Thus perished Herzog, coward and tool, a victim of the very forces he himself had helped create.
And at the moment of his death, the masters he had cringed to and had served, sneering with scorn at him even in their mortal terror, were tremblingly descending the long metal ladder to the impregnable vaults of steel below.
THE STORMING OF THE WORKS.
Plunged into the abyss of mist and flame by the attack of the Air Trust epervier, Gabriel had abandoned himself for lost. Death, mercifully swift, he had felt could be his only fate; and with this thought had come no fear, but only a wild joy that he had shared this glorious battle, sure to end in victory! This was his only thought—this, and a quick vision of Catherine.
Then, as he hurtled down and over, whirling drunkenly in the void, all clear perception left him. Everything became a swift blur, a rushing confusion of terrible wind, and lurid light, and the wild roar of myriad explosions.
Came a shock, a sudden checking of the plunge, a long and rapid glide, as the DeVreeland stabilizer of the machine, asserting its automatic action, brought it to a level keel once more.
But now the engine was stopped. Gabriel, realizing that some chance still existed to save his life, wrenched madly at his levers.
“If I can volplane down!” he panted, sick and dizzy, “there may yet be hope!”
Hope! Yes, but how tenuous! What chance had he, coasting to earth at that low level, to avoid the detonating bombs, the aerial shrapnel being hurled aloft, the poisonous gas, the surface-fire?
Here, there and yonder, terrific explosions were shattering the echoes, as the Air Trust batteries swept the fog with their aeroplane-destroying missiles. Whither should he steer? He knew not. All sense of direction was lost, nor could the compass tell him anything. A glance at the barometric gauge showed him an altitude of but 850 feet, and this was decreasing with terrible rapidity.
Strive as he might, he could not check the swift descent.
“God send me a soft place to fall on!” he thought, grimly, still clinging to his machine and laboring to jockey it under control.
Close by, a thunderous detonation crashed through the mist. His machine reeled and swerved, then plunged more swiftly still. All became vague, to Gabriel—a dream—a nightmare!
Flung from the seat, he sprawled through treetops, caught himself, fell to a lower limb, slid off and landed among thick bushes; and through these came to earth.
The wrecked ’plane, whirling away and down, fell crashing into the river that rushed cascading by, and vanished in the firelit mist.
Stunned, yet half-conscious, Gabriel presently sat up and pressed his right hand to his head. His left arm felt numb and useless; and when he tried to raise it, he found it refused his will.