The War in the Air – Day 87 of 115

He gave the kitten some milk in a dirty plate and sat watching its busy little tongue for a time. Then he was moved to make an inventory of the provisions. There were six bottles of milk unopened and one opened, sixty bottles of mineral water and a large stock of syrups, about two thousand cigarettes and upwards of a hundred cigars, nine oranges, two unopened tins of corned beef and one opened, and five large tins California peaches. He jotted it down on a piece of paper. “’Ain’t much solid food,” he said. “Still–A fortnight, say!

“Anything might happen in a fortnight.”

He gave the kitten a small second helping and a scrap of beef and then went down with the little creature running after him, tail erect and in high spirits, to look at the remains of the Hohenzollern.

It had shifted in the night and seemed on the whole more firmly grounded on Green Island than before. From it his eye went to the shattered bridge and then across to the still desolation of Niagara city. Nothing moved over there but a number of crows. They were busy with the engineer he had seen cut down on the previous day. He saw no dogs, but he heard one howling.

“We got to get out of this some’ow, Kitty,” he said. “That milk won’t last forever–not at the rate you lap it.”

He regarded the sluice-like flood before him.

“Plenty of water,” he said. “Won’t be drink we shall want.”

He decided to make a careful exploration of the island. Presently he came to a locked gate labelled “Biddle Stairs,” and clambered over to discover a steep old wooden staircase leading down the face of the cliff amidst a vast and increasing uproar of waters. He left the kitten above and descended these, and discovered with a thrill of hope a path leading among the rocks at the foot of the roaring downrush of the Centre Fall. Perhaps this was a sort of way!

It led him only to the choking and deafening experience of the Cave of the Winds, and after he had spent a quarter of an hour in a partially stupefied condition flattened between solid rock and nearly as solid waterfall, he decided that this was after all no practicable route to Canada and retraced his steps. As he reascended the Biddle Stairs, he heard what he decided at last must be a sort of echo, a sound of some one walking about on the gravel paths above. When he got to the top, the place was as solitary as before.

Thence he made his way, with the kitten skirmishing along beside him in the grass, to a staircase that led to a lump of projecting rock that enfiladed the huge green majesty of the Horseshoe Fall. He stood there for some time in silence.

“You wouldn’t think,” he said at last, “there was so much water…. This roarin’ and splashin’, it gets on one’s nerves at last…. Sounds like people talking…. Sounds like people going about…. Sounds like anything you fancy.”

He retired up the staircase again. “I s’pose I shall keep on goin’ round this blessed island,” he said drearily. “Round and round and round.”

He found himself presently beside the less damaged Asiatic aeroplane again. He stared at it and the kitten smelt it. “Broke!” he said.

He looked up with a convulsive start.

Advancing slowly towards him out from among the trees were two tall gaunt figures. They were blackened and tattered and bandaged; the hind-most one limped and had his head swathed in white, but the foremost one still carried himself as a Prince should do, for all that his left arm was in a sling and one side of his face scalded a livid crimson. He was the Prince Karl Albert, the War Lord, the “German Alexander,” and the man behind him was the bird-faced man whose cabin had once been taken from him and given to Bert.

With that apparition began a new phase of Goat Island in Bert’s experience. He ceased to be a solitary representative of humanity in a vast and violent and incomprehensible universe, and became once more a social creature, a man in a world of other men. For an instant these two were terrible, then they seemed sweet and desirable as brothers. They too were in this scrape with him, marooned and puzzled. He wanted extremely to hear exactly what had happened to them. What mattered it if one was a Prince and both were foreign soldiers, if neither perhaps had adequate English? His native Cockney freedom flowed too generously for him to think of that, and surely the Asiatic fleets had purged all such trivial differences. “Ul-lo!” he said; “’ow did you get ’ere?”

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