Mr. Josiah Smith's Balloon
by Henry W. Lucy
It would be an injustice to Josiah to suppose that he limited his quest
in the field of knowledge to that particular portion indicated by his
honoured association with a distinguished society. He was proud in his
modest way, if the paradox be permitted, when he produced his card, on
which was engraved "Josiah Smith, F.R.S.A." Also it was known amongst
his friends that casual references to his great work on "Underground
England" were not displeasing to him. But, as he was wont to say, "The
surest way of finding either mental or bodily recreation is to seek it
in fresh fields of labour."
Thus it came to pass one evening in the spring of this year that Josiah,
having shut himself in all day with the determination to make up for
lost time, found he had, with the aid of cold tea and wet bandages,
added as much as half a page to his great work. Feeling the need of a
little change of thought and association, he had availed himself of an
invitation kindly sent to him to join the meeting of an aëronautic
society. Josiah had listened with profound attention to the various
speeches made, and had thought, really, when he had a little more time
he would devote it to the fascinating science of aëronautics.
Amongst the guests of the society, and indeed the hero of the evening,
was Captain Mulberry, the famous guardsman who devoted much natural
talent and a considerable portion of his life to the endeavour either to
kill or hopelessly maim himself. Evil fortune had kept his sword
stainless, as far as regular warfare went, but there was generally a
little fighting going on somewhere, and, the captain's leave of absence
coinciding, he from time to time managed to sniff the exhilarating smell
of powder, and knew the music of bullet and shell. These things were
surrounded with difficulties. It obviously would not do for a man
bearing Her Majesty's commission to lend his sword to one or other
belligerents in a conflict between nations at peace with England. In a
country like Spain, for example, things naturally run a little
irregularly and the captain being on the spot may have occasionally
lapsed into battle.
But these were mere episodes. Having tried most things, he had taken to
ballooning, as offering the largest amount of risk in the least possible
space of time. He had been up in all kinds of balloons in all possible
circumstances, and had come down in various ways. He had just now
achieved a great feat, making a voyage from the Grampian Hills to the
Orkney Islands. The society desiring to do him honour had invited him to
this meeting, and Josiah had heard him describe his perilous voyage.
"A mere nothing," he said; "perhaps a little difficult going, but
nothing at all coming back. The difficulty in going out was to drop on
the Orkneys. The place is so small that when you are up in the air it
looks as if you might as well try to drop on a pin's point. But after
all, it was a nothing—a mere nothing, gentlemen, I assure you. Any one
of you could have done the same."
Every one in the room was delighted, not less with the captain's
gallantry than with his modesty. Many moving stories of his escapes were
retailed. Josiah listened with enthralled attention to an adventure
which, it seems, the captain had had in Spain, and which Josiah's
companion (a bald-headed gentleman with spectacles) narrated with great
effect. Mulberry in one of the marches of the Carlists, to whom he had
attached himself, was surprised and taken prisoner by the enemy. They
locked him in the kitchen of a farmhouse near, mentioning incidentally
that in the morning they would shoot him. They took away his sword and
pistols; and would have taken his umbrella, but the captain pleaded hard
for its society, declaring that from early boyhood he had never been
able to sleep without an umbrella under his pillow. The Spaniards had
heard much of the eccentricity of Englishmen, and not being inclined to
refuse the request of a doomed man, they left him the umbrella.
The next morning, when they came to take him out for shooting purposes,
lo! the captain and the umbrella were both gone. There was a good deal
of soot about the place, and regarding this and other signs of hasty
flight the truth flashed upon the Spaniards. There had been a fire in
the grate. The captain had opened the umbrella inside the chimney,
waited till it had been inflated with the warm air, and then, hanging on
the handle, had been drawn up clear to the top and descending in a
neighbouring field, had shut up his umbrella and walked off.
"Dear me!" said Josiah; "how very interesting. I suppose the chimneys
are wide in Spain?"
"Very wide indeed," said the bald-headed gentleman in spectacles.
Josiah regarded the captain with fresh interest after the recital of
this remarkable ascent, and it was not diminished by further tales he
heard. One related to his reception by an Illustrious Personage. After
his journey to Orkney the I.P. had sent for him immediately on his
return to town. The captain had put on his uniform and gone cheerfully.
He had heard so much of his feat that he began to think there really was
something creditable in it, and fancied the Illustrious Personage might
be going to bestow upon him some recognition of the service he had done
in blazoning abroad the pluck of the British soldier. On the contrary,
he found the Illustrious Person almost speechless with wrath, and
stuffed with oaths like plums in a Christmas pudding.
"What—what was the meaning of this flying by night, sir?" he cried
turning a flaming visage upon the contrite captain. "You'll be going
round with a circus next, riding five horses at a time, or walking round
to show your muscle. I hope I shall hear no more of this sort of thing.
Such goings-on bring disgrace upon the army and discredit upon its
officers. Stop at home, sir, and get into what mischief you like. Go and
idle your time at playing cards or worse; but don't be playing these
pranks any more. Did you ever see me in a balloon, sir? Did you ever
hear of me skimming around the world in search of adventure?"
The Illustrious Personage drew himself up to full height, and swelled
visibly before the eyes of the captain, as he angrily put these
questions, garnished with many ejaculations. He knew that our army swore
terribly in Flanders, and was nothing if not a soldier.
"Your Royal Highness cannot blame us if we sometimes go out of our way
to get into danger," said the captain, saluting. "Your Royal Highness
has much to answer for by inflaming us with the memory of Inkermann. How
can we sit still or lounge about in our peaceful homes, when we think of
you on that day?"
"Tut, tut!" said the Illustrious Personage, spluttering down like a
fire on which a bucket of water had been flung, "that was a different
thing. But come and dine with me to-night: only, drive up in a hansom,
don't arrive in a balloon."
And the Illustrious Personage, what with enjoyment of the joke, and what
with muscular effort to suppress his laughter, nearly brought about a
vacancy in the highest rank of the army.
All this was doubtless as true as the story about the exit from the
Spanish farmhouse. But it pleased the company, and was only one of a
dozen stories they told about the captain, who was chiefly longing to be
out where he could smoke a cigar.
When the meeting came to an end, Josiah walked along Pall Mall
meditating on things, and on the comparative obscurity of the work he
had assigned to himself. Whilst others were soaring in high places, he
was burrowing underground. Both were in search of knowledge. Both
desired to benefit their fellow-men. But of the two Josiah felt that the
aëronauts had the advantage of the undergrounders. It was too late for
him to think of striking out a new path; but he thought that if he had
to begin life again he would soar.
Whilst pondering on these matters, he was startled by a heavy hand laid
upon his shoulder, and heard a cheery voice exclaim:
"Got a match in your pocket, old man?"
He looked up, and there, somewhere on a level with the lantern in the
neighbouring lamp-post, was the genial face of Captain Mulberry.
"No," said Josiah, "I'm sorry I have not."
"Don't smoke, eh? You don't look the kind of old boy to have any
pleasant vices. I saw you in the Balloon Society's rooms just now, and
rather took a fancy to you."
"You are very kind," Josiah said, blushing up to where in earlier and
happier days the roots of his hair had been. "I am sure I feel it a
"If you don't mind me saying so, I think you're the innocentest-looking
old boy I have seen in a day's ride. I like innocence, particularly when
combined with middle age. It is the rarest thing in the world. I hope
you'll come and dine with me some night at my club."
"I shall like it very much indeed," said Josiah, "We are close at my
rooms—just here in King Street I live—and if you would step in, you
might light your cigar."
"Thanks, I will. You won't mind me making up to you in this way; but
'pon my honour, I took such a liking to your face, seeing it among that
mass of humbug where we were just now, that I was going to speak to you
then, only I could not get near you."
Josiah was in a tremor of delight, which presently subsided into a soft
glow of contentment, as the captain, stretching himself out over as much
of the couch as he could find in the little room, not only lit his
cigar, but praised Josiah's claret and told him a good deal more of his
balloon adventures than he had communicated to the eminent society in
whose rooms they had met.
"By the way," he said, "I am going to make a balloon excursion
to-morrow. I didn't mention it to the society because these fellows gab
so. There'd be a great crowd round, and I'd only have been hampered.
When you mean work, the less you say about it beforehand the better.
That is what I have always found. Ever up in a balloon?"
"No," said Josiah, "but I should very much like to go."
He had drunk a whole tumbler of claret in honour of his distinguished
company, and, being accustomed to more moderate measure, had begun to
think going up in a balloon was after all a mere ordinary performance.
"What do you ride?" asked the captain, looking him up and down, as if
either about to measure him for a suit of clothes, or considering where
he could most advantageously plant a blow from his ox-hoof-like fist.
"A pony—at least, I used to ride a pony when I was at home: but that is
a long time ago, and I have not ridden much since."
"I mean, what do you weigh," said the captain, laughing.
"A little over ten stone."
"Is it possible! why, I pull the scales at seventeen stun. I'd give
something to be your weight. Think of the ballast you might take up with
"Is that an important thing?" Josiah asked, his old instinct of gaining
knowledge manifesting itself.
"It's simply everything. That's how I managed to get over to the
Orkneys. These fellows that go up in balloons which they fit up like
first-floor rooms, and take everything with them except a feather bed,
don't know anything about it. They go fumbling around with a few pounds
of ballast, and when they get into a wrong current there they stick.
Now, between you and me, Mr. Smith, I don't mind telling you my secret
of successful ballooning. Take as much ballast as you can carry, and
when you get stuck in a calm or carried off by a wrong current, out goes
your ballast, up you shoot, get into another current, and there you are.
Ten stun!" he murmured, gazing wistfully upon the spare figure of his
host. "There ought to be a good deal done with that. Tell you what, old
chappie, you shall come with me to-morrow."
Josiah had been a few moments ago possessed with a burning desire to go
up in a balloon, but at these words the fire went out and he felt a cold
chill steal over his body. Still, he would like to go; but not
to-morrow. If it were next month or next week it would be different. But
to-morrow was so sudden.
"I rather fancy I have an engagement to-morrow," he said, producing his
pocket diary and anxiously gazing on it in the month of December.
"Nonsense!" said the captain, laying his large hand on Josiah's
shoulder, conveying to him an impression that if he pleased he could
take him up, put him in his coat-tail pocket, walk off, and think no
more about him till he landed him in a balloon. "You've no engagement,
and if you had you couldn't find it by holding your book upside down.
You come along with me. There's not the slightest danger, and it's not
every man who has crossed the Channel in a balloon."
"The Channel!" cried Josiah feebly. He had thought of some little
excursion. Perhaps in the fields ten or twenty miles off. "I don't think
I would like to start with the Channel. Suppose we begin somewhere else,
and try the Channel later on. It will be better—if anything happened,
you know—to have the water warm."
"Nonsense," said the captain cheerily; "we shall never be nearer the
water than 2,000 feet. We'll dine in Paris to-morrow night, and I'll
take you to the Closerie after dinner. It will do them good to see you
there. Now that's settled, and you'd better go to bed straight off.
We'll have to be up early in the morning to catch the mail train for
Dover. I've got my balloon there all ready, and we'll start about noon."
This was perfectly horrible. Josiah felt as if it was a hideous
nightmare, and he had a dim hope that presently he would wake up. But
there was the burly form of the captain before him, with his third cigar
sticking in the side of his mouth, and a pleased smile upon his face in
anticipation of this new adventure.
Those who have learned something of the character of Josiah by reading
earlier chapters of his history, will not need to be told how this
ended. If he had been in company of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
when they started on their progress through the fiery furnace, and if
they had insisted upon his accompanying them, he would have smiled
feebly, and gone—that is, if he could not by some means or other slink
away out of sight. Now, if he could have gone out of the door on some
pretence and run off, down King Street, he would have borne the
subsequent shame and humiliation. But he knew that the captain would
have been up with him in five strides. So he determined to make the best
of it, drank another tumbler of claret, and became almost hysterically
eager for the morning.
"I'll see you don't oversleep yourself," were the last words of the
captain as he went off. "I'll look you up and take you down to Victoria
in my hansom. You needn't bring any luggage, you know. A clean shirt and
a tooth-brush will see you through."
Thus faded Josiah's last and secret hope, one he had cherished even
whilst he drank his claret and talked boldly of aërial navigation. He
might, he had thought, peradventure oversleep himself and miss the
train, and all would be well. But the captain would call for him, and
there was plainly no escape. However, he had made his will, and
"Underground England" was in such an advanced stage that it might be
published as "a fragment," and would be sufficient to carry his name
down to remotest posterity. Whether it were sweeter thus to vex public
desire, to give so much and no more, or to satiate the public with the
full accomplishment, was a nice question. Josiah was inclined to think
that, other things being equal, he would just as soon live to finish his
work. But he had no choice, and after all, the voyage might end happily.
Captain Mulberry was an experienced aëronaut. He had never failed, and
why should failure be probable now?
Josiah made up his mind upon this point, that if they got safely across
in the balloon he would come back by the ordinary boat express. Having
once shown his possession of a daring spirit, he would be at liberty to
declare his preference for a more prosaic mode of locomotion.
How he got down to Dover he did not know. It all seemed a dream. He had
a dim recollection of the captain thundering at his door at six o'clock
in the morning. He remembered lighting his Etna, making his cup of
coffee, and thinking as he drank it it might be his last. Then they must
have caught the train. In fact, he remembered the sound of the rushing
carriage, the darkness of the tunnel, the glories of the dawning day,
and felt around him the bright fresh sunlit air that made all nature
They drove out to the balloon, which was down by the gas-works, and was
now in process of inflation. Josiah looked upon the monster, swerving
first to the right, then to the left, and threatening every moment to
break its bonds and go off on its own account. If it only would, what a
happy conclusion of this painful adventure! But he could see there was
no such danger. The captain was as cheerful as a lark, and looked with
kindling eye upon what Josiah regarded as his coffin.
Still, it was no use complaining. A man must die some time; and though
there is much to be said against the process being hurried on by
unnecessary attempts to cross the Channel in a balloon when there are
well-appointed packet-boats, it was no use arguing the matter.
There settled upon Josiah a certain mood of quiet despair. What must be
must, and it was better to avoid a scene and imitate as closely as
possible the cheerful indifference of the captain.
"Now, old man, in you tumble," said the captain. "Sit down in the bottom
of the car, and keep quiet till we get past this stack of chimneys. If
we run into them it's all over; but I reckon I'll take you clear."
This was a cheerful thing to start with. Josiah had pictured all kinds
of horrors, ending with the certainty of dropping into the sea. That
they should begin with a stack of chimneys was an unexpected
aggravation. Still, it might be better to get it over at once. At least,
he would fall on land, and the fragments picked up would receive
He got in and sat in the bottom of the car. It was, he noticed,
something like one of the coracles of which he had made mention in the
preface to "Underground England." There was something good in that. The
Romans made long journeys In the coracle. If the worst came to the
worst, they might float.
Even in the anguish of his mind, he couldn't help wondering when Captain
Mulberry would finish coming in. He had never before noticed how tall he
was, till he found the necessity of getting out of the way of his legs
as he crept between the ropes into the car.
"Let go all!" cried the captain, and Josiah felt his last hour had come.
He held his breath and stuck to his hat, being under the impression that
the whole affair would shoot up into the air like a rocket. He expected
to be deafened by the noise of whizzing through the air, and to be half
suffocated with the rush of wind. Looking over to get a last look at the
nature of the soil on which he would presently fall, Josiah beheld a
strange sight. As far as he knew, the balloon was motionless, while the
earth was dropping rapidly from under them as if the laws of gravitation
were irrevocably broken and the world was falling through space.
"Done it!" he heard the captain cry in a voice that sounded curiously
"Done what?" said Josiah, anxiously looking up.
"Why, the chimney-stack. Just cleared it by half a foot. I didn't like
to say much about it, but it was a pretty near touch-and-go affair.
That's the worst of filling a balloon. You must do it near a gasworks,
and there's sure to be a stack of chimneys at hand."
It seemed but a moment since Josiah had heard the captain call out "Let
go all," and there they were in space a thousand feet above the level of
the land, sailing calmly along in bright warm sunlight, and with no more
motion perceptible than if they were still sitting in the room in King
Street—that cherished apartment which Josiah felt his eye would never
light on more.
"This won't do," said the captain sternly; "we've got in the wrong
current, and instead of going out to sea we are going inland. In half an
hour we'll be at Canterbury."
"I have heard Canterbury's a very nice old town," said Josiah. "It
wouldn't be a bad place to stop at; and if the wind's contrary to-day,
it might be right to-morrow."
The captain said nothing, and Josiah, looking up to see what effect his
suggestion might have, noticed for the first time that on a face usually
smiling there were possibilities of a fixed hard look which it evidently
didn't beseem him to trifle with.
The balloon slowly rose till the aneroid marked a height of 1,500 feet
and still the current drove it steadily north-west. Looking southward,
Josiah beheld a sight which, if it were the last he was ever to look
upon, was at least a glorious glimpse of earth, and sky, and sea. There
lay the Channel gleaming in the sun, a broad belt of silver. Beyond it,
like a cloud, was France. Dover had vanished even to the crest of the
castle on the hill. But Josiah knew where it was by the mist that lay
over it and shone white in the rays of the sun. Save for this patch of
mist, which seemed to drift with the voyagers far below the car, there
was nothing to obscure the range of vision. Josiah could not at any time
make out forms of people. The white highways that ran like threads among
the fields, and the tiny openings in the towns and villages which he
guessed were streets, seemed to belong to a dead world, for nowhere was
there trace of living person. The strange stillness that brooded over
the earth was made more uncanny by cries that occasionally seemed to
float in the air around them, behind, before, to the right or to the
left, but never exactly beneath the car. They could hear people calling,
and the captain said that they were running after the balloon and
cheering. But Josiah could distinguish no moving thing. Yes; once he saw
some pheasants running across a field below and pointed them out to the
captain. The captain laughed, a strange resonant laugh it seemed in this
upper stillness, and said they were "a lot of chestnut horses capering
about in the field." A flock of sheep in another field huddled together,
looked like a heap of limestone chippings. As for the fields, stretched
out in illimitable extent, far as the eye could reach, they seemed to
form a gigantic carpet, with patterns chiefly diamond-shaped, and in
colour shaded from bright emerald to russet brown.
"This won't do," the captain said again, and seizing a bag of ballast
he emptied it. The balloon swiftly rose, and the aneroid marked 2,500
feet. The villages seemed mere spots, the pattern of the carpet grew
blurred. Nothing was distinguishable—nor horse, nor sheep, nor any
"Hurrah!" cried the captain, "we're off now."
Nearer and nearer came the belt of silver which seemed to girdle
continent and island. They were close to Dover, and could make out the
town. Josiah, knowing well the irregular plan on which the streets are
laid out, was struck by the manner in which, as looked down upon from
this height, they formed themselves into beautifully defined curves,
straight lines, and other highly respectable geometrical shapes. They
saw the castle and the pier with what seemed to be ants crawling on it.
A little patch of colour, that to Josiah looked like a ball of scarlet
worsted, was, the captain said, a sentry on duty.
"There's Shakespeare's Cliff," said the captain. "The Earl of Gloucester
should be with us now:—
And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles; half-way down
Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head:
The fishermen that walk upon the beach
Appear like mice; and yond tall anchoring bark,
Diminish'd to her cock; her cock, a buoy
Almost too small for sight."
"I'll look no more," said Josiah, who also knew his Shakespeare.
"Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight
Topple down headlong."
It was passing strange and at first dreadful, this intense silence and
this strangeness of the familiar earth. But after a while everything
like terror passed away from Josiah's mind. He began to feel the
fascination of the thing. His spirits rose as he breathed the delicious
air, and when the captain said, "We are over the water now," and Josiah
looking down discerned the sea gleaming below, he could have clapped his
hands for joy.
"This is splendid," said the captain. "We'll be across in half an hour.
We'll catch the train for Paris, and you shall dance at the Closerie
Josiah didn't dance, and didn't know what the Closerie might be. But he
was not without susceptibility to the allurement of a quiet dinner in
Paris, and began to feel the exhilaration of having accomplished a
perilous feat, to which he would certainly drag in some reference in his
great work. It would be difficult, as he was as far as possible remote
from Underground England. But it might be worked in some antithetical
After they had sailed for the space of ten minutes the captain, who had
been throwing out bits of paper which they left far behind, suddenly
said a bad word.
"We are becalmed," he continued, and truly the bits of paper flung out
floated idly round the balloon. "We must get out of this."
He cast out the ballast, bag after bag, and higher still they soared.
Nevertheless, whenever they flung out the bits of paper, they floated
here and there, some dropping back into the car.
"There goes our last bag of ballast," said the captain, "and may luck go
with it. We are lost men unless it takes us into another current, which
let us hope won't be coming from the East and carry us out into the
Up again they mounted, how many feet Josiah didn't know, but he was
sensible of a sudden iciness in the atmosphere, a tingling of the blood
at his finger ends, and a strong disposition to bleed at the nose. The
captain threw out some more bits of paper. Still they circled round and
round, dropping into the car or falling to the distant earth now utterly
out of sight. They had passed through the cloud, and had above them a
chilly sun and an intensely blue sky. Below them were the clouds, on one
of which was clearly caught the shadow of the balloon. Josiah, when he
moved his head, could see an answering motion on the cloud, and
recognised the reflection of the captain's figure, sitting stern and
erect, with his teeth set and a look of angry determination on his brow.
This frightened Josiah a great deal more than the captain's words. He
felt that they were lost in space, and that the end must speedily come.
This terrible look on the captain's face made him sick at heart.
"Mr. Smith," said the captain, speaking scarcely above a whisper, but
his voice sounded as if he were shouting from the housetops, "you told
me you were not a married man."
"Yes," said Josiah, "I have never been married."
"That is so, or I should not have asked you to come with me. And you
have not many relations?"
"No," said Josiah, "there are not many that would miss me."
"Very well," said the captain; "I have; but your life is as valuable as
mine, and I would hold you at no disadvantage. The fact is, we are
becalmed, and there is no prospect of any wind reaching us here till
night, when we shan't know which way we are drifting, and may as well
give up all hope. There is wind overhead, I know, and it is going
straight for France. If we could get up another thousand feet or so, we
should catch the current and be over land in ten minutes. But all the
ballast has gone, and there is only one thing to be done."
"What's that?" asked Josiah faintly.
"One of us must go overboard," said the captain.
Josiah felt his heart sink within him.
"I am not sure that it would be much use my going over," the captain
continued, discussing the matter as quietly as if he were arranging what
they should have for dinner. "I'm such a thundering weight, you'd shoot
up till you bumped your head against Jupiter; and besides, you would not
know what to do with the balloon if I was gone. Still, I think we should
have equal chances. Now, I'll give you the first chance. You get hold of
me and try to push me over. If I go, you will find the balloon shoot up;
but don't be frightened: you'll be all right in a bit, and can let out a
few feet of gas. If you can't get me over—well, I must try to get you
over. Hold on a bit till I light a cigar."
In the calm still air the captain struck a light, bending low in the car
to avoid contact of flame and gas, bit the end of a cigar, and lit it.
Josiah, shaking with terror, could see in the shadow of the balloon on
the cloud the smoke curling up from the cigar and lazily spreading
"Now, old chappie," said the captain, "I'm ready. Heave hard, and over I
What was the use of disputing with a man like this? Josiah never had
been inclined to fight with men of strong will. He was certain he could
not move the captain, but he was able to try, and try he did. He got one
foot over the car, the captain encouraging him and cheerfully smoking.
"Very well done, old man. A few more tugs, and over we go. I'll just
have time to finish my cigar before I get to the bottom."
Josiah tugged and tugged till he felt the warm blood rushing through his
veins and his breath came short But though he might move one of the
captain's colossal legs, which seemed to his disordered fancy to be the
size of the Monument, he could do no more. The captain sat passive,
encouraging him by every kindly phrase he could think of. But it was of
no use, and after ten minutes' violent struggling Josiah threw himself
back in the car.
"Very sorry, old man," said the captain, with a tone of unmistakable
sincerity. "Thought once you'd have done it; but I've got a little out
of training lately and run up half a stun. Now I must see what I can do
First of all he tore off some slips of paper and threw them out. Josiah
looked at them with hungry eyes. Round and round they spun, falling back
into the car or dropping to the world beyond the clouds. There was no
hope of movement for the balloon.
"Well, Mr. Smith, it's your turn now. I must see what I can do. It's not
nice for either of us, but it would be no nicer to stay here and be
starved to death or blown out to sea. You won't feel anything after the
first rush. Good-bye. I am sorry there will be no opportunity of my
communicating with you as to the result of this interesting experiment.
I don't suppose," the captain added, his love of scientific research
increasing his unfeigned regret for the inconvenience Josiah was about
to suffer, "that ever before ten stun was dropped out of a car in a
lump. I reckon I'll get as high as most people have been. Now, if you've
any message, just hand it over. If I can do anything for you in King
Street or anywhere else, you may depend upon me."
"No," said Josiah, gulping down a rising sob; "if you will only say I
went off bravely and didn't flinch, that will be all. Perhaps you might
write a few lines by way of preface to 'Underground England,' pointing
out that I died in the interests of science."
"Certainly, my dear fellow, it shall be done," said the captain, with
quite a glow of honest energy. "If you'd like a little monument or
anything of that sort, I'll see it's run up. Now, over you go. Time's
getting on, and I don't want to miss the Paris train. Give us a shake of
your paw, then shut your eyes, for I fancy I shan't have much difficulty
with you. Heave your watch over or take it with you!"
"If you wouldn't mind accepting it," said Josiah, pulling out his fine
old turnip-shaped time-piece, "as a memento of our friendship—which,
though brief, has I trust been sincere—it would give me great
"Certainly," said the captain, weighing it in his hand critically, and
thinking to himself that it might serve as ballast in a last emergency.
"I'll hang it over my bed, and will think of you whenever it ticks.
Nothing more to say?"
"No," said Josiah; "only, please to drop me feet first."
The captain took him in his arms as if he were a child, held him for a
moment over the side of the car, and with a cheery farewell dropped him.
Josiah felt his hat go, and could see the balloon shoot up with
tremendous rapidity, though, as he reckoned, the rate of velocity would
need to be divided by about half, as he was simultaneously descending
rapidly. He felt the rush of air, and shrank from the moment, coming
nearer and nearer, when he should strike the earth. He seemed an
unconscionably long time falling. Still, through the clouds he went,
and, it seemed to him at the end of five minutes, began to get glimpses
of the earth. Down he went like a shot. The rushing noise in his ears
grew more intolerable. There was a swift upgrowth of the hedgerows, a
sudden vision of cows and horses, and of people running across fields.
Then a heavy bump, and Josiah, opening his eyes, found himself lying on
the floor in the room in King Street.
On the table were an empty claret bottle and two tumblers. The room was
full of the smoke, now growing stale, of cigars. Josiah was shivering
with cold, and the room was dark save from what light flickered in from
the lamp down the street. He struck a light, and there in its accustomed
place on the mantelpiece was his watch, the hands pointing to three
o'clock. Dazed and shivering he crept into bed, where he thought the
matter over, and amid much that was bewildering groped his way to the
conclusion that Captain Mulberry really had come into his room, had
spent an hour with him, smoked cigars, drunk claret, and then gone off.
He remembered standing at the head of the stairs shaking hands with him,
and promising to dine with him at his club one day in the following
week. Then he had gone back and lain on the couch, where, overcome with
the unaccustomed tumbler of claret and dazed with the tobacco smoke, he
had fallen asleep, dreamed, and rolled off on to the floor.
HENRY W. LUCY.