The War in the Air
H. G. Wells [Herbert George Wells]
Part 2 out of 6
"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
"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
"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
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.
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
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.
THE GERMAN AIR-FLEET
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 air-
ships. 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?"
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
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.
"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,
"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."
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
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
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?"
"Also--where is ze laty?"
"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."
"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
"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,
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
"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.
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