The Episode of the Black Casquette by
A Mystery Story
Yes, I have encountered him at last, the veritable birdman! Almost I
had commenced to believe that such an individual did not in effect
exist—with the exception, bien entendu, of myself. For, as I told
them when they offered me a vin d'honneur on the occasion of my
decoration with the Cross of the Legion, the recognition was long
overdue. Indeed, I assured them, the only circumstance that prevented
me from flying at the age of three was the fact that messieurs the
inventors had not then produced an aeroplane.
But now I have encountered, as I say, another such instinctive aviator
to whom flight appears to be as natural as walking. And thou seest
by my bandages, my poor friend, what it is that has in consequence
arrived to me!
Unhappy meeting! It is with pain and difficulty still that I lift an
arm. I can no more, since my accident, illustrate my remarks
with appropriate gesture. Forgive, therefore, mon ami, a story
inadequately picturesque, vivid, mouvant. And yet—we have brought
each other fortune, this young Monsieur Power and I. Fix a little the
pillows up, and you shall hear.
A man-eagle, I assure you! A veritable condor of the Andes hatched
in human shape, who has, nevertheless, discovered his gift only to
renounce it at once and forever.
Our first meeting was curiously disturbing. He appeared suddenly at a
door of my ateliers on the flying ground at Mineola, very tall, very
soigné, smiling in the way he had that showed all his strong,
square teeth as he recognized me in conversation, with my faithful
mechanician, Georges. This latter, grown portly and nervous since
marrying a Montmartre shopkeeper, I have since promoted to be my chief
"Pardon the intrusion," said the stranger. "I perceive you are about
to murder the stout gentleman. I will wait your convenience."
"Quite on the contrary, monsieur," I explained, bowing. "We discuss
merely the theory of the explosion turbine. If monsieur will give
himself the trouble to enter—"
"That is my card," he replied, advancing. "I want a strong, swift
biplane, and a mechanic to attend to it."
I glanced from the card to this extraordinary young man with interest.
For the name itself, John Hamlin Power, told me of a career in Wall
Street—brief, but conspicuous in its daring and success; a career in
which this immaculate, smiling young cotillion leader had made the
very monarchs of finance fear the élan of his attack, the relentless
quality of his grip.
"I have taken a fancy," he went on, "to possess the identical machine
with which you accomplished your recent Mount McKinley record. It is
perhaps for sale?"
"Perfectly, if monsieur wishes," I responded, with another bow. "But
it is a machine of unusual speed and power. Monsieur can already fly,
"I do not anticipate any difficulty. As a matter of fact, I have not
yet attempted it. It is for that purpose that I have come to buy a
machine. It would be a favor if you would arrange to deliver it to me
in Westchester to-morrow. The mechanic will, of course, arrive at the
same time, as I shall wish to commence practice at once."
He turned aside to inspect a motor that lay dismounted on a wooden
stand, as if there were nothing further to discuss. Indeed, though
his speech was rapid and incisive, and his every movement full of an
allure that spoke of splendidly poised muscles, he was in face and
manner alike the most singularly immobile man I had ever met. He gave
the impression of employing neither words nor actions except in case
of clear necessity.
I exchanged glances with Georges, who had turned up his eyes, spread
his arms, and allowed them to fall again limply to his sides. I
coughed. Monsieur Power drew himself up from his inspection of the
motor and smiled again expectantly.
"But the question of tuition?" I stammered. "Monsieur has no doubt
arranged for the services of an instructor?"
There was the slightest twinkle in that steadfast gaze of his. He had
the bravest, and yet the tenderest, eyes in the world.
"I'm afraid I have not sufficient time for the regular course,"
he said. "I am a rather busy man, as you possibly know. I have
consequently taken lessons in advance, by mail. May I expect the
machine to-morrow as arranged?"
I murmured something to the effect that he had perhaps underestimated
the difficulties of aviation.
"Are they not exaggerated?" he inquired. "You taught my friend, Miss
Hamilton Warren, to fly, did you not?"
"Mademoiselle, it is true, flies here almost daily," I admitted.
"Just so! It does not seem to me that there can be anything very
difficult in what a girl can do. However, if you will be so good as to
deliver the biplane we will see."
Under that clear, steady gaze of his I was powerless to protest.
Behind him I could see the good Georges struggling palpably for
breath, and waving his hands to the rafters. I contented myself with
a profound bow; whereupon, with the same quick, alert movement with
which he had appeared, this strange young man departed. Georges and I
fell gasping upon each others' necks, and stared together after his
tall, receding figure.
"Without doubt he is mad, this Monsieur Power," I said at last. "You
remember that he has just made two millions in a bear raid. Doubtless
it has turned his brain. Name of a name! He pretends to have taken
flying lessons from an institute of correspondence, and I have
promised him a biplane of one hundred horse power! Georges, mon ami,
you must yourself accompany it and give him counsel lest he break his
Not satisfied with this precaution, I myself flew the biplane over
to Westchester on the morrow, and explained the controls to Monsieur
Power in an extended passenger flight. He was, it appeared, an amateur
of the balloon, and accustomed to great heights. When I handed the
machine over to him, with the engine throttled down so that he might
try rolling practice on the ground, he waited until he was out of our
reach, whipped the motor into its full power, heaved himself into the
air, and flew back the whole length of his grounds—alighting gently
as a falling leaf.
"It seems pretty simple," he said, as he swung himself out of the
nacelle. "I do not think I need detain you, Monsieur Lacroix, if your
assistant Georges will be good enough to consider himself my guest,
and keep the motor running."
It was in vain that I besought him to have patience. He replied only
that his time was limited, and that he had given the subject careful
study in theory.
And with that assurance I had to depart, little content. First,
however, I warned him of one or two pitfalls—as, for instance,
that he must never stop his engine in an emergency, as one does
instinctively in an auto, because the greater the danger the more need
he would have of motive power to get him out of it. Also, I told him
not to fly above trees or water, where the currents would suck him
downward, but to steer over the darkest patches of land, where the
heat of the sun is absorbed, and the air in consequence rises.
In what state of emotion I was maintained by the letters of Georges
during the ensuing fortnight, I will make you judge.
"A moi!" he writes to me in the first week. "I am in the clutch of a
madman! Each morning I am awakened at six, that I may plunge with him
in the lake of cold water attached to the mansion, he having first
made la boxe noisily with a fist ball on the floor directly above.
To-day in his machine he has described figures of eight in the space
of his grounds even, banking the planes at an inclination affreuse!"
Again he writes: "I am now to accompany him on a cross-country raid.
Farewell to my wife and little one. I will die like a Montmartrois for
the honor of France!"
Finally an appeal—urgent, pitiful, telegraphic:
"Take me away, je t'en prie! This maniac wishes now to discuss the
possibility of a somersault in the air. I can no more—Georges."
Thereupon I replaced him with another mechanic, and he returned,
appearing worn and noticeably thinner.
"It seems to me, tout de même," I remarked, "that this young
monsieur knows very well what he is about. We have not been asked to
repair a single stick of his machine."
"True," replied Georges. "But that is not his ambition, to break wood.
It was his neck that he wished to break, and incidentally my own.
Wait, my friend, until you have seen him fly. I, who speak to you,
have faced death daily these weeks past, and my clothes hang loose
And I was fated to see this monsieur, also, before very long, on the
occasion of his dramatic appearance upon the grounds of my flying
school. I must explain that Mineola had become a social institution,
for already I taught the younger members of the rich sportsman set
the new diversion that science had placed within their reach. Crowds
assembled each fine day to witness the first flutterings or the
finished flights of their friends.
On this occasion the lawn before the hangars was bright with flowers
and gay with the costumes of pretty women, in deference to whom I had
even permitted what the society reporters began to call "aviation
teas," placing little tables about the grass, where the chatter was
not too much interrupted by the vicious rattle and the driving smoke
of motors under test. I did this the more readily as it prevented
the uninstructed from wandering into the path of the machines, which
buzzed about the grounds like crippled beetles trying to rise into the
The grounds, particularly in expectation of a flight by Miss Warren,
bore very much in consequence the appearance of a garden party, and
I looked with pride upon a scene such as only the historic flying
schools of my dear France had hitherto witnessed.
It was with a start that I recognized, while gazing upon this throng
of flower-like women and gallant young men, the figure so tall, so
commanding of the aged Monsieur Warren himself. I knew that he did
not belong to this plutocratic young sporting set, of which he even
disapproved. Moreover, the old financier had never before condescended
to recognize the prowess of his daughter as an aviator. Indeed, I
understood that the least reference to it had been forbidden in his
presence. I hastened forward to welcome him, with joy in this new and
powerful convert to the science of flight, and together we watched
the preparation of Miss Warren's great French biplane, her beautiful
Cygne, which she had insisted upon bringing with her from Paris.
Ah, mon vieux, I cannot describe to you the emotion that seized me
as she advanced from the hangars, this beautiful girl, to mount her
great white bird! The Comte de Châlons, who had followed her from
Europe, and rarely left her side, hurried after her with her leather
flying gauntlets—for while it was warm on the ground, there came from
aloft reports of a chilling wind. I saw the tall, bent old man, her
father, gaze with eyes moist with pride and affection on that superb
figure of young womanhood as she swung gracefully out toward the
gallant machine that awaited her in the sunlight, chatting gayly with
her companion as she walked. She wore a thick-knitted jersey of brown
silk, a simple brown skirt, and leather gaiters, and a brown leather
automobile cap covered her shining, dark hair. Like a slim, brown
statue she stood at last on the step of her biplane in the breeze, and
I saw the Comte de Châlons bend over her hand as he assisted her into
Well, he had reason, that one! She is a better flier than I can ever
make out of him.
A run of fifty yards, and she was aloft with the practiced leap of the
expert pilot. The next minute she was breasting the breeze far above
our heads, the rear edges of the huge planes quivering transparent
against the sky, her motor roaring impetuously. As she passed, I had a
single glimpse of her face—bathed in full sunlight, radiant, joyous!
I looked then with curiosity upon the aged Monsieur Warren. The great
financier leaned upon his cane, and I saw that the hand that held it
was blue and trembling. As he gazed skyward, his breath came deeply as
in a sob.
"Ah, monsieur," I thought, with a surge of pride, "it is I, Lacroix,
who have enabled you to enjoy a parallel triumph. She is your daughter
whom they applaud, truly—but she is also my pupil!"
Figure to yourself my surprise, therefore, when he turned to me
suddenly in appeal, and, with a hand that trembled on my arm, besought
me to take him away.
"I cannot stand it, my dear Lacroix—it isn't safe!" he said, in a low
He repeated these words several times, his lip quivering like that
of a child who suffers, as I led him into the drawing office of the
ateliers. There he seated himself, bent and gray, upon the edge of an
"It's no use, I can't stand it," he said again. "I assure you that I
could see the thing shaking, as it passed overhead, in every stick
and wire of it. It can't be safe! And there she is, five hundred feet
high, with her life hanging on a thread."
"I assure you also, monsieur," I protested, "that I have this very
morning examined every nut and bolt, every brace and valve and stay in
the entire appareil. Never have I permitted your daughter to ascend
without such an inspection. I would stake my life upon the perfect
integrity of the machine."
He smiled, a little querulously.
"You are accustomed to stake your life, Monsieur Lacroix. As for me, I
am an old man. The old are obstinate and selfish. I abhor the entire
Plaudits came from the gay crowd outside as mademoiselle's machine
again roared above the hangars. The old man shook his massive head.
"Of course, you don't see it as I do," he went on. "If you had
considered risks, you would have accomplished nothing. It is natural
that you should think only of the glory and conquest of flight. But I
think of the little girl I held on my knee the night her mother died,
and I can neither stay away in peace when Ella flies, nor can I bear
to watch her."
"But you are powerful, Monsieur Warren," I said, "a commander of the
captains of finance. If you said even that a country should not
make war, its cannon would rust in the parks, and its soldiers play
leapfrog in the casernes. Surely you can bend the will of a young girl
who is also your daughter?"
The old man's smile became grim.
"I may be all that you say," he sighed. "But, nevertheless, if you
chose to wring my neck at this moment, I could do little to prevent
you. Neither dare I stand between an American girl and the desire of
I looked with sympathy upon this gaunt, mighty, old warrior of Wall
Street, bent under the shadow of apprehension and anxiety, and I
knew why he had at last visited Mineola. And as I looked, I, too, my
friend, saw clearly for the first time the reverse of the bright medal
of aerial conquest. I saw the graves of lost comrades, I saw the homes
in mourning, I saw mothers who wept for their bravest boys. Truly the
price was heavy, and I knew in my heart that it had not been paid in
"Monsieur knows," I said, "that I was once a poor mechanician. What I
am now, flight has made me, and I have worked for the glory of flight.
But now I perceive that in encouraging mademoiselle your daughter to
fly, I have perhaps done wrong. I promise you that in future I will do
my best to dissuade her."
He rose, and pressed my hand in gratitude.
"I am wealthy," he said. "I am rich beyond dreams. I can buy anything
for my little girl that she desires—except a single moment's safety
up in the air, or a single moment's true happiness on the earth. And
in pursuit of this flying craze of hers, she may easily miss both."
He frowned suddenly as we emerged into the sunlight and saw the Comte
de Châlons hasten to assist mademoiselle to dismount. Above the
hangars the red storm cone had been hoisted, prohibiting further
flight by pupils. Already the treetops were swaying ominously.
"After all, there are some things that can happen to a girl," said
Monsieur Warren bitterly, "that may well be worse than breaking her
neck in an aeroplane."
He departed in search of his automobile without another word. But I
thought I knew what he meant.
It was at this moment that I first saw him fly, this marvelous birdman
of a Hamlin Power. Away in the direction of New York, so high that
he seemed to hang motionless just under the driving clouds, the
spectators had caught sight of his huge biplane, and had delayed their
departure to watch his approach. It was Georges, dancing on the grass
beside me, who first proclaimed his identity.
"It is he, the crazy pupil!" he cried. "I have seen through my glass
the little silk flag he attached to the nacelle. Now you are going to
marvel that I still live!"
In a few moments the sound of his motor fell faintly on our ears as a
whisper from the clouds. Then—chut!—it stopped, and in a single
leap he dived a sheer thousand feet.
That in itself was amazing temerity for one who had flown just long
enough to justify him in piloting an aero bus in a dead calm. But
I was little prepared for what followed. Instead of continuing his
flight horizontally at the end of that headlong dive, this tyro pulled
up his elevator, sweeping through a sharp curve into an upward leap
with all the dizzy impetus gained in his descent.
The crowd gasped. At my side Georges danced with anxiety upon the
"You are right," I said. "He is certainly crazy, this young Monsieur
"He calls it the montagnes russes, this trick," said Georges. "I
have told him that everybody who ever did it is long dead, with the
single exception of yourself, but that to him is entirely equal. See,
he has dived again only just in time!"
And, in truth, another moment of upward flight would infallibly have
caused him to lose headway, and fall backward, to flatten himself upon
the ground. But he had with superb coolness entered upon a second dive
of the most impressive, continuing his species of switchback descent
until within a few hundred feet of the hangars. I saw his head
protruding from the nacelle, incased in a flying helmet of perfectly
black leather. At that height the remous and gusts hit him at
unexpected angles, and his machine rose and fell and rocked, as if
upon the waves of an invisible ocean. It was buffeted about until I
knew that he could not be on his seat half the time. First one wing
tip and then the other was blown upward, threatening irrevocable side
slip, but always at the last moment his instinct—for it could have
been nothing else—saved him in masterly fashion.
At one moment, indeed, as he banked high to turn down wind, it seemed
that he was lost, and a woman in front of me turned away with a little
cry of horror, her hands before her eyes.
But no! Blown like a leaf straight toward us, he wheeled again into
the teeth of the wind at the same astonishing angle, finally landing
neatly in front of the hangars. It was with an exclamation of relief
that I saw him leap from his machine safe and sound.
With a number of mechanicians, I ran to greet him, and he held out a
gloved hand, smiling in boyish delight and complete unconcern, and
showing all his square, white teeth. I burst at once into protests.
"Bunk!" he exclaimed, with an irreverent laugh. "You fellows make a
voodoo mystery of flight because it pays you. There's nothing very
difficult about it, after all. One has only to keep cool."
I was going to reply with I know not what appeal to his reason, when
the clear, contralto voice of Miss Warren came suddenly from behind
me. She hastened to meet him, holding out both her hands.
"Jack, this is good of you!" she cried. "It's just your generous
way—you couldn't possibly have forgiven me more gracefully. To
think that you, of all people, should be the mysterious airman of
Westchester who has set every one talking and wondering! Why, it was
the pleasantest surprise in life to see you get down from that machine
after such a wonderful flight. And my father has been here to-day,
also. Two such converts in one afternoon is a coincidence that seems
too good to be true."
The young Monsieur Power was regarding her, I noticed, with a sort of
"Maybe there's something in that," he said. "You mustn't get the idea
that I've altered my ground in the least, Ella."
"But you are flying yourself, now!"
"Certainly, but that doesn't mean that I approve of it as an amusement
"When did you begin?"
"Last month, when I bought the machine. Since then I've been
practicing around home."
The girl started from him in amazement.
"Last month! Why, don't you know you might have killed yourself,
cutting capers on a day like this?"
"Precisely what I have allowed myself to point out to monsieur," I
interposed. "He attempted feats full of danger even for the expert."
"Well, I guess that's all right," he responded shortly. "A man's life
wasn't given to him to nurse. Besides, flying is a great relief after
a week in the city."
I turned aside, then, to superintend the disposal of the aeroplanes in
their sheds, as it had become evident that a gale was in prospect. It
was some minutes later that I received a sudden intimation from Miss
Warren that she desired my presence outside her hangar.
"Mademoiselle wishes you to denounce the young American monsieur,"
added on his own account the mechanic who brought the message.
I found her confronting Monsieur Power, who was leaning in an attitude
characteristically immobile against the landing carriage of his
machine. The Comte de Châlons stood on one side, pulling at his
mustache and staring from one to the other. Monsieur Power chewed a
grass stem and smiled in a fashion a little narquois.
"Why not give in, Ella, and admit you have been in the wrong? You know
you'll have to come to it, sooner or later."
He spoke quite pleasantly, but the girl's magnificent dark eyes were
blazing with suppressed anger.
Give in! A thing unheard! She had never suffered compulsion in a young
lifetime of following her own sweet way, this dollar princess. As
they gazed upon each other, I could see a titanic battle of wills in
progress beneath the outward calm of the discussion.
"You would not be so foolhardy, Jack," she said, controlling her voice
with an effort. "You know, or at least if you don't know, Monsieur
Lacroix and everybody else does, that you couldn't live two minutes in
"Monsieur Power, you are annoying mademoiselle in a grave degree,"
broke in the count, suddenly glaring. "My friends will lose no time in
waiting on you."
The American swung round with one of those rapid, definite movements
so habitual with him.
"Don't trouble your friends," he replied. "We can do without them.
Come up and fly with me right away. We'll toss a quarter to decide who
"It would be madness!" exclaimed the count, and his jaw dropped.
"Then kindly mind your own business," said Monsieur Power, chewing
again on his grass stem, and talking through his teeth. "Now, Ella,
time's up! Am I to go?"
The girl bit her lip, and seemed to struggle vainly for a reply, but
the look in her eyes would have withered any man less accustomed to
strife than this iron-jawed young soldier of fortune from Wall Street.
In my turn, anger seized me as I saw her hesitate.
"You will pardon a further interruption, monsieur," I cried. "I can
permit no such madness on my flying ground, and no such discourtesy to
I beckoned the head mechanician.
"You will at once remove to a hangar the biplane of Monsieur Power," I
told him, "and disconnect the ignition. Should he attempt to enter the
nacelle again, you will cause him to evacuate it in march time and
"And the first dago that tries it will get hurt," added Monsieur Power
"It's cowardly, Jack!" she cried hotly. "It's unworthy of you, a
childish bluff like this!"
He must have been planning all the time how he would spring into his
seat and start the motor, for when I looked round he was already
there, and the great tractor screw was spinning as the exhaust
spluttered viciously, making it impossible to reach him except from
behind. With all my legs I ran round to the tail, calling upon the
mechanicians to aid me.
Too late! The exhaust ripped out as he whipped his motor into her full
horse power, and he leaped into the teeth of the wind with a swerve
that almost tore off his lower plane against the ground.
"Imbecile!" I roared, but he no longer heard me. To save myself from
a violent collision with his tail planes I was compelled to cling
desperately to the frail wood and wire girder of the fuselage, and
it was in this position that I was carried the length of the flying
ground. The gale tore at my hair and distended my cheeks, the turf
slipped away beneath me as smooth as green water in the speed of his
mad attempt to force the machine into the air.
Slowly and with extreme care I edged my way inch by inch along the
fuselage toward the main planes and the pilot's seat. Casting back a
glance I saw the hangars, a mere white bar across the plain. A few
spectators who had pursued us in a desultory, ineffectual manner stood
now at long intervals in our wake, and gesticulated spasmodically.
The next moment we ran into a hollow, and they were lost to view
behind the grassy slope.
It was then that the young American looked behind him for the first
time, and realized that he had a passenger. Promptly he throttled down
his engine into a slow splutter, and turned in his seat as the machine
came to a standstill.
"I suppose you've had an uncomfortable minute or two," he grinned.
"But it really wasn't your affair. I am perfectly entitled to fly
whenever I feel like it."
Pleading that the roar of the motor had deafened me, I climbed up onto
the passenger seat.
"It is beyond doubt, monsieur, that you are sane," I said. "But it is
equally certain that you propose the act of a madman. Fortunately I
have accompanied you, and it is impossible to rise from the ground
with my weight on the tail, and my grip upon the elevator wires."
"Meaning that you refuse to let me ascend?"
"But why?" he demanded. "Do you want Miss Warren to think that I was
only bluffing, after all? I promised to show her something startling,
and I'm going ahead with it."
"To begin with, it would be suicide," I rejoined. "In addition, you
would be inflicting gratuitous distress upon mademoiselle."
At this he rose from his seat with the first sign of emotion I had
seen in his manner.
"And what is it that she has inflicted for months on me?" he demanded
hotly. "And on her father, too, and on all her friends? We can't pick
up a newspaper any day, without going cold with fear that we will read
of her maimed or dead in some accident. After all, it's only her own
He took off the black leather helmet, placed it on the seat, and wiped
the motor grease from his brow. When he spoke again, it was in the
even tones of a man who issues an ultimatum against an intolerable
"There has been altogether too much of this flying business. It's no
game for a girl. There is getting to be too much of this count thing.
We don't want his sort around here. I've known Ella Warren since she
was as big as a glass of milk! Do you think I am going to stand down
for the first scented dago—forgive me if I speak disrespectfully of
your countryman—whom she chooses to bring across the Atlantic at her
heels? No, sir! It has to be stopped somewhere."
He halted a moment, and regarded me carefully. I could see that he was
measuring with his eye the distance between us.
"I'm going to scare her stiff," he said, nodding. "Get down off this
plane, Monsieur Lacroix!"
"Pardon me," I replied, with a low bow. "But that is for you to do."
And before he could seize me, with one blow of the foot planted
suddenly in his chest I shot the young Monsieur Power squarely off his
biplane onto the grass. Even as he measured his long length on the
ground, I had seized the controls, and the aeroplane spurted fifty
yards ahead of him. Ever since he had removed the black casquette, a
wild idea, of a dramatic quality irresistible, had formed itself in my
brain. I now seized the helmet and thrust it down upon my own head.
"It shall be finished as you wish," I cried. "But it is I, Lacroix,
who am best qualified for the task!"
For I had seen, during that wild flight over the ground as I clung to
the frail framework of the tail, a figure that I loved—a figure in
brown, tall and graceful before the white hangars, a figure that
clasped its hands in terror. And some instinct told me that the life
of this Monsieur Power was necessary to the happiness of my beloved
mademoiselle. I knew also that I alone without undue risk might break
down the barrier of iron pride that had arisen between these two
autocratic young people.
Qu'est-ce que tu veux que je te dise? I might have paid more heavily
for the mad intoxication of that last flight. In a month or two I
shall be again aloft.
I have often maintained that sooner or later a moment of emotion, of
sheer joy in the struggle and risk, will cause the soberest pilot to
throw discretion to the winds. It was so in this case.
Parbleu! I leap, I dive, I twist in figures of eight, I fight my
way by inches against the wind, and, turning, I shoot back upon its
current with the speed of a projectile. I am shaken and buffeted until
I gasp for breath. I swerve, I dance, I caracole—I pirouette on a
wing tip, catching my side slips on the rudder as one plays cup and
ball. I dangle myself at the end of a single wire on the brink of
eternity, crying defiance to the winds! C'était de la folie—the
madness of battle. Far below me I could see an occasional spectator
running like a rabbit, grotesquely waving his arms.
"Oh, yes, he is doubtless clever, this Power," I cry in my pride. "But
he is, after all, nothing but a buzzard. It is I, Lacroix, who am
alone veritable king of the air!"
Coquin de sort! I do not know exactly when the wire controlling the
right aileron parted. I became aware merely that that side of the
machine canted downward and refused to rise again in response to the
lever. Like a flash, I thrust forward the elevator, hoping to reach
the earth by a glide. But I arrived by a quicker maneuver—a whirling
gust, a tourbillon of the most terrific, hurled the biplane sidelong
The man who has been accustomed to face death meets it at last with a
gentle sneer on his lip, as one who is vanquished by an enemy whom he
knows to be in reality his inferior.
"So here he is at last, then, this Death," I said to myself. "Well,
let us see what he will do!"
And in that instant the graceful biplane crashed into splinters, and I
lay pinned in the wreckage beneath a shroud of torn white canvas. In
the black casquette, later, they discovered a hole two inches wide,
torn by the jagged edge of a broken stay.
I found them at my bedside when I awoke some days later, my
Mademoiselle Warren and Monsieur Power. They leaned together, arm in
arm, upon the rail at the foot, and the lovely face of my dear pupil
was radiant with sympathy and happiness.
"Ha! What is it that it is, then?" I demand.
"Mr. Power won," said Miss Warren.
The young broker smiled with all his teeth.
"But he was unfairly abetted by a certain Monsieur Lacroix," went on
Miss Warren. "That was a terrible practical joke you played on me with
the black casquette, you know. They carried us away in the same auto,
and they tell me that I looked as lifeless as you."
"And now I have lost my pupil!" I exclaimed ruefully.
"Dear Monsieur Lacroix, I had no choice," she responded, and moved to
the bedside and held my hand. "I cannot oppose the wishes of all the
people I love. Besides, it is a fair bargain. We have promised each
other, Mr. Power and I, never to fly again."
"It is in one way a pity," I murmured. "For monsieur is without
doubt a species of born birdman. But any one would make a parallel
renunciation to stand in his shoes."
"You are dangerously romantic, Monsieur Jules," said mademoiselle. "If
it were not your supreme virtue, it would be your principal fault."
"Too true, mademoiselle," I replied. "But it cannot be denied that I
am at the same time a very pretty flier."
It was not until some time after they had departed that I found upon
the table among my medicines two envelopes. One, small and dainty, was
a formal announcement of the fiançailles of Miss Warren and the
young Monsieur Power. The other, long and of an official shape,
contained—ah, what do you guess?
It was a draft of the incorporation of a company to control my flying
schools, and realize my dream of the all-steel monoplane of stability
positively automatic. At the head I read the names of Messieurs Warren
and Power as guarantors. There remain only blank spaces requiring my
Bien alors! In a few days more I shall be able to hold a pen!