; but to be
two days alone on a bit of earth hardly big enough to build a house
upon--whew!  I don't want no more of 'em!"

"And did you see nothing more of any of your crew when you came to
yourself after being washed ashore?" asked Sir Reginald.

"Nary one of 'em," answered Barker.  "Sharks got 'em, most likely; and I
only wonder they didn't get me, too.  But, I say, mister, what sort of a
steamer do you call this of yourn?  Darn my ugly buttons, but she's the
all-firedest queer-lookin' packet that I ever set eyes on.  And what may
you be doin' down in these here latitoods?"

"We are yachting, for the benefit of my little daughter's health,"
answered Sir Reginald, briefly, as the boat ranged up alongside the
gangway-ladder, and the baronet waved his not altogether welcome guest
to precede him to the deck, where the rest of the party awaited his
arrival.

"Evenin', ladies and gents," remarked Barker, affably, as he passed in
through the gangway, and gazed about him inquisitively.  "Fine weather,
ain't it, after the shindy that `rude Boreas' kicked up two days ago?"

"Allow me," interposed Sir Reginald, who had closely followed the
castaway in on deck.  "My dear,"--to Lady Olivia--"this is Captain Silas
Barker, the only survivor of the wreck of his schooner, _Amy Pelham_,
which was cast away two days ago.  My wife, Lady Elphinstone; Mlle.
Sziszkinski, Colonel Sziszkinski, Colonel Lethbridge, Professor von
Schalckenberg, and the gentleman who was in the boat with me is Captain
Mildmay."

"Je-ru-salem!" exclaimed Barker, as he insisted on shaking hands with
each of the persons named; "seems to me that at last the great ambition
of my life is bein' gratified by my gettin' on intimate terms with the
nobs.  Quite a distinguished comp'ny, I'm sure.  And you, sir, I
_presume_, are Lord Elphinstone?"

"Oh dear no," answered the individual addressed, with a smile, despite
himself; "I am merely Sir Reginald."

"Sir Reginald!" commented Barker.  "Well, I guess it amounts to pretty
much the same thing.  But, where's your crew, Sir Reginald?  I don't see
no hands about your decks."

"We do not need any," answered Sir Reginald.  "We work the ship
ourselves--so far as she needs working.  And now, if you would like to
go below, Mr Barker, and have a wash and brush-up, my servant shall
show you to your cabin.  And if you are hard up for linen and a change
of clothes, we can perhaps fit you out, amongst us."

"Well, that's uncommon handsome of you, Sir Reginald, I'm sure,"
answered Barker.  "The fact is that I've got here,"--regarding his
bundle somewhat doubtfully--"a shift of clothes that I got out of the
cabin of the schooner this morning; but I guess they're pretty damp,
and--"

"Quite so; I understand," returned Sir Reginald.  "You shall have a suit
of mine.  You will probably be able to get into them without much
difficulty."

"I guess I shall be able to git into 'em, and turn round and come out
again," remarked Barker, eyeing his host's splendid proportions with
undisguised admiration.  "All the same, sir, if you don't mind, I'll
have 'em; for they'll be dry, and I'm most awful subject to rheumatism."

At this juncture George appeared, and in obedience to Sir Reginald's
instructions, conducted the new guest to a vacant cabin, indicated to
him the whereabouts of the bathrooms, and laid out one of Sir Reginald's
blue serge suits for him, together with such other necessaries as the
exigencies of his condition demanded.

"What an extraordinary creature!" exclaimed Lady Olivia, with a laugh,
as soon as the man was safely out of earshot.

"A distinctly queer fish," commented Lethbridge.

"Very much so," agreed Sir Reginald.  "Yet, no doubt, a very worthy
fellow in his own peculiar way.  It would not surprise me if we find his
conversation rather entertaining.  But, all the same, I shall be glad of
a decent opportunity to trans-ship him.  And now, what about those
pearls?  Are we to take him with us to the island, and let him see what
we are about; give the secret away to him, in fact?"

"I am afraid that we shall be obliged to take him with us," observed
Mildmay, "unless, indeed, something comes along between now and then,
into which we can transfer him.  But we need not give away the secret of
the position of the island, I think.  These Yankees are very inquisitive
and very cute; but I can work a traverse that will effectually puzzle
him, I think."

"How?" inquired Sir Reginald.

"Simply by steering one course during the day, when he is up and about,
and another course at night--a _true_ course for the island--after he
has turned in."

"Then we had better do that," said Sir Reginald.  "The secret of the
position of this pearl-island is von Schalckenberg's, we must remember,
and the fact that he is kindly permitting us to share in and profit by
his knowledge ought to make us especially careful not to betray that
knowledge to a total stranger who, for aught that we know to the
contrary, might perhaps return to the spot and clear every oyster off
it."

"Yes," concurred the professor, "that is so, my friend; what you say is
very true.  At the same time we must remember that this poor man has
just met with what, to him, is no doubt a very heavy loss.  I think,
therefore, that we must contrive to fish up for him a small parcel of
pearls of sufficient value to recoup him his loss."



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

BARKER'S TREACHERY.

The presence of Barker in the ship, and the working by Mildmay of the
"traverse" which that presence seemed to render desirable, somewhat
prolonged the passage of the _Flying Fish_ to von Schalckenberg's
pearl-island.  A full week thus elapsed between the date upon which they
had taken the man on board, and that upon which they arrived at their
destination--during which nothing was sighted.

But Barker made that week a lively time indeed for the rest of the
party; for what between his quaint manners and mode of expression, and
the interminable string of yarns that he spun, he kept them continuously
at the high-water level of hilarity.  He possessed in a very high degree
the faculty of telling a story humorously; he even contrived to infuse a
certain measure of humour into the relation of his most recent
misfortunes; and, finding himself in touch with a thoroughly
appreciative audience, he appeared to throw himself heart and soul into
the task of entertaining them, by way of repayment of their hospitality.
And when, presently, they began to grow somewhat accustomed to his
singularities of manner and speech, and their sensitiveness to it had
begun to wear off, they told themselves and each other that, queer fish
as he was, he was "not half a bad sort."

The only quality, indeed, in him that still continued to jar upon them
was his phenomenal inquisitiveness.  He appeared not to know the meaning
of rudeness or impertinence; he sought to pry into everything, and
seemed genuinely surprised and puzzled when Sir Reginald somewhat curtly
yet courteously excused himself from complying with his request to be
shown all over the ship, and have everything explained to him.  Yet it
was almost impossible to feel angry with him, because he appeared to be
so overwhelmingly grateful for his deliverance from imprisonment upon
that mere speck of an out-of-the-way, inhospitable islet that he was
always talking about it, always striving to give expression to his
gratitude in some way or other.  To such an extent was this the case,
indeed, that it quickly became embarrassing, almost to the extent of
annoyance, to the rest of the party.  There was nothing they did that he
did not want to assist in; and they found the utmost difficulty in
making him understand that they would really prefer that he did not take
his turn with the others at the night-watches in the pilot-house.

They quickly realised that it would be quite impossible for them to
preserve from him the secret of the nature of their operations at the
pearl-island; they therefore made a virtue of necessity, and frankly
told him all about the matter, merely retaining the position of the
island from him.  As might be expected, he exhibited the utmost interest
in their plans; promptly demanded to be made useful in the carrying out
of their operations, and--also as might be expected--betrayed no
diffidence about making the suggestion that he should be permitted to
share in such good fortune as might attend their labours.

The atoll was sighted a little after ten o'clock in the morning, and by
eleven o'clock the ship had safely entered the lagoon, and come to
anchor as nearly as possible in its centre.  The islet--which, as von
Schalckenberg's book had stated, was little more than a mere rock--was
of coral formation, and appeared to be merely a volcanic or seismic
upheaval of one small portion of the oval ring of coral that formed the
lagoon.  Looked at broadside-on, so to speak, it bore some resemblance
in appearance to a whale asleep on the water.  Sand had washed up and
become lodged among the inequalities of the rock-surface, and the
deposits of birds had converted this into soil that, poor as it looked,
sufficed to nourish a small clump of coconut palms that reared
themselves from the highest point of the islet, which rose some thirty
feet above the surface of the ocean.  The shoal upon which the
oyster-bed was reputed to exist lay two miles to the westward of the
islet, and had been sighted from the deck of the _Flying Fish_ shortly
before her arrival in the lagoon, its position being indicated by a very
distinct discoloration of the water.

The ship having been moored, the two boats were lowered into the water,
and the party made an excursion to the islet, to view the place, and
fill in the interval before luncheon.  The islet was so small, however,
and so absolutely devoid of interest, that half an hour sufficed the
party to become perfectly acquainted with it; but they were repaid for
their trouble by the discovery of a long, shallow, saucer-like
depression, with a smooth bottom, that offered perfectly ideal
facilities for the deposit of the oysters while undergoing the process
of decomposition, which is the preliminary to the finding of such pearls
as they may contain.  There was no doubt that this would render the
island and its immediate vicinity almost intolerably offensive to the
olfactory nerves; but as the lagoon was to windward of the islet, and
the ship was moored a mile and a half away from it, it was believed that
her occupants would suffer no inconvenience from that source.

Luncheon over, two small nets, each with a sufficient length of rope to
reach from the surface to the sea-bottom on the shoal, together with a
couple of shovels and two rope ladders, were got out and put into the
boats, while Mildmay and the professor arrayed themselves in their
diving-suits and armour.  Thus equipped, the two boats, with the six men
of the party, set out for the shoal, Sir Reginald, the professor, and
Barker going in one boat, while Mildmay, Lethbridge, and Sziszkinski
went in the other.  The passage through the reef lay to windward; the
boats therefore were obliged to run some two miles to the eastward, to
get outside and clear of the reef, and then go either north or south for
about a distance of some two and a half miles to get round to the back
of the reef and the island ere they could shape a course for the shoal.
Luckily, although there was a considerable amount of swell, which burst
upon the reef with a continuous sound of thunder, and threw up a wall of
diamond spray some twenty feet high into the clear, sun-lit air, the
trade-wind was blowing but a moderate breeze, and there was consequently
not much sea.  The boats therefore made excellent time, and arrived upon
the shoal some three-quarters of an hour after leaving the ship.  And
here, again, they were favoured, from the fact that the shoal lay almost
dead to leeward of the atoll, and but two miles distant from it; they
were therefore in somewhat sheltered water, both as regards the swell
and the sea, neither of which broke on the shoal.

The boats having anchored within a few yards of each other, well in
toward the centre of the shoal, a rope ladder was dropped over the side
of each, the nets were lowered to the bottom, each of them containing
one of the shovels; and then Mildmay and the professor descended to the
bottom, where they met.  The water was beautifully clear, and the light
good.  They were therefore able to see without difficulty; and a single
glance sufficed to show them that the account of the shoal in von
Schalckenberg's book was in no sense an exaggerated one.  They stood
upon a bed of pearl-oysters, so thick that the sand could not be seen.
Moreover, the oysters were of unusual size; not, of course, that that
signified anything, because it is not always the largest oyster that
yields the finest pearls.

The professor glanced about him, taking in as comprehensive a view of
his surroundings as the dense medium in which he was immersed would
permit, took up an oyster or two at haphazard, looked at them, and then
said to Mildmay--

"It appears to me to be quite useless to attempt anything in the way of
making a selection; the only thing that we can do is to take the oysters
as they come, shovel them into the net until it is full, and then signal
to those in the boats to draw them up.  And, while doing this, we must
keep a wary eye for sharks--not that the creatures could hurt us,
attired, as we are, in this armour, but there is this danger, that we
might be seized and carried so far away before we could free ourselves
that it might be impossible to find our way back to the boats.  If,
therefore, any of them should appear upon the scene, we must use our
daggers, and that right quickly."

The surrounding water was, however, quite clear of everything of a
menacing character at that moment.  The two men therefore got to work,
spreading the mouths of their nets wide open, and simply shovelling the
oysters into them until they were full, when they signalled to those in
the boats to haul them up.  This process they continued for something
over an hour, until the boats were about half-full, and the time had
arrived for them to return to the island.

The return journey was uneventful, except in so far as it showed them
that the boats were loaded quite as deeply as was desirable for the safe
negotiation of that part of the passage which lay to windward of the
atoll; and when once they were safely inside the lagoon, they proceeded
straight to the spot already chosen by them for the purpose, and
discharged their cargoes into the shallow basin of rock.  This
afternoon's haul amounted to some thousands of oysters, but they now saw
that the basin was sufficiently capacious to accommodate at least a
fortnight's catch, reckoning upon the basis of their afternoon's work.

On the following day the same party again went out, making two trips to
the shoal, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon, thus continuing
for a fortnight, by which time their saucer-like depression in the rock
was full, while about half of the entire catch was in a sufficiently
advanced stage of decomposition to admit of being examined and the
pearls abstracted therefrom.  This, as will be supposed, was a most
disgusting and intensely disagreeable task, but the returns were so
unexpectedly rich that the revolting character of the work was quickly
lost sight of in the interest with which discovery after discovery was
made of pearls that, for size, shape, and purity of colour, promised to
prove priceless.  Their first day's work among the putrid fish resulted
in their taking on board at night an ordinary ship's bucket nearly
half-full of pearls, a considerable proportion of which might be ranked
as specially valuable.  The proportion of seed pearls was singularly
small, and, toward the close of the second day's work, was considered of
so little value, comparatively, as to be not worth the time and trouble
of collecting.  To attempt to put anything more than the merest
approximate estimate of value upon their catch was of course quite out
of the question; but when the result of their third day's labour was
added to that of their first and second, von Schalckenberg, who claimed
to be something of an authority in such matters, declared that the whole
must be worth not far short of one hundred thousand pounds, if indeed it
did not exceed that value.

The enthusiasm with which the men had been working at their highly
unpleasant task of extracting the pearls from their loathsome
envelopment had so far cooled by the end of the third day that it had
been unanimously resolved to take a change of occupation on the
following day by again going out to the shoal and securing a further
supply of oysters.  The suggestion emanated from von Schalckenberg in
the first instance; he made it upon the plea that such a change was very
highly desirable in the interests of their health; and the proposal had
been eagerly welcomed by all hands, most of whom had already begun to
complain of nausea, and to exhibit a more or less marked distaste for
food.

That there really was distinct need for such a precaution seemed to be
borne out next morning by the fact that when the party mustered for
breakfast Barker was found to be an absentee, and upon George being
dispatched to his cabin to awaken him, upon the assumption that he had
overslept himself, the man presently returned with a message to the
effect that the absentee was suffering from a splitting headache, that
he required no breakfast, and that "he guessed" he would spend the
morning in bed, if it was all the same to the others.  Whereupon von
Schalckenberg paid him a professional visit, looked at his tongue, asked
him a few questions, and sent him a draught to take.  Sir Reginald--who,
now that his wife and child were with him, had evinced a rather marked
tendency toward over-anxiety in all matters relating to sickness--was
very particular in his inquiries as to the invalid's condition, and was
with difficulty reassured by the professor's assertion that there was
certainly nothing worse the matter with him than, possibly, a slight
attack of biliousness.  The remaining five men, therefore, went away in
the boats after breakfast, Sir Reginald taking the precaution to carry
his telephone along with him, in order that Lady Olivia might have the
means of communicating with him in the event of further and more serious
symptoms manifesting themselves in the case of the sick man.

Arrived at the shoal, the divers--Mildmay and von Schalckenberg as
before--went down and got to work; but Barker's absence was felt when it
came to hauling up the full nets, the weight of which proved to be
rather too much for one man to handle, and it therefore became necessary
to haul up the nets one at a time, discharge both into the same boat,
and, when she was as full as was thought desirable, leave her, shifting
over to the other boat and loading her in the same way.  The consequence
of this was that they were late in completing their cargoes, and it was
already considerably past the luncheon-hour when at length they lifted
their anchors and started back toward the lagoon.  Nothing had been
heard in the mean time from Lady Olivia, from which circumstance it was
deduced that the patient was at all events no worse.

Scarcely, however, had the boats got under way when the bell of the
telephone in Sir Reginald's pocket began to ring, and he whipped the
instrument out with the remark--

"Hillo! what does this mean?  Nothing very serious, I hope."

He pressed the thumb of one hand upon the small red knob of the
instrument, and with the other hand inserted the tube of it into his
ear.

Almost instantly he heard his wife's voice calling to him--

"Reginald!  Reginald! are you there, and can you hear me?"

"Yes, dear, I am here; and can hear you quite distinctly," answered Sir
Reginald.  "What is the matter?  Nothing wrong with Barker, I hope.  Is
he any worse?"

"Worse!" echoed Lady Olivia's voice, in accents of intense indignation.
"There is nothing the matter with him--the wretch--except that he has
stolen the _Flying Fish_, and is making off with her--and us."

"_What_!" ejaculated Sir Reginald, in a tone of such profound
consternation that those in the other boat heard him, and von
Schalckenberg, sheering in close alongside, demanded to know what was
wrong.  Sir Reginald, still listening at his telephone, held up his hand
for silence.  Lady Olivia was still speaking.

"Yes, it is quite true," she continued.  "You had scarcely been gone an
hour, this morning, when he suddenly presented himself in the
music-room, where Feodorovna and I were sitting, and called Mlle.
Sziszkinski out of the room.  Suspecting nothing, the poor girl at once
went, and a few minutes later he returned, alone, and, presenting a
revolver at my head, ordered me to follow him, warning me at the same
time that if I raised the slightest outcry of any kind, he would shoot
me dead."

"The scoundrel!  The consummate blackguard!" ejaculated Sir Reginald
through his set teeth.  "Yes, dear; go on.  I am listening," he added.

"Of course I went; for there was nothing else to do," continued Lady
Olivia.  "And he looked so fierce, so determined, in such deadly
earnest, that I felt sure he would carry out his threat if I disobeyed
him.  He led me up to the pilot-house; and there I found poor little
Ida--whom I had believed to be out on deck, playing or reading--bound
hand and foot, with a gag in her mouth."

Sir Reginald drew in his breath sharply, but said nothing.

"The moment that I entered the pilot-house he closed the door, and
placing his back against it, pointed to Ida, saying, `You see, ma'am,
there is your child; and if you will look closely at her you will see
that I have lashed her up so tightly that, if she could speak, she would
tell you that she is mighty uncomfortable!'  And indeed, I could see
that the brute was only speaking the truth--much less than the truth, in
fact, for it was clear that the poor darling was suffering torment.  Oh,
Reggie, I tried to get to her to release her, but that brute raised his
pistol and pointed it at her, saying, `If you offer to touch her, I'll
blow her brains out!  If you want to gain her release, tell me what you
know about the working of this ship, and as soon as we are outside the
reef you may release the child.'

"What could I do, Reggie?  I simply could _not_ stand there and see my
darling suffering, so I asked him what he wanted to know.  He said that
the first thing he wished to know was how to raise the anchor, and I
showed him.  Then he asked how the engines were worked, and I showed him
that, taking care, however, only to show him how they worked at their
lowest speed.  He kept me there with him until the ship had passed
through the passage in the reef, and then he told me that I might take
my `brat' and go.  I needed no second bidding, you may be sure, but
snatched up the poor little thing and took her straight down into her
own cabin, where--excepting for the few moments necessary to release
Feodorovna from confinement in her cabin--nurse and I have been busy
ever since, chafing her poor limbs and soothing her as well as we could.
She suffered agonies at first, but is better now, and has gone to
sleep."

"Good!" responded Sir Reginald.  "I am now going to consult with the
rest as to what is best to be done.  But do not yet put your telephone
away; I may wish to speak with you again."

Then Sir Reginald, in as few words as possible, repeated Lady Olivia's
story to the others, ending by asking Mildmay, as an experienced seaman,
what he would advise.

"The first thing to be done is to heave these oysters overboard as
quickly as we can get rid of them.  The next, of course, is to go full
speed ahead in chase of the ship.  It will be a desperately long chase,
however, for these boats can only run twelve knots, while the ship, even
at her slowest, will be going quite ten."

"Precisely," assented the baronet.  "Then, there is the question of how
we are going to find the ship.  For of course she is far out of sight of
the atoll by this time."

"True," assented Mildmay; "I am thinking about that, too.  Ask Lady
Olivia what she can tell us about the course, or courses, that the
fellow has been steering."

"Better take the telephone yourself, old chap, and ask your questions
first-hand," said Sir Reginald, handing over the instrument to the
skipper.

Mildmay took it, and, inserting the small tube in his ear, spoke into
the mouthpiece.

"Are you still there, Lady Olivia?"

"Yes," came the instant reply.  "What now, Captain?"

"I want you to tell me what you can about the course that this fellow
Barker is steering.  Did you notice it?"

"Yes," answered Lady Olivia; "fortunately I thought of that.  He was
steering due east when he released me; and so soon as I got down into
Ida's cabin I took the little aneroid with the compass at its back that
hangs there and set it on the table, so that I could watch it.  It was
just eleven o'clock, by the clock in the pilot-house, when we passed out
through the reef; and at twelve o'clock he altered his course to
north-east-by-east, which is the course that he is steering at present."

"Thanks, very much.  That will do excellently.  Please keep an eye on
that compass, and let us know if he makes any further alterations," said
Mildmay; and when he had received Lady Olivia's answer, he handed back
the telephone to Sir Reginald and, drawing a pencil from one pocket, and
his watch from the other, made a brief note on one of his cuffs.

"Has either of you fellows a decent-sized bit of paper about you?" he
asked.

Lethbridge drew his pocket-book from his pocket.  "Will a leaf--or the
whole book--be of any use to you?" he asked.

"A couple of leaves will do.  Thanks," he replied, as Lethbridge tore
out two and handed them to him.  With one of these he constructed a kind
of scale; then, with its aid, he drew a diagram on the other.

"So far as I can make out," he said, "with the help of this rough
diagram, the ship is at this moment twenty-eight and three-quarter miles
east-north-east of us--there, or thereabouts.  We will therefore run on
that course for the next two hours and twenty-five minutes--by which
means we shall cut off a few miles--and then we must haul up on the same
course as herself, and make a dead run after her."

Then von Schalckenberg spoke up.  "May I be permitted to have a word or
two with Lady Elphinstone?" he asked, addressing Sir Reginald.

"By all means, my dear fellow," answered the baronet.  "Here you are."
And he passed over the telephone.

Taking the instrument, the professor adjusted it for use, pressed the
black knob, and the bell began to ring.  Almost immediately it ceased
again, however; whereupon the designer of the _Flying Fish_ spoke.

"Are you there, my Lady?" he asked.

"Yes, Professor," came the reply.  "I am listening."

"Where are you now, Madame?" asked von Schalckenberg.

"I am still in Ida's cabin," answered her Ladyship.

"Good!" remarked the professor.  "Now, please listen very attentively to
what I am about to say.  But, tell me first, is Barker still in the
pilot-house?"

"Yes; he is steering the ship, and--I think--trying to find out the use
of all the levers and wheels and things that he sees there."

"Ah!" exclaimed the German, in alarm; "he must be stopped, quick, or
heaven only knows what may happen.  Now, please listen.  Have you the
courage to steal very quietly up to the foot of the pilot-house
staircase, and do a very simple thing, quickly, before he knows that you
are there, and what you are doing?"

"I have the courage; but I may not have the ability," answered Lady
Olivia.  "What is it that you wish me to do?"

"I want you," said von Schalckenberg, "to go to the place I have named,
and stand between the staircase and the bulkhead, or wall, with your
back turned to the stairs.  Then, in the bulkhead, immediately in front
of you, you will observe what appears to be the door of a small
cupboard.  Open this, and you will see just inside a lever sloping
upward to the right.  Grasp the handle, and push the lever as far as you
can over toward your _left_--it should move quite easily--and you will
have effectually shut Barker into the pilot-house, from which he cannot
then get out to interfere with you.  Let me know when you have done
this, and I will then tell you what next to do."

"Right," came the answer.  "I will do it, if it is to be done."



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

HOW THE ADVENTURE ENDED.

"Ha, ha," chuckled the professor; "if her Ladyship can only accomplish
what I have told her to do, her troubles, and ours, will soon be over!"
And carefully placing the telephone in the stern-sheets of the boat, he
vigorously resumed his work of relieving the boat he was in of her
burden of pearl-oysters.

"What is it, Professor; what is your plan?" demanded Sir Reginald, who
was similarly busy in his own boat.

"My plan," replied the professor, "refers to a little arrangement that I
made, when designing the ship, for just such a contingency as the
present.  But the matter slipped my memory; and I believe I never showed
it to any of you.  It was important that, in designing such a ship as
the _Flying Fish_, every possible mishap should be foreseen and provided
against; and while considering this matter it occurred to me that,
either by means of treachery, or otherwise, undesirable persons might
possibly succeed in gaining possession of the pilot-house, when the ship
and all in her would be practically at the mercy of those persons.  I
therefore included in the design an arrangement, whereby the simple
movement of a lever would cause a plate to slide out from an interstice
in the wall of the pilot-house, and thus completely shut off that
structure from the rest of the ship, making prisoners of any who might
happen to be in it.  This is what I have just dir--"

At this juncture the bell of the telephone again began to tinkle, and,
without stopping to finish his remarks, the professor seized the
instrument and, adjusting it for use, spoke into it the single
word--"Yes?"

"I have done as you directed me," came Lady Olivia's voice, "and, as you
said would be the case, the man is now shut up in the pilot-house.  But
he heard the sound made by the closing of the slide, and at once
descended to see what it meant.  He is raging horribly, in there,
cursing like a madman, and uttering the most dreadful threats of what he
will do when he breaks through."

"Ah! do not let that trouble you," replied von Schalckenberg.  "He
cannot break through; he is safely caged, and within the next three
hours, please God, we shall all be with you again.  Now, please listen,
for there is something more that I wish you to do; but this time it is
quite easy.  You know your way down to the engine-room.  Please go down
there, taking your telephone with you.  When you are there I will tell
you what to do."

There was a pause of about a minute, and then Lady Olivia again spoke.

"Yes, Professor," she said, "here I am.  What am I to do?"

"How are you standing?" asked von Schalckenberg.

"Just inside the engine-room, with my back to the door," came the
answer.

"Good!" remarked the professor.  "Then the machinery is all in front of
you.  There is a large pipe--as thick as--well, nine inches in diameter
at your feet, running across the room from left to right; you cannot
mistake it."

"Yes," said Lady Olivia.  "There is but one of that size near at hand.
This one is, as you say, close to my feet."

"Now look along that pipe toward your left," directed the professor.
"Do you see a small horizontal wheel standing on it, with the spindle
running down into the pipe?"

"Yes," answered her ladyship.

"Then please go to that wheel," said the German.  "Grasp it on its right
and left with your two hands; pull with your right hand, and push with
your left until you cannot turn the wheel any further.  Then tell me
what happens."

A pause of about half a minute ensued, and then Lady Elphinstone spoke
again.

"I have done as you directed me," she said, "and the engines have
stopped!"

"Aha!" remarked the professor, with a chuckle of satisfaction.  "Yes,
that is all right.  Now we shall soon overtake you.  You need do no more
just now, my lady.  You can go to your cabin, or where you please.  But
keep the telephone about you, please, lest we should wish to speak to
you again.  Courage, madame; you are now quite safe."

"Well, Professor, what is the result of your long yarn with Lady
Olivia?" demanded Sir Reginald, as he received back his instrument.

"Simply that our friend Barker is shut up in the pilot-house, from which
he cannot now escape, and Lady Olivia has just cut off the flow of
vapour at the generator; in consequence of which the engines have
stopped, for one thing, and, for another, Barker may now play as much as
he pleases with the levers and valves in the pilot-house without doing
any mischief," answered von Schalckenberg.

The two boats were by this time off the southern extremity of the reef,
with the last oyster of their cargoes gone overboard; they were
therefore running light and buoyant over the long swell and sea with
which they had to contend, and two minutes later, Mildmay gave the word
for them to shift their helms and haul up to their new course of
east-north-east.  As he did so, he pulled out his watch and noted the
time.

"Exactly eight bells--four o'clock," he remarked.  "We must drive these
little hookers through it for all they are worth, or we shall have the
darkness upon us before we sight the ship," and he flung a somewhat
anxious glance aloft at the heavy and rather threatening aspect of the
sky.  For within the last half-hour the sky had thickened somewhat, and
ragged patches of scud were sweeping swiftly along overhead, with a dark
and lowering bank of clouds behind them to windward, while the breeze
had freshened very perceptibly.  The sea was increasing, and the boats
were already drenching their occupants with the heavy showers of spray
that they flung aft, as they met and drove headlong into and through the
head-sea.  The boats were magnificent little craft, for their size, but
Mildmay knew that matters might easily become very awkward indeed for
them, even in the short space of an hour or two, out there in the broad
Pacific, should it come on to blow at all heavily.  Moreover, there was
no moon now, and the night promised to be dark.  What if they should
fail to find the ship!

The boats, however, were doing their work splendidly, despite the wind
and the sea; and although the tendency of the weather was undoubtedly to
grow worse rather than better, the change was so gradual at first as to
be scarcely perceptible.  But the sunset that night was wild--a sunset
of smoky scarlet and fiery orange in the midst of a stormy flare of
greenish-purple clouds; and when the sun disappeared the boats still had
very nearly half an hour to run before reaching the point at which
Mildmay estimated that they ought to shift their helms again to get into
the track of the ship.  Taking into consideration the retardation of the
boats by the adverse influence upon them of the wind and sea, he allowed
them an extra ten minutes, and then gave the order to haul up to
north-east-by-east, by which time it was pitch dark, starless, and
blowing strong, with a very awkward amount of sea running for such small
boats to battle with.  Fortunately, Mildmay and the professor had with
them their diving-dresses and the electric lamps which formed part of
their equipment; they thus possessed the means of lighting up the cards
of the boat compasses, and so ensuring that they were steering the
correct course.

"According to my reckoning," said Mildmay, "we ought now to be on or
very near the track of the ship, and within about five miles of her, or
thereabout.  If it were daylight I should expect to see her by this
time; as it is we must keep a look-out for her saloon lights.  The
professor and I have all that we can do to keep the boats running
straight, so we shall have to depend upon you other fellows to look out.
Don't confine yourselves to looking straight ahead; keep a look-out
broad on each bow as well.  My calculations are only approximate, you
must remember."

For the next ten minutes perfect silence reigned in the boats; for the
helmsmen were intently watching their compasses, while the others were
straining their eyes through the darkness in the hope of catching the
glimmer of light from the _Flying Fish's_ saloon ports; and, more than
once, one or another of them opened his lips to cry out that he saw
them, only to realise, the next instant, that he had been deceived by
the phosphorescent gleam of the head of a breaking sea.

At length, however, Lethbridge broke the tense silence with the joyous
cry of--

"Light ho! right ahead," at the same instant that Sir Reginald cried
out--

"I see her! there she is, straight ahead of us.  Good shot, skipper!"

Yes; there she was, undoubtedly.  When the boats topped a sea they could
just make out the four lights shining from the dining-saloon ports; and
another, somewhat farther forward, that was doubtless the light of Ida's
cabin.  Sir Reginald seized his telephone, and rang up his wife to
encourage her with the news that the boats were close at hand, and ten
minutes later they dashed alongside.

The ship was lying broadside-on to the wind and sea, rising and falling
easily over the fast gathering swell, but scarcely rolling at all.  Her
hull thus afforded a capital lee for the boats.  Mildmay's boat was the
first to reach the foot of the gangway-ladder; and up it Sir Reginald
sprang at a single bound, as it seemed, closely followed by Lethbridge.

"Take care how you go, Elphinstone," called the Colonel.  "Remember that
the fellow has a revolver."

"Never fear," answered the baronet.  "I will look after myself."

Dashing at the pilot-house door, Sir Reginald flung it open--to find
himself face to face with Barker, who was sitting composedly on the
bottom step of the ladder, smoking his pipe.  He started to his feet in
horror and amazement at the sight of Sir Reginald.

"Well, darn my ugly--" He got no further in his exclamation; for, at the
sight of him, Sir Reginald's long pent-up anger broke loose, and
exclaiming--

"You despicable coward; you ungrateful scoundrel!" he struck out,
catching the man fairly under the jaw, and knocking him backward with a
staggering crash upon the metal steps of the pilot-house.

"Steady, Squire, steady!" mumbled the man in a tone of remonstrance.
"There's no call to knock me about, is there?  And where in the nation
did--?"

"No call to knock you about, you blackguard!" thundered the furious
baronet.  "If I were to break every bone in your body there would be
ample excuse for it.  The attempted theft of the ship is nothing; it is
your brutality to my wife and child that--"

At this moment the inner door of the pilot-house slid open; for Lady
Olivia had been listening expectantly, and at the sound of her husband's
voice had thrown back the lever.

"Look here," continued Sir Reginald, restraining himself with
difficulty, as he pointed to the open door, "march you down there, and
go straight to your cabin, or I shall do you a mischief!"

"No, no, Squire; there's no call for that; no call at all," he mumbled
soothingly, as he sidled out of the pilot-house, keeping a wary eye upon
Sir Reginald, who followed him closely.  "But, how in the nation did you
find this darned ship?" he persisted, his insatiable curiosity gripping
him hard as he proceeded along the corridor toward the cabin.  "I made
sure that if I could run her out of sight of the island, and then shift
my helm, I should be all right.  And so I should, if the darned engines
hadn't broken down!"

With a gesture Sir Reginald sped him through the door of the cabin that
he had occupied, and followed him in.

"Where is that revolver, with which you threatened my wife and
daughter?" demanded the baronet.

Barker drew it out of his pocket and handed it to Sir Reginald with the
nearest approach to a grin that his swollen and bleeding features would
permit.

"Bluff, Squire; pure bluff!" he remarked, as the baronet took it from
him.  "Nary a cartridge in it--couldn't have raised one to save my life.
But it answered just the same.  Say, what air you going to do with me,
eh?"

Sir Reginald dropped the revolver into his pocket without a word, and
passed out of the cabin, closing and locking the door behind him.  From
there he went out on deck again, to find the remainder of the party busy
upon the hoisting and securing of the second of the two boats.  He
helped them with the work; and then, with a brief word or two of
heartfelt thanks to Mildmay and the others for the skill and resource by
which they had all been enabled to get so cheaply out of such an ugly
adventure, he retired below and joined his wife in Ida's cabin, where
mutual confidences were exchanged.  The child was now awake and quite
lively again; and, apart from her poor little chafed and swollen wrists
and ankles, seemed little or nothing the worse for her share of the
adventure.  Satisfied, at length, of this, Sir Reginald retired to his
cabin, discarded his saturated clothes, took a bath, and proceeded to
dress for dinner.

That night, over the dinner-table, the question was raised of what
should be done with the prisoner.

"Of course," said Sir Reginald, "we could take him home with us, charge
him with piracy, and get him punished.  But that would involve just the
publicity that, for many reasons, I desire to avoid.  On the other hand,
I have a very strong feeling that the fellow should be punished, not so
much, perhaps, for what he has actually done, as for what, apparently,
he was perfectly willing to do.  What sort of a scheme he had in his
mind when he plotted to steal this ship, it is very difficult to say,
for I think we may take it for granted that he is absolutely ignorant of
her diving and flying powers; but it is clear enough that, whatever his
intentions may have been, he would have--indeed, did--unhesitatingly
leave five of us to perish on that barren rock, which, he knew, afforded
neither food nor water.  It is this brutal indifference to the
consequences, to others, of his nefarious scheme, that, to my mind,
calls for punishment."

"It would rightly serve him if you were to take him back and put him
upon the place from which you rescued him," suggested Sziszkinski.

"He would have no right to complain if we did," answered Sir Reginald.
"But that would be equivalent to passing a death-sentence upon him, for
he could not exist there longer than a few days.  No, I would not
willingly compass the fellow's death; I entertain no feeling of
vindictiveness toward him.  Punish him, however, I will, and that pretty
severely, too, if only to deter him from engaging so light-heartedly in
similar enterprises in the future; and I think that perhaps the case may
be fitly met by marooning him on some suitable spot, where he can keep
himself alive without too great difficulty, but from which he is not
likely to effect his escape very readily."

"Yes," agreed Mildmay; "something of that sort ought to teach him a
good, wholesome lesson.  And there should be plenty of suitable spots
not very far from here.  We will have out the chart by-and-by, and see
what it has to tell us."

When, later in the evening, the chart of the Pacific was produced, it
was found that the outlying islands of the Caroline group lay little
more than three hundred miles to the northward of the spot at that
moment occupied by the ship, and it was at once determined to try among
them for a suitable marooning place.  And, as Sir Reginald was quite
naturally anxious to get rid of his prisoner as speedily as possible,
von Schalckenberg descended to the engine-room and once more turned on
the vapour.  The _Flying Fish_ then ascended to the neutral belt, and,
heading due north, proceeded for three hours at full speed; at the
expiration of which period her engines were stopped and she came to a
halt for the remainder of the night.

The dawn was just tingeing the Eastern sky with pallor when Mildmay
opened his eyes and, rising from his exceedingly comfortable bed, walked
over to the port and looked out.  Everything was still wrapped in
darkness below him; but upon gazing steadfastly into the gloom for a few
minutes, he believed that he could descry certain darker patches here
and there, at no great distance, which ought to be--and doubtless were--
islands.  And thereupon he slid his feet into a pair of soft slippers
and betook himself to the pilot-house, where, by the manipulation of
certain valves, he lowered the ship to within some three hundred feet of
the surface of the sea.  He then proceeded outside to the deck, and
carefully inspected his surroundings from that situation.  The dawn was
brightening fast, and objects below were beginning to show with some
distinctness.  Therefore, although the ship being afloat in the air, and
her engines at rest, he felt no wind, the aspect of the sea beneath him,
and the fact that the _Flying Fish_ was perceptibly drifting to the
southward and westward, told him that a brisk, north-easterly wind was
blowing.  At the much lower altitude at which the ship was now floating,
the surrounding islets--there were three of them--showed to the eye at
something very nearly approaching their correct distances apart, and in
the fast-growing light something of their true character also stood
revealed.  Thus the solitary observer noted that while two of them, some
six miles apart, were simply extensive reefs of bare coral rock, with a
multitude of narrow, intricate channels of water running hither and
thither through them, the third--some nine or ten miles to the
southward--was an atoll of very similar character to that of the
pearl-island which they had so abruptly left on the preceding day, but
considerably larger, quite an extensive grove of coco-palms growing upon
it.  It had all the appearance of being a very suitable spot for the
purpose that he had in his mind; and he therefore retired to the
pilot-house, re-started the engines, and so headed the ship that she
would pass over it.  And when, presently, she reached it, he turned her
head-to-wind, so adjusted the speed of her engines that she would just
stem the breeze, and again went out on deck to reconnoitre.  He now saw
that the island beneath him was about two miles long by about half a
mile in breadth, well clothed with grass, bushes, and some two or three
hundred coco-palms; and that there was a rivulet of--presumably--fresh
water bubbling up at one point and meandering down to the lagoon, which
was a spacious one of about ten miles long by some seven miles broad,
with a depth of water that appeared ample enough to float anything.  The
islet was also uninhabited; for he had a clear view of the whole of it,
and could discover nothing that even remotely resembled a hut; no, not
even with the aid of his binoculars.  So, satisfied at length that he
had found the kind of spot that Sir Reginald had in his mind's eye,
Mildmay took the ship over the lagoon, allowed her to settle gently into
the placid water, and let go her anchor.  Then, very well content with
himself, he went below, took a bath, and dressed for the day.

He was out on deck again, sauntering fore and aft the deck, and taking
occasional peeps at the island through his binoculars while waiting for
the breakfast-gong to sound, when Sir Reginald appeared.  Glancing about
him at his surroundings, he advanced to Mildmay's side as he said--

"Good morning, skipper; glorious morning, isn't it?  Where is this spot
that you have brought us to?"

"It is one of the Carolines, without doubt," answered Mildmay; "but
precisely which one I cannot say until I have taken my observations, for
I cannot quite identify it with any laid down on the chart.  But,
anyhow, it is an outlying island, and sufficiently far from any of the
usual ship-tracks to give our friend Barker a good wholesome spell of
solitary confinement, to fix upon his memory the evil of his ways,
before he obtains his release.  It is amply big enough to support him,
and afford him a sufficiency of exercise; he need never starve with all
these coconut trees to his hand; we can let him have a fishing-line or
two, I suppose, to enable him to provide himself with a change of diet,
and a burning-glass with which to make his fires; and there is a stream
of water--that I take to be fresh--from which he can slake his thirst.
And if you feel disposed to give him to sleep in one of those small
waterproof tents that we have down below, and which we have never yet
had occasion to use, the fellow ought to be able to make himself
exceedingly comfortable, while you will have done quite enough for him
to set your conscience at rest, and a vast deal more than he deserves.
If you like, we can take a run ashore, after breakfast, and have a look
at the place before you definitely decide to land him here."

Mildmay's suggestions were quite in accord with Sir Reginald's own views
on the subject; and when, after breakfast, the whole party landed to
inspect the place, and indulge in a stroll, the island was found to be
so very much better in every way than it had appeared to be, that the
baronet felt he need have no scruples about leaving Barker there.
Accordingly, after luncheon, a tent, half a dozen fishing-lines, a good
lens to serve as a burning-glass, a saw, an axe, and a few other useful
odds and ends, including a small supply of food and groceries--to let
the marooned man down gently, so to speak--were put into the boat; and
Barker was then released from his confinement, conducted up on deck, and
ordered down the side, Sir Reginald and Mildmay following him.

As the boat pushed off and headed for the beach, Barker turned to Sir
Reginald, and said--

"Well, Squire, from the look of things in general, I guess you're goin'
to maroon me, eh?  Well, this here island looks a durn sight purtier
than the spot that you took me off of; I won't gainsay that.  And are
all these here things in the boat mine?  What's this here--a tent?  You
don't say!  Well now, that's downright handsome of you, Squire, and no
mistake.  And here's fishin'-lines, and--" He went on to enumerate the
various articles, until he had gone through them all.  Then--

"Here, stop a bit, though," he cried.  "I don't see no gun, no powder
and shot; and--where's my share of the pearls what we fished up the
other day?"

Mildmay stared at the man for a moment, and then burst into a hearty
laugh.

"Well," he exclaimed, "you are a cool hand, Barker, if ever there was
one!  Your coolness, however, will not avail you here; those things are
all that we intend to give you, and they are a precious sight more than
you deserve."

"All right, Skipper," answered the fellow; "I'm not complainin'.  You've
got the bulge on me, and I'm the bottom dog this time.  Only I thought
there was no harm in just mentionin' them little matters."

"No harm in the world," agreed Mildmay, cheerily, as the boat's forefoot
slid up on the smooth sand of the beach.  "You will be able to amuse
yourself by mentioning a good many other `little matters' from time to
time while you are here.  Now, out you go!  I will pass the things out
to you."

Half an hour later, the _Flying Fish_ passed out to sea through the
usual gap in the reef, by which time Barker had already got his tent
rigged, a fire lighted, and was cooking his first meal.  There could be
no manner of doubt that, whatever else he might be, the man was a
thoroughly sound philosopher.

At noon that day, Mildmay ascertained his exact latitude; and having
thus, in conjunction with his usual morning observations for the
determination of the longitude, fixed the exact position of the ship on
the chart, a course was laid off for the pearl-island.  The ship, going
at full speed, rose into the calm belt, and that same afternoon settled
down again in her former berth in the pearl-island lagoon.

On the following morning the four men went ashore and resumed their
disagreeable task of separating the pearls from the putrid mass of
decomposed matter in which they were imbedded; and this time they
persevered until they had dealt with all the oysters that they had
fished up.  The result was so enormously rich a harvest of magnificent
pearls that everybody was more than satisfied, and there was a general
consensus of opinion that, under these circumstances, it would be mere
waste of time to stay any longer at the island.

This decision was especially acceptable to Sir Reginald Elphinstone, for
it very soon became evident to him that Barker's daring attempt at
piracy had inflicted a very severe shock upon Lady Olivia, which quickly
developed into an attack of nervous prostration, that rendered an
immediate return home exceedingly desirable; the more so that Ida was
also suffering from shock, although not to nearly so serious an extent
as her mother.  The whole question was fully discussed by the men after
dinner, on the evening of the "clearing-up" day, and of course, as might
be expected, it was no sooner recognised by the rest of the party that
their host was anxious to bring the cruise to a close, than they all
united in urging him to take Lady Olivia home at once, and put her under
the care of her own especial physician.  Even von Schalckenberg, who had
been looking longingly forward to a hunt for those new zebras, carefully
refrained from mentioning even so much as the word "Africa," but, with
an inward sigh over the lost--or, it might be, only the deferred--
opportunity, joined his persuasions to those of the others.  The final
outcome of the discussion was a decision to start for home forthwith at
top speed.

This decision arrived at, a chart of the world was produced, and from it
was determined the homeward course from that little, unknown spot in the
Pacific to Sir Reginald Elphinstone's charming Devonshire seat,
Chudleigh Park.  Then the party bade each other good-night, and retired
to their cabins, Mildmay only lingering behind the others long enough to
raise the ship into the neutral belt, put her engines at full speed
ahead, and fix her self-steering apparatus on the ascertained course.

Their flight took them over the Philippine Islands, Burma, Northern
India, Afghanistan, the north-eastern corner of Persia, the southern
skirt of the Caspian Sea, the southern half of the Black Sea, across
Austria-Hungary, northern Switzerland, the north of France, and the
English Channel; and it was accomplished uneventfully, the ship coming
safely and quietly to earth exactly at midnight on the third day of
their journey from the Pacific, after slowing down over the channel to
avoid unwelcome observation on their arrival.

It was such a glorious May morning as is to be found at its best only in
lovely Devon, when, having remained on board for the rest of the night,
and taken breakfast ere leaving the ship, the whole party walked up to
Chudleigh Hall, and announced their return to the astonished staff of
servants.  So unexpected an arrival was naturally productive of some
little confusion in the household; but matters very quickly arranged
themselves, and by the evening of that same day, with the assistance of
the farm-waggons belonging to the estate, all the spoils and valuables
of every description had been transferred from the ship to the house.
And when the following morning dawned the _Flying Fish_ had disappeared
from the glade in which she had been lying as mysteriously as she had
dropped into it only twenty-four hours previously.

The professor and Mildmay had likewise vanished in an equally mysterious
manner; but they calmly and smilingly turned up again by a late train,
that same evening, to learn the gratifying news that Lady Elphinstone's
return to the safety of her beautiful home had already produced a most
beneficial effect upon her health, and that there was now every prospect
of an early recovery from the bad effects of the shock that she had so
recently sustained.

Meanwhile, the Sziszkinskis, delighted with the beauty of the county and
the healthfulness of its climate, had spent a busy day prosecuting
inquiries in the neighbourhood for a suitable residence, and had already
found one very greatly to their liking, the purchase of which they
satisfactorily concluded within the week.

And thus ends the story of a very memorable cruise--a cruise which was
destined to have far-reaching results upon the fortunes and the
happiness of some at least of those who participated in it, as well as
to many who never heard a word about it.  For the worthy professor's
share of the rubies and pearls that the party brought home with them
provided him with the wealth that was necessary to enable him to
initiate his great philanthropic enterprise; while it is undeniable that
Mildmay spends an unconscionable amount of his time with the
Sziszkinskis.  Whether these visits have anything to do with the
whispered rumour that Mlle. Feodorovna is about to exchange her Russian
patronymic for an English name, time perhaps will show.





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