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Adventure, August 1911

THE CONJUROR OF THE CLOUDS

By Muriel A. Pollexfen

A Gray Ghost Story

GRAY GHOST hung like a great shadow in the midst of the lumbering banks of storm- foretelling clouds—a vast shadow of luminous gray, her long, pointed nose thrust and smothered into a curling, encroaching cloud, her shining deck of steel looking like a pathway of bright light across the darker heavens.

The sun was at its zenith of early morning glory and shed a rosy brilliance on all the polished metals of the airship, on the innumerable levers, the countless buttons controlling unseen mechanism, making the narrow length of slippery deck appear a bar of glittering ore.

Gray Ghost! Alsopp Ostermann's wonderful airship Gray Ghost! A thing of magic, a thing of colossal power, a thing of menace and the powers of evil, but still a thing of perfect beauty and the perfect expression of a master mind!

No wonder the man himself thrilled to the very soul as he stepped up on deck from below and surveyed the work of his genius lying motionless as a resting bird upon a nest of white-tipped clouds. No wonder he cherished resentment against the airship's enemies and that black hatred filled his heart as he thought of the two men in the cabin below whom he had caused to be abducted the night before and whom he intended to murder in cold blood as soon as they recovered their senses from the effects of the drug which had been administered to them. Two men who had been Gray Ghost's most active and dangerous enemies and who had schemed and plotted and striven to trap him a dozen times and once or twice all but succeeded—perilously nearly succeeded!

Yes, Algy Brett and Sir Dean Densham had been the greatest source of danger and anxiety and even now Ostermann marveled how his luck had held so long against the success of their well- planned attempts to capture. Even now he shuddered to remember the narrowness of his escape from the house behind the boarding and the hut among the sandhills at Formby; and, even as he remembered, his teeth gritted together in impotent rage at the failure of the schemes which should have, by this time, made him the most powerful man on earth.

"But I've got them now!" he muttered grimly, his green coyote's eyes bulging from their colorless lids in triumph, a cruel, gloating, unholy joy of anticipation twisting and curling his thin, sucked-in lips. "I've got them now and this time they shall not escape me! This time I triumph; this time I call the tune for them to dance to! I've got them safe— roped hand and foot in the cabin there, and today I'll reward them for their vigilance!"

Ostermann laughed as he glanced backward over his shoulder at the steps which led to the interior of the airship and thought of the two poor men who would wake presently to the horrible reality that they were prisoners in their enemy's grip.

He went forward to a solitary figure stationed in the narrow bows.

"Gherston," he said abruptly, as the man turned and saluted, "I am going up to the wireless platform and I want you to go down every now and then and report to me how the prisoners are. The moment they are conscious I want them brought to me. Understand?"

"Quite, sir. Shall I call Andersen forward to take my watch and go below and keep constant guard? It would be unfortunate if one or both of them contrived to cut their bonds and escape."

Ostermann showed his yellow teeth in a snarling grin.

"Unfortunate? Unfortunate for the man who lets them get free! But as to escape—how could they? The only thing they could do would be to fling themselves overboard and rob us of the pleasure of doing it for them. And that, Gherston, would annoy me very much! I want to gloat over the suffering, mental and physical, they will endure when they hear the fate I have mapped out for them! It makes it sweeter to know that they will realize it all the better for having witnessed Carlile Darien's death. And that reminds me. When the time comes to treat Mr. Brett and Sir Dean Densham in the same manner as we treated Mr. Darien, see to it that they are searched thoroughly before being thrown overboard. Remember what disaster overtook us because we forgot the simple operation on that other occasion! Remember the betrayal of the 'seeds of destruction' episode and see to it that our great plans for next week are not frustrated through the agency of a scrap of paper. Understand?"

"Yes, sir. And what about Andersen?"

"Yes, send for Andersen, but not immediately. Until they recover from the drugs the prisoners are safe enough and Andersen did some hard work last night. Better keep on with your watch forward and go down every ten minutes. First of all see to it that their bonds are firm; no chance of working loose. I don't think there is, but still—I'm taking no chances this time."

"Good. I'll go down at once. By the way, Stoltz told me to tell you that he's got No. 3 motor running again—it was a clog of oil. He says he's ready to start at a second's notice."

"Ah, that's good hearing. Tell him to see to the others also while he has the chance. I want everything fit for this afternoon. Tell him we start about ten o'clock."

OSTERMANN turned away and mounted to the little platform where the wireless apparatus was fitted. He was some time getting an answer to his repeated calling, but at length it came, the electric flashes illuminating the tiny box-like house. "Yes, we are the Pratzlau wireless; who are you? Ostermann? Good. We've been wanting to get hold of you and have been trying for some hours. Have you any news?"

"Yes," flashed back Ostermann. "We have succeeded in getting Brett and Sir Dean and they are prisoners here on the airship. They are insensible at the present moment, but I intend putting a stop to their interfering powers the instant they are reported conscious. Even as it is, they have done harm to us. They have succeeded in rousing up the War Office and the Heads generally and if I didn't have Gray Ghost, I should be sure to be captured before many hours had passed. As it is, however, I can afford to laugh at them. They have sent aeroplanes and balloons after me, scouring the skies for me, but they might as well save themselves the bother. They won't catch me that way! Any orders?"

"Yes. The Emperor Maximilian is anxious to come over and see you himself—and to see how the scheme is pr...

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