The Horror Of The Heights

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

humour, 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 new situation. This

world of ours appears to be separated by a slight and precarious

margin of safety from a most singular and 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 any who doubt the narrative

of Joyce-Armstrong, there can 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, lying 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 lying 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 conjectured

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 weapons

which modern science has placed in the hands of our detectives.

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

hangars 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


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 they 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 the 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 fixings were found in a wood in

Leicestershire. 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 about 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 filled

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

smothered--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 skimmed

like a swallow down wind for eight or ten miles until I 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 the 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 low 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 was out of action--a dirty plug, I

should imagine, but still I was 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 lives!

"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 as 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-

coloured 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

deadly lonely in these cloud-spaces. Once a great flight of some

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-

plain. 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


"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 hook into the ring of my leathern 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 cloud-land

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

tourbillon, 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. Then,

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


"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 the 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 considerably

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


"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 led 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 wisps

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 for the mighty whale? The thought

was in my mind when my eyes looked upwards 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 Venetian 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 in their

frames than in the floating spume from 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

sinuous 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 round 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 round 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 to die!"

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."

The Horla Or Modern Ghosts The Hostler's Story Told By Himself facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail