The War in the Air – Day 66 of 115

But then came infinite relief, incredibly blissful relief. The rolling, the pitching, the struggle ceased, ceased instantly and absolutely. The Vaterland was no longer fighting the gale; her smashed and exploded engines throbbed no more; she was disabled and driving before the wind as smoothly as a balloon, a huge, windspread, tattered cloud of aerial wreckage.

To Bert it was no more than the end of a series of disagreeable sensations. He was not curious to know what had happened to the airship, nor what had happened to the battle. For a long time he lay waiting apprehensively for the pitching and tossing and his qualms to return, and so, lying, boxed up in the locker, he presently fell asleep.

He awoke tranquil but very stuffy, and at the same time very cold, and quite unable to recollect where he could be. His head ached, and his breath was suffocated. He had been dreaming confusedly of Edna, and Desert Dervishes, and of riding bicycles in an extremely perilous manner through the upper air amidst a pyrotechnic display of crackers and Bengal lights–to the great annoyance of a sort of composite person made up of the Prince and Mr. Butteridge. Then for some reason Edna and he had begun to cry pitifully for each other, and he woke up with wet eye-lashes into this ill-ventilated darkness of the locker. He would never see Edna any more, never see Edna any more.

He thought he must be back in the bedroom behind the cycle shop at the bottom of Bun Hill, and he was sure the vision he had had of the destruction of a magnificent city, a city quite incredibly great and splendid, by means of bombs, was no more than a particularly vivid dream.

“Grubb!” he called, anxious to tell him.

The answering silence, and the dull resonance of the locker to his voice, supplementing the stifling quality of the air, set going a new train of ideas. He lifted up his hands and feet, and met an inflexible resistance. He was in a coffin, he thought! He had been buried alive! He gave way at once to wild panic. “’Elp!” he screamed. “’Elp!” and drummed with his feet, and kicked and struggled. “Let me out! Let me out!”

For some seconds he struggled with this intolerable horror, and then the side of his imagined coffin gave way, and he was flying out into daylight. Then he was rolling about on what seemed to be a padded floor with Kurt, and being punched and sworn at lustily.

He sat up. His head bandage had become loose and got over one eye, and he whipped the whole thing off. Kurt was also sitting up, a yard away from him, pink as ever, wrapped in blankets, and with an aluminium diver’s helmet over his knee, staring at him with a severe expression, and rubbing his downy unshaven chin. They were both on a slanting floor of crimson padding, and above them was an opening like a long, low cellar flap that Bert by an effort perceived to be the cabin door in a half-inverted condition. The whole cabin had in fact turned on its side.

“What the deuce do you mean by it, Smallways?” said Kurt, “jumping out of that locker when I was certain you had gone overboard with the rest of them? Where have you been?”

“What’s up?” asked Bert.

“This end of the airship is up. Most other things are down.”

“Was there a battle?”

“There was.”

“Who won?”

“I haven’t seen the papers, Smallways. We left before the finish. We got disabled and unmanageable, and our colleagues–consorts I mean–were too busy most of them to trouble about us, and the wind blew us–Heaven knows where the wind is blowing us. It blew us right out of action at the rate of eighty miles an hour or so. Gott! what a wind that was! What a fight! And here we are!”


“In the air, Smallways–in the air! When we get down on the earth again we shan’t know what to do with our legs.”

“But what’s below us?”

“Canada, to the best of my knowledge–and a jolly bleak, empty, inhospitable country it looks.”

“But why ain’t we right ways up?”

Kurt made no answer for a space.

“Last I remember was seeing a sort of flying-machine in a lightning flash,” said Bert. “Gaw! that was ’orrible. Guns going off! Things explodin’! Clouds and ’ail. Pitching and tossing. I got so scared and desperate–and sick. You don’t know how the fight came off?”

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