Part 1 out of 6
THE WAR IN THE AIR
by H. G. WELLS
I. OF PROGRESS AND THE SMALLWAYS FAMILY
II. HOW BERT SMALLWAYS GOT INTO DIFFICULTIES
III. THE BALLOON
IV. THE GERMAN AIR-FLEET
V. THE BATTLE OF THE NORTH ATLANTIC
VI. HOW WAR CAME TO NEW YORK
VII. THE "VATERLAND" IS DISABLED
VIII. A WORLD AT WAR
IX. ON GOAT ISLAND
X. THE WORLD UNDER THE WAR
XI. THE GREAT COLLAPSE
PREFACE TO REPRINT EDITION
The reader should grasp clearly the date at which this book was
written. It was done in 1907: it appeared in various magazines
as a serial in 1908 and it was published in the Fall of that
year. At that time the aeroplane was, for most people, merely a
rumour and the "Sausage" held the air. The contemporary reader
has all the advantage of ten years' experience since this story
was imagined. He can correct his author at a dozen points and
estimate the value of these warnings by the standard of a decade
of realities. The book is weak on anti-aircraft guns, for
example, and still more negligent of submarines. Much, no
doubt, will strike the reader as quaint and limited but upon much
the writer may not unreasonably plume himself. The
interpretation of the German spirit must have read as a
caricature in 1908. Was it a caricature? Prince Karl seemed a
fantasy then. Reality has since copied Prince Carl with an
astonishing faithfulness. Is it too much to hope that some
democratic "Bert" may not ultimately get even with his Highness?
Our author tells us in this book, as he has told us in others,
more especially in The World Set Free, and as he has been telling
us this year in his War and the Future, that if mankind goes on
with war, the smash-up of civilization is inevitable. It is
chaos or the United States of the World for mankind. There is no
other choice. Ten years have but added an enormous conviction to
the message of this book. It remains essentially right, a
pamphlet story--in support of the League to Enforce Peace.
THE WAR IN THE AIR
OF PROGRESS AND THE SMALLWAYS FAMILY
"This here Progress," said Mr. Tom Smallways, "it keeps on.
"You'd hardly think it could keep on," said Mr. Tom Smallways.
It was along before the War in the Air began that Mr. Smallways
made this remark. He as sitting on the fence at the end of his
garden and surveying the great Bun Hill gas-works with an eye
that neither praised nor blamed. Above the clustering gasometers
three unfamiliar shapes appeared, thin, wallowing bladders that
flapped and rolled about, and grew bigger and bigger and rounder
and rounder--balloons in course of inflation for the South of
England Aero Club's Saturday-afternoon ascent.
"They goes up every Saturday," said his neighbour, Mr. Stringer,
the milkman. "It's only yestiday, so to speak, when all London
turned out to see a balloon go over, and now every little place
in the country has its weekly-outings--uppings, rather. It's
been the salvation of them gas companies."
"Larst Satiday I got three barrer-loads of gravel off my
petaters," said Mr. Tom Smallways. "Three barrer-loads! What
they dropped as ballase. Some of the plants was broke, and some
"Ladies, they say, goes up!"
"I suppose we got to call 'em ladies," said Mr Tom Smallways.
"Still, it ain't hardly my idea of a lady--flying about in the
air, and throwing gravel at people. It ain't what I been
accustomed to consider ladylike, whether or no."
Mr. Stringer nodded his head approvingly, and for a time they
continued to regard the swelling bulks with expressions that had
changed from indifference to disapproval.
Mr. Tom Smallways was a green-grocer by trade and a gardener by
disposition; his little wife Jessica saw to the shop, and Heaven
had planned him for a peaceful world. Unfortunately Heaven had
not planned a peaceful world for him. He lived in a world of
obstinate and incessant change, tand in parts where its
operations were unsparingly conspicuous. Vicissitude was in the
very soil he tilled; even his garden was upon a yearly tenancy,
and overshadowed by a huge board that proclaimed it not so much a
garden as an eligible building site. He was horticulture under
notice to quit, the last patch of country in a district flooded
by new and prbaa things. He did his best to console himself,
to imagine matters near the turn of the tide.
"You'd hardly think it could keep on," he said.
Mr. Smallways' aged father, could remember Bun Hill as an idyllic
Kentish village. He had driven Sir Peter Bone until he was fifty
and then he took to drink a little, and driving the station bus,
which lasted him until he was seventy-eight. Then he retired. He
sat by the fireside, a shrivelled, very, very old coachman,
full charged with reminiscences, and ready for any careless
stranger. He could tell you of the vanished estate of Sir Peter
Bone, long since cut up for building, and how that magnate ruled
the country-side when it was country-side, of shooting and
hunting, and of caches along the high road, of how "where the
gas-works is" was a cricket-field, and of the coming of the
Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace was six miles away from Bun
Hill, a great facade that glittered in the morning, and was a
clear blue outline against the sky in the afternoon, and of a
night, a source of gratuitous fireworks for all the population of
Bun Hill. And then had come the railway, and then villas and
villas, and then the gas-works and the water-works, and a great,
ugly sea of workmen's houses, and then drainage, and the water
vanished out of the Otterbourne and left it a dreadful ditch, and
then a second railway station, Bun Hill South, and more houses
and more, more shops, more competition, plate-glass shops, a
school-board, rates, omnibuses, tramcars--going right away into
London itself--bicycles, motor-cars and then more motor-cars, a
"You'd hardly think it could keep on," said Mr. Tom Smallways,
growing up among these marvels.
But it kept on. Even from the first the green-grocer's shop
which he had set up in one of the smallest of the old surviving
village houses in the tail of the High Street had a submerged
air, an air of hiding from something that was looking for it.When
they had made up the pavement of the High Street, they
levelled that up so that one had to go down three steps into the
shop. Tom did his best to sell only his own excellent but
limited range of produce; but Progress came shoving things into
his window, French artichokes and aubergines, foreign apples--
apples from the State of New York, apples from California,
apples from Canada, apples from New Zealand, "pretty lookin'
fruit, but not what I should call English apples," said Tom--
bananas, unfamiliar nuts, grape fruits, mangoes.
The motor-cars that went by northward and southward grew more and
more powerful and efficient, whizzed faster and smelt worse,
there appeared great clangorous petrol trolleys delivering coal
and parcels in the place of vanishing horse-vans, motor-omnibuses
ousted the horse-omnibuses, even the Kentish strawberries going
Londonward in the night took to machinery and clattered instead
of creaking, and became affected in flavour by progress and
And then young Bert Smallways got a motor bicycle....
Bert, it is necessary to explain, was a progressive Smallways.
Nothing speaks more eloquently of the pitiless insistence of
progress and expansion in our time than that it should get into
the Smallways blood. But there was something advanced and
enterprising about young Smallways before he was out of short
frocks. He was lost for a whole day before he was five, and
nearly drowned in the reservoir of the new water-works before he
was seven. He had a real pistol taken away from him by a real
policeman when he was ten. And he learnt to smoke, not with
pipes and brown paper and cane as Tom had done, but with a penny
packet of Boys of England American cigarettes. His language
shocked his father before he was twelve, and by that age, what
with touting for parcels at the station and selling the Bun Hill
Weekly Express, he was making three shillings a week, or more,
and spending it on Chips, Comic Cuts, Ally Sloper's Half-holiday,
cigarettes, and all the concomitants of a life of pleasure and
enlightenment. All of this without hindrance to his literary
studies, which carried him up to the seventh standard at an
exceptionally early age. I mention these things so that you may
have no doubt at all concerning the sort of stuff Bert had in
He was six years younger than Tom, and for a time there was an
attempt to utilise him in the green-grocer's shop when Tom at
twenty-one married Jessica--who was thirty, and had saved a
little money in service. But it was not Bert's forte to be
utilised. He hated digging, and when he was given a basket of
stuff to deliver, a nomadic instinct arose irresistibly, it
became his pack and he did not seem to care how heavy it was
nor where he took it, so long as he did not take it to its
destination. Glamour filled the world, and he strayed after it,
basket and all. So Tom took his goods out himself, and sought
employers for Bert who did not know of this strain of poetry in
his nature. And Bert touched the fringe of a number of trades in
succession--draper's porter, chemist's boy, doctor's page, junior
assistant gas-fitter, envelope addresser, milk-cart assistant,
golf caddie, and at last helper in a bicycle shop. Here,
apparently, he found the progressive quality his nature had
craved. His employer was a pirate-souled young man named Grubb,
with a black-smeared face by day, and a music-hall side in the
evening, who dreamt of a patent lever chain; and it seemed to
Bert that he was the perfect model of a gentleman of spirit. He
hired out quite the dirtiest and unsafest bicycles in the whole
south of England, and conducted the subsequent discussions with
astonishing verve. Bert and he settled down very well together.
Bert lived in, became almost a trick rider--he could ride
bicycles for miles that would have come to pieces instantly under
you or me--took to washing his face after business, and spent
his surplus money upon remarkable ties and collars, cigarettes,
and shorthand classes at the Bun Hill Institute.
He would go round to Tom at times, and look and talk so
brilliantly that Tom and Jessie, who both had a natural tendency
to be respectful to anybody or anything, looked up to him
"He's a go-ahead chap, is Bert," said Tom. "He knows a thing or
"Let's hope he don't know too much," said Jessica, who had a fine
sense of limitations.
"It's go-ahead Times," said Tom. "Noo petaters, and English at
that; we'll be having 'em in March if things go on as they do go.
I never see such Times. See his tie last night?"
"It wasn't suited to him, Tom. It was a gentleman's tie. He
wasn't up to it--not the rest of him, It wasn't becoming"...
Then presently Bert got a cyclist's suit, cap, badge, and all;
and to see him and Grubb going down to Brighton (and back)--heads
down, handle-bars down, backbones curved--was a revelation
in the possibilities of the Smallways blood.
Old Smallways would sit over the fire mumbling of the greatness
of other days, of old Sir Peter, who drove his coach to Brighton
and back in eight-and-twenty hours, of old Sir Peter's white
top-hats, of Lady Bone, who never set foot to ground except to
walk in the garden, of the great, prize-fights at Crawley. He
talked of pink and pig-skin breeches, of foxes at Ring's Bottom,
where now the County Council pauper lunatics were enclosed, of
Lady Bone's chintzes and crinolines. Nobody heeded him. The
world had thrown up a new type of gentleman altogether--a
gentleman of most ungentlemanly energy, a gentleman in dusty
oilskins and motor goggles and a wonderful cap, a stink-making
gentleman, a swift, high-class badger, who fled perpetually along
high roads from the dust and stink he perpetually made. And his
lady, as they were able to see her at Bun Hill, was a
weather-bitten goddess, as free from refinement as a gipsy--not
so much dressed as packed for transit at a high velocity.
So Bert grew up, filled with ideals of speed and enterprise, and
became, so far as he became anything, a kind of bicycle
engineer of the let's-have-a-look-at-it and enamel chipping
variety. Even a road-racer, geared to a hundred and twenty,
failed to satisfy him, and for a time he pined in vain at twenty
miles an hour along roads that were continually more dusty and
more crowded with mechanical traffic. But at last his savings
accumulated, and his chance came. The hire-purchase system
bridged a financial gap, and one bright and memorable Sunday
morning he wheeled his new possession through the shop into the
road, got on to it with the advice and assistance of Grubb, and
teuf-teuffed off into the haze of the traffic-tortured high road,
to add himself as one more voluntary public danger to the
amenities of the south of England.
"Orf to Brighton!" said old Smallways, regarding his youngest son
from the sitting-room window over the green-grocer's shop with
something between pride and reprobation. "When I was 'is age,
I'd never been to London, never bin south of Crawley--never
bin anywhere on my own where I couldn't walk. And nobody didn't
go. Not unless they was gentry. Now every body's orf
everywhere; the whole dratted country sims flying to pieces.
Wonder they all get back. Orf to Brighton indeed! Anybody want
to buy 'orses?"
"You can't say _I_ bin to Brighton, father," said Tom.
"Nor don't want to go," said Jessica sharply; "creering about and
spendin' your money."
For a time the possibilities of the motor-bicycle so occupied
Bert's mind that he remained regardless of the new direction in
which the striving soul of man was finding exercise and
refreshment. He failed to observe that the type of motor-car,
like the type of bicycle, was settling-down and losing its
adventurous quality. Indeed, it is as true as it is remarkable
that Tom was the first to observe the new development. But his
gardening made him attentive to the heavens, and the proximity of
the Bun Hill gas-works and the Crystal Palace, from which ascents
were continually being made, and presently the descent of ballast
upon his potatoes, conspired to bear in upon his unwilling mind
the fact that the Goddess of Change was turning her disturbing
attention to the sky. The first great boom in aeronautics was
Grubb and Bert heard of it in a music-hall, then it was driven
home to their minds by the cinematograph, then Bert's imagination
was stimulated by a sixpenny edition of that aeronautic classic,
Mr. George Griffith's "Clipper of the Clouds," and so the thing
really got hold of them.
At first the most obvious aspect was the multiplication of
balloons. The sky of Bun Hill began to be infested by balloons.
On Wednesday and Saturday afternoons particularly you could
scarcely look skyward for a quarter of an hour without
discovering a balloon somewhere. And then one bright day Bert,
motoring toward Croydon, was arrested by the insurgence of a
huge, bolster-shaped monster from the Crystal Palace grounds, and
obliged to dismount and watch it. It was like a bolster with a
broken nose, and below it, and comparatively small, was a stiff
framework bearing a man and an engine with a screw that whizzed
round in front and a sort of canvas rudder behind. The framework
had an air of dragging the reluctant gas-cylinder after it like a
brisk little terrier towing a shy gas-distended elephant into
society. The combined monster certainly travelled and steered.
It went overhead perhaps a thousand feet up (Bert heard the
engine), sailed away southward, vanished over the hills,
reappeared a little blue outline far off in the east, going now
very fast before a gentle south-west gale, returned above the
Crystal Palace towers, circled round them, chose a position for
descent, and sank down out of sight.
Bert sighed deeply, and turned to his motor-bicycle again.
And that was only the beginning of a succession of strange
phenomena in the heavens--cylinders, cones, pear-shaped monsters,
even at last a thing of aluminium that glittered wonderfully, and
that Grubb, through some confusion of ideas about armour plates,
was inclined to consider a war machine.
There followed actual flight.
This, however, was not an affair that was visible from Bun Hill;
it was something that occurred in private grounds or other
enclosed places and, under favourable conditions, and it was
brought home to Grubb and Bert Smallways only by means of the
magazine page of the half-penny newspapers or by cinematograph
records. But it was brought home very insistently, and in those
days if, ever one heard a man saying in a public place in a
loud, reassuring, confident tone, "It's bound to come," the
chances were ten to one he was talking of flying. And Bert got a
box lid and wrote out in correct window-ticket style, and Grubb
put in the window this inscription, "Aeroplanes made and
repaired." It quite upset Tom--it seemed taking one's shop so
lightly; but most of the neighbours, and all the sporting ones,
approved of it as being very good indeed.
Everybody talked of flying, everybody repeated over and over
again, "Bound to come," and then you know it didn't come. There
was a hitch. They flew--that was all right; they flew in
machines heavier than air. But they smashed. Sometimes they
smashed the engine, sometimes they smashed the aeronaut, usually
they smashed both. Machines that made flights of three or four
miles and came down safely, went up the next time to headlong
disaster. There seemed no possible trusting to them. The breeze
upset them, the eddies near the ground upset them, a passing
thought in the mind of the aeronaut upset them. Also they
"It's this 'stability' does 'em," said Grubb, repeating his
newspaper. "They pitch and they pitch, till they pitch
themselves to pieces."
Experiments fell away after two expectant years of this sort of
success, the public and then the newspapers tired of the
expensive photographic reproductions, the optimistic reports, the
perpetual sequence of triumph and disaster and silence. Flying
slumped, even ballooning fell away to some extent, though it
remained a fairly popular sport, and continued to lift gravel
from the wharf of the Bun Hill gas-works and drop it upon
deserving people's lawns and gardens. There were half a dozen
reassuring years for Tom--at least so far as flying was
concerned. But that was the great time of mono-rail development,
and his anxiety was only diverted from the high heavens by the
most urgent threats and symptoms of change in the lower sky.
There had been talk of mono-rails for several years. But the
real mischief began when Brennan sprang his gyroscopic mono-rail
car upon the Royal Society. It was the leading sensation of the
1907 soirees; that celebrated demonstration-room was all too
small for its exhibition. Brave soldiers leading Zionists,
deserving novelists, noble ladies, congested the narrow passage
and thrust distinguished elbows into ribs the world would not
willingly let break, deeming themselves fortunate if they could
see "just a little bit of the rail." Inaudible, but convincing,
the great inventor expounded his discovery, and sent his obedient
little model of the trains of the future up gradients, round
curves, and across a sagging wire. Itran along its single rail,
on its single wheels, simple and sufficient; it stopped, reversed
stood still, balancing perfectly. It maintained its astounding
equilibrium amidst a thunder of applause. The audience dispersed
at last, discussing how far they would enjoy crossing an abyss on
a wire cable. "Suppose the gyroscope stopped!" Few of them
anticipated a tithe of what the Brennan mono-rail would do for
their railway securities and the face of the world.
In a few, years they realised better. In a little while no one
thought anything of crossing an abyss on a wire, and the mono-
rail was superseding the tram-lines, railways: and indeed every
form of track for mechanical locomotion. Where land was cheap
the rail ran along the ground, where it was dear the rail lifted
up on iron standards and passed overhead; its swift, convenient
cars went everywhere and did everything that had once been done
along made tracks upon the ground.
When old Smallways died, Tom could think of nothing more striking
to say of him than that, "When he was a boy, there wasn't nothing
higher than your chimbleys--there wasn't a wire nor a cable in
Old SmallWays went to his grave under an intricate network of
wires and cables, for Bun Hill became not only a sort of minor
centre of power distribution--the Home Counties Power
Distribution Company set up transformers and a generating station
close beside the old gas-works--but, also a junction on the
suburban mono-rail system. Moreover, every tradesman in the
place, and indeed nearly every house, had its own telephone.
The mono-rail cable standard became a striking fact in urban
landscape, for the most part stout iron erections rather like
tapering trestles, and painted a bright bluish green. One, it
happened, bestrode Tom's house, which looked still more retiring
and apologetic beneath its immensity; and another giant stood
just inside the corner of his garden, which was still not built
upon and unchanged, except for a couple of advertisement boards,
one recommending a two-and-sixpenny watch, and one a nerve
restorer. These, by the bye, were placed almost horizontally to
catch the eye of the passing mono-rail passengers above, and so
served admirably to roof over a tool-shed and a mushroom-shed for
Tom. All day and all night the fast cars from Brighton and
Hastings went murmuring by overhead long, broad,
comfortable-looking cars, that were brightly lit after dusk. As
they flew by at night, transient flares of light and a rumbling
sound of passage, they kept up a perpetual summer lightning and
thunderstorm in the street below.
Presently the English Channel was bridged--a series of great iron
Eiffel Tower pillars carrying mono-rail cables at a height of a
hundred and fifty feet above the water, except near the middle,
where they rose higher to allow the passage of the London and
Antwerp shipping and the Hamburg-America liners.
Then heavy motor-cars began to run about on only a couple of
wheels, one behind the other, which for some reason upset Tom
dreadfully, and made him gloomy for days after the first one
passed the shop...
All this gyroscopic and mono-rail development naturally absorbed
a vast amount of public attention, and there,was also a huge
excitement consequent upon the amazing gold discoveries off the
coast of Anglesea made by a submarine prospector, Miss Patricia
Giddy. She had taken her degree in geology and mineralogy in the
University of London, and while working upon the auriferous rocks
of North Wales, after a brief holiday spent in agitating for
women's suffrage, she had been struck by the possibility of these
reefs cropping up again under the water. She had set herself to
verify this supposition by the use of the submarine crawler
invented by Doctor Alberto Cassini. By a happy mingling of
reasoning and intuition peculiar to her sex she found gold at her
first descent, and emerged after three hours' submersion with
about two hundredweight of ore containing gold in the
unparalleled quantity of seventeen ounces to the ton. But the
whole story of her submarine mining, intensely interesting as it
is, must be told at some other time; suffice it now to remark
simply that it was during the consequent great rise of prices,
confidence, and enterprise that the revival of interest in flying
It is curious how that revival began. It was like the coming of
a breeze on a quiet day; nothing started it, it came. People
began to talk of flying with an air of never having for one
moment dropped the subject. Pictures of flying and flying
machines returned to the newspapers; articles and allusions
increased and multiplied in the serious magazines. People asked
in mono-rail trains, "When are we going to fly?" A new crop of
inventors sprang up in a night or so like fungi. The Aero Club
announced the project of a great Flying Exhibition in a large
area of ground that the removal of slums in Whitechapel had
The advancing wave soon produced a sympathetic ripple in the Bun
Hill establishment. Grubb routed out his flying-machine model
again, tried it in the yard behind the shop, got a kind of flight
out of it, and broke seventeen panes of glass and nine
flower-pots in the greenhouse that occupied the next yard but
And then, springing from nowhere, sustained one knew not how,
came a persistent, disturbing rumour that the problem had been
solved, that the secret was known. Bert met it one early-closing
afternoon as he refreshed himself in an inn near Nutfield,
whither his motor-bicycle had brought him. There smoked and
meditated a person in khaki, an engineer, who presently took an
interest in Bert's machine. It was a sturdy piece of apparatus,
and it had acquired a kind of documentary value in these
quick-changing times; it was now nearly eight years old. Its
points discussed, the soldier broke into a new topic with, "My
next's going to be an aeroplane, so far as I can see. I've had
enough of roads and ways."
"They TORK," said Bert.
"They talk--and they do," said the soldier.
"The thing's coming--"
"It keeps ON coming," said Bert; "I shall believe when I see it."
"That won't be long," said the soldier.
The conversation seemed degenerating into an amiable wrangle of
"I tell you they ARE flying," the soldier insisted. "I see it
"We've all seen it," said Bert.
"I don't mean flap up and smash up; I mean real, safe, steady,
controlled flying, against the wind, good and right."
"You ain't seen that!"
"I 'AVE! Aldershot. They try to keep it a secret. They got it
right enough. You bet--our War Office isn't going to be
caught-napping this time."
Bert's incredulity was shaken. He asked questions- and the
"I tell you they got nearly a square mile fenced in--a sort of
valley. Fences of barbed wire ten feet high, and inside that they
do things. Chaps about the camp--now and then we get a peep. It
isn't only us neither. There's the Japanese; you bet they got, it
too--and the Germans!"
The soldier stood with his legs very wide apart, and filled his
pipe thoughtfully. Bert sat on the low wall against which his
motor-bicycle was leaning.
"Funny thing fighting'll be," he said.
"Flying's going to break out," said the soldier. "When it DOES
come, when the curtain does go up, I tell you you'll find every
one on the stage--busy.... Such fighting, too!... I suppose you
don't read the papers about this sort of thing?"
"I read 'em a bit," said Bert.
"Well, have you noticed what one might call the remarkable case
of the disappearing inventor--the inventor who turns up in a
blaze of publicity, fires off a few successful experiments, and
"Can't say I 'ave," said Bert.
"Well, I 'ave, anyhow. You get anybody come along who does
anything striking in this line, and, you bet, he vanishes. Just
goes off quietly out of sight. After a bit, you don't hear
anything more of 'em at all. See? They disappear. Gone--no
address. First--oh! it's an old story now--there was those
Wright Brothers out in America. They glided--they glided miles
and miles. Finally they glided off stage. Why, it must be
nineteen hundred and four, or five, THEY vanished! Then there
was those people in Ireland--no, I forget their names. Everybody
said they could fly. THEY went. They ain't dead that I've heard
tell; but you can't say they're alive. Not a feather of 'em can
you see. Then that chap who flew round Paris and upset in the
Seine. De Booley, was it? I forget. That was a grand fly, in
spite of the accident; but where's he got to? The accident
didn't hurt him. Eh? _'E_'s gone to cover."
The soldier prepared to light his pipe.
"Looks like a secret society got hold of them," said Bert.
"Secret society! NAW!"
The soldier lit his match, and drew. "Secret society," he
repeated, with his pipe between his teeth and the match flaring,
in response to his words. "War Departments; that's more like
it." He threw his match aside, and walked to his machine. "I
tell you, sir," he said, "there isn't a big Power in Europe, OR
Asia, OR America, OR Africa, that hasn't got at least one or two
flying machines hidden up its sleeve at the present time. Not
one. Real, workable, flying machines. And the spying! The
spying and manoeuvring to find out what the others have got. I
tell you, sir, a foreigner, or, for the matter of that, an
unaccredited native, can't get within four miles of Lydd nowadays
--not to mention our little circus at Aldershot, and the
experimental camp in Galway. No!"
"Well," said Bert, "I'd like to see one of them, anyhow. Jest to
help believing. I'll believe when I see, that I'll promise you."
"You'll see 'em, fast enough," said the soldier, and led his
machine out into the road.
He left Bert on his wall, grave and pensive, with his cap on the
back of his head, and a cigarette smouldering in the corner of
"If what he says is true," said Bert, "me and Grubb, we been
wasting our blessed old time. Besides incurring expense with
It was while this mysterious talk with the soldier still stirred
in Bert Smallways' imagination that the most astounding incident
in the whole of that dramatic chapter of human history, the
coming of flying, occurred. People talk glibly enough of
epoch-making events; this was an epoch-making event. It was the
unanticipated and entirely successful flight of Mr. Alfred
Butteridge from the Crystal Palace to Glasgow and back in a small
businesslike-looking machine heavier than air--an entirely
manageable and controllable machine that could fly as well as a
It wasn't, one felt, a fresh step forward in the matter so much
as a giant stride, a leap. Mr. Butteridge remained in the air
altogether for about nine hours, and during that time he flew
with the ease and assurance of a bird. His machine was, however
neither bird-like nor butterfly-like, nor had it the wide,
lateral expansion of the ordinary aeroplane. The effect upon the
observer was rather something in the nature of a bee or wasp.
Parts of the apparatus were spinning very rapidly, and gave one a
hazy effect of transparent wings; but parts, including two
peculiarly curved "wing-cases"--if one may borrow a figure from
the flying beetles--remained expanded stiffly. In the middle was
a long rounded body like the body of a moth, and on this Mr.
Butteridge could be seen sitting astride, much as a man bestrides
a horse. The wasp-like resemblance was increased by the fact
that the apparatus flew with a deep booming hum, exactly the
sound made by a wasp at a windowpane.
Mr. Butteridge took the world by surprise. He was one of those
gentlemen from nowhere Fate still succeeds in producing for the
stimulation of mankind. He came, it was variously said, from
Australia and America and the South of France. He was also
described quite incorrectly as the son of a man who had amassed
a comfortable fortune in the manufacture of gold nibs and the
Butteridge fountain pens. But this was an entirely different
strain of Butteridges. For some years, in spite of a loud voice,
a large presence, an aggressive swagger, and an implacable
manner, he had been an undistinguished member of most of the
existing aeronautical associations. Then one day he wrote to all
the London papers to announce that he had made arrangements for
an ascent from the Crystal Palace of a machine that would
demonstrate satisfactorily that the outstanding difficulties in
the way of flying were finally solved. Few of the papers printed
his letter, still fewer were the people who believed in his
claim. No one was excited even when a fracas on the steps of a
leading hotel in Piccadilly, in which he tried to horse-whip a
prominent German musician upon some personal account, delayed his
promised ascent. The quarrel was inadequately reported, and his
name spelt variously Betteridge and Betridge. Until his flight
indeed, he did not and could not contrive to exist in the public
mind. There were scarcely thirty people on the look-out for him,
in spite of all his clamour, when about six o'clock one summer
morning the doors of the big shed in which he had been putting
together his apparatus opened--it was near the big model of a
megatherium in the Crystal Palace grounds--and his giant insect
came droning out into a negligent and incredulous world.
But before he had made his second circuit of the Crystal Palace
towers, Fame was lifting her trumpet, she drew a deep breath as
the startled tramps who sleep on the seats of Trafalgar Square
were roused by his buzz and awoke to discover him circling the
Nelson column, and by the time he had got to Birmingham, which
place he crossed about half-past ten, her deafening blast was
echoing throughout the country. The despaired-of thing was done.
A man was flying securely and well.
Scotland was agape for his coming. Glasgow he reached by one
o'clock, and it is related that scarcely a ship-yard or factory
in that busy hive of industry resumed work before half-past two.
The public mind was just sufficiently educated in the
impossibility of flying to appreciate Mr. Butteridge at his
proper value. He eircled the University buildings, and dropped
to within shouting distance of the crowds in West End Park and on
the slope of Gilmorehill. The thing flew quite steadily at a
pace of about three miles an hour, in a wide circle, making a
deep hum that, would have drowned his full, rich voice completely
had he not provided himself with a megaphone. He avoided
churches, buildings, and mono-rail cables with consummate ease as
"Me name's Butteridge," he shouted; "B-U-T-T-E-R-I-D-G-E.- Got
it? Me mother was Scotch."
And having assured himself that he had been understood, he rose
amidst cheers and shouting and patriotic cries, and then flew up
very swiftly and easily into the south-eastern sky, rising and
falling with long, easy undulations in an extraordinarily
His return to London--he visited and hovered over Manchester and
Liverpool and Oxford on his way, and spelt his name out to each
place--was an occasion of unparalleled excitement. Every one was
staring heavenward. More people were run over in the streets
upon that one day, than in the previous three months, and a
County Council steamboat, the Isaac Walton, collided with a pier
of Westminster Bridge, and narrowly escaped disaster by running
ashore--it was low water--on the mud on the south side. He
returned to the Crystal Palace grounds, that classic
starting-point of aeronautical adventure, about sunset,
re-entered his shed without disaster, and had the doors locked
immediately upon the photographers and journalists who been
waiting his return.
"Look here, you chaps," he said, as his assistant did so, "I'm
tired to death, and saddle sore. I can't give you a word of
talk. I'm too--done. My name's Butteridge. B-U-T-T-E-R-I-D-
G-E. Get that right. I'm an Imperial Englishman. I'll talk to
you all to-morrow."
Foggy snapshots still survive to record that incident. His
assistant struggles in a sea of aggressive young men carrying
note-books or upholding cameras and wearing bowler hats and
enterprising ties. He himself towers up in the doorway, a big
figure with a mouth--an eloquent cavity beneath a vast black
moustache--distorted by his shout to these relentless agents of
publicity. He towers there, the most famous man in the country,.
Almost symbolically he holds and gesticulates with a megaphone in
his left hand.
Tom and Bert Smallways both saw that return. They watched from
the crest of Bun Hill, from which they had so often surveyed the
pyrotechnics of the Crystal Palace. Bert was excited, Tom kept
calm and lumpish, but neither of them realised how their own
lives were to be invaded by the fruits of that beginning.
"P'raps old Grubb'll mind the shop a bit now," he said, "and put
his blessed model in the fire. Not that that can save us, if we
don't tide over with Steinhart's account."
Bert knew enough of things and the problem of aeronautics to
realise that this gigantic imitation of a bee would, to use his
own idiom, "give the newspapers fits." The next day it was clear
the fits had been given even as he said: their magazine pages
were black with hasty photographs, their prose was convulsive
they foamed at the headline. The next day they were worse.
Before the week was out they were not so much published as
carried screaming into the street.
The dominant fact in the uproar was the exceptional personality
of Mr. Butteridge, and the extraordinary terms he demanded for
the secret of his machine.
For it was a secret and he kept it secret in the most elaborate
fashion. He built his apparatus himself in the safe privacy of
the great Crystal Palace sheds, with the assistance of
inattentive workmen, and the day next following his flight he
took it to pieces single handed, packed certain portions, and
then secured unintelligent assistance in packing and dispersing
the rest. Sealed packing-cases went north and east and west to
various pantechnicons, and the engines were boxed with peculiar
care. It became evident these precautions were not inadvisable
in view of the violent demand for any sort of photograph or
impressions of his machine. But Mr. Butteridge, having once made
his demonstration, intended to keep his secret safe from any
further risk of leakage. He faced the British public now with
the question whether they wanted his secret or not; he was, he
said perpetually, an "Imperial Englishman," and his first wish
and his last was to see his invention the privilege and monopoly
of the Empire. Only--
It was there the difficulty began.
Mr. Butteridge, it became evident, was a man singularly free from
any false modesty--indeed, from any modesty of any
kind--singularly willing to see interviewers, answer questions
upon any topic except aeronautics, volunteer opinions,
criticisms, and autobiography, supply portraits and photographs
of himself, and generally spread his personality across the
terrestrial sky. The published portraits insisted primarily upon
an immense black moustache, and secondarily upon a fierceness
behind the moustache. The general impression upon the public was
that Butteridge, was a small man. No one big, it was felt, could
have so virulently aggressive an expression, though, as a matter
of fact, Butteridge had a height of six feet two inches, and a
weight altogether proportionate to that. Moreover, he had a love
affair of large and unusual dimensions and irregular
circumstances and the still largely decorous British public
learnt with reluctance and alarm that a sympathetic treatment of
this affair was inseparable from the exclusive acquisition of the
priceless secret of aerial stability by the British Empire. The
exact particulars of the similarity never came to light, but
apparently the lady had, in a fit of high-minded inadvertence,
had gone through the ceremony of marriage with, one quotes the
unpublished discourse of Mr. Butteridge--"a white-livered skunk,"
and this zoological aberration did in some legal and vexatious
manner mar her social happines. He wanted to talk about the
business, to show the splendour of her nature in the light of its
complications. It was really most embarrassing to a press that
has always possessed a considerable turn for reticence, that
wanted things personal indeed in the modern fashion. Yet not too
personal. It was embarrassing, I say, to be inexorably
confronted with Mr. Butteridge's great heart, to see it laid open
in relentlesss self-vivisection, and its pulsating dissepiments'
adorned with emphatic flag labels.
Confronted they were, and there was no getting away from it. He
would make this appalling viscus beat and throb before the
shrinking journalists--no uncle with a big watch and a little
ever baby ever harped upon it so relentlessly; whatever evasion
they attempted he set aside. He "gloried in his love," he said,
and compelled them to write it down.
"That's of course a private affair, Mr. Butteridge," they would
"The injustice, sorr, is public. I do not care either I am up
against institutions or individuals. I do not care if I am up
against the universal All. I am pleading the cause of a woman, a
woman I lurve, sorr--a noble woman--misunderstood. I intend to
vindicate her, sorr, to the four winds of heaven!"
"I lurve England," he used to say--"lurve England, but
Puritanism, sorr, I abhor. It fills me with loathing. It raises
my gorge. Take my own case."
He insisted relentlessly upon his heart, and upon seeing proofs
of the interview. If they had not done justice to his erotic
bellowings and gesticulations, he stuck in, in a large inky
scrawl, all and more than they had omitted.
It was a strangely embarrassing thing for British journalism.
Never was there a more obvious or uninteresting affair; never had
the world heard the story of erratic affection with less appetite
or sympathy. On the other hand it was extremely curious about
Mr. Butteridge's invention. But when Mr. Butteridge could be
deflected for a moment from the cause of the lady he championed,
then he talked chiefly, and usually with tears of tenderness in
his voice, about his mother and his childhood--his mother who
crowned a complete encyclopedia of maternal virtue by being
"largely Scotch." She was not quite neat, but nearly so. "I owe
everything in me to me mother," he asserted--"everything. Eh!"
and--"ask any man who's done anything. You'll hear the same
story. All we have we owe to women. They are the species, sorr.
Man is but a dream. He comes and goes. The woman's soul leadeth
us upward and on!"
He was always going on like that.
What in particular he wanted from the Government for his secret
did not appear, nor what beyond a money payment could be expected
from a modem state in such an affair. The general effect upon
judicious observers, indeed, was not that he was treating for
anything, but that he was using an unexampled opportunity to
bellow and show off to an attentive world. Rumours of his real
identity spread abroad. It was said that he had been the
landlord of an ambiguous hotel in Cape Town, and had there given
shelter to, and witnessed, the experiments and finally stolen the
papers and plans of, an extremely shy and friendless young
inventor named Palliser, who had come to South Africa from
England in an advanced stage of consumption, and died there.
This, at any rate, was the allegation of the more outspoken
American press. But the proof or disproof of that never reached
Mr. Butteridge also involved himself passionately in a tangle of
disputes for the possession of a great number of valuable money
prizes. Some of these had been offered so long ago as 1906 for
successful mechanical flight. By the time of Mr. Butteridge's
success a really very considerable number of newspapers, tempted
by the impunity of the pioneers in this direction, had pledged
themselves to pay in some cases, quite overwhelming sums to the
first person to fly from Manchester to Glasgow, from London to
Manchester, one hundred miles, two hundred miles in England, and
the like. Most had hedged a little with ambiguous conditions,
and now offered resistance; one or two paid at once, and
vehemently called attention to the fact; and Mr. Butteridge
plunged into litigation with the more recalcitrant, while at the
same time sustaining a vigorous agitation and canvass to induce
the Government to purchase his invention.
One fact, however, remained permanent throughout all the
developments of this affair behind Butteridge's preposterous love
interest, his politics and personality, and all his shouting and
boasting, and that was that, so far as the mass of people knew,
he was in sole possession of the secret of the practicable
aeroplane in which, for all one could tell to the contrary, the
key of the future empire of the world resided. And presently, to
the great consternation of innumerable people, including among
others Mr. Bert Smallways, it became apparent that whatever
negotiations were in progress for the acquisition of this
precious secret by the British Government were in danger of
falling through. The London Daily Requiem first voiced the
universal alarm, and published an interview under the terrific
caption of, "Mr. Butteridge Speaks his Mind."
Therein the inventor--if he was an inventor--poured out his
"I came from the end of the earth," he said, which rather seemed
to confirm the Cape Town story, "bringing me Motherland the
secret that would give her the empire of the world. And what do
I get?" He paused. "I am sniffed at by elderly mandarins! . . .
And the woman I love is treated like a leper!"
"I am an Imperial Englishman," he went on in a splendid outburst,
subsequently written into the interview by his own hand; "but
there there are limits to the human heart! There are younger
nations--living nations! Nations that do not snore and gurgle
helplessly in paroxysms of plethora upon beds of formality and
red tape! There are nations that will not fling away the empire
of earth in order to slight an unknown man and insult a noble
woman whose boots they are not fitted to unlatch. There are
nations not blinded to Science, not given over hand and foot to
effete snobocracies and Degenerate Decadents. In short, mark my
words--THERE ARE OTHER NATIONS!"
This speech it was that particularly impressed Bert Smallways.
"If them Germans or them Americans get hold of this," he said
impressively to his brother, "the British Empire's done. It's
U-P. The Union Jack, so to speak, won't be worth the paper it's
written on, Tom."
"I suppose you couldn't lend us a hand this morning," said
Jessica, in his impressive pause. "Everybody in Bun Hill seems
wanting early potatoes at once. Tom can't carry half of them."
"We're living on a volcano," said Bert, disregarding the
suggestion. "At any moment war may come--such a war!"
He shook his head portentously.
"You'd better take this lot first, Tom," said Jessica. She
turned briskly on Bert. "Can you spare us a morning?" she asked.
"I dessay I can," said Bert. "The shop's very quiet s'morning.
Though all this danger to the Empire worries me something
"Work'll take it off your mind," said Jessica.
And presently he too was going out into a world of change and
wonder, bowed beneath a load of potatoes and patriotic
insecurity, that merged at last into a very definite irritation
at the weight and want of style of the potatoes and a very
clear conception of the entire detestableness of Jessica.
HOW BERT SMALLWAYS GOT INTO DIFFICULTIES
It did not occur to either Tom or Bert Smallways that this
remarkable aerial performance of Mr. Butteridge was likely to
affect either of their lives in any special manner, that it would
in any way single them out from the millions about them; and when
they had witnessed it from the crest of Bun Hill and seen the
fly-like mechanism, its rotating planes a golden haze in the
sunset, sink humming to the harbour of its shed again, they
turned back towards the sunken green-grocery beneath the great
iron standard of the London to Brighton mono-rail, and their
minds reverted to the discussion that had engaged them before Mr.
Butteridge's triumph had come in sight out of the London haze.
It was a difficult and unsuccessful discussions. They had to
carry it on in shouts because of the moaning and roaring of the
gyroscopic motor-cars that traversed the High Street, and in its
nature it was contentious and private. The Grubb business was in
difficulties, and Grubb in a moment of financial eloquence had
given a half-share in it to Bert, whose relations with his
employer had been for some time unsalaried and pallish and
Bert was trying to impress Tom with the idea that the
reconstructed Grubb & Smallways offered unprecedented and
unparalleled opportunities to the judicious small investor. It
was coming home to Bert, as though it were an entirely new fact,
that Tom was singularly impervious to ideas. In the end he put
the financial issues on one side, and, making the thing entirely
a matter of fraternal affection, succeeded in borrowing a
sovereign on the security of his word of honour.
The firm of Grubb & Smallways, formerly Grubb, had indeed been
singularly unlucky in the last year or so. For many years the
business had struggled along with a flavour of romantic
insecurity in a small, dissolute-looking shop in the High Street,
adorned with brilliantly coloured advertisements of cycles, a
display of bells, trouser-clips, oil-cans, pump-clips,
frame-cases, wallets, and other accessories, and the announcement
of "Bicycles on Hire," "Repairs," "Free inflation," "Petrol,"
and similar attractions. They were agents for several obscure
makes of bicycle,--two samples constituted the stock,--and
occasionally they effected a sale; they also repaired punctures
and did their best--though luck was not always on their side--
with any other repairing that was brought to them. They handled
a line of cheap gramophones, and did a little with musical boxes.
The staple of their business was, however, the letting of
bicycles on hire. It was a singular trade, obeying no known
commercial or economic principles--indeed, no principles. There
was a stock of ladies' and gentlemen's bicycles in a state of
disrepair that passes description, and these, the hiring stock,
were let to unexacting and reckless people, inexpert in the
things of this world, at a nominal rate of one shilling for the
first hour and sixpence per hour afterwards. But really there
were no fixed prices, and insistent boys could get bicycles and
the thrill of danger for an hour for so low a sum as threepence,
provided they could convince Grubb that that was all they had.
The saddle and handle-bar were then sketchily adjusted bv Grubb,
a deposit exacted, except in the case of familiar boys, the
machine lubricated, and the adventurer started upon his career.
Usually he or she came back, but at times, when the accident was
serious, Bert or Grubb had to go out and fetch the machine home.
Hire was always charged up to the hour of return to the shop and
deducted from the deposit. It was rare that a bicycle started
out from their hands in a state of pedantic efficiency. Romantic
possibilities of accident lurked in the worn thread of the screw
that adjusted the saddle, in the precarious pedals, in the
loose-knit chain, in the handle-bars, above all in the brakes and
tyres. Tappings and clankings and strange rhythmic creakings
awoke as the intrepid hirer pedalled out into the country. Then
perhaps the bell would jam or a brake fail to act on a hill; or
the seat-pillar would get loose, and the saddle drop three or
four inches with a disconcerting bump; or the loose and rattling
chain would jump the cogs of the chain-wheel as the machine ran
downhill, and so bring the mechanism to an abrupt and disastrous
stop without at the same time arresting the forward momentum of
the rider; or a tyre would bang, or sigh quietly, and give up the
struggle for efficiency.
When the hirer returned, a heated pedestrian, Grubb would ignore
all verbal complaints, and examine the machine gravely.
"This ain't 'ad fair usage," he used to begin.
He became a mild embodiment of the spirit of reason. "You can't
expect a bicycle to take you up in its arms and carry you," he
used to say. "You got to show intelligence. After all--it's
Sometimes the process of liquidating the consequent claims
bordered on violence. It was always a very rhetorical and often
a trying affair, but in these progressive times you have to make
a noise to get a living. It was often hard work, but
nevertheless this hiring was a fairly steady source of profit,
until one day all the panes in the window and door were broken
and the stock on sale in the window greatly damaged and
disordered bv two over-critical hirers with no sense of
rhetorical irrelevance. They were big, coarse stokers from
Gravesend. One was annoyed because his left pedal had come off,
and the other because his tyre had become deflated, small and
indeed negligible accidents by Bun Hill standards, due entirely
to the ungentle handling of the delicate machines entrusted to
them--and they failed to see clearly how they put themselves in
the wrong by this method of argument. It is a poor way of
convincing a man that he has let you a defective machine to throw
his foot-pump about his shop, and take his stock of gongs outside
in order to return them through the window-panes. It carried no
real conviction to the minds of either Grubb or Bert; it only
irritated and vexed them. One quarrel makes many, and this
unpleasantness led to a violent dispute between Grubb and the
landlord upon the moral aspects of and legal responsibility for
the consequent re-glazing. In the end Grubb and Smallways were
put to the expense of a strategic nocturnal removal to another
It was a position they had long considered. It was t small,
shed-like shop with a plate-glass window and one room behind,
just at the sharp bend in the road at the bottom of Bun Hill; and
here they struggled along bravely, in spite of persistent
annoyance from their former landlord, hoping for certain
eventualities the peculiar situation of the shop seemed to
promise. Here, too, they were doomed to disappointment.
The High Road from London to Brighton that ran through Bun Hill
was like the British Empire or the British Constitution--a thing
that had grown to its present importance. Unlike any other roads
in Europe the British high roads have never been subjected to any
organised attempts to grade or straighten them out, and to that
no doubt their peculiar picturesqueness is to be ascribed. The
old Bun Hill High Street drops at its end for perhaps eighty or a
hundred feet of descent at an angle of one in five, turns at
right angles to the left, runs in a curve for about thirty yards
to a brick bridge over the dry ditch that had once been the
Otterbourne, and then bends sharply to the right again round a
dense clump of trees and goes on, a simple, straightforward,
peaceful high road. There had been one or two horse-and-van and
bicycle accidents in the place before the shop Bert and Grubb
took was built, and, to be frank, it was the probability of
others that attracted them to it.
Its possibilities had come to them first with a humorous flavour.
"Here's one of the places where a chap might get a living by
keeping hens," said Grubb.
"You can't get a living by keeping hens," said Bert.
"You'd keep the hen and have it spatch-cocked," said Grubb. "The
motor chaps would pay for it."
When they really came to take the place they remembered this
conversation. Hens, however, were out of the question; there was
no place for a run unless they had it in the shop. It would have
been obviously out of place there. The shop was much more modern
than their former one, and had a plate-glass front. "Sooner or
later," said Bert, "we shall get a motor-car through this."
"That's all right," said Grubb. "Compensation. I don't mind
when that motor-car comes along. I don't mind even if it gives
me a shock to the system.
"And meanwhile," said Bert, with great artfulness, "I'm going to
buy myself a dog."
He did. He bought three in succession. He surprised the people
at the Dogs' Home in Battersea by demanding a deaf retriever, and
rejecting every candidate that pricked up its ears. "I want a
good, deaf, slow-moving dog," he said. "A dog that doesn't put
himself out for things."
They displayed inconvenient curiosity; they declared a great
scarcity of deaf dogs.
"You see," they said, "dogs aren't deaf."
"Mine's got to be," said Bert. "I've HAD dogs that aren't deaf.
All I want. It's like this, you see--I sell gramophones.
Naturally I got to make 'em talk and tootle a bit to show 'em
orf. Well, a dog that isn't deaf doesn't like it--gets excited,
smells round, barks, growls. That upsets the customer. See?
Then a dog that has his hearing fancies things. Makes burglars
out of passing tramps. Wants to fight every motor that makes a
whizz. All very well if you want livening up, but our place is
lively enough. I don't want a dog of that sort. I want a quiet
In the end he got three in succession, but none of them turned
out well. The first strayed off into the infinite, heeding no
appeals; the second was killed in the night by a fruit
motor-waggon which fled before Grubb could get down; the third
got itself entangled in the front wheel of a passing cyclist, who
came through the plate glass, and proved to be an actor out of
work and an undischarged bankrupt. He demanded compensation for
some fancied injury, would hear nothing of the valuable dog he
had killed or the window he had broken, obliged Grubb by sheer
physical obduracy to straighten his buckled front wheel, and
pestered the struggling firm with a series of inhumanly worded
solicitor's letters. Grubb answered them--stingingly, and put
himself, Bert thought, in the wrong.
Affairs got more and more exasperating and strained under these
pressures. The window was boarded up, and an unpleasant
altercation about their delay in repairing it with the new
landlord, a Bun Hill butcher--and a loud, bellowing, unreasonable
person at that--served to remind them of their unsettled troubles
with the old. Things were at this pitch when Bert bethought
himself of creating a sort of debenture capital in the business
for the benefit of Tom. But, as I have said, Tom had no
enterprise in his composition. His idea of investment was the
stocking; he bribed his brother not to keep the offer open.
And then ill-luck made its last lunge at their crumbling business
and brought it to the ground.
It is a poor heart that never rejoices, and Whitsuntide had an
air of coming as an agreeable break in the business complications
of Grubb & Smallways. Encouraged by the practical outcome of
Bert's negotiations with his brother, and by the fact that half
the hiring-stock was out from Saturday to Monday, they decided to
ignore the residuum of hiring-trade on Sunday and devote that day
to much-needed relaxation and refreshment--to have, in fact, an
unstinted good time, a beano on Whit Sunday and return
invigorated to grapple with their difficulties and the Bank
Holiday repairs on the Monday. No good thing was ever done by
exhausted and dispirited men. It happened that they had made the
acquaintance of two young ladies in employment in Clapham, Miss
Flossie Bright and Miss Edna Bunthorne, and it was resolved
therefore to make a cheerful little cyclist party of four into
the heart of Kent, and to picnic and spend an indolent afternoon
and evening among the trees and bracken between Ashford and
Miss Bright could ride a bicycle, and a machine was found for
her, not among the hiring stock, but specially, in the sample
held for sale. Miss Bunthorne, whom Bert particularly affected,
could not ride, and so with some difficulty he hired a basket-
work trailer from the big business of Wray's in the Clapham Road.
To see our young men, brightly dressed and cigarettes alight,
wheeling off to the rendezvous, Grubb guiding the lady's machine
beside him with one skilful hand and Bert teuf-teuffing steadily,
was to realise how pluck may triumph even over insolvency. Their
landlord, the butcher, said, "Gurr," as they passed, and shouted,
"Go it!" in a loud, savage tone to their receding backs.
Much they cared!
The weather was fine, and though they were on their way southward
before nine o'clock, there was already a great multitude of
holiday people abroad upon the roads. There were quantities of
young men and women on bicycles and motor-bicycles, and a
majority of gyroscopic motor-cars running bicycle-fashion on two
wheels, mingled with old-fashioned four-wheeled traffic. Bank
Holiday times always bring out old stored-away vehicles and odd
people; one saw tricars and electric broughams and dilapidated
old racing motors with huge pneumatic tyres. Once our holiday-
makers saw a horse and cart, and once a youth riding a black
horse amidst the badinage of the passersby. And there were
several navigable gas air-ships, not to mention balloons, in the
air. It was all immensely interesting and refreshing after the
dark anxieties of the shop. Edna wore a brown straw hat with
poppies, that suited her admirably, and sat in the trailer like a
queen, and the eight-year-old motor-bicycle ran like a thing
Little it seemed to matter to Mr. Bert Smallways that a newspaper
GERMANY DENOUNCES THE MONROE
AMBIGUOUS ATTITUTDE OF JAPAN.
WHAT WILL BRITAIN DO? IS IT WAR?
This sort of thing was alvays going on, and on holidays one
disregarded it as a matter of course. Week-davs, in the slack
time after the midday meal, then perhaps one might worry about
the Empire and international politics; but not on a sunny Sunday,
with a pretty girl trailing behind one, and envious cyclists
trying to race you. Nor did our young people attach any great
importance to the flitting suggestions of military activity they
glimpsed ever and again. Near Maidstone they came on a string of
eleven motor-guns of peculiar construction halted by the
roadside, with a number of businesslike engineers grouped about
them watching through field-glasses some sort of entrenchment
that was going on near the crest of the downs. It signified
nothing to Bert.
"What's up?" said Edna.
"Oh!--manoeuvres," stid Bert.
"Oh! I thought they did them at Easter," said Edna, and troubled
The last great British war, the Boer war, was over and forgotten,
and the public had lost the fashion of expert military criticism.
Our four young people picnicked cheerfully, and were happy in the
manner of a happiness that was an ancient mode in Nineveh. Eyes
were bright, Grubb was funny and almost witty, and Bert achieved
epigrams; the hedges were full of honeysuckle and dog-roses; in
the woods the distant toot-toot-toot of the traffic on the
dust-hazy high road might have been no more than the horns of
elf-land. They laughed and gossiped and picked flowers and made
love and talked, and the girls smoked cigarettes. Also they
scuffled playfully. Among other things they talked aeronautics,
and how thev would come for a picnic together in Bert's
flying-machine before ten years were out. The world seemed full
of amusing possibilities that afternoon. They wondered what
their great-grandparents would have thought of aeronautics. In
the evening, about seven, the party turned homeward, expecting no
disaster, and it was onlv on the crest of the downs between
Wrotham and Kingsdown that disaster came.
They had come up the hill in the twilight; Bert was anxious to
get as far as possible before he lit--or attempted to light, for
the issue was a doubtful one--his lamps, and they had scorched
past a number of cyclists, and by a four-wheeled motor-car of the
old style lamed by a deflated tyre. Some dust had penetrated
Bert's horn, and the result was a curious, amusing, wheezing
sound had got into his "honk, honk." For the sake of merriment
and glory he was making this sound as much as possible, and Edna
was in fits of laughter in the trailer. They made a sort of
rushing cheerfulness along the road that affected their fellow
travellers variously, according to their temperaments. She
did notice a good lot of bluish, evil-smelling smoke coming from
about the bearings between his feet, but she thought this was one
of the natural concomitants of motor-traction, and troubled no
more about it, until abruptly it burst into a little
"Bert!" she screamed.
But Bert had put on the brakes with such suddenness that she
found herself involved with his leg as he dismounted. She got to
the side of the road and hastily readjusted her hat, which had
"Gaw!" said Bert.
He stood for some fatal seconds watching the petrol drip and
catch, and the flame, which was now beginning to smell of enamel
as well as oil, spread and grew. His chief idea was the
sorrowful one that he had not sold the machine second-hand a year
ago, and that he ought to have done so--a good idea in its way,
but not immediately helpful. He turned upon Edna sharply. "Get
a lot of wet sand," he said. Then he wheeled the machine a
little towards the side of the roadway, and laid it down and
looked about for a supply of wet sand. The flames received this
as a helpful attention, and made the most of it. They seemed to
brighten and the twilight to deepen about them. The road was a
flinty road in the chalk country, and ill-provided with sand.
Edna accosted a short, fat cyclist. "We want wet sand," she
said, and added, "our motor's on fire." The short, fat cyclist
stared blankly for a moment, then with a helpful cry began to
scrabble in the road-grit. Whereupon Bert and Edna also
scrabbled in the road-grit. Other cyclists arrived, dismounted
and stood about, and their flame-lit faces expressed
satisfaction, interest, curiositv. "Wet sand," said the short,
fat man, scrabbling terribly--"wet stnd." One joined him. They
threw hard-earned handfuls of road-grit upon the flames, which
accepted them with enthusiasm.
Grubb arrived, riding hard. He was shouting something. He
sprang off and threw his bicycle into the hedge. "Don't throw
water on it!" he said--"don't throw water on it!" He displayed
commanding presence of mind. He became captain of the occasion.
Others were glad to repeat the things he said and imitate his
"Don't throw water on it!" they cried. Also there was no water.
"Beat it out, you fools!" he said.
He seized a rug from the trailer (it was an Austrian blanket, and
Bert's winter coverlet) and began to beat at the burning petrol.
For a wonderful minute he seemed to succeed. But he scattered
burning pools of petrol on the road, and others, fired by his
enthusiasm, imitated his action. Bert caught up a trailer-cushion
and began to beat; there was another cushion and a table-cloth,
and these also were seized. A young hero pulled off his jacket
and joined the beating. For a moment there was less talking than
hard breathing, and a tremendous flapping. Flossie, arriving on
the outskirts of the crowd, cried, "Oh, my God!" and burst loudly
into tears. "Help!" she said, and "Fire!"
The lame motor-car arrived, and stopped in consternation. A
tall, goggled, grey-haired man who was driving inquired with an
Oxford intonation and a clear, careful enunciation, "Can WE help
It became manifest that the rug, the table-cloth, the cushions,
the jacket, were getting smeared with petrol and burning. The
soul seemed to go out of the cushion Bert was swaying, and the
air was full of feathers, like a snowstorm in the still twilight.
Bert had got very dusty and sweaty and strenuous. It seemed to
him his weapon had been wrested from him at the moment of
victory. The fire lay like a dying thing, close to the ground
and wicked; it gave a leap of anguish at every whack of the
beaters. But now Grubb had gone off to stainp out the burning
blanket; the others were lacking just at the moment of victory.
One had dropped the cushion and was running to the motorcar.
"'ERE!" cried Bert; "keep on!"
He flung the deflated burning rags of cushion aside, whipped off
his jacket and sprang at the flames with a shout. He stamped
into the ruin until flames ran up his boots. Edna saw him, a
red-lit hero, and thought it was good to be a man.
A bystander was hit by a hot halfpenny flying out of the air.
Then Bert thought of the papers in his pockets, and staggered
back, trying to extinguish his burning jacket--checked, repulsed,
Edna was struck by the benevolent appearance of an elderly
spectator in a silk hat and Sabbatical garments. "Oh!" she cried
to him. "Help this young man! How can you stand and see it?"
A cry of "The tarpaulin!" arose.
An earnest-looking man in a very light grey cycling-suit had
suddenly appeared at the side of the lame motor-car and addressed
the owner. "Have you a tarpaulin?" he said.
"Yes," said the gentlemanly man. "Yes. We've got a tarpaulin."
"That's it," said the earnest-looking man, suddenly shouting.
"Let's have it, quick!"
The gentlemanly man, with feeble and deprecatory gestures, and in
the manner of a hypnotised person, produced an excellent large
"Here!" cried the earnest-looking man to Grubb. "Ketch holt!"
Then everybody realised that a new method was to be tried. A
number of willing hands seized upon the Oxford gentleman's
tarpaulin. The others stood away with approving noises. The
tarpaulin was held over the burning bicycle like a canopy, and
then smothered down upon it.
"We ought to have done this before," panted Grubb.
There was a moment of triumph. The flames vanished. Every one
who could contrive to do so touched the edge of the tarpaulin.
Bert held down a corner with two hands and a foot. The
tarpaulin, bulged up in the centre, seemed to be suppressing
triumphant exultation. Then its self-approval became too much
for it; it burst into a bright red smile in the centre. It was
exactly like the opening of a mouth. It laughed with a gust of
flames. They were reflected redly in the observant goggles of
the gentleman who owned the tarpaulin. Everybody recoiled.
"Save the trailer!" cried some one, and that was the last round
in the battle. But the trailer could not be detached; its
wicker-work had caught, and it was the last thing to burn. A
sort of hush fell upon the gathering. The petrol burnt low, the
wicker-work trailer banged and crackled. The crowd divided
itself into an outer circle of critics, advisers, and secondary
characters, who had played undistinguished parts or no parts at
all in the affair, and a central group of heated and distressed
principals. A young man with an inquiring mind and a
considerable knowledge of motor-bicycles fixed on to Grubb and
wanted to argue that the thing could not have happened. Grubb
wass short and inattentive with him, and the young man withdrew
to the back of the crowd, and there told the benevolent old
gentleman in the silk hat that people who went out with machines
they didn't understand had only themselves to blame if things
The old gentleman let him talk for some time, and then remarked,
in a tone of rapturous enjoyment: "Stone deaf," and added, "Nasty
A rosy-faced man in a straw hat claimed attention. "I DID save
the front wheel," he said; "you'd have had that tyre catch, too,
if I hadn't kept turning it round." It became manifest that this
was so. The front wheel had retained its tyre, was intact, was
still rotating slowly among the blackened and twisted ruins of
the rest of the machine. It had something of that air of
conscious virtue, of unimpeachable respectability, that
distinguishes a rent collector in a low neighbourhood. "That
wheel's worth a pound," said the rosy-faced man, making a song of
it. "I kep' turning it round."
Newcomers kept arriving from the south with the question, "What's
up?" until it got on Grubb's nerves. Londonward the crowd was
constantly losing people; they would mount their various wheels
with the satisfied manner of spectators who have had the best.
Their voices would recede into the twilight; one would hear a
laugh at the memory of this particularly salient incident or
"I'm afraid," said the gentleman of the motor-car, "my
tarpaulin's a bit done for."
Grubb admitted that the owner was the best judge of that.
"Nothin, else I can do for you?" said the gentleman of the
motor-car, it may be with a suspicion of irony.
Bert was roused to action. "Look here," he said. "There's my
young lady. If she ain't 'ome by ten they lock her out. See?
Well, all my money was in my jacket pocket, and it's all mixed up
with the burnt stuff, and that's too 'ot to touch. IS Clapham
out of your way?"
"All in the day's work," said the gentleman with the motor-car,
and turned to Edna. "Very pleased indeed," he said, "if you'll
come with us. We're late for dinner as it is, so it won't make
much difference for us to go home by way of Clapham. We've got
to get to Surbiton, anyhow. I'm afraid you"ll find us a little
"But what's Bert going to do?" said Edna.
"I don't know that we can accommodate Bert," said the motor-car
gentleman, "though we're tremendously anxious to oblige."
"You couldn't take the whole lot?" said Bert, waving his hand at
the deboshed and blackened ruins on the ground.
"I'm awfully afraid I can't," said the Oxford man. "Awfully
sorry, you know."
"Then I'll have to stick 'ere for a bit," said Bert. "I got to
see the thing through. You go on, Edna."
"Don't like leavin' you, Bert."
"You can't 'elp it, Edna." ...
The last Edna saw of Bert was his figure, in charred and
blackened shirtsleeves, standing in the dusk. He was musing
deeply by the mixed ironwork and ashes of his vanished
motor-bicycle, a melancholy figure. His retinue of spectators
had shrunk now to half a dozen figures. Flossie and Grubb were
preparing to follow her desertion.
"Cheer up, old Bert!" cried Edna, with artificial cheerfulness.
"So long, Edna," said Bert.
"'See you to-morrer."
"See you to-morrer," said Bert, though he was destined, as a
matter of fact, to see much of the habitable globe before he saw
Bert began to light matches from a borrowed boxful, and search
for a half-crown that still eluded him among the charred remains.
His face was grave and melancholy.
"I WISH that 'adn't 'appened," said Flossie, riding on with
And at last Bert was left almost alone, a sad, blackened
Promethean figure, cursed by the gift of fire. He had
entertained vague ideas of hiring a cart, of achieving miraculous
repairs, of still snatching some residual value from his one
chief possession. Now, in the darkening night, he perceived the
vanity of such intentions. Truth came to him bleakly, and laid
her chill conviction upon him. He took hold of the handle-bar,
stood the thing up, tried to push it forward. The tyreless
hind-wheel was jammed hopelessly, even as he feared. For a
minute or so he stood upholding his machine, a motionless
despair. Then with a great effort he thrust the ruins from
him into the ditch, kicked at it once, regarded`it for a moment,
and turned his face resolutely Londonward.
He did not once look back.
"That's the end of THAT game!" said Bert. "No more
teuf-teuf-teuf for Bert Smallwavs for a year or two. Good-bye
'Olidays! ... Oh! I ought to 'ave sold the blasted thing when I
had a chance three years ago."
The next morning found the firm of Grubb & Smallways in a state
of profound despondency. t seemed a smallmatter to them that the
newspaper and cigarette shop opposite displayed such placards as
REPORTED AMERICAN ULTIMATUM.
BRITAIN MUST FIGHT.
OUR INFATUATED WAR OFFICE STILL
REFUSES TO LISTEN TO MR. BUTTERIDGE.
GREAT MONO-RAIL DISASTER AT TIMBUCTOO.
WAR A QUESTION OF HOURS.
NEW YORK CALM.
EXCITEMENT IN BERLIN.
WASHINGTON STILL SILENT.
WHAT WILL PARIS D0?
THE PANIC ON THE BOURSE.
THE KING'S GARDEN PARTY TO THE
MR. BUTTERIDGE TAKES AN OFFER.
LATEST BETTING FROM TEHERAN.
WILL AMERICA FIGHT?
ANTI-GERMAN RIOT IN BAGDAD.
THE MUNICIPAL SCANDALS AT DAMASCUS.
MR. BUTTERIDGE'S INVENTION FOR AMERICA.
Bert stared at these over the card of pump-clips in the pane in
the door with unseeing eyes. He wore a blackened flannel shirt,
and the jacketless ruins of the holiday suit of yesterday. The
boarded-up shop was dark and depressing beyond words, the few
scandalous hiring machines had never looked so hopelessly
disreputable. He thought of their fellows who were "out," and of
the approaching disputations of the afternoon. He thought of
their new landlord, and of their old landlord, and of bills and
claims. Life presented itself for the first time as a hopeless
fight against fate....
"Grubb, o' man," he said, distilling the quintessence, "I'm fair
sick of this shop."
"So'm I," said Grubb.
"I'm out of conceit with it. I don't seem to care ever to speak
to a customer again."
"There's that trailer," said Grubb, after a pause.
"Blow the trailer!" said Bert. "Anyhow, I didn't leave a deposit
on it. I didn't do that. Still--"
He turned round on his friend. "Look 'ere," he said, "we aren't
gettin' on here. We been losing money hand over fist. We got
things tied up in fifty knots."
"What can we do?" said Grubb.
"Clear out. Sell what we can for what it will fetch, and quit.
See? It's no good 'anging on to a losing concern. No sort of
good. Jest foolishness."
"That's all right," said Grubb--"that's all right; but it ain't
your capital been sunk in it."
"No need for us to sink after our capital," said Bert, ignoring
"I'm not going to be held responsible for that trailer, anyhow.
That ain't my affair."
"Nobody arst you to make it your affair. If you like to stick on
here, well and good. I'm quitting. I'll see Bank Holiday
through, and then I'm O-R-P-H. See?"
"Leavin' you. If you must be left."
Grubb looked round the shop. It certainly had become
distasteful. Once upon a time it had been bright with hope and
new beginnings and stock and the prospect of credit. Now--now it
was failure and dust. Very likely the landlord would be round
presently to go on with the row about the window...."Where d'you
think of going, Bert?" Grubb asked.
Bert turned round and regarded him. "I thought it out as I was
walking 'ome, and in bed. I couldn't sleep a wink."
"What did you think out?"
"Oh! You're for stickin, here."
"Not if anything better was to offer."
"It's only an ideer," said Bert
"You made the girls laugh yestiday, that song you sang."
"Seems a long time ago now," said Grubb.
"And old Edna nearly cried--over that bit of mine."
"She got a fly in her eye," said Grubb; "I saw it. But what's
this got to do with your plan?"
"No end," said Bert.
"Don't you see?"
"Not singing in the streets?"
"Streets! No fear! But 'ow about the Tour of the Waterin'
Places of England, Grubb? Singing! Young men of family doing it
for a lark? You ain't got a bad voice, you know, and mine's all
right. I never see a chap singing on the beach yet that I
couldn't 'ave sung into a cocked hat. And we both know how to
put on the toff a bit. Eh? Well,that's my ideer. Me and you,
Grubb, with a refined song and a breakdown. Like we was doing
for foolery yestiday. That was what put it into my 'ead. Easy
make up a programme--easy. Six choice items, and one or two for
encores and patter. I'm all right for the patter anyhow."
Grubb remained regarding his darkened and disheartening shop; he
thought of his former landlord and his present landlord, and of
the general disgustingness of business in an age which re-echoes
to The Bitter Cry of the Middle Class; and then it seemed to him
that afar off he heard the twankle, twankle of a banjo, and the
voice of a stranded siren singing. He had a sense of hot
sunshine upon sand, of the children of it least transiently
opulent holiday makers in a circle round about him, of the
whisper, "They are really gentlemen," and then dollop, dollop
came the coppers in the hat. Sometimes even silver. It was all
income; no outgoings, no bills. "I'm on, Bert," he said.
"Right 0!" said Bert, and, "Now we shan't be long."
"We needn't start without capital neither," said Grubb. "If we
take the best of these machines up to the Bicycle Mart in
Finsbury we'd raise six or seven pounds on 'em. We could easy do
that tomorrow before anybody much was about...."
"Nice to think of old Suet-and-Bones coming round to make his
usual row with us, and finding a card up 'Closed for Repairs.'"
"We'll do that," said Grubb with zest--"we'll do that. And we'll
put up another notice, and jest arst all inquirers to go round to
'im and inquire. See? Then they'll know all about us."
Before the day was out the whole enterprise was planned. They
decided at first that they would call themselves the Naval Mr.
O's, a plagiarism, and not perhaps a very good one, from the
title of the well-known troupe of "Scarlet Mr. E's," and Bert
rather clung to the idea of a uniform of bright blue serge, with
a lot of gold lace and cord and ornamentation, rather like a
naval officer's, but more so. But that had to be abandoned as
impracticable, it would have taken too much time and money to
prepare. They perceived they must wear some cheaper and more
readily prepared costume, and Grubb fell back on white dominoes.
They entertained the notion for a time of selecting the two worst
machines from the hiring-stock, painting them over with crimson
enamel paint, replacing the bells by the loudest sort of
motor-horn, and doing a ride about to begin and end the
entertainment. They doubted the advisability of this step.
"There's people in the world," said Bert, "who wouldn't recognise
us, who'd know them bicycles again like a shot, and we don't want
to go on with no old stories. We want a fresh start."
"I do," said Grubb, "badly."
"We want to forget things--and cut all these rotten old worries.
They ain't doin' us good."
Nevertheless, they decided to take the risk of these bicycles,
and they decided their costumes should be brown stockings and
sandals, and cheap unbleached sheets with a hole cut in the
middle, and wigs and beards of tow. The rest their normal
selves! "The Desert Dervishes," they would call themselves, and
their chief songs would be those popular ditties, "In my
Trailer," and "What Price Hair-pins Now?"
They decided to begin with small seaside places, and gradually,
as they gained confidence, attack larger centres. To begin with
they selected Littlestone in Kent, chiefly because of its
So they planned, and it seemed a small and unimportant thing to
them that as they clattered the governments of half the world and
more were drifting into war. About midday they became aware of
the first of the evening-paper placards shouting to them across
THE WAR-CLOUD DARKENS
Nothing else but that.
"Always rottin' about war now," said Bert.
"They'll get it in the neck in real earnest one of these days, if
they ain't precious careful."
So you will understand the sudden apparition that surprised
rather than delighted the quiet informality of Dymchurch sands.
Dymchurch was one of the last places on the coast of England to
be reached by the mono-rail, and so its spacious sands were
still, at the time of this story, the secret and delight of quite
a limited number of people. They went there to flee vulgarity
and extravagances, and to bathe and sit and talk and play with
their children in peace, and the Desert Dervishes did not please
them at all.
The two white figures on scarlet wheels came upon them out of the
infinite along the sands from Littlestone, grew nearer and larger
and more audible, honk-honking and emitting weird cries, and
generally threatening liveliness of the most aggressive type.
"Good heavens!" said Dymchurch, "what's this?"
Then our young men, according to a preconcerted plan, wheeled
round from file to line, dismounted and stood it attention.
"Ladies and gentlemen," they said, "we beg to present ourselves--
the Desert Dervishes." They bowed profoundly.
The few scattered groups upon the beach regarded them with horror
for the most part, but some of the children and young people were
interested and drew nearer. "There ain't a bob on the beach,"
said Grubb in an undertone, and the Desert Dervishes plied their
bicycles with comic "business," that got a laugh from one very
unsophisticated little boy. Then they took a deep breath and
struck into the cheerful strain of "What Price Hair-pins Now?"
Grubb sang the song, Bert did his best to make the chorus a
rousing one, and it the end of each verse they danced certain
steps, skirts in hand, that they had carefully rehearsed.
What Price Hair-pins Now?"
So they chanted and danced their steps in the sunshine on
Dymchurch beach, and the children drew near these foolish young
men, marvelling that they should behave in this way, and the
older people looked cold and unfriendly.
All round the coasts of Europe that morning banjos were ringing,
voices were bawling and singing, children were playing in the
sun, pleasure-boats went to and fro; the common abundant life of
the time, unsuspicious of all dangers that gathered darkly
against it, flowed on its cheerful aimless way. In the cities
men fussed about their businesses and engagements. The newspaper
placards that had cried "wolf!" so often, cried "wolf!" now in
Now as Bert and Grubb bawled their chorus for the third time,
they became aware of a very big, golden-brown balloon low in the
sky to the north-west, and coming rapidly towards them.
"Jest as we're gettin' hold of 'em," muttered Grubb, "up comes a
counter-attraction. Go it, Bert!"
What Price Hair-pins Now?"
The balloon rose and fell, went out of sight--"landed, thank
goodness," said Grubb--re-appeared with a leap. "'ENG!" said
Grubb. "Step it, Bert, or they'll see it!"
They finished their dance, and then stood frankly staring.
"There's something wrong with that balloon," said Bert.
Everybody now was looking at the balloon, drawing rapidly nearer
before a brisk north-westerly breeze. The song and dance were a
"dead frost." Nobody thought any more about it. Even Bert and
Grubb forgot it, and ignored the next item on the programme
altogether. The balloon was bumping as though its occupants
were trying to land; it would approach, sinking slowly, touch the
ground, and instantly jump fifty feet or so in the air and
immediately begin to fall again. Its car touched a clump of
trees, and the black figure that had been struggling in the ropes
fell back, or jumped back, into the car. In another moment it
was quite close. It seemed a huge affair, as big as a house, and
it floated down swiftly towards the sands; a long rope trailed
behind it, and enormous shouts came from the man in the car. He
seemed to be taking off his clothes, then his head came over the
side of the car. "Catch hold of the rope!" they heard, quite
"Salvage, Bert!" cried Grubb, and started to head off the rope.
Bert followed him, and collided, without upsetting, with a
fisherman bent upon a similar errand. A woman carrying a baby in
her arms, two small boys with toy spades, and a stout gentleman
in flannels all got to the trailing rope at about the same time,
and began to dance over it in their attempts to secure it. Bert
came up to this wriggling, elusive serpent and got his foot on
it, went down on all fours and achieved a grip. In half a dozen
seconds the whole diffused population of the beach had, as it
were, crystallised on the rope, and was pulling against the
balloon under the vehement and stimulating directions of the man
in the car. "Pull, I tell you!" said the man in the car--"pull!"
For a second or so the btlloon obeyed its momentum and the wind
and tugged its human anchor seaward. It dropped, touched the
water, and made a flat, silvery splash, and recoiled as one's
finger recoils when one touches anything hot. "Pull her in,"
said the man in the car. "SHE'S FAINTED!"
He occupied himself with some unseen object while the people on
the rope pulled him in. Bert was nearest the balloon, and much
excited and interested. He kept stumbling over the tail of the
Dervish costume in his zeal. He had never imagined before what a
big, light, wallowing thing a balloon was. The car was of brown
coarse wicker-work, and comparatively small. The rope he tugged
at was fastened to a stout-looking ring, four or five feet above
the car. At each tug he drew in a yard or so of rope, and the
waggling wicker-work was drawn so much nearer. Out of the car
came wrathful bellowings: "Fainted, she has!" and then: "It's
her heart--broken with all she's had to go through."
The balloon ceased to struggle, and sank downward. Bert dropped
the rope, and ran forward to catch it in a new place. In another
moment he had his hand on the car. "Lay hold of it," said the
man in the ear, and his face appeared close to Bert's--a
strangely familiar face, fierce eyebrows, a flattish nose, a huge
black moustache. He had discarded coat and waistcoat--perhaps
with some idea of presently having to swim for his life--and his
black hair was extraordinarily disordered. "Will all you people
get hold round the car?" he said. "There's a lady here fainted--
or got failure of the heart. Heaven alone knows which! My name
is Butteridge. Butteridge, my name is--in a balloon. Now
please, all on to the edge. This is the last time I trust myself
to one of these paleolithic contrivances. The ripping-cord
failed, and the valve wouldn't act. If ever I meet the scoundrel
who ought to have seen--"
He stuck his head out between the ropes abruptly, and said, in a
note of earnest expostulation: "Get some brandy!--some neat
brandy!" Some one went up the beach for it.
In the car, sprawling upon a sort of bed-bench, in an attitude of
elaborate self-abandonment, was a large, blond lady, wearing a
fur coat and a big floriferous hat. Her head lolled back against
the padded corner of the car, and her eyes were shut and her
mouth open. "Me dear!" said Mr. Butteridge, in a common, loud
voice, "we're safe!"
She gave no sign.
"Me dear!" said Mr. Butteridge, in a greatly intensified loud
voice, "we're safe!"
She was still quite impassive.
Then Mr. Butteridge showed the fiery core of his soul. "If she
is dead," he said, slowly lifting a fist towards the balloon
above him, and speaking in an immense tremulous bellow--"if she
is dead, I will r-r-rend the heavens like a garment! I must get
her out," he cried, his nostrils dilated with emotion-"I must get
her out. I cannot have her die in a wicker-work basket nine feet
square--she who was made for kings' palaces! Keep holt of this
car! Is there a strong man among ye to take her if I hand her
He swept the lady together by a powerful movement of his arms,
and lifted her. "Keep the car from jumping," he said to those
who clustered about him. "Keep your weight on it. She is no
light woman, and when she is out of it--it will be relieved."
Bert leapt lightly into a sitting position on the edge of the
car. The others took a firmer grip upon the ropes and ring.
"Are you ready?" said Mr. Butteridge.
He stood upon the bed-bench and lifted the lady carefully. Then
he sat down on the wicker edge opposite to Bert, and put one leg
over to dangle outside. A rope or so seemed to incommode him.
"Will some one assist me?" he said. "If they would take this
It was just at this moment, with Mr. Butteridge and the lady
balanced finely on the basket brim, that she came-to. She
came-to suddenly and violently with a loud, heart-rending cry of
"Alfred! Save me!" And she waved her arms searchingly, and then
clasped Mr. Butteridge about.
It seemed to Bert that the car swayed for a moment and then
buck-jumped and kicked him. Also he saw the boots of the lady
and the right leg of the gentleman describing arcs through the
air, preparatory to vanishing over the side of the car. His
impressions were complex, but they also comprehended the fact
that he had lost his balance, and was going to stand on his head
inside this creaking basket. He spread out clutching arms. He
did stand on his head, more or less, his tow-beard came off and
got in his mouth, and his cheek slid along against padding. His
nose buried itself in a bag of sand. The car gave a violent
lurch, and became still.