Saturday, November 10, 2007



by H. G. WELLS
The reader should grasp clearly the date at which this book was
written. It was done in 1907: it appeared in various magazines
as a serial in 1908 and it was published in the Fall of that
year. At that time the aeroplane was, for most people, merely a
rumour and the "Sausage" held the air. The contemporary reader
has all the advantage of ten years' experience since this story
was imagined. He can correct his author at a dozen points and
estimate the value of these warnings by the standard of a decade
of realities. The book is weak on anti-aircraft guns, for
example, and still more negligent of submarines. Much, no
doubt, will strike the reader as quaint and limited but upon much
the writer may not unreasonably plume himself. The
interpretation of the German spirit must have read as a
caricature in 1908. Was it a caricature? Prince Karl seemed a
fantasy then. Reality has since copied Prince Carl with an
astonishing faithfulness. Is it too much to hope that some
democratic "Bert" may not ultimately get even with his Highness?
Our author tells us in this book, as he has told us in others,
more especially in The World Set Free, and as he has been telling
us this year in his War and the Future, that if mankind goes on
with war, the smash-up of civilization is inevitable. It is
chaos or the United States of the World for mankind. There is no
other choice. Ten years have but added an enormous conviction to
the message of this book. It remains essentially right, a
pamphlet story--in support of the League to Enforce Peace.
"This here Progress," said Mr. Tom Smallways, "it keeps on.
"You'd hardly think it could keep on," said Mr. Tom Smallways.
It was along before the War in the Air began that Mr. Smallways
made this remark. He as sitting on the fence at the end of his
garden and surveying the great Bun Hill gas-works with an eye
that neither praised nor blamed. Above the clustering gasometers
three unfamiliar shapes appeared, thin, wallowing bladders that
flapped and rolled about, and grew bigger and bigger and rounder
and rounder--balloons in course of inflation for the South of
England Aero Club's Saturday-afternoon ascent.
"They goes up every Saturday," said his neighbour, Mr. Stringer,
the milkman. "It's only yestiday, so to speak, when all London
turned out to see a balloon go over, and now every little place
in the country has its weekly-outings--uppings, rather. It's
been the salvation of them gas companies."
"Larst Satiday I got three barrer-loads of gravel off my
petaters," said Mr. Tom Smallways. "Three barrer-loads! What
they dropped as ballase. Some of the plants was broke, and some
was buried."
"Ladies, they say, goes up!"
"I suppose we got to call 'em ladies," said Mr Tom Smallways.
"Still, it ain't hardly my idea of a lady--flying about in the
air, and throwing gravel at people. It ain't what I been
accustomed to consider ladylike, whether or no."
Mr. Stringer nodded his head approvingly, and for a time they
continued to regard the swelling bulks with expressions that had
changed from indifference to disapproval.
Mr. Tom Smallways was a green-grocer by trade and a gardener by
disposition; his little wife Jessica saw to the shop, and Heaven
had planned him for a peaceful world. Unfortunately Heaven had
not planned a peaceful world for him. He lived in a world of
obstinate and incessant change, tand in parts where its
operations were unsparingly conspicuous. Vicissitude was in the
very soil he tilled; even his garden was upon a yearly tenancy,
and overshadowed by a huge board that proclaimed it not so much a
garden as an eligible building site. He was horticulture under
notice to quit, the last patch of country in a district flooded
by new and prbaa things. He did his best to console himself,
to imagine matters near the turn of the tide.
"You'd hardly think it could keep on," he said.
Mr. Smallways' aged father, could remember Bun Hill as an idyllic
Kentish village. He had driven Sir Peter Bone until he was fifty
and then he took to drink a little, and driving the station bus,
which lasted him until he was seventy-eight. Then he retired. He
sat by the fireside, a shrivelled, very, very old coachman,
full charged with reminiscences, and ready for any careless
stranger. He could tell you of the vanished estate of Sir Peter
Bone, long since cut up for building, and how that magnate ruled
the country-side when it was country-side, of shooting and
hunting, and of caches along the high road, of how "where the
gas-works is" was a cricket-field, and of the coming of the
Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace was six miles away from Bun
Hill, a great facade that glittered in the morning, and was a
clear blue outline against the sky in the afternoon, and of a
night, a source of gratuitous fireworks for all the population of
Bun Hill. And then had come the railway, and then villas and
villas, and then the gas-works and the water-works, and a great,
ugly sea of workmen's houses, and then drainage, and the water
vanished out of the Otterbourne and left it a dreadful ditch, and
then a second railway station, Bun Hill South, and more houses
and more, more shops, more competition, plate-glass shops, a
school-board, rates, omnibuses, tramcars--going right away into
London itself--bicycles, motor-cars and then more motor-cars, a
Carnegie library.
"You'd hardly think it could keep on," said Mr. Tom Smallways,
growing up among these marvels.
But it kept on. Even from the first the green-grocer's shop
which he had set up in one of the smallest of the old surviving
village houses in the tail of the High Street had a submerged
air, an air of hiding from something that was looking for it.When
they had made up the pavement of the High Street, they
levelled that up so that one had to go down three steps into the
shop. Tom did his best to sell only his own excellent but
limited range of produce; but Progress came shoving things into
his window, French artichokes and aubergines, foreign apples--
apples from the State of New York, apples from California,
apples from Canada, apples from New Zealand, "pretty lookin'
fruit, but not what I should call English apples," said Tom--
bananas, unfamiliar nuts, grape fruits, mangoes.
The motor-cars that went by northward and southward grew more and
more powerful and efficient, whizzed faster and smelt worse,
there appeared great clangorous petrol trolleys delivering coal
and parcels in the place of vanishing horse-vans, motor-omnibuses
ousted the horse-omnibuses, even the Kentish strawberries going
Londonward in the night took to machinery and clattered instead
of creaking, and became affected in flavour by progress and
And then young Bert Smallways got a motor bicycle....
Bert, it is necessary to explain, was a progressive Smallways.
Nothing speaks more eloquently of the pitiless insistence of
progress and expansion in our time than that it should get into
the Smallways blood. But there was something advanced and
enterprising about young Smallways before he was out of short
frocks. He was lost for a whole day before he was five, and
nearly drowned in the reservoir of the new water-works before he
was seven. He had a real pistol taken away from him by a real
policeman when he was ten. And he learnt to smoke, not with
pipes and brown paper and cane as Tom had done, but with a penny
packet of Boys of England American cigarettes. His language
shocked his father before he was twelve, and by that age, what
with touting for parcels at the station and selling the Bun Hill
Weekly Express, he was making three shillings a week, or more,
and spending it on Chips, Comic Cuts, Ally Sloper's Half-holiday,
cigarettes, and all the concomitants of a life of pleasure and
enlightenment. All of this without hindrance to his literary
studies, which carried him up to the seventh standard at an
exceptionally early age. I mention these things so that you may
have no doubt at all concerning the sort of stuff Bert had in
He was six years younger than Tom, and for a time there was an
attempt to utilise him in the green-grocer's shop when Tom at
twenty-one married Jessica--who was thirty, and had saved a
little money in service. But it was not Bert's forte to be
utilised. He hated digging, and when he was given a basket of
stuff to deliver, a nomadic instinct arose irresistibly, it
became his pack and he did not seem to care how heavy it was
nor where he took it, so long as he did not take it to its
destination. Glamour filled the world, and he strayed after it,
basket and all. So Tom took his goods out himself, and sought
employers for Bert who did not know of this strain of poetry in
his nature. And Bert touched the fringe of a number of trades in
succession--draper's porter, chemist's boy, doctor's page, junior
assistant gas-fitter, envelope addresser, milk-cart assistant,
golf caddie, and at last helper in a bicycle shop. Here,
apparently, he found the progressive quality his nature had
craved. His employer was a pirate-souled young man named Grubb,
with a black-smeared face by day, and a music-hall side in the
evening, who dreamt of a patent lever chain; and it seemed to
Bert that he was the perfect model of a gentleman of spirit. He
hired out quite the dirtiest and unsafest bicycles in the whole
south of England, and conducted the subsequent discussions with
astonishing verve. Bert and he settled down very well together.
Bert lived in, became almost a trick rider--he could ride
bicycles for miles that would have come to pieces instantly under
you or me--took to washing his face after business, and spent
his surplus money upon remarkable ties and collars, cigarettes,
and shorthand classes at the Bun Hill Institute.
He would go round to Tom at times, and look and talk so
brilliantly that Tom and Jessie, who both had a natural tendency
to be respectful to anybody or anything, looked up to him
"He's a go-ahead chap, is Bert," said Tom. "He knows a thing or
"Let's hope he don't know too much," said Jessica, who had a fine
sense of limitations.
"It's go-ahead Times," said Tom. "Noo petaters, and English at
that; we'll be having 'em in March if things go on as they do go.
I never see such Times. See his tie last night?"
"It wasn't suited to him, Tom. It was a gentleman's tie. He
wasn't up to it--not the rest of him, It wasn't becoming"...
Then presently Bert got a cyclist's suit, cap, badge, and all;
and to see him and Grubb going down to Brighton (and back)--heads
down, handle-bars down, backbones curved--was a revelation
in the possibilities of the Smallways blood.
Go-ahead Times!
Old Smallways would sit over the fire mumbling of the greatness
of other days, of old Sir Peter, who drove his coach to Brighton
and back in eight-and-twenty hours, of old Sir Peter's white
top-hats, of Lady Bone, who never set foot to ground except to
walk in the garden, of the great, prize-fights at Crawley. He
talked of pink and pig-skin breeches, of foxes at Ring's Bottom,
where now the County Council pauper lunatics were enclosed, of
Lady Bone's chintzes and crinolines. Nobody heeded him. The
world had thrown up a new type of gentleman altogether--a
gentleman of most ungentlemanly energy, a gentleman in dusty
oilskins and motor goggles and a wonderful cap, a stink-making
gentleman, a swift, high-class badger, who fled perpetually along
high roads from the dust and stink he perpetually made. And his
lady, as they were able to see her at Bun Hill, was a
weather-bitten goddess, as free from refinement as a gipsy--not
so much dressed as packed for transit at a high velocity.
So Bert grew up, filled with ideals of speed and enterprise, and
became, so far as he became anything, a kind of bicycle
engineer of the let's-have-a-look-at-it and enamel chipping
variety. Even a road-racer, geared to a hundred and twenty,
failed to satisfy him, and for a time he pined in vain at twenty
miles an hour along roads that were continually more dusty and
more crowded with mechanical traffic. But at last his savings
accumulated, and his chance came. The hire-purchase system
bridged a financial gap, and one bright and memorable Sunday
morning he wheeled his new possession through the shop into the
road, got on to it with the advice and assistance of Grubb, and
teuf-teuffed off into the haze of the traffic-tortured high road,
to add himself as one more voluntary public danger to the
amenities of the south of England.
"Orf to Brighton!" said old Smallways, regarding his youngest son
from the sitting-room window over the green-grocer's shop with
something between pride and reprobation. "When I was 'is age,
I'd never been to London, never bin south of Crawley--never
bin anywhere on my own where I couldn't walk. And nobody didn't
go. Not unless they was gentry. Now every body's orf
everywhere; the whole dratted country sims flying to pieces.
Wonder they all get back. Orf to Brighton indeed! Anybody want
to buy 'orses?"
"You can't say _I_ bin to Brighton, father," said Tom.
"Nor don't want to go," said Jessica sharply; "creering about and
spendin' your money."
For a time the possibilities of the motor-bicycle so occupied
Bert's mind that he remained regardless of the new direction in
which the striving soul of man was finding exercise and
refreshment. He failed to observe that the type of motor-car,
like the type of bicycle, was settling-down and losing its
adventurous quality. Indeed, it is as true as it is remarkable
that Tom was the first to observe the new development. But his
gardening made him attentive to the heavens, and the proximity of
the Bun Hill gas-works and the Crystal Palace, from which ascents
were continually being made, and presently the descent of ballast
upon his potatoes, conspired to bear in upon his unwilling mind
the fact that the Goddess of Change was turning her disturbing
attention to the sky. The first great boom in aeronautics was
Grubb and Bert heard of it in a music-hall, then it was driven
home to their minds by the cinematograph, then Bert's imagination
was stimulated by a sixpenny edition of that aeronautic classic,
Mr. George Griffith's "Clipper of the Clouds," and so the thing
really got hold of them.
At first the most obvious aspect was the multiplication of
balloons. The sky of Bun Hill began to be infested by balloons.
On Wednesday and Saturday afternoons particularly you could
scarcely look skyward for a quarter of an hour without
discovering a balloon somewhere. And then one bright day Bert,
motoring toward Croydon, was arrested by the insurgence of a
huge, bolster-shaped monster from the Crystal Palace grounds, and
obliged to dismount and watch it. It was like a bolster with a
broken nose, and below it, and comparatively small, was a stiff
framework bearing a man and an engine with a screw that whizzed
round in front and a sort of canvas rudder behind. The framework
had an air of dragging the reluctant gas-cylinder after it like a
brisk little terrier towing a shy gas-distended elephant into
society. The combined monster certainly travelled and steered.
It went overhead perhaps a thousand feet up (Bert heard the
engine), sailed away southward, vanished over the hills,
reappeared a little blue outline far off in the east, going now
very fast before a gentle south-west gale, returned above the
Crystal Palace towers, circled round them, chose a position for
descent, and sank down out of sight.
Bert sighed deeply, and turned to his motor-bicycle again.
And that was only the beginning of a succession of strange
phenomena in the heavens--cylinders, cones, pear-shaped monsters,
even at last a thing of aluminium that glittered wonderfully, and
that Grubb, through some confusion of ideas about armour plates,
was inclined to consider a war machine.
There followed actual flight.
This, however, was not an affair that was visible from Bun Hill;
it was something that occurred in private grounds or other
enclosed places and, under favourable conditions, and it was
brought home to Grubb and Bert Smallways only by means of the
magazine page of the half-penny newspapers or by cinematograph
records. But it was brought home very insistently, and in those
days if, ever one heard a man saying in a public place in a
loud, reassuring, confident tone, "It's bound to come," the
chances were ten to one he was talking of flying. And Bert got a
box lid and wrote out in correct window-ticket style, and Grubb
put in the window this inscription, "Aeroplanes made and
repaired." It quite upset Tom--it seemed taking one's shop so
lightly; but most of the neighbours, and all the sporting ones,
approved of it as being very good indeed.
Everybody talked of flying, everybody repeated over and over
again, "Bound to come," and then you know it didn't come. There
was a hitch. They flew--that was all right; they flew in
machines heavier than air. But they smashed. Sometimes they
smashed the engine, sometimes they smashed the aeronaut, usually
they smashed both. Machines that made flights of three or four
miles and came down safely, went up the next time to headlong
disaster. There seemed no possible trusting to them. The breeze
upset them, the eddies near the ground upset them, a passing
thought in the mind of the aeronaut upset them. Also they
"It's this 'stability' does 'em," said Grubb, repeating his
newspaper. "They pitch and they pitch, till they pitch
themselves to pieces."
Experiments fell away after two expectant years of this sort of
success, the public and then the newspapers tired of the
expensive photographic reproductions, the optimistic reports, the
perpetual sequence of triumph and disaster and silence. Flying
slumped, even ballooning fell away to some extent, though it
remained a fairly popular sport, and continued to lift gravel
from the wharf of the Bun Hill gas-works and drop it upon
deserving people's lawns and gardens. There were half a dozen
reassuring years for Tom--at least so far as flying was
concerned. But that was the great time of mono-rail development,
and his anxiety was only diverted from the high heavens by the
most urgent threats and symptoms of change in the lower sky.
There had been talk of mono-rails for several years. But the
real mischief began when Brennan sprang his gyroscopic mono-rail
car upon the Royal Society. It was the leading sensation of the
1907 soirees; that celebrated demonstration-room was all too
small for its exhibition. Brave soldiers leading Zionists,
deserving novelists, noble ladies, congested the narrow passage
and thrust distinguished elbows into ribs the world would not
willingly let break, deeming themselves fortunate if they could
see "just a little bit of the rail." Inaudible, but convincing,
the great inventor expounded his discovery, and sent his obedient
little model of the trains of the future up gradients, round
curves, and across a sagging wire. Itran along its single rail,
on its single wheels, simple and sufficient; it stopped, reversed
stood still, balancing perfectly. It maintained its astounding
equilibrium amidst a thunder of applause. The audience dispersed
at last, discussing how far they would enjoy crossing an abyss on
a wire cable. "Suppose the gyroscope stopped!" Few of them
anticipated a tithe of what the Brennan mono-rail would do for
their railway securities and the face of the world.
In a few, years they realised better. In a little while no one
thought anything of crossing an abyss on a wire, and the monorail
was superseding the tram-lines, railways: and indeed every
form of track for mechanical locomotion. Where land was cheap
the rail ran along the ground, where it was dear the rail lifted
up on iron standards and passed overhead; its swift, convenient
cars went everywhere and did everything that had once been done
along made tracks upon the ground.
When old Smallways died, Tom could think of nothing more striking
to say of him than that, "When he was a boy, there wasn't nothing
higher than your chimbleys--there wasn't a wire nor a cable in
the sky!"
Old SmallWays went to his grave under an intricate network of
wires and cables, for Bun Hill became not only a sort of minor
centre of power distribution--the Home Counties Power
Distribution Company set up transformers and a generating station
close beside the old gas-works--but, also a junction on the
suburban mono-rail system. Moreover, every tradesman in the
place, and indeed nearly every house, had its own telephone.
The mono-rail cable standard became a striking fact in urban
landscape, for the most part stout iron erections rather like
tapering trestles, and painted a bright bluish green. One, it
happened, bestrode Tom's house, which looked still more retiring
and apologetic beneath its immensity; and another giant stood
just inside the corner of his garden, which was still not built
upon and unchanged, except for a couple of advertisement boards,
one recommending a two-and-sixpenny watch, and one a nerve
restorer. These, by the bye, were placed almost horizontally to
catch the eye of the passing mono-rail passengers above, and so
served admirably to roof over a tool-shed and a mushroom-shed for
Tom. All day and all night the fast cars from Brighton and
Hastings went murmuring by overhead long, broad,
comfortable-looking cars, that were brightly lit after dusk. As
they flew by at night, transient flares of light and a rumbling
sound of passage, they kept up a perpetual summer lightning and
thunderstorm in the street below.
Presently the English Channel was bridged--a series of great iron
Eiffel Tower pillars carrying mono-rail cables at a height of a
hundred and fifty feet above the water, except near the middle,
where they rose higher to allow the passage of the London and
Antwerp shipping and the Hamburg-America liners.
Then heavy motor-cars began to run about on only a couple of
wheels, one behind the other, which for some reason upset Tom
dreadfully, and made him gloomy for days after the first one
passed the shop...
All this gyroscopic and mono-rail development naturally absorbed
a vast amount of public attention, and there,was also a huge
excitement consequent upon the amazing gold discoveries off the
coast of Anglesea made by a submarine prospector, Miss Patricia
Giddy. She had taken her degree in geology and mineralogy in the
University of London, and while working upon the auriferous rocks
of North Wales, after a brief holiday spent in agitating for
women's suffrage, she had been struck by the possibility of these
reefs cropping up again under the water. She had set herself to
verify this supposition by the use of the submarine crawler
invented by Doctor Alberto Cassini. By a happy mingling of
reasoning and intuition peculiar to her sex she found gold at her
first descent, and emerged after three hours' submersion with
about two hundredweight of ore containing gold in the
unparalleled quantity of seventeen ounces to the ton. But the
whole story of her submarine mining, intensely interesting as it
is, must be told at some other time; suffice it now to remark
simply that it was during the consequent great rise of prices,
confidence, and enterprise that the revival of interest in flying
It is curious how that revival began. It was like the coming of
a breeze on a quiet day; nothing started it, it came. People
began to talk of flying with an air of never having for one
moment dropped the subject. Pictures of flying and flying
machines returned to the newspapers; articles and allusions
increased and multiplied in the serious magazines. People asked
in mono-rail trains, "When are we going to fly?" A new crop of
inventors sprang up in a night or so like fungi. The Aero Club
announced the project of a great Flying Exhibition in a large
area of ground that the removal of slums in Whitechapel had
rendered available.
The advancing wave soon produced a sympathetic ripple in the Bun
Hill establishment. Grubb routed out his flying-machine model
again, tried it in the yard behind the shop, got a kind of flight
out of it, and broke seventeen panes of glass and nine
flower-pots in the greenhouse that occupied the next yard but
And then, springing from nowhere, sustained one knew not how,
came a persistent, disturbing rumour that the problem had been
solved, that the secret was known. Bert met it one early-closing
afternoon as he refreshed himself in an inn near Nutfield,
whither his motor-bicycle had brought him. There smoked and
meditated a person in khaki, an engineer, who presently took an
interest in Bert's machine. It was a sturdy piece of apparatus,
and it had acquired a kind of documentary value in these
quick-changing times; it was now nearly eight years old. Its
points discussed, the soldier broke into a new topic with, "My
next's going to be an aeroplane, so far as I can see. I've had
enough of roads and ways."
"They TORK," said Bert.
"They talk--and they do," said the soldier.
"The thing's coming--"
"It keeps ON coming," said Bert; "I shall believe when I see it."
"That won't be long," said the soldier.
The conversation seemed degenerating into an amiable wrangle of
"I tell you they ARE flying," the soldier insisted. "I see it
"We've all seen it," said Bert.
"I don't mean flap up and smash up; I mean real, safe, steady,
controlled flying, against the wind, good and right."
"You ain't seen that!"
"I 'AVE! Aldershot. They try to keep it a secret. They got it
right enough. You bet--our War Office isn't going to be
caught-napping this time."
Bert's incredulity was shaken. He asked questions- and the
soldier expanded.
"I tell you they got nearly a square mile fenced in--a sort of
valley. Fences of barbed wire ten feet high, and inside that they
do things. Chaps about the camp--now and then we get a peep. It
isn't only us neither. There's the Japanese; you bet they got, it
too--and the Germans!"
The soldier stood with his legs very wide apart, and filled his
pipe thoughtfully. Bert sat on the low wall against which his
motor-bicycle was leaning.
"Funny thing fighting'll be," he said.
"Flying's going to break out," said the soldier. "When it DOES
come, when the curtain does go up, I tell you you'll find every
one on the stage--busy.... Such fighting, too!... I suppose you
don't read the papers about this sort of thing?"
"I read 'em a bit," said Bert.
"Well, have you noticed what one might call the remarkable case
of the disappearing inventor--the inventor who turns up in a
blaze of publicity, fires off a few successful experiments, and
"Can't say I 'ave," said Bert.
"Well, I 'ave, anyhow. You get anybody come along who does
anything striking in this line, and, you bet, he vanishes. Just
goes off quietly out of sight. After a bit, you don't hear
anything more of 'em at all. See? They disappear. Gone--no
address. First--oh! it's an old story now--there was those
Wright Brothers out in America. They glided--they glided miles
and miles. Finally they glided off stage. Why, it must be
nineteen hundred and four, or five, THEY vanished! Then there
was those people in Ireland--no, I forget their names. Everybody
said they could fly. THEY went. They ain't dead that I've heard
tell; but you can't say they're alive. Not a feather of 'em can
you see. Then that chap who flew round Paris and upset in the
Seine. De Booley, was it? I forget. That was a grand fly, in
spite of the accident; but where's he got to? The accident
didn't hurt him. Eh? _'E_'s gone to cover."
The soldier prepared to light his pipe.
"Looks like a secret society got hold of them," said Bert.
"Secret society! NAW!"
The soldier lit his match, and drew. "Secret society," he
repeated, with his pipe between his teeth and the match flaring,
in response to his words. "War Departments; that's more like
it." He threw his match aside, and walked to his machine. "I
tell you, sir," he said, "there isn't a big Power in Europe, OR
Asia, OR America, OR Africa, that hasn't got at least one or two
flying machines hidden up its sleeve at the present time. Not
one. Real, workable, flying machines. And the spying! The
spying and manoeuvring to find out what the others have got. I
tell you, sir, a foreigner, or, for the matter of that, an
unaccredited native, can't get within four miles of Lydd nowadays
--not to mention our little circus at Aldershot, and the
experimental camp in Galway. No!"
"Well," said Bert, "I'd like to see one of them, anyhow. Jest to
help believing. I'll believe when I see, that I'll promise you."
"You'll see 'em, fast enough," said the soldier, and led his
machine out into the road.
He left Bert on his wall, grave and pensive, with his cap on the
back of his head, and a cigarette smouldering in the corner of
his mouth.
"If what he says is true," said Bert, "me and Grubb, we been
wasting our blessed old time. Besides incurring expense with
thet green-'ouse."
It was while this mysterious talk with the soldier still stirred
in Bert Smallways' imagination that the most astounding incident
in the whole of that dramatic chapter of human history, the
coming of flying, occurred. People talk glibly enough of
epoch-making events; this was an epoch-making event. It was the
unanticipated and entirely successful flight of Mr. Alfred
Butteridge from the Crystal Palace to Glasgow and back in a small
businesslike-looking machine heavier than air--an entirely
manageable and controllable machine that could fly as well as a
It wasn't, one felt, a fresh step forward in the matter so much
as a giant stride, a leap. Mr. Butteridge remained in the air
altogether for about nine hours, and during that time he flew
with the ease and assurance of a bird. His machine was, however
neither bird-like nor butterfly-like, nor had it the wide,
lateral expansion of the ordinary aeroplane. The effect upon the
observer was rather something in the nature of a bee or wasp.
Parts of the apparatus were spinning very rapidly, and gave one a
hazy effect of transparent wings; but parts, including two
peculiarly curved "wing-cases"--if one may borrow a figure from
the flying beetles--remained expanded stiffly. In the middle was
a long rounded body like the body of a moth, and on this Mr.
Butteridge could be seen sitting astride, much as a man bestrides
a horse. The wasp-like resemblance was increased by the fact
that the apparatus flew with a deep booming hum, exactly the
sound made by a wasp at a windowpane.
Mr. Butteridge took the world by surprise. He was one of those
gentlemen from nowhere Fate still succeeds in producing for the
stimulation of mankind. He came, it was variously said, from
Australia and America and the South of France. He was also
described quite incorrectly as the son of a man who had amassed
a comfortable fortune in the manufacture of gold nibs and the
Butteridge fountain pens. But this was an entirely different
strain of Butteridges. For some years, in spite of a loud voice,
a large presence, an aggressive swagger, and an implacable
manner, he had been an undistinguished member of most of the
existing aeronautical associations. Then one day he wrote to all
the London papers to announce that he had made arrangements for
an ascent from the Crystal Palace of a machine that would
demonstrate satisfactorily that the outstanding difficulties in
the way of flying were finally solved. Few of the papers printed
his letter, still fewer were the people who believed in his
claim. No one was excited even when a fracas on the steps of a
leading hotel in Piccadilly, in which he tried to horse-whip a
prominent German musician upon some personal account, delayed his
promised ascent. The quarrel was inadequately reported, and his
name spelt variously Betteridge and Betridge. Until his flight
indeed, he did not and could not contrive to exist in the public
mind. There were scarcely thirty people on the look-out for him,
in spite of all his clamour, when about six o'clock one summer
morning the doors of the big shed in which he had been putting
together his apparatus opened--it was near the big model of a
megatherium in the Crystal Palace grounds--and his giant insect
came droning out into a negligent and incredulous world.
But before he had made his second circuit of the Crystal Palace
towers, Fame was lifting her trumpet, she drew a deep breath as
the startled tramps who sleep on the seats of Trafalgar Square
were roused by his buzz and awoke to discover him circling the
Nelson column, and by the time he had got to Birmingham, which
place he crossed about half-past ten, her deafening blast was
echoing throughout the country. The despaired-of thing was done.
A man was flying securely and well.
Scotland was agape for his coming. Glasgow he reached by one
o'clock, and it is related that scarcely a ship-yard or factory
in that busy hive of industry resumed work before half-past two.
The public mind was just sufficiently educated in the
impossibility of flying to appreciate Mr. Butteridge at his
proper value. He eircled the University buildings, and dropped
to within shouting distance of the crowds in West End Park and on
the slope of Gilmorehill. The thing flew quite steadily at a
pace of about three miles an hour, in a wide circle, making a
deep hum that, would have drowned his full, rich voice completely
had he not provided himself with a megaphone. He avoided
churches, buildings, and mono-rail cables with consummate ease as
he conversed.
"Me name's Butteridge," he shouted; "B-U-T-T-E-R-I-D-G-E.- Got
it? Me mother was Scotch."
And having assured himself that he had been understood, he rose
amidst cheers and shouting and patriotic cries, and then flew up
very swiftly and easily into the south-eastern sky, rising and
falling with long, easy undulations in an extraordinarily
wasp-like manner.
His return to London--he visited and hovered over Manchester and
Liverpool and Oxford on his way, and spelt his name out to each
place--was an occasion of unparalleled excitement. Every one was
staring heavenward. More people were run over in the streets
upon that one day, than in the previous three months, and a
County Council steamboat, the Isaac Walton, collided with a pier
of Westminster Bridge, and narrowly escaped disaster by running
ashore--it was low water--on the mud on the south side. He
returned to the Crystal Palace grounds, that classic
starting-point of aeronautical adventure, about sunset,
re-entered his shed without disaster, and had the doors locked
immediately upon the photographers and journalists who been
waiting his return.
"Look here, you chaps," he said, as his assistant did so, "I'm
tired to death, and saddle sore. I can't give you a word of
talk. I'm too--done. My name's Butteridge. B-U-T-T-E-R-I-DG-
E. Get that right. I'm an Imperial Englishman. I'll talk to
you all to-morrow."
Foggy snapshots still survive to record that incident. His
assistant struggles in a sea of aggressive young men carrying
note-books or upholding cameras and wearing bowler hats and
enterprising ties. He himself towers up in the doorway, a big
figure with a mouth--an eloquent cavity beneath a vast black
moustache--distorted by his shout to these relentless agents of
publicity. He towers there, the most famous man in the country,.
Almost symbolically he holds and gesticulates with a megaphone in
his left hand.
Tom and Bert Smallways both saw that return. They watched from
the crest of Bun Hill, from which they had so often surveyed the
pyrotechnics of the Crystal Palace. Bert was excited, Tom kept
calm and lumpish, but neither of them realised how their own
lives were to be invaded by the fruits of that beginning.
"P'raps old Grubb'll mind the shop a bit now," he said, "and put
his blessed model in the fire. Not that that can save us, if we
don't tide over with Steinhart's account."
Bert knew enough of things and the problem of aeronautics to
realise that this gigantic imitation of a bee would, to use his
own idiom, "give the newspapers fits." The next day it was clear
the fits had been given even as he said: their magazine pages
were black with hasty photographs, their prose was convulsive
they foamed at the headline. The next day they were worse.
Before the week was out they were not so much published as
carried screaming into the street.
The dominant fact in the uproar was the exceptional personality
of Mr. Butteridge, and the extraordinary terms he demanded for
the secret of his machine.
For it was a secret and he kept it secret in the most elaborate
fashion. He built his apparatus himself in the safe privacy of
the great Crystal Palace sheds, with the assistance of
inattentive workmen, and the day next following his flight he
took it to pieces single handed, packed certain portions, and
then secured unintelligent assistance in packing and dispersing
the rest. Sealed packing-cases went north and east and west to
various pantechnicons, and the engines were boxed with peculiar
care. It became evident these precautions were not inadvisable
in view of the violent demand for any sort of photograph or
impressions of his machine. But Mr. Butteridge, having once made
his demonstration, intended to keep his secret safe from any
further risk of leakage. He faced the British public now with
the question whether they wanted his secret or not; he was, he
said perpetually, an "Imperial Englishman," and his first wish
and his last was to see his invention the privilege and monopoly
of the Empire. Only--
It was there the difficulty began.
Mr. Butteridge, it became evident, was a man singularly free from
any false modesty--indeed, from any modesty of any
kind--singularly willing to see interviewers, answer questions
upon any topic except aeronautics, volunteer opinions,
criticisms, and autobiography, supply portraits and photographs
of himself, and generally spread his personality across the
terrestrial sky. The published portraits insisted primarily upon
an immense black moustache, and secondarily upon a fierceness
behind the moustache. The general impression upon the public was
that Butteridge, was a small man. No one big, it was felt, could
have so virulently aggressive an expression, though, as a matter
of fact, Butteridge had a height of six feet two inches, and a
weight altogether proportionate to that. Moreover, he had a love
affair of large and unusual dimensions and irregular
circumstances and the still largely decorous British public
learnt with reluctance and alarm that a sympathetic treatment of
this affair was inseparable from the exclusive acquisition of the
priceless secret of aerial stability by the British Empire. The
exact particulars of the similarity never came to light, but
apparently the lady had, in a fit of high-minded inadvertence,
had gone through the ceremony of marriage with, one quotes the
unpublished discourse of Mr. Butteridge--"a white-livered skunk,"
and this zoological aberration did in some legal and vexatious
manner mar her social happines. He wanted to talk about the
business, to show the splendour of her nature in the light of its
complications. It was really most embarrassing to a press that
has always possessed a considerable turn for reticence, that
wanted things personal indeed in the modern fashion. Yet not too
personal. It was embarrassing, I say, to be inexorably
confronted with Mr. Butteridge's great heart, to see it laid open
in relentlesss self-vivisection, and its pulsating dissepiments'
adorned with emphatic flag labels.
Confronted they were, and there was no getting away from it. He
would make this appalling viscus beat and throb before the
shrinking journalists--no uncle with a big watch and a little
ever baby ever harped upon it so relentlessly; whatever evasion
they attempted he set aside. He "gloried in his love," he said,
and compelled them to write it down.
"That's of course a private affair, Mr. Butteridge," they would
"The injustice, sorr, is public. I do not care either I am up
against institutions or individuals. I do not care if I am up
against the universal All. I am pleading the cause of a woman, a
woman I lurve, sorr--a noble woman--misunderstood. I intend to
vindicate her, sorr, to the four winds of heaven!"
"I lurve England," he used to say--"lurve England, but
Puritanism, sorr, I abhor. It fills me with loathing. It raises
my gorge. Take my own case."
He insisted relentlessly upon his heart, and upon seeing proofs
of the interview. If they had not done justice to his erotic
bellowings and gesticulations, he stuck in, in a large inky
scrawl, all and more than they had omitted.
It was a strangely embarrassing thing for British journalism.
Never was there a more obvious or uninteresting affair; never had
the world heard the story of erratic affection with less appetite
or sympathy. On the other hand it was extremely curious about
Mr. Butteridge's invention. But when Mr. Butteridge could be
deflected for a moment from the cause of the lady he championed,
then he talked chiefly, and usually with tears of tenderness in
his voice, about his mother and his childhood--his mother who
crowned a complete encyclopedia of maternal virtue by being
"largely Scotch." She was not quite neat, but nearly so. "I owe
everything in me to me mother," he asserted--"everything. Eh!"
and--"ask any man who's done anything. You'll hear the same
story. All we have we owe to women. They are the species, sorr.
Man is but a dream. He comes and goes. The woman's soul leadeth
us upward and on!"
He was always going on like that.
What in particular he wanted from the Government for his secret
did not appear, nor what beyond a money payment could be expected
from a modem state in such an affair. The general effect upon
judicious observers, indeed, was not that he was treating for
anything, but that he was using an unexampled opportunity to
bellow and show off to an attentive world. Rumours of his real
identity spread abroad. It was said that he had been the
landlord of an ambiguous hotel in Cape Town, and had there given
shelter to, and witnessed, the experiments and finally stolen the
papers and plans of, an extremely shy and friendless young
inventor named Palliser, who had come to South Africa from
England in an advanced stage of consumption, and died there.
This, at any rate, was the allegation of the more outspoken
American press. But the proof or disproof of that never reached
the public.
Mr. Butteridge also involved himself passionately in a tangle of
disputes for the possession of a great number of valuable money
prizes. Some of these had been offered so long ago as 1906 for
successful mechanical flight. By the time of Mr. Butteridge's
success a really very considerable number of newspapers, tempted
by the impunity of the pioneers in this direction, had pledged
themselves to pay in some cases, quite overwhelming sums to the
first person to fly from Manchester to Glasgow, from London to
Manchester, one hundred miles, two hundred miles in England, and
the like. Most had hedged a little with ambiguous conditions,
and now offered resistance; one or two paid at once, and
vehemently called attention to the fact; and Mr. Butteridge
plunged into litigation with the more recalcitrant, while at the
same time sustaining a vigorous agitation and canvass to induce
the Government to purchase his invention.
One fact, however, remained permanent throughout all the
developments of this affair behind Butteridge's preposterous love
interest, his politics and personality, and all his shouting and
boasting, and that was that, so far as the mass of people knew,
he was in sole possession of the secret of the practicable
aeroplane in which, for all one could tell to the contrary, the
key of the future empire of the world resided. And presently, to
the great consternation of innumerable people, including among
others Mr. Bert Smallways, it became apparent that whatever
negotiations were in progress for the acquisition of this
precious secret by the British Government were in danger of
falling through. The London Daily Requiem first voiced the
universal alarm, and published an interview under the terrific
caption of, "Mr. Butteridge Speaks his Mind."
Therein the inventor--if he was an inventor--poured out his
"I came from the end of the earth," he said, which rather seemed
to confirm the Cape Town story, "bringing me Motherland the
secret that would give her the empire of the world. And what do
I get?" He paused. "I am sniffed at by elderly mandarins! . . .
And the woman I love is treated like a leper!"
"I am an Imperial Englishman," he went on in a splendid outburst,
subsequently written into the interview by his own hand; "but
there there are limits to the human heart! There are younger
nations--living nations! Nations that do not snore and gurgle
helplessly in paroxysms of plethora upon beds of formality and
red tape! There are nations that will not fling away the empire
of earth in order to slight an unknown man and insult a noble
woman whose boots they are not fitted to unlatch. There are
nations not blinded to Science, not given over hand and foot to
effete snobocracies and Degenerate Decadents. In short, mark my
This speech it was that particularly impressed Bert Smallways.
"If them Germans or them Americans get hold of this," he said
impressively to his brother, "the British Empire's done. It's
U-P. The Union Jack, so to speak, won't be worth the paper it's
written on, Tom."
"I suppose you couldn't lend us a hand this morning," said
Jessica, in his impressive pause. "Everybody in Bun Hill seems
wanting early potatoes at once. Tom can't carry half of them."
"We're living on a volcano," said Bert, disregarding the
suggestion. "At any moment war may come--such a war!"
He shook his head portentously.
"You'd better take this lot first, Tom," said Jessica. She
turned briskly on Bert. "Can you spare us a morning?" she asked.
"I dessay I can," said Bert. "The shop's very quiet s'morning.
Though all this danger to the Empire worries me something
"Work'll take it off your mind," said Jessica.
And presently he too was going out into a world of change and
wonder, bowed beneath a load of potatoes and patriotic
insecurity, that merged at last into a very definite irritation
at the weight and want of style of the potatoes and a very
clear conception of the entire detestableness of Jessica.
It did not occur to either Tom or Bert Smallways that this
remarkable aerial performance of Mr. Butteridge was likely to
affect either of their lives in any special manner, that it would
in any way single them out from the millions about them; and when
they had witnessed it from the crest of Bun Hill and seen the
fly-like mechanism, its rotating planes a golden haze in the
sunset, sink humming to the harbour of its shed again, they
turned back towards the sunken green-grocery beneath the great
iron standard of the London to Brighton mono-rail, and their
minds reverted to the discussion that had engaged them before Mr.
Butteridge's triumph had come in sight out of the London haze.
It was a difficult and unsuccessful discussions. They had to
carry it on in shouts because of the moaning and roaring of the
gyroscopic motor-cars that traversed the High Street, and in its
nature it was contentious and private. The Grubb business was in
difficulties, and Grubb in a moment of financial eloquence had
given a half-share in it to Bert, whose relations with his
employer had been for some time unsalaried and pallish and
Bert was trying to impress Tom with the idea that the
reconstructed Grubb & Smallways offered unprecedented and
unparalleled opportunities to the judicious small investor. It
was coming home to Bert, as though it were an entirely new fact,
that Tom was singularly impervious to ideas. In the end he put
the financial issues on one side, and, making the thing entirely
a matter of fraternal affection, succeeded in borrowing a
sovereign on the security of his word of honour.
The firm of Grubb & Smallways, formerly Grubb, had indeed been
singularly unlucky in the last year or so. For many years the
business had struggled along with a flavour of romantic
insecurity in a small, dissolute-looking shop in the High Street,
adorned with brilliantly coloured advertisements of cycles, a
display of bells, trouser-clips, oil-cans, pump-clips,
frame-cases, wallets, and other accessories, and the announcement
of "Bicycles on Hire," "Repairs," "Free inflation," "Petrol,"
and similar attractions. They were agents for several obscure
makes of bicycle,--two samples constituted the stock,--and
occasionally they effected a sale; they also repaired punctures
and did their best--though luck was not always on their side--
with any other repairing that was brought to them. They handled
a line of cheap gramophones, and did a little with musical boxes.
The staple of their business was, however, the letting of
bicycles on hire. It was a singular trade, obeying no known
commercial or economic principles--indeed, no principles. There
was a stock of ladies' and gentlemen's bicycles in a state of
disrepair that passes description, and these, the hiring stock,
were let to unexacting and reckless people, inexpert in the
things of this world, at a nominal rate of one shilling for the
first hour and sixpence per hour afterwards. But really there
were no fixed prices, and insistent boys could get bicycles and
the thrill of danger for an hour for so low a sum as threepence,
provided they could convince Grubb that that was all they had.
The saddle and handle-bar were then sketchily adjusted bv Grubb,
a deposit exacted, except in the case of familiar boys, the
machine lubricated, and the adventurer started upon his career.
Usually he or she came back, but at times, when the accident was
serious, Bert or Grubb had to go out and fetch the machine home.
Hire was always charged up to the hour of return to the shop and
deducted from the deposit. It was rare that a bicycle started
out from their hands in a state of pedantic efficiency. Romantic
possibilities of accident lurked in the worn thread of the screw
that adjusted the saddle, in the precarious pedals, in the
loose-knit chain, in the handle-bars, above all in the brakes and
tyres. Tappings and clankings and strange rhythmic creakings
awoke as the intrepid hirer pedalled out into the country. Then
perhaps the bell would jam or a brake fail to act on a hill; or
the seat-pillar would get loose, and the saddle drop three or
four inches with a disconcerting bump; or the loose and rattling
chain would jump the cogs of the chain-wheel as the machine ran
downhill, and so bring the mechanism to an abrupt and disastrous
stop without at the same time arresting the forward momentum of
the rider; or a tyre would bang, or sigh quietly, and give up the
struggle for efficiency.
When the hirer returned, a heated pedestrian, Grubb would ignore
all verbal complaints, and examine the machine gravely.
"This ain't 'ad fair usage," he used to begin.
He became a mild embodiment of the spirit of reason. "You can't
expect a bicycle to take you up in its arms and carry you," he
used to say. "You got to show intelligence. After all--it's
Sometimes the process of liquidating the consequent claims
bordered on violence. It was always a very rhetorical and often
a trying affair, but in these progressive times you have to make
a noise to get a living. It was often hard work, but
nevertheless this hiring was a fairly steady source of profit,
until one day all the panes in the window and door were broken
and the stock on sale in the window greatly damaged and
disordered bv two over-critical hirers with no sense of
rhetorical irrelevance. They were big, coarse stokers from
Gravesend. One was annoyed because his left pedal had come off,
and the other because his tyre had become deflated, small and
indeed negligible accidents by Bun Hill standards, due entirely
to the ungentle handling of the delicate machines entrusted to
them--and they failed to see clearly how they put themselves in
the wrong by this method of argument. It is a poor way of
convincing a man that he has let you a defective machine to throw
his foot-pump about his shop, and take his stock of gongs outside
in order to return them through the window-panes. It carried no
real conviction to the minds of either Grubb or Bert; it only
irritated and vexed them. One quarrel makes many, and this
unpleasantness led to a violent dispute between Grubb and the
landlord upon the moral aspects of and legal responsibility for
the consequent re-glazing. In the end Grubb and Smallways were
put to the expense of a strategic nocturnal removal to another
It was a position they had long considered. It was t small,
shed-like shop with a plate-glass window and one room behind,
just at the sharp bend in the road at the bottom of Bun Hill; and
here they struggled along bravely, in spite of persistent
annoyance from their former landlord, hoping for certain
eventualities the peculiar situation of the shop seemed to
promise. Here, too, they were doomed to disappointment.
The High Road from London to Brighton that ran through Bun Hill
was like the British Empire or the British Constitution--a thing
that had grown to its present importance. Unlike any other roads
in Europe the British high roads have never been subjected to any
organised attempts to grade or straighten them out, and to that
no doubt their peculiar picturesqueness is to be ascribed. The
old Bun Hill High Street drops at its end for perhaps eighty or a
hundred feet of descent at an angle of one in five, turns at
right angles to the left, runs in a curve for about thirty yards
to a brick bridge over the dry ditch that had once been the
Otterbourne, and then bends sharply to the right again round a
dense clump of trees and goes on, a simple, straightforward,
peaceful high road. There had been one or two horse-and-van and
bicycle accidents in the place before the shop Bert and Grubb
took was built, and, to be frank, it was the probability of
others that attracted them to it.
Its possibilities had come to them first with a humorous flavour.
"Here's one of the places where a chap might get a living by
keeping hens," said Grubb.
"You can't get a living by keeping hens," said Bert.
"You'd keep the hen and have it spatch-cocked," said Grubb. "The
motor chaps would pay for it."
When they really came to take the place they remembered this
conversation. Hens, however, were out of the question; there was
no place for a run unless they had it in the shop. It would have
been obviously out of place there. The shop was much more modern
than their former one, and had a plate-glass front. "Sooner or
later," said Bert, "we shall get a motor-car through this."
"That's all right," said Grubb. "Compensation. I don't mind
when that motor-car comes along. I don't mind even if it gives
me a shock to the system.
"And meanwhile," said Bert, with great artfulness, "I'm going to
buy myself a dog."
He did. He bought three in succession. He surprised the people
at the Dogs' Home in Battersea by demanding a deaf retriever, and
rejecting every candidate that pricked up its ears. "I want a
good, deaf, slow-moving dog," he said. "A dog that doesn't put
himself out for things."
They displayed inconvenient curiosity; they declared a great
scarcity of deaf dogs.
"You see," they said, "dogs aren't deaf."
"Mine's got to be," said Bert. "I've HAD dogs that aren't deaf.
All I want. It's like this, you see--I sell gramophones.
Naturally I got to make 'em talk and tootle a bit to show 'em
orf. Well, a dog that isn't deaf doesn't like it--gets excited,
smells round, barks, growls. That upsets the customer. See?
Then a dog that has his hearing fancies things. Makes burglars
out of passing tramps. Wants to fight every motor that makes a
whizz. All very well if you want livening up, but our place is
lively enough. I don't want a dog of that sort. I want a quiet
In the end he got three in succession, but none of them turned
out well. The first strayed off into the infinite, heeding no
appeals; the second was killed in the night by a fruit
motor-waggon which fled before Grubb could get down; the third
got itself entangled in the front wheel of a passing cyclist, who
came through the plate glass, and proved to be an actor out of
work and an undischarged bankrupt. He demanded compensation for
some fancied injury, would hear nothing of the valuable dog he
had killed or the window he had broken, obliged Grubb by sheer
physical obduracy to straighten his buckled front wheel, and
pestered the struggling firm with a series of inhumanly worded
solicitor's letters. Grubb answered them--stingingly, and put
himself, Bert thought, in the wrong.
Affairs got more and more exasperating and strained under these
pressures. The window was boarded up, and an unpleasant
altercation about their delay in repairing it with the new
landlord, a Bun Hill butcher--and a loud, bellowing, unreasonable
person at that--served to remind them of their unsettled troubles
with the old. Things were at this pitch when Bert bethought
himself of creating a sort of debenture capital in the business
for the benefit of Tom. But, as I have said, Tom had no
enterprise in his composition. His idea of investment was the
stocking; he bribed his brother not to keep the offer open.
And then ill-luck made its last lunge at their crumbling business
and brought it to the ground.
It is a poor heart that never rejoices, and Whitsuntide had an
air of coming as an agreeable break in the business complications
of Grubb & Smallways. Encouraged by the practical outcome of
Bert's negotiations with his brother, and by the fact that half
the hiring-stock was out from Saturday to Monday, they decided to
ignore the residuum of hiring-trade on Sunday and devote that day
to much-needed relaxation and refreshment--to have, in fact, an
unstinted good time, a beano on Whit Sunday and return
invigorated to grapple with their difficulties and the Bank
Holiday repairs on the Monday. No good thing was ever done by
exhausted and dispirited men. It happened that they had made the
acquaintance of two young ladies in employment in Clapham, Miss
Flossie Bright and Miss Edna Bunthorne, and it was resolved
therefore to make a cheerful little cyclist party of four into
the heart of Kent, and to picnic and spend an indolent afternoon
and evening among the trees and bracken between Ashford and
Miss Bright could ride a bicycle, and a machine was found for
her, not among the hiring stock, but specially, in the sample
held for sale. Miss Bunthorne, whom Bert particularly affected,
could not ride, and so with some difficulty he hired a basketwork
trailer from the big business of Wray's in the Clapham Road.
To see our young men, brightly dressed and cigarettes alight,
wheeling off to the rendezvous, Grubb guiding the lady's machine
beside him with one skilful hand and Bert teuf-teuffing steadily,
was to realise how pluck may triumph even over insolvency. Their
landlord, the butcher, said, "Gurr," as they passed, and shouted,
"Go it!" in a loud, savage tone to their receding backs.
Much they cared!
The weather was fine, and though they were on their way southward
before nine o'clock, there was already a great multitude of
holiday people abroad upon the roads. There were quantities of
young men and women on bicycles and motor-bicycles, and a
majority of gyroscopic motor-cars running bicycle-fashion on two
wheels, mingled with old-fashioned four-wheeled traffic. Bank
Holiday times always bring out old stored-away vehicles and odd
people; one saw tricars and electric broughams and dilapidated
old racing motors with huge pneumatic tyres. Once our holidaymakers
saw a horse and cart, and once a youth riding a black
horse amidst the badinage of the passersby. And there were
several navigable gas air-ships, not to mention balloons, in the
air. It was all immensely interesting and refreshing after the
dark anxieties of the shop. Edna wore a brown straw hat with
poppies, that suited her admirably, and sat in the trailer like a
queen, and the eight-year-old motor-bicycle ran like a thing
of yesterday.
Little it seemed to matter to Mr. Bert Smallways that a newspaper
placard proclaimed:--
This sort of thing was alvays going on, and on holidays one
disregarded it as a matter of course. Week-davs, in the slack
time after the midday meal, then perhaps one might worry about
the Empire and international politics; but not on a sunny Sunday,
with a pretty girl trailing behind one, and envious cyclists
trying to race you. Nor did our young people attach any great
importance to the flitting suggestions of military activity they
glimpsed ever and again. Near Maidstone they came on a string of
eleven motor-guns of peculiar construction halted by the
roadside, with a number of businesslike engineers grouped about
them watching through field-glasses some sort of entrenchment
that was going on near the crest of the downs. It signified
nothing to Bert.
"What's up?" said Edna.
"Oh!--manoeuvres," stid Bert.
"Oh! I thought they did them at Easter," said Edna, and troubled
no more.
The last great British war, the Boer war, was over and forgotten,
and the public had lost the fashion of expert military criticism.
Our four young people picnicked cheerfully, and were happy in the
manner of a happiness that was an ancient mode in Nineveh. Eyes
were bright, Grubb was funny and almost witty, and Bert achieved
epigrams; the hedges were full of honeysuckle and dog-roses; in
the woods the distant toot-toot-toot of the traffic on the
dust-hazy high road might have been no more than the horns of
elf-land. They laughed and gossiped and picked flowers and made
love and talked, and the girls smoked cigarettes. Also they
scuffled playfully. Among other things they talked aeronautics,
and how thev would come for a picnic together in Bert's
flying-machine before ten years were out. The world seemed full
of amusing possibilities that afternoon. They wondered what
their great-grandparents would have thought of aeronautics. In
the evening, about seven, the party turned homeward, expecting no
disaster, and it was onlv on the crest of the downs between
Wrotham and Kingsdown that disaster came.
They had come up the hill in the twilight; Bert was anxious to
get as far as possible before he lit--or attempted to light, for
the issue was a doubtful one--his lamps, and they had scorched
past a number of cyclists, and by a four-wheeled motor-car of the
old style lamed by a deflated tyre. Some dust had penetrated
Bert's horn, and the result was a curious, amusing, wheezing
sound had got into his "honk, honk." For the sake of merriment
and glory he was making this sound as much as possible, and Edna
was in fits of laughter in the trailer. They made a sort of
rushing cheerfulness along the road that affected their fellow
travellers variously, according to their temperaments. She
did notice a good lot of bluish, evil-smelling smoke coming from
about the bearings between his feet, but she thought this was one
of the natural concomitants of motor-traction, and troubled no
more about it, until abruptly it burst into a little
yellow-tipped flame.
"Bert!" she screamed.
But Bert had put on the brakes with such suddenness that she
found herself involved with his leg as he dismounted. She got to
the side of the road and hastily readjusted her hat, which had
"Gaw!" said Bert.
He stood for some fatal seconds watching the petrol drip and
catch, and the flame, which was now beginning to smell of enamel
as well as oil, spread and grew. His chief idea was the
sorrowful one that he had not sold the machine second-hand a year
ago, and that he ought to have done so--a good idea in its way,
but not immediately helpful. He turned upon Edna sharply. "Get
a lot of wet sand," he said. Then he wheeled the machine a
little towards the side of the roadway, and laid it down and
looked about for a supply of wet sand. The flames received this
as a helpful attention, and made the most of it. They seemed to
brighten and the twilight to deepen about them. The road was a
flinty road in the chalk country, and ill-provided with sand.
Edna accosted a short, fat cyclist. "We want wet sand," she
said, and added, "our motor's on fire." The short, fat cyclist
stared blankly for a moment, then with a helpful cry began to
scrabble in the road-grit. Whereupon Bert and Edna also
scrabbled in the road-grit. Other cyclists arrived, dismounted
and stood about, and their flame-lit faces expressed
satisfaction, interest, curiositv. "Wet sand," said the short,
fat man, scrabbling terribly--"wet stnd." One joined him. They
threw hard-earned handfuls of road-grit upon the flames, which
accepted them with enthusiasm.
Grubb arrived, riding hard. He was shouting something. He
sprang off and threw his bicycle into the hedge. "Don't throw
water on it!" he said--"don't throw water on it!" He displayed
commanding presence of mind. He became captain of the occasion.
Others were glad to repeat the things he said and imitate his
"Don't throw water on it!" they cried. Also there was no water.
"Beat it out, you fools!" he said.
He seized a rug from the trailer (it was an Austrian blanket, and
Bert's winter coverlet) and began to beat at the burning petrol.
For a wonderful minute he seemed to succeed. But he scattered
burning pools of petrol on the road, and others, fired by his
enthusiasm, imitated his action. Bert caught up a trailer-cushion
and began to beat; there was another cushion and a table-cloth,
and these also were seized. A young hero pulled off his jacket
and joined the beating. For a moment there was less talking than
hard breathing, and a tremendous flapping. Flossie, arriving on
the outskirts of the crowd, cried, "Oh, my God!" and burst loudly
into tears. "Help!" she said, and "Fire!"
The lame motor-car arrived, and stopped in consternation. A
tall, goggled, grey-haired man who was driving inquired with an
Oxford intonation and a clear, careful enunciation, "Can WE help
at all?"
It became manifest that the rug, the table-cloth, the cushions,
the jacket, were getting smeared with petrol and burning. The
soul seemed to go out of the cushion Bert was swaying, and the
air was full of feathers, like a snowstorm in the still twilight.
Bert had got very dusty and sweaty and strenuous. It seemed to
him his weapon had been wrested from him at the moment of
victory. The fire lay like a dying thing, close to the ground
and wicked; it gave a leap of anguish at every whack of the
beaters. But now Grubb had gone off to stainp out the burning
blanket; the others were lacking just at the moment of victory.
One had dropped the cushion and was running to the motorcar.
"'ERE!" cried Bert; "keep on!"
He flung the deflated burning rags of cushion aside, whipped off
his jacket and sprang at the flames with a shout. He stamped
into the ruin until flames ran up his boots. Edna saw him, a
red-lit hero, and thought it was good to be a man.
A bystander was hit by a hot halfpenny flying out of the air.
Then Bert thought of the papers in his pockets, and staggered
back, trying to extinguish his burning jacket--checked, repulsed,
Edna was struck by the benevolent appearance of an elderly
spectator in a silk hat and Sabbatical garments. "Oh!" she cried
to him. "Help this young man! How can you stand and see it?"
A cry of "The tarpaulin!" arose.
An earnest-looking man in a very light grey cycling-suit had
suddenly appeared at the side of the lame motor-car and addressed
the owner. "Have you a tarpaulin?" he said.
"Yes," said the gentlemanly man. "Yes. We've got a tarpaulin."
"That's it," said the earnest-looking man, suddenly shouting.
"Let's have it, quick!"
The gentlemanly man, with feeble and deprecatory gestures, and in
the manner of a hypnotised person, produced an excellent large
"Here!" cried the earnest-looking man to Grubb. "Ketch holt!"
Then everybody realised that a new method was to be tried. A
number of willing hands seized upon the Oxford gentleman's
tarpaulin. The others stood away with approving noises. The
tarpaulin was held over the burning bicycle like a canopy, and
then smothered down upon it.
"We ought to have done this before," panted Grubb.
There was a moment of triumph. The flames vanished. Every one
who could contrive to do so touched the edge of the tarpaulin.
Bert held down a corner with two hands and a foot. The
tarpaulin, bulged up in the centre, seemed to be suppressing
triumphant exultation. Then its self-approval became too much
for it; it burst into a bright red smile in the centre. It was
exactly like the opening of a mouth. It laughed with a gust of
flames. They were reflected redly in the observant goggles of
the gentleman who owned the tarpaulin. Everybody recoiled.
"Save the trailer!" cried some one, and that was the last round
in the battle. But the trailer could not be detached; its
wicker-work had caught, and it was the last thing to burn. A
sort of hush fell upon the gathering. The petrol burnt low, the
wicker-work trailer banged and crackled. The crowd divided
itself into an outer circle of critics, advisers, and secondary
characters, who had played undistinguished parts or no parts at
all in the affair, and a central group of heated and distressed
principals. A young man with an inquiring mind and a
considerable knowledge of motor-bicycles fixed on to Grubb and
wanted to argue that the thing could not have happened. Grubb
wass short and inattentive with him, and the young man withdrew
to the back of the crowd, and there told the benevolent old
gentleman in the silk hat that people who went out with machines
they didn't understand had only themselves to blame if things
went wrong.
The old gentleman let him talk for some time, and then remarked,
in a tone of rapturous enjoyment: "Stone deaf," and added, "Nasty
A rosy-faced man in a straw hat claimed attention. "I DID save
the front wheel," he said; "you'd have had that tyre catch, too,
if I hadn't kept turning it round." It became manifest that this
was so. The front wheel had retained its tyre, was intact, was
still rotating slowly among the blackened and twisted ruins of
the rest of the machine. It had something of that air of
conscious virtue, of unimpeachable respectability, that
distinguishes a rent collector in a low neighbourhood. "That
wheel's worth a pound," said the rosy-faced man, making a song of
it. "I kep' turning it round."
Newcomers kept arriving from the south with the question, "What's
up?" until it got on Grubb's nerves. Londonward the crowd was
constantly losing people; they would mount their various wheels
with the satisfied manner of spectators who have had the best.
Their voices would recede into the twilight; one would hear a
laugh at the memory of this particularly salient incident or
"I'm afraid," said the gentleman of the motor-car, "my
tarpaulin's a bit done for."
Grubb admitted that the owner was the best judge of that.
"Nothin, else I can do for you?" said the gentleman of the
motor-car, it may be with a suspicion of irony.
Bert was roused to action. "Look here," he said. "There's my
young lady. If she ain't 'ome by ten they lock her out. See?
Well, all my money was in my jacket pocket, and it's all mixed up
with the burnt stuff, and that's too 'ot to touch. IS Clapham
out of your way?"
"All in the day's work," said the gentleman with the motor-car,
and turned to Edna. "Very pleased indeed," he said, "if you'll
come with us. We're late for dinner as it is, so it won't make
much difference for us to go home by way of Clapham. We've got
to get to Surbiton, anyhow. I'm afraid you"ll find us a little
"But what's Bert going to do?" said Edna.
"I don't know that we can accommodate Bert," said the motor-car
gentleman, "though we're tremendously anxious to oblige."
"You couldn't take the whole lot?" said Bert, waving his hand at
the deboshed and blackened ruins on the ground.
"I'm awfully afraid I can't," said the Oxford man. "Awfully
sorry, you know."
"Then I'll have to stick 'ere for a bit," said Bert. "I got to
see the thing through. You go on, Edna."
"Don't like leavin' you, Bert."
"You can't 'elp it, Edna." ...
The last Edna saw of Bert was his figure, in charred and
blackened shirtsleeves, standing in the dusk. He was musing
deeply by the mixed ironwork and ashes of his vanished
motor-bicycle, a melancholy figure. His retinue of spectators
had shrunk now to half a dozen figures. Flossie and Grubb were
preparing to follow her desertion.
"Cheer up, old Bert!" cried Edna, with artificial cheerfulness.
"So long."
"So long, Edna," said Bert.
"'See you to-morrer."
"See you to-morrer," said Bert, though he was destined, as a
matter of fact, to see much of the habitable globe before he saw
her again.
Bert began to light matches from a borrowed boxful, and search
for a half-crown that still eluded him among the charred remains.
His face was grave and melancholy.
"I WISH that 'adn't 'appened," said Flossie, riding on with
And at last Bert was left almost alone, a sad, blackened
Promethean figure, cursed by the gift of fire. He had
entertained vague ideas of hiring a cart, of achieving miraculous
repairs, of still snatching some residual value from his one
chief possession. Now, in the darkening night, he perceived the
vanity of such intentions. Truth came to him bleakly, and laid
her chill conviction upon him. He took hold of the handle-bar,
stood the thing up, tried to push it forward. The tyreless
hind-wheel was jammed hopelessly, even as he feared. For a
minute or so he stood upholding his machine, a motionless
despair. Then with a great effort he thrust the ruins from
him into the ditch, kicked at it once, regarded`it for a moment,
and turned his face resolutely Londonward.
He did not once look back.
"That's the end of THAT game!" said Bert. "No more
teuf-teuf-teuf for Bert Smallwavs for a year or two. Good-bye
'Olidays! ... Oh! I ought to 'ave sold the blasted thing when I
had a chance three years ago."
The next morning found the firm of Grubb & Smallways in a state
of profound despondency. t seemed a smallmatter to them that the
newspaper and cigarette shop opposite displayed such placards as
or this:--
or again:--
or this:--
Bert stared at these over the card of pump-clips in the pane in
the door with unseeing eyes. He wore a blackened flannel shirt,
and the jacketless ruins of the holiday suit of yesterday. The
boarded-up shop was dark and depressing beyond words, the few
scandalous hiring machines had never looked so hopelessly
disreputable. He thought of their fellows who were "out," and of
the approaching disputations of the afternoon. He thought of
their new landlord, and of their old landlord, and of bills and
claims. Life presented itself for the first time as a hopeless
fight against fate....
"Grubb, o' man," he said, distilling the quintessence, "I'm fair
sick of this shop."
"So'm I," said Grubb.
"I'm out of conceit with it. I don't seem to care ever to speak
to a customer again."
"There's that trailer," said Grubb, after a pause.
"Blow the trailer!" said Bert. "Anyhow, I didn't leave a deposit
on it. I didn't do that. Still--"
He turned round on his friend. "Look 'ere," he said, "we aren't
gettin' on here. We been losing money hand over fist. We got
things tied up in fifty knots."
"What can we do?" said Grubb.
"Clear out. Sell what we can for what it will fetch, and quit.
See? It's no good 'anging on to a losing concern. No sort of
good. Jest foolishness."
"That's all right," said Grubb--"that's all right; but it ain't
your capital been sunk in it."
"No need for us to sink after our capital," said Bert, ignoring
the point.
"I'm not going to be held responsible for that trailer, anyhow.
That ain't my affair."
"Nobody arst you to make it your affair. If you like to stick on
here, well and good. I'm quitting. I'll see Bank Holiday
through, and then I'm O-R-P-H. See?"
"Leavin' me?"
"Leavin' you. If you must be left."
Grubb looked round the shop. It certainly had become
distasteful. Once upon a time it had been bright with hope and
new beginnings and stock and the prospect of credit. Now--now it
was failure and dust. Very likely the landlord would be round
presently to go on with the row about the window...."Where d'you
think of going, Bert?" Grubb asked.
Bert turned round and regarded him. "I thought it out as I was
walking 'ome, and in bed. I couldn't sleep a wink."
"What did you think out?"
"What plans?"
"Oh! You're for stickin, here."
"Not if anything better was to offer."
"It's only an ideer," said Bert
"You made the girls laugh yestiday, that song you sang."
"Seems a long time ago now," said Grubb.
"And old Edna nearly cried--over that bit of mine."
"She got a fly in her eye," said Grubb; "I saw it. But what's
this got to do with your plan?"
"No end," said Bert.
"Don't you see?"
"Not singing in the streets?"
"Streets! No fear! But 'ow about the Tour of the Waterin'
Places of England, Grubb? Singing! Young men of family doing it
for a lark? You ain't got a bad voice, you know, and mine's all
right. I never see a chap singing on the beach yet that I
couldn't 'ave sung into a cocked hat. And we both know how to
put on the toff a bit. Eh? Well,that's my ideer. Me and you,
Grubb, with a refined song and a breakdown. Like we was doing
for foolery yestiday. That was what put it into my 'ead. Easy
make up a programme--easy. Six choice items, and one or two for
encores and patter. I'm all right for the patter anyhow."
Grubb remained regarding his darkened and disheartening shop; he
thought of his former landlord and his present landlord, and of
the general disgustingness of business in an age which re-echoes
to The Bitter Cry of the Middle Class; and then it seemed to him
that afar off he heard the twankle, twankle of a banjo, and the
voice of a stranded siren singing. He had a sense of hot
sunshine upon sand, of the children of it least transiently
opulent holiday makers in a circle round about him, of the
whisper, "They are really gentlemen," and then dollop, dollop
came the coppers in the hat. Sometimes even silver. It was all
income; no outgoings, no bills. "I'm on, Bert," he said.
"Right 0!" said Bert, and, "Now we shan't be long."
"We needn't start without capital neither," said Grubb. "If we
take the best of these machines up to the Bicycle Mart in
Finsbury we'd raise six or seven pounds on 'em. We could easy do
that tomorrow before anybody much was about...."
"Nice to think of old Suet-and-Bones coming round to make his
usual row with us, and finding a card up 'Closed for Repairs.'"
"We'll do that," said Grubb with zest--"we'll do that. And we'll
put up another notice, and jest arst all inquirers to go round to
'im and inquire. See? Then they'll know all about us."
Before the day was out the whole enterprise was planned. They
decided at first that they would call themselves the Naval Mr.
O's, a plagiarism, and not perhaps a very good one, from the
title of the well-known troupe of "Scarlet Mr. E's," and Bert
rather clung to the idea of a uniform of bright blue serge, with
a lot of gold lace and cord and ornamentation, rather like a
naval officer's, but more so. But that had to be abandoned as
impracticable, it would have taken too much time and money to
prepare. They perceived they must wear some cheaper and more
readily prepared costume, and Grubb fell back on white dominoes.
They entertained the notion for a time of selecting the two worst
machines from the hiring-stock, painting them over with crimson
enamel paint, replacing the bells by the loudest sort of
motor-horn, and doing a ride about to begin and end the
entertainment. They doubted the advisability of this step.
"There's people in the world," said Bert, "who wouldn't recognise
us, who'd know them bicycles again like a shot, and we don't want
to go on with no old stories. We want a fresh start."
"I do," said Grubb, "badly."
"We want to forget things--and cut all these rotten old worries.
They ain't doin' us good."
Nevertheless, they decided to take the risk of these bicycles,
and they decided their costumes should be brown stockings and
sandals, and cheap unbleached sheets with a hole cut in the
middle, and wigs and beards of tow. The rest their normal
selves! "The Desert Dervishes," they would call themselves, and
their chief songs would be those popular ditties, "In my
Trailer," and "What Price Hair-pins Now?"
They decided to begin with small seaside places, and gradually,
as they gained confidence, attack larger centres. To begin with
they selected Littlestone in Kent, chiefly because of its
unassuming name.
So they planned, and it seemed a small and unimportant thing to
them that as they clattered the governments of half the world and
more were drifting into war. About midday they became aware of
the first of the evening-paper placards shouting to them across
the street:--
Nothing else but that.
"Always rottin' about war now," said Bert.
"They'll get it in the neck in real earnest one of these days, if
they ain't precious careful."
So you will understand the sudden apparition that surprised
rather than delighted the quiet informality of Dymchurch sands.
Dymchurch was one of the last places on the coast of England to
be reached by the mono-rail, and so its spacious sands were
still, at the time of this story, the secret and delight of quite
a limited number of people. They went there to flee vulgarity
and extravagances, and to bathe and sit and talk and play with
their children in peace, and the Desert Dervishes did not please
them at all.
The two white figures on scarlet wheels came upon them out of the
infinite along the sands from Littlestone, grew nearer and larger
and more audible, honk-honking and emitting weird cries, and
generally threatening liveliness of the most aggressive type.
"Good heavens!" said Dymchurch, "what's this?"
Then our young men, according to a preconcerted plan, wheeled
round from file to line, dismounted and stood it attention.
"Ladies and gentlemen," they said, "we beg to present ourselves--
the Desert Dervishes." They bowed profoundly.
The few scattered groups upon the beach regarded them with horror
for the most part, but some of the children and young people were
interested and drew nearer. "There ain't a bob on the beach,"
said Grubb in an undertone, and the Desert Dervishes plied their
bicycles with comic "business," that got a laugh from one very
unsophisticated little boy. Then they took a deep breath and
struck into the cheerful strain of "What Price Hair-pins Now?"
Grubb sang the song, Bert did his best to make the chorus a
rousing one, and it the end of each verse they danced certain
steps, skirts in hand, that they had carefully rehearsed.
What Price Hair-pins Now?"
So they chanted and danced their steps in the sunshine on
Dymchurch beach, and the children drew near these foolish young
men, marvelling that they should behave in this way, and the
older people looked cold and unfriendly.
All round the coasts of Europe that morning banjos were ringing,
voices were bawling and singing, children were playing in the
sun, pleasure-boats went to and fro; the common abundant life of
the time, unsuspicious of all dangers that gathered darkly
against it, flowed on its cheerful aimless way. In the cities
men fussed about their businesses and engagements. The newspaper
placards that had cried "wolf!" so often, cried "wolf!" now in
Now as Bert and Grubb bawled their chorus for the third time,
they became aware of a very big, golden-brown balloon low in the
sky to the north-west, and coming rapidly towards them.
"Jest as we're gettin' hold of 'em," muttered Grubb, "up comes a
counter-attraction. Go it, Bert!"
What Price Hair-pins Now?"
The balloon rose and fell, went out of sight--"landed, thank
goodness," said Grubb--re-appeared with a leap. "'ENG!" said
Grubb. "Step it, Bert, or they'll see it!"
They finished their dance, and then stood frankly staring.
"There's something wrong with that balloon," said Bert.
Everybody now was looking at the balloon, drawing rapidly nearer
before a brisk north-westerly breeze. The song and dance were a
"dead frost." Nobody thought any more about it. Even Bert and
Grubb forgot it, and ignored the next item on the programme
altogether. The balloon was bumping as though its occupants
were trying to land; it would approach, sinking slowly, touch the
ground, and instantly jump fifty feet or so in the air and
immediately begin to fall again. Its car touched a clump of
trees, and the black figure that had been struggling in the ropes
fell back, or jumped back, into the car. In another moment it
was quite close. It seemed a huge affair, as big as a house, and
it floated down swiftly towards the sands; a long rope trailed
behind it, and enormous shouts came from the man in the car. He
seemed to be taking off his clothes, then his head came over the
side of the car. "Catch hold of the rope!" they heard, quite
"Salvage, Bert!" cried Grubb, and started to head off the rope.
Bert followed him, and collided, without upsetting, with a
fisherman bent upon a similar errand. A woman carrying a baby in
her arms, two small boys with toy spades, and a stout gentleman
in flannels all got to the trailing rope at about the same time,
and began to dance over it in their attempts to secure it. Bert
came up to this wriggling, elusive serpent and got his foot on
it, went down on all fours and achieved a grip. In half a dozen
seconds the whole diffused population of the beach had, as it
were, crystallised on the rope, and was pulling against the
balloon under the vehement and stimulating directions of the man
in the car. "Pull, I tell you!" said the man in the car--"pull!"
For a second or so the btlloon obeyed its momentum and the wind
and tugged its human anchor seaward. It dropped, touched the
water, and made a flat, silvery splash, and recoiled as one's
finger recoils when one touches anything hot. "Pull her in,"
said the man in the car. "SHE'S FAINTED!"
He occupied himself with some unseen object while the people on
the rope pulled him in. Bert was nearest the balloon, and much
excited and interested. He kept stumbling over the tail of the
Dervish costume in his zeal. He had never imagined before what a
big, light, wallowing thing a balloon was. The car was of brown
coarse wicker-work, and comparatively small. The rope he tugged
at was fastened to a stout-looking ring, four or five feet above
the car. At each tug he drew in a yard or so of rope, and the
waggling wicker-work was drawn so much nearer. Out of the car
came wrathful bellowings: "Fainted, she has!" and then: "It's
her heart--broken with all she's had to go through."
The balloon ceased to struggle, and sank downward. Bert dropped
the rope, and ran forward to catch it in a new place. In another
moment he had his hand on the car. "Lay hold of it," said the
man in the ear, and his face appeared close to Bert's--a
strangely familiar face, fierce eyebrows, a flattish nose, a huge
black moustache. He had discarded coat and waistcoat--perhaps
with some idea of presently having to swim for his life--and his
black hair was extraordinarily disordered. "Will all you people
get hold round the car?" he said. "There's a lady here fainted--
or got failure of the heart. Heaven alone knows which! My name
is Butteridge. Butteridge, my name is--in a balloon. Now
please, all on to the edge. This is the last time I trust myself
to one of these paleolithic contrivances. The ripping-cord
failed, and the valve wouldn't act. If ever I meet the scoundrel
who ought to have seen--"
He stuck his head out between the ropes abruptly, and said, in a
note of earnest expostulation: "Get some brandy!--some neat
brandy!" Some one went up the beach for it.
In the car, sprawling upon a sort of bed-bench, in an attitude of
elaborate self-abandonment, was a large, blond lady, wearing a
fur coat and a big floriferous hat. Her head lolled back against
the padded corner of the car, and her eyes were shut and her
mouth open. "Me dear!" said Mr. Butteridge, in a common, loud
voice, "we're safe!"
She gave no sign.
"Me dear!" said Mr. Butteridge, in a greatly intensified loud
voice, "we're safe!"
She was still quite impassive.
Then Mr. Butteridge showed the fiery core of his soul. "If she
is dead," he said, slowly lifting a fist towards the balloon
above him, and speaking in an immense tremulous bellow--"if she
is dead, I will r-r-rend the heavens like a garment! I must get
her out," he cried, his nostrils dilated with emotion-"I must get
her out. I cannot have her die in a wicker-work basket nine feet
square--she who was made for kings' palaces! Keep holt of this
car! Is there a strong man among ye to take her if I hand her
He swept the lady together by a powerful movement of his arms,
and lifted her. "Keep the car from jumping," he said to those
who clustered about him. "Keep your weight on it. She is no
light woman, and when she is out of it--it will be relieved."
Bert leapt lightly into a sitting position on the edge of the
car. The others took a firmer grip upon the ropes and ring.
"Are you ready?" said Mr. Butteridge.
He stood upon the bed-bench and lifted the lady carefully. Then
he sat down on the wicker edge opposite to Bert, and put one leg
over to dangle outside. A rope or so seemed to incommode him.
"Will some one assist me?" he said. "If they would take this
It was just at this moment, with Mr. Butteridge and the lady
balanced finely on the basket brim, that she came-to. She
came-to suddenly and violently with a loud, heart-rending cry of
"Alfred! Save me!" And she waved her arms searchingly, and then
clasped Mr. Butteridge about.
It seemed to Bert that the car swayed for a moment and then
buck-jumped and kicked him. Also he saw the boots of the lady
and the right leg of the gentleman describing arcs through the
air, preparatory to vanishing over the side of the car. His
impressions were complex, but they also comprehended the fact
that he had lost his balance, and was going to stand on his head
inside this creaking basket. He spread out clutching arms. He
did stand on his head, more or less, his tow-beard came off and
got in his mouth, and his cheek slid along against padding. His
nose buried itself in a bag of sand. The car gave a violent
lurch, and became still.
"Confound it!" he said.
He had an impression he must be stunned because of a surging in
his ears, and because all the voices of the people about him had
become small and remote. They were shouting like elves inside a
He found it a little difficult to get on his feet. His limbs
were mixed up with the garments Mr. Butteridge had discarded when
that gentleman had thought he must needs plunge into the sea.
Bert bawled out half angry, half rueful, "You might have said you
were going to tip the basket." Then he stood up and clutched the
ropes of the car convulsively.
Below him, far below him, shining blue, were the waters of the
English Channel. Far off, a little thing in the sunshine, and
rushing down as if some one was bending it hollow, was the beach
and the irregular cluster of houses that constitutes Dymchurch.
He could see the little crowd of people he had so abruptly left.
Grubb, in the white wrapper of a Desert Dervish, was running
along the edge of the sea. Mr. Butteridge was knee-deep in the
water, bawling immensely. The lady was sitting up with her
floriferous hat in her lap, shockingly neglected. The beach,
east and west, was dotted with little people--they seemed all
heads and feet--looking up. And the balloon, released from the
twenty-five stone or so of Mr. Butteridge and his lady, was
rushing up into the sky at the pace of a racing motor-car. "My
crikey!" said Bert; "here's a go!"
He looked down with a pinched face at the receding beach, and
reflected that he wasn't giddy; then he made a superficial survey
of the cords and ropes about him with a vague idea of "doing
something." "I'm not going to mess about with the thing," he
said at last, and sat down upon the mattress. "I'm not going to
touch it.... I wonder what one ought to do?"
Soon he got up again and stared for a long time it the sinking
world below, at white cliffs to the east and flattening marsh to
the left, at a minute wide prospect of weald and downland, at dim
towns and harbours and rivers and ribbon-like roads, at ships and
ships, decks and foreshortened funnels upon the ever-widening
sea, and at the great mono-rail bridge that straddled the Channel
from Folkestone to Boulogne, until at last, first little wisps
and then a veil of filmy cloud hid the prospect from his eyes.
He wasn't at all giddy nor very much frightened, only in a state
of enormous consternation.
Bert Smallways was a vulgar little creature, the sort of pert,
limited soul that the old civilisation of the early twentieth
century produced by the million in every country of the world.
He had lived all his life in narrow streets, and between mean
houses he could not look over, and in a narrow circle of ideas
from which there was no escape. He thought the whole duty of man
was to be smarter than his fellows, get his hands, as he put it,
"on the dibs," and have a good time. He was, in fact, the sort
of man who had made England and America what they were. The luck
had been against him so far, but that was by the way. He was a
mere aggressive and acquisitive individual with no sense of the
State, no habitual loyalty, no devotion, no code of honour, no
code even of courage. Now by a curious accident he found himself
lifted out of his marvellous modern world for a time, out of all
the rush and confused appeals of it, and floating like a thing
dead and disembodied between sea and sky. It was as if Heaven
was experimenting with him, had picked him out as a sample from
the English millions, to look at him more nearly, and to see what
was happening to the soul of man. But what Heaven made of him in
that case I cannot profess to imagine, for I have long since
abandoned all theories about the ideals and satisfactions of
To be alone in a balloon at a height of fourteen or fifteen
thousand feet--and to that height Bert Smallways presently rose
is like nothing else in human experience. It is one of the
supreme things possible to man. No flying machine can ever
better it. It is to pass extraordinarily out of human things.
It is to be still and alone to an unprecedented degree. It is
solitude without the suggestion of intervention; it is calm
without a single irrelevant murmur. It is to see the sky. No
sound reaches one of all the roar and jar of humanity, the air is
clear and sweet beyond the thought of defilement. No bird, no
insect comes so high. No wind blows ever in a balloon, no breeze
rustles, for it moves with the wind and is itself a part of the
atmosphere. Once started, it does not rock nor sway; you cannot
feel whether it rises or falls. Bert felt acutely cold, but he
wasn't mountain-sick; he put on the coat and overcoat and gloves
Butteridge had discarded--put them over the "Desert Dervish"
sheet that covered his cheap best suit--and sat very still for a
long, time, overawed by the new-found quiet of the world.
Above him was the light, translucent, billowing globe of shining
brown oiled silk and the blazing sunlight and the great deep blue
dome of the sky.
Below, far below, was a torn floor of sunlit cloud slashed by
enormous rents through which he saw the sea.
If you had been watching him from below, you would have seen his
head, a motionless little black knob, sticking out from the car
first of all for a long time on one side, and then vanishing to
reappear after a time at some other point.
He wasn't in the least degree uncomfortable nor afraid. He did
think that as this uncontrollable thing had thus rushed up the
sky with him it might presently rush down again, but this
consideration did not trouble him very much. Essentially his
state was wonder. There is no fear nor trouble in balloons--
until they descend.
"Gollys!" he said at last, feeling a need for talking; "it's
better than a motor-bike.
"It's all right!
"I suppose they're telegraphing about, about me."...
The second hour found him examining the equipment of the car with
great particularity. Above him was the throat of the balloon
bunched and tied together, but with an open lumen through
which,Bert could peer up into a vast, empty, quiet interior, and
out of which descended two fine cords of unknown import, one
white, one crimson, to pockets below the ring. The netting about
the balloon-ended in cords attached to the ring, a big
steel-bound hoop. to which the car was slung by ropes. From it
depended the trail rope and grapnel, and over the sides of the
car were a number of canvas bags that Bert decided must be
ballast to "chuck down" if the balloon fell. ("Not much falling
just yet," said Bert.)
There were an aneroid and another box-shaped instrument hanging
from the ring. The latter had an ivory plate bearing
"statoscope" and other words in French, and a little indicator
quivered and waggled, between Montee and Descente. "That's all
right," said Bert. "That tells if you're going up or down." On
the crimson padded seat of the balloon there lay a couple of rugs
and a Kodak, and in opposite corners of the bottom of the car
were an empty champagne bottle and a glass. "Refreshments," said
Bert meditatively, tilting the empty bottle. Then he had a
brilliant idea. The two padded bed-like seats, each with
blankets and mattress, he perceived, were boxes, and within he
found Mr. Butteridge's conception of an adequate equipment for a
balloon ascent: a hamper which included a game pie, a Roman pie,
a cold fowl, tomatoes, lettuce, ham sandwiches, shrimp
sandwiches, a large cake, knives and forks and paper plates,
self-heating tins of coffee and cocoa, bread, butter, and
marmalade, several carefully packed bottles of champagne, bottles
of Perrier water, and a big jar of water for washing, a
portfolio, maps, and a compass, a rucksack containing a number of
conveniences, including curling-tongs and hair-pins,, a cap with
ear-flaps, and so forth.
"A 'ome from 'ome," said Bert, surveying this provision as he
tied the ear-flaps under his chin. He looked over the side of
the car. Far below were the shining clouds. They had thickened
so that the whole world was hidden. Southward they were piled in
great snowy masses, so that he was half disposed to think them
mountains; northward and eastward they were in wavelike levels,
and blindingly sunlit.
"Wonder how long a balloon keeps up?" he said.
He imagined he was not moving, so insensibly did the monster
drift with the air about it. "No good coming down till we shift
a bit," he said.
He consulted the statoscope.
"Still Monty," he said.
"Wonder what would happen if you pulled a cord?"
"No," he decided. "I ain't going to mess it about."
Afterwards he did pull both the ripping- and the valve-cords,
but, as Mr. Butteridge had already discovered, they had fouled a
fold of silk in the throat. Nothing happened. But for that
little hitch the ripping-cord would have torn the balloon open as
though it had been slashed by a sword, and hurled Mr. Smallways
to eternity at the rate of some thousand feet a second. "No go!"
he said, giving it a final tug. Then he lunched.
He opened a bottle of champagne, which, as soon as he cut the
wire, blew its cork out with incredible violence, and for the
most part followed it into space. Bert, however, got about a
tumblerful. "Atmospheric pressure," said Bert, finding a use at
last for the elementary physiography of his seventh-standard
days. "I'll have to be more careful next time. No good wastin'
Then he routed about for matches to utilise Mr. Butteridge's
cigars; but here again luck was on his side, and he couldn't find
any wherewith to set light to the gas above him. Or else he
would have dropped in a flare, a splendid but transitory
pyrotechnic display. "'Eng old Grubb!" said Bert, slapping
unproductive pockets. "'E didn't ought to 'ave kep' my box. 'E's
always sneaking matches."
He reposed for a time. Then he got up, paddled about, rearranged
the ballast bags on the floor, watched the clouds for a time, and
turned over the maps on the locker. Bert liked maps, and he
spent some time in trying to find one of France or the Channel;
but they were all British ordnance maps of English counties.
That set him thinking about languages and trying to recall his
seventh-standard French. "Je suis Anglais. C'est une meprise.
Je suis arrive par accident ici," he decided upon as convenient
phrases. Then it occurred to him that he would entertain himself
by reading Mr. Butteridge's letters and examining his
pocket-book, and in this manner he whiled away the afternoon.
He sat upon the padded locker, wrapped about very carefully, for
the air, though calm, was exhilaratingly cold and clear. He was
wearing first a modest suit of blue serge and all the
unpretending underwear of a suburban young man of fashion, with
sandal-like cycling-shoes and brown stockings drawn over his
trouser ends; then the perforated sheet proper to a Desert
Dervish; then the coat and waistcoat and big fur-trimmed overcoat
of Mr. Butteridge; then a lady's large fur cloak, and round his
knees a blanket. Over his head was a tow wig, surmounted by a
large cap of Mr. Butteridge's with the flaps down over his ears.
And some fur sleeping-boots of Mr. Butteridge's warmed his feet.
The car of the balloon was small and neat, some bags of ballast
the untidiest of its contents, and he had found a light
folding-table and put it at his elbow, and on that was a glass
with champagne. And about him, above and below, was space--such
a clear emptiness and silence of space as only the aeronaut can
He did not know where he might be drifting, or what might happen
next. He accepted this state of affairs with a serenity
creditable to the Smallways' courage, which one might reasonably
have expected to be of a more degenerate and contemptible quality
altogether. His impression was that he was bound to come down
somewhere, and that then, if he wasn't smashed, some one, some
"society" perhaps, would probably pack him and the balloon back
to England. If not, he would ask very firmly for the British
"Le consuelo Britannique," he decided this would be. "Apportez
moi a le consuelo Britannique, s'il vous plait," he would say,
for he was by no means ignorant of French. In the meanwhile, he
found the intimate aspects of Mr. Butteridge an interesting
There were letters of an entirely private character addressed to
Mr. Butteridge, and among others several love-letters of a
devouring sort in a large feminine hand. These are no business
of ours, and one remarks with regret that Bert read them.
When he had read them he remarked, "Gollys!" in an awestricken
tone, and then, after a long interval, "I wonder if that was her?
He mused for a time.
He resumed his exploration of the Butteridge interior. It
included a number of press cuttings of interviews and also
several letters in German, then some in the same German
handwriting, but in English. "Hul-LO!" said Bert.
One of the latter, the first he took, began with an apology to
Butteridge for not writing to him in English before, and for the
inconvenience and delay that had been caused him by that, and
went on to matter that Bert found exciting in, the highest
degree. "We can understand entirely the difficulties of your
position, and that you shall possibly be watched at the present
juncture.--But, sir, we do not believe that any serious obstacles
will be put in your way if you wished to endeavour to leave the
country and come to us with your plans by the customary
routes--either via Dover, Ostend, Boulogne, or Dieppe. We find
it difficult to think you are right in supposing yourself to be
in danger of murder for your invaluable invention."
"Funny!" said Bert, and meditated.
Then he went through the other letters.
"They seem to want him to come," said Bert, "but they don't seem
hurting themselves to get 'im. Or else they're shamming don't
care to get his prices down.
"They don't quite seem to be the gov'ment," he reflected, after
an interval. "It's more like some firm's paper. All this
printed stuff at the top. Drachenflieger. Drachenballons.
Ballonstoffe. Kugelballons. Greek to me.
"But he was trying to sell his blessed secret abroad. That's all
right. No Greek about that! Gollys! Here IS the secret!"
He tumbled off the seat, opened the locker, and had the portfolio
open before him on the folding-table. It was full of drawings
done in the peculiar flat style and conventional colours
engineers adopt. And, in, addition there were some rather
under-exposed photographs, obviously done by an amateur, at close
quarters, of the actual machine's mutterings had made, in its
shed near the Crystal Palace. Bert found he was trembling.
"Lord" he said, "here am I and the whole blessed secret of
flying--lost up here on the roof of everywhere.
"Let's see!" He fell to studying the drawings and comparing them
with the photographs. They puzzled him. Half of them seemed to
be missing. He tried to imagine how they fitted together, and
found the effort too great for his mind.
"It's tryin'," said Bert. "I wish I'd been brought up to the
engineering. If I could only make it out!"
He went to the side of the car and remained for a time staring
with unseeing eyes at a huge cluster of great clouds--a cluster
of slowly dissolving Monte Rosas, sunlit below. His attention
was arrested by a strange black spot that moved over them. It
alarmed him. It was a black spot moving slowly with him far
below, following him down there, indefatigably, over the cloud
mountains. Why should such a thing follow him? What could it
He had an inspiration. "Uv course!" he said. It was the shadow
of the balloon. But he still watched it dubiously for a time.
He returned to the plans on the table.
He spent a long afternoon between his struggles to understand
them and fits of meditation. He evolved a remarkable new
sentence in French.
"Voici, Mossoo!--Je suis un inventeur Anglais. Mon nom est
Butteridge. Beh. oo. teh. teh. eh. arr. E. deh. geh. eh.
J'avais ici pour vendre le secret de le flying-machine.
Comprenez? Vendre pour l'argent tout suite, l'argent en main.
Comprenez? C'est le machine a jouer dans l'air. Comprenez?
C'est le machine a faire l'oiseau. Comprenez? Balancer?
Oui, exactement! Battir l'oiseau en fait, a son propre jeu. Je
desire de vendre ceci a votre government national. Voulez vous
me directer la?
"Bit rummy, I expect, from the point of view of grammar," said
Bert, "but they ought to get the hang of it all right.
"But then, if they arst me to explain the blessed thing?"
He returned in a worried way to the plans. "I don't believe it's
all here!" he said....
He got more and more perplexed up there among the clouds as to
what he should do with this wonderful find of his. At any
moment, so far as he knew he might descend among he knew not what
foreign people.
"It's the chance of my life!" he said.
It became more and more manifest to him that it wasn't. "Directly
I come down they'll telegraph--put it in the papers.
Butteridge'll know of it and come along--on my track."
Butteridge would be a terrible person to be on any one's track.
Bert thought of the great black moustaches, the triangular nose,
the searching bellow and the glare. His afternoon's dream of a
marvellous seizure and sale of the great Butteridge secret
crumpled up in his mind, dissolved, and vanished. He awoke to
sanity again.
"Wouldn't do. What's the good of thinking of it?" He proceeded
slowly and reluctantly to replace the Butteridge papers in
pockets and portfolio as he had found them. He became aware of a
splendid golden light upon the balloon above him, and of a new
warmth in the blue dome of the sky. He stood up and beheld the
sun, a great ball of blinding gold, setting upon a tumbled sea of
gold-edged crimson and purple clouds, strange and wonderful
beyond imagining. Eastward cloud-land stretched for ever,
darkling blue, and it seemed to Bert the whole round hemisphere
of the world was under his eyes.
Then far, away over the blue he caught sight of three long, dark
shapes like hurrying fish that drove one after the other, as
porpoises follow one another in the water. They were very
fish-like indeed--with tails. It was an unconvincing impression
in that light. He blinked his eyes, stared again, and they had
vanished. For a long time he scrutinised those remote blue
levels and saw no more....
"Wonder if I ever saw anything," he said, and then: "There ain't
such things...."
Down went the sun and down, not diving steeply, but passing
northward as it sank, and then suddenly daylight and the
expansive warmth of daylight had gone altogether, and the index
of the statoscope quivered over to Descente.
"NOW what's going to 'appen?" said Bert.
He found the cold, grey cloud wilderness rising towards him with
a wide, slow steadiness. As he sank down among them the clouds
ceased to seem the snowclad mountain-slopes they had resembled
heretofore, became unsubstantial, confessed an immense silent
drift and eddy in their substance. For a moment, when he was
nearly among their twilight masses, his descent was checked.
Then abruptly the sky was hidden, the last vestiges of
daylight gone, and he was falling rapidly in an evening twilight
through a whirl of fine snowflakes that streamed past him towards
the zenith, that drifted in upon the things about him and melted,
that touched his face with ghostly fingers. He shivered. His
breath came smoking from his lips, and everything was instantly
bedewed and wet.
He had an impression of a snowstorm pouring with unexampled and
increasing fury UPWARD; then he realised that he was falling
faster and faster.
Imperceptibly a sound grew upon his ears. The great silence of
the world was at an end. What was this confused sound?
He craned his head over the side, concerned, perplexed.
First he seemed to see, and then not to see. Then he saw clearly
little edges of foam pursuing each other, and a wide waste of
weltering waters below him. Far away was a pilot boat with a big
sail bearing dim black letters, and a little pinkish-yellow
light, and it was rolling and pitching, rolling and pitching in a
gale, while he could feel no wind at, all. Soon the sound of
waters was loud and near. He was dropping, dropping--into the
He became convulsively active.
"Ballast!" he cried, and seized a little sack from the floor, and
heaved it overboard. He did not wait for the effect of that, but
sent another after it. He looked over in time to see a minute
white splash in the dim waters below him, and then he was back in
the snow and clouds again.
He sent out quite needlessly a third sack of ballast and a
fourth, and presently had the immense satisfaction of soaring up
out of the damp and chill into the clear, cold, upper air in
which the day still lingered. "Thang-God!" he said, with all his
A few stars now had pierced the blue, and in the east there shone
brightly a prolate moon.
That first downward plunge filled Bert with a haunting sense of
boundless waters below. It was a summer's night, but it seemed
to him, nevertheless, extraordinarily long. He had a feeling of
insecurity that he fancied quite irrationally the sunrise would
dispel. Also he was hungry. He felt, in the dark, in the
locker, put his fingers in the Roman pie, and got some
sandwiches, and he also opened rather successfully a half-bottle
of champagne. That warmed and restored him, he grumbled at Grubb
about the matches, wrapped himself up warmly on the locker, and
dozed for a time. He got up once or twice to make sure that he
was still securely high above the sea. The first time the
moonlit clouds were white and dense, and the shadow of the
balloon ran athwart them like a dog that followed; afterwards
they seemed thinner. As he lay still, staring up at the huge
dark balloon above, he made a discovery. His--or rather Mr.
Butteridge's--waistcoat rustled as he breathed. It was lined
with papers. But Bert could not see to get them out or examine
them, much as he wished to do so....
He was awakened by the crowing of cocks, the barking of dogs, and
a clamour of birds. He was driving slowly at a low level over a
broad land lit golden by sunrise under a clear sky. He stared
out upon hedgeless, well-cultivated fields intersected by roads,
each lined with cable-bearing red poles. He had just passed over
a compact, whitewashed, village with a straight church tower and
steep red-tiled roofs. A number of peasants,men and women, in
shiny blouses and lumpish footwear, stood regarding him, arrested
on their way to work. He was so low that the end of his rope was
He stared out at these people. "I wonder how you land," he
"S'pose I OUGHT to land?"
He found himself drifting down towards a mono-rail line, and
hastily flung out two or three handfuls of ballast to clear it.
"Lemme see! One might say just 'Pre'nez'! Wish I knew the
French for take hold of the rope!... I suppose they are French?"
He surveyed the country again. "Might be Holland. Or
Luxembourg. Or Lorraine 's far as _I_ know. Wonder what those
big affairs over there are? Some sort of kiln.
Prosperous-looking country..."
The respectability of the country's appearance awakened answering
chords in his nature.
"Make myself a bit ship-shape first," he said.
He resolved to rise a little and get rid of his wig (which now
felt hot on his head), and so forth. He threw out a bag of
ballast, and was astonished to find himself careering up through
the air very rapidly.
"Blow!" said Mr. Smallways. "I've over-done the ballast
trick.... Wonder when I shall get down again? ... brekfus' on
board, anyhow."
He removed his cap and wig, for the air was warm, and an
improvident impulse made him cast the latter object overboard.
The statoscope responded with a vigorous swing to Monte.
"The blessed thing goes up if you only LOOK overboard," he
remarked, and assailed the locker. He found among other items
several tins of liquid cocoa containing explicit directions for
opening that he followed with minute care. He pierced the bottom
with the key provided in the holes indicated, and forthwith the
can grew from cold to hotter and hotter, until at last he could
scarcely touch it, and then he opened the can at the other end,
and there was his cocoa smoking, without the use of match or
flame of any sort. It was an old invention, but new to Bert.
There was also ham and marmalade and bread, so that he had a
really very tolerable breakfast indeed.
Then he took off his overcoat, for the sunshine was now inclined
to be hot, and that reminded him of the rustling he had heard in
the night. He took off the waistcoat and examined it. "Old
Butteridge won't like me unpicking this." He hesitated, and
finally proceeded to unpick it. He found the missing drawings of
the lateral rotating planes, on which the whole stability of the
flying machine depended.
An observant angel would have seen Bert sitting for a long time
after this discovery in a state of intense meditation. Then at
last he rose with an air of inspiration, took Mr. Butteridge's
ripped, demolished, and ransacked waistcoat, and hurled it from
the balloon whence it fluttered down slowly and eddyingly until
at last it came to rest with a contented flop upon the face of
German tourist sleeping peacefully beside the Hohenweg near
Wildbad. Also this sent the balloon higher, and so into a
position still more convenient for observation by our imaginary
angel who would next have seen Mr. Smallways tear open his own
jacket and waistcoat, remove his collar, open his shirt, thrust
his hand into his bosom, and tear his heart out--or at least, if
not his heart, some large bright scarlet object. If the
observer, overcoming a thrill of celestial horror, had
scrutinised this scarlet object more narrowly, one of Bert's most
cherished secrets, one of his essential weaknesses, would have
been laid bare. It was a red-flannel chest-protector, one of
those large quasi-hygienic objects that with pills and medicines
take the place of beneficial relics and images among the
Protestant peoples of Christendom. Always Bert wore this thing;
it was his cherished delusion, based on the advice of a shilling
fortune-teller at Margate, that he was weak in the lungs.
He now proceeded to unbutton his fetish, to attack it with a
periknife, and to thrust the new-found plans between the two
layers of imitation Saxony flannel of which it was made. Then
with the help of Mr. Butteridge's small shaving mirror and his
folding canvas basin he readjusted his costume with the gravity
of a man who has taken an irrevocable step in life, buttoned up
his jacket, cast the white sheet of the Desert Dervish on one
side, washed temperately, shaved, resumed the big cap and the fur
overcoat, and, much refreshed by these exercises, surveyed the
country below him.
It was indeed a spectacle of incredible magnificence. If perhaps
it was not so strange and magnificent as the sunlit cloudland of
the previous day, it was at any rate infinitely more interesting.
The air was at its utmost clearness and except to the south and
south-west there was not a cloud in the sky. The country was
hilly, with occasional fir plantations and bleak upland spaces,
but also with numerous farms, and the hills were deeply
intersected by the gorges of several winding rivers interrupted
at intervals by the banked-up ponds and weirs of electric
generating wheels. It was dotted with bright-looking,
steep-roofed, villages, and each showed a distinctive and
interesting church beside its wireless telegraph steeple; here
and there were large chateaux and parks and white roads, and
paths lined with red and, white cable posts were extremely
conspicuous in the landscape. There were walled enclosures like
gardens and rickyards and great roofs of barns and many electric
dairy centres. The uplands were mottled with cattle. At places
he would see the track of one of the old railroads (converted now
to mono-rails) dodging through tunnels and crossing embankments,
and a rushing hum would mark the passing of a train. Everything
was extraordinarily clear as well as minute. Once or twice he
saw guns and soldiers, and was reminded of the stir of military
preparations he had witnessed on the Bank Holiday in England; but
there was nothing to tell him that these military preparations
were abnormal or to explain an occasional faint irregular firing
Of guns that drifted up to him....
"Wish I knew how to get down," said Bert, ten thousand feet or so
above it all, and gave himself to much futile tugging at the red
and white cords. Afterwards he made a sort of inventory of the
provisions. Life in the high air was giving him an appalling
appetite, and it seemed to him discreet at this stage to portion
out his supply into rations. So far as he could see he might
pass a week in the air.
At first all the vast panorama below had been as silent as a
painted picture. But as the day wore on and the gas diffused
slowly from the balloon, it sank earthward again, details
increased, men became more visible, and he began to hear the
whistle and moan of trains and cars, sounds of cattle, bugles and
kettle drums, and presently even men's voices. And at last his
guide-rope was trailing again, and he found it possible to
attempt a landing. Once or twice as the rope dragged over cables
he found his hair erect with electricity, and once he had a
slight shock, and sparks snapped about the car. He took these
things among the chances of the voyage. He had one idea now very
clear in his mind, and that was to drop the iron grapnel that
hung from the ring.
From the first this attempt was unfortunate, perhaps because the
place for descent was ill-chosen. A balloon should come down in
an empty open space, and he chose a crowd. He made his decision
suddenly, and without proper reflection. As he trailed, Bert saw
ahead of him one of the most attractive little towns in the
world--a cluster of steep gables surmounted by a high church
tower and diversified with trees, walled, and with a fine, large
gateway opening out upon a tree-lined high road. All the wires
and cables of the countryside converged upon it like guests to
entertainment. It had a most home-like and comfortable quality,
and it was made gayer by abundant flags. Along the road a
quantity of peasant folk, in big pair-wheeled carts and afoot,
were coming and going, besides an occasional mono-rail, car; and
at the car-junction, under the trees outside the town, was a busy
little fair of booths. It seemed a warm, human, well-rooted, and
altogether delightful place to Bert. He came low over the
tree-tops, with his grapnel ready to throw and so anchor him--a
curious, interested, and interesting guest, so his imagination
figured it, in the very middle of it all.
He thought of himself performing feats with the sign language and
chance linguistics amidst a circle of admiring rustics....
And then the chapter of adverse accidents began.
The rope made itself unpopular long before the crowd had fully
realised his advent over the trees. An elderly and apparently
intoxicated peasant in a shiny black hat, and carrying a large
crimson umbrella, caught sight of it first as it trailed past
him, and was seized with a discreditable ambition to kill it. He
pursued it, briskly with unpleasant cries. It crossed the road
obliquely, splashed into a pail of milk upon a stall, and slapped
its milky tail athwart a motor-car load of factory girls halted
outside the town gates. They screamed loudly. People looked up
and saw Bert making what he meant to be genial salutations, but
what they considered, in view of the feminine outcry, to be
insulting gestures. Then,the car hit the roof of the gatehouse
smartly, snapped a flag staff, played a tune upon some telegraph
wires, and sent a broken wire like a whip-lash to do its share in
accumulating unpopularity. Bert, by clutching convulsively, just
escaped being pitched headlong. Two young soldiers and several
peasants shouted things iup to him and shook fists at him and
began to run in pursuit as he disappeared over the wall into the
Admiring rustics, indeed!
The balloon leapt at once, in the manner of balloons when part of
their weight is released by touching down, with a sort of
flippancy, and in another moment Bert was over a street crowded
with peasants and soldiers, that opened into a busy
market-square. The wave of unfriendliness pursued him.
"Grapnel," said Bert, and then with an afterthought shouted,
"TETES there, you! I say! I say! TETES. 'Eng it!"
The grapnel smashed down a steeply sloping roof, followed by an
avalanche of broken tiles, jumped the street amidst shrieks and
cries, and smashed into a plate-glass window with an immense and
sickening,impact. The balloon rolled nauseatingly, and the car
pitched. But the grapnel had not held. It emerged at once
bearing on one fluke, with a ridiculous air of fastidious
selection, a small child's chair, and pursued by a maddened
shopman. It lifted its catch, swung about with an appearance of
painful indecision amidst a roar of wrath, and dropped it at last
neatly, and as if by inspiration, over the head of a peasant
woman in charge of an assortment of cabbages in the market-place.
Everybody now was aware of the balloon. Everybody was either
trying to dodge the grapnel or catch the trail rope. With a
pendulum-like swoop through the crowd, that sent people flying
right and left the grapnel came to earth again, tried for and
missed a stout gentleman in a blue suit and a straw hat, smacked
away a trestle from under a stall of haberdashery, made a
cyclist soldier in knickerbockers leap like a chamois, and
secured itself uncertainly among the hind-legs of a sheep--which
made convulsive, ungenerous efforts to free itself, and was
dragged into a position of rest against a stone cross in the
middle of the place. The balloon pulled up with a jerk. In
another moment a score of willing hands were tugging it
earthward. At the same instant Bert became aware for the first
time of a fresh breeze blowirg about him.
For some seconds he stood staggering in the car, which now swayed
sickeningly, surveying the exasperated crowd below him and trying
to collect his mind. He was extraordinarily astonished at this
run of mishaps. Were the people really so annoyed? Everybody
seemed angry with him. No one seemed interested or amused by his
arrival. A disproportionate amount of the outcry had the flavour
of imprecation--had, indeed a strong flavour of riot. Several
greatly uniformed officials in cocked hats struggled in vain to
control the crowd. Fists and sticks were shaken. And when Bert
saw a man on the outskirts of the crowd run to a haycart and get
a brightly pronged pitch-fork, and a blue-clad soldier unbuckle
his belt, his rising doubt whether this little town was after all
such a good place for a landing became a certainty.
He had clung to the fancy that they would make something of a
hero of him. Now he knew that he was mistaken.
He was perhaps ten feet above the people when he made his
decision. His paralysis ceased. He leapt up on the seat, and,
at imminent risk of falling headlong, released the grapnel-rope
from the toggle that held it, sprang on to the trail rope and
disengaged that also. A hoarse shout of disgust greeted the
descent of the grapnel-rope and the swift leap of the balloon,
and something--he fancied afterwards it was a turnip--whizzed by
his head. The trail-rope followed its fellow. The crowd seemed
to jump away from him. With an immense and horrifying rustle the
balloon brushed against a telephone pole, and for a tense instant
he anticipated either an electric explosion or a bursting of the
oiled silk, or both. But fortune was with him.
In another second he was cowering in the bottom of the car, and
released from the weight of the grapnel and the two ropes,
rushing up once more through the air. For a time he remained
crouching, and when at last he looked out again the little town
was very small and travelling, with the rest of lower Germany, in
a circular orbit round and round the car--or atleast it appeared
to be doing that. When he got used to it, he found this rotation
of the balloon rather convenient; it saved moving about in the
Late in the afternoon of a pleasant summer day in the year 191-,
if one may borrow a mode of phrasing that once found favour with
the readers of the late G. P. R. James, a solitary
balloonist--replacing. the solitary horseman of the classic
romances--might have been observed wending his way across
Franconia in a north-easterly direction, and at a height of about
eleven thousand feet above the sea and still spindling slowly.
His head was craned over the side of the car, and he surveyed the
country below with an expression of profound perplexity; ever and
again his lips shaped inaudible words. "Shootin' at a chap," for
example, and "I'll come down right enough soon as I find out
'ow." Over the side of the basket the robe of the Desert Dervish
was hanging, an appeal for consideration, an ineffectual white
He was now very distinctly aware that the world below him, so far
from being the naive countryside of his earlier imaginings that
day, sleepily unconscious of him and capable of being amazed and
nearly reverential at his descent, was acutely irritated by his
career, and extremely impatient with the course he was
taking.--Butindeed it was not he who took that course, but his
masters, the winds of heaven. Mysterious voices spoke to him in
his ear, jerking the words up to him by means of megaphones, in a
weird and startling ipanner, in a great variety of languages.
Official-looking persons had signalled to him by means of flag
flapping and arm waving. On the whole a guttural variant of
English prevailed in the sentences that alighted upon the
balloon; chiefly he was told to "gome down or you will be shot."
"All very well," said Bert, "but 'ow?"
Then they shot a little wide of the car. Latterly he had been
shot at six or seven times, and once the bullet had gone by with
a sound so persuasively like the tearing of silk that he had
resigned himself to the prospect of a headlong fall. But either
they were aiming near him or they had missed, and as yet nothing
was torn but the air about him--and his anxious soul.
He was now enjoying a respite from these attentions, but he felt
it was at best an interlude, and he was doing what he could to
appreciate his position. Incidentally he was having some hot
coffee and pie in an untidy inadvertent manner, with an eye
fluttering nervously over the side of the car. At first he had
ascribed the growing interest in his career to his ill-conceived
attempt to land in the bright little upland town, but now he was
beginning to realise that the military rather than the civil arm
was concerned about him.
He was quite involuntarily playing that weird mysterious
part--the part of an International Spy. He was seeing secret
things. He had, in fact, crossed the designs of no less a power
than the German Empire, he had blundered into the hot focus of
Welt-Politik, he was drifting helplessly towards the great
Imperial secret, the immense aeronautic park that had been
established at a headlong pace in Franconia to develop silently,
swiftly, and on an immense scale the great discoveries of
Hunstedt and Stossel, and so to give Germany before all other
nations a fleet of airships, the air power and the Empire of the
Later, just before they shot him down altogether, Bert saw that
great area of passionate work, warm lit in the evening light, a
great area of upland on which the airships lay like a herd of
grazing monsters at their feed. It was a vast busy space
stretching away northward as far as he could see, methodically
cut up into numbered sheds, gasometers, squad encampments,
storage areas, interlaced with the omnipresent mono-rail lines,
and altogether free from overhead wires or cables. Everywhere
was the white, black and yellow of Imperial Germany, everywhere
the black eagles spread their wings. Even without these
indications, the large vigorous neatness of everything would have
marked it German. Vast multitudes of men went to and fro, many
in white and drab fatigue uniforms busy about the balloons,
others drilling in sensible drab. Here and there a full uniform
glittered. The airships chi6fly engaged his attention, and he
knew at once it was three of these he had seen on the previous
night, taking advantage of the cloud welkin to manoeuvre
unobserved. They were altogether fish-like. For the great
airships with which Germany attacked New York in her last
gigantic effort for world supremacy--before humanity realized
that world supremacy was a dream--were the lineal descendants of
the Zeppelin airship that flew over Lake Constance in 1906, and
of the Lebaudy navigables that made their memorable excursions
over Paris in 1907 and 1908.
These German airships were held together by rib-like skeletons of
steel and aluminium and a stout inelastic canvas outer-skin,
within which was an impervious rubber gas-bag, cut up by
transverse dissepiments into from fifty to a hundred
compartments. These were all absolutely gas tight and filled
with hydrogen, and the entire aerostat was kept at any level by
means of a long internal balloonette of oiled and toughened silk
canvas, into which air could be forced and from which it could be
pumped. So the airship could be made either heavier or lighter
than air, and losses of weight through the consumption of fuel,
the casting of bombs and so forth, could also be compensated by
admitting air to sections of the general gas-bag. Ultimately
that made a highly explosive mixture; but in all these matters
risks must be taken and guarded against. There was a steel axis
to the whole affair, a central backbone which terminated in the
engine and propeller, and the men and magazines were forward in a
series of cabins under the expanded headlike forepart. The
engine, which was of the extraordinarily powerful Pforzheim type,
that supreme triumph of German invention, was worked by wires
from this forepart, which was indeed the only really habitable
part of the ship. If anything went wrong, the engineers went aft
along a rope ladder beneath the frame. The tendency of the whole
affair to roll was partly corrected by a horizontal lateral fin
on either side, and steering was chiefly effected by two vertical
fins, which normally lay back like gill-flaps on either side of
the head. It was indeed a most complete adaptation of the fish
form to aerial conditions, the position of swimming bladder,
eyes, and brain being, however, below instead of above. A
striking, and unfish-like feature was the apparatus for wireless
telegraphy that dangled from the forward cabin--that is to say,
under the chin of the fish.
These monsters were capable of ninety miles an hour in a calm, so
that they could face and make headway against nearly everything
except the fiercest tornado. They varied in length from eight
hundred to two thousand feet, and they had a carrying power of
from seventy to two hundred tons. How many Germany possessed
history does not record, but Bert counted nearly eighty great
bulks receding in perspective during his brief inspection. Such
were the instruments on which she chiefly relied to sustain her
in her repudiation of the Monroe Doctrine and her bold bid for a
share in the empire of the New World. But not altogether did she
rely on these; she had also a one-man bomb-throwing
Drachenflieger of unknown value among the resources.
But the Drachenflieger were away in the second great aeronautic
park east of Hamburg, and Bert Smallways saw nothing of them in
the bird's-eye view he took of ihe Franconian establishment
before they shot him down very neatly. The bullet tore past him
and made a sort of pop as it pierced his balloon--a pop that was
followed by a rustling sigh and a steady downward movement. And
when in the confusion of the moment he dropped a bag of ballast,
the Germans, very politely but firmly overcame his scruples by
shooting his balloon again twice.
Of all the productions of the human imagination that make the
world in which Mr. Bert Smallways lived confusingly wonderful,
there was none quite so strange, so headlong and disturbing, so
noisy and persuasive and dangerous, as the modernisations of
patriotism produced by imperial and international politics. In
the soul of all men is a liking for kind, a pride in one's own
atmosphere, a tenderness for one's Mother speech and one's
familiar land. Before the coming of the Scientific Age this
group of gentle and noble emotions had been a fine factor in the
equipment of every worthy human being, a fine factor that had its
less amiable aspect in a usually harmless hostility to strange
people, and a usually harmless detraction of strange lands. But
with the wild rush of change in the pace, scope, materials,
scale, and possibilities of human life that then occurred, the
old boundaries, the old seclusions and separations were violently
broken down. All the old settled mental habits and traditions of
men found themselves not simply confronted by new conditions, but
by constantly renewed and changing new conditions. They had no
chance of adapting themselves. They were annihilated or
perverted or inflamed beyond recognition.
Bert Smallways' grandfather, in the days when Bun Hill was a
village under the sway of Sir Peter Bone's parent, had "known his
place" to the uttermost farthing, touched his hat to his betters,
despised and condescended to his inferiors, and hadn't changed an
idea from the cradle to the grave. He was Kentish and English,
and that meant hops, beer, dog-rose's, and the sort of sunshine
that was best in the world. Newspapers and politics and visits
to "Lunnon" weren't for the likes of him. Then came the change.
These earlier chapters have given an idea of what happened to Bun
Hill, and how the flood of novel things had poured over its
devoted rusticity. Bert Smallways was only one of countless
millions in Europe and America and Asia who, instead of being
born rooted in the soil, were born struggling in a torrent they
never clearly understood. All the faiths of their fathers had
been taken by surprise, and startled into the strangest forms and
reactions. Particularly did the fine old tradition of patriotism
get perverted and distorted in the rush of the new times.
Instead of the sturdy establishment in prejudice of Bert's
grandfather, to whom the word "Frenchified" was the ultimate term
of contempt, there flowed through Bert's brain a squittering
succession of thinly violent ideas about German competition,
about the Yellow Danger, about the Black Peril, about the White
Man's Burthen--that is to say, Bert's preposterous right to
muddle further the naturally very muddled politics of the
entirely similar little cads to himself (except for a smear of
brown) who smoked cigarettes and rode bicycles in Buluwayo,
Kingston (Jamaica), or Bombay. These were Bert's "Subject
Races," and he was ready to die--by proxy in the person of any
one who cared to enlist--to maintain his hold upon that right.
It kept him awake at nights to think that he might lose it.
The essential fact of the politics of the age in which Bert
Smallways lived--the age that blundered at last into the
catastrophe of the War in the Air--was a very simple one, if only
people had had the intelligence to be simple about it. The
development of Science had altered the scale of human affairs.
By means of rapid mechanical traction, it had brought men nearer
together, so much nearer socially, economically, physically, that
the old separations into nations and kingdoms were no longer
possible, a newer, wider synthesis was not only needed, but
imperatively demanded. Just as the once independent dukedoms of
France had to fuse into a nation, so now the nations had to adapt
themselves to a wider coalescence, they had to keep what was
precious and possible, and concede what was obsolete and
dangerous. A saner world would have perceived this patent need
for a reasonable synthesis, would have discussed it temperately,
achieved and gone on to organise the great civilisation that was
manifestly possible to mankind. The world of Bert Smallways did
nothing of the sort. Its national governments, its national
interests, would not hear of anything so obvious; they were too
suspicious of each other, too wanting in generous imaginations.
They began to behave like ill-bred people in a crowded public
car, to squeeze against one another, elbow, thrust, dispute and
quarrel. Vain to point out to them that they had only to
rearrange themselves to be comfortable. Everywhere, all over the
world, the historian,of the early twentieth century finds the
same thing, the flow and rearrangement of human affairs
inextricably entangled by the old areas, the old prejudices and a
sort of heated irascible stupidity, and everywhere congested
nations in inconvenient areas, slopping population and produce
into each other, annoying each other with tariffs, and every
possible commercial vexation, and threatening each other with
navies and armies that grew every year more portentous.
It is impossible now to estimate how much of the intellectual and
physical energy of the world was wasted in military preparation
and equipment, but it was an enormous proportion. Great Britain
spent upon army and navy money and capacity, that directed into
the channels of physical culture and education would have made
the British the aristocracy of the world. Her rulers could have
kept the whole population learning and exercising up to the age
of eighteen and made a broad-chested and intelligent man of every
Bert Smallways in the islands, had they given the resources they
spent in war material to the making of men. Instead of which
they waggled flags at him until he was fourteen, incited him to
cheer, and then turned him out of school to begin that career of
private enterprise we have compactly recorded. France achieved
similar imbecilities; Germany was, if possible worse; Russia
under the waste and stresses of militarism festered towards
bankruptcy and decay. All Europe was producing big guns and
countless swarms of little Smallways. The Asiatic peoples had
been forced in self-defence into a like diversion of the new
powers science had brought them. On the eve of the outbreak of
the war there were six great powers in the world and a cluster of
smaller ones, each armed to the teeth and straining every nerve
to get ahead of the others in deadliness of equipment and
military efficiency. The great powers were first the United
States, a nation addicted to commerce, but roused to military
necessities by the efforts of Germany to expand into South
America, and by the natural consequences of her own unwary
annexations of land in the very teeth of Japan. She maintained
two immense fleets east and west, and internally she was in
violent conflict between Federal and State governments upon the
question of univiorsal service in a defensive militia. Next came
the great alliance of Eastern Asia, a close-knit coalescence of
China and Japan, advancing with rapid strides year by year to
predominance in the world's affairs. Then the German alliance
still struggled to achieve its dream of imperial expansion, and
its imposition of the German language upon a forcibly united
Europe. These were the three most spirited and aggressive powers
in the world. Far more pacific was the British Empire,
perilously scattered over the globe, and distracted now by
insurrectionary movements in Ireland and among all its Subject
Races. It had given these subject races cigarettes, boots,
bowler hats, cricket, race meetings, cheap revolvers, petroleum,
the factory system of industry, halfpeuny newspapers in both
English and the vernacular, inexpensive university degrees,
motor-bicycles and electric trams; it had produced a considerable
literature expressing contempt for the Subject Races, and
rendered it freely accessible to them, and it had been content to
believe that nothing would result from these stimulants because
somebody once wrote "the immemorial east"; and also, in the
inspired words of Kipling--
East is east and west is west,
And never the twain shall meet.
Instead of which, Egypt, India, and the subject countries
generally had produced new generations in a state of passionate
indignation and the utmost energy, activity and modernity. The
governing class in Great Britain was slowly adapting itself to a
new conception, of the Subject Races as waking peoples, and
finding its efforts to keep the Empire together under these,
strains and changing ideas greatly impeded by the entirely
sporting spirit with which Bert Smallways at home (by the
million) cast his vote, and by the tendency of his more highly
coloured equivalents to be disrespectful to irascible officials.
Their impertinence was excessive; it was no mere stone-throwing
and shouting. They would quote Burns at them and Mill and Darwin
and confute them in arguments.
Even more pacific than the British Empire were France and its
allies, the Latin powers, heavily armed states indeed, but
reluctant warriors, and in many ways socially and politically
leading western civilisation. Russia was a pacific power
perforce, divided within itself, torn between revolutionaries and
reactionaries who were equally incapable of social
reconstruction, and so sinking towards a tragic disorder of
chronic political vendetta. Wedged in among these portentous
larger bulks, swayed and threatened by them, the smaller states
of the world maintained a precarious independence, each keeping
itself armed as dangerously as its utmost ability could contrive.
So it came about that in every country a great and growing body
of energetic and inventive men was busied either for offensive or
defensive ends, in elaborating the apparatus of war, until the
accumulating tensions should reach the breaking-point. Each
power sought to keep its preparations secret, to hold new weapons
in reserve, to anticipate and learn the preparations of its
rivals. The feeling of danger from fresh discoveries affected
the patriotic imagination of every people in the world. Now it
was rumoured the British had an overwhelming gun, now the French
an invincible rifle, now the Japanese a new explosive, now the
Americans a submarine that would drive every ironclad from the
seas. Each time there would be a war panic.
The strength and heart of the nations was given to the thought of
war, and yet the mass of their citizens was a teeming democracy
as heedless of and unfitted for fighting, mentally, morally,
physically, as any population has ever been--or, one ventures to
add, could ever be. That was the paradox of the time. It was a
period altogether unique in the world's history. The apparatus
of warfare, the, art and method of fighting, changed absolutely
every dozen years in a stupendous progress towards perfection,
and people grew less and less warlike, and there was no war.
And then at last it came. It came as a surprise to all the world
because its real causes were hidden. Relations were strained
between Germany and the United States because of the intense
exasperation of a tariff conflict and the ambiguous attitude of
the former power towards the Monroe Doctrine, and they were
strained between the United States and Japan because of the
perennial citizenship question. But in both cases these were
standing causes of offence. The real deciding cause, it is now
known, was the perfecting of the Pforzheim engine by Germany and
the consequent possibility of a rapid and entirely practicable
airship. At that time Germany was by far the most efficient
power in the world, better organised for swift and secret action,
better equipped with the resources of modern science, and with
her official and administrative classes at a higher level of
education and training. These things she knew, and she
exaggerated that knowledge to the pitch of contempt for the
secret counsels of her neighbours. It may be that with the habit
of self-confidence her spying upon them had grown less thorough.
Moreover, she had a tradition of unsentimental and unscrupulous
action that vitiated her international outlook profoundly. With
the coming of these new weapons her collective intelligence
thrilled with the sense that now her moment had come. Once again
in the history of progress it seemed she held the decisive
weapon. Now she might strike and conquer--before the others had
anything but experiments in the air.
Particularly she must strike America, swiftly, because there, if
anywhere, lay the chance of an aerial rival. It was known that
America possessed a flying-machine of considerable practical
value, developed out of the Wright model; but it was not supposed
that the Washington War Office had made any wholesale attempts to
create air aerial navy. It was necessary to strike before they
could do so. France had a fleet of slow navigables, several
dating from 1908, that could make no possible headway against the
new type. They had been built solely for reconnoitring purposes
on the eastern frontier, they were mostly too small to carry more
than a couple, of dozen men without arms or provisions, and not
one could do forty miles. an hour. Great Britain, it seemed, in
an access of meanness, temporised and wrangled with the imperial
spirited Butteridge and his extraordinary invention. That also
was not in play--and could not be for some months at the
earliest. From Asia there, came no sign. The Germans explained
this by saying the yellow peoples were without invention. No
other competitor was worth considering. "Now or never," said the
Germans--"now or never we may seize the air--as once the British
seized the seas! While all the other powers are still
Swift and systematic and secret were their preparations, and
their plan most excellent. So far as their knowledge went,
America was the only dangerous possibility; America, which was
also now the leading trade rival of Germany and one of the chief
barriers to her Imperial expansion. So at once they would strike
at America. They would fling a great force across the Atlantic
heavens and bear America down unwarned and unprepared.
Altogether it was a well-imagined and most hopeful and spirited
enterprise, having regard to the information in the possession of
the German government. The chances of it being a successful
surprise were very great. The airship and the flying-machine
were very different things from ironclads, which take a couple of
years to build. Given hands, given plant, they could be made
innumerably in a few weeks. Once the needful parks and foundries
were organised, air-ships and Dracheinflieger could be poured
into the sky. Indeed, when the time came, they did pour into the
sky like, as a bitter French writer put it, flies roused from
The attack upon America was to be the first move in this
tremendous game. But no sooner had it started than instantly the
aeronautic parks were to proceed to put together and inflate the
second fleet which was to dominate Europe and manoeuvre
significantly over London, Paris, Rome, St. Petersburg, or
wherever else its moral effect was required. A World Surprise it
was to be--no less a World Conquest; and it is wonderful how near
the calmly adventurous minds that planned it came to succeeding
in their colossal design.
Von Sternberg was the Moltke of this War in the Air, but it was
the curious hard romanticism of Prince Karl Albert that won over
the hesitating Emperor to the scheme. Prince Karl Albert was
indeed the central figure of the world drama. He was the
darling of the Imperialist spirit in German, and the ideal of the
new aristocratic feeling--the new Chivalry, as it was
called--that followed the overthrow of Socialism through its
internal divisions and lack of discipline, and the concentration
of wealth in the hands of a few great families. He was compared
by obsequious flatterers to the Black Prince, to Alcibiades, to
the young Caesar. To many he seemed Nietzsche's Overman
revealed. He was big and blond and virile, and splendidly
non-moral. The first great feat that startled Europe, and almost
brought about a new Trojan war, was his abduction of the Princess
Helena of Norway and his blank refusal to marry her. Then
followed his marriage with Gretchen Krass, a Swiss girl of
peerless beauty. Then came the gallant rescue, which almost cost
him his life, of three drowning tailors whose boat had upset in
the sea near Heligoland. For that and his victory over the
American yacht Defender, C.C.I., the Emperor forgave him and
placed him in control of the new aeronautic arm of the German
forces. This he developed with marvellous energy and ability,
being resolved, as he said, to give to Germany land and sea and
sky. The national passion for aggression found in him its
supreme exponent, and achieved through him its realisation in
this astounding war. But his fascination was more than national;
all over the world his ruthless strength dominated minds as the
Napoleonic legend had dominated minds. Englishmen turned in
disgust from the slow, complex, civilised methods of their
national politics to this uncompromising, forceful figure.
Frenchmen believed in him. Poems were written to him in
He made the war.
Quite equally with the rest of the world, the general German
population was taken by surprise by the swift vigour of the
Imperial government. A considerable literature of military
forecasts, beginning as early as 1906 with Rudolf Martin, the
author not merely of a brilliant book of anticipations, but of a
proverb, "The future of Germany lies in the air," had, however,
partially prepared the German imagination for some such
Of all these world-forces and gigantic designs Bert Smallways
knew nothing until he found himself in the very focus of it all
and gaped down amazed on the spectacle of that giant herd of airships.
Each one seemed as long as the Strand, and as big about
as Trafalgar Square. Some must have been a third of a mile in
length. He had never before seen anything so vast and
disciplined as this tremendous park. For the first time in his
life he really had an intimation of the extraordinary and quite
important things of which a contemporary may go in ignorance. He
had always clung to the illusion that Germans were fat, absurd
men, who smoked china pipes, and were addicted to knowledge and
horseflesh and sauerkraut and indigestible things generally.
His bird's-eye view was quite transitory. He ducked at the first
shot; and directly his balloon began to drop, his mind ran
confusedly upon how he might explain himself, and whether he
should pretend to be Butteridge or not. "O Lord!" he groaned, in
an agony of indecision. Then his eye caught his sandals, and he
felt a spasm of self-disgust. "They'll think I'm a bloomin'
idiot," he said, and then it was he rose up desperately and threw
over the sand-bag and provoked the second and third shots.
It flashed into his head, as he cowered in the bottom of the car,
that he might avoid all sorts of disagreeable and complicated
explanations by pretending to be mad.
That was his last idea before the airships seemed to rush up
about him as if to look at him, and his car hit the ground and
bounded and pitched him out on his head....
He awoke to find himself famous, and to hear a voice crying,
"Booteraidge! Ja! Jai Herr Booteraidge! Selbst!"
He was lying on a little patch of grass beside one of the main
avenues of the aeronautic park. The airships receded down a
great vista, an im mense perspective, and the blunt prow of each
was adorned with a black eagle of a hundred feet or so spread.
Down the other side of the avenue ran a series of gas generators,
and big hose-pipes trailed everywhere across the intervening
space. Close at hand was his now nearly deflated balloon and the
car on its side looking minutely small, a mere broken toy, a
shrivelled bubble, in contrast with the gigantic bulk of the
nearer airship. This he saw almost end-on, rising like a cliff
and sloping forward towards its fellow on the other side so as to
overshadow the alley between them. There was a crowd of excited
people about him, big men mostly in tight uniforms. Everybody
was talking, and several were shouting, in German; he knew that
because they splashed and aspirated sounds like startled kittens.
Only one phrase, repeated again and again could he recognize--the
name of "Herr Booteraidge."
"Gollys!" said Bert. "They've spotted it."
"Besser," said some one, and some rapid German followed.
He perceived that close at hand was a field telephone, and that a
tall officer in blue was talking thereat about him. Another
stood close beside him with the portfolio of drawings and
photographs in his hand. They looked round at him.
"Do you spik Cherman, Herr Booteraidge?"
Bert decided that he had better be dazed. He did his best to
seem thoroughly dazed. "Where AM I?" he asked.
Volubility prevailed. "Der Prinz," was mentioned. A bugle
sounded far away, and its call was taken up by one nearer, and
then by one close at hand. This seemed to increase the
excitement greatly. A mono-rail car bumbled past. The telephone
bell rang passionately, and the tall officer seemed to engage in
a heated altercation. Then he approached the group about Bert,
calling out something about "mitbringen."
An earnest-faced, emaciated man with a white moustache appealed
to Bert. "Herr Booteraidge, sir, we are chust to start!"
"Where am I?" Bert repeated.
Some one shook him by the other shoulder. "Are you Herr
Booteraidge?" he asked.
"Herr Booteraidge, we are chust to start!" repeated the white
moustache, and then helplessly, "What is de goot? What can we
The officer from the telephone repeated his sentence about "Der
Prinz" and "mitbringen." The man with the moustache stared for a
moment, grasped an idea and became violently energetic, stood up
and bawled directions at unseen people. Questions were asked,
and the doctor at Bert's side answered, "Ja! Ja!" several times,
also something about "Kopf." With a certain urgency he got Bert
rather unwillingly to his feet. Two huge soldiers in grey
advanced upon Bert and seized hold of him. "'Ullo!" said Bert,
startled. "What's up?"
"It is all right," the doctor explained; "they are to carry you."
"Where?" asked Bert, unanswered.
"Put your arms roundt their--hals--round them!"
"Yes! but where?"
"Hold tight!"
Before Bert could decide to say anything more he was whisked up
by the two soldiers. They joined hands to seat him, and his arms
were put about their necks. "Vorwarts!" Some one ran before him
with the portfolio, and he was borne rapidly along the broad
avenue between the gas generators and the airships, rapidly and
on the whole smoothly except that once or twice his bearers
stumbled over hose-pipes and nearly let him down.
He was wearing Mr. Butteridge's Alpine cap, and his little
shoulders were in Mr. Butteridge's fur-lined overcoat, and he had
responded to Mr. Butteridge's name. The sandals dangled
helplessly. Gaw! Everybody seemed in a devil of a hurry. Why?
He was carried joggling and gaping through the twilight,
marvelling beyond measure.
The systematic arrangement of wide convenient spaces, the
quantities of business-like soldiers everywhere, the occasional
neat piles of material, the ubiquitous mono-rail lines, and the
towering ship-like hulls about him, reminded him a little of
impressions he had got as a boy on a visit to Woolwich Dockyard.
The whole camp reflected the colossal power of modern science
that had created it. A peculiar strangeness was produced by the
lowness of the electric light, which lay upon the ground, casting
all shadows upwards and making a grotesque shadow figure of
himself and his bearers on the airship sides, fusing all three of
them into a monstrous animal with attenuated legs and an immense
fan-like humped body. The lights were on the ground because as
far as possible all poles and standards had been dispensed with
to prevent complications when the airships rose.
It was deep twilight now, a tranquil blue-skyed evening;
everything rose out from the splashes of light upon the ground
into dim translucent tall masses; within the cavities of the
airships small inspecting lamps glowed like cloud-veiled stars,
and made them seem marvellously unsubstantial. Each airship had
its name in black letters on white on either flank, and forward
the Imperial eagle sprawled, an overwhelming bird in the dimness.
Bugles sounded, mono-rail cars of quiet soldiers slithered
burbling by. The cabins under the heads of the airships were
being lit up; doors opened in them, and revealed padded passages.
Now and then a voice gave directions to workers indistinctly
There was a matter of sentinels, gangways and a long narrow
passage, a scramble over a disorder of baggage, and then Bert
found himself lowered to the ground and standing in the doorway
of a spacious cabin--it was perhaps ten feet square and eight
high, furnished with crimson padding and aluminium. A tall,
bird-like young man with a small head, a long nose, and very pale
hair, with his hands full of things like shaving-strops,
boot-trees, hair-brushes, and toilet tidies, was saying things
about Gott and thunder and Dummer Booteraidge as Bert entered.
He was apparently an evicted occupant. Then he vanished, and
Bert was lying back on a couch in the corner with a pillow under
his head and the door of the cabin shut upon him. He was alone.
Everybody had hurried out again astonishingly.
"Gollys!" said Bert. "What next?"
He stared about him at the room.
"Butteridge! Shall I try to keep it up, or shan't I?"
The room he was in puzzled him. "'Tisn't a prison and 'tisn't a
norfis?" Then the old trouble came uppermost. "I wish to 'eaven
I adn't these silly sandals on," he cried querulously to the
universe. "They give the whole blessed show away."
His door was flung open, and a compact young man in uniform
appeared, carrying Mr. Butteridge's portfolio, rucksac, and
"I say!" he said in faultless English as he entered. He had a
beaming face, and a sort of pinkish blond hair. "Fancy you being
Butteridge. He slapped Bert's meagre luggage down.
"We'd have started," he said, "in another half-hour! You didn't
give yourself much time!"
He surveyed Bert curiously. His gaze rested for a fraction of a
moment on the sandals. "You ought to have come on your
flying-machine, Mr. Butteridge."
He didn't wait for an answer. "The Prince says I've got to
look after you. Naturally he can't see you now, but he thinks
your coming's providential. Last grace of Heaven. Like a
sign. Hullo!"
He stood still and listened.
Outside there was a going to and fro of feet, a sound of distant
bugles suddenly taken up and echoed close at hand, men called out
in loud tones short, sharp, seemingly vital things, and were
answered distantly. A bell jangled, and feet went down the
corridor. Then came a stillness more distracting than sound, and
then a great gurgling and rushing and splashing of water. The
young man's eyebrows lifted. He hesitated, and dashed out of the
room. Presently came a stupendous bang to vary the noises
without, then a distant cheering. The young man re-appeared.
"They're running the water out of the ballonette already."
"What water?" asked Bert.
"The water that anchored us. Artful dodge. Eh?"
Bert tried to take it in.
"Of course!" said the compact young man. "You don't understand."
A gentle quivering crept upon Bert's senses. "That's the engine,"
said the compact young man approvingly. "Now we shan't be long."
Another long listening interval.
The cabin swayed. "By Jove! we're starting already;" he cried.
"We're starting!"
"Starting!" cried Bert, sitting up. "Where?"
But the young man was out of the room again. There were noises
of German in the passage, and other nerve-shaking sounds.
The swaying increased. The young man reappeared. "We're off,
right enough!"
"I say!", said Bert, "where are we starting? I wish you'd
explain. What's this place? I don't understand."
"What!" cried the young man, "you don't understand?"
"No. I'm 'all dazed-like from that crack on the nob I got.
Where ARE we? WHERE are we starting?"
"Don't you know where you are--what this is?"
"Not a bit of it! What's all the swaying and the row?"
"What a lark!" cried the young man. "I say! What a thundering
lark! Don't you know? We're off to America, and you haven't
realised. You've just caught us by a neck. You're on the
blessed old flagship with the Prince. You won't miss anything.
Whatever's on, you bet the Vaterland will be there."
"Us!--off to America?"
"In an airship?"
"What do YOU think?"
"Me! going to America on an airship! After that balloon! 'Ere!
I say--I don't want to go! I want to walk about on my legs. Let
me get out! I didn't understand."
He made a dive for the door.
The young man arrested Bert with a gesture, took hold of a strap,
lifted up a panel in the padded wall, and a window appeared.
"Look!" he said. Side by side they looked out.
"Gaw!" said Bert. "We're going up!"
"We are!" said the young man, cheerfully; "fast!"
They were rising in the air smoothly and quietly, and moving
slowly to the throb of the engine athwart the aeronautic park.
Down below it stretched, dimly geometrical in the darkness,
picked out at regular intervals by glow-worm spangles of light.
One black gap in the long line of grey, round-backed airships
marked the position from which the Vaterland had come. Beside it
a second monster now rose softly, released from its bonds and
cables into the air. Then, taking a beautifully exact distance,
a third ascended, and then a fourth.
"Too late, Mr. Butteridge!" the young man remarked. "We're off!
I daresay it is a bit of a shock to you, but there you are! The
Prince said you'd have to come."
"Look 'ere, " said Bert. "I really am dazed. What's this thing?
Where are we going?"
"This, Mr. Butteridge," said the young man, taking pains to be
explicit, "is an airship. It's the flagship of Prince Karl
Albert. This is the German air-fleet, and it is going over to
America, to give that spirited people 'what for.' The only thing
we were at all uneasy about was your invention. And here you
"But!--you a German?" asked Bert.
"Lieutenant Kurt. Luft-lieutenant Kurt, at your service."
"But you speak English!"
"Mother was English--went to school in England. Afterwards,
Rhodes scholar. German none the less for that. Detailed for the
present, Mr. Butteridge, to look after you. You're shaken by
your fall. It's all right, really. They're going to buy your
machine and everything. You sit down, and take it quite calmly.
You'll soon get the hang of the position."
Bert sat down on the locker, collecting his mind, and the young
man talked to him about the airship.
He was really a very tactful young man indeed, in a natural sort
of way. "Daresay all this is new to you," he said; "not your
sort of machine. These cabins aren't half bad."
He got up and walked round the little apartment, showing its
"Here is the bed," he said, whipping down a couch from the wall
and throwing it back again with a click. "Here are toilet
things," and he opened a neatly arranged cupboard. "Not much
washing. No water we've got; no water at all except for
drinking. No baths or anything until we get to America and land.
Rub over with loofah. One pint of hot for shaving. That's all.
In the locker below you are rugs and blankets; you will need them
presently. They say it gets cold. I don't know. Never been up
before. Except a little work with gliders--which is mostly going
down. Three-quarters of the chaps in the fleet haven't. Here's
a folding-chair and table behind the door. Compact, eh?"
He took the chair and balanced it on his little finger. "Pretty
light, eh? Aluminium and magnesium alloy and a vacuum inside.
All these cushions stuffed with hydrogen. Foxy! The whole
ship's like that. And not a man in the fleet, except the Prince
and one or two others, over eleven stone. Couldn't sweat the
Prince, you know. We'll go all over the thing to-morrow. I'm
frightfully keen on it."
He beamed at Bert. "You DO look young," he remarked. "I always
thought you'd be an old man with a beard--a sort of philosopher.
I don't know why one should expect clever people always to be
old. I do."
Bert parried that compliment a little awkwardly, and then the
lieutenant was struck with the riddle why Herr Butteridge had not
come in his own flying machine.
"It's a long story," said Bert. "Look here!" he said abruptly,
"I wish you'd lend me a pair of slippers, or something. I'm
regular sick of these sandals. They're rotten things. I've been
trying them for a friend."
"Right O!"
The ex-Rhodes scholar whisked out of the room and reappeared with
a considerable choice of footwear--pumps, cloth bath-slippers,
and a purple pair adorned with golden sun-flowers.
But these he repented of at the last moment.
"I don't even wear them myself," he said. "Only brought 'em in
the zeal of the moment." He laughed confidentially. "Had 'em
worked for me--in Oxford. By a friend. Take 'em everywhere."
So Bert chose the pumps.
The lieutenant broke into a cheerful snigger. "Here we are
trying on slippers," he said, "and the world going by like a
panorama below. Rather a lark, eh? Look!"
Bert peeped with him out of the window, looking from the bright
pettiness of the red-and-silver cabin into a dark immensity. The
land below, except for a lake, was black and featureless, and the
other airships were hidden. "See more outside, " said the
lieutenant. "Let's go! There's a sort of little gallery."
He led the way into the long passage, which was lit by one small
electric light, past some notices in German, to an open balcony
and a light ladder and gallery of metal, lattice overhanging,
empty space. Bert followed his leader down to the gallery slowly
and cautiously. From it he was able to watch the wonderful
spectacle of the first air-fleet flying through the night. They
flew in a wedge-shaped formation, the Vaterland highest and
leading, the tail receding into the corners of the sky. They
flew in long, regular undulations, great dark fish-like shapes,
showing hardly any light at all, the engines making a
throb-throb-throbbing sound that was very audible out on the
gallery. They were going at a level of five or six thousand
feet, and rising steadily. Below, the country lay silent, a
clear darkness dotted and lined out with clusters of furnaces,
and the lit streets of a group of big towns. The world seemed to
lie in a bowl; the overhanging bulk of the airship above hid all
but the lowest levels of the sky.
They watched the landscape for a space.
"Jolly it must be to invent things," said the lieutenant
suddenly. "How did you come to think of your machine first?"
"Worked it out," said Bert, after a pause. "Jest ground away at
"Our people are frightfully keen on you. They thought the
British had got you. Weren't the British keen?"
"In a way," said Bert. "Still--its a long story."
"I think it's an immense thing--to invent. I couldn't invent a
thing to save my life."
They both fell silent, watching the darkened world and following
their thoughts until a bugle summoned them to a belated dinner.
Bert was suddenly alarmed. "Don't you 'ave to dress and things?"
he said. "I've always been too hard at Science and things to go
into Society and all that."
"No fear," said Kurt. "Nobody's got more than the clothes they
wear. We're travelling light. You might perhaps take your
overcoat off. They've an electric radiator each end of the
And so presently Bert found himself sitting to eat in the
presence of the "German Alexander"--that great and puissant
Prince, Prince Karl Albert, the War Lord, the hero of two
hemispheres. He was a handsome, blond man, with deep-set eyes, a
snub nose, upturned moustache, and long white hands, a
strange-looking man. He sat higher than the others, under a
black eagle with widespread wings and the German Imperial flags;
he was, as it were, enthroned, and it struck Bert greatly that as
he ate he did not look at people, but over their heads like one
who sees visions. Twenty officers of various ranks stood about
the table--and Bert. They all seemed extremely curious to see
the famous Butteridge, and their astonishment at his appearance
was ill-controlled. The Prince gave him a dignified salutation,
to which, by an inspiration, he bowed. Standing next the Prince
was a brown-faced, wrinkled man with silver spectacles and
fluffy, dingy-grey side-whiskers, who regarded Bert with a
peculiar and disconcerting attention. The company sat after
ceremonies Bert could not understand. At the other end of the
table was the bird-faced officer Bert had dispossessed, still
looking hostile and whispering about Bert to his neighbour. Two
soldiers waited. The dinner was a plain one--a soup, some fresh
mutton, and cheese--and there was very little talk.
A curious solemnity indeed brooded over every one. Partly this
was reaction after the intense toil and restrained excitement of
starting; partly it was the overwhelming sense of strange new
experiences, of portentous adventure. The Prince was lost in
thought. He roused himself to drink to the Emperor in champagne,
and the company cried "Hoch!" like men repeating responses in
No smoking was permitted, but some of the officers went down to
the little open gallery to chew tobacco. No lights whatever were
safe amidst that bundle of inflammable things. Bert suddenly
fell yawning and shivering. He was overwhelmed by a sense of his
own insignificance amidst these great rushing monsters of the
air. He felt life was' too big for him--too much for him
He said something to Kurt about his head, went up the steep
ladder from the swaying little gallery into the airship again,
and so, as if it were a refuge, to bed.
Bert slept for a time, and then his sleep was broken by dreams.
Mostly he was fleeing from formless terrors down an interminable
passage in an airship--a passage paved at first with ravenous
trap-doors, and then with openwork canvas of the most careless
"Gaw!" said Bert, turning over after his seventh fall through
infinite space that night.
He sat up in the darkness and nursed his knees. The progress of
the airship was not nearly so smooth as a balloon; he could feel
a regular swaying up, up, up and then down, down, down, and the
throbbing and tremulous quiver of the engines.
His mind began to teem with memories--more memories and more.
Through them, like a struggling swimmer in broken water, came the
perplexing question, what am I to do to-morrow? To-morrow, Kurt
had told him, the Prince's secretary, the Graf Von Winterfeld,
would come to him and discuss his flying-machine, and then he
would see the Prince. He would have to stick it out now that he
was Butteridge, and sell his invention. And then, if they found
him out! He had a vision of infuriated Butteridges.... Suppose
after all he owned up? Pretended it was their misunderstanding?
He began to scheme devices for selling the secret and
circumventing Butteridge.
What should he ask for the thing? Somehow twenty thousand pounds
struck him as about the sum indicated.
He fell into that despondency that lies in wait in the small
hours. He had got too big a job on--too big a job....
Memories swamped his scheming.
"Where was I this time last night?"
He recapitulated his evenings tediously and lengthily. Last
night he had been up above the clouds in Butteridge's balloon.
He thought of the moment when he dropped through them and saw the
cold twilight sea close below. He still remembered that
disagreeable incident with a nightmare vividness. And the night
before he and Grubb had been looking for cheap lodgings at
Littlestone in Kent. How remote that seemed now. It might be
years ago. For the first time he thought of his fellow Desert
Dervish, left with the two red-painted bicycles on Dymchurch
sands. "'E won't make much of a show of it, not without me.
Any'ow 'e did 'ave the treasury--such as it was--in his pocket!"
...The night before that was Bank Holiday night and they had sat
discussing their minstrel enterprise, drawing up a programme and
rehearsing steps. And the night before was Whit Sunday. "Lord!"
cried Bert, "what a doing that motor-bicycle give me!" He
recalled the empty flapping of the eviscerated cushion, the
feeling of impotence as the flames rose again. From among the
confused memories of that tragic flare one little figure emerged
very bright and poignantly sweet, Edna, crying back reluctantly
from the departing motor-car, "See you to-morrer, Bert?"
Other memories of Edna clustered round that impression. They led
Bert's mind step by step to an agreeable state that found
expression in "I'll marry 'ER if she don't look out." And then
in a flash it followed in his mind that if he sold the Butteridge
secret he could! Suppose after all he did get twenty thousand
pounds; such sums have been paid! With that he could buy house
and garden, buy new clothes beyond dreaming, buy a motor, travel,
have every delight of the civilised life as he knew it, for
himself and Edna. Of course, risks were involved. "I'll 'ave
old Butteridge on my track, I expect!"
He meditated upon that. He declined again to despondency. As
yet he was only in the beginning of the adventure. He had still
to deliver the goods and draw the cash. And before that--Just
now he was by no means on his way home. He was flying off to
America to fight there. "Not much fighting," he considered; "all
our own way." Still, if a shell did happen to hit the Vaterland
on the underside!...
"S'pose I ought to make my will."
He lay back for some time composing wills--chiefly in favour of
Edna. He had settled now it was to be twenty thousand pounds.
He left a number of minor legacies. The wills became more and
more meandering and extravagant....
He woke from the eighth repetition of his nightmare fall through
space. "This flying gets on one's nerves," he said.
He could feel the airship diving down, down, down, then slowly
swinging to up, up, up. Throb, throb, throb, throb, quivered the
He got up presently and wrapped himself about with Mr.
Butteridge's overcoat and all the blankets, for the air was very
keen. Then he peeped out of the window to see a grey dawn
breaking over clouds, then turned up his light and bolted his
door, sat down to the table, and produced his chest-protector.
He smoothed the crumpled plans with his hand, and contemplated
them. Then he referred to the other drawings in the portfolio.
Twenty thousand pounds. If he worked it right! It was worth
trying, anyhow.
Presently he opened the drawer in which Kurt had put paper and
Bert Smallways was by no means a stupid person, and up to a
certain limit he had not been badly educated. His board school
had taught him to draw up to certain limits, taught him to
calculate and understand a specification. If at that point his
country had tired of its efforts, and handed him over unfinished
to scramble for a living in an atmosphere of advertiseinents and
individual enterprise, that was really not his fault. He was as
his State had made him, and the reader must not imagine because
he was a little Cockney cad, that he was absolutely incapable of
grasping the idea of the Butteridge flying-machine. But he found
it stiff and perplexing. His motor-bicycle and Grubb's
experiments and the "mechanical drawing" he had done in standard
seven all helped him out; and, moreover, the maker of these
drawings, whoever he was, had been anxious to make his intentions
plain. Bert copied sketches, he made notes, he made a quite
tolerable and intelligent copy of the essential drawings and
sketches of the others. Then he fell into a meditation upon
At last he rose with a sigh, folded up the originals that had
formerly been in his chest-protector and put them into the
breast-pocket of his jacket, and then very carefully deposited
the copies he had made in the place of the originals. He had no
very clear plan in his mind in doing this, except that he hated
the idea of altogether parting with the secret. For a long time
he meditated profoundly--nodding. Then he turned out his light
and went to bed again and schemed himself to sleep.
The hochgeboren Graf von Winterfeld was also a light sleeper that
night, but then he was one of these people who sleep little and
play chess problems in their heads to while away the time--and
that night he had a particularly difficult problem to solve.
He came in upon Bert while he was still in bed in the glow of the
sunlight reflected from the North Sea below, consumng the rolls
and coffee a soldier had brought him. He had a portfolio under
his arm, and in the clear, early morning light his dingy grey
hair and heavy, silver-rimmed spectacles made him look almost
benevolent. He spoke English fluently, but with a strong German
flavour. He was particularly bad with his "b's," and his "th's"
softened towards weak "z'ds." He called Bert explosively,
"Pooterage." He began with some indistinct civilities, bowed,
took a folding-table and chair from behind the door, put the
former between himself and Bert, sat down on the latter, coughed
drily, and opened his portfolio. Then he put his elbows on the
table, pinched his lower lip with his two fore-fingers, and
regarded Bert disconcertingly with magnified eyes. "You came to
us, Herr Pooterage, against your will," he said at last.
"'Ow d'you make that out?" asked Bert, after a pause of
"I chuge by ze maps in your car. They were all English. And
your provisions. They were all picnic. Also your cords were
entangled. You haf' been tugging--but no good. You could not
manage ze balloon, and anuzzer power than yours prought you to
us. Is it not so?"
Bert thought.
"Also--where is ze laty?"
"'Ere!--what lady?"
"You started with a laty. That is evident. You shtarted for an
afternoon excursion--a picnic. A man of your temperament--he
would take a laty. She was not wiz you in your balloon when you
came down at Dornhof. No! Only her chacket! It is your affair.
Still, I am curious."
Bert reflected. "'Ow d'you know that?"
"I chuge by ze nature of your farious provisions. I cannot
account, Mr. Pooterage, for ze laty, what you haf done with her.
Nor can I tell why you should wear nature-sandals, nor why you
should wear such cheap plue clothes. These are outside my
instructions. Trifles, perhaps. Officially they are to be
ignored. Laties come and go--I am a man of ze worldt. I haf
known wise men wear sandals and efen practice vegetarian habits.
I haf known men--or at any rate, I haf known chemists--who did
not schmoke. You haf, no doubt, put ze laty down somewhere.
Well. Let us get to--business. A higher power"--his voice
changed its emotional quality, his magnified eyes seemed to
dilate--"has prought you and your secret straight to us. So!"--
he bowed his head--"so pe it. It is ze Destiny of Chermany and
my Prince. I can undershtandt you always carry zat secret. You
are afraidt of roppers and spies. So it comes wiz you--to us.
Mr. Pooterage, Chermany will puy it."
"Will she?"
"She will," said the secretary, looking hard at Bert's abandoned
sandals in the corner of the locker. He roused himself,
consulted a paper of notes for a moment, and Bert eyed his brown
and wrinkled face with expectation and terror. "Chermany, I am
instructed to say," said the secretary, with his eyes on the
table and his notes spread out, "has always been willing to puy
your secret. We haf indeed peen eager to acquire it fery eager;
and it was only ze fear that you might be, on patriotic groundts,
acting in collusion with your Pritish War Office zat has made us
discreet in offering for your marvellous invention through
intermediaries. We haf no hesitation whatefer now, I am
instructed, in agreeing to your proposal of a hundert tousand
"Crikey!" said Bert, overwhelmed.
"I peg your pardon?"
"Jest a twinge," said Bert, raising his hand to his bandaged
"Ah! Also I am instructed to say that as for that noble,
unrightly accused laty you haf championed so brafely against
Pritish hypocrisy and coldness, all ze chivalry of Chermany is on
her site."
"Lady?" said Bert faintly, and then recalled the great Butteridge
love story. Had the old chap also read the letters? He must
think him a scorcher if he had. "Oh! that's aw-right," he said,
"about 'er. I 'adn't any doubts about that. I--"
He stopped. The secretary certainly had a most appalling stare.
It seemed ages before he looked down again. "Well, ze laty as
you please. She is your affair. I haf performt my instructions.
And ze title of Paron, zat also can pe done. It can all pe done,
Herr Pooterage."
He drummed on the table for a second or so, and resumed. "I haf
to tell you, sir, zat you come to us at a crisis
in--Welt-Politik. There can be no harm now for me to put our
plans before you. Pefore you leafe this ship again they will be
manifest to all ze worldt. War is perhaps already declared. We
go-to America. Our fleet will descend out of ze air upon ze
United States--it is a country quite unprepared for war
eferywhere--eferywhere. Zey have always relied on ze Atlantic.
And their navy. We have selected a certain point--it is at
present ze secret of our commanders--which we shall seize, and
zen we shall establish a depot--a sort of inland Gibraltar. It
will be--what will it be?--an eagle's nest. Zere our airships
will gazzer and repair, and thence they will fly to and fro ofer
ze United States, terrorising cities, dominating Washington,
levying what is necessary, until ze terms we dictate are
accepted. You follow me?"
"Go on!" said Bert.
"We could haf done all zis wiz such Luftschiffe and
Drachenflieger as we possess, but ze accession of your machine
renders our project complete. It not only gifs us a better
Drachenflieger, but it remofes our last uneasiness as to Great
Pritain. Wizout you, sir, Great Pritain, ze land you lofed so
well and zat has requited you so ill, zat land of Pharisees and
reptiles, can do nozzing!--nozzing! You see, I am perfectly
frank wiz you. Well, I am instructed that Chermany recognises
all this. We want you to place yourself at our disposal. We
want you to become our Chief Head Flight Engineer. We want you
to manufacture, we want to equip a swarm of hornets under your
direction. We want you to direct this force. And it is at our
depot in America we want you. So we offer you simply, and
without haggling, ze full terms you demanded weeks ago--one
hundert tousand poundts in cash, a salary of three tousand
poundts a year, a pension of one tousand poundts a year, and ze
title of Paron as you desired. These are my instructions."
He resumed his scrutiny of Bert's face.
"That's all right, of course," said Bert, a little short of
breath, but otherwise resolute and calm; and it seemed to him
that now was the time to bring his nocturnal scheming to the
The secretary contemplated Bert's collar with sustained
attention. Only for one moment did his gaze move to the sandals
and back.
"Jes' lemme think a bit," said Bert, finding the stare
debilitating. "Look 'ere I" he said at last, with an air of
great explicitness, "I GOT the secret."
"But I don't want the name of Butteridge to appear--see? I been
thinking that over."
"A little delicacy?"
"Exactly. You buy the secret--leastways, I give it you--from
His voice failed him a little, and the stare continued. "I want
to do the thing Enonymously. See?"
Still staring. Bert drifted on like a swimmer caught by a
current. "Fact is, I'm going to edop' the name of Smallways. I
don't want no title of Baron; I've altered my mind. And I want
the money quiet-like. I want the hundred thousand pounds paid
into benks-thirty thousand into the London and County Benk Branch
at Bun Hill in Kent directly I 'and over the plans; twenty
thousand into the Benk of England; 'arf the rest into a good
French bank, the other 'arf the German National Bank, see? I
want it put there, right away. I don't want it put in the name
of Butteridge. I want it put in the name of Albert Peter
Smallways; that's the name I'm going to edop'. That's condition
"Go on!" said the secretary.
"The nex condition," said Bert, "is that you don't make any
inquiries as to title. I mean what English gentlemen do when
they sell or let you land. You don't arst 'ow I got it. See?
'Ere I am--I deliver you the goods--that's all right. Some
people 'ave the cheek to say this isn't my invention, see? It
is, you know--THAT'S all right; but I don't want that gone into.
I want a fair and square agreement saying that's all right.
His "See?" faded into a profound silence.
The secretary sighed at last, leant back in his chair and
produced a tooth-pick, and used it, to assist his meditation on
Bert's case. "What was that name?" he asked at last, putting
away the tooth-pick; "I must write it down."
"Albert Peter Smallways," said Bert, in a mild tone.
The secretary wrote it down, after a little difficulty about the
spelling because of the different names of the letters of the
alphabet in the two languages.
"And now, Mr. Schmallvays," he said at last, leaning back and
resuming the stare, "tell me: how did you ket hold of Mister
Pooterage's balloon?"
When at last the Graf von Winterfold left Bert Smallways, he left
him in an extremely deflated condition, with all his little story
He had, as people say, made a clean breast of it. He had been
pursued into details. He had had to explain the blue suit, the
sandals, the Desert Dervishes--everything. For a time scientific
zeal consumed the secretary, and the question of the plans
remained in suspense. He even went into speculation about the
previous occupants of the balloon. "I suppose," he said, "the
laty WAS the laty. Bot that is not our affair.
"It is fery curious and amusing, yes: but I am afraid the Prince
may be annoyt. He acted wiz his usual decision--always he acts
wiz wonterful decision. Like Napoleon. Directly he was tolt of
your descent into the camp at Dornhof, he said, 'Pring
him!--pring him! It is my schtar!' His schtar of Destiny! You
see? He will be dthwarted. He directed you to come as Herr
Pooterage, and you haf not done so. You haf triet, of course; but
it has peen a poor try. His chugments of men are fery just and
right, and it is better for men to act up to them--gompletely.
Especially now. Particularly now."
He resumed that attitude of his, with his underlip pinched
between his forefingers. He spoke almost confidentially. "It
will be awkward. I triet to suggest some doubt, but I was
over-ruled. The Prince does not listen. He is impatient in the
high air. Perhaps he will think his schtar has been making a
fool of him. Perhaps he will think _I_ haf been making a fool of
He wrinkled his forehead, and drew in the corners of his mouth.
"I got the plans," said Bert.
"Yes. There is that! Yes. But you see the Prince was
interested in Herr Pooterage because of his romantic seit. Herr
Pooterage was so much more--ah!--in the picture. I am afraid you
are not equal to controlling the flying machine department of our
aerial park as he wished you to do. He hadt promised himself
"And der was also the prestige--the worldt prestige of Pooterage
with us.... Well, we must see what we can do." He held out his
hand. "Gif me the plans."
A terrible chill ran through the being of Mr. Smallways. To this
day he is not clear in his mind whether he wept or no, but
certainly there was weeping in his voice. "'Ere, I say!" he
protested. "Ain't I to 'ave--nothin' for 'em?"
The secretary regarded him with benevolent eyes. "You do not
deserve anyzing!" he said.
"I might 'ave tore 'em up."
"Zey are not yours!"
"They weren't Butteridge's!"
"No need to pay anyzing."
Bert's being seemed to tighten towards desperate deeds. "Gaw!"
he said, clutching his coat, "AIN'T there?"
"Pe galm,"said the secretary. "Listen! You shall haf five
hundert poundts. You shall haf it on my promise. I will do that
for you, and that is all I can do. Take it from me. Gif me the
name of that bank. Write it down. So! I tell you the Prince--
is no choke. I do not think he approffed of your appearance last
night. No! I can't answer for him. He wanted Pooterage, and
you haf spoilt it. The Prince--I do not understand quite, he is
in a strange state. It is the excitement of the starting and
this great soaring in the air. I cannot account for what he
does. But if all goes well I will see to it--you shall haf five
hundert poundts. Will that do? Then gif me the plans."
"Old beggar!" said Bert, as the door clicked. "Gaw!--what an ole
He sat down in the folding-chair, and whistled noiselessly for a
"Nice 'old swindle for 'im if I tore 'em up! I could 'ave."
He rubbed the bridge of his nose thoughtfully. "I gave the whole
blessed show away. If I'd j'es' kep quiet about being
Enonymous.... Gaw! ...Too soon, Bert, my boy--too soon and too
rushy. I'd like to kick my silly self.
"I couldn't 'ave kep' it up.
"After all, it ain't so very bad," he said.
"After all, five 'undred pounds....It isn't MY secret, anyhow.
It's jes' a pickup on the road. Five 'undred.
"Wonder what the fare is from America back home?"
And later in the day an extremely shattered and disorganised Bert
Smallways stood in the presence of the Prince Karl Albert.
The proceedings were in German. The Prince was in his own cabin,
the end room of the airship, a charming apartment furnished in
wicker-work with a long window across its entire breadth, looking
forward. He was sitting at a folding-table of green baize, with
Von Winterfeld and two officers sitting beside him, and littered
before them was a number of American maps and Mr. Butteridge's
letters and his portfolio and a number of loose papers. Bert was
not asked to sit down, and remained standing throughout the
interview. Von Winterfeld told his story, and every now and then
the words Ballon and Pooterage struck on Bert's ears. The
Prince's face remained stern and ominous and the two officers
watched it cautiously or glanced at Bert. There was something a
little strange in their scrutiny of the Prince--a curiosity, an
apprehension. Then presently he was struck by an idea, and they
fell discussing the plans. The Prince asked Bert abruptly in
English. "Did you ever see this thing go op?"
Bert jumped. "Saw it from Bun 'Ill, your Royal Highness."
Von Winterfeld made some explanation.
"How fast did it go?"
"Couldn't say, your Royal Highness. The papers, leastways the
Daily Courier, said eighty miles an hour."
They talked German over that for a time.
"Couldt it standt still? Op in the air? That is what I want to
"It could 'ovver, your Royal Highness, like a wasp," said Bert.
"Viel besser, nicht wahr?" said the Prince to Von Winterfeld, and
then went on in German for a time.
Presently they came to an end, and the two officers looked at
Bert. One rang a bell, and the portfolio was handed to an
attendant, who took it away.
Then they reverted to the case of Bert, and it was evident the
Prince was inclined to be hard with him. Von Winterfeld
protested. Apparently theological considerations came in, for
there were several mentions of "Gott!" Some conclusions emerged,
and it was apparent that Von Winterfeld was instructed to convey
them to Bert.
"Mr. Schmallvays, you haf obtained a footing in this airship," he
said, "by disgraceful and systematic lying."
"'Ardly systematic," said Bert. "I--"
The Prince silenced him by a gesture.
"And it is within the power of his Highness to dispose of you as
a spy."
"'Ere!--I came to sell--"
"Ssh!" said one of the officers.
"However, in consideration of the happy chance that mate you the
instrument unter Gott of this Pooterage flying-machine reaching
his Highness's hand, you haf been spared. Yes,--you were the
pearer of goot tidings. You will be allowed to remain on this
ship until it is convenient to dispose of you. Do you
"We will bring him," said the Prince, and added terribly with a
terrible glare, "als Ballast."
"You are to come with us," said Winterfeld, "as pallast. Do you
Bert opened his mouth to ask about the five hundred pounds, and
then a saving gleam of wisdom silenced him. He met Von
Winterfeld's eye, and it seemed to him the secretary nodded
"Go!" said the Prince, with a sweep of the great arm and hand
towards the door. Bert went out like a leaf before a gale.
But in between the time when the Graf von Winterfeld had talked
to him and this alarming conference with the Prince, Bert had
explored the Vaterland from end to end. He had found it
interesting in spite of grave preoccupations. Kurt, like the
greater number of the men upon the German air-fleet, had known
hardly anything of aeronautics before his appointment to the new
flag-ship. But he was extremely keen upon this wonderful new
weapon Germany had assumed so suddenlv and dramatically. He
showed things to Bert with a boyish eagerness and appreciation.
It was as if he showed them,over again to himself, like a child
showing a new toy. "Let's go all over the ship," he said with
zest. He pointed out particularly the lightness of everything,
the use of exhausted aluminium tubing, of springy cushions
inflated with compressed hydrogen; the partitions were hydrogen
bags covered with light imitation leather, the very crockery was
a light biscuit glazed in a vacuum, and weighed next to nothing.
Where strength was needed there was the new Charlottenburg alloy,
German steel as it was called, the toughest and most resistant
metal in the world.
There was no lack of space. Space did not matter, so long as
load did not grow. The habitable part of the ship was two
hundred and fifty feet long, and the rooms in two tiers; above
these one could go up into remarkable little white-metal turrets
with big windows and airtight double doors that enabled one to
inspect the vast cavity of the gas-chambers. This inside view
impressed Bert very much. He had never realised before that an
airship was not one simple continuous gas-bag containing nothing
but gas. Now he saw far above him the backbone of the apparatus
and its big ribs, "like the neural and haemal canals," said Kurt,
who had dabbled in biology.
"Rather!" said Bert appreciatively, though he had not the ghost
of an idea what these phrases meant.
Little electric lights could be switched on up there if anything
went wrong in the night. There were even ladders across the
space. "But you can't go into the gas," protested Bert.
"You can't breve it."
The lieutenant opened a cupboard door and displayed a diver's
suit, only that it was made of oiled silk, and both its
compressed-air knapsack and its helmet were of an alloy of
aluminium and some light metal. "We can go all over the inside
netting and stick up bullet holes or leaks," he explained.
"There's netting inside and out. The whole outer-case is rope
ladder, so to speak."
Aft of the habitable part of the airship was the magazine of
explosives, coming near the middle of its length. They were all
bombs of various types mostly in glass--none of the German
airships carried any guns at all except one small pom-pom (to use
the old English nickname dating from the Boer war), which was
forward in the gallery upon the shield at the heart of the eagle.
From the magazine amidships a covered canvas gallery with
aluminium treads on its floor and a hand-rope, ran back
underneath the gas-chamber to the engine-room at the tail; but
along this Bert did not go, and from first to last he never saw
the engines. But he went up a ladder against a gale of
ventilation--a ladder that was encased in a kind of gas-tight
fire escape--and ran right athwart the great forward air-chamber
to the little look-out gallery with a telephone, that gallery
that bore the light pom-pom of German steel and its locker of
shells. This gallery was all of aluminium magnesium alloy, the
tight front of the air-ship swelled cliff-like above and below,
and the black eagle sprawled overwhelmingly gigantic, its
extremities all hidden by the bulge of the gas-bag. And far
down, under the soaring' eagles, was England, four thousand feet
below perhaps, and looking very small and defenceless indeed in
the morning sunlight.
The realisation that there was England gave Bert sudden and
unexpected qualms of patriotic compunction. He was struck by a
quite novel idea. After all, he might have torn up those plans
and thrown them away. These people could not have done so very
much to him. And even if they did, ought not an Englishman to
die for his country? It was an idea that had hitherto been
rather smothered up by the cares of a competitive civilisation.
He became violently depressed. He ought, he perceived, to have
seen it in that light before. Why hadn't he seen it in that
light before?
Indeed, wasn't he a sort of traitor?....He wondered how the
aerial fleet must look from down there. Tremendous, no doubt,
and dwarfing all the buildings.
He was passing between Manchester and Liverpool, Kurt told him; a
gleaming band across the prospect was the Ship Canal, and a
weltering ditch of shipping far away ahead, the Mersey estuary.
Bert was a Southerner; he had never been north of the Midland
counties, and the multitude of factories and chimneys--the latter
for the most part obsolete and smokeless now, superseded by huge
electric generating stations that consumed their own reek--old
railway viaducts, mono-rail net-works and goods yards, and the
vast areas of dingy homes and narrow streets, spreading
aimlessly, struck him as though Camberwell and Rotherhithe had
run to seed. Here and there, as if caught in a net, were fields
and agricultural fragments. It was a sprawl of undistinguished
population. There were, no doubt, museums and town halls and
even cathedrals of a sort to mark theoretical centres of
municipal and religious organisation in this confusion; but Bert
could not see them, they did not stand out at all in that wide
disorderly vision of congested workers' houses and places to
work, and shops and meanly conceived chapels and churches. And
across this landscape of an industrial civilisation swept the
shadows of the German airships like a hurrying shoal of
Kurt and he fell talking of aerial tactics, and presently went
down to the undergallery in order that Bert might see the
Drachenflieger that the airships of the right wing had picked up
overnight and were towing behind them; each airship towing three
or four. They looked, like big box-kites of an exaggerated form,
soaring at the ends of invisible cords. They had long, square
headsand flattened tails, with lateral propellers.
"Much skill is required for those!--much skill!"
"Your machine is different from that, Mr. Butteridge?"
"Quite different," said Bert. "More like an insect, and less
like a bird. And it buzzes, and don't drive about so. What can
those things do?"
Kurt was not very clear upon that himself, and was still
explaining when Bert was called to the conference we have
recorded with the Prince.
And after that was over, the last traces of Butteridge fell from
Bert like a garment, and he became Smallways to all on board.
The soldiers ceased to salute him, and the officers ceased to
seem aware of his existence, except Lieutenant Kurt. He was
turned out of his nice cabin, and packed in with his belongings
to share that of Lieutenant Kurt, whose luck it was to be junior,
and the bird-headed officer, still swearing slightly, and
carrying strops and aluminium boot-trees and weightless
hair-brushes and hand-mirrors and pomade in his hands, resumed
possession. Bert was put in with Kurt because there was nowhere
else for him to lay his bandaged head in that close-packed
vessel. He was to mess, he was told, with the men.
Kurt came and stood with his legs wide apart and surveyed, him
for a moment as he sat despondent in his new quarters.
"What's your real name, then?" said Kurt, who was only
imperfectly informed of the new state of affairs.
"I thought you were a bit of a fraud--even when I thought you
were Butteridge. You're jolly lucky the Prince took it calmly.
He's a pretty tidy blazer when he's roused. He wouldn't stick a
moment at pitching a chap of your sort overboard if he thought
fit. No!... They've shoved you on to me, but it's my cabin, you
"I won't forget," said Bert.
Kurt left him, andwhen he came to look about him the first thing
he saw pasted on the padded wall was a reproduction, of the great
picture by Siegfried Schmalz of the War God, that terrible,
trampling figure with the viking helmet and the scarlet cloak,
wading through destruction, sword in hand, which had so strong a
resemblance to Karl Albert, the prince it was painted to please.
The Prince Karl Albert had made a profound impression upon Bert.
He was quite the most terrifying person Bert had ever
encountered. He filled the Smallways soul with passionate
dread and antipathy. For a long time Bert sat alone in Kurt's
cabin, doing nothing and not venturing even to open the door lest
he should be by that much nearer that appalling presence.
So it came about that he was probably the last person on board to
hear the news that wireless telegraphy was bringing to the
airship in throbs and fragments of a great naval battle in
progress in mid-Atlantic.
He learnt it at last from Kurt.
Kurt came in with a general air of ignoring Bert, but muttering
to himself in English nevertheless. "Stupendous!" Bert heard him
say. "Here!" he said, "get off this locker." And he proceeded
to rout out two books and a case of maps. He spread them on the
folding-table, and stood regarding them. For a time his Germanic
discipline struggled with his English informality and his natural
kindliness and talkativeness, and at last lost.
"They're at it, Smallways," he said.
"At what, sir?" said Bert, broken and respectful.
"Fighting! The American North Atlantic squadron and pretty nearly
the whole of our fleet. Our Eiserne Kreuz has had a gruelling
and is sinking, and their Miles Standish--she's one of their
biggest--has sunk with all hands. Torpedoes, I suppose. She was
a bigger ship than the Karl der Grosse, but five or six years
older. Gods! I wish we could see it Smallways; a square fight in
blue water, guns or nothing, and all of 'em steaming ahead!"
He spread his maps, he had to talk, and so he delivered a lecture
on the naval situation to Bert.
"Here it is," he said, latitude 30 degrees 50 minutes N.
longitude 30 degrees 50 minutes W. It's a good day off us,
anyhow, and they're all going south-west by south at full pelt as
hard as they can go. We shan't see a bit of it, worse luck! Not
a sniff we shan't get!"
The naval situation in the North Atlantic at that time was a
peculiar one. The United States was by far the stronger of the
two powers upon the sea, but the bulk of the American fleet was
still in the Pacific. It was in the direction of Asia that war
had been most feared, for the situation between Asiatic and white
had become unusually violent and dangerous, and the Japanese
government had shown itself quite unprecedentedly difficult. The
German attack therefore found half the American strength at
Manila, and what was called the Second Fleet strung out across
the Pacific in wireless contact between the Asiatic station and
San Francisco. The North Atlantic squadron was the sole American
force on her eastern shore, it was returning from a friendly
visit to France and Spain, and was pumping oil-fuel from tenders
in mid-Atlantic--for most of its ships were steamships--when the
international situation became acute. It was made up of four
battleships and five armoured cruisers ranking almost with
battleships, not one of which was of a later date than 1913. The
Americans had indeed grown so accustomed to the idea that Great
Britain could be trusted to keep the peace of the Atlantic that a
naval attack on the eastern seaboard found them unprepared even
in their imaginations. But long before the declaration of
war--indeed,on Whit Monday--the whole German fleet of eighteen
battleships, with a flotilla of fuel tenders and converted liners
containing stores to be used in support of the air-fleet, had
passed through the straits of Dover and headed boldly for New
York. Not only did these German battleships outnumber the
Americans two to one, but they were more heavily armed and more
modern in construction--seven of them having high explosive
engines built of Charlottenburg steel, and all carrying
Charlottenburg steel guns.
The fleets came into contact on Wednesday before any actual
declaration of war. The Americans had strung out in the modern
fashion at distances of thirty miles or so, and were steaming to
keep themselves between the Germans and either the eastern states
or Panama; because, vital as it was to defend the seaboard cities
and particularly New York, it was still more vital to save the
canal from any attack that might prevent the return of the main
fleet from the Pacific. No doubt, said Kurt, this was now making
records across that ocean, "unless the Japanese have had the same
idea as the Germans." It was obviously beyond human possibility
that the American North Atlantic fleet could hope to meet and
defeat the German; but, on the other hand, with luck it might
fight a delaying action and inflict such damage as to greatly
weakenthe attack upon the coast defences. Its duty, indeed, was
not victory but devotion, the severest task in the world.
Meanwhile the submarine defences of New York, Panama, and the
other more vital points could be put in some sort of order.
This was the naval situation, and until Wednesday in Whit week it
was the only situation the American people had realised. It was
then they heard for the first time of the real scale of the
Dornhof aeronautic park and the possibility of an attack coming
upon them not only by sea, but by the air. But it is curious
that so discredited were the newspapers of that period that a
large majority of New Yorkers, for example, did not believe the
most copious and circumstantial accounts of the German air-fleet
until it was actually in sight of New York.
Kurt's talk was half soliloquy. He stood with a map on
Mercator's projection before him, swaying to the swinging of the
ship and talking of guns and tonnage, of ships and their build
and powers and speed, of strategic points, and bases of
operation. A certain shyness that reduced him to the status of a
listener at the officers' table no longer silenced him.
Bert stood by, saying very little, but watching Kurt's finger on
the map. "They've been saying things like this in the papers for
a long time," he remarked. "Fancy it coming real!"
Kurt had a detailed knowledge of the Miles Standish. "She used
to be a crack ship for gunnery--held the record. I wonder if we
beat her shooting, or how? I wish I was in it. I wonder which
of our ships beat her. Maybe she got a shell in her engines.
It's a running fight! I wonder what the Barbarossa is doing," he
went on, "She's my old ship. Not a first-rater, but good stuff.
I bet she's got a shot or two home by now if old Schneider's up
to form. Just think of it! There they are whacking away at each
other, great guns going, shells exploding, magazines bursting,
ironwork flying about like straw in a gale, all we've been
dreaming of for years! I suppose we shall fly right away to New
York--just as though it wasn't anything at all. I suppose we
shall reckon we aren't wanted down there. It's no more than a
covering fight on our side. All those tenders and store-ships of
ours are going on southwest by west to New York to make a
floating depot for us. See?" He dabbed his forefinger on the
map. "Here we are. Our train of stores goes there, our
battleships elbow the Americans out of our way there."
When Bert went down to the men's mess-room to get his evening
ration, hardly any one took notice of him except just to point
him out for an instant. Every one was talking of thebattle,
suggesting, contradicting--at times, until the petty officers
hushed them, it rose to a greatuproar. There was a new bulletin,
but what it said he did not gather except that it concerned the
Barbarossa. Some of the men stared at him, and he heard the name
of "Booteraidge" several times; but no one molested him, and
there was no difficulty about his soup and bread when his turn at
the end of the queue came. He had feared there might be no
ration for him, and if so he did not know what he would have
Afterwards he ventured out upon the little hanging gallery with
the solitary sentinel. The weather was still fine, but the wind
was rising and the rolling swing of the airship increasing. He
clutched the rail tightly and felt rather giddy. They were now
out of sight of land, and over blue water rising and falling in
great masses. A dingy old brigantine under the British flag rose
and plunged amid the broad blue waves--the only ship in sight.
In the evening it began to blow and the air-ship to roll like a
porpoise as it swung through the air. Kurt said that several of
the men were sea-sick, but the motion did not inconvenience Bert,
whose luck it was to be of that mysterious gastric disposition
which constitutes a good sailor. He slept well, but in the small
hours the light awoke him, and he found Kurt staggering about in
search of something. He found it at last in the locker, and held
it in his hand unsteadily--a compass. Then he compared his map.
"We've changed our direction," he said, "and come into the wind.
I can't make it out. We've turned away from New York to the
south. Almost as if we were going to take a hand--"
He continued talking to himself for some time.
Day came, wet and windy. The window was bedewed externally, and
they could see nothing through it. It was also very cold, and
Bert decided to keep rolled up in his blankets on the locker
until the bugle summoned him to his morning ration. That
consumed, he went out on the little gallery; but he could see
nothing but eddying clouds driving headlong by, and the dim
outlines of the nearer airships. Only at rare intervals could he
get a glimpse of grey sea through the pouring cloud-drift.
Later in the morning the Vaterland changed altitude, and soared
up suddenly in a high, clear sky, going, Kurt said, to a height
of nearly thirteen thousand feet.
Bert was in his cabin, and chanced to see the dew vanish from the
window and caught the gleam of sunlight outside. He looked out,
and saw once more that sunlit cloud floor he had seen first from
the balloon, and the ships of the German air-fleet rising one by
one from the white, as fish might rise an become visible from
deep water. He stared for a moment and then ran out to the
little gallery to see this wonder better. Below was cloudland
and storm, a great drift of tumbled weather going hard away to
the north-east, and the air about him was clear and cold and
serene save for the faintest chill breeze and a rare, drifting
snow-flake. Throb, throb, throb, throb, went the engines in the
stillness. That huge herd of airships rising one after another
had an effect of strange, portentous monsters breaking into an
altogether unfamiliar world.
Either there was no news of the naval battle that morning, or the
Prince kept to himself whatever came until past midday. Then the
bulletins came with a rush, bulletins that made the lieutenant
wild with excitement.
"Barbarossa disabled and sinking," he cried. "Gott im Himmel!
Der alte Barbarossa! Aber welch ein braver krieger!"
He walked about the swinging cabin, and for a time he was wholly
Then he became English again. "Think of it, Smallways! The old
ship we kept so clean and tidy! All smashed about, and the iron
flying about in fragments, and the chaps one knew--Gott!--flying
about too! Scalding water squirting, fire, and the smash, smash
of the guns! They smash when you're near! Like everything
bursting to pieces! Wool won't stop it--nothing! And me up
here--so near and so far! Der alte Barbarossa!"
"Any other ships?" asked Smallways, presently.
"Gott! Yes! We've lost the Karl der Grosse, our best and
biggest. Run down in the night by a British liner that blundered
into the fighting in trying to blunder out. They're fighting in
a gale. The liner's afloat with her nose broken, sagging about!
There never was such a battle!--never before! Good ships and
good men on both sides,--and a storm and the night and the dawn
and all in the open ocean full steam ahead! No stabbing! No
submarines! Guns and shooting! Half our ships we don't hear of
any more, because their masts are shot away. Latitude, 30
degrees 40 minutes N.--longitude, 40 degrees 30 minutes W.-
-where's that?"
He routed out his map again, and stared at it with eyes that did
not see.
"Der alte Barbarossa! I can't get it out of my head--with shells
in her engine-room, and the fires flying out of her furnaces, and
the stokers and engineers scalded and dead. Men I've messed
with, Smallways--men I've talked to close! And they've had their
day at last! And it wasn't all luck for them.!
"Disabled and sinking! I suppose everybody can't have all the
luck in a battle. Poor old Schneider! I bet he gave 'em
something back!"
So it was the news of the battle came filtering through to them
all that morning. The Americans had lost a second ship, name
unknown; the Hermann had been damaged in covering the
Barbarossa.... Kurt fretted like an imprisoned animal about the
airship, now going up to the forward gallery under the eagle, now
down into the swinging gallery, now poring over his maps. He
infected Smallways with a sense of the immediacy of this battle
that was going on just over the curve of the earth. But when
Bert went down to the gallery the world was empty and still, a
clear inky-blue sky above and a rippled veil of still, thin
sunlit cirrus below, through which one saw a racing drift of
rain-cloud, and never a glimpse of sea. Throb, throb, throb,
throb, went the engines, and the long, undulating wedge of
airships hurried after the flagship like a flight of swans after
their leader. Save for the quiver of the engines it was as
noiseless as a dream. And down there, somewhere in the wind and
rain, guns roared, shells crashed home, and, after the old manner
of warfare, men toiled and died.
As the afternoon wore on the lower weather abated, and the sea
became intermittently visible again. The air-fleet dropped
slowly to the middle air, and towards sunset they had a glimpse
of the disabled Barbarossa far away to the east. Smallways heard
men hurrying along the passage, and was drawn out to the gallery,
where he found nearly a dozen officers collected and scrutinising
the helpless ruins of the battleship through field-glasses. Two
other vessels stood by her, one an exhausted petrol tank, very
high out of the water, and the other a converted liner. Kurt was
at the end of the gallery, a little apart from the others.
"Gott!" he said at last, lowering his binocular, "it is like
seeing an old friend with his nose cut off--waiting to be
finished. Der Barbarossa!"
With a sudden impulse he handed his glass to Bert, who had peered
beneath his hands, ignored by every one, seeing the three ships
merely as three brown-black lines upon the sea.
Never had Bert seen the like of that magnified slightly hazy
image before. It was not simply a battered ironclad that
wallowed helpless, it was a mangled ironclad. It seemed
wonderful she still floated. Her powerful engines had been her
ruin. In the long chase of the night she had got out of line
with her consorts, and nipped in between the Susquehanna and the
Kansas City. They discovered her proximity, dropped back until
she was nearly broadside on to the former battleship, and
signalled up the Theodore Roosevelt and the little Monitor. As
dawn broke she had found herself hostess of a circle. The fight
had not lasted five minutes before the appearance of the Hermann
to the east, and immediately after of the Furst Bismarck in the
west, forced the Americans to leave her, but in that time they
had smashed her iron to rags. They had vented the accumulated
tensions of their hard day's retreat upon her. As Bert saw her,
she seemed a mere metal-worker's fantasy of frozen metal
writhings. He could not tell part from part of her, except by
its position.
"Gott!" murmured Kurt, taking the glasses Bert restored to him--
"Gott! Da waren Albrecht--der gute Albrecht und der alte Zimmermann--
und von Rosen!"
Long after the Barbarosa had been swallowed up in the twilight
and distance he remained on the gallery peering through his
glasses, and when he came back to his cabin he was unusually
silent and thoughtful.
"This is a rough game, Smallways," he said at last--"this war is
a rough game. Somehow one sees it different after a thing like
that. Many men there were worked to make that Barbarossa, and
there were men in it--one does not meet the like of them every
day. Albrecht--there was a man named Albrecht--played the zither
and improvised; I keep on wondering what has happened to him. He
and I--we were very close friends, after the German fashion."
Smallways woke--the next night to discover the cabin in darkness,
a draught blowing through it, and Kurt talking to himself in
German. He could see him dimly by the window, which he had
unscrewed and opened, peering down. That cold, clear, attenuated
light which is not so much light as a going of darkness, which
casts inky shadows and so often heralds the dawn in the high air,
was on his face.
"What's the row?" said Bert.
"Shut up!" said the lieutenant. "Can't you hear?"
Into the stillness came the repeated heavy thud of guns, one,
two, a pause, then three in quick succession.
"Gaw!" said Bert--"guns!" and was instantly at the lieutenant's
side. The airship was still very high and the sea below was
masked by a thin veil of clouds. The wind had fallen, and Bert,
following Kurt's pointing finger, saw dimly through the
colourless veil first a red glow, then a quick red flash, and
then at a little distance from it another. They were, it seemed
for a while, silent flashes, and seconds after, when one had
ceased to expect them, came the belated thuds--thud, thud. Kurt
spoke in German, very quickly.
A bugle call rang through the airship.
Kurt sprang to his feet, saying something in an excited tone,
still using German, and went to the door.
"I say! What's up?" cried Bert. "What's that?"
The lieutenant stopped for an instant in the doorway, dark
against the light passage. "You stay where you are, Smallways.
You keep there and do nothing. We're going into action," he
explained, and vanished.
Bert's heart began to beat rapidly. He felt himself poised over
the fighting vessels far below. In a moment, were they to drop
like a hawk striking a bird? "Gaw!" he whispered at last, in
awestricken tones.
Thud! . . . thud! He discovered far away a second ruddy flare
flashing guns back at the first. He perceived some difference on
the Vaterland for which he could not account, and then he
realised that the engines had slowed to an almost inaudible beat.
He stuck his head out of the window--it was a tight fit--and saw
in the bleak air the other airships slowed down to a scarcely
perceptible motion.
A second bugle sounded, was taken up faintly from ship to ship.
Out went the lights; the fleet became dim, dark bulks against an
intense blue sky that still retained an occasional star. For a
long time they hung, for an interminable time it seemed to him,
and then began the sound of air being pumped into the
balloonette, and slowly, slowly the Vaterland sank down towards
the clouds.
He craned his neck, but he could not see if the rest of the fleet
was following them; the overhang of the gas-chambers intervened.
There was something that stirred his imagination deeply in that
stealthy, noiseless descent. The obscurity deepened for a time,
the last fading star on the horizon vanished, and he felt the
cold presence of cloud. Then suddenly the glow beneath assumed
distinct outlines, became flames, and the Vaterland ceased to
descend and hung observant, and it would seem unobserved, just
beneath a drifting stratum of cloud, a thousand feet, perhaps,
over the battle below.
In the night the struggling naval battle and retreat had entered
upon a new phase. The Americans had drawn together the ends of
the flying line skilfully and dexterously, until at last it was a
column and well to the south of the lax sweeping pursuit of the
Germans. Then in the darkness before the dawn they had come
about and steamed northward in close order with the idea of
passing through the German battle-line and falling upon the
flotilla that was making for New York in support of the German
air-fleet. Much had altered since the first contact of the
fleets. By this time the American admiral, O'Connor, was fully
informed of the existence of the airships, and he was no longer
vitally concerned for Panama, since the submarine flotilla was
reported arrived there from Key West, and the Delaware and
Abraham Lincoln, two powerful and entirely modern ships, were
already at Rio Grande, on the Pacific side of the canal. His
manoeuvre was, however, delayed by a boiler explosion on board
the Susquehanna, and dawn found this ship in sight of and indeed
so close to the Bremen and Weimar that they instantly engaged.
There was no alternative to her abandonment but a fleet
engagement. O'Connor chose the latter course. It was by no
means a hopeless fight. The Germans, though much more numerous
and powerful than the Americans, were in a dispersed line
measuring nearly forty-five miles from end to end, and there were
many chances that before they could gather in for the fight the
column of seven Americans would have ripped them from end to end.
The day broke dim and overcast, and neither the Bremen nor the
Weimar realised they had to deal with more than the Susquehanna
until the whole column drew out from behind her at a distance of
a mile. or less and bore down on them. This was the position of
affairs when the Vaterland appeared in the sky. The red glow
Bert had seen through the column of clouds came from the luckless
Susquehanna; she lay almost immediately below, burning fore and
aft, but still fighting two of her guns and steaming slowly
southward. The Bremen and the Weimar, both hit in several
places, were going west by south and away from her. The American
fleet, headed by the Theodore Roosevelt, was crossing behind
them, pounding them in succession, steaming in between them and
the big modern Furst Bismarck, which was coming up from the west.
To Bert, however, the names of all these ships were unknown, and
for a considerable time indeed, misled by the direction in which
the combatants were moving, he imagined the Germans to be
Americans and the Americans Germans. He saw what appeared to him
to be a column of six battleships pursuing three others who were
supported by a newcomer, until the fact that the Bremen and
Weimar were firing into the Susquehanna upset his calculations.
Then for a time he was hopelessly at a loss. The noise of the
guns, too, confused him, they no longer seemed to boom; they went
whack, whack, whack, whack, and each faint flash made his heart
jump in anticipation of the instant impact. He saw these
ironclads, too, not in profile, as he was accustomed to see
ironclads in pictures, but in plan and curiously foreshortened.
For the most part they presented empty decks, but here and there
little knots of men sheltered behind steel bulwarks. The long,
agitated noses of their, big guns, jetting thin transparent
flashes and the broadside activity of the quick-firers, were the
chief facts in this bird's-eye view. The Americans being
steam-turbine ships, had from two to four blast funnels each; the
Germans lay lower in the water, having explosive engines, which
now for some reason made an unwonted mu tering roar. Because of
their steam propulsion, the American ships were larger and with a
more graceful outline. He saw all these foreshortened ships
rolling considerably and fighting their guns over a sea of huge
low waves and under the cold, explicit light of dawn. The whole
spectacle waved slowly with the long rhythmic rising and beat of
the airship.
At first only the Vaterland of all the flying fleet appeared upon
the scene below. She hovered high, over the Theodore Roosevelt,
keeping pace with the full speed of that ship. From that ship
she must have been intermittently visible through the drifting
clouds. The rest of the German fleet remained above the cloud
canopy at a height of six or seven thousand feet, communicating
with the flagship by wireless telegraphy, but risking no exposure
to the artillery below.
It is doubtful at what particular time the unlucky Americans
realised the presence of this new factor in the fight. No
account now survives of their experience. We have to imagine as
well as we can what it must have been to a battled-strained
sailor suddenly glancing upward to discover that huge long silent
shape overhead, vaster than any battleship, and trailing now from
its hinder quarter a big German flag. Presently, as the sky
cleared, more of such ships appeared in the blue through the
dissolving clouds, and more, all disdainfully free of guns or
armour, all flying fast to keep pace with the running fight
From first to last no gun whatever was fired at the Vaterland,
and only a few rifle shots. It was a mere adverse stroke of
chance that she had a man killed aboard her. Nor did she take
any direct share in the fight until the end. She flew above the
doomed American fleet while the Prince by wireless telegraphy
directed the movements of her consorts. Meanwhile the
Vogel-stern and Preussen, each with half a dozen drachenflieger
in tow, went full speed ahead and then dropped through the
clouds, perhaps five miles ahead of the Americans. The Theodore
Roosevelt let fly at once with the big guns in her forward
barbette, but the shells burst far below the Vogel-stern, and
forthwith a dozen single-man drachenflieger were swooping down to
make their attack.
Bert, craning his neck through the cabin port-hole, saw,the whole
of that incident, that first encounter of aeroplane and ironclad.
He saw the queer German drachenflieger, with their wide flat
wings and square box-shaped heads, their wheeled bodies, and
their single-man riders, soar down the air like a flight of
birds. "Gaw!" he said. One to the right pitched extravagantly,
shot steeply up into the air, burst with a loud report, and
flamed down into the sea; another plunged nose forward into the
water and seemed to fly to pieces as it hit the waves. He saw
little men on the deck of the Theodore Roosevelt below, men
foreshortened in plan into mere heads and feet, running out
preparing to shoot at the others. Then the foremost
flying-machine was rushing between Bert and the American's deck,
and then bang! came the thunder of its bomb flung neatly at the
forward barbette, and a thin little crackling of rifle shots in
reply. Whack, whack, whack, went the quick-firing guns of the
Americans' battery, and smash came an answering shell from the
Furst Bismarck. Then a second and third flying-machine passed
between Bert and the American ironclad, dropping bombs also, and
a fourth, its rider hit by a bullet, reeled down and dashed
itself to pieces and exploded between the shot-torn funnels,
blowing them apart. Bert had a momentary glimpse of a little
black creature jumping from the crumpling frame of the flyingmachine,
hitting the funnel, and falling limply, to be instantly
caught and driven to nothingness by the blaze and rush of the
Smash! came a vast explosion in the forward part of the flagship,
and a huge piece of metalwork seemed to lift out of her and dump
itself into the sea, dropping men and leaving a gap into which a
prompt drachenflieger planted a flaring bomb. And then for an
instant Bert perceived only too clearly in the growing, pitiless
light a number of minute, convulsively active animalcula scorched
and struggling in the Theodore Roosevelt's foaming wake. What
were they? Not men--surely not men? Those drowning, mangled
little creatures tore with their clutching fingers at Bert's
soul. "Oh, Gord!" he cried, "Oh, Gord!" almost whimpering. He
looked again and they had gone, and the black stem of the Andrew
Jackson, a little disfigured by the sinking Bremen's last shot,
was parting the water that had swallowed them into two neatly
symmetrical waves. For some moments sheer blank horror blinded
Bert to the destruction below.
Then, with an immense rushing sound, bearing as it were a
straggling volley of crashing minor explosions on its back, the
Susquehanna, three miles and more now to the east, blew up and
vanished abruptly in a boiling, steaming welter. For a moment
nothing was to be seen but tumbled water, and--then there came
belching up from below, with immense gulping noises, eructations
of steam and air and petrol and fragments of canvas and woodwork
and men.
That made a distinct pause in the fight. It seemed a long pause
to Bert. He found himself looking for the drachenflieger. The
flattened ruin of one was floating abeam of the Monitor, the rest
had passed, dropping bombs down the American column; several were
in the water and apparently uninjured, and three or four were
still in the air and coming round now in a wide circle to return
to their mother airships. The American ironclads were no longer
in column formation; the Theodore Roosevelt, badly damaged, had
turned to the southeast, and the Andrew Jackson, greatly battered
but uninjured in any fighting part was passing between her and
the still fresh and vigorous Furst Bismarck to intercept and meet
the latter's fire. Away to the west the Hermann and the
Germanicus had appeared and were coming into action.
In the pause, after the Susquehanna's disaster Bert became aware
of a trivial sound like the noise of an ill-greased, ill-hung
door that falls ajar--the sound of the men in the Furst Bismarck
And in that pause in the uproar too, the sun rose, the dark
waters became luminously blue, and a torrent of golden light
irradiated the world. It came like a sudden smile in a scene of
hate and terror. The cloud veil had vanished as if by magic, and
the whole immensity of the German air-fleet was revealed in the
sky; the air-fleet stooping now upon its prey.
"Whack-bang, whack-bang," the guns resumed, but ironclads were
not built to fight the zenith, and the only hits the Americans
scored were a few lucky chances in a generally ineffectual rifle
fire. Their column was now badly broken, the Susquehanna had
gone, the Theodore Roosevelt had fallen astern out of the line,
with her forward guns disabled, in a heap of wreckage, and the
Monitor was in some grave trouble. These two had ceased fire
altogether, and so had the Bremen and Weimar, all four ships
lying within shot of each other in an involuntary truce and with
their respective flags still displayed. Only four American ships
now, with the Andrew Jackson readings kept to the south-easterly
course. And the Furst Bismarck, the Hermann, and the Germanicus
steamed parallel to them and drew ahead of them, fighting
heavily. The Vaterland rose slowly in the air in preparation for
the concluding act of the drama.
Then, falling into place one behind the other, a string of a
dozen airships dropped with unhurrying swiftness down the air in
pursuit of the American fleet. They kept at a height of two
thousand feet or more until they were over and a little in
advance of the rearmost ironclad, and then stooped swiftly down
into a fountain of bullets, and going just a little faster than
the ship below, pelted her thinly protected decks with bombs
until they became sheets of detonating flame. So the airships
passed one after the other along the American column as it sought
to keep up its fight with the Furst Bismarck, the Hermann, and
the Germanicus, and each airship added to the destruction and
confusion its predecessor had made. The American gunfire ceased,
except for a few heroic shots, but they still steamed on,
obstinately unsubdued, bloody, battered, and wrathfully
resistant, spitting bullets at the airships and unmercifully
pounded by the German ironclads. But now Bert had but
intermittent glimpses of them between the nearer bulks of the
airships that assailed them....
It struck Bert suddenly that the whole battle was receding and
growing small and less thunderously noisy. The Vaterland was
rising in the air, steadily and silently, until the impact of the
guns no longer smote upon the heart but came to the ear dulled by
distance, until the four silenced ships to the eastward were
little distant things: but were there four? Bert now could see
only three of those floating, blackened, and smoking rafts of
ruin against the sun. But the Bremen had two boats out; the
Theodore Roosevelt was also dropping boats to where the drift of
minute objects struggled, rising and falling on the big, broad
Atlantic waves.... The Vaterland was no longer following the
fight. The whole of that hurrying tumult drove away to the
south-eastward, growing smaller and less audible as it passed.
One of the airships lay on the water burning, a remote monstrous
fount of flames, and far in the south-west appeared first one and
then three other German ironclads hurrying in support of their
Steadily the Vaterland soared, and the air-fleet soared with her
and came round to head for New York, and the battle became a
little thing far away, an incident before the breakfast. It
dwindled to a string of dark shapes and one smoking yellow flare
that presently became a mere indistinct smear upon the vast
horizon and the bright new day, that was at last altogether lost
to sight...
So it was that Bert Smallways saw the first fight of the airship
and the last fight of those strangest things in the whole history
of war: the ironclad battleships, which began their career with
the floating batteries of the Emperor Napoleon III in the Crimean
war and lasted, with an enormous expenditure of human energy and
resources, for seventy years. In that space of time the world
produced over twelve thousand five hundred of these strange
monsters, in schools, in types, in series, each larger and
heavier and more deadly than its predecessors. Each in its turn
was hailed as the last birth of time, most in their turn were
sold for old iron. Only about five per cent of them ever fought
in a battle. Some foundered, some went ashore, and broke up,
several rammed one another by accident and sank. The lives of
countless men were spent in their service, the splendid genius,
and patience of thousands of engineers and inventors, wealth and
material beyond estimating; to their account we must put, stunted
and starved lives on land, millions of children sent to toil
unduly, innumerable opportunities of fine living undeveloped and
lost. Money had to be found for them at any cost--that was the
law of a nation's existence during that strange time. Surely
they were the weirdest, most destructive and wasteful megatheria
in the whole history of mechanical invention.
And then cheap things of gas and basket-work made an end of them
altogether, smiting out of the sky!...
Never before had Bert Smallways seen pure destruction, never had
he realised the mischief and waste of war. His startled mind
rose to the conception; this also is in life. Out of all this
fierce torrent of sensation one impression rose and became
cardinal--the impression of the men of the Theodore Roosevelt who
had struggled in the water after the explosion of the first bomb.
"Gaw!" he said at the memory; "it might 'ave been me and Grubb!
... I suppose you kick about and get the water in your mouf. I
don't suppose it lasts long."
He became anxious to see how Kurt was affected by these things.
Also he perceived he was hungry. He hesitated towards the door
of the cabin and peeped out into the passage. Down forward, near
the gangway to the men's mess, stood a little group of air
sailors looking at something that was hidden from him in a
recess. One of them was in the light diver's costume Bert had
already seen in the gas chamber turret, and he was moved to walk
along and look at this person more closely and examine the helmet
he carried under his arm. But he forgot about the helmet when he
got to the recess, because there he found lying on the floor the
dead body of the boy who had been killed by a bullet from the
Theodore Roosevelt.
Bert had not observed that any bullets at all had reached the
Vaterland or, indeed, imagined himself under fire. He could not
understand for a time what had killed the lad, and no one
explained to him.
The boy lay just as he had fallen and died, with his jacket torn
and scorched, his shoulder-blade smashed and burst away from his
body and all the left side of his body ripped and rent. There
was much blood. The sailors stood listening to the man with the
helmet, who made explanations and pointed to the round bullet
hole in the floor and the smash in the panel of the passage upon
which the still vicious missile had spent the residue of its
energy. All the faces were grave and earnest: they were the
faces of sober, blond, blue-eyed men accustomed to obedience and
an orderly life, to whom this waste, wet, painful thing that had
been a comrade came almost as strangely as it did to Bert.
A peal of wild laughter sounded down the passage in the direction
of the little gallery and something spoke--almost shouted--in
German, in tones of exultation.
Other voices at a lower, more respectful pitch replied.
"Der Prinz," said a voice, and all the men became stiffer and
less natural. Down the passage appeared a group of figures,
Lieutenant Kurt walking in front carrying a packet of papers.
He stopped point blank when he saw the thing in the recess, and
his ruddy face went white.
"So!" said he in surprise.
The Prince was following him, talking over his shoulder to Von
Winterfeld and the Kapitan.
"Eh?" he said to Kurt, stopping in mid-sentence, and followed the
gesture of Kurt's hand. He glared at the crumpled object in the
recess and seemed to think for a moment.
He made a slight, careless gesture towards the boy's body and
turned to the Kapitan.
"Dispose of that," he said in German, and passed on, finishing
his sentence to Von Winterfeld in the same cheerful tone in which
it had begun.
The deep impression of helplessly drowning men that Bert had
brought from the actual fight in the Atlantic mixed itself up
inextricably with that of the lordly figure of Prince Karl Albert
gesturing aside the dead body of the Vaterland sailor. Hitherto
he had rather liked the idea of war as being a jolly, smashing,
exciting affair, something like a Bank Holiday rag on a large
scale, and on the whole agreeable and exhilarating. Now he knew
it a little better.
The next day there was added to his growing disillusionment a
third ugly impression, trivial indeed to describe, a mere
necessary everyday incident of a state of war, but very
distressing to his urbanised imagination. One writes "urbanised"
to express the distinctive gentleness of the period. It was
quite peculiar to the crowded townsmen of that time, and
different altogether from the normal experience of any preceding
age, that they never saw anything killed, never encountered, save
through the mitigating media of book or picture, the fact of
lethal violence that underlies all life. Three times in his
existence, and three times only, had Bert seen a dead human
being, and he had never assisted at the killing of anything
bigger than a new-born kitten.
The incident that gave him his third shock was the execution of
one of the men on the Adler for carrying a box of matches. The
case was a flagrant one. The man had forgotten he had it upon
him when coming aboard. Ample notice had been given to every one
of the gravity of this offence, and notices appeared at numerous
points all over the airships. The man's defence was that he had
grown so used to the notices and had been so preoccupied with his
work that he hadn't applied them to himself; he pleaded, in his
defence, what is indeed in military affairs another serious
crime, inadvertency. He was tried by his captain, and the
sentence confirmed by wireless telegraphy by the Prince, and it
was decided to make his death an example to the whole fleet.
"The Germans," the Prince declared, "hadn't crossed the Atlantic
to go wool gathering." And in order that this lesson in
discipline and obedience might be visible to every one, it was
determined not to electrocute or drown but hang the offender.
Accordingly the air-fleet came clustering round the flagship like
carp in a pond at feeding time. The Adler hung at the zenith
immediately alongside the flagship. The whole crew of the
Vaterland assembled upon the hanging gallery; the crews of the
other airships manned the air-chambers, that is to say, clambered
up the outer netting to the upper sides. The officers appeared
upon the machine-gun platforms. Bert thought it an altogether
stupendous sight, looking down, as he was, upon the entire fleet.
Far off below two steamers on the rippled blue water, one British
and the other flying the American flag, seemed the minutest
objects, and marked the scale. They were immensely distant.
Bert stood on the gallery, curious to see the execution, but
uncomfortable, because that terrible blond Prince was within a
dozen feet of him, glaring terribly, with his arms folded, and
his heels together in military fashion.
They hung the man from the Adler. They gave him sixty feet of
rope, so, that he should hang and dangle in the sight of all
evil-doers who might be hiding matches or contemplating any
kindred disobedience. Bert saw the man standing, a living,
reluctant man, no doubt scared and rebellious enough in his
heart, but outwardly erect and obedient, on the lower gallery of
the Adler about a hundred yards away. Then they had thrust him
Down he fell, hands and feet extending, until with a jerk he was
at the end of the rope. Then he ought to have died and swung
edifyingly, but instead a more terrible thing happened; his head
came right off, and down the body went spinning to the sea,
feeble, grotesque, fantastic, with the head racing it in its
"Ugh!" said Bert, clutching the rail before him, and a
sympathetic grunt came from several of the men beside him.
"So!" said the Prince, stiffer and sterner, glared for some
seconds, then turned to the gang way up into the airship.
For a long time Bert remained clinging to the railing of the
gallery. He was almost physically sick with the horror of this
trifling incident. He found it far more dreadful than the
battle. He was indeed a very degenerate, latter-day, civilised
Late that afternoon Kurt came into the cabin and found him curled
up on his locker, and looking very white and miserable. Kurt had
also lost something of his pristine freshness.
"Sea-sick?" he asked.
"We ought to reach New York this evening. There's a good breeze
coming up under our tails. Then we shall see things."
Bert did not answer.
Kurt opened out folding chair and table, and rustled for a time
with his maps. Then he fell thinking darkly. He roused himself
presently, and looked at his companion. "What's the matter?" he
Kurt stared threateningly. "What's the matter?"
"I saw them kill that chap. I saw that flying-machine man hit
the funnels of the big ironclad. I saw that dead chap in the
passage. I seen too much smashing and killing lately. That's
the matter. I don't like it. I didn't know war was this sort of
thing. I'm a civilian. I don't like it"
_I_ don't like it," said Kurt. "By Jove, no!"
"I've read about war, and all that, but when you see it it's
different. And I'm gettin' giddy. I'm gettin' giddy. I didn't
mind a bit being up in that balloon at first, but all this
looking down and floating over things and smashing up people,
it's getting on my nerves. See?"
"It'll have to get off again...."
Kurt thought. "You're not the only one. The men are all getting
strung up. The flying--that's just flying. Naturally it makes one
a little swimmy in the head at first. As for the killing, we've
got to be blooded; that's all. We're tame, civilised men. And
we've got to get blooded. I suppose there's not a dozen men on
the ship who've really seen bloodshed. Nice, quiet, law-abiding
Germans they've been so far.... Here they are--in for it.
They're a bit squeamy now, but you wait till they've got their
hands in."
He reflected. "Everybody's getting a bit strung up," he said.
He turned again to his maps. Bert sat crumpled up in the corner,
apparently heedless of him. For some time both kept silence.
"What did the Prince want to go and 'ang that chap for?" asked
Bert, suddenly.
"That was all right," said Kurt, "that was all right. QUITE
right. Here were the orders, plain as the nose on your face, and
here was that fool going about with matches--"
"Gaw! I shan't forget that bit in a 'urry," said Bert
Kurt did not answer him. He was measuring their distance from
New York and speculating. "Wonder what the American aeroplanes
are like?" he said. "Something like our drachenflieger.... We
shall know by this time to- morrow.... I wonder what we shall
know? I wonder. Suppose, after all, they put up a fight....
Rum sort of fight!"
He whistled softly and mused. Presently he fretted out of the
cabin, and later Bert found him in the twilight upon the swinging
platform, staring ahead, and speculating about the things that
might happen on the morrow. Clouds veiled the sea again, and the
long straggling wedge of air-ships rising and falling as they
flew seemed like a flock of strange new births in a Chaos that
had neither earth nor water but only mist and sky.
The City of New York was in the year of the German attack the
largest, richest, in many respects the most splendid, and in
some, the wickedest city the world had ever seen. She was the
supreme type of the City of the Scientific Commercial Age; she
displayed its greatness, its power, its ruthless anarchic
enterprise, and its social disorganisation most strikingly and
completely. She had long ousted London from her pride of place
as the modern Babylon, she was the centre of the world's finance,
the world's trade, and the world's pleasure; and men likened her
to the apocalyptic cities of the ancient prophets. She sat
drinking up the wealth of a continent as Rome once drank the
wealth of the Mediterranean and Babylon the wealth of the east.
In her streets one found the extremes of magnificence and misery,
of civilisation and disorder. In one quarter, palaces of marble,
laced and, crowned with light and flame and flowers, towered up
into her marvellous twilights beautiful, beyond description; in
another, a black and sinister polyglot population sweltered in
indescribable congestion in warrens, and excavations beyond the
power and knowledge of government. Her vice, her crime, her law
alike were inspired by a fierce and terrible energy, and like the
great cities of mediaeval Italy, her ways were dark and
adventurous with private war.
It was the peculiar shape of Manhattan Island, pressed in by arms
of the sea on either side, and incapable of comfortable
expansion, except along a narrow northward belt, that first gave
the New York architects their bias for extreme vertical
dimensions. Every need was lavishly supplied them--money,
material, labour; only space was restricted. To begin,
therefore, they built high perforce. But to do so was to
discover a whole new world of architectural beauty, of exquisite
ascendant lines, and long after the central congestion had been
relieved by tunnels under the sea, four colossal bridges over the
east river, and a dozen mono-rail cables east and west, the
upward growth went on. In many ways New York and her gorgeous
plutocracy repeated Venice in the magnificence of her
architecture, painting, metal-work and sculpture, for example, in
the grim intensity,of her political method, in her maritime and
commercial ascendancy. But she repeated no previous state at all
in the lax disorder of her internal administration, a laxity that
made vast sections of her area lawless beyond precedent, so that
it was possible for whole districts to be impassable, while civil
war raged between street and street, and for Alsatias to exist in
her midst in which the official police never set foot. She was
an ethnic whirlpool. The flags of all nations flew in her
harbour, and at the climax, the yearly coming and going overseas
numbered together upwards of two million human beings. To Europe
she was America, to America she was the gateway of the world.
But to tell the story of New York would be to write a social
history of the world; saints and martyrs, dreamers and
scoundrels, the traditions of a thousand races and a thousand
religions, went to her making and throbbed and jostled in her
streets. And over all that torrential confusion of men and
purposes fluttered that strange flag, the stars and stripes, that
meant at once the noblest thing in life, and the least noble,
that is to say, Liberty on the one hand, and on the other the
base jealousy the individual self-seeker feels towards the common
purpose of the State.
For many generations New York had taken no heed of war, save as a
thing that happened far away, that affected prices and supplied
the newspapers with exciting headlines and pictures. The New
Yorkers felt perhaps even more certainly than the English had
done that war in their own land was an impossible thing. In that
they shared the delusion of all North America. They felt as
secure as spectators at a bullfight; they risked their money
perhaps on the result, but that was all. And such ideas of war
as the common Americans possessed were derived from the limited,
picturesque, adventurous war of the past. They saw war as they
saw history, through an iridescent mist, deodorised, scented
indeed, with all its essential cruelties tactfully hidden away.
They were inclined to regret it as something ennobling, to sigh
that it could no longer come into their own private experience.
They read with interest, if not with avidity, of their new guns,
of their immense and still more immense ironclads, of their
incredible and still more incredible explosives, but just what
these tremendous engines of destruction might mean for their
personal lives never entered their heads. They did not, so far
as one can judge from their contemporary literature, think that
they meant anything to their personal lives at all. They thought
America was safe amidst all this piling up of explosives. They
cheered the flag by habit and tradition, they despised other
nations, and whenever there was an international difficulty they
were intensely patriotic, that is to say, they were ardently
against any native politician who did not say, threaten, and do
harsh and uncompromising things to the antagonist people. They
were spirited to Asia, spirited to Germany, so spirited to Great
Britain that the international attitude of the mother country to
her great daughter was constantly compared in contemporary
caricature to that between a hen-pecked husband and a vicious
young wife. And for the rest, they all went about their business
and pleasure as if war had died out with the megatherium....
And then suddenly, into a world peacefully busied for the most
part upon armaments and the perfection of explosives, war came;
came the shock of realising that the guns were going off, that
the masses of inflammable material all over the world were at
last ablaze.
The immediate effect upon New York of the sudden onset of war was
merely to intensify her normal vehemence.
The newspapers and magazines that fed the American mind--for
books upon this impatient continent had become simply material
for the energy of collectors--were instantly a coruscation of war
pictures and of headlines that rose like rockets and burst like
shells. To the normal high-strung energy of New York streets was
added a touch of war-fever. Great crowds assembled, more
especially in the dinner hour, in Madison Square about the
Farragut monument, to listen to and cheer patriotic speeches, and
a veritable epidemic of little flags and buttons swept through
these great torrents of swiftly moving young people, who poured
into New York of a morning by car and mono-rail and subway and
train, to toil, and ebb home again between the hours of five and
seven. It was dangerous not to wear a war button. The splendid
music-halls of the time sank every topic in patriotism and
evolved scenes of wild enthusiasm, strong men wept at the sight
of the national banner sustained by the whole strength of the
ballet, and special searchlights and illuminations amazed the
watching angels. The churches re-echoed the national enthusiasm
in graver key and slower measure, and the aerial and naval
preparations on the East River were greatly incommoded by the
multitude of excursion steamers which thronged, helpfully
cheering, about them. The trade in small-arms was enormously
stimulated, and many overwrought citizens found an immediate
relief for their emotions in letting off fireworks of a more or
less heroic, dangerous, and national character in the public
streets. Small children's air-balloons of the latest model
attached to string became a serious check to the pedestrian in
Central Park. And amidst scenes of indescribable emotion the
Albany legislature in permanent session, and with a generous
suspension of rules and precedents, passed through both Houses
the long-disputed Bill for universal military service in New York
Critics of the American character are disposed to consider--that
up to the actual impact of the German attack the people of New
York dealt altogether too much with the war as if it was a
political demonstration. Little or no damage, they urge, was
done to either the German or Japanese forces by the wearing of
buttons, the waving of small flags, the fireworks, or the songs.
They forgot that, under the conditions of warfare a century of
science had brought about, the non-military section of the
population could do no serious damage in any form to their
enemies, and that there was no reason, therefore, why they
should, not do as they did. The balance of military efficiency
was shifting back from the many to the few, from the common to
the specialised.
The days when the emotional infantryman decided battles had
passed by for ever. War had become a matter of apparatus of
special training and skill of the most intricate kind. It had
become undemocratic. And whatever the value of the popular
excitement, there can be no denying that the small regular
establishment of the United States Government, confronted by this
totally unexpected emergency of an armed invasion from Europe,
acted with vigour, science, and imagination. They were taken by
surprise so far as the diplomatic situation was concerned, and
their equipment for building either navigables or aeroplanes was
contemptible in comparison with the huge German parks. Still
they set to work at once to prove to the world that the spirit
that had created the Monitor and the Southern submarines of 1864
was not dead. The chief of the aeronautic establishment near
West Point was Cabot Sinclair, and he allowed himself but one
single moment of the posturing that was so universal in that
democratic time. "We have chosen our epitaphs," he said to a
reporter, "and we are going to have, 'They did all they could.'
Now run away!"
The curious thing is that they did all do all they could; there
is no exception known. Their only defect indeed was a defect of
style. One of the most striking facts historically about this
war, and the one that makes the complete separation that had
arisen between the methods of warfare and the necessity of
democratic support, is the effectual secrecy of the Washington
authorities about their airships. They did not bother to confide
a single fact of their preparations to the public. They did not
even condescend to talk to Congress. They burked and suppressed
every inquiry. The war was fought by the President and the
Secretaries of State in an entirely autocratic manner. Such
publicity as they sought was merely to anticipate and prevent
inconvenient agitation to defend particular points. They
realised that the chief danger in aerial warfare from an
excitable and intelligent public would be a clamour for local
airships and aeroplanes to defend local interests. This, with
such resources as they possessed, might lead to a fatal division
and distribution of the national forces. Particularly they
feared that they might be forced into a premature action to
defend New York. They realised with prophetic insight that this
would be the particular advantage the Germans would seek. So
they took great pains to direct the popular mind towards
defensive artillery, and to divert it from any thought of aerial
battle. Their real preparations they masked beneath ostensible
ones. There was at Washington a large relserve of naval guns,
and these were distributed rapidly, conspicuously, and with much
press attention, among the Eastern cities. They were mounted for
the most part upon hills and prominent crests around the
threatened centres of population. They were mounted upon rough
adaptations of the Doan swivel, which at that time gave the
maximum vertical range to a heavy gun. Much of this artillery
was still unmounted, and nearly all of it was unprotected when
the German air-fleet reached New York. And down in the crowded
streets, when that occurred, the readers of the New York papers
were regaling themselves with wonderful and wonderfully
illustrated accounts of such matters as:--
The German fleet reached New York in advance of the news of the
American naval disaster. It reached New York in the late
afternoon and was first seen by watchers at Ocean Grove and Long
Branch coming swiftly out of the southward sea and going away to
the northwest. The flagship passed almost vertically over the
Sandy Hook observation station, rising rapidly as it did so, and
in a few minutes all New York was vibrating to the Staten Island
Several of these guns, and especially that at Giffords and the
one on Beacon Hill above Matawan, were remarkably well handled.
The former, at a distance of five miles, and with an elevation of
six thousand feet, sent a shell to burst so close to the
Vaterland that a pane of the Prince's forward window was smashed
by a fragment. This sudden explosion made Bert tuck in his head
with the celerity of a startled tortoise. The whole air-fleet
immediately went up steeply to a height of about twelve thousand
feet and at that level passed unscathed over the ineffectual
guns. The airships lined out as they moved forward into the form
of a flattened V, with its apex towards the city, and with the
flagship going highest at the apex. The two ends of the V passed
over Plumfield and Jamaica Bay, respectively, and the Prince
directed his course a little to the east of the Narrows, soared
over Upper Bay, and came to rest over Jersey City in a position
that dominated lower New York. There the monsters hung, large
and wonderful in the evening light, serenely regardless of the
occasional rocket explosions and flashing shell-bursts in the
lower air.
It was a pause of mutual inspection. For a time naive humanity
swamped the conventions of warfare altogether; the interest of
the millions below and of the thousands above alike was
spectacular. The evening was unexpectedly fine--only a few thin
level bands of clouds at seven or eight thousand feet broke its
luminous clarity. The wind had dropped; it was an evening
infinitely peaceful and still. The heavy concussions of the
distant guns and those incidental harmless pyrotechnics at the
level of the clouds seemed to have as little to do with killing
and force, terror and submission, as a salute at a naval review.
Below, every point of vantage bristled with spectators, the roofs
of the towering buildings, the public squares, the active ferry
boats, and every favourable street intersection had its crowds:
all the river piers were dense with people, the Battery Park was
solid black with east-side population, and every position of
advantage in Central Park and along Riverside Drive had its
peculiar and characteristic assembly from the adjacent streets.
The footways of the great bridges over the East River were also
closely packed and blocked. Everywhere shopkeepers had left
their shops, men their work, and women and children their homes,
to come out and see the marvel.
"It beat," they declared, "the newspapers."
And from above, many of the occupants of the airships stared with
an equal curiosity. No city in the world was ever so finely
placed as New York, so magnificently cut up by sea and bluff
and river, so admirably disposed to display the tall effects of
buildings, the complex immensities of bridges and mono-railways
and feats of engineering. London, Paris, Berlin, were shapeless,
low agglomerations beside it. Its port reached to its heart like
Venice, and, like Venice, it was obvious, dramatic, and proud.
Seen from above it was alive with crawling trains and cars, and
at a thousand points it was already breaking into quivering
light. New York was altogether at its best that evening, its
splendid best.
"Gaw! What a place!" said Bert.
It was so great, and in its collective effect so pacifically
magnificent, that to make war upon it seemed incongruous beyond
measure, like laying siege to the National Gallery or attacking
respectable people in an hotel dining-room with battle-axe and
mail. It was in its entirety so large, so complex, so delicately
immense, that to bring it to the issue of warfare was like
driving a crowbar into the mechanism of a clock. And the
fish-like shoal of great airships hovering light and sunlit
above, filling the sky, seemed equally remote from the ugly
forcefulness of war. To Kurt, to Smallways, to I know not how
many more of the people in the air-fleet came the distinctest
apprehension of these incompatibilities. But in the head of the
Prince Karl Albert were the vapours of romance: he was a
conqueror, and this was the enemy's city. The greater the city,
the greater the triumph. No doubt he had a time of tremendous
exultation and sensed beyond all precedent the sense of power
that night.
There came an end at last to that pause. Some wireless
communications had failed of a satisfactory ending, and fleet and
city remembered they were hostile powers. "Look!" cried the
multitude; "look!"
"What are they doing?"
"What?"... Down through the twilight sank five attacking
airships, one to the Navy Yard on East River, one to City Hall,
two over the great business buildings of Wall Street and Lower
Broadway, one to the Brooklyn Bridge, dropping from among their
fellows through the danger zone from the distant guns smoothly
and rapidly to a safe proximity to the city masses. At that
descent all the cars in the streets stopped with dramatic
suddenness, and all the lights that had been coming on in the
streets and houses went out again. For the City Hall had
awakened and was conferring by telephone with the Federal command
and taking measures for defence. The City Hall was asking for
airships, refusing to surrender as Washington advised, and
developing into a centre of intense emotion, of hectic activity.
Everywhere and hastily the police began to clear the assembled
crowds. "Go to your homes," they said; and the word was passed
from mouth to mouth, "There's going to be trouble." A chill of
apprehension ran through the city, and men hurrying in the
unwonted darkness across City Hall Park and Union Square came
upon the dim forms of soldiers and guns, and were challenged and
sent back. In half an hour New York had passed from serene
sunset and gaping admiration to a troubled and threatening
The first loss of life occurred in the panic rush from Brooklyn
Bridge as the airship approached it. With the cessation of the
traffic an unusual stillness came upon New York, and the
disturbing concussions of the futile defending guns on the hills
about grew more and more audible. At last these ceased also. A
pause of further negotiation followed. People sat in darkness,
sought counsel from telephones that were dumb. Then into the
expectant hush came a great crash and uproar, the breaking down
of the Brooklyn Bridge, the rifle fire from the Navy Yard, and
the bursting of bombs in Wall Street and the City Hall. New York
as a whole could do nothing, could understand nothing. New York
in the darkness peered and listened to these distant sounds until
presently they died away as suddenly as they had begun. "What
could be happening?" They asked it in vain.
A long, vague period intervened, and people looking out of the
windows of upper rooms discovered the dark hulls of German
airships, gliding slowly and noiselessly, quite close at hand.
Then quietly the electric lights came on again, and an uproar of
nocturnal newsvendors began in the streets.
The units of that vast and varied population bought and learnt
what had happened; there had been a fight and New York had
hoisted the white flag.
The lamentable incidents that followed the surrender of New York
seem now in the retrospect to be but the necessary and inevitable
consequence of the clash of modern appliances and social
conditions produced by the scientific century on the one hand,
and the tradition of a crude, romantic patriotism on the other.
At first people received the fact with an irresponsible
detachment, much as they would have received the slowing down of
the train in which they were travelling or the erection of a
public monument by the city to which they belonged.
"We have surrendered. Dear me! HAVE we?" was rather the manner
in which the first news was met. They took it in the same
spectacular spirit they had displayed at the first apparition of
the air-fleet. Only slowly was this realisation of a
capitulation suffused with the flush of passion, only with
reflection did they make any personal application. "WE have
surrendered!" came later; "in us America is defeated." Then they
began to burn and tingle.
The newspapers, which were issued about one in the morning
contained no particulars of the terms upon which New York had
yielded--nor did they give any intimation of the quality of the
brief conflict that had preceded the capitulation. The later
issues remedied these deficiencies. There came the explicit
statement of the agreement to victual the German airships, to
supply the complement of explosives to replace those employed in
the fight and in the destruction of the North Atlantic fleet, to
pay the enormous ransom of forty million dollars, and to
surrender the in the East River. There came, too, longer and
longer descriptions of the smashing up of the City Hall and the
Navy Yard, and people began to realise faintly what those brief
minutes of uproar had meant. They read the tale of men blown to
bits, of futile soldiers in that localised battle fightingagainst
hope amidst an indescribable wreckage, of flags hauled down by
weeping men. And these strange nocturnal editions contained also
the first brief cables from Europe of the fleet disaster, the
North Atlantic fleet for which New York had always felt an
especial pride and solicitude. Slowly, hour by hour, the
collective consciousness woke up, the tide of patriotic
astonishment and humiliation came floating in. America had come
upon disaster; suddenly New York discovered herself with
amazement giving place to wrath unspeakable, a conquered city
under the hand of her conqueror.
As that fact shaped itself in the public mind, there sprang up,
as flames spring up, an angry repudiation. "No!" cried New York,
waking in the dawn. "No! I am not defeated. This is a dream."
Before day broke the swift American anger was running through all
the city, through every soul in those contagious millions.
Before it took action, before it took shape, the men in the
airships could feel the gigantic insurgence of emotion, as cattle
and natural creatures feel, it is said, the coming of an
earthquake. The newspapers of the Knype group first gave the
thing words and a formula. "We do not agree," they said simply.
"We have been betrayed!" Men took that up everywhere, it passed
from mouth to mouth, at every street corner under the paling
lights of dawn orators stood unchecked, calling upon the spirit
of America to arise, making the shame a personal reality to every
one who heard. To Bert, listening five hundred feet above, it
seemed that the city, which had at first produced only confused
noises, was now humming like a hive of bees--of very angry bees.
After the smashing of the City Hall and Post-Office, the white
flag had been hoisted from a tower of the old Park Row building,
and thither had gone Mayor O'Hagen, urged thither indeed by the
terror-stricken property owners of lower New York, to negotiate
the capitulation with Von Winterfeld. The Vaterland, having
dropped the secretary by a rope ladder, remained hovering,
circling very slowly above the great buildings, old and new, that
clustered round City Hall Park, while the Helmholz, which had
done the fighting there, rose overhead to a height of perhaps two
thousand feet. So Bert had a near view of all that occurred in
that central place. The City Hall and Court House, the
Post-Office and a mass of buildings on the west side of Broadway,
had been badly damaged, and the three former were a heap of
blackened ruins. In the case of the first two the loss of life
had not been considerable, but a great multitude of workers,
including many girls and women, had been caught in the
destruction of the Post-Office, and a little army of volunteers
with white badges entered behind the firemen, bringing out the
often still living bodies, for the most part frightfully charred,
and carrying them into the big Monson building close at hand.
Everywhere the busy firemen were directing their bright streams
of water upon the smouldering masses: their hose lay about the
square, and long cordons of police held back the gathering lack
masses of people, chiefly from the east side, from these central
In violent and extraordinary contrast with this scene of
destruction, close at hand were the huge newspaper establishments
of Park Row. They were all alight and working; they had not been
abandoned even while the actual bomb throwing was going on, and
now staff and presses were vehemently active, getting out the
story, the immense and dreadful story of the night, developing
comment and, in most cases, spreading the idea of resistance
under the very noses of the airships. For a long time Bert could
not imagine what these callously active offices could be, then he
detected the noise of the presses and emitted his "Gaw!"
Beyond these newspaper buildings again, and partially hidden by
the arches of the old Elevated Railway of New York (long since
converted into a mono-rail), there was another cordon of police
and a sort of encampment of ambulances and doctors, busy with the
dead and wounded who had been killed early in the night by the
panic upon Brooklyn Bridge. All this he saw in the perspectives
of a bird's-eye view, as things happening in a big,
irregular-shaped pit below him, between cliffs of high building.
Northward he looked along the steep canon of Broadway, down whose
length at intervals crowds were assembling about excited
speakers; and when he lifted his eyes he saw the chimneys and
cable-stacks and roof spaces of New York, and everywhere now over
these the watching, debating people clustered, except where the
fires raged and the jets of water flew. Everywhere, too, were
flagstaffs devoid of flags; one white sheet drooped and flapped
and drooped again over the Park Row buildings. And upon the
lurid lights, the festering movement and intense shadows of this
strange scene, there was breaking now the cold, impartial dawn.
For Bert Smallways all this was framed in the frame of the open
porthole. It was a pale, dim world outside that dark and
tangible rim. All night he had clutched at that rim, jumped and
quivered at explosions, and watched phantom events. Now he had
been high and now low; now almost beyond hearing, now flying
close to crashings and shouts and outcries. He had seen airships
flying low and swift over darkened and groaning streets; watched
great buildings, suddenly red-lit amidst the shadows, crumple at
the smashing impact of bombs; witnessed for the first time in his
life the grotesque, swift onset, of insatiable conflagrations.
From it all he felt detached, disembodied. The Vaterland did not
even fling a bomb; she watched and ruled. Then down they had
come at last to hover over City Hall Park, and it had crept in
upon his mind,, chillingly, terrifyingly, that these illuminated
black masses were great offices afire, and that the going to and
fro of minute, dim spectres of lantern-lit grey and white was a
harvesting of the wounded and the dead. As the light grew
clearer he began to understand more and more what these crumpled
black things signified....
He had watched hour after hour since first New York had risen out
of the blue indistinctness of the landfall. With the daylight he
experienced an intolerable fatigue.
He lifted weary eyes to the pink flush in the sky, yawned
immensely, and crawled back whispering to himself across the
cabin to the locker. He did not so.much lie down upon that as
fall upon it and instantly become asleep.
There, hours after, sprawling undignified and sleeping
profoundly, Kurt found him, a very image of the democratic mind
confronted with the problems of a time too complex for its
apprehension. His face was pale and indifferent, his mouth wide
open, and he snored. He snored disagreeably.
Kurt regarded him for a moment with a mild distaste. Then he
kicked his ankle.
"Wake up," he said to Smallways' stare, "and lie down decent."
Bert sat up and rubbed his eyes.
"Any more fightin' yet?" he asked.
"No," said Kurt, and sat down, a tired man.
"Gott!" he cried presently, rubbing his hands over his face, "but
I'd like a cold bath! I've been looking for stray bullet holes
in the air-chambers all night until now." He yawned. "I must
sleep. You'd better clear out, Smallways. I can't stand you
here this morning. You're so infernally ugly and useless. Have
you had your rations? No! Well, go in and get 'em, and don't
come back. Stick in the gallery...."
So Bert, slightly refreshed by coffee and sleep, resumed his
helpless co-operation in the War in the Air. He went down into
the little gallery as the lieutenant had directed, and clung to
the rail at the extreme end beyond the look-out man, trying to
seem as inconspicuous and harmless a fragment of life as
A wind was rising rather strongly from the south-east. It
obliged the Vaterland to come about in that direction, and made
her roll a great deal as she went to and fro over Manhattan
Island. Away in the north-west clouds gathered. The throb-throb
of her slow screw working against the breeze was much more
perceptible than when she was going full speed ahead; and the
friction of the wind against the underside of the gas-chamber
drove a series of shallow ripples along it and made a faint
flapping sound like, but fainter than, the beating of ripples
under the stem of a boat. She was stationed over the temporary
City Hall in the Park Row building, and every now and then she
would descend to resume communication with the mayor and with
Washington. But the restlessness of the Prince would not suffer
him to remain for long in any one place. Now he would circle
over the Hudson and East River; now he would go up high, as if to
peer away into the blue distances; once he ascended so swiftly
and so far that mountain sickness overtook him and the crew and
forced him down again; and Bert shared the dizziness and nausea.
The swaying view varied with these changes of altitude. Now they
would be low and close, and he would distinguish in that steep,
unusual perspective, windows, doors, street and sky signs, people
and the minutest details, and watch the enigmatical behaviour of
crowds and clusters upon the roofs and in the streets; then as
they soared the details would shrink, the sides of streets draw
together, the view widen, the people cease to be significant. At
the highest the effect was that of a concave relief map; Bert saw
the dark and crowded land everywhere intersected by shining
waters, saw the Hudson River like a spear of silver, and Lower
Island Sound like a shield. Even to Bert's unphilosophical mind
the contrast of city below and fleet above pointed an opposition,
the opposition of the adventurous American's tradition and
character with German order and discipline. Below, the immense
buildings, tremendous and fine as they were, seemed like the
giant trees of a jungle fighting for life; their picturesque
magnificence was as planless as the chances of crag and gorge,
their casualty enhanced by the smoke and confusion of still
unsubdued and spreading conflagrations. In the sky soared the
German airships like beings in a different, entirely more orderly
world, all oriented to the same angle of the horizon, uniform in
build and appearance, moving accurately with one purpose as a
pack of wolves will move, distributed with the most precise and
effectual co-operation.
It dawned upon Bert that hardly a third of the fleet was visible.
The others had gone upon errands he could not imagine, beyond the
compass of that great circle of earth. and sky. He wondered, but
there was no one to ask. As the day wore on, about a dozen
reappeared in the east with their stores replenished from the
flotilla and towing a number of drachenffieger. Towards
afternoon the weather thickened, driving clouds appeared in the
south-west and ran together and seemed to engender more clouds,
and the wind came round into that quarter and blew stronger.
Towards the evening the, wind became a gale into which the now
tossing airships had to beat.
All that day the Prince was negotiating with Washington, while
his detached scouts sought far and wide over the Eastern States
looking for anything resembling an aeronautic park. A squadron
of twenty airships detached overnight had dropped out of the air
upon Niagara and was holding the town and power works.
Meanwhile the insurrectionary movement in the giant city grew
uncontrollable. In spite of five great fires already involving
many acres, and spreading steadily, New York was still not
satisfied that she was beaten.
At first the rebellious spirit below found vent only in isolated
shouts, street-crowd speeches, and newspaper suggestions; then it
found much more definite expression in the appearance in the
morning sunlight of American flags at point after point above the
architectural cliffs of the city. It is quite possible that in
many cases this spirited display of bunting by a city already
surrendered was the outcome of the innocent informality of the
American mind, but it is also undeniable thatin many it was a
deliberate indication that the people "felt wicked."
The German sense of correctitude was deeply shocked by this
outbreak. The Graf von Winterfeld immediately communicated with
the mayor, and pointed out the irregularity, and the fire
look-out stations were instructed in the matter. The New York
police was speedily hard at work, and a foolish contest in full
swing between impassioned citizens resolved to keep the flag
flying, and irritated and worried officers instructed to pull it
The trouble became acute at last in the streets above Columbia
University. The captain of the airship watching this quarter
seems to have stooped to lasso and drag from its staff a flag
hoisted upon Morgan Hall. As he did so a volley of rifle and
revolver shots was fired from the upper windows of the huge
apartment building that stands between the University and
Riverside Drive.
Most of these were ineffectual, but two or three perforated
gas-chambers, and one smashed the hand and arm of a man upon the
forward platform; The sentinel on the lower gallery immediately
replied, and the machine gun on the shield of the eagle let fly
and promptly stopped any further shots. The airship rose and
signalled the flagship and City Hall, police and militiamen were
directed at once to the spot, and this particular incident
But hard upon that came the desperate attempt of a party of young
clubmen from New York, who, inspired by patriotic and adventurous
imaginations, slipped off in half a dozen motor-cars to Beacon
Hill, and set to work with remarkable vigour to improvise a fort
about the Doan swivel gun that had been placed there. They found
it still in the hands of the disgusted gunners, who had been
ordered to cease fire at the capitulation, and it was easy to
infect these men with their own spirit. They declared their gun
hadn't had half a chance, and,were burning to show what it could
do. Directed by the newcomers, they made a trench and bank about
the mounting of the piece, and constructed flimsy shelter-pits of
corrugated iron.
They were actually loading the gun when they were observed by the
airship Preussen and the shell they succeeded in firing before
the bombs of the latter smashed them and their crude defences to
fragments, burst over the middle gas-chambers of the Bingen, and
brought her to earth, disabled, upon Staten Island. She was
badly deflated, and dropped among trees, over which her empty
central gas-bags spread in canopies and festoons. Nothing,
however, had caught fire, and her men were speedily at work upon
her repair. They behaved with a confidence that verged upon
indiscretion. While most of them commenced patching the tears
of the membrane, half a dozen of them started off for the nearest
road in search of a gas main, and presently found themselves
prisoners in the hands of a hostile crowd. Close at hand was a
number of villa residences, whose occupants speedily developed
from an unfriendly curiosity to aggression. At that time the
police control of the large polyglot population of Staten Island
had become very lax, and scarcely a household but had its rifle
or pistols and ammunition. These were presently produced, and
after two or three misses, one of the men at work was hit in the
foot. Thereupon the Germans left their sewing and mending, took
cover among the trees, and replied.
The crackling of shots speedily brought the Preussen and Kiel on
the scene, and with a few hand grenades they made short work of
every villa within a mile. A number of non-combatant American
men, women, and children were killed and the actual assailants
driven off. For a time the repairs went on in peace under the
immediate protection of these two airships. Then when they
returned to their quarters, an intermittent sniping and fighting
round the stranded Bingen was resumed, and went on all the
afternoon, and merged at last in the general combat of the
About eight the Bingen was rushed by an armed mob, and all its
defenders killed after a fierce, disorderly struggle.
The difficulty of the Germans in both these cases came from the
impossibility of landing any efficient force or, indeed, any
force at all from the air-fleet. The airships were quite unequal
to the transport of any adequate landing parties; their
complement of men was just sufficient to manoeuvre and fight them
in the air. From above they could inflict immense damage; they
could reduce any organised Government to a capitulation in the
briefest space, but they could not disarm, much less could they
occupy, the surrendered areas below. They had to trust to the
pressure upon the authorities below of a threat to renew the
bombardment. It was their sole resource. No doubt, with a
highly organised and undamaged Government and a homogeneous and
well-disciplined people that would have sufficed to keep the
peace. But this was not the American case. Not only was the New
York Government a weak one and insufficiently provided with
police, but the destruction of the City Hall--and Post-Offide and
other central ganglia had hopelessly disorganised the
co-operation of part with part. The street cars and railways had
ceased; the telephone service was out of gear and only worked
intermittently. The Germans had struck at the head, and the head
was conquered and stunned--only to release the body from its
rule. New York had become a headless monster, no longer capable
of collective submission. Everywhere it lifted itself
rebelliously; everywhere authorities and officials left to their
own imitative were joining in the arming and flag-hoisting and
excitement of that afternoon.
The disintegrating truce gave place to a definite general breach
with the assassination of the Wetterhorn--for that is the only
possible word for the act--above Union Square, and not a mile
away from the exemplary ruins of City Hall. This occurred late
in the afternoon, between five and six. By that time the weather
had changed very much for the worse, and the operations of the
airships were embarrassed by the necessity they were under of
keeping head on to the gusts. A series of squalls, with hail and
thunder, followed one another from the south by south-east, and
in order to avoid these as much as possible, the air-fleet came
low over the houses, diminishing its range of observation and
exposing itself to a rifle attack.
Overnight there had been a gun placed in Union Square. It had
never been mounted, much less fired, and in the darkness after
the surrender it was taken with its supplies and put out of the
way under the arches of the great Dexter building. Here late in
the morning it was remarked by a number of patriotic spirits.
They set to work to hoist and mount it inside the upper floors of
the place. They made, in fact, a masked battery behind the
decorous office blinds, and there lay in wait as simply excited
as children until at last the stem of the luckless Wetterhorn
appeared, beating and rolling at quarter speed over the recently
reconstructed pinnacles of Tiffany's. Promptly that one-gun
battery unmasked. The airship's look-out man must have seen the
whole of the tenth story of the Dexter building crumble out and
smash in the street below to discover the black muzzle looking
out from the shadows behind. Then perhaps the shell hit him.
The gun fired two shells before the frame of the Dexter building
collapsed, and each shell raked the Wetterhorn from stem to
stern. They smashed her exhaustively. She crumpled up like a
can that has been kicked by a heavy boot, her forepart came down
in the square, and the rest of her length, with a great snapping
and twisting of shafts and stays, descended, collapsing athwart
Tammany Hall and the streets towards Second Avenue. Her gas
escaped to mix with air, and the air of her rent balloonette
poured into her deflating gas-chambers. Then with an immense
impact she exploded....
The Vaterland at that time was beating up to the south of City
Hall from over the ruins of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the reports
of the gun, followed by the first crashes of the collapsing
Dexter building, brought Kurt and, Smallways to the cabin
porthole. They were in time to see the flash of the exploding
gun, and then they were first flattened against the window and
then rolled head over heels across the floor of the cabin by the
air wave of the explosion. The Vaterland bounded like a football
some one has kicked and when they looked out again, Union Square
was small and remote and shattered, as though some cosmically
vast giant had rolled over it. The buildings to the east of it
were ablaze at a dozen points, under the flaming tatters and
warping skeleton of the airship, and all the roofs and walls were
ridiculously askew and crumbling as one looked. "Gaw!" said
Bert. "What's happened? Look at the people!"
But before Kurt could produce an explanation, the shrill bells of
the airship were ringing to quarters, and he had to go. Bert
hesitated and stepped thoughtfully into the passage, looking back
at the window as he did so. He was knocked off his feet at once
by the Prince, who was rushing headlong from his cabin to the
central magazine.
Bert had a momentary impression of the great figure of the
Prince, white with rage, bristling with gigantic anger, his huge
fist swinging. "Blut und Eisen!" cried the Prince, as one who
swears. "Oh! Blut und Eisen!"
Some one fell over Bert--something in the manner of falling
suggested Von Winterfeld--and some one else paused and kicked him
spitefully and hard. Then he was sitting up in the passage,
rubbing a freshly bruised cheek and readjusting the bandage he
still wore on his head. "Dem that Prince," said Bert, indignant
beyond measure. "'E 'asn't the menners of a 'og!"
He stood up, collected his wits for a minute, and then went
slowly towards the gangway of the little gallery. As he did so
he heard noises suggestive of the return of the Prince. The lot
of them were coming back again. He shot into his cabin like a
rabbit into its burrow, just in time to escape that shouting
He shut the door, waited until the passage was still, then went
across to the window and looked out. A drift of cloud made the
prospect of the streets and squares hazy, and the rolling of the
airship swung the picture up and down. A few people were running
to and fro, but for the most part the aspect of the district was
desertion. The streets seemed to broaden out, they became
clearer, and the little dots that were people larger as the
Vaterland came down again. Presently she was swaying along above
the lower end of Broadway. The dots below, Bert saw, were not
running now, but standing and looking up. Then suddenly they
were all running again.
Something had dropped from the aeroplane, something that looked
small and flimsy. It hit the pavement near a big archway just
underneath Bert. A little man was sprinting along the sidewalk
within half a dozen yards, and two or three others and one woman
were bolting across the roadway. They were odd little figures,
so very small were they about the heads, so very active about the
elbows and legs. It was really funny to see their legs going.
Foreshortened, humanity has no dignity. The little man on the
pavement jumped comically--no doubt with terror, as the bomb fell
beside him.
Then blinding flames squirted out in all directions from the
point of impact, and the little man who had jumped became, for an
instant, a flash of fire and vanished--vanished absolutely. The
people running out into the road took preposterous clumsy leaps,
then flopped down and lay still, with their torn clothes
smouldering into flame. Then pieces of the archway began to
drop, and the lower masonry of the building to fall in with the
rumbling sound of coals being shot into a cellar. A faint
screaming reached Bert, and then a crowd of people ran out into
the street, one man limping and gesticulating awkwardly. He
halted, and went back towards the building. A falling mass of
brick-work hit him and sent him sprawling to lie still and
crumpled where he fell. Dust and black smoke came pouring into
the street, and were presently shot with red flame....
In this manner the massacre of New York began. She was the first
of the great cities of the Scientific Age to suffer by the
enormous powers and grotesque limitations of aerial warfare. She
was wrecked as in the previous century endless barbaric cities
had been bombarded, because she was at once too strong to be
occupied and too undisciplined and proud to surrender in order to
escape destruction. Given the circumstances, the thing had to be
done. It was impossible for the Prince to desist, and own
himself defeated, and it was impossible to subdue the city except
by largely destroying it. The catastrophe was the logical
outcome of the situation, created by the application of science
to warfare. It was unavoidable that great cities should be
destroyed. In spite of his intense exasperation with his
dilemma, the Prince sought to be moderate even in massacre. He
tried to give a memorable lesson with the minimum waste of life
and the minimum expenditure of explosives. For that night he
proposed only the wrecking of Broadway. He directed the
air-fleet to move in column over the route of this thoroughfare,
dropping bombs, the Vaterland leading. And so our Bert Smallways
became a participant in one of the most cold-blooded slaughters
in the world's history, in which men who were neither excited
nor, except for the remotest chance of a bullet, in any danger,
poured death and destruction upon homes and crowds below.
He clung to the frame of the porthole as the airship tossed and
swayed, and stared down through the light rain that now drove
before the wind, into the twilight streets, watching people
running out of the houses, watching buildings collapse and fires
begin. As the airships sailed along they smashed up the city as
a child will shatter its cities of brick and card. Below, they
left ruins and blazing conflagrations and heaped and scattered
dead; men, women, and children mixed together as though they had
been no more than Moors, or Zulus, or Chinese. Lower New York
was soon a furnace of crimson flames, from which there was no
escape. Cars, railways, ferries, all had ceased, and never a
light lit the way of the distracted fugitives in that dusky
confusion but the light of burning. He had glimpses of what,it
must mean to be down there--glimpses. And it came to him
suddenly as an incredible discovery, that such disasters were not
only possible now in this strange, gigantic, foreign New York,
but also in London--in Bun Hill! that the little island in the
silver seas was at the end of its immunity, that nowhere in the
world any more was there a place left where a Smallways might
lift his head proudly and vote for war and a spirited foreign
policy, and go secure from such horrible things.
And then above the flames of Manhattan Island came a battle, the
first battle in the air. The Americans had realised the price
their waiting game must cost, and struck with all the strength
they had, if haply they might still save New York from this mad
Prince of Blood and Iron, and from fire and death.
They came down upon the Germans on the wings of a great gale in
the twilight, amidst thunder and rain. They came from the yards
of Washington and Philadelphia, full tilt in two squadrons, and
but for one sentinel airship hard by Trenton, the surprise would
have been complete.
The Germans, sick and weary with destruction, and half empty of
ammunition, were facing up into the weather when the news of this
onset reached them. New York they had left behind to the
south-eastward, a darkened city with one hideous red scar of
flames. All the airships rolled and staggered, bursts of
hailstorm bore them down and forced them to fight their way up
again; the air had become bitterly cold. The Prince was on the
point of issuing orders to drop earthward and trail copper
lightning chains when the news of the aeroplane attack came to
him. He faced his fleet in line abreast south, had the
drachenflieger manned and held ready to cast loose, and ordered a
general ascent into the freezing clearness above the wet and
The news of what was imminent came slowly to Bert's perceptions.
He was standing in the messroom at the time and the evening
rations were being served out. He had resumed Butteridge's coat
and gloves, and in addition he had wrapped his blanket about him.
He was dipping his bread into his soup and was biting off big
mouthfuls. His legs were wide apart, and he leant against the
partition in order to steady himself amidst the pitching and
oscillation of the airship. The men about him looked tired and
depressed; a few talked, but most were sullen and thoughtful, and
one or two were air-sick. They all seemed to share the
peculiarly outcast feeling that had followed the murders of the
evening, a sense of a land beneath them, and an outraged humanity
grown more hostile than the Sea.
Then the news hit them. A red-faced sturdy man, a man with
light eyelashes and a scar, appeared in the doorway and shouted
something in German that manifestly startled every one. Bert
felt the shock of the altered tone, though he could not
understand a word that was said. T he announcement was followed
by a pause, and then a great outcry of questions and suggestions.
Even the air-sick men flushed and spoke. For some minutes the
mess-room was Bedlam, and then, as if it were a confirmation of
the news, came the shrill ringing of the bells that called the
men to their posts.
Bert with pantomime suddenness found himself alone.
"What's up?" he said, though he partly guessed.
He stayed only to gulp down the remainder of his soup, and then
ran along the swaying passage and, clutching tightly, down the
ladder to the little gallery. The weather hit him like cold
water squirted from a hose. The airship engaged in some new feat
of atmospheric Jiu-Jitsu. He drew his blanket closer about him,
clutching with one straining hand. He found himself tossing in a
wet twilight, with nothing to be seen but mist pouring past him.
Above him the airship was warm with lights and busy with the
movements of men going to their quarters. Then abruptly the
lights went out, and the Vaterland with bounds and twists and
strange writhings was fighting her way up the air.
He had a glimpse, as the Vaterland rolled over, of some large
buildings burning close below them, a quivering acanthus of
flames, and then he saw indistinctly through the driving weather
another airship wallowing along like a porpoise, and also working
up. Presently the clouds swallowed her again for a time, and
then she came back to sight as a dark and whale-like monster,
amidst streaming weather. The air was full of flappings and
pipings, of void, gusty shouts and noises; it buffeted him and
confused him; ever and again his attention became rigid--a blind
and deaf balancing and clutching.
Something fell past him out of the vast darknesses above and
vanished into the tumults below, going obliquely downward. It
was a German drachenflieger. The thing was going so fast he had
but an instant apprehension of the dark figure of the aeronaut
crouched together clutching at his wheel. It might be a
manoeuvre, but it looked like a catastrophe.
"Gaw!" said Bert.
"Pup-pup-pup" went a gun somewhere in the mirk ahead and suddenly
and quite horribly the Vaterland lurched, and Bert and the
sentinel were clinging to the rail for dear life. "Bang!" came
a vast impact out of the zenith, followed by another huge roll,
and all about him the tumbled clouds flashed red and lurid in
response to flashes unseen, revealing immense gulfs. The rail
went right overhead, and he was hanging loose in the air holding
on to it.
For a time Bert's whole mind and being was given to clutching.
"I'm going into the cabin," he said, as the airship righted again
and brought back the gallery floor to his feet. He began to make
his way cautiously towards the ladder. "Whee-wow!" he cried as
the whole gallery reared itself up forward, and then plunged down
like a desperate horse.
Crack! Bang! Bang! Bang! And then hard upon this little rattle
of shots and bombs came, all about him, enveloping him, engulfing
him, immense and overwhelming, a quivering white blaze of
lightning and a thunder-clap that was like the bursting of a
Just for the instant before that explosion the universe seemed to
be standing still in a shadowless glare.
It was then he saw the American aeroplane. He saw it in the
light of the flash as a thing altogether motionless. Even its
screw appeared still, and its men were rigid dolls. (For it
was so near he could see the men upon it quite distinctly.) Its
stern was tilting down, and the whole machine was heeling over.
It was of the Colt-Coburn-Langley pattern, with double up-tilted
wings and the screw ahead, and the men were in a boat-like body
netted over. From this very light long body, magazine guns
projected on either side. One thing that was strikingly odd and
wonderful in that moment of revelation was that the left upper
wing was burning downward with a reddish, smoky flame. But this
was not the most wonderful thing about this apparition. The most
wonderful thing was that it and a German airship five hundred
yards below were threaded as it were on the lightning flash,
which turned out of its path as if to take them, and, that out
from the corners and projecting points of its huge wings
everywhere, little branching thorn-trees of lightning were
Like a picture Bert saw these things, a picture a little blurred
by a thin veil of wind-torn mist.
The crash of the thunder-clap followed the flash and seemed a
part of it, so that it is hard to say whether Bert was the rather
deafened or blinded in that instant.
And then darkness, utter darkness, and a heavy report and a thin
small sound of voices that went wailing downward into the abyss
There followed upon these things a long, deep swaying of the
airship, and then Bert began a struggle to get back to his cabin.
He was drenched and cold and terrified beyond measure, and now
more than a little air-sick. It seemed to him that the strength
had gone out of his knees and hands, and that his feet had become
icily slippery over the metal they trod upon. But that was
because a thin film of ice had frozen upon the gallery.
He never knew how long his ascent of the ladder back into the
airship took him, but in his dreams afterwards, when he recalled
it, that experience seemed to last for hours. Below, above,
around him were gulfs, monstrous gulfs of howling wind and eddies
of dark, whirling snowflakes, and he was protected from it all by
a little metal grating and a rail, a grating and rail that seemed
madly infuriated with him, passionately eager to wrench him off
and throw him into the tumult of space.
Once he had a fancy that a bullet tore by his ear, and that the
clouds and snowflakes were lit by a flash, but he never even
turned his head to see what new assailant whirled past them in
the void. He wanted to get into the passage! He wanted to get
into the passage! He wanted to get into the passage! Would the
arm by which he was clinging hold out, or would it give way and
snap? A handful of hail smacked him in the face, so that for a
time he was breathless and nearly insensible. Hold tight, Bert!
He renewed his efforts.
He found himself, with an enormous sense of relief and warmth, in
the passage. The passage was behaving like a dice-box, its
disposition was evidently to rattle him about and then throw him
out again. He hung on with the convulsive clutch of instinct
until the passage lurched down ahead. Then he would make a short
run cabin-ward, and clutch again as the fore-end rose.
Behold! He was in the cabin!
He snapped-to the door, and for a time he was not a human being,
he was a case of air-sickness. He wanted to get somewhere that
would fix him, that he needn't clutch. He opened the locker and
got inside among the loose articles, and sprawled there
helplessly, with his head sometimes bumping one side and
sometimes the other. The lid shut upon him with a click. He did
not care then what was happening any more. He did not care who
fought who, or what bullets were fired or explosions occurred.
He did not care if presently he was shot or smashed to pieces.
He was full of feeble, inarticulate rage and despair. "Foolery!"
he said, his one exhaustive comment on human enterprise,
adventure, war, and the chapter of accidents that had entangled
him. "Foolery! Ugh!" He included the order of the universe in
that comprehensive condemnation. He wished he was dead.
He saw nothing of the stars, as presently the Vaterland cleared
the rush and confusion of the lower weather, nor of the duel she
fought with two circling aeroplanes, how they shot her rear-most
chambers through, and how she foughtthem off with explosive
bullets and turned to run as she did so.
The rush and swoop of these wonderful night birds was all lost
upon him; their heroic dash and self-sacrifice. The Vaterland
was rammed, and for some moments she hung on the verge of
destruction, and sinking swiftly, with the American aeroplane
entangled with her smashed propeller, and the Americans trying to
scramble aboard. It signified nothing to Bert. To him it
conveyed itself simply as vehement swaying. Foolery! When the
American airship dropped off at last, with most of its crew shot
or fallen, Bert in his locker appreciated nothing but that the
Vaterland had taken a hideous upward leap.
But then came infinite relief, incredibly blissful relief. The
rolling, the pitching, the struggle ceased, ceased instantly and
absolutely. The Vaterland was no longer fighting the gale; her
smashed and exploded engines throbbed no more; she was disabled
and driving before the wind as smoothly as a balloon, a huge,
windspread, tattered cloud of aerial wreckage.
To Bert it was no more than the end of a series of disagreeable
sensations. He was not curious to know what had happened to the
airship, nor what had happened to the battle. For a long time he
lay waiting apprehensively for the pitching and tossing and his
qualms to return, and so, lying, boxed up in the locker, he
presently fell asleep.
He awoke tranquil but very stuffy, and at the same time very
cold, and quite unable to recollect where he could be. His head
ached, and his breath was suffocated. He had been dreaming
confusedly of Edna, and desert dervishes, and of riding bicycles
in an extremely perilous manner through the upper air amidst a
pyrotechnic display of crackers and Bengal lights--to the great
annoyance of a sort of composite person made up of the Prince and
Mr. Butteridge. Then for some reason Edna and he had begun to
cry pitifully for each other, and he woke up with wet eye-lashes
into this ill-ventilated darkness of thelocker. He would never
see Edna any more, never see Edna any more.
He thought he must be back in the bedroom behind the cycle shop
at the bottom of Bun Hill, and he was sure the vision he had had
of the destruction of a magnificent city, a city quite incredibly
great and splendid, by means of bombs, was no more than a
particularly vivid dream.
"Grubb!" he called, anxious to tell him.
The answering silence, and the dull resonance of the locker to
his voice, supplementing the stifling quality of the air, set
going a new train of ideas. He lifted up his hands and feet, and
met an inflexible resistance. He was in a coffin, he thought!
He had been buried alive! He gave way at once to wild panic.
"'Elp!" he screamed. "'Elp!" and drummed with his feet, and
kicked and struggled. "Let me out! Let me out!"
For some seconds he struggled with this intolerable horror, and
then the side of his imagined coffin gave way, and he was flying
out into daylight. Then he was rolling about on what seemed to
be a padded floor with Kurt, and being punched and sworn at
He sat up. His head bandage had become loose and got over one
eye, and he whipped the whole thing off. Kurt was also sitting
up, a yard away from him, pink as ever, wrapped in blankets, and
with an aluminium diver's helmet over his knee, staring at him
with a severe expression, and rubbing his downy unshaven chin.
They were both on a slanting floor of crimson padding, and above
them was an opening like a long, low cellar flap that Bert by an
effort perceived to be the cabin door in a half-inverted
condition. The whole cabin had in fact turned on its side.
"What the deuce do you mean by it, Smallways?" said Kurt,
"jumping out of that locker when I was certain you had gone
overboard with the rest of them? Where have you been?"
"What's up?" asked Bert.
"This end of the airship is up. Most other things are down."
"Was there a battle?"
"There was."
"Who won?"
"I haven't seen the papers, Smallways. We left before the finish.
We got disabled and unmanageable, and our colleagues--consorts I
mean--were too busy most of them to trouble about us, and the
wind blew us--Heaven knows where the wind IS blowing us. It blew
us right out of action at the rate of eighty miles an hour or so.
Gott! what a wind that was! What a fight! And here we are!"
"In the air, Smallways--in the air! When we get down on the
earth again we shan't know what to do with our legs."
"But what's below us?"
"Canada, to the best of my knowledge--and a jolly bleak, empty,
inhospitable country it looks."
"But why ain't we right ways up?"
Kurt made no answer for a space.
"Last I remember was seeing a sort of flying-machine in a
lightning flash," said Bert. "Gaw! that was 'orrible. Guns
going off ! Things explodin'! Clouds and 'ail. Pitching and
tossing. I got so scared and desperate--and sick. You don't
know how the fight came off?"
"Not a bit of it. I was up with my squad in those divers'
dresses, inside the gas-chambers, with sheets of silk for
caulking. We couldn't see a thing outside except the lightning
flashes. I never saw one of those American aeroplanes. Just saw
the shots flicker through the chambers and sent off men for the
tears. We caught fire a bit--not much, you know. We were too
wet, so the fires spluttered out before we banged. And then one
of their infernal things dropped out of the air on us and rammed.
Didn't you feel it?"
"I felt everything," said Bert. "I didn't notice any particular
"They must have been pretty desperate if they meant it. They
slashed down on us like a knife; simply ripped the after
gas-chambers like gutting herrings, crumpled up the engines and
screw. Most of the engines dropped off as they fell off us--or
we'd have grounded--but the rest is sort of dangling. We just
turned up our nose to the heavens and stayed there. Eleven men
rolled off us from various points, and poor old Winterfeld fell
through the door of the Prince's cabin into the chart-room and
broke his ankle. Also we got our electric gear shot or carried
away--no one knows how. That's the position, Smallways. We're
driving through the air like a common aerostat, at the mercy of
the elements, almost due north--probably to the North Pole. We
don't know what aeroplanes the Americans have, or anything at all
about it. Very likely we have finished 'em up. One fouled us,
one was struck by lightning, some of the men saw a third upset,
apparently just for fun. They were going cheap anyhow. Also
we've lost most of our drachenflieger. They just skated off into
the night. No stability in 'em. That's all. We don't know if
we've won or lost. We don't know if we're at war with the
British Empire yet or at peace. Consequently, we daren't get
down. We don't know what we are up to or what we are going to
do. Our Napoleon is alone, forward, and I suppose he's
rearranging his plans. Whether New York was our Moscow or not
remains to be seen. We've had a high old time and murdered no
end of people! War! Noble war! I'm sick of it this morning. I
like sitting in rooms rightway up and not on slippery partitions.
I'm a civilised man. I keep thinking of old Albrecht and the
Barbarossa.... I feel I want a wash and kind words and a quiet
home. When I look at you, I KNOW I want a wash. Gott!"--he
stifled a vehement yawn--"What a Cockney tadpole of a ruffian you
"Can we get any grub?" asked Bert.
"Heaven knows!" said Kurt.
He meditated upon Bert for a time. "So far as I can judge,
Smallways," he said, "the Prince will probably want to throw you
overboard--next time he thinks of you. He certainly will if he
sees you.... After all, you know, you came als Ballast.... And we
shall have to lighten ship extensively pretty soon. Unless I'm
mistaken, the Prince will wake up presently and start doing
things with tremendous vigour.... I've taken a fancy to you.
It's the English strain in me. You're a rum little chap. I
shan't like seeing you whizz down the air.... You'd better make
yourself useful, Smallways. I think I shall requisition you for
my squad. You'll have to work, you know, and be infernally
intelligent and all that. And you'll have to hang about upside
down a bit. Still, it's the best chance you have. We shan't
carry passengers much farther this trip, I fancy. Ballast goes
over-board--if we don't want to ground precious soon and be taken
prisoners of war. The Prince won't do that anyhow. He'll be
game to the last."
By means of a folding chair, which was still in its place behind
the door, they got to the window and looked out in turn and
contemplated a sparsely wooded country below, with no railways
nor roads, and only occasional signs of habitation. Then a bugle
sounded, and Kurt interpreted it as a summons to food. They got
through the door and clambered with some difficulty up the nearly
vertical passage, holding on desperately with toes and
finger-tips, to the ventilating perforations in its floor. The
mess stewards had found their fireless heating arrangements
intact, and there was hot cocoa for the officers and hot soup for
the men.
Bert's sense of the queerness of this experience was so keen that
it blotted out any fear he might have felt. Indeed, he was far
more interested now than afraid. He seemed to have touched down
to the bottom of fear and abandonment overnight. He was growing
accustomed to the idea that he would probably be killed
presently, that this strange voyage in the air was in all
probability his death journey. No human being can keep
permanently afraid: fear goes at last to the back of one's mind,
accepted, and shelved, and done with. He squatted over his soup,
sopping it up with his bread, and contemplated his comrades.
They were all rather yellow and dirty, with four-day beards, and
they grouped themselves in the tired, unpremeditated manner of
men on a wreck. They talked little. The situation perplexed
them beyond any suggestion of ideas. Three had been hurt in the
pitching up of the ship during the fight, and one had a bandaged
bullet wound. It was incredible that this little band of men had
committed murder and massacre on a scale beyond precedent. None
of them who squatted on the sloping gas-padded partition, soup
mug in hand, seemed really guilty of anything of the sort, seemed
really capable of hurting a dog wantonly. They were all so
manifestly built for homely chalets on the solid earth and
carefully tilled fields and blond wives and cheery merrymaking.
The red-faced, sturdy man with light eyelashes who had brought
the first news of the air battle to the men's mess had finished
his soup, and with an expression of maternal solicitude was
readjusting the bandages of a youngster whose arm had been
Bert was crumbling the last of his bread into the last of his
soup, eking it out as long as possible, when suddenly he became
aware that every one was looking at a pair of feet that were
dangling across the downturned open doorway. Kurt appeared and
squatted across the hinge. In some mysterious way he had shaved
his face and smoothed down his light golden hair. He looked
extraordinarily cherubic. "Der Prinz," he said.
A second pair of boots followed, making wide and magnificent
gestures in their attempts to feel the door frame. Kurt guided
them to a foothold, and the Prince, shaved and brushed and
beeswaxed and clean and big and terrible, slid down into position
astride of the door. All the men and Bert also stood up and
The Prince surveyed them with the gesture of a man who site a
steed. The head of the Kapitan appeared beside him.
Then Bert had a terrible moment. The blue blaze of the Prince's
eye fell upon him, the great finger pointed, a question was
asked. Kurt intervened with explanations.
"So," said the Prince, and Bert was disposed of.
Then the Prince addressed the men in short, heroic sentences,
steadying himself on the hinge with one hand and waving the other
in a fine variety of gesture. What he said Bert could not tell,
but he perceived that their demeanor changed, their backs
stiffened. They began to punctuate the Prince's discourse with
cries of approval. At the end their leader burst into song and
all the men with him. "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," they
chanted in deep, strong tones, with an immense moral uplifting.
It was glaringly inappropriate in a damaged, half-overturned, and
sinking airship, which had been disabled and blown out of action
after inflicting the cruellest bombardment in the world's
history; but it was immensely stirring nevertheless. Bert was
deeply moved. He could not sing any of the words of Luther's
great hymn, but he opened his mouth and emitted loud, deep, and
partially harmonious notes....
Far below, this deep chanting struck on the ears of a little camp
of Christianised half-breeds who were lumbering. They were
breakfasting, but they rushed out cheerfully, quite prepared for
the Second Advent. They stared at the shattered and twisted
Vaterland driving before the gale, amazed beyond words. In so
many respects it was like their idea of the Second Advent, and
then again in so many respects,it wasn't. They stared at its
passage, awe-stricken and perplexed beyond their power of words.
The hymn ceased. Then after a long interval a voice came out of
heaven. "Vat id diss blace here galled itself; vat?"
They made no answer. Indeed they did not understand, though the
question repeated itself.
And at last the monster drove away northward over a crest of pine
woods and was no more seen. They fell into a hot and long
The hymn ended. The Prince's legs dangled up the passage again,
and every one was briskly prepared for heroic exertion and
triumphant acts. "Smallways!" cried Kurt, "come here!"
Then Bert under Kurt's direction, had his first experience of the
work of an air-sailor.
The immediate task before the captain of the Vaterland was a very
simple one. He had to keep afloat. The wind, though it had
fallen from its earlier violence, was still blowing strongly
enough to render the grounding of so clumsy a mass extremely
dangerous, even if it had been desirable for the Prince to land
in inhabited country, and so risk capture. It was necessary to
keep the airship up until the wind fell and then, if possible, to
descend in some lonely district of the Territory where there
would be a chance of repair or rescue by some searching consort.
In order to do this weight had to be dropped, and Kurt was
detailed with a dozen men to climb down among the wreckage of the
deflated air-chambers and cut the stuff clear, portion by
portion, as the airship sank. So Bert, armed with a sharp
cutlass, found himself clambering about upon netting four
thousand feet up in the air, trying to understand Kurt when he
spoke in English and to divine him when he used German.
It was giddy work, but not nearly so giddy as a rather
overnourished reader sitting in a warm room might imagine. Bert
found it quite possible to look down and contemplate the wild
sub-arctic landscape below, now devoid of any sign of habitation,
a land of rocky cliffs and cascades and broad swirling desolate
rivers, and of trees and thickets that grew more stunted and
scrubby as the day wore on. Here and there on the hills were
patches and pockets of snow. And over all this he worked,
hacking away at the tough and slippery oiled silk and clinging
stoutly to the netting. Presently they cleared and dropped a
tangle of bent steel rods and wires from the frame, and a big
chunk of silk bladder. That was trying. The airship flew up at
once as this loose hamper parted. It seemed almost as though
they were dropping all Canada. The stuff spread out in the air
and floated down and hit and twisted up in a nasty fashion on the
lip of a gorge. Bert clung like a frozen monkey to his ropes and
did not move a muscle for five minutes.
But there was something very exhilarating, he found, in this
dangerous work, and above every thing else, there was the sense
of fellowship. He was no longer an isolated and distrustful
stranger among these others, he had now a common object with
them, he worked with a friendly rivalry to get through with his
share before them. And he developed a great respect and
affection for Kurt, which had hitherto been only latent in him.
Kurt with a job to direct was altogether admirable; he was
resourceful, helpful, considerate, swift. He seemed to be
everywhere. One forgot his pinkness, his light cheerfulness of
manner. Directly one had trouble he was at hand with sound and
confident advice. He was like an elder brother to his men.
All together they cleared three considerable chunks of wreckage,
and then Bert was glad to clamber up into the cabins again and
give place to a second squad. He and his companions were given
hot coffee, and indeed, even gloved as they were, the job had
been a cold one. They sat drinking it and regarding each other
with satisfaction. One man spoke to Bert amiably in German, and
Bert nodded and smiled. Through Kurt, Bert, whose ankles were
almost frozen, succeeded in getting a pair of top-boots from one
of the disabled men.
In the afternoon the wind abated greatly, and small, infrequent
snowflakes came drifting by. Snow also spread more abundantly
below, and the only trees were clumps of pine and spruce in the
lower valleys. Kurt went with three men into the still intact
gas-chambers, let out a certain quantity of gas from them, and
prepared a series of ripping panels for the descent. Also the
residue of the bombs and explosives in the magazine were thrown
overboard and fell, detonating loudly, in the wilderness below.
And about four o'clock in the afternoon upon a wide and rocky
plain within sight of snow-crested cliffs, the Vaterland ripped
and grounded.
It was necessarily a difficult and violent affair, for the
Vaterland had not been planned for the necessities of a balloon.
The captain got one panel ripped too soon and the others not soon
enough. She dropped heavily, bounced clumsily, and smashed the
hanging gallery into the fore-part, mortally injuring Von
Winterfeld, and then came down in a collapsing heap after
dragging for some moments. The forward shield and its machine
gun tumbled in upon the things below. Two men were hurt badly--
one got a broken leg and one was internally injured--by flying
rods and wires, and Bert was pinned for a time under the side.
When at last he got clear and could take a view of the situation,
the great black eagle that had started so splendidly from
Franconia six evenings ago, sprawled deflated over the cabins of
the airship and the frost-bitten rocks of this desolate place and
looked a most unfortunate bird--as though some one had caught it
and wrung its neck and cast it aside. Several of the crew of the
airship were standing about in silence, contemplating the
wreckage and the empty wilderness into which they had fallen.
Others were busy under the imromptu tent made by the empty
gas-chambers. The Prince had gone a little way off and was
scrutinising the distant heights through his field-glass. They
had the appearance of old sea cliffs; here and there were small
clumps of conifers, and in two places tall cascades. The nearer
ground was strewn with glaciated boulders and supported nothing
but a stunted Alpine vegetation of compact clustering stems and
stalkless flowers. No river was visible, but the air was full of
the rush and babble of a torrent close at hand. A bleak and
biting wind was blowing. Ever and again a snowflake drifted
past. The springless frozen earth under Bert's feet felt
strangely dead and heavy after the buoyant airship.
So it came about that that great and powerful Prince Karl Albert
was for a time thrust out of the stupendous conflict he chiefly
had been instrumental in provoking. The chances of battle and
the weather conspired to maroon him in Labrador, and there he
raged for six long days, while war and wonder swept the world.
Nation rose against nation and air-fleet grappled air-fleet,
cities blazed and men died in multitudes; but in Labrador one
might have dreamt that, except for a little noise of hammering,
the world was at peace.
There the encampment lay; from a distance the cabins, hovered
over with the silk of the balloon part, looked like a gipsy's
tent on a rather exceptional scale, and all the available hands
were busy in building out of the steel of the framework a mast
from which the Vaterland's electricians might hang the long
conductors of the apparatus for wireless telegraphy that was to
link the Prince to the world again. There were times when it
seemed they would never rig that mast. From the outset the party
suffered hardship. They were not too abundantly provisioned, and
they were put on short rations, and for all the thick garments
they had, they were but ill-equipped against the piercing wind
and inhospitable violence of this wilderness. The first night
was spent in darkness and without fires. The engines that had
supplied power were smashed and dropped far away to the south,
and there was never a match among the company. It had been death
to carry matches. All the explosives had been thrown out of the
magazine, and it was only towards morning that the bird-faced man
whose cabin Bert had taken in the beginning confessed to a brace
of duelling pistols and cartridges, with which a fire could be
started. Afterwards the lockers of the machine gun were found to
contain a supply of unused ammunition.
The night was a distressing one and seemed almost interminable.
Hardly any one slept. There were seven wounded men aboard, and
Von Winterfeld's head had been injured, and he was shivering and
in delirium, struggling with his attendant and shouting strange
things about the burning of New York. The men crept together in
the mess-room in the darkling, wrapped in what they could find
and drank cocoa from the fireless heaters and listened to his
cries. In the morning the Prince made them a speech about
Destiny, and the God of his Fathers and the pleasure and glory of
giving one's life for his dynasty, and a number of similar
considerations that might otherwise have been neglected in that
bleak wilderness. The men cheered without enthusiasm, and far
away a wolf howled.
Then they set to work, and for a week they toiled to put up a
mast of steel, and hang from it a gridiron of copper wires two
hundred feet by twelve. The theme of all that time was work,
work continually, straining and toilsome work, and all the rest
was grim hardship and evil chances, save for a certain wild
splendour in the sunset and sunrise in the torrents and drifting
weather, in the wilderness about them. They built and tended a
ring of perpetual fires, gangs roamed for brushwood and met with
wolves, and the wounded men and their beds were brought out from
the airship cabins, and put in shelters about the fires. There
old Von Winterfeld raved and became quiet and presently died, and
three of the other wounded sickened for want of good food, while
their fellows mended. These things happened, as it were, in the
wings; the central facts before Bert's consciousness were always
firstly the perpetual toil, the holding and lifting, and lugging
at heavy and clumsy masses, the tedious filing and winding of
wires, and secondly, the Prince, urgent and threatening whenever
a man relaxed. He would stand over them, and point over their
heads, southward into the empty sky. "The world there," he said
in German, "is waiting for us! Fifty Centuries come to their
Consummation." Bert did not understand the words, but he read
the gesture. Several times the Prince grew angry; once with a
man who was working slowly, once with a man who stole a comrade's
ration. The first he scolded and set to a more tedious task; the
second he struck in the face and ill-used. He did no work
himself. There was a clear space near the fires in which he
would walk up and down, sometimes for two hours together, with
arms folded, muttering to himself of Patience and his destiny.
At times these mutterings broke out into rhetoric, into shouts
and gestures that would arrest the workers; they would stare at
him until they perceived that his blue eyes glared and his waving
hand addressed itself always to the southward hills. On Sunday
the work ceased for half an hour, and the Prince preached on
faith and God's friendship for David, and afterwards they all
sang: "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott."
In an improvised hovel lay Von Winterfeld, and all one morning he
raved of the greatness of Germany. "Blut und Eisen!" he shouted,
and then, as if in derision, "Welt-Politik--ha, ha!" Then he
would explain complicated questions of polity to imaginary
hearers, in low, wily tones. The other sick men kept still,
listening to him. Bert's distracted attention would be recalled
by Kurt. "Smallways, take that end. So!"
Slowly, tediously, the great mast was rigged and hoisted foot by
foot into place. The electricians had contrived a catchment pool
and a wheel in the torrent close at hand--for the little
Mulhausen dynamo with its turbinal volute used by the
telegraphists was quite adaptable to water driving, and on the
sixth day in the evening the apparatus was in working order and
the Prince was calling--weakly, indeed, but calling--to his
air-fleet across the empty spaces of the world. For a time he
called unheeded.
The effect of that evening was to linger long in Bert's memory.
A red fire spluttered and blazed close by the electricians at
their work, and red gleams xan up the vertical steel mast and
threads of copper wire towards the zenith. The Prince sat on a
rock close by, with his chin on his hand, waiting. Beyond and to
the northward was the cairn that covered Von Winterfeld,
surmounted by a cross of steel, and from among the tumbled rocks
in the distance the eyes of a wolf gleamed redly. On the other
hand was the wreckage of the great airship and the men bivouacked
about a second ruddy flare. They were all keeping very still, as
if waiting to hear what news might presently be given them. Far
away, across many hundreds of miles of desolation, other wireless
masts would be clicking, and snapping, and waking into responsive
vibration. Perhaps they were not. Perhaps those throbs upon the
etherz .wasted themselves upon a regardless world. When the men
spoke, they spoke in low tones. Now and then a bird shrieked
remotely, and once a wolf howled. All these things were set in
the immense cold spaciousness of the wild.
Bert got the news last, and chiefly in broken English, from a
linguist among his mates. It was only far on in the night that
the weary telegraphist got an answer to his calls, but then the
messages came clear and strong. And such news it was!
"I say," said Bert at his breakfast, amidst a great clamour,
"tell us a bit."
"All de vorlt is at vor!" said the linguist, waving his cocoa in
an illustrative manner, "all de vorlt is at vor!"
Bert stared southward into the dawn. It did not seem so.
"All de vorlt is at vor! They haf burn' Berlin; they haf burn'
London; they haf burn' Hamburg and Paris. Chapan hass burn San
Francisco. We haf mate a camp at Niagara. Dat is whad they are
telling us. China has cot drachenflieger and luftschiffe beyont
counting. All de vorlt is at vor!"
"Gaw I" said Bert.
"Yess," said the linguist, drinking his cocoa.
"Burnt up London, 'ave they? Like we did New York?"
"It wass a bombardment."
"They don't say anything about a place called Clapham, or Bun
Hill, do they?"
"I haf heard noding," said the linguist.
That was all Bert could get for a time. But the excitement of
all the men about him was contagious, and presently he saw Kurt
standing alone, hands behind him, and looking at one of the
distant waterfalls very steadfastly. He went up and saluted,
soldier-fashion. "Beg pardon, lieutenant," he said.
Kurt turned his face. It was unusually grave that morning. "I
was just thinking I would like to see that waterfall closer," he
said. "It reminds me--what do you want?"
"I can't make 'ead or tail of what they're saying, sir. Would
you mind telling me the news?"
"Damn the news," said Kurt. "You'll get news enough before the
day's out. It's the end of the world. They're sending the Graf
Zeppelin for us. She'll be here by the morning, and we ought to
be at Niagara--or eternal smash--within eight and forty hours....
I want to look at that waterfall. You'd better come with me.
Have you had your rations?"
"Very well. Come."
And musing profoundly, Kurt led the way across the rocks towards
the distant waterfall.
For a time Bert walked behind him in the character of an escort;
then as they passed out of the atmosphere of the encampment, Kurt
lagged for him to come alongside.
"We shall be back in it all in two days' time," he said. "And
it's a devil of a war to go back to. That's the news. The
world's gone mad. Our fleet beat the Americans the night we got
disabled, that's clear. We lost eleven--eleven airships certain,
and all their aeroplanes got smashed. God knows how much we
smashed or how many we killed. But that was only the beginning.
Our start's been like firing a magazine. Every country was
hiding flying-machines. They're fighting in the air all over
Europe--all over the world. The Japanese and Chinese have joined
in. That's the great fact. That's the supreme fact. They've
pounced into our little quarrels.... The Yellow Peril was a peril
after all! They've got thousands of airships. They're all over
the world. We bombarded London and Paris, and now the French and
English have smashed up Berlin. And now Asia is at us all, and
on the top of us all.... It's mania. China on the top. And
they don't know where to stop. It's limitless. It's the last
confusion. They're bombarding capitals, smashing up dockyards
and factories, mines and fleets."
"Did they do much to London, sir?" asked Bert.
"Heaven knows...."
He said no more for a time.
"This Labrador seems a quiet place," he resumed at last. "I'm
half a mind to stay here. Can't do that. No! I've got to see
it through. I've got to see it through. You've got to, too.
Every one.... But why?... I tell you--our world's gone to pieces.
There's no way out of it, no way back. Here we are! We're like
mice caught in a house on fire, we're like cattle overtaken by a
flood. Presently we shall be picked up, and back we shall go
into the fighting. We shall kill and smash again--perhaps. It's
a Chino-Japanese air-fleet this time, and the odds are against
us. Our turns will come. What will happen to you I don't know,
but for myself, I know quite well; I shall be killed."
"You'll be all right," said Bert, after a queer pause.
"No!" said Kurt, "I'm going to be killed. I didn't know, it
before, but this morning, at dawn, I knew it-as though I'd been
"I tell you I know."
"But 'ow COULD you know?"
"I know."
"Like being told?"
"Like being certain.
"I know," he repeated, and for a time they walked in silence
towards the waterfall.
Kurt, wrapped in his thoughts, walked heedlessly, and at last
broke out again. "I've always felt young before, Smallways, but
this morning I feel old--old. So old! Nearer to death than old
men feel. And I've always. thought life was a lark. It isn't....
This sort of thing has always been happening, I suppose--these
things, wars and earthquakes, that sweep across all the decency
of life. It's just as though I had woke up to it all for the
first time. Every night since we were at New York I've dreamt of
it.... And it's always been so--it's the way of life. People are
torn away from the people they care for; homes are smashed,
creatures full of life, and memories, and little peculiar gifts
are scalded and smashed, and torn to pieces, and starved, and
spoilt. London! Berlin! San Francisco! Think of all the human
histories we ended in New York!... And the others go on again as
though such things weren't possible. As I went on! Like animals!
Just like animals."
He said nothing for a long time, and then he dropped out, "The
Prince is a lunatic!"
They came to a place where they had to climb, and then to a long
peat level beside rivulet. There a quantity of delicate little
pink flowers caught Bert's eye. "Gaw!" he said, and stooped to
pick one. "In a place like this."
Kurt stopped and half turned. His face winced.
"I never see such a flower," said Bert. "It's so delicate."
"Pick some more if you want to," said Kurt.
Bert did so, while Kurt stood and watched him.
"Funny 'ow one always wants to pick flowers," said Bert.
Kurt had nothing to add to that.
They went on again, without talking, for a long time.
At last they came to a rocky hummock, from which the view of the
waterfall opened out. There Kurt stopped and seated himself on a
"That's as much as I wanted to see," he explained. "It isn't
very like, but it's like enough."
"Like what?"
"Another waterfall I knew."
He asked a question abruptly. "Got a girl, Smallways?"
"Funny thing," said Bert, "those flowers, I suppose.--I was jes'
thinking of 'er."
"So was I."
"WHAT! Edna?"
"No. I was thinking of MY Edna. We've all got Ednas, I suppose,
for our imaginations to play about. This was a girl. But all
that's past for ever. It's hard to think I can't see her just
for a minute--just let her know I'm thinking of her."
"Very likely," said Bert, "you'll see 'er all right."
"No," said Kurt with decision, "I KNOW."
"I met her," he went on, "in a place like this--in the
Alps--Engstlen Alp. There's a waterfall rather like this one--a
broad waterfall down towards Innertkirchen. That's why I came
here this morning. We slipped away and had half a day together
beside it. And we picked flowers. Just such flowers as you
picked. The same for all I know. And gentian."
"I know" said Bert, "me and Edna--we done things like that.
Flowers. And all that. Seems years off now."
"She was beautiful and daring and shy, Mein Gott! I can hardly
hold myself for the desire to see her and hear her voice again
before I die. Where is she?... Look here, Smallways, I shall
write a sort of letter-- And there's her portrait." He touched
his breast pocket.
"You'll see 'er again all right," said Bert.
"No'! I shall never see her again.... I don't understand why
people should meet just to be torn apart. But I know she and I
will never meet again. That I know as surely as that the sun
will rise, and that cascade come shining over the rocks after I
am dead and done.... Oh! It's all foolishness and haste and
violence and cruel folly, stupidity and blundering hate and
selfish ambition--all the things that men have done--all the
things they will ever do. Gott! Smallways, what a muddle and
confusion life has always been--the battles and massacres and
disasters, the hates and harsh acts, the murders and sweatings,
the lynchings and cheatings. This morning I am tired of it all,
as though I'd just found it out for the first time. I HAVE found
it out. When a man is tired of life, I suppose it is time for
him to die. I've lost heart, and death is over me. Death is
close to me, and I know I have got to end. But think of all the
hopes I had only a little time ago, the sense of fine
beginnings!... It was all a sham. There were no beginnings....
We're just ants in ant-hill cities, in a world that doesn't
matter; that goes on and rambles into nothingness. New York--New
York doesn't even strike me as horrible. New York was nothing
but an ant-hill kicked to pieces by a fool!
"Think of it, Smallways: there's war everywhere! They're
smashing up their civilisation before they have made it. The
sort of thing the English did at Alexandria, the Japanese at Port
Arthur, the French at Casablanca, is going on everywhere.
Everywhere! Down in South America even they are fighting among
themselves! No place is safe--no place is at peace. There is no
place where a woman and her daughter can hide and be at peace.
The war comes through the air, bombs drop in the night. Quiet
people go out in the morning, and see air-fleets passing
overhead--dripping death--dripping death!"
It was only very slowly that Bert got hold of this idea that the
whole world was at war, that he formed any image at all of the
crowded countries south of these Arctic solitudes stricken with
terror and dismay as these new-born aerial navies swept across
their skies. He was not used to thinking of the world as a
whole, but as a limitless hinterland of happenings beyond the
range of his immediate vision. War in his imagination was
something, a source of news and emotion, that happened in a
restricted area, called the Seat of War. But now the whole
atmosphere was the Seat of War, and every land a cockpit. So
closely had the nations raced along the path of research and
invention, so secret and yet so parallel had been their plans and
acquisitions, that it was within a few hours of the launching of
the first fleet in Franconia that an Asiatic Armada beat its
west-ward way across, high above the marvelling millions in the
plain of the Ganges. But the preparations of the Confederation
of Eastern Asia had been on an altogether more colossal scale
than the German. "With this step," said Tan Ting-siang, "we
overtake and pass the West. We recover the peace of the world
that these barbarians have destroyed."
Their secrecy and swiftness and inventions had far surpassed
those of the Germans, and where the Germans had had a hundred men
at work the Asiatics had ten thousand. There came to their great
aeronautic parks at Chinsi-fu and Tsingyen by the mono-rails that
now laced the whole surface of China a limitless supply of
skilled and able workmen, workmen far above the average European
in industrial efficiency. The news of the German World Surprise
simply quickened their efforts. At the time of the bombardment
of New York it is doubtful if the Germans had three hundred
airships all together in the world; the score of Asiatic fleets
flying east and west and south must have numbered several
thousand. Moreover the Asiatics had a real fighting
flying-machine, the Niais as they were called, a light but quite
efficient weapon, infinitely superior to the German
drachenflieger. Like that, it was a one-man machine, but it was
built very lightly of steel and cane and chemical silk, with a
transverse engine, and a flapping sidewing. The aeronaut carried
a gun firing explosive bullets loaded with oxygen, and in
addition, and true to the best tradition of Japan, a sword.
Mostly they were Japanese, and it is characteristic that from the
first it was contemplated that the aeronaut should be a
swordsman. The wings of these flyers had bat-like hooks forward,
by which they were to cling to their antagonist's gas-chambers
while boarding him. These light flying-machines were carried
with the fleets, and also sent overland or by sea to the front
with the men. They were capable of flights of from two to five
hundred miles according to the wind.
So, hard upon the uprush of the first German air-fleet, these
Asiatic swarms took to the atmosphere. Instantly every organised
Government in the world, was frantically and vehemently building
airships and whatever approach to a flying machine its inventors'
had discovered. There was no time for diplomacy. Warnings and
ultimatums wer telegraphed to and fro, and in a few hours all the
panic-fierce world was openly at war, and at war in the most
complicated way. For Britain and France and Italy had declared
war upon Germany and outraged Swiss neutrality; India, at the
sight of Asiatic airships, had broken into a Hindoo insurrection
in Bengal and a Mohametan revolt hostile to this in the
North-west Provinces--the latter spreading like wildfire from
Gobi to the Gold Coast--and the Confederation of Eastern Asia had
seized the oil wells of Burmha and was impartially attacking
America and Germany. In a week they were building airships in
Damascus and Cairo and Johannesburg; Australia and New Zealand
were frantically equipping themselves. One unique and terrifying
aspect of this development was the swiftness with which these
monsters could be produced. To build an ironclad took from two to
four years; an airship could be put together in as many weeks.
Moreover, compared with even a torpedo boat, the airship was
remarkably simple to construct, given the air-chamber material,
the engines, the gas plant, and the design, it was reallt not
more complicated and far easier than an ordinary wooden boat had
been a hundred years before. And now from Cape Horn to Nova
Zembla, and from Canton round to Canton again, there were
factories and workshops and industrial resources.
And the German airships were barely in sight of the Atlantic
waters, the first Asiatic fleet was scarcely reported from Upper
Burmah, before the fantastic fabric of credit and finance that
had held the world together economically for a hundred years
strained and snapped. A tornado of realisation swept through
every stock exchange in the world; banks stopped payment,
business shrank and ceased, factories ran on for a day or so by a
sort of inertia, completing the orders of bankrupt and
extinguished customers, then stopped. The New York Bert
Smallways saw, for all its glare of light and traffic, was in the
pit of an economic and financial collapse unparalleled in
history. The flow of the food supply was already a little
checked. And before the world-war had lasted two weeks--by the
time, that is, that mast was rigged in Labrador--there was not a
city or town in the world outside China, however fair from the
actual centres of destruction, where police and government were
not adopting special emergency methods to deal with a want of
food and a glut of unemployed people.
The special peculiarities of aerial warfare were of such a nature
as to trend, once it had begun, almost inevitably towards social
disorganisation. The first of these peculiarities was brought
home to the Germans in their attack upon New York; the immense
power of destruction an airship has over the thing below, and its
relative inability to occupy or police or guard or garrison a
surrendered position. Necessarily, in the face of urban
populations in a state of economic disorganisation and infuriated
and starving, this led to violent and destructive collisions, and
even where the air-fleet floated inactive above, there would be
civil conflict and passionate disorder below. Nothing comparable
to this state of affairs had been known in the previous history
of warfare, unless we take such a case as that of a nineteenth
century warship attacking some large savage or barbaric
settlement, or one of those naval bombardments that disfigure the
history of Great Britain in the late eighteenth century. Then,
indeed, there had been cruelties and destruction that faintly
foreshadowed the horrors of the aerial war. Moreover, before the
twentieth century the world had had but one experience, and that
a comparatively light one, in the Communist insurrection of
Paris, 1871, of the possibilities of a modern urban population
under warlike stresses.
A second peculiarity of airship war as it first came to the world
that also made for social collapse, was the ineffectiveness of
the early air-ships against each other. Upon anything below they
could rain explosives in the most deadly fashion, forts and ships
and cities lay at their mercy, but unless they were prepared for
a suicidal grapple they could do remarkably little mischief to
each other. The armament of the huge German airships, big as the
biggest mammoth liners afloat, was one machine gun that could
easily have been packed up on a couple of mules. In addition,
when it became evident that the air must be fought for, the
air-sailors were provided with rifles with explosive bullets of
oxygen or inflammable substance, but no airship at any time ever
carried as much in the way of guns and armour as the smallest
gunboat on the navy list had been accustomed to do.
Consequently, when these monsters met in battle, they manoeuvred
for the upper place, or grappled and fought like junks, throwing
grenades fighting hand to hand in an entirely medieval fashion.
The risks of a collapse and fall on either side came near to
balancing in every case the chances of victory. As a
consequence, and after their first experiences of battle, one
finds a growing tendency on the part of the air-fleet admirals to
evade joining battle, and to seek rather the moral advantage of a
destructive counter attack.
And if the airships were too ineffective, the early
drachenflieger were either too unstable, like the German, or too
light, like the Japanese, to produce immediately decisive
results. Later, it is true, the Brazilians launched a
flying-machine of a type and scale that was capable of dealing
with an airship, but they built only three or four, they operated
only in South America, and they vanished from history untraceably
in the time when world-bankruptcy put a stop to all further
engineering production on any considerable scale.
The third peculiarity of aerial warfare was that it was at once
enormously destructive and entirely indecisive. It had this
unique feature, that both sides lay open to punitive attack. In
all previous forms of war, both by land and sea, the losing side
was speedily unable to raid its antagonist's territory and the
communications. One fought on a "front," and behind that front
the winner's supplies and resources, his towns and factories and
capital, the peace of his country, were secure. If the war was a
naval one, you destroyed your enemy's battle fleet and then
blockaded his ports, secured his coaling stations, and hunted
down any stray cruisers that threatened your ports of commerce.
But to blockade and watch a coastline is one thing, to blockade
and watch the whole surface of a country is another, and cruisers
and privateers are things that take long to make, that cannot be
packed up and hidden and carried unostentatiously from point to
point. In aerial war the stronger side, even supposing it
destroyed the main battle fleet of the weaker, had then either to
patrol and watch or destroy every possible point at which he
might produce another and perhaps a novel and more deadly form of
flyer. It meant darkening his air with airships. It meant
building them by the thousand and making aeronauts by the.hundred
thousand. A small uninitated airship could be hidden in a
railway shed, in a village street, in a wood; a flying machine is
even less conspicuous.
And in the air are no streets, no channels, no point where one
can say of an antagonist, "If he wants to reach my capital he
must come by here." In the air all directions lead everywhere.
Consequently it was impossible to end a war by any of the
established methods. A, having outnumbered and overwhelmed B,
hovers, a thousand airships strong, over his capital, threatening
to bombard it unless B submits. B replies by wireless telegraphy
that he is now in the act of bombarding the chief manufacturing
city of A by means of three raider airships. A denounces B's
raiders as pirates and so forth, bombards B's capital, and sets
off to hunt down B's airships, while B, in a state of passionate
emotion and heroic unconquerableness, sets to work amidst his
ruins, making fresh airships and explosives for the benefit of A.
The war became perforce a universal guerilla war, a war
inextricably involving civilians and homes and all the apparatus
of social life.
These aspects of aerial fighting took the world by surprise.
There had been no foresight to deduce these consequences. If
there had been, the world would have arranged for a Universal
Peace Conference in 1900. But mechanical invention had gone
faster than intellectual and social organisation, and the world,
with its silly old flags, its silly unmeaning tradition of
nationality, its cheap newspapers and cheaper passions and
imperialisms, its base commercial motives and habitual
insincerities and vulgarities, its race lies and conflicts, was
taken by surprise. Once the war began there was no stopping it.
The flimsy fabric of credit that had grown with no man
foreseeing, and that had held those hundreds of millions in an
economic interdependence that no man clearly understood,
dissolved in panic. Everywhere went the airships dropping bombs,
destroying any hope of a rally, and everywhere below were
economic catastrophe, starving workless people, rioting, and
social disorder. Whatever constructive guiding intelligence
there had been among the nations vanished in the passionate
stresses of the time. Such newspapers and documents and
histories as survive from this period all tell one universal
story of towns and cities with the food supply interrupted and
their streets congested with starving unemployed; of crises in
administration and states of siege, of provisional Governments
and Councils of Defence, and, in the cases of India and Egypt,
insurrectionary committees taking charge of the re-arming of the
population, of the making of batteries and gun-pits, of the
vehement manufacture of airships and flying-machines.
One sees these things in glimpses, in illuminated moments, as if
through a driving reek of clouds, going on all over the world.
It was the dissolution of an age; it was the collapse of the
civilisation that had trusted to machinery, and the instruments
of its destruction were machines. But while the collapse of the
previous great civilisation, that of Rome, had been a matter of
centuries, had been a thing of phase and phase, like the ageing
and dying of a man, this, like his killing by railway or motor
car, was one swift, conclusive smashing and an end.
The early battles of the aerial war were no doubt determined by
attempts to realise the old naval maxim, to ascertain the
position of the enemy's fleet and to destroy it. There was first
the battle of the Bernese Oberland, in which the Italian and
French navigables in their flank raid upon the Franconian Park
were assailed by the Swiss experimental squadron, supported as
the day wore on by German airships, and then the encounter of the
British Winterhouse-Dunn aeroplanes with three unfortunate
Then came the Battle of North India, in which the entire
Anglo-Indian aeronautic settlement establishment fought for three
days against overwhelming odds, and was dispersed and destroyed
in detail.
And simultaneously with the beginning of that, commenced the
momentous struggle of the Germans and Asiatics that is usually
known as the Battle of Niagara because of the objective of the
Asiatic attack. But it passed gradually into a sporadic conflict
over half a continent. Such German airships as escaped
destruction in battle descended and surrendered to the Americans,
and were re-manned, and in the end it became a series of pitiless
and heroic encounters between the Americans, savagely resolved to
exterminate their enemies, and a continually reinforced army of
invasion from Asia quartered upon the Pacific slope and supported
by an immense fleet. From the first the war in America was
fought with implacable bitterness; no quarter was asked, no
prisoners were taken. With ferocious and magnificent energy the
Americans constructed and launched ship after ship to battle and
perish against the Asiatic multitudes. All other affairs were
subordinate to this war, the whole population was presently
living or dying for it. Presently, as I shall tell, the white
men found in the Butteridge machine a weapon that could meet and
fight the flying-machines of the Asiatic swordsman.
The Asiatic invasion of America completely effaced the
German-American conflict. It vanishes from history. At first it
had seemed to promise quite sufficient tragedy in
itself--beginning as it did in unforgettable massacre. After the
destruction of central New York all America had risen like one
man, resolved to die a thousand deaths rather than submit to
Germany. The Germans grimly resolved upon beating the Americans
into submission and, following out the plans developed by the
Prince, had seized Niagara--in order to avail themselves of its
enormous powerworks; expelled all its inhabitants and made a
desert of its environs as far as Buffalo. They had also,
directly Great Britain and France declare war, wrecked the
country upon the Canadian side for nearly ten miles inland. They
began to bring up men and material from the fleet off the east
coast, stringing out to and fro like bees getting honey. It was
then that the Asiatic forces appeared, and it was in their attack
upon this German base at Niagara that the air-fleets of East and
West first met and the greater issue became clear.
One conspicuous peculiarity of the early aerial fighting arose
from the profound secrecy with which the airships had been
prepared. Each power had had but the dimmest inkling of the
schemes of its rivals, and even experiments with its own devices
were limited by the needs of secrecy. None of the designers of
airships and aeroplanes had known clearly what their inventions
might have to fight; many had not imagined they would have to
fight anything whatever in the air; and had planned them only for
the dropping of explosives. Such had been the German idea. The
only weapon for fighting another airship with which the
Franconian fleet had been provided was the machine gun forward.
Only after the fight over New York were the men given short
rifles with detonating bullets. Theoretically, the
drachenflieger were to have been the fighting weapon. They were
declared to be aerial torpedo-boats, and the aeronaut was
supposed to swoop close to his antagonist and cast his bombs as
he whirled past. But indeed these contrivances were hopelessly
unstable; not one-third in any engagement succeeded in getting
back to the mother airship. The rest were either smashed up or
The allied Chino-Japanese fleet made the same distinction as the
Germans between airships and fighting machines heavier than air,
but the type in both cases was entirely different from the
occidental models, and--it is eloquent of the vigour with which
these great peoples took up and bettered the European methods of
scientific research in almost every particular the invention of
Asiatic engineers. Chief among these, it is worth remarking, was
Mohini K. Chatterjee, a political exile who had formerly served
in the British-Indian aeronautic park at Lahore.
The German airship was fish-shaped, with a blunted head; the
Asiatic airship was also fish-shaped, but not so much on the
lines of a cod or goby as of a ray or sole. It had a wide, flat
underside, unbroken by windows or any opening except along the
middle line. Its cabins occupied its axis,, with a sort of
bridge deck above, and the gas-chambers gave the whole affair the
shape of a gipsy's hooped tent, except that it was much flatter.
The German airship was essentially a navigable balloon very much
lighter than air; the Asiatic airship was very little lighter
than air and skimmed through it with much greater velocity if
with considerably less stability. They carried fore and aft
guns, the latter much the larger, throwing inflammatory shells,
and in addition they had nests for riflemen on both the upper and
the under side. Light as this armament was in comparison with
the smallest gunboat that ever sailed, it was sufficient for them
to outfight as well as outfly the German monster airships. In
action they flew to get behind or over the Germans: they even
dashed underneath, avoiding only passing immediately beneath the
magazine, and then as soon as they had crossed let fly with their
rear gun, and sent flares or oxygen shells into the antagonist's
It was not in their airships, but, as I have said, in their
flying-machines proper, that the strength of the Asiatics lay.
Next only to the Butteridge machine, these were certainly the
most efficient heavier-than-air fliers that had ever appeared.
They were the invention of a Japanese artist, and they differed
in type extremely from the box-kite quality of the German
drachenflieger. They had curiously curved, flexible side wings,
more like BENT butterfly's wings than anything else, and made of
a substance like celluloid and of brightly painted silk, and they
had a long humming-bird tail. At the forward corner of the wings
were hooks, rather like the claws of a bat, by which the machine
could catch and hang and tear at the walls of an airship's
gas-chamber. The solitary rider sat between the wings above a
transverse explosive engine, an explosive engine that differed in
no essential particular from those in use in the light motor
bicycles of the period. Below was a single large wheel. The
rider sat astride of a saddle, as in the Butteridge machine, and
he carried a large double-edged two-handed sword, in addition to
his explosive-bullet firing rifle.
One sets down these particulars and compares the points of the
American and German pattern of aeroplane and navigable, but none
of these facts were clearly known to any of those who fought in
this monstrously confused battle above the American great lakes.
Each side went into action against it knew not what, under novel
conditions and with apparatus that even without hostile attacks
was capable of producing the most disconcerting surprises.
Schemes of action, attempts at collective manoeuvring necessarily
went to pieces directly the fight began, just as they did in
almost all the early ironclad battles of the previous century.
Each captain then had to fall back upon individual action and his
own devices; one would see triumph in what another read as a cue
for flight and despair. It is as true of the Battle of Niagara
as of the Battle of Lissa that it was not a battle but a bundle
of " battlettes"!
To such a spectator as Bert it presented itself as a series of
incidents, some immense, some trivial, but collectively
incoherent. He never had a sense of any plain issue joined, of
any point struggled for and won or lost. He saw tremendous
things happen and in the end his world darkened to disaster and
He saw the battle from the ground, from Prospect Park and from
Goat Island, whither he fled.
But the manner in which he came to be on the ground needs
The Prince had resumed command of his fleet through wireless
telegraphy long before the Zeppelin had located his encampment in
Labrador. By his direction the German air-fleet, whose advance
scouts had been in contact with the Japanese over the Rocky
Mountains, had concentrated upon Niagara and awaited his arrival.
He had rejoined his command early in the morning of the twelfth,
and Bert had his first prospect of the Gorge of Niagara while he
was doing net drill outside the middle gas-chamber at sunrise.
The Zeppelin was flying very high at the time, and far below he
saw the water in the gorge marbled with froth and then away to
the west the great crescent of the Canadian Fall shining,
flickering and foaming in the level sunlight and sending up a
deep, incessant thudding rumble to the sky. The air-fleet was
keeping station in an enormous crescent, with its horns pointing
south-westward, a long array of shining monsters with tails
rotating slowly and German ensigns now trailing from their
bellies aft of their Marconi pendants.
Niagara city was still largely standing then, albeit its streets
were empty of all life. Its bridges were intact; its hotels and
restaurants still flying flags and inviting sky signs; its
power-stations running. But about it the country on both sides
of the gorge might have been swept by a colossal broom.
Everything that could possibly give cover to an attack upon the
German position at Niagara had been levelled as ruthlessly as
machinery and explosives could contrive; houses blown up and
burnt, woods burnt, fences and crops destroyed. The mono-rails
had been torn up, and the roads in particular cleared of all
possibility of concealment or shelter. Seen from above, the
effect of this wreckage was grotesque. Young woods had been
destroyed whole-sale by dragging wires, and the spoilt saplings,
smashed or uprooted, lay in swathes like corn after the sickle.
Houses had an appearance of being flattened down by the pressure
of a gigantic finger. Much burning was still going on, and large
areas had been reduced to patches of smouldering and sometimes
still glowing blackness.
Here and there lay the debris of belated fugitives, carts, and
dead bodies of horses and men; and where houses had had
water-supplies there were pools of water and running springs from
the ruptured pipes. In unscorched fields horses and cattle still
fed peacefully. Beyond this desolated area the countryside was
still standing, but almost all the people had fled. Buffalo was
on fire to an enormous extent, and there were no signs of any
efforts to grapple with the flames. Niagara city itself was
being rapidly converted to the needs of a military depot. A
large number of skilled engineers had already been brought from
the fleet and were busily at work adapting the exterior
industrial apparatus of the place to the purposes of an
aeronautic park. They had made a gas recharging station at the
corner of the American Fall above the funicular railway, and they
were, opening up a much larger area to the south for the same
purpose. Over the power-houses and hotels and suchlike prominent
or important points the German flag was flying.
The Zeppelin circled slowly over this scene twice while the
Prince surveyed it from the swinging gallery; it then rose
towards the centre of the crescent and transferred the Prince and
his suite, Kurt included, to the Hohenzollern, which had been
chosen as the flagship during the impending battle. They were
swung up on a small cable from the forward gallery, and the men
of the Zeppelin manned the outer netting as the Prince and his
staff left them. The Zeppelin then came about, circled down and
grounded in Prospect Park, in order to land the wounded and take
aboard explosives; for she had come to Labrador with her
magazines empty, it being uncertain what weight she might need to
carry. She also replenished the hydrogen in one of her forward
chambers which had leaked.
Bert was detailed as a bearer and helped carry the wounded one by
one into the nearest of the large hotels that faced the Canadian
shore. The hotel was quite empty except that there were two
trained American nurses and a negro porter, and three or four
Germans awaiting them. Bert went with the Zeppelin's doctor into
the main street of the place, and they broke into a drug shop and
obtained various things of which they stood in need. As they
returned they found an officer and two men making a rough
inventory of the available material in the various stores.
Except for them the wide, main street of the town was quite
deserted, the people had been given three hours to clear out, and
everybody, it seemed, had done so. At one corner a dead man lay
against the wall--shot. Two or three dogs were visible up the
empty vista, but towards its river end the passage of a string of
mono-rail ears broke the stillness and the silence. They were
loaded with hose, and were passing to the trainful of workers who
were converting Prospect Park into an airship dock.
Bert pushed a case of medicine balanced on a bicycle taken from
an adjacent shop, to the hotel, and then he was sent to load
bombs into the Zeppelin magazine, a duty that called for
elaborate care. From this job he was presently called off by the
captain of the Zeppelin, who sent him with a note to the officer
in charge of the Anglo-American Power Company, for the field
telephone had still to be adjusted. Bert received his
instructions in German, whose meaning he guessed, and saluted and
took the note, not caring to betray his ignorance of the
language. He started off with a bright air of knowing his way
and turned a corner or so, and was only beginning to suspect that
he did not know where he was going when his attention was
recalled to the sky by the report of a gun from the Hohenzollern
and celestial cheering.
He looked up and found the view obstructed by the houses on
either side of the street. He hesitated, and then curiosity took
him back towards the bank of the river. Here his view was
inconvenienced by trees, and it was with a start that he
discovered the Zeppelin, which he knew had still a quarter of her
magazines to fill, was rising over Goat Island. She had not
waited for her complement of ammunition. It occurred to him that
he was left behind. He ducked back among the trees and bushes
until he felt secure from any after-thought on the part of the
Zeppelin's captain. Then his curiosity to see what the German
air-fleet faced overcame him, and drew him at last halfway across
the bridge to Goat Island.
From that point he had nearly a hemisphere of sky and got his
first glimpse of the Asiatic airships low in the sky above the
glittering tumults of the Upper Rapids.
They were far less impressive than the German ships. He could
not judge the distance, and they flew edgeways to him, so as to
conceal the broader aspect of their bulk.
Bert stood there in the middle of the bridge, in a place that
most people who knew it remembered as a place populous with
sightseers and excursionists, and he was the only human being in
sight there. Above him, very high in the heavens, the contending
air-fleets manoeuvred; below him the river seethed like a sluice
towards the American Fall. He was curiously dressed. His cheap
blue serge trousers were thrust into German airship rubber boots,
and on his head he wore an aeronaut's white cap that was a trifle
too large for him. He thrust that back to reveal his staring
little Cockney face, still scarred upon the brow. "Gaw!" he
He stared. He gesticulated. Once or twice he shouted and
Then at a certain point terror seized him and he took to his
heels in the direction of Goat Island.
For a time after they were in sight of each other, neither fleet
attempted to engage. The Germans numbered sixty-seven great
airships and they maintained the crescent formation at a height
of nearly four thousand feet. They kept a distance of about one
and a half lengths, so that the horns of the crescent were nearly
thirty miles apart. Closely in tow of the airships of the
extreme squadrons on either wing were about thirty drachenflieger
ready manned,, but these were too small and distant for Bert to
At first, only what was called the Southern fleet of the Asiatics
was visible to him. It consisted of forty airships, carrying all
together nearly four hundred one-man flying-machines upon their
flanks, and for some time it flew slowly and at a minimum
distance of perhaps a dozen miles from the Germans, eastward
across their front. At first Bert could distinguish only the
greater bulks, then he perceived the one-man machines as a
multitude of very small objects drifting like motes in the
sunshine about and beneath the larger shapes.
Bert saw nothing then of the second fleet of the Asiatics, though
probably that was coming into sight of the Germans at the time,
in the north-west.
The air was very still, the sky almost without a cloud, and the
German fleet had risen to an immense height, so that the airships
seemed no longer of any considerable size. Both ends of their
crescent showed plainly. As they beat southward they passed
slowly between Bert and the sunlight, and became black outlines
of themselves. The drachenflieger appeared as little flecks of
black on either wing of this aerial Armada.
The two fleets seemed in no hurry to engage. The Asiatics went
far away into the east, quickening their pace and rising as they
did so, and then tailed out into a long column and came flying
back, rising towards the German left. The squadrons of the
latter came about, facing this oblique advance, and suddenly
little flickerings and a faint crepitating sound told that they
had opened fire. For a time no effect was visible to the watcher
on the bridge. Then, like a handful of snowflakes, the
drachenflieger swooped to the attack, and a multitude of red
specks whirled up to meet them. It was to Bert's sense not only
enormously remote but singularly inhuman. Not four hours since
he had been on one of those very airships, and yet they seemed to
him now not gas-bags carrying men, but strange sentient creatures
that moved about and did things with a purpose of their own. The
flight of the Asiatic and German flying-machines joined and
dropped earthward, became like a handful of white and red rose
petals flung from a distant window, grew larger, until Bert could
see the overturned ones spinning through the air, and were hidden
by great volumes of dark smoke that were rising in the direction
of Buffalo. For a time they all were hidden, then two or three
white and a number of red ones. rose again into the sky, like a
swarm of big butterflies, and circled fighting and drove away out
of sight again towards the east.
A heavy report recalled Bert's eyes to the zenith, and behold,
the great crescent had lost its dressing and burst into a
disorderly long cloud of airships! One had dropped halfway down
the sky. It was flaming fore and aft, and even as Bert looked it
turned over and fell, spinning over and over itself and vanished
into the smoke of Buffalo.
Bert's mouth opened and shut, and he clutched tighter on the rail
of the bridge. For some moments--they seemed long moments--the
two fleets remained without any further change flying obliquely
towards each other, and making what came to Bert's ears as a
midget uproar. Then suddenly from either side airships began
dropping out of alignment, smitten by missiles he could neither
see nor trace. The string of Asiatic ships swung round and
either charged into or over (it was difficult to say from below)
the shattered line of the Germans, who seemed to open out to give
way to them. Some sort of manoeuvring began, but Bert could not
grasp its import. The left of the battle became a confused dance
of airships. For some minutes up there the two crossing lines of
ships looked so close it seemed like a hand-to-hand scuffle in
the sky. Then they broke up into groups and duels. The descent
of German air-ships towards the lower sky increased. One of them
flared down and vanished far away in the north; two dropped with
something twisted and crippled in their movements; then a group
of antagonists came down from the zenith in an eddying conflict,
two Asiatics against one German, and were presently joined by
another, and drove away eastward all together with others
dropping out of the German line to join them.
One Asiatic either rammed or collided with a still more gigantic
German, and the two went spinning to destruction together. The
northern squadron of Asiatics came into the battle unnoted by
Bert, except that the multitude of ships above seemed presently
increased. In a little while the fight was utter confusion,
drifting on the whole to the southwest against the wind. It
became more and more a series of group encounters. Here a huge
German airship flamed earthward with a dozen flat Asiatic craft
about her, crushing her every attempt to recover. Here another
hung with its screw fighting off the swordsman from a swarm of
flying-machines. Here, again, an Asiatic aflame at either end
swooped out of the battle. His attention went from incident to
incident in the vast clearness overhead; these conspicuous cases
of destruction caught and held his mind; it was only very slowly
that any sort of scheme manifested itself between those nearer,
more striking episodes.
The mass of the airships that eddied remotely above was, however,
neither destroying nor destroyed. The majority of them seemed to
be going at full speed and circling upward for position,
exchanging ineffectual shots as they did so. Very little ramming
was essayed after the first tragic downfall of rammer and rammed,
and what ever attempts at boarding were made were invisible to
Bert. There seemed, however, a steady attempt to isolate
antagonists, to cut them off from their fellows and bear them
down, causing a perpetual sailing back and interlacing of these
shoaling bulks. The greater numbers of the Asiatics and their
swifter heeling movements gave them the effect of persistently
attacking the Germans. Overhead, and evidently endeavouring to
keep itself in touch with the works of Niagara, a body of German
airships drew itself together into a compact phalanx, and the
Asiatics became more and more intent upon breaking this up. He
was grotesquely reminded of fish in a fish-pond struggling for
crumbs. He could see puny puffs of smoke and the flash of bombs,
but never a sound came down to him....
A flapping shadow passed for a moment between Bert and the sun
and was followed by another. A whirring of engines, click,
clock, clitter clock, smote upon his ears. Instantly he forgot
the zenith.
Perhaps a hundred yards above the water, out of the south, riding
like Valkyries swiftly through the air on the strange steeds the
engineering of Europe had begotten upon the artistic inspiration
of Japan, came a long string of Asiatic swordsman. The wings
flapped jerkily, click, block, clitter clock, and the machines
drove up; they spread and ceased, and the apparatus came soaring
through the air. So they rose and fell and rose again. They
passed so closely overhead that Bert could hear their voices
calling to one another. They swooped towards Niagara city and
landed one after another in a long line in a clear space before
the hotel. But he did not stay to watch them land. One yellow
face had craned over and looked at him, and for one enigmatical
instant met his eyes....
It was then the idea came to Bert that he was altogether too
conspicuous in the middle of the bridge, and that he took to his
heels towards Goat Island. Thence, dodging about among the
trees, with perhaps an excessive self-consciousness,
he watched the rest of the struggle.
When Bert's sense of security was sufficiently restored for him
to watch the battle again, he perceived that a brisk little fight
was in progress between the Asiatic aeronauts and the German
engineers for the possession of Niagara city. It was the first
time in the whole course of the war that he had seen anything
resembling fighting as he had studied it in the illustratedpapers
of his youth. It seemed to him almost as though things were
coming right. He saw men carrying rifles and taking cover and
running briskly from point to point in a loose attacking
formation. The first batch of aeronauts had probably been under
the impression that the city was deserted. They had grounded in
the open near Prospect Park and approached the houses towards the
power-works before they were disillusioned by a sudden fire.
They had scattered back to the cover of a bank near the water--it
was too far for them to reach their machines again; they were
lying and firing at the men in the hotels and frame-houses about
the power-works.
Then to their support came a second string of red flying-machines
driving up from the east. They rose up out of the haze above the
houses and came round in a long curve as if surveying the
position below. The fire of the Germans rose to a roar, and one
of those soaring shapes gave an abrupt jerk backward and fell
among the houses. The others swooped down exactly like great
birds upon the roof of the power-house. They caught upon it, and
from each sprang a nimble little figure and ran towards the
Other flapping bird-shapes came into this affair, but Bert had
not seen their coming. A staccato of shots came over to him,
reminding him of army manoeuvres, of newspaper descriptions of
fights, of all that was entirely correct in his conception of
warfare. He saw quite a number of Germans running from the
outlying houses towards the power-house. Two fell. One lay
still, but the other wriggled and made efforts for a time. The
hotel that was used as a hospital, and to which he had helped
carry the wounded men from the Zeppelin earlier in the day,
suddenly ran up the Geneva flag. The town that had seemed so
quiet had evidently been concealing a considerable number of
Germans, and they were now concentrating to hold the central
power-house. He wondered what ammunition they might have. More
and more of the Asiatic flying-machines came into the conflict.
They had disposed of the unfortunate German drachenflieger and
were now aiming at the incipient aeronautic park,--the electric
gas generators and repair stations which formed the German base.
Some,landed, and their aeronauts took cover and became energetic
infantry soldiers. Others hovered above the fight, their men
ever and again firing shots down at some chance exposure below.
The firing came in paroxysms; now there would be a watchful lull
and now a rapid tattoo of shots, rising to a roar. Once or twice
flying machines, as they circled warily, came right overhead, and
for a time Bert gave himself body and soul to cowering.
Ever and again a larger thunder mingled with the rattle and
reminded him of the grapple of airships far above, but the nearer
fight held his attention.
Abruptly something dropped from the zenith; something like a
barrel or a huge football.
CRASH! It smashed with an immense report. It had fallen among
the grounded Asiatic aeroplanes that lay among the turf and
flower-beds near the river. They flew in scraps and fragments,
turf, trees, and gravel leapt and fell; the aeronauts still lying
along the canal bank were thrown about like sacks, catspaws flew
across the foaming water. All the windows of the hotel hospital
that had been shiningly reflecting blue sky and airships the
moment before became vast black stars. Bang!--a second followed.
Bert looked up and was filled with a sense of a number of
monstrous bodies swooping down, coming down on the whole affair
like a flight of bellying blankets, like a string of vast
dish-covers. The central tangle of the battle above was circling
down as if to come into touch with the power-house fight. He got
a new effect of airships altogether, as vast things coming down
upon him, growing swiftly larger and larger and more
overwhelming, until the houses over the way seemed small, the
American rapids narrow, the bridge flimsy, the combatants
infinitesimal. As they came down they became audible as a
complex of shootings and vast creakings and groanings and
beatings and throbbings and shouts and shots. The fore-shortened
black eagles at the fore-ends of the Germans had an effect of
actual combat of flying feathers.
Some of these fighting airships came within five hundred feet of
the ground. Bert could see men on the lower galleries of the
Germans, firing rifles; could see Asiatics clinging to the ropes;
saw one man in aluminium diver's gear fall flashing head-long
into the waters above Goat Island. For the first time he saw the
Asiatic airships closely. From this aspect they reminded him
more than anything else of colossal snowshoes; they had a curious
patterning in black and white, in forms that reminded him of the
engine-turned cover of a watch. They had no hanging galleries,
but from little openings on the middle line peeped out men and
the muzzles of guns. So, driving in long, descending and
ascending curves, these monsters wrestled and fought. It was
like clouds fighting, like puddings trying to assassinate each
other. They whirled and circled about each other, and for a time
threw Goat Island and Niagara into a smoky twilight, through
which the sunlight smote in shafts and beams. They spread and
closed and spread and grappled and drove round over the rapids,
and two miles away or more into Canada, and back over the Falls
again. A German caught fire, and the whole crowd broke away from
her flare and rose about her dispersing, leaving her to drop
towards Canada and blow up as she dropped. Then with renewed
uproar the others closed again. Once from the men in Niagara
city came a sound like an ant-hill cheering. Another German
burnt, and one badly deflated by the prow of an antagonist,
flopped out of action southward.
It became more and more evident that the Germans were getting the
worst of the unequal fight. More and more obviously were they
being persecuted. Less and less did they seem to fight with any
object other than escape. The Asiatics swept by them and above
them, ripped their bladders, set them alight, picked off their
dimly seen men in diving clothes, who struggled against fire and
tear with fire extinguishers and silk ribbons in the inner
netting. They answered only with ineffectual shots. Thence the
battle circled back over Niagara, and then suddenly the Germans,
as if at a preconcerted signal, broke and dispersed, going east,
west, north, and south, in open and confused flight. The
Asiatics, as they realised this, rose to fly above them and after
them. Only one little knot of four Germans and perhaps a dozen
Asiatics remained fighting about the Hohenzollern and the Prince
as he circled in a last attempt to save Niagara.
Round they swooped once again over the Canadian Fall, over the
waste of waters eastward, until they were distant and small, and
then round and back, hurrying, bounding, swooping towards the one
gaping spectator.
The whole struggling mass approached very swiftly, growing
rapidly larger, and coming out black and featureless against the
afternoon sun and above the blinding welter of the Upper Rapids.
It grew like a storm cloud until once more it darkened the sky.
The flat Asiatic airships kept high above the Germans and behind
them, and fired unanswered bullets into their gas-chambers and
upon their flanks--the one-man flying-machines hovered and
alighted like a swarm of attacking bees. Nearer they came, and
nearer, filling the lower heaven. Two of the Germans swooped and
rose again, but the Hohenzollern had suffered too much for that.
She lifted weakly, turned sharply as if to get out of the battle,
burst into flames fore and aft, swept down to the water, splashed
into it obliquely, and rolled over and over and came down stream
rolling and smashing and writhing like a thing alive, halting and
then coming on again, with her torn and bent propeller still
beating the air. The bursting flames spluttered out again in
clouds of steam. It was a disaster gigantic in its dimensions.
She lay across the rapids like an island, like tall cliffs, tall
cliffs that came rolling, smoking, and crumpling, and collapsing,
advancing with a sort of fluctuating rapidity upon Bert. One
Asiatic airship--it looked to Bert from below like three hundred
yards of pavement--whirled back and circled two or three times
over that great overthrow, and half a dozen crimson
flying-machines danced for a moment like great midges in the
sunlight before they swept on after their fellows. The rest of
the fight had already gone over the island, a wild crescendo of
shots and yells and smashing uproar. It was hidden from Bert now
by the trees of the island, and forgotten by him in the nearer
spectacle of the huge advance of the defeated German airship.
Something fell with a mighty smashing and splintering of boughs
unheeded behind him.
It seemed for a time that the Hohenzollern must needs break her
back upon the Parting of the Waters, and then for a time her
propeller flopped and frothed in the river and thrust the mass of
buckling, crumpled wreckage towards the American shore. Then the
sweep of the torrent that foamed down to the American Fall caught
her, and in another minute the immense mass of deflating
wreckage, with flames spurting out in three new places, had
crashed against the bridge that joined Goat Island and Niagara
city, and forced a long arm, as it were, in a heaving tangle
under the central span. Then the middle chambers blew up with a
loud report, and in another moment the bridge had given way and
the main bulk of the airship, like some grotesque cripple in
rags, staggered, flapping and waving flambeaux to the crest of
the Fall and hesitated there and vanished in a desperate suicidal
Its detached fore-end remained jammed against that little island,
Green Island it used to be called, which forms the stepping-stone
between the mainland and Goat Island's patch of trees.
Bert followed this disaster from the Parting of the Waters to the
bridge head. Then, regardless of cover, regardless of the
Asiatic airship hovering like a huge house roof without walls
above the Suspension Bridge, he sprinted along towards the north
and came out for the first time upon that rocky point by Luna
Island that looks sheer down upon the American Fall. There he
stood breathless amidst that eternal rush of sound, breathless
and staring.
Far below, and travelling rapidly down the gorge, whirled
something like a huge empty sack. For him it meant--what did it
not mean?--the German air-fleet, Kurt, the Prince, Europe, all
things stable and familiar, the forces that had brought him, the
forces that had seemed indisputably victorious. And it went down
the rapids like an empty sack and left the visible world to Asia,
to yellow people beyond Christendom, to all that was terrible and
Remote over Canada receded the rest of that conflict and vanished
beyond the range of his vision....
The whack of a bullet on the rocks beside him reminded him that
he was a visible object and wearing at least portions of a German
uniform. It drove him into the trees again, and for a time he
dodged and dropped and sought cover like a chick hiding among
reeds from imaginary hawks.
"Beaten," he whispered. "Beaten and done for... Chinese! Yellow
chaps chasing 'em!"
At last he came to rest in a clump of bushes near a locked-up and
deserted refreshment shed within view of the American side. They
made a sort of hole and harbour for him; they met completely
overhead. He looked across the rapids, but the firing had ceased
now altogether and everything seemed quiet. The Asiatic
aeroplane had moved from its former position above the Suspension
Bridge, was motionless now above Niagara city, shadowing all that
district about the power-house which had been the scene of the
land fight. The monster had an air of quiet and assured
predominance, and from its stern it trailed, serene and
ornamental, a long streaming flag, the red, black, and yellow of
the great alliance, the Sunrise and the Dragon. Beyond, to the
east, at a much higher level, hung a second consort, and Bert,
presently gathering courage, wriggled out and craned his neck to
find another still airship against the sunset in the south.
"Gaw!" he said. "Beaten and chased! My Gawd!"
The fighting, it seemed at first, was quite over in Niagara city,
though a German flag was still flying from one shattered house.
A white sheet was hoisted above the power-house, and this
remained flying all through the events that followed. But
presently came a sound of shots and then German soldiers running.
They disappeared among the houses, and then came two engineers in
blue shirts and trousers hotly pursued by three Japanese
swordsman. The foremost of the two fugitives was a shapely man,
and ran lightly and well; the second was a sturdy little man, and
rather fat. He ran comically in leaps and bounds, with his plump
arms bent up by his side and his head thrown back. The pursuers
ran with uniforms and dark thin metal and leather head-dresses.
The little man stumbled, and Bert gasped, realising a new horror
in war.
The foremost swordsman won three strides on him and was near
enough to slash at him and miss as he spurted.
A dozen yards they ran, and then the swordsman slashed again,
and Bert could hear across the waters a little sound like the moo
of an elfin cow as the fat little man fell forward. Slash went
the swordsman and slash at something on the ground that tried to
save itself with ineffectual hands. "Oh, I carn't!" cried Bert,
near blubbering, and staring with starting eyes.
The swordsman slashed a fourth time and went on as his fellows
came up after the better runner. The hindmost swordsman stopped
and turned back. He had perceived some movement perhaps; but at
any rate he stood, and ever and again slashed at the fallen body.
"Oo-oo!" groaned Bert at every slash, and shrank closer into the
bushes and became very still. Presently came a sound of shots
from the town, and then everything was quiet, everything, even
the hospital.
He saw presently little figures sheathing swords come out from
the houses and walk to the debris of the flying-machines the bomb
had destroyed. Others appeared wheeling undamaged aeroplanes
upon their wheels as men might wheel bicycles, and sprang into
the saddles and flapped into the air. A string of three airships
appeared far away in the east and flew towards the zenith. The
one that hung low above Niagara city came still lower and dropped
a rope ladder to pick up men from the power-house.
For a long time he watched the further happenings in Niagara city
as a rabbit might watch a meet. He saw men going from building
to building, to set fire to them, as he presently realised, and
he heard a series of dull detonations from the wheel pit of the
power-house. Some similar business went on among the works on
the Canadian side. Meanwhile more and more airships appeared,
and many more flying-machines, until at last it seemed to him
nearly a third of the Asiatic fleet had re-assembled. He watched
them from his bush, cramped but immovable, watched them gather
and range themselves and signal and pick up men, until at last
they sailed away towards the glowing sunset, going to the great
Asiatic rendez-vous, above the oil wells of Cleveland. They
dwindled and passed away, leaving him alone, so far as he could
tell, the only living man in a world of ruin and strange
loneliness almost beyond describing. He watched them recede and
vanish. He stood gaping after them.
"Gaw!" he said at last, like one who rouses himself from a
It was far more than any personal desolation extremity that
flooded his soul. It seemed to him indeed that this must be the
sunset of his race.
He did not at first envisage his own plight in definite and
comprehensible terms. Things happened to him so much of late,
his own efforts had counted for so little, that he had become
passive and planless. His last scheme had been to go round the
coast of England as a desert dervish giving refined entertainment
to his fellow-creatures. Fate had quashed that. Fate had seen
fit to direct him to other destinies, had hurried him from point
to point, and dropped him at last upon this little wedge of rock
between the cataracts. It did not instantly occur to him that
now it was his turn to play. He had a singular feeling that all
must end as a dream ends, that presently surely he would be back
in the world of Grubb and Edna and Bun Hill, that this roar, this
glittering presence of incessant water, would be drawn aside as a
curtain is drawn aside after a holiday lantern show, and old
familiar, customary things re-assume their sway. It would be
interesting to tell people how he had seen Niagara. And then
Kurt's words came into his head: "People torn away from the
people they care for; homes smashed, creatures full of life and
memories and peculiar little gifts--torn to pieces, starved, and
spoilt." ...
He wondered, half incredulous, if that was in deed true. It was
so hard to realise it. Out beyond there was it possible that Tom
and Jessica were also in some dire extremity? that the little
green-grocer's shop was no longer standing open, with Jessica
serving respectfully, warming Tom's ear in sharp asides, or
punctually sending out the goods?
He tried to think what day of the week it was, and found he had
lost his reckoning. Perhaps it was Sunday. If so, were they
going to church or, were they hiding, perhaps in bushes? What
had happened to the landlord, the butcher, and to Butteridge and
all those people on Dymchurch beach? Something, he knew, had
happened to London--a bombardment. But who had bombarded? Were
Tom and Jessica too being chased by strange brown men with long
bare swords and evil eyes? He thought of various possible
aspects of affliction, but presently one phase ousted all the
others. Were they getting much to eat? The question haunted
him, obsessed him.
If one was very hungry would one eat rats?
It dawned upon him that a peculiar misery that oppressed him was
not so much anxiety and patriotic sorrow as hunger. Of course he
was hungry!
He reflected and turned his steps towards the little refreshment
shed that stood near the end of the ruined bridge. "Ought to be
He strolled round it once or twice, and then attacked the
shutters with his pocket-knife, reinforced presently by a wooden
stake he found conveniently near. At last he got a shutter to
give, and tore it back and stuck in his head.
"Grub," he remarked, "anyhow. Leastways--"
He got at the inside fastening of the shutter and had presently
this establishment open for his exploration. He found several
sealed bottles of sterilized milk, much mineral water, two tins
of biscuits and a crock of very stale cakes, cigarettes in great
quantity but very dry, some rather dry oranges, nuts, some tins
of canned meat and fruit, and plates and knives and forks and
glasses sufficient for several score of people. There was also a
zinc locker, but he was unable to negotiate the padlock of this.
"Shan't starve," said Bert, "for a bit, anyhow." He sat on the
vendor's seat and regaled himself with biscuits and milk, and
felt for a moment quite contented.
"Quite restful," he muttered, munching and glancing about him
restlessly, "after what I been through.
"Crikey! WOT a day! Oh! WOT a day!"
Wonder took possession of him. "Gaw!" he cried: "Wot a fight
it's been! Smashing up the poor fellers! 'Eadlong! The
airships--the fliers and all. I wonder what happened to the
Zeppelin? ... And that chap Kurt--I wonder what happened to 'im?
'E was a good sort of chap, was Kurt."
Some phantom of imperial solicitude floated through his mind.
"Injia," he said....
A more practical interest arose.
"I wonder if there's anything to open one of these tins of corned
After he had feasted, Bert lit a cigarette and sat meditative for
a time. "Wonder where Grubb is?" he said; "I do wonder that!
Wonder if any of 'em wonder about me?"
He reverted to his own circumstances. "Dessay I shall 'ave to
stop on this island for some time."
He tried to feel at his ease and secure, but presently the
indefinable restlessness of the social animal in solitude
distressed him. He began to want to look over his shoulder, and,
as a corrective, roused himself to explore the rest of the
It was only very slowly that he began to realise the
peculiarities of his position, to perceive that the breaking down
of the arch between Green Island and the mainland had cut him off
completely from the world. Indeed it was only when he came back
to where the fore-end of the Hohenzollern lay like a stranded
ship, and was contemplating the shattered bridge, that this
dawned upon him. Even then it came with no sort of shock to his
mind, a fact among a number of other extraordinary and
unmanageable facts. He stared at the shattered cabins of the
Hohenzollern and its widow's garment of dishevelled silk for a
time, but without any idea of its containing any living thing; it
was all so twisted and smashed and entirely upside down. Then
for a while he gazed at the evening sky. A cloud haze was now
appearing and not an airship was in sight. A swallow flew by and
snapped some invisible victim. "Like a dream," he repeated.
Then for a time the rapids held his mind. "Roaring. It keeps on
roaring and splashin' always and always. Keeps on...."
At last his interests became personal. "Wonder what I ought to
do now?"
He reflected. "Not an idee," he said.
He was chiefly conscious that a fortnight ago he had been in Bun
Hill with no idea of travel in his mind, and that now he was
between the Falls of Niagara amidst the devastation and ruins of
the greatest air fight in the world, and that in the interval he
had been across France, Belgium, Germany, England, Ireland, and a
number of other countries. It was an interesting thought and
suitable for conversation, but of no great practical utility.
"Wonder 'ow I can get orf this?" he said. "Wonder if there is a
way out? If not... rummy!"
Further reflection decided, "I believe I got myself in a bit of a
'ole coming over that bridge....
"Any'ow--got me out of the way of them Japanesy chaps. Wouldn't
'ave taken 'em long to cut MY froat. No. Still--"
He resolved to return to the point of Luna Island. For a long
time he stood without stirring, scrutinising the Canadian shore
and the wreckage of hotels and houses and the fallen trees of the
Victoria Park, pink now in the light of sundown. Not a human
being was perceptible in that scene of headlong destruction.
Then he came back to the American side of the island, crossed
close to the crumpled aluminium wreckage of the Hohenzollern to
Green Islet, and scrutinised the hopeless breach in the further
bridge and the water that boiled beneath it. Towards Buffalo
there was still much smoke, and near the position of the Niagara
railway station the houses were burning vigorously. Everything
was deserted now, everything was still. One little abandoned
thing lay on a transverse path between town and road, a crumpled
heap of clothes with sprawling limbs....
"'Ave a look round," said Bert, and taking a path that ran
through the middle of the island he presently discovered the
wreckage of the two Asiatic aeroplanes that had fallen out of the
struggle that ended the Hohenzollern.
With the first he found the wreckage of an aeronaut too.
The machine had evidently dropped vertically and was badly
knocked about amidst a lot of smashed branches in a clump of
trees. Its bent and broken wings and shattered stays sprawled
amidst new splintered wood, and its forepeak stuck into the
ground. The aeronaut dangled weirdly head downward among the
leaves and branches some yards away, and Bert only discovered him
as he turned from the aeroplane. In the dusky evening light and
stillness--for the sun had gone now and the wind had altogether
fallen-this inverted yellow face was anything but a tranquilising
object to discover suddenly a couple of yards away. A broken
branch had run clean through the man's thorax, and he hung, so
stabbed, looking limp and absurd. In his hand he still clutched,
with the grip of death, a short light rifle.
For some time Bert stood very still, inspecting this thing.
Then he began to walk away from it, looking constantly back at
Presently in an open glade he came to a stop.
"Gaw!" he whispered, "I don' like dead bodies some'ow! I'd
almost rather that chap was alive."
He would not go along the path athwart which the Chinaman hung.
He felt he would rather not have trees round him any more, and
that it would be more comfortable to be quite close to the
sociable splash and uproar of the rapids.
He came upon the second aeroplane in a clear grassy space by the
side of the streaming water, and it seemed scarcely damaged at
all. It looked as though it had floated down into a position of
rest. It lay on its side with one wing in the air. There was no
aeronaut near it, dead or alive. There it lay abandoned, with
the water lapping about its long tail.
Bert remained a little aloof from it for a long time, looking
into the gathering shadows among the trees, in the expectation of
another Chinaman alive or dead. Then very cautiously he
approached the machine and stood regarding its widespread vans,
its big steering wheel and empty saddle. He did not venture to
touch it.
"I wish that other chap wasn't there," he said. "I do wish 'e
wasn't there!"
He saw a few yards away, something bobbing about in an eddy that
spun within a projecting head of rock. As it went round it
seemed to draw him unwillingly towards it....
What could it be?
"Blow!" said Bert. "It's another of 'em."
It held him. He told himself that it was the other aeronaut that
had been shot in the fight and fallen out of the saddle as he
strove to land. He tried to go away, and then it occurred to him
that he might get a branch or something and push this rotating
object out into the stream. That would leave him with only one
dead body to worry about. Perhaps he might get along with one.
He hesitated and then with a certain emotion forced himself to do
this. He went towards the bushes and cut himself a wand and
returned to the rocks and clambered out to a corner between the
eddy and the stream, By that time the sunset was over and the
bats were abroad--and he was wet with perspiration.
He prodded the floating blue-clad thing with his wand, failed,
tried again successfully as it came round, and as it went out
into the stream it turned over, the light gleamed on golden hair
and--it was Kurt!
It was Kurt, white and dead and very calm. There was no
mistaking him. There was still plenty of light for that. The
stream took him and he seemed to compose himself in its swift
grip as one who stretches himself to rest. White-faced he was
now, and all the colour gone out of him.
A feeling of infinite distress swept over Bert as the body swept
out of sight towards the fall. "Kurt!" he cried, "Kurt! I
didn't mean to! Kurt! don' leave me 'ere! Don' leave me!"
Loneliness and desolation overwhelmed him. He gave way. He
stood on the rock in the evening light, weeping and wailing
passionately like a child. It was as though some link that had
held him to all these things had broken and gone. He was afraid
like a child in a lonely room, shamelessly afraid.
The twilight was closing about him. The trees were full now of
strange shadows. All the things about him became strange and
unfamiliar with that subtle queerness one feels oftenest in
dreams. "O God! I carn' stand,this," he said, and crept back
from the rocks to the grass and crouched down, and suddenly wild
sorrow for the death of Kurt, Kurt the brave, Kurt the kindly,
came to his help and he broke from whimpering to weeping. He
ceased to crouch; he sprawled upon the grass and clenched an
impotent fist.
"This war," he cried, "this blarsted foolery of a war.
"O Kurt! Lieutenant Kurt!
"I done," he said, "I done. I've 'ad all I want, and more than I
want. The world's all rot, and there ain't no sense in it. The
night's coming.... If 'E comes after me--'E can't come after
me--'E can't! ...
"If 'E comes after me, I'll fro' myself into the water."...
Presently he was talking again in a low undertone.
"There ain't nothing to be afraid of reely. It's jest
imagination. Poor old Kurt--he thought it would happen.
Prevision like. 'E never gave me that letter or tole me who the
lady was. It's like what 'e said--people tore away from
everything they belonged to--everywhere. Exactly like what 'e
said.... 'Ere I am cast away--thousands of miles from Edna or
Grubb or any of my lot--like a plant tore up by the roots.... And
every war's been like this, only I 'adn't the sense to understand
it. Always. All sorts of 'oles and corners chaps 'ave died in.
And people 'adn't the sense to understand, 'adn't the sense to
feel it and stop it. Thought war was fine. My Gawd! ...
"Dear old Edna. She was a fair bit of all right--she was. That
time we 'ad a boat at Kingston ....
"I bet--I'll see 'er again yet. Won't be my fault if I don't."...
Suddenly, on the very verge of this heroic resolution, Bert
became rigid with terror. Something was creeping towards him
through the grass. Something was creeping and halting and
creeping again towards him through the dim dark grass. The night
was electrical with horror. For a time everything was still.
Bert ceased to breathe. It could not be. No, it was too small!
It advanced suddenly upon him with a rush, with a little meawling
cry and tail erect. It rubbed its head against him and purred.
It was a tiny, skinny little kitten.
"Gaw, Pussy! 'ow you frightened me!" said Bert, with drops of
perspiration on his brow.
He sat with his back to a tree stump all that night, holding the
kitten in his arms. His mind was tired, and he talked or thought
coherently no longer. Towards dawn he dozed.
When he awoke, he was stiff but in better heart, and the kitten
slept warmly and reassuringly inside his jacket. And fear, he
found, had gone from amidst the trees.
He stroked the kitten, and the little creature woke up to
excessive fondness and purring. "You want some milk," said Bert.
"That's what you want. And I could do with a bit of brekker
He yawned and stood up, with the kitten on his shoulder, and
stared about him, recalling the circumstances of the previous
day, the grey, immense happenings.
"Mus' do something," he said.
He turned towards the trees, and was presently contemplating the
dead aeronaut again. The kitten he held companionably against
his neck. The body was horrible, but not nearly so horrible as
it had been at twilight, and now the limbs were limper and the
gun had slipped to the ground and lay half hidden in the grass.
"I suppose we ought to bury 'im, Kitty," said Bert, and looked
helplessly at the rocky soil about him. "We got to stay on the
island with 'im."
It was some time before he could turn away and go on towards that
provision shed. "Brekker first," he said, "anyhow," stroking the
kitten on his shoulder. She rubbed his cheek affectionately with
her furry little face and presently nibbled at his ear. "Wan'
some milk, eh?" he said, and turned his back on the dead man as
though he mattered nothing.
He was puzzled to find the door of the shed open, though he had
closed and latched it very carefully overnight, and he found also
some dirty plates he had not noticed before on the bench. He
discovered that the hinges of the tin locker were unscrewed and
that it could be opened. He had not observed this overnight.
"Silly of me!" said Bert. "'Ere I was puzzlin' and whackin' away
at the padlock, never noticing." It had been used apparently as
an ice-chest, but it contained nothing now but the remains of
half-dozen boiled chickens, some ambiguous substance that might
once have been butter, and a singularly unappetising smell. He
closed the lid again carefully.
He gave the kitten some milk in a dirty plate and sat watching
its busy little tongue for a time. Then he was moved to make an
inventory of the provisions. There were six bottles of milk
unopened and one opened, sixty bottles of mineral water and a
large stock of syrups, about two thousand cigarettes and upwards
of a hundred cigars, nine oranges, two unopened tins of corned
beef and one opened, and five large tins California peaches. He
jotted it down on a piece of paper "'Ain't much solid food," he
said. "Still--A fortnight, say!
"Anything might happen in a fortnight."
He gave the kitten a small second helping and a scrap of beef and
then went down with the little creature running after him, tail
erect and in high spirits, to look at the remains of the
It had shifted in the night and seemed on the whole more firmly
grounded on Green Island than before. From it his eye went to
the shattered bridge and then across to the still desolation of
Niagara city. Nothing moved over there but a number of crows.
They were busy with the engineer he had seen cut down on the
previous day. He saw no dogs, but he heard one howling.
"We got to get out of this some'ow, Kitty," he said. "That milk
won't last forever--not at the rate you lap it."
He regarded the sluice-like flood before him.
"Plenty of water," he said. "Wont be drink we shall want."
He decided to make a careful exploration of the island.
Presently he came to a locked gate labelled "Biddle Stairs," and
clambered over to discover a steep old wooden staircase leading
down the face of the cliff amidst a vast and increasing uproar of
waters. He left the kitten above and descended these, and
discovered with a thrill of hope a path leading among the rocks
at the foot of the roaring downrush of the Centre Fall. Perhaps
this was a sort of way!
It led him only to the choking and deafening experience of the
Cave of the Winds, and after he had spent a quarter of an hour in
a partially stupefied condition flattened between solid rock and
nearly as solid waterfall, he decided that this was after all no
practicable route to Canada and retraced his steps. As he
reascended the Biddle Stairs, he heard what he decided at last
must be a sort of echo, a sound of some one walking about on the
gravel paths above. When he got to the top, the place was as
solitary as before.
Thence he made his way, with the kitten skirmishing along beside
him in the grass, to a staircase that led to a lump of projecting
rock that enfiladed the huge green majesty of the Horseshoe Fall.
He stood there for some time in silence.
"You wouldn't think," he said at last, "there was so much
water.... This roarin' and splashin', it gets on one's nerves at
last.... Sounds like people talking.... Sounds like people going
about.... Sounds like anything you fancy."
He retired up the staircase again. "I s'pose I shall keep on
goin' round this blessed island," he said drearily. "Round and
round and round."
He found himself presently beside the less damaged Asiatic
aeroplane again. He stared at it and the kitten smelt it.
"Broke!" he said.
He looked up with a convulsive start.
Advancing slowly towards him out from among the trees were two
tall gaunt figures. They were blackened and tattered and
bandaged; the hind-most one limped and had his head swathed in
white, but the foremost one still carried himself as a Prince
should do, for all that his left arm was in a sling and one side
of his face scalded a livid crimson. He was the Prince Karl
Albert, the War Lord, the "German Alexander," and the man behind
him was the bird-faced man whose cabin had once been taken from
him and given to Bert.
With that apparition began a new phase of GoatIsland in Bert's
experience. He ceased to be a solitary representative of
humanity in a vast and violent and incomprehensible universe, and
became once more a social creature, a man in a world of other
men. For an instant these two were terrible, then they seemed
sweet and desirable as brothers. They too were in this scrape
with him, marooned and puzzled. He wanted extremely to hear
exactly what had happened to them. What mattered it if one was a
Prince and both were foreign soldiers, if neither perhaps had
adequate English? His native Cockney freedom flowed too
generously for him to think of that, and surely the Asiatic
fleets had purged all such trivial differences. "Ul-LO!" he
said; "'ow did you get 'ere?"
"It is the Englishman who brought us the Butteridge machine,"
said the bird-faced officer in German, and then in a tone of
horror, as Bert advanced, "Salute!" and again louder, "SALUTE!"
"Gaw!" said Bert, and stopped with a second comment under his
breath. He stared and saluted awkwardly and became at once a
masked defensive thing with whom co-operation was impossible.
For a time these two perfected modern aristocrats stood regarding
the difficult problem of the Anglo-Saxon citizen, that ambiguous
citizen who, obeying some mysterious law in his blood, would
neither drill nor be a democrat. Bert was by no means a
beautiful object, but in some inexplicable way he looked
resistant. He wore his cheap suit of serge, now showing many
signs of wear, and its loose fit made him seem sturdier than he
was; above his disengaging face was a white German cap that was
altogether too big for him, and his trousers were crumpled up his
legs and their ends tucked into the rubber highlows of a deceased
German aeronaut. He looked an inferior, though by no means an
easy inferior, and instinctively they hated him.
The Prince pointed to the flying-machine and said something in
broken English that Bert took for German and failed to
understand. He intimated as much.
"Dummer Kerl!" said the bird-faced officer from among his
The Prince pointed again with his undamaged hand. "You verstehen
dis drachenflieger?"
Bert began to comprehend the situation. He regarded the Asiatic
machine. The habits of Bun Hill returned to him. "It's a
foreign make," he said ambiguously.
The two Germans consulted. "You are an expert?" said the Prince.
"We reckon to repair," said Bert, in the exact manner of Grubb.
The Prince sought in his vocabulary. "Is dat," he said, "goot to
Bert reflected and scratched his cheek slowly. "I got to look at
it," he replied.... "It's 'ad rough usage!"
He made a sound with his teeth he had also acquired from Grubb,
put his hands in his trouser pockets, and strolled back to the
machine. Typically Grubb chewed something, but Bert could chew
only imaginatively. "Three days' work in this," he said,
teething. For the first time it dawned on him that there were
possibilities in this machine. It was evident that the wing that
lay on the ground was badly damaged. The three stays that held
it rigid had snapped across a ridge of rock and there was also a
strong possibility of the engine being badly damaged. The wing
hook on that side was also askew, but probably that would not
affect the flight. Beyond that there probably wasn't much the
matter. Bert scratched his cheek again and contemplated the
broad sunlit waste of the Upper Rapids. "We might make a job of
this.... You leave it to me."
He surveyed it intently again, and the Prince and his officer
watched him. In Bun Hill Bert and Grubb had developed to a very
high pitch among the hiring stock a method of repair by
substituting; they substituted bits of other machines. A machine
that was too utterly and obviously done for even to proffer for
hire, had nevertheless still capital value. It became a sort of
quarry for nuts and screws and wheels, bars and spokes,
chain-links and the like; a mine of ill-fitting "parts" to
replace the defects of machines still current. And back among
the trees was a second Asiatic aeroplane....
The kitten caressed Bert's airship boots unheeded.
"Mend dat drachenflieger," said the Prince.
"If I do mend it," said Bert, struck by a new thought, "none of
us ain't to be trusted to fly it."
"_I_ vill fly it," said the Prince.
"Very likely break your neck," said Bert, after a pause.
The Prince did not understand him and disregarded what he said.
He pointed his gloved finger to the machine and turned to the
bird-faced officer with some remark in German. The officer
answered and the Prince responded with a sweeping gesture towards
the sky. Then he spoke--it seemed eloquently. Bert watched him
and guessed his meaning. "Much more likely to break your, neck,"
he said. "'Owever. 'Ere goes."
He began to pry about the saddle and engine of the drachenflieger
in search for tools. Also he wanted some black oily stuff for
his hands and face. For the first rule in the art of repairing,
as it was known to the firm of Grubb and Smallways, was to get
your hands and face thoroughly and conclusively blackened. Also
he took off his jacket and waistcoat and put his cap carefully to
the back of his head in order to facilitate scratching.
The Prince and the officer seemed disposed to watch him, but he
succeeded in making it clear to them that this would
inconvenience him and that he had to "puzzle out a bit" before he
could get to work. They thought him over, but his shop
experience had given him something of the authoritative way of
the expert with common men. And at last they went away.
Thereupon he went straight to the second aeroplane, got the
aeronaut's gun and ammunition and hid them in a clump of nettles
close at hand. "That's all right," said Bert, and then proceeded
to a careful inspection of the debris of the wings in the trees.
Then he went back to the first aeroplane to compare the two. The
Bun Hill method was quite possibly practicable if there was
nothing hopeless or incomprehensible in the engine.
The Germans returned presently to find him already generously
smutty and touching and testing knobs and screws and levers with
an expression of profound sagacity. When the bird-faced officer
addressed a remark to him, he waved him aside with, "Nong
comprong. Shut it! It's no good."
Then he had an idea. "Dead chap back there wants burying," he
said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.
With the appearance of these two men Bert's whole universe had
changed again. A curtain fell before the immense and terrible
desolation that had overwhelmed him. He was in a world of three
people, a minute human world that nevertheless filled his brain
with eager speculations and schemes and cunning ideas. What were
they thinking of? What did they think of him? What did they
mean to do? A hundred busy threads interlaced in his mind as he
pottered studiously over the Asiatic aeroplane. New ideas came
up like bubbles in soda water.
"Gaw!" he said suddenly. He had just appreciated as a special
aspect of this irrational injustice of fate that these two men
were alive and that Kurt was dead. All the crew of the
Hohenzollern were shot or burnt or smashed or drowned, and these
two lurking in the padded forward cabin had escaped.
"I suppose 'e thinks it's 'is bloomin' Star," he muttered, and
found himself uncontrollably exasperated.
He stood up, facing round to the two men. They were standing
side by side regarding him.
"'It's no good," he said, "starin' at me. You only put me out."
And then seeing they did not understand, he advanced towards
them, wrench in hand. It occurred to him as he did so that the
Prince was really a very big and powerful and serene-looking
person. But he said, nevertheless, pointing through the trees,
"dead man!"
The bird-faced man intervened with a reply in German.
"Dead man!" said Bert to him. "There."
He had great difficulty in inducing them to inspect the dead
Chinaman, and at last led them to him. Then they made it evident
that they proposed that he, as a common person below the rank of
officer should have the sole and undivided privilege of disposing
of the body by dragging it to the water's edge. There was some
heated gesticulation, and at last the bird-faced officer abased
himself to help. Together they dragged the limp and now swollen
Asiatic through the trees, and after a rest or so--for he trailed
very heavily--dumped him into the westward rapid. Bert returned
to his expert investigation of the flying-machine at last with
aching arms and in a state of gloomy rebellion. "Brasted cheek!"
he said. "One'd think I was one of 'is beastly German slaves!
"Prancing beggar!"
And then he fell speculating what would happen when the
flying-machine, was repaired--if it could be repaired.
The two Germans went away again, and after some reflection Bert
removed several nuts, resumed his jacket and vest, pocketed those
nuts and his tools and hid the set of tools from the second
aeroplane in the fork of a tree. "Right O," he said, as he
jumped down after the last of these precautions. The Prince and
his companion reappeared as he returned to the machine by the
water's edge. The Prince surveyed his progress for a time, and
then went towards the Parting of the Waters and stood with folded
arms gazing upstream in profound thought. The bird-faced officer
came up to Bert, heavy with a sentence in English.
"Go," he said with a helping gesture, "und eat."
When Bert got to the refreshment shed, he found all the food had
vanished except one measured ration of corned beef and three
He regarded this with open eyes and mouth.
The kitten appeared from under the vendor's seat with an
ingratiating purr. "Of course!" said Bert. "Why! where's your
He accumulated wrath for a moment or so, then seized the plate in
one hand, and the biscuits in another, and went in search of the
Prince, breathing vile words anent "grub" and his intimate
interior. He approached without saluting.
"'Ere!" he said fiercely. "Whad the devil's this?"
An entirely unsatisfactory altercation followed. Bert expounded
the Bun Hill theory of the relations of grub to efficiency in
English, the bird-faced man replied with points about nations and
discipline in German. The Prince, having made an estimate of
Bert's quality and physique, suddenly hectored. He gripped Bert
by the shoulder and shook him, making his pockets rattle, shouted
something to him, and flung him struggling back. He hit him as
though he was a German private. Bert went back, white and
scared, but resolved by all his Cockney standards upon one thing.
He was bound in honour to "go for" the Prince. "Gaw!" he gasped,
buttoning his jacket.
"Now," cried the Prince, "Vil you go?" and then catching the
heroic gleam in Bert's eye, drew his sword.
The bird-faced officer intervened, saying something in German and
pointing skyward.
Far away in the southwest appeared a Japanese airship coming fast
toward them. Their conflict ended at that. The Prince was first
to grasp the situation and lead the retreat. All three scuttled
like rabbits for the trees, and ran to and for cover until they
found a hollow in which the grass grew rank. There they all
squatted within six yards of one another. They sat in this place
for a long time, up to their necks in the grass and watching
through the branches for the airship. Bert had dropped some of
his corned beef, but he found the biscuits in his hand and ate
them quietly. The monster came nearly overhead and then went
away to Niagara and dropped beyond the power-works. When it was
near, they all kept silence, and then presently they fell into an
argument that was robbed perhaps of immediate explosive effect
only by their failure to understand one another.
It was Bert began the talking and he talked on regardless of what
they understood or failed to understand. But his voice must have
conveyed his cantankerous intentions.
"You want that machine done, he said first, "you better keep your
'ands off me!"
They disregarded that and he repeated it.
Then he expanded his idea and the spirit of speech took hold of
him. "You think you got 'old of a chap you can kick and 'it like
you do your private soldiers--you're jolly well mistaken. See?
I've 'ad about enough of you and your antics. I been thinking
you over, you and your war and your Empire and all the rot of it.
Rot it is! It's you Germans made all the trouble in Europe first
and last. And all for nothin'. Jest silly prancing! Jest
because you've got the uniforms and flags! 'Ere I was--I didn't
want to 'ave anything to do with you. I jest didn't care a 'eng
at all about you. Then you get 'old of me--steal me
practically--and 'ere I am, thousands of miles away from 'ome and
everything, and all your silly fleet smashed up to rags. And you
want to go on prancin' NOW! Not if 'I know it!
"Look at the mischief you done! Look at the way you smashed up
New York--the people you killed, the stuff you wasted. Can't you
"Dummer Kerl!"said the bird-faced man suddenly in a tone of
concentrated malignancy, glaring under his bandages. "Esel!"
"That's German for silly ass!--I know. But who's the silly ass--
'im or me? When I was a kid, I used to read penny dreadfuls
about 'avin adventures and bein' a great c'mander and all that
rot. I stowed it. But what's 'e got in 'is head? Rot about
Napoleon, rot about Alexander, rot about 'is blessed family and
'im and Gord and David and all that. Any one who wasn't a
dressed-up silly fool of a Prince could 'ave told all this was
goin' to 'appen. There was us in Europe all at sixes and sevens
with our silly flags and our silly newspapers raggin' us up
against each other and keepin' us apart, and there was China,
solid as a cheese, with millions and millions of men only wantin'
a bit of science and a bit of enterprise to be as good as all of
us. You thought they couldn't get at you. And then they got
flying-machines. And bif!--'ere we are. Why, when they didn't
go on making guns and armies in China, we went and poked 'em up
until they did. They 'AD to give us this lickin' they've give us.
We wouldn't be happy until they did, and as I say, 'ere we are!"
The bird-faced officer shouted to him to be quiet, and then began
a conversation with the Prince.
"British citizen," said Bert. "You ain't obliged to listen, but
I ain't obliged to shut up."
And for some time he continued his dissertation upon Imperialism,
militarism, and international politics. But their talking put
him out, and for a time he was certainly merely repeating abusive
terms, "prancin' nincompoops" and the like, old terms and new.
Then suddenly he remembered his essential grievance. "'Owever,
look 'ere--'ere!--the thing I started this talk about is where's
that food there was in that shed? That's what I want to know.
Where you put it?"
He paused. They went on talking in German. He repeated his
question. They disregarded him. He asked a third time in a
manner insupportably aggressive.
There fell a tense silence. For some seconds the three regarded
one another. The Prince eyed Bert steadfastly, and Bert quailed
under his eye. Slowly the Prince rose to his feet and the
bird-faced officer jerked up beside him. Bert remained
"Be quaiat," said the Prince.
Bert perceived this was no moment for eloquence.
The two Germans regarded him as he crouched there. Death for a
moment seemed near.
Then the Prince turned away and the two of them went towards the
"Gaw!" whispered Bert, and then uttered under his breath one
single word of abuse. He sat crouched together for perhaps three
minutes, then he sprang to his feet and went off towards the
Chinese aeronaut's gun hidden among the weeds.
There was no pretence after that moment that Bert was under the
orders of the Prince or that he was going on with the repairing
of the flying-machine. The two Germans took possession of that
and set to work upon it. Bert, with his new weapon went off to
the neighbourhood of Terrapin Rock, and there sat down to examine
it. It was a short rifle with a big cartridge, and a nearly full
magazine. He took out the cartridges carefully and then tried
the trigger and fittings until he felt sure he had the use of it.
He reloaded carefully. Then he remembered he was hungry and went
off, gun under his arm, to hunt in and about the refreshment
shed. He had the sense to perceive that he must not show himself
with the gun to the Prince and his companion. So long as they
thought him unarmed they would leave him alone, but there was no
knowing what the Napoleonic person might do if he saw Bert's
weapon. Also he did not go near them because he knew that within
himself boiled a reservoir of rage and fear that he wanted to
shoot these two men. He wanted to shoot them, and he thought
that to shoot them would be a quite horrible thing to do. The
two sides of his inconsistent civilisation warred within him.
Near the shed the kitten turned up again, obviously keen for
milk. This greatly enhanced his own angry sense of hunger. He
began to talk as he hunted about, and presently stood still,
shouting insults. He talked of war and pride and Imperialism.
"Any other Prince but you would have died with his men and his
ship!" he cried.
The two Germans at the machine heard his voice going ever and
again amidst the clamour of the waters. Their eyes met and they
smiled slightly.
He was disposed for a time to sit in the refreshment shed waiting
for them, but then it occurred to him that so he might get them
both at close quarters. He strolled off presently to the point
of Luna Island to think the situation out.
It had seemed a comparatively simple one at first, but as he
turned it over in his mind its possibilities increased and
multiplied. Both these men had swords,--had either a revolver?
Also, if he shot them both, he might never find the food!
So far he had been going about with this gun under his arm, and a
sense of lordly security in his mind, but what if they saw the
gun and decided to ambush him? Goat Island is nearly all cover,
trees, rocks, thickets, and irregularities.
Why not go and murder them both now?
"I carn't," said Bert, dismissing that. "I got to be worked up."
But it was a mistake to get right away from them. That suddenly
became clear. He ought to keep them under observation, ought to
"scout" them. Then he would be able to see what they were doing,
whether either of them had a revolver, where they had hidden the
food. He would be better able to determine what they meant to do
to him. If he didn't "scout" them, presently they would begin to
"scout" him. This seemed so eminently reasonable that he acted
upon it forthwith. He thought over his costume and threw his
collar and the tell-tale aeronaut's white cap into the water far
below. He turned his coat collar up to hide any gleam of his
dirty shirt. The tools and nuts in his pockets were disposed to
clank, but he rearranged them and wrapped some letters and his
pocket-handkerchief about them. He started off circumspectly and
noiselessly, listening and peering at every step. As he drew
near his antagonists, much grunting and creaking served to locate
them. He discovered them engaged in what looked like a wrestling
match with the Asiatic flying-machine. Their coats were off,
their swords laid aside, they were working magnificently.
Apparently they were turning it round and were having a good deal
of difficulty with the long tail among the trees. He dropped
flat at the sight of them and wriggled into a little hollow, and
so lay watching their exertions. Ever and again, to pass the
time, he would cover one or other of them with his gun.
He found them quite interesting to watch, so interesting that at
times he came near shouting to advise them. He perceived that
when they had the machine turned round, they would then be in
immediate want of the nuts and tools he carried. Then they would
come after him. They would certainly conclude he had them or had
hidden them. Should he hide his gun and do a deal for food with
these tools? He felt he would not be able to part with the gun
again now he had once felt its reassuring company. The kitten
turned up again and made a great fuss with him and licked and bit
his ear.
The sun clambered to midday, and once that morning he saw, though
the Germans did not, an Asiatic airship very far to the south,
going swiftly eastward.
At last the flying-machine was turned and stood poised on its
wheel, with its hooks pointing up the Rapids. The two officers
wiped their faces, resumed jackets and swords, spoke and bore
themselves like men who congratulated themselves on a good
laborious morning. Then they went off briskly towards the
refreshment shed, the Prince leading. Bert became active in
pursuit; but he found it impossible to stalk them quickly enough
and silently enough to discover the hiding-place of the food. He
found them, when he came into sight of them again, seated with
their backs against the shed, plates on knee, and a tin of corned
beef and a plateful of biscuits between them. They seemed in
fairly good spirits, and once the Prince laughed. At this vision
of eating Bert's plans gave way. Fierce hunger carried him. He
appeared before them suddenly at a distance of perhaps twenty
yards, gun in hand.
"'Ands up!" he said in a hard, ferocious voice.
The Prince hesitated, and then up went two pairs of hands.
The gun had surprised them both completely.
"Stand up," said Bert.... "Drop that fork!"
They obeyed again.
"What nex'?" said Bert to himself. "'Orf stage, I suppose. That
way," he said. "Go!"
The Prince obeyed with remarkable alacrity. When he reached the
head of the clearing, he said something quickly to the bird-faced
man and they both, with an entire lack of dignity, RAN!
Bert was struck with an exasperating afterthought.
"Gord!" he cried with infinite vexation. "Why! I ought to 'ave
took their swords! 'Ere!"
But the Germans were already out of sight, and no doubt taking
cover among the trees. Bert fell back upon imprecations, then he
went up to the shed, cursorily examined the possibility of a
flank attack, put his gun handy, and set to work, with a
convulsive listening pause before each mouthful on the Prince's
plate of corned beef. He had finished that up and handed its
gleanings to the kitten and he was falling-to on the second
plateful, when the plate broke in his hand! He stared, with the
fact slowly creeping upon him that an instant before he had heard
a crack among the thickets. Then he sprang to his feet, snatched
up his gun in one hand and the tin of corned beef in the other,
and fled round the shed to the other side of the clearing. As he
did so came a second crack from the thickets, and something went
phwit! by his ear.
He didn't stbp running until he was in what seemed to him a
strongly defensible position near Luna Island. Then he took
cover, panting, and crouched expectant.
"They got a revolver after all!" he panted....
"Wonder if they got two? If they 'ave--Gord! I'm done!
"Where's the kitten? Finishin' up that corned beef, I suppose.
Little beggar!"
So it was that war began upon Goat Island. It lasted a day and a
night, the longest day and the longest night in Bert's life. He
had to lie close and listen And watch. Also he had to scheme
what he should do. It was clear now that he had to kill these
two men if he could, and that if they could, they would kill him.
The prize was first food and then the flying-machine and the
doubtful privilege of trying' to ride it. If one failed, one
would certainly be killed; if one succeeded, one would get away
somewhere over there. For a time Bert tried to imagine what it
was like over there. His mind ran over possibilities, deserts,
angry Americans, Japanese, Chinese--perhaps Red Indians! (Were
there still Red Indians?)
"Got to take what comes," said Bert. "No way out of it that I
can see!"
Was that voices? He realised that his attention was wandering.
For a time all his senses were very alert. The uproar of the
Falls was very confusing, and it mixed in all sorts of sounds,
like feet walking, like voices talking, like shouts and cries.
"Silly great catarac'," said Bert. "There ain't no sense in it,
fallin' and fallin'."
Never mind that, now! What were the Germans doing?
Would they go back to the flying-machine? They couldn't do
anything with it, because he had those nuts and screws and the
wrench and other tools. But suppose they found the second set of
tools he had hidden in a tree! He had hidden the things well, of
course, but they MIGHT find them. One wasn't sure, of
course--one wasn't sure. He tried to remember just exactly how
he had hidden those tools. He tried to persuade himself they
were certainly and surely hidden, but his memory began to play
antics. Had he really left the handle of the wrench sticking
out, shining out at the fork of the branch?
Ssh! What was that? Some one stirring in those bushes? Up went
an expectant muzzle. No! Where was the kitten? No! It was
just imagination, not even the kitten.
The Germans would certainly miss and hunt about for the tools
and nuts and screws he carried in his pockets; that was clear.,
Then they would decide he had them and come for him. He had only
to remain still under cover, therefore, and he would get them.
Was there any flaw in that? Would they take off more removable
parts of the flying-machine and then lie up for him? No, they
wouldn't do that, because they were two to one; they would have
no apprehension of his getting off in the flying-machine, and no
sound reason for supposing he would approach it, and so they
would do nothing to damage or disable it. That he decided was
clear. But suppose they lay up for him by the food. Well, that
they wouldn't do, because they would know he had this corned
beef; there was enough in this can to last, with moderation,
several days. Of course they might try to tire him out instead
of attacking him--
He roused himself with a start. He had just grasped the real
weakness of his position. He might go to sleep!
It needed but ten minutes under the suggestion of that idea,
before he realised that he was going to sleep!
He rubbed his eyes and handled his gun. He had never before
realised the intensely soporific effect of the American sun, of
the American air, the drowsy, sleep-compelling uproar of Niagara.
Hitherto these things had on the whole seemed stimulating....
If he had not eaten so much and eaten it so fast, he would not be
so heavy. Are vegetarians always bright? ...
He roused himself with a jerk again.
If he didn't do something, he would fall asleep, and if he fell
asleep, it was ten to one they would find him snoring, and finish
him forthwith. If he sat motionless and noiseless, he would
inevitably sleep. It was better, he told himself, to take even
the risks of attacking than that. This sleep trouble, he felt,
was going to beat him, must beat him in the end. They were all
right; one could sleep and the other could watch. That, come to
think of it, was what they would always do; one would do anything
they wanted done, the other would lie under cover near at hand,
ready to shoot. They might even trap him like that. One might
act as a decoy.
That set him thinking of decoys. What a fool he had been to
throw his cap away. It would have been invaluable on a stick--
especially at night.
He found himself wishing for a drink. He settled that for a time
by putting a pebble in his mouth. And then the sleep craving
It became clear to him he must attack. Like many great generals
before him, he found his baggage, that is to say his tin of
corned beef, a serious impediment to mobility. At last he
decided to put the beef loose in his pocket and abandon the tin.
It was not perhaps an ideal arrangement, but one must make
sacrifices when one is campaigning. He crawled perhaps ten
yards, and then for a time the possibilities of the situation
paralysed him.
The afternoon was still. The roar of the cataract simply threw
up that immense stillness in relief. He was doing his best to
contrive the death of two better men than himself. Also they
were doing their best to contrive his. What, behind this
silence, were they doing.
Suppose he came upon them suddenly and fired, and missed?
He crawled, and halted listening, and crawled again until
nightfall, and no doubt the German Alexander and his lieutenant
did the same. A large scale map of Goat Island marked with red
and blue lines to show these strategic movements would no doubt
have displayed much interlacing, but as a matter of fact neither
side saw anything of the other throughout that age-long day of
tedious alertness. Bert never knew how near he got to them nor
how far he kept from them. Night found him no longer sleepy, but
athirst, and near the American Fall. He was inspired by the idea
that his antagonists might be in the wreckage of the Hohenzollern
cabins that was jammed against Green Island. He became
enterprising, broke from any attempt to conceal himself, and went
across the little bridge at the double. He found nobody. It was
his first visit to these huge fragments of airships, and for a
time he explored them curiously in the dim light. He discovered
the forward cabin was nearly intact, with its door slanting
downward and a corner under water. He crept in, drank, and then
was struck by the brilliant idea of shutting the door and
sleeping on it.
But now he could not sleep at all.
He nodded towards morning and woke up to find it fully day. He
breakfasted on corned beef and water, and sat for a long time
appreciative of the security of his position. At last he became
enterprising and bold. He would, he decided, settle this
business forthwith, one way or the other. He was tired of all
this crawling. He set out in the morning sunshine, gun in hand,
scarcely troubling to walk softly. He went round the refreshment
shed without finding any one, and then through the trees towards
the flying-machine. He came upon the bird-faced man sitting on
the ground with his back against a tree, bent up over his folded
arms, sleeping, his bandage very much over one eye.
Bert stopped abruptly and stood perhaps fifteen yards away, gun
in hand ready. Where was the Prince? Then, sticking out at the
side of the tree beyond, he saw a shoulder. Bert took five
deliberate paces to the left. The great man became visible,
leaning up against the trunk, pistol in one hand and sword in the
other, and yawning--yawning. You can't shoot a yawning man Bert
found. He advanced upon his antagonist with his gun levelled,
some foolish fancy of "hands up" in his mind. The Prince became
aware of him, the yawning mouth shut like a trap and he stood
stiffly up. Bert stopped, silent. For a moment the two regarded
one another.
Had the Prince been a wise man he would, I suppose, have dodged
behind the tree. Instead, he gave vent to a shout, and raised
pistol and sword. At that, like an automaton, Bert pulled his
It was his first experience of an oxygen-containing bullet. A
great flame spurted from the middle of the Prince, a blinding
flare, and there came a thud like the firing of a gun. Something
hot and wet struck Bert's face. Then through a whirl of blinding
smoke and steam he saw limbs and a collapsing, burst body fling
themselves to earth.
Bert was so astonished that he stood agape, and the bird-faced
officer might have cut him to the earth without a struggle. But
instead the bird-faced officer was running away through the
undergrowth, dodging as he went. Bert roused himself to a brief
ineffectual pursuit, but he had no stomach for further killing.
He returned to the mangled, scattered thing that had so recently
been the great Prince Karl Albert. He surveyed the scorched and
splashed vegetation about it. He made some speculative
identifications. He advanced gingerly and picked up the hot
revolver, to find all its chambers strained and burst. He became
aware of a cheerful and friendly presence. He was greatly
shocked that one so young should see so frightful a scene.
"'Ere, Kitty," he said, "this ain't no place for you."
He made three strides across the devastated area, captured the
kitten neatly, and went his way towards the shed, with her
purring loudly on his shoulder.
"YOU don't seem to mind," he said.
For a time he fussed about the shed, and at last discovered the
rest of the provisions hidden in the roof. "Seems 'ard," he
said, as he administered a saucerful of milk, "when you get three
men in a 'ole like this, they can't work together. But 'im and
'is princing was jest a bit too thick!"
"Gaw!" he reflected, sitting on the counter and eating, "what a
thing life is! 'Ere am I; I seen 'is picture, 'eard 'is name
since I was a kid in frocks. Prince Karl Albert! And if any one
'ad tole me I was going to blow lim to smithereens--there! I
shouldn't 'ave believed it, Kitty.
"That chap at Margit ought to 'ave tole me about it. All 'e tole
me was that I got a weak chess.
"That other chap, 'e ain't going to do much. Wonder what I ought
to do about 'im?"
He surveyed the trees with a keen blue eye and fingered the gun
on his knee. "I don't like this killing, Kitty," he said. "It's
like Kurt said about being blooded. Seems to me you got to be
blooded young.... If that Prince 'ad come up to me and said,
'Shake 'ands!' I'd 'ave shook 'ands.... Now 'ere's that other
chap, dodging about! 'E's got'is 'ead 'urt already, and there's
something wrong with his leg. And burns. Golly! it isn't three
weeks ago I first set eyes on 'im, and then 'e was smart and set
up--'ands full of 'air-brushes and things, and swearin' at me. A
regular gentleman! Now 'e's 'arfway to a wild man. What am I to
do with 'im? What the 'ell am I to do with 'im? I can't leave
'im 'ave that flying-machine; that's a bit too good, and if I
don't kill 'im, 'e'll jest 'ang about this island and starve....
"'E's got a sword, of course"....
He resumed his philosophising after he had lit a cigarette.
"War's a silly gaim, Kitty. It's a silly gaim! We common
people--we were fools. We thought those big people knew what
they were up to--and they didn't. Look at that chap! 'E 'ad
all Germany be'ind 'im, and what 'as 'e made of it? Smeshin' and
blunderin' and destroyin', and there 'e 'is! Jest a mess of
blood and boots and things! Jest an 'orrid splash! Prince Karl
Albert! And all the men 'e led and the ships 'e 'ad, the
airships, and the dragon-fliers--all scattered like a paper-chase
between this 'ole and Germany. And fightin' going on and burnin'
and killin' that 'e started, war without end all over the world!
"I suppose I shall 'ave to kill that other chap. I suppose I
must. But it ain't at all the sort of job I fancy, Kitty!"
For a time he hunted about the island amidst the uproar of the
waterfall, looking for the wounded officer, and at last he
started him out of some bushes near the head of Biddle Stairs.
But as he saw the bent and bandaged figure in limping flight
before him, he found his Cockney softness too much for him again;
he could neither shoot nor pursue. "I carn't," he said, "that's
flat. I 'aven't the guts for it! 'E'll 'ave to go."
He turned his steps towards the flying-machine....
He never saw the bird-faced officer again, nor any further
evidence of his presence. Towards evening he grew fearful of
ambushes and hunted vigorously for an hour or so, but in vain.
He slept in a good defensible position at the extremity of the
rocky point that runs out to the Canadian Fall, and in the night
he woke in panic terror and fired his gun. But it was nothing.
He slept no more that night. In the morning he became curiously
concerned for the vanished man, and hunted for him as one might
for an erring brother.
"If I knew some German," he said, "I'd 'oller. It's jest not
knowing German does it. You can't explain'"
He discovered, later, traces of an attempt to cross the gap in
the broken bridge. A rope with a bolt attached had been flung
across and had caught in a fenestration of a projecting fragment
of railing. The end of the rope trailed in the seething water
towards the fall.
But the bird-faced officer was already rubbing shoulders with
certain inert matter that had once been Lieutenant Kurt and the
Chinese aeronaut and a dead cow, and much other uncongenial
company, in the huge circle of the Whirlpool two and a quarter
miles away. Never had that great gathering place, that
incessant, aimless, unprogressive hurry of waste and battered
things, been so crowded with strange and melancholy derelicts.
Round they went and round, and every day brought its new
contributions, luckless brutes, shattered fragments of boat and
flying-machine, endless citizens from the cities upon the shores
of the great lakes above. Much came from Cleveland. It all
gathered here, and whirled about indefinitely, and over it all
gathered daily a greater abundance of birds.
Bert spent two more days upon Goat Island, and finished all his
provisions except the cigarettes and mineral water, before he
brought himself to try the Asiatic flying-machine.
Even at last he did not so much go off upon it as get carried
off. It had taken only an hour or so to substitute wing stays
from the second flying-machine and to replace the nuts he had
himself removed. The engine was in working order, and differed
only very simply and obviously from that of a contemporary
motor-bicycle. The rest of the time was taken up by a vast
musing and delaying and hesitation. Chiefly he saw himself
splashing into the rapids and whirling down them to the Fall,
clutching and drowning, but also he had a vision of
being hopelessly in the air, going fast and unable to ground.
His mind was too concentrated upon the business of flying for him
to think very much of what might happen to an indefinite-spirited
Cockney without credential who arrived on an Asiatic
flying-machine amidst the war-infuriated population beyond.
He still had a lingering solicitude for the bird-faced officer.
He had a haunting fancy he might be lying disabled or badly
smashed in some way in some nook or cranny of the Island; and it
was only after a most exhaustive search that he abandoned that
distressing idea. "If I found 'im," he reasoned the while, "what
could I do wiv 'im? You can't blow a chap's brains out when 'e's
down. And I don' see 'ow else I can 'elp 'im."
Then the kitten bothered his highly developed sense of social
responsibility. "If I leave 'er, she'll starve.... Ought to
catch mice for 'erself.... ARE there mice?... Birds? ... She's
too young.... She's like me; she's a bit too civilised."
Finally he stuck her in his side pocket and she became greatly
interested in the memories of corned beef she found there. With
her in his pocket, he seated himself in the saddle of the
flying-machine. Big, clumsy thing it was--and not a bit like a
bicycle. Still the working of it was fairly plain. You set the
engine going--SO; kicked yourself up until the wheel was
vertical, SO; engaged the gyroscope, SO, and then--then--you just
pulled up this lever.
Rather stiff it was, but suddenly it came over--
The big curved wings on either side flapped disconcertingly,
flapped again' click, clock, click, clock, clitter-clock!
Stop! The thing was heading for the water; its wheel was in the
water. Bert groaned from his heart and struggled to restore the
lever to its first position. Click, clock, clitter-clock, he was
ising! The machine was lifting its dripping wheel out of the
eddies, and he was going up! There was no stopping now, no good
in stopping now. In another moment Bert, clutching and
convulsive and rigid, with staring eyes and a face pale as death,
was flapping up above the Rapids, jerking to every jerk of the
wings, and rising, rising.
There was no comparison in dignity and comfort between a
flying-machine and a balloon. Except in its moments of descent,
the balloon was a vehicle of faultless urbanity; this was a buck-
-jumping mule, a mule that jumped up and never came down again.
Click, clock, click, clock; with each beat of the strangely
shaped wings it jumped Bert upward and caught him neatly again
half a second later on the saddle. And while in ballooning there
is no wind, since the balloon is a part of the wind, flying is a
wild perpetual creation of and plunging into wind. It was a wind
that above all things sought to blind him, to force him to close
his eyes. It occurred to him presently to twist his knees and.
legs inward and grip with them, or surely he would have been
bumped into two clumsy halves. And he was going up, a hundred
yards high, two hundred, three hundred, over the streaming,
frothing wilderness of water below--up, up, up. That was all
right, but how presently would one go horizontally? He tried to
think if these things did go horizontally. No! They flapped up
and then they soared down. For a time he would keep on flapping
up. Tears streamed from his eyes. He wiped them with one
temerariously disengaged hand.
Was it better to risk a fall over land or over water--such water?
He was flapping up above the Upper Rapids towards Buffalo. It
was at any rate a comfort that the Falls and the wild swirl of
waters below them were behind him. He was flying up straight.
That he could see. How did one turn?
He was presently almost cool, and his eyes got more used to the
rush of air, but he was getting very high, very high. He tilted
his head forwards and surveyed the country, blinking. He could
see all over Buffalo, a place with three great blackened scars of
ruin, and hills and stretches beyond. He wondered if he was half
a mile high, or more. There were some people among some houses
near a railway station between Niagara and Buffalo, and then more
people. They went like ants busily in and out of the houses. He
saw two motor cars gliding along the road towards Niagara city.
Then far away in the south he saw a great Asiatic airship going
eastward. "Oh, Gord!" he said, and became earnest in his
ineffectual attempts to alter his direction. But that airship
took no notice of him, and he continued to ascend convulsively.
The world got more and more extensive and maplike. Click, clock,
clitter-clock. Above him and very near to him now was a hazy
stratum of cloud.
He determined to disengage the wing clutch. He did so. The
lever resisted his strength for a time, then over it came, and
instantly the tail of the machine cocked up and the wings became
rigidly spread. Instantly everything was swift and smooth and
silent. He was gliding rapidly down the air against a wild gale
of wind, his eyes three-quarters shut.
A little lever that had hitherto been obdurate now confessed
itself mobile. He turned it over gently to the right, and
whiroo!--the left wing had in some mysterious way given at its
edge and he was sweeping round and downward in an immense
right-handed spiral. For some moments he experienced all the
helpless sensations of catastrophe. He restored the lever to its
middle position with some difficulty, and the wings were
equalised again.
He turned it to the left and had a sensation of being spun round
backwards. "Too much!" he gasped.
He discovered that he was rushing down at a headlong pace towards
a railway line and some factory buildings. They appeared to be
tearing up to him to devour him. He must have dropped all that
height. For a moment he had the ineffectual sensations of one
whose bicycle bolts downhill. The ground had almost taken him by
surprise. "'Ere!" he cried; and then with a violent effort of
all his being he got the beating engine at work again and set the
wings flapping. He swooped down and up and resumed his quivering
and pulsating ascent of the air.
He went high again, until he had a wide view of the pleasant
upland country of western New York State, and then made a long
coast down, and so up again, and then a coast. Then as he came
swooping a quarter of a mile above a village he saw people
running about, running away--evidently in relation to his
hawk-like passage. He got an idea that he had been shot at.
"Up!" he said, and attacked that lever again. It came over with
remarkable docility, and suddenly the wings seemed to give way in
the middle. But the engine was still! It had stopped. He flung
the lever back rather by instinct than design. What to do?
Much happened in a few seconds, but also his mind was quick, he
thought very quickly. He couldn't get up again, he was gliding
down the air; he would have to hit something.
He was travelling at the rate of perhaps thirty miles an hour
down, down.
That plantation of larches looked the softest thing--mossy
Could he get it? He gave himself to the steering. Round to the
Swirroo! Crackle! He was gliding over the tops of the trees,
ploughing through them, tumbling into a cloud of green sharp
leaves and black twigs. There was a sudden snapping, and he fell
off the saddle forward, a thud and a crashing of branches. Some
twigs hit him smartly in the face....
He was between a tree-stem and the saddle, with his leg over the
steering lever and, so far as he could realise, not hurt. He
tried to alter his position and free his leg, and found himself
slipping and dropping through branches with everything giving way
beneath him. He clutched and found himself in the lower branches
of a tree beneath the flying-machine. The air was full of a
pleasant resinous smell. He stared for a moment motionless, and
then very carefully clambered down branch by branch to the soft
needle-covered ground below.
"Good business," he said, looking up at the bent and tilted
kite-wings above.
"I dropped soft!"
He rubbed his chin with his hand and meditated. "Blowed if I
don't think I'm a rather lucky fellow!" he said, surveying the
pleasant sun-bespattered ground under the trees. Then he became
aware of a violent tumult at his side. "Lord!" he said, "You
must be 'arf smothered," and extracted the kitten from his
pocket-handkerchief and pocket. She was twisted and crumpled and
extremely glad to see the light again. Her little tongue peeped
between her teeth. He put her down, and she ran a dozen paces
and shook herself and stretched and sat up and began to wash.
"Nex'?" he said, looking about him, and then with a gesture of
vexation, "Desh it! I ought to 'ave brought that gun!"
He had rested it against a tree when he had seated himself in the
flying-machine saddle.
He was puzzled for a time by the immense peacefulness in the
quality of the world, and then he perceived that the roar of the
cataract was no longer in his ears.
He had no very clear idea of what sort of people he might come
upon in this country. It was, he knew, America. Americans he
had always understood were the citizens of a great and powerful
nation, dry and humorous in their manner, addicted to the use of
the bowie-knife and revolver, and in the habit of talking through
the nose like Norfolkshire, and saying "allow" and "reckon" and
"calculate," after the manner of the people who live on the New
Forest side of Hampshire. Also they were very rich, had
rocking-chairs, and put their feet at unusual altitudes, and they
chewed tobacco, gum, and other substances, with untiring
industry. Commingled with them were cowboys, Red Indians, and
comic, respectful niggers. This he had learnt from the fiction
in his public library. Beyond that he had learnt very little.
He was not surprised therefore when he met armed men.
He decided to abandon the shattered flying-machine. He wandered
through the trees for some time, and then struck a road that
seemed to his urban English eyes to be remarkably wide but not
properly "made." Neither hedge nor ditch nor curbed distinctive
footpath separated it from the woods, and it went in that long
easy curve which distinguishes the tracks of an open continent.
Ahead he saw a man carrying a gun under his arm, a man in a soft
black hat, a blue blouse, and black trousers, and with a broad
round-fat face quite innocent of goatee. This person regarded
him askance and heard him speak with a start.
"Can you tell me whereabouts I am at all?" asked Bert.
The man regarded him, and more particularly his rubber boots,
with sinister suspicion. Then he replied in a strange outlandish
tongue that was, as a matter of fact, Czech. He ended suddenly
at the sight of Bert's blank face with "Don't spik English."
"Oh!" said Bert. He reflected gravely for a moment, and then
went his way.
"Thenks," he, said as an afterthought. The man regarded his back
for a moment, was struck with an idea, began an abortive gesture,
sighed, gave it up, and went on also with a depressed
Presently Bert came to a big wooden house standing casually among
the trees. It looked a bleak, bare box of a house to him, no
creeper grew on it, no hedge nor wall nor fence parted it off
from the woods about it. He stopped before the steps that led up
to the door, perhaps thirty yards away. The place seemed
deserted. He would have gone up to the door and rapped, but
suddenly a big black dog appeared at the side and regarded him.
It was a huge heavy-jawed dog of some unfamiliar breed, and it,
wore a spike-studded collar. It did not bark nor approach him,
it just bristled quietly and emitted a single sound like a short,
deep cough.
Bert hesitated and went on.
He stopped thirty paces away and stood peering about him among
the trees. "If I 'aven't been and lef' that kitten," he said.
Acute sorrow wrenched him for a time. The black dog came through
the trees to get a better look at him and coughed that well-bred
cough again. Bert resumed the road.
"She'll do all right," he said.... "She'll catch things.
"She'll do all right," he said presently, without conviction.
But if it had not been for the black dog, he would have gone
When he was out of sight of the house and the black dog, he went
into the woods on the other side of the way and emerged after an
interval trimming a very tolerable cudgel with his pocket-knife.
Presently he saw an attractive-looking rock by the track and
picked it up and put it in his pocket. Then he came to three or
four houses, wooden like the last, each with an ill-painted white
verandah (that was his name for it) and all standing in the same
casual way upon the ground. Behind, through the woods, he saw
pig-stys and a rooting black sow leading a brisk, adventurous
family. A wild-looking woman with sloe-black eyes and
dishevelled black hair sat upon the steps of one of the houses
nursing a baby, but at the sight of Bert she got up and went
inside, and he heard her bolting the door. Then a boy appeared
among the pig-stys, but he would not understand Bert's hail.
"I suppose it is America!" said Bert.
The houses became more frequent down the road, and he passed two
other extremely wild and dirty-looking men without addressing
them. One carried a gun and the other a hatchet, and they
scrutinised him and his cudgel scornfully. Then he struck a
cross-road with a mono-rail at its side, and there was a notice
board at the comer with "Wait here for the cars." "That's all
right, any'ow," said Bert. "Wonder 'ow long I should 'ave to
wait?" It occurred to him that in the present disturbed state of
the country the service might be interrupted, and as there seemed
more houses to the right than the left he turned to the right.
He passed an old negro. "'Ullo!" said Bert. "Goo' morning!"
"Good day, sah!" said the old negro, in a voice of almost
incredible richness.
"What's the name of this place?" asked Bert.
"Tanooda, sah!" said the negro.
"Thenks!" said Bert.
"Thank YOU, sah!" said the negro, overwhelmingly.
Bert came to houses of the same detached, unwalled, wooden type,
but adorned now with enamelled advertisements partly in English
and partly in Esperanto. Then he came to what he concluded was a
grocer's shop. It was the first house that professed the
hospitality of an open door, and from within came a strangely
familiar sound. "Gaw!" he said searching in his pockets. "Why!
I 'aven't wanted money for free weeks! I wonder if I--Grubb 'ad
most of it. Ah!" He produced a handful of coins and regarded
it; three pennies, sixpence, and a shilling. "That's all right,"
he said, forgetting a very obvious consideration.
He approached the door, and as he did so a compactly built,
grey-faced man in shirt sleeves appeared in it and scrutinised
him and his cudgel. "Mornin'," said Bert. "Can I get anything to
eat 'r drink in this shop?"
The man in the door replied, thank Heaven, in clear, good
American. "This, sir, is not A shop, it is A store."
"Oh!" said Bert, and then, "Well, can I get anything to eat?"
"You can," said the American in a tone of confident
encouragement, and led the way inside.
The shop seemed to him by his Bun Hill standards extremely roomy,
well lit, and unencumbered. There was a long counter to the left
of him, with drawers and miscellaneous commodities ranged behind
it, a number of chairs, several tables, and two spittoons to the
right, various barrels, cheeses, and bacon up the vista, and
beyond, a large archway leading to more space. A little group of
men was assembled round one of the tables, and a woman of perhaps
five-and-thirty leant with her elbows on the counter. All the
men were armed with rifles, and the barrel of a gun peeped above
the counter. They were all listening idly, inattentively, to a
cheap, metallic-toned gramophone that occupied a table near at
hand. From its brazen throat came words that gave Bert a qualm
of homesickness, that brought back in his memory a sunlit beach,
a group of children, red-painted bicycles, Grubb, and an
approaching balloon:--
"Ting-a-ling-a-ting-a-ling-a-ting-a ling-a-tang...
What Price Hair-pins Now?"
A heavy-necked man in a straw hat, who was chewing something,
stopped the machine with a touch, and they all,turned their eyes
on Bert. And all their eyes were tired eyes.
"Can we give this gentleman anything to eat, mother, or can we
not?" said the proprietor.
"He kin have what he likes?" said the woman at the counter,
without moving, "right up from a cracker to a square meal." She
struggled with a yawn, after the manner of one who has been up
all night.
"I want a meal," said Bert, "but I 'aven't very much money. I
don' want to give mor'n a shillin'."
"Mor'n a WHAT?" said the proprietor, sharply.
"Mor'n a shillin'," said Bert, with a sudden disagreeable
realisation coming into his mind.
"Yes," said the proprietor, startled for a moment from his
courtly bearing. "But what in hell is a shilling?"
"He means a quarter," said a wise-looking, lank young man in
riding gaiters.
Bert, trying to conceal his consternation, produced a coin.
"That's a shilling," he said.
"He calls A store A shop," said the proprietor, "and he wants A
meal for A shilling. May I ask you, sir, what part of America
you hail from?"
Bert replaced the shilling,in his pocket as he spoke, "Niagara,"
he said.
"And when did you leave Niagara?"
"'Bout an hour ago."
"Well," said the proprietor, and turned with a puzzled smile to
the others. "Well!"
They asked various questions simultaneously.
Bert selected one or two for reply. "You see," he said, "I been
with the German air-fleet. I got caught up by them, sort of by
accident, and brought over here."
"From England?"
"Yes--from England. Way of Germany. I was in a great battle
with them Asiatics, and I got lef' on a little island between the
"Goat Island?"
"I don' know what it was called. But any'ow I found a
flying-machine and made a sort of fly with it and got here."
Two men stood up with incredulous eyes on him. "Where's the
flying-machine?"they asked; "outside?"
"It's back in the woods here--'bout arf a mile away."
"Is it good?" said a thick-lipped man with a scar.
"I come down rather a smash--."
Everybody got up and stood about him and talked confusingly.
They wanted him to take them to the flying-machine at once.
"Look 'ere," said Bert, "I'll show you--only I 'aven't 'ad
anything to eat since yestiday--except mineral water."
A gaunt soldierly-looking young man with long lean legs in riding
gaiters and a bandolier, who had hitherto not spoken, intervened
now on his behalf in a note of confident authority. "That's aw
right," he said. "Give him a feed, Mr. Logan--from me. I
want to hear more of that story of his. We'll see his machine
afterwards. If you ask me, I should say it's a remarkably
interesting accident had dropped this gentleman here. I guess we
requisition that flying-machine--if we find it--,for local
So Bert fell on his feet again, and sat eating cold meat and good
bread and mustard and drinking very good beer, and telling in the
roughest outline and with the omissions and inaccuracies of
statement natural to his type of mind, the simple story of his
adventures. He told how he and a "gentleman friend" had been
visiting the seaside for their health, how a "chep" came along in
a balloon and fell out as he fell in, how he had drifted to
Franconia, how the Germans had seemed to mistake him for some one
and had "took him prisoner" and brought him to New York, how he
had been to Labrador and back, how he had got to Goat Island and
found himself there alone. He omitted the matter of the Prince
and the Butteridge aspect of the affair, not out of any deep
deceitfulness, but because he felt the inadequacy of his
narrative powers. He wanted everything to seem easy and natural
and correct, to present himself as a trustworthy and
understandable Englishman in a sound mediocre position, to whom
refreshment and accommodation might be given with freedom and
When his fragmentary story came to New York and the battle of
Niagara, they suddenly produced newspapers which had been lying
about on the table, and began to check him and question him by
these vehement accounts. It became evident to him that his
descent had revived and roused to flames again a discussion, a
topic, that had been burning continuously, that had smouldered
only through sheer exhaustion of material during the temporary
diversion of the gramophone, a discussion that had drawn these
men together, rifle in hand, the one supreme topic of the whole
world, the War and the methods of the War. He found any question
of his personality and his personal adventures falling into the
background, found himself taken for granted, and no more than a
source of information. The ordinary affairs of life, the buying
and selling of everyday necessities, the cultivation of the
ground, the tending of beasts, was going on as it were by force
of routine, as the common duties of life go on in a house whose
master lies under the knife of some supreme operation. The
overruling interest was furnished by those great Asiatic airships
that went upon incalculable missions across the sky, the
crimson-clad swordsmen who might come fluttering down demanding
petrol, or food, or news. These men were asking, all the
continent was asking, "What are we to do? What can we try? How
can we get at them?" Bert fell into his place as an item, ceased
even in his own thoughts to be a central and independent thing.
After he had eaten and drunken his fill and sighed and stretched
and told them how good the food seemed to him, he lit a cigarette
they gave him and led the way, with some doubts and trouble, to
the flying-machine amidst the larches. It became manifest that
the gaunt young man, whose name, it seemed, was Laurier, was a
leader both by position and natural aptitude. He knew the names
and characters and capabilities of all the men who were with him,
and he set them to work at once with vigour and effect to secure
this precious instrument of war. They got the thing down to the
ground deliberately and carefully, felling a couple of trees in
the process, and they built a wide flat roof of timbers and tree
boughs to guard their precious find against its chance discovery
by any passing Asiatics. Long before evening they had an
engineer from the next township at work upon it, and they were
casting lots among the seventeen picked men who wanted to take it
for its first flight. And Bert found his kitten and carried it
back to Logan's store and handed it with earnest admonition to
Mrs. Logan. And it was reassuringly clear to him that in Mrs.
Logan both he and the kitten had found a congenial soul.
Laurier was not only a masterful person and a wealthy property
owner and employer--he was president, Bert learnt with awe, of
the Tanooda Canning Corporation--but he was popular and skilful
in the arts of popularity. In the evening quite a crowd of men
gathered in the store and talked of the flying-machine and of the
war that was tearing the world to pieces. And presently came a
man on a bicycle with an ill-printed newspaper of a single sheet
which acted like fuel in a blazing furnace of talk. It was
nearly all American news; the old-fashioned cables had fallen
into disuse for some years, and the Marconi stations across the
ocean and along the Atlantic coastline seemed to have furnished
particularly tempting points of attack.
But such news it was.
Bert sat in the background--for by this time they had gauged his
personal quality pretty completely--listening. Before his
staggering mind passed strange vast images as they talked, of
great issues at a crisis, of nations in tumultuous march, of
continents overthrown, of famine and destruction beyond measure.
Ever and again, in spite of his efforts to suppress them, certain
personal impressions would scamper across the weltering
confusion, the horrible mess of the exploded Prince, the Chinese
aeronaut upside down, the limping and bandaged bird-faced officer
blundering along in miserable and hopeless flight....
They spoke of fire and massacre, of cruelties and counter
cruelties, of things that had been done to harmless Asiatics by
race-mad men, of the wholesale burning and smashing up of towns,
railway junctions, bridges, of whole populations in hiding and
exodus. "Every ship they've got is in the Pacific," he heard one
man exclaim. "Since the fighting began they can't have landed on
the Pacific slope less than a million men. They've come to stay
in these States, and they will--living or dead."
Slowly, broadly, invincibly, there grew upon Bert's mind
realisation of the immense tragedy of humanity into which his
life was flowing; the appalling and universal nature of the
epoch that had arrived; the conception of an end to security and
order and habit. The whole world was at war and it could not get
back to peace, it might never recover peace.
He had thought the things he had seen had been exceptional,
conclusive things, that the besieging of New York and the battle
of the Atlantic were epoch-making events between long years of se
curity. And they had been but the first warning impacts of
universal cataclysm. Each day destruction and hate and disaster
grew, the fissures widened between man and man, new regions of
the fabric of civilisation crumbled and gave way. Below, the
armies grew and the people perished; above, the airships and
aeroplanes fought and fled, raining destruction.
It is difficult perhaps for the broad-minded and
long-perspectived reader to understand how incredible the
breaking down of the scientific civilisation seemed to those,who
actually lived at this time, who in their own persons went down
in that debacle. Progress had marched as it seemed invincible
about the earth, never now to rest again. For three hundred
years and more the long steadily accelerated diastole of
Europeanised civilisation had been in progress: towns had been
multiplying, populations increasing, values rising, new countries
developing; thought, literature, knowledge unfolding and
spreading. It seemed but a part of the process that every year
the instruments of war were vaster and more powerful, and that
armies and explosives outgrew all other growing things....
Three hundred years of diastole, and then came the swift and
unexpected systole, like the closing of a fist. They could not
understand it was systole.
They could not think of it as anything but a jolt, a hitch, a
mere oscillatory indication of the swiftness of their progress.
Collapse, though it happened all about them, remained
incredible. Presently some falling mass smote them down, or the
ground opened beneath their feet. They died incredulous....
These men in the store made a minute, remote group under this
immense canopy of disaster. They turned from one little aspect
to another. What chiefly concerned them was defence against
Asiatic raiders swooping for petrol or to destroy weapons or
communications. Everywhere levies were being formed at that time
to defend the plant of the railroads day and night in the hope
that communication would speedily be restored. The land war was
still far away. A man with a flat voice distinguished himself by
a display of knowledge and cunning. He told them all with
confidence just what had been wrong with the German
drachenflieger and the American aeroplanes, just what advantage
the Japanese flyers possessed. He launched out into a romantic
description of the Butteridge machine and riveted Bert's
attention. "I SEE that," said Bert, and was smitten silent by a
thought. The man with the flat voice talked on, without heeding
him, of the strange irony of Butteridge's death. At that Bert
had a little twinge of relief--he would never meet Butteridge
again. It appeared Butteridge had died suddenly, very suddenly.
"And his secret, sir, perished with him! When they came to look
for the parts--none could find them. He had hidden them all too
"But couldn't he tell?" asked the man in the straw hat. "Did he
die so suddenly as that?"
"Struck down, sir. Rage and apoplexy. At a place called
Dymchurch in England."
"That's right, said Laurier. "I remember a page about it in the
Sunday American. At the time they said it was a German spy had
stolen his balloon."
"Well, sir," said the flat-voiced man, "that fit of apoplexy at
Dyrnchurch was the worst thing--absolutely the worst thing that
ever happened to the world. For if it had not been for the death
of Mr. Butteridge--"
"No one knows his secret?"
"Not a soul. It's gone. His balloon, it appears, was lost at
sea, with all the plans. Down it went, and they went with it."
"With machines such as he made we could fight these Asiatic
fliers on more than equal terms. We could outfly and beat down
those scarlet humming-birds wherever they appeared. But it's
gone, it's gone, and there's no time to reinvent it now. We got
to fight with what we got--and the odds are against us. THAT
won't stop us fightin'. No! but just think of it!"
Bert was trembling violently. He cleared his throat hoarsely.
"I say," he said, "look here, I--"
Nobody regarded him. The man with the flat voice was opening a
new branch of the subject.
"I allow--" he began.
Bert became violently excited. He stood up.
He made clawing motions with his hands. "I say!" he exclaimed,
"Mr. Laurier. Look 'ere--I want--about that Butteridge
Mr. Laurier, sitting on an adjacent table, with a magnificent
gesture, arrested the discourse of the flat-voiced man. "What's
HE saying?" said he.
Then the whole company realised that something was happening to
Bert; either he was suffocating or going mad. He was
"Look 'ere! I say! 'Old on a bit!" and trembling and eagerly
unbuttoning himself.
He tore open his collar and opened vest and shirt. He plunged
into his interior and for an instant it seemed he was plucking
forth his liver. Then as he struggled with buttons on his
shoulder they perceived this flattened horror was in fact a
terribly dirty flannel chest-protector. In an other moment Bert,
in a state of irregular decolletage, was standing over the table
displaying a sheaf of papers.
"These!" he gasped. "These are the plans!... You know! Mr.
Butteridge--his machine ! What died! I was the chap that went
off in that balloon!"
For some seconds every one was silent. They stared from these
papers to Bert's white face and blazing eyes, and back to the
papers on the table. Nobody moved. Then the man with the flat
voice spoke.
"Irony!" he said, with a note of satisfaction. "Real rightdown
Irony! When it's too late to think of making 'em any more!"
They would all no doubt have been eager to hear Bert's story over
again, but it was it this point that Laurier showed his quality.
"No, SIR," he said, and slid from off his table.
He impounded the dispersing Butteridge plans with one
comprehensive sweep of his arm, rescuing them even from the
expository finger-marks of the man with the flat voice, and
handed them to Bert. "Put those back, "he said, "where you had
'em. We have a journey before us."
Bert took them.
"Whar?" said the man in the straw hat.
"Why, sir, we are going to find the President of these States and
give these plans over to him. I decline to believe, sir, we are
too late."
"Where is the President?" asked Bert weakly in that pause that
"Logan," said Laurier, disregarding that feeble inqniry, "you
must help us in this."
It seemed only a matter of a few minutes before Bert and Laurier
and the storekeeper were examining a number of bicycles that were
stowed in the hinder room of the store. Bert didn't like any of
them very much. They had wood rims and an experience of wood
rims in the English climate had taught him to hate them. That,
however, and one or two other objections to an immediate start
were overruled by Laurier. "But where IS the President?" Bert
repeated as they stood behind Logan while he pumped up a deflated
Laurier looked down on him. "He is reported in the neighbourhood
of Albany--out towards the Berkshire Hills. He is moving from
place to place and, as far as he can, organising the defence by
telegraph and telephones The Asiatic air-fleet is trying to
locate him. When they think they have located the seat of
government, they throw bombs. This inconveniences him, but so
far they have not come within ten miles of him. The Asiatic
air-fleet is at present scattered all over the Eastern States,
seeking out and destroying gas-works and whatever seems conducive
to the building of airships or the transport of troops. Our
retaliatory measures are slight in the extreme. But with these
machines--Sir, this ride of ours will count among the historical
rides of the world!"
He came near to striking an attitude. "We shan't get to him
to-night?" asked Bert.
"No, sir!" said Laurier. "We shall have to ride some days,
"And suppose we can.'t get a lift on a train--or anything?"
"No, sir! There's been no transit by Tanooda for three days.
It is no good waiting. We shall have to get on as well as we
"Startin' now?
"Starting now!"
"But 'ow about--We shan't be able to do much to-night."
"May as well ride till we're fagged and sleep then. So much
clear gain. Our road is eastward."
"Of course," began Bert, with memories of the dawn upon Goat
Island, and left his sentence unfinished.
He gave his attention to the more scientific packing of the
chest-protector, for several of the plans flapped beyond his
For a week Bert led a life of mixed sensations. Amidst these
fatigue in the legs predominated. Mostly he rode, rode with
Laurier's back inexorably ahead, through a land like a larger
England, with bigger hills and wider valleys, larger fields,
wider roads, fewer hedges, and wooden houses with commodious
piazzas. He rode. Laurier made inquiries, Laurier chose the
turnings, Laurier doubted, Laurier decided. Now it seemed they
were in telephonic touch with the President; now something had
happened and he was lost again. But always they had to go on,
and always Bert rode. A tyre was deflated. Still he rode. He
grew saddle sore. Laurier declared that unimportant. Asiatic
flying ships passed overhead, the two cyclists made a dash for
cover until the sky was clear. Once a red Asiatic flying-machine
came fluttering after them, so low they could distinguish the
aeronaut's head. He followed them for a mile. Now they came to
regions of panic, now to regions of destruction; here people were
fighting for food, here they seemed hardly stirred from the
countryside routine. They spent a day in a deserted and damaged
Albany. The Asiatics had descended and cut every wire and made a
cinder-heap of the Junction, and our travellers pushed on
eastward. They passed a hundred half-heeded incidents, and
always Bert was toiling after Laurier's indefatigable back....
Things struck upon Bert's attention and perplexed him, and then
he passed on with unanswered questionings fading from his mind.
He saw a large house on fire on a hillside to the right, and no
man heeding it....
They came to a narrow railroad bridge and presently to a
mono-rail train standing in the track on its safety feet. It was
a remarkably sumptuous train, the Last Word Trans-Continental
Express, and the passengers were all playing cards or sleeping or
preparing a picnic meal on a grassy slope near at hand. They had
been there six days....
At one point ten dark-complexioned men were hanging in a string
from the trees along the roadside. Bert wondered why....
At one peaceful-looking village where they stopped off to get
Bert's tyre mended and found beer and biscuits, they were
approached by an extremely dirty little boy without boots, who
spoke as follows:--
"Deyse been hanging a Chink in dose woods!"
"Hanging a Chinaman?" said Laurier.
"Sure. Der sleuths got him rubberin' der rail-road sheds!"
"Dose guys done wase cartridges. Deyse hung him and dey pulled
his legs. Deyse doin' all der Chinks dey can fine dat weh! Dey
ain't takin' no risks. All der Chinks dey can fine."
Neither Bert nor Laurier made any reply, and presently, after a
little skilful expectoration, the young gentleman was attracted
by the appearance of two of his friends down the road and
shuffled off, whooping weirdly....
That afternoon they almost ran over a man shot through the body
and partly decomposed, lying near the middle of the road, just
outside Albany. He must have been lying there for some days....
Beyond Albany they came upon a motor car with a tyre burst and a
young woman sitting absolutely passive beside the driver's seat.
An old man was under the car trying to effect some impossible
repairs. Beyond, sitting with a rifle across his knees, with
his back to the car, and staring into the woods, was a young man.
The old man crawled out at their approach and still on all-fours
accosted Bert and Laurier. The car had broken down overnight.
The old man, said he could not understand what was wrong, but he
was trying to puzzle it out. Neither he nor his son-in-law had
any mechanical aptitude. They had been assured this was a
fool-proof car. It was dangerous to have to stop in this place.
The party had been attacked by tramps and had had to fight. It
was known they had provisions. He mentioned a great name in the
world of finance. Would Laurier and Bert stop and help him? He
proposed it first hopefully, then urgently, at last in tears and
"No!" said Laurier inexorable. "We must go on! We have
something more than a woman to save. We have to save America!"
The girl never stirred.
And once they passed a madman singing.
And at last they found the President hiding in a small saloon
upon the outskirts of a place called Pinkerville on the Hudson,
and gave the plans of the Butteridge machine into his hands.
And now the whole fabric of civilisation was bending and giving,
and dropping to pieces and melting in the furnace of the war.
The stages of the swift and universal collapse of the financial
and scientific civilisation with which the twentieth century
opened followed each other very swiftly, so swiftly that upon the
foreshortened page of history--they seem altogether to overlap.
To begin with, one sees the world nearly at a maximum wealth and
prosperity. To its inhabitants indeed it seemed also at a
maximum of security. When now in retrospect the thoughtful
observer surveys the intellectual history of this time, when one
reads its surviving fragments of literature, its scraps of
political oratory, the few small voices that chance has selected
out of a thousand million utterances to speak to later days, the
most striking thing of all this web of wisdom and error is surely
that hallucination of security. To men living in our present
world state, orderly, scientific and secured, nothing seems so
precarious, so giddily dangerous, as the fabric of the social
order with which the men of the opening of the twentieth century
were content. To us it seems that every institution and
relationship was the fruit of haphazard and tradition and the
manifest sport of chance, their laws each made for some separate
occasion and having no relation to any future needs, their
customs illogical, their education aimless and wasteful. Their
method of economic exploitation indeed impresses a trained and
informed mind as the most frantic and destructive scramble it is
possible to conceive; their credit and monetary system resting on
an unsubstantial tradition of the worthiness of gold, seems a
thing almost fantastically unstable. And they lived in planless
cities, for the most part dangerously congested; their rails and
roads and population were distributed over the earth in the
wanton confusion ten thousand irrevelant considerations had made.
Yet they thought confidently that this was a secure and permanent
progressive system, and on the strength of some three hundred
years of change and irregular improvement answered the doubter
with, "Things always have gone well. We'll worry through!"
But when we contrast the state of man in the opening of the
twentieth century with the condition of any previous period in
his history, then perhaps we may begin to understand something of
that blind confidence. It was not so much a reasoned confidence
as the inevitable consequence of sustained good fortune. By such
standards as they possessed, things HAD gone amazingly well for
them. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that for the first
time in history whole populations found themselves regularly
supplied with more than enough to eat, and the vital statistics
of the time witness to an amelioration of hygienic conditions
rapid beyond all precedent, and to a vast development of
intelligence and ability in all the arts that make life
wholesome. The level and quality of the average education had
risen tremendously; and at the dawn of the twentieth century
comparatively few people in Western Europe or America were unable
to read or write. Never before had there been such reading
masses. There was wide social security. A common man might
travel safely over three-quarters of the habitable globe, could
go round the earth at a cost of less than the annual earnings of
a skilled artisan. Compared with the liberality and comfort of
the ordinary life of the time, the order of the Roman Empire
under the Antonines was local and limited. And every year, every
month, came some new increment to human achievement, a new
country opened up, new mines, new scientific discoveries, a new
For those three hundred years, indeed, the movement of the world
seemed wholly beneficial to mankind. Men said, indeed, that
moral organisation was not keeping pace with physical progress,
but few attached any meaning to these phrases, the understanding
of which lies at the basis of our present safety. Sustaining and
constructive forces did indeed for a time more than balance the
malign drift of chance and the natural ignorance, prejudice,
blind passion, and,wasteful self-seeking of mankind.
The accidental balance on the side of Progress was far slighter
and infinitely more complex and delicate in its adjustments than
the people of that time suspected; but that did not alter the
fact that it was an effective balance. They did not realise that
this age of relative good fortune was an age of immense but
temporary opportunity for their kind. They complacently assumed
a necessary progress towards which they had no moral
responsibility. They did not realise that this security of
progress was a thing still to be won--or lost, and that the time
to win it was a time that passed. They went about their affairs
energetically enough and yet with a curious idleness towards
those threatening things. No one troubled over the real dangers
of mankind. They, saw their armies and navies grow larger and
more portentous; some of their ironclads at the last cost as much
as the whole annual expenditure upon advanced education; they
accumulated explosives and the machinery of destruction; they
allowed their national traditions and jealousies to accumulate;
they contemplated a steady enhancement of race hostility as the
races drew closer without. concern or understanding, and they
permitted the growth in their midst of an evil-spirited press,
mercenary, and unscrupulous, incapable of good, and powerful for
evil. The State had practically no control over the press at
all. Quite heedlessly they allowed thistouch-paper to lie at the
door of their war magazine for any spark to fire. The precedents
of history were all one tale of the collapse of civilisations,
the dangers of the time were manifest. One is incredulous now to
believe they could not see.
Could mankind have prevented this disaster of the War in the Air?
An idle question that, as idle as to ask could mankind have
prevented the decay that turned Assyria and Babylon to empty
deserts or the slow decline and fall, the gradual social
disorganisation, phase by phase, that closed the chapter of the
Empire of the West! They could not, because they did not, they
had not the will to arrest it. What mankind could achieve with a
different will is a speculation as idle as it is magnificent.
And this was no slow decadence that came to the Europeanised
world; those other civilisations rotted and crumbled down, the
Europeanised civilisation was, as it were, blown up. Within the
space of five years it was altogether disintegrated and
destroyed. Up to the very eve of the War in the Air one sees a
spacious spectacle of incessant advance, a world-wide security,
enormous areas with highly organised industry and settled
populations, gigantic cities spreading gigantically, the seas and
oceans dotted with shipping, the land netted with rails, and open
ways. Then suddenly the German air-fleets sweep across the
scene, and we are in the beginning of the end.
This story has already told of the swift rush upon New York of
the first German air-fleet and of the wild, inevitable orgy of
inconclusive destruction that ensued. Behind it a second
air-fleet was already swelling at its gasometers when England and
France and Spain and Italy showed their hands. None of these
countries had prepared for aeronautic warfare on the magnificent
scale of the Germans, but each guarded secrets, each in a measure
was making ready, and a common dread of German vigour and that
aggressive spirit Prince Karl Albert embodied, had long been
drawing these powers together in secret anticipation of some such
attack. This rendered their prompt co-operation possible, and
they certainly co-operated promptly. The second aerial power in
Europe at this time was France; the British, nervous for their
Asiatic empire, and sensible of the immense moral effect of the
airship upon half-educated populations, had placed their
aeronautic parks in North India, and were able to play but a
subordinate part in the European conflict. Still, even in
England they had nine or ten big navigables, twenty or thirty
smaller ones, and a variety of experimental aeroplanes. Before
the fleet of Prince Karl Albert had crossed England, while Bert
was still surveying Manchester in bird's-eye view, the diplomatic
exchanges were going on that led to an attack upon Germany. A
heterogeneous collection of navigable balloons of all sizes and
types gathered over the Bernese Oberland, crushed and burnt the
twenty-five Swiss air-ships' that unexpectedly resisted this
concentration in the battle of the Alps, and then, leaving the
Alpine glaciers and valleys strewn with strange wreckage, divided
into two fleets and set itself to terrorise Berlin and destroy
the Franconian Park, seeking to do this before the second
air-fleet could be inflated.
Both over Berlin and Franconia the assailants with their modern
explosives effected great damage before they were driven off. In
Franconia twelve fully distended and five partially filled and
manned giants were able to make head against and at last, with
the help of a squadron of drachenflieger from Hamburg, defeat and
pursue the attack and to relieve Berlin, and the Germans were
straining every nerve to get an overwhelming fleet in the air,
and were already raiding London and Paris when the advance fleets
from the Asiatic air-parks, the first intimation of a new factor
in the conflict, were reported from Burmah and Armenia.
Already the whole financial fabric of the world was staggering
when that occurred. With the destruction of the American fleet
in the North Atlantic, and the smashing conflict that ended the
naval existence of Germany in the North Sea, with the burning and
wrecking of billions of pounds' worth of property in the four
cardinal cities of the world, the fact of the hopeless costliness
of war came home for the first time, came, like a blow in the
face, to the consciousness of mankind. Credit went down in a
wild whirl of selling. Everywhere appeared a phenomenon that had
already in a mild degree manifested itself in preceding periods
of panic; a desire to SECURE AND HOARD GOLD before prices reached
bottom. But now it spread like wild-fire, it became universal.
Above was visible conflict and destruction; below something was
happening far more deadly and incurable to the flimsy fabric of
finance and commercialism in which men had so blindly put their
trust. As the airships fought above, the visible gold supply of
the world vanished below. An epidemic of private cornering and
universal distrust swept the world. In a few weeks, money,
except for depreciated paper, vanished into vaults, into holes,
into the walls of houses, into ten million hiding-places. Money
vanished, and at its disappearance trade and industry came to an
end. The economic world staggered and fell dead. It was like
the stroke of some disease it was like the water vanishing out of
the blood of a living creature; it was a sudden, universal
coagulation of intercourse....
And as the credit system, that had been the living fortress of
the scientific civilisation, reeled and fell upon the millions it
had held together in economic relationship, as these people,
perplexed and helpless, faced this marvel of credit utterly
destroyed, the airships of Asia, countless and relentless, poured
across the heavens, swooped eastward to America and westward to
Europe. The page of history becomes a long crescendo of battle.
The main body of the British-Indian air-fleet perished upon a
pyre of blazing antagonists in Burmah; the Germans were scattered
in the great battle of the Carpathians; the vast peninsula of
India burst into insurrection and civil war from end to end, and
from Gobi to Morocco rose the standards of the "Jehad." For some
weeks of warfare and destruction it seemed as though the
Confederation of Eastern Asia must needs conquer the world, and
then the jerry-built "modern" civilisation of China too gave way
under the strain. The teeming and peaceful population of China
had been "westernised" during the opening years of the twentieth
century with the deepest resentment and reluctance; they had
been dragooned and disciplined under Japanese and
European--influence into an acquiescence with sanitary methods,
police controls, military service, and wholesale process of
exploitation against which their whole tradition rebelled. Under
the stresses of the war their endurance reached the breaking
point, the whole of China rose in incoherent revolt, and the
practical destruction of the central government at Pekin by a
handful of British and German airships that had escaped from the
main battles rendered that revolt invincible. In Yokohama
appeared barricades, the black flag and the social revolution.
With that the whole world became a welter of conflict.
So that a universal social collapse followed, as it were a
logical consequence, upon world-wide war. Wherever there were
great populations, great masses of people found themselves
without work, without money, and unable to get food. Famine was
in every working-class quarter in the world within three weeks of
the beginning of the war. Within a month there was not a city
anywhere in which the ordinary law and social procedure had not
been replaced by some form of emergency control, in which
firearms and military executions were not being used to keep
order and prevent violence. And still in the poorer quarters,
and in the populous districts, and even here and there already
among those who had been wealthy, famine spread.
So what historians have come to call the Phase of the Emergency
Committees sprang from the opening phase and from the phase of
social collapse. Then followed a period of vehement and
passionate conflict against disintegration; everywhere the
struggle to keep order and to keep fighting went on. And at the
same time the character of the war altered through the
replacement of the huge gas-filled airships by flying-machines as
the instruments of war. So soon as the big fleet engagements
were over, the Asiatics endeavoured to establish in close
proximity to the more vulnerable points of the countries against
which they were acting, fortified centres from which
flying-machine raids could be made. For a time they had
everything their own way in this, and then, as this story has
told, the lost secret of the Butteridge machine came to light,
and the conflict became equalized and less conclusive than ever.
For these small flying-machines, ineffectual for any large
expedition or conclusive attack, were horribly convenient for
guerilla warfare, rapidly and cheaply made, easily used, easily
hidden. The design of them was hastily copied and printed in
Pinkerville and scattered broadcast over the United States and
copies were sent to Europe, and there reproduced. Every man,
every town, every parish that could, was exhorted to make and use
them. In a little while they were being constructed not only by
governments and local authorities, but by robber bands, by
insurgent committees, by every type of private person. The
peculiar social destructiveness of the Butteridge machine lay in
its complete simplicity. It was nearly as simple as a
motor-bicycle. The broad outlines of the earlier stages of the
war disappeared under its influence, the spacious antagonism of
nations and empires and races vanished in a seething mass of
detailed conflict. The world passed at a stride from a unity and
simplicity broader than that of the Roman Empire at its best, to
as social fragmentation as complete as the robber-baron period of
the Middle Ages. But this time, for a long descent down gradual
slopes of disintegration, comes a fall like a fall over a cliff.
Everywhere were men and women perceiving this and struggling
desperately to keep as it were a hold upon the edge of the cliff.
A fourth phase follows. Through the struggle against Chaos, in
the wake of the Famine, came now another old enemy of humanity--
the Pestilence, the Purple Death. But the war does not pause.
The flags still fly. Fresh air-fleets rise, new forms of
airship, and beneath their swooping struggles the world
darkens--scarcely heeded by history.
It is not within the design of this book to tell what further
story, to tell how the War in the Air kept on through the sheer
inability of any authorities to meet and agree and end it, until
every organised government in the world was as shattered and
broken as a heap of china beaten with a stick. With every week
of those terrible years history becomes more detailed and
confused, more crowded and uncertain. Not without great and
heroic resistance was civilisation borne down. Out of the bitter
social conflict below rose patriotic associations, brotherhoods
of order, city mayors, princes, provisional committees, trying to
establish an order below and to keep the sky above. The double
effort destroyed them. And as the exhaustion of the mechanical
resources of civilisation clears the heavens of airships at last
altogether, Anarchy, Famine and Pestilence are discovered
triumphant below. The great nations and empires have become but
names in the mouths of men. Everywhere there are ruins and
unburied dead, and shrunken, yellow-faced survivors in a mortal
apathy. Here there are robbers, here vigilance committees, and
here guerilla bands ruling patches of exhausted territory,
strange federations and brotherhoods form and dissolve, and
religious fanaticisms begotten of despair gleam in famine-bright
eyes. It is a universal dissolution. The fine order and welfare
of the earth have crumpled like an exploded bladder. In five
short years the world and the scope of human life have undergone
a retrogressive change as great as that between the age of the
Antonines and the Europe of the ninth century....
Across this sombre spectacle of disaster goes a minute and
insignificant person for whom perhaps the readers of this story
have now some slight solicitude. Of him there remains to be told
just one single and miraculous thing. Through a world darkened
and lost, through a civilisation in its death agony, our little
Cockney errant went and found his Edna! He found his Edna!
He got back across the Atlantic partly by means of an order from
the President and partly through his own good luck. He contrived
to get himself aboard a British brig in the timber trade that put
out from Boston without cargo, chiefly, it would seem, because
its captain had a vague idea of "getting home" to South Shields.
Bert was able to ship himself upon her mainly because of the
seamanlike appearance of his rubber boots. They had a long,
eventful voyage; they were chased, or imagined themselves to be
chased, for some hours by an Asiatic ironclad, which was
presently engaged by a British cruiser. The two ships fought for
three hours, circling and driving southward as they fought, until
the twilight and the cloud-drift of a rising gale swallowed them
up. A few days later Bert's ship lost her rudder and mainmast in
a gale. The crew ran out of food and subsisted on fish. They
saw strange air-ships going eastward near the Azores and landed
to get provisions and repair the rudder at Teneriffe. There they
found the town destroyed and two big liners, with dead still
aboard, sunken in the harbour. From there they got canned food
and material for repairs, but their operations were greatly
impeded by the hostility of a band of men amidst the ruins of the
town, who sniped them and tried to drive them away.
At Mogador, they stayed and sent a boat ashore for water, and
were nearly captured by an Arab ruse. Here too they got the
Purple Death aboard, and sailed with it incubating in their
blood. The cook sickened first, and then the mate, and presently
every one was down and three in the forecastle were dead. It
chanced to be calm weather, and they drifted helplessly and
indeed careless of their fate backwards towards the Equator. The
captain doctored them all with rum. Nine died all together, and
of the four survivors none understood navigation; when at last
they took heart again and could handle a sail, they made a course
by the stars roughly northward and were already short of food
once more when they fell in with a petrol-driven ship from Rio to
Cardiff, shorthanded by reason of the Purple Death and glad to
take them aboard. So at,last, after a year of wandering Bert
reached England. He landed in bright June weather, and found the
Purple Death was there just beginning its ravages.
The people were in a state of panic in Cardiff and many had fled
to the hills, and directly the steamer came to the harbour she
was boarded and her residue of food impounded by some
unauthenticated Provisional Committee. Bert tramped through a
country disorganised by pestilence, foodless, and shaken to the
very base of its immemorial order. He came near death and
starvation many times, and once he was drawn into scenes of
violence that might have ended his career. But the Bert
Smallways who tramped from Cardiff to London vaguely "going
home," vaguely seeking something of his own that had no tangible
form but Edna, was a very different person from the Desert
Dervish who was swept out of England in Mr. Butteridge's balloon
a year before. He was brown and lean and enduring, steady-eyed
and pestilence-salted, and his mouth, which had once hung open,
shut now like a steel trap. Across his brow ran a white scar
that he had got in a fight on the brig. In Cardiff he had felt
the need of new clothes and a weapon, and had, by means that
would have shocked him a year ago, secured a flannel shirt, a
corduroy suit, and a revolver and fifty cartridges from an
abandoned pawnbroker's. He also got some soap and had his first
real wash for thirteen months in a stream outside the town. The
Vigilance bands that had at first shot plunderers very freely
were now either entirely dispersed by the plague, or busy between
town and cemetery in a vain attempt to keep pace with it. He
prowled on the outskirts of the town for three or four days,
starving, and then went back to join the Hospital Corps for a
week, and so fortified himself with a few square meals before he
started eastward.
The Welsh and English countryside at that time presented the
strangest mingling of the assurance and wealth of the opening
twentieth century with a sort of Dureresque medievalism. All the
gear, the houses and mono-rails, the farm hedges and power
cables, the roads and pavements, the sign-posts and
advertisements of the former order were still for the most part
intact. Bankruptcy, social collapse, famine, and pestilence had
done nothing to damage these, and it was only to the great
capitals and ganglionic centres, as it were, of this State, that
positive destruction had come. Any one dropped suddenly into the
country would have noticed very little difference. He would have
remarked first, perhaps, that all the hedges needed clipping,
that the roadside grass grew rank, that the road-tracks were
unusually rainworn, and that the cottages by the wayside seemed
in many cases shut up, that a telephone wire had dropped here,
and that a cart stood abandoned by the wayside. But he would
still find his hunger whetted by the bright assurance that
Wilder's Canned Peaches were excellent, or that there was nothing
so good for the breakfast table as Gobble's Sausages. And then
suddenly would come the Dureresque element; the skeleton of a
horse, or some crumpled mass of rags in the ditch, with gaunt
extended feet and a yellow, purple-blotched skin and face, or
what had been a face, gaunt and glaring and devastated. Then
here would be a field that had been ploughed and not sown, and
here a field of corn carelessly trampled by beasts, and here a
hoarding torn down across the road to make a fire.
Then presently he would meet a man or a woman, yellow-faced and
probably negligently dressed and armed--prowling for food. These
people would have the complexions and eyes and expressions of
tramps or criminals, and often the clothing of prosperous
middle-class or upper-class people. Many of these would be eager
for news, and willing to give help and even scraps of queer
meat, or crusts of grey and doughy bread, in return for it. They
would listen to Bert's story with avidity, and attempt to keep
him with them for a day or so. The virtual cessation of postal
distribution and the collapse of all newspaper enterprise had
left an immense and aching gap in the mental life of this time.
Men had suddenly lost sight of the ends of the earth and had
still to recover the rumour-spreading habits of the Middle Ages.
In their eyes, in their bearing, in their talk, was the quality
of lost and deoriented souls.
As Bert travelled from parish to parish, and from district to
district, avoiding as far as possible those festering centres of
violence and despair, the larger towns, he found the condition
of affairs varying widely. In one parish he would find the large
house burnt, the vicarage wrecked, evidently in violent conflict
for some suspected and perhaps imaginary store of food unburied
dead everywhere, and the whole mechanism of the community at a
standstill. In another he would find organising forces stoutly
at work, newly-painted notice boards warning off vagrants, the
roads and still cultivated fields policed by armed men, the
pestilence under control, even nursing going on, a store of food
husbanded, the cattle and sheep well guarded, and a group of two
or three justices, the village doctor or a farmer, dominating the
whole place; a reversion, in fact, to the autonomous community of
the fifteenth century. But at any time such a village would be
liable to a raid of Asiatics or Africans or such-like
air-pirates, demanding petrol and alcohol or provisions. The
price of its order was an almost intolerable watchfulness and
Then the approach to the confused problems of some larger centre
of population and the presence of a more intricate conflict would
be marked by roughly smeared notices of "Quarantine" or
"Strangers Shot," or by a string of decaying plunderers dangling
from the telephone poles at the roadside. About Oxford big
boards were put on the roofs warning all air wanderers off with
the single word, "Guns."
Taking their risks amidst these things, cyclists still kept
abroad, and once or twice during Bert's long tramp powerful motor
cars containing masked and goggled figures went tearing past him.
There were few police in evidence, but ever and again squads of
gaunt and tattered soldier-cyclists would come drifting along,
and such encounters became more frequent as he got out of Wales
into England. Amidst all this wreckage they were still
campaigning. He had had some idea of resorting to the workhouses
for the night if hunger pressed him too closely, but some of
these were closed and others converted into temporary hospitals,
and one he came up to at twilight near a village in
Gloucestershire stood with all its doors and windows open, silent
as the grave, and, as he found to his horror by stumbling along
evil-smelling corridors, full of unburied dead.
From Gloucestershire Bert went northward to the British
aeronautic park outside Birmingham, in the hope that he might be
taken on and given food, for there the Government, or at any rate
the War Office, still existed as an energetic fact, concentrated
amidst collapse and social disaster upon the effort to keep the
British flag still flying in the air, and trying to brisk up
mayor and mayor and magistrate and magistrate in a new effort of
organisation. They had brought together all the best of the
surviving artisans from that region, they had provisioned the
park for a siege, and they were urgently building a larger type
of Butteridge machine. Bert could get no footing at this work:
he was not sufficiently skilled, and he had drifted to Oxford
when the great fight occurred in which these works were finally
wrecked. He saw something, but not very much, of the battle from
a place called Boar Hill. He saw the Asiatic squadron coming up
across the hills to the south-west, and he saw one of their
airships circling southward again chased by two aeroplanes, the
one that was ultimately overtaken, wrecked and burnt at Edge
Hill. But he never learnt the issue of the combat as a whole.
He crossed the Thames from Eton to Windsor and made his way round
the south of London to Bun Hill, and there he found his brother
Tom, looking like some dark, defensive animal in the old shop,
just recovering from the Purple Death, and Jessica upstairs
delirious, and, as it seemed to him, dying grimly. She raved of
sending out orders to customers, and scolded Tom perpetually lest
he should be late with Mrs. Thompson's potatoes and Mrs. Hopkins'
cauliflower, though all business had long since ceased and Tom
had developed a quite uncanny skill in the snaring of rats and
sparrows and the concealment of certain stores of cereals and
biscuits from plundered grocers' shops. Tom received his brother
with a sort of guarded warmth.
"Lor!" he said, "it's Bert. I thought you'd be coming back some
day, and I'm glad to see you. But I carn't arst you to eat
anything, because I 'aven't got anything to eat.... Where you
been, Bert, all this time?"
Bert reassured his brother by a glimpse of a partly eaten swede,
and was still telling his story in fragments and parentheses,
when he discovered behind the counter a yellow and forgotten note
addressed to himself. "What's this?" he said, and found it was a
year-old note from Edna. "She came 'ere," said Tom, like one who
recalls a trivial thing, "arstin' for you and arstin' us to take
'er in. That was after the battle and settin' Clapham Rise
afire. I was for takin' 'er in, but Jessica wouldn't 'ave
it--and so she borrowed five shillings of me quiet like and went
on. I dessay she's tole you--"
She had, Bert found. She had gone on, she said in her note, to
an aunt and uncle who had a brickfield near Horsham. And there
at last, after another fortnight of adventurous journeying, Bert
found her.
When Bert and Edna set eyes on one another, they stared and
laughed foolishly, so changed they were, and so ragged and
surprised. And then they both fell weeping.
"Oh! Bertie, boy!" she cried. "You've come--you've come!" and
put out her arms and staggered. "I told 'im. He said he'd kill
me if I didn't marry him."
But Edna was not married, and when presently Bert could get talk
from her, she explained the task before him. That little patch
of lonely agricultural country had fallen under the power of a
band of bullies led by a chief called Bill Gore who had begun
life as a butcher boy and developed into a prize-fighter and a
professional sport. They had been organised by a local nobleman
of former eminence upon the turf, but after a time he had
disappeared, no one quite knew how and Bill had succeeded to the
leadership of the countryside, and had developed his teacher's
methods with considerable vigour. There had been a strain of
advanced philosophy about the local nobleman, and his mind ran to
"improving the race" and producing the Over-Man, which in
practice took the form of himself especially and his little band
in moderation marrying with some frequency. Bill followed up the
idea with an enthusiasm that even trenched upon his popularity
with his followers. One day he had happened upon Edna tending
her pigs, and had at once fallen a-wooing with great urgency
among the troughs of slush. Edna had made a gallant resistance,
but he was still vigorously about and extraordinarily impatient.
He might, she said, come at any time, and she looked Bert in the
eyes. They were back already in the barbaric stage when a man
must fight for his love.
And here one deplores the conflicts of truth with the chivalrous
tradition. One would like to tell of Bert sallying forth to
challenge his rival, of a ring formed and a spirited encounter,
and Bert by some miracle of pluck and love and good fortune
winning. But indeed nothing of the sort occurred. Instead, he
reloaded his revolver very carefully, and then sat in the best
room of the cottage by the derelict brickfield, looking anxious
and perplexed, and listening to talk about Bill and his ways, and
thinking, thinking. Then suddenly Edna's aunt, with a thrill in
her voice, announced the appearance of that individual. He was
coming with two others of his gang through the garden gate. Bert
got up, put the woman aside, and looked out. They presented
remarkable figures. They wore a sort of uniform of red golfing
jackets and white sweaters, football singlet, and stockings and
boots and each had let his fancy play about his head-dress. Bill
had a woman's hat full of cock's feathers, and all had wild,
slouching cowboy brims.
Bert sighed and stood up, deeply thoughtful, and Edna watched
him, marvelling. The women stood quite still. He left the
window, and went out into the passage rather slowly, and with the
careworn expression of a man who gives his mind to a complex and
uncertain business. "Edna!" he called, and when she came he
opened the front door.
He asked very simply, and pointing to the foremost of the three,
"That 'im? ... Sure?" ... and being told that it was, shot his
rival instantly and very accurately through the chest. He then
shot Bill's best man much less tidily in the head, and then shot
at and winged the third man as he fled. The third gentleman
yelped, and continued running with a comical end-on twist.
Then Bert stood still meditating, with the pistol in his hand,
and quite regardless of the women behind him.
So far things had gone well.
It became evident to him that if he did not go into politics at
once, he would be hanged as an assassin and accordingly, and
without a word to the women, he went down to the village
public-house he had passed an hour before on his way to Edna,
entered it from the rear, and confronted the little band of
ambiguous roughs, who were drinking in the tap-room and
discussing matrimony and Bill's affection in a facetious but
envious manner, with a casually held but carefully reloaded
revolver, and an invitation to join what he called, I regret to
say, a "Vigilance Committee" under his direction. "It's wanted
about 'ere, and some of us are gettin' it up." He presented
himself as one having friends outside, though indeed, he had no
friends at all in the world but Edna and her aunt and two female
There was a quick but entirely respectful discussion of the
situation. They thought him a lunatic who had tramped into, this
neighbourhood ignorant of Bill. They desired to temporise until
their leader came. Bill would settle him. Some one spoke of
"Bill's dead, I jest shot 'im," said Bert. "We don't need reckon
with 'IM. 'E's shot, and a red-'aired chap with a squint, 'E'S
shot. We've settled up all that. There ain't going to be no more
Bill, ever. 'E'd got wrong ideas about marriage and things. It's
'is sort of chap we're after."
That carried the meeting.
Bill was perfunctorily buried, and Bert's Vigilance Committee
(for so it continued to be called) reigned in his stead.
That is the end of this story so far as Bert Smallways is
concerned. We leave him with his Edna to become squatters among
the clay and oak thickets of the Weald, far away from the stream
of events. From that time forth life became a succession of
peasant encounters, an affair of pigs and hens and small needs
and little economies and children, until Clapham and Bun Hill and
all the life of the Scientific Age became to Bert no more than
the fading memory of a dream. He never knew how the War in the
Air went on, nor whether it still went on. There were rumours of
airships going and coming, and of happenings Londonward. Once or
twice their shadows fell on him as he worked, but whence they
came or whither they went he could not tell. Even his desire to
tell died out for want of food. At times came robbers and
thieves, at times came diseases among the beasts and shortness of
food, once the country was worried by a pack of boar-hounds he
helped to kill; he went through many inconsecutive, irrelevant
adventures. He survived them all.
Accident and death came near them both ever and again and passed
them by, and they loved and suffered and were happy, and she bore
him many children--eleven children--one after the other, of whom
only four succumbed to the necessary hardships of their simple
life. They lived and did well, as well was understood in those
days. They went the way of all flesh, year by year.
It happened that one bright summer's morning exactly thirty years
after the launching of the first German air-fleet, an old man
took a small boy to look for a missing hen through the ruins of
Bun Hill and out towards the splintered pinnacles of the Crystal
Palace. He was not a very old man; he was, as a matter of fact,
still within a few weeks of sixty-three, but constant stooping
over spades and forks and the carrying of roots and manure, and
exposure to the damps of life in the open-air without a change of
clothing, had bent him into the form of a sickle. Moreover, he
had lost most of his teeth and that had affected his digestion
and through that his skin and temper. In face and expression he
was curiously like that old Thomas Smallways who had once been
coachman to Sir Peter Bone, and this was just as it should be,
for he was Tom Smallways the son, who formerly kept the little
green-grocer's shop under the straddle of the mono-rail viaduct
in the High Street of Bun Hill. But now there were no
green-grocer's shops, and Tom was living in one of the derelict
villas hard by that unoccupied building site that had been and
was still the scene of his daily horticulture. He and his wife
lived upstairs, and in the drawing and dining rooms, which had
each French windows opening on the lawn, and all about the ground
floor generally, Jessica, who was now a lean and lined and
baldish but still very efficient and energetic old woman, kept
her three cows and a multitude of gawky hens. These two were
part of a little community of stragglers and returned fugitives,
perhaps a hundred and fifty souls of them all together, that had
settled down to the new conditions of things after the Panic and
Famine and Pestilence that followed in the wake of the War. They
had come back from strange refuges and hiding-places and had
squatted down among the familiar houses and begun that hard
struggle against nature for food which was now the chief interest
of their lives. They were by sheer preoccupation with that a
peaceful people, more particularly after Wilkes, the house agent,
driven by some obsolete dream of acquisition, had been drowned in
the pool by the ruined gas-works for making inquiries into title
and displaying a litigious turn of mind. (He had not been
murdered, you understand, but the people had carried an exemplary
ducking ten minutes or so beyond its healthy limits.)
This little community had returned from its original habits of
suburban parasitism to what no doubt had been the normal life of
humanity for nearly immemorial years, a life of homely economies
in the most intimate, contact with cows and hens and patches of
around, a life that breathes and exhales the scent of cows and
finds the need for stimulants satisfied by the activity of the
bacteria and vermin it engenders. Such had been the life of the
European peasant from the dawn of history to the beginning of the
Scientific Era, so it was the large majority of the people of
Asia and Africa had always been wont to live. For a time it had
seemed that, by virtue of machines, and scientific civilisation,
Europe was to be lifted out of this perpetual round of animal
drudgery, and that America was to evade it very largely from the
outset. And with the smash of the high and dangerous and
splendid edifice of mechanical civilisation that had arisen so
marvellously, back to the land came the common man, back to the
The little communities, still haunted by ten thousand memories
of a greater state, gathered and developed almost tacitly a
customary law and fell under the guidance of a medicine man or a
priest. The world rediscovered religion and the need of
something to hold its communities together. At Bun Hill this
function was entrusted to on old Baptist minister. He taught a
simple but adequate faith. In his teaching a good principle
called the Word fought perpetually against a diabolical female
influence called the Scarlet Woman and an evil being called
Alcohol. This Alcohol had long since become a purely
spiritualised conception deprived of any element of material
application; it had no relation to the occasional finds of
whiskey and wine in Londoners' cellars that gave Bun Hill its
only holidays. He taught this doctrine on Sundays, and on
weekdays he was an amiable and kindly old man, distinguished by
his quaint disposition to wash his hands, and if possible his
face, daily, and with a wonderful genius for cutting up pigs. He
held his Sunday services in the old church in the Beckenham Road,
and then the countryside came out in a curious reminiscence of
the urban dress of Edwardian times. All the men without
exception wore frock coats, top hats, and white shirts, though
many had no boots. Tom was particularly distinguished on these
occasions because he wore a top hat with gold lace about it and a
green coat and trousers that he had found upon a skeleton in the
basement of the Urban and District Bank. The women, even
Jessica, came in jackets and immense hats extravagantly trimmed
with artificial flowers and exotic birds' feather's--of which
there were abundant supplies in the shops to the north--and the
children (there were not many children, because a large
proportion of the babies born in Bun Hill died in a few days'
time of inexplicable maladies) had similar clothes cut down to
accommodate them; even Stringer's little grandson of four wore a
large top hat.
That was the Sunday costume of the Bun Hill district, a curious
and interesting survival of the genteel traditions of the
Scientific Age. On a weekday the folk were dingily and curiously
hung about with dirty rags of housecloth and scarlet flannel,
sacking, curtain serge, and patches of old carpet, and went
either bare-footed or on rude wooden sandals. These people, the
reader must understand, were an urban population sunken back to
the state of a barbaric peasantry, and so without any of the
simple arts a barbaric peasantry would possess. In many ways
they were curiously degenerate and incompetent. They had lost
any idea of making textiles, they could hardly make up clothes
when they had material, and they were forced to plunder the
continually dwindling supplies of the ruins about them for cover.
All the simple arts they had ever known they had lost, and with
the breakdown of modern drainage, modern water supply, shopping,
and the like, their civilised methods were useless. Their
cooking was worse than primitive. It was a feeble muddling with
food over wood fires in rusty drawing-room fireplaces; for the
kitcheners burnt too much. Among them all no sense of baking or
brewing or metal-working was to be found.
Their employment of sacking and such-like coarse material for
work-a-day clothing, and their habit of tying it on with string
and of thrusting wadding and straw inside it for warmth, gave
these people an odd, "packed" appearance, and as it was a
week-day when Tom took his little nephew for the hen-seeking
excursion, so it was they were attired.
"So you've really got to Bun Hill at last, Teddy," said old Tom,
beginning to talk and slackening his pace so soon as they were
out of range of old Jessica. "You're the last of Bert's boys for
me to see. Wat I've seen, young Bert I've seen, Sissie and Matt,
Tom what's called after me, and Peter. The traveller people
brought you along all right, eh?"
"I managed," said Teddy, who was a dry little boy.
"Didn't want to eat you on the way?"
"They was all right," said Teddy. "and on the way near
Leatherhead we saw a man riding on a bicycle."
"My word!" said Tom, "there ain't many of those about nowadays.
Where was he going?"
"Said 'e was going to Dorking if the High Road was good enough.
But I doubt if he got there. All about Burford it was flooded.
We came over the hill, uncle--what they call the Roman Road.
That's high and safe."
"Don't know it," said old Tom. "But a bicycle! You're sure it
was a bicycle? Had two wheels?"
"It was a bicycle right enough."
"Why! I remember a time, Teddy, where there was bicycles no end,
when you could stand just here--the road was as smooth as a board
then--and see twenty or thirty coming and going at the same time,
bicycles and moty-bicycles; moty cars, all sorts of whirly
"No!" said Teddy.
"I do. They'd keep on going by all day,--'undreds and 'undreds."
"But where was they all going?" asked Teddy.
"Tearin' off to Brighton--you never seen Brighton, I expect--it's
down by the sea, used to be a moce 'mazing place--and coming and
going from London."
"They did."
"But why?"
"Lord knows why, Teddy. They did. Then you see that great thing
there like a great big rusty nail sticking up higher than all the
houses, and that one yonder, and that, and how something's fell
in between 'em among the houses. They was parts of the
mono-rail. They went down to Brighton too and all day and night
there was people going, great cars as big as 'ouses full of
The little boy regarded the rusty evidences acrosss the narrow
muddy ditch of cow-droppings that had once been a High Street.
He was clearly disposed to be sceptical, and yet there the ruins
were! He grappled with ideas beyond the strength of his
"What did they go for?" he asked, "all of 'em?"
"They 'AD to. Everything was on the go those days--everything."
"Yes, but where did they come from?"
"All round 'ere, Teddy, there was people living in those 'ouses,
and up the road more 'ouses and more people. You'd 'ardly
believe me, Teddy, but it's Bible truth. You can go on that way
for ever and ever, and keep on coming on 'ouses, more 'ouses, and
more. There's no end to 'em. No end. They get bigger and
bigger." His voice dropped as though he named strange names.
"It's LONDON," he said.
"And it's all empty now and left alone. All day it's left alone.
You don't find 'ardly a man, you won't find nothing but dogs and
cats after the rats until you get round by Bromley and Beckenham,
and there you find the Kentish men herding swine. (Nice rough
lot they are too!) I tell you that so long as the sun is up it's
as still as the grave. I been about by day--orfen and orfen."
He paused.
"And all those 'ouses and streets and ways used to be full of
people before the War in the Air and the Famine and the Purple
Death. They used to be full of people, Teddy, and then came a
time when they was full of corpses, when you couldn't go a mile
that way before the stink of 'em drove you back. It was the
Purple Death 'ad killed 'em every one. The cats and dogs and
'ens and vermin caught it. Everything and every one 'ad it.
Jest a few of us 'appened to live. I pulled through, and your
aunt, though it made 'er lose 'er 'air. Why, you find the
skeletons in the 'ouses now. This way we been into all the
'ouses and took what we wanted and buried moce of the people, but
up that way, Norwood way, there's 'ouses with the glass in the
windows still, and the furniture not touched--all dusty and
falling to pieces--and the bones of the people lying, some in
bed, some about the 'ouse, jest as the Purple Death left 'em
five-and-twenty years ago. I went into one--me and old Higgins
las' year--and there was a room with books, Teddy--you know what
I mean by books, Teddy?"
"I seen 'em. I seen 'em with pictures."
"Well, books all round, Teddy, 'undreds of books, beyond-rhyme or
reason, as the saying goes, green-mouldy and dry. I was for
leaven' 'em alone--I was never much for reading--but ole Higgins
he must touch em. 'I believe I could read one of 'em NOW,' 'e
"'Not it,' I says.
"'I could,' 'e says, laughing and takes one out and opens it.
"I looked, and there, Teddy, was a cullud picture, oh, so lovely!
It was a picture of women and serpents in a garden. I never see
anything like it.
"'This suits me,' said old Higgins, 'to rights.'
"And then kind of friendly he gave the book a pat--
Old Tom Smallways paused impressively.
"And then?" said Teddy.
"It all fell to dus'. White dus'!" He became still more
impressive. "We didn't touch no more of them books that day.
Not after that."
For a long time both were silent. Then Tom, playing with a
subject that attracted him with a fatal fascination, repeated,
"All day long they lie--still as the grave."
Teddy took the point at last. "Don't they lie o' nights?" he
Old Tom shook his head. "Nobody knows, boy, nobody knows."
"But what could they do?"
"Nobody knows. Nobody ain't seen to tell not nobody."
"They tell tales," said old Tom. "They tell tales, but there
ain't no believing 'em. I gets 'ome about sundown, and keeps
indoors, so I can't say nothing, can I? But there's them that
thinks some things and them as thinks others. I've 'eard it's
unlucky to take clo'es off of 'em unless they got white bones.
There's stories--"
The boy watched his uncle sharply. "WOT stories?" he said.
"Stories of moonlight nights and things walking about. But I
take no stock in 'em. I keeps in bed. If you listen to stories
--Lord! You'll get afraid of yourself in a field at midday."
The little boy looked round and ceased his questions for a space.
"They say there's a 'og man in Beck'n'am what was lost in London
three days and three nights. 'E went up after whiskey to
Cheapside, and lorst 'is way among the ruins and wandered. Three
days and three nights 'e wandered about and the streets kep'
changing so's he couldn't get 'ome. If 'e 'adn't remembered some
words out of the Bible 'e might 'ave been there now. All day 'e
went and all night--and all day long it was still. It was as
still as death all day long, until the sunset came and the
twilight thickened, and then it began to rustle and whisper and
go pit-a-pat with a sound like 'urrying feet."
He paused.
"Yes," said the little boy breathlessly. "Go on. What then?"
"A sound of carts and 'orses there was, and a sound of cabs and
omnibuses, and then a lot of whistling, shrill whistles, whistles
that froze 'is marrer. And directly the whistles began things
begun to show, people in the streets 'urrying, people in the
'ouses and shops busying themselves, moty cars in the streets, a
sort of moonlight in all the lamps and winders. People, I say,
Teddy, but they wasn't people. They was the ghosts of them that
was overtook, the ghosts of them that used to crowd those
streets. And they went past 'im and through 'im and never 'eeded
'im, went by like fogs and vapours, Teddy. And sometimes they
was cheerful and sometimes they was 'orrible, 'orrible beyond
words. And once 'e come to a place called Piccadilly, Teddy, and
there was lights blazing like daylight and ladies and gentlemen
in splendid clo'es crowding the pavement, and taxicabs follering
along the road. And as 'e looked, they all went evil--evil in
the face, Teddy. And it seemed to 'im SUDDENLY THEY SAW 'IM, and
the women began to look at 'im and say things to 'im--'orrible--
wicked things. One come very near 'im, Teddy, right up to 'im,
and looked into 'is face--close. And she 'adn't got a face to
look with, only a painted skull, and then 'e see; they was all
painted skulls. And one after another they crowded on 'im saying
'orrible things, and catchin' at 'im and threatenin' and coaxing
'im, so that 'is 'eart near left 'is body for fear."
"Yes," gasped Teddy in an unendurable pause.
"Then it was he remembered the words of Scripture and saved
himself alive. 'The Lord is my 'Elper, 'e says, 'therefore I
will fear nothing,' and straightaway there came a cock-crowing
and the street was empty from end to end. And after that the
Lord was good to 'im and guided 'im 'ome."
Teddy stared and caught at another question. "But who was the
people," he asked, "who lived in all these 'ouses? What was
"Gent'men in business, people with money--leastways we thought it
was money till everything smashed up, and then seemingly it was
jes' paper--all sorts. Why, there was 'undreds of thousands of
them. There was millions. I've seen that 'I Street there
regular so's you couldn't walk along the pavements, shoppin'
time, with women and people shoppin'."
"But where'd they get their food and things?"
"Bort 'em in shops like I used to 'ave. I'll show you the place,
Teddy, if we go back. People nowadays 'aven't no idee of a
shop--no idee. Plate-glass winders--it's all Greek to them.
Why, I've 'ad as much as a ton and a 'arf of petaties to 'andle
all at one time. You'd open your eyes till they dropped out to
see jes' what I used to 'ave in my shop. Baskets of pears 'eaped
up, marrers, apples and pears, d'licious great nuts." His voice
became luscious--"Benanas, oranges."
"What's benanas?" asked the boy, "and Oranges?"
"Fruits they was. Sweet, juicy, d'licious fruits. Foreign
fruits. They brought 'em from Spain and N' York and places. In
ships and things. They brought 'em to me from all over the
world, and I sold 'em in my shop. _I_ sold 'em, Teddy! me what
goes about now with you, dressed up in old sacks and looking for
lost 'ens. People used to come into my shop, great beautiful
ladies like you'd 'ardly dream of now, dressed up to the nines,
and say, 'Well, Mr. Smallways, what you got 'smorning?' and I'd
say, 'Well, I got some very nice C'nadian apples, 'or p'raps I
got custed marrers. See? And they'd buy 'em. Right off they'd
say, 'Send me some up.' Lord! what a life that was. The business
of it, the bussel, the smart things you saw, moty cars going by,
kerridges, people, organ-grinders, German bands. Always
something going past--always. If it wasn't for those empty
'ouses, I'd think it all a dream."
"But what killed all the people, uncle?" asked Teddy.
"It was a smash-up," said old Tom. "Everything was going right
until they started that War. Everything was going like
clock-work. Everybody was busy and everybody was 'appy and
everybody got a good square meal every day."
He met incredulous eyes. "Everybody," he said firmly. "If you
couldn't get it anywhere else, you could get it in the workhuss,
a nice 'ot bowl of soup called skilly, and bread better'n any one
knows 'ow to make now, reg'lar WHITE bread, gov'ment bread."
Teddy marvelled, but said nothing. It made him feel deep
longings that he found it wisest to fight down.
For a time the old man resigned himself to the pleasures of
gustatory reminiscence. His lips moved. "Pickled Sammin!" he
whispered, "an' vinegar.... Dutch cheese, BEER! A pipe of
"But 'OW did the people get killed?" asked Teddy presently.
"There was the War. The War was the beginning of it. The War
banged and flummocked about, but it didn't really KILL many
people. But it upset things. They came and set fire to London
and burnt and sank all the ships there used to be in the Thames--
we could see the smoke and steam for weeks--and they threw a bomb
into the Crystal Palace and made a bust-up, and broke down the
rail lines and things like that. But as for killin' people, it
was just accidental if they did. They killed each other more.
There was a great fight all hereabout one day, Teddy--up in the
air. Great things bigger than fifty 'ouses, bigger than the
Crystal Palace--bigger, bigger than anything, flying about up in
the air and whacking at each other and dead men fallin' off 'em.
T'riffic! But, it wasn't so much the people they killed as the
business they stopped. There wasn't any business doin', Teddy,
there wasn't any money about, and nothin' to buy if you 'ad it."
"But 'ow did the people get KILLED?" said the little boy in the
"I'm tellin' you, Teddy," said the old man. "It was the stoppin'
of business come next. Suddenly there didn't seem to be any
money. There was cheques--they was a bit of paper written on,
and they was jes' as good as money--jes' as good if they come
from customers you knew. Then all of a sudden they wasn't. I
was left with three of 'em and two I'd given' change. Then it got
about that five-pun' notes were no good, and then the silver sort
of went off. Gold you 'couldn't get for love or--anything. The
banks in London 'ad got it, and the banks was all smashed up.
Everybody went bankrup'. Everybody was thrown out of work.
He paused, and scrutinised his hearer. The small boy's
intelligent face expressed hopeless perplexity.
"That's 'ow it 'appened," said old Tom. He sought for some means
of expression. "It was like stoppin' a clock," he said. "Things
were quiet for a bit, deadly quiet, except for the air-ships
fighting about in the sky, and then people begun to get excited.
I remember my lars' customer, the very lars' customer that ever I
'ad. He was a Mr. Moses Gluckstein, a city gent and very
pleasant and fond of sparrowgrass and chokes, and 'e cut in--
there 'adn't been no customers for days--and began to talk very
fast, offerin' me for anything I 'ad, anything, petaties or
anything, its weight in gold. 'E said it was a little
speculation 'e wanted to try. 'E said it was a sort of bet
reely, and very likely 'e'd lose; but never mind that, 'e wanted
to try. 'E always 'ad been a gambler, 'e said. 'E said I'd only
got to weigh it out and 'e'd give me 'is cheque right away.
Well, that led to a bit of a argument, perfect respectful it was,
but a argument about whether a cheque was still good, and while
'e was explaining there come by a lot of these here unemployed
with a great banner they 'ad for every one to read--every one
could read those days--'We want Food.' Three or four of 'em
suddenly turns and comes into my shop.
"'Got any food?' says one.
"'No, I says, 'not to sell. I wish I 'ad. But if I 'ad, I'm
afraid I couldn't let you have it. This gent, 'e's been offerin'
"Mr. Gluckstein 'e tried to stop me, but it was too late.
"'What's 'e been offerin' you?' says a great big chap with a
'atchet; 'what's 'e been offerin you?' I 'ad to tell.
"'Boys,' 'e said, ''ere's another feenancier!' and they took 'im
out there and then, and 'ung 'im on a lam'pose down the street.
'E never lifted a finger to resist. After I tole on 'im 'e never
said a word...."
Tom meditated for a space. "First chap I ever sin 'ung!" he
"Ow old was you?" asked Teddy.
"'Bout thirty," said old Tom.
"Why! I saw free pig-stealers 'ung before I was six," said
Teddy. "Father took me because of my birfday being near. Said I
ought to be blooded...."
"Well, you never saw no-one killed by a moty car, any'ow," said
old Tom after a moment of chagrin. "And you never saw no dead
men carried into a chemis' shop."
Teddy's momentary triumph faded. "No," he said, "I 'aven't."
"Nor won't. Nor won't. You'll never see the things I've seen,
never. Not if you live to be a 'undred... Well, as I was
saying, that's how the Famine and Riotin' began. Then there was
strikes and Socialism, things I never did 'old with, worse and
worse. There was fightin' and shootin' down, and burnin' and
plundering. They broke up the banks up in London and got the
gold, But they couldn't make food out of gold. 'Ow did WE get
on? Well, we kep' quiet. We didn't interfere with no-one and
no-one didn't interfere with us. We 'ad some old 'tatoes about,
but mocely we lived on rats. Ours was a old 'ouse, full of rats,
and the famine never seemed to bother 'em. Orfen we got a rat.
Orfen. But moce of the people who lived hereabouts was too
tender stummicked for rats. Didn't seem to fancy 'em. They'd
been used to all sorts of fallals, and they didn't take to 'onest
feeding, not till it was too late. Died rather.
"It was the famine began to kill people. Even before the Purple
Death came along they was dying like flies at the end of the
summer. 'Ow I remember it all! I was one of the first to 'ave
it. I was out, seein' if I mightn't get 'old of a cat or
somethin', and then I went round to my bit of ground to see
whether I couldn't get up some young turnips I'd forgot, and I
was took something awful. You've no idee the pain, Teddy--it
doubled me up pretty near. I jes' lay down by 'at there corner,
and your aunt come along to look for me and dragged me 'ome like
a sack.
"I'd never 'ave got better if it 'adn't been for your aunt.
'Tom,' she says to me, 'you got to get well,' and I 'AD to. Then
SHE sickened. She sickened but there ain't much dyin' about your
aunt. 'Lor!' she says, 'as if I'd leave you to go muddlin' along
alone!' That's what she says. She's got a tongue, 'as your aunt.
But it took 'er 'air off--and arst though I might, she's never
cared for the wig I got 'er--orf the old lady what was in the
vicarage garden.
"Well, this 'ere Purple Death,--it jes' wiped people out, Teddy.
You couldn't bury 'em. And it took the dogs and the cats too,
and the rats and 'orses. At last every house and garden was full
of dead bodies. London way, you couldn't go for the smell of
there, and we 'ad to move out of the 'I street into that villa we
got. And all the water run short that way. The drains and
underground tunnels took it. Gor' knows where the Purple Death
come from; some say one thing and some another. Some said it
come from eatin' rats and some from eatin' nothin'. Some say the
Asiatics brought it from some 'I place, Thibet, I think, where it
never did nobody much 'arm. All I know is it come after the
Famine. And the Famine come after the Penic and the Penic
come after the War."
Teddy thought. "What made the Purple Death?" he asked.
"'Aven't I tole you!"
"But why did they 'ave a Penic?"
"They 'ad it."
"But why did they start the War?"
"They couldn't stop theirselves. 'Aving them airships made 'em."
"And 'ow did the War end?"
"Lord knows if it's ended, boy," said old Tom. "Lord knows if
it's ended. There's been travellers through 'ere--there was a
chap only two summers ago--say it's goin' on still. They say
there's bands of people up north who keep on with it and people
in Germany and China and 'Merica and places. 'E said they still
got flying-machines and gas and things. But we 'aven't seen
nothin' in the air now for seven years, and nobody 'asn't come
nigh of us. Last we saw was a crumpled sort of airship going
away--over there. It was a littleish-sized thing and lopsided,
as though it 'ad something the matter with it."
He pointed, and came to a stop at a gap in the fence, the
vestiges of the old fence from which, in the company of his
neighbour Mr. Stringer the milkman, he had once watched the South
of England Aero Club's Saturday afternoon ascents. Dim memories,
it may be, of that particular afternoon returned to him.
"There, down there, where all that rus' looks so red and bright,
that's the gas-works."
"What's gas?" asked the little boy.
"Oh, a hairy sort of nothin' what you put in balloons to make
'em go up. And you used to burn it till the 'lectricity come."
The little boy tried vainly to imagine gas on the basis of these
particulars. Then his thoughts reverted to a previous topic.
"But why didn't they end the War?"
"Obstinacy. Everybody was getting 'urt, but everybody was
'urtin' and everybody was 'igh-spirited and patriotic, and so
they smeshed up things instead. They jes' went on smeshin'. And
afterwards they jes' got desp'rite and savige."
"It ought to 'ave ended," said the little boy.
"It didn't ought to 'ave begun," said old Tom, "But people was
proud. People was la-dy-da-ish and uppish and proud. Too much
meat and drink they 'ad. Give in--not them! And after a bit
nobody arst 'em to give in. Nobody arst 'em...."
He sucked his old gums thoughtfully, and his gaze strayed away
across the valley to where the shattered glass of the Crystal
Palace glittered in the sun. A dim large sense of waste and
irrevocable lost opportunities pervaded his mind. He repeated
his ultimate judgment upon all these things, obstinately, slowly,
and conclusively, his final saying upon the matter.
"You can say what you like," he said. "It didn't ought ever to
'ave begun."
He said it simply--somebody somewhere ought to have stopped
something, but who or how or why were all beyond his ken.

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