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365
SOARING

and the little group that had been summoned to witness the start, their faces craned upward and most of them scrutinizing my expression through field-glasses. I could see Carnaby and Beatrice on horseback, and two girls I did not know with them, Cothope and three or four workmen I employed, my aunt and Mrs. Levinstein, who was staying with her, on foot, and Dimmock the veterinary surgeon and one or two others. My shadow moved a little to the north of them like the shadow of a fish. At Lady Grove the servants were out on the lawn, and the Duffield school playground swarmed with children too indifferent to aeronautics to cease their playing. But in the Crest Hill direction—the place looked extraordinarily squat and ugly from above—there were knots and strings of staring workmen everywhere—not one of them working but all agape. (But now I write of it, it occurs to me that perhaps it was their dinner-hour; it was certainly near twelve.) I hung for a moment or so enjoying the soar, then turned about to face a clear stretch of open down, let the engine out to full speed and set my rollers at work rolling in the net and so tightening the gas-bags. Instantly the pace quickened with the diminished resistance. . . .

In that moment before the bang I think I must have been really flying. Before the net ripped, just in the instant when my balloon was at its systole, the whole apparatus was, I am convinced, heavier than air. That however is a claim that has been disputed, and in any case this sort of priority is a very trivial thing.

Then came a sudden retardation, instantly followed by an inexpressibly disconcerting tilt downward of the machine. That I still recall with horror. I couldn't see what was happening at all and I couldn't imagine.