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III The Heart Of Man Anna Katharine Green

XXXVII His Great Hour

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A wind had swooped down from the east, bending everything before it and rattling the huge oval on which their eyes were fixed as though it would tear it from its hinges.

The three caught at each other's hands in dismay. The storm had come just on the verge of the enterprise, and no one might guess the result.

"Will he dare? Will he dare?" whispered Doris, and Oswald answered, though it seemed next to impossible that he could have heard her:

"He will dare. But will he survive it? Mr. Challoner," he suddenly shouted in that gentleman's ear, "what time is it now?"

Mr. Challoner, disengaging himself from their mutual grasp, knelt down by the lantern to consult his watch.

"One minute to eight," he shouted back.

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The forest was now a pandemonium. Great boughs, split from their parent trunks, fell crashing to the ground in all directions. The scream of the wind roused echoes which repeated themselves, here, there and everywhere. No rain had fallen yet, but the sight of the clouds skurrying pell-mell through the glare thrown up from the shed, created such havoc in the already overstrained minds of the three onlookers, that they hardly heeded, when with a c1atter and crash which at another time would have startled them into flight, the swaying oval before them was whirled from its hinges and thrown back against the trees already bending under the onslaught of the tempest. Destruction seemed the natural accompaniment of the moment, and the only prayer which sprang to Oswald's lips was that the motor whose throb yet lingered in their blood though no longer taken in by the ear, would either refuse to work or prove insufficient to lift the heavy car into this seething tumult of warring forces. His brother's life hung in the balance against his fame, and he could not but choose life for him. Yet, as the multitudinous sounds about him yielded for a moment to that brother's shout, and he knew that the moment had come, which would soon settle all, he found himself staring at the elliptical edge of the hangar, with an anticipation which held in it as much terror as joy, for the end of a great hope or the beginning of a great triumph was compressed into this trembling instant and if -

Great God! he sees it! They all see it! Plainly against that portion of the disc which still lifted itself above the further wall, a curious moving mass appears, lengthens, takes on shape, then shoots suddenly aloft, clearing the encircling tops of the bending, twisting and tormented trees, straight into the heart of the gale, where for one breathless moment it whirls madly about like a thing distraught, then in slow but triumphant obedience to the master hand that guides it, steadies and mounts majestically upward till it is lost to their view in the depths of impenetrable darkness.

Orlando Brotherson has accomplished his task. He has invented a mechanism which can send an air-car straight up from its mooring place. As the three watchers realise this, Oswald utters a cry of triumph, and Doris throws herself into Mr. Challoner's arms. Then they all stand transfixed again, waiting for a descent which may never come.

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