The War in the Air – Day 24 of 115

“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.

“Let’s see!” He fell to studying the drawings and comparing them with the photographs. They puzzled him. Half of them seemed to be missing. He tried to imagine how they fitted together, and found the effort too great for his mind.

“It’s tryin’,” said Bert. “I wish I’d been brought up to the engineering. If I could only make it out!”

He went to the side of the car and remained for a time staring with unseeing eyes at a huge cluster of great clouds–a cluster of slowly dissolving Monte Rosas, sunlit below. His attention was arrested by a strange black spot that moved over them. It alarmed him. It was a black spot moving slowly with him far below, following him down there, indefatigably, over the cloud mountains. Why should such a thing follow him? What could it be?…

He had an inspiration. “Uv course!” he said. It was the shadow of the balloon. But he still watched it dubiously for a time.

He returned to the plans on the table.

He spent a long afternoon between his struggles to understand them and fits of meditation. He evolved a remarkable new sentence in French.

“Voici, Mossoo!–Je suis un inventeur Anglais. Mon nom est Butteridge. Beh. oo. teh. teh. eh. arr. I. deh. geh. eh. J’avais ici pour vendre le secret de le flying-machine. Comprenez? Vendre pour l’argent tout suite, l’argent en main. Comprenez? C’est le machine a jouer dans l’air. Comprenez? C’est le machine a faire l’oiseau. Comprenez? Balancer? Oui, exactement! Battir l’oiseau en fait, a son propre jeu. Je desire de vendre ceci a votre government national. Voulez vous me directer la?

“Bit rummy, I expect, from the point of view of grammar,” said Bert, “but they ought to get the hang of it all right.

“But then, if they arst me to explain the blessed thing?”

He returned in a worried way to the plans. “I don’t believe it’s all here!” he said….

He got more and more perplexed up there among the clouds as to what he should do with this wonderful find of his. At any moment, so far as he knew he might descend among he knew not what foreign people.

“It’s the chance of my life!” he said.

It became more and more manifest to him that it wasn’t. “Directly I come down they’ll telegraph–put it in the papers. Butteridge’ll know of it and come along–on my track.”

Butteridge would be a terrible person to be on any one’s track. Bert thought of the great black moustaches, the triangular nose, the searching bellow and the glare. His afternoon’s dream of a marvellous seizure and sale of the great Butteridge secret crumpled up in his mind, dissolved, and vanished. He awoke to sanity again.

“Wouldn’t do. What’s the good of thinking of it?” He proceeded slowly and reluctantly to replace the Butteridge papers in pockets and portfolio as he had found them. He became aware of a splendid golden light upon the balloon above him, and of a new warmth in the blue dome of the sky. He stood up and beheld the sun, a great ball of blinding gold, setting upon a tumbled sea of gold-edged crimson and purple clouds, strange and wonderful beyond imagining. Eastward cloud-land stretched for ever, darkling blue, and it seemed to Bert the whole round hemisphere of the world was under his eyes.

Then far, away over the blue he caught sight of three long, dark shapes like hurrying fish that drove one after the other, as porpoises follow one another in the water. They were very fish-like indeed–with tails. It was an unconvincing impression in that light. He blinked his eyes, stared again, and they had vanished. For a long time he scrutinised those remote blue levels and saw no more….

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