The War in the Air – Day 54 of 115

“Ugh!” said Bert, clutching the rail before him, and a sympathetic grunt came from several of the men beside him.

“So!” said the Prince, stiffer and sterner, glared for some seconds, then turned to the gang way up into the airship.

For a long time Bert remained clinging to the railing of the gallery. He was almost physically sick with the horror of this trifling incident. He found it far more dreadful than the battle. He was indeed a very degenerate, latter-day, civilised person.

Late that afternoon Kurt came into the cabin and found him curled up on his locker, and looking very white and miserable. Kurt had also lost something of his pristine freshness.

“Sea-sick?” he asked.

“No!”

“We ought to reach New York this evening. There’s a good breeze coming up under our tails. Then we shall see things.”

Bert did not answer.

Kurt opened out folding chair and table, and rustled for a time with his maps. Then he fell thinking darkly. He roused himself presently, and looked at his companion. “What’s the matter?” he said.

“Nothing!”

Kurt stared threateningly. “What’s the matter?”

“I saw them kill that chap. I saw that flying-machine man hit the funnels of the big ironclad. I saw that dead chap in the passage. I seen too much smashing and killing lately. That’s the matter. I don’t like it. I didn’t know war was this sort of thing. I’m a civilian. I don’t like it.”

I don’t like it,” said Kurt. “By Jove, no!”

“I’ve read about war, and all that, but when you see it it’s different. And I’m gettin’ giddy. I’m gettin’ giddy. I didn’t mind a bit being up in that balloon at first, but all this looking down and floating over things and smashing up people, it’s getting on my nerves. See?”

“It’ll have to get off again….”

Kurt thought. “You’re not the only one. The men are all getting strung up. The flying–that’s just flying. Naturally it makes one a little swimmy in the head at first. As for the killing, we’ve got to be blooded; that’s all. We’re tame, civilised men. And we’ve got to get blooded. I suppose there’s not a dozen men on the ship who’ve really seen bloodshed. Nice, quiet, law-abiding Germans they’ve been so far…. Here they are–in for it. They’re a bit squeamy now, but you wait till they’ve got their hands in.”

He reflected. “Everybody’s getting a bit strung up,” he said.

He turned again to his maps. Bert sat crumpled up in the corner, apparently heedless of him. For some time both kept silence.

“What did the Prince want to go and ’ang that chap for?” asked Bert, suddenly.

“That was all right,” said Kurt, “that was all right. Quite right. Here were the orders, plain as the nose on your face, and here was that fool going about with matches–“

“Gaw! I shan’t forget that bit in a ’urry,” said Bert irrelevantly.

Kurt did not answer him. He was measuring their distance from New York and speculating. “Wonder what the American aeroplanes are like?” he said. “Something like our drachenflieger…. We shall know by this time to-morrow…. I wonder what we shall know? I wonder. Suppose, after all, they put up a fight…. Rum sort of fight!”

He whistled softly and mused. Presently he fretted out of the cabin, and later Bert found him in the twilight upon the swinging platform, staring ahead, and speculating about the things that might happen on the morrow. Clouds veiled the sea again, and the long straggling wedge of air-ships rising and falling as they flew seemed like a flock of strange new births in a Chaos that had neither earth nor water but only mist and sky.

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