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The Auriole

From: The World Peril Of 1910

"All aboard, I think, Captain Roker," said Mr Parmenter, as he walked
last to the top of the gangway ladder, and stood square-footed on the
white deck of the Auriole.

"All aboard, sir," replied Hiram Roker, "and now I reckon you'll have to
excuse me, because I've got to go below just to see that everything's in
working order."

"That's all right, Mr Roker. I know where your affections are centred in
this ship. You go right along to your engines, and Mr Hingeston will see
about the rest of us. Now then, Mr Lennard, you come along into the
conning-tower, and whatever you may have seen from the conning-tower of
the Ithuriel, I reckon you'll see something more wonderful still
before we get to London. You show the way, Newson. See, here it is, just
about the same. We've stolen quite a lot of ideas from your friend
Erskine; it's a way we've got on our side, you know. But this is going
to be one of the exceptions; if we win we are going to pay."

Lennard followed Mr Parmenter down the companion-way into the centre
saloon of the Auriole, and through this into a narrow passage which
led forward. At the end of this passage was a lift almost identical with
that on the Ithuriel. He took his place with Mr Parmenter and Mr
Hingeston on this and it rose with them into a little oval chamber
almost exactly like the conning-tower of the Ithuriel, with the
exception that it was built entirely of hardened papier-mache and glass.

"You see, Mr Lennard," said Mr Parmenter, "we don't want armour here.
Anything that hits us smashes us, and that's all there is to it. Our
idea is just to keep out of the way and do as much harm as we can from
the other side of the clouds. And now, Newson, if you're ready, we might
as well get to the other side and have a look at the sun. It's sort of
misty and cheerless down here."

"Just as easy as saying so, my dear Ratliffe. I reckon Hiram's got about
ten thousand horse-power waiting to be let loose; so we may as well let
them go. Hold on, Mr Lennard, and don't breathe any more than you can
help for a minute or two."

Lennard, remembering his cruise in the Ithuriel, held on, and also,
after filling his lungs, held his breath. Mr Hingeston took hold of the
steering-wheel, also very much like that of the Ithuriel, with his
left hand, and touched in quick succession three buttons on a
signal-board at his right hand.

At the first touch nothing happened as far as Lennard could see or hear.
At the second, a soft, whirring sound filled the air, growing swiftly in
intensity. At the third, the mist which enveloped Whernside began, as it
seemed to him, to flow downwards from the sky in long wreaths of
smoke-mingled steam which in a few moments fell away into nothingness. A
blaze of sunlight burst out from above--the earth had vanished--and
there was nothing visible save the sun and sky overhead, and an
apparently illimitable expanse of cloud underneath.

"There's one good thing about airships," said Mr Hingeston, as he took a
quarter turn at the wheel, "you can generally get the sort of climate
and temperature you want in them." He put his finger on a fourth button
and continued: "Now, Mr Lennard, we have so far just pulled her up above
the mist. You'll have one of these ships yourself one day, so I may as
well tell you that the first signal means 'Stand by'; the second, 'Full
power on lifting fans'; the third, 'Stand by after screws'; and the
fourth--just this--"

He pushed the button down as he spoke, and Lennard saw the brilliantly
white surface of the sunlit mist fall away before and behind them. A few
moments later he heard a sort of soft, sighing sound outside the
conning-tower. It rose quickly to a scream, and then deepened into a
roar. Everything seemed lost save the dome of sky and the sun rising
from the eastward. There was nothing else save the silver-grey blur
beneath them. As far as he was concerned for the present, the earth had
ceased to exist for him five minutes ago.

He didn't say anything, because the circumstances in which he found
himself appeared to be more suitable for thinking than talking; he just
stood still, holding on to a hand-grip in the wall of the conning-tower,
and looked at the man who, with a few touches of his fingers, was
hurling this aerial monster through the air at a speed which, as he
could see, would have left the Ithuriel out of sight in a few minutes.

In front of Hingeston as he sat at the steering-wheel were two dials.
One was that of an aneroid which indicated the height. This now
registered four thousand feet. The other was a manometer connected with
the speed-gauge above the conning-tower, and the indicator on this was
hovering between one hundred and fifty and a hundred and sixty.

"Does that really mean we're travelling over a hundred and fifty miles
an hour?" he said.

"Getting on for a hundred and sixty," said Mr Parmenter, taking out his
watch. "You see, according to that last wire I sent, we're due in the
gardens of Buckingham Palace at ten-thirty sharp, and so we have to
hustle a bit."

"Well," replied Lennard, "I must confess that I thought that my little
trip in the Ithuriel took me to something like the limits of everyday
experience; but this beats it. Whatever you do on the land or in the
water you seem to have something under you--something you can depend on,
as it were--but here, you don't seem to be anywhere. A friend of mine
told me that, after he had taken a balloon trip above the clouds and
across the Channel, but he was only travelling forty miles an hour. He
had somewhat a trouble to describe that, but this, of course, gets
rather beyond the capabilities of the English language."

"Or even the American," added Mr Hingeston, quietly.

"Why, yes," said Mr Parmenter, rolling a cigarette, "I believe we
invented the saying about greased lightning, and here we are something
like riding on a streak of it."

"Near enough!" laughed Lennard. "We may as well leave it at that, as you
say. Still, it is very, very wonderful."

And so it was. As they sped south the mists that hung about the northern
moors fell behind, and broken clouds took their place. Through the gaps
between these he could see a blur of green and grey and purple. A few
blotches of black showed that they were passing over the Lancashire and
Midland manufacturing towns; then the clouds became scarcer and an
enormous landscape spread out beneath them, intersected by white roads
and black lines of railways, and dotted by big patches of woods, long
lines of hedgerows and clumps of trees on hilltops. Here and there the
white wall of a chalk quarry flashed into view and vanished; and on
either side towns and villages came into sight ahead and vanished astern
almost before he could focus his field-glasses upon them.

At about twenty minutes after the hour at which they had left Whernside,
Mr Hingeston turned to Mr Parmenter and said, pointing downward with the
left hand:

"There's London, and the clouds are going. What are we to do? We can't
drop down there without being seen, and if we are that will give half
the show away. You see, if Castellan once gets on to the idea that
we've got airships and are taking them into London, he'll have a dozen
of those Flying Fishes worrying about us before we know what we're
doing. If we only had one of those good old London fogs under us we
could do it."

"Then what's the matter with dropping under the smoke and using that for
a fog," said Mr Parmenter, rather shortly. "The enemy is still a dozen
miles to southward there; they won't see us, and anyhow, London's a big
place. Why, look there now! Talking about clouds, there's the very thing
you want. Oceans of it! Can't you run her up a bit and drop through it
when the thing's just between us and the enemy?"

As he spoke, Lennard saw what seemed to him like an illimitable sea of
huge spumy billows and tumbling masses of foam, which seemed to roll and
break over each other without sound. The silent cloud-ocean was flowing
up from the sou'west. Mr Hingeston took his bearings by compass, slowed
down to fifty miles an hour, and then Lennard saw the masses of cloud
rise up and envelop them.

For a few minutes the earth and the heavens disappeared, and he felt
that sense of utter loneliness and isolation which is only known to
those who travel through the air. He saw Mr Hingeston pull a lever with
his right hand and turn the steering-wheel with his left. He felt the
blood running up to his head, and then came a moment of giddiness. When
he opened his eyes the Auriole was dropping as gently as a bird on the
wing towards the trees of the garden behind Buckingham Palace.

"I reckon you did that quite well, Newson," said Mr Parmenter, looking
at his watch. "One hour and twenty-five minutes as you said. And now I'm
going to shake hands with a real king for the first time."

Next: The Auriole Hoists The White Ensign

Previous: Mr Parmenter Returns

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