The War in the Air – Day 103 of 115

Bert was trembling violently. He cleared his throat hoarsely.

“I say,” he said, “look here, I–“

Nobody regarded him. The man with the flat voice was opening a new branch of the subject.

“I allow–” he began.

Bert became violently excited. He stood up.

He made clawing motions with his hands. “I say!” he exclaimed, “Mr. Laurier. Look ’ere–I want–about that Butteridge machine–.”

Mr. Laurier, sitting on an adjacent table, with a magnificent gesture, arrested the discourse of the flat-voiced man. “What’s he saying?” said he.

Then the whole company realised that something was happening to Bert; either he was suffocating or going mad. He was spluttering.

“Look ’ere! I say! ’Old on a bit!” and trembling and eagerly unbuttoning himself.

He tore open his collar and opened vest and shirt. He plunged into his interior and for an instant it seemed he was plucking forth his liver. Then as he struggled with buttons on his shoulder they perceived this flattened horror was in fact a terribly dirty flannel chest-protector. In an other moment Bert, in a state of irregular decolletage, was standing over the table displaying a sheaf of papers.

“These!” he gasped. “These are the plans!… You know! Mr. Butteridge–his machine! What died! I was the chap that went off in that balloon!”

For some seconds every one was silent. They stared from these papers to Bert’s white face and blazing eyes, and back to the papers on the table. Nobody moved. Then the man with the flat voice spoke.

“Irony!” he said, with a note of satisfaction. “Real rightdown Irony! When it’s too late to think of making ’em any more!”

They would all no doubt have been eager to hear Bert’s story over again, but it was it this point that Laurier showed his quality. “No, sir,” he said, and slid from off his table.

He impounded the dispersing Butteridge plans with one comprehensive sweep of his arm, rescuing them even from the expository finger-marks of the man with the flat voice, and handed them to Bert. “Put those back,” he said, “where you had ’em. We have a journey before us.”

Bert took them.

“Whar?” said the man in the straw hat.

“Why, sir, we are going to find the President of these States and give these plans over to him. I decline to believe, sir, we are too late.”

“Where is the President?” asked Bert weakly in that pause that followed.

“Logan,” said Laurier, disregarding that feeble inquiry, “you must help us in this.”

It seemed only a matter of a few minutes before Bert and Laurier and the storekeeper were examining a number of bicycles that were stowed in the hinder room of the store. Bert didn’t like any of them very much. They had wood rims and an experience of wood rims in the English climate had taught him to hate them. That, however, and one or two other objections to an immediate start were overruled by Laurier. “But where is the President?” Bert repeated as they stood behind Logan while he pumped up a deflated tyre.

Laurier looked down on him. “He is reported in the neighbourhood of Albany–out towards the Berkshire Hills. He is moving from place to place and, as far as he can, organising the defence by telegraph and telephones The Asiatic air-fleet is trying to locate him. When they think they have located the seat of government, they throw bombs. This inconveniences him, but so far they have not come within ten miles of him. The Asiatic air-fleet is at present scattered all over the Eastern States, seeking out and destroying gas-works and whatever seems conducive to the building of airships or the transport of troops. Our retaliatory measures are slight in the extreme. But with these machines–Sir, this ride of ours will count among the historical rides of the world!”

He came near to striking an attitude. “We shan’t get to him to-night?” asked Bert.

“No, sir!” said Laurier. “We shall have to ride some days, sure!”

“And suppose we can’t get a lift on a train–or anything?”

“No, sir! There’s been no transit by Tanooda for three days. It is no good waiting. We shall have to get on as well as we can.”

“Startin’ now?”

“Starting now!”

“But ’ow about–We shan’t be able to do much to-night.”

“May as well ride till we’re fagged and sleep then. So much clear gain. Our road is eastward.”

“Of course,” began Bert, with memories of the dawn upon Goat Island, and left his sentence unfinished.

He gave his attention to the more scientific packing of the chest-protector, for several of the plans flapped beyond his vest.

For a week Bert led a life of mixed sensations. Amidst these fatigue in the legs predominated. Mostly he rode, rode with Laurier’s back inexorably ahead, through a land like a larger England, with bigger hills and wider valleys, larger fields, wider roads, fewer hedges, and wooden houses with commodious piazzas. He rode. Laurier made inquiries, Laurier chose the turnings, Laurier doubted, Laurier decided. Now it seemed they were in telephonic touch with the President; now something had happened and he was lost again. But always they had to go on, and always Bert rode. A tyre was deflated. Still he rode. He grew saddle sore. Laurier declared that unimportant. Asiatic flying ships passed overhead, the two cyclists made a dash for cover until the sky was clear. Once a red Asiatic flying-machine came fluttering after them, so low they could distinguish the aeronaut’s head. He followed them for a mile. Now they came to regions of panic, now to regions of destruction; here people were fighting for food, here they seemed hardly stirred from the countryside routine. They spent a day in a deserted and damaged Albany. The Asiatics had descended and cut every wire and made a cinder-heap of the Junction, and our travellers pushed on eastward. They passed a hundred half-heeded incidents, and always Bert was toiling after Laurier’s indefatigable back….

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)