The idea that the extraordinary narrative
which has been called the Joyce-Armstrong Fragment is an elaborate practical
joke evolved by some unknown person, cursed by a perverted and sinister
sense of humor, has now been abandoned by all who have examined the matter.
The most macabre and imaginative of plotters would hesitate before linking
his morbid fancies with the unquestioned and tragic facts which reinforce
the statement. Though the assertions contained in it are amazing and even
monstrous, it is none the less forcing itself upon the general intelligence
that they are true, and that we must readjust our ideas to the situation.
This world of ours appears to be separated by unexpected danger. I will
endeavour in this narrative, which reproduces the original document in
its necessarily somewhat fragmentary form, to lay before the reader the
whole of the facts up to date, prefacing my statement by saying that, if
there be no question at all as to the facts concerning Lieutenant Myrtle,
R.N., and Mr. Hay Connor, who undoubtedly met their end in the manner described.
The Joyce-Armstrong Fragment was found in the field which
is called Lower Haycock, laying one mile to the westward of the village
of Withyham, upon the Kent and Sussex Border. It was on the 15th September
last that an agricultural labourer, James Flynn, in the employment of Mathew
Dodd, farmer, of the Chauntry Farm, Withyham, perceived a briar pipe laying
near the footpath which skirts the hedge in Lower Haycock. A few paces
farther on he picked up a pair of broken binocular glasses. Finally among
some nettles in the ditch, he caught sight of a flat, canvas-backed book,
which proved to be a note-book with detachable leaves, some of which had
come loose and were fluttering along the base of the hedge. These he collected,
but some, including the first, were never recovered, and leave a deplorable
hiatus in this all-important statement. The note-book was taken by the
labourer to his master, who in turn showed it to Dr. J. H. Atherton, of
Hartfield. This gentleman at once recognized the need for an expert examination,
and the manuscript was forwarded to the Aero Club in London, where it now
The first two pages of the manuscript are missing. There
is also one torn away at the end of the narrative, though none of these
affect the general coherence of the story. It is conjecture that the missing
opening is concerned with the record of Mr. Joyce-Armstrong's qualifications
as an aeronaut, which can be gathered from other sources and are admitted
to be unsurpassed among the air-pilots of England. For many years he has
been looked upon as among the most daring and the most intellectual of
flying men, a combination which has enabled him to both invent and test
several new devices, including the common gyroscopic attachment which is
known by his name. The main body of the manuscript is written neatly in
ink, but the last few lines are in pencil and are so ragged as to be hardly
legible-exactly, in fact, as they might be expected to appear if they were
scribbled off hurriedly from the seat of a moving aeroplane. There are,
it may be added, several stains, both on the last page and on the outside
cover which have been pronounced by the Home Office experts to be blood-probably
human and certainly mammalian. The fact that something closely resembling
the organism of malaria was discovered in this blood, and that Joyce-Armstrong
is known to have suffered from intermittent fever, is a remarkable example
of the new weapon s which modern science has placed in the hands of our
And now a word as to the personality of the author of
this epoch-making statement. Joyce-Armstrong, according to the few friends
who really knew something of the man, was a poet and a dreamer, as well
as a mechanic and an inventor. He was a man of considerable wealth, much
of which he had spent in the pursuit of his aeronautical hobby. He had
four private aeroplanes in his hangers near Devizes, and is said to have
made no fewer than one hundred and seventy ascents in the course of last
year. He was a retiring man with dark moods, in which he would avoid the
society of his fellows. Captain Dangerfield, who knew him better than anyone,
says that there were times when his eccentricity threatened to develop
into something more serious. His habit of carrying a shot-gun with him
in his aeroplane was one manifestation of it.
Another was the morbid effect which the fall of Lieutenant
Myrtle had upon his mind. Myrtle who was attempting the height record,
fell from an altitude of something over thirty thousand feet. Horrible
to narrate, his head was entirely obliterated, though his body and limbs
preserved their configuration. At every gathering of airmen, Joyce-Armstrong,
according to Dangerfield, would ask, with an enigmatic smile: "And where,
pray, is Myrtle's head?"
On another occasion after dinner, at the mess of the Flying
School on Salisbury Plain, he started a debate as to what will be the most
permanent danger which airmen will have to encounter. Having listened to
successive opinions as to air-pockets, faulty construction, and over-banking,
he ended by shrugging his shoulders and refusing to put forward his own
views, though he gave the impression that they differed from any advanced
by his companions.
It is worth remarking that after his own complete disappearance
it was found that his private affairs were arranged with a precision which
may show that he had a strong premonition of disaster. With these essential
explanations I will now give the narrative exactly as it stands, beginning
at page three of the blood-soaked note-book:
"Nevertheless, when I dined at Rheims with Coselli and
Gustav Raymond I found that neither of them was aware of any particular
danger in the higher layers of the atmosphere. I did not actually say what
was in my thoughts, but I got so near to it that if they had any corresponding
idea the could not have failed to express it. But then they are two empty,
vainglorious fellows with no thought beyond seeing their silly names in
the newspaper. It is interesting to note that neither of them had ever
been much beyond the twenty-thousand-foot level. Of course, men have been
higher than this both in balloons and in the ascent of mountains. It must
be well above that point that the aeroplane enters the danger zone -- always
presuming that my premonitions are correct.
"Aeroplaning has been with us now for more than twenty
years, and one might well ask: Why should this peril be only revealing
itself in our day? The answer is obvious. In the old days of weak engines,
when a hundred horse-power Gnome or Green was considered ample for every
need, the flights were very restricted. Now that three hundred horse-power
is the rule rather than the exception, visits to the upper layers have
become easier and more common. Some of us can remember how, in our youth,
Garros made a world-wide reputation by attaining nineteen thousand feet,
and it was considered a remarkable achievement to fly over the Alps. Our
standard now has been immeasurably raised, and there are twenty high flights
for one in former years. Many of them have been undertaken with impunity.
The thirty-thousand-foot level has been reached time after time with no
discomfort beyond cold and asthma. What does this prove? A visitor might
descend upon this planet a thousand times and never see a tiger. Yet tigers
exist, and if he chanced to come down into a jungle he might be devoured.
There are jungles of the upper air, and there are worse things than tigers
which inhabit them. I believe in time they will map these jungles accurately
out. Even at the present moment I could name two of them. One of them lies
over Pau-Biarritz district of France. Another is just over my head as I
write here in my house in Wiltshire. I rather think there is a third in
the Homburg-Wiesbaden district.
"It was the disappearance of the airmen that first set
me thinking. Of course, everyone said that they had fallen into the sea,
but that did not satisfy me at all. First, there was Verrier in France;
his machine was found near Bayonne, but they never got his body. There
was the case of Baxter also, who vanished, though his engine and some of
the iron fittings were found in a wood in Leichestershire. In that case,
Dr. Middleton, of Amesbury, who was watching the flight with a telescope,
declares that just before the clouds obscured the view he saw the machine,
which was at an enormous height, suddenly rise perpendicularly upwards
in a succession of jerks in a manner that he would have thought to be impossible.
That was the last seen of Baxter. There was a correspondence in the papers,
but it never led to anything. There were several other similar cases, and
then there was the death of Hay Connor. What a cackle there was about an
unsolved mystery of the air, and what columns in the halfpenny papers,
and yet how little was ever done to get to the bottom of the business!
He came down in a tremendous vol-plane from an unknown height. He never
got off his machine and died in his pilot's seat. Died of what? 'Heart
disease,' said the doctors. Rubbish! Hay Connor's heart was as sound as
mine is. What did Venables say? Venables was the only man who was at his
side when he died. He said that he was shivering and looked like a man
who had been badly scared. 'Died of fright,' said Venables, but could not
imagine what he was frightened about. Only said one word to Venables, which
sounded like 'Monstrous.' They could make nothing of that at the inquest.
But I could make something of it. Monsters! That was the last word of poor
Harry Hay Connor. And he did die of fright, just as Venables thought.
"And then there was Myrtle's head. Do you really believe
-- does anybody really believe -- that a man's head could be driven clean
into his body by the force of a fall? Well, perhaps it may be possible,
but I, for one, have never believed that it was so with Myrtle. And the
grease upon his clothes -- 'all slimy with grease,' said somebody at the
inquest. Queer that nobody got thinking after that! I did -- but, then,
I had been thinking for a good long time. I've made three ascents -- how
Dangerfield used to chaff me about my shot-gun -- but I've never been high
enough. Now, with this new, light Paul Veroner machine and its one hundred
and seventy-five Robur, I should easily touch the thirty thousand tomorrow.
I'll have a shot at the record. Maybe I shall have a shot at something
else as well. Of course, it's dangerous. If a fellow wants to avoid danger
he had best keep out of flying altogether and subside finally into flannel
slippers and a dressing-gown. But I'll visit the air-jungle tomorrow --
and if there's anything there I shall know it. If I return, I'll find myself
a bit of a celebrity. If I don't this note-book may explain what I am trying
to do, and how I lost my life in doing it. But no drivel a bout accidents
or mysteries, if you please.
"I chose my Paul Veroner monoplane for the job. There's
nothing like a monoplane when real work is to be done. Beaumont found that
out in very early days. For one thing it doesn't mind damp, and the weather
looks as if we should be in the clouds all the time. It's a bonny little
model and answers my hand like a tender-mouthed horse. The engine is a
ten-cylinder rotary Robur working up to one hundred and seventy-five. It
has all the modern improvements -- enclosed fuselage, high-curved landing
skids, brakes, gyroscopic steadiers, and three speeds, worked by an alteration
of the angle of the planes upon the Venetian-blind principle. I took a
shot-gun with me and a dozen cartridges willed with buck-shot. You should
have seen the face of Perkins, my old mechanic, when I directed him to
put them in. I was dressed like an Arctic explorer, with two jerseys under
my overalls, thick socks inside my padded boots, a storm-cap with flaps,
and my talc goggles. It was stifling outside the hangars, but I was going
for the summit of the Himalayas, and had to dress for the part. Perkins
knew there was something on and implored me to take him with me. Perhaps
I should if I were using the biplane, but a monoplane is a one-man show
-- if you want to get the last foot of life out of it. Of course, I took
an oxygen bag; the man who goes for the altitude record without one will
either be frozen or smother -- or both.
"I had a good look at the planes, the rudder-bar, and
the elevating lever before I got in. Everything was in order so far as
I could see. Then I switched on my engine and found that she was running
sweetly. When they let her go she rose almost at once upon the lowest speed.
I circled my home field once or twice just to warm her up, and then with
a wave to Perkins and the others, I flattened out my planes and put her
on her highest. She turned her nose up a little and she began to climb
in a great spiral for the cloud-bank above me. It's all-important to rise
slowly and adapt yourself to the pressure as you go.
"It was a close, warm day for an English September, and
there was a hush and heaviness of impending rain. Now and then there came
sudden puffs of wind from the south-west -- one of them so gusty and unexpected
that it caught me napping and turned me half-round for an instant. I remember
the time when gusts and whirls and air-pockets used to be things of danger
-- before we learned to put an overmastering power into our engines. Just
as I reached the cloud-banks, with the altimeter marking three thousand,
down came the rain. My word, how it poured! It drummed upon my wings and
lashed against my face, blurring my glasses so that I could hardly see.
I got down on to a lower speed, for it was painful to travel against it.
As I got higher it became hail, and I had to turn tail to it. One of my
cylinders rising steadily with plenty of power. After a bit the trouble
passed, whatever it was, and I heard the full, deep-throated purr -- the
ten singing as one. That's where the beauty of our modern silencers comes
in. We can at last control our engines by ear. How they squeal and squeak
and sob when they are in trouble! All those cries for help were wasted
in the old days, when every sound was swallowed up by the monstrous racket
of the machine. If only the early aviators could come back to see the beauty
and perfection of the mechanism which have been bought at the cost of their
"About nine-thirty I was nearing the clouds. Down below
me, all blurred and shadowed with rain, lay the vast expanse of Salisbury
Plain. Half a dozen flying machines were doing hackwork at the thousand-foot
level, looking like little black swallows against the green background.
I dare say they were wondering what I was doing up in cloud-land. Suddenly
a grey curtain drew across beneath me and the wet folds of vapours were
swirling round my face. It was clammily cold and miserable. But I was above
the hail-storm, and that was something gained. The cloud was dark and thick
as a London fog. In my anxiety to get clear, I cocked her nose up until
the automatic alarm-bell rang, and I actually began to slide backwards.
My sopped and dripping wings had made me heavier than I thought, but presently
I was in lighter cloud, and soon had cleared the first layer. There was
a second -- opal-colored and fleecy -- at a great height above my head,
a white, unbroken ceiling above, and a dark, unbroken floor below, with
the monoplane labouring upwards upon a vast spiral between them. It is
small water-birds went past me, flying very fast to the westwards. The
quick whir of their wings and their musical cry were cheery to my ear.
I fancy that they were teal, but I am a wretched zoologist. Now that we
humans have become birds we must really learn to know our brethren by sight.
"The wind down beneath me whirled and swayed the broad
cloud-pain. Once a great eddy formed in it, a whirlpool of vapour, and
through it, as down a funnel, I caught sight of the distant world. A large
white biplane was passing at a vast depth beneath me. I fancy it was the
morning mail service betwixt Bristol and London. Then the drift swirled
inwards again and the great solitude was unbroken.
"Just after ten I touched the lower edge of the upper
cloud-stratum. It consisted of fine diaphanous vapour drifting swiftly
from the westwards. The wind had been steadily rising all this time and
it was now blowing a sharp breeze -- twenty-eight an hour by my gauge.
Already it was very cold, though my altimeter only marked nine thousand.
The engines were working beautifully, and we went droning steadily upwards.
The cloud-bank was thicker than I had expected, but at last it thinned
out into a golden mist before me, and then in an instant I had shot out
from it, and there was an unclouded sky and a brilliant sun above my head
-- all blue and gold above, all shining silver below, one vast glimmering
plain as far as my eyes could reach. It was a quarter past ten o'clock,
and the barograph needle pointed to twelve thousand eight hundred. Up I
went and up, my ears concentrated upon the deep purring of my motor, my
eyes busy always with the watch, the revolution indicator, the petrol lever,
and the oil pump. No wonder aviators are said to be a fearless race. With
so many things to think of there is no time to trouble about oneself. About
this time I noted how unreliable is the compass when above a certain height
from earth. At fifteen thousand feet mine was pointing east and a point
south. The sun and the wind gave me my true bearings.
"I had hoped to reach an eternal stillness in these high
altitudes, but with every thousand feet of ascent the gale grew stronger.
My machine groaned and trembled in every joint and rivet as she faced it,
and swept away like a sheet of paper when I banked her on the turn, skimming
down wind at a greater pace, perhaps, than ever mortal man has moved. Yet
I had always to turn again and tack up in the wind's eye, for it was not
merely a height record that I was after. By all my calculations it was
above little Wiltshire that my air-jungle lay, and all my labour might
be lost if I struck the outer layers at some farther point.
"When I reached the nineteen-thousand-foot level, which
was about midday, the wind was so severe that I looked with some anxiety
to the stays of my wings, expecting momentarily to see them snap or slacken.
I even cast loose the parachute behind me, and fastened its hoop into the
ring of my leather belt, so as to be ready for the worst. Now was the time
when a bit of scamped work by the mechanic is paid for by the life of the
aeronaut. But she held together bravely. Every cord and strut was humming
and vibrating like so many harp-strings, but it was glorious to see how,
for all the beating and the buffeting, she was still the conqueror of Nature
and the mistress of the sky. There is surely something divine in man himself
that he should rise so superior to the limitations which Creation seemed
to impose -- rise, too, by such unselfish, heroic devotion as this air-conquest
has shown. Talk of human degeneration! When has such a story as this been
written in the annals of our race?
"These were the thoughts in my head as I climbed that
monstrous, inclined plane with the wind sometimes beating in my face and
sometimes whistling behind my ears, while the cloudland beneath me fell
away to such a distance that the folds and hummocks of silver had all smoothed
out into one flat, shining plain. But suddenly I had a horrible and unprecedented
experience. I have known before what it is to be in what our neighbours
have called a tourbillion, but never on such a scale as this. That huge,
sweeping river of wind of which I have spoken had, as it appears, whirlpools
within it which were as monstrous as itself. Without a moment's warning
I was dragged suddenly into the heart of one. I spun round for a minute
or two with such velocity that I almost lost my senses, and then fell suddenly,
left wing foremost, down the vacuum funnel in the centre. I dropped like
a stone and lost nearly a thousand feet. It was only my belt that kept
me in my seat, and the shock and breathlessness left me hanging half-insensible
over the side of the fuselage. But I am always capable of a supreme effort
-- it is my one great merit as an aviator. I was conscious that the descent
was slower. The whirlpool was a cone rather than a funnel, and I had come
to the apex. With a terrific wrench, throwing my weight all to one side,
I levelled my planes and brought her head away from the wind. In an instant
I had shot out of the eddies and was skimming down the sky. The, shaken
but victorious, I turned her nose up and began once more my steady grind
on the upward spiral. I took a large sweep to avoid the danger-spot of
the whirlpool, and soon I was safely above it. Just after one o'clock I
was twenty-one thousand feet above the sea-level. To my great joy I had
topped the gale, and with every hundred feet of ascent the air grew stiller.
On the other hand, it was very cold, and I was conscious of that peculiar
nausea which goes with rarefaction of the air. For the first time I unscrewed
the mouth of my oxygen bag and took an occasional whiff of the glorious
gas. I could feel it running like a cordial through my veins, and I was
exhilarated almost to the point of drunkenness. I shouted and sang as I
soared upwards into the cold, still outer world.
"It is very clear to me that the insensibility which came
upon Glaisher, and in a lesser degree upon Coxwell, when, in 1862, they
ascended in a balloon to a height of thirty thousand feet, was due to the
extreme speed with which a perpendicular ascent is made. Doing it at an
easy gradient and accustoming oneself to the lessened barometric pressure
by slow degrees, there are no such dreadful symptoms. At the same great
height I found that even without my oxygen inhaler I could breathe without
undue distress. It was bitterly cold, however, and my thermometer was at
zero, Fahrenheit. At one-thirty I was nearly seven miles above the surface
of the earth, and still ascending steadily. I found however, that the rarefied
air was giving markedly less support to my planes, and that my angle of
ascent had to be considerable lowered in consequence. It was already clear
that even with my light weight and strong engine-power there was a point
in front of me where I should be held. To make matters worse, one of my
sparking-plugs was in trouble again and there was intermittent misfiring
in the engine. My heart was heavy with the fear of failure.
"It was about that time that I had a most extraordinary
experience. Something whizzed past me in a trail of smoke and exploded
with a loud, hissing sound, sending forth a cloud of steam. For the instant
I could not imagine what had happened. Then I remembered that the earth
is for ever being bombarded by meteor stones, and would be hardly inhabitable
were they not in nearly every case turned to vapour in the outer layers
of the atmosphere. Here is a new danger for the high-altitude man, for
two others passed me when I was nearing the forty-thousand-foot mark. I
cannot doubt that at the edge of the earth's envelope the risk would be
a very real one.
"My barograph needle marked forty-one thousand three hundred
when I became aware that I could go no farther. Physically, the strain
was not as yet greater than I could bear but my machine had reached its
limit. The attenuated air gave no firm support to the wings, and the least
tilt developed into side-slip, while she seemed sluggish on her controls.
Possibly, had the engine been at its best, another thousand feet might
have been within our capacity, but it was still misfiring, and two out
of the ten cylinders appeared to be out of action. If I had not already
reached the zone for which I was searching then I should never see it upon
this journey. But was it not possible that I had attained it? Soaring in
circles like a monstrous hawk upon the forty-thousand-foot level I let
the monoplane guide herself, and with my Mannheim glass I made a careful
observation of my surroundings. The heavens were perfectly clear; there
was no indication of those dangers which I had imagined.
"I have said that I was soaring in circles. It struck
me suddenly that I would do well to take a wider sweep and open up a new
airtract. If the hunter entered an earth-jungle he would drive through
it if he wished to find his game. My reasoning had let me to believe that
the air-jungle which I had imagined lay somewhere over Wiltshire. This
should be to the south and west of me. I took my bearings from the sun,
for the compass was hopeless and no trace of earth was to be seen -- nothing
but the distant, silver cloud-plain. However, I got my direction as best
I might and kept her head straight to the mark. I reckoned that my petrol
supply would not last for more than another hour or so, but I could afford
to use it to the last drop, since a single magnificent vol-plane could
at any time take me to the earth.
"Suddenly I was aware of something new. The air in front
of me had lost its crystal clearness. It was full of long, ragged whisps
of something which I can only compare to very fine cigarette smoke. It
hung about in wreaths and coils, turning and twisting slowly in the sunlight.
As the monoplane shot through it, I was aware of a faint taste of oil upon
my lips, and there was a greasy scum upon the woodwork of the machine.
Some infinitely fine organic matter appeared to be suspended in the atmosphere.
There was no life there. It was inchoate and diffuse, extending for many
square acres and then fringing off into the void. No, it was not life.
But might it not be the remains of life? Above all, might it not be the
food of life, of monstrous life, even as the humble grease of the ocean
is the food of the mighty whale? The thought was in my mind when my eyes
looked upward and I saw the most wonderful vision that ever man has seen.
Can I hope to convey it to you even as I saw it myself last Thursday?
"Conceive a jelly-fish such as sails in our summer seas,
bell-shaped and of enormous size -- far larger, I should judge, than the
dome of St. Paul's. It was of a light pink colour veined with a delicate
green, but the whole huge fabric so tenuous that it was but a fairy outline
against the dark blue sky. It pulsated with a delicate and regular rhythm.
From it there depended two long drooping, green tentacles, which swayed
slowly backwards and forwards. This gorgeous vision passed gently with
noiseless dignity over my head, as light and fragile as a soap-bubble,
and drifted upon its stately way.
"I had half-turned my monoplane, that I might look after
this beautiful creature, when, in a moment, I found myself amidst a perfect
fleet of them, of all sizes, but none so large as the first. Some were
quite small, but the majority about as big as an average balloon, and with
much the same curvature at the top. There was in them a delicacy of texture
and colouring which reminded me of the finest Venitian glass. Pale shades
of pink and green were the prevailing tints, but all had a lovely iridescence
where the sun shimmered through their dainty forms. Some hundreds of them
drifted past me, a wonderful fairy squadron of strange unknown argosies
of the sky -- creatures whose forms and substance were so attuned to these
pure heights that one could not conceive anything so delicate within actual
sight or sound of earth.
"But soon my attention was drawn to a new phenomenon --
the serpents of the outer air. These were long, thin, fantastic coils of
vapour-like material, which turned and twisted with great speed, flying
round and round at such a pace that the eyes could hardly follow them.
Some of these ghost-like creatures were twenty or thirty feet long, but
it was difficult to tell their girth, for their outline was so hazy that
it seemed to fade away into the air around them. These air-snakes were
of a very light grey or smoke colour, with some darker lines within, which
gave the impression of a definite organism. One of them whisked past my
very face, and I was conscious of a cold, clammy contact, but their composition
was so unsubstantial that I could not connect them with any thought of
physical danger, any more than the beautiful bell-like creatures which
had preceded them. There was no more solidity i n their frames than in
the floating spume form a broken wave.
"But a more terrible experience was in store for me. Floating
downwards from a great height there came a purplish patch of vapour, small
as I saw it first, but rapidly enlarging as it approached me, until it
appeared to be hundreds of square feet in size. Though fashioned of some
transparent, jelly-like substance, it was none the less of much more definite
outline and solid consistence than anything which I had seen before. There
were more traces, too, of a physical organization, especially two vast,
shadowy, circular plates upon either side, which may have been eyes, and
a perfectly solid white projection between them which was as curved and
cruel as the beak of a vulture.
"The whole aspect of this monster was formidable and threatening,
and it kept changing its colour from a very light mauve to a dark, angry
purple so thick that it cast a shadow as it drifted between my monoplane
and the sun. On the upper curve of its huge body there were three great
projections which I can only describe as enormous bubbles, and I was convinced
as I looked at them that they were charged with some extremely light gas
which served to buoy up the misshapen and semi-solid mass in the rarefied
air. The creature moved swiftly along, keeping pace easily with the monoplane,
and for twenty miles or more it formed my horrible escort, hovering over
me like a bird of prey which is waiting to pounce. Its method of progression
-- done so swiftly that it was not easy to follow -- was to throw out a
long, glutinous streamer in front of it, which in turn seemed to draw forward
the rest of the writhing body. So elastic and gelatinous was it that never
for two successive minutes was it the same shape, and yet each change made
it more threatening and loathsome than the last.
"I knew that it meant mischief. Every purple flush of
its hideous body told me so. The vague, goggling eyes which were turned
always upon me were cold and merciless in their viscid hatred. I dipped
the nose of my monoplane downwards to escape it. As I did so, as quick
as a flash there shot out a long tentacle from this mass of floating blubber,
and it fell as light and senuous as a whip-lash across the front of my
machine. There was a loud hiss as it lay for a moment across the hot engine,
and it whisked itself into the air again, while the huge, flat body drew
itself together as if in sudden pain. I dipped to a vol-pique, but again
a tentacle fell over the monoplane and was shorn off by the propeller as
easily as it might have cut through a smoke wreath. A long, gliding, sticky,
serpent-like coil came from behind and caught me around the waist, dragging
me out of the fuselage. I tore at it, my fingers sinking into the smooth,
glue-like surface, and for an instant I disengaged myself, but only to
be caught around the boot by another coil, which gave me a jerk that tilted
me almost on to my back.
"As I fell over I blazed off both barrels of my gun, though,
indeed, it was like attacking an elephant with a pea-shooter to imagine
that any human weapon could cripple that mighty bulk. And yet I aimed better
than I knew, for, with a loud report, one of the great blisters upon the
creature's back exploded with the puncture of the buck-shot. It was very
clear that my conjecture was right, and that these vast, clear bladders
were distended with some lifting gas, for in an instant the huge, cloud-like
body turned sideways, writhing desperately to find its balance, while the
white beak snapped and gaped in horrible fury. But already I had shot away
on the steepest glide that I dared to attempt, my engine still full on,
the flying propeller and the force of gravity shooting me downwards like
an aerolite. Far behind me I saw a dull, purplish smudge growing swiftly
smaller and merging into the blue sky behind it. I was safe out of the
deadly jungle of the outer air.
"Once out of danger I throttled my engine, for nothing
tears a machine to pieces quicker than running on full power from a height.
It was a glorious, spiral vol-plane from nearly eight miles of altitude
-- first, to the level of the silver cloud-bank, then to that of the storm-cloud
beneath it, and finally, in beating rain, to the surface of the earth.
I saw the Bristol Channel beneath me as I broke from the clouds, but, having
still some petrol in my tank, I got twenty miles inland before I found
myself stranded in a field half a mile from the village of Ashcombe. There
I got three tins of petrol from a passing motor-car, and at ten minutes
past six that evening I alighted gently in my own home meadow at Devizes,
after such a journey as no mortal upon earth has ever yet taken and lived
to tell the tale. I have seen the beauty and I have seen the horror of
the heights -- and greater beauty or greater horror than that is not within
the ken of man.
"And now it is my plan to go once again before I give
my results to the world. My reason for this is that I must surely have
something to show by way of proof before I lay such a tale before my fellow-men.
It is true that others will soon follow and will confirm what I have said,
and yet I should wish to carry conviction from the first. Those lovely
iridescent bubbles of the air should not be hard to capture. They drift
slowly upon their way, and the swift monoplane could intercept their leisurely
course. It is likely enough that they would dissolve in the heavier layers
of the atmosphere, and that some small heap of amorphous jelly might be
all that I should bring to earth with me. And yet something there would
surely be by which I could substantiate my story. Yes, I will go, even
if I run a risk by doing so. These purple horrors would not seem to be
numerous. It is probable that I shall not see one. If I do I shall dive
at once. At the worst there is always the shot-gun and my knowledge of..."
Here a page of the manuscript is unfortunately missing.
On the next page is written, in large, straggling writing:
"Forty-three thousand feet. I shall never see earth again.
They are beneath me, three of them. God help me; it is a dreadful death
Such in its entirety is the Joyce-Armstrong Statement.
Of the man nothing has since been seen. Pieces of his shattered monoplane
have been picked up in the preserves of Mr. Budd-Lushington upon the borders
of Kent and Sussex, within a few miles of the spot where the note-book
was discovered. If the unfortunate aviator's theory is correct that this
air-jungle, as he called it, existed only over the south-west of England,
then it would seem that he had fled from it at the full speed of his monoplane,
but had been overtaken and devoured by these horrible creatures at some
spot in the outer atmosphere above the place where the grim relics were
found. The picture of that monoplane skimming down the sky, with the nameless
terrors flying as swiftly beneath it and cutting it off always from the
earth while they gradually closed in upon their victim, is one upon which
a man who valued his sanity would prefer not to dwell. There are many,
as I am aware, who still jeer at the facts which I have here set down,
but even they must admit that Joyce-Armstrong has disappeared, and I would
commend to them his own words: "This note-book may explain what I am trying
to do, and how I lost my life in doing it. But no drivel about accidents
or mysteries, if you please."