Part 5 out of 5
He turned impatiently to the blank circles of the lenses again.
"I suppose it must be a sort of speech. Would to God I knew certainly the
thing that should be said! Aeroplanes at Madrid! They must have started
before the main fleet.
"Oh! what can it matter whether I speak well or ill?" he said, and felt
the light grow brighter.
He had framed some vague sentence of democratic sentiment when suddenly
doubts overwhelmed him. His belief in his heroic quality and calling he
found had altogether lost its assured conviction. The picture of a
little strutting futility in a windy waste of incomprehensible
destinies replaced it. Abruptly it was perfectly clear to him that this
revolt against Ostrog was premature, foredoomed to failure, the impulse
of passionate inadequacy against inevitable things. He thought of that
swift flight of aeroplanes like the swoop of Fate towards him. He was
astonished that he could have seen things in any other light. In that
final emergency he debated, thrust debate resolutely aside, determined
at all costs to go through with the thing he had undertaken. And he
could find no word to begin. Even as he stood, awkward, hesitating,
with an indiscreet apology for his inability trembling on his lips,
came the noise of many people crying out, the running to and fro of
feet. "Wait," cried someone, and a door opened. Graham turned, and the
watching lights waned.
Through the open doorway he saw a slight girlish figure approaching. His
heart leapt. It was Helen Wotton. The man in yellow came out of the
nearer shadows into the circle of light.
"This is the girl who told us what Ostrog had done," he said.
She came in very quietly, and stood still, as if she did not want to
interrupt Graham's eloquence.... But his doubts and questionings fled
before her presence. He remembered the things that he had meant to say.
He faced the cameras again and the light about him grew brighter. He
turned back to her.
"You have helped me," he said lamely--"helped me very much.... This is
He paused. He addressed himself to the unseen multitudes who stared upon
him through those grotesque black eyes. At first he spoke slowly.
"Men and women of the new age," he said; "you have arisen to do battle
for the race!... There is no easy victory before us."
He stopped to gather words. He wished passionately for the gift of
"This night is a beginning," he said. "This battle that is coming, this
battle that rushes upon us to-night, is only a beginning. All your lives,
it may be, you must fight. Take no thought though I am beaten, though I
am utterly overthrown. I think I may be overthrown."
He found the thing in his mind too vague for words. He paused
momentarily, and broke into vague exhortations, and then a rush of speech
came upon him. Much that he said was but the humanitarian commonplace of
a vanished age, but the conviction of his voice touched it to vitality.
He stated the case of the old days to the people of the new age, to the
girl at his side.
"I come out of the past to you," he said, "with the memory of an age
that hoped. My age was an age of dreams--of beginnings, an age of noble
hopes; throughout the world we had made an end of slavery; throughout the
world we had spread the desire and anticipation that wars might cease,
that all men and women might live nobly, in freedom and peace.... So we
hoped in the days that are past. And what of those hopes? How is it with
man after two hundred years?
"Great cities, vast powers, a collective greatness beyond our dreams. For
that we did not work, and that has come. But how is it with the little
lives that make up this greater life? How is it with the common lives? As
it has ever been--sorrow and labour, lives cramped and unfulfilled, lives
tempted by power, tempted by wealth, and gone to waste and folly. The old
faiths have faded and changed, the new faith--. Is there a new faith?
"Charity and mercy," he floundered; "beauty and the love of beautiful
things--effort and devotion! Give yourselves as I would give myself--as
Christ gave Himself upon the Cross. It does not matter if you understand.
It does not matter if you seem to fail. You _know_--in the core of your
hearts you _know_. There is no promise, there is no security--nothing to
go upon but Faith. There is no faith but faith--faith which is
Things that he had long wished to believe, he found that he believed. He
spoke gustily, in broken incomplete sentences, but with all his heart and
strength, of this new faith within him. He spoke of the greatness of
self-abnegation, of his belief in an immortal life of Humanity in which
we live and move and have our being. His voice rose and fell, and the
recording appliances hummed as he spoke, dim attendants watched him out
of the shadow....
His sense of that silent spectator beside him sustained his sincerity.
For a few glorious moments he was carried away; he felt no doubt of his
heroic quality, no doubt of his heroic words, he had it all straight and
plain. His eloquence limped no longer. And at last he made an end to
speaking. "Here and now," he cried, "I make my will. All that is mine in
the world I give to the people of the world. All that is mine in the
world I give to the people of the world. To all of you. I give it to you,
and myself I give to you. And as God wills to-night, I will live for you,
or I will die."
He ended. He found the light of his present exaltation reflected in the
face of the girl. Their eyes met; her eyes were swimming with tears of
"I knew," she whispered. "Oh! Father of the World--_Sire_! I knew you
would say these things...."
"I have said what I could," he answered lamely and grasped and clung to
her outstretched hands.
WHILE THE AEROPLANES WERE COMING
The man in yellow was beside them. Neither had noted his coming. He was
saying that the south-west wards were marching. "I never expected it so
soon," he cried. "They have done wonders. You must send them a word to
help them on their way."
Graham stared at him absent-mindedly. Then with a start he returned to
his previous preoccupation about the flying stages.
"Yes," he said. "That is good, that is good." He weighed a message. "Tell
them;--well done South West."
He turned his eyes to Helen Wotton again. His face expressed his struggle
between conflicting ideas. "We must capture the flying stages," he
explained. "Unless we can do that they will land negroes. At all costs we
must prevent that."
He felt even as he spoke that this was not what had been in his mind
before the interruption. He saw a touch of surprise in her eyes. She
seemed about to speak and a shrill bell drowned her voice.
It occurred to Graham that she expected him to lead these marching
people, that that was the thing he had to do. He made the offer abruptly.
He addressed the man in yellow, but he spoke to her. He saw her face
respond. "Here I am doing nothing," he said.
"It is impossible," protested the man in yellow. "It is a fight in a
warren. Your place is here."
He explained elaborately. He motioned towards the room where Graham must
wait, he insisted no other course was possible. "We must know where you
are," he said. "At any moment a crisis may arise needing your presence
A picture had drifted through his mind of such a vast dramatic struggle
as the masses in the ruins had suggested. But here was no spectacular
battle-field such as he imagined. Instead was seclusion--and suspense. It
was only as the afternoon wore on that he pieced together a truer picture
of the fight that was raging, inaudibly and invisibly, within four miles
of him, beneath the Roehampton stage. A strange and unprecedented contest
it was, a battle that was a hundred thousand little battles, a battle in
a sponge of ways and channels, fought out of sight of sky or sun under
the electric glare, fought out in a vast confusion by multitudes
untrained in arms, led chiefly by acclamation, multitudes dulled by
mindless labour and enervated by the tradition of two hundred years of
servile security against multitudes demoralised by lives of venial
privilege and sensual indulgence. They had no artillery, no
differentiation into this force or that; the only weapon on either side
was the little green metal carbine, whose secret manufacture and sudden
distribution in enormous quantities had been one of Ostrog's culminating
moves against the Council. Few had had any experience with this weapon,
many had never discharged one, many who carried it came unprovided with
ammunition; never was wilder firing in the history of warfare. It was a
battle of amateurs, a hideous experimental warfare, armed rioters
fighting armed rioters, armed rioters swept forward by the words and fury
of a song, by the tramping sympathy of their numbers, pouring in
countless myriads towards the smaller ways, the disabled lifts, the
galleries slippery with blood, the halls and passages choked with smoke,
beneath the flying stages, to learn there when retreat was hopeless the
ancient mysteries of warfare. And overhead save for a few sharpshooters
upon the roof spaces and for a few bands and threads of vapour that
multiplied and darkened towards the evening, the day was a clear
serenity. Ostrog it seems had no bombs at command and in all the earlier
phases of the battle the flying machines played no part. Not the smallest
cloud was there to break the empty brilliance of the sky. It seemed as
though it held itself vacant until the aeroplanes should come.
Ever and again there was news of these, drawing nearer, from this Spanish
town and then that, and presently from France. But of the new guns that
Ostrog had made and which were known to be in the city came no news in
spite of Graham's urgency, nor any report of successes from the dense
felt of fighting strands about the flying stages. Section after section
of the Labour-Societies reported itself assembled, reported itself
marching, and vanished from knowledge into the labyrinth of that warfare.
What was happening there? Even the busy ward leaders did not know. In
spite of the opening and closing of doors, the hasty messengers, the
ringing of bells and the perpetual clitter-clack of recording implements,
Graham felt isolated, strangely inactive, inoperative.
His isolation seemed at times the strangest, the most unexpected of all
the things that had happened since his awakening. It had something of
the quality of that inactivity that comes in dreams. A tumult, the
stupendous realisation of a world struggle between Ostrog and himself,
and then this confined quiet little room with its mouthpieces and bells
and broken mirror!
Now the door would be closed and Graham and Helen were alone together;
they seemed sharply marked off then from all the unprecedented world
storm that rushed together without, vividly aware of one another, only
concerned with one another. Then the door would open again, messengers
would enter, or a sharp bell would stab their quiet privacy, and it was
like a window in a well built brightly lit house flung open suddenly to a
hurricane. The dark hurry and tumult, the stress and vehemence of the
battle rushed in and overwhelmed them. They were no longer persons but
mere spectators, mere impressions of a tremendous convulsion. They became
unreal even to themselves, miniatures of personality, indescribably
small, and the two antagonistic realities, the only realities in being
were first the city, that throbbed and roared yonder in a belated frenzy
of defence and secondly the aeroplanes hurling inexorably towards them
over the round shoulder of the world.
There came a sudden stir outside, a running to and fro, and cries. The
girl stood up, speechless, incredulous.
Metallic voices were shouting "Victory!" Yes it was "Victory!"
Bursting through the curtains appeared the man in yellow, startled and
dishevelled with excitement, "Victory," he cried, "victory! The people
are winning. Ostrog's people have collapsed."
She rose. "Victory?"
"What do you mean?" asked Graham. "Tell me! _What_?"
"We have driven them out of the under galleries at Norwood, Streatham is
afire and burning wildly, and Roehampton is ours. _Ours_!--and we have
taken the monoplane that lay thereon."
A shrill bell rang. An agitated grey-headed man appeared from the room of
the Ward Leaders. "It is all over," he cried.
"What matters it now that we have Roehampton? The aeroplanes have been
sighted at Boulogne!"
"The Channel!" said the man in yellow. He calculated swiftly.
"Half an hour."
"They still have three of the flying stages," said the old man.
"Those guns?" cried Graham.
"We cannot mount them--in half an hour."
"Do you mean they are found?"
"Too late," said the old man.
"If we could stop them another hour!" cried the man in yellow.
"Nothing can stop them now," said the old man. "They have near a hundred
aeroplanes in the first fleet."
"Another hour?" asked Graham.
"To be so near!" said the Ward Leader. "Now that we have found
those guns. To be so near--. If once we could get them out upon the
"How long would that take?" asked Graham suddenly.
"Too late," cried the Ward Leader, "too late."
"_Is_ it too late?" said Graham. "Even now--. An hour!"
He had suddenly perceived a possibility. He tried to speak calmly, but
his face was white. "There is are chance. You said there was a
"On the Roehampton stage, Sire."
"No. It is lying crossways to the carrier. It might be got upon the
guides--easily. But there is no aeronaut--."
Graham glanced at the two men and then at Helen. He spoke after a long
pause. "_We_ have no aeronauts?"
He turned suddenly to Helen. His decision was made. "I must do it."
"Go to this flying stage--to this machine."
"What do you mean?"
"I am an aeronaut. After all--. Those days for which you reproached me
were not altogether wasted."
He turned to the old man in yellow. "Tell them to put it upon the
The man in yellow hesitated.
"What do you mean to do?" cried Helen.
"This monoplane--it is a chance--."
"You don't mean--?"
"To fight--yes. To fight in the air. I have thought before--. A big
aeroplane is a clumsy thing. A resolute man--!"
"But--never since flying began--" cried the man in yellow.
"There has been no need. But now the time has come. Tell them now--send
them my message--to put it upon the guides. I see now something to do. I
see now why I am here!"
The old man dumbly interrogated the man in yellow nodded, and
Helen made a step towards Graham. Her face was white. "But, Sire!--How
can one fight? You will be killed."
"Perhaps. Yet, not to do it--or to let some one else attempt it--."
"You will be killed," she repeated.
"I've said my word. Do you not see? It may save--London!"
He stopped, he could speak no more, he swept the alternative aside by a
gesture, and they stood looking at one another.
They were both clear that he must go. There was no step back from these
Her eyes brimmed with tears. She came towards him with a curious movement
of her hands, as though she felt her way and could not see; she seized
his hand and kissed it.
"To wake," she cried, "for this!"
He held her clumsily for a moment, and kissed the hair of her bowed head,
and then thrust her away, and turned towards the man in yellow.
He could not speak. The gesture of his arm said "Onward."
THE COMING OF THE AEROPLANES
Two men in pale blue were lying in the irregular line that stretched
along the edge of the captured Roehampton stage from end to end, grasping
their carbines and peering into the shadows of the stage called Wimbledon
Park. Now and then they spoke to one another. They spoke the mutilated
English of their class and period. The fire of the Ostrogites had
dwindled and ceased, and few of the enemy had been seen for some time.
But the echoes of the fight that was going on now far below in the lower
galleries of that stage, came every now and then between the staccato of
shots from the popular side. One of these men was describing to the other
how he had seen a man down below there dodge behind a girder, and had
aimed at a guess and hit him cleanly as he dodged too far. "He's down
there still," said the marksman. "See that little patch. Yes. Between
A few yards behind them lay a dead stranger, face upward to the sky, with
the blue canvas of his jacket smouldering in a circle about the neat
bullet hole on his chest. Close beside him a wounded man, with a leg
swathed about, sat with an expressionless face and watched the progress
of that burning. Behind them, athwart the carrier lay the captured
"I can't see him _now_," said the second man in a tone of provocation.
The marksman became foul-mouthed and high-voiced in his earnest
endeavour to make things plain. And suddenly, interrupting him, came a
noisy shouting from the substage.
"What's going on now?" he said, and raised himself on one arm to survey
the stairheads in the central groove of the stage. A number of blue
figures were coming up these, and swarming across the stage.
"We don't want all these fools," said his friend. "They only crowd up and
spoil shots. What are they after?"
"Ssh!--they're shouting something."
The two men listened. The new-comers had crowded densely about the
machine. Three Ward Leaders, conspicuous by their black mantles and
badges, clambered into the body and appeared above it. The rank and file
flung themselves upon the vans, gripping hold of the edges, until the
entire outline of the thing was manned, in some places three deep. One of
the marksmen knelt up. "They're putting it on the carrier--that's what
He rose to his feet, his friend rose also. "What's the good?" said his
friend. "We've got no aeronauts."
"That's what they're doing anyhow." He looked at his rifle, looked at the
struggling crowd, and suddenly turned to the wounded man. "Mind these,
mate," he said, handing his carbine and cartridge belt; and in a moment
he was running towards the monoplane. For a quarter of an hour he was
lugging, thrusting, shouting and heeding shouts, and then the thing was
done, and he stood with a multitude of others cheering their own
achievement. By this time he knew, what indeed everyone in the city knew,
that the Master, raw learner though he was, intended to fly this machine
himself, was coming even now to take control of it, would let no other
man attempt it.
"He who takes the greatest danger, he who bears the heaviest burden,
that man is King," so the Master was reported to have spoken. And even as
this man cheered, and while the beads of sweat still chased one another
from the disorder of his hair, he heard the thunder of a greater tumult,
and in fitful snatches the beat and impulse of the revolutionary song. He
saw through a gap in the people that a thick stream of heads still poured
up the stairway. "The Master is coming," shouted voices, "the Master is
coming," and the crowd about him grew denser and denser. He began to
thrust himself towards the central groove. "The Master is coming!" "The
Sleeper, the Master!" "God and the Master!" roared the voices.
And suddenly quite close to him were the black uniforms of the
revolutionary guard, and for the first and last time in his life he saw
Graham, saw him quite nearly. A tall, dark man in a flowing black robe he
was, with a white, resolute face and eyes fixed steadfastly before him; a
man who for all the little things about him had neither ears nor eyes nor
For all his days that man remembered the passing of Graham's bloodless
face. In a moment it had gone and he was fighting in the swaying crowd. A
lad weeping with terror thrust against him, pressing towards the
stairways, yelling "Clear for the start, you fools!" The bell that
cleared the flying stage became a loud unmelodious clanging.
With that clanging in his ears Graham drew near the monoplane, marched
into the shadow of its tilting wing. He became aware that a number of
people about him were offering to accompany him, and waved their offers
aside. He wanted to think how one started the engine. The bell clanged
faster and faster, and the feet of the retreating people roared faster
and louder. The man in yellow was assisting him to mount through the ribs
of the body. He clambered into the aeronaut's place, fixing himself very
carefully and deliberately. What was it? The man in yellow was pointing
to two small flying machines driving upward in the southern sky. No doubt
they were looking for the coming aeroplanes. That--presently--the thing
to do now was to start. Things were being shouted at him, questions,
warnings. They bothered him. He wanted to think about the machine, to
recall every item of his previous experience. He waved the people from
him, saw the man in yellow dropping off through the ribs, saw the crowd
cleft down the line of the girders by his gesture.
For a moment he was motionless, staring at the levers, the wheel by which
the engine shifted, and all the delicate appliances of which he knew so
little. His eye caught a spirit level with the bubble towards him, and he
remembered something, spent a dozen seconds in swinging the engine
forward until the bubble floated in the centre of the tube. He noted that
the people were not shouting, knew they watched his deliberation. A
bullet smashed on the bar above his head. Who fired? Was the line clear
of people? He stood up to see and sat down again.
In another second the propeller was spinning and he was rushing down the
guides. He gripped the wheel and swung the engine back to lift the stem.
Then it was the people shouted. In a moment he was throbbing with the
quiver of the engine, and the shouts dwindled swiftly behind, rushed down
to silence. The wind whistled over the edges of the screen, and the world
sank away from him very swiftly.
Throb, throb, throb--throb, throb, throb; up he drove. He fancied
himself free of all excitement, felt cool and deliberate. He lifted the
stem still more, opened one valve on his left wing and swept round and
up. He looked down with a steady head, and up. One of the Ostrogite
monoplanes was driving across his course, so that he drove obliquely
towards it and would pass below it at a steep angle. Its little
aeronauts were peering down at him. What did they mean to do? His mind
became active. One, he saw held a weapon pointing, seemed prepared to
fire. What did they think he meant to do? In a moment he understood
their tactics, and his resolution was taken. His momentary lethargy was
past. He opened two more valves to his left, swung round, end on to this
hostile machine, closed his valves, and shot straight at it, stem and
wind-screen shielding him from the shot. They tilted a little as if to
clear him. He flung up his stem.
Throb, throb, throb--pause--throb, throb--he set his teeth, his face into
an involuntary grimace, and crash! He struck it! He struck upward beneath
the nearer wing.
Very slowly the wing of his antagonist seemed to broaden as the impetus
of his blow turned it up. He saw the full breadth of it and then it slid
downward out of his sight.
He felt his stem going down, his hands tightened on the levers, whirled
and rammed the engine back. He felt the jerk of a clearance, the nose of
the machine jerked upward steeply, and for a moment he seemed to be
lying on his back. The machine was reeling and staggering, it seemed to
be dancing on its screw. He made a huge effort, hung for a moment on the
levers, and slowly the engine came forward again. He was driving upward
but no longer so steeply. He gasped for a moment and flung himself at the
levers again. The wind whistled about him. One further effort and he was
almost level. He could breathe. He turned his head for the first time to
see what had become of his antagonists. Turned back to the levers for a
moment and looked again. For a moment he could have believed they were
annihilated. And then he saw between the two stages to the east was a
chasm, and down this something, a slender edge, fell swiftly and
vanished, as a sixpence falls down a crack.
At first he did not understand, and then a wild joy possessed him. He
shouted at the top of his voice, an inarticulate shout, and drove higher
and higher up the sky. Throb, throb, throb, pause, throb, throb, throb.
"Where was the other?" he thought. "They too--." As he looked round the
empty heavens he had a momentary fear that this second machine had risen
above him, and then he saw it alighting on the Norwood stage. They had
meant shooting. To risk being rammed headlong two thousand feet in the
air was beyond their latter-day courage....
For a little while he circled, then swooped in a steep descent towards
the westward stage. Throb throb throb, throb throb throb. The twilight
was creeping on apace, the smoke from the Streatham stage that had been
so dense and dark, was now a pillar of fire, and all the laced curves of
the moving ways and the translucent roofs and domes and the chasms
between the buildings were glowing softly now, lit by the tempered
radiance of the electric light that the glare of the day overpowered. The
three efficient stages that the Ostrogites held--for Wimbledon Park was
useless because of the fire from Roehampton, and Streatham was a
furnace--were glowing with guide lights for the coming aeroplanes. As he
swept over the Roehampton stage he saw the dark masses of the people
thereon. He heard a clap of frantic cheering, heard a bullet from the
Wimbledon Park stage tweet through the air, and went beating up above the
Surrey wastes. He felt a breath of wind from the southwest, and lifted
his westward wing as he had learnt to do, and so drove upward heeling
into the rare swift upper air. Whirr, whirr, whirr.
Up he drove and up, to that pulsating rhythm, until the country beneath
was blue and indistinct, and London spread like a little map traced in
light, like the mere model of a city near the brim of the horizon. The
southwest was a sky of sapphire over the shadowy rim of the world, and
ever as he drove upward the multitude of stars increased.
And behold! In the southward, low down and glittering swiftly nearer,
were two little patches of nebulous light. And then two more, and then a
glow of swiftly driving shapes. Presently he could count them. There were
four and twenty. The first fleet of aeroplanes had come! Beyond appeared
a yet greater glow.
He swept round in a half circle, staring at this advancing fleet. It flew
in a wedge-like shape, a triangular flight of gigantic phosphorescent
shapes sweeping nearer through the lower air. He made a swift calculation
of their pace, and spun the little wheel that brought the engine forward.
He touched a lever and the throbbing effort of the engine ceased. He
began to fall, fell swifter and swifter. He aimed at the apex of the
wedge. He dropped like a stone through the whistling air. It seemed
scarce a second from that soaring moment before he struck the foremost
No man of all that black multitude saw the coming of his fate, no man
among them dreamt of the hawk that struck downward upon him out of the
sky. Those who were not limp in the agonies of air-sickness, were craning
their black necks and staring to see the filmy city that was rising out
of the haze, the rich and splendid city to which "Massa Boss" had brought
their obedient muscles. Bright teeth gleamed and the glossy faces shone.
They had heard of Paris. They knew they were to have lordly times among
the poor white trash.
Suddenly Graham hit them.
He had aimed at the body of the aeroplane, but at the very last instant a
better idea had flashed into his mind. He twisted about and struck near
the edge of the starboard wing with all his accumulated weight. He was
jerked back as he struck. His prow went gliding across its smooth expanse
towards the rim. He felt the forward rush of the huge fabric sweeping him
and his monoplane along with it, and for a moment that seemed an age he
could not tell what was happening. He heard a thousand throats yelling,
and perceived that his machine was balanced on the edge of the gigantic
float, and driving down, down; glanced over his shoulder and saw the
backbone of the aeroplane and the opposite float swaying up. He had a
vision through the ribs of sliding chairs, staring faces, and hands
clutching at the tilting guide bars. The fenestrations in the further
float flashed open as the aeronaut tried to right her. Beyond, he saw a
second aeroplane leaping steeply to escape the whirl of its heeling
fellow. The broad area of swaying wings seemed to jerk upward. He felt he
had dropped clear, that the monstrous fabric, clean overturned, hung like
a sloping wall above him.
He did not clearly understand that he had struck the side float of the
aeroplane and slipped off, but he perceived that he was flying free on
the down glide and rapidly nearing earth. What had he done? His heart
throbbed like a noisy engine in his throat and for a perilous instant he
could not move his levers because of the paralysis of his hands. He
wrenched the levers to throw his engine back, fought for two seconds
against the weight of it, felt himself righting, driving horizontally,
set the engine beating again.
He looked upward and saw two aeroplanes glide shouting far overhead,
looked back, and saw the main body of the fleet opening out and rushing
upward and outward; saw the one he had struck fall edgewise on and strike
like a gigantic knife-blade along the wind-wheels below it.
He put down his stern and looked again. He drove up heedless of his
direction as he watched. He saw the wind-vanes give, saw the huge fabric
strike the earth, saw its downward vanes crumple with the weight of its
descent, and then the whole mass turned over and smashed, upside down,
upon the sloping wheels. Then from the heaving wreckage a thin tongue of
white fire licked up towards the zenith. He was aware of a huge mass
flying through the air towards him, and turned upwards just in time to
escape the charge--if it was a charge--of a second aeroplane. It whirled
by below, sucked him down a fathom, and nearly turned him over in the
gust of its close passage.
He became aware of three others rushing towards him, aware of the urgent
necessity of beating above them. Aeroplanes were all about him, circling
wildly to avoid him, as it seemed. They drove past him, above, below,
eastward and westward. Far away to the westward was the sound of a
collision, and two falling flares. Far away to the southward a second
squadron was coming. Steadily he beat upward. Presently all the
aeroplanes were below him, but for a moment he doubted the height he had
of them, and did not swoop again. And then he came down upon a second
victim and all its load of soldiers saw him coming. The big machine
heeled and swayed as the fear-maddened men scrambled to the stern for
their weapons. A score of bullets sung through the air, and there flashed
a star in the thick glass wind-screen that protected him. The aeroplane
slowed and dropped to foil his stroke, and dropped too low. Just in time
he saw the wind-wheels of Bromley hill rushing up towards him, and spun
about and up as the aeroplane he had chased crashed among them. All its
voices wove into a felt of yelling. The great fabric seemed to be
standing on end for a second among the heeling and splintering vans, and
then it flew to pieces. Huge splinters came flying through the air, its
engines burst like shells. A hot rush of flame shot overhead into the
"_Two_!" he cried, with a bomb from overhead bursting as it fell, and
forthwith he was beating up again. A glorious exhilaration possessed him
now, a giant activity. His troubles about humanity, about his inadequacy,
were gone for ever. He was a man in battle rejoicing in his power.
Aeroplanes seemed radiating from him in every direction, intent only upon
avoiding him, the yelling of their packed passengers came in short gusts
as they swept by. He chose his third quarry, struck hastily and did but
turn it on edge. It escaped him, to smash against the tall cliff of
London wall. Flying from that impact he skimmed the darkling ground so
nearly he could see a frightened rabbit bolting up a slope. He jerked up
steeply, and found himself driving over south London with the air about
him vacant. To the right of him a wild riot of signal rockets from the
Ostrogites banged tumultuously in the sky. To the south the wreckage of
half a dozen air ships flamed, and east and west and north they fled
before him. They drove away to the east and north, and went about in the
south, for they could not pause in the air. In their present confusion
any attempt at evolution would have meant disastrous collisions.
He passed two hundred feet or so above the Roehampton stage. It was black
with people and noisy with their frantic shouting. But why was the
Wimbledon Park stage black and cheering, too? The smoke and flame of
Streatham now hid the three further stages. He curved about and rose to
see them and the northern quarters. First came the square masses of
Shooter's Hill into sight, from behind the smoke, lit and orderly with
the aeroplane that had landed and its disembarking negroes. Then came
Blackheath, and then under the corner of the reek the Norwood stage. On
Blackheath no aeroplane had landed. Norwood was covered by a swarm of
little figures running to and fro in a passionate confusion. Why?
Abruptly he understood. The stubborn defence of the flying stages was
over, the people were pouring into the under-ways of these last
strongholds of Ostrog's usurpation. And then, from far away on the
northern border of the city, full of glorious import to him, came a
sound, a signal, a note of triumph, the leaden thud of a gun. His lips
fell apart, his face was disturbed with emotion.
He drew an immense breath. "They win," he shouted to the empty air; "the
people win!" The sound of a second gun came like an answer. And then he
saw the monoplane on Blackheath was running down its guides to launch. It
lifted clean and rose. It shot up into the air, driving straight
southward and away from him.
In an instant it came to him what this meant. It must needs be Ostrog
in flight. He shouted and dropped towards it. He had the momentum of
his elevation and fell slanting down the air and very swiftly. It rose
steeply at his approach. He allowed for its velocity and drove
straight upon it.
It suddenly became a mere flat edge, and behold! he was past it, and
driving headlong down with all the force of his futile blow.
He was furiously angry. He reeled the engine back along its shaft and
went circling up. He saw Ostrog's machine beating up a spiral before
him. He rose straight towards it, won above it by virtue of the impetus
of his swoop and by the advantage and weight of a man. He dropped
headlong--dropped and missed again! As he rushed past he saw the face of
Ostrog's aeronaut confident and cool and in Ostrog's attitude a wincing
resolution. Ostrog was looking steadfastly away from him--to the south.
He realized with a gleam of wrath how bungling his flight must be. Below
he saw the Croydon hills. He jerked upward and once more he gained on
He glanced over his shoulder and his attention was arrested. The
eastward stage, the one on Shooter's Hill, appeared to lift; a flash
changing to a tall grey shape, a cowled figure of smoke and dust, jerked
into the air. For a moment this cowled figure stood motionless, dropping
huge masses of metal from its shoulders, and then it began to uncoil a
dense head of smoke. The people had blown it up, aeroplane and all! As
suddenly a second flash and grey shape sprang up from the Norwood stage.
And even as he stared at this came a dead report; and the air wave of the
first explosion struck him. He was flung up and sideways.
For a moment his monoplane fell nearly edgewise with her nose down, and
seemed to hesitate whether to overset altogether. He stood on his
wind-shield, wrenching the wheel that swayed up over his head. And then
the shock of the second explosion took his machine sideways.
He found himself clinging to one of the ribs of his machine, and the
air was blowing past him and _upward_. He seemed to be hanging quite
still in the air, with the wind blowing up past him. It occurred to him
that he was falling. Then he was sure that he was falling. He could not
He found himself recapitulating with incredible swiftness all that had
happened since his awakening, the days of doubt, the days of Empire, and
at last the tumultuous discovery of Ostrog's calculated treachery.
The vision had a quality of utter unreality. Who was he? Why was he
holding so tightly with his hands? Why could he not let go? In such
a fall as this countless dreams have ended. But in a moment he
His thoughts ran swifter and swifter. He wondered if he should see Helen
again. It seemed so unreasonable that he should not see her again. It
_must_ be a dream! Yet surely he would meet her. She at least was real.
She was real. He would wake and meet her.
Although he could not look at it, he was suddenly aware that the earth
was very near.