THE GERMAN AIR-FLEET
Of all the productions of the human imagination that make the
world in which Mr. Bert Smallways lived confusingly wonderful,
there was none quite so strange, so headlong and disturbing, so
noisy and persuasive and dangerous, as the modernisations of
patriotism produced by imperial and international politics. In
the soul of all men is a liking for kind, a pride in one's own
atmosphere, a tenderness for one's Mother speech and one's
familiar land. Before the coming of the Scientific Age this
group of gentle and noble emotions had been a fine factor in the
equipment of every worthy human being, a fine factor that had its
less amiable aspect in a usually harmless hostility to strange
people, and a usually harmless detraction of strange lands. But
with the wild rush of change in the pace, scope, materials,
scale, and possibilities of human life that then occurred, the
old boundaries, the old seclusions and separations were violently
broken down. All the old settled mental habits and traditions of
men found themselves not simply confronted by new conditions, but
by constantly renewed and changing new conditions. They had no
chance of adapting themselves. They were annihilated or
perverted or inflamed beyond recognition.
Bert Smallways' grandfather, in the days when Bun Hill was a
village under the sway of Sir Peter Bone's parent, had "known his
place" to the uttermost farthing, touched his hat to his betters,
despised and condescended to his inferiors, and hadn't changed an
idea from the cradle to the grave. He was Kentish and English,
and that meant hops, beer, dog-rose's, and the sort of sunshine
that was best in the world. Newspapers and politics and visits
to "Lunnon" weren't for the likes of him. Then came the change.
These earlier chapters have given an idea of what happened to Bun
Hill, and how the flood of novel things had poured over its
devoted rusticity. Bert Smallways was only one of countless
millions in Europe and America and Asia who, instead of being
born rooted in the soil, were born struggling in a torrent they
never clearly understood. All the faiths of their fathers had
been taken by surprise, and startled into the strangest forms and
reactions. Particularly did the fine old tradition of patriotism
get perverted and distorted in the rush of the new times.
Instead of the sturdy establishment in prejudice of Bert's
grandfather, to whom the word "Frenchified" was the ultimate term
of contempt, there flowed through Bert's brain a squittering
succession of thinly violent ideas about Geman competition,
about the Yellow Danger, about the Black Peril, about the White
man's Burthen--that is to say, Bert's preposterous right to
muddle further the naturally very muddled politics of the
entirely similar little cads to himself (except for a smear of
brown) who smoked cigarettes and rode bicycles in Buluwayo,
Kingston (Jamaica), or Bombay. These were Bert's "Subject
Races," and he was ready to die--by proxy in the person of any
one who cared to enlist--to maintain his hold upon that right.
It kept him awake at nights to think that he might lose it.
The essential fact of the politics of the age in which Bert
Smallways lived--the age that blundered at last into the
catastrophe of the War in the air--was a very simple one, if only
people had had the intelligence to be simple about it. The
development of Science had altered the scale of human affairs.
By means of rapid mechanical traction, it had brought men nearer
together, so much nearer socially, economically, physically, that
the old separations into nations and kingdoms were no longer
possible, a newer, wider synthesis was not only needed, but
imperatively demanded. Just as the once independent dukedoms of
France had to fuse into a nation, so now the nations had to adapt
themselves to a wider coalescence, they had to keep what was
precious and possible, and concede what was obsolete and
dangerous. A saner world would have perceived this patent need
for a reasonable synthesis, would have discussed it temperately,
achieved and gone on to organise the great civilisation that was
manifestly possible to mankind. The world of Bert Smallways did
nothing of the sort. Its national governments, its national
interests, would not hear of anything so obvious; they were too
suspicious of each other, too wanting in generous imaginations.
They began to behave like ill-bred people in a crowded public
car, to squeeze against one another, elbow, thrust, dispute and
quarrel. Vain to point out to them that they had only to
rearrange themselves to be comfortable. Everywhere, all over the
world, the historian,of the early twentieth century finds the
same thing, the flow and rearrangement of human affairs
inextricably entangled by the old areas, the old prejudices and a
sort of heated irascible stupidity, and everywhere congested
nations in inconvenient areas, slopping population and produce
into each other, annoying each other with tariffs, and every
possible commercial vexation, and threatening each other with
navies and armies that grew every year more portentous.
It is impossible now to estimate how much of the intellectual and
physical energy of the world was wasted in military preparation
and equipment, but it was an enormous proportion. Great Britain
spent upon army and navy money and capacity, that directed into
the channels of physical culture and education would have made
the British the aristocracy of the world. Her rulers could have
kept the whole population learning and exercising up to the age
of eighteen and made a broad-chested and intelligent man of every
Bert Smallways in the islands, had they given the resources they
spent in War material to the making of men. Instead of which
they waggled flags at him until he was fourteen, incited him to
cheer, and then turned him out of school to begin that career of
private enterprise we have compactly recorded. France achieved
similar imbecilities; Germany was, if possible worse; Russia
under the waste and stresses of militarism festered towards
bankruptcy and decay. All Europe was producing big guns and
countless swarms of little Smallways. The Asiatic peoples had
been forced in self-defence into a like diversion of the new
powers science had brought them. On the eve of the outbreak of
the War there were six great powers in the world and a cluster of
smaller ones, each armed to the teeth and straining every nerve
to get ahead of the others in deadliness of equipment and
military efficiency. The great powers were first the United
States, a nation addicted to commerce, but roused to military
necessities by the efforts of Germany to expand into South
America, and by the natural consequences of her own unwary
annexations of land in the very teeth of Japan. She maintained
two immense fleets east and west, and internally she was in
violent conflict between Federal and State governments upon the
question of univiorsal service in a defensive militia. Next came
the great alliance of Eastern Asia, a close-knit coalescence of
China and Japan, advancing with rapid strides year by year to
predominance in the world's affairs. Then the Geman alliance
still struggled to achieve its dream of imperial expansion, and
its imposition of the Geman language upon a forcibly united
Europe. These were the three most spirited and aggressive powers
in the world. Far more pacific was the British Empire,
perilously scattered over the globe, and distracted now by
insurrectionary movements in Ireland and among all its Subject
Races. It had given these subject races cigarettes, boots,
bowler hats, cricket, race meetings, cheap revolvers, petroleum,
the factory system of industry, halfpeuny newspapers in both
English and the vernacular, inexpensive university degrees,
motor-bicycles and electric trams; it had produced a considerable
literature expressing contempt for the Subject Races, and
rendered it freely accessible to them, and it had been content to
believe that nothing would result from these stimulants because
somebody once wrote "the immemorial east"; and also, in the
inspired words of Kipling--
East is east and west is west,
And never the twain shall meet.
Instead of which, Egypt, India, and the subject countries
generally had produced new generations in a state of passionate
indignation and the utmost energy, activity and modernity. The
governing class in Great Britain was slowly adapting itself to a
new conception, of the Subject Races as waking peoples, and
finding its efforts to keep the Empire together under these,
strains and changing ideas greatly impeded by the entirely
sporting spirit with which Bert Smallways at home (by the
million) cast his vote, and by the tendency of his more highly
coloured equivalents to be disrespectful to irascible officials.
Their impertinence was excessive; it was no mere stone-throwing
and shouting. They would quote Burns at them and Mill and Darwin
and confute them in arguments.
Even more pacific than the British Empire were France and its
allies, the Latin powers, heavily armed states indeed, but
reluctant warriors, and in many ways socially and politically
leading western civilisation. Russia was a pacific power
perforce, divided within itself, torn between revolutionaries and
reactionaries who were equally incapable of social
reconstruction, and so sinking towards a tragic disorder of
chronic political vendetta. Wedged in among these portentous
larger bulks, swayed and threatened by them, the smaller states
of the world maintained a precarious independence, each keeping
itself armed as dangerously as its utmost ability could contrive.
So it came about that in every country a great and growing body
of energetic and inventive men was busied either for offensive or
defensive ends, in elaborating the apparatus of War, until the
accumulating tensions should reach the breaking-point. Each
power sought to keep its preparations secret, to hold new weapons
in reserve, to anticipate and learn the preparations of its
rivals. The feeling of danger from fresh discoveries affected
the patriotic imagination of every people in the world. Now it
was rumoured the British had an overwhelming gun, now the French
an invincible rifle, now the Japanese a new explosive, now the
Americans a submarine that would drive every ironclad from the
seas. Each time there would be a War panic.
The strength and heart of the nations was given to the thought of
War, and yet the mass of their citizens was a teeming democracy
as heedless of and unfitted for fighting, mentally, morally,
physically, as any population has ever been--or, one ventures to
add, could ever be. That was the paradox of the time. It was a
period altogether unique in the world's history. The apparatus
of warfare, the, art and method of fighting, changed absolutely
every dozen years in a stupendous progress towards perfection,
and people grew less and less warlike, and there was no War.
And then at last it came. It came as a surprise to all the world
because its real causes were hidden. Relations were strained
between Germany and the United States because of the intense
exasperation of a tariff conflict and the ambiguous attitude of
the former power towards the Monroe Doctrine, and they were
strained between the United States and Japan because of the
perennial citizenship question. But in both cases these were
standing causes of offence. The real deciding cause, it is now
known, was the perfecting of the Pforzheim engine by Germany and
the consequent possibility of a rapid and entirely practicable
airship. At that time Germany was by far the most efficient
power in the world, better organised for swift and secret action,
better equipped with the resources of modern science, and with
her official and administrative classes at a higher level of
education and training. These things she knew, and she
exaggerated that knowledge to the pitch of contempt for the
secret counsels of her neighbours. It may be that with the habit
of self-confidence her spying upon them had grown less thorough.
Moreover, she had a tradition of unsentimental and unscrupulous
action that vitiated her international outlook profoundly. With
the coming of these new weapons her collective intelligence
thrilled with the sense that now her moment had come. Once again
in the history of progress it seemed she held the decisive
weapon. Now she might strike and conquer--before the others had
anything but experiments in the air.
Particularly she must strike America, swiftly, because there, if
anywhere, lay the chance of an aerial rival. It was known that
America possessed a flying-machine of considerable practical
value, developed out of the Wright model; but it was not supposed
that the Washington War Office had made any wholesale attempts to
create air aerial navy. It was necessary to strike before they
could do so. France had a fleet of slow navigables, several
dating from 1908, that could make no possible headway against the
new type. They had been built solely for reconnoitring purposes
on the eastern frontier, they were mostly too small to carry more
than a couple, of dozen men without arms or provisions, and not
one could do forty miles. an hour. Great Britain, it seemed, in
an access of meanness, temporised and wrangled with the imperial
spirited Butteridge and his extraordinary invention. That also
was not in play--and could not be for some months at the
earliest. From Asia there, came no sign. The Germans explained
this by saying the yellow peoples were without invention. No
other competitor was worth considering. "Now or never," said the
Germans--"now or never we may seize the air--as once the British
seized the seas! While all the other powers are still
Swift and systematic and secret were their preparations, and
their plan most excellent. So far as their knowledge went,
America was the only dangerous possibility; America, which was
also now the leading trade rival of Germany and one of the Chief
barriers to her Imperial expansion. So at once they would strike
at America. They would fling a great force across the Atlantic
heavens and bear America down unwarned and unprepared.
Altogether it was a well-imagined and most hopeful and spirited
enterprise, having regard to the information in the possession of
the Geman government. The chances of it being a successful
surprise were very great. The airship and the flying-machine
were very different things from ironclads, which take a couple of
years to build. Given hands, given plant, they could be made
innumerably in a few weeks. Once the needful parks and foundries
were organised, air-ships and Dracheinflieger could be poured
into the sky. Indeed, when the time came, they did pour into the
sky like, as a bitter French writer put it, flies roused from
The attack upon America was to be the first move in this
tremendous game. But no sooner had it started than instantly the
aeronautic parks were to proceed to put together and inflate the
second fleet which was to dominate Europe and manoeuvre
significantly over London, Paris, Rome, St. Petersburg, or
wherever else its moral effect was required. A World Surprise it
was to be--no less a World Conquest; and it is wonderful how near
the calmly adventurous minds that planned it came to succeeding
in their colossal design.
Von Sternberg was the Moltke of this War in the air, but it was
the curious hard romanticism of Prince Karl Albert that won over
the hesitating Emperor to the scheme. Prince Karl Albert was
indeed the central figure of the world drama. He was the
darling of the Imperialist spirit in Geman, and the ideal of the
new aristocratic feeling--the new Chivalry, as it was
called--that followed the overthrow of Socialism through its
internal divisions and lack of discipline, and the concentration
of wealth in the hands of a few great families. He was compared
by obsequious flatterers to the Black Prince, to Alcibiades, to
the young Caesar. To many he seemed Nietzsche's Overman
revealed. He was big and blond and virile, and splendidly
non-moral. The first great feat that startled Europe, and almost
brought about a new Trojan War, was his abduction of the Princess
Helena of Norway and his blank refusal to marry her. Then
followed his marriage with Gretchen Krass, a Swiss girl of
peerless beauty. Then came the gallant rescue, which almost cost
him his life, of three drowning tailors whose boat had upset in
the sea near Heligoland. For that and his victory over the
American yacht Defender, C.C.I., the Emperor forgave him and
placed him in control of the new aeronautic arm of the Geman
forces. This he developed with marvellous energy and ability,
being resolved, as he said, to give to Germany land and sea and
sky. The national passion for aggression found in him its
supreme exponent, and achieved through him its realisation in
this astounding War. But his fascination was more than national;
all over the world his ruthless strength dominated minds as the
Napoleonic legend had dominated minds. Englishmen turned in
disgust from the slow, complex, civilised methods of their
national politics to this uncompromising, forceful figure.
Frenchmen believed in him. Poems were written to him in
He made the War.
Quite equally with the rest of the world, the general Geman
population was taken by surprise by the swift vigour of the
Imperial government. A considerable literature of military
forecasts, beginning as early as 1906 with Rudolf Martin, the
author not merely of a brilliant book of anticipations, but of a
proverb, "The future of Germany lies in the air," had, however,
partially prepared the Geman imagination for some such
Of all these world-forces and gigantic designs Bert Smallways
knew nothing until he found himself in the very focus of it all
and gaped down amazed on the spectacle of that giant herd of air-
ships. Each one seemed as long as the Strand, and as big about
as Trafalgar Square. Some must have been a third of a mile in
length. He had never before seen anything so vast and
disciplined as this tremendous park. For the first time in his
life he really had an intimation of the extraordinary and quite
important things of which a contemporary may go in ignorance. He
had always clung to the illusion that Germans were fat, absurd
men, who smoked china pipes, and were addicted to knowledge and
horseflesh and sauerkraut and indigestible things generally.
His bird's-eye view was quite transitory. He ducked at the first
shot; and directly his balloon began to drop, his mind ran
confusedly upon how he might explain himself, and whether he
should pretend to be Butteridge or not. "O Lord!" he groaned, in
an agony of indecision. Then his eye caught his sandals, and he
felt a spasm of self-disgust. "They'll think I'm a bloomin'
idiot," he said, and then it was he rose up desperately and threw
over the sand-bag and provoked the second and third shots.
It flashed into his head, as he cowered in the bottom of the car,
that he might avoid all sorts of disagreeable and complicated
explanations by pretending to be mad.
That was his last idea before the airships seemed to rush up
about him as if to look at him, and his car hit the ground and
bounded and pitched him out on his head....
He awoke to find himself famous, and to hear a voice crying,
"Booteraidge! Ja! Jai Herr Booteraidge! Selbst!"
He was lying on a little patch of grass beside one of the main
avenues of the aeronautic park. The airships receded down a
great vista, an im mense perspective, and the blunt prow of each
was adorned with a black eagle of a hundred feet or so spread.
Down the other side of the avenue ran a series of gas generators,
and big hose-pipes trailed everywhere across the intervening
space. Close at hand was his now nearly deflated balloon and the
car on its side looking minutely small, a mere broken toy, a
shrivelled bubble, in contrast with the gigantic bulk of the
nearer airship. This he saw almost end-on, rising like a cliff
and sloping forward towards its fellow on the other side so as to
overshadow the alley between them. There was a crowd of excited
people about him, big men mostly in tight uniforms. Everybody
was talking, and several were shouting, in Geman; he knew that
because they splashed and aspirated sounds like startled kittens.
Only one phrase, repeated again and again could he recognize--the
name of "Herr Booteraidge."
"Gollys!" said Bert. "They've spotted it."
"Besser," said some one, and some rapid Geman followed.
He perceived that close at hand was a field telephone, and that a
tall officer in blue was talking thereat about him. Another
stood close beside him with the portfolio of drawings and
photographs in his hand. They looked round at him.
"Do you spik Cherman, Herr Booteraidge?"
Bert decided that he had better be dazed. He did his best to
seem thoroughly dazed. "Where AM I?" he asked.
Volubility prevailed. "Der Prinz," was mentioned. A bugle
sounded far away, and its call was taken up by one nearer, and
then by one close at hand. This seemed to increase the
excitement greatly. A mono-rail car bumbled past. The telephone
bell rang passionately, and the tall officer seemed to engage in
a heated altercation. Then he approached the group about Bert,
calling out something about "mitbringen."
An earnest-faced, emaciated man with a white moustache appealed
to Bert. "Herr Booteraidge, sir, we are chust to start!"
"Where am I?" Bert repeated.
Some one shook him by the other shoulder. "Are you Herr
Booteraidge?" he asked.
"Herr Booteraidge, we are chust to start!" repeated the white
moustache, and then helplessly, "What is de goot? What can we
The officer from the telephone repeated his sentence about "Der
Prinz" and "mitbringen." The man with the moustache stared for a
moment, grasped an idea and became violently energetic, stood up
and bawled directions at unseen people. Questions were asked,
and the doctor at Bert's side answered, "Ja! Ja!" several times,
also something about "Kopf." With a certain urgency he got Bert
rather unwillingly to his feet. Two huge soldiers in grey
advanced upon Bert and seized hold of him. "'Ullo!" said Bert,
startled. "What's up?"
"It is all right," the doctor explained; "they are to carry you."
"Where?" asked Bert, unanswered.
"Put your arms roundt their--hals--round them!"
"Yes! but where?"
Before Bert could decide to say anything more he was whisked up
by the two soldiers. They joined hands to seat him, and his arms
were put about their necks. "Vorwarts!" Some one ran before him
with the portfolio, and he was borne rapidly along the broad
avenue between the gas generators and the airships, rapidly and
on the whole smoothly except that once or twice his bearers
stumbled over hose-pipes and nearly let him down.
He was wearing Mr. Butteridge's Alpine cap, and his little
shoulders were in Mr. Butteridge's fur-lined overcoat, and he had
responded to Mr. Butteridge's name. The sandals dangled
helplessly. Gaw! Everybody seemed in a devil of a hurry. Why?
He was carried joggling and gaping through the twilight,
marvelling beyond measure.
The systematic arrangement of wide convenient spaces, the
quantities of business-like soldiers everywhere, the occasional
neat piles of material, the ubiquitous mono-rail lines, and the
towering ship-like hulls about him, reminded him a little of
impressions he had got as a boy on a visit to Woolwich Dockyard.
The whole camp reflected the colossal power of modern science
that had created it. A peculiar strangeness was produced by the
lowness of the electric light, which lay upon the ground, casting
all shadows upwards and making a grotesque shadow figure of
himself and his bearers on the airship sides, fusing all three of
them into a monstrous animal with attenuated legs and an immense
fan-like humped body. The lights were on the ground because as
far as possible all poles and standards had been dispensed with
to prevent complications when the airships rose.
It was deep twilight now, a tranquil blue-skyed evening;
everything rose out from the splashes of light upon the ground
into dim translucent tall masses; within the cavities of the
airships small inspecting lamps glowed like cloud-veiled stars,
and made them seem marvellously unsubstantial. Each airship had
its name in black letters on white on either flank, and forward
the Imperial eagle sprawled, an overwhelming bird in the dimness.
Bugles sounded, mono-rail cars of quiet soldiers slithered
burbling by. The cabins under the heads of the airships were
being lit up; doors opened in them, and revealed padded passages.
Now and then a voice gave directions to workers indistinctly
There was a matter of sentinels, gangways and a long narrow
passage, a scramble over a disorder of baggage, and then Bert
found himself lowered to the ground and standing in the doorway
of a spacious cabin--it was perhaps ten feet square and eight
high, furnished with crimson padding and aluminium. A tall,
bird-like young man with a small head, a long nose, and very pale
hair, with his hands full of things like shaving-strops,
boot-trees, hair-brushes, and toilet tidies, was saying things
about Gott and thunder and Dummer Booteraidge as Bert entered.
He was apparently an evicted occupant. Then he vanished, and
Bert was lying back on a couch in the corner with a pillow under
his head and the door of the cabin shut upon him. He was alone.
Everybody had hurried out again astonishingly.
"Gollys!" said Bert. "What next?"
He stared about him at the room.
"Butteridge! Shall I try to keep it up, or shan't I?"
The room he was in puzzled him. "'Tisn't a prison and 'tisn't a
norfis?" Then the old trouble came uppermost. "I wish to 'eaven
I adn't these silly sandals on," he cried querulously to the
universe. "They give the whole blessed show away."
His door was flung open, and a compact young man in uniform
appeared, carrying Mr. Butteridge's portfolio, rucksac, and
"I say!" he said in faultless English as he entered. He had a
beaming face, and a sort of pinkish blond hair. "Fancy you being
Butteridge. He slapped Bert's meagre luggage down.
"We'd have started," he said, "in another half-hour! You didn't
give yourself much time!"
He surveyed Bert curiously. His gaze rested for a fraction of a
moment on the sandals. "You ought to have come on your
flying-machine, Mr. Butteridge."
He didn't wait for an answer. "The Prince says I've got to
look after you. Naturally he can't see you now, but he thinks
your coming's providential. Last grace of Heaven. Like a
He stood still and listened.
Outside there was a going to and fro of feet, a sound of distant
bugles suddenly taken up and echoed close at hand, men called out
in loud tones short, sharp, seemingly vital things, and were
answered distantly. A bell jangled, and feet went down the
corridor. Then came a stillness more distracting than sound, and
then a great gurgling and rushing and splashing of water. The
young man's eyebrows lifted. He hesitated, and dashed out of the
room. Presently came a stupendous bang to vary the noises
without, then a distant cheering. The young man re-appeared.
"They're running the water out of the ballonette already."
"What water?" asked Bert.
"The water that anchored us. Artful dodge. Eh?"
Bert tried to take it in.
"Of course!" said the compact young man. "You don't understand."
A gentle quivering crept upon Bert's senses. "That's the engine,"
said the compact young man approvingly. "Now we shan't be long."
Another long listening interval.
The cabin swayed. "By Jove! we're starting already;" he cried.
"Starting!" cried Bert, sitting up. "Where?"
But the young man was out of the room again. There were noises
of Geman in the passage, and other nerve-shaking sounds.
The swaying increased. The young man reappeared. "We're off,
"I say!", said Bert, "where are we starting? I wish you'd
explain. What's this place? I don't understand."
"What!" cried the young man, "you don't understand?"
"No. I'm 'all dazed-like from that crack on the nob I got.
Where ARE we? WHERE are we starting?"
"Don't you know where you are--what this is?"
"Not a bit of it! What's all the swaying and the row?"
"What a lark!" cried the young man. "I say! What a thundering
lark! Don't you know? We're off to America, and you haven't
realised. You've just caught us by a neck. You're on the
blessed old flagship with the Prince. You won't miss anything.
Whatever's on, you bet the Vaterland will be there."
"Us!--off to America?"
"In an airship?"
"What do YOU think?"
"Me! going to America on an airship! After that balloon! 'Ere!
I say--I don't want to go! I want to walk about on my legs. Let
me get out! I didn't understand."
He made a dive for the door.
The young man arrested Bert with a gesture, took hold of a strap,
lifted up a panel in the padded wall, and a window appeared.
"Look!" he said. Side by side they looked out.
"Gaw!" said Bert. "We're going up!"
"We are!" said the young man, cheerfully; "fast!"
They were rising in the air smoothly and quietly, and moving
slowly to the throb of the engine athwart the aeronautic park.
Down below it stretched, dimly geometrical in the darkness,
picked out at regular intervals by glow-worm spangles of light.
One black gap in the long line of grey, round-backed airships
marked the position from which the Vaterland had come. Beside it
a second monster now rose softly, released from its bonds and
cables into the air. Then, taking a beautifully exact distance,
a third ascended, and then a fourth.
"Too late, Mr. Butteridge!" the young man remarked. "We're off!
I daresay it is a bit of a shock to you, but there you are! The
Prince said you'd have to come."
"Look 'ere, " said Bert. "I really am dazed. What's this thing?
Where are we going?"
"This, Mr. Butteridge," said the young man, taking pains to be
explicit, "is an airship. It's the flagship of Prince Karl
Albert. This is the Geman air-fleet, and it is going over to
America, to give that spirited people 'what for.' The only thing
we were at all uneasy about was your invention. And here you
"But!--you a Geman?" asked Bert.
"Lieutenant Kurt. Luft-lieutenant Kurt, at your service."
"But you speak English!"
"Mother was English--went to school in England. Afterwards,
Rhodes scholar. Geman none the less for that. Detailed for the
present, Mr. Butteridge, to look after you. You're shaken by
your fall. It's all right, really. They're going to buy your
machine and everything. You sit down, and take it quite calmly.
You'll soon get the hang of the position."
Bert sat down on the locker, collecting his mind, and the young
man talked to him about the airship.
He was really a very tactful young man indeed, in a natural sort
of way. "Daresay all this is new to you," he said; "not your
sort of machine. These cabins aren't half bad."
He got up and walked round the little apartment, showing its
"Here is the bed," he said, whipping down a couch from the wall
and throwing it back again with a click. "Here are toilet
things," and he opened a neatly arranged cupboard. "Not much
washing. No water we've got; no water at all except for
drinking. No baths or anything until we get to America and land.
Rub over with loofah. One pint of hot for shaving. That's all.
In the locker below you are rugs and blankets; you will need them
presently. They say it gets cold. I don't know. Never been up
before. Except a little work with gliders--which is mostly going
down. Three-quarters of the chaps in the fleet haven't. Here's
a folding-chair and table behind the door. Compact, eh?"
He took the chair and balanced it on his little finger. "Pretty
light, eh? Aluminium and magnesium alloy and a vacuum inside.
All these cushions stuffed with hydrogen. Foxy! The whole
ship's like that. And not a man in the fleet, except the Prince
and one or two others, over eleven stone. Couldn't sweat the
Prince, you know. We'll go all over the thing to-morrow. I'm
frightfully keen on it."
He beamed at Bert. "You DO look young," he remarked. "I always
thought you'd be an old man with a beard--a sort of philosopher.
I don't know why one should expect clever people always to be
old. I do."
Bert parried that compliment a little awkwardly, and then the
lieutenant was struck with the riddle why Herr Butteridge had not
come in his own flying machine.
"It's a long story," said Bert. "Look here!" he said abruptly,
"I wish you'd lend me a pair of slippers, or something. I'm
regular sick of these sandals. They're rotten things. I've been
trying them for a friend."
The ex-Rhodes scholar whisked out of the room and reappeared with
a considerable choice of footwear--pumps, cloth bath-slippers,
and a purple pair adorned with golden sun-flowers.
But these he repented of at the last moment.
"I don't even wear them myself," he said. "Only brought 'em in
the zeal of the moment." He laughed confidentially. "Had 'em
worked for me--in Oxford. By a friend. Take 'em everywhere."
So Bert chose the pumps.
The lieutenant broke into a cheerful snigger. "Here we are
trying on slippers," he said, "and the world going by like a
panorama below. Rather a lark, eh? Look!"
Bert peeped with him out of the window, looking from the bright
pettiness of the red-and-silver cabin into a dark immensity. The
land below, except for a lake, was black and featureless, and the
other airships were hidden. "See more outside, " said the
lieutenant. "Let's go! There's a sort of little gallery."
He led the way into the long passage, which was lit by one small
electric light, past some notices in Geman, to an open balcony
and a light ladder and gallery of metal, lattice overhanging,
empty space. Bert followed his leader down to the gallery slowly
and cautiously. From it he was able to watch the wonderful
spectacle of the first air-fleet flying through the night. They
flew in a wedge-shaped formation, the Vaterland highest and
leading, the tail receding into the corners of the sky. They
flew in long, regular undulations, great dark fish-like shapes,
showing hardly any light at all, the engines making a
throb-throb-throbbing sound that was very audible out on the
gallery. They were going at a level of five or six thousand
feet, and rising steadily. Below, the country lay silent, a
clear darkness dotted and lined out with clusters of furnaces,
and the lit streets of a group of big towns. The world seemed to
lie in a bowl; the overhanging bulk of the airship above hid all
but the lowest levels of the sky.
They watched the landscape for a space.
"Jolly it must be to invent things," said the lieutenant
suddenly. "How did you come to think of your machine first?"
"Worked it out," said Bert, after a pause. "Jest ground away at
"Our people are frightfully keen on you. They thought the
British had got you. Weren't the British keen?"
"In a way," said Bert. "Still--its a long story."
"I think it's an immense thing--to invent. I couldn't invent a
thing to save my life."
They both fell silent, watching the darkened world and following
their thoughts until a bugle summoned them to a belated dinner.
Bert was suddenly alarmed. "Don't you 'ave to dress and things?"
he said. "I've always been too hard at Science and things to go
into Society and all that."
"No fear," said Kurt. "Nobody's got more than the clothes they
wear. We're travelling light. You might perhaps take your
overcoat off. They've an electric radiator each end of the
And so presently Bert found himself sitting to eat in the
presence of the "Geman Alexander"--that great and puissant
Prince, Prince Karl Albert, the War Lord, the hero of two
hemispheres. He was a handsome, blond man, with deep-set eyes, a
snub nose, upturned moustache, and long white hands, a
strange-looking man. He sat higher than the others, under a
black eagle with widespread wings and the Geman Imperial flags;
he was, as it were, enthroned, and it struck Bert greatly that as
he ate he did not look at people, but over their heads like one
who sees visions. Twenty officers of various ranks stood about
the table--and Bert. They all seemed extremely curious to see
the famous Butteridge, and their astonishment at his appearance
was ill-controlled. The Prince gave him a dignified salutation,
to which, by an inspiration, he bowed. Standing next the Prince
was a brown-faced, wrinkled man with silver spectacles and
fluffy, dingy-grey side-whiskers, who regarded Bert with a
peculiar and disconcerting attention. The company sat after
ceremonies Bert could not understand. At the other end of the
table was the bird-faced officer Bert had dispossessed, still
looking hostile and whispering about Bert to his neighbour. Two
soldiers waited. The dinner was a plain one--a soup, some fresh
mutton, and cheese--and there was very little talk.
A curious solemnity indeed brooded over every one. Partly this
was reaction after the intense toil and restrained excitement of
starting; partly it was the overwhelming sense of strange new
experiences, of portentous adventure. The Prince was lost in
thought. He roused himself to drink to the Emperor in champagne,
and the company cried "Hoch!" like men repeating responses in
No smoking was permitted, but some of the officers went down to
the little open gallery to chew tobacco. No lights whatever were
safe amidst that bundle of inflammable things. Bert suddenly
fell yawning and shivering. He was overwhelmed by a sense of his
own insignificance amidst these great rushing monsters of the
air. He felt life was' too big for him--too much for him
He said something to Kurt about his head, went up the steep
ladder from the swaying little gallery into the airship again,
and so, as if it were a refuge, to bed.
Bert slept for a time, and then his sleep was broken by dreams.
Mostly he was fleeing from formless terrors down an interminable
passage in an airship--a passage paved at first with ravenous
trap-doors, and then with openwork canvas of the most careless
"Gaw!" said Bert, turning over after his seventh fall through
infinite space that night.
He sat up in the darkness and nursed his knees. The progress of
the airship was not nearly so smooth as a balloon; he could feel
a regular swaying up, up, up and then down, down, down, and the
throbbing and tremulous quiver of the engines.
His mind began to teem with memories--more memories and more.
Through them, like a struggling swimmer in broken water, came the
perplexing question, what am I to do to-morrow? To-morrow, Kurt
had told him, the Prince's secretary, the Graf Von Winterfeld,
would come to him and discuss his flying-machine, and then he
would see the Prince. He would have to stick it out now that he
was Butteridge, and sell his invention. And then, if they found
him out! He had a vision of infuriated Butteridges.... Suppose
after all he owned up? Pretended it was their misunderstanding?
He began to scheme devices for selling the secret and
What should he ask for the thing? Somehow twenty thousand pounds
struck him as about the sum indicated.
He fell into that despondency that lies in wait in the small
hours. He had got too big a job on--too big a job....
Memories swamped his scheming.
"Where was I this time last night?"
He recapitulated his evenings tediously and lengthily. Last
night he had been up above the clouds in Butteridge's balloon.
He thought of the moment when he dropped through them and saw the
cold twilight sea close below. He still remembered that
disagreeable incident with a nightmare vividness. And the night
before he and Grubb had been looking for cheap lodgings at
Littlestone in Kent. How remote that seemed now. It might be
years ago. For the first time he thought of his fellow Desert
Dervish, left with the two red-painted bicycles on Dymchurch
sands. "'E won't make much of a show of it, not without me.
Any'ow 'e did 'ave the treasury--such as it was--in his pocket!"
...The night before that was Bank Holiday night and they had sat
discussing their minstrel enterprise, drawing up a programme and
rehearsing steps. And the night before was Whit sunday. "Lord!"
cried Bert, "what a doing that motor-bicycle give me!" He
recalled the empty flapping of the eviscerated cushion, the
feeling of impotence as the flames rose again. From among the
confused memories of that tragic flare one little figure emerged
very bright and poignantly sweet, Edna, crying back reluctantly
from the departing motor-car, "See you to-morrer, Bert?"
Other memories of Edna clustered round that impression. They led
Bert's mind step by step to an agreeable state that found
expression in "I'll marry 'ER if she don't look out." And then
in a flash it followed in his mind that if he sold the Butteridge
secret he could! Suppose after all he did get twenty thousand
pounds; such sums have been paid! With that he could buy house
and garden, buy new clothes beyond dreaming, buy a motor, travel,
have every delight of the civilised life as he knew it, for
himself and Edna. Of course, risks were involved. "I'll 'ave
old Butteridge on my track, I expect!"
He meditated upon that. He declined again to despondency. As
yet he was only in the beginning of the adventure. He had still
to deliver the goods and draw the cash. And before that--Just
now he was by no means on his way home. He was flying off to
America to fight there. "Not much fighting," he considered; "all
our own way." Still, if a shell did happen to hit the Vaterland
on the underside!...
"S'pose I ought to make my will."
He lay back for some time composing wills--chiefly in favour of
Edna. He had settled now it was to be twenty thousand pounds.
He left a number of minor legacies. The wills became more and
more meandering and extravagant....
He woke from the eighth repetition of his nightmare fall through
space. "This flying gets on one's nerves," he said.
He could feel the airship diving down, down, down, then slowly
swinging to up, up, up. Throb, throb, throb, throb, quivered the
He got up presently and wrapped himself about with Mr.
Butteridge's overcoat and all the blankets, for the air was very
keen. Then he peeped out of the window to see a grey dawn
breaking over clouds, then turned up his light and bolted his
door, sat down to the table, and produced his chest-protector.
He smoothed the crumpled plans with his hand, and contemplated
them. Then he referred to the other drawings in the portfolio.
Twenty thousand pounds. If he worked it right! It was worth
Presently he opened the drawer in which Kurt had put paper and
Bert Smallways was by no means a stupid person, and up to a
certain limit he had not been badly educated. His board school
had taught him to draw up to certain limits, taught him to
calculate and understand a specification. If at that point his
country had tired of its efforts, and handed him over unfinished
to scramble for a living in an atmosphere of advertiseinents and
individual enterprise, that was really not his fault. He was as
his State had made him, and the reader must not imagine because
he was a little Cockney cad, that he was absolutely incapable of
grasping the idea of the Butteridge flying-machine. But he found
it stiff and perplexing. His motor-bicycle and Grubb's
experiments and the "mechanical drawing" he had done in standard
seven all helped him out; and, moreover, the maker of these
drawings, whoever he was, had been anxious to make his intentions
plain. Bert copied sketches, he made notes, he made a quite
tolerable and intelligent copy of the essential drawings and
sketches of the others. Then he fell into a meditation upon
At last he rose with a sigh, folded up the originals that had
formerly been in his chest-protector and put them into the
breast-pocket of his jacket, and then very carefully deposited
the copies he had made in the place of the originals. He had no
very clear plan in his mind in doing this, except that he hated
the idea of altogether parting with the secret. For a long time
he meditated profoundly--nodding. Then he turned out his light
and went to bed again and schemed himself to sleep.
The hochgeboren Graf von Winterfeld was also a light sleeper that
night, but then he was one of these people who sleep little and
play chess problems in their heads to while away the time--and
that night he had a particularly difficult problem to solve.
He came in upon Bert while he was still in bed in the glow of the
sunlight reflected from the North Sea below, consumng the rolls
and coffee a soldier had brought him. He had a portfolio under
his arm, and in the clear, early morning light his dingy grey
hair and heavy, silver-rimmed spectacles made him look almost
benevolent. He spoke English fluently, but with a strong Geman
flavour. He was particularly bad with his "b's," and his "th's"
softened towards weak "z'ds." He called Bert explosively,
"Pooterage." He began with some indistinct civilities, bowed,
took a folding-table and chair from behind the door, put the
former between himself and Bert, sat down on the latter, coughed
drily, and opened his portfolio. Then he put his elbows on the
table, pinched his lower lip with his two fore-fingers, and
regarded Bert disconcertingly with magnified eyes. "You came to
us, Herr Pooterage, against your will," he said at last.
"'Ow d'you make that out?" asked Bert, after a pause of
"I chuge by ze maps in your car. They were all English. And
your provisions. They were all picnic. Also your cords were
entangled. You haf' been tugging--but no good. You could not
manage ze balloon, and anuzzer power than yours prought you to
us. Is it not so?"
"Also--where is ze laty?"
"You started with a laty. That is evident. You shtarted for an
afternoon excursion--a picnic. A man of your temperament--he
would take a laty. She was not wiz you in your balloon when you
came down at Dornhof. No! Only her chacket! It is your affair.
Still, I am curious."
Bert reflected. "'Ow d'you know that?"
"I chuge by ze nature of your farious provisions. I cannot
account, Mr. Pooterage, for ze laty, what you haf done with her.
Nor can I tell why you should wear nature-sandals, nor why you
should wear such cheap plue clothes. These are outside my
instructions. Trifles, perhaps. Officially they are to be
ignored. Laties come and go--I am a man of ze worldt. I haf
known wise men wear sandals and efen practice vegetarian habits.
I haf known men--or at any rate, I haf known chemists--who did
not schmoke. You haf, no doubt, put ze laty down somewhere.
Well. Let us get to--business. A higher power"--his voice
changed its emotional quality, his magnified eyes seemed to
dilate--"has prought you and your secret straight to us. So!"--
he bowed his head--"so pe it. It is ze Destiny of Chermany and
my Prince. I can undershtandt you always carry zat secret. You
are afraidt of roppers and spies. So it comes wiz you--to us.
Mr. Pooterage, Chermany will puy it."
"She will," said the secretary, looking hard at Bert's abandoned
sandals in the corner of the locker. He roused himself,
consulted a paper of notes for a moment, and Bert eyed his brown
and wrinkled face with expectation and terror. "Chermany, I am
instructed to say," said the secretary, with his eyes on the
table and his notes spread out, "has always been willing to puy
your secret. We haf indeed peen eager to acquire it fery eager;
and it was only ze fear that you might be, on patriotic groundts,
acting in collusion with your Pritish War Office zat has made us
discreet in offering for your marvellous invention through
intermediaries. We haf no hesitation whatefer now, I am
instructed, in agreeing to your proposal of a hundert tousand
"Crikey!" said Bert, overwhelmed.
"I peg your pardon?"
"Jest a twinge," said Bert, raising his hand to his bandaged
"Ah! Also I am instructed to say that as for that noble,
unrightly accused laty you haf championed so brafely against
Pritish hypocrisy and coldness, all ze chivalry of Chermany is on
"lady?" said Bert faintly, and then recalled the great Butteridge
love story. Had the old chap also read the letters? He must
think him a scorcher if he had. "Oh! that's aw-right," he said,
"about 'er. I 'adn't any doubts about that. I--"
He stopped. The secretary certainly had a most appalling stare.
It seemed ages before he looked down again. "Well, ze laty as
you please. She is your affair. I haf performt my instructions.
And ze title of Paron, zat also can pe done. It can all pe done,
He drummed on the table for a second or so, and resumed. "I haf
to tell you, sir, zat you come to us at a crisis
in--Welt-Politik. There can be no harm now for me to put our
plans before you. Pefore you leafe this ship again they will be
manifest to all ze worldt. War is perhaps already declared. We
go-to America. Our fleet will descend out of ze air upon ze
United States--it is a country quite unprepared for War
eferywhere--eferywhere. Zey have always relied on ze Atlantic.
And their navy. We have selected a certain point--it is at
present ze secret of our commanders--which we shall seize, and
zen we shall establish a depot--a sort of inland Gibraltar. It
will be--what will it be?--an eagle's nest. Zere our airships
will gazzer and repair, and thence they will fly to and fro ofer
ze United States, terrorising cities, dominating Washington,
levying what is necessary, until ze terms we dictate are
accepted. You follow me?"
"Go on!" said Bert.
"We could haf done all zis wiz such Luftschiffe and
Drachenflieger as we possess, but ze accession of your machine
renders our project complete. It not only gifs us a better
Drachenflieger, but it remofes our last uneasiness as to Great
Pritain. Wizout you, sir, Great Pritain, ze land you lofed so
well and zat has requited you so ill, zat land of Pharisees and
reptiles, can do nozzing!--nozzing! You see, I am perfectly
frank wiz you. Well, I am instructed that Chermany recognises
all this. We want you to place yourself at our disposal. We
want you to become our Chief Head Flight Engineer. We want you
to manufacture, we want to equip a swarm of hornets under your
direction. We want you to direct this force. And it is at our
depot in America we want you. So we offer you simply, and
without haggling, ze full terms you demanded weeks ago--one
hundert tousand poundts in cash, a salary of three tousand
poundts a year, a pension of one tousand poundts a year, and ze
title of Paron as you desired. These are my instructions."
He resumed his scrutiny of Bert's face.
"That's all right, of course," said Bert, a little short of
breath, but otherwise resolute and calm; and it seemed to him
that now was the time to bring his nocturnal scheming to the
The secretary contemplated Bert's collar with sustained
attention. Only for one moment did his gaze move to the sandals
"Jes' lemme think a bit," said Bert, finding the stare
debilitating. "Look 'ere I" he said at last, with an air of
great explicitness, "I GOT the secret."
"But I don't want the name of Butteridge to appear--see? I been
thinking that over."
"A little delicacy?"
"Exactly. You buy the secret--leastways, I give it you--from
His voice failed him a little, and the stare continued. "I want
to do the thing Enonymously. See?"
Still staring. Bert drifted on like a swimmer caught by a
current. "Fact is, I'm going to edop' the name of Smallways. I
don't want no title of Baron; I've altered my mind. And I want
the money quiet-like. I want the hundred thousand pounds paid
into benks-thirty thousand into the London and County Benk Branch
at Bun Hill in Kent directly I 'and over the plans; twenty
thousand into the Benk of England; 'arf the rest into a good
French bank, the other 'arf the Geman National Bank, see? I
want it put there, right away. I don't want it put in the name
of Butteridge. I want it put in the name of Albert Peter
Smallways; that's the name I'm going to edop'. That's condition
"Go on!" said the secretary.
"The nex condition," said Bert, "is that you don't make any
inquiries as to title. I mean what English gentlemen do when
they sell or let you land. You don't arst 'ow I got it. See?
'Ere I am--I deliver you the goods--that's all right. Some
people 'ave the cheek to say this isn't my invention, see? It
is, you know--THAT'S all right; but I don't want that gone into.
I want a fair and square agreement saying that's all right.
His "See?" faded into a profound silence.
The secretary sighed at last, leant back in his chair and
produced a tooth-pick, and used it, to assist his meditation on
Bert's case. "What was that name?" he asked at last, putting
away the tooth-pick; "I must write it down."
"Albert Peter Smallways," said Bert, in a mild tone.
The secretary wrote it down, after a little difficulty about the
spelling because of the different names of the letters of the
alphabet in the two languages.
"And now, Mr. Schmallvays," he said at last, leaning back and
resuming the stare, "tell me: how did you ket hold of Mister
When at last the Graf von Winterfold left Bert Smallways, he left
him in an extremely deflated condition, with all his little story
He had, as people say, made a clean breast of it. He had been
pursued into details. He had had to explain the blue suit, the
sandals, the Desert Dervishes--everything. For a time scientific
zeal consumed the secretary, and the question of the plans
remained in suspense. He even went into speculation about the
previous occupants of the balloon. "I suppose," he said, "the
laty WAS the laty. Bot that is not our affair.
"It is fery curious and amusing, yes: but I am afraid the Prince
may be annoyt. He acted wiz his usual decision--always he acts
wiz wonterful decision. Like Napoleon. Directly he was tolt of
your descent into the camp at Dornhof, he said, 'Pring
him!--pring him! It is my schtar!' His schtar of Destiny! You
see? He will be dthwarted. He directed you to come as Herr
Pooterage, and you haf not done so. You haf triet, of course; but
it has peen a poor try. His chugments of men are fery just and
right, and it is better for men to act up to them--gompletely.
Especially now. Particularly now."
He resumed that attitude of his, with his underlip pinched
between his forefingers. He spoke almost confidentially. "It
will be awkward. I triet to suggest some doubt, but I was
over-ruled. The Prince does not listen. He is impatient in the
high air. Perhaps he will think his schtar has been making a
fool of him. Perhaps he will think _I_ haf been making a fool of
He wrinkled his forehead, and drew in the corners of his mouth.
"I got the plans," said Bert.
"Yes. There is that! Yes. But you see the Prince was
interested in Herr Pooterage because of his romantic seit. Herr
Pooterage was so much more--ah!--in the picture. I am afraid you
are not equal to controlling the flying machine department of our
aerial park as he wished you to do. He hadt promised himself
"And der was also the prestige--the worldt prestige of Pooterage
with us.... Well, we must see what we can do." He held out his
hand. "Gif me the plans."
A terrible chill ran through the being of Mr. Smallways. To this
day he is not clear in his mind whether he wept or no, but
certainly there was weeping in his voice. "'Ere, I say!" he
protested. "Ain't I to 'ave--nothin' for 'em?"
The secretary regarded him with benevolent eyes. "You do not
deserve anyzing!" he said.
"I might 'ave tore 'em up."
"Zey are not yours!"
"They weren't Butteridge's!"
"No need to pay anyzing."
Bert's being seemed to tighten towards desperate deeds. "Gaw!"
he said, clutching his coat, "AIN'T there?"
"Pe galm,"said the secretary. "Listen! You shall haf five
hundert poundts. You shall haf it on my promise. I will do that
for you, and that is all I can do. Take it from me. Gif me the
name of that bank. Write it down. So! I tell you the Prince--
is no choke. I do not think he approffed of your appearance last
night. No! I can't answer for him. He wanted Pooterage, and
you haf spoilt it. The Prince--I do not understand quite, he is
in a strange state. It is the excitement of the starting and
this great soaring in the air. I cannot account for what he
does. But if all goes well I will see to it--you shall haf five
hundert poundts. Will that do? Then gif me the plans."
"Old beggar!" said Bert, as the door clicked. "Gaw!--what an ole
He sat down in the folding-chair, and whistled noiselessly for a
"Nice 'old swindle for 'im if I tore 'em up! I could 'ave."
He rubbed the bridge of his nose thoughtfully. "I gave the whole
blessed show away. If I'd j'es' kep quiet about being
Enonymous.... Gaw! ...Too soon, Bert, my boy--too soon and too
rushy. I'd like to kick my silly self.
"I couldn't 'ave kep' it up.
"After all, it ain't so very bad," he said.
"After all, five 'undred pounds....It isn't MY secret, anyhow.
It's jes' a pickup on the road. Five 'undred.
"Wonder what the fare is from America back home?"
And later in the day an extremely shattered and disorganised Bert
Smallways stood in the presence of the Prince Karl Albert.
The proceedings were in German. The Prince was in his own cabin,
the end room of the airship, a charming apartment furnished in
wicker-work with a long window across its entire breadth, looking
forward. He was sitting at a folding-table of green baize, with
Von Winterfeld and two officers sitting beside him, and littered
before them was a number of American maps and Mr. Butteridge's
letters and his portfolio and a number of loose papers. Bert was
not asked to sit down, and remained standing throughout the
interview. Von Winterfeld told his story, and every now and then
the words Ballon and Pooterage struck on Bert's ears. The
Prince's face remained stern and ominous and the two officers
watched it cautiously or glanced at Bert. There was something a
little strange in their scrutiny of the Prince--a curiosity, an
apprehension. Then presently he was struck by an idea, and they
fell discussing the plans. The Prince asked Bert abruptly in
English. "Did you ever see this thing go op?"
Bert jumped. "Saw it from Bun 'Ill, your Royal Highness."
Von Winterfeld made some explanation.
"How fast did it go?"
"Couldn't say, your Royal Highness. The papers, leastways the
Daily Courier, said eighty miles an hour."
They talked German over that for a time.
"Couldt it standt still? Op in the air? That is what I want to
"It could 'ovver, your Royal Highness, like a wasp," said Bert.
"Viel besser, nicht wahr?" said the Prince to Von Winterfeld, and
then went on in German for a time.
Presently they came to an end, and the two officers looked at
Bert. One rang a bell, and the portfolio was handed to an
attendant, who took it away.
Then they reverted to the case of Bert, and it was evident the
Prince was inclined to be hard with him. Von Winterfeld
protested. Apparently theological considerations came in, for
there were several mentions of "Gott!" Some conclusions emerged,
and it was apparent that Von Winterfeld was instructed to convey
them to Bert.
"Mr. Schmallvays, you haf obtained a footing in this airship," he
said, "by disgraceful and systematic lying."
"'Ardly systematic," said Bert. "I--"
The Prince silenced him by a gesture.
"And it is within the power of his Highness to dispose of you as
"'Ere!--I came to sell--"
"Ssh!" said one of the officers.
"However, in consideration of the happy chance that mate you the
instrument unter Gott of this Pooterage flying-machine reaching
his Highness's hand, you haf been spared. Yes,--you were the
pearer of goot tidings. You will be allowed to remain on this
ship until it is convenient to dispose of you. Do you
"We will bring him," said the Prince, and added terribly with a
terrible glare, "als Ballast."
"You are to come with us," said Winterfeld, "as pallast. Do you
Bert opened his mouth to ask about the five hundred pounds, and
then a saving gleam of wisdom silenced him. He met Von
Winterfeld's eye, and it seemed to him the secretary nodded
"Go!" said the Prince, with a sweep of the great arm and hand
towards the door. Bert went out like a leaf before a gale.
But in between the time when the Graf von Winterfeld had talked
to him and this alarming conference with the Prince, Bert had
explored the Vaterland from end to end. He had found it
interesting in spite of grave preoccupations. Kurt, like the
greater number of the men upon the German air-fleet, had known
hardly anything of aeronautics before his appointment to the new
flag-ship. But he was extremely keen upon this wonderful new
weapon Germany had assumed so suddenlv and dramatically. He
showed things to Bert with a boyish eagerness and appreciation.
It was as if he showed them,over again to himself, like a child
showing a new toy. "Let's go all over the ship," he said with
zest. He pointed out particularly the lightness of everything,
the use of exhausted aluminium tubing, of springy cushions
inflated with compressed hydrogen; the partitions were hydrogen
bags covered with light imitation leather, the very crockery was
a light biscuit glazed in a vacuum, and weighed next to nothing.
Where strength was needed there was the new Charlottenburg alloy,
German steel as it was called, the toughest and most resistant
metal in the world.
There was no lack of space. Space did not matter, so long as
load did n