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Chapter 5

  • 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.