The War in the Air – Day 42 of 115

He wrinkled his forehead, and drew in the corners of his mouth.

“I got the plans,” said Bert.

“Yes. There is that! Yes. But you see the Prince was interested in Herr Pooterage because of his romantic seit. Herr Pooterage was so much more–ah!–in the picture. I am afraid you are not equal to controlling the flying machine department of our aerial park as he wished you to do. He hadt promised himself that….

“And der was also the prestige–the worldt prestige of Pooterage with us…. Well, we must see what we can do.” He held out his hand. “Gif me the plans.”

A terrible chill ran through the being of Mr. Smallways. To this day he is not clear in his mind whether he wept or no, but certainly there was weeping in his voice. “’Ere, I say!” he protested. “Ain’t I to ’ave–nothin’ for ’em?”

The secretary regarded him with benevolent eyes. “You do not deserve anyzing!” he said.

“I might ’ave tore ’em up.”

“Zey are not yours!”

“They weren’t Butteridge’s!”

“No need to pay anyzing.”

Bert’s being seemed to tighten towards desperate deeds. “Gaw!” he said, clutching his coat, “ain’t there?”

“Pe galm,” said the secretary. “Listen! You shall haf five hundert poundts. You shall haf it on my promise. I will do that for you, and that is all I can do. Take it from me. Gif me the name of that bank. Write it down. So! I tell you the Prince– is no choke. I do not think he approffed of your appearance last night. No! I can’t answer for him. He wanted Pooterage, and you haf spoilt it. The Prince–I do not understand quite, he is in a strange state. It is the excitement of the starting and this great soaring in the air. I cannot account for what he does. But if all goes well I will see to it–you shall haf five hundert poundts. Will that do? Then gif me the plans.”

“Old beggar!” said Bert, as the door clicked. “Gaw!–what an ole beggar!–sharp!”

He sat down in the folding-chair, and whistled noiselessly for a time.

“Nice ’old swindle for ’im if I tore ’em up! I could ’ave.”

He rubbed the bridge of his nose thoughtfully. “I gave the whole blessed show away. If I’d j’es’ kep quiet about being Enonymous…. Gaw!… Too soon, Bert, my boy–too soon and too rushy. I’d like to kick my silly self.

“I couldn’t ’ave kep’ it up.

“After all, it ain’t so very bad,” he said.

“After all, five ’undred pounds…. It isn’t my secret, anyhow. It’s jes’ a pickup on the road. Five ’undred.

“Wonder what the fare is from America back home?”

And later in the day an extremely shattered and disorganised Bert Smallways stood in the presence of the Prince Karl Albert.

The proceedings were in German. The Prince was in his own cabin, the end room of the airship, a charming apartment furnished in wicker-work with a long window across its entire breadth, looking forward. He was sitting at a folding-table of green baize, with Von Winterfeld and two officers sitting beside him, and littered before them was a number of American maps and Mr. Butteridge’s letters and his portfolio and a number of loose papers. Bert was not asked to sit down, and remained standing throughout the interview. Von Winterfeld told his story, and every now and then the words Ballon and Pooterage struck on Bert’s ears. The Prince’s face remained stern and ominous and the two officers watched it cautiously or glanced at Bert. There was something a little strange in their scrutiny of the Prince–a curiosity, an apprehension. Then presently he was struck by an idea, and they fell discussing the plans. The Prince asked Bert abruptly in English. “Did you ever see this thing go op?”

Bert jumped. “Saw it from Bun ’Ill, your Royal Highness.”

Von Winterfeld made some explanation.

“How fast did it go?”

“Couldn’t say, your Royal Highness. The papers, leastways the Daily Courier, said eighty miles an hour.”

They talked German over that for a time.

“Couldt it standt still? Op in the air? That is what I want to know.”

“It could ’ovver, your Royal Highness, like a wasp,” said Bert.

“Viel besser, nicht wahr?” said the Prince to Von Winterfeld, and then went on in German for a time.

Presently they came to an end, and the two officers looked at Bert. One rang a bell, and the portfolio was handed to an attendant, who took it away.

Then they reverted to the case of Bert, and it was evident the Prince was inclined to be hard with him. Von Winterfeld protested. Apparently theological considerations came in, for there were several mentions of “Gott!” Some conclusions emerged, and it was apparent that Von Winterfeld was instructed to convey them to Bert.

“Mr. Schmallvays, you haf obtained a footing in this airship,” he said, “by disgraceful and systematic lying.”

“’Ardly systematic,” said Bert. “I–“

The Prince silenced him by a gesture.

“And it is within the power of his Highness to dispose of you as a spy.”

“’Ere!–I came to sell–“

“Ssh!” said one of the officers.

“However, in consideration of the happy chance that mate you the instrument unter Gott of this Pooterage flying-machine reaching his Highness’s hand, you haf been spared. Yes,–you were the pearer of goot tidings. You will be allowed to remain on this ship until it is convenient to dispose of you. Do you understandt?”

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