The War in the Air – Day 36 of 115

“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.”

Bert sat down on the locker, collecting his mind, and the young man talked to him about the airship.

He was really a very tactful young man indeed, in a natural sort of way. “Daresay all this is new to you,” he said; “not your sort of machine. These cabins aren’t half bad.”

He got up and walked round the little apartment, showing its points.

“Here is the bed,” he said, whipping down a couch from the wall and throwing it back again with a click. “Here are toilet things,” and he opened a neatly arranged cupboard. “Not much washing. No water we’ve got; no water at all except for drinking. No baths or anything until we get to America and land. Rub over with loofah. One pint of hot for shaving. That’s all. In the locker below you are rugs and blankets; you will need them presently. They say it gets cold. I don’t know. Never been up before. Except a little work with gliders–which is mostly going down. Three-quarters of the chaps in the fleet haven’t. Here’s a folding-chair and table behind the door. Compact, eh?”

He took the chair and balanced it on his little finger. “Pretty light, eh? Aluminium and magnesium alloy and a vacuum inside. All these cushions stuffed with hydrogen. Foxy! The whole ship’s like that. And not a man in the fleet, except the Prince and one or two others, over eleven stone. Couldn’t sweat the Prince, you know. We’ll go all over the thing to-morrow. I’m frightfully keen on it.”

He beamed at Bert. “You do look young,” he remarked. “I always thought you’d be an old man with a beard–a sort of philosopher. I don’t know why one should expect clever people always to be old. I do.”

Bert parried that compliment a little awkwardly, and then the lieutenant was struck with the riddle why Herr Butteridge had not come in his own flying machine.

“It’s a long story,” said Bert. “Look here!” he said abruptly, “I wish you’d lend me a pair of slippers, or something. I’m regular sick of these sandals. They’re rotten things. I’ve been trying them for a friend.”

“Right O!”

The ex-Rhodes scholar whisked out of the room and reappeared with a considerable choice of footwear–pumps, cloth bath-slippers, and a purple pair adorned with golden sun-flowers.

But these he repented of at the last moment.

“I don’t even wear them myself,” he said. “Only brought ’em in the zeal of the moment.” He laughed confidentially. “Had ’em worked for me–in Oxford. By a friend. Take ’em everywhere.”

So Bert chose the pumps.

The lieutenant broke into a cheerful snigger. “Here we are trying on slippers,” he said, “and the world going by like a panorama below. Rather a lark, eh? Look!”

Bert peeped with him out of the window, looking from the bright pettiness of the red-and-silver cabin into a dark immensity. The land below, except for a lake, was black and featureless, and the other airships were hidden. “See more outside,” said the lieutenant. “Let’s go! There’s a sort of little gallery.”

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