The War in the Air – Day 35 of 115

“We’d have started,” he said, “in another half-hour! You didn’t give yourself much time!”

He surveyed Bert curiously. His gaze rested for a fraction of a moment on the sandals. “You ought to have come on your flying-machine, Mr. Butteridge.”

He didn’t wait for an answer. “The Prince says I’ve got to look after you. Naturally he can’t see you now, but he thinks your coming’s providential. Last grace of Heaven. Like a sign. Hullo!”

He stood still and listened.

Outside there was a going to and fro of feet, a sound of distant bugles suddenly taken up and echoed close at hand, men called out in loud tones short, sharp, seemingly vital things, and were answered distantly. A bell jangled, and feet went down the corridor. Then came a stillness more distracting than sound, and then a great gurgling and rushing and splashing of water. The young man’s eyebrows lifted. He hesitated, and dashed out of the room. Presently came a stupendous bang to vary the noises without, then a distant cheering. The young man re-appeared.

“They’re running the water out of the ballonette already.”

“What water?” asked Bert.

“The water that anchored us. Artful dodge. Eh?”

Bert tried to take it in.

“Of course!” said the compact young man. “You don’t understand.”

A gentle quivering crept upon Bert’s senses. “That’s the engine,” said the compact young man approvingly. “Now we shan’t be long.”

Another long listening interval.

The cabin swayed. “By Jove! we’re starting already;” he cried. “We’re starting!”

“Starting!” cried Bert, sitting up. “Where?”

But the young man was out of the room again. There were noises of German in the passage, and other nerve-shaking sounds.

The swaying increased. The young man reappeared. “We’re off, right enough!”

“I say!” said Bert, “where are we starting? I wish you’d explain. What’s this place? I don’t understand.”

“What!” cried the young man, “you don’t understand?”

“No. I’m all dazed-like from that crack on the nob I got. Where are we? Where are we starting?”

“Don’t you know where you are–what this is?”

“Not a bit of it! What’s all the swaying and the row?”

“What a lark!” cried the young man. “I say! What a thundering lark! Don’t you know? We’re off to America, and you haven’t realised. You’ve just caught us by a neck. You’re on the blessed old flagship with the Prince. You won’t miss anything. Whatever’s on, you bet the Vaterland will be there.”

“Us!–off to America?”


“In an airship?”

“What do you think?”

“Me! going to America on an airship! After that balloon! ’Ere! I say–I don’t want to go! I want to walk about on my legs. Let me get out! I didn’t understand.”

He made a dive for the door.

The young man arrested Bert with a gesture, took hold of a strap, lifted up a panel in the padded wall, and a window appeared. “Look!” he said. Side by side they looked out.

“Gaw!” said Bert. “We’re going up!”

“We are!” said the young man, cheerfully; “fast!”

They were rising in the air smoothly and quietly, and moving slowly to the throb of the engine athwart the aeronautic park. Down below it stretched, dimly geometrical in the darkness, picked out at regular intervals by glow-worm spangles of light. One black gap in the long line of grey, round-backed airships marked the position from which the Vaterland had come. Beside it a second monster now rose softly, released from its bonds and cables into the air. Then, taking a beautifully exact distance, a third ascended, and then a fourth.

“Too late, Mr. Butteridge!” the young man remarked. “We’re off! I daresay it is a bit of a shock to you, but there you are! The Prince said you’d have to come.”

“Look ’ere,” said Bert. “I really am dazed. What’s this thing? Where are we going?”

“This, Mr. Butteridge,” said the young man, taking pains to be explicit, “is an airship. It’s the flagship of Prince Karl Albert. This is the German air-fleet, and it is going over to America, to give that spirited people ‘what for.’ The only thing we were at all uneasy about was your invention. And here you are!”

“But!–you a German?” asked Bert.

“Lieutenant Kurt. Luft-lieutenant Kurt, at your service.”

“But you speak English!”

“Mother was English–went to school in England. Afterwards, Rhodes scholar. German none the less for that. Detailed for the present, Mr. Butteridge, to look after you. You’re shaken by your fall. It’s all right, really. They’re going to buy your machine and everything. You sit down, and take it quite calmly. You’ll soon get the hang of the position.”

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