The War in the Air
H. G. Wells [Herbert George Wells]
Part 4 out of 6
co-operation of part with part. The street cars and railways had
ceased; the telephone service was out of gear and only worked
intermittently. The Germans had struck at the head, and the head
was conquered and stunned--only to release the body from its
rule. New York had become a headless monster, no longer capable
of collective submission. Everywhere it lifted itself
rebelliously; everywhere authorities and officials left to their
own imitative were joining in the arming and flag-hoisting and
excitement of that afternoon.
The disintegrating truce gave place to a definite general breach
with the assassination of the Wetterhorn--for that is the only
possible word for the act--above Union Square, and not a mile
away from the exemplary ruins of City Hall. This occurred late
in the afternoon, between five and six. By that time the weather
had changed very much for the worse, and the operations of the
airships were embarrassed by the necessity they were under of
keeping head on to the gusts. A series of squalls, with hail and
thunder, followed one another from the south by south-east, and
in order to avoid these as much as possible, the air-fleet came
low over the houses, diminishing its range of observation and
exposing itself to a rifle attack.
Overnight there had been a gun placed in Union Square. It had
never been mounted, much less fired, and in the darkness after
the surrender it was taken with its supplies and put out of the
way under the arches of the great Dexter building. Here late in
the morning it was remarked by a number of patriotic spirits.
They set to work to hoist and mount it inside the upper floors of
the place. They made, in fact, a masked battery behind the
decorous office blinds, and there lay in wait as simply excited
as children until at last the stem of the luckless Wetterhorn
appeared, beating and rolling at quarter speed over the recently
reconstructed pinnacles of Tiffany's. Promptly that one-gun
battery unmasked. The airship's look-out man must have seen the
whole of the tenth story of the Dexter building crumble out and
smash in the street below to discover the black muzzle looking
out from the shadows behind. Then perhaps the shell hit him.
The gun fired two shells before the frame of the Dexter building
collapsed, and each shell raked the Wetterhorn from stem to
stern. They smashed her exhaustively. She crumpled up like a
can that has been kicked by a heavy boot, her forepart came down
in the square, and the rest of her length, with a great snapping
and twisting of shafts and stays, descended, collapsing athwart
Tammany Hall and the streets towards Second Avenue. Her gas
escaped to mix with air, and the air of her rent balloonette
poured into her deflating gas-chambers. Then with an immense
impact she exploded....
The Vaterland at that time was beating up to the south of City
Hall from over the ruins of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the reports
of the gun, followed by the first crashes of the collapsing
Dexter building, brought Kurt and, Smallways to the cabin
porthole. They were in time to see the flash of the exploding
gun, and then they were first flattened against the window and
then rolled head over heels across the floor of the cabin by the
air wave of the explosion. The Vaterland bounded like a football
some one has kicked and when they looked out again, Union Square
was small and remote and shattered, as though some cosmically
vast giant had rolled over it. The buildings to the east of it
were ablaze at a dozen points, under the flaming tatters and
warping skeleton of the airship, and all the roofs and walls were
ridiculously askew and crumbling as one looked. "Gaw!" said
Bert. "What's happened? Look at the people!"
But before Kurt could produce an explanation, the shrill bells of
the airship were ringing to quarters, and he had to go. Bert
hesitated and stepped thoughtfully into the passage, looking back
at the window as he did so. He was knocked off his feet at once
by the Prince, who was rushing headlong from his cabin to the
Bert had a momentary impression of the great figure of the
Prince, white with rage, bristling with gigantic anger, his huge
fist swinging. "Blut und Eisen!" cried the Prince, as one who
swears. "Oh! Blut und Eisen!"
Some one fell over Bert--something in the manner of falling
suggested Von Winterfeld--and some one else paused and kicked him
spitefully and hard. Then he was sitting up in the passage,
rubbing a freshly bruised cheek and readjusting the bandage he
still wore on his head. "Dem that Prince," said Bert, indignant
beyond measure. "'E 'asn't the menners of a 'og!"
He stood up, collected his wits for a minute, and then went
slowly towards the gangway of the little gallery. As he did so
he heard noises suggestive of the return of the Prince. The lot
of them were coming back again. He shot into his cabin like a
rabbit into its burrow, just in time to escape that shouting
He shut the door, waited until the passage was still, then went
across to the window and looked out. A drift of cloud made the
prospect of the streets and squares hazy, and the rolling of the
airship swung the picture up and down. A few people were running
to and fro, but for the most part the aspect of the district was
desertion. The streets seemed to broaden out, they became
clearer, and the little dots that were people larger as the
Vaterland came down again. Presently she was swaying along above
the lower end of Broadway. The dots below, Bert saw, were not
running now, but standing and looking up. Then suddenly they
were all running again.
Something had dropped from the aeroplane, something that looked
small and flimsy. It hit the pavement near a big archway just
underneath Bert. A little man was sprinting along the sidewalk
within half a dozen yards, and two or three others and one woman
were bolting across the roadway. They were odd little figures,
so very small were they about the heads, so very active about the
elbows and legs. It was really funny to see their legs going.
Foreshortened, humanity has no dignity. The little man on the
pavement jumped comically--no doubt with terror, as the bomb fell
Then blinding flames squirted out in all directions from the
point of impact, and the little man who had jumped became, for an
instant, a flash of fire and vanished--vanished absolutely. The
people running out into the road took preposterous clumsy leaps,
then flopped down and lay still, with their torn clothes
smouldering into flame. Then pieces of the archway began to
drop, and the lower masonry of the building to fall in with the
rumbling sound of coals being shot into a cellar. A faint
screaming reached Bert, and then a crowd of people ran out into
the street, one man limping and gesticulating awkwardly. He
halted, and went back towards the building. A falling mass of
brick-work hit him and sent him sprawling to lie still and
crumpled where he fell. Dust and black smoke came pouring into
the street, and were presently shot with red flame....
In this manner the massacre of New York began. She was the first
of the great cities of the Scientific Age to suffer by the
enormous powers and grotesque limitations of aerial warfare. She
was wrecked as in the previous century endless barbaric cities
had been bombarded, because she was at once too strong to be
occupied and too undisciplined and proud to surrender in order to
escape destruction. Given the circumstances, the thing had to be
done. It was impossible for the Prince to desist, and own
himself defeated, and it was impossible to subdue the city except
by largely destroying it. The catastrophe was the logical
outcome of the situation, created by the application of science
to warfare. It was unavoidable that great cities should be
destroyed. In spite of his intense exasperation with his
dilemma, the Prince sought to be moderate even in massacre. He
tried to give a memorable lesson with the minimum waste of life
and the minimum expenditure of explosives. For that night he
proposed only the wrecking of Broadway. He directed the
air-fleet to move in column over the route of this thoroughfare,
dropping bombs, the Vaterland leading. And so our Bert Smallways
became a participant in one of the most cold-blooded slaughters
in the world's history, in which men who were neither excited
nor, except for the remotest chance of a bullet, in any danger,
poured death and destruction upon homes and crowds below.
He clung to the frame of the porthole as the airship tossed and
swayed, and stared down through the light rain that now drove
before the wind, into the twilight streets, watching people
running out of the houses, watching buildings collapse and fires
begin. As the airships sailed along they smashed up the city as
a child will shatter its cities of brick and card. Below, they
left ruins and blazing conflagrations and heaped and scattered
dead; men, women, and children mixed together as though they had
been no more than Moors, or Zulus, or Chinese. Lower New York
was soon a furnace of crimson flames, from which there was no
escape. Cars, railways, ferries, all had ceased, and never a
light lit the way of the distracted fugitives in that dusky
confusion but the light of burning. He had glimpses of what,it
must mean to be down there--glimpses. And it came to him
suddenly as an incredible discovery, that such disasters were not
only possible now in this strange, gigantic, foreign New York,
but also in London--in Bun Hill! that the little island in the
silver seas was at the end of its immunity, that nowhere in the
world any more was there a place left where a Smallways might
lift his head proudly and vote for war and a spirited foreign
policy, and go secure from such horrible things.
THE "VATERLAND" IS DISABLED
And then above the flames of Manhattan Island came a battle, the
first battle in the air. The Americans had realised the price
their waiting game must cost, and struck with all the strength
they had, if haply they might still save New York from this mad
Prince of Blood and Iron, and from fire and death.
They came down upon the Germans on the wings of a great gale in
the twilight, amidst thunder and rain. They came from the yards
of Washington and Philadelphia, full tilt in two squadrons, and
but for one sentinel airship hard by Trenton, the surprise would
have been complete.
The Germans, sick and weary with destruction, and half empty of
ammunition, were facing up into the weather when the news of this
onset reached them. New York they had left behind to the
south-eastward, a darkened city with one hideous red scar of
flames. All the airships rolled and staggered, bursts of
hailstorm bore them down and forced them to fight their way up
again; the air had become bitterly cold. The Prince was on the
point of issuing orders to drop earthward and trail copper
lightning chains when the news of the aeroplane attack came to
him. He faced his fleet in line abreast south, had the
drachenflieger manned and held ready to cast loose, and ordered a
general ascent into the freezing clearness above the wet and
The news of what was imminent came slowly to Bert's perceptions.
He was standing in the messroom at the time and the evening
rations were being served out. He had resumed Butteridge's coat
and gloves, and in addition he had wrapped his blanket about him.
He was dipping his bread into his soup and was biting off big
mouthfuls. His legs were wide apart, and he leant against the
partition in order to steady himself amidst the pitching and
oscillation of the airship. The men about him looked tired and
depressed; a few talked, but most were sullen and thoughtful, and
one or two were air-sick. They all seemed to share the
peculiarly outcast feeling that had followed the murders of the
evening, a sense of a land beneath them, and an outraged humanity
grown more hostile than the Sea.
Then the news hit them. A red-faced sturdy man, a man with
light eyelashes and a scar, appeared in the doorway and shouted
something in German that manifestly startled every one. Bert
felt the shock of the altered tone, though he could not
understand a word that was said. T he announcement was followed
by a pause, and then a great outcry of questions and suggestions.
Even the air-sick men flushed and spoke. For some minutes the
mess-room was Bedlam, and then, as if it were a confirmation of
the news, came the shrill ringing of the bells that called the
men to their posts.
Bert with pantomime suddenness found himself alone.
"What's up?" he said, though he partly guessed.
He stayed only to gulp down the remainder of his soup, and then
ran along the swaying passage and, clutching tightly, down the
ladder to the little gallery. The weather hit him like cold
water squirted from a hose. The airship engaged in some new feat
of atmospheric Jiu-Jitsu. He drew his blanket closer about him,
clutching with one straining hand. He found himself tossing in a
wet twilight, with nothing to be seen but mist pouring past him.
Above him the airship was warm with lights and busy with the
movements of men going to their quarters. Then abruptly the
lights went out, and the Vaterland with bounds and twists and
strange writhings was fighting her way up the air.
He had a glimpse, as the Vaterland rolled over, of some large
buildings burning close below them, a quivering acanthus of
flames, and then he saw indistinctly through the driving weather
another airship wallowing along like a porpoise, and also working
up. Presently the clouds swallowed her again for a time, and
then she came back to sight as a dark and whale-like monster,
amidst streaming weather. The air was full of flappings and
pipings, of void, gusty shouts and noises; it buffeted him and
confused him; ever and again his attention became rigid--a blind
and deaf balancing and clutching.
Something fell past him out of the vast darknesses above and
vanished into the tumults below, going obliquely downward. It
was a German drachenflieger. The thing was going so fast he had
but an instant apprehension of the dark figure of the aeronaut
crouched together clutching at his wheel. It might be a
manoeuvre, but it looked like a catastrophe.
"Gaw!" said Bert.
"Pup-pup-pup" went a gun somewhere in the mirk ahead and suddenly
and quite horribly the Vaterland lurched, and Bert and the
sentinel were clinging to the rail for dear life. "Bang!" came
a vast impact out of the zenith, followed by another huge roll,
and all about him the tumbled clouds flashed red and lurid in
response to flashes unseen, revealing immense gulfs. The rail
went right overhead, and he was hanging loose in the air holding
on to it.
For a time Bert's whole mind and being was given to clutching.
"I'm going into the cabin," he said, as the airship righted again
and brought back the gallery floor to his feet. He began to make
his way cautiously towards the ladder. "Whee-wow!" he cried as
the whole gallery reared itself up forward, and then plunged down
like a desperate horse.
Crack! Bang! Bang! Bang! And then hard upon this little rattle
of shots and bombs came, all about him, enveloping him, engulfing
him, immense and overwhelming, a quivering white blaze of
lightning and a thunder-clap that was like the bursting of a
Just for the instant before that explosion the universe seemed to
be standing still in a shadowless glare.
It was then he saw the American aeroplane. He saw it in the
light of the flash as a thing altogether motionless. Even its
screw appeared still, and its men were rigid dolls. (For it
was so near he could see the men upon it quite distinctly.) Its
stern was tilting down, and the whole machine was heeling over.
It was of the Colt-Coburn-Langley pattern, with double up-tilted
wings and the screw ahead, and the men were in a boat-like body
netted over. From this very light long body, magazine guns
projected on either side. One thing that was strikingly odd and
wonderful in that moment of revelation was that the left upper
wing was burning downward with a reddish, smoky flame. But this
was not the most wonderful thing about this apparition. The most
wonderful thing was that it and a German airship five hundred
yards below were threaded as it were on the lightning flash,
which turned out of its path as if to take them, and, that out
from the corners and projecting points of its huge wings
everywhere, little branching thorn-trees of lightning were
Like a picture Bert saw these things, a picture a little blurred
by a thin veil of wind-torn mist.
The crash of the thunder-clap followed the flash and seemed a
part of it, so that it is hard to say whether Bert was the rather
deafened or blinded in that instant.
And then darkness, utter darkness, and a heavy report and a thin
small sound of voices that went wailing downward into the abyss
There followed upon these things a long, deep swaying of the
airship, and then Bert began a struggle to get back to his cabin.
He was drenched and cold and terrified beyond measure, and now
more than a little air-sick. It seemed to him that the strength
had gone out of his knees and hands, and that his feet had become
icily slippery over the metal they trod upon. But that was
because a thin film of ice had frozen upon the gallery.
He never knew how long his ascent of the ladder back into the
airship took him, but in his dreams afterwards, when he recalled
it, that experience seemed to last for hours. Below, above,
around him were gulfs, monstrous gulfs of howling wind and eddies
of dark, whirling snowflakes, and he was protected from it all by
a little metal grating and a rail, a grating and rail that seemed
madly infuriated with him, passionately eager to wrench him off
and throw him into the tumult of space.
Once he had a fancy that a bullet tore by his ear, and that the
clouds and snowflakes were lit by a flash, but he never even
turned his head to see what new assailant whirled past them in
the void. He wanted to get into the passage! He wanted to get
into the passage! He wanted to get into the passage! Would the
arm by which he was clinging hold out, or would it give way and
snap? A handful of hail smacked him in the face, so that for a
time he was breathless and nearly insensible. Hold tight, Bert!
He renewed his efforts.
He found himself, with an enormous sense of relief and warmth, in
the passage. The passage was behaving like a dice-box, its
disposition was evidently to rattle him about and then throw him
out again. He hung on with the convulsive clutch of instinct
until the passage lurched down ahead. Then he would make a short
run cabin-ward, and clutch again as the fore-end rose.
Behold! He was in the cabin!
He snapped-to the door, and for a time he was not a human being,
he was a case of air-sickness. He wanted to get somewhere that
would fix him, that he needn't clutch. He opened the locker and
got inside among the loose articles, and sprawled there
helplessly, with his head sometimes bumping one side and
sometimes the other. The lid shut upon him with a click. He did
not care then what was happening any more. He did not care who
fought who, or what bullets were fired or explosions occurred.
He did not care if presently he was shot or smashed to pieces.
He was full of feeble, inarticulate rage and despair. "Foolery!"
he said, his one exhaustive comment on human enterprise,
adventure, war, and the chapter of accidents that had entangled
him. "Foolery! Ugh!" He included the order of the universe in
that comprehensive condemnation. He wished he was dead.
He saw nothing of the stars, as presently the Vaterland cleared
the rush and confusion of the lower weather, nor of the duel she
fought with two circling aeroplanes, how they shot her rear-most
chambers through, and how she foughtthem off with explosive
bullets and turned to run as she did so.
The rush and swoop of these wonderful night birds was all lost
upon him; their heroic dash and self-sacrifice. The Vaterland
was rammed, and for some moments she hung on the verge of
destruction, and sinking swiftly, with the American aeroplane
entangled with her smashed propeller, and the Americans trying to
scramble aboard. It signified nothing to Bert. To him it
conveyed itself simply as vehement swaying. Foolery! When the
American airship dropped off at last, with most of its crew shot
or fallen, Bert in his locker appreciated nothing but that the
Vaterland had taken a hideous upward leap.
But then came infinite relief, incredibly blissful relief. The
rolling, the pitching, the struggle ceased, ceased instantly and
absolutely. The Vaterland was no longer fighting the gale; her
smashed and exploded engines throbbed no more; she was disabled
and driving before the wind as smoothly as a balloon, a huge,
windspread, tattered cloud of aerial wreckage.
To Bert it was no more than the end of a series of disagreeable
sensations. He was not curious to know what had happened to the
airship, nor what had happened to the battle. For a long time he
lay waiting apprehensively for the pitching and tossing and his
qualms to return, and so, lying, boxed up in the locker, he
presently fell asleep.
He awoke tranquil but very stuffy, and at the same time very
cold, and quite unable to recollect where he could be. His head
ached, and his breath was suffocated. He had been dreaming
confusedly of Edna, and desert dervishes, and of riding bicycles
in an extremely perilous manner through the upper air amidst a
pyrotechnic display of crackers and Bengal lights--to the great
annoyance of a sort of composite person made up of the Prince and
Mr. Butteridge. Then for some reason Edna and he had begun to
cry pitifully for each other, and he woke up with wet eye-lashes
into this ill-ventilated darkness of thelocker. He would never
see Edna any more, never see Edna any more.
He thought he must be back in the bedroom behind the cycle shop
at the bottom of Bun Hill, and he was sure the vision he had had
of the destruction of a magnificent city, a city quite incredibly
great and splendid, by means of bombs, was no more than a
particularly vivid dream.
"Grubb!" he called, anxious to tell him.
The answering silence, and the dull resonance of the locker to
his voice, supplementing the stifling quality of the air, set
going a new train of ideas. He lifted up his hands and feet, and
met an inflexible resistance. He was in a coffin, he thought!
He had been buried alive! He gave way at once to wild panic.
"'Elp!" he screamed. "'Elp!" and drummed with his feet, and
kicked and struggled. "Let me out! Let me out!"
For some seconds he struggled with this intolerable horror, and
then the side of his imagined coffin gave way, and he was flying
out into daylight. Then he was rolling about on what seemed to
be a padded floor with Kurt, and being punched and sworn at
He sat up. His head bandage had become loose and got over one
eye, and he whipped the whole thing off. Kurt was also sitting
up, a yard away from him, pink as ever, wrapped in blankets, and
with an aluminium diver's helmet over his knee, staring at him
with a severe expression, and rubbing his downy unshaven chin.
They were both on a slanting floor of crimson padding, and above
them was an opening like a long, low cellar flap that Bert by an
effort perceived to be the cabin door in a half-inverted
condition. The whole cabin had in fact turned on its side.
"What the deuce do you mean by it, Smallways?" said Kurt,
"jumping out of that locker when I was certain you had gone
overboard with the rest of them? Where have you been?"
"What's up?" asked Bert.
"This end of the airship is up. Most other things are down."
"Was there a battle?"
"I haven't seen the papers, Smallways. We left before the finish.
We got disabled and unmanageable, and our colleagues--consorts I
mean--were too busy most of them to trouble about us, and the
wind blew us--Heaven knows where the wind IS blowing us. It blew
us right out of action at the rate of eighty miles an hour or so.
Gott! what a wind that was! What a fight! And here we are!"
"In the air, Smallways--in the air! When we get down on the
earth again we shan't know what to do with our legs."
"But what's below us?"
"Canada, to the best of my knowledge--and a jolly bleak, empty,
inhospitable country it looks."
"But why ain't we right ways up?"
Kurt made no answer for a space.
"Last I remember was seeing a sort of flying-machine in a
lightning flash," said Bert. "Gaw! that was 'orrible. Guns
going off ! Things explodin'! Clouds and 'ail. Pitching and
tossing. I got so scared and desperate--and sick. You don't
know how the fight came off?"
"Not a bit of it. I was up with my squad in those divers'
dresses, inside the gas-chambers, with sheets of silk for
caulking. We couldn't see a thing outside except the lightning
flashes. I never saw one of those American aeroplanes. Just saw
the shots flicker through the chambers and sent off men for the
tears. We caught fire a bit--not much, you know. We were too
wet, so the fires spluttered out before we banged. And then one
of their infernal things dropped out of the air on us and rammed.
Didn't you feel it?"
"I felt everything," said Bert. "I didn't notice any particular
"They must have been pretty desperate if they meant it. They
slashed down on us like a knife; simply ripped the after
gas-chambers like gutting herrings, crumpled up the engines and
screw. Most of the engines dropped off as they fell off us--or
we'd have grounded--but the rest is sort of dangling. We just
turned up our nose to the heavens and stayed there. Eleven men
rolled off us from various points, and poor old Winterfeld fell
through the door of the Prince's cabin into the chart-room and
broke his ankle. Also we got our electric gear shot or carried
away--no one knows how. That's the position, Smallways. We're
driving through the air like a common aerostat, at the mercy of
the elements, almost due north--probably to the North Pole. We
don't know what aeroplanes the Americans have, or anything at all
about it. Very likely we have finished 'em up. One fouled us,
one was struck by lightning, some of the men saw a third upset,
apparently just for fun. They were going cheap anyhow. Also
we've lost most of our drachenflieger. They just skated off into
the night. No stability in 'em. That's all. We don't know if
we've won or lost. We don't know if we're at war with the
British Empire yet or at peace. Consequently, we daren't get
down. We don't know what we are up to or what we are going to
do. Our Napoleon is alone, forward, and I suppose he's
rearranging his plans. Whether New York was our Moscow or not
remains to be seen. We've had a high old time and murdered no
end of people! War! Noble war! I'm sick of it this morning. I
like sitting in rooms rightway up and not on slippery partitions.
I'm a civilised man. I keep thinking of old Albrecht and the
Barbarossa.... I feel I want a wash and kind words and a quiet
home. When I look at you, I KNOW I want a wash. Gott!"--he
stifled a vehement yawn--"What a Cockney tadpole of a ruffian you
"Can we get any grub?" asked Bert.
"Heaven knows!" said Kurt.
He meditated upon Bert for a time. "So far as I can judge,
Smallways," he said, "the Prince will probably want to throw you
overboard--next time he thinks of you. He certainly will if he
sees you.... After all, you know, you came als Ballast.... And we
shall have to lighten ship extensively pretty soon. Unless I'm
mistaken, the Prince will wake up presently and start doing
things with tremendous vigour.... I've taken a fancy to you.
It's the English strain in me. You're a rum little chap. I
shan't like seeing you whizz down the air.... You'd better make
yourself useful, Smallways. I think I shall requisition you for
my squad. You'll have to work, you know, and be infernally
intelligent and all that. And you'll have to hang about upside
down a bit. Still, it's the best chance you have. We shan't
carry passengers much farther this trip, I fancy. Ballast goes
over-board--if we don't want to ground precious soon and be taken
prisoners of war. The Prince won't do that anyhow. He'll be
game to the last."
By means of a folding chair, which was still in its place behind
the door, they got to the window and looked out in turn and
contemplated a sparsely wooded country below, with no railways
nor roads, and only occasional signs of habitation. Then a bugle
sounded, and Kurt interpreted it as a summons to food. They got
through the door and clambered with some difficulty up the nearly
vertical passage, holding on desperately with toes and
finger-tips, to the ventilating perforations in its floor. The
mess stewards had found their fireless heating arrangements
intact, and there was hot cocoa for the officers and hot soup for
Bert's sense of the queerness of this experience was so keen that
it blotted out any fear he might have felt. Indeed, he was far
more interested now than afraid. He seemed to have touched down
to the bottom of fear and abandonment overnight. He was growing
accustomed to the idea that he would probably be killed
presently, that this strange voyage in the air was in all
probability his death journey. No human being can keep
permanently afraid: fear goes at last to the back of one's mind,
accepted, and shelved, and done with. He squatted over his soup,
sopping it up with his bread, and contemplated his comrades.
They were all rather yellow and dirty, with four-day beards, and
they grouped themselves in the tired, unpremeditated manner of
men on a wreck. They talked little. The situation perplexed
them beyond any suggestion of ideas. Three had been hurt in the
pitching up of the ship during the fight, and one had a bandaged
bullet wound. It was incredible that this little band of men had
committed murder and massacre on a scale beyond precedent. None
of them who squatted on the sloping gas-padded partition, soup
mug in hand, seemed really guilty of anything of the sort, seemed
really capable of hurting a dog wantonly. They were all so
manifestly built for homely chalets on the solid earth and
carefully tilled fields and blond wives and cheery merrymaking.
The red-faced, sturdy man with light eyelashes who had brought
the first news of the air battle to the men's mess had finished
his soup, and with an expression of maternal solicitude was
readjusting the bandages of a youngster whose arm had been
Bert was crumbling the last of his bread into the last of his
soup, eking it out as long as possible, when suddenly he became
aware that every one was looking at a pair of feet that were
dangling across the downturned open doorway. Kurt appeared and
squatted across the hinge. In some mysterious way he had shaved
his face and smoothed down his light golden hair. He looked
extraordinarily cherubic. "Der Prinz," he said.
A second pair of boots followed, making wide and magnificent
gestures in their attempts to feel the door frame. Kurt guided
them to a foothold, and the Prince, shaved and brushed and
beeswaxed and clean and big and terrible, slid down into position
astride of the door. All the men and Bert also stood up and
The Prince surveyed them with the gesture of a man who site a
steed. The head of the Kapitan appeared beside him.
Then Bert had a terrible moment. The blue blaze of the Prince's
eye fell upon him, the great finger pointed, a question was
asked. Kurt intervened with explanations.
"So," said the Prince, and Bert was disposed of.
Then the Prince addressed the men in short, heroic sentences,
steadying himself on the hinge with one hand and waving the other
in a fine variety of gesture. What he said Bert could not tell,
but he perceived that their demeanor changed, their backs
stiffened. They began to punctuate the Prince's discourse with
cries of approval. At the end their leader burst into song and
all the men with him. "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," they
chanted in deep, strong tones, with an immense moral uplifting.
It was glaringly inappropriate in a damaged, half-overturned, and
sinking airship, which had been disabled and blown out of action
after inflicting the cruellest bombardment in the world's
history; but it was immensely stirring nevertheless. Bert was
deeply moved. He could not sing any of the words of Luther's
great hymn, but he opened his mouth and emitted loud, deep, and
partially harmonious notes....
Far below, this deep chanting struck on the ears of a little camp
of Christianised half-breeds who were lumbering. They were
breakfasting, but they rushed out cheerfully, quite prepared for
the Second Advent. They stared at the shattered and twisted
Vaterland driving before the gale, amazed beyond words. In so
many respects it was like their idea of the Second Advent, and
then again in so many respects,it wasn't. They stared at its
passage, awe-stricken and perplexed beyond their power of words.
The hymn ceased. Then after a long interval a voice came out of
heaven. "Vat id diss blace here galled itself; vat?"
They made no answer. Indeed they did not understand, though the
question repeated itself.
And at last the monster drove away northward over a crest of pine
woods and was no more seen. They fell into a hot and long
The hymn ended. The Prince's legs dangled up the passage again,
and every one was briskly prepared for heroic exertion and
triumphant acts. "Smallways!" cried Kurt, "come here!"
Then Bert under Kurt's direction, had his first experience of the
work of an air-sailor.
The immediate task before the captain of the Vaterland was a very
simple one. He had to keep afloat. The wind, though it had
fallen from its earlier violence, was still blowing strongly
enough to render the grounding of so clumsy a mass extremely
dangerous, even if it had been desirable for the Prince to land
in inhabited country, and so risk capture. It was necessary to
keep the airship up until the wind fell and then, if possible, to
descend in some lonely district of the Territory where there
would be a chance of repair or rescue by some searching consort.
In order to do this weight had to be dropped, and Kurt was
detailed with a dozen men to climb down among the wreckage of the
deflated air-chambers and cut the stuff clear, portion by
portion, as the airship sank. So Bert, armed with a sharp
cutlass, found himself clambering about upon netting four
thousand feet up in the air, trying to understand Kurt when he
spoke in English and to divine him when he used German.
It was giddy work, but not nearly so giddy as a rather
overnourished reader sitting in a warm room might imagine. Bert
found it quite possible to look down and contemplate the wild
sub-arctic landscape below, now devoid of any sign of habitation,
a land of rocky cliffs and cascades and broad swirling desolate
rivers, and of trees and thickets that grew more stunted and
scrubby as the day wore on. Here and there on the hills were
patches and pockets of snow. And over all this he worked,
hacking away at the tough and slippery oiled silk and clinging
stoutly to the netting. Presently they cleared and dropped a
tangle of bent steel rods and wires from the frame, and a big
chunk of silk bladder. That was trying. The airship flew up at
once as this loose hamper parted. It seemed almost as though
they were dropping all Canada. The stuff spread out in the air
and floated down and hit and twisted up in a nasty fashion on the
lip of a gorge. Bert clung like a frozen monkey to his ropes and
did not move a muscle for five minutes.
But there was something very exhilarating, he found, in this
dangerous work, and above every thing else, there was the sense
of fellowship. He was no longer an isolated and distrustful
stranger among these others, he had now a common object with
them, he worked with a friendly rivalry to get through with his
share before them. And he developed a great respect and
affection for Kurt, which had hitherto been only latent in him.
Kurt with a job to direct was altogether admirable; he was
resourceful, helpful, considerate, swift. He seemed to be
everywhere. One forgot his pinkness, his light cheerfulness of
manner. Directly one had trouble he was at hand with sound and
confident advice. He was like an elder brother to his men.
All together they cleared three considerable chunks of wreckage,
and then Bert was glad to clamber up into the cabins again and
give place to a second squad. He and his companions were given
hot coffee, and indeed, even gloved as they were, the job had
been a cold one. They sat drinking it and regarding each other
with satisfaction. One man spoke to Bert amiably in German, and
Bert nodded and smiled. Through Kurt, Bert, whose ankles were
almost frozen, succeeded in getting a pair of top-boots from one
of the disabled men.
In the afternoon the wind abated greatly, and small, infrequent
snowflakes came drifting by. Snow also spread more abundantly
below, and the only trees were clumps of pine and spruce in the
lower valleys. Kurt went with three men into the still intact
gas-chambers, let out a certain quantity of gas from them, and
prepared a series of ripping panels for the descent. Also the
residue of the bombs and explosives in the magazine were thrown
overboard and fell, detonating loudly, in the wilderness below.
And about four o'clock in the afternoon upon a wide and rocky
plain within sight of snow-crested cliffs, the Vaterland ripped
It was necessarily a difficult and violent affair, for the
Vaterland had not been planned for the necessities of a balloon.
The captain got one panel ripped too soon and the others not soon
enough. She dropped heavily, bounced clumsily, and smashed the
hanging gallery into the fore-part, mortally injuring Von
Winterfeld, and then came down in a collapsing heap after
dragging for some moments. The forward shield and its machine
gun tumbled in upon the things below. Two men were hurt badly--
one got a broken leg and one was internally injured--by flying
rods and wires, and Bert was pinned for a time under the side.
When at last he got clear and could take a view of the situation,
the great black eagle that had started so splendidly from
Franconia six evenings ago, sprawled deflated over the cabins of
the airship and the frost-bitten rocks of this desolate place and
looked a most unfortunate bird--as though some one had caught it
and wrung its neck and cast it aside. Several of the crew of the
airship were standing about in silence, contemplating the
wreckage and the empty wilderness into which they had fallen.
Others were busy under the imromptu tent made by the empty
gas-chambers. The Prince had gone a little way off and was
scrutinising the distant heights through his field-glass. They
had the appearance of old sea cliffs; here and there were small
clumps of conifers, and in two places tall cascades. The nearer
ground was strewn with glaciated boulders and supported nothing
but a stunted Alpine vegetation of compact clustering stems and
stalkless flowers. No river was visible, but the air was full of
the rush and babble of a torrent close at hand. A bleak and
biting wind was blowing. Ever and again a snowflake drifted
past. The springless frozen earth under Bert's feet felt
strangely dead and heavy after the buoyant airship.
So it came about that that great and powerful Prince Karl Albert
was for a time thrust out of the stupendous conflict he chiefly
had been instrumental in provoking. The chances of battle and
the weather conspired to maroon him in Labrador, and there he
raged for six long days, while war and wonder swept the world.
Nation rose against nation and air-fleet grappled air-fleet,
cities blazed and men died in multitudes; but in Labrador one
might have dreamt that, except for a little noise of hammering,
the world was at peace.
There the encampment lay; from a distance the cabins, hovered
over with the silk of the balloon part, looked like a gipsy's
tent on a rather exceptional scale, and all the available hands
were busy in building out of the steel of the framework a mast
from which the Vaterland's electricians might hang the long
conductors of the apparatus for wireless telegraphy that was to
link the Prince to the world again. There were times when it
seemed they would never rig that mast. From the outset the party
suffered hardship. They were not too abundantly provisioned, and
they were put on short rations, and for all the thick garments
they had, they were but ill-equipped against the piercing wind
and inhospitable violence of this wilderness. The first night
was spent in darkness and without fires. The engines that had
supplied power were smashed and dropped far away to the south,
and there was never a match among the company. It had been death
to carry matches. All the explosives had been thrown out of the
magazine, and it was only towards morning that the bird-faced man
whose cabin Bert had taken in the beginning confessed to a brace
of duelling pistols and cartridges, with which a fire could be
started. Afterwards the lockers of the machine gun were found to
contain a supply of unused ammunition.
The night was a distressing one and seemed almost interminable.
Hardly any one slept. There were seven wounded men aboard, and
Von Winterfeld's head had been injured, and he was shivering and
in delirium, struggling with his attendant and shouting strange
things about the burning of New York. The men crept together in
the mess-room in the darkling, wrapped in what they could find
and drank cocoa from the fireless heaters and listened to his
cries. In the morning the Prince made them a speech about
Destiny, and the God of his Fathers and the pleasure and glory of
giving one's life for his dynasty, and a number of similar
considerations that might otherwise have been neglected in that
bleak wilderness. The men cheered without enthusiasm, and far
away a wolf howled.
Then they set to work, and for a week they toiled to put up a
mast of steel, and hang from it a gridiron of copper wires two
hundred feet by twelve. The theme of all that time was work,
work continually, straining and toilsome work, and all the rest
was grim hardship and evil chances, save for a certain wild
splendour in the sunset and sunrise in the torrents and drifting
weather, in the wilderness about them. They built and tended a
ring of perpetual fires, gangs roamed for brushwood and met with
wolves, and the wounded men and their beds were brought out from
the airship cabins, and put in shelters about the fires. There
old Von Winterfeld raved and became quiet and presently died, and
three of the other wounded sickened for want of good food, while
their fellows mended. These things happened, as it were, in the
wings; the central facts before Bert's consciousness were always
firstly the perpetual toil, the holding and lifting, and lugging
at heavy and clumsy masses, the tedious filing and winding of
wires, and secondly, the Prince, urgent and threatening whenever
a man relaxed. He would stand over them, and point over their
heads, southward into the empty sky. "The world there," he said
in German, "is waiting for us! Fifty Centuries come to their
Consummation." Bert did not understand the words, but he read
the gesture. Several times the Prince grew angry; once with a
man who was working slowly, once with a man who stole a comrade's
ration. The first he scolded and set to a more tedious task; the
second he struck in the face and ill-used. He did no work
himself. There was a clear space near the fires in which he
would walk up and down, sometimes for two hours together, with
arms folded, muttering to himself of Patience and his destiny.
At times these mutterings broke out into rhetoric, into shouts
and gestures that would arrest the workers; they would stare at
him until they perceived that his blue eyes glared and his waving
hand addressed itself always to the southward hills. On Sunday
the work ceased for half an hour, and the Prince preached on
faith and God's friendship for David, and afterwards they all
sang: "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott."
In an improvised hovel lay Von Winterfeld, and all one morning he
raved of the greatness of Germany. "Blut und Eisen!" he shouted,
and then, as if in derision, "Welt-Politik--ha, ha!" Then he
would explain complicated questions of polity to imaginary
hearers, in low, wily tones. The other sick men kept still,
listening to him. Bert's distracted attention would be recalled
by Kurt. "Smallways, take that end. So!"
Slowly, tediously, the great mast was rigged and hoisted foot by
foot into place. The electricians had contrived a catchment pool
and a wheel in the torrent close at hand--for the little
Mulhausen dynamo with its turbinal volute used by the
telegraphists was quite adaptable to water driving, and on the
sixth day in the evening the apparatus was in working order and
the Prince was calling--weakly, indeed, but calling--to his
air-fleet across the empty spaces of the world. For a time he
The effect of that evening was to linger long in Bert's memory.
A red fire spluttered and blazed close by the electricians at
their work, and red gleams xan up the vertical steel mast and
threads of copper wire towards the zenith. The Prince sat on a
rock close by, with his chin on his hand, waiting. Beyond and to
the northward was the cairn that covered Von Winterfeld,
surmounted by a cross of steel, and from among the tumbled rocks
in the distance the eyes of a wolf gleamed redly. On the other
hand was the wreckage of the great airship and the men bivouacked
about a second ruddy flare. They were all keeping very still, as
if waiting to hear what news might presently be given them. Far
away, across many hundreds of miles of desolation, other wireless
masts would be clicking, and snapping, and waking into responsive
vibration. Perhaps they were not. Perhaps those throbs upon the
etherz .wasted themselves upon a regardless world. When the men
spoke, they spoke in low tones. Now and then a bird shrieked
remotely, and once a wolf howled. All these things were set in
the immense cold spaciousness of the wild.
Bert got the news last, and chiefly in broken English, from a
linguist among his mates. It was only far on in the night that
the weary telegraphist got an answer to his calls, but then the
messages came clear and strong. And such news it was!
"I say," said Bert at his breakfast, amidst a great clamour,
"tell us a bit."
"All de vorlt is at vor!" said the linguist, waving his cocoa in
an illustrative manner, "all de vorlt is at vor!"
Bert stared southward into the dawn. It did not seem so.
"All de vorlt is at vor! They haf burn' Berlin; they haf burn'
London; they haf burn' Hamburg and Paris. Chapan hass burn San
Francisco. We haf mate a camp at Niagara. Dat is whad they are
telling us. China has cot drachenflieger and luftschiffe beyont
counting. All de vorlt is at vor!"
"Gaw I" said Bert.
"Yess," said the linguist, drinking his cocoa.
"Burnt up London, 'ave they? Like we did New York?"
"It wass a bombardment."
"They don't say anything about a place called Clapham, or Bun
Hill, do they?"
"I haf heard noding," said the linguist.
That was all Bert could get for a time. But the excitement of
all the men about him was contagious, and presently he saw Kurt
standing alone, hands behind him, and looking at one of the
distant waterfalls very steadfastly. He went up and saluted,
soldier-fashion. "Beg pardon, lieutenant," he said.
Kurt turned his face. It was unusually grave that morning. "I
was just thinking I would like to see that waterfall closer," he
said. "It reminds me--what do you want?"
"I can't make 'ead or tail of what they're saying, sir. Would
you mind telling me the news?"
"Damn the news," said Kurt. "You'll get news enough before the
day's out. It's the end of the world. They're sending the Graf
Zeppelin for us. She'll be here by the morning, and we ought to
be at Niagara--or eternal smash--within eight and forty hours....
I want to look at that waterfall. You'd better come with me.
Have you had your rations?"
"Very well. Come."
And musing profoundly, Kurt led the way across the rocks towards
the distant waterfall.
For a time Bert walked behind him in the character of an escort;
then as they passed out of the atmosphere of the encampment, Kurt
lagged for him to come alongside.
"We shall be back in it all in two days' time," he said. "And
it's a devil of a war to go back to. That's the news. The
world's gone mad. Our fleet beat the Americans the night we got
disabled, that's clear. We lost eleven--eleven airships certain,
and all their aeroplanes got smashed. God knows how much we
smashed or how many we killed. But that was only the beginning.
Our start's been like firing a magazine. Every country was
hiding flying-machines. They're fighting in the air all over
Europe--all over the world. The Japanese and Chinese have joined
in. That's the great fact. That's the supreme fact. They've
pounced into our little quarrels.... The Yellow Peril was a peril
after all! They've got thousands of airships. They're all over
the world. We bombarded London and Paris, and now the French and
English have smashed up Berlin. And now Asia is at us all, and
on the top of us all.... It's mania. China on the top. And
they don't know where to stop. It's limitless. It's the last
confusion. They're bombarding capitals, smashing up dockyards
and factories, mines and fleets."
"Did they do much to London, sir?" asked Bert.
He said no more for a time.
"This Labrador seems a quiet place," he resumed at last. "I'm
half a mind to stay here. Can't do that. No! I've got to see
it through. I've got to see it through. You've got to, too.
Every one.... But why?... I tell you--our world's gone to pieces.
There's no way out of it, no way back. Here we are! We're like
mice caught in a house on fire, we're like cattle overtaken by a
flood. Presently we shall be picked up, and back we shall go
into the fighting. We shall kill and smash again--perhaps. It's
a Chino-Japanese air-fleet this time, and the odds are against
us. Our turns will come. What will happen to you I don't know,
but for myself, I know quite well; I shall be killed."
"You'll be all right," said Bert, after a queer pause.
"No!" said Kurt, "I'm going to be killed. I didn't know, it
before, but this morning, at dawn, I knew it-as though I'd been
"I tell you I know."
"But 'ow COULD you know?"
"Like being told?"
"Like being certain.
"I know," he repeated, and for a time they walked in silence
towards the waterfall.
Kurt, wrapped in his thoughts, walked heedlessly, and at last
broke out again. "I've always felt young before, Smallways, but
this morning I feel old--old. So old! Nearer to death than old
men feel. And I've always. thought life was a lark. It isn't....
This sort of thing has always been happening, I suppose--these
things, wars and earthquakes, that sweep across all the decency
of life. It's just as though I had woke up to it all for the
first time. Every night since we were at New York I've dreamt of
it.... And it's always been so--it's the way of life. People are
torn away from the people they care for; homes are smashed,
creatures full of life, and memories, and little peculiar gifts
are scalded and smashed, and torn to pieces, and starved, and
spoilt. London! Berlin! San Francisco! Think of all the human
histories we ended in New York!... And the others go on again as
though such things weren't possible. As I went on! Like animals!
Just like animals."
He said nothing for a long time, and then he dropped out, "The
Prince is a lunatic!"
They came to a place where they had to climb, and then to a long
peat level beside rivulet. There a quantity of delicate little
pink flowers caught Bert's eye. "Gaw!" he said, and stooped to
pick one. "In a place like this."
Kurt stopped and half turned. His face winced.
"I never see such a flower," said Bert. "It's so delicate."
"Pick some more if you want to," said Kurt.
Bert did so, while Kurt stood and watched him.
"Funny 'ow one always wants to pick flowers," said Bert.
Kurt had nothing to add to that.
They went on again, without talking, for a long time.
At last they came to a rocky hummock, from which the view of the
waterfall opened out. There Kurt stopped and seated himself on a
"That's as much as I wanted to see," he explained. "It isn't
very like, but it's like enough."
"Another waterfall I knew."
He asked a question abruptly. "Got a girl, Smallways?"
"Funny thing," said Bert, "those flowers, I suppose.--I was jes'
thinking of 'er."
"So was I."
"No. I was thinking of MY Edna. We've all got Ednas, I suppose,
for our imaginations to play about. This was a girl. But all
that's past for ever. It's hard to think I can't see her just
for a minute--just let her know I'm thinking of her."
"Very likely," said Bert, "you'll see 'er all right."
"No," said Kurt with decision, "I KNOW."
"I met her," he went on, "in a place like this--in the
Alps--Engstlen Alp. There's a waterfall rather like this one--a
broad waterfall down towards Innertkirchen. That's why I came
here this morning. We slipped away and had half a day together
beside it. And we picked flowers. Just such flowers as you
picked. The same for all I know. And gentian."
"I know" said Bert, "me and Edna--we done things like that.
Flowers. And all that. Seems years off now."
"She was beautiful and daring and shy, Mein Gott! I can hardly
hold myself for the desire to see her and hear her voice again
before I die. Where is she?... Look here, Smallways, I shall
write a sort of letter-- And there's her portrait." He touched
his breast pocket.
"You'll see 'er again all right," said Bert.
"No'! I shall never see her again.... I don't understand why
people should meet just to be torn apart. But I know she and I
will never meet again. That I know as surely as that the sun
will rise, and that cascade come shining over the rocks after I
am dead and done.... Oh! It's all foolishness and haste and
violence and cruel folly, stupidity and blundering hate and
selfish ambition--all the things that men have done--all the
things they will ever do. Gott! Smallways, what a muddle and
confusion life has always been--the battles and massacres and
disasters, the hates and harsh acts, the murders and sweatings,
the lynchings and cheatings. This morning I am tired of it all,
as though I'd just found it out for the first time. I HAVE found
it out. When a man is tired of life, I suppose it is time for
him to die. I've lost heart, and death is over me. Death is
close to me, and I know I have got to end. But think of all the
hopes I had only a little time ago, the sense of fine
beginnings!... It was all a sham. There were no beginnings....
We're just ants in ant-hill cities, in a world that doesn't
matter; that goes on and rambles into nothingness. New York--New
York doesn't even strike me as horrible. New York was nothing
but an ant-hill kicked to pieces by a fool!
"Think of it, Smallways: there's war everywhere! They're
smashing up their civilisation before they have made it. The
sort of thing the English did at Alexandria, the Japanese at Port
Arthur, the French at Casablanca, is going on everywhere.
Everywhere! Down in South America even they are fighting among
themselves! No place is safe--no place is at peace. There is no
place where a woman and her daughter can hide and be at peace.
The war comes through the air, bombs drop in the night. Quiet
people go out in the morning, and see air-fleets passing
overhead--dripping death--dripping death!"
A WORLD AT WAR
It was only very slowly that Bert got hold of this idea that the
whole world was at war, that he formed any image at all of the
crowded countries south of these Arctic solitudes stricken with
terror and dismay as these new-born aerial navies swept across
their skies. He was not used to thinking of the world as a
whole, but as a limitless hinterland of happenings beyond the
range of his immediate vision. War in his imagination was
something, a source of news and emotion, that happened in a
restricted area, called the Seat of War. But now the whole
atmosphere was the Seat of War, and every land a cockpit. So
closely had the nations raced along the path of research and
invention, so secret and yet so parallel had been their plans and
acquisitions, that it was within a few hours of the launching of
the first fleet in Franconia that an Asiatic Armada beat its
west-ward way across, high above the marvelling millions in the
plain of the Ganges. But the preparations of the Confederation
of Eastern Asia had been on an altogether more colossal scale
than the German. "With this step," said Tan Ting-siang, "we
overtake and pass the West. We recover the peace of the world
that these barbarians have destroyed."
Their secrecy and swiftness and inventions had far surpassed
those of the Germans, and where the Germans had had a hundred men
at work the Asiatics had ten thousand. There came to their great
aeronautic parks at Chinsi-fu and Tsingyen by the mono-rails that
now laced the whole surface of China a limitless supply of
skilled and able workmen, workmen far above the average European
in industrial efficiency. The news of the German World Surprise
simply quickened their efforts. At the time of the bombardment
of New York it is doubtful if the Germans had three hundred
airships all together in the world; the score of Asiatic fleets
flying east and west and south must have numbered several
thousand. Moreover the Asiatics had a real fighting
flying-machine, the Niais as they were called, a light but quite
efficient weapon, infinitely superior to the German
drachenflieger. Like that, it was a one-man machine, but it was
built very lightly of steel and cane and chemical silk, with a
transverse engine, and a flapping sidewing. The aeronaut carried
a gun firing explosive bullets loaded with oxygen, and in
addition, and true to the best tradition of Japan, a sword.
Mostly they were Japanese, and it is characteristic that from the
first it was contemplated that the aeronaut should be a
swordsman. The wings of these flyers had bat-like hooks forward,
by which they were to cling to their antagonist's gas-chambers
while boarding him. These light flying-machines were carried
with the fleets, and also sent overland or by sea to the front
with the men. They were capable of flights of from two to five
hundred miles according to the wind.
So, hard upon the uprush of the first German air-fleet, these
Asiatic swarms took to the atmosphere. Instantly every organised
Government in the world, was frantically and vehemently building
airships and whatever approach to a flying machine its inventors'
had discovered. There was no time for diplomacy. Warnings and
ultimatums wer telegraphed to and fro, and in a few hours all the
panic-fierce world was openly at war, and at war in the most
complicated way. For Britain and France and Italy had declared
war upon Germany and outraged Swiss neutrality; India, at the
sight of Asiatic airships, had broken into a Hindoo insurrection
in Bengal and a Mohametan revolt hostile to this in the
North-west Provinces--the latter spreading like wildfire from
Gobi to the Gold Coast--and the Confederation of Eastern Asia had
seized the oil wells of Burmha and was impartially attacking
America and Germany. In a week they were building airships in
Damascus and Cairo and Johannesburg; Australia and New Zealand
were frantically equipping themselves. One unique and terrifying
aspect of this development was the swiftness with which these
monsters could be produced. To build an ironclad took from two to
four years; an airship could be put together in as many weeks.
Moreover, compared with even a torpedo boat, the airship was
remarkably simple to construct, given the air-chamber material,
the engines, the gas plant, and the design, it was reallt not
more complicated and far easier than an ordinary wooden boat had
been a hundred years before. And now from Cape Horn to Nova
Zembla, and from Canton round to Canton again, there were
factories and workshops and industrial resources.
And the German airships were barely in sight of the Atlantic
waters, the first Asiatic fleet was scarcely reported from Upper
Burmah, before the fantastic fabric of credit and finance that
had held the world together economically for a hundred years
strained and snapped. A tornado of realisation swept through
every stock exchange in the world; banks stopped payment,
business shrank and ceased, factories ran on for a day or so by a
sort of inertia, completing the orders of bankrupt and
extinguished customers, then stopped. The New York Bert
Smallways saw, for all its glare of light and traffic, was in the
pit of an economic and financial collapse unparalleled in
history. The flow of the food supply was already a little
checked. And before the world-war had lasted two weeks--by the
time, that is, that mast was rigged in Labrador--there was not a
city or town in the world outside China, however fair from the
actual centres of destruction, where police and government were
not adopting special emergency methods to deal with a want of
food and a glut of unemployed people.
The special peculiarities of aerial warfare were of such a nature
as to trend, once it had begun, almost inevitably towards social
disorganisation. The first of these peculiarities was brought
home to the Germans in their attack upon New York; the immense
power of destruction an airship has over the thing below, and its
relative inability to occupy or police or guard or garrison a
surrendered position. Necessarily, in the face of urban
populations in a state of economic disorganisation and infuriated
and starving, this led to violent and destructive collisions, and
even where the air-fleet floated inactive above, there would be
civil conflict and passionate disorder below. Nothing comparable
to this state of affairs had been known in the previous history
of warfare, unless we take such a case as that of a nineteenth
century warship attacking some large savage or barbaric
settlement, or one of those naval bombardments that disfigure the
history of Great Britain in the late eighteenth century. Then,
indeed, there had been cruelties and destruction that faintly
foreshadowed the horrors of the aerial war. Moreover, before the
twentieth century the world had had but one experience, and that
a comparatively light one, in the Communist insurrection of
Paris, 1871, of the possibilities of a modern urban population
under warlike stresses.
A second peculiarity of airship war as it first came to the world
that also made for social collapse, was the ineffectiveness of
the early air-ships against each other. Upon anything below they
could rain explosives in the most deadly fashion, forts and ships
and cities lay at their mercy, but unless they were prepared for
a suicidal grapple they could do remarkably little mischief to
each other. The armament of the huge German airships, big as the
biggest mammoth liners afloat, was one machine gun that could
easily have been packed up on a couple of mules. In addition,
when it became evident that the air must be fought for, the
air-sailors were provided with rifles with explosive bullets of
oxygen or inflammable substance, but no airship at any time ever
carried as much in the way of guns and armour as the smallest
gunboat on the navy list had been accustomed to do.
Consequently, when these monsters met in battle, they manoeuvred
for the upper place, or grappled and fought like junks, throwing
grenades fighting hand to hand in an entirely medieval fashion.
The risks of a collapse and fall on either side came near to
balancing in every case the chances of victory. As a
consequence, and after their first experiences of battle, one
finds a growing tendency on the part of the air-fleet admirals to
evade joining battle, and to seek rather the moral advantage of a
destructive counter attack.
And if the airships were too ineffective, the early
drachenflieger were either too unstable, like the German, or too
light, like the Japanese, to produce immediately decisive
results. Later, it is true, the Brazilians launched a
flying-machine of a type and scale that was capable of dealing
with an airship, but they built only three or four, they operated
only in South America, and they vanished from history untraceably
in the time when world-bankruptcy put a stop to all further
engineering production on any considerable scale.
The third peculiarity of aerial warfare was that it was at once
enormously destructive and entirely indecisive. It had this
unique feature, that both sides lay open to punitive attack. In
all previous forms of war, both by land and sea, the losing side
was speedily unable to raid its antagonist's territory and the
communications. One fought on a "front," and behind that front
the winner's supplies and resources, his towns and factories and
capital, the peace of his country, were secure. If the war was a
naval one, you destroyed your enemy's battle fleet and then
blockaded his ports, secured his coaling stations, and hunted
down any stray cruisers that threatened your ports of commerce.
But to blockade and watch a coastline is one thing, to blockade
and watch the whole surface of a country is another, and cruisers
and privateers are things that take long to make, that cannot be
packed up and hidden and carried unostentatiously from point to
point. In aerial war the stronger side, even supposing it
destroyed the main battle fleet of the weaker, had then either to
patrol and watch or destroy every possible point at which he
might produce another and perhaps a novel and more deadly form of
flyer. It meant darkening his air with airships. It meant
building them by the thousand and making aeronauts by the.hundred
thousand. A small uninitated airship could be hidden in a
railway shed, in a village street, in a wood; a flying machine is
even less conspicuous.
And in the air are no streets, no channels, no point where one
can say of an antagonist, "If he wants to reach my capital he
must come by here." In the air all directions lead everywhere.
Consequently it was impossible to end a war by any of the
established methods. A, having outnumbered and overwhelmed B,
hovers, a thousand airships strong, over his capital, threatening
to bombard it unless B submits. B replies by wireless telegraphy
that he is now in the act of bombarding the chief manufacturing
city of A by means of three raider airships. A denounces B's
raiders as pirates and so forth, bombards B's capital, and sets
off to hunt down B's airships, while B, in a state of passionate
emotion and heroic unconquerableness, sets to work amidst his
ruins, making fresh airships and explosives for the benefit of A.
The war became perforce a universal guerilla war, a war
inextricably involving civilians and homes and all the apparatus
of social life.
These aspects of aerial fighting took the world by surprise.
There had been no foresight to deduce these consequences. If
there had been, the world would have arranged for a Universal
Peace Conference in 1900. But mechanical invention had gone
faster than intellectual and social organisation, and the world,
with its silly old flags, its silly unmeaning tradition of
nationality, its cheap newspapers and cheaper passions and
imperialisms, its base commercial motives and habitual
insincerities and vulgarities, its race lies and conflicts, was
taken by surprise. Once the war began there was no stopping it.
The flimsy fabric of credit that had grown with no man
foreseeing, and that had held those hundreds of millions in an
economic interdependence that no man clearly understood,
dissolved in panic. Everywhere went the airships dropping bombs,
destroying any hope of a rally, and everywhere below were
economic catastrophe, starving workless people, rioting, and
social disorder. Whatever constructive guiding intelligence
there had been among the nations vanished in the passionate
stresses of the time. Such newspapers and documents and
histories as survive from this period all tell one universal
story of towns and cities with the food supply interrupted and
their streets congested with starving unemployed; of crises in
administration and states of siege, of provisional Governments
and Councils of Defence, and, in the cases of India and Egypt,
insurrectionary committees taking charge of the re-arming of the
population, of the making of batteries and gun-pits, of the
vehement manufacture of airships and flying-machines.
One sees these things in glimpses, in illuminated moments, as if
through a driving reek of clouds, going on all over the world.
It was the dissolution of an age; it was the collapse of the
civilisation that had trusted to machinery, and the instruments
of its destruction were machines. But while the collapse of the
previous great civilisation, that of Rome, had been a matter of
centuries, had been a thing of phase and phase, like the ageing
and dying of a man, this, like his killing by railway or motor
car, was one swift, conclusive smashing and an end.
The early battles of the aerial war were no doubt determined by
attempts to realise the old naval maxim, to ascertain the
position of the enemy's fleet and to destroy it. There was first
the battle of the Bernese Oberland, in which the Italian and
French navigables in their flank raid upon the Franconian Park
were assailed by the Swiss experimental squadron, supported as
the day wore on by German airships, and then the encounter of the
British Winterhouse-Dunn aeroplanes with three unfortunate
Then came the Battle of North India, in which the entire
Anglo-Indian aeronautic settlement establishment fought for three
days against overwhelming odds, and was dispersed and destroyed
And simultaneously with the beginning of that, commenced the
momentous struggle of the Germans and Asiatics that is usually
known as the Battle of Niagara because of the objective of the
Asiatic attack. But it passed gradually into a sporadic conflict
over half a continent. Such German airships as escaped
destruction in battle descended and surrendered to the Americans,
and were re-manned, and in the end it became a series of pitiless
and heroic encounters between the Americans, savagely resolved to
exterminate their enemies, and a continually reinforced army of
invasion from Asia quartered upon the Pacific slope and supported
by an immense fleet. From the first the war in America was
fought with implacable bitterness; no quarter was asked, no
prisoners were taken. With ferocious and magnificent energy the
Americans constructed and launched ship after ship to battle and
perish against the Asiatic multitudes. All other affairs were
subordinate to this war, the whole population was presently
living or dying for it. Presently, as I shall tell, the white
men found in the Butteridge machine a weapon that could meet and
fight the flying-machines of the Asiatic swordsman.
The Asiatic invasion of America completely effaced the
German-American conflict. It vanishes from history. At first it
had seemed to promise quite sufficient tragedy in
itself--beginning as it did in unforgettable massacre. After the
destruction of central New York all America had risen like one
man, resolved to die a thousand deaths rather than submit to
Germany. The Germans grimly resolved upon beating the Americans
into submission and, following out the plans developed by the
Prince, had seized Niagara--in order to avail themselves of its
enormous powerworks; expelled all its inhabitants and made a
desert of its environs as far as Buffalo. They had also,
directly Great Britain and France declare war, wrecked the
country upon the Canadian side for nearly ten miles inland. They
began to bring up men and material from the fleet off the east
coast, stringing out to and fro like bees getting honey. It was
then that the Asiatic forces appeared, and it was in their attack
upon this German base at Niagara that the air-fleets of East and
West first met and the greater issue became clear.
One conspicuous peculiarity of the early aerial fighting arose
from the profound secrecy with which the airships had been
prepared. Each power had had but the dimmest inkling of the
schemes of its rivals, and even experiments with its own devices
were limited by the needs of secrecy. None of the designers of
airships and aeroplanes had known clearly what their inventions
might have to fight; many had not imagined they would have to
fight anything whatever in the air; and had planned them only for
the dropping of explosives. Such had been the German idea. The
only weapon for fighting another airship with which the
Franconian fleet had been provided was the machine gun forward.
Only after the fight over New York were the men given short
rifles with detonating bullets. Theoretically, the
drachenflieger were to have been the fighting weapon. They were
declared to be aerial torpedo-boats, and the aeronaut was
supposed to swoop close to his antagonist and cast his bombs as
he whirled past. But indeed these contrivances were hopelessly
unstable; not one-third in any engagement succeeded in getting
back to the mother airship. The rest were either smashed up or
The allied Chino-Japanese fleet made the same distinction as the
Germans between airships and fighting machines heavier than air,
but the type in both cases was entirely different from the
occidental models, and--it is eloquent of the vigour with which
these great peoples took up and bettered the European methods of
scientific research in almost every particular the invention of
Asiatic engineers. Chief among these, it is worth remarking, was
Mohini K. Chatterjee, a political exile who had formerly served
in the British-Indian aeronautic park at Lahore.
The German airship was fish-shaped, with a blunted head; the
Asiatic airship was also fish-shaped, but not so much on the
lines of a cod or goby as of a ray or sole. It had a wide, flat
underside, unbroken by windows or any opening except along the
middle line. Its cabins occupied its axis,, with a sort of
bridge deck above, and the gas-chambers gave the whole affair the
shape of a gipsy's hooped tent, except that it was much flatter.
The German airship was essentially a navigable balloon very much
lighter than air; the Asiatic airship was very little lighter
than air and skimmed through it with much greater velocity if
with considerably less stability. They carried fore and aft
guns, the latter much the larger, throwing inflammatory shells,
and in addition they had nests for riflemen on both the upper and
the under side. Light as this armament was in comparison with
the smallest gunboat that ever sailed, it was sufficient for them
to outfight as well as outfly the German monster airships. In
action they flew to get behind or over the Germans: they even
dashed underneath, avoiding only passing immediately beneath the
magazine, and then as soon as they had crossed let fly with their
rear gun, and sent flares or oxygen shells into the antagonist's
It was not in their airships, but, as I have said, in their
flying-machines proper, that the strength of the Asiatics lay.
Next only to the Butteridge machine, these were certainly the
most efficient heavier-than-air fliers that had ever appeared.
They were the invention of a Japanese artist, and they differed
in type extremely from the box-kite quality of the German
drachenflieger. They had curiously curved, flexible side wings,
more like BENT butterfly's wings than anything else, and made of
a substance like celluloid and of brightly painted silk, and they
had a long humming-bird tail. At the forward corner of the wings
were hooks, rather like the claws of a bat, by which the machine
could catch and hang and tear at the walls of an airship's
gas-chamber. The solitary rider sat between the wings above a
transverse explosive engine, an explosive engine that differed in
no essential particular from those in use in the light motor
bicycles of the period. Below was a single large wheel. The
rider sat astride of a saddle, as in the Butteridge machine, and
he carried a large double-edged two-handed sword, in addition to
his explosive-bullet firing rifle.
One sets down these particulars and compares the points of the
American and German pattern of aeroplane and navigable, but none
of these facts were clearly known to any of those who fought in
this monstrously confused battle above the American great lakes.
Each side went into action against it knew not what, under novel
conditions and with apparatus that even without hostile attacks
was capable of producing the most disconcerting surprises.
Schemes of action, attempts at collective manoeuvring necessarily
went to pieces directly the fight began, just as they did in
almost all the early ironclad battles of the previous century.
Each captain then had to fall back upon individual action and his
own devices; one would see triumph in what another read as a cue
for flight and despair. It is as true of the Battle of Niagara
as of the Battle of Lissa that it was not a battle but a bundle
of " battlettes"!
To such a spectator as Bert it presented itself as a series of
incidents, some immense, some trivial, but collectively
incoherent. He never had a sense of any plain issue joined, of
any point struggled for and won or lost. He saw tremendous
things happen and in the end his world darkened to disaster and
He saw the battle from the ground, from Prospect Park and from
Goat Island, whither he fled.
But the manner in which he came to be on the ground needs
The Prince had resumed command of his fleet through wireless
telegraphy long before the Zeppelin had located his encampment in
Labrador. By his direction the German air-fleet, whose advance
scouts had been in contact with the Japanese over the Rocky
Mountains, had concentrated upon Niagara and awaited his arrival.
He had rejoined his command early in the morning of the twelfth,
and Bert had his first prospect of the Gorge of Niagara while he
was doing net drill outside the middle gas-chamber at sunrise.
The Zeppelin was flying very high at the time, and far below he
saw the water in the gorge marbled with froth and then away to
the west the great crescent of the Canadian Fall shining,
flickering and foaming in the level sunlight and sending up a
deep, incessant thudding rumble to the sky. The air-fleet was
keeping station in an enormous crescent, with its horns pointing
south-westward, a long array of shining monsters with tails
rotating slowly and German ensigns now trailing from their
bellies aft of their Marconi pendants.
Niagara city was still largely standing then, albeit its streets
were empty of all life. Its bridges were intact; its hotels and
restaurants still flying flags and inviting sky signs; its
power-stations running. But about it the country on both sides
of the gorge might have been swept by a colossal broom.
Everything that could possibly give cover to an attack upon the
German position at Niagara had been levelled as ruthlessly as
machinery and explosives could contrive; houses blown up and
burnt, woods burnt, fences and crops destroyed. The mono-rails
had been torn up, and the roads in particular cleared of all
possibility of concealment or shelter. Seen from above, the
effect of this wreckage was grotesque. Young woods had been
destroyed whole-sale by dragging wires, and the spoilt saplings,
smashed or uprooted, lay in swathes like corn after the sickle.
Houses had an appearance of being flattened down by the pressure
of a gigantic finger. Much burning was still going on, and large
areas had been reduced to patches of smouldering and sometimes
still glowing blackness.
Here and there lay the debris of belated fugitives, carts, and
dead bodies of horses and men; and where houses had had
water-supplies there were pools of water and running springs from
the ruptured pipes. In unscorched fields horses and cattle still
fed peacefully. Beyond this desolated area the countryside was
still standing, but almost all the people had fled. Buffalo was
on fire to an enormous extent, and there were no signs of any
efforts to grapple with the flames. Niagara city itself was
being rapidly converted to the needs of a military depot. A
large number of skilled engineers had already been brought from
the fleet and were busily at work adapting the exterior
industrial apparatus of the place to the purposes of an
aeronautic park. They had made a gas recharging station at the
corner of the American Fall above the funicular railway, and they
were, opening up a much larger area to the south for the same
purpose. Over the power-houses and hotels and suchlike prominent
or important points the German flag was flying.
The Zeppelin circled slowly over this scene twice while the
Prince surveyed it from the swinging gallery; it then rose
towards the centre of the crescent and transferred the Prince and
his suite, Kurt included, to the Hohenzollern, which had been
chosen as the flagship during the impending battle. They were
swung up on a small cable from the forward gallery, and the men
of the Zeppelin manned the outer netting as the Prince and his
staff left them. The Zeppelin then came about, circled down and
grounded in Prospect Park, in order to land the wounded and take
aboard explosives; for she had come to Labrador with her
magazines empty, it being uncertain what weight she might need to
carry. She also replenished the hydrogen in one of her forward
chambers which had leaked.
Bert was detailed as a bearer and helped carry the wounded one by
one into the nearest of the large hotels that faced the Canadian
shore. The hotel was quite empty except that there were two
trained American nurses and a negro porter, and three or four
Germans awaiting them. Bert went with the Zeppelin's doctor into
the main street of the place, and they broke into a drug shop and
obtained various things of which they stood in need. As they
returned they found an officer and two men making a rough
inventory of the available material in the various stores.
Except for them the wide, main street of the town was quite
deserted, the people had been given three hours to clear out, and
everybody, it seemed, had done so. At one corner a dead man lay
against the wall--shot. Two or three dogs were visible up the
empty vista, but towards its river end the passage of a string of
mono-rail ears broke the stillness and the silence. They were
loaded with hose, and were passing to the trainful of workers who
were converting Prospect Park into an airship dock.
Bert pushed a case of medicine balanced on a bicycle taken from
an adjacent shop, to the hotel, and then he was sent to load
bombs into the Zeppelin magazine, a duty that called for
elaborate care. From this job he was presently called off by the
captain of the Zeppelin, who sent him with a note to the officer
in charge of the Anglo-American Power Company, for the field
telephone had still to be adjusted. Bert received his
instructions in German, whose meaning he guessed, and saluted and
took the note, not caring to betray his ignorance of the
language. He started off with a bright air of knowing his way
and turned a corner or so, and was only beginning to suspect that
he did not know where he was going when his attention was
recalled to the sky by the report of a gun from the Hohenzollern
and celestial cheering.
He looked up and found the view obstructed by the houses on
either side of the street. He hesitated, and then curiosity took
him back towards the bank of the river. Here his view was
inconvenienced by trees, and it was with a start that he
discovered the Zeppelin, which he knew had still a quarter of her
magazines to fill, was rising over Goat Island. She had not
waited for her complement of ammunition. It occurred to him that
he was left behind. He ducked back among the trees and bushes
until he felt secure from any after-thought on the part of the
Zeppelin's captain. Then his curiosity to see what the German
air-fleet faced overcame him, and drew him at last halfway across
the bridge to Goat Island.
From that point he had nearly a hemisphere of sky and got his
first glimpse of the Asiatic airships low in the sky above the
glittering tumults of the Upper Rapids.
They were far less impressive than the German ships. He could
not judge the distance, and they flew edgeways to him, so as to
conceal the broader aspect of their bulk.
Bert stood there in the middle of the bridge, in a place that
most people who knew it remembered as a place populous with
sightseers and excursionists, and he was the only human being in
sight there. Above him, very high in the heavens, the contending
air-fleets manoeuvred; below him the river seethed like a sluice
towards the American Fall. He was curiously dressed. His cheap
blue serge trousers were thrust into German airship rubber boots,
and on his head he wore an aeronaut's white cap that was a trifle
too large for him. He thrust that back to reveal his staring
little Cockney face, still scarred upon the brow. "Gaw!" he
He stared. He gesticulated. Once or twice he shouted and
Then at a certain point terror seized him and he took to his
heels in the direction of Goat Island.
For a time after they were in sight of each other, neither fleet
attempted to engage. The Germans numbered sixty-seven great
airships and they maintained the crescent formation at a height
of nearly four thousand feet. They kept a distance of about one
and a half lengths, so that the horns of the crescent were nearly
thirty miles apart. Closely in tow of the airships of the
extreme squadrons on either wing were about thirty drachenflieger
ready manned,, but these were too small and distant for Bert to
At first, only what was called the Southern fleet of the Asiatics
was visible to him. It consisted of forty airships, carrying all
together nearly four hundred one-man flying-machines upon their
flanks, and for some time it flew slowly and at a minimum
distance of perhaps a dozen miles from the Germans, eastward
across their front. At first Bert could distinguish only the
greater bulks, then he perceived the one-man machines as a
multitude of very small objects drifting like motes in the
sunshine about and beneath the larger shapes.
Bert saw nothing then of the second fleet of the Asiatics, though
probably that was coming into sight of the Germans at the time,
in the north-west.
The air was very still, the sky almost without a cloud, and the
German fleet had risen to an immense height, so that the airships
seemed no longer of any considerable size. Both ends of their
crescent showed plainly. As they beat southward they passed
slowly between Bert and the sunlight, and became black outlines
of themselves. The drachenflieger appeared as little flecks of
black on either wing of this aerial Armada.
The two fleets seemed in no hurry to engage. The Asiatics went
far away into the east, quickening their pace and rising as they
did so, and then tailed out into a long column and came flying
back, rising towards the German left. The squadrons of the
latter came about, facing this oblique advance, and suddenly
little flickerings and a faint crepitating sound told that they
had opened fire. For a time no effect was visible to the watcher
on the bridge. Then, like a handful of snowflakes, the
drachenflieger swooped to the attack, and a multitude of red
specks whirled up to meet them. It was to Bert's sense not only
enormously remote but singularly inhuman. Not four hours since
he had been on one of those very airships, and yet they seemed to
him now not gas-bags carrying men, but strange sentient creatures
that moved about and did things with a purpose of their own. The
flight of the Asiatic and German flying-machines joined and
dropped earthward, became like a handful of white and red rose
petals flung from a distant window, grew larger, until Bert could
see the overturned ones spinning through the air, and were hidden
by great volumes of dark smoke that were rising in the direction
of Buffalo. For a time they all were hidden, then two or three
white and a number of red ones. rose again into the sky, like a
swarm of big butterflies, and circled fighting and drove away out
of sight again towards the east.
A heavy report recalled Bert's eyes to the zenith, and behold,
the great crescent had lost its dressing and burst into a
disorderly long cloud of airships! One had dropped halfway down
the sky. It was flaming fore and aft, and even as Bert looked it
turned over and fell, spinning over and over itself and vanished
into the smoke of Buffalo.
Bert's mouth opened and shut, and he clutched tighter on the rail
of the bridge. For some moments--they seemed long moments--the
two fleets remained without any further change flying obliquely
towards each other, and making what came to Bert's ears as a
midget uproar. Then suddenly from either side airships began
dropping out of alignment, smitten by missiles he could neither
see nor trace. The string of Asiatic ships swung round and
either charged into or over (it was difficult to say from below)
the shattered line of the Germans, who seemed to open out to give
way to them. Some sort of manoeuvring began, but Bert could not
grasp its import. The left of the battle became a confused dance
of airships. For some minutes up there the two crossing lines of
ships looked so close it seemed like a hand-to-hand scuffle in
the sky. Then they broke up into groups and duels. The descent
of German air-ships towards the lower sky increased. One of them
flared down and vanished far away in the north; two dropped with
something twisted and crippled in their movements; then a group
of antagonists came down from the zenith in an eddying conflict,
two Asiatics against one German, and were presently joined by
another, and drove away eastward all together with others
dropping out of the German line to join them.
One Asiatic either rammed or collided with a still more gigantic
German, and the two went spinning to destruction together. The
northern squadron of Asiatics came into the battle unnoted by
Bert, except that the multitude of ships above seemed presently
increased. In a little while the fight was utter confusion,
drifting on the whole to the southwest against the wind. It
became more and more a series of group encounters. Here a huge
German airship flamed earthward with a dozen flat Asiatic craft
about her, crushing her every attempt to recover. Here another
hung with its screw fighting off the swordsman from a swarm of
flying-machines. Here, again, an Asiatic aflame at either end
swooped out of the battle. His attention went from incident to
incident in the vast clearness overhead; these conspicuous cases
of destruction caught and held his mind; it was only very slowly
that any sort of scheme manifested itself between those nearer,
more striking episodes.
The mass of the airships that eddied remotely above was, however,
neither destroying nor destroyed. The majority of them seemed to
be going at full speed and circling upward for position,
exchanging ineffectual shots as they did so. Very little ramming
was essayed after the first tragic downfall of rammer and rammed,
and what ever attempts at boarding were made were invisible to
Bert. There seemed, however, a steady attempt to isolate
antagonists, to cut them off from their fellows and bear them
down, causing a perpetual sailing back and interlacing of these
shoaling bulks. The greater numbers of the Asiatics and their
swifter heeling movements gave them the effect of persistently
attacking the Germans. Overhead, and evidently endeavouring to
keep itself in touch with the works of Niagara, a body of German
airships drew itself together into a compact phalanx, and the
Asiatics became more and more intent upon breaking this up. He
was grotesquely reminded of fish in a fish-pond struggling for
crumbs. He could see puny puffs of smoke and the flash of bombs,
but never a sound came down to him....
A flapping shadow passed for a moment between Bert and the sun
and was followed by another. A whirring of engines, click,
clock, clitter clock, smote upon his ears. Instantly he forgot
Perhaps a hundred yards above the water, out of the south, riding
like Valkyries swiftly through the air on the strange steeds the
engineering of Europe had begotten upon the artistic inspiration
of Japan, came a long string of Asiatic swordsman. The wings
flapped jerkily, click, block, clitter clock, and the machines
drove up; they spread and ceased, and the apparatus came soaring
through the air. So they rose and fell and rose again. They
passed so closely overhead that Bert could hear their voices
calling to one another. They swooped towards Niagara city and
landed one after another in a long line in a clear space before
the hotel. But he did not stay to watch them land. One yellow
face had craned over and looked at him, and for one enigmatical
instant met his eyes....
It was then the idea came to Bert that he was altogether too
conspicuous in the middle of the bridge, and that he took to his
heels towards Goat Island. Thence, dodging about among the
trees, with perhaps an excessive self-consciousness,
he watched the rest of the struggle.
When Bert's sense of security was sufficiently restored for him
to watch the battle again, he perceived that a brisk little fight
was in progress between the Asiatic aeronauts and the German
engineers for the possession of Niagara city. It was the first
time in the whole course of the war that he had seen anything
resembling fighting as he had studied it in the illustratedpapers
of his youth. It seemed to him almost as though things were
coming right. He saw men carrying rifles and taking cover and
running briskly from point to point in a loose attacking
formation. The first batch of aeronauts had probably been under
the impression that the city was deserted. They had grounded in
the open near Prospect Park and approached the houses towards the
power-works before they were disillusioned by a sudden fire.
They had scattered back to the cover of a bank near the water--it
was too far for them to reach their machines again; they were
lying and firing at the men in the hotels and frame-houses about
Then to their support came a second string of red flying-machines
driving up from the east. They rose up out of the haze above the
houses and came round in a long curve as if surveying the
position below. The fire of the Germans rose to a roar, and one
of those soaring shapes gave an abrupt jerk backward and fell
among the houses. The others swooped down exactly like great
birds upon the roof of the power-house. They caught upon it, and
from each sprang a nimble little figure and ran towards the
Other flapping bird-shapes came into this affair, but Bert had
not seen their coming. A staccato of shots came over to him,
reminding him of army manoeuvres, of newspaper descriptions of
fights, of all that was entirely correct in his conception of
warfare. He saw quite a number of Germans running from the
outlying houses towards the power-house. Two fell. One lay
still, but the other wriggled and made efforts for a time. The
hotel that was used as a hospital, and to which he had helped
carry the wounded men from the Zeppelin earlier in the day,
suddenly ran up the Geneva flag. The town that had seemed so
quiet had evidently been concealing a considerable number of
Germans, and they were now concentrating to hold the central
power-house. He wondered what ammunition they might have. More
and more of the Asiatic flying-machines came into the conflict.
They had disposed of the unfortunate German drachenflieger and
were now aiming at the incipient aeronautic park,--the electric
gas generators and repair stations which formed the German base.
Some,landed, and their aeronauts took cover and became energetic
infantry soldiers. Others hovered above the fight, their men
ever and again firing shots down at some chance exposure below.
The firing came in paroxysms; now there would be a watchful lull
and now a rapid tattoo of shots, rising to a roar. Once or twice
flying machines, as they circled warily, came right overhead, and
for a time Bert gave himself body and soul to cowering.
Ever and again a larger thunder mingled with the rattle and
reminded him of the grapple of airships far above, but the nearer
fight held his attention.
Abruptly something dropped from the zenith; something like a
barrel or a huge football.
CRASH! It smashed with an immense report. It had fallen among
the grounded Asiatic aeroplanes that lay among the turf and
flower-beds near the river. They flew in scraps and fragments,
turf, trees, and gravel leapt and fell; the aeronauts still lying
along the canal bank were thrown about like sacks, catspaws flew
across the foaming water. All the windows of the hotel hospital
that had been shiningly reflecting blue sky and airships the
moment before became vast black stars. Bang!--a second followed.
Bert looked up and was filled with a sense of a number of
monstrous bodies swooping down, coming down on the whole affair
like a flight of bellying blankets, like a string of vast
dish-covers. The central tangle of the battle above was circling
down as if to come into touch with the power-house fight. He got
a new effect of airships altogether, as vast things coming down
upon him, growing swiftly larger and larger and more
overwhelming, until the houses over the way seemed small, the
American rapids narrow, the bridge flimsy, the combatants
infinitesimal. As they came down they became audible as a
complex of shootings and vast creakings and groanings and
beatings and throbbings and shouts and shots. The fore-shortened
black eagles at the fore-ends of the Germans had an effect of
actual combat of flying feathers.
Some of these fighting airships came within five hundred feet of
the ground. Bert could see men on the lower galleries of the
Germans, firing rifles; could see Asiatics clinging to the ropes;
saw one man in aluminium diver's gear fall flashing head-long
into the waters above Goat Island. For the first time he saw the
Asiatic airships closely. From this aspect they reminded him
more than anything else of colossal snowshoes; they had a curious
patterning in black and white, in forms that reminded him of the
engine-turned cover of a watch. They had no hanging galleries,
but from little openings on the middle line peeped out men and
the muzzles of guns. So, driving in long, descending and
ascending curves, these monsters wrestled and fought. It was
like clouds fighting, like puddings trying to assassinate each
other. They whirled and circled about each other, and for a time
threw Goat Island and Niagara into a smoky twilight, through
which the sunlight smote in shafts and beams. They spread and
closed and spread and grappled and drove round over the rapids,
and two miles away or more into Canada, and back over the Falls
again. A German caught fire, and the whole crowd broke away from
her flare and rose about her dispersing, leaving her to drop
towards Canada and blow up as she dropped. Then with renewed
uproar the others closed again. Once from the men in Niagara
city came a sound like an ant-hill cheering. Another German
burnt, and one badly deflated by the prow of an antagonist,
flopped out of action southward.
It became more and more evident that the Germans were getting the
worst of the unequal fight. More and more obviously were they
being persecuted. Less and less did they seem to fight with any
object other than escape. The Asiatics swept by them and above
them, ripped their bladders, set them alight, picked off their
dimly seen men in diving clothes, who struggled against fire and
tear with fire extinguishers and silk ribbons in the inner
netting. They answered only with ineffectual shots. Thence the
battle circled back over Niagara, and then suddenly the Germans,
as if at a preconcerted signal, broke and dispersed, going east,
west, north, and south, in open and confused flight. The
Asiatics, as they realised this, rose to fly above them and after
them. Only one little knot of four Germans and perhaps a dozen
Asiatics remained fighting about the Hohenzollern and the Prince
as he circled in a last attempt to save Niagara.
Round they swooped once again over the Canadian Fall, over the
waste of waters eastward, until they were distant and small, and
then round and back, hurrying, bounding, swooping towards the one
The whole struggling mass approached very swiftly, growing
rapidly larger, and coming out black and featureless against the
afternoon sun and above the blinding welter of the Upper Rapids.
It grew like a storm cloud until once more it darkened the sky.
The flat Asiatic airships kept high above the Germans and behind
them, and fired unanswered bullets into their gas-chambers and
upon their flanks--the one-man flying-machines hovered and
alighted like a swarm of attacking bees. Nearer they came, and
nearer, filling the lower heaven. Two of the Germans swooped and
rose again, but the Hohenzollern had suffered too much for that.
She lifted weakly, turned sharply as if to get out of the battle,
burst into flames fore and aft, swept down to the water, splashed
into it obliquely, and rolled over and over and came down stream
rolling and smashing and writhing like a thing alive, halting and
then coming on again, with her torn and bent propeller still
beating the air. The bursting flames spluttered out again in
clouds of steam. It was a disaster gigantic in its dimensions.
She lay across the rapids like an island, like tall cliffs, tall
cliffs that came rolling, smoking, and crumpling, and collapsing,
advancing with a sort of fluctuating rapidity upon Bert. One
Asiatic airship--it looked to Bert from below like three hundred
yards of pavement--whirled back and circled two or three times
over that great overthrow, and half a dozen crimson
flying-machines danced for a moment like great midges in the
sunlight before they swept on after their fellows. The rest of
the fight had already gone over the island, a wild crescendo of
shots and yells and smashing uproar. It was hidden from Bert now
by the trees of the island, and forgotten by him in the nearer
spectacle of the huge advance of the defeated German airship.
Something fell with a mighty smashing and splintering of boughs
unheeded behind him.
It seemed for a time that the Hohenzollern must needs break her
back upon the Parting of the Waters, and then for a time her
propeller flopped and frothed in the river and thrust the mass of
buckling, crumpled wreckage towards the American shore. Then the
sweep of the torrent that foamed down to the American Fall caught
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