Part 2 out of 5
goin' away--don't 'owl--I'm goin' off to Kasauli, where I won't
see you no more."
I could hear him holding Garm's nose as the dog threw it up to
"You'll stay here an' be'ave, an'--an' I'll go away an' try to
be'ave, an' I don't know 'ow to leave you. I don't know--"
"I think this is damn silly," said the officer, patting his
foolish fubsy old retriever. He called to the private, who leaped
to his feet, marched forward, and saluted.
"You here?" said the officer, turning away his head.
"Yes, sir, but I'm just goin' back."
"I shall be leaving here at eleven in my cart. You come with me.
I can't have sick men running about fall over the place. Report
yourself at eleven, here."
We did not say much when we went indoors, but the officer
muttered and pulled his retriever's ears.
He was a disgraceful, overfed doormat of a dog; and when he
waddled off to my cookhouse to be fed, I had a brilliant idea.
At eleven o'clock that officer's dog was nowhere to be found, and
you never heard such a fuss as his owner made. He called and
shouted and grew angry, and hunted through my garden for half an
Then I said:
"He's sure to turn up in the morning. Send a man in by rail, and
I'll find the beast and return him."
"Beast?" said the officer. "I value that dog considerably more
than I value any man I know. It's all very fine for you to
talk--your dog's here."
So she was--under my feet--and, had she been missing, food and
wages would have stopped in my house till her return. But some
people grow fond of dogs not worth a cut of the whip. My friend
had to drive away at last with Stanley in the back seat; and then
the dog-boy said to me:
"What kind of animal is Bullen Sahib's dog? Look at him!"
I went to the boy's hut, and the fat old reprobate was lying on a
mat carefully chained up. He must have heard his master calling
for twenty minutes, but had not even attempted to join him.
"He has no face," said the dog-boy scornfully. "He is a
punniar-kooter (a spaniel). He never tried to get that cloth off
his jaws when his master called. Now Vixen-baba would have jumped
through the window, and that Great Dog would have slain me with
his muzzled mouth. It is true that there are many kinds of dogs."
Next evening who should turn up but Stanley. The officer had sent
him back fourteen miles by rail with a note begging me to return
the retriever if I had found him, and, if I had not, to offer
huge rewards. The last train to camp left at half-past ten, and
Stanley, stayed till ten talking to Garm. I argued and entreated,
and even threatened to shoot the bull-terrier, bat the little man
was as firm as a rock, though I gave him a good dinner and talked
to him most severely. Garm knew as well as I that this was the
last time he could hope to see his man, and followed Stanley like
a shadow. The retriever said nothing, but licked his lips after
his meal and waddled off without so much as saying "Thank you" to
the disgusted dog-boy.
So that last meeting was over, and I felt as wretched as Garm,
who moaned in his sleep all night. When we went to the office he
found a place under the table close to Vixen, and dropped flat
till it was time to go home. There was no more running out into
the verandahs, no slinking away for stolen talks with Stanley. As
the weather grew warmer the dogs were forbidden to run beside the
cart, but sat at my side on the seat, Vixen with her head under
the crook of my left elbow, and Garm hugging the left handrail.
Here Vixen was ever in great form. She had to attend to all the
moving traffic, such as bullock-carts that blocked the way, and
camels, and led ponies; as well as to keep up her dignity when
she passed low friends running in the dust. She never yapped for
yapping's sake, but her shrill, high bark was known all along the
Mall, and other men's terriers ki-yied in reply, and
bullock-drivers looked over their shoulders and gave us the road
with a grin.
But Garm cared for none of these things. His big eyes were on the
horizon and his terrible mouth was shut. There was another dog in
the office who belonged to my chief. We called him "Bob the
Librarian," because he always imagined vain rats behind the
bookshelves, and in hunting for them would drag out half the old
newspaper-files. Bob was a well-meaning idiot, but Garm did not
encourage him. He would slide his head round the door panting,
"Rats! Come along Garm!" and Garm would shift one forepaw over
the other, and curl himself round, leaving Bob to whine at a most
uninterested back. The office was nearly as cheerful as a tomb in
Once, and only once, did I see Garm at all contented with his
surroundings. He had gone for an unauthorised walk with Vixen
early one Sunday morning, and a very young and foolish
artilleryman (his battery had just moved to that part of the
world) tried to steal them both. Vixen, of course, knew better
than to take food from soldiers, and, besides, she had just
finished her breakfast. So she trotted back with a large piece of
the mutton that they issue to our troops, laid it down on my
verandah, and looked up to see what I thought. I asked her where
Garin was, and she ran in front of the horse to show me the way.
About a mile up the road we came across our artilleryman sitting
very stiffly on the edge of a culvert with a greasy handkerchief
on his knees. Garin was in front of him, looking rather pleased.
When the man moved leg or hand, Garin bared his teeth in silence.
A broken string hung from his collar, and the other half of, it
lay, all warm, in the artilleryman's still hand. He explained to
me, keeping his eyes straight in front of him, that he had met
this dog (he called him awful names) walking alone, and was going
to take him to the Fort to be killed for a masterless pariah.
I said that Garin did not seem to me much of a pariah, but that
he had better take him to the Fort if he thought best. He said he
did not care to do so. I told him to go to the Fort alone. He
said he did not want to go at that hour, but would follow my
advice as soon as I had called off the dog. I instructed Garin to
take him to the Fort, and Garm marched him solemnly up to the
gate, one mile and a half under a hot sun, and I told the
quarter-guard what had happened; but the young artilleryman was
more angry than was at all necessary when they began to laugh.
Several regiments, he was told, had tried to steal Garm in their
That month the hot weather shut down in earnest, and the dogs
slept in the bathroom on the cool wet bricks where the bath is
placed. Every morning, as soon as the man filled my bath the two
jumped in, and every morning the man filled the bath a second
time. I said to him that he might as well fill a small tub
specially for the dogs. "Nay," said he smiling, "it is not their
custom. They would not understand. Besides, the big bath gives
them more space."
The punkah-coolies who pull the punkahs day and night came to
know Garin intimately. He noticed that when the swaying fan
stopped I would call out to the coolie and bid him pull with a
long stroke. If the man still slept I would wake him up. He
discovered, too, that it was a good thing to lie in the wave of
air under the punkah. Maybe Stanley had taught him all about this
in barracks. At any rate, when the punkah stopped, Garin would
first growl and cock his eye at the rope, and if that did not
wake the man it nearly always did--he would tiptoe forth and talk
in the sleeper's ear. Vixen was a clever little dog, but she
could never connect the punkah and the coolie; so Garin gave me
grateful hours of cool sleep. But--he was utterly wretched--as
miserable as a human being; and in his misery he clung so closely
to me that other men noticed it, and were envious. If I moved
from one room to another Garin followed; if my pen stopped
scratching, Garm's head was thrust into my hand; if I turned,
half awake, on the pillow, Garm was up and at my side, for he
knew that I was his only link with his master, and day and night,
and night and day, his eyes asked one question--"When is this
going to end?"
Living with the dog as I did, I never noticed that he was more
than ordinarily upset by the hot weather, till one day at the
Club a man said: "That dog of yours will die in a week or two.
He's a shadow." Then I dosed Garin with iron and quinine, which
he hated; and I felt very anxious. He lost his appetite, and
Vixen was allowed to eat his dinner under his eyes. Even that did
not make him swallow, and we held a consultation on him, of the
best man-doctor in the place; a lady-doctor, who cured the sick
wives of kings; and the Deputy Inspector-General of the
veterinary service of all India. They pronounced upon his
symptoms, and I told them his story, and Garm lay on a sofa
licking my hand.
"He's dying of a broken heart," said the lady-doctor suddenly.
"'Pon my word," said the Deputy Inspector General, "I believe
Mrs. Macrae is perfectly right as usual."
The best man-doctor in the place wrote a prescription, and the
veterinary Deputy Inspector-General went over it afterwards to be
sure that the drugs were in the proper dog-proportions; and that
was the first time in his life that our doctor ever allowed his
prescriptions to be edited. It was a strong tonic, and it put the
dear boy on his feet for a week or two; then he lost flesh again.
I asked a man I knew to take him up to the Hills with him when he
went, and the man came to the door with his kit packed on the top
of the carriage. Garin took in the situation at one red glance.
The hair rose along his back; he sat down in front of me and
delivered the most awful growl I have ever heard in the jaws of a
dog. I shouted to my friend to get away at once, and as soon as
the carriage was out of the garden Garin laid his head on my knee
and whined. So I knew his answer, and devoted myself to getting
Stanley's address in the Hills.
My turn to go to the cool came late in August. We were allowed
thirty days' holiday in a year, if no one fell sick, and we took
it as we could be spared. My chief and Bob the Librarian had
their holiday first, and when they were gone I made a calendar,
as I always did, and hung it up at the head of my cot, tearing
off one day at a time till they returned. Vixen had gone up to
the Hills with me five times before; and she appreciated the cold
and the damp and the beautiful wood fires there as much as I did.
"Garm," I said, "we are going back to Stanley at Kasauli.
Kasauli--Stanley; Stanley Kasauli." And I repeated it twenty
times. It was not Kasauli really, but another place. Still I
remembered what Stanley had said in my garden on the last night,
and I dared not change the name. Then Garm began to tremble; then
he barked; and then he leaped up at me, frisking and wagging his
"Not now," I said, holding up my hand. "When I say 'Go,' we'll
go, Garm." I pulled out the little blanket coat and spiked collar
that Vixen always wore up in the Hills to protect her against
sudden chills and thieving leopards, and I let the two smell them
and talk it over. What they said of course I do not know; but it
made a new dog of Garm. His eyes were bright; and he barked
joyfully when I spoke to him. He ate his food, and he killed his
rats for the next three weeks, and when he began to whine I had
only to say "Stanley--Kasauli; Kasauli--Stanley," to wake him up.
I wish I had thought of it before.
My chief came back, all brown with living in the open air, and
very angry at finding it so hot in the plains. That same
afternoon we three and Kadir Buksh began to pack for our month's
holiday, Vixen rolling in and out of the bullock-trunk twenty
times a minute, and Garm grinning all over and thumping on the
floor with his tail. Vixen knew the routine of travelling as well
as she knew my office-work. She went to the station, singing
songs, on the front seat of the carriage, while Garin sat with
me. She hurried into the railway carriage, saw Kadir Buksh make
up my bed for the night, got her drink of water, and curled up
with her black-patch eye on the tumult of the platform. Garin
followed her (the crowd gave him a lane all to himself) and sat
down on the pillows with his eyes blazing, and his tail a haze
We came to Umballa in the hot misty dawn, four or five men, who
had been working hard fox eleven months, shouting for our
dales--the two-horse travelling carriages that were to take us up
to Kalka at the foot of the Hills. It was all new to Garm. He did
not understand carriages where you lay at full length on your
bedding, but Vixen knew and hopped into her place at once; Garin
following. The Kalka Road, before the railway was built, was
about forty-seven miles long, and the horses were changed every
eight miles. Most of them jibbed, and kicked, and plunged, but
they had to go, and they went rather better than usual for Garm's
deep bay in their rear.
There was a river to be forded, and four bullocks pulled the
carriage, and Vixen stuck her head out of the sliding-door and
nearly fell into the water while she gave directions. Garin was
silent and curious, and rather needed reassuring about Stanley
and Kasauli. So we rolled, barking and yelping, into Kalka for
lunch, and Garm ate enough for two.
After Kalka the road wound among the hills, and we took a
curricle with half-broken ponies, which were changed every six
miles. No one dreamed of a railroad to Simla in those days, for
it was seven thousand feet up in the air. The road was more than
fifty miles long, and the regulation pace was just as fast as the
ponies could go. Here, again, Vixen led Garm from one carriage to
the other; jumped into the back seat, and shouted. A cool breath
from the snows met us about five miles out of Kalka, and she
whined for her coat, wisely fearing a chill on the liver. I had
had one made for Garm too, and, as we climbed to the fresh
breezes, I put it on, and arm chewed it uncomprehendingly, but I
think he was grateful.
"Hi-yi-yi-yi!" sang Vixen as we shot round the curves;
"Toot-toot-toot!" went the driver's bugle at the dangerous
places, and "yow! yow!" bayed Garm. Kadir Buksh sat on the front
seat and smiled. Even he was glad to get away from the heat of
the Plains that stewed in the haze behind us. Now and then we
would meet a man we knew going down to his work again, and he
would say: "What's it like below?" and I would shout: "Hotter
than cinders. What's it like up above?" and he would shout back:
"Just perfect!" and away we would go.
Suddenly Kadir Buksh said, over his shoulder: "Here is Solon";
and Garm snored where he lay with his head on my knee. Solon is
an unpleasant little cantonment, but it has the advantage of
being cool and healthy. It is all bare and windy, and one
generally stops at a rest-house nearby for something to eat. I
got out and took both dogs with me, while Kadir Buksh made tea. A
soldier told, us we should find Stanley "out there," nodding his
head towards a bare, bleak hill.
When we climbed to the top we spied that very Stanley, who had
given me all this trouble, sitting on a rock with his face in his
hands, and his overcoat hanging loose about him. I never saw
anything so lonely and dejected in my life as this one little
man, crumpled up and thinking, on the great gray hillside.
Here Garm left me.
He departed without a word, and, so far as I could see, without
moving his legs. He flew through the air bodily, and I heard the
whack of him as he flung himself at Stanley, knocking the little
man clean over. They rolled on the ground together, shouting, and
yelping, and hugging. I could not see which was dog and which was
man, till Stanley got up and whimpered.
He told me that he had been suffering from fever at intervals,
and was very weak. He looked all he said, but even while I
watched, both man and dog plumped out to their natural sizes,
precisely as dried apples swell in water. Garin was on his
shoulder, and his breast and feet all at the same time, so that
Stanley spoke all through a cloud of Garin--gulping, sobbing,
slavering Garm. He did not say anything that I could understand,
except that he had fancied he was going to die, but that now he
was quite well, and that he was not going to give up Garin any
more to anybody under the rank of Beelzebub.
Then he said he felt hungry, and thirsty, and happy.
We went down to tea at the rest-house, where Stanley stuffed
himself with sardines and raspberry jam, and beer, and cold
mutton and pickles, when Garm wasn't climbing over him; and then
Vixen and I went on.
Garm saw how it was at once. He said good-bye to me three times,
giving me both paws one after another, and leaping on to my
shoulder. He further escorted us, singing Hosannas at the top of
his voice, a mile down the road. Then he raced back to his own
Vixen never opened her mouth, but when the cold twilight came,
and we could see the lights of Simla across the hills, she
snuffled with her nose at the breast of my ulster. I unbuttoned
it, and tucked her inside. Then she gave a contented little
sniff, and fell fast asleep, her head on my breast, till we
bundled out at Simla, two of the four happiest people in all the
world that night.
THE POWER OF THE DOG
There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
But when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie--
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.
When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find--it's your own affair
But . . . you've given your heart to a dog to tear.
When the body that lived at your single will
When the whimper of welcome is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone wherever it goes--for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear!
We've sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long
So why in Heaven (before we are there!)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?
THE MOTHER HIVE
If the stock had not been old and overcrowded, the Wax-moth would
never have entered; but where bees are too thick on the comb
there must be sickness or parasites. The heat of the hive had
risen with the June honey-flow, and though the farmers worked,
until their wings ached, to keep people cool, everybody suffered.
A young bee crawled up the greasy trampled alighting-board.
"Excuse me," she began, "but it's my first honey-flight. Could
you kindly tell me if this is my--"
"--own hive?" the Guard snapped. "Yes! Buzz in, and be
foul-brooded to you! Next!"
"Shame!" cried half a dozen old workers with worn wings and
nerves, and there was a scuffle and a hum.
The little grey Wax-moth, pressed close in a crack in the
alighting-board, had waited this chance all day. She scuttled in
like a ghost, and, knowing the senior bees would turn her out at
once, dodged into a brood-frame, where youngsters who had not yet
seen the winds blow or the flowers nod discussed life. Here she
was safe, for young bees will tolerate any sort of stranger.
Behind her came the bee who had been slanged by the Guard.
"What is the world like, Melissa?" said a companion. "Cruel! I
brought in a full load of first-class stuff, and the Guard told
me to go and be foul-brooded!" She sat down in the cool draught
across the combs.
"If you'd only heard," said the Wax-moth silkily, "the insolence
of the Guard's tone when she cursed our sister. It aroused the
Entire Community." She laid an egg. She had stolen in for that
"There was a bit of a fuss on the Gate," Melissa chuckled. "You
were there, Miss?" She did not know how to address the slim
"Don't call me 'Miss.' I'm a sister to all in affliction--just a
working-sister. My heart bled for you beneath your burden." The
Wax-moth caressed Melissa with her soft feelers and laid another
"You mustn't lay here," cried Melissa. "You aren't a Queen."
"My dear child, I give you my most solemn word of honour those
aren't eggs. Those are my principles, and I am ready to die for
them." She raised her voice a little above the rustle and tramp
round her. "If you'd like to kill me, pray do."
"Don't be unkind, Melissa," said a young bee, impressed by the
chaste folds of the Wax-moth's wing, which hid her ceaseless
"I haven't done anything," Melissa answered. "She's doing it
"Ah, don't let your conscience reproach you later, but when
you've killed me, write me, at least, as one that loved her
Laying at every sob, the Wax-moth backed into a crowd of young
bees, and left Melissa bewildered and annoyed. So she lifted up
her little voice in the darkness and cried, "Stores!" till a gang
of cell-fillers hailed her, and she left her load with them.
"I'm afraid I foul-brooded you just now," said a voice over her
shoulder. "I'd been on the Gate for three hours, and one would
foul-brood the Queen herself after that. No offence meant."
"None taken," Melissa answered cheerily. "I shall be on Guard
myself, some day. What's next to do?"
"There's a rumour of Death's Head Moths about. Send a gang of
youngsters to the Gate, and tell them to narrow it in with a
couple of stout scrap-wax pillars. It'll make the Hive hot, but
we can't have Death's Headers in the middle of our honey-flow."
"My Only Wings! I should think not!" Melissa had all a sound
bee's hereditary hatred against the big, squeaking, feathery
Thief of the Hives. "Tumble out!" she called across the
youngsters' quarters. "All you who aren't feeding babies, show a
leg. Scrap-wax pillars for the Ga-ate!" She chanted the order at
"That's nonsense," a downy, day-old bee answered. "In the first
place, I never heard of a Death's Header coming into a hive.
People don't do such things. In the second, building pillars to
keep 'em out is purely a Cypriote trick, unworthy of British
bees. In the third, if you trust a Death's Head, he will trust
you. Pillar-building shows lack of confidence. Our dear sister in
grey says so."
"Yes. Pillars are un-English and provocative, and a waste of wax
that is needed for higher and more practical ends," said the
Wax-moth from an empty store-cell.
"The safety of the Hive is the highest thing I've ever heard of.
You mustn't teach us to refuse work," Melissa began.
"You misunderstand me, as usual, love. Work's the essence of
life; but to expend precious unreturning vitality and real labour
against imaginary danger, that is heartbreakingly absurd! If I
can only teach a--a little toleration--a little ordinary kindness
here toward that absurd old bogey you call the Death's Header, I
shan't have lived in vain."
"She hasn't lived in vain, the darling!" cried twenty bees
together. "You should see her saintly life, Melissa! She just
devotes herself to spreading her principles, and--and--she looks
An old, baldish bee came up the comb.
"Pillar-workers for the Gate! Get out and chew scraps. Buzz off!"
she said. The Wax-moth slipped aside.
The young bees trooped down the frame, whispering. "What's the
matter with 'em?" said the oldster. "Why do they call each other
'ducky' and 'darling'? Must be the weather." She sniffed
suspiciously. "Horrid stuffy smell here. Like stale quilts. Not
Wax-moth, I hope, Melissa?"
"Not to my knowledge," said Melissa, who, of course, only knew
the Wax-moth as a lady with principles, and had never thought to
report her presence. She had always imagined Wax-moths to be like
"You had better fan out this corner for a little," said the old
bee and passed on. Melissa dropped her head at once, took firm
hold with her fore-feet, and fanned obediently at the regulation
stroke three hundred beats to the second. Fanning tries a bee's
temper, because she must always keep in the same place where she
never seems to be doing any good, and, all the while, she is
wearing out her only wings. When a bee cannot fly, a bee must not
live; and a bee knows it. The Wax-moth crept forth, and caressed
"I see," she murmured, "that at heart you are one of Us."
"I work with the Hive," Melissa answered briefly.
"It's the same thing. We and the Hive are one."
"Then why are your feelers different from ours? Don't cuddle so."
"Don't be provincial, Carissima. You can't have all the world
"But why do you lay eggs?" Melissa insisted. "You lay 'em like a
Queen--only you drop them in patches all over the place. I've
"Ah, Brighteyes, so you've pierced my little subterfuge? Yes,
they are eggs. By and by they'll spread our principles. Aren't
"You gave me your most solemn word of honour that they were not
"That was my little subterfuge, dearest--for the sake of the
Cause. Now I must reach the young." The Wax-moth tripped towards
the fourth brood-frame where the young bees were busy feeding the
It takes some time for a sound bee to realize a malignant and
continuous lie. "She's very sweet and feathery," was all that
Melissa thought, "but her talk sounds like ivy honey tastes. I'd
better get to my field-work again."
She found the Gate in a sulky uproar. The youngsters told off to
the pillars had refused to chew scrap-wax because it made their
jaws ache, and were clamouring for virgin stuff.
"Anything to finish the job!" said the badgered Guards. "Hang up,
some of you, and make wax for these slack-jawed sisters."
Before a bee can make wax she must fill herself with honey. Then
she climbs to safe foothold and hangs, while other gorged bees
hang on to her in a cluster. There they wait in silence till the
wax comes. The scales are either taken out of the maker's pockets
by the workers, or tinkle down on the workers while they wait.
The workers chew them (they are useless unchewed) into the
all-supporting, all-embracing Wax of the Hive.
But now, no sooner was the wax-cluster in position than the
workers below broke out again.
"Come down!" they cried. "Come down and work! Come on, you
Levantine parasites! Don't think to enjoy yourselves up there
while we're sweating down here!"
The cluster shivered, as from hooked fore-foot to hooked
hind-foot it telegraphed uneasiness. At last a worker sprang up,
grabbed the lowest waxmaker, and swung, kicking above her
"I can make wax too!" she bawled. "Give me a full gorge and I'll
make tons of it."
"Make it, then," said the bee she had grappled. The spoken word
snapped the current through the cluster. It shook and glistened
like a cat's fur in the dark. "Unhook!" it murmured. "No wax for
any one to-day."
"You lazy thieves! Hang up at once and produce our wax," said the
"Impossible! The sweat's gone. To make your wax we must have
stillness, warmth, and food. Unhook! Unhook!"
They broke up as they murmured, and disappeared among the other
bees, from whom, of course, they were undistinguishable.
"Seems as if we'd have to chew scrap-wax for these pillars, after
all," said a worker.
"Not by a whole comb," cried the young bee who had broken the
cluster. "Listen here! I've studied the question more than twenty
minutes. It's as simple as falling off a daisy. You've heard of
Cheshire, Root and Langstroth?"
They had not, but they shouted "Good old Langstroth!" just the
"Those three know all that there is to be known about making
hives. One or t'other of 'em must have made ours, and if they've
made it, they're bound to look after it. Ours is a 'Guaranteed
Patent Hive.' You can see it on the label behind."
"Good old guarantee! Hurrah for the label behind!" roared the
"Well, such being the case, I say that when we find they've
betrayed us, we can exact from them a terrible vengeance."
"Good old vengeance! Good old Root! 'Nuff said! Chuck it!" The
crowd cheered and broke away as Melissa dived through.
"D'you know where Langstroth, Root and Cheshire, live if you
happen to want em? she asked of the proud panting orator.
"Gum me if I know they ever lived at all! But aren't they
beautiful names to buzz about? Did you see how it worked up the
"Yes; but it didn't defend the Gate," she replied.
"Ah, perhaps that's true, but think how delicate my position is,
sister. I've a magnificent appetite, and I don't like working.
It's bad for the mind. My instinct tells me that I can act as a
restraining influence on others. They would have been worse, but
But Melissa had already risen clear, and was heading for a
breadth of virgin white clover, which to an overtired bee is as
soothing as plain knitting to a woman.
"I think I'll take this load to the nurseries," she said, when
she had finished. "It was always quiet there in my day," and she
topped off with two little pats of pollen for the babies.
She was met on the fourth brood-comb by a rush of excited sisters
all buzzing together.
"One at a time! Let me put down my load. Now, what is it
Sacharissa?" she said.
"Grey Sister--that fluffy one, I mean--she came and said we ought
to be out in the sunshine gathering honey, because life was
short. She said any old bee could attend to our babies, and some
day old bees would. That isn't true, Melissa, is it? No old bees
can take us away from our babies, can they?"
"Of course not. You feed the babies while your heads are soft.
When your heads harden, you go on to field-work. Any one knows
"We told her so! We told her so; but she only waved her feelers,
and said we could all lay eggs like Queens if we chose. And I'm
afraid lots of the weaker sisters believe her, and are trying to
do it. So unsettling!"
Sacharissa sped to a sealed worker-cell whose lid pulsated, as
the bee within began to cut its way out.
"Come along, precious!" she murmured, and thinned the frail top
from the other side. A pale, damp, creased thing hoisted itself
feebly on to the comb. Sacharissa's note changed at once. "No
time to waste! Go up the frame and preen yourself!" she said.
"Report for nursing-duty in my ward to-morrow evening at six.
Stop a minute. What's the matter with your third right leg?"
The young bee held it out in silence--unmistakably a drone leg
incapable of packing pollen.
"Thank you. You needn't report till the day after to-morrow."
Sacharissa turned to her companion. "That's the fifth oddity
hatched in my ward since noon. I don't like it."
"There's always a certain number of 'em," said Melissa. "You
can't stop a few working sisters from laying, now and then, when
they overfeed themselves. They only raise dwarf drones."
But we're hatching out drones with workers' stomachs; workers
with drones' stomachs; and albinoes and mixed-leggers who can't
pack pollen--like that poor little beast yonder. I don't mind
dwarf drones any more than you do (they all die in July), but
this steady hatch of oddities frightens me, Melissa!"
"How narrow of you! They are all so delightfully clever and
unusual and interesting," piped the Wax-moth from a crack above
them. "Come here, you dear, downy duck, and tell us all about
"I wish she'd go!" Sacharissa lowered her voice. "She meets
these--er -oddities as they dry out, and cuddles 'em in corners."
"I suppose the truth is that we're over-stocked and too well fed
to swarm," said Melissa.
"That is the truth," said the Queen's voice behind them. They had
not heard the heavy royal footfall which sets empty cells
vibrating. Sacharissa offered her food at once. She ate and
dragged her weary body forward. "Can you suggest a remedy?" she
"New principles!" cried the Wax-moth from her crevice. "We'll
apply them quietly later."
"Suppose we sent out a swarm?" Melissa suggested. "It's a little
late, but it might ease us off."
"It would save us, but--I know the Hive! You shall see for
yourself." The old Queen cried the Swarming Cry, which to a bee
of good blood should be what the trumpet was to Job's war-horse.
In spite of her immense age (three, years), it rang between the
canon-like frames as a pibroch rings in a mountain pass; the
fanners changed their note, and repeated it up in every gallery;
and the broad-winged drones, burly and eager, ended it on one
nerve-thrilling outbreak of bugles: "La Reine le veult! Swarm!
But the roar which should follow the Call was wanting. They heard
a broken grumble like the murmur of a falling tide.
"Swarm? What for? Catch me leaving a good bar-frame Hive, with
fixed foundations, for a rotten, old oak out in the open where it
may rain any minute! We're all right! It's a 'Patent Guaranteed
Hive.' Why do they want to turn us out? Swarming be gummed!
Swarming was invented to cheat a worker out of her proper
comforts. Come on off to bed!"
The noise died out as the bees settled in empty cells for the
"You hear?" said the Queen. "I know the Hive!"
"Quite between ourselves, I taught them that," cried the
Wax-moth. "Wait till my principles develop, and you'll see the
light from a new quarter."
"You speak truth for once," the Queen said suddenly, for she
recognized the Wax-moth. "That Light will break into the top of
the Hive. A Hot Smoke will follow it, and your children will not
be able to hide in any crevice."
"Is it possible?" Melissa whispered. "I-we have sometimes heard a
legend like it."
"It is no legend," the old Queen answered. "I had it from my
mother, and she had it from hers. After the Wax-moth has grown
strong, a Shadow will fall across the gate; a Voice will speak
from behind a Veil; there will be Light, and Hot Smoke, and
earthquakes, and those who live will see everything that they
have done, all together in one place, burned up in one great
fire." The old Queen was trying to tell what she had been told of
the Bee Master's dealings with an infected hive in the apiary,
two or three seasons ago; and, of course, from her point of view
the affair was as important as the Day of Judgment.
"And then?" asked horrified Sacharissa.
"Then, I have heard that a little light will burn in a great
darkness, and perhaps the world will begin again. Myself, I think
"Tut! Tut!" the Wax-moth cried. "You good, fat people always
prophesy ruin if things don't go exactly your way. But I grant
you there will be changes."
There were. When her eggs hatched, the wax was riddled with
little tunnels, coated with the dirty clothes of the
caterpillars. Flannelly lines ran through the honey-stores, the
pollen-larders, the foundations, and, worst of all, through the
babies in their cradles, till the Sweeper Guards spent half their
time tossing out useless little corpses. The lines ended in a
maze of sticky webbing on the face of the comb. The caterpillars
could not stop spinning as they walked, and as they walked
everywhere, they smarmed and garmed everything. Even where it did
not hamper the bees' feet, the stale, sour smell of the stuff put
them off their work; though some of the bees who had taken to egg
laying said it encouraged them to be mothers and maintain a vital
interest in life.
When the caterpillars became moths, they made friends with the
ever-increasing Oddities--albinoes, mixed-leggers, single-eyed
composites, faceless drones, halfqueens and laying sisters; and
the ever-dwindling band of the old stock worked themselves bald
and fray-winged to feed their queer charges. Most of the Oddities
would not, and many, on account of their malformations, could
not, go through a day's field-work; but the Wax-moths, who were
always busy on the brood-comb, found pleasant home occupations
for them. One albino, for instance, divided the number of pounds
of honey in stock by the number of bees in the Hive, and proved
that if every bee only gathered honey for seven and three quarter
minutes a day, she would have the rest of the time to herself,
and could accompany the drones on their mating flights. The
drones were not at all pleased.
Another, an eyeless drone with no feelers, said that all
brood-cells should be perfect circles, so as not to interfere
with the grub or the workers. He proved that the old six-sided
cell was solely due to the workers building against each other on
opposite sides of the wall, and that if there were no
interference, there would be no angles. Some bees tried the new
plan for a while, and found it cost eight times more wax than the
old six sided specification; and, as they never allowed a cluster
to hang up and make wax in peace, real wax was scarce. However,
they eked out their task with varnish stolen from new coffins at
funerals, and it made them rather sick. Then they took to cadging
round sugar-factories and breweries, because it was easiest to
get their material from those places, and the mixture of glucose
and beer naturally fermented in store and blew the store-cells
out of shape, besides smelling abominably. Some of the sound bees
warned them that ill-gotten gains never prosper, but the Oddities
at once surrounded them and balled them to death. That was a
punishment they were almost as fond of as they were of eating,
and they expected the sound bees to feed them. Curiously enough
the age-old instinct of loyalty and devotion towards the Hive
made the sound bees do this, though their reason told them they
ought to slip away and unite with some other healthy stock in the
"What, about seven and three-quarter minutes' work now?" said
Melissa one day as she came in. "I've been at it for five hours,
and I've only half a load."
"Oh, the Hive subsists on the Hival Honey which the Hive
produces," said a blind Oddity squatting in a store-cell.
"But honey is gathered from flowers outside two miles away
sometimes," cried Melissa.
"Pardon me," said the blind thing, sucking hard. "But this is the
Hive, is it not?"
"It was. Worse luck, it is."
"And the Hival Honey is here, is it not?" It opened a fresh
store-cell to prove it.
"Ye-es, but it won't be long at this rate," said Melissa.
"The rates have nothing to do with it. This Hive produces the
Hival Honey. You people never seem to grasp the economic
simplicity that underlies all life."
"Oh, me!" said poor Melissa, "haven't you ever been beyond the
"Certainly not. A fool's eyes are in the ends of the earth. Mine
are in my head." It gorged till it bloated.
Melissa took refuge in her poorly paid field-work and told
Sacharissa the story.
"Hut!" said that wise bee, fretting with an old maid of a
thistle. "Tell us something new. The Hive's full of such as
him--it, I mean."
"What's the end to be? All the honey going out and none coming
in. Things can't last this way!" said Melissa.
"Who cares?" said Sacharissa. "I know now how drones feel the day
before they're killed. A short life and a merry one for me."
"If it only were merry! But think of those awful, solemn,
lop-sided Oddities waiting for us at home crawling and clambering
and preaching--and dirtying things in the dark."
"I don't mind that so much as their silly songs, after we've fed
'em, all about 'work among the merry, merry blossoms," said
Sacharissa from the deeps of a stale Canterbury bell.
"I do. How's our Queen?" said Melissa.
"Cheerfully hopeless, as usual. But she lays an egg now and
"Does she so?" Melissa backed out of the next bell with a jerk.
"Suppose now, we sound workers tried to raise a Princess in some
"You'd be put to it to find one. The Hive's all Wax-moth and
"A Princess might help us in the time of the Voice behind the
Veil that the Queen talks of. And anything is better than working
for Oddities that chirrup about work that they can't do, and
waste what we bring home."
"Who cares?" said Sacharissa. "I'm with you, for the fun of it.
The Oddities would ball us to death, if they knew. Come home, and
There is no room to tell how the experienced Melissa found a
far-off frame so messed and mishandled by abandoned cell-building
experiments that, for very shame, the bees never went there. How
in that ruin she blocked out a Royal Cell of sound wax, but
disguised by rubbish till it looked like a kopje among deserted
kopjes. How she prevailed upon the hopeless Queen to make one
last effort and lay a worthy egg. How the Queen obeyed and died.
How her spent carcass was flung out on the rubbish heap, and how
a multitude of laying sisters went about dropping drone-eggs
where they listed, and said there was no more need of Queens.
How, covered by this confusion, Sacharissa educated certain young
bees to educate certain new-born bees in the almost lost art of
making Royal Jelly. How the nectar for it was won out of hours in
the teeth of chill winds. How the hidden egg hatched true--no
drone, but Blood Royal. How it was capped, and how desperately
they worked to feed and double-feed the now swarming Oddities,
lest any break in the food-supplies should set them to
instituting inquiries, which, with songs about work, was their
favourite amusement. How in an auspicious hour, on a moonless
night, the Princess came forth a Princess indeed, and how Melissa
smuggled her into a dark empty honey-magazine, to bide her time;
and how the drones, knowing she was there, went about singing the
deep disreputable love-songs of the old days--to the scandal of
the laying sisters, who do not think well of drones. These things
are, written in the Book of Queens, which is laid up in the
hollow of the Great Ash Ygdrasil.
After a few days the weather changed again and became glorious.
Even the Oddities would now join the crowd that hung out on the
alighting-board, and would sing of work among the merry, merry
blossoms till an untrained ear might have received it for the hum
of a working hive. Yet, in truth, their store-honey had been
eaten long ago. They lived from day to day on the efforts of the
few sound bees, while the Wax-moth fretted and consumed again
their already ruined wax. But the sound bees never mentioned
these matters. They knew, if they did, the Oddities would hold a
meeting and ball them to death.
"Now you see what we have done," said the Wax-moths. "We have
created New Material, a New Convention, a New Type, as we said we
"And new possibilities for us," said the laying sisters
gratefully. "You have given us a new life's work, vital and
"More than that," chanted the Oddities in the sunshine; "you have
created a new heaven and a new earth. Heaven, cloudless and
accessible" (it was a perfect August evening) "and Earth teeming
with the merry, merry blossoms, waiting only our honest toil to
turn them all to good. The--er--Aster, and the Crocus, and
the--er--Ladies' Smock in her season, the Chrysanthemum after her
kind, and the Guelder Rose bringing forth abundantly withal."
"Oh, Holy Hymettus!" said Melissa, awestruck. "I knew they didn't
know how honey was made, but they've forgotten the Order of the
Flowers! What will become of them?"
A Shadow fell across the alighting-board as the Bee Master and
his son came by. The Oddities crawled in and a Voice behind a
Veil said: "I've neglected the old Hive too long. Give me the
Melissa heard and darted through the gate. "Come, oh come!" she
cried. "It is the destruction the Old Queen foretold. Princess,
"Really, you are too archaic for words," said an Oddity in an
alley-way. "A cloud, I admit, may have crossed the sun; but why
hysterics? Above all, why Princesses so late in the day? Are you
aware it's the Hival Tea-time? Let's sing grace."
Melissa clawed past him with all six legs. Sacharissa had run to
what was left of the fertile brood-comb. "Down and out!" she
called across the brown breadth of it. "Nurses, guards, fanners,
Never mind the babies. They're better dead.--Out, before the
Light and the Hot Smoke!"
The Princess's first clear fearless call (Melissa had found her)
rose and drummed through all the frames. "La Reine le veult!
Swarm! Swar-rm! Swar-r-rm!"
The Hive shook beneath the shattering thunder of a stuck-down
quilt being torn back.
"Don't be alarmed, dears," said the Wax-moths. "That's our work.
Look up, and you'll see the dawn of the New Day."
Light broke in the top of the hive as the Queen had,
prophesied--naked light on the boiling, bewildered bees.
Sacharissa rounded up her rearguard, which dropped headlong off
the frame, and joined the Princess's detachment thrusting toward
the Gate. Now panic was in full blast, and each sound bee found
herself embraced by at least three Oddities. The first instinct
of a frightened bee is to break into the stores and gorge herself
with honey; but there were no stores left, so the Oddities fought
the sound bees.
"You must feed us, or we shall die!" they cried, holding and
clutching and slipping, while the silent scared earwigs and
little spiders twisted between their legs. "Think of the Hive,
traitors! The Holy Hive!"
"You should have thought before!" cried the sound bees., "Stay
and see the dawn of your New Day."
They reached the Gate at last over the soft bodies of many to
whom they had ministered.
"On! Out! Up!" roared Melissa in the Princess's ear. "For the
Hive's sake! To the Old Oak!"
The Princess left the alighting-board, circled once, flung
herself at the lowest branch of the Old Oak, and her little loyal
swarm--you could have covered it with a pint mug--followed,
hooked, and hung.
"Hold close!" Melissa gasped. "The old legends have come true!
The Hive was half hidden by smoke, and Figures moved through the
smoke. They heard a frame crack stickily, saw it heaved high and
twirled round between enormous hands--a blotched, bulged, and
perished horror of grey wax, corrupt brood, and small
drone-cells, all covered with crawling Oddities, strange to the
"Why, this isn't a hive! This is a museum of curiosities," said
the Voice behind the Veil. It was only the Bee Master talking to
"Can you blame 'em, father?" said a second voice. "It's rotten
with Wax-moth. See here!"
Another frame came up. A finger poked through it, and it broke
away in rustling flakes of ashy rottenness.
"Number Four Frame! That was your mother's pet comb once,"
whispered Melissa to the Princess. "Many's the good egg I've
watched her lay there."
"Aren't you confusing pod hoc with propter hoc?" said the Bee
Master. "Wax-moth only succeed when weak bees let them in." A
third frame crackled and rose into the light. "All this is full
of laying workers' brood. That never happens till the stock's
He beat it on his knee like a tambourine, and it also crumbled to
The little swarm shivered as they watched the dwarf drone-grubs
squirm feebly on the grass. Many sound bees had nursed on that
frame, well knowing their work was useless; but the actual sight
of even useless work destroyed disheartens a good worker.
"No, they have some recuperative power left," said the second
voice. "Here's a Queen cell!"
"But it's tucked away among--What on earth has come to the little
wretches? They seem to have lost the instinct of cell-building."
The father held up the frame where the bees had experimented in
circular cell-work. It looked like the pitted head, of a decaying
"Not altogether," the son corrected. "There's one line, at least,
of perfectly good cells."
"My work," said Sacharissa to herself. "I'm glad Man does me
That frame, too, was smashed out and thrown atop of the others
and the foul earwiggy quilts.
As frame after frame followed it, the swarm beheld the upheaval,
exposure, and destruction of all that had been well or ill done
in every cranny of their Hive for generations past. There was
black comb so old that they had forgotten where it hung; orange,
buff, and ochre-varnished store-comb, built as bees were used to
build before the days of artificial foundations; and there was a
little, white, frail new work. There were sheets on sheets of
level, even brood-comb that had held in its time unnumbered
thousands of unnamed workers; patches of obsolete drone-comb,
broad and high-shouldered, showing to what marks the male grub
was expected to grow; and two-inch deep honey-magazines, empty,
but still magnificent, the whole gummed and glued into twisted
scrap-work, awry on the wires; half-cells, beginnings abandoned,
or grandiose, weak-walled, composite cells pieced out with
rubbish and capped with dirt.
Good or bad, every inch of it was so riddled by the tunnels of
the Wax-moth that it broke in clouds of dust as it was flung on
"Oh, see!" cried Sacharissa. "The Great Burning that Our Queen
foretold. Who can bear to look?"
A flame crawled up the pile of rubbish, and they smelt singeing
The Figures stooped, lifted the Hive and shook it upside down
over the pyre. A cascade of Oddities, chips of broken comb,
scale, fluff, and grubs slid out, crackled, sizzled, popped a
little, and then the flames roared up and consumed all that fuel.
"We must disinfect," said a Voice. "Get me a sulphur-candle,
The shell of the Hive was returned to its place, a light was set
in its sticky emptiness, tier by tier the Figures built it up,
closed the entrance, and went away. The swarm watched the light
leaking through the cracks all the long night. At dawn one
Wax-moth came by, fluttering impudently.
"There has been a miscalculation about the New Day, my dears,"
she began; "one can't expect people to be perfect all at once.
That was our mistake."
"No, the mistake was entirely ours," said the Princess.
"Pardon me," said the Wax-moth. "When you think of the enormous
upheaval--call it good or bad--which our influence brought about,
you will admit that we, and we alone--"
"You?" said the Princess. "Our stock was not strong. So you
came--as any other disease might have come. Hang close, all my
When the sun rose, Veiled Figures came down, and saw their swarm
at the bough's end waiting patiently within sight of the old
Hive--a handful, but prepared to go on.
THE BEES AND THE FLIES
A FARMER of the Augustan age
Perused in Virgil's golden page,
The story of the secret won
From Proteus by Cyrene's son
How the dank sea-god sowed the swain
Means to restore his hives again
More briefly, how a slaughtered bull
Breeds honey by the bellyful.
The egregious rustic put to death
A bull by stopping of its breath:
Disposed the carcass in a shed
With fragrant herbs and branches spread.
And, having thus performed the charm,
Sat down to wait the promised swarm.
Nor waited long . . . The God of Day
Impartial, quickening with his ray
Evil and good alike, beheld
The carcass--and the carcass swelled!
Big with new birth the belly heaves
Beneath its screen of scented leaves;
Past any doubt, the bull conceives!
The farmer bids men bring more hives
To house the profit that arrives;
Prepares on pan, and key and kettle,
Sweet music that shall make 'em settle;
But when to crown the work he goes,
Gods! What a stink salutes his nose!
Where are the honest toilers?
Where The gravid mistress of their care?
A busy scene, indeed, he sees,
But not a sign or sound of bees.
Worms of the riper grave unhid
By any kindly coffin lid,
Obscene and shameless to the light,
Seethe in insatiate appetite,
Through putrid offal; while above
The hissing blow-fly seeks his love,
Whose offspring, supping where they supt,
Consume corruption twice corrupt.
WITH THE NIGHT MAIL
A STORY OF 2000 A. D.
(Together with extracts from the magazine in which it appeared)
A nine o'clock of a gusty winter night I stood on the lower
stages of one of the G.P.O. outward mail towers. My purpose was a
run to Quebec in "Postal Packet 162 or such other as may be
appointed"; and the Postmaster-General himself countersigned the
order. This talisman opened all doors, even those in the
despatching-caisson at the foot of the tower, where they were
delivering the sorted Continental mail. The bags lay packed close
as herrings in the long grey underbodies which our G.P.O. still
calls "coaches." Five such coaches were filled as I watched, and
were shot up the guides to be locked on to their waiting packets
three hundred feet nearer the stars.
From the despatching-caisson I was conducted by a courteous and
wonderfully learned official Mr. L.L. Geary, Second Despatcher of
the Western Route--to the Captains' Room (this wakes an echo of
old romance), where the mail captains come on for their turn of
duty. He introduces me to the captain of "162"--Captain Purnall,
and his relief, Captain Hodgson. The one is small and dark; the
other large and red; but each has the brooding sheathed glance
characteristic of eagles and aeronauts. You can see it in the
pictures of our racing professionals, from L.V. Rautsch to little
Ada Warrleigh--that fathomless abstraction of eyes habitually
turned through naked space.
On the notice-board in the Captains' Room, the pulsing arrows of
some twenty indicators register, degree by geographical degree,
the progress of as many homeward-bound packets. The word "Cape"
rises across the face of a dial; a gong strikes: the South
African mid-weekly mail is in at the Highgate Receiving Towers.
That is all. It reminds one comically of the traitorous little
bell which in pigeon-fanciers', lofts notifies the return of a
"Time for us to be on the move," says Captain Purnall, and we are
shot up by the passenger-lift to the top of the despatch-towers.
"Our coach will lock on when it is filled and the clerks are
"No. 162" waits for us in Slip E of the topmost stage. The great
curve of her back shines frostily under the lights, and some
minute alteration of trim makes her rock a little in her
Captain Purnall frowns and dives inside. Hissing softly, "162"
comes to rest as level as a rule. From her North Atlantic Winter
nose-cap (worn bright as diamond with boring through uncounted
leagues of hail, snow, and ice) to the inset of her three built
out propeller-shafts is some two hundred and forty feet. Her
extreme diameter, carried well forward, is thirty-seven. Contrast
this with the nine hundred by ninety-five of any crack liner, and
you will realize the power that must drive a hull through all
weathers at more than the emergency speed of the Cyclonic!
The eye detects no joint in her skin plating save the sweeping
hair-crack of the bow-rudder--Magniac's rudder that assured us
the dominion of the unstable air and left its inventor penniless
and half-blind. It is calculated to Castelli's "gullwing" curve.
Raise a few feet of that all but invisible plate three-eighths of
an inch and she will yaw five miles to port or starboard ere she
is under control again. Give her full helm and she returns on her
track like a whip-lash. Cant the whole forward--a touch on the
wheel will suffice--and she sweeps at your good direction up or
down. Open the complete circle and she presents to the air a
mushroom-head that will bring her up all standing within a half
"Yes," says Captain Hodgson, answering my thought, "Castelli
thought he'd discovered the secret of controlling aeroplanes when
he'd only found out how to steer dirigible balloons. Magniac
invented his rudder to help war-boats ram each other; and war
went out of fashion and Magniac he went out of his mind because
he said he couldn't serve his country any more. I wonder if any
of us ever know what we're really doing."
"If you want to see the coach locked you'd better go aboard. It's
due now," says Mr. Geary. I enter through the door amidships.
There is nothing here for display. The inner skin of the
gas-tanks comes down to within a foot or two of my head and turns
over just short of the turn of the bilges. Liners and yachts
disguise their tanks with decoration, but the G.P.O. serves them
raw under a lick of grey official paint. The inner skin shuts off
fifty feet of the bow and as much of the stern, but the
bow-bulkhead is recessed for the lift-shunting apparatus as the
stern is pierced for the shaft-tunnels. The engine-room lies
almost amidships. Forward of it, extending to the turn of the bow
tanks, is an aperture--a bottomless hatch at present--into which
our coach will be locked. One looks down over the coamings three
hundred feet to the despatching-caisson whence voices boom
upward. The light below is obscured to a sound of thunder, as our
coach rises on its guides. It enlarges rapidly from a
postage-stamp to a playing-card; to a punt and last a pontoon.
The two clerks, its crew, do not even look up as it comes into
place. The Quebec letters fly under their fingers and leap into
the docketed racks, while both captains and Mr. Geary satisfy
them selves that the coach is locked home. A clerk passes the
way-bill over the hatch coaming. Captain Purnall thumb-marks and
passes it to Mr. Geary. Receipt has been given and taken.
"Pleasant run," says Mr. Geary, and disappears through the door
which a foot high pneumatic compressor locks after him.
"A-ah!" sighs the compressor released. Our holding-down clips
part with a tang. We are clear.
Captain Hodgson opens the great colloid underbody porthole
through which I watch over-lighted London slide eastward as the
gale gets hold of us. The first of the low winter clouds cuts off
the well-known view and darkens Middlesex. On the south edge of
it I can see a postal packet's light ploughing through the white
fleece. For an instant she gleams like a star ere she drops
toward the Highgate Receiving Towers. "The Bombay Mail," says
Captain Hodgson, and looks at his watch. "She's forty minutes
"What's our level?" I ask.
"Four thousand. Aren't you coming up on the bridge?"
The bridge (let us ever praise the G.P.O. as a repository of
ancientest tradition!) is represented by a view of Captain
Hodgson's legs where he stands on the Control Platform that runs
thwart-ships overhead. The bow colloid is unshuttered and Captain
Purnall, one hand on the wheel, is feeling for a fair slant. The
dial shows 4300 feet. "It's steep to-night," he mutters, as tier
on tier of cloud drops under. "We generally pick up an easterly
draught below three thousand at this time o' the year. I hate
slathering through fluff."
"So does Van Cutsem. Look at him huntin' for a slant!" says
Captain Hodgson. A foglight breaks cloud a hundred fathoms below.
The Antwerp Night Mail makes her signal and rises between two
racing clouds far to port, her flanks blood-red in the glare of
Sheerness Double Light. The gale will have us over the North Sea
in half-an-hour, but Captain Purnall lets her go
composedly--nosing to every point of the compass as she rises.
"Five thousand-six, six thousand eight hundred"--the dip-dial
reads ere we find the easterly drift, heralded by a flurry of
snow at the thousand fathom level. Captain Purnall rings up the
engines and keys down the governor on the switch before him.
There is no sense in urging machinery when Eolus himself gives
you good knots for nothing. We are away in earnest now--our nose
notched home on our chosen star. At this level the lower clouds
are laid out, all neatly combed by the dry fingers of the East.
Below that again is the strong westerly blow through which we
rose. Overhead, a film of southerly drifting mist draws a
theatrical gauze across the firmament. The moonlight turns the
lower strata to silver without a stain except where our shadow
underruns us. Bristol and Cardiff Double Lights (those statelily
inclined beams over Severnmouth) are dead ahead of us; for we
keep the Southern Winter Route. Coventry Central, the pivot of
the English system, stabs upward once in ten seconds its spear of
diamond light to the north; and a point or two off our starboard
bow The Leek, the great cloud-breaker of Saint David's Head,
swings its unmistakable green beam twenty-five degrees each way.
There must be half a mile of fluff over it in this weather, but
it does not affect The Leek.
"Our planet's over-lighted if anything," says Captain Purnall at
the wheel, as Cardiff-Bristol slides under. "I remember the old
days of common white verticals that 'ud show two or three hundred
feet up in a mist, if you knew where to look for 'em. In really
fluffy weather they might as well have been under your hat. One
could get lost coming home then, an' have some fun. Now, it's
like driving down Piccadilly."
He points to the pillars of light where the cloud-breakers bore
through the cloud-floor. We see nothing of England's outlines:
only a white pavement pierced in all directions by these manholes
of variously coloured fire--Holy Island's white and red--St.
Bee's interrupted white, and so on as far as the eye can reach.
Blessed be Sargent, Ahrens, and the Dubois brothers, who invented
the cloud-breakers of the world whereby we travel in security!
"Are you going to lift for The Shamrock?" asks Captain Hodgson.
Cork Light (green, fixed) enlarges as we rush to it. Captain
Purnall nods. There is heavy traffic hereabouts--the cloud-bank
beneath us is streaked. with running fissures of flame where the
Atlantic boats are hurrying Londonward just clear of the fluff.
Mail-packets are supposed, under the Conference rules, to have
the five-thousand-foot lanes to themselves, but the foreigner in
a hurry is apt to take liberties with English air. "No. 162"
lifts to a long-drawn wail of the breeze in the fore-flange of
the rudder and we make Valencia (white, green, white) at a safe
7000 feet, dipping our beam to an incoming Washington packet.
There is no cloud on the Atlantic, and faint streaks of cream
round Dingle Bay show where the driven seas hammer the coast. A
big S.A.T.A. liner (Societe Anonyme des Transports Aeriens) is
diving and lifting half a mile below us in search of some break
in the solid west wind. Lower still lies a disabled Dane she is
telling the liner all about it in International. Our General
Communication dial has caught her talk and begins to eavesdrop.
Captain Hodgson makes a motion to shut it off but checks himself.
"Perhaps you'd like to listen," he says.
"Argol of St. Thomas," the Dane whimpers. "Report owners three
starboard shaft collar-bearings fused. Can make Flores as we are,
but impossible further. Shall we buy spares at Fayal?"
The liner acknowledges and recommends inverting the bearings. The
Argol answers that she has already done so without effect, and
begins to relieve her mind about cheap German enamels for
collar-bearings. The Frenchman assents cordially, cries "Courage,
mon ami," and switches off.
Then lights sink under the curve of the ocean.
"That's one of Lundt & Bleamers' boats," says Captain Hodgson.
"Serves 'em right for putting German compos in their
thrust-blocks. She won't be in Fayal to-night! By the way,
wouldn't you like to look round the engine-room?"
I have been waiting eagerly for this invitation and I follow
Captain Hodgson from the control-platform, stooping low to avoid
the bulge of the tanks. We know that Fleury's gas can lift
anything, as the world-famous trials of '89 showed, but its
almost indefinite powers of expansion necessitate vast tank room.
Even in this thin air the lift-shunts are busy taking out
one-third of its normal lift, and still "162" must be checked by
an occasional downdraw of the rudder or our flight would become a
climb to the stars. Captain Purnall prefers an overlifted to an
underlifted ship; but no two captains trim ship alike. "When I
take the bridge," says Captain Hodgson, "you'll see me shunt
forty per cent of the lift out of the gas and run her on the
upper rudder. With a swoop upward instead of a swoop downward, as
you say. Either way will do. It's only habit. Watch our dip-dial!
Tim fetches her down once every thirty knots as regularly as
So is it shown on the dip-dial. For five or six minutes the arrow
creeps from 6700 to 7300. There is the faint "szgee" of the
rudder, and back slides the arrow to 6000 on a falling slant of
ten or fifteen knots.
"In heavy weather you jockey her with the screws as well," says
Captain Hodgson, and, unclipping the jointed bar which divides
the engine-room from the bare deck, he leads me on to the floor.
Here we find Fleury's Paradox of the Bulk-headed Vacuum--which we
accept now without thought--literally in full blast. The three
engines are H.T.&T. assisted-vacuo Fleury turbines running from
3000 to the Limit--that is to say, up to the point when the
blades make the air "bell"--cut out a vacuum for themselves
precisely as over-driven marine propellers used to do. "162's"
Limit is low on account of the small size of her nine screws,
which, though handier than the old colloid Thelussons, "bell"
sooner. The midships engine, generally used as a reinforce, is
not running; so the port and starboard turbine vacuum-chambers
draw direct into the return-mains.
The turbines whistle reflectively. From the low-arched
expansion-tanks on either side the valves descend pillarwise to
the turbine-chests, and thence the obedient gas whirls through
the spirals of blades with a force that would whip the teeth out
of a power saw. Behind, is its own pressure held in leash of
spurred on by the lift-shunts; before it, the vacuum where
Fleury's Ray dances in violet-green bands and whirled turbillons
of flame. The jointed U-tubes of the vacuum-chamber are
pressure-tempered colloid (no glass would endure the strain for
an instant) and a junior engineer with tinted spectacles watches
the Ray intently. It is the very heart of the machine--a mystery
to this day. Even Fleury who begat it and, unlike Magniac, died a
multi-millionaire, could not explain how the restless little imp
shuddering in the U-tube can, in the fractional fraction of a
second, strike the furious blast of gas into a chill
greyish-green liquid that drains (you can hear it trickle) from
the far end of the vacuum through the eduction-pipes and the
mains back to the bilges. Here it returns to its gaseous, one had
almost written sagacious, state and climbs to work afresh.
Bilge-tank, upper tank, dorsal-tank, expansion-chamber, vacuum,
main-return (as a liquid), and bilge-tank once more is the
ordained cycle. Fleury's Ray sees to that; and the engineer with
the tinted spectacles sees to Fleury's Ray. If a speck of oil, if
even the natural grease of the human finger touch the hooded
terminals, Fleury's Ray will wink and disappear and must be
laboriously built up again. This means half a day's work for all
hands and an expense of, one hundred and seventy-odd pounds to
the G.P.O. for radium-salts and such trifles.
"Now look at our thrust-collars. You won't find much German compo
there. Full-jewelled, you see," says Captain Hodgson as the
engineer shunts open the top of a cap. Our shaft-bearings are
C.M.C. (Commercial Minerals Company) stones, ground with as much
care as the lens of a telescope. They cost L837 apiece. So far we
have not arrived at their term of life. These bearings came from
"No. 97," which took them over from the old Dominion of Light
which had them out of the wreck of the Persew aeroplane in the
years when men still flew wooden kites over oil engines!
They are a shining reproof to all low-grade German "ruby"
enamels, so-called "boort" facings, and the dangerous and
unsatisfactory alumina compounds which please dividend-hunting
owners and turn skippers crazy. The rudder-gear and the gas
lift-shunt, seated side by side under the engine-room dials, are
the only machines in visible motion. The former sighs from time
to time as the oil plunger rises and falls half an inch. The
latter, cased and guarded like the U-tube aft, exhibits another
Fleury Ray, but inverted and more green than violet. Its function
is to shunt the lift out of the gas, and this it will do without
watching. That is all! A tiny pump-rod wheezing and whining to
itself beside a sputtering green lamp. A hundred and fifty feet
aft down the flat-topped tunnel of the tanks a violet light,
restless and irresolute. Between the two, three white-painted
turbine-trunks, like eel-baskets laid on their side, accentuate
the empty perspectives. You can hear the trickle of the liquefied
gas flowing from the vacuum into the bilge-tanks and the soft
gluck-glock of gaslocks closing as Captain Purnall brings "162"
down by the head. The hum of the turbines and the boom of the air
on our skin is no more than a cotton-wool wrapping to the
universal stillness. And we are running an eighteen-second mile.
I peer from the fore end of the engine-room over the
hatch-coamings into the coach. The mail-clerks are sorting the
Winnipeg, Calgary, and Medicine Hat bags; but there is a pack of
cards ready on the table.
Suddenly a bell thrills; the engineers run to the turbine-valves
and stand by; but the spectacled slave of the Ray in the U-tube
never lifts his head. He must watch where he is. We are
hard-braked and going astern; there is language from the Control
"Tim's sparking badly about something," says the unruffled
Captain Hodgson. "Let's look."
Captain Purnall is not the suave man we left half an hour since,
but the embodied authority of the G.P.O. Ahead of us floats an
ancient, aluminum-patched, twin-screw tramp of the dingiest, with
no more right to the 5000-foot lane than has a horse-cart to a
modern road. She carries an obsolete "barbette" conning tower--a
six-foot affair with railed platform forward--and our warning
beam plays on the top of it as a policeman's lantern flashes on
the area sneak. Like a sneak-thief, too, emerges a shock-headed
navigator in his shirt-sleeves. Captain Purnall wrenches open the
colloid to talk with him man to man. There are times when Science
does not satisfy.
"What under the stars are you doing here, you sky-scraping
chimney-sweep?" he shouts as we two drift side by side. "Do you
know this is a Mail-lane? You call yourself a sailor, sir? You
ain't fit to peddle toy balloons to an Esquimaux. Your name and
number! Report and get down, and be--!"
"I've been blown up once," the shock-headed man cries, hoarsely,
as a dog barking. "I don't care two flips of a contact for
anything you can do, Postey."
"Don't you, sir? But I'll make you care. I'll have you towed
stern first to Disko and broke up. You can't recover insurance if
you're broke for obstruction. Do you understand that?"
Then the stranger bellows: "Look at my propellers! There's been a
wulli-wa down below that has knocked us into umbrella-frames!
We've been blown up about forty thousand feet! We're all one
conjuror's watch inside! My mate's arm's broke; my engineer's
head's cut open; my Ray went out when the engines smashed; and
... and ... for pity's sake give me my height, Captain! We doubt
"Six thousand eight hundred. Can you hold it?" Captain Purnall
overlooks all insults, and leans half out of the colloid, staring
and snuffing. The stranger leaks pungently.
"We ought to blow into St. John's with luck. We're trying to plug
the fore-tank now, but she's simply whistling it away," her
"She's sinking like a log," says Captain Purnall in an undertone.
"Call up the Banks Mark Boat, George." Our dip-dial shows that
we, keeping abreast the tramp, have dropped five hundred feet the
last few minutes.
Captain Purnall presses a switch and our signal beam begins to
swing through the night, twizzling spokes of light across
"That'll fetch something," he says, while Captain Hodgson watches
the General Communicator. He has called up the North Banks Mark
Boat, a few hundred miles west, and is reporting the case.
"I'll stand by you," Captain Purnall roars to the lone figure on
"Is it as bad as that?" comes the answer. "She isn't insured.
"Might have guessed as much," mutters Hodgson. "Owner's risk is
the worst risk of all!"
"Can't I fetch St. John's--not even with this breeze?" the voice
"Stand by to abandon ship. Haven't you any lift in you, fore or
"Nothing but the midship tanks, and they're none too tight. You
see, my Ray gave out and--" he coughs in the reek of the escaping
"You poor devil!" This does not reach our friend. "What does the
Mark Boat say, George?"
"Wants to know if there's any danger to traffic. Says she's in a
bit of weather herself, and can't quit station. I've turned in a
General Call, so even if they don't see our beam some one's bound
to help--or else we must. Shall I clear our slings? Hold on! Here
we are! A Planet liner, too! She'll be up in a tick!"
"Tell her to have her slings ready," cries his brother captain.
"There won't be much time to spare ... Tie up your mate," he
roars to the tramp.
"My mate's all right. It's my engineer. He's gone crazy."
"Shunt the lift out of him with a spanner. Hurry!"
"But I can make St. John's if you'll stand by."
"You'll make the deep, wet Atlantic in twenty minutes. You're
less than fifty-eight hundred now. Get your papers."
A Planet liner, east bound, heaves up in a superb spiral and
takes the air of us humming. Her underbody colloid is open land
her transporter-slings hang down like tentacles. We shut off our
beam as she adjusts herself--steering to a hair--over the tramp's
conning-tower. The mate comes up, his arm strapped to his side,
and stumbles into the cradle. A man with a ghastly scarlet head
follows, shouting that he must go back and build up his Ray. The
mate assures him that he will find a nice new Ray all ready in
the liner's engine-room. The bandaged head goes up wagging
excitedly. A youth and a woman follow. The liner cheers hollowly
above us, and we see the passengers' faces at the saloon colloid.
"That's a pretty girl. What's the fool waiting for now?" says
The skipper comes up, still appealing to us to stand by and see
him fetch St. John's. He dives below and returns--at which we
little human beings in the void cheer louder than ever--with the
ship's kitten. Up fly the liner's hissing slings; her underbody
crashes home and she hurtles away again. The dial shows less than
3000 feet. The Mark Boat signals we must attend to the derelict,
now whistling her death-song, as she falls beneath us in long
"Keep our beam on her and send out a General Warning," says
Captain Purnall, following her down. There is no need. Not a
liner in air but knows the meaning of that vertical beam and
gives us and our quarry a wide berth.
"But she'll drown in the water, won't she?" I ask. "Not always,"
is his answer. "I've known a derelict up-end and sift her engines
out of herself and flicker round the Lower Lanes for three weeks
on her forward tanks only. We'll run no risks. Pith her, George,
and look sharp. There's weather ahead."
Captain Hodgson opens the underbody colloid, swings the heavy
pithing-iron out of its rack which in liners is generally cased
as a smoking-room settee, and at two hundred feet releases the
catch. We hear the whir of the crescent-shaped arms opening as
they descend. The derelict's forehead is punched in, starred
across, and rent diagonally. She falls stern first, our beam upon
her; slides like a lost soul down that pitiless ladder of light,
and the Atlantic takes her.
"A filthy business," says Hodgson. "I wonder what it must have
been like in the old days?"
The thought had crossed my mind, too. What if that wavering
carcass had been filled with the men of the old days, each one of
them taught (that is the horror of it!) that, after death he
would very possibly go for ever to unspeakable torment?
And scarcely a generation ago, we (one knows now that we are only
our fathers re-enlarged upon the earth), we, I say, ripped and
rammed and pithed to admiration.
Here Tim, from the Control Platform, shouts that we are to get
into our inflators and to bring him his at once.
We hurry into the heavy rubber suits--the engineers are already
dressed--and inflate at the air-pump taps. G.P.O. inflators are
thrice as thick as a racing man's "flickers," and chafe
abominably under the armpits. George takes the wheel until Tim
has blown himself up to the extreme of rotundity. If you kicked
him off the c. p. to the deck he would bounce back. But it is
"162" that will do the kicking.
"The Mark Boat's mad--stark ravin' crazy," he snorts, returning
to command. "She says there's a bad blow-out ahead and wants me
to pull over to Greenland. I'll see her pithed first! We wasted
half an hour fussing over that dead duck down under, and now I'm
expected to go rubbin' my back all round the Pole. What does she
think a Postal packet's made of? Gummed silk? Tell her we're
coming on straight, George."
George buckles him into the Frame and switches on the Direct
Control. Now under Tim's left toe lies the port-engine
Accelerator; under his left heel the Reverse, and so with the
other foot. The lift-shunt stops stand out on the rim of the
steering-wheel where the fingers of his left hand can play on
them. At his right hand is the midships engine lever ready to be
thrown into gear at a moment's notice. He leans forward in his
belt, eyes glued to the colloid, and one ear cocked toward the
General Communicator. Henceforth he is the strength and direction
of "162," through whatever may befall.
The Banks Mark Boat is reeling out pages of A. B. .C. Directions
to the traffic at large. We are to secure all "loose objects";
hood up our Fleury Rays; and "on no account to attempt to clear
snow from our conning-towers till the weather abates."
Under-powered craft, we are told, can ascend to the limit of
their lift, mail-packets to look out for them accordingly; the
lower lanes westward are pitting very badly, "with frequent
blow-outs, vortices, laterals, etc."
Still the clear dark holds up unblemished. The only warning is
the electric skin-tension (I feel as though I were a lace-maker's
pillow) and an irritability which the gibbering of the General
Communicator increases almost to hysteria.
We have made eight thousand feet since we pithed the tramp and
our turbines are giving us an honest two hundred and ten knots.
Very far to the west an elongated blur of red, low down, shows us
the North Banks Mark Boat. There are specks of fire round her
rising and falling--bewildered planets about an unstable
sun--helpless shipping hanging on to her light for company's
sake. No wonder she could not quit station.
She warns us to look out for the back-wash of the bad vortex in
which (her beam shows it) she is even now reeling.
The pits of gloom about us begin to fill with very faintly
luminous films--wreathing and uneasy shapes. One forms itself
into a globe of pale flame that waits shivering with eagerness
till we sweep by. It leaps monstrously across the blackness,
alights on the precise tip of our nose, pirouettes there an
instant, and swings off. Our roaring bow sinks as though that
light were lead--sinks and recovers to lurch and stumble again
beneath the next blow-out. Tim's fingers on the lift-shunt strike
chords of numbers--1:4:7:--2:4:6:--7:5:3, and so on; for he is
running by his tanks only, lifting or lowering her against the
uneasy air. All three engines are at work, for the sooner we have
skated over this thin ice the better. Higher we dare not go. The
whole upper vault is charged with pale krypton vapours, which our
skin friction may excite to unholy manifestations. Between the
upper and lower levels--5000 and 7000, hints the Mark Boat--we
may perhaps bolt through if ... Our bow clothes itself in blue
flame and falls like a sword. No human skill can keep pace with
the changing tensions. A vortex has us by the beak and we dive
down a two-thousand foot slant at an angle (the dip-dial and my
bouncing body record it) of thirty-five. Our turbines scream
shrilly; the propellers cannot bite on the thin air; Tim shunts
the lift out of five tanks at once and by sheer weight drives her
bullet wise through the maelstrom till she cushions with jar on
an up-gust, three thousand feet below.
"Now we've done it," says George in my ear: "Our skin-friction,
that last slide, has played Old Harry with the tensions! Look out
for laterals, Tim; she'll want some holding."
"I've got her," is the answer. "Come up, old woman."
She comes up nobly, but the laterals buffet her left and right
like the pinions of angry angels. She is jolted off her course
four ways at once, and cuffed into place again, only to be swung
aside and dropped into a new chaos. We are never without a
corposant grinning on our bows or rolling head over heels from
nose to midships, and to the crackle of electricity around and
within us is added once or twice the rattle of hail--hail that
will never fall on any sea. Slow we must or we may break our
"Air's a perfectly elastic fluid," roars George above the tumult.
"About as elastic as a head sea off the Fastnet, ain't it?"
He is less than just to the good element. If one intrudes on the
Heavens when they are balancing their volt-accounts; if one
disturbs the High Gods' market-rates by hurling steel hulls at
ninety knots across tremblingly adjusted electric tensions, one
must not complain of any rudeness in the reception. Tim met it
with an unmoved countenance, one corner of his under lip caught
up on a tooth, his eyes fleeting into the blackness twenty miles
ahead, and the fierce sparks flying from his knuckles at every
turn of the hand. Now and again he shook his head to clear the
sweat trickling from his eyebrows, and it was then that George,
watching his chance, would slide down the life-rail and swab his
face quickly with a big red handkerchief. I never imagined that a
human being could so continuously labour and so collectedly think
as did Tim through that Hell's half-hour when the flurry was at
its worst. We were dragged hither and yon by warm or, frozen
suctions, belched up on the tops of wulii-was, spun down by
vortices and clubbed aside by laterals under a dizzying rush of
stars in the, company of a drunken moon.
I heard the rushing click of the midship-engine-lever sliding in
and out, the low growl of the lift-shunts, and, louder than the
yelling winds without, the scream of the bow-rudder gouging into
any lull that promised hold for an instant. At last we began to
claw up on a cant, bow-rudder and port-propeller together; only
the nicest balancing of tanks saved us from spinning like the
rifle-bullet of the old days.
"We've got to hitch to windward of that Mark Boat somehow,"
"There's no windward," I protested feebly, where I swung shackled
to a stanchion. "How can there be?"
He laughed--as we pitched into a thousand foot blow-out--that red
man laughed beneath his inflated hood!
"Look!" he said. "We must clear those refugees with a high lift."
The Mark Boat was below and a little to the sou'west of us,
fluctuating in the centre of her distraught galaxy. The air was
thick with moving lights at every level. I take it most of them
were trying to lie head to wind, but, not being hydras, they
failed. An under-tanked Moghrabi boat had risen to the limit of
her lift, and, finding no improvement, had dropped a couple of
thousand. There she met a superb wulli-wa, and was blown up
spinning like a dead leaf. Instead of shutting off she went
astern and, naturally, rebounded as from a wall almost into the
Mark Boat, whose language (our G. C. took it in) was humanly
"If they'd only ride it out quietly it 'ud be better," said
George in a calm, while we climbed like a bat above them all.
"But some skippers -will navigate without enough lift. What does
that Tad-boat think she is doing, Tim?"
"Playin' kiss in the ring," was Tim's unmoved reply. A
Trans-Asiatic Direct liner had found a smooth and butted into it
full power. But there was a vortex at the tail of that smooth, so
the T. A. D. was flipped out like a pea from off a finger-nail,
braking madly as she fled down and all but over-ending.
"Now I hope she's satisfied," said Tim. "I'm glad I'm not a Mark
Boat . . . Do I want help?" The General Communicator dial had
caught his ear. "George, you may tell that gentleman with my
love--love, remember, George--that I do not want help. Who is the
"A Rimouski drogher on the look-out for a tow."
"Very kind of the Rimouski drogher. This postal packet isn't
being towed at present."
"Those droghers will go anywhere on a chance of salvage," George
explained. "We call' em kittiwakes."
A long-beaked, bright steel ninety-footer floated at ease for one
instant within hail of us, her slings coiled ready for rescues,
and a single hand in her open tower. He was smoking. Surrendered
to the insurrection of the airs through which we tore our way, he
lay in absolute peace. I saw the smoke of his pipe ascend
untroubled ere his boat dropped, it seemed, like a stone in a
We had just cleared the Mark Boat and her disorderly neighbours
when the storm ended as suddenly as it had begun. A shooting-star
to northward filled the sky with the green blink of a meteorite
dissipating itself in our atmosphere.
Said George: "That may iron out all the tensions." Even as he
spoke, the conflicting winds came to rest; the levels filled; the
laterals died out in long, easy swells; the air-ways were
smoothed before us. In less than three minutes the covey round
the Mark Boat had shipped their power-lights and whirred away
upon their businesses.
"What's happened?" I gasped. The nerve-store within and the
volt-tingle without had passed: my inflators weighed like lead.
"God, He knows!" said Captain George soberly "That old
shooting-star's skin-friction has discharged the different
levels. I've seen it happen before. Phew: What a relief!"
We dropped from ten to six thousand and got rid of our clammy
suits. Tim shut off and stepped out of the Frame. The Mark Boat
was coming up behind us. He opened the colloid in that heavenly
stillness and mopped his face.
"Hello, Williams!" he cried. "A degree or two out o' station,
"May be," was the answer from the Mark Boat. "I've had some
company this evening."
"So I noticed. Wasn't that quite a little draught?"
"I warned you. Why didn't you pull out north? The east-bound
"Me? Not till I'm running a Polar consumptives' sanatorium boat.
I was squinting through a colloid before you were out of your
cradle, my son."
"I'd be the last man to deny it," the captain of the Mark Boat
replies softly. "The way you handled her just now--I'm a pretty
fair judge of traffic in a volt-hurry--it was a thousand
revolutions beyond anything even I've ever seen."
Tim's back supples visibly to this oiling. Captain George on the
c. p. winks and points to the portrait of a singularly attractive
maiden pinned up on Tim's telescope bracket above the
I see. Wholly and entirely do I see!
There is some talk overhead of "coming round to tea on Friday," a
brief report of the derelict's fate, and Tim volunteers as he
descends: "For an A. B. C. man young Williams is less of a
high-tension fool than some. Were you thinking of taking her on,
George? Then I'll just have a look round that port-thrust seems
to me it's a trifle warm--and we'll jog along."
The Mark Boat hums off joyously and hangs herself up in her
appointed eyrie. Here she will stay a shutterless observatory; a
life-boat station; a salvage tug; a court of ultimate
appeal-cum-meteorological bureau for three hundred miles in all
directions, till Wednesday next when her relief slides across the
stars to take her buffeted place. Her black hull, double
conning-tower, and ever-ready slings represent all that remains
to the planet of that odd old word authority. She is responsible
only to the Aerial Board of Control the A. B. C. of which Tim
speaks so flippantly. But that semi-elected, semi-nominated body
of a few score of persons of both sexes, controls this planet.
"Transportation is Civilisation," our motto runs. Theoretically,
we do what we please so long as we do not interfere with the
traffic AND ALL IT IMPLIES. Practically , the A. B. C. confirms
or annuls all international arrangements and, to judge from its
last report, finds our tolerant, humorous, lazy little planet
only too ready to shift the whole burden of public administration
on its shoulders.
I discuss this with Tim, sipping mate on the c. p. while George
fans her along over the white blur of the Banks in beautiful
upward curves of fifty miles each. The dip-dial translates them
on the tape in flowing freehand.
Tim gathers up a skein of it and surveys the last few feet, which
record "162's" path through the volt-flurry.
"I haven't had a fever-chart like this to show up in five years,"
he says ruefully.
A postal packet's dip-dial records every yard of every run. The
tapes then go to the A. B. C., which collates and makes composite
photographs of them for the instruction of captains. Tim studies
his irrevocable past, shaking his head.
"Hello! Here's a fifteen-hundred-foot drop at fifty-five degrees!
We must have been standing on our heads then, George."
"You don't say so," George answers. "I fancied I noticed it at
George may not have Captain Purnall's catlike swiftness, but he
is all an artist to the tips of the broad fingers that play on
the shunt-stops. The delicious flight-curves come away on the
tape with never a waver. The Mark Boat's vertical spindle of
light lies down to eastward, setting in the face of the following
stars. Westward, where no planet should rise, the triple
verticals of Trinity Bay (we keep still to the Southern route)
make a low-lifting haze. We seem the only thing at rest under all
the heavens; floating at ease till the earth's revolution shall
turn up our landing-towers.
And minute by minute our silent clock gives us a sixteen-second
"Some fine night," says Tim, "we'll be even with that clock's
"He's coming now," says George, over his shoulder. "I'm chasing
the night west."
The stars ahead dim no more than if a film of mist had been drawn
under unobserved, but the deep airboom on our skin changes to a
"The dawn-gust," says Tim. "It'll go on to meet the Sun. Look!
Look! There's the dark being crammed back over our bows! Come to
the after-colloid. I'll show you something."
The engine-room is hot and stuffy; the clerks in the coach are
asleep, and the Slave of the Ray is ready to follow them. Tim
slides open the aft colloid and reveals the curve of the
world--the ocean's deepest purple--edged with fuming and
Then the Sun rises and through the colloid strikes out our lamps.
Tim scowls in his face.
"Squirrels in a cage," he mutters. "That's all we are. Squirrels
in a cage! He's going twice as fast as us. Just you wait a few
years, my shining friend, and we'll take steps that will amaze
you. We'll Joshua you!"
Yes, that is our dream: to turn all earth into the Yale of Ajalon
at our pleasure. So far, we can drag out the dawn to twice its
normal length in these latitudes. But some day--even on the
Equator--we shall hold the Sun level in his full stride.
Now we look down on a sea thronged with heavy traffic. A big
submersible breaks water suddenly. Another and another follows
with a swash and a suck and a savage bubbling of relieved