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The Man from the Clouds   By: (1870-1944)

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I In the Clouds

II The Man on the Shore

III Alone Again

IV The Suspicious Stranger

V The Doctor's House

VI A Petticoat

VII At the Mansion House

VIII Sunday

IX An Ally

X The Coast Patrol

XI A Near Thing

XII The Key Turned

XIII On the Drifter

XIV My Cousin's Letter



I An Idea

II A Little Dinner

III The Alcoholic Patient

IV The Test

V Waiting

VI The Spectacled Man

VII A Reminiscence

VIII H.M.S. Uruguay

IX Bolton on the Track

X Where the Clue Led

XI An Eye Opener

XII The Confidant

XIII Jean's Guesses

XIV The Pocket Book

XV Part of the Truth

XVI Tracked Down

XVII The Rest of the Truth

XVIII The Frosty Road

XIX Our Morning Call





"My God," said Rutherford, "the cable has broken!"

In an instant I was craning over the side of the basket. Five hundred feet, 700 feet, 1000 feet, 2000 feet below us, the cruiser that had been our only link with the world of man was diminishing so swiftly that, as far as I remember, she had shrunk to the smallness of a tug and then vanished into the haze before I even answered him.

"Anything to be done?" I asked.

"Nothing," said he.

It had been growing steadily more misty even down near the water, and now as the released balloon shot up into an altitude of five, ten, and presently twelve thousand feet, everything in Heaven and earth disappeared except that white and clammy fog. By a simultaneous impulse he lit a cigarette and I a pipe, and I remember very plainly wondering whether he felt any touch of that self conscious defiance of fate and deliberate intention to do the coolest thing possible, which I am free to confess I felt myself. Probably not; Rutherford was the real Navy and I but a zig zag ringed R.N.V.R. amateur. Still, the spirit of the Navy is infectious and I made a fair attempt to keep his stout heart company.

"What ought to happen to a thing like this?" I enquired.

"If this wind holds we might conceivably make a landing somewhere with extraordinary luck."

"On the other side?"

He nodded and I reflected.

It was towards the end of August, 1914. We were somewhere about the middle of the North Sea when the observation balloon was sent up, and I had persuaded Rutherford to take me up with him in the basket. Five minutes ago I had been telling myself I was the luckiest R.N.V.R. Sub Lieutenant in the Navy; and then suddenly the appalling thing happened. I may not give away any naval secrets, but everybody knows, I presume, that towed balloons are sometimes used at sea, and it is pretty obvious that certain accidents are liable to happen to them. In this case the most obvious of all accidents happened; the cable snapped, and there we were heading, as far as I could judge, for the stars that twinkle over the German coast. At least, our aneroid showed that we were going upwards faster than any bird could rise, and the west wind was blowing straight for the mouth of the Elbe when we last felt it for, of course, in a free balloon one ceases to feel wind altogether.

Neither of us spoke for some time, and then a thought struck me suddenly and I asked:

"Did you notice what o'clock it was when we broke loose?"

Rutherford nodded.

"I'm taking the time," said he, "and assuming the twenty knot breeze holds, we might risk a drop about six o'clock."

"A drop" meant jumping into space and trusting one's parachute to do its business properly. I felt a sudden tightening inside me as I thought of that dive into the void, but I asked calmly enough:

"And assuming the breeze doesn't hold?"

"Oh, it will hold all right; it will rise if anything," said he.

We had only been shipmates for a week (that being the extent of my nautical experience), but I had learned enough about Rutherford in that time to know that he was one of the most positive and self confident men breathing... Continue reading book >>

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