The War in the Air – Day 33 of 115

It flashed into his head, as he cowered in the bottom of the car, that he might avoid all sorts of disagreeable and complicated explanations by pretending to be mad.

That was his last idea before the airships seemed to rush up about him as if to look at him, and his car hit the ground and bounded and pitched him out on his head….

He awoke to find himself famous, and to hear a voice crying, “Booteraidge! Ja! Jai Herr Booteraidge! Selbst!”

He was lying on a little patch of grass beside one of the main avenues of the aeronautic park. The airships receded down a great vista, an immense perspective, and the blunt prow of each was adorned with a black eagle of a hundred feet or so spread. Down the other side of the avenue ran a series of gas generators, and big hose-pipes trailed everywhere across the intervening space. Close at hand was his now nearly deflated balloon and the car on its side looking minutely small, a mere broken toy, a shrivelled bubble, in contrast with the gigantic bulk of the nearer airship. This he saw almost end-on, rising like a cliff and sloping forward towards its fellow on the other side so as to overshadow the alley between them. There was a crowd of excited people about him, big men mostly in tight uniforms. Everybody was talking, and several were shouting, in German; he knew that because they splashed and aspirated sounds like startled kittens.

Only one phrase, repeated again and again could he recognize–the name of “Herr Booteraidge.”

“Gollys!” said Bert. “They’ve spotted it.”

“Besser,” said some one, and some rapid German followed.

He perceived that close at hand was a field telephone, and that a tall officer in blue was talking thereat about him. Another stood close beside him with the portfolio of drawings and photographs in his hand. They looked round at him.

“Do you spik Cherman, Herr Booteraidge?”

Bert decided that he had better be dazed. He did his best to seem thoroughly dazed. “Where am I?” he asked.

Volubility prevailed. “Der Prinz,” was mentioned. A bugle sounded far away, and its call was taken up by one nearer, and then by one close at hand. This seemed to increase the excitement greatly. A mono-rail car bumbled past. The telephone bell rang passionately, and the tall officer seemed to engage in a heated altercation. Then he approached the group about Bert, calling out something about “mitbringen.”

An earnest-faced, emaciated man with a white moustache appealed to Bert. “Herr Booteraidge, sir, we are chust to start!”

“Where am I?” Bert repeated.

Some one shook him by the other shoulder. “Are you Herr Booteraidge?” he asked.

“Herr Booteraidge, we are chust to start!” repeated the white moustache, and then helplessly, “What is de goot? What can we do?”

The officer from the telephone repeated his sentence about “Der Prinz” and “mitbringen.” The man with the moustache stared for a moment, grasped an idea and became violently energetic, stood up and bawled directions at unseen people. Questions were asked, and the doctor at Bert’s side answered, “Ja! Ja!” several times, also something about “Kopf.” With a certain urgency he got Bert rather unwillingly to his feet. Two huge soldiers in grey advanced upon Bert and seized hold of him. “’Ullo!” said Bert, startled. “What’s up?”

“It is all right,” the doctor explained; “they are to carry you.”

“Where?” asked Bert, unanswered.

“Put your arms roundt their–hals–round them!”

“Yes! but where?”

“Hold tight!”

Before Bert could decide to say anything more he was whisked up by the two soldiers. They joined hands to seat him, and his arms were put about their necks. “Vorwarts!” Some one ran before him with the portfolio, and he was borne rapidly along the broad avenue between the gas generators and the airships, rapidly and on the whole smoothly except that once or twice his bearers stumbled over hose-pipes and nearly let him down.

He was wearing Mr. Butteridge’s Alpine cap, and his little shoulders were in Mr. Butteridge’s fur-lined overcoat, and he had responded to Mr. Butteridge’s name. The sandals dangled helplessly. Gaw! Everybody seemed in a devil of a hurry. Why? He was carried joggling and gaping through the twilight, marvelling beyond measure.

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