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Title: The Four Days' Night
Author: Fred M. White
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eBook No.: 0603531.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: July 2006

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The Four Days' Night
Fred M. White


THE weather forecast for London and the Channel was "light airs, fine
generally, milder." Further down the fascinating column Hackness read
that "the conditions over Europe generally favoured a continuance of
the large anti-cyclonic area, the barometer steadily rising over
Western Europe, sea smooth, readings being unusually high for this
time of the year." Martin Hackness, B.Sc., London, thoughtfully read
all this and more. The study of the meteorological reports was part of
his religion almost. In the laboratory at the back of his sitting-room
were all kinds of weird-looking instruments for measuring sunshine and
wind pressure, the weight of atmosphere and the like. Hackness trusted
before long to be able to foretell a London fog with absolute
accuracy, which, when you come to think of it, would be an exceedingly
useful matter. In his queer way Hackness described himself as a fog
specialist. He hoped some day to prove himself a fog-disperser, which
is another word for a great public benefactor.

The chance he was waiting for seemed to have come at last. November
had set in, mild and dull and heavy. Already there had been one or two
of the dense fogs under which London periodically groans and does
nothing to avert. Hackness was clear-sighted enough to see a danger
here that might some day prove a hideous national disaster. So far as
he could ascertain from his observations and readings, London was in
for another dense fog within the next four-and-twenty hours.

Unless he was greatly mistaken, the next fog was going to be a
particularly thick one. He could see the yellow mists gathering in
Gower Street, as he sat at his breakfast.

The door flew open and a man rushed in without even an apology. He was
a little man, with sharp, clean-shaven features, an interrogative nose
and assertive pince-nez. He was not unlike Hackness, minus his calm
ruminative manner. He fluttered a paper in his hand like a banner.

"It's come, Hackness," he cried. "It was bound to come sometime. It's
all here in a late edition of the Telegraph. We must go and see it."

He flung himself into an armchair.

"Do you remember," he said, "the day in the winter of 1898, the day
that petroleum ship exploded? You and I were playing golf together on
the Westgate links."

Hackness nodded eagerly.

"I shall never forget it, Eldred," he said, "though I have forgotten
the name of the ship. She was a big iron boat, and she caught fire
about daybreak. Of her captain and her crew not one fragment was ever

"It was perfectly still and the effect of that immense volume of dense
black smoke was marvellous. Do you recollect the scene at sunset? It
was like looking at half-a-dozen Alpine ranges piled one on the top of
the other. The spectacle was not only grand, it was appalling, awful.
Do you happen to recollect what you said at the time?"

There was something in Eldred's manner that roused Hackness.

"Perfectly well," he cried. "I pictured that awful canopy of sooty,
fatty matter suddenly shut down over a great city by a fog. A fog
would have beaten it down and spread it. We tried to imagine what
might happen if that ship had been in the Thames, say at Greenwich."

"Didn't you prophesy a big fog for to-day?"

"Certainly I did. And a recent examination of my instruments merely
confirms my opinion. Why do you ask?"

"Because early this morning a fire broke out in the great petroleum
storage tanks, down the river. Millions of gallons of oil are bound to
burn themselves out--nothing short of a miracle can quench the fire,
which will probably rage all through to-day and to-morrow. The fire-
brigades are absolutely powerless--in the first place the heat is too
awful to allow them to approach; in the second, water would only make
things worse. It's one of the biggest blazes ever known. Pray Heaven,
your fog doesn't settle down on the top of the smoke."

Hackness turned away from his unfinished breakfast and struggled into
an overcoat. There was a peril here that London little dreamt of. Out
in the yellow streets newsboys were yelling of the conflagration down
the Thames. People were talking of the disaster in a calm frame of
mind between the discussion of closer personal matters.

"There's always the chance of a breeze springing up," Hackness
muttered. "If it does, well and good, if not--but come along. We'll
train it from Charing Cross."

A little way down the river the mist curtain lifted. A round magnified
sun looked down upon a dun earth. Towards the South-east a great black
column rose high in the sky. The column appeared to be absolutely
motionless; it broadened from an inky base like a grotesque mushroom.

"Fancy trying to breathe that," Eldred muttered. "Just think of the
poison there. I wonder what that dense mass would weigh in tons. And
it's been going on for five hours now. There's enough there to
suffocate all London."

Hackness made no reply. On the whole he was wishing himself well out
of it. That pillar of smoke would rise for many more hours yet. At the
same time here was his great opportunity. There were certain
experiments that he desired to make and for which all things were

They reached the scene of the catastrophe. Within a radius of five
hundred yards the heat was intense. Nobody seemed to know the cause of
the disaster beyond the general opinion that the oil gases had

And nothing could be done. No engine could approach near enough to do
any good. Those mighty tanks and barrels filled with petroleum would
have to burn themselves out.

The sheets of flame roared and sobbed. Above the flames rose the
column of thick black smoke, with just the suspicion of a slight
stagger to the westward. The inky vapour spread overhead like a pall.
If Hackness's fog came now it meant a terrible disaster for London.

Further out in the country, where the sun was actually shining, people
watched that great cloud with fearsome admiration. From a few miles
beyond the radius it looked as if all the ranges of the world had been
piled atop of London. The fog was gradually spreading along the South
of the Thames, and away as far as Barnet to the North.

There was something in the stillness and the gloom that London did not
associate with ordinary fogs.

Hackness turned away at length, conscious of his sketchy breakfast and
the fact that he had been watching this thrilling spectacle for two

"Have you thought of a way out?" Eldred asked. "What are you going to

"Lunch," Hackness said curtly. "After that I propose to see to my
arrangements in Regent's Park. I've got Grimfern's aeroplane there,
and a pretty theory about high explosives. The difficulty is to get
the authorities to consent to the experiments. The police have
absolutely forbidden experiments with high explosives, fired in the
air above London. But perhaps I shall frighten them into it this time.
Nothing would please me better than to see a breeze spring up, and yet
on the other hand---"

"Then you are free to-night?" Eldred asked.

"No, I'm not. Oh, there will be plenty of time. I'm going with Sir
Edgar Grimfern, and his daughter to see Irving, that is if it is
possible for anyone to see Irving to-night. I've got the chance of a
lifetime at hand, but I wish that it was well over, Eldred my boy. If
you come round about midnight--"

"I'll be sure to," Eldred said eagerly. "I'm going to be in this
thing. And I want to know all about that explosive idea."


Martin Hackness dressed with less than his usual care that evening. He
even forgot that Miss Cynthia Grimfern had a strong prejudice in
favour of black evening ties, and, usually, he paid a great deal of
deference to her opinions. But he was thinking of other matters now.
There was no sign of anything abnormal as Hackness drove along in the
direction of Clarence Terrace. The night was more than typically
yellow for the time of year, but there was no kind of trouble with the
traffic, though down the river the fairway lay under a dense bank of

Hackness sniffed the air eagerly. He detected or thought he detected a
certain acrid suggestion in the atmosphere. As the cab approached
Trafalgar Square Hackness could hear shouts and voices raised high in
protestation. Suddenly his cab seemed to be plunged into a wall of

It was so swift and unexpected that it came with the force of a blow.
The horse appeared to have trotted into a bank of dense blackness. The
wall had shut down so swiftly, blotting out a section of London, that
Hackness could only gaze at it with mouth wide open.

Hackness hopped out of his cab hurriedly. So sheer and stark was the
black wall that the horse was out of sight. Mechanically the driver
reigned back. The horse came back to the cab with the dazzling
swiftness of a conjuring trick. A thin stream of breeze wandered from
the direction of Whitehall. It was this air finding its way up the
funnel formed by the sheet that cut off the fog to a razor edge.

"Been teetotal for eighteen years," the cabman muttered, "so that's
all right. And what do you please to make of it, sir?"

Hackness muttered something incoherent. As he stood there, the black
wall lifted like a stage curtain, and he found himself under the lee
of an omnibus. In a dazed kind of way he patted the cabhorse on the
flank. He looked at his hand. It was greasy and oily and grimy as if
he had been in the engine-room of a big liner.

"Get on as fast as you can," he cried. "It was fog, just a little
present from the burning petroleum. Anyway, it's gone now."

True, the black curtain had lifted, but the atmosphere reeked with the
odour of burning oil. The lamps and shop windows were splashed and
mottled with something that might have passed for black snow. Traffic
had been brought to a standstill for the moment, eager knots of
pedestrians were discussing the situation with alarm and agitation, a
man in evening dress was busily engaged in a vain attempt to remove
sundry black patches from his shirt front.

Sir Edgar Grimfern was glad to see his young friend. Had Grimfern been
comparatively poor, and less addicted to big game shooting, he would
doubtless have proved a great scientific light. Anything with a dash
of adventure fascinated him. He was enthusiastic on flying machines
and aeroplanes generally. There were big workshops at the back of 119,
Clarence Terrace, where Hackness put in a good deal of his spare time.
Those two were going to startle the world presently.

Hackness shook hands thoughtfully with Cynthia Grimfern. There was a
slight frown on her pretty intellectual face as she noted his tie.

"There's a large smut on it," she remarked, "and it serves you right."

Hackness explained. He had a flattering audience. He told of the
strange happening in Trafalgar Square and the majestic scene on the
river. He gave a graphic account of the theory that he had built upon
it. There was an animated discussion all through dinner.

"The moral of which is that we are going to be plunged into Cimmerian
darkness," Cynthia said, "that is, if the fog comes down. If you think
you are going to frighten me out of my evening's entertainment you are

All the same it had grown much darker and thicker as the trio drove
off in the direction of the Lyceum Theatre. There were patches of dark
acrid fog here and there like ropes of smoke into which figures passed
and disappeared only to come out on the other side choking and
coughing. So local were these swathes of fog that in a wide
thoroughfare it was possible to partially avoid them. Festoons of
vapour hung from one lampost to another, the air was filled with a
fatty sickening odour.

"How nasty," Cynthia exclaimed. "Mr. Hackness, please close that
window. I am almost sorry that we started. What's that?"

There was a shuffling movement under the seat of the carriage, the
quick bark of a dog; Cynthia's little fox terrier had stolen into the
brougham. It was a favourite trick of his, the girl explained.

"He'll go back again," she said. "Kim knows that he has done wrong."

That Kim was forgotten and discovered later on coiled up under the
stall of his mistress was a mere detail. Hackness was too preoccupied
to feel any uneasiness. He was only conscious that the electric lights
were growing dim and yellow, and that a brown haze was coming between
the auditorium and the stage. When the curtain fell on the third act
it was hardly possible to see across the theatre. Two or three large
heavy blots of some greasy matter fell on to the white shoulders of a
lady in the stalls to be hastily wiped away by her companion. They
left a long greasy smear behind.

"I can hardly breathe," Cynthia gasped. "I wish I had stopped at home.
Surely those electric lights are going out."

But the lights were merely being wrapped in a filament that every
moment grew more and more dense. As the curtain went up again there
was just the suspicion of a draught from the back of the stage, and
the whole of it was smothered in a small brown cloud that left
absolutely nothing to the view. It was impossible now to make out a
single word of the programme, even when it was held close to the eyes.

"Hackness was right," Grimfern growled. "We had far better have stayed
at home."

Hackness said nothing. He had no pride in the accuracy of his
forecast. Perhaps he was the only man in London who knew what the full
force of this catastrophe meant. It grew so dark now that he could see
no more than the mere faint suggestion of his fair companion,
something was falling out of the gloom like black ragged snow. As the
pall lifted just for an instant he could see the dainty dresses of the
women absolutely smothered with the thick oily smuts. The reek of
petroleum was stifling.

There was a frightened scream from behind, and a yell out of the ebony
wall to the effect that somebody had fainted. Someone was speaking
from the stage with a view to stay what might prove to be a dangerous
panic. Another sombre wave filled the theatre and then it grew
absolutely black, so black that a match held a foot or so from the
nose could not be seen. One of the plagues of Egypt with all its
horrors had fallen upon London.

"Let us try and make our way out," Hackness suggested. "Go quietly."

Others seemed to be moved by the same idea. It was too black and dark
for anything like a rush, so that a dangerous panic was out of the
question. Slowly but surely the fashionable audience reached the
vestibule, the hall, and the steps.

Nothing to be seen, no glimmer of anything, no sound of traffic. The
destroying angel might have passed over London and blotted out all
human life. The magnitude of the disaster had frightened London's
millions as it fell.


A city of the blind! Six millions of people suddenly deprived of
sight! The disaster sounds impossible--a nightmare, the wild
vapourings of a diseased imagination--and yet why not? Given a
favourable atmospheric condition, something colossal in the way of a
fire, and there it is. And there, somewhere folded away in the book of
Nature, is the simple remedy.

Such thoughts as these flashed through Hackness's mind as he stood
under the portico of the Lyceum Theatre, quite helpless and inert for
the moment.

But the darkness was thicker and blacker than anything he had ever
imagined. It was absolutely the darkness that could be felt. Hackness
could hear the faint scratching of matches all around him, but there
was no glimmer of light anywhere. And the atmosphere was thick,
stifling, greasy. Yet it was not quite as stifling as perfervid
imagination suggested. The very darkness suggested suffocation. Still,
there was air, a sultry light breeze that set the murk in motion, and
mercifully brought from some purer area the oxygen that made life
possible. There was always air, thank God, to the end of the Four
Days' Night.

Nobody spoke for a time. Not a sound of any kind could be heard. It
was odd to think that a few miles away the country might be sleeping
under the clear stars. It was terrible to think that hundreds of
thousands of people must be standing lost in the streets and yet near
to home.

A little way off a dog whined, a child in a sweet refined voice cried
that she was lost. An anxious mother called in reply. The little one
had been forgotten in the first flood of that awful darkness. By sheer
good luck Hackness was enabled to locate the child. He could feel that
her wraps were rich and costly, though the same fatty slime was upon
them. He caught the child up in his arms and yelled that he had got
her. The mother was close by, yet full five minutes elapsed before
Hackness blundered upon her. Something was whining and fawning about
his feet.

He called upon Grimfern, and the latter answered in his ear. Cynthia
was crying pitifully and helplessly. Some women there were past that.

"For Heaven's sake tell us what we are to do," Grimfern gasped. "I
flatter myself that I know London well, but I couldn't find my way
home in this."

Something was licking Hackness's hand. It was the dog Kim. There was
just a chance here. He tore his handkerchief in strips and knotted it
together. One end he fastened to the little dog's collar.

"It's Kim," he explained. "Tell the dog 'home.' There's just a chance
that he may lead you home. We're very wonderful creatures, but one
sensible dog is worth a million of us to-night. Try it."

"And where are you going?" Cynthia asked. She spoke high, for a babel
of voices had broken out. "What will become of you?"

"Oh, I am all right," Hackness said with an affected cheerfulness.
"You see, I was fairly sure that this would happen sooner or later. So
I pigeon-holed a way of dealing with the difficulty. Scotland Yard
listened, but thought me a bore all the same. This is the situation
where I come in."

Grimfern touched the dog and urged him forward.

Kim gave a little bark and a whine. His muscular little body strained
at the leash.

"It's all right," Grimfern cried. "Kim understands. That queer little
pill-box of a brain of his is worth the finest intellect in England

Cynthia whispered a faint good-night, and Hackness was alone. As he
stood there in the blackness the sense of suffocation was
overwhelming. He essayed to smoke a cigarette, but he hadn't the
remotest idea whether the thing was alight or not. It had no taste or

But it was idle to stand there. He must fight his way along to
Scotland Yard to persuade the authorities to listen to his ideas.
There was not the slightest danger of belated traffic, no sane man
would have driven a horse in such dense night. Hackness blundered
along without the faintest idea to which point of the compass he was

If he could only get his bearings he felt that he should be all right.
He found his way into the Strand at length; he fumbled up against
someone and asked where he was. A hoarse voice responded that the
owner fancied it was somewhere in Piccadilly.

There were scores of people in the streets standing about talking
desperately, absolute strangers clinging to one another for sheer
craving for company to keep the frayed senses together. The most
fastidious clubman there would have chummed with the toughest Hooligan
rather than have his own thoughts for company.

Hackness pushed his way along. If he got out of his bearings he
adopted the simple experiment of knocking at the first door he came to
and asking where he was. His reception was not invariably
enthusiastic, but it was no time for nice distinctions. And a deadly
fear bore everybody down.

At last he came to Scotland Yard, as the clocks proclaimed that it was
half-past one. Ghostly official voices told Hackness the way to
Inspector Williamson's office, stern officials grasped him by the arm
and piloted him up flights of stairs. He blundered over a chair and
sat down. Out of the black cavern of space Inspector Williamson spoke.

"I am thankful you have come. You are just the man I most wanted to
see. I want my memory refreshed over that scheme of yours," he said.
"I didn't pay very much attention to it at the time."

"Of course you didn't. Did you ever know an original prophet who
wasn't laughed at? Still, I don't mind confessing that I hardly
anticipated anything quite so awful as this. The very density of it
makes some parts of my scheme impossible. We shall have to shut our
teeth and endure it. Nothing really practical can be done so long as
this fog lasts."

"But, man alive, how long will it last?"

"Perhaps an hour or perhaps a week. Do you grasp what an awful
calamity faces us?"

Williamson had no reply. So long as the fog lasted, London was in a
state of siege, and, not only this, but every house in it was a fort,
each depending upon itself for supplies. No bread could be baked, no
meal could be carried round, no milk or vegetables delivered so long
as the fog remained. Given a day or two of this and thousands of
families would be on the verge of starvation. It was not a pretty
picture that Hackness drew, but Williamson was bound to agree with
every word of it.

These two men sat in the darkness till what should hare been the dawn,
whilst scores of subordinates were setting some sort of machinery in
motion to preserve order.

Hackness stumbled home to his rooms about nine o'clock in the morning,
without having succeeded in persuading the officials to grant him
permission to experiment. Mechanically he felt for his watch to see
the time. The watch was gone. Hackness smiled grimly. The predatory
classes had not been quite blind to the advantages of the situation.

There was no breakfast for Hackness for the simple reason that it had
been found impossible to light the kitchen fire. But there was a loaf
of bread, some cheese, and a knife. Hackness fumbled for his bottled
beer and a glass. There were many worse breakfasts in London that

He woke presently, conscious that a clock was striking nine. After
some elaborate thought and the asking of a question or two from
another inmate of the house, Hackness found to his horror that he had
slept the clock round nearly twice. It was nine o'clock in the
morning, twenty-three hours since he had fallen asleep! And, so far as
Hackness could judge, there were no signs of the fog's abatement.

He changed his clothes and washed the greasy slime off him so far as
cold water and soap would allow. There were plenty of people in the
streets, hunting for food for the most part; there were tales of
people found dead in the gutters. Progression was slow but the utter
absence of traffic rendered it safe and possible. Men spoke with bated
breath, the weight of the great calamity upon them.

News that came from a few miles outside the radius spoke of clear
skies and bright sunshine. There was a great deal of sickness, and the
doctors had more than they could manage, especially with the young and
the delicate.

And the calamity looked like getting worse. Six million people were
breathing what oxygen there was. Hackness returned to his chambers to
find Eldred awaiting him.

"This can't go on, you know," the latter said tersely.

"Of course it can't," Hackness replied. "All the air is getting
exhausted. Come with me down to Scotland Yard and help to try and
persuade Williamson to test my experiment."

"What! Do you mean to say he is still obstinate?"

"Well, perhaps he feels different to-day. Come along."

Williamson was in a chastened frame of mind. He had no optimistic
words when Hackness suggested that nothing less than a violent
meteorological disturbance would clear the deadly peril of the fog
away. It was time for drastic remedies, and if they failed things
would be no worse than before.

"But can you manage it?" Williamson asked.

"I fancy so," Hackness replied. "It's a risk, of course, but
everything has been ready for a long time. We could start after
tomorrow midnight, or any time for that matter."

"Very well," Williamson sighed with the air of a man who realises that
after all the tooth must come out. "If this produces a calamity I
shall be asked to send in my resignation. If I refuse--"

"If you refuse there is more than a chance that you won't want another
situation," Hackness said grimly. "Let's get the thing going, Eldred."

They crawled along through the black suffocating darkness, feeble,
languid, and sweating at every pore. There was a murky closeness in
the vitiated atmosphere that seemed to take all the strength and
energy away. At any other time the walk to Clarence Terrace would have
been a pleasure, now it was a penance. They found their objective
after a deal of patience and trouble. Hackness yelled in the doorway.
There was a sound of footsteps and Cynthia Grimfern spoke.

"Ah, what a relief it is to know that you are all right," she said. "I
pictured all sorts of horrors happening to you. Will this never end,

She cried softly in her distress. Hackness felt for her hand and
pressed it tenderly.

"We are going to try my great theory," he said. "Eldred is with me,
and we have got Williamson's permission to operate with the aerophane.
Where is Sir Edgar?"

Grimfern was in the big workshop in the garden. As best he could, he
was fumbling over some machinery for the increase of power in electric
lighting. Hackness took a queer-looking lamp with double reflectors
from his pocket.

"Shut off that dynamo," he said, "and give me the flex. I've got a
little idea here Bramley, the electrician, lent me. With that 1000-
volt generator of yours I can get a light equal to 40,000 candles.

Flick went the switch, and the others staggered back with their hands
to their eyes. The great volume of light, impossible to face under
ordinary circumstances, illuminated the workshop with a faint glow
like a winter's dawn. It was sufficient for all practical purpose, but
to eyes that had seen absolutely nothing for two days and nights very

Cynthia laughed hysterically. She saw the men grimed and dirty,
blackened and greasy, as if they were fresh from a stoker's hole in a
tropical sea. They saw a tall, graceful girl in the droll parody of a
kitchen-maid who had wiped a tearful face with a blacklead brush.

But they could see. Along the whole floor of the workshop lay a queer,
cigar-shaped instrument with grotesque wings and a tail like that of a
fish, but capable of being turned in any direction. It seemed a
problem to get this strange-looking monster out of the place, but as
the whole of the end of the workshop was constructed to pull out, the
difficulty was not great.

This was Sir Edgar Grimfern's aerophane, built under his own eyes and
with the assistance of Hackness and Eldred.

"It will be a bit of risk in the dark," Sir Edgar said thoughtfully.

"It will, sir, but I hope it will mean the saving of a great city,"
Hackness remarked. "We shall have no difficulty in getting up, and as
to the getting down, don't forget that the atmosphere a few miles
beyond the outskirts of London is quite clear. If only the explosives
are strong enough!"

"Don't theorise," Eldred snapped. "We've got a good day's work before
we start. And there is no time to be lost."

"Luncheon first," Sir Edgar suggested "served in here. It will be
plain and cold; but, thank goodness, there is plenty of it. My word,
after that awful darkness what a blessed thing light is once more!"

* * * * * Two hours after midnight the doors of the workshop were
pulled away and the aerophane was dragged on its carriage into the
garden. The faint glimmer of light only served to make the blackness
all the thicker. The three men waved their hands silently to Cynthia
and jumped in. A few seconds later and they were whirred and screwed
away into the suffocating fog.


London was holding out doggedly and stolidly. Scores of houses watched
and waited for missing ones who would never return, the streets and
the river had taken their toll, in open spaces, in the parks, and on
the heaths many were shrouded. But the long black night held its
secret well. There had been some ruffianism and plundering at first.
But what was the use of plunder to the thief who could not dispose of
his booty, who could not exchange a rare diamond for so much as a
mouthful of bread? Some of them could not even find their way home,
they had to remain in the streets where there was the dread of the
lifting blanket and the certainty of punishment with the coming of the

But if certain houses mourned the loss of inmates, some had more than
their share. Belated women, frightened business girls, caught in the
fog had sought the first haven at hand, and there they were free to
remain. There were sempstresses in Mayfair, and delicately-nurtured
ladies in obscure Bloomsbury boarding-houses. Class distinction seemed
to be remote as the middle ages.

Scotland Yard, the local authorities, and the County Council had
worked splendidly together. Provisions were short, though a good deal
of bread and milk had with greatest difficulty been imported from
outside the radius of the scourge. Still the poor were suffering
acutely, and the cries of frightened children were heard in every
street. A few days more and the stoutest nerves must give way. Nobody
could face such a blackness and retain their senses for long. London
was a city of the blind. Sleep was the only panacea for the creeping

There were few deeds of violence done. The most courageous, the most
bloodthirsty man grew mild and gentle before the scourge. Desperate
men prowled about in search of food, but they wanted nothing else.
Certainly they would not have attempted violence to get it.

Alarmists predicted that in a few hours life in London would be
impossible. For once they had reason on their side. Every hour the
air, or what passed for air, grew more poisonous. Men fancied a city
with six million corpses!

The calamity would kill big cities altogether. No great mass of people
would ever dare to congregate together again where manufacturers made
a hideous atmosphere overhead. It would be a great check upon the race
for gold. There was much justification for this morbid condition of
public feeling.

So the third long weary day dragged to an end, and people went to bed
in the old mechanical fashion hoping for better signs in the morning.
How many weary years since they had last seen the sunshine, colour,

There was a change from the black monotony some time after dawn. Most
people had nearly lost all sense of time when dawn ought to have been.
People were struggling back to their senses again, trying to pierce
the thick curtain that held everything in bondage. Doors were opened
and restless ones passed into the street.

Suddenly there was a smiting shock from somewhere, a deafening
splitting roar in the ears, and central London shivered. It was as if
some mighty explosion had taken place in space, and as if the same
concussion had been followed by a severe shock of earthquake.

Huge buildings shook and trembled, furniture was overturned, and from
every house came the smash of glass. Was this merely a fog or some
thick curtain that veiled the approaching dissolution of the world?
People stood still, trembling and wondering. And before the question
was answered, a strange thing, a modern miracle happened. A great arc
of the blackness peeled off and stripped the daylight bare before
their startled eyes.


The work was full of a real live peril, but the aerophane was cast
loose at length. Its upward motion was slow, perhaps owing to the
denseness of the atmosphere. For some time nobody spoke. Something
seemed to oppress their breathing. They were barely conscious of the
faint upward motion. If they only rose perfectly straight all would be

"That's a fine light you had in the workshop," said Eldred. "But why
not have established a few hundreds of them--"

"All over London," Hackness cut in, "For the simple reason that the
lamp my friend lent me is the only one in existence. It is worked at a
dangerous voltage too."

The upward motion continued. The sails of the aerophane rustled
slightly. Grimfern drew a deep breath.

"Air," he gasped, "real pure fresh air! Do you notice it?"

The cool sweetness of it filled their lungs. The sudden effect was
almost intoxicating. A wild desire to laugh and shout and sing came
over them. Then gradually three human faces and a ghostly shaped
aerophane emerged out of nothingness. They could see one another
plainly now; they felt the upward rush; they were passing through a
misty envelope that twisted and curled like live ropes. Another minute
and they were beyond the fog belt.

They looked at one another and laughed. All three of them were
blackened and grimed and greasy, smothered from head to foot in fatty
soot flakes. Three more disreputable looking ruffians it would have
been hard to imagine. There was something grotesque in the reflection
that every Londoner was the same.

It was light now, broad daylight, with a round globe of sun climbing
up out of the pearly mists in the East. They revelled in the
brightness and the light. Below them lay the thick layers of fog that
would be a shroud in earnest if nothing came to dispel it.

"We're a thousand feet above the city," Eldred said presently. "We had
better pay out five hundred feet of cable."

To a hook at the end of a flexible wire Hackness attached a large bomb
filled with a certain high explosive. Through the eye of the hook
another wire--an electric one--was attached. The whole thing was
carefully lowered to the full extent of the cable. Two anxious faces
peered from the car. Grimfern appeared to be playing carelessly with a
polished switch spliced into the wire. But his hands were shaking.

Eldred nodded. He had no words to spare just then.

Grimfern's forefinger pressed the polished button, there was a snap
and almost immediately a roar and a rush of air that set the aerophane
rocking violently. All about them the clouds were spinning, below the
foggy envelope was twisted and torn as smoke is blown away from a huge
stack by a high wind.

"Look," Hackness yelled. "Look at that!"

He pointed downwards. The force of the explosion had literally torn a
hole in the dense foggy curtain. The brilliant light of day shone
through down into London as from a gigantic skylight.

This is what the amazed inhabitants of central London saw as they
rushed out of their houses after what they imagined to be a shock of
earthquake. The effect was weird, wonderful, one never to be
forgotten. From a radius of half a mile from St. Paul's, London was
flooded with brilliant light. People rubbed their eyes, unable to face
the sudden and blinding glare. They gasped and thrilled with
exultation as a column of fresh sweet air rushed to fill the vacuum.
As yet they knew nothing of the cause.

That brilliant shaft of light showed strange things. Every pavement
was black as ink, the fronts of the houses looked as if they had been
daubed over with pitch. The roads were dark with fatty soot. On
Ludgate Hill were dozens of vehicles from which the horses had been
detached. There were numerous motor cars apparently lacking owners. A
pickpocket sat in the gutter with a pile of costly trinkets about him,
gems that glittered in the mud. These things had been collected before
the fog grew beyond endurance. Now they were about as useful to the
thief as an elephant might have been.

At the end of five minutes the curtain fell again. The flying, panic-
stricken pickpocket huddled down once more with a frightened curse.

But London was no longer alarmed. A passing glimpse of the aerophane
had been seen, and better informed folks knew what was taking place.
Presently another explosion followed, tearing the curtain away over
Hampstead; for the next two hours the explosions continued at short
intervals. There were tremendous outbursts of cheering whenever the
relief came.

Presently a little light seemed to be coming. Ever and again it was
possible for a man to see his hands before his face. Above the fog
banks a wrack of cloud had gathered, the aerophane was coated with a
glittering mist. An hour before it had been perfectly fair overhead.
Then it began to rain in earnest. The constant explosions had summoned
up and brought down the rain as the heavy discharge of artillery used
to do in the days of the Boer War.

It came down in a drenching stream that wetted the occupants of the
aerophane to the skin. They did not seem to mind. The exhilaration of
the fresh sweet air was still in their veins, they worked on at their
bombs till the last ounce of the high explosives was exhausted.

And the rain was falling over London. Wherever a hole was torn in the
curtain, the rain was seen to fall--black rain as thick as ink and
quite as disfiguring. The whole city wore a suit of mourning.

"The cloud is passing away," Eldred cried. "I can see the top of St.

Surely enough, the cross seemed to lift skyward. Bit by bit and inch
by inch the panorama of London slowly unfolded itself. Despite the
sooty flood--a flood gradually growing cleaner and sweeter every
moment--the streets were filled with people gazing up in fascination
at the aerophane.

The tumult of their cheers came upwards. It was their thanks for the
forethought and scientific knowledge that had proved to be the
salvation of London. As a matter of fact, the high explosives had only
been the indirect means of preserving countless lives. The conjuring
up of that heavy rain had been the real salvation. It had condensed
the fog and beaten it down to earth in a sooty flow of water. It was a
heavy, sloppy, gloomy day, such as London ever enjoys the privilege of
grumbling over, but nobody grumbled now. The blessed daylight had come
back, it was possible to fill the lungs with something like pure air
once more, and to realise the simple delight of living.

Nobody minded the rain, nobody cared an atom for the knowledge that he
was a little worse and a little more grimy than the dirtiest sweep
alive. What did it matter so long as everybody was alike? Looking
down, the trio in the aerophane could see London grow mad, grave men
skipping about in the rain like schoolboys at the first fall of snow.

"We had better get down," said Grimfern. "Otherwise we shall have an
ovation ready for us, and, personally, I should prefer a breakfast. In
a calm like this we need not have any difficulty in making Regent's
Park safely."

The valve was opened and the great car dropped like a flashing bird.
They saw the rush in the streets, they could hear the tramp of feet
now. They dropped at length in what looked like a yelling crowd of
demented Hottentots.


The aerophane was safely housed once more, the yelling mob had
departed. London was bent upon one of its occasional insane holidays.
The pouring rain did not matter one jot--had not the rain proved to be
the salvation of the great city? What did it matter that the streets
were black and the people blacker still? The danger was averted. "We
will go out and explore presently," said Grimfern. "Meanwhile,
breakfast. A thing like this must never occur again, Hackness."
Hackness sincerely hoped not. Cynthia Grimfern came out to meet them.
A liberal application of soap and water had rendered her sweet and
fair, but it was impossible to keep clean for long. Everywhere lay
evidences of the fog.

"It's lovely to be able to see and breathe once more," she said. "Last
night every moment I felt as if I must be suffocated. To-day it is
like suddenly finding Paradise."

"A sooty paradise," Grimfern growled.

Cynthia laughed a little hopelessly.

"It's dreadful," she said. "I have had no table-cloth laid, it is
useless. But the table itself is clean, and that is something. I don't
think London will ever be perfectly clean again."

The reek was still upon the great city, the taint of it hung upon the
air. By one o'clock it had ceased raining and the sky cleared A
startled sun looked down on strange things. There was a curious
thickness about the trees in Regent's Park, they were as black as if
they had been painted. The pavements were greasy and dangerous to
pedestrians in a hurry.

There was a certain jubilation still to be observed, but the black
melancholy desolation was bound to depress the most exuberant spirits.
For the last three days everything had been at a standstill.

In the thickly populated districts the mortality amongst little
children had been alarmingly high. Those who had any tendency to lung
or throat or chest troubles died like flies before the first breath of
frost. The evening papers, coming out as usual, a little late in the
day, had many a gruesome story to tell. It was the harvest of the
scare-line journalist, and he lost no chance. He scented his gloomy
copy and tracked it down unerringly.

Over two thousand children--to say nothing of elderly people--had died
in the East End. The very small infants had had no chance at all.

The Lord Mayor promptly started a Mansion House fund. There would be
work and to spare presently. Meanwhile tons upon tons of machinery
stood idle until it could be cleaned; all the trade of London was

The river and the docks had taken a dreadful toll. Scores of labourers
and sailors overtaken by the sudden scourge, had blundered into the
water to be seen no more. The cutting off of the railways and other
communications that brought London its daily bread had produced a
temporary, but no less painful lack of provisions.

"It's a lamentable state of things," Grimfern said moodily as the two
trudged back to Regent's Park later in the evening. It was impossible
to get a cab for the simple reason that there was not one in London
fit to be used. "But I don't see how we are going to better it. We can
dispel the fogs, but not before they have done terrible damage."

"There is an easy way out of the difficulty," Eldred said quietly.

The others turned eagerly to listen. As a rule Eldred did not speak
until he had thought the matter deliberately out.

"Abolish all fires throughout the Metropolitan area," he said. "In
time it will have to be done. All London must warm itself and cook its
food and drive all its machinery by electric power. Then it will be
one of the healthiest towns in the universe. Everything done by
electric power. No thousands of chimneys belching forth black
poisonous smoke, but a clear, pure atmosphere. In towns like Brighton,
where the local authorities have grappled the question in earnest,
electric power is half the cost of gas.

"If only London combined it would be less than that. No dirt, no dust,
no smell, no smoke! The magnificent system at Brighton never cost the
ratepayers anything, indeed a deal of the profit has gone to the
relief of the local burdens. Perhaps this dire calamity will rouse
London to a sense of its dangers--but I doubt it."

Eldred shook his head despondingly at the dark chaos of the park.
Perhaps he was thinking of the victims that the disaster had claimed.
The others had followed sadly, and Grimfern, leading the way into his
house banged the door on the darkening night.


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