The War in the Air – Day 95 of 115

Bert was so astonished that he stood agape, and the bird-faced officer might have cut him to the earth without a struggle. But instead the bird-faced officer was running away through the undergrowth, dodging as he went. Bert roused himself to a brief ineffectual pursuit, but he had no stomach for further killing. He returned to the mangled, scattered thing that had so recently been the great Prince Karl Albert. He surveyed the scorched and splashed vegetation about it. He made some speculative identifications. He advanced gingerly and picked up the hot revolver, to find all its chambers strained and burst. He became aware of a cheerful and friendly presence. He was greatly shocked that one so young should see so frightful a scene.

“’Ere, Kitty,” he said, “this ain’t no place for you.”

He made three strides across the devastated area, captured the kitten neatly, and went his way towards the shed, with her purring loudly on his shoulder.

You don’t seem to mind,” he said.

For a time he fussed about the shed, and at last discovered the rest of the provisions hidden in the roof. “Seems ’ard,” he said, as he administered a saucerful of milk, “when you get three men in a ’ole like this, they can’t work together. But ’im and ’is princing was jest a bit too thick!”

“Gaw!” he reflected, sitting on the counter and eating, “what a thing life is! ’Ere am I; I seen ’is picture, ’eard ’is name since I was a kid in frocks. Prince Karl Albert! And if any one ’ad tole me I was going to blow ’im to smithereens–there! I shouldn’t ’ave believed it, Kitty.

“That chap at Margit ought to ’ave tole me about it. All ’e tole me was that I got a weak chess.

“That other chap, ’e ain’t going to do much. Wonder what I ought to do about ’im?”

He surveyed the trees with a keen blue eye and fingered the gun on his knee. “I don’t like this killing, Kitty,” he said. “It’s like Kurt said about being blooded. Seems to me you got to be blooded young…. If that Prince ’ad come up to me and said, ‘Shake ’ands!’ I’d ’ave shook ’ands…. Now ’ere’s that other chap, dodging about! ’E’s got ’is ’ead ’urt already, and there’s something wrong with his leg. And burns. Golly! it isn’t three weeks ago I first set eyes on ’im, and then ’e was smart and set up–’ands full of ’air-brushes and things, and swearin’ at me. A regular gentleman! Now ’e’s ’arfway to a wild man. What am I to do with ’im? What the ’ell am I to do with ’im? I can’t leave ’im ’ave that flying-machine; that’s a bit too good, and if I don’t kill ’im, ’e’ll jest ’ang about this island and starve….

“’E’s got a sword, of course”….

He resumed his philosophising after he had lit a cigarette.

“War’s a silly gaim, Kitty. It’s a silly gaim! We common people–we were fools. We thought those big people knew what they were up to–and they didn’t. Look at that chap! ’E ’ad all Germany be’ind ’im, and what ’as ’e made of it? Smeshin’ and blunderin’ and destroyin’, and there ’e ’is! Jest a mess of blood and boots and things! Jest an ’orrid splash! Prince Karl Albert! And all the men ’e led and the ships ’e ’ad, the airships, and the dragon-fliers–all scattered like a paper-chase between this ’ole and Germany. And fightin’ going on and burnin’ and killin’ that ’e started, war without end all over the world!

“I suppose I shall ’ave to kill that other chap. I suppose I must. But it ain’t at all the sort of job I fancy, Kitty!”

For a time he hunted about the island amidst the uproar of the waterfall, looking for the wounded officer, and at last he started him out of some bushes near the head of Biddle Stairs. But as he saw the bent and bandaged figure in limping flight before him, he found his Cockney softness too much for him again; he could neither shoot nor pursue. “I carn’t,” he said, “that’s flat. I ’aven’t the guts for it! ’E’ll ’ave to go.”

He turned his steps towards the flying-machine….

He never saw the bird-faced officer again, nor any further evidence of his presence. Towards evening he grew fearful of ambushes and hunted vigorously for an hour or so, but in vain. He slept in a good defensible position at the extremity of the rocky point that runs out to the Canadian Fall, and in the night he woke in panic terror and fired his gun. But it was nothing. He slept no more that night. In the morning he became curiously concerned for the vanished man, and hunted for him as one might for an erring brother.

“If I knew some German,” he said, “I’d ’oller. It’s jest not knowing German does it. You can’t explain'”

He discovered, later, traces of an attempt to cross the gap in the broken bridge. A rope with a bolt attached had been flung across and had caught in a fenestration of a projecting fragment of railing. The end of the rope trailed in the seething water towards the fall.

But the bird-faced officer was already rubbing shoulders with certain inert matter that had once been Lieutenant Kurt and the Chinese aeronaut and a dead cow, and much other uncongenial company, in the huge circle of the Whirlpool two and a quarter miles away. Never had that great gathering place, that incessant, aimless, unprogressive hurry of waste and battered things, been so crowded with strange and melancholy derelicts. Round they went and round, and every day brought its new contributions, luckless brutes, shattered fragments of boat and flying-machine, endless citizens from the cities upon the shores of the great lakes above. Much came from Cleveland. It all gathered here, and whirled about indefinitely, and over it all gathered daily a greater abundance of birds.

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