The War in the Air
H. G. Wells [Herbert George Wells]
Part 5 out of 6
her, and in another minute the immense mass of deflating
wreckage, with flames spurting out in three new places, had
crashed against the bridge that joined Goat Island and Niagara
city, and forced a long arm, as it were, in a heaving tangle
under the central span. Then the middle chambers blew up with a
loud report, and in another moment the bridge had given way and
the main bulk of the airship, like some grotesque cripple in
rags, staggered, flapping and waving flambeaux to the crest of
the Fall and hesitated there and vanished in a desperate suicidal
Its detached fore-end remained jammed against that little island,
Green Island it used to be called, which forms the stepping-stone
between the mainland and Goat Island's patch of trees.
Bert followed this disaster from the Parting of the Waters to the
bridge head. Then, regardless of cover, regardless of the
Asiatic airship hovering like a huge house roof without walls
above the Suspension Bridge, he sprinted along towards the north
and came out for the first time upon that rocky point by Luna
Island that looks sheer down upon the American Fall. There he
stood breathless amidst that eternal rush of sound, breathless
Far below, and travelling rapidly down the gorge, whirled
something like a huge empty sack. For him it meant--what did it
not mean?--the German air-fleet, Kurt, the Prince, Europe, all
things stable and familiar, the forces that had brought him, the
forces that had seemed indisputably victorious. And it went down
the rapids like an empty sack and left the visible world to Asia,
to yellow people beyond Christendom, to all that was terrible and
Remote over Canada receded the rest of that conflict and vanished
beyond the range of his vision....
ON GOAT ISLAND
The whack of a bullet on the rocks beside him reminded him that
he was a visible object and wearing at least portions of a German
uniform. It drove him into the trees again, and for a time he
dodged and dropped and sought cover like a chick hiding among
reeds from imaginary hawks.
"Beaten," he whispered. "Beaten and done for... Chinese! Yellow
chaps chasing 'em!"
At last he came to rest in a clump of bushes near a locked-up and
deserted refreshment shed within view of the American side. They
made a sort of hole and harbour for him; they met completely
overhead. He looked across the rapids, but the firing had ceased
now altogether and everything seemed quiet. The Asiatic
aeroplane had moved from its former position above the Suspension
Bridge, was motionless now above Niagara city, shadowing all that
district about the power-house which had been the scene of the
land fight. The monster had an air of quiet and assured
predominance, and from its stern it trailed, serene and
ornamental, a long streaming flag, the red, black, and yellow of
the great alliance, the Sunrise and the Dragon. Beyond, to the
east, at a much higher level, hung a second consort, and Bert,
presently gathering courage, wriggled out and craned his neck to
find another still airship against the sunset in the south.
"Gaw!" he said. "Beaten and chased! My Gawd!"
The fighting, it seemed at first, was quite over in Niagara city,
though a German flag was still flying from one shattered house.
A white sheet was hoisted above the power-house, and this
remained flying all through the events that followed. But
presently came a sound of shots and then German soldiers running.
They disappeared among the houses, and then came two engineers in
blue shirts and trousers hotly pursued by three Japanese
swordsman. The foremost of the two fugitives was a shapely man,
and ran lightly and well; the second was a sturdy little man, and
rather fat. He ran comically in leaps and bounds, with his plump
arms bent up by his side and his head thrown back. The pursuers
ran with uniforms and dark thin metal and leather head-dresses.
The little man stumbled, and Bert gasped, realising a new horror
The foremost swordsman won three strides on him and was near
enough to slash at him and miss as he spurted.
A dozen yards they ran, and then the swordsman slashed again,
and Bert could hear across the waters a little sound like the moo
of an elfin cow as the fat little man fell forward. Slash went
the swordsman and slash at something on the ground that tried to
save itself with ineffectual hands. "Oh, I carn't!" cried Bert,
near blubbering, and staring with starting eyes.
The swordsman slashed a fourth time and went on as his fellows
came up after the better runner. The hindmost swordsman stopped
and turned back. He had perceived some movement perhaps; but at
any rate he stood, and ever and again slashed at the fallen body.
"Oo-oo!" groaned Bert at every slash, and shrank closer into the
bushes and became very still. Presently came a sound of shots
from the town, and then everything was quiet, everything, even
He saw presently little figures sheathing swords come out from
the houses and walk to the debris of the flying-machines the bomb
had destroyed. Others appeared wheeling undamaged aeroplanes
upon their wheels as men might wheel bicycles, and sprang into
the saddles and flapped into the air. A string of three airships
appeared far away in the east and flew towards the zenith. The
one that hung low above Niagara city came still lower and dropped
a rope ladder to pick up men from the power-house.
For a long time he watched the further happenings in Niagara city
as a rabbit might watch a meet. He saw men going from building
to building, to set fire to them, as he presently realised, and
he heard a series of dull detonations from the wheel pit of the
power-house. Some similar business went on among the works on
the Canadian side. Meanwhile more and more airships appeared,
and many more flying-machines, until at last it seemed to him
nearly a third of the Asiatic fleet had re-assembled. He watched
them from his bush, cramped but immovable, watched them gather
and range themselves and signal and pick up men, until at last
they sailed away towards the glowing sunset, going to the great
Asiatic rendez-vous, above the oil wells of Cleveland. They
dwindled and passed away, leaving him alone, so far as he could
tell, the only living man in a world of ruin and strange
loneliness almost beyond describing. He watched them recede and
vanish. He stood gaping after them.
"Gaw!" he said at last, like one who rouses himself from a
It was far more than any personal desolation extremity that
flooded his soul. It seemed to him indeed that this must be the
sunset of his race.
He did not at first envisage his own plight in definite and
comprehensible terms. Things happened to him so much of late,
his own efforts had counted for so little, that he had become
passive and planless. His last scheme had been to go round the
coast of England as a desert dervish giving refined entertainment
to his fellow-creatures. Fate had quashed that. Fate had seen
fit to direct him to other destinies, had hurried him from point
to point, and dropped him at last upon this little wedge of rock
between the cataracts. It did not instantly occur to him that
now it was his turn to play. He had a singular feeling that all
must end as a dream ends, that presently surely he would be back
in the world of Grubb and Edna and Bun Hill, that this roar, this
glittering presence of incessant water, would be drawn aside as a
curtain is drawn aside after a holiday lantern show, and old
familiar, customary things re-assume their sway. It would be
interesting to tell people how he had seen Niagara. And then
Kurt's words came into his head: "People torn away from the
people they care for; homes smashed, creatures full of life and
memories and peculiar little gifts--torn to pieces, starved, and
He wondered, half incredulous, if that was in deed true. It was
so hard to realise it. Out beyond there was it possible that Tom
and Jessica were also in some dire extremity? that the little
green-grocer's shop was no longer standing open, with Jessica
serving respectfully, warming Tom's ear in sharp asides, or
punctually sending out the goods?
He tried to think what day of the week it was, and found he had
lost his reckoning. Perhaps it was Sunday. If so, were they
going to church or, were they hiding, perhaps in bushes? What
had happened to the landlord, the butcher, and to Butteridge and
all those people on Dymchurch beach? Something, he knew, had
happened to London--a bombardment. But who had bombarded? Were
Tom and Jessica too being chased by strange brown men with long
bare swords and evil eyes? He thought of various possible
aspects of affliction, but presently one phase ousted all the
others. Were they getting much to eat? The question haunted
him, obsessed him.
If one was very hungry would one eat rats?
It dawned upon him that a peculiar misery that oppressed him was
not so much anxiety and patriotic sorrow as hunger. Of course he
He reflected and turned his steps towards the little refreshment
shed that stood near the end of the ruined bridge. "Ought to be
He strolled round it once or twice, and then attacked the
shutters with his pocket-knife, reinforced presently by a wooden
stake he found conveniently near. At last he got a shutter to
give, and tore it back and stuck in his head.
"Grub," he remarked, "anyhow. Leastways--"
He got at the inside fastening of the shutter and had presently
this establishment open for his exploration. He found several
sealed bottles of sterilized milk, much mineral water, two tins
of biscuits and a crock of very stale cakes, cigarettes in great
quantity but very dry, some rather dry oranges, nuts, some tins
of canned meat and fruit, and plates and knives and forks and
glasses sufficient for several score of people. There was also a
zinc locker, but he was unable to negotiate the padlock of this.
"Shan't starve," said Bert, "for a bit, anyhow." He sat on the
vendor's seat and regaled himself with biscuits and milk, and
felt for a moment quite contented.
"Quite restful," he muttered, munching and glancing about him
restlessly, "after what I been through.
"Crikey! WOT a day! Oh! WOT a day!"
Wonder took possession of him. "Gaw!" he cried: "Wot a fight
it's been! Smashing up the poor fellers! 'Eadlong! The
airships--the fliers and all. I wonder what happened to the
Zeppelin? ... And that chap Kurt--I wonder what happened to 'im?
'E was a good sort of chap, was Kurt."
Some phantom of imperial solicitude floated through his mind.
"Injia," he said....
A more practical interest arose.
"I wonder if there's anything to open one of these tins of corned
After he had feasted, Bert lit a cigarette and sat meditative for
a time. "Wonder where Grubb is?" he said; "I do wonder that!
Wonder if any of 'em wonder about me?"
He reverted to his own circumstances. "Dessay I shall 'ave to
stop on this island for some time."
He tried to feel at his ease and secure, but presently the
indefinable restlessness of the social animal in solitude
distressed him. He began to want to look over his shoulder, and,
as a corrective, roused himself to explore the rest of the
It was only very slowly that he began to realise the
peculiarities of his position, to perceive that the breaking down
of the arch between Green Island and the mainland had cut him off
completely from the world. Indeed it was only when he came back
to where the fore-end of the Hohenzollern lay like a stranded
ship, and was contemplating the shattered bridge, that this
dawned upon him. Even then it came with no sort of shock to his
mind, a fact among a number of other extraordinary and
unmanageable facts. He stared at the shattered cabins of the
Hohenzollern and its widow's garment of dishevelled silk for a
time, but without any idea of its containing any living thing; it
was all so twisted and smashed and entirely upside down. Then
for a while he gazed at the evening sky. A cloud haze was now
appearing and not an airship was in sight. A swallow flew by and
snapped some invisible victim. "Like a dream," he repeated.
Then for a time the rapids held his mind. "Roaring. It keeps on
roaring and splashin' always and always. Keeps on...."
At last his interests became personal. "Wonder what I ought to
He reflected. "Not an idee," he said.
He was chiefly conscious that a fortnight ago he had been in Bun
Hill with no idea of travel in his mind, and that now he was
between the Falls of Niagara amidst the devastation and ruins of
the greatest air fight in the world, and that in the interval he
had been across France, Belgium, Germany, England, Ireland, and a
number of other countries. It was an interesting thought and
suitable for conversation, but of no great practical utility.
"Wonder 'ow I can get orf this?" he said. "Wonder if there is a
way out? If not... rummy!"
Further reflection decided, "I believe I got myself in a bit of a
'ole coming over that bridge....
"Any'ow--got me out of the way of them Japanesy chaps. Wouldn't
'ave taken 'em long to cut MY froat. No. Still--"
He resolved to return to the point of Luna Island. For a long
time he stood without stirring, scrutinising the Canadian shore
and the wreckage of hotels and houses and the fallen trees of the
Victoria Park, pink now in the light of sundown. Not a human
being was perceptible in that scene of headlong destruction.
Then he came back to the American side of the island, crossed
close to the crumpled aluminium wreckage of the Hohenzollern to
Green Islet, and scrutinised the hopeless breach in the further
bridge and the water that boiled beneath it. Towards Buffalo
there was still much smoke, and near the position of the Niagara
railway station the houses were burning vigorously. Everything
was deserted now, everything was still. One little abandoned
thing lay on a transverse path between town and road, a crumpled
heap of clothes with sprawling limbs....
"'Ave a look round," said Bert, and taking a path that ran
through the middle of the island he presently discovered the
wreckage of the two Asiatic aeroplanes that had fallen out of the
struggle that ended the Hohenzollern.
With the first he found the wreckage of an aeronaut too.
The machine had evidently dropped vertically and was badly
knocked about amidst a lot of smashed branches in a clump of
trees. Its bent and broken wings and shattered stays sprawled
amidst new splintered wood, and its forepeak stuck into the
ground. The aeronaut dangled weirdly head downward among the
leaves and branches some yards away, and Bert only discovered him
as he turned from the aeroplane. In the dusky evening light and
stillness--for the sun had gone now and the wind had altogether
fallen-this inverted yellow face was anything but a tranquilising
object to discover suddenly a couple of yards away. A broken
branch had run clean through the man's thorax, and he hung, so
stabbed, looking limp and absurd. In his hand he still clutched,
with the grip of death, a short light rifle.
For some time Bert stood very still, inspecting this thing.
Then he began to walk away from it, looking constantly back at
Presently in an open glade he came to a stop.
"Gaw!" he whispered, "I don' like dead bodies some'ow! I'd
almost rather that chap was alive."
He would not go along the path athwart which the Chinaman hung.
He felt he would rather not have trees round him any more, and
that it would be more comfortable to be quite close to the
sociable splash and uproar of the rapids.
He came upon the second aeroplane in a clear grassy space by the
side of the streaming water, and it seemed scarcely damaged at
all. It looked as though it had floated down into a position of
rest. It lay on its side with one wing in the air. There was no
aeronaut near it, dead or alive. There it lay abandoned, with
the water lapping about its long tail.
Bert remained a little aloof from it for a long time, looking
into the gathering shadows among the trees, in the expectation of
another Chinaman alive or dead. Then very cautiously he
approached the machine and stood regarding its widespread vans,
its big steering wheel and empty saddle. He did not venture to
"I wish that other chap wasn't there," he said. "I do wish 'e
He saw a few yards away, something bobbing about in an eddy that
spun within a projecting head of rock. As it went round it
seemed to draw him unwillingly towards it....
What could it be?
"Blow!" said Bert. "It's another of 'em."
It held him. He told himself that it was the other aeronaut that
had been shot in the fight and fallen out of the saddle as he
strove to land. He tried to go away, and then it occurred to him
that he might get a branch or something and push this rotating
object out into the stream. That would leave him with only one
dead body to worry about. Perhaps he might get along with one.
He hesitated and then with a certain emotion forced himself to do
this. He went towards the bushes and cut himself a wand and
returned to the rocks and clambered out to a corner between the
eddy and the stream, By that time the sunset was over and the
bats were abroad--and he was wet with perspiration.
He prodded the floating blue-clad thing with his wand, failed,
tried again successfully as it came round, and as it went out
into the stream it turned over, the light gleamed on golden hair
and--it was Kurt!
It was Kurt, white and dead and very calm. There was no
mistaking him. There was still plenty of light for that. The
stream took him and he seemed to compose himself in its swift
grip as one who stretches himself to rest. White-faced he was
now, and all the colour gone out of him.
A feeling of infinite distress swept over Bert as the body swept
out of sight towards the fall. "Kurt!" he cried, "Kurt! I
didn't mean to! Kurt! don' leave me 'ere! Don' leave me!"
Loneliness and desolation overwhelmed him. He gave way. He
stood on the rock in the evening light, weeping and wailing
passionately like a child. It was as though some link that had
held him to all these things had broken and gone. He was afraid
like a child in a lonely room, shamelessly afraid.
The twilight was closing about him. The trees were full now of
strange shadows. All the things about him became strange and
unfamiliar with that subtle queerness one feels oftenest in
dreams. "O God! I carn' stand,this," he said, and crept back
from the rocks to the grass and crouched down, and suddenly wild
sorrow for the death of Kurt, Kurt the brave, Kurt the kindly,
came to his help and he broke from whimpering to weeping. He
ceased to crouch; he sprawled upon the grass and clenched an
"This war," he cried, "this blarsted foolery of a war.
"O Kurt! Lieutenant Kurt!
"I done," he said, "I done. I've 'ad all I want, and more than I
want. The world's all rot, and there ain't no sense in it. The
night's coming.... If 'E comes after me--'E can't come after
me--'E can't! ...
"If 'E comes after me, I'll fro' myself into the water."...
Presently he was talking again in a low undertone.
"There ain't nothing to be afraid of reely. It's jest
imagination. Poor old Kurt--he thought it would happen.
Prevision like. 'E never gave me that letter or tole me who the
lady was. It's like what 'e said--people tore away from
everything they belonged to--everywhere. Exactly like what 'e
said.... 'Ere I am cast away--thousands of miles from Edna or
Grubb or any of my lot--like a plant tore up by the roots.... And
every war's been like this, only I 'adn't the sense to understand
it. Always. All sorts of 'oles and corners chaps 'ave died in.
And people 'adn't the sense to understand, 'adn't the sense to
feel it and stop it. Thought war was fine. My Gawd! ...
"Dear old Edna. She was a fair bit of all right--she was. That
time we 'ad a boat at Kingston ....
"I bet--I'll see 'er again yet. Won't be my fault if I don't."...
Suddenly, on the very verge of this heroic resolution, Bert
became rigid with terror. Something was creeping towards him
through the grass. Something was creeping and halting and
creeping again towards him through the dim dark grass. The night
was electrical with horror. For a time everything was still.
Bert ceased to breathe. It could not be. No, it was too small!
It advanced suddenly upon him with a rush, with a little meawling
cry and tail erect. It rubbed its head against him and purred.
It was a tiny, skinny little kitten.
"Gaw, Pussy! 'ow you frightened me!" said Bert, with drops of
perspiration on his brow.
He sat with his back to a tree stump all that night, holding the
kitten in his arms. His mind was tired, and he talked or thought
coherently no longer. Towards dawn he dozed.
When he awoke, he was stiff but in better heart, and the kitten
slept warmly and reassuringly inside his jacket. And fear, he
found, had gone from amidst the trees.
He stroked the kitten, and the little creature woke up to
excessive fondness and purring. "You want some milk," said Bert.
"That's what you want. And I could do with a bit of brekker
He yawned and stood up, with the kitten on his shoulder, and
stared about him, recalling the circumstances of the previous
day, the grey, immense happenings.
"Mus' do something," he said.
He turned towards the trees, and was presently contemplating the
dead aeronaut again. The kitten he held companionably against
his neck. The body was horrible, but not nearly so horrible as
it had been at twilight, and now the limbs were limper and the
gun had slipped to the ground and lay half hidden in the grass.
"I suppose we ought to bury 'im, Kitty," said Bert, and looked
helplessly at the rocky soil about him. "We got to stay on the
island with 'im."
It was some time before he could turn away and go on towards that
provision shed. "Brekker first," he said, "anyhow," stroking the
kitten on his shoulder. She rubbed his cheek affectionately with
her furry little face and presently nibbled at his ear. "Wan'
some milk, eh?" he said, and turned his back on the dead man as
though he mattered nothing.
He was puzzled to find the door of the shed open, though he had
closed and latched it very carefully overnight, and he found also
some dirty plates he had not noticed before on the bench. He
discovered that the hinges of the tin locker were unscrewed and
that it could be opened. He had not observed this overnight.
"Silly of me!" said Bert. "'Ere I was puzzlin' and whackin' away
at the padlock, never noticing." It had been used apparently as
an ice-chest, but it contained nothing now but the remains of
half-dozen boiled chickens, some ambiguous substance that might
once have been butter, and a singularly unappetising smell. He
closed the lid again carefully.
He gave the kitten some milk in a dirty plate and sat watching
its busy little tongue for a time. Then he was moved to make an
inventory of the provisions. There were six bottles of milk
unopened and one opened, sixty bottles of mineral water and a
large stock of syrups, about two thousand cigarettes and upwards
of a hundred cigars, nine oranges, two unopened tins of corned
beef and one opened, and five large tins California peaches. He
jotted it down on a piece of paper "'Ain't much solid food," he
said. "Still--A fortnight, say!
"Anything might happen in a fortnight."
He gave the kitten a small second helping and a scrap of beef and
then went down with the little creature running after him, tail
erect and in high spirits, to look at the remains of the
It had shifted in the night and seemed on the whole more firmly
grounded on Green Island than before. From it his eye went to
the shattered bridge and then across to the still desolation of
Niagara city. Nothing moved over there but a number of crows.
They were busy with the engineer he had seen cut down on the
previous day. He saw no dogs, but he heard one howling.
"We got to get out of this some'ow, Kitty," he said. "That milk
won't last forever--not at the rate you lap it."
He regarded the sluice-like flood before him.
"Plenty of water," he said. "Wont be drink we shall want."
He decided to make a careful exploration of the island.
Presently he came to a locked gate labelled "Biddle Stairs," and
clambered over to discover a steep old wooden staircase leading
down the face of the cliff amidst a vast and increasing uproar of
waters. He left the kitten above and descended these, and
discovered with a thrill of hope a path leading among the rocks
at the foot of the roaring downrush of the Centre Fall. Perhaps
this was a sort of way!
It led him only to the choking and deafening experience of the
Cave of the Winds, and after he had spent a quarter of an hour in
a partially stupefied condition flattened between solid rock and
nearly as solid waterfall, he decided that this was after all no
practicable route to Canada and retraced his steps. As he
reascended the Biddle Stairs, he heard what he decided at last
must be a sort of echo, a sound of some one walking about on the
gravel paths above. When he got to the top, the place was as
solitary as before.
Thence he made his way, with the kitten skirmishing along beside
him in the grass, to a staircase that led to a lump of projecting
rock that enfiladed the huge green majesty of the Horseshoe Fall.
He stood there for some time in silence.
"You wouldn't think," he said at last, "there was so much
water.... This roarin' and splashin', it gets on one's nerves at
last.... Sounds like people talking.... Sounds like people going
about.... Sounds like anything you fancy."
He retired up the staircase again. "I s'pose I shall keep on
goin' round this blessed island," he said drearily. "Round and
round and round."
He found himself presently beside the less damaged Asiatic
aeroplane again. He stared at it and the kitten smelt it.
"Broke!" he said.
He looked up with a convulsive start.
Advancing slowly towards him out from among the trees were two
tall gaunt figures. They were blackened and tattered and
bandaged; the hind-most one limped and had his head swathed in
white, but the foremost one still carried himself as a Prince
should do, for all that his left arm was in a sling and one side
of his face scalded a livid crimson. He was the Prince Karl
Albert, the War Lord, the "German Alexander," and the man behind
him was the bird-faced man whose cabin had once been taken from
him and given to Bert.
With that apparition began a new phase of GoatIsland in Bert's
experience. He ceased to be a solitary representative of
humanity in a vast and violent and incomprehensible universe, and
became once more a social creature, a man in a world of other
men. For an instant these two were terrible, then they seemed
sweet and desirable as brothers. They too were in this scrape
with him, marooned and puzzled. He wanted extremely to hear
exactly what had happened to them. What mattered it if one was a
Prince and both were foreign soldiers, if neither perhaps had
adequate English? His native Cockney freedom flowed too
generously for him to think of that, and surely the Asiatic
fleets had purged all such trivial differences. "Ul-LO!" he
said; "'ow did you get 'ere?"
"It is the Englishman who brought us the Butteridge machine,"
said the bird-faced officer in German, and then in a tone of
horror, as Bert advanced, "Salute!" and again louder, "SALUTE!"
"Gaw!" said Bert, and stopped with a second comment under his
breath. He stared and saluted awkwardly and became at once a
masked defensive thing with whom co-operation was impossible.
For a time these two perfected modern aristocrats stood regarding
the difficult problem of the Anglo-Saxon citizen, that ambiguous
citizen who, obeying some mysterious law in his blood, would
neither drill nor be a democrat. Bert was by no means a
beautiful object, but in some inexplicable way he looked
resistant. He wore his cheap suit of serge, now showing many
signs of wear, and its loose fit made him seem sturdier than he
was; above his disengaging face was a white German cap that was
altogether too big for him, and his trousers were crumpled up his
legs and their ends tucked into the rubber highlows of a deceased
German aeronaut. He looked an inferior, though by no means an
easy inferior, and instinctively they hated him.
The Prince pointed to the flying-machine and said something in
broken English that Bert took for German and failed to
understand. He intimated as much.
"Dummer Kerl!" said the bird-faced officer from among his
The Prince pointed again with his undamaged hand. "You verstehen
Bert began to comprehend the situation. He regarded the Asiatic
machine. The habits of Bun Hill returned to him. "It's a
foreign make," he said ambiguously.
The two Germans consulted. "You are an expert?" said the Prince.
"We reckon to repair," said Bert, in the exact manner of Grubb.
The Prince sought in his vocabulary. "Is dat," he said, "goot to
Bert reflected and scratched his cheek slowly. "I got to look at
it," he replied.... "It's 'ad rough usage!"
He made a sound with his teeth he had also acquired from Grubb,
put his hands in his trouser pockets, and strolled back to the
machine. Typically Grubb chewed something, but Bert could chew
only imaginatively. "Three days' work in this," he said,
teething. For the first time it dawned on him that there were
possibilities in this machine. It was evident that the wing that
lay on the ground was badly damaged. The three stays that held
it rigid had snapped across a ridge of rock and there was also a
strong possibility of the engine being badly damaged. The wing
hook on that side was also askew, but probably that would not
affect the flight. Beyond that there probably wasn't much the
matter. Bert scratched his cheek again and contemplated the
broad sunlit waste of the Upper Rapids. "We might make a job of
this.... You leave it to me."
He surveyed it intently again, and the Prince and his officer
watched him. In Bun Hill Bert and Grubb had developed to a very
high pitch among the hiring stock a method of repair by
substituting; they substituted bits of other machines. A machine
that was too utterly and obviously done for even to proffer for
hire, had nevertheless still capital value. It became a sort of
quarry for nuts and screws and wheels, bars and spokes,
chain-links and the like; a mine of ill-fitting "parts" to
replace the defects of machines still current. And back among
the trees was a second Asiatic aeroplane....
The kitten caressed Bert's airship boots unheeded.
"Mend dat drachenflieger," said the Prince.
"If I do mend it," said Bert, struck by a new thought, "none of
us ain't to be trusted to fly it."
"_I_ vill fly it," said the Prince.
"Very likely break your neck," said Bert, after a pause.
The Prince did not understand him and disregarded what he said.
He pointed his gloved finger to the machine and turned to the
bird-faced officer with some remark in German. The officer
answered and the Prince responded with a sweeping gesture towards
the sky. Then he spoke--it seemed eloquently. Bert watched him
and guessed his meaning. "Much more likely to break your, neck,"
he said. "'Owever. 'Ere goes."
He began to pry about the saddle and engine of the drachenflieger
in search for tools. Also he wanted some black oily stuff for
his hands and face. For the first rule in the art of repairing,
as it was known to the firm of Grubb and Smallways, was to get
your hands and face thoroughly and conclusively blackened. Also
he took off his jacket and waistcoat and put his cap carefully to
the back of his head in order to facilitate scratching.
The Prince and the officer seemed disposed to watch him, but he
succeeded in making it clear to them that this would
inconvenience him and that he had to "puzzle out a bit" before he
could get to work. They thought him over, but his shop
experience had given him something of the authoritative way of
the expert with common men. And at last they went away.
Thereupon he went straight to the second aeroplane, got the
aeronaut's gun and ammunition and hid them in a clump of nettles
close at hand. "That's all right," said Bert, and then proceeded
to a careful inspection of the debris of the wings in the trees.
Then he went back to the first aeroplane to compare the two. The
Bun Hill method was quite possibly practicable if there was
nothing hopeless or incomprehensible in the engine.
The Germans returned presently to find him already generously
smutty and touching and testing knobs and screws and levers with
an expression of profound sagacity. When the bird-faced officer
addressed a remark to him, he waved him aside with, "Nong
comprong. Shut it! It's no good."
Then he had an idea. "Dead chap back there wants burying," he
said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.
With the appearance of these two men Bert's whole universe had
changed again. A curtain fell before the immense and terrible
desolation that had overwhelmed him. He was in a world of three
people, a minute human world that nevertheless filled his brain
with eager speculations and schemes and cunning ideas. What were
they thinking of? What did they think of him? What did they
mean to do? A hundred busy threads interlaced in his mind as he
pottered studiously over the Asiatic aeroplane. New ideas came
up like bubbles in soda water.
"Gaw!" he said suddenly. He had just appreciated as a special
aspect of this irrational injustice of fate that these two men
were alive and that Kurt was dead. All the crew of the
Hohenzollern were shot or burnt or smashed or drowned, and these
two lurking in the padded forward cabin had escaped.
"I suppose 'e thinks it's 'is bloomin' Star," he muttered, and
found himself uncontrollably exasperated.
He stood up, facing round to the two men. They were standing
side by side regarding him.
"'It's no good," he said, "starin' at me. You only put me out."
And then seeing they did not understand, he advanced towards
them, wrench in hand. It occurred to him as he did so that the
Prince was really a very big and powerful and serene-looking
person. But he said, nevertheless, pointing through the trees,
The bird-faced man intervened with a reply in German.
"Dead man!" said Bert to him. "There."
He had great difficulty in inducing them to inspect the dead
Chinaman, and at last led them to him. Then they made it evident
that they proposed that he, as a common person below the rank of
officer should have the sole and undivided privilege of disposing
of the body by dragging it to the water's edge. There was some
heated gesticulation, and at last the bird-faced officer abased
himself to help. Together they dragged the limp and now swollen
Asiatic through the trees, and after a rest or so--for he trailed
very heavily--dumped him into the westward rapid. Bert returned
to his expert investigation of the flying-machine at last with
aching arms and in a state of gloomy rebellion. "Brasted cheek!"
he said. "One'd think I was one of 'is beastly German slaves!
And then he fell speculating what would happen when the
flying-machine, was repaired--if it could be repaired.
The two Germans went away again, and after some reflection Bert
removed several nuts, resumed his jacket and vest, pocketed those
nuts and his tools and hid the set of tools from the second
aeroplane in the fork of a tree. "Right O," he said, as he
jumped down after the last of these precautions. The Prince and
his companion reappeared as he returned to the machine by the
water's edge. The Prince surveyed his progress for a time, and
then went towards the Parting of the Waters and stood with folded
arms gazing upstream in profound thought. The bird-faced officer
came up to Bert, heavy with a sentence in English.
"Go," he said with a helping gesture, "und eat."
When Bert got to the refreshment shed, he found all the food had
vanished except one measured ration of corned beef and three
He regarded this with open eyes and mouth.
The kitten appeared from under the vendor's seat with an
ingratiating purr. "Of course!" said Bert. "Why! where's your
He accumulated wrath for a moment or so, then seized the plate in
one hand, and the biscuits in another, and went in search of the
Prince, breathing vile words anent "grub" and his intimate
interior. He approached without saluting.
"'Ere!" he said fiercely. "Whad the devil's this?"
An entirely unsatisfactory altercation followed. Bert expounded
the Bun Hill theory of the relations of grub to efficiency in
English, the bird-faced man replied with points about nations and
discipline in German. The Prince, having made an estimate of
Bert's quality and physique, suddenly hectored. He gripped Bert
by the shoulder and shook him, making his pockets rattle, shouted
something to him, and flung him struggling back. He hit him as
though he was a German private. Bert went back, white and
scared, but resolved by all his Cockney standards upon one thing.
He was bound in honour to "go for" the Prince. "Gaw!" he gasped,
buttoning his jacket.
"Now," cried the Prince, "Vil you go?" and then catching the
heroic gleam in Bert's eye, drew his sword.
The bird-faced officer intervened, saying something in German and
Far away in the southwest appeared a Japanese airship coming fast
toward them. Their conflict ended at that. The Prince was first
to grasp the situation and lead the retreat. All three scuttled
like rabbits for the trees, and ran to and for cover until they
found a hollow in which the grass grew rank. There they all
squatted within six yards of one another. They sat in this place
for a long time, up to their necks in the grass and watching
through the branches for the airship. Bert had dropped some of
his corned beef, but he found the biscuits in his hand and ate
them quietly. The monster came nearly overhead and then went
away to Niagara and dropped beyond the power-works. When it was
near, they all kept silence, and then presently they fell into an
argument that was robbed perhaps of immediate explosive effect
only by their failure to understand one another.
It was Bert began the talking and he talked on regardless of what
they understood or failed to understand. But his voice must have
conveyed his cantankerous intentions.
"You want that machine done, he said first, "you better keep your
'ands off me!"
They disregarded that and he repeated it.
Then he expanded his idea and the spirit of speech took hold of
him. "You think you got 'old of a chap you can kick and 'it like
you do your private soldiers--you're jolly well mistaken. See?
I've 'ad about enough of you and your antics. I been thinking
you over, you and your war and your Empire and all the rot of it.
Rot it is! It's you Germans made all the trouble in Europe first
and last. And all for nothin'. Jest silly prancing! Jest
because you've got the uniforms and flags! 'Ere I was--I didn't
want to 'ave anything to do with you. I jest didn't care a 'eng
at all about you. Then you get 'old of me--steal me
practically--and 'ere I am, thousands of miles away from 'ome and
everything, and all your silly fleet smashed up to rags. And you
want to go on prancin' NOW! Not if 'I know it!
"Look at the mischief you done! Look at the way you smashed up
New York--the people you killed, the stuff you wasted. Can't you
"Dummer Kerl!"said the bird-faced man suddenly in a tone of
concentrated malignancy, glaring under his bandages. "Esel!"
"That's German for silly ass!--I know. But who's the silly ass--
'im or me? When I was a kid, I used to read penny dreadfuls
about 'avin adventures and bein' a great c'mander and all that
rot. I stowed it. But what's 'e got in 'is head? Rot about
Napoleon, rot about Alexander, rot about 'is blessed family and
'im and Gord and David and all that. Any one who wasn't a
dressed-up silly fool of a Prince could 'ave told all this was
goin' to 'appen. There was us in Europe all at sixes and sevens
with our silly flags and our silly newspapers raggin' us up
against each other and keepin' us apart, and there was China,
solid as a cheese, with millions and millions of men only wantin'
a bit of science and a bit of enterprise to be as good as all of
us. You thought they couldn't get at you. And then they got
flying-machines. And bif!--'ere we are. Why, when they didn't
go on making guns and armies in China, we went and poked 'em up
until they did. They 'AD to give us this lickin' they've give us.
We wouldn't be happy until they did, and as I say, 'ere we are!"
The bird-faced officer shouted to him to be quiet, and then began
a conversation with the Prince.
"British citizen," said Bert. "You ain't obliged to listen, but
I ain't obliged to shut up."
And for some time he continued his dissertation upon Imperialism,
militarism, and international politics. But their talking put
him out, and for a time he was certainly merely repeating abusive
terms, "prancin' nincompoops" and the like, old terms and new.
Then suddenly he remembered his essential grievance. "'Owever,
look 'ere--'ere!--the thing I started this talk about is where's
that food there was in that shed? That's what I want to know.
Where you put it?"
He paused. They went on talking in German. He repeated his
question. They disregarded him. He asked a third time in a
manner insupportably aggressive.
There fell a tense silence. For some seconds the three regarded
one another. The Prince eyed Bert steadfastly, and Bert quailed
under his eye. Slowly the Prince rose to his feet and the
bird-faced officer jerked up beside him. Bert remained
"Be quaiat," said the Prince.
Bert perceived this was no moment for eloquence.
The two Germans regarded him as he crouched there. Death for a
moment seemed near.
Then the Prince turned away and the two of them went towards the
"Gaw!" whispered Bert, and then uttered under his breath one
single word of abuse. He sat crouched together for perhaps three
minutes, then he sprang to his feet and went off towards the
Chinese aeronaut's gun hidden among the weeds.
There was no pretence after that moment that Bert was under the
orders of the Prince or that he was going on with the repairing
of the flying-machine. The two Germans took possession of that
and set to work upon it. Bert, with his new weapon went off to
the neighbourhood of Terrapin Rock, and there sat down to examine
it. It was a short rifle with a big cartridge, and a nearly full
magazine. He took out the cartridges carefully and then tried
the trigger and fittings until he felt sure he had the use of it.
He reloaded carefully. Then he remembered he was hungry and went
off, gun under his arm, to hunt in and about the refreshment
shed. He had the sense to perceive that he must not show himself
with the gun to the Prince and his companion. So long as they
thought him unarmed they would leave him alone, but there was no
knowing what the Napoleonic person might do if he saw Bert's
weapon. Also he did not go near them because he knew that within
himself boiled a reservoir of rage and fear that he wanted to
shoot these two men. He wanted to shoot them, and he thought
that to shoot them would be a quite horrible thing to do. The
two sides of his inconsistent civilisation warred within him.
Near the shed the kitten turned up again, obviously keen for
milk. This greatly enhanced his own angry sense of hunger. He
began to talk as he hunted about, and presently stood still,
shouting insults. He talked of war and pride and Imperialism.
"Any other Prince but you would have died with his men and his
ship!" he cried.
The two Germans at the machine heard his voice going ever and
again amidst the clamour of the waters. Their eyes met and they
He was disposed for a time to sit in the refreshment shed waiting
for them, but then it occurred to him that so he might get them
both at close quarters. He strolled off presently to the point
of Luna Island to think the situation out.
It had seemed a comparatively simple one at first, but as he
turned it over in his mind its possibilities increased and
multiplied. Both these men had swords,--had either a revolver?
Also, if he shot them both, he might never find the food!
So far he had been going about with this gun under his arm, and a
sense of lordly security in his mind, but what if they saw the
gun and decided to ambush him? Goat Island is nearly all cover,
trees, rocks, thickets, and irregularities.
Why not go and murder them both now?
"I carn't," said Bert, dismissing that. "I got to be worked up."
But it was a mistake to get right away from them. That suddenly
became clear. He ought to keep them under observation, ought to
"scout" them. Then he would be able to see what they were doing,
whether either of them had a revolver, where they had hidden the
food. He would be better able to determine what they meant to do
to him. If he didn't "scout" them, presently they would begin to
"scout" him. This seemed so eminently reasonable that he acted
upon it forthwith. He thought over his costume and threw his
collar and the tell-tale aeronaut's white cap into the water far
below. He turned his coat collar up to hide any gleam of his
dirty shirt. The tools and nuts in his pockets were disposed to
clank, but he rearranged them and wrapped some letters and his
pocket-handkerchief about them. He started off circumspectly and
noiselessly, listening and peering at every step. As he drew
near his antagonists, much grunting and creaking served to locate
them. He discovered them engaged in what looked like a wrestling
match with the Asiatic flying-machine. Their coats were off,
their swords laid aside, they were working magnificently.
Apparently they were turning it round and were having a good deal
of difficulty with the long tail among the trees. He dropped
flat at the sight of them and wriggled into a little hollow, and
so lay watching their exertions. Ever and again, to pass the
time, he would cover one or other of them with his gun.
He found them quite interesting to watch, so interesting that at
times he came near shouting to advise them. He perceived that
when they had the machine turned round, they would then be in
immediate want of the nuts and tools he carried. Then they would
come after him. They would certainly conclude he had them or had
hidden them. Should he hide his gun and do a deal for food with
these tools? He felt he would not be able to part with the gun
again now he had once felt its reassuring company. The kitten
turned up again and made a great fuss with him and licked and bit
The sun clambered to midday, and once that morning he saw, though
the Germans did not, an Asiatic airship very far to the south,
going swiftly eastward.
At last the flying-machine was turned and stood poised on its
wheel, with its hooks pointing up the Rapids. The two officers
wiped their faces, resumed jackets and swords, spoke and bore
themselves like men who congratulated themselves on a good
laborious morning. Then they went off briskly towards the
refreshment shed, the Prince leading. Bert became active in
pursuit; but he found it impossible to stalk them quickly enough
and silently enough to discover the hiding-place of the food. He
found them, when he came into sight of them again, seated with
their backs against the shed, plates on knee, and a tin of corned
beef and a plateful of biscuits between them. They seemed in
fairly good spirits, and once the Prince laughed. At this vision
of eating Bert's plans gave way. Fierce hunger carried him. He
appeared before them suddenly at a distance of perhaps twenty
yards, gun in hand.
"'Ands up!" he said in a hard, ferocious voice.
The Prince hesitated, and then up went two pairs of hands.
The gun had surprised them both completely.
"Stand up," said Bert.... "Drop that fork!"
They obeyed again.
"What nex'?" said Bert to himself. "'Orf stage, I suppose. That
way," he said. "Go!"
The Prince obeyed with remarkable alacrity. When he reached the
head of the clearing, he said something quickly to the bird-faced
man and they both, with an entire lack of dignity, RAN!
Bert was struck with an exasperating afterthought.
"Gord!" he cried with infinite vexation. "Why! I ought to 'ave
took their swords! 'Ere!"
But the Germans were already out of sight, and no doubt taking
cover among the trees. Bert fell back upon imprecations, then he
went up to the shed, cursorily examined the possibility of a
flank attack, put his gun handy, and set to work, with a
convulsive listening pause before each mouthful on the Prince's
plate of corned beef. He had finished that up and handed its
gleanings to the kitten and he was falling-to on the second
plateful, when the plate broke in his hand! He stared, with the
fact slowly creeping upon him that an instant before he had heard
a crack among the thickets. Then he sprang to his feet, snatched
up his gun in one hand and the tin of corned beef in the other,
and fled round the shed to the other side of the clearing. As he
did so came a second crack from the thickets, and something went
phwit! by his ear.
He didn't stbp running until he was in what seemed to him a
strongly defensible position near Luna Island. Then he took
cover, panting, and crouched expectant.
"They got a revolver after all!" he panted....
"Wonder if they got two? If they 'ave--Gord! I'm done!
"Where's the kitten? Finishin' up that corned beef, I suppose.
So it was that war began upon Goat Island. It lasted a day and a
night, the longest day and the longest night in Bert's life. He
had to lie close and listen And watch. Also he had to scheme
what he should do. It was clear now that he had to kill these
two men if he could, and that if they could, they would kill him.
The prize was first food and then the flying-machine and the
doubtful privilege of trying' to ride it. If one failed, one
would certainly be killed; if one succeeded, one would get away
somewhere over there. For a time Bert tried to imagine what it
was like over there. His mind ran over possibilities, deserts,
angry Americans, Japanese, Chinese--perhaps Red Indians! (Were
there still Red Indians?)
"Got to take what comes," said Bert. "No way out of it that I
Was that voices? He realised that his attention was wandering.
For a time all his senses were very alert. The uproar of the
Falls was very confusing, and it mixed in all sorts of sounds,
like feet walking, like voices talking, like shouts and cries.
"Silly great catarac'," said Bert. "There ain't no sense in it,
fallin' and fallin'."
Never mind that, now! What were the Germans doing?
Would they go back to the flying-machine? They couldn't do
anything with it, because he had those nuts and screws and the
wrench and other tools. But suppose they found the second set of
tools he had hidden in a tree! He had hidden the things well, of
course, but they MIGHT find them. One wasn't sure, of
course--one wasn't sure. He tried to remember just exactly how
he had hidden those tools. He tried to persuade himself they
were certainly and surely hidden, but his memory began to play
antics. Had he really left the handle of the wrench sticking
out, shining out at the fork of the branch?
Ssh! What was that? Some one stirring in those bushes? Up went
an expectant muzzle. No! Where was the kitten? No! It was
just imagination, not even the kitten.
The Germans would certainly miss and hunt about for the tools
and nuts and screws he carried in his pockets; that was clear.,
Then they would decide he had them and come for him. He had only
to remain still under cover, therefore, and he would get them.
Was there any flaw in that? Would they take off more removable
parts of the flying-machine and then lie up for him? No, they
wouldn't do that, because they were two to one; they would have
no apprehension of his getting off in the flying-machine, and no
sound reason for supposing he would approach it, and so they
would do nothing to damage or disable it. That he decided was
clear. But suppose they lay up for him by the food. Well, that
they wouldn't do, because they would know he had this corned
beef; there was enough in this can to last, with moderation,
several days. Of course they might try to tire him out instead
of attacking him--
He roused himself with a start. He had just grasped the real
weakness of his position. He might go to sleep!
It needed but ten minutes under the suggestion of that idea,
before he realised that he was going to sleep!
He rubbed his eyes and handled his gun. He had never before
realised the intensely soporific effect of the American sun, of
the American air, the drowsy, sleep-compelling uproar of Niagara.
Hitherto these things had on the whole seemed stimulating....
If he had not eaten so much and eaten it so fast, he would not be
so heavy. Are vegetarians always bright? ...
He roused himself with a jerk again.
If he didn't do something, he would fall asleep, and if he fell
asleep, it was ten to one they would find him snoring, and finish
him forthwith. If he sat motionless and noiseless, he would
inevitably sleep. It was better, he told himself, to take even
the risks of attacking than that. This sleep trouble, he felt,
was going to beat him, must beat him in the end. They were all
right; one could sleep and the other could watch. That, come to
think of it, was what they would always do; one would do anything
they wanted done, the other would lie under cover near at hand,
ready to shoot. They might even trap him like that. One might
act as a decoy.
That set him thinking of decoys. What a fool he had been to
throw his cap away. It would have been invaluable on a stick--
especially at night.
He found himself wishing for a drink. He settled that for a time
by putting a pebble in his mouth. And then the sleep craving
It became clear to him he must attack. Like many great generals
before him, he found his baggage, that is to say his tin of
corned beef, a serious impediment to mobility. At last he
decided to put the beef loose in his pocket and abandon the tin.
It was not perhaps an ideal arrangement, but one must make
sacrifices when one is campaigning. He crawled perhaps ten
yards, and then for a time the possibilities of the situation
The afternoon was still. The roar of the cataract simply threw
up that immense stillness in relief. He was doing his best to
contrive the death of two better men than himself. Also they
were doing their best to contrive his. What, behind this
silence, were they doing.
Suppose he came upon them suddenly and fired, and missed?
He crawled, and halted listening, and crawled again until
nightfall, and no doubt the German Alexander and his lieutenant
did the same. A large scale map of Goat Island marked with red
and blue lines to show these strategic movements would no doubt
have displayed much interlacing, but as a matter of fact neither
side saw anything of the other throughout that age-long day of
tedious alertness. Bert never knew how near he got to them nor
how far he kept from them. Night found him no longer sleepy, but
athirst, and near the American Fall. He was inspired by the idea
that his antagonists might be in the wreckage of the Hohenzollern
cabins that was jammed against Green Island. He became
enterprising, broke from any attempt to conceal himself, and went
across the little bridge at the double. He found nobody. It was
his first visit to these huge fragments of airships, and for a
time he explored them curiously in the dim light. He discovered
the forward cabin was nearly intact, with its door slanting
downward and a corner under water. He crept in, drank, and then
was struck by the brilliant idea of shutting the door and
sleeping on it.
But now he could not sleep at all.
He nodded towards morning and woke up to find it fully day. He
breakfasted on corned beef and water, and sat for a long time
appreciative of the security of his position. At last he became
enterprising and bold. He would, he decided, settle this
business forthwith, one way or the other. He was tired of all
this crawling. He set out in the morning sunshine, gun in hand,
scarcely troubling to walk softly. He went round the refreshment
shed without finding any one, and then through the trees towards
the flying-machine. He came upon the bird-faced man sitting on
the ground with his back against a tree, bent up over his folded
arms, sleeping, his bandage very much over one eye.
Bert stopped abruptly and stood perhaps fifteen yards away, gun
in hand ready. Where was the Prince? Then, sticking out at the
side of the tree beyond, he saw a shoulder. Bert took five
deliberate paces to the left. The great man became visible,
leaning up against the trunk, pistol in one hand and sword in the
other, and yawning--yawning. You can't shoot a yawning man Bert
found. He advanced upon his antagonist with his gun levelled,
some foolish fancy of "hands up" in his mind. The Prince became
aware of him, the yawning mouth shut like a trap and he stood
stiffly up. Bert stopped, silent. For a moment the two regarded
Had the Prince been a wise man he would, I suppose, have dodged
behind the tree. Instead, he gave vent to a shout, and raised
pistol and sword. At that, like an automaton, Bert pulled his
It was his first experience of an oxygen-containing bullet. A
great flame spurted from the middle of the Prince, a blinding
flare, and there came a thud like the firing of a gun. Something
hot and wet struck Bert's face. Then through a whirl of blinding
smoke and steam he saw limbs and a collapsing, burst body fling
themselves to earth.
Bert was so astonished that he stood agape, and the bird-faced
officer might have cut him to the earth without a struggle. But
instead the bird-faced officer was running away through the
undergrowth, dodging as he went. Bert roused himself to a brief
ineffectual pursuit, but he had no stomach for further killing.
He returned to the mangled, scattered thing that had so recently
been the great Prince Karl Albert. He surveyed the scorched and
splashed vegetation about it. He made some speculative
identifications. He advanced gingerly and picked up the hot
revolver, to find all its chambers strained and burst. He became
aware of a cheerful and friendly presence. He was greatly
shocked that one so young should see so frightful a scene.
"'Ere, Kitty," he said, "this ain't no place for you."
He made three strides across the devastated area, captured the
kitten neatly, and went his way towards the shed, with her
purring loudly on his shoulder.
"YOU don't seem to mind," he said.
For a time he fussed about the shed, and at last discovered the
rest of the provisions hidden in the roof. "Seems 'ard," he
said, as he administered a saucerful of milk, "when you get three
men in a 'ole like this, they can't work together. But 'im and
'is princing was jest a bit too thick!"
"Gaw!" he reflected, sitting on the counter and eating, "what a
thing life is! 'Ere am I; I seen 'is picture, 'eard 'is name
since I was a kid in frocks. Prince Karl Albert! And if any one
'ad tole me I was going to blow lim to smithereens--there! I
shouldn't 'ave believed it, Kitty.
"That chap at Margit ought to 'ave tole me about it. All 'e tole
me was that I got a weak chess.
"That other chap, 'e ain't going to do much. Wonder what I ought
to do about 'im?"
He surveyed the trees with a keen blue eye and fingered the gun
on his knee. "I don't like this killing, Kitty," he said. "It's
like Kurt said about being blooded. Seems to me you got to be
blooded young.... If that Prince 'ad come up to me and said,
'Shake 'ands!' I'd 'ave shook 'ands.... Now 'ere's that other
chap, dodging about! 'E's got'is 'ead 'urt already, and there's
something wrong with his leg. And burns. Golly! it isn't three
weeks ago I first set eyes on 'im, and then 'e was smart and set
up--'ands full of 'air-brushes and things, and swearin' at me. A
regular gentleman! Now 'e's 'arfway to a wild man. What am I to
do with 'im? What the 'ell am I to do with 'im? I can't leave
'im 'ave that flying-machine; that's a bit too good, and if I
don't kill 'im, 'e'll jest 'ang about this island and starve....
"'E's got a sword, of course"....
He resumed his philosophising after he had lit a cigarette.
"War's a silly gaim, Kitty. It's a silly gaim! We common
people--we were fools. We thought those big people knew what
they were up to--and they didn't. Look at that chap! 'E 'ad
all Germany be'ind 'im, and what 'as 'e made of it? Smeshin' and
blunderin' and destroyin', and there 'e 'is! Jest a mess of
blood and boots and things! Jest an 'orrid splash! Prince Karl
Albert! And all the men 'e led and the ships 'e 'ad, the
airships, and the dragon-fliers--all scattered like a paper-chase
between this 'ole and Germany. And fightin' going on and burnin'
and killin' that 'e started, war without end all over the world!
"I suppose I shall 'ave to kill that other chap. I suppose I
must. But it ain't at all the sort of job I fancy, Kitty!"
For a time he hunted about the island amidst the uproar of the
waterfall, looking for the wounded officer, and at last he
started him out of some bushes near the head of Biddle Stairs.
But as he saw the bent and bandaged figure in limping flight
before him, he found his Cockney softness too much for him again;
he could neither shoot nor pursue. "I carn't," he said, "that's
flat. I 'aven't the guts for it! 'E'll 'ave to go."
He turned his steps towards the flying-machine....
He never saw the bird-faced officer again, nor any further
evidence of his presence. Towards evening he grew fearful of
ambushes and hunted vigorously for an hour or so, but in vain.
He slept in a good defensible position at the extremity of the
rocky point that runs out to the Canadian Fall, and in the night
he woke in panic terror and fired his gun. But it was nothing.
He slept no more that night. In the morning he became curiously
concerned for the vanished man, and hunted for him as one might
for an erring brother.
"If I knew some German," he said, "I'd 'oller. It's jest not
knowing German does it. You can't explain'"
He discovered, later, traces of an attempt to cross the gap in
the broken bridge. A rope with a bolt attached had been flung
across and had caught in a fenestration of a projecting fragment
of railing. The end of the rope trailed in the seething water
towards the fall.
But the bird-faced officer was already rubbing shoulders with
certain inert matter that had once been Lieutenant Kurt and the
Chinese aeronaut and a dead cow, and much other uncongenial
company, in the huge circle of the Whirlpool two and a quarter
miles away. Never had that great gathering place, that
incessant, aimless, unprogressive hurry of waste and battered
things, been so crowded with strange and melancholy derelicts.
Round they went and round, and every day brought its new
contributions, luckless brutes, shattered fragments of boat and
flying-machine, endless citizens from the cities upon the shores
of the great lakes above. Much came from Cleveland. It all
gathered here, and whirled about indefinitely, and over it all
gathered daily a greater abundance of birds.
THE WORLD UNDER THE WAR
Bert spent two more days upon Goat Island, and finished all his
provisions except the cigarettes and mineral water, before he
brought himself to try the Asiatic flying-machine.
Even at last he did not so much go off upon it as get carried
off. It had taken only an hour or so to substitute wing stays
from the second flying-machine and to replace the nuts he had
himself removed. The engine was in working order, and differed
only very simply and obviously from that of a contemporary
motor-bicycle. The rest of the time was taken up by a vast
musing and delaying and hesitation. Chiefly he saw himself
splashing into the rapids and whirling down them to the Fall,
clutching and drowning, but also he had a vision of
being hopelessly in the air, going fast and unable to ground.
His mind was too concentrated upon the business of flying for him
to think very much of what might happen to an indefinite-spirited
Cockney without credential who arrived on an Asiatic
flying-machine amidst the war-infuriated population beyond.
He still had a lingering solicitude for the bird-faced officer.
He had a haunting fancy he might be lying disabled or badly
smashed in some way in some nook or cranny of the Island; and it
was only after a most exhaustive search that he abandoned that
distressing idea. "If I found 'im," he reasoned the while, "what
could I do wiv 'im? You can't blow a chap's brains out when 'e's
down. And I don' see 'ow else I can 'elp 'im."
Then the kitten bothered his highly developed sense of social
responsibility. "If I leave 'er, she'll starve.... Ought to
catch mice for 'erself.... ARE there mice?... Birds? ... She's
too young.... She's like me; she's a bit too civilised."
Finally he stuck her in his side pocket and she became greatly
interested in the memories of corned beef she found there. With
her in his pocket, he seated himself in the saddle of the
flying-machine. Big, clumsy thing it was--and not a bit like a
bicycle. Still the working of it was fairly plain. You set the
engine going--SO; kicked yourself up until the wheel was
vertical, SO; engaged the gyroscope, SO, and then--then--you just
pulled up this lever.
Rather stiff it was, but suddenly it came over--
The big curved wings on either side flapped disconcertingly,
flapped again' click, clock, click, clock, clitter-clock!
Stop! The thing was heading for the water; its wheel was in the
water. Bert groaned from his heart and struggled to restore the
lever to its first position. Click, clock, clitter-clock, he was
ising! The machine was lifting its dripping wheel out of the
eddies, and he was going up! There was no stopping now, no good
in stopping now. In another moment Bert, clutching and
convulsive and rigid, with staring eyes and a face pale as death,
was flapping up above the Rapids, jerking to every jerk of the
wings, and rising, rising.
There was no comparison in dignity and comfort between a
flying-machine and a balloon. Except in its moments of descent,
the balloon was a vehicle of faultless urbanity; this was a buck-
-jumping mule, a mule that jumped up and never came down again.
Click, clock, click, clock; with each beat of the strangely
shaped wings it jumped Bert upward and caught him neatly again
half a second later on the saddle. And while in ballooning there
is no wind, since the balloon is a part of the wind, flying is a
wild perpetual creation of and plunging into wind. It was a wind
that above all things sought to blind him, to force him to close
his eyes. It occurred to him presently to twist his knees and.
legs inward and grip with them, or surely he would have been
bumped into two clumsy halves. And he was going up, a hundred
yards high, two hundred, three hundred, over the streaming,
frothing wilderness of water below--up, up, up. That was all
right, but how presently would one go horizontally? He tried to
think if these things did go horizontally. No! They flapped up
and then they soared down. For a time he would keep on flapping
up. Tears streamed from his eyes. He wiped them with one
temerariously disengaged hand.
Was it better to risk a fall over land or over water--such water?
He was flapping up above the Upper Rapids towards Buffalo. It
was at any rate a comfort that the Falls and the wild swirl of
waters below them were behind him. He was flying up straight.
That he could see. How did one turn?
He was presently almost cool, and his eyes got more used to the
rush of air, but he was getting very high, very high. He tilted
his head forwards and surveyed the country, blinking. He could
see all over Buffalo, a place with three great blackened scars of
ruin, and hills and stretches beyond. He wondered if he was half
a mile high, or more. There were some people among some houses
near a railway station between Niagara and Buffalo, and then more
people. They went like ants busily in and out of the houses. He
saw two motor cars gliding along the road towards Niagara city.
Then far away in the south he saw a great Asiatic airship going
eastward. "Oh, Gord!" he said, and became earnest in his
ineffectual attempts to alter his direction. But that airship
took no notice of him, and he continued to ascend convulsively.
The world got more and more extensive and maplike. Click, clock,
clitter-clock. Above him and very near to him now was a hazy
stratum of cloud.
He determined to disengage the wing clutch. He did so. The
lever resisted his strength for a time, then over it came, and
instantly the tail of the machine cocked up and the wings became
rigidly spread. Instantly everything was swift and smooth and
silent. He was gliding rapidly down the air against a wild gale
of wind, his eyes three-quarters shut.
A little lever that had hitherto been obdurate now confessed
itself mobile. He turned it over gently to the right, and
whiroo!--the left wing had in some mysterious way given at its
edge and he was sweeping round and downward in an immense
right-handed spiral. For some moments he experienced all the
helpless sensations of catastrophe. He restored the lever to its
middle position with some difficulty, and the wings were
He turned it to the left and had a sensation of being spun round
backwards. "Too much!" he gasped.
He discovered that he was rushing down at a headlong pace towards
a railway line and some factory buildings. They appeared to be
tearing up to him to devour him. He must have dropped all that
height. For a moment he had the ineffectual sensations of one
whose bicycle bolts downhill. The ground had almost taken him by
surprise. "'Ere!" he cried; and then with a violent effort of
all his being he got the beating engine at work again and set the
wings flapping. He swooped down and up and resumed his quivering
and pulsating ascent of the air.
He went high again, until he had a wide view of the pleasant
upland country of western New York State, and then made a long
coast down, and so up again, and then a coast. Then as he came
swooping a quarter of a mile above a village he saw people
running about, running away--evidently in relation to his
hawk-like passage. He got an idea that he had been shot at.
"Up!" he said, and attacked that lever again. It came over with
remarkable docility, and suddenly the wings seemed to give way in
the middle. But the engine was still! It had stopped. He flung
the lever back rather by instinct than design. What to do?
Much happened in a few seconds, but also his mind was quick, he
thought very quickly. He couldn't get up again, he was gliding
down the air; he would have to hit something.
He was travelling at the rate of perhaps thirty miles an hour
That plantation of larches looked the softest thing--mossy
Could he get it? He gave himself to the steering. Round to the
Swirroo! Crackle! He was gliding over the tops of the trees,
ploughing through them, tumbling into a cloud of green sharp
leaves and black twigs. There was a sudden snapping, and he fell
off the saddle forward, a thud and a crashing of branches. Some
twigs hit him smartly in the face....
He was between a tree-stem and the saddle, with his leg over the
steering lever and, so far as he could realise, not hurt. He
tried to alter his position and free his leg, and found himself
slipping and dropping through branches with everything giving way
beneath him. He clutched and found himself in the lower branches
of a tree beneath the flying-machine. The air was full of a
pleasant resinous smell. He stared for a moment motionless, and
then very carefully clambered down branch by branch to the soft
needle-covered ground below.
"Good business," he said, looking up at the bent and tilted
"I dropped soft!"
He rubbed his chin with his hand and meditated. "Blowed if I
don't think I'm a rather lucky fellow!" he said, surveying the
pleasant sun-bespattered ground under the trees. Then he became
aware of a violent tumult at his side. "Lord!" he said, "You
must be 'arf smothered," and extracted the kitten from his
pocket-handkerchief and pocket. She was twisted and crumpled and
extremely glad to see the light again. Her little tongue peeped
between her teeth. He put her down, and she ran a dozen paces
and shook herself and stretched and sat up and began to wash.
"Nex'?" he said, looking about him, and then with a gesture of
vexation, "Desh it! I ought to 'ave brought that gun!"
He had rested it against a tree when he had seated himself in the
He was puzzled for a time by the immense peacefulness in the
quality of the world, and then he perceived that the roar of the
cataract was no longer in his ears.
He had no very clear idea of what sort of people he might come
upon in this country. It was, he knew, America. Americans he
had always understood were the citizens of a great and powerful
nation, dry and humorous in their manner, addicted to the use of
the bowie-knife and revolver, and in the habit of talking through
the nose like Norfolkshire, and saying "allow" and "reckon" and
"calculate," after the manner of the people who live on the New
Forest side of Hampshire. Also they were very rich, had
rocking-chairs, and put their feet at unusual altitudes, and they
chewed tobacco, gum, and other substances, with untiring
industry. Commingled with them were cowboys, Red Indians, and
comic, respectful niggers. This he had learnt from the fiction
in his public library. Beyond that he had learnt very little.
He was not surprised therefore when he met armed men.
He decided to abandon the shattered flying-machine. He wandered
through the trees for some time, and then struck a road that
seemed to his urban English eyes to be remarkably wide but not
properly "made." Neither hedge nor ditch nor curbed distinctive
footpath separated it from the woods, and it went in that long
easy curve which distinguishes the tracks of an open continent.
Ahead he saw a man carrying a gun under his arm, a man in a soft
black hat, a blue blouse, and black trousers, and with a broad
round-fat face quite innocent of goatee. This person regarded
him askance and heard him speak with a start.
"Can you tell me whereabouts I am at all?" asked Bert.
The man regarded him, and more particularly his rubber boots,
with sinister suspicion. Then he replied in a strange outlandish
tongue that was, as a matter of fact, Czech. He ended suddenly
at the sight of Bert's blank face with "Don't spik English."
"Oh!" said Bert. He reflected gravely for a moment, and then
went his way.
"Thenks," he, said as an afterthought. The man regarded his back
for a moment, was struck with an idea, began an abortive gesture,
sighed, gave it up, and went on also with a depressed
Presently Bert came to a big wooden house standing casually among
the trees. It looked a bleak, bare box of a house to him, no
creeper grew on it, no hedge nor wall nor fence parted it off
from the woods about it. He stopped before the steps that led up
to the door, perhaps thirty yards away. The place seemed
deserted. He would have gone up to the door and rapped, but
suddenly a big black dog appeared at the side and regarded him.
It was a huge heavy-jawed dog of some unfamiliar breed, and it,
wore a spike-studded collar. It did not bark nor approach him,
it just bristled quietly and emitted a single sound like a short,
Bert hesitated and went on.
He stopped thirty paces away and stood peering about him among
the trees. "If I 'aven't been and lef' that kitten," he said.
Acute sorrow wrenched him for a time. The black dog came through
the trees to get a better look at him and coughed that well-bred
cough again. Bert resumed the road.
"She'll do all right," he said.... "She'll catch things.
"She'll do all right," he said presently, without conviction.
But if it had not been for the black dog, he would have gone
When he was out of sight of the house and the black dog, he went
into the woods on the other side of the way and emerged after an
interval trimming a very tolerable cudgel with his pocket-knife.
Presently he saw an attractive-looking rock by the track and
picked it up and put it in his pocket. Then he came to three or
four houses, wooden like the last, each with an ill-painted white
verandah (that was his name for it) and all standing in the same
casual way upon the ground. Behind, through the woods, he saw
pig-stys and a rooting black sow leading a brisk, adventurous
family. A wild-looking woman with sloe-black eyes and
dishevelled black hair sat upon the steps of one of the houses
nursing a baby, but at the sight of Bert she got up and went
inside, and he heard her bolting the door. Then a boy appeared
among the pig-stys, but he would not understand Bert's hail.
"I suppose it is America!" said Bert.
The houses became more frequent down the road, and he passed two
other extremely wild and dirty-looking men without addressing
them. One carried a gun and the other a hatchet, and they
scrutinised him and his cudgel scornfully. Then he struck a
cross-road with a mono-rail at its side, and there was a notice
board at the comer with "Wait here for the cars." "That's all
right, any'ow," said Bert. "Wonder 'ow long I should 'ave to
wait?" It occurred to him that in the present disturbed state of
the country the service might be interrupted, and as there seemed
more houses to the right than the left he turned to the right.
He passed an old negro. "'Ullo!" said Bert. "Goo' morning!"
"Good day, sah!" said the old negro, in a voice of almost
"What's the name of this place?" asked Bert.
"Tanooda, sah!" said the negro.
"Thenks!" said Bert.
"Thank YOU, sah!" said the negro, overwhelmingly.
Bert came to houses of the same detached, unwalled, wooden type,
but adorned now with enamelled advertisements partly in English
and partly in Esperanto. Then he came to what he concluded was a
grocer's shop. It was the first house that professed the
hospitality of an open door, and from within came a strangely
familiar sound. "Gaw!" he said searching in his pockets. "Why!
I 'aven't wanted money for free weeks! I wonder if I--Grubb 'ad
most of it. Ah!" He produced a handful of coins and regarded
it; three pennies, sixpence, and a shilling. "That's all right,"
he said, forgetting a very obvious consideration.
He approached the door, and as he did so a compactly built,
grey-faced man in shirt sleeves appeared in it and scrutinised
him and his cudgel. "Mornin'," said Bert. "Can I get anything to
eat 'r drink in this shop?"
The man in the door replied, thank Heaven, in clear, good
American. "This, sir, is not A shop, it is A store."
"Oh!" said Bert, and then, "Well, can I get anything to eat?"
"You can," said the American in a tone of confident
encouragement, and led the way inside.
The shop seemed to him by his Bun Hill standards extremely roomy,
well lit, and unencumbered. There was a long counter to the left
of him, with drawers and miscellaneous commodities ranged behind
it, a number of chairs, several tables, and two spittoons to the
right, various barrels, cheeses, and bacon up the vista, and
beyond, a large archway leading to more space. A little group of
men was assembled round one of the tables, and a woman of perhaps
five-and-thirty leant with her elbows on the counter. All the
men were armed with rifles, and the barrel of a gun peeped above
the counter. They were all listening idly, inattentively, to a
cheap, metallic-toned gramophone that occupied a table near at
hand. From its brazen throat came words that gave Bert a qualm
of homesickness, that brought back in his memory a sunlit beach,
a group of children, red-painted bicycles, Grubb, and an
What Price Hair-pins Now?"
A heavy-necked man in a straw hat, who was chewing something,
stopped the machine with a touch, and they all,turned their eyes
on Bert. And all their eyes were tired eyes.
"Can we give this gentleman anything to eat, mother, or can we
not?" said the proprietor.
"He kin have what he likes?" said the woman at the counter,
without moving, "right up from a cracker to a square meal." She
struggled with a yawn, after the manner of one who has been up
"I want a meal," said Bert, "but I 'aven't very much money. I
don' want to give mor'n a shillin'."
"Mor'n a WHAT?" said the proprietor, sharply.
"Mor'n a shillin'," said Bert, with a sudden disagreeable
realisation coming into his mind.
"Yes," said the proprietor, startled for a moment from his
courtly bearing. "But what in hell is a shilling?"
"He means a quarter," said a wise-looking, lank young man in
Bert, trying to conceal his consternation, produced a coin.
"That's a shilling," he said.
"He calls A store A shop," said the proprietor, "and he wants A
meal for A shilling. May I ask you, sir, what part of America
you hail from?"
Bert replaced the shilling,in his pocket as he spoke, "Niagara,"
"And when did you leave Niagara?"
"'Bout an hour ago."
"Well," said the proprietor, and turned with a puzzled smile to
the others. "Well!"
They asked various questions simultaneously.
Bert selected one or two for reply. "You see," he said, "I been
with the German air-fleet. I got caught up by them, sort of by
accident, and brought over here."
"Yes--from England. Way of Germany. I was in a great battle
with them Asiatics, and I got lef' on a little island between the
"I don' know what it was called. But any'ow I found a
flying-machine and made a sort of fly with it and got here."
Two men stood up with incredulous eyes on him. "Where's the
flying-machine?"they asked; "outside?"
"It's back in the woods here--'bout arf a mile away."
"Is it good?" said a thick-lipped man with a scar.
"I come down rather a smash--."
Everybody got up and stood about him and talked confusingly.
They wanted him to take them to the flying-machine at once.
"Look 'ere," said Bert, "I'll show you--only I 'aven't 'ad
anything to eat since yestiday--except mineral water."
A gaunt soldierly-looking young man with long lean legs in riding
gaiters and a bandolier, who had hitherto not spoken, intervened
now on his behalf in a note of confident authority. "That's aw
right," he said. "Give him a feed, Mr. Logan--from me. I
want to hear more of that story of his. We'll see his machine
afterwards. If you ask me, I should say it's a remarkably
interesting accident had dropped this gentleman here. I guess we
requisition that flying-machine--if we find it--,for local
So Bert fell on his feet again, and sat eating cold meat and good
bread and mustard and drinking very good beer, and telling in the
roughest outline and with the omissions and inaccuracies of
statement natural to his type of mind, the simple story of his
adventures. He told how he and a "gentleman friend" had been
visiting the seaside for their health, how a "chep" came along in
a balloon and fell out as he fell in, how he had drifted to
Franconia, how the Germans had seemed to mistake him for some one
and had "took him prisoner" and brought him to New York, how he
had been to Labrador and back, how he had got to Goat Island and
found himself there alone. He omitted the matter of the Prince
and the Butteridge aspect of the affair, not out of any deep
deceitfulness, but because he felt the inadequacy of his
narrative powers. He wanted everything to seem easy and natural
and correct, to present himself as a trustworthy and
understandable Englishman in a sound mediocre position, to whom
refreshment and accommodation might be given with freedom and
When his fragmentary story came to New York and the battle of
Niagara, they suddenly produced newspapers which had been lying
about on the table, and began to check him and question him by
these vehement accounts. It became evident to him that his
descent had revived and roused to flames again a discussion, a
topic, that had been burning continuously, that had smouldered
only through sheer exhaustion of material during the temporary
diversion of the gramophone, a discussion that had drawn these
men together, rifle in hand, the one supreme topic of the whole
world, the War and the methods of the War. He found any question
of his personality and his personal adventures falling into the
background, found himself taken for granted, and no more than a
source of information. The ordinary affairs of life, the buying
and selling of everyday necessities, the cultivation of the
ground, the tending of beasts, was going on as it were by force
of routine, as the common duties of life go on in a house whose
master lies under the knife of some supreme operation. The
overruling interest was furnished by those great Asiatic airships
that went upon incalculable missions across the sky, the
crimson-clad swordsmen who might come fluttering down demanding
petrol, or food, or news. These men were asking, all the
continent was asking, "What are we to do? What can we try? How
can we get at them?" Bert fell into his place as an item, ceased
even in his own thoughts to be a central and independent thing.
After he had eaten and drunken his fill and sighed and stretched
and told them how good the food seemed to him, he lit a cigarette
they gave him and led the way, with some doubts and trouble, to
the flying-machine amidst the larches. It became manifest that
the gaunt young man, whose name, it seemed, was Laurier, was a
leader both by position and natural aptitude. He knew the names
and characters and capabilities of all the men who were with him,
and he set them to work at once with vigour and effect to secure
this precious instrument of war. They got the thing down to the
ground deliberately and carefully, felling a couple of trees in
the process, and they built a wide flat roof of timbers and tree
boughs to guard their precious find against its chance discovery
by any passing Asiatics. Long before evening they had an
engineer from the next township at work upon it, and they were
casting lots among the seventeen picked men who wanted to take it
for its first flight. And Bert found his kitten and carried it
back to Logan's store and handed it with earnest admonition to
Mrs. Logan. And it was reassuringly clear to him that in Mrs.
Logan both he and the kitten had found a congenial soul.
Laurier was not only a masterful person and a wealthy property
owner and employer--he was president, Bert learnt with awe, of
the Tanooda Canning Corporation--but he was popular and skilful
in the arts of popularity. In the evening quite a crowd of men
gathered in the store and talked of the flying-machine and of the
war that was tearing the world to pieces. And presently came a
man on a bicycle with an ill-printed newspaper of a single sheet
which acted like fuel in a blazing furnace of talk. It was
nearly all American news; the old-fashioned cables had fallen
into disuse for some years, and the Marconi stations across the
ocean and along the Atlantic coastline seemed to have furnished
particularly tempting points of attack.
But such news it was.
Bert sat in the background--for by this time they had gauged his
personal quality pretty completely--listening. Before his
staggering mind passed strange vast images as they talked, of
great issues at a crisis, of nations in tumultuous march, of
continents overthrown, of famine and destruction beyond measure.
Ever and again, in spite of his efforts to suppress them, certain
personal impressions would scamper across the weltering
confusion, the horrible mess of the exploded Prince, the Chinese
aeronaut upside down, the limping and bandaged bird-faced officer
blundering along in miserable and hopeless flight....
They spoke of fire and massacre, of cruelties and counter
cruelties, of things that had been done to harmless Asiatics by
race-mad men, of the wholesale burning and smashing up of towns,
railway junctions, bridges, of whole populations in hiding and
exodus. "Every ship they've got is in the Pacific," he heard one
man exclaim. "Since the fighting began they can't have landed on
the Pacific slope less than a million men. They've come to stay
in these States, and they will--living or dead."
Slowly, broadly, invincibly, there grew upon Bert's mind
realisation of the immense tragedy of humanity into which his
life was flowing; the appalling and universal nature of the
epoch that had arrived; the conception of an end to security and
order and habit. The whole world was at war and it could not get
back to peace, it might never recover peace.
He had thought the things he had seen had been exceptional,
conclusive things, that the besieging of New York and the battle
of the Atlantic were epoch-making events between long years of se
curity. And they had been but the first warning impacts of
universal cataclysm. Each day destruction and hate and disaster
grew, the fissures widened between man and man, new regions of
the fabric of civilisation crumbled and gave way. Below, the
armies grew and the people perished; above, the airships and
aeroplanes fought and fled, raining destruction.
It is difficult perhaps for the broad-minded and
long-perspectived reader to understand how incredible the
breaking down of the scientific civilisation seemed to those,who
actually lived at this time, who in their own persons went down
in that debacle. Progress had marched as it seemed invincible
about the earth, never now to rest again. For three hundred
years and more the long steadily accelerated diastole of
Europeanised civilisation had been in progress: towns had been
multiplying, populations increasing, values rising, new countries
developing; thought, literature, knowledge unfolding and
spreading. It seemed but a part of the process that every year
the instruments of war were vaster and more powerful, and that
armies and explosives outgrew all other growing things....
Three hundred years of diastole, and then came the swift and
unexpected systole, like the closing of a fist. They could not
understand it was systole.
They could not think of it as anything but a jolt, a hitch, a
mere oscillatory indication of the swiftness of their progress.
Collapse, though it happened all about them, remained
incredible. Presently some falling mass smote them down, or the
ground opened beneath their feet. They died incredulous....
These men in the store made a minute, remote group under this
immense canopy of disaster. They turned from one little aspect
to another. What chiefly concerned them was defence against
Asiatic raiders swooping for petrol or to destroy weapons or
communications. Everywhere levies were being formed at that time
to defend the plant of the railroads day and night in the hope
that communication would speedily be restored. The land war was
still far away. A man with a flat voice distinguished himself by
a display of knowledge and cunning. He told them all with
confidence just what had been wrong with the German
drachenflieger and the American aeroplanes, just what advantage
the Japanese flyers possessed. He launched out into a romantic
description of the Butteridge machine and riveted Bert's
attention. "I SEE that," said Bert, and was smitten silent by a
thought. The man with the flat voice talked on, without heeding
him, of the strange irony of Butteridge's death. At that Bert
had a little twinge of relief--he would never meet Butteridge
again. It appeared Butteridge had died suddenly, very suddenly.
"And his secret, sir, perished with him! When they came to look
for the parts--none could find them. He had hidden them all too
"But couldn't he tell?" asked the man in the straw hat. "Did he
die so suddenly as that?"
"Struck down, sir. Rage and apoplexy. At a place called
Dymchurch in England."
"That's right, said Laurier. "I remember a page about it in the
Sunday American. At the time they said it was a German spy had
stolen his balloon."
"Well, sir," said the flat-voiced man, "that fit of apoplexy at
Dyrnchurch was the worst thing--absolutely the worst thing that
ever happened to the world. For if it had not been for the death
of Mr. Butteridge--"
"No one knows his secret?"
"Not a soul. It's gone. His balloon, it appears, was lost at
sea, with all the plans. Down it went, and they went with it."
"With machines such as he made we could fight these Asiatic
fliers on more than equal terms. We could outfly and beat down
those scarlet humming-birds wherever they appeared. But it's
gone, it's gone, and there's no time to reinvent it now. We got
to fight with what we got--and the odds are against us. THAT
won't stop us fightin'. No! but just think of it!"
Bert was trembling violently. He cleared his throat hoarsely.
"I say," he said, "look here, I--"
Nobody regarded him. The man with the flat voice was opening a
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