The flight of the Ithuriel and her consorts was so graduated, that as they rose to the level of the storm-cloud they missed it and passed diagonally beyond it at a sufficient distance to avoid disturbing the electrical balance between it and the earth. The object of doing so was not so much to escape a discharge of electricity, since all the vital parts of the machinery and the power-cylinders were carefully insulated, but rather in order not to provoke a lightning flash which might have revealed their rapid passage to the occupants of the Lucifer.
As it was, they swept upwards and westward at such a speed that they had gained the cover of the thunder-cloud, and placed a considerable area of it between themselves and the town, long before the storm broke over Aberdeen, and so they were provided with ample shelter under, or rather over, which they were to make their attack on the Lucifer.
They waited until the clouds coming up from the westward joined those which had begun to gather thick and black and threatening over the Russian fleet soon after the tremendous cannonade had begun. The shock of the meeting of the two cloud-squadrons formed a fitting counterpart to the drama of death and destruction that was being played on land and sea.
The brilliant sunshine of the midsummer afternoon was suddenly obscured by a darkness born of smoke and cloud like that of a midwinter night. The smoke of the cannonade rose heavily and mingled with the clouds, and the atmospheric concussions produced by the discharge of hundreds of heavy guns, brought down the rain in torrents. Almost continuous streams of lightning flashed from cloud to cloud, and from heaven to earth, eclipsing the spouting fire of the guns, while to the roar of the bombardment was added an almost unbroken roll of thunder.
Above all this hideous turmoil of human and elemental strife, the three air-ships floated for awhile in a serene and sunlit atmosphere. But this was only for a time. Arnold had taken the position and altitude of the Lucifer very carefully by means of his sextant and compass before he rose into the air, and as soon as his preparations were complete he made another observation of the angle of the sun’s elevation, allowing, of course, for his own, and placed his three ships as nearly perpendicular as he could over the Lucifer, floating on the under side of the storm-cloud.
His preparations had been simple in the extreme. Four light strong grappling-irons hung downwards from the Ithuriel, two at the bow and two at the stern, by thin steel-wire rope; two similar ones hung from the starboard side of the Orion, which was on his left hand, and two from the port side of the Ariel, which was on his right hand. As they gained the desired position, a man was stationed at each of the ropes, with instructions how to act when the word was given. Then the fan-wheels were slowed down, and the three vessels sank swiftly through the cloud.
Through the mist and darkness underneath they saw the white shape of the Lucifer almost immediately below them, so accurately had the position been determined. They sank a hundred feet farther, and then Arnold shouted —
“Now is your time. Cast!”
Instantly the eight grappling-irons dropped and swung towards the Lucifer, hooking themselves in the stays of her masts and the railing that ran completely round her deck.
“Now, up again, and ahead!” shouted Arnold once more, and the fan-wheels of the three ships revolved at their utmost speed; the air-planes had already been inclined to the full, the nine propellers whirled round, and the recaptured Lucifer was dragged forward and upwards through the mist and darkness of the thunder-cloud into the bright sunshine above.
So suddenly had the strange manoeuvre been executed that those on board her had not time to grasp what had really happened to them before they found themselves captured and utterly helpless. As she hung below her three captors it was impossible to bring one of the Lucifer’s guns to bear upon them, while four guns, two from the Ariel and two from the Orion, grinned down upon her ready to blow her into fragments at the least sign of resistance.
Added to this, a dozen magazine rifles covered her deck, threatening sudden death to the six bewildered men who were still staring helplessly about them in wonderment at the strange thing that had happened to them.
“Who are the Russian officers in command of that air-ship?” hailed Mazanoff from the Ariel.
Two men in Russian uniform raised their hands in reply, and Mazanoff hailed again —
“Which will you have — surrender or death? If you surrender your lives are safe, and we will put you on to the land as soon as possible; if not you will be shot.”
“We surrender!” exclaimed one of the officers, drawing his sword and dropping it on the deck. The other followed suit, and Mazanoff continued —
“Very good. Remain where you are. The first man that moves will be shot down.”
Almost before the last words had left his lips half a dozen men had slid down the wire ropes and landed on the deck of the Lucifer. The moment their feet had touched the deck each whipped a magazine pistol out of his belt and covered his man.
Within a couple of minutes the captives were all disarmed; indeed, most of them had thrown their weapons down on the first summons. The arms were tossed overboard, and all but the two Russian officers were rapidly bound hand and foot. Then three of the six men descended to the engine-room, and one went to the wheel-house. In another minute the fan-wheels of the Lucifer began to spin round faster, and quickly raised her to the level of the other three ships, and so the recapture of the deserter was completed.
The two officers were at once summoned on board the Ithuriel and shut up under guard in separate cabins. The rest of the crew of the Lucifer was found to consist of the four traitors who had carried her away, and two Russian engineers who had been put on board to assist in the working of the vessel.
As soon as these had been replaced by a crew drafted from the Ithuriel and her consorts under the command of Lieutenant Marston, Arnold gave the order to go ahead at fifty miles an hour to the northward, and the four air-ships immediately sped away in that direction, leaving Aberdeen to its fate, and within a little over an hour the sounds of both storm and battle had died away in silence behind them.
When they were fairly under way Natas ordered the four deserters to be brought before him in the after saloon of the flagship. He sat at one end of the table, and they were placed in a line in front of him at the other, each with a guard behind him, and the muzzle of a pistol at his head.
“Peter Tamboff, Amos Vornjeh, Ivan Tscheszco, and Paul Oreloff! you have broken your oaths, betrayed your companions, deserted the Cause to which you devoted your lives, and placed in the hands of the Russian tyrant the means of destruction which has enabled him to break the blockade of the Baltic, and so perhaps to change the whole course of the war which he is now waging, as you well know, with the object of conquering Europe and enslaving its peoples.
“Already the lives of thousands of better men than you have been lost through this vile treason of yours, the vilest of all treason, for it was committed for love of money. By the laws of the Brotherhood your lives are forfeit, and if you had a hundred lives each they would be forfeited again by the calamities that your treason has brought, and will bring, upon the world. You will die in half an hour. If you have any preparations to make for the next world, make them. I have done with you. Go!”
Half an hour later the four deserters were taken up on to the deck of the Ithuriel. The signal was given to stop the flotilla, which was then flying three thousand feet above the waters of the Moray Firth. As soon as they came to a standstill their crews were summoned on deck. The three smaller vessels floated around the Ithuriel at a distance of about fifty yards from her. The traitors, bound hand and foot, were stood up facing the rail of the flagship, and four of her crew were stationed opposite to them on the other side of the deck with loaded rifles.
They were allowed one last look upon sun and sky, and then their eyes were bandaged. As soon as this was done Arnold raised his hand; the four rifles came up to the ready; a stream of flame shot from the muzzles, and the bodies of the four traitors lurched forward over the rail and disappeared into the abyss beneath.
“Now, gentlemen,” said Arnold in French, turning to the two Russian officers who had been spectators of the scene, “that is how we punish traitors. Your own lives are spared because we do not murder prisoners of war. You will, I hope, in due time return to your master, and you will tell him why we have been obliged to retake the air-ship which he surrendered to us by force, and therefore why we destroyed his flagship in the North Sea. If Admiral Prabylov had obeyed his orders, the Lucifer would have been surrendered to us quietly, and there would have been for the present no further trouble.
“Tell him also from me, as Admiral of the Terrorist fleet, that, so far as matters have now gone, we shall take no further part in the war; but that the moment he brings his war-balloons across the waters which separate Britain from Europe, the last hour of his empire will have struck.
“If he neglects this warning with which I now entrust you, I will bring a force against him before which he shall be as helpless as the armies of the Alliance have so far been before him and his war-balloons; and, more than this, tell him that if I conquer I will not spare. I will hold him and his advisers strictly to account for all that may happen after that moment.
“There will be no treaties with conquered enemies in the hour of our victory. We will have blood for blood, and life for life. Remember that, and bear the message to him faithfully. For the present you will be prisoners on parole; but I warn you that you will be watched night and day, and at the first suspicion of treachery you will be shot, and cast into the air as those traitors were just now.
“You will remain on board this ship. The two engineers will be placed one on board of each of two of our consorts. In twenty-four hours or so you will be landed on Spanish soil and left to your own devices. Meanwhile we shall make you as comfortable as the circumstances permit.”
The two Russian officers bowed their acknowledgments, and Arnold gave the signal for the flotilla to proceed.
It was then about seven o’clock in the evening. Plying at the rate of a hundred miles an hour, the squadron crossed the mouth of the Moray Firth trending to the westward until they passed over Thurso, and then took a westerly course to Rockall Island, four hundred miles to the west. Here they met the two other air-ships which had been despatched from Aeria with extra power-cylinders and munitions of war in case they had been needed for a prolonged campaign.
The cylinders, which had been exhausted on board the Ithuriel and her three consorts, were replaced, and then the whole squadron rose into the air from one of the peaks of Rockall Island and winged its way southward to the north-western coast of Spain. They made the Spanish land near Corunna shortly before eight on the following evening, and here the four Russian prisoners were released on the sea-shore and provided with money to take them as far as Valladolid, whence they would be able to communicate with the French military authorities at Toulouse.
The Terrorist Squadron then rose once more into the air, ascended to a height of two thousand feet, skirted the Portuguese coast, and then took a south-easterly course over Morocco through one of the passes of the Atlas Mountains, and so across the desert of Sahara and the wilds of Central Africa to Aeria.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08