The War in the Air
H. G. Wells [Herbert George Wells]
Part 3 out of 6
The secretary sighed at last, leant back in his chair and
produced a tooth-pick, and used it, to assist his meditation on
Bert's case. "What was that name?" he asked at last, putting
away the tooth-pick; "I must write it down."
"Albert Peter Smallways," said Bert, in a mild tone.
The secretary wrote it down, after a little difficulty about the
spelling because of the different names of the letters of the
alphabet in the two languages.
"And now, Mr. Schmallvays," he said at last, leaning back and
resuming the stare, "tell me: how did you ket hold of Mister
When at last the Graf von Winterfold left Bert Smallways, he left
him in an extremely deflated condition, with all his little story
He had, as people say, made a clean breast of it. He had been
pursued into details. He had had to explain the blue suit, the
sandals, the Desert Dervishes--everything. For a time scientific
zeal consumed the secretary, and the question of the plans
remained in suspense. He even went into speculation about the
previous occupants of the balloon. "I suppose," he said, "the
laty WAS the laty. Bot that is not our affair.
"It is fery curious and amusing, yes: but I am afraid the Prince
may be annoyt. He acted wiz his usual decision--always he acts
wiz wonterful decision. Like Napoleon. Directly he was tolt of
your descent into the camp at Dornhof, he said, 'Pring
him!--pring him! It is my schtar!' His schtar of Destiny! You
see? He will be dthwarted. He directed you to come as Herr
Pooterage, and you haf not done so. You haf triet, of course; but
it has peen a poor try. His chugments of men are fery just and
right, and it is better for men to act up to them--gompletely.
Especially now. Particularly now."
He resumed that attitude of his, with his underlip pinched
between his forefingers. He spoke almost confidentially. "It
will be awkward. I triet to suggest some doubt, but I was
over-ruled. The Prince does not listen. He is impatient in the
high air. Perhaps he will think his schtar has been making a
fool of him. Perhaps he will think _I_ haf been making a fool of
He wrinkled his forehead, and drew in the corners of his mouth.
"I got the plans," said Bert.
"Yes. There is that! Yes. But you see the Prince was
interested in Herr Pooterage because of his romantic seit. Herr
Pooterage was so much more--ah!--in the picture. I am afraid you
are not equal to controlling the flying machine department of our
aerial park as he wished you to do. He hadt promised himself
"And der was also the prestige--the worldt prestige of Pooterage
with us.... Well, we must see what we can do." He held out his
hand. "Gif me the plans."
A terrible chill ran through the being of Mr. Smallways. To this
day he is not clear in his mind whether he wept or no, but
certainly there was weeping in his voice. "'Ere, I say!" he
protested. "Ain't I to 'ave--nothin' for 'em?"
The secretary regarded him with benevolent eyes. "You do not
deserve anyzing!" he said.
"I might 'ave tore 'em up."
"Zey are not yours!"
"They weren't Butteridge's!"
"No need to pay anyzing."
Bert's being seemed to tighten towards desperate deeds. "Gaw!"
he said, clutching his coat, "AIN'T there?"
"Pe galm,"said the secretary. "Listen! You shall haf five
hundert poundts. You shall haf it on my promise. I will do that
for you, and that is all I can do. Take it from me. Gif me the
name of that bank. Write it down. So! I tell you the Prince--
is no choke. I do not think he approffed of your appearance last
night. No! I can't answer for him. He wanted Pooterage, and
you haf spoilt it. The Prince--I do not understand quite, he is
in a strange state. It is the excitement of the starting and
this great soaring in the air. I cannot account for what he
does. But if all goes well I will see to it--you shall haf five
hundert poundts. Will that do? Then gif me the plans."
"Old beggar!" said Bert, as the door clicked. "Gaw!--what an ole
He sat down in the folding-chair, and whistled noiselessly for a
"Nice 'old swindle for 'im if I tore 'em up! I could 'ave."
He rubbed the bridge of his nose thoughtfully. "I gave the whole
blessed show away. If I'd j'es' kep quiet about being
Enonymous.... Gaw! ...Too soon, Bert, my boy--too soon and too
rushy. I'd like to kick my silly self.
"I couldn't 'ave kep' it up.
"After all, it ain't so very bad," he said.
"After all, five 'undred pounds....It isn't MY secret, anyhow.
It's jes' a pickup on the road. Five 'undred.
"Wonder what the fare is from America back home?"
And later in the day an extremely shattered and disorganised Bert
Smallways stood in the presence of the Prince Karl Albert.
The proceedings were in German. The Prince was in his own cabin,
the end room of the airship, a charming apartment furnished in
wicker-work with a long window across its entire breadth, looking
forward. He was sitting at a folding-table of green baize, with
Von Winterfeld and two officers sitting beside him, and littered
before them was a number of American maps and Mr. Butteridge's
letters and his portfolio and a number of loose papers. Bert was
not asked to sit down, and remained standing throughout the
interview. Von Winterfeld told his story, and every now and then
the words Ballon and Pooterage struck on Bert's ears. The
Prince's face remained stern and ominous and the two officers
watched it cautiously or glanced at Bert. There was something a
little strange in their scrutiny of the Prince--a curiosity, an
apprehension. Then presently he was struck by an idea, and they
fell discussing the plans. The Prince asked Bert abruptly in
English. "Did you ever see this thing go op?"
Bert jumped. "Saw it from Bun 'Ill, your Royal Highness."
Von Winterfeld made some explanation.
"How fast did it go?"
"Couldn't say, your Royal Highness. The papers, leastways the
Daily Courier, said eighty miles an hour."
They talked German over that for a time.
"Couldt it standt still? Op in the air? That is what I want to
"It could 'ovver, your Royal Highness, like a wasp," said Bert.
"Viel besser, nicht wahr?" said the Prince to Von Winterfeld, and
then went on in German for a time.
Presently they came to an end, and the two officers looked at
Bert. One rang a bell, and the portfolio was handed to an
attendant, who took it away.
Then they reverted to the case of Bert, and it was evident the
Prince was inclined to be hard with him. Von Winterfeld
protested. Apparently theological considerations came in, for
there were several mentions of "Gott!" Some conclusions emerged,
and it was apparent that Von Winterfeld was instructed to convey
them to Bert.
"Mr. Schmallvays, you haf obtained a footing in this airship," he
said, "by disgraceful and systematic lying."
"'Ardly systematic," said Bert. "I--"
The Prince silenced him by a gesture.
"And it is within the power of his Highness to dispose of you as
"'Ere!--I came to sell--"
"Ssh!" said one of the officers.
"However, in consideration of the happy chance that mate you the
instrument unter Gott of this Pooterage flying-machine reaching
his Highness's hand, you haf been spared. Yes,--you were the
pearer of goot tidings. You will be allowed to remain on this
ship until it is convenient to dispose of you. Do you
"We will bring him," said the Prince, and added terribly with a
terrible glare, "als Ballast."
"You are to come with us," said Winterfeld, "as pallast. Do you
Bert opened his mouth to ask about the five hundred pounds, and
then a saving gleam of wisdom silenced him. He met Von
Winterfeld's eye, and it seemed to him the secretary nodded
"Go!" said the Prince, with a sweep of the great arm and hand
towards the door. Bert went out like a leaf before a gale.
But in between the time when the Graf von Winterfeld had talked
to him and this alarming conference with the Prince, Bert had
explored the Vaterland from end to end. He had found it
interesting in spite of grave preoccupations. Kurt, like the
greater number of the men upon the German air-fleet, had known
hardly anything of aeronautics before his appointment to the new
flag-ship. But he was extremely keen upon this wonderful new
weapon Germany had assumed so suddenlv and dramatically. He
showed things to Bert with a boyish eagerness and appreciation.
It was as if he showed them,over again to himself, like a child
showing a new toy. "Let's go all over the ship," he said with
zest. He pointed out particularly the lightness of everything,
the use of exhausted aluminium tubing, of springy cushions
inflated with compressed hydrogen; the partitions were hydrogen
bags covered with light imitation leather, the very crockery was
a light biscuit glazed in a vacuum, and weighed next to nothing.
Where strength was needed there was the new Charlottenburg alloy,
German steel as it was called, the toughest and most resistant
metal in the world.
There was no lack of space. Space did not matter, so long as
load did not grow. The habitable part of the ship was two
hundred and fifty feet long, and the rooms in two tiers; above
these one could go up into remarkable little white-metal turrets
with big windows and airtight double doors that enabled one to
inspect the vast cavity of the gas-chambers. This inside view
impressed Bert very much. He had never realised before that an
airship was not one simple continuous gas-bag containing nothing
but gas. Now he saw far above him the backbone of the apparatus
and its big ribs, "like the neural and haemal canals," said Kurt,
who had dabbled in biology.
"Rather!" said Bert appreciatively, though he had not the ghost
of an idea what these phrases meant.
Little electric lights could be switched on up there if anything
went wrong in the night. There were even ladders across the
space. "But you can't go into the gas," protested Bert.
"You can't breve it."
The lieutenant opened a cupboard door and displayed a diver's
suit, only that it was made of oiled silk, and both its
compressed-air knapsack and its helmet were of an alloy of
aluminium and some light metal. "We can go all over the inside
netting and stick up bullet holes or leaks," he explained.
"There's netting inside and out. The whole outer-case is rope
ladder, so to speak."
Aft of the habitable part of the airship was the magazine of
explosives, coming near the middle of its length. They were all
bombs of various types mostly in glass--none of the German
airships carried any guns at all except one small pom-pom (to use
the old English nickname dating from the Boer war), which was
forward in the gallery upon the shield at the heart of the eagle.
From the magazine amidships a covered canvas gallery with
aluminium treads on its floor and a hand-rope, ran back
underneath the gas-chamber to the engine-room at the tail; but
along this Bert did not go, and from first to last he never saw
the engines. But he went up a ladder against a gale of
ventilation--a ladder that was encased in a kind of gas-tight
fire escape--and ran right athwart the great forward air-chamber
to the little look-out gallery with a telephone, that gallery
that bore the light pom-pom of German steel and its locker of
shells. This gallery was all of aluminium magnesium alloy, the
tight front of the air-ship swelled cliff-like above and below,
and the black eagle sprawled overwhelmingly gigantic, its
extremities all hidden by the bulge of the gas-bag. And far
down, under the soaring' eagles, was England, four thousand feet
below perhaps, and looking very small and defenceless indeed in
the morning sunlight.
The realisation that there was England gave Bert sudden and
unexpected qualms of patriotic compunction. He was struck by a
quite novel idea. After all, he might have torn up those plans
and thrown them away. These people could not have done so very
much to him. And even if they did, ought not an Englishman to
die for his country? It was an idea that had hitherto been
rather smothered up by the cares of a competitive civilisation.
He became violently depressed. He ought, he perceived, to have
seen it in that light before. Why hadn't he seen it in that
Indeed, wasn't he a sort of traitor?....He wondered how the
aerial fleet must look from down there. Tremendous, no doubt,
and dwarfing all the buildings.
He was passing between Manchester and Liverpool, Kurt told him; a
gleaming band across the prospect was the Ship Canal, and a
weltering ditch of shipping far away ahead, the Mersey estuary.
Bert was a Southerner; he had never been north of the Midland
counties, and the multitude of factories and chimneys--the latter
for the most part obsolete and smokeless now, superseded by huge
electric generating stations that consumed their own reek--old
railway viaducts, mono-rail net-works and goods yards, and the
vast areas of dingy homes and narrow streets, spreading
aimlessly, struck him as though Camberwell and Rotherhithe had
run to seed. Here and there, as if caught in a net, were fields
and agricultural fragments. It was a sprawl of undistinguished
population. There were, no doubt, museums and town halls and
even cathedrals of a sort to mark theoretical centres of
municipal and religious organisation in this confusion; but Bert
could not see them, they did not stand out at all in that wide
disorderly vision of congested workers' houses and places to
work, and shops and meanly conceived chapels and churches. And
across this landscape of an industrial civilisation swept the
shadows of the German airships like a hurrying shoal of
Kurt and he fell talking of aerial tactics, and presently went
down to the undergallery in order that Bert might see the
Drachenflieger that the airships of the right wing had picked up
overnight and were towing behind them; each airship towing three
or four. They looked, like big box-kites of an exaggerated form,
soaring at the ends of invisible cords. They had long, square
headsand flattened tails, with lateral propellers.
"Much skill is required for those!--much skill!"
"Your machine is different from that, Mr. Butteridge?"
"Quite different," said Bert. "More like an insect, and less
like a bird. And it buzzes, and don't drive about so. What can
those things do?"
Kurt was not very clear upon that himself, and was still
explaining when Bert was called to the conference we have
recorded with the Prince.
And after that was over, the last traces of Butteridge fell from
Bert like a garment, and he became Smallways to all on board.
The soldiers ceased to salute him, and the officers ceased to
seem aware of his existence, except Lieutenant Kurt. He was
turned out of his nice cabin, and packed in with his belongings
to share that of Lieutenant Kurt, whose luck it was to be junior,
and the bird-headed officer, still swearing slightly, and
carrying strops and aluminium boot-trees and weightless
hair-brushes and hand-mirrors and pomade in his hands, resumed
possession. Bert was put in with Kurt because there was nowhere
else for him to lay his bandaged head in that close-packed
vessel. He was to mess, he was told, with the men.
Kurt came and stood with his legs wide apart and surveyed, him
for a moment as he sat despondent in his new quarters.
"What's your real name, then?" said Kurt, who was only
imperfectly informed of the new state of affairs.
"I thought you were a bit of a fraud--even when I thought you
were Butteridge. You're jolly lucky the Prince took it calmly.
He's a pretty tidy blazer when he's roused. He wouldn't stick a
moment at pitching a chap of your sort overboard if he thought
fit. No!... They've shoved you on to me, but it's my cabin, you
"I won't forget," said Bert.
Kurt left him, andwhen he came to look about him the first thing
he saw pasted on the padded wall was a reproduction, of the great
picture by Siegfried Schmalz of the War God, that terrible,
trampling figure with the viking helmet and the scarlet cloak,
wading through destruction, sword in hand, which had so strong a
resemblance to Karl Albert, the prince it was painted to please.
THE BATTLE OF THE NORTH ATLANTIC
The Prince Karl Albert had made a profound impression upon Bert.
He was quite the most terrifying person Bert had ever
encountered. He filled the Smallways soul with passionate
dread and antipathy. For a long time Bert sat alone in Kurt's
cabin, doing nothing and not venturing even to open the door lest
he should be by that much nearer that appalling presence.
So it came about that he was probably the last person on board to
hear the news that wireless telegraphy was bringing to the
airship in throbs and fragments of a great naval battle in
progress in mid-Atlantic.
He learnt it at last from Kurt.
Kurt came in with a general air of ignoring Bert, but muttering
to himself in English nevertheless. "Stupendous!" Bert heard him
say. "Here!" he said, "get off this locker." And he proceeded
to rout out two books and a case of maps. He spread them on the
folding-table, and stood regarding them. For a time his Germanic
discipline struggled with his English informality and his natural
kindliness and talkativeness, and at last lost.
"They're at it, Smallways," he said.
"At what, sir?" said Bert, broken and respectful.
"Fighting! The American North Atlantic squadron and pretty nearly
the whole of our fleet. Our Eiserne Kreuz has had a gruelling
and is sinking, and their Miles Standish--she's one of their
biggest--has sunk with all hands. Torpedoes, I suppose. She was
a bigger ship than the Karl der Grosse, but five or six years
older. Gods! I wish we could see it Smallways; a square fight in
blue water, guns or nothing, and all of 'em steaming ahead!"
He spread his maps, he had to talk, and so he delivered a lecture
on the naval situation to Bert.
"Here it is," he said, latitude 30 degrees 50 minutes N.
longitude 30 degrees 50 minutes W. It's a good day off us,
anyhow, and they're all going south-west by south at full pelt as
hard as they can go. We shan't see a bit of it, worse luck! Not
a sniff we shan't get!"
The naval situation in the North Atlantic at that time was a
peculiar one. The United States was by far the stronger of the
two powers upon the sea, but the bulk of the American fleet was
still in the Pacific. It was in the direction of Asia that war
had been most feared, for the situation between Asiatic and white
had become unusually violent and dangerous, and the Japanese
government had shown itself quite unprecedentedly difficult. The
German attack therefore found half the American strength at
Manila, and what was called the Second Fleet strung out across
the Pacific in wireless contact between the Asiatic station and
San Francisco. The North Atlantic squadron was the sole American
force on her eastern shore, it was returning from a friendly
visit to France and Spain, and was pumping oil-fuel from tenders
in mid-Atlantic--for most of its ships were steamships--when the
international situation became acute. It was made up of four
battleships and five armoured cruisers ranking almost with
battleships, not one of which was of a later date than 1913. The
Americans had indeed grown so accustomed to the idea that Great
Britain could be trusted to keep the peace of the Atlantic that a
naval attack on the eastern seaboard found them unprepared even
in their imaginations. But long before the declaration of
war--indeed,on Whit Monday--the whole German fleet of eighteen
battleships, with a flotilla of fuel tenders and converted liners
containing stores to be used in support of the air-fleet, had
passed through the straits of Dover and headed boldly for New
York. Not only did these German battleships outnumber the
Americans two to one, but they were more heavily armed and more
modern in construction--seven of them having high explosive
engines built of Charlottenburg steel, and all carrying
Charlottenburg steel guns.
The fleets came into contact on Wednesday before any actual
declaration of war. The Americans had strung out in the modern
fashion at distances of thirty miles or so, and were steaming to
keep themselves between the Germans and either the eastern states
or Panama; because, vital as it was to defend the seaboard cities
and particularly New York, it was still more vital to save the
canal from any attack that might prevent the return of the main
fleet from the Pacific. No doubt, said Kurt, this was now making
records across that ocean, "unless the Japanese have had the same
idea as the Germans." It was obviously beyond human possibility
that the American North Atlantic fleet could hope to meet and
defeat the German; but, on the other hand, with luck it might
fight a delaying action and inflict such damage as to greatly
weakenthe attack upon the coast defences. Its duty, indeed, was
not victory but devotion, the severest task in the world.
Meanwhile the submarine defences of New York, Panama, and the
other more vital points could be put in some sort of order.
This was the naval situation, and until Wednesday in Whit week it
was the only situation the American people had realised. It was
then they heard for the first time of the real scale of the
Dornhof aeronautic park and the possibility of an attack coming
upon them not only by sea, but by the air. But it is curious
that so discredited were the newspapers of that period that a
large majority of New Yorkers, for example, did not believe the
most copious and circumstantial accounts of the German air-fleet
until it was actually in sight of New York.
Kurt's talk was half soliloquy. He stood with a map on
Mercator's projection before him, swaying to the swinging of the
ship and talking of guns and tonnage, of ships and their build
and powers and speed, of strategic points, and bases of
operation. A certain shyness that reduced him to the status of a
listener at the officers' table no longer silenced him.
Bert stood by, saying very little, but watching Kurt's finger on
the map. "They've been saying things like this in the papers for
a long time," he remarked. "Fancy it coming real!"
Kurt had a detailed knowledge of the Miles Standish. "She used
to be a crack ship for gunnery--held the record. I wonder if we
beat her shooting, or how? I wish I was in it. I wonder which
of our ships beat her. Maybe she got a shell in her engines.
It's a running fight! I wonder what the Barbarossa is doing," he
went on, "She's my old ship. Not a first-rater, but good stuff.
I bet she's got a shot or two home by now if old Schneider's up
to form. Just think of it! There they are whacking away at each
other, great guns going, shells exploding, magazines bursting,
ironwork flying about like straw in a gale, all we've been
dreaming of for years! I suppose we shall fly right away to New
York--just as though it wasn't anything at all. I suppose we
shall reckon we aren't wanted down there. It's no more than a
covering fight on our side. All those tenders and store-ships of
ours are going on southwest by west to New York to make a
floating depot for us. See?" He dabbed his forefinger on the
map. "Here we are. Our train of stores goes there, our
battleships elbow the Americans out of our way there."
When Bert went down to the men's mess-room to get his evening
ration, hardly any one took notice of him except just to point
him out for an instant. Every one was talking of thebattle,
suggesting, contradicting--at times, until the petty officers
hushed them, it rose to a greatuproar. There was a new bulletin,
but what it said he did not gather except that it concerned the
Barbarossa. Some of the men stared at him, and he heard the name
of "Booteraidge" several times; but no one molested him, and
there was no difficulty about his soup and bread when his turn at
the end of the queue came. He had feared there might be no
ration for him, and if so he did not know what he would have
Afterwards he ventured out upon the little hanging gallery with
the solitary sentinel. The weather was still fine, but the wind
was rising and the rolling swing of the airship increasing. He
clutched the rail tightly and felt rather giddy. They were now
out of sight of land, and over blue water rising and falling in
great masses. A dingy old brigantine under the British flag rose
and plunged amid the broad blue waves--the only ship in sight.
In the evening it began to blow and the air-ship to roll like a
porpoise as it swung through the air. Kurt said that several of
the men were sea-sick, but the motion did not inconvenience Bert,
whose luck it was to be of that mysterious gastric disposition
which constitutes a good sailor. He slept well, but in the small
hours the light awoke him, and he found Kurt staggering about in
search of something. He found it at last in the locker, and held
it in his hand unsteadily--a compass. Then he compared his map.
"We've changed our direction," he said, "and come into the wind.
I can't make it out. We've turned away from New York to the
south. Almost as if we were going to take a hand--"
He continued talking to himself for some time.
Day came, wet and windy. The window was bedewed externally, and
they could see nothing through it. It was also very cold, and
Bert decided to keep rolled up in his blankets on the locker
until the bugle summoned him to his morning ration. That
consumed, he went out on the little gallery; but he could see
nothing but eddying clouds driving headlong by, and the dim
outlines of the nearer airships. Only at rare intervals could he
get a glimpse of grey sea through the pouring cloud-drift.
Later in the morning the Vaterland changed altitude, and soared
up suddenly in a high, clear sky, going, Kurt said, to a height
of nearly thirteen thousand feet.
Bert was in his cabin, and chanced to see the dew vanish from the
window and caught the gleam of sunlight outside. He looked out,
and saw once more that sunlit cloud floor he had seen first from
the balloon, and the ships of the German air-fleet rising one by
one from the white, as fish might rise an become visible from
deep water. He stared for a moment and then ran out to the
little gallery to see this wonder better. Below was cloudland
and storm, a great drift of tumbled weather going hard away to
the north-east, and the air about him was clear and cold and
serene save for the faintest chill breeze and a rare, drifting
snow-flake. Throb, throb, throb, throb, went the engines in the
stillness. That huge herd of airships rising one after another
had an effect of strange, portentous monsters breaking into an
altogether unfamiliar world.
Either there was no news of the naval battle that morning, or the
Prince kept to himself whatever came until past midday. Then the
bulletins came with a rush, bulletins that made the lieutenant
wild with excitement.
"Barbarossa disabled and sinking," he cried. "Gott im Himmel!
Der alte Barbarossa! Aber welch ein braver krieger!"
He walked about the swinging cabin, and for a time he was wholly
Then he became English again. "Think of it, Smallways! The old
ship we kept so clean and tidy! All smashed about, and the iron
flying about in fragments, and the chaps one knew--Gott!--flying
about too! Scalding water squirting, fire, and the smash, smash
of the guns! They smash when you're near! Like everything
bursting to pieces! Wool won't stop it--nothing! And me up
here--so near and so far! Der alte Barbarossa!"
"Any other ships?" asked Smallways, presently.
"Gott! Yes! We've lost the Karl der Grosse, our best and
biggest. Run down in the night by a British liner that blundered
into the fighting in trying to blunder out. They're fighting in
a gale. The liner's afloat with her nose broken, sagging about!
There never was such a battle!--never before! Good ships and
good men on both sides,--and a storm and the night and the dawn
and all in the open ocean full steam ahead! No stabbing! No
submarines! Guns and shooting! Half our ships we don't hear of
any more, because their masts are shot away. Latitude, 30
degrees 40 minutes N.--longitude, 40 degrees 30 minutes W.-
He routed out his map again, and stared at it with eyes that did
"Der alte Barbarossa! I can't get it out of my head--with shells
in her engine-room, and the fires flying out of her furnaces, and
the stokers and engineers scalded and dead. Men I've messed
with, Smallways--men I've talked to close! And they've had their
day at last! And it wasn't all luck for them.!
"Disabled and sinking! I suppose everybody can't have all the
luck in a battle. Poor old Schneider! I bet he gave 'em
So it was the news of the battle came filtering through to them
all that morning. The Americans had lost a second ship, name
unknown; the Hermann had been damaged in covering the
Barbarossa.... Kurt fretted like an imprisoned animal about the
airship, now going up to the forward gallery under the eagle, now
down into the swinging gallery, now poring over his maps. He
infected Smallways with a sense of the immediacy of this battle
that was going on just over the curve of the earth. But when
Bert went down to the gallery the world was empty and still, a
clear inky-blue sky above and a rippled veil of still, thin
sunlit cirrus below, through which one saw a racing drift of
rain-cloud, and never a glimpse of sea. Throb, throb, throb,
throb, went the engines, and the long, undulating wedge of
airships hurried after the flagship like a flight of swans after
their leader. Save for the quiver of the engines it was as
noiseless as a dream. And down there, somewhere in the wind and
rain, guns roared, shells crashed home, and, after the old manner
of warfare, men toiled and died.
As the afternoon wore on the lower weather abated, and the sea
became intermittently visible again. The air-fleet dropped
slowly to the middle air, and towards sunset they had a glimpse
of the disabled Barbarossa far away to the east. Smallways heard
men hurrying along the passage, and was drawn out to the gallery,
where he found nearly a dozen officers collected and scrutinising
the helpless ruins of the battleship through field-glasses. Two
other vessels stood by her, one an exhausted petrol tank, very
high out of the water, and the other a converted liner. Kurt was
at the end of the gallery, a little apart from the others.
"Gott!" he said at last, lowering his binocular, "it is like
seeing an old friend with his nose cut off--waiting to be
finished. Der Barbarossa!"
With a sudden impulse he handed his glass to Bert, who had peered
beneath his hands, ignored by every one, seeing the three ships
merely as three brown-black lines upon the sea.
Never had Bert seen the like of that magnified slightly hazy
image before. It was not simply a battered ironclad that
wallowed helpless, it was a mangled ironclad. It seemed
wonderful she still floated. Her powerful engines had been her
ruin. In the long chase of the night she had got out of line
with her consorts, and nipped in between the Susquehanna and the
Kansas City. They discovered her proximity, dropped back until
she was nearly broadside on to the former battleship, and
signalled up the Theodore Roosevelt and the little Monitor. As
dawn broke she had found herself hostess of a circle. The fight
had not lasted five minutes before the appearance of the Hermann
to the east, and immediately after of the Furst Bismarck in the
west, forced the Americans to leave her, but in that time they
had smashed her iron to rags. They had vented the accumulated
tensions of their hard day's retreat upon her. As Bert saw her,
she seemed a mere metal-worker's fantasy of frozen metal
writhings. He could not tell part from part of her, except by
"Gott!" murmured Kurt, taking the glasses Bert restored to him--
"Gott! Da waren Albrecht--der gute Albrecht und der alte Zim-
mermann--und von Rosen!"
Long after the Barbarosa had been swallowed up in the twilight
and distance he remained on the gallery peering through his
glasses, and when he came back to his cabin he was unusually
silent and thoughtful.
"This is a rough game, Smallways," he said at last--"this war is
a rough game. Somehow one sees it different after a thing like
that. Many men there were worked to make that Barbarossa, and
there were men in it--one does not meet the like of them every
day. Albrecht--there was a man named Albrecht--played the zither
and improvised; I keep on wondering what has happened to him. He
and I--we were very close friends, after the German fashion."
Smallways woke--the next night to discover the cabin in darkness,
a draught blowing through it, and Kurt talking to himself in
German. He could see him dimly by the window, which he had
unscrewed and opened, peering down. That cold, clear, attenuated
light which is not so much light as a going of darkness, which
casts inky shadows and so often heralds the dawn in the high air,
was on his face.
"What's the row?" said Bert.
"Shut up!" said the lieutenant. "Can't you hear?"
Into the stillness came the repeated heavy thud of guns, one,
two, a pause, then three in quick succession.
"Gaw!" said Bert--"guns!" and was instantly at the lieutenant's
side. The airship was still very high and the sea below was
masked by a thin veil of clouds. The wind had fallen, and Bert,
following Kurt's pointing finger, saw dimly through the
colourless veil first a red glow, then a quick red flash, and
then at a little distance from it another. They were, it seemed
for a while, silent flashes, and seconds after, when one had
ceased to expect them, came the belated thuds--thud, thud. Kurt
spoke in German, very quickly.
A bugle call rang through the airship.
Kurt sprang to his feet, saying something in an excited tone,
still using German, and went to the door.
"I say! What's up?" cried Bert. "What's that?"
The lieutenant stopped for an instant in the doorway, dark
against the light passage. "You stay where you are, Smallways.
You keep there and do nothing. We're going into action," he
explained, and vanished.
Bert's heart began to beat rapidly. He felt himself poised over
the fighting vessels far below. In a moment, were they to drop
like a hawk striking a bird? "Gaw!" he whispered at last, in
Thud! . . . thud! He discovered far away a second ruddy flare
flashing guns back at the first. He perceived some difference on
the Vaterland for which he could not account, and then he
realised that the engines had slowed to an almost inaudible beat.
He stuck his head out of the window--it was a tight fit--and saw
in the bleak air the other airships slowed down to a scarcely
A second bugle sounded, was taken up faintly from ship to ship.
Out went the lights; the fleet became dim, dark bulks against an
intense blue sky that still retained an occasional star. For a
long time they hung, for an interminable time it seemed to him,
and then began the sound of air being pumped into the
balloonette, and slowly, slowly the Vaterland sank down towards
He craned his neck, but he could not see if the rest of the fleet
was following them; the overhang of the gas-chambers intervened.
There was something that stirred his imagination deeply in that
stealthy, noiseless descent. The obscurity deepened for a time,
the last fading star on the horizon vanished, and he felt the
cold presence of cloud. Then suddenly the glow beneath assumed
distinct outlines, became flames, and the Vaterland ceased to
descend and hung observant, and it would seem unobserved, just
beneath a drifting stratum of cloud, a thousand feet, perhaps,
over the battle below.
In the night the struggling naval battle and retreat had entered
upon a new phase. The Americans had drawn together the ends of
the flying line skilfully and dexterously, until at last it was a
column and well to the south of the lax sweeping pursuit of the
Germans. Then in the darkness before the dawn they had come
about and steamed northward in close order with the idea of
passing through the German battle-line and falling upon the
flotilla that was making for New York in support of the German
air-fleet. Much had altered since the first contact of the
fleets. By this time the American admiral, O'Connor, was fully
informed of the existence of the airships, and he was no longer
vitally concerned for Panama, since the submarine flotilla was
reported arrived there from Key West, and the Delaware and
Abraham Lincoln, two powerful and entirely modern ships, were
already at Rio Grande, on the Pacific side of the canal. His
manoeuvre was, however, delayed by a boiler explosion on board
the Susquehanna, and dawn found this ship in sight of and indeed
so close to the Bremen and Weimar that they instantly engaged.
There was no alternative to her abandonment but a fleet
engagement. O'Connor chose the latter course. It was by no
means a hopeless fight. The Germans, though much more numerous
and powerful than the Americans, were in a dispersed line
measuring nearly forty-five miles from end to end, and there were
many chances that before they could gather in for the fight the
column of seven Americans would have ripped them from end to end.
The day broke dim and overcast, and neither the Bremen nor the
Weimar realised they had to deal with more than the Susquehanna
until the whole column drew out from behind her at a distance of
a mile. or less and bore down on them. This was the position of
affairs when the Vaterland appeared in the sky. The red glow
Bert had seen through the column of clouds came from the luckless
Susquehanna; she lay almost immediately below, burning fore and
aft, but still fighting two of her guns and steaming slowly
southward. The Bremen and the Weimar, both hit in several
places, were going west by south and away from her. The American
fleet, headed by the Theodore Roosevelt, was crossing behind
them, pounding them in succession, steaming in between them and
the big modern Furst Bismarck, which was coming up from the west.
To Bert, however, the names of all these ships were unknown, and
for a considerable time indeed, misled by the direction in which
the combatants were moving, he imagined the Germans to be
Americans and the Americans Germans. He saw what appeared to him
to be a column of six battleships pursuing three others who were
supported by a newcomer, until the fact that the Bremen and
Weimar were firing into the Susquehanna upset his calculations.
Then for a time he was hopelessly at a loss. The noise of the
guns, too, confused him, they no longer seemed to boom; they went
whack, whack, whack, whack, and each faint flash made his heart
jump in anticipation of the instant impact. He saw these
ironclads, too, not in profile, as he was accustomed to see
ironclads in pictures, but in plan and curiously foreshortened.
For the most part they presented empty decks, but here and there
little knots of men sheltered behind steel bulwarks. The long,
agitated noses of their, big guns, jetting thin transparent
flashes and the broadside activity of the quick-firers, were the
chief facts in this bird's-eye view. The Americans being
steam-turbine ships, had from two to four blast funnels each; the
Germans lay lower in the water, having explosive engines, which
now for some reason made an unwonted mu tering roar. Because of
their steam propulsion, the American ships were larger and with a
more graceful outline. He saw all these foreshortened ships
rolling considerably and fighting their guns over a sea of huge
low waves and under the cold, explicit light of dawn. The whole
spectacle waved slowly with the long rhythmic rising and beat of
At first only the Vaterland of all the flying fleet appeared upon
the scene below. She hovered high, over the Theodore Roosevelt,
keeping pace with the full speed of that ship. From that ship
she must have been intermittently visible through the drifting
clouds. The rest of the German fleet remained above the cloud
canopy at a height of six or seven thousand feet, communicating
with the flagship by wireless telegraphy, but risking no exposure
to the artillery below.
It is doubtful at what particular time the unlucky Americans
realised the presence of this new factor in the fight. No
account now survives of their experience. We have to imagine as
well as we can what it must have been to a battled-strained
sailor suddenly glancing upward to discover that huge long silent
shape overhead, vaster than any battleship, and trailing now from
its hinder quarter a big German flag. Presently, as the sky
cleared, more of such ships appeared in the blue through the
dissolving clouds, and more, all disdainfully free of guns or
armour, all flying fast to keep pace with the running fight
From first to last no gun whatever was fired at the Vaterland,
and only a few rifle shots. It was a mere adverse stroke of
chance that she had a man killed aboard her. Nor did she take
any direct share in the fight until the end. She flew above the
doomed American fleet while the Prince by wireless telegraphy
directed the movements of her consorts. Meanwhile the
Vogel-stern and Preussen, each with half a dozen drachenflieger
in tow, went full speed ahead and then dropped through the
clouds, perhaps five miles ahead of the Americans. The Theodore
Roosevelt let fly at once with the big guns in her forward
barbette, but the shells burst far below the Vogel-stern, and
forthwith a dozen single-man drachenflieger were swooping down to
make their attack.
Bert, craning his neck through the cabin port-hole, saw,the whole
of that incident, that first encounter of aeroplane and ironclad.
He saw the queer German drachenflieger, with their wide flat
wings and square box-shaped heads, their wheeled bodies, and
their single-man riders, soar down the air like a flight of
birds. "Gaw!" he said. One to the right pitched extravagantly,
shot steeply up into the air, burst with a loud report, and
flamed down into the sea; another plunged nose forward into the
water and seemed to fly to pieces as it hit the waves. He saw
little men on the deck of the Theodore Roosevelt below, men
foreshortened in plan into mere heads and feet, running out
preparing to shoot at the others. Then the foremost
flying-machine was rushing between Bert and the American's deck,
and then bang! came the thunder of its bomb flung neatly at the
forward barbette, and a thin little crackling of rifle shots in
reply. Whack, whack, whack, went the quick-firing guns of the
Americans' battery, and smash came an answering shell from the
Furst Bismarck. Then a second and third flying-machine passed
between Bert and the American ironclad, dropping bombs also, and
a fourth, its rider hit by a bullet, reeled down and dashed
itself to pieces and exploded between the shot-torn funnels,
blowing them apart. Bert had a momentary glimpse of a little
black creature jumping from the crumpling frame of the flying-
machine, hitting the funnel, and falling limply, to be instantly
caught and driven to nothingness by the blaze and rush of the
Smash! came a vast explosion in the forward part of the flagship,
and a huge piece of metalwork seemed to lift out of her and dump
itself into the sea, dropping men and leaving a gap into which a
prompt drachenflieger planted a flaring bomb. And then for an
instant Bert perceived only too clearly in the growing, pitiless
light a number of minute, convulsively active animalcula scorched
and struggling in the Theodore Roosevelt's foaming wake. What
were they? Not men--surely not men? Those drowning, mangled
little creatures tore with their clutching fingers at Bert's
soul. "Oh, Gord!" he cried, "Oh, Gord!" almost whimpering. He
looked again and they had gone, and the black stem of the Andrew
Jackson, a little disfigured by the sinking Bremen's last shot,
was parting the water that had swallowed them into two neatly
symmetrical waves. For some moments sheer blank horror blinded
Bert to the destruction below.
Then, with an immense rushing sound, bearing as it were a
straggling volley of crashing minor explosions on its back, the
Susquehanna, three miles and more now to the east, blew up and
vanished abruptly in a boiling, steaming welter. For a moment
nothing was to be seen but tumbled water, and--then there came
belching up from below, with immense gulping noises, eructations
of steam and air and petrol and fragments of canvas and woodwork
That made a distinct pause in the fight. It seemed a long pause
to Bert. He found himself looking for the drachenflieger. The
flattened ruin of one was floating abeam of the Monitor, the rest
had passed, dropping bombs down the American column; several were
in the water and apparently uninjured, and three or four were
still in the air and coming round now in a wide circle to return
to their mother airships. The American ironclads were no longer
in column formation; the Theodore Roosevelt, badly damaged, had
turned to the southeast, and the Andrew Jackson, greatly battered
but uninjured in any fighting part was passing between her and
the still fresh and vigorous Furst Bismarck to intercept and meet
the latter's fire. Away to the west the Hermann and the
Germanicus had appeared and were coming into action.
In the pause, after the Susquehanna's disaster Bert became aware
of a trivial sound like the noise of an ill-greased, ill-hung
door that falls ajar--the sound of the men in the Furst Bismarck
And in that pause in the uproar too, the sun rose, the dark
waters became luminously blue, and a torrent of golden light
irradiated the world. It came like a sudden smile in a scene of
hate and terror. The cloud veil had vanished as if by magic, and
the whole immensity of the German air-fleet was revealed in the
sky; the air-fleet stooping now upon its prey.
"Whack-bang, whack-bang," the guns resumed, but ironclads were
not built to fight the zenith, and the only hits the Americans
scored were a few lucky chances in a generally ineffectual rifle
fire. Their column was now badly broken, the Susquehanna had
gone, the Theodore Roosevelt had fallen astern out of the line,
with her forward guns disabled, in a heap of wreckage, and the
Monitor was in some grave trouble. These two had ceased fire
altogether, and so had the Bremen and Weimar, all four ships
lying within shot of each other in an involuntary truce and with
their respective flags still displayed. Only four American ships
now, with the Andrew Jackson readings kept to the south-easterly
course. And the Furst Bismarck, the Hermann, and the Germanicus
steamed parallel to them and drew ahead of them, fighting
heavily. The Vaterland rose slowly in the air in preparation for
the concluding act of the drama.
Then, falling into place one behind the other, a string of a
dozen airships dropped with unhurrying swiftness down the air in
pursuit of the American fleet. They kept at a height of two
thousand feet or more until they were over and a little in
advance of the rearmost ironclad, and then stooped swiftly down
into a fountain of bullets, and going just a little faster than
the ship below, pelted her thinly protected decks with bombs
until they became sheets of detonating flame. So the airships
passed one after the other along the American column as it sought
to keep up its fight with the Furst Bismarck, the Hermann, and
the Germanicus, and each airship added to the destruction and
confusion its predecessor had made. The American gunfire ceased,
except for a few heroic shots, but they still steamed on,
obstinately unsubdued, bloody, battered, and wrathfully
resistant, spitting bullets at the airships and unmercifully
pounded by the German ironclads. But now Bert had but
intermittent glimpses of them between the nearer bulks of the
airships that assailed them....
It struck Bert suddenly that the whole battle was receding and
growing small and less thunderously noisy. The Vaterland was
rising in the air, steadily and silently, until the impact of the
guns no longer smote upon the heart but came to the ear dulled by
distance, until the four silenced ships to the eastward were
little distant things: but were there four? Bert now could see
only three of those floating, blackened, and smoking rafts of
ruin against the sun. But the Bremen had two boats out; the
Theodore Roosevelt was also dropping boats to where the drift of
minute objects struggled, rising and falling on the big, broad
Atlantic waves.... The Vaterland was no longer following the
fight. The whole of that hurrying tumult drove away to the
south-eastward, growing smaller and less audible as it passed.
One of the airships lay on the water burning, a remote monstrous
fount of flames, and far in the south-west appeared first one and
then three other German ironclads hurrying in support of their
Steadily the Vaterland soared, and the air-fleet soared with her
and came round to head for New York, and the battle became a
little thing far away, an incident before the breakfast. It
dwindled to a string of dark shapes and one smoking yellow flare
that presently became a mere indistinct smear upon the vast
horizon and the bright new day, that was at last altogether lost
So it was that Bert Smallways saw the first fight of the airship
and the last fight of those strangest things in the whole history
of war: the ironclad battleships, which began their career with
the floating batteries of the Emperor Napoleon III in the Crimean
war and lasted, with an enormous expenditure of human energy and
resources, for seventy years. In that space of time the world
produced over twelve thousand five hundred of these strange
monsters, in schools, in types, in series, each larger and
heavier and more deadly than its predecessors. Each in its turn
was hailed as the last birth of time, most in their turn were
sold for old iron. Only about five per cent of them ever fought
in a battle. Some foundered, some went ashore, and broke up,
several rammed one another by accident and sank. The lives of
countless men were spent in their service, the splendid genius,
and patience of thousands of engineers and inventors, wealth and
material beyond estimating; to their account we must put, stunted
and starved lives on land, millions of children sent to toil
unduly, innumerable opportunities of fine living undeveloped and
lost. Money had to be found for them at any cost--that was the
law of a nation's existence during that strange time. Surely
they were the weirdest, most destructive and wasteful megatheria
in the whole history of mechanical invention.
And then cheap things of gas and basket-work made an end of them
altogether, smiting out of the sky!...
Never before had Bert Smallways seen pure destruction, never had
he realised the mischief and waste of war. His startled mind
rose to the conception; this also is in life. Out of all this
fierce torrent of sensation one impression rose and became
cardinal--the impression of the men of the Theodore Roosevelt who
had struggled in the water after the explosion of the first bomb.
"Gaw!" he said at the memory; "it might 'ave been me and Grubb!
... I suppose you kick about and get the water in your mouf. I
don't suppose it lasts long."
He became anxious to see how Kurt was affected by these things.
Also he perceived he was hungry. He hesitated towards the door
of the cabin and peeped out into the passage. Down forward, near
the gangway to the men's mess, stood a little group of air
sailors looking at something that was hidden from him in a
recess. One of them was in the light diver's costume Bert had
already seen in the gas chamber turret, and he was moved to walk
along and look at this person more closely and examine the helmet
he carried under his arm. But he forgot about the helmet when he
got to the recess, because there he found lying on the floor the
dead body of the boy who had been killed by a bullet from the
Bert had not observed that any bullets at all had reached the
Vaterland or, indeed, imagined himself under fire. He could not
understand for a time what had killed the lad, and no one
explained to him.
The boy lay just as he had fallen and died, with his jacket torn
and scorched, his shoulder-blade smashed and burst away from his
body and all the left side of his body ripped and rent. There
was much blood. The sailors stood listening to the man with the
helmet, who made explanations and pointed to the round bullet
hole in the floor and the smash in the panel of the passage upon
which the still vicious missile had spent the residue of its
energy. All the faces were grave and earnest: they were the
faces of sober, blond, blue-eyed men accustomed to obedience and
an orderly life, to whom this waste, wet, painful thing that had
been a comrade came almost as strangely as it did to Bert.
A peal of wild laughter sounded down the passage in the direction
of the little gallery and something spoke--almost shouted--in
German, in tones of exultation.
Other voices at a lower, more respectful pitch replied.
"Der Prinz," said a voice, and all the men became stiffer and
less natural. Down the passage appeared a group of figures,
Lieutenant Kurt walking in front carrying a packet of papers.
He stopped point blank when he saw the thing in the recess, and
his ruddy face went white.
"So!" said he in surprise.
The Prince was following him, talking over his shoulder to Von
Winterfeld and the Kapitan.
"Eh?" he said to Kurt, stopping in mid-sentence, and followed the
gesture of Kurt's hand. He glared at the crumpled object in the
recess and seemed to think for a moment.
He made a slight, careless gesture towards the boy's body and
turned to the Kapitan.
"Dispose of that," he said in German, and passed on, finishing
his sentence to Von Winterfeld in the same cheerful tone in which
it had begun.
The deep impression of helplessly drowning men that Bert had
brought from the actual fight in the Atlantic mixed itself up
inextricably with that of the lordly figure of Prince Karl Albert
gesturing aside the dead body of the Vaterland sailor. Hitherto
he had rather liked the idea of war as being a jolly, smashing,
exciting affair, something like a Bank Holiday rag on a large
scale, and on the whole agreeable and exhilarating. Now he knew
it a little better.
The next day there was added to his growing disillusionment a
third ugly impression, trivial indeed to describe, a mere
necessary everyday incident of a state of war, but very
distressing to his urbanised imagination. One writes "urbanised"
to express the distinctive gentleness of the period. It was
quite peculiar to the crowded townsmen of that time, and
different altogether from the normal experience of any preceding
age, that they never saw anything killed, never encountered, save
through the mitigating media of book or picture, the fact of
lethal violence that underlies all life. Three times in his
existence, and three times only, had Bert seen a dead human
being, and he had never assisted at the killing of anything
bigger than a new-born kitten.
The incident that gave him his third shock was the execution of
one of the men on the Adler for carrying a box of matches. The
case was a flagrant one. The man had forgotten he had it upon
him when coming aboard. Ample notice had been given to every one
of the gravity of this offence, and notices appeared at numerous
points all over the airships. The man's defence was that he had
grown so used to the notices and had been so preoccupied with his
work that he hadn't applied them to himself; he pleaded, in his
defence, what is indeed in military affairs another serious
crime, inadvertency. He was tried by his captain, and the
sentence confirmed by wireless telegraphy by the Prince, and it
was decided to make his death an example to the whole fleet.
"The Germans," the Prince declared, "hadn't crossed the Atlantic
to go wool gathering." And in order that this lesson in
discipline and obedience might be visible to every one, it was
determined not to electrocute or drown but hang the offender.
Accordingly the air-fleet came clustering round the flagship like
carp in a pond at feeding time. The Adler hung at the zenith
immediately alongside the flagship. The whole crew of the
Vaterland assembled upon the hanging gallery; the crews of the
other airships manned the air-chambers, that is to say, clambered
up the outer netting to the upper sides. The officers appeared
upon the machine-gun platforms. Bert thought it an altogether
stupendous sight, looking down, as he was, upon the entire fleet.
Far off below two steamers on the rippled blue water, one British
and the other flying the American flag, seemed the minutest
objects, and marked the scale. They were immensely distant.
Bert stood on the gallery, curious to see the execution, but
uncomfortable, because that terrible blond Prince was within a
dozen feet of him, glaring terribly, with his arms folded, and
his heels together in military fashion.
They hung the man from the Adler. They gave him sixty feet of
rope, so, that he should hang and dangle in the sight of all
evil-doers who might be hiding matches or contemplating any
kindred disobedience. Bert saw the man standing, a living,
reluctant man, no doubt scared and rebellious enough in his
heart, but outwardly erect and obedient, on the lower gallery of
the Adler about a hundred yards away. Then they had thrust him
Down he fell, hands and feet extending, until with a jerk he was
at the end of the rope. Then he ought to have died and swung
edifyingly, but instead a more terrible thing happened; his head
came right off, and down the body went spinning to the sea,
feeble, grotesque, fantastic, with the head racing it in its
"Ugh!" said Bert, clutching the rail before him, and a
sympathetic grunt came from several of the men beside him.
"So!" said the Prince, stiffer and sterner, glared for some
seconds, then turned to the gang way up into the airship.
For a long time Bert remained clinging to the railing of the
gallery. He was almost physically sick with the horror of this
trifling incident. He found it far more dreadful than the
battle. He was indeed a very degenerate, latter-day, civilised
Late that afternoon Kurt came into the cabin and found him curled
up on his locker, and looking very white and miserable. Kurt had
also lost something of his pristine freshness.
"Sea-sick?" he asked.
"We ought to reach New York this evening. There's a good breeze
coming up under our tails. Then we shall see things."
Bert did not answer.
Kurt opened out folding chair and table, and rustled for a time
with his maps. Then he fell thinking darkly. He roused himself
presently, and looked at his companion. "What's the matter?" he
Kurt stared threateningly. "What's the matter?"
"I saw them kill that chap. I saw that flying-machine man hit
the funnels of the big ironclad. I saw that dead chap in the
passage. I seen too much smashing and killing lately. That's
the matter. I don't like it. I didn't know war was this sort of
thing. I'm a civilian. I don't like it"
_I_ don't like it," said Kurt. "By Jove, no!"
"I've read about war, and all that, but when you see it it's
different. And I'm gettin' giddy. I'm gettin' giddy. I didn't
mind a bit being up in that balloon at first, but all this
looking down and floating over things and smashing up people,
it's getting on my nerves. See?"
"It'll have to get off again...."
Kurt thought. "You're not the only one. The men are all getting
strung up. The flying--that's just flying. Naturally it makes one
a little swimmy in the head at first. As for the killing, we've
got to be blooded; that's all. We're tame, civilised men. And
we've got to get blooded. I suppose there's not a dozen men on
the ship who've really seen bloodshed. Nice, quiet, law-abiding
Germans they've been so far.... Here they are--in for it.
They're a bit squeamy now, but you wait till they've got their
He reflected. "Everybody's getting a bit strung up," he said.
He turned again to his maps. Bert sat crumpled up in the corner,
apparently heedless of him. For some time both kept silence.
"What did the Prince want to go and 'ang that chap for?" asked
"That was all right," said Kurt, "that was all right. QUITE
right. Here were the orders, plain as the nose on your face, and
here was that fool going about with matches--"
"Gaw! I shan't forget that bit in a 'urry," said Bert
Kurt did not answer him. He was measuring their distance from
New York and speculating. "Wonder what the American aeroplanes
are like?" he said. "Something like our drachenflieger.... We
shall know by this time to- morrow.... I wonder what we shall
know? I wonder. Suppose, after all, they put up a fight....
Rum sort of fight!"
He whistled softly and mused. Presently he fretted out of the
cabin, and later Bert found him in the twilight upon the swinging
platform, staring ahead, and speculating about the things that
might happen on the morrow. Clouds veiled the sea again, and the
long straggling wedge of air-ships rising and falling as they
flew seemed like a flock of strange new births in a Chaos that
had neither earth nor water but only mist and sky.
HOW WAR CAME TO NEW YORK
The City of New York was in the year of the German attack the
largest, richest, in many respects the most splendid, and in
some, the wickedest city the world had ever seen. She was the
supreme type of the City of the Scientific Commercial Age; she
displayed its greatness, its power, its ruthless anarchic
enterprise, and its social disorganisation most strikingly and
completely. She had long ousted London from her pride of place
as the modern Babylon, she was the centre of the world's finance,
the world's trade, and the world's pleasure; and men likened her
to the apocalyptic cities of the ancient prophets. She sat
drinking up the wealth of a continent as Rome once drank the
wealth of the Mediterranean and Babylon the wealth of the east.
In her streets one found the extremes of magnificence and misery,
of civilisation and disorder. In one quarter, palaces of marble,
laced and, crowned with light and flame and flowers, towered up
into her marvellous twilights beautiful, beyond description; in
another, a black and sinister polyglot population sweltered in
indescribable congestion in warrens, and excavations beyond the
power and knowledge of government. Her vice, her crime, her law
alike were inspired by a fierce and terrible energy, and like the
great cities of mediaeval Italy, her ways were dark and
adventurous with private war.
It was the peculiar shape of Manhattan Island, pressed in by arms
of the sea on either side, and incapable of comfortable
expansion, except along a narrow northward belt, that first gave
the New York architects their bias for extreme vertical
dimensions. Every need was lavishly supplied them--money,
material, labour; only space was restricted. To begin,
therefore, they built high perforce. But to do so was to
discover a whole new world of architectural beauty, of exquisite
ascendant lines, and long after the central congestion had been
relieved by tunnels under the sea, four colossal bridges over the
east river, and a dozen mono-rail cables east and west, the
upward growth went on. In many ways New York and her gorgeous
plutocracy repeated Venice in the magnificence of her
architecture, painting, metal-work and sculpture, for example, in
the grim intensity,of her political method, in her maritime and
commercial ascendancy. But she repeated no previous state at all
in the lax disorder of her internal administration, a laxity that
made vast sections of her area lawless beyond precedent, so that
it was possible for whole districts to be impassable, while civil
war raged between street and street, and for Alsatias to exist in
her midst in which the official police never set foot. She was
an ethnic whirlpool. The flags of all nations flew in her
harbour, and at the climax, the yearly coming and going overseas
numbered together upwards of two million human beings. To Europe
she was America, to America she was the gateway of the world.
But to tell the story of New York would be to write a social
history of the world; saints and martyrs, dreamers and
scoundrels, the traditions of a thousand races and a thousand
religions, went to her making and throbbed and jostled in her
streets. And over all that torrential confusion of men and
purposes fluttered that strange flag, the stars and stripes, that
meant at once the noblest thing in life, and the least noble,
that is to say, Liberty on the one hand, and on the other the
base jealousy the individual self-seeker feels towards the common
purpose of the State.
For many generations New York had taken no heed of war, save as a
thing that happened far away, that affected prices and supplied
the newspapers with exciting headlines and pictures. The New
Yorkers felt perhaps even more certainly than the English had
done that war in their own land was an impossible thing. In that
they shared the delusion of all North America. They felt as
secure as spectators at a bullfight; they risked their money
perhaps on the result, but that was all. And such ideas of war
as the common Americans possessed were derived from the limited,
picturesque, adventurous war of the past. They saw war as they
saw history, through an iridescent mist, deodorised, scented
indeed, with all its essential cruelties tactfully hidden away.
They were inclined to regret it as something ennobling, to sigh
that it could no longer come into their own private experience.
They read with interest, if not with avidity, of their new guns,
of their immense and still more immense ironclads, of their
incredible and still more incredible explosives, but just what
these tremendous engines of destruction might mean for their
personal lives never entered their heads. They did not, so far
as one can judge from their contemporary literature, think that
they meant anything to their personal lives at all. They thought
America was safe amidst all this piling up of explosives. They
cheered the flag by habit and tradition, they despised other
nations, and whenever there was an international difficulty they
were intensely patriotic, that is to say, they were ardently
against any native politician who did not say, threaten, and do
harsh and uncompromising things to the antagonist people. They
were spirited to Asia, spirited to Germany, so spirited to Great
Britain that the international attitude of the mother country to
her great daughter was constantly compared in contemporary
caricature to that between a hen-pecked husband and a vicious
young wife. And for the rest, they all went about their business
and pleasure as if war had died out with the megatherium....
And then suddenly, into a world peacefully busied for the most
part upon armaments and the perfection of explosives, war came;
came the shock of realising that the guns were going off, that
the masses of inflammable material all over the world were at
The immediate effect upon New York of the sudden onset of war was
merely to intensify her normal vehemence.
The newspapers and magazines that fed the American mind--for
books upon this impatient continent had become simply material
for the energy of collectors--were instantly a coruscation of war
pictures and of headlines that rose like rockets and burst like
shells. To the normal high-strung energy of New York streets was
added a touch of war-fever. Great crowds assembled, more
especially in the dinner hour, in Madison Square about the
Farragut monument, to listen to and cheer patriotic speeches, and
a veritable epidemic of little flags and buttons swept through
these great torrents of swiftly moving young people, who poured
into New York of a morning by car and mono-rail and subway and
train, to toil, and ebb home again between the hours of five and
seven. It was dangerous not to wear a war button. The splendid
music-halls of the time sank every topic in patriotism and
evolved scenes of wild enthusiasm, strong men wept at the sight
of the national banner sustained by the whole strength of the
ballet, and special searchlights and illuminations amazed the
watching angels. The churches re-echoed the national enthusiasm
in graver key and slower measure, and the aerial and naval
preparations on the East River were greatly incommoded by the
multitude of excursion steamers which thronged, helpfully
cheering, about them. The trade in small-arms was enormously
stimulated, and many overwrought citizens found an immediate
relief for their emotions in letting off fireworks of a more or
less heroic, dangerous, and national character in the public
streets. Small children's air-balloons of the latest model
attached to string became a serious check to the pedestrian in
Central Park. And amidst scenes of indescribable emotion the
Albany legislature in permanent session, and with a generous
suspension of rules and precedents, passed through both Houses
the long-disputed Bill for universal military service in New York
Critics of the American character are disposed to consider--that
up to the actual impact of the German attack the people of New
York dealt altogether too much with the war as if it was a
political demonstration. Little or no damage, they urge, was
done to either the German or Japanese forces by the wearing of
buttons, the waving of small flags, the fireworks, or the songs.
They forgot that, under the conditions of warfare a century of
science had brought about, the non-military section of the
population could do no serious damage in any form to their
enemies, and that there was no reason, therefore, why they
should, not do as they did. The balance of military efficiency
was shifting back from the many to the few, from the common to
The days when the emotional infantryman decided battles had
passed by for ever. War had become a matter of apparatus of
special training and skill of the most intricate kind. It had
become undemocratic. And whatever the value of the popular
excitement, there can be no denying that the small regular
establishment of the United States Government, confronted by this
totally unexpected emergency of an armed invasion from Europe,
acted with vigour, science, and imagination. They were taken by
surprise so far as the diplomatic situation was concerned, and
their equipment for building either navigables or aeroplanes was
contemptible in comparison with the huge German parks. Still
they set to work at once to prove to the world that the spirit
that had created the Monitor and the Southern submarines of 1864
was not dead. The chief of the aeronautic establishment near
West Point was Cabot Sinclair, and he allowed himself but one
single moment of the posturing that was so universal in that
democratic time. "We have chosen our epitaphs," he said to a
reporter, "and we are going to have, 'They did all they could.'
Now run away!"
The curious thing is that they did all do all they could; there
is no exception known. Their only defect indeed was a defect of
style. One of the most striking facts historically about this
war, and the one that makes the complete separation that had
arisen between the methods of warfare and the necessity of
democratic support, is the effectual secrecy of the Washington
authorities about their airships. They did not bother to confide
a single fact of their preparations to the public. They did not
even condescend to talk to Congress. They burked and suppressed
every inquiry. The war was fought by the President and the
Secretaries of State in an entirely autocratic manner. Such
publicity as they sought was merely to anticipate and prevent
inconvenient agitation to defend particular points. They
realised that the chief danger in aerial warfare from an
excitable and intelligent public would be a clamour for local
airships and aeroplanes to defend local interests. This, with
such resources as they possessed, might lead to a fatal division
and distribution of the national forces. Particularly they
feared that they might be forced into a premature action to
defend New York. They realised with prophetic insight that this
would be the particular advantage the Germans would seek. So
they took great pains to direct the popular mind towards
defensive artillery, and to divert it from any thought of aerial
battle. Their real preparations they masked beneath ostensible
ones. There was at Washington a large relserve of naval guns,
and these were distributed rapidly, conspicuously, and with much
press attention, among the Eastern cities. They were mounted for
the most part upon hills and prominent crests around the
threatened centres of population. They were mounted upon rough
adaptations of the Doan swivel, which at that time gave the
maximum vertical range to a heavy gun. Much of this artillery
was still unmounted, and nearly all of it was unprotected when
the German air-fleet reached New York. And down in the crowded
streets, when that occurred, the readers of the New York papers
were regaling themselves with wonderful and wonderfully
illustrated accounts of such matters as:--
THE SECRET OF THE THUNDERBOLT
AGED SCIENTIST PERFECTS ELECTRIC GUN
TO ELECTROCUTE AIRSHIP CREWS BY UPWARD LIGHTNING
WASHINGTON ORDERS FIVE HUNDRED
WAR SECRETARY LODGE DELIGHTED
SAYS THEY WILL SUIT THE GERMANS DOWN TO THE GROUND
PRESIDENT PUBLICLY APPLAUDS THIS MERRY QUIP
The German fleet reached New York in advance of the news of the
American naval disaster. It reached New York in the late
afternoon and was first seen by watchers at Ocean Grove and Long
Branch coming swiftly out of the southward sea and going away to
the northwest. The flagship passed almost vertically over the
Sandy Hook observation station, rising rapidly as it did so, and
in a few minutes all New York was vibrating to the Staten Island
Several of these guns, and especially that at Giffords and the
one on Beacon Hill above Matawan, were remarkably well handled.
The former, at a distance of five miles, and with an elevation of
six thousand feet, sent a shell to burst so close to the
Vaterland that a pane of the Prince's forward window was smashed
by a fragment. This sudden explosion made Bert tuck in his head
with the celerity of a startled tortoise. The whole air-fleet
immediately went up steeply to a height of about twelve thousand
feet and at that level passed unscathed over the ineffectual
guns. The airships lined out as they moved forward into the form
of a flattened V, with its apex towards the city, and with the
flagship going highest at the apex. The two ends of the V passed
over Plumfield and Jamaica Bay, respectively, and the Prince
directed his course a little to the east of the Narrows, soared
over Upper Bay, and came to rest over Jersey City in a position
that dominated lower New York. There the monsters hung, large
and wonderful in the evening light, serenely regardless of the
occasional rocket explosions and flashing shell-bursts in the
It was a pause of mutual inspection. For a time naive humanity
swamped the conventions of warfare altogether; the interest of
the millions below and of the thousands above alike was
spectacular. The evening was unexpectedly fine--only a few thin
level bands of clouds at seven or eight thousand feet broke its
luminous clarity. The wind had dropped; it was an evening
infinitely peaceful and still. The heavy concussions of the
distant guns and those incidental harmless pyrotechnics at the
level of the clouds seemed to have as little to do with killing
and force, terror and submission, as a salute at a naval review.
Below, every point of vantage bristled with spectators, the roofs
of the towering buildings, the public squares, the active ferry
boats, and every favourable street intersection had its crowds:
all the river piers were dense with people, the Battery Park was
solid black with east-side population, and every position of
advantage in Central Park and along Riverside Drive had its
peculiar and characteristic assembly from the adjacent streets.
The footways of the great bridges over the East River were also
closely packed and blocked. Everywhere shopkeepers had left
their shops, men their work, and women and children their homes,
to come out and see the marvel.
"It beat," they declared, "the newspapers."
And from above, many of the occupants of the airships stared with
an equal curiosity. No city in the world was ever so finely
placed as New York, so magnificently cut up by sea and bluff
and river, so admirably disposed to display the tall effects of
buildings, the complex immensities of bridges and mono-railways
and feats of engineering. London, Paris, Berlin, were shapeless,
low agglomerations beside it. Its port reached to its heart like
Venice, and, like Venice, it was obvious, dramatic, and proud.
Seen from above it was alive with crawling trains and cars, and
at a thousand points it was already breaking into quivering
light. New York was altogether at its best that evening, its
"Gaw! What a place!" said Bert.
It was so great, and in its collective effect so pacifically
magnificent, that to make war upon it seemed incongruous beyond
measure, like laying siege to the National Gallery or attacking
respectable people in an hotel dining-room with battle-axe and
mail. It was in its entirety so large, so complex, so delicately
immense, that to bring it to the issue of warfare was like
driving a crowbar into the mechanism of a clock. And the
fish-like shoal of great airships hovering light and sunlit
above, filling the sky, seemed equally remote from the ugly
forcefulness of war. To Kurt, to Smallways, to I know not how
many more of the people in the air-fleet came the distinctest
apprehension of these incompatibilities. But in the head of the
Prince Karl Albert were the vapours of romance: he was a
conqueror, and this was the enemy's city. The greater the city,
the greater the triumph. No doubt he had a time of tremendous
exultation and sensed beyond all precedent the sense of power
There came an end at last to that pause. Some wireless
communications had failed of a satisfactory ending, and fleet and
city remembered they were hostile powers. "Look!" cried the
"What are they doing?"
"What?"... Down through the twilight sank five attacking
airships, one to the Navy Yard on East River, one to City Hall,
two over the great business buildings of Wall Street and Lower
Broadway, one to the Brooklyn Bridge, dropping from among their
fellows through the danger zone from the distant guns smoothly
and rapidly to a safe proximity to the city masses. At that
descent all the cars in the streets stopped with dramatic
suddenness, and all the lights that had been coming on in the
streets and houses went out again. For the City Hall had
awakened and was conferring by telephone with the Federal command
and taking measures for defence. The City Hall was asking for
airships, refusing to surrender as Washington advised, and
developing into a centre of intense emotion, of hectic activity.
Everywhere and hastily the police began to clear the assembled
crowds. "Go to your homes," they said; and the word was passed
from mouth to mouth, "There's going to be trouble." A chill of
apprehension ran through the city, and men hurrying in the
unwonted darkness across City Hall Park and Union Square came
upon the dim forms of soldiers and guns, and were challenged and
sent back. In half an hour New York had passed from serene
sunset and gaping admiration to a troubled and threatening
The first loss of life occurred in the panic rush from Brooklyn
Bridge as the airship approached it. With the cessation of the
traffic an unusual stillness came upon New York, and the
disturbing concussions of the futile defending guns on the hills
about grew more and more audible. At last these ceased also. A
pause of further negotiation followed. People sat in darkness,
sought counsel from telephones that were dumb. Then into the
expectant hush came a great crash and uproar, the breaking down
of the Brooklyn Bridge, the rifle fire from the Navy Yard, and
the bursting of bombs in Wall Street and the City Hall. New York
as a whole could do nothing, could understand nothing. New York
in the darkness peered and listened to these distant sounds until
presently they died away as suddenly as they had begun. "What
could be happening?" They asked it in vain.
A long, vague period intervened, and people looking out of the
windows of upper rooms discovered the dark hulls of German
airships, gliding slowly and noiselessly, quite close at hand.
Then quietly the electric lights came on again, and an uproar of
nocturnal newsvendors began in the streets.
The units of that vast and varied population bought and learnt
what had happened; there had been a fight and New York had
hoisted the white flag.
The lamentable incidents that followed the surrender of New York
seem now in the retrospect to be but the necessary and inevitable
consequence of the clash of modern appliances and social
conditions produced by the scientific century on the one hand,
and the tradition of a crude, romantic patriotism on the other.
At first people received the fact with an irresponsible
detachment, much as they would have received the slowing down of
the train in which they were travelling or the erection of a
public monument by the city to which they belonged.
"We have surrendered. Dear me! HAVE we?" was rather the manner
in which the first news was met. They took it in the same
spectacular spirit they had displayed at the first apparition of
the air-fleet. Only slowly was this realisation of a
capitulation suffused with the flush of passion, only with
reflection did they make any personal application. "WE have
surrendered!" came later; "in us America is defeated." Then they
began to burn and tingle.
The newspapers, which were issued about one in the morning
contained no particulars of the terms upon which New York had
yielded--nor did they give any intimation of the quality of the
brief conflict that had preceded the capitulation. The later
issues remedied these deficiencies. There came the explicit
statement of the agreement to victual the German airships, to
supply the complement of explosives to replace those employed in
the fight and in the destruction of the North Atlantic fleet, to
pay the enormous ransom of forty million dollars, and to
surrender the in the East River. There came, too, longer and
longer descriptions of the smashing up of the City Hall and the
Navy Yard, and people began to realise faintly what those brief
minutes of uproar had meant. They read the tale of men blown to
bits, of futile soldiers in that localised battle fightingagainst
hope amidst an indescribable wreckage, of flags hauled down by
weeping men. And these strange nocturnal editions contained also
the first brief cables from Europe of the fleet disaster, the
North Atlantic fleet for which New York had always felt an
especial pride and solicitude. Slowly, hour by hour, the
collective consciousness woke up, the tide of patriotic
astonishment and humiliation came floating in. America had come
upon disaster; suddenly New York discovered herself with
amazement giving place to wrath unspeakable, a conquered city
under the hand of her conqueror.
As that fact shaped itself in the public mind, there sprang up,
as flames spring up, an angry repudiation. "No!" cried New York,
waking in the dawn. "No! I am not defeated. This is a dream."
Before day broke the swift American anger was running through all
the city, through every soul in those contagious millions.
Before it took action, before it took shape, the men in the
airships could feel the gigantic insurgence of emotion, as cattle
and natural creatures feel, it is said, the coming of an
earthquake. The newspapers of the Knype group first gave the
thing words and a formula. "We do not agree," they said simply.
"We have been betrayed!" Men took that up everywhere, it passed
from mouth to mouth, at every street corner under the paling
lights of dawn orators stood unchecked, calling upon the spirit
of America to arise, making the shame a personal reality to every
one who heard. To Bert, listening five hundred feet above, it
seemed that the city, which had at first produced only confused
noises, was now humming like a hive of bees--of very angry bees.
After the smashing of the City Hall and Post-Office, the white
flag had been hoisted from a tower of the old Park Row building,
and thither had gone Mayor O'Hagen, urged thither indeed by the
terror-stricken property owners of lower New York, to negotiate
the capitulation with Von Winterfeld. The Vaterland, having
dropped the secretary by a rope ladder, remained hovering,
circling very slowly above the great buildings, old and new, that
clustered round City Hall Park, while the Helmholz, which had
done the fighting there, rose overhead to a height of perhaps two
thousand feet. So Bert had a near view of all that occurred in
that central place. The City Hall and Court House, the
Post-Office and a mass of buildings on the west side of Broadway,
had been badly damaged, and the three former were a heap of
blackened ruins. In the case of the first two the loss of life
had not been considerable, but a great multitude of workers,
including many girls and women, had been caught in the
destruction of the Post-Office, and a little army of volunteers
with white badges entered behind the firemen, bringing out the
often still living bodies, for the most part frightfully charred,
and carrying them into the big Monson building close at hand.
Everywhere the busy firemen were directing their bright streams
of water upon the smouldering masses: their hose lay about the
square, and long cordons of police held back the gathering lack
masses of people, chiefly from the east side, from these central
In violent and extraordinary contrast with this scene of
destruction, close at hand were the huge newspaper establishments
of Park Row. They were all alight and working; they had not been
abandoned even while the actual bomb throwing was going on, and
now staff and presses were vehemently active, getting out the
story, the immense and dreadful story of the night, developing
comment and, in most cases, spreading the idea of resistance
under the very noses of the airships. For a long time Bert could
not imagine what these callously active offices could be, then he
detected the noise of the presses and emitted his "Gaw!"
Beyond these newspaper buildings again, and partially hidden by
the arches of the old Elevated Railway of New York (long since
converted into a mono-rail), there was another cordon of police
and a sort of encampment of ambulances and doctors, busy with the
dead and wounded who had been killed early in the night by the
panic upon Brooklyn Bridge. All this he saw in the perspectives
of a bird's-eye view, as things happening in a big,
irregular-shaped pit below him, between cliffs of high building.
Northward he looked along the steep canon of Broadway, down whose
length at intervals crowds were assembling about excited
speakers; and when he lifted his eyes he saw the chimneys and
cable-stacks and roof spaces of New York, and everywhere now over
these the watching, debating people clustered, except where the
fires raged and the jets of water flew. Everywhere, too, were
flagstaffs devoid of flags; one white sheet drooped and flapped
and drooped again over the Park Row buildings. And upon the
lurid lights, the festering movement and intense shadows of this
strange scene, there was breaking now the cold, impartial dawn.
For Bert Smallways all this was framed in the frame of the open
porthole. It was a pale, dim world outside that dark and
tangible rim. All night he had clutched at that rim, jumped and
quivered at explosions, and watched phantom events. Now he had
been high and now low; now almost beyond hearing, now flying
close to crashings and shouts and outcries. He had seen airships
flying low and swift over darkened and groaning streets; watched
great buildings, suddenly red-lit amidst the shadows, crumple at
the smashing impact of bombs; witnessed for the first time in his
life the grotesque, swift onset, of insatiable conflagrations.
From it all he felt detached, disembodied. The Vaterland did not
even fling a bomb; she watched and ruled. Then down they had
come at last to hover over City Hall Park, and it had crept in
upon his mind,, chillingly, terrifyingly, that these illuminated
black masses were great offices afire, and that the going to and
fro of minute, dim spectres of lantern-lit grey and white was a
harvesting of the wounded and the dead. As the light grew
clearer he began to understand more and more what these crumpled
black things signified....
He had watched hour after hour since first New York had risen out
of the blue indistinctness of the landfall. With the daylight he
experienced an intolerable fatigue.
He lifted weary eyes to the pink flush in the sky, yawned
immensely, and crawled back whispering to himself across the
cabin to the locker. He did not so.much lie down upon that as
fall upon it and instantly become asleep.
There, hours after, sprawling undignified and sleeping
profoundly, Kurt found him, a very image of the democratic mind
confronted with the problems of a time too complex for its
apprehension. His face was pale and indifferent, his mouth wide
open, and he snored. He snored disagreeably.
Kurt regarded him for a moment with a mild distaste. Then he
kicked his ankle.
"Wake up," he said to Smallways' stare, "and lie down decent."
Bert sat up and rubbed his eyes.
"Any more fightin' yet?" he asked.
"No," said Kurt, and sat down, a tired man.
"Gott!" he cried presently, rubbing his hands over his face, "but
I'd like a cold bath! I've been looking for stray bullet holes
in the air-chambers all night until now." He yawned. "I must
sleep. You'd better clear out, Smallways. I can't stand you
here this morning. You're so infernally ugly and useless. Have
you had your rations? No! Well, go in and get 'em, and don't
come back. Stick in the gallery...."
So Bert, slightly refreshed by coffee and sleep, resumed his
helpless co-operation in the War in the Air. He went down into
the little gallery as the lieutenant had directed, and clung to
the rail at the extreme end beyond the look-out man, trying to
seem as inconspicuous and harmless a fragment of life as
A wind was rising rather strongly from the south-east. It
obliged the Vaterland to come about in that direction, and made
her roll a great deal as she went to and fro over Manhattan
Island. Away in the north-west clouds gathered. The throb-throb
of her slow screw working against the breeze was much more
perceptible than when she was going full speed ahead; and the
friction of the wind against the underside of the gas-chamber
drove a series of shallow ripples along it and made a faint
flapping sound like, but fainter than, the beating of ripples
under the stem of a boat. She was stationed over the temporary
City Hall in the Park Row building, and every now and then she
would descend to resume communication with the mayor and with
Washington. But the restlessness of the Prince would not suffer
him to remain for long in any one place. Now he would circle
over the Hudson and East River; now he would go up high, as if to
peer away into the blue distances; once he ascended so swiftly
and so far that mountain sickness overtook him and the crew and
forced him down again; and Bert shared the dizziness and nausea.
The swaying view varied with these changes of altitude. Now they
would be low and close, and he would distinguish in that steep,
unusual perspective, windows, doors, street and sky signs, people
and the minutest details, and watch the enigmatical behaviour of
crowds and clusters upon the roofs and in the streets; then as
they soared the details would shrink, the sides of streets draw
together, the view widen, the people cease to be significant. At
the highest the effect was that of a concave relief map; Bert saw
the dark and crowded land everywhere intersected by shining
waters, saw the Hudson River like a spear of silver, and Lower
Island Sound like a shield. Even to Bert's unphilosophical mind
the contrast of city below and fleet above pointed an opposition,
the opposition of the adventurous American's tradition and
character with German order and discipline. Below, the immense
buildings, tremendous and fine as they were, seemed like the
giant trees of a jungle fighting for life; their picturesque
magnificence was as planless as the chances of crag and gorge,
their casualty enhanced by the smoke and confusion of still
unsubdued and spreading conflagrations. In the sky soared the
German airships like beings in a different, entirely more orderly
world, all oriented to the same angle of the horizon, uniform in
build and appearance, moving accurately with one purpose as a
pack of wolves will move, distributed with the most precise and
It dawned upon Bert that hardly a third of the fleet was visible.
The others had gone upon errands he could not imagine, beyond the
compass of that great circle of earth. and sky. He wondered, but
there was no one to ask. As the day wore on, about a dozen
reappeared in the east with their stores replenished from the
flotilla and towing a number of drachenffieger. Towards
afternoon the weather thickened, driving clouds appeared in the
south-west and ran together and seemed to engender more clouds,
and the wind came round into that quarter and blew stronger.
Towards the evening the, wind became a gale into which the now
tossing airships had to beat.
All that day the Prince was negotiating with Washington, while
his detached scouts sought far and wide over the Eastern States
looking for anything resembling an aeronautic park. A squadron
of twenty airships detached overnight had dropped out of the air
upon Niagara and was holding the town and power works.
Meanwhile the insurrectionary movement in the giant city grew
uncontrollable. In spite of five great fires already involving
many acres, and spreading steadily, New York was still not
satisfied that she was beaten.
At first the rebellious spirit below found vent only in isolated
shouts, street-crowd speeches, and newspaper suggestions; then it
found much more definite expression in the appearance in the
morning sunlight of American flags at point after point above the
architectural cliffs of the city. It is quite possible that in
many cases this spirited display of bunting by a city already
surrendered was the outcome of the innocent informality of the
American mind, but it is also undeniable thatin many it was a
deliberate indication that the people "felt wicked."
The German sense of correctitude was deeply shocked by this
outbreak. The Graf von Winterfeld immediately communicated with
the mayor, and pointed out the irregularity, and the fire
look-out stations were instructed in the matter. The New York
police was speedily hard at work, and a foolish contest in full
swing between impassioned citizens resolved to keep the flag
flying, and irritated and worried officers instructed to pull it
The trouble became acute at last in the streets above Columbia
University. The captain of the airship watching this quarter
seems to have stooped to lasso and drag from its staff a flag
hoisted upon Morgan Hall. As he did so a volley of rifle and
revolver shots was fired from the upper windows of the huge
apartment building that stands between the University and
Most of these were ineffectual, but two or three perforated
gas-chambers, and one smashed the hand and arm of a man upon the
forward platform; The sentinel on the lower gallery immediately
replied, and the machine gun on the shield of the eagle let fly
and promptly stopped any further shots. The airship rose and
signalled the flagship and City Hall, police and militiamen were
directed at once to the spot, and this particular incident
But hard upon that came the desperate attempt of a party of young
clubmen from New York, who, inspired by patriotic and adventurous
imaginations, slipped off in half a dozen motor-cars to Beacon
Hill, and set to work with remarkable vigour to improvise a fort
about the Doan swivel gun that had been placed there. They found
it still in the hands of the disgusted gunners, who had been
ordered to cease fire at the capitulation, and it was easy to
infect these men with their own spirit. They declared their gun
hadn't had half a chance, and,were burning to show what it could
do. Directed by the newcomers, they made a trench and bank about
the mounting of the piece, and constructed flimsy shelter-pits of
They were actually loading the gun when they were observed by the
airship Preussen and the shell they succeeded in firing before
the bombs of the latter smashed them and their crude defences to
fragments, burst over the middle gas-chambers of the Bingen, and
brought her to earth, disabled, upon Staten Island. She was
badly deflated, and dropped among trees, over which her empty
central gas-bags spread in canopies and festoons. Nothing,
however, had caught fire, and her men were speedily at work upon
her repair. They behaved with a confidence that verged upon
indiscretion. While most of them commenced patching the tears
of the membrane, half a dozen of them started off for the nearest
road in search of a gas main, and presently found themselves
prisoners in the hands of a hostile crowd. Close at hand was a
number of villa residences, whose occupants speedily developed
from an unfriendly curiosity to aggression. At that time the
police control of the large polyglot population of Staten Island
had become very lax, and scarcely a household but had its rifle
or pistols and ammunition. These were presently produced, and
after two or three misses, one of the men at work was hit in the
foot. Thereupon the Germans left their sewing and mending, took
cover among the trees, and replied.
The crackling of shots speedily brought the Preussen and Kiel on
the scene, and with a few hand grenades they made short work of
every villa within a mile. A number of non-combatant American
men, women, and children were killed and the actual assailants
driven off. For a time the repairs went on in peace under the
immediate protection of these two airships. Then when they
returned to their quarters, an intermittent sniping and fighting
round the stranded Bingen was resumed, and went on all the
afternoon, and merged at last in the general combat of the
About eight the Bingen was rushed by an armed mob, and all its
defenders killed after a fierce, disorderly struggle.
The difficulty of the Germans in both these cases came from the
impossibility of landing any efficient force or, indeed, any
force at all from the air-fleet. The airships were quite unequal
to the transport of any adequate landing parties; their
complement of men was just sufficient to manoeuvre and fight them
in the air. From above they could inflict immense damage; they
could reduce any organised Government to a capitulation in the
briefest space, but they could not disarm, much less could they
occupy, the surrendered areas below. They had to trust to the
pressure upon the authorities below of a threat to renew the
bombardment. It was their sole resource. No doubt, with a
highly organised and undamaged Government and a homogeneous and
well-disciplined people that would have sufficed to keep the
peace. But this was not the American case. Not only was the New
York Government a weak one and insufficiently provided with
police, but the destruction of the City Hall--and Post-Offide and
other central ganglia had hopelessly disorganised the
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