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0100_005E The Angel Of The Revolution George Chetwynd Griffith

A Skirmish In The Clouds

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"There are a dozen of the Tsar's war-balloons coming up yonder to the southward, and I am going to head them off and capture the lot if I can. If we can do that, we can make what terms we like for the surrender of the Lucifer.

"You two take your ships and get to windward of them as fast as you can. Keep a little higher than they are, but not much. On no account let one of them get above you. If they try to descend, give each one that does so a No. 1 shell, and blow her up. If one tries to pass you, ram her in the upper part of the gas-holder, and let her down with a smash.

"I am going up above them to prevent any of them from rising too far. They can outfly us in that one direction, so I shall blow any that attempt it into little pieces. If you have to fire on any of them, don't use more than No. 1; you'll find that more than enough.

"Keep an eye on me for signals, and remember that the whole fleet must be destroyed rather than one allowed to escape. I want to give the Tsar a nice little surprise. He seems to be getting a good deal too cock-sure about these old gas-bags of his, and it's time to give him a lesson in real aerial warfare."

There was not a great newspaper in the world that would not have given a very long price to have had the privilege of putting a special correspondent on the deck of the Ithuriel for the two hours which followed the giving of Arnold's directions to his brother commanders of the little squadron. The journal which could have published an exclusive account of the first aerial skirmish in the history of the world would have scored a triumph which would have left its competitors a long way behind in the struggle to be "up to date."

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As soon as Arnold had given his orders, the three air-ships at once separated. The Ariel and the Orion shot away to the southward on only a slightly upward course, while the Ithuriel soared up beyond the stratum of clouds which lay in thin broken masses rather more than four thousand feet above the earth.

It was still rather more than an hour before sunrise, and, as the moon had gone down, and the clouds intercepted most of the starlight, it was just "the darkest hour before the dawn," and therefore the most favourable for the carrying out of the plan that Arnold had in view.

Shortly after half-past two he knocked at Natasha's cabin-door, and said--

"If you would like to see an aerial battle, get up and come into the conning-tower at once. We have overtaken a squadron of Russian war-balloons, and we are going either to capture or destroy them."

"Glorious!" exclaimed Natasha, wide awake in an instant at such startling news. "I'll be with you in five minutes. Tell my father, and please don't begin till I come."

"I shouldn't think of opening the ball without your ladyship's presence," laughed Arnold in reply, and then he went and called Natas and his attendant and the Professor before going to the conning-tower, where in a very few minutes he was joined by Natasha. The first words she said were--

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The Angel Of The Revolution
George Chetwynd Griffith

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