The War in the Air – Day 8 of 115

Almost symbolically he holds and gesticulates with a megaphone in his left hand.

Tom and Bert Smallways both saw that return. They watched from the crest of Bun Hill, from which they had so often surveyed the pyrotechnics of the Crystal Palace. Bert was excited, Tom kept calm and lumpish, but neither of them realised how their own lives were to be invaded by the fruits of that beginning. “P’raps old Grubb’ll mind the shop a bit now,” he said, “and put his blessed model in the fire. Not that that can save us, if we don’t tide over with Steinhart’s account.”

Bert knew enough of things and the problem of aeronautics to realise that this gigantic imitation of a bee would, to use his own idiom, “give the newspapers fits.” The next day it was clear the fits had been given even as he said: their magazine pages were black with hasty photographs, their prose was convulsive, they foamed at the headline. The next day they were worse. Before the week was out they were not so much published as carried screaming into the street.

The dominant fact in the uproar was the exceptional personality of Mr. Butteridge, and the extraordinary terms he demanded for the secret of his machine.

For it was a secret and he kept it secret in the most elaborate fashion. He built his apparatus himself in the safe privacy of the great Crystal Palace sheds, with the assistance of inattentive workmen, and the day next following his flight he took it to pieces single handed, packed certain portions, and then secured unintelligent assistance in packing and dispersing the rest. Sealed packing-cases went north and east and west to various pantechnicons, and the engines were boxed with peculiar care. It became evident these precautions were not inadvisable in view of the violent demand for any sort of photograph or impressions of his machine. But Mr. Butteridge, having once made his demonstration, intended to keep his secret safe from any further risk of leakage. He faced the British public now with the question whether they wanted his secret or not; he was, he said perpetually, an “Imperial Englishman,” and his first wish and his last was to see his invention the privilege and monopoly of the Empire. Only–

It was there the difficulty began.

Mr. Butteridge, it became evident, was a man singularly free from any false modesty–indeed, from any modesty of any kind–singularly willing to see interviewers, answer questions upon any topic except aeronautics, volunteer opinions, criticisms, and autobiography, supply portraits and photographs of himself, and generally spread his personality across the terrestrial sky. The published portraits insisted primarily upon an immense black moustache, and secondarily upon a fierceness behind the moustache. The general impression upon the public was that Butteridge, was a small man. No one big, it was felt, could have so virulently aggressive an expression, though, as a matter of fact, Butteridge had a height of six feet two inches, and a weight altogether proportionate to that. Moreover, he had a love affair of large and unusual dimensions and irregular circumstances and the still largely decorous British public learnt with reluctance and alarm that a sympathetic treatment of this affair was inseparable from the exclusive acquisition of the priceless secret of aerial stability by the British Empire. The exact particulars of the similarity never came to light, but apparently the lady had, in a fit of high-minded inadvertence, had gone through the ceremony of marriage with, one quotes the unpublished discourse of Mr. Butteridge–“a white-livered skunk,” and this zoological aberration did in some legal and vexatious manner mar her social happines. He wanted to talk about the business, to show the splendour of her nature in the light of its complications. It was really most embarrassing to a press that has always possessed a considerable turn for reticence, that wanted things personal indeed in the modern fashion. Yet not too personal. It was embarrassing, I say, to be inexorably confronted with Mr. Butteridge’s great heart, to see it laid open in relentlesss self-vivisection, and its pulsating dissepiments adorned with emphatic flag labels.

Confronted they were, and there was no getting away from it. He would make this appalling viscus beat and throb before the shrinking journalists–no uncle with a big watch and a little baby ever harped upon it so relentlessly; whatever evasion they attempted he set aside. He “gloried in his love,” he said, and compelled them to write it down.

“That’s of course a private affair, Mr. Butteridge,” they would object.

“The injustice, sorr, is public. I do not care either I am up against institutions or individuals. I do not care if I am up against the universal All. I am pleading the cause of a woman, a woman I lurve, sorr–a noble woman–misunderstood. I intend to vindicate her, sorr, to the four winds of heaven!”

“I lurve England,” he used to say–“lurve England, but Puritanism, sorr, I abhor. It fills me with loathing. It raises my gorge. Take my own case.”

He insisted relentlessly upon his heart, and upon seeing proofs of the interview. If they had not done justice to his erotic bellowings and gesticulations, he stuck in, in a large inky scrawl, all and more than they had omitted.

It was a strangely embarrassing thing for British journalism. Never was there a more obvious or uninteresting affair; never had the world heard the story of erratic affection with less appetite or sympathy. On the other hand it was extremely curious about Mr. Butteridge’s invention. But when Mr. Butteridge could be deflected for a moment from the cause of the lady he championed, then he talked chiefly, and usually with tears of tenderness in his voice, about his mother and his childhood–his mother who crowned a complete encyclopedia of maternal virtue by being “largely Scotch.” She was not quite neat, but nearly so. “I owe everything in me to me mother,” he asserted–“everything. Eh!” and–“ask any man who’s done anything. You’ll hear the same story. All we have we owe to women. They are the species, sorr. Man is but a dream. He comes and goes. The woman’s soul leadeth us upward and on!”


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    TurtleReader wrote:

    a van used for moving home or office furniture (but Wiki says it originally referred to the buildings they store things in)

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