by Jack London
PETER WINN lay back comfortably in a library chair, with closed
eyes, deep in the cogitation of a scheme of campaign destined
in the near future to make a certain coterie of hostile
financiers sit up. The central idea had come to him the night
before, and he was now reveling in the planning of the remoter,
minor details. By obtaining control of a certain up-country
bank, two general stores, and several logging camps, he could
come into control of a certain dinky jerkwater line which shall
here be nameless, but which, in his hands, would prove the key
to a vastly larger situation involving more main-line mileage
almost than there were spikes in the aforesaid dinky jerkwater.
It was so simple that he had almost laughed aloud when it came
to him. No wonder those astute and ancient enemies of his had
passed it by.
The library door opened, and a slender, middle-aged man,
weak-eyed and eye glassed, entered. In his hands was an
envelope and an open letter. As Peter Winn's secretary it was
his task to weed out, sort, and classify his employer's mail.
"This came in the morning post," he ventured apologetically and
with the hint of a titter. "Of course it doesn't amount to
anything, but I thought you would like to see it."
"Read it," Peter Winn commanded, without opening his eyes.
The secretary cleared his throat.
"It is dated July seventeenth, but is without address. Postmark
San Francisco. It is also quite illiterate. The spelling is
atrocious. Here it is:
Mr. Peter Winn,
SIR: I send you respectfully by express a pigeon worth good
money. She's a loo-loo--"
"What is a loo-loo?" Peter Winn interrupted.
The secretary tittered.
"I'm sure I don't know, except that it must be a superlative of
some sort. The letter continues:
Please freight it with a couple of thousand-dollar bills and
let it go. If you do I wont never annoy you no more. If you
dont you will be sorry.
"That is all. It is unsigned. I thought it would amuse you."
"Has the pigeon come?" Peter Winn demanded.
"I'm sure I never thought to enquire."
"Then do so."
In five minutes the secretary was back.
"Yes, sir. It came this morning."
"Then bring it in."
The secretary was inclined to take the affair as a practical
joke, but Peter Winn, after an examination of the pigeon,
"Look at it," he said, stroking and handling it. "See the
length of the body and that elongated neck. A proper carrier. I
doubt if I've ever seen a finer specimen. Powerfully winged and
muscled. As our unknown correspondent remarked, she is a
loo-loo. It's a temptation to keep her."
The secretary tittered.
"Why not? Surely you will not let it go back to the writer of
Peter Winn shook his head.
"I'll answer. No man can threaten me, even anonymously or in
On a slip of paper he wrote the succinct message, "Go to hell,"
signed it, and placed it in the carrying apparatus with which
the bird had been thoughtfully supplied.
"Now we'll let her loose. Where's my son? I'd like him to see
"He's down in the workshop. He slept there last night, and had
his breakfast sent down this morning."
"He'll break his neck yet," Peter Winn remarked, half-fiercely,
half-proudly, as he led the way to the veranda.
Standing at the head of the broad steps, he tossed the pretty
creature outward and upward. She caught herself with a quick
beat of wings, fluttered about undecidedly for a space, then
rose in the air.
Again, high up, there seemed indecision; then, apparently
getting her bearings, she headed east, over the oak-trees that
dotted the park-like grounds.
"Beautiful, beautiful," Peter Winn murmured. "I almost wish I
had her back."
But Peter Winn was a very busy man, with such large plans in
his head and with so many reins in his hands that he quickly
forgot the incident. Three nights later the left wing of his
country house was blown up. It was not a heavy explosion, and
nobody was hurt, though the wing itself was ruined. Most of the
windows of the rest of the house were broken, and there was a
deal of general damage. By the first ferry boat of the morning
half a dozen San Francisco detectives arrived, and several
hours later the secretary, in high excitement, erupted on Peter
"It's come!" the secretary gasped, the sweat beading his
forehead and his eyes bulging behind their glasses.
"What has come?" Peter demanded. "It--the--the loo-loo bird."
Then the financier understood.
"Have you gone over the mail yet?"
"I was just going over it, sir."
"Then continue, and see if you can find another letter from our
mysterious friend, the pigeon fancier."
The letter came to light. It read:
Mr. Peter Winn,
HONORABLE SIR: Now dont be a fool. If youd came through, your
shack would not have blew up--I beg to inform you respectfully,
am sending same pigeon. Take good care of same, thank you. Put
five one thousand dollar bills on her and let her go. Dont feed
her. Dont try to follow bird. She is wise to the way now and
makes better time. If you dont come through, watch out.
Peter Winn was genuinely angry. This time he indited no message
for the pigeon to carry. Instead, he called in the detectives,
and, under their advice, weighted the pigeon heavily with shot.
Her previous flight having been eastward toward the bay, the
fastest motor-boat in Tiburon was commissioned to take up the
chase if it led out over the water.
But too much shot had been put on the carrier, and she was
exhausted before the shore was reached. Then the mistake was
made of putting too little shot on her, and she rose high in
the air, got her bearings and started eastward across San
Francisco Bay. She flew straight over Angel Island, and here
the motor-boat lost her, for it had to go around the island.
That night, armed guards patrolled the grounds. But there was
no explosion. Yet, in the early morning Peter Winn learned by
telephone that his sister's home in Alameda had been burned to
Two days later the pigeon was back again, coming this time by
freight in what had seemed a barrel of potatoes. Also came
Mr. Peter Winn,
RESPECTABLE SIR: It was me that fixed yr sisters house. You
have raised hell, aint you. Send ten thousand now. Going up all
the time. Dont put any more handicap weights on that bird. You
sure cant follow her, and its cruelty to animals.
Peter Winn was ready to acknowledge himself beaten. The
detectives were powerless, and Peter did not know where next
the man would strike--perhaps at the lives of those near and
dear to him. He even telephoned to San Francisco for ten
thousand dollars in bills of large denomination. But Peter had
a son, Peter Winn, Junior, with the same firm-set jaw as his
fathers,, and the same knitted, brooding determination in his
eyes. He was only twenty-six, but he was all man, a secret
terror and delight to the financier, who alternated between
pride in his son's aeroplane feats and fear for an untimely and
"Hold on, father, don't send that money," said Peter Winn,
Junior. "Number Eight is ready, and I know I've at last got
that reefing down fine. It will work, and it will revolutionize
flying. Speed--that's what's needed, and so are the large
sustaining surfaces for getting started and for altitude. I've
got them both. Once I'm up I reef down. There it is. The
smaller the sustaining surface, the higher the speed. That was
the law discovered by Langley. And I've applied it. I can rise
when the air is calm and full of holes, and I can rise when its
boiling, and by my control of my plane areas I can come pretty
close to making any speed I want. Especially with that new
"You'll come pretty close to breaking your neck one of these
days," was his father's encouraging remark.
"Dad, I'll tell you what I'll come pretty close to-ninety miles
an hour--Yes, and a hundred. Now listen! I was going to make a
trial tomorrow. But it won't take two hours to start today.
I'll tackle it this afternoon. Keep that money. Give me the
pigeon and I'll follow her to her loft where ever it is. Hold
on, let me talk to the mechanics."
He called up the workshop, and in crisp, terse sentences gave
his orders in a way that went to the older man's heart. Truly,
his one son was a chip off the old block, and Peter Winn had no
meek notions concerning the intrinsic value of said old block.
Timed to the minute, the young man, two hours later, was ready
for the start. In a holster at his hip, for instant use, cocked
and with the safety on, was a large-caliber automatic pistol.
With a final inspection and overhauling he took his seat in the
aeroplane. He started the engine, and with a wild burr of gas
explosions the beautiful fabric darted down the launching ways
and lifted into the air. Circling, as he rose, to the west, he
wheeled about and jockeyed and maneuvered for the real start of
This start depended on the pigeon. Peter Winn held it. Nor was
it weighted with shot this time. Instead, half a yard of bright
ribbon was firmly attached to its leg--this the more easily to
enable its flight being followed. Peter Winn released it, and
it arose easily enough despite the slight drag of the ribbon.
There was no uncertainty about its movements. This was the
third time it had made particular homing passage, and it knew
At an altitude of several hundred feet it straightened out and
went due cast. The aeroplane swerved into a straight course
from its last curve and followed. The race was on. Peter Winn,
looking up, saw that the pigeon was outdistancing the machine.
Then he saw something else. The aeroplane suddenly and
instantly became smaller. It had reefed. Its high-speed
plane-design was now revealed. Instead of the generous spread
of surface with which it had taken the air, it was now a lean
and hawklike monoplane balanced on long and exceedingly narrow
. . . . . .
When young Winn reefed down so suddenly, he received a
surprise. It was his first trial of the new device, and while
he was prepared for increased speed he was not prepared for
such an astonishing increase. It was better than he dreamed,
and, before he knew it, he was hard upon the pigeon. That
little creature, frightened by this, the most monstrous hawk it
had ever seen, immediately darted upward, after the manner of
pigeons that strive always to rise above a hawk.
In great curves the monoplane followed upward, higher and
higher into the blue. It was difficult, from underneath to see
the pigeon. and young Winn dared not lose it from his sight. He
even shook out his reefs in order to rise more quickly. Up, up
they went, until the pigeon, true to its instinct, dropped and
struck at what it to be the back of its pursuing enemy. Once
was enough, for, evidently finding no life in the smooth cloth
surface of the machine, it ceased soaring and straightened out
on its eastward course.
A carrier pigeon on a passage can achieve a high rate of speed,
and Winn reefed again. And again, to his satisfaction, be found
that he was beating the pigeon. But this time he quickly shook
out a portion of his reefed sustaining surface and slowed down
in time. From then on he knew he had the chase safely in hand,
and from then on a chant rose to his lips which he continued to
sing at intervals, and unconsciously, for the rest of the
passage. It was: "Going some; going some; what did I tell
Even so, it was not all plain sailing. The air is an unstable
medium at best, and quite without warning, at an acute angle,
he entered an aerial tide which he recognized as the gulf
stream of wind that poured through the drafty-mouthed Golden
Gate. His right wing caught it first--a sudden, sharp puff that
lifted and tilted the monoplane and threatened to capsize it.
But he rode with a sensitive "loose curb," and quickly, but not
too quickly, he shifted the angles of his wing-tips, depressed
the front horizontal rudder, and swung over the rear vertical
rudder to meet the tilting thrust of the wind. As the machine
came back to an even keel, and he knew that he was now wholly
in the invisible stream, he readjusted the wing-tips, rapidly
away from him during the several moments of his discomfiture.
The pigeon drove straight on for the Alameda County shore, and
it was near this shore that Winn had another experience. He
fell into an air-hole. He had fallen into air-holes before, in
previous flights, but this was a far larger one than he had
ever encountered. With his eyes strained on the ribbon attached
to the pigeon, by that fluttering bit of color he marked his
fall. Down he went, at the pit of his stomach that old sink
sensation which he had known as a boy he first negotiated
quick-starting elevators. But Winn, among other secrets of
aviation, had learned that to go up it was sometimes necessary
first to go down. The air had refused to hold him. Instead of
struggling futilely and perilously against this lack of
sustension, he yielded to it. With steady head and hand, he
depressed the forward horizontal rudder--just recklessly enough
and not a fraction more--and the monoplane dived head foremost
and sharply down the void. It was falling with the keenness of
a knife-blade. Every instant the speed accelerated frightfully.
Thus he accumulated the momentum that would save him. But few
instants were required, when, abruptly shifting the double
horizontal rudders forward and astern, he shot upward on the
tense and straining plane and out of the pit.
At an altitude of five hundred feet, the pigeon drove on over
the town of Berkeley and lifted its flight to the Contra Costa
hills. Young Winn noted the campus and buildings of the
University of California--his university--as he rose after the
Once more, on these Contra Costa hills, he early came to grief.
The pigeon was now flying low, and where a grove of eucalyptus
presented a solid front to the wind, the bird was suddenly sent
fluttering wildly upward for a distance of a hundred feet. Winn
knew what it meant. It had been caught in an air-surf that beat
upward hundreds of feet where the fresh west wind smote the
upstanding wall of the grove. He reefed hastily to the
uttermost, and at the same time depressed the angle of his
flight to meet that upward surge. Nevertheless, the monoplane
was tossed fully three hundred feet before the danger was left
Two or more ranges of hills the pigeon crossed, and then Winn
saw it dropping down to a landing where a small cabin stood in
a hillside clearing. He blessed that clearing. Not only was it
good for alighting, but, on account of the steepness of the
slope, it was just the thing for rising again into the air.
A man, reading a newspaper, had just started up at the sight of
the returning pigeon, when be heard the burr of Winn's engine
and saw the huge monoplane, with all surfaces set, drop down
upon him, stop suddenly on an air-cushion manufactured on the
spur of the moment by a shift of the horizontal rudders, glide
a few yards, strike ground, and come to rest not a score of
feet away from him. But when he saw a young man, calmly sitting
in the machine and leveling a pistol at him, the man turned to
run. Before he could make the comer of the cabin, a bullet
through the leg brought him down in a sprawling fall.
"What do you want!" he demanded sullenly, as the other stood
"I want to take you for a ride in my new machine," Winn
answered. "Believe me, she is a loo-loo."
The man did not argue long, for this strange visitor had most
convincing ways. Under Winn's instructions, covered all the
time by the pistol, the man improvised a tourniquet and applied
it to his wounded leg. Winn helped him to a seat in the
machine, then went to the pigeon-loft and took possession of
the bird with the ribbon still fast to its leg.
A very tractable prisoner, the man proved. Once up in the air,
he sat close, in an ecstasy of fear. An adept at winged
blackmail, he had no aptitude for wings himself, and when he
gazed down at the flying land and water far beneath him, he did
not feel moved to attack his captor, now defenseless, both
hands occupied with flight.
Instead, the only way the man felt moved was to sit closer.
. . . . . .
Peter Winn, Senior, scanning the heavens with powerful glasses,
saw the monoplane leap into view and grow large over the rugged
backbone of Angel Island. Several minutes later he cried out to
the waiting detectives that the machine carried a passenger.
Dropping swiftly and piling up an abrupt air-cushion, the
"That reefing device is a winner!" young Winn cried, as he
climbed out. "Did you see me at the start? I almost ran over
the pigeon. Going some, dad! Going some! What did I tell you?
"But who is that with you?" his father demanded.
The young man looked back at his prisoner and remembered.
"Why, that's the pigeon-fancier," he said. "I guess the
officers can take care of him."
Peter Winn gripped his son's hand in grim silence, and fondled
the pigeon which his son had passed to him. Again he fondled
the pretty creature. Then he spoke.
"Exhibit A, for the People," he said.