The War in the Air – Day 90 of 115

The bird-faced man intervened with a reply in German.

“Dead man!” said Bert to him. “There.”

He had great difficulty in inducing them to inspect the dead Chinaman, and at last led them to him. Then they made it evident that they proposed that he, as a common person below the rank of officer should have the sole and undivided privilege of disposing of the body by dragging it to the water’s edge. There was some heated gesticulation, and at last the bird-faced officer abased himself to help. Together they dragged the limp and now swollen Asiatic through the trees, and after a rest or so–for he trailed very heavily–dumped him into the westward rapid. Bert returned to his expert investigation of the flying-machine at last with aching arms and in a state of gloomy rebellion. “Brasted cheek!” he said. “One’d think I was one of ’is beastly German slaves!

“Prancing beggar!”

And then he fell speculating what would happen when the flying-machine, was repaired–if it could be repaired.

The two Germans went away again, and after some reflection Bert removed several nuts, resumed his jacket and vest, pocketed those nuts and his tools and hid the set of tools from the second aeroplane in the fork of a tree. “Right O,” he said, as he jumped down after the last of these precautions. The Prince and his companion reappeared as he returned to the machine by the water’s edge. The Prince surveyed his progress for a time, and then went towards the Parting of the Waters and stood with folded arms gazing upstream in profound thought. The bird-faced officer came up to Bert, heavy with a sentence in English.

“Go,” he said with a helping gesture, “und eat.”

When Bert got to the refreshment shed, he found all the food had vanished except one measured ration of corned beef and three biscuits.

He regarded this with open eyes and mouth.

The kitten appeared from under the vendor’s seat with an ingratiating purr. “Of course!” said Bert. “Why! where’s your milk?”

He accumulated wrath for a moment or so, then seized the plate in one hand, and the biscuits in another, and went in search of the Prince, breathing vile words anent “grub” and his intimate interior. He approached without saluting.

“’Ere!” he said fiercely. “Whad the devil’s this?”

An entirely unsatisfactory altercation followed. Bert expounded the Bun Hill theory of the relations of grub to efficiency in English, the bird-faced man replied with points about nations and discipline in German. The Prince, having made an estimate of Bert’s quality and physique, suddenly hectored. He gripped Bert by the shoulder and shook him, making his pockets rattle, shouted something to him, and flung him struggling back. He hit him as though he was a German private. Bert went back, white and scared, but resolved by all his Cockney standards upon one thing. He was bound in honour to “go for” the Prince. “Gaw!” he gasped, buttoning his jacket.

“Now,” cried the Prince, “Vil you go?” and then catching the heroic gleam in Bert’s eye, drew his sword.

The bird-faced officer intervened, saying something in German and pointing skyward.

Far away in the southwest appeared a Japanese airship coming fast toward them. Their conflict ended at that. The Prince was first to grasp the situation and lead the retreat. All three scuttled like rabbits for the trees, and ran to and for cover until they found a hollow in which the grass grew rank. There they all squatted within six yards of one another. They sat in this place for a long time, up to their necks in the grass and watching through the branches for the airship. Bert had dropped some of his corned beef, but he found the biscuits in his hand and ate them quietly. The monster came nearly overhead and then went away to Niagara and dropped beyond the power-works. When it was near, they all kept silence, and then presently they fell into an argument that was robbed perhaps of immediate explosive effect only by their failure to understand one another.

It was Bert began the talking and he talked on regardless of what they understood or failed to understand. But his voice must have conveyed his cantankerous intentions.

“You want that machine done,” he said first, “you better keep your ’ands off me!”

They disregarded that and he repeated it.

Then he expanded his idea and the spirit of speech took hold of him. “You think you got ’old of a chap you can kick and ’it like you do your private soldiers–you’re jolly well mistaken. See? I’ve ’ad about enough of you and your antics. I been thinking you over, you and your war and your Empire and all the rot of it. Rot it is! It’s you Germans made all the trouble in Europe first and last. And all for nothin’. Jest silly prancing! Jest because you’ve got the uniforms and flags! ’Ere I was–I didn’t want to ’ave anything to do with you. I jest didn’t care a ’eng at all about you. Then you get ’old of me–steal me practically–and ’ere I am, thousands of miles away from ’ome and everything, and all your silly fleet smashed up to rags. And you want to go on prancin’ Now! Not if I know it!

“Look at the mischief you done! Look at the way you smashed up New York–the people you killed, the stuff you wasted. Can’t you learn?”

“Dummer Kerl!” said the bird-faced man suddenly in a tone of concentrated malignancy, glaring under his bandages. “Esel!”

“That’s German for silly ass!–I know. But who’s the silly ass– ’im or me? When I was a kid, I used to read penny dreadfuls about ’avin adventures and bein’ a great c’mander and all that rot. I stowed it. But what’s ’e got in ’is head? Rot about Napoleon, rot about Alexander, rot about ’is blessed family and ’im and Gord and David and all that. Any one who wasn’t a dressed-up silly fool of a Prince could ’ave told all this was goin’ to ’appen. There was us in Europe all at sixes and sevens with our silly flags and our silly newspapers raggin’ us up against each other and keepin’ us apart, and there was China, solid as a cheese, with millions and millions of men only wantin’ a bit of science and a bit of enterprise to be as good as all of us. You thought they couldn’t get at you. And then they got flying-machines. And bif!–’ere we are. Why, when they didn’t go on making guns and armies in China, we went and poked ’em up until they did. They ’ad to give us this lickin’ they’ve give us. We wouldn’t be happy until they did, and as I say, ’ere we are!”

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