Back | Next



MR. Tommy Bighead,” announced the boy and disappeared. Tommy stood in the presence of short, slight, unassuming gentleman whose age was a matter of conjecture. His well-kept little grey beard and thin, closely wrinkled face formed a striking contrast with his animated eyes which, sparkling with youthful vivacity through horn-rimmed glasses, compelled one’s attention.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Tommy more politely than was his custom. “There must be mistake. I wanted to see Mr. Hardt.”

“I am her. What can I do for you?”

Tommy scrutinized the face of the grey-haired man, shook his head and said: “Do you know me, sir?”

“You are Mr. Tommy Bighead from the Michigan Evening Post,” answered the other, smiling. “You sent me your card.”

“True! But you have seen me once before, sIr?”

“I have only just had the honor of making your acquaintance.”

“Then you can’t be the Mr. Hans Hardt I’m looking for.”

“I am certainly not the one. My name is Alexander Hardt— Doctor Alexander Hardt—I am a German archeologist, and I intend to go to New York to-night in order to make the fast boat to Hamburg. Does that suit you, Mr. Bighead?”

“Oh,” said Tommy thoughtfully, shifting from one foot to the other. He hesitated a moment before asking the all important question: “Do you know your namesake, Hans Hardt, Professor?”

With throbbing pulse, Tommy waited in feverish anxiety for the reply. He was resigned to encountering new difficulties in hearing an indifferent negative reply; though he was by no means willing to let himself be put off the scent with subterfuges. He had prepared plenty of questions to get the truth out of this German.

Great was Tommy’s surprise when Dr. Hardt calmly answered: “Yes, Hans Hardt is my nephew. If you want to talk with him, you are too late. He was here-in the city-this morning, but”—looking at his wristwatch—”soon now he will be in Germany. Won’t you be seated, Mr. Bighead?”

Tommy sat down in the easy chair proffered him, and looked helplessly around. To discover thus near at hand the key to the mystery which he was attempting to unravel was the one possibility on which he had not counted, and now that he was on the threshold of a solution of the puzzle, the unbelievable happened! Tommy Bighead, the smartest reporter in the State of Michigan, did not know what question to ask first.

“M-M-M-Mr. Hardt,” stammered Tommy, “if y-y-you had t-ttold this to s-s-somebody else, he would have telephoned for an alienist.”

”It is a consolation to me, Mr. Bighead, that you have a more flattering opinion of me. Do you want to ask anything more?”

Tommy experienced an inexplicable shyness before this small, shrunken man, and for some reason he felt oppressed under the searching gaze of the scientist’s keen eyes.

“Hans Hardt, then, has really flown from Germany to the United States in an hour and a half?” he inquired, still doubting.

“Yes, from Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance to Detroit it took him exactly ninety minutes.”

Excitedly the reporter went on with his questions: “How is it possible that an East to West hop was accomplished in such an unbelievably short time? Is Hans Hardt omnipotent that he can control the storms on the sea that arise from the West?”

“Certainly not! But he has traveled over a route which is free from storms.”

“I can’t exactly imagine where one is to find such a route. Dr. Hardt thoughtfully tapped his fingertips together.

“Well, at an altitude of more than forty-five thousand feet, for instance, Mr. Bighead, every perceptible air current stops.”

“What do you say!” burst from Tommy.

“Then he has also broken the former altitude record!”

The scientist smiled.

“Yet, at an altitude of nine miles it would be impossible to travel six thousand miles in an hour and a half. No machine in the world could overcome the resistance of the air, which, at such a speed would be prodigious. No, Hans Hardt had to go much higher! I should judge that for a stretch he flew five hundred miles above the rainbow.”

The reporter presented a picture of total perplexity.

“But, Dr. Hardt,” he cried, “you’re raving. At that altitude there is no more air, and—if there is...”

“You are quite right, Mr. Bighead. The trajectory of flight ran for the most part in the non-resisting void outside of the atmospheric belt around the earth. And that is the whole secret of this unprecedented speed in traveling.”

For a time there was perfect silence in the room. Tommy gulped as though he had swallowed the wrong way

“I must confess, sir,” he then said, “that I am beginning to doubt my own sanity. It is quite clear to me that greater speed is possible in a void than in atmosphere which opposes resistance to all motion. But how can a flying machine stay up in a void? The whole theory of flying, according to my knowledge, is based on the fact that wings are supported by air. I will drink Lake Erie dry if any flying machine does not instantly break up on entering the void.”

Tommy Bighead had spoken positively in his eagerness. Dr. Hardt made no answer. He arose, took a tightly stuffed pillow from the divan, and went to the extreme end of the smoking room.

“Look out! Catch it! There you are!”

And in a high curve he threw the pillow in Tommy’s direction.

The reporter was not quick enough, however, and the pillow landed on his head.

“I beg your pardon,” he growled. “What are you trying to prove?”

“I am demonstrating to you, Mr. Bighead, how an object can fly without wings,” replied the scientist, resuming his seat opposite Tommy. “Do you believe that this pillow required the air in the room to travel the distance from my hand to your—excuse me— head, where it landed?”

“No,” said Tommy in surprise. Hardt laughed.

“Then take back immediately your promise to drink Lake Erie dry. The disadvantage might be yours.”

“The deuce,” muttered the reporter, while he tugged at his collar as though it were choking him. “I’m tumbling. Hans Hardt did not exactly fly over the ocean, but was shot over to us in a high curve from Germany.”

He looked impatiently at the German, and, as the latter nodded an affirmative, he jumped up.

“Then bet with me, sir,” he cried, and his reporter’s effrontery again came into evidence. “If I tell my readers in to-morrow morning’s edition that a human being has been shot over here from a big gun, I’ll be lynched and be a dead man by noon.”

“You should not tell your readers such unplausible tales, Mr. Bighead!”

Tommy Bighead became tense.

“So, you’ve been making a fool of me. Darned if I can’t play at that game, too.”

“How is that? You must admit that the huge gun is your own invention. Did I say anything about a huge gun?”

“No,” curtly replied Tommy. “Probably it was a bird-shot gun.”

Dr. Hardt deliberated for a moment. Finally, in a tone sharply contrasting with his previous mildness, he said: “Will you cease your little pleasantries, Mr. Bighead, or shall we terminate this interview?”

Tommy hastened to reply in an apologetic tone. “I’m sorry, Dr. Hardt. But what you’ve been saying is beyond me.”

“Not at all, if you would take the trouble to think about it. Had my nephew been shot upward by a great cannon, he most certainly would have been blown to pieces by the violence of the circulation of your paper will doubtless be doubled when your article on Hans Hardt appears.”

“It’s a pity you won’t tell me what alcohol has to do with all this. That’s the thing that would go big in America. I’m only afraid nobody will believe the story, and then where will Tommy Bighead’s reputation be?”

“They will have to believe it. You have incontestable proof. Did you notice the newspaper wrapped around the bottle?”

“That’s so. To-day’s paper from Germany proves something. You’re right. Nobody can question the evidence.”

“I am glad you noticed the newspaper. My nephew could not very well call your attention to it at the time. If he had done so, you would have followed him, and he wanted especially to avoid that. Nobody, except a few of the initiated, was permitted to see the machine.”

Tommy failed to mention that he had seen it, though his glimpse had been but a fleeting one.

“How was it, then,” he queried in open wonderment, “that such an undertaking was kept quiet?”

“That is simple. Everybody who knew about it kept quiet.”

“Then how do you happen to be telling me about it? Don’t forget you haven’t made me promise to keep quiet.”

“You may say or write as much as you see fit. Now that the first attempt has been successful and my nephew’s machine has left this country, there is no longer any necessity of withholding the facts regarding it. Quite the contrary. We now want the public to know all about it, for we need capital to construct a larger machine. The enterprise which my nephew has next in view will require thousands of dollars, and the private means heretofore at our disposal are nearly exhausted.”

Galvanized by a sudden inspiration, Tommy leaned eagerly forward.

“You need money, Mr. Hardt?” The scientist nodded.

“How much?”

“At least fifty thousand dollars.”

“Good! I’ll see that you get two hundred and fifty thousand dollars,” said Tommy, without hesitation.

“From what source?”

“From the trust to which the Michigan Evening Post belongs.”

“We would not want to consider assistance of that kind,” replied Dr. Hardt somewhat coldly. “My nephew’s work has been and will continue to be a private enterprise.”

“That’s all right,” agreed Tommy in some amusement. “The money will be given to you, you may do with it whatever you like, and you will be held accountable for it to no one.”

“But there must be some condition. Nobody gives away two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for nothing.”

“Of course not, Mr. Hardt. However, my condition won’t be much of an obstacle to you.”

“And that is?” asked the Doctor, obviously interested.

“That you continue to keep your project a secret, and refuse to give any information to or to be interviewed by the newspapers. You must cable your nephew immediately to say nothing until you have seen him. Let’s hope in the meantime that not too much has leaked out to the public.”

“Is this assurance the only thing you want in exchange for such a large sum?”

“No. Another little condition has to be included,” said Tommy, with a smile of satisfaction. “Your nephew will continue his work in secrecy. In spite of that, every newspaper will write about him and about what he is doing. And where will the newspapers get their information? From Hans Hardt’s only authorized representative—Tommy Bighead. And he,” added Tommy triumphantly, “will set the price so high that he will make a nice little profit on the investment. That’s the proposition.”

Hardt hesitated.

“Your proposal is worth considering, Mr. Bighead,” he said thoughtfully. “I cannot, however, make any decision without my nephew’s approval.”

“Well, why don’t you postpone your trip till to-morrow and send your nephew a cable. I’ll put it through as a press cablegram, which will go much quicker. We could have an answer in five hours. In the meantime, I’ll talk with my chief, Mr. Tiller, and get his O.K. on the amount. Then if Hans Hardt agrees, we will start together for Germany to-morrow. Is it a go?”

Dr. Hardt’s expression betrayed astonishment at the dispatch with which this brisk young American settled matters. In any event, the proposition seemed advantageous and he accepted it.

“One thing more, Dr. Hardt,” said Tommy, as he arose to take leave. “Won’t you tell me in advance what the next venture is to be? Is it, by any chance, a non-stop flight to Australia?”

“Farther, much farther than that!”

“Oh, I get you!” exclaimed Tommy quickly.

“He will make a non-stop trip around the world. That will be a wonderful accomplishment.”

Hardt shook his head, smiling mysteriously.

“Farther! Much farther!” he slowly repeated.

“Farther still?” stammered Tommy, nonplused. “It’s impossible to go farther than that.”


The German went up to the reporter and, looking him steadily in the eye, said: “You are the first outsider to learn of it, Mr. Bighead. This hop across the Atlantic was nothing but a test flight, a mere tryout, like the feeble grasshopper jumps with which the Wright brothers inaugurated flying thirty years ago.”

“And your ultimate destination?” asked Tommy eagerly.

“Is a journey to—the Universe. Hans Hardt will be the first man to leave this planet.”

Slowly and emphatically Dr. Hardt made this arresting statement, and his eyes beamed with pride in his extraordinary nephew.

“Good heavens!” And Tommy Bighead collapsed in silence.

Back | Next