THE WORK was full of a real live peril, but the aeroplane was cast loose a_ength. Its upward motion was slow, perhaps owing to the denseness of th_tmosphere. For some time nobody spoke. Something seemed to oppress thei_reathing. They were barely conscious of the faint upward motion. If they onl_ose perfectly straight all would be well.
"That's a fine light you had in the workshop," said Eldred. "But why not hav_stablished a few hundreds of them—"
"All over London," Hackness cut in, "For the simple reason that the lamp m_riend lent me is the only one in existence. It is worked at a dangerou_oltage too."
The upward motion continued. The sails of the aeroplane rustled slightly.
Grimfern drew a deep breath.
"Air," he gasped, "real pure fresh air! Do you notice it?"
The cool sweetness of it filled their lungs. The sudden effect was almos_ntoxicating. A wild desire to laugh and shout and sing came over them. The_radually three human faces and a ghostly shaped aeroplane emerged out o_othingness. They could see one another plainly now; they felt the upwar_ush; they were passing through a misty envelope that twisted and curled lik_ive ropes. Another minute and they were beyond the fog belt.
They looked at one another and laughed. All three of them were blackened an_rimed and greasy, smothered from head to foot in fatty soot flakes. Thre_ore disreputable looking ruffians it would have been hard to imagine. Ther_as something grotesque in the reflection that every Londoner was the same.
It was light now, broad daylight, with a round globe of sun climbing up out o_he pearly mists in the East. They revelled in the brightness and the light.
Below them lay the thick layers of fog that would be a shroud in earnest i_othing came to dispel it.
"We're a thousand feet above the city," Eldred said presently. "We had bette_ay out five hundred feet of cable."
To a hook at the end of a flexible wire Hackness attached a large bomb fille_ith a certain high explosive. Through the eye of the hook another wire—a_lectric one—was attached. The whole thing was carefully lowered to the ful_xtent of the cable. Two anxious faces peered from the car. Grimfern appeare_o be playing carelessly with a polished switch spliced into the wire. But hi_ands were shaking.
Eldred nodded. He had no words to spare just then.
Grimfern's forefinger pressed the polished button, there was a snap and almos_mmediately a roar and a rush of air that set the aeroplane rocking violently.
All about them the clouds were spinning, below the foggy envelope was twiste_nd torn as smoke is blown away from a huge stack by a high wind.
"Look," Hackness yelled. "Look at that!"
He pointed downwards. The force of the explosion had literally torn a hole i_he dense foggy curtain. The brilliant light of day shone through down int_ondon as from a gigantic skylight.
This is what the amazed inhabitants of central London saw as they rushed ou_f their houses after what they imagined to be a shock of earthquake. Th_ffect was weird, wonderful, one never to be forgotten. From a radius of hal_ mile from St. Paul's, London was flooded with brilliant light. People rubbe_heir eyes, unable to face the sudden and blinding glare. They gasped an_hrilled with exultation as a column of fresh sweet air rushed to fill th_acuum. As yet they knew nothing of the cause.
That brilliant shaft of light showed strange things. Every pavement was blac_s ink, the fronts of the houses looked as if they had been daubed over wit_itch. The roads were dark with fatty soot. On Ludgate Hill were dozens o_ehicles from which the horses had been detached. There were numerous moto_ars apparently lacking owners. A pickpocket sat in the gutter with a pile o_ostly trinkets about him, gems that glittered in the mud. These things ha_een collected before the fog grew beyond endurance. Now they were about a_seful to the thief as an elephant might have been.
At the end of five minutes the curtain fell again. The flying, panic- stricke_ickpocket huddled down once more with a frightened curse.
But London was no longer alarmed. A passing glimpse of the aeroplane had bee_een, and better informed folks knew what was taking place. Presently anothe_xplosion followed, tearing the curtain away over Hampstead; for the next tw_ours the explosions continued at short intervals. There were tremendou_utbursts of cheering whenever the relief came.
Presently a little light seemed to be coming. Ever and again it was possibl_or a man to see his hands before his face. Above the fog banks a wrack o_loud had gathered, the aeroplane was coated with a glittering mist. An hou_efore it had been perfectly fair overhead. Then it began to rain in earnest.
The constant explosions had summoned up and brought down the rain as the heav_ischarge of artillery used to do in the days of the Boer War.
It came down in a drenching stream that wetted the occupants of the aeroplan_o the skin. They did not seem to mind. The exhilaration of the fresh swee_ir was still in their veins, they worked on at their bombs till the las_unce of the high explosives was exhausted.
And the rain was falling over London. Wherever a hole was torn in the curtain,
the rain was seen to fall—black rain as thick as ink and quite as disfiguring.
The whole city wore a suit of mourning.
"The cloud is passing away," Eldred cried. "I can see the top of St. Paul's."
Surely enough, the cross seemed to lift skyward. Bit by bit and inch by inc_he panorama of London slowly unfolded itself. Despite the sooty flood—a floo_radually growing cleaner and sweeter every moment—the streets were fille_ith people gazing up in fascination at the aeroplane.
The tumult of their cheers came upwards. It was their thanks for th_orethought and scientific knowledge that had proved to be the salvation o_ondon. As a matter of fact, the high explosives had only been the indirec_eans of preserving countless lives. The conjuring up of that heavy rain ha_een the real salvation. It had condensed the fog and beaten it down to eart_n a sooty flow of water. It was a heavy, sloppy, gloomy day, such as Londo_ver enjoys the privilege of grumbling over, but nobody grumbled now. Th_lessed daylight had come back, it was possible to fill the lungs wit_omething like pure air once more, and to realise the simple delight o_iving.
Nobody minded the rain, nobody cared an atom for the knowledge that he was _ittle worse and a little more grimy than the dirtiest sweep alive. What di_t matter so long as everybody was alike? Looking down, the trio in th_eroplane could see London grow mad, grave men skipping about in the rain lik_choolboys at the first fall of snow.
"We had better get down," said Grimfern. "Otherwise we shall have an ovatio_eady for us, and, personally, I should prefer a breakfast. In a calm lik_his we need not have any difficulty in making Regent's Park safely."
The valve was opened and the great car dropped like a flashing bird. They sa_he rush in the streets, they could hear the tramp of feet now. They droppe_t length in what looked like a yelling crowd of demented Hottentots.