The War in the Air – Day 40 of 115

Bert reflected. “’Ow d’you know that?”

“I chuge by ze nature of your farious provisions. I cannot account, Mr. Pooterage, for ze laty, what you haf done with her. Nor can I tell why you should wear nature-sandals, nor why you should wear such cheap plue clothes. These are outside my instructions. Trifles, perhaps. Officially they are to be ignored. Laties come and go–I am a man of ze worldt. I haf known wise men wear sandals and efen practice vegetarian habits. I haf known men–or at any rate, I haf known chemists–who did not schmoke. You haf, no doubt, put ze laty down somewhere. Well. Let us get to–business. A higher power”–his voice changed its emotional quality, his magnified eyes seemed to dilate–“has prought you and your secret straight to us. So!”– he bowed his head–“so pe it. It is ze Destiny of Chermany and my Prince. I can undershtandt you always carry zat secret. You are afraidt of roppers and spies. So it comes wiz you–to us. Mr. Pooterage, Chermany will puy it.”

“Will she?”

“She will,” said the secretary, looking hard at Bert’s abandoned sandals in the corner of the locker. He roused himself, consulted a paper of notes for a moment, and Bert eyed his brown and wrinkled face with expectation and terror. “Chermany, I am instructed to say,” said the secretary, with his eyes on the table and his notes spread out, “has always been willing to puy your secret. We haf indeed peen eager to acquire it fery eager; and it was only ze fear that you might be, on patriotic groundts, acting in collusion with your Pritish War Office zat has made us discreet in offering for your marvellous invention through intermediaries. We haf no hesitation whatefer now, I am instructed, in agreeing to your proposal of a hundert tousand poundts.”

“Crikey!” said Bert, overwhelmed.

“I peg your pardon?”

“Jest a twinge,” said Bert, raising his hand to his bandaged head.

“Ah! Also I am instructed to say that as for that noble, unrightly accused laty you haf championed so brafely against Pritish hypocrisy and coldness, all ze chivalry of Chermany is on her site.”

“Lady?” said Bert faintly, and then recalled the great Butteridge love story. Had the old chap also read the letters? He must think him a scorcher if he had. “Oh! that’s aw-right,” he said, “about ’er. I ’adn’t any doubts about that. I–“

He stopped. The secretary certainly had a most appalling stare. It seemed ages before he looked down again. “Well, ze laty as you please. She is your affair. I haf performt my instructions. And ze title of Paron, zat also can pe done. It can all pe done, Herr Pooterage.”

He drummed on the table for a second or so, and resumed. “I haf to tell you, sir, zat you come to us at a crisis in–Welt-Politik. There can be no harm now for me to put our plans before you. Pefore you leafe this ship again they will be manifest to all ze worldt. War is perhaps already declared. We go–to America. Our fleet will descend out of ze air upon ze United States–it is a country quite unprepared for war eferywhere–eferywhere. Zey have always relied on ze Atlantic. And their navy. We have selected a certain point–it is at present ze secret of our commanders–which we shall seize, and zen we shall establish a depot–a sort of inland Gibraltar. It will be–what will it be?–an eagle’s nest. Zere our airships will gazzer and repair, and thence they will fly to and fro ofer ze United States, terrorising cities, dominating Washington, levying what is necessary, until ze terms we dictate are accepted. You follow me?”

“Go on!” said Bert.

“We could haf done all zis wiz such Luftschiffe and Drachenflieger as we possess, but ze accession of your machine renders our project complete. It not only gifs us a better Drachenflieger, but it remofes our last uneasiness as to Great Pritain. Wizout you, sir, Great Pritain, ze land you lofed so well and zat has requited you so ill, zat land of Pharisees and reptiles, can do nozzing!–nozzing! You see, I am perfectly frank wiz you. Well, I am instructed that Chermany recognises all this. We want you to place yourself at our disposal. We want you to become our Chief Head Flight Engineer. We want you to manufacture, we want to equip a swarm of hornets under your direction. We want you to direct this force. And it is at our depot in America we want you. So we offer you simply, and without haggling, ze full terms you demanded weeks ago–one hundert tousand poundts in cash, a salary of three tousand poundts a year, a pension of one tousand poundts a year, and ze title of Paron as you desired. These are my instructions.”

He resumed his scrutiny of Bert’s face.

“That’s all right, of course,” said Bert, a little short of breath, but otherwise resolute and calm; and it seemed to him that now was the time to bring his nocturnal scheming to the issue.

The secretary contemplated Bert’s collar with sustained attention. Only for one moment did his gaze move to the sandals and back.

“Jes’ lemme think a bit,” said Bert, finding the stare debilitating. “Look ’ere!” he said at last, with an air of great explicitness, “I got the secret.”

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