cient reason that the provocatives were nowhere at hand.
We were the only point in space, without possibility of
comparison with another. We were made one with the
clean silences receiving us ; and speaking only for the Vi-
comte Anne de St.
Yves, I dare assert that for five min-
874 ST. IVES
utes a newly bathed infant had not been less conscious of
" But look here, you know ^' — it was Byfield at my
elbow — **^rm a public character, by George; and this
puts me in a devilish awkward position."
^"^ So it does," I agreed. " You proclaimed yourself a sol-
itary voyager ; and here, to the naked eye, are four of us."
" And pray how can I help that ? If, at the last mo-
ment, a couple of lunatics come rushing in "
*' They still leave Sheepshanks to be accounted for."
Byfield began to irritate me. I turned to the stowaway.
*^ Perhaps," said I, " Mr. Sheepshanks will explain."
^'1 paid in advance," Mr. Sheepshanks began, eager to
seize the opening presented. " The fact is, I'm a married
*' Already at two j)oints you have the advantage of us.
Proceed, sir ! "
"You were good enough just now to give me your
name, Mr. "
'' The Yicomte Anne de Keroual de St. Yves."
" It is a somewhat difficult name to remember."
" If that be all, sir, within two minutes you shall have
a memoria techniaca prepared for use during the voyage."
Mr. Sheepshanks harked back. " I am a married man,
and — d'ye see ? — Mrs. Sheepshanks, as you might say,
has no sympathy with ballooning. She was a Guthrie
" Which accounts for it, to be sure," said I.
" To me, sir, on the contrary, aerostatics have long
been an alluring study. I might even, Mr. . I might
even, I say, term it the passion of my life." His mild
eyes shone behind their glasses. " I remember Yincent
Lunardi, sir. I was present in Heriot's Gardens when he
made an ascension there in October '85. He came down
*'the incomplete aeronauts" 375
at Cupar. The Society of Gentleman Golfers at Cupar
presented him with an address ; and at Edinburgh he was
admitted Knight Companion of the Beggar's Benison, a
social company, or (as I may say) crew, since defunct. A
thin-faced man, sir. He wore a peculiar bonnet, if I
may use the expression, very much cocked up behind. 'Jlie
shape became fashionable. He once pawned his watch
with me, sir ; that being my profession. I regret to say
he redeemed it subsequently ; otherwise I might have the
pleasure of showing it to you. yes, the theory of
ballooning has long been a passion with me. But in
deference to Mrs. Sheepshanks I have abstained from the
actual practice — until to-day. To tell you the truth, my
wife believes me to be brushing off the cobwebs in the
Kyles of Bute.^'
'' Are there any cobwebs in the Kyles of Bute ? '' asked
Dalmahoy, in a tone unnaturally calm.
'^'A figure of speech, sir — as one might say, holiday-
keeping there. I paid Mr. Byfield five pounds in advance.
I have his receipt. And the stipulation was that I should
be concealed in the car and make the ascension with him
'' Are we then to take it, sir, that our company offends
you ? " I demanded.
He made haste to disclaim. '' Not at all : decidedly not
in the least. But the chances were for far less agreeable
associates." I nodded. '' And a bargain's a bargain," he
''So it is," said I. '' Byfield, hand Mr. Sheepshanks
back his five pounds."
"0, come now!" the aeronaut objected. ''And wdio
may you be to be ordering a man about ? "
" I believe I have already answered that question twice
in your hearing."
376 ST. IVES
'^Mosha the Viscount Thingamy de Something-or-
other ? I dare say ! "
'' Have you any objection ? ''
''^Xot the smallest. For all I care, you are Eobert
.Burns, or Xapoleon Buonaparte, or anything from the
Mother of the Gracchi to Balaam's Ass. But I knew you
first as Mr. Ducie; and you may take it that I'm Mr.
Don't see." He reached up a hand towards the valve-
** AVhat are you proposing to do ?"
" To descend."
'^ What ? — back to the enclosure ?"
"^ Scarcely that, seeing that we have struck a northerly
current, and are travelling at the rate of thirty miles an
hour, perhaps. That's Broad Law to the south of us, as I
make it out."
*' But why descend at all ? "
^' Because it sticks in my head that some one in the
crowd called you by a name that wasn't Ducie ; and by a
title, for that matter, which didn't sound like " Viscoun-t."
I took it at the time for a constable's trick ; but I begin to
have my strong doubts."
The fellow was dangerous. I stooped nonchalantly, on
pretence of picking up a plaid ; for the air had turned bit-
terly cold of a sudden.
^' Mr. By field, a word in your private ear, if you will."
^' As you please," said he, dropping the valve-string.
We leaned together over the breastwork of the car. ^^ If
I mistake not," I said, speaking low, ^^the name was
" The gentleman who raised that foolish but infernally
risky cry was my own cousin, the Viscount de St. Yves. I
give you my word of honour to that." Observing that
this staggered liim, I added, mighty slyly, " I suppose it
doesn't occur to you now that the whole affair was a game
for a friendly wager ? '^
" No/' he answered, brutally, ''it doesn't. And what's
more, it won't go down."
''In that respect," said I, with a sudden change of key,
" it resembles your balloon. But I admire the obstinacy
of your suspicions ; since, as a matter of fact, I am
" The mur "
" Certainly not. I killed the man in fair duel."
"Ha!" He eyed me with sour distrust. "That is
what you have to prove."
" Man alive, you don't expect me to demonstrate it up
here, by the simple apparatus of ballooning ! "
"There is no talk of 'up here,'" said he, and reached
for the valve-string.
" Say ' down there ' then. Down there it is no business
of the accused to prove his innocence. By what I have
heard of the law, English or Scotch, the boot is on the
otlier leg. But I'll tell you what I can prove. I can
prove, sir, that I have been a deal in your company of
late ; that I supped with you and Mr. Dalmahoy no longer
ago than Wednesday. You* may put it that we three are
here together again by accident ; that you never sus-
pected me ; that my invasion of your machine was a com-
plete surprise to you, and, so far as you were concerned,
wholly fortuitous. But ask yourself what any intelligent
jury is likely to make of that cock-and-bull story." Mr.
Byfield was visibly shaken. " Add to this," I proceeded,
" that you have to explain Sheepshanks ; to confess that
you gulled the public by advertising a lonely ascension,
and haranguing a befooled multitude to the same intent,
when, all the time, you had a companion concealed in the
378 ST. IVES
cur. 'A public character' you call 3^oiirself ! My word,
sir ! there'll be no mistake about it this time."
I paused, took breath, and shook a finger at him : —
'' Now just you listen to me, Mr. Byfield. Pull that
string and a sadly discredited aeronaut descends upon the
least charitable of worlds. Why, sir, in any case your
game in Edinburgh is up. The public is dog-tired of you
and your ascensions, as any observant child in to-day's
crowd could have told you. The truth was there staring
you in the face ; and next time even your purblind vanity
must recognise it. Consider ; I offered you two hundred
guineas for the convenience of your balloon. I now double
that offer on condition that I become its owner during this
trip, and that you manipulate it as I wish. Here are the
notes ; and out of the total you will refund five pounds to
Byfield's complexion had grown streaky as his balloon ;
and with colours not so. very dissimilar. I had stabbed
upon his vital self-conceit, and the man Avas really hurt.
*' You must give me time," he stammered.
'' By all means." I knew he was beaten. But only the
poorness of my case excused me, and I had no affection for
the weapons used. I turned with relief to the others.
Dalmahoy was seated on the floor of the car, and helping
Mr. Sheepshanks to unpack a carpet bag.
^' This will be whiskey," the little pawnbroker an-
nounced : " three bottles. My wife said, ' Surely, Elshen-
der, ye'll find whiskey where ye're gaun.' ' No doubt I
will,' said I, ^but I'm not very confident of its quality ;
and it's a far step.' My itinerary, Mr. Dalmahoy, was
planned from Greenock to the Kyles of Bute and back,
and thence coastwise to Saltcoats and the land of Burns. I
told her, if she had anything to communicate, to address
her letter to the care of the postmaster, Ayr — ha, ha ! "
He broke off and gazed reproachfully into Dalmahoy's im-
passive face. *'Ayr — air/' he explained : ''a little j)lay
" Skye would have been better," suggested Dalmahoy,
without moving an eyelid.
"Skye? Dear me — capital, caj^ital ! Only you see/'*
he urged, ''she wouldn't expect me to be in Skye/'
A minute later he drew me aside. ^' Excellent company
your friend is, sir ; most gentlemanly manners ; but at
times, if I may say so, not very gleg/'
My hands by this time were numb with cold. "We had
been ascending steadily, and Byfield's English thermom-
eter stood at thirteen degrees. I borrowed from the heap
a thicker overcoat, in the pocket of wdiich I was lucky
enough to fihd a pair of furred gloves ; and leaned over
for another look below, still with a corner of my eye for
the aeronaut, who stood biting his nails, as far from me as
the car allowed.
The sea-fog had vanished, and the south of Scotland lay
spread beneath us from sea to sea, like a map in monotint.
Nay, yonder was England, with the Solway cleaving the
coast — a broad, bright spearhead, slightly bent at the tip
— and the fells of Cumberland beyond, mere hummocks
on the horizon ; all else flat as a board or as the bottom of
a saucer. White threads of high-road connected town to
town : the intervening hills had fallen down, and the
towns, as if in fright, had shrunk into themselves, con-
tracting their suburbs as a snail his horns. The old poet
was right who said that Olympians had a delicate view.
The lace-makers of Valenciennes might have had the trac-
ing of those towns and high-roads ; those knots of guijmre
and ligatures of finest re'seaw-work. And when I consid-
ered that what I looked down on— this, with its arteries
and nodules of public traffic — was a nation ; that each
380 ST. IVES
silent nodule held some thousands of men, each man
moderately ready to die in defence of his slioj^board and
hen-roost ; it came into my mind that my Emperor's em-
blem was the bee, and this Britain the spider's web, sure
Byfield came across and stood at my elbow.
" Mr. Ducie, I have considered your offer, and accept
it. It's a curst j)osition "
*' For a public character," I put in affably.
'' Don't, sir ! I beg that you don't. Your words just
now made me suffer a good deal ; the more, that I per-
ceive a part of them to be true. An aeronaut, sir, has
ambition — how can he help it ? The public, the news-
papers feed it for a while ; they fete, and flatter, and ap-
plaud him. But in its heart the public ranks him with
the mountebank, and reserves the right to drop him when
tired of his tricks. Is it wonderful that he forgets this
sometimes ? For in his own thoughts he is not a moun-
tebank — no, by God, he is not ! "
The man spoke with genuine passion. I held out my
''Mr. Byfield, my words were brutal. I beg you will
allow me to take them back."
He shook his head. ''They were true, sir ; partly true,
" I am not so sure. A balloon, as you hint and I begin
to discover, may alter the perspective of a man's ambitions.
Here are the notes ; and on the top of them I give you my
word that you are not abetting a criminal. How long
should the Lunardi be able to maintain itself in air ? "
" I have never tried it ; but I calculate on twenty hours
— say twenty-four at a pinch."
" AYe will test it. T4ie current, I see, is still north-east,
or from that to north-by-east. And our height ? "
"the incomplete aeronauts" 381
He consulted the barometer. "Something under three
Dcilmahoy heard and whooped. "Hi ! you fellows,
come to lunch ! Sandwiches, shortbread, and cleanest
Glenlivet — Elshender's Feast :—
' Let old Tomotbeus yield the prize,
Or both divide the crown ;
He raised a mortal to the skies *
Sheepshanks provided the whiskey. Rise, Elshender —
observe that you have no worlds left to conquer, and hav-
ing shed the perfunctory tear, pass the corkscrew. Come
along, Ducie ; come my Da?dalian boy ; if you are not
hungry, I am^ and so is — Sheepshanks — What the dickens
do you mean by consorting with a singular verb ? Ver-
I)2im cum nominativo — I should say, so are slieepshanks."
Byfield produced from one of the lockers a pork pie and
a bottle of sherry (the viaticum in choice and assortment
almost explained the man) and we sat down to the repast.
Dalmahoy's tongue ran like a brook. He addressed Mr.
Sheepshanks with light-hearted impartiality as Philip's
royal son, as the Man of Ross, as the divine Clarinda. He
elected him Professor of Marital Diplomacy to the Univer-
sity of Cramond. He passed the bottle and called on him
for a toast, a song — " Oblige me, Slieepshanks, by making
the welkin ring." Mr. Sheepshanks beamed, and gave us
a sentiment instead. Tlie little man was enjoying hi.nself
amazingly. "Fund of spirits your friend has, to be sure,
sir, quite a fund."
Either my own spirits were running low or the bitter
cold had congealed them. I was conscious of my thin
ball suit, and moreover of a masterful desire of sleep. I
felt no inclination for food, but drained half a tinnl)lerful
of the Sheepshanks' whiskey, and crawled beneath the pile
382 ST. IVES
of plaids. Byfield considerately helped me to arrange
them. He may or may not have caught some accent of
uncertainty in my thanks ; at any rate he thought fit to
add the assurance, ^^You may trust me, Mr. Ducie." I
saw that I could and began almost to like the fellow. *
In this posture I dozed through the afternoon. In
dreams I heard Dalmahoy and Sheepshanks lifting their
voices in amoebsean song, and became languidly aware
that they were growing uproarious. I heard Byfield ex-
postulating, apjDarently in vain ; for I awoke next to find
that Sheepshanks had stumbled over me while illustrating,
with an empty bottle, the motions of tossing the caber.
" Old Hieland sports/' explained Dalmahoy, wiping tears
of vain laughter : ^' his mother's uncle was out in the
Forty-five. Sorry to wake you, Ducie : below, my babe ! ''
It did not occur to me to smoke danger in this tomfoolery.
I turned over and dozed again.
It seemed but a minute later that a buzzing in my ears
awoke me ; with a stab of pain as though my temples were
being split with a wedge. On the instant I heard my
name cried aloud, and sat up ; to find myself blinking in a
broad flood of moonlight over against the agitated face of
-Byfield "I began.
Dalmahoy pointed. The aeronaut lay at my feet, col-
lapsed like some monstrous marionette, with legs and arms
a-splay. Across his legs, with head projiped ugainst a
locker, reclined Sheepshanks, and gazed upwards with an
approving smile. " Awkward business," explained Dal-
mahoy, between gasps. ''Sheepshanks unmanageable;
can't carry his liquor like a gentleman : tlionght it funny
both of us pitch out ballast. Byfield lost his temper,
worst thing in the world. One thing I pride myself, 'men-
able to reason. No holding Sheepshanks ; Byfield got him
down ; too late : faint. Slieepslianks wants ring for ^shist-
ance : pulls string : breaks. When the string breaks Lu-
nardi won^t fall — tha's the devil of it."
" With my tol-de-rol," Mr. Sheepshanks murmured.
'^Pretty — very pretty."
I cast a look aloft. The Lunardi was transformed : every
inch of it frosted as with silver. All the ropes and cords
ran with silver too, or liquid mercury. And in the midst
of this sparkling cage, a little below the hoop, and five feet
at least above reach, dangled the broken valve-string.
'^'•' Well," I said, ''you have made a handsome mess of it.
Pass me the broken end, and be good enough not to lose
*'I wish I could," he groaned, pressing it between his
palms. '' My dear sir, I'm not frightened, if that is your
I was, and horribly. But the thing had to be done. The
reader will perhaps forgive me for touching shyly on the
next two or three minutes, which still recur on the smallest
jirovocation and play bogey with my dreams. To balance
on the edge of night, quaking, gripping a frozen rope ; to
climb and feel the pit of one's stomach slipping like a
bucket in a fathomless well — I suppose the intolerable
pains in my head spurred me to the attempt — these and the
urgent shortness of my breathing — much as a toothache
will drive a man up to the dentist's chair. I knotted the
broken ends of the valve-string and slid back into the car:
then tugged the valve open, while with my disengaged arm
I wiped the sweat from my forehead. It froze upon the
In a minute or so the drumming in my ears grew less
violent. Dalmahoy bent over the aeronaut, who was bleed-
ing at the nose, and now began to breathe stertorously.
Sheepshanks had fallen into placid slumber. I kept the
r^84 ST. IVES
valve open until we descended into a stratum of fog —
from which, no doubt, the Lunar di had lately risen : the
moisture collected here would account for its congelated
coat of silver. By-and-bye, still without rising, we were
quit of the fog, and the moon swept the hollow beneath us,
rescuing solitary scraps and sheets of water and letting
them slip again like imprehensible ghosts. Small fiery
eyes opened and shut on us : cressets of flame on factory
chimneys, more and more frequent. I studied the com-
pass. Our course lay south by west. But our where-
abouts ? Dalmahoy, being appealed to, suggested Glasgow :
and thenceforward I let him alone. Byfield snored on.
I pulled out my watch, which I had forgotten to wind ;
and found it run down. The hands stood at twenty min-
utes past four. Daylight, then, could not be far olf.
Eighteen hours — say twenty : and Byfield had guessed our
rate at one time to be thirty miles an hour. Five hundred
A line of silver ahead : a ribbon drawn taut across the
night, clean-edged, broadening — the sea ! In a minute or
two I caught the murmur of the coast. '' Five hundred
miles,'' I began to reckon again, and a holy calm dawned
on me as the Lunardi swept high over the fringing surf,
and its voice faded back with the glimmer of a white-washed
I roused Dalmahoy and pointed, " The sea ! "
^' Looks like it. Which, I wonder ?"
" The English Channel, man,"
" I say^are you sure ? "
" Eh ? '' exclaimed Byfield, waking up and coming for-
ward with a stagger.
''The English Channel.''
*' The French fiddlestick/' said he with equal prompt-
'' 0, have it as you please ! " I retorted. It was not worth
arguing with the man.
^^AVhat is the hour?''
I told him that my watch had run down. His had done
the same. Dalrnahoy did not carry one. We searched the
still prostrate Shee23shanks : his had stopped at ten min-
utes to four. Byfield replaced it and underlined his dis-
gust with a kick.
''A. nice lot/' he ejaculated. ^' I owe you my thanks,
Mr. Ducie, all the same. It was touch and go Avith us^ and
my head's none the better for it."
" But I say/' expostulated Dalmahoy. " France I This
is getting past a joke."
'^So you are really beginning to discover that, are
Byfield stood, holding by a rope, and studied the dark-
ness ahead. Beside him I hugged my conviction — liour
after hour, it seemed : and still the dawn did not come.
He turned at length.
''I see a coast line to the south of us. This will be the
Bristol Channel, and the balloon is sinkiug. Pitch out
some ballast, if these idiots have left any."
I found a couple of sandbags and emptied them over-
board. The coast, as a matter of fact, was close at hand.
But the Lunardi rose in time to clear the clilf barrier
by some hundreds of feet. A wild sea ran on it : of its
surf, as of a grey and agonising face, we caught one glimpse
as we hurled high and clear over the roar : and, a minute
later, to our infinite dismay were actually skimming the
surface of a black hillside. " Hold on ! " screamed By-
field, and I had barely time to tighten my grip when— crash I
the car struck the turf and pitched us together in a heap
on the floor. Bump ! the next blow shook us like peas in
^ bladder. I drew my legs up and waited for the third.
386 ST. IVES
Noue came. The car gyrated madly and swung slowly
back to equilibrium. We picked ourselves up, tossed rugs,
coats, instruments, promiscuously overboard, and mounted
again. The chine of the tall hill, our stumbling-block, fell
back and was lost, and we swept forward into formless
" Confound it l^' said Byfield, '' the land can't be unin-
habited ! "
It was, for aught we could see. Not a light showed any-
where ; and to make things worse the moon had abandoned
us. For one good hour we swept through chaos to the
tuneless lamentations of Sheepshanks, who declared that
his collar-bone was broken.
Then Dalmahoy flung a hand upwards. Night lay like
a sack around and below us : but right aloft, at the zenith,
day was trembling. Slowly established, it spread and de-
scended upon us until it touched a distant verge of hills,
and these, cut by the rim of the rising sun, flowed sud-
denly with streams of crimson.
" Over with the grapnel ! '' Byfield sprang to the valve-
string and pulled ; and the featureless earth rushed up
The sunlight through which we were falling had not
touched it yet. It leaped on us, drenched in shadow, like
some incalculable beast from its covert : a land shaggy with
woods and coppices. Between the woods a desolate river
glimmered. A colony of herons rose from the tree-tops
beneath us and flew squawking for the farther shore.
''This won't do," said Byfield, and shut the escape. " We
must win clear of these woods. Hullo ! "' Ahead of us the
river widened abruptly into a shining estuary, populous
with anchored shipping. Tall hills flanked it, and in the
curve of the westernmost hill a grey town rose from the
waterside : its terraces climbing tier upon tier, like seats
*^THE INCOMPLETE AERONAUTS" 387
in an amphitheatre ; its chimneys lifting their smoke over
against the dawn. The tiers curved away sou tli ward to a
round castle and a spit of rock, off which a brig under white
canvas stood out for the line of the open sea.
We swept across the roadstead towards the town, trailiixr
our grapnel as it were a hooked fish, a bare hundred feet
above the water. Faces stared up at us from the ships'
decks. The crew of one lowered a boat to pursue ; we were
half a mile away before it touched the water. Should we
clear the town ? At Byfield's orders we stripped off our
overcoats and stood ready to lighten ship : but seeing that
the deflected wind in the estuary was carrying us towards
the suburbs and the harbour's mouth, he changed his
^'It is devil or deep sea," he announced. " We will try
the grapnel. Look to it, Ducie, while I take the valve."
He pressed a clasp-knife into my hand. " Cut, if I give the
We descended a few feet. We were skimming the ridge.
The grapnel touched, and in the time it takes you to wink,
had ploughed through a kitchen garden, uprooting a regi-
ment of currant bushes ; had leaped clear, and was caught
in the eaves of a wooden outhouse, fetching us up with a
dislocating shock. I heard a rending noise and picked
myself up in time to see the building colla])se like a house
of cards and a pair of demented pigs emerge from the ruins
and plunge across the garden beds. And with that I was
pitched olf my feet again as the hook caught in an iron
chevaux-de-frise, and held fast.
^' Hold tight ! " shouted By field, as the car lurched and
struggled, careening desperately. " Don't cut, man !
What the devil ! "
Our rope had tautened over the coping of a high stone
wall ; and the straining lAinardi — a very large and hand'
388 ST. iVKS
some blossom, bending on a very thin stalk — overhung the
gravelled yard ; and lo ! from the centre of it stared np at
us, rigid with amazement, the faces of a squad of British