The War in the Air – Day 23 of 115

He sat upon the padded locker, wrapped about very carefully, for the air, though calm, was exhilaratingly cold and clear. He was wearing first a modest suit of blue serge and all the unpretending underwear of a suburban young man of fashion, with sandal-like cycling-shoes and brown stockings drawn over his trouser ends; then the perforated sheet proper to a Desert Dervish; then the coat and waistcoat and big fur-trimmed overcoat of Mr. Butteridge; then a lady’s large fur cloak, and round his knees a blanket. Over his head was a tow wig, surmounted by a large cap of Mr. Butteridge’s with the flaps down over his ears. And some fur sleeping-boots of Mr. Butteridge’s warmed his feet. The car of the balloon was small and neat, some bags of ballast the untidiest of its contents, and he had found a light folding-table and put it at his elbow, and on that was a glass with champagne. And about him, above and below, was space–such a clear emptiness and silence of space as only the aeronaut can experience.

He did not know where he might be drifting, or what might happen next. He accepted this state of affairs with a serenity creditable to the Smallways’ courage, which one might reasonably have expected to be of a more degenerate and contemptible quality altogether. His impression was that he was bound to come down somewhere, and that then, if he wasn’t smashed, some one, some “society” perhaps, would probably pack him and the balloon back to England. If not, he would ask very firmly for the British Consul.

“Le consuelo Britannique,” he decided this would be. “Apportez moi a le consuelo Britannique, s’il vous plait,” he would say, for he was by no means ignorant of French. In the meanwhile, he found the intimate aspects of Mr. Butteridge an interesting study.

There were letters of an entirely private character addressed to Mr. Butteridge, and among others several love-letters of a devouring sort in a large feminine hand. These are no business of ours, and one remarks with regret that Bert read them.

When he had read them he remarked, “Gollys!” in an awestricken tone, and then, after a long interval, “I wonder if that was her?


He mused for a time.

He resumed his exploration of the Butteridge interior. It included a number of press cuttings of interviews and also several letters in German, then some in the same German handwriting, but in English. “Hul-lo!” said Bert.

One of the latter, the first he took, began with an apology to Butteridge for not writing to him in English before, and for the inconvenience and delay that had been caused him by that, and went on to matter that Bert found exciting in, the highest degree. “We can understand entirely the difficulties of your position, and that you shall possibly be watched at the present juncture.–But, sir, we do not believe that any serious obstacles will be put in your way if you wished to endeavour to leave the country and come to us with your plans by the customary routes–either via Dover, Ostend, Boulogne, or Dieppe. We find it difficult to think you are right in supposing yourself to be in danger of murder for your invaluable invention.”

“Funny!” said Bert, and meditated.

Then he went through the other letters.

“They seem to want him to come,” said Bert, “but they don’t seem hurting themselves to get ’im. Or else they’re shamming don’t care to get his prices down.

“They don’t quite seem to be the gov’ment,” he reflected, after an interval. “It’s more like some firm’s paper. All this printed stuff at the top. Drachenflieger. Drachenballons. Ballonstoffe. Kugelballons. Greek to me.

“But he was trying to sell his blessed secret abroad. That’s all right. No Greek about that! Gollys! Here is the secret!”

He tumbled off the seat, opened the locker, and had the portfolio open before him on the folding-table. It was full of drawings done in the peculiar flat style and conventional colours engineers adopt. And, in, addition there were some rather under-exposed photographs, obviously done by an amateur, at close quarters, of the actual machine’s mutterings had made, in its shed near the Crystal Palace. Bert found he was trembling. “Lord” he said, “here am I and the whole blessed secret of flying–lost up here on the roof of everywhere.


  1. ScottS-M Identiconcomment_author_IP, $comment->comment_author); }else{echo $gravatar_link;}}*/ ?>

    ScottS-M wrote:

    It’s about time things started picking up. I was getting a little worried. Bikes and shenanigans are good I suppose but I wanted to see some science fiction and H. G.’s idea of what an air war would be like.

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