The World, October 9, 1906
THE INTREPID AERONAUTS.
(A Dialogue of To-morrow.)
[The scene is the car of a balloon, suspended somewhere over Great Britain. Exactly where, Lord Teddy Trimble, the proprietor of the machine, has not the slightest idea. Nor have Lady “Billy” Odol-Brabazon, the Hon. Claude Darkside, and Mrs. Jack Dennett, who are with him in the car. This is unfortunate, as Lord Teddy has lured them into his death-trap on the specious plea that they will arrive at his cottage on the Surrey Hills more quickly than any train or motor could bring them. They have now been four hours in the car without arriving anywhere. It is quite dark.]
Lady Billy (breaking a long silence). No notion where we are, Teddy, I suppose?
Lord Teddy (not without a trace of shame in his voice). To tell you the truth, I haven’t. Not to a yard or two, that’s to say. Speaking at a venture, I should say we were—well—(vaguely) well, somewhere about, don’t you know.
Mrs. Jack. I noticed that. Do we stay here, or are we moving on? It seems a pretty part of the country from what I can see of it; but there’s nothing like a change.
Lord Teddy. Oh, we’re moving all right. Precious fast, too.
Lady Billy (querulously). Yes, but in which direction? I don’t want to find myself at midnight on some rocky island in the Outer Hebrides, where there isn’t a soul.
Mrs. Jack. Or in Hoxton, where there are too many.
Darkside (with profound gloom). Or in the soup.
Mrs. Jack. Still your old, bright self, Claude. Buck up. Pull your tie straight, and smile.
Darkside (more gloomily). I knew the cousin of a feller who went up in one of these strawberry-baskets, and when they’d got up a bit something went wrong with the sparking-plug or something, and down he came. Beastly sight when they picked him up, I’m told. Shouldn’t mind betting the same thing would happen here.
Lady Billy (faintly). Oh!
Mrs. Jack. Let’s hope for the best. After all, going Back to the Land’s fashionable just now. I don’t suppose it makes any difference how fast you do it.
Darkside. Splendid feller he was, too. My pal’s cousin, I mean. One of the best. Cut off in his prime—— Of course, we may have luck. Some fellers do.
Mrs. Jack. What’s the latest bulletin, Teddy? Know where we are yet?
Lord Teddy. Not to a few inches, no.
Mrs. Jack. My idea is that you ought to have turned to the left at that last cloud. Can’t you see a policeman anywhere to ask?
Darkside. And just about now we should have been biting the savoury! (Relapses, into silence and unutterable thoughts.)
Lady Billy. I am hungry!
Lord Teddy (by accident). Tighten your—I mean, I wish I’d got a sandwich to offer you.
Lady Billy (ravenously). A sandwich!
Mrs. Jack. Curious, when you think of it, how one hurls away the good things of life. What would you give, Teddy, at this moment for one of the Jungle Monarch’s long, dull, stodgy dinners, off the guaranteed gold plate which has been in the Panter family since 1905? or even a Panter’s peerless pork-pie?
Lady Billy (in a hushed whisper). Don’t talk of it!
Darkside. They tell me Chicago’s a fool to the Panter packing-rooms. I have a profound dislike for that feller.
Lord Teddy. Same here. Always after one, too. Can’t shake him off.
Mrs. Jack. Burrs, limpets, and seccotine also ran. Well, as I was saying, one hurls away the good things of life. He asked me down this week-end. If I had gone, I should now be passing my plate up for a third helping. As it is, I suppose I shall die of starvation in the clouds.
Lord Teddy. Why didn’t you go?
Mrs. Jack. Influenza. A particularly acute attack.
Lord Teddy (interested). Really? Queer coincidence. Do you know, I’m down with influenza, too. Worst attack I’ve ever had. Doctor in constant attendance.
Lady Billy. Did he ask you too?
Lord Teddy. Ask? Implored!
Lady Billy. He wanted me to go as well.
Darkside. And me.
Mrs. Jack. We are united by a common sorrow. Is your influenza bad, Claude?
Darkside. Mine’s malaria.
Lady Billy. Mine’s neuralgia. I sent a wire this afternoon.
Darkside. Was that a spot of rain?
Lord Teddy, No—yes, by Jove, it was! Look here, I don’t know where we are, but I’m going down. It’s no good staying up here to be soaked.
Mrs. Jack. Let her go then.
Darkside. A feller who’s done a fairish bit of ballooning tells me that coming down’s the most dangerous part of the whole thing. Lucky, this feller said, if you don’t break something.
Lord Teddy. We’re pretty near now. I see lights. We’re making for somebody’s back garden.
Mrs. Jack. Let’s hope it’s somebody who can give us something to eat. If there’s a dog I shall steal his bone.
Lord Teddy. Look out now. Hold tight. We’re almost in—— Now!
[There is a terriffic crash of glass. The balloon rises a few feet and sinks again. Another crash. This process is repeated several times, the car, feeling that it has got a success, obliging with a number of encores.
Lady Billy. Oh!
Darkside (with moody satisfaction). Smashed somebody’s cucumber-frame, anyway.
Mrs. Jack. “Siege of Port Arthur.” Act one. Bombardment of town by Japanese warships.
Lord Teddy. Hullo, they’re coming.
Mrs. Jack. Let them—all, if they’re bringing something to eat.
[Alarums and excursions heard through darkness, near at hand. Lights approach. Confused noises without.
A Voice. Who the——! What the——!! Where the——!!!
The Jungle Monarch!
The Voice (coming nearer). Where the——! Who the——!! What the——!!! What the suggestively asterisked aposiopesis are you doing to my orchids?
Mrs. Jack (in a still, small voice). It’s only me, Mr. Panter.
The Voice. What!
Mrs. Jack. Mrs. Dennett, you know.
Lord Teddy. And Trimble.
Lady Billy. And me.
Darkside. And me.
Lord Teddy. It’s my balloon, you know. [A long silence.
Mrs. Jack. We were so much better that we thought we’d come, after all, Mr. Panter.
p. g. wodehouse.