A TRIP TO VENUS
A NOVEL BY JOHN MUNRO
Author of the "The Wire and the Wave," "The Story of Electricity," etc., etc.
Published in 1897 by Jarrold & Sons, London
CHAPTER I. A MESSAGE FROM MARS
CHAPTER II. HOW CAN WE GET TO THE OTHER PLANETS?
CHAPTER III. A NEW FORCE
CHAPTER IV. THE ELECTRIC ORRERY
CHAPTER V. LEAVING THE EARTH
CHAPTER VI. IN SPACE
CHAPTER VII. ARRIVING IN VENUS
CHAPTER VIII. THE CRATER LAND
CHAPTER IX. THE FLOWER OF THE SOUL
CHAPTER X. ALUMION
CHAPTER XI. THE FLYING APE
CHAPTER XII. SUNWARD HO!
CHAPTER XIII. HOME AGAIN
"The heaven that rolls around cries aloud to you while it displays its eternal harmony, and yet your eyes are fixed upon the earth alone."
"This truth within thy mind rehearse, That in a boundless universe Is boundless better, boundless worse.
"Think you this mould of hopes and fears Could find no statelier than his peers In yonder hundred million spheres?"
A TRIP TO VENUS.
A MESSAGE FROM MARS.
While I was glancing at the Times newspaper in a morning train for London my eyes fell on the following item:—
A STRANGE LIGHT ON MARS.—On Monday afternoon, Dr. Krueger, who is in charge of the central bureau at Kiel, telegraphed to his correspondents:—
"Projection lumineuse dans region australe du terminateur de Mars observee par Javelle 28 courant, 16 heures.—Perrotin."
In plain English, at 4 a.m., a ray of light had been observed on the disc of the planet Mars in or near the "terminator"; that is to say, the zone of twilight separating day from night. The news was doubly interesting to me, because a singular dream of "Sunrise in the Moon" had quickened my imagination as to the wonders of the universe beyond our little globe, and because of a never-to-be-forgotten experience of mine with an aged astronomer several years ago.
This extraordinary man, living the life of a recluse in his own observatory, which was situated in a lonely part of the country, had, or at any rate, believed that he had, opened up a communication with the inhabitants of Mars, by means of powerful electric lights, flashing in the manner of a signal-lantern or heliograph. I had set him down as a monomaniac; but who knows? perhaps he was not so crazy after all.
When evening came I turned to the books, and gathered a great deal about the fiery planet, including the fact that a stout man, a Daniel Lambert, could jump his own height there with the greatest ease. Very likely; but I was seeking information on the strange light, and as I could not find any I resolved to walk over and consult my old friend, Professor Gazen, the well-known astronomer, who had made his mark by a series of splendid researches with the spectroscope into the constitution of the sun and other celestial bodies.
It was a fine clear night. The sky was cloudless and of a deep dark blue, which revealed the highest heavens and the silvery lustre of the Milky Way. The great belt of Orion shone conspicuously in the east, and Sirius blazed a living gem more to the south. I looked for Mars, and soon found him farther to the north, a large red star, amongst the white of the encircling constellations.
Professor Gazen was quite alone in his observatory when I arrived, and busily engaged in writing or computing at his desk.
"I hope I'm not disturbing you," said I, as we shook hands; "I know that you astronomers must work when the fine night cometh."
"Don't mention it," he replied cordially; "I'm observing one of the nebulas just now, but it won't be in sight for a long time yet."
"What about this mysterious light on Mars. Have you seen anything of it?"
"I have not," said he, "though I did look the other night."
"You believe that something of the kind has been seen?"
"Oh, certainly. The Nice Observatory, of which Monsieur Perrotin is director, has one of the finest telescopes in existence, and Monsieur Javelle is well-known for his careful work."
"How do you account for it?"
"The light is not outside the disc," responded Gazen, "else I should ascribe it to a small comet. It may be due to an aurora in Mars as a writer in Nature has suggested, or to a range of snowy Alps, or even to a bright cloud, reflecting the sunrise. Possibly the Martians have seen the forest fires in America, and started a rival illumination."
"What strikes you as the likeliest of these notions?"
"Mountain peaks catching the sunshine."
"Might it not be the glare of a city, or a powerful search-light—in short, a signal?"
"Oh dear, no," exclaimed the astronomer, smiling incredulously. "The idea of signalling has got into people's heads through the outcry raised about it some time ago, when Mars was in 'opposition' and near the earth. I suppose you are thinking of the plan for raising and lowering the lights of London to attract the notice of the Martians?"
"No; I believe I told you of the singular experience I had some five or six years ago with an old astronomer, who thought he had established an optical telegraph to Mars?"
"Oh, yes, I remember now. Ah, that poor old chap was insane. Like the astronomer in Rasselas, he had brooded so long in solitude over his visionary idea that he had come to imagine it a reality."
"Might there not be some truth in his notion? Perhaps he was only a little before his time."
Gazen shook his head.
"You see," he replied, "Mars is a much older planet than ours. In winter the Arctic snows extend to within forty degrees of the equator, and the climate must be very cold. If human beings ever existed on it they must have died out long ago, or sunk to the condition of the Eskimo."
"May not the climate be softened by conditions of land and sea unknown to us? May not the science and civilisation of the Martians enable them to cope with the low temperature?"
"The atmosphere of Mars is as rare as ours at a height of six miles, and a warm-blooded creature like man would expire in it."
"Like man, yes," I answered; "but man was made for this world. We are too apt to measure things by our own experience. Why should we limit the potentiality of life by what we know of this planet?"
"In the next place," went on Gazen, ignoring my remark, "the old astronomer's plan of signalling by strong lights was quite impracticable. No artificial light is capable of reaching to Mars. Think of the immense distance and the two atmospheres to penetrate! The man was mad, as mad as a March hare! though why a March hare is mad I'm sure I don't know."
"I read the other day of an electric light in America which can be seen 150 miles through the lower atmosphere. Such a light, if properly directed, might be visible on Mars; and, for aught we know, the Martians may have discovered a still stronger beam."
"And if they have, the odds against their signalling just when we are alive to the possibility of it are simply tremendous."
"I see nothing incredible in the coincidence. Two heads often conceive the same idea about the same time, and why not two planets, if the hour be ripe? Surely there is one and the same inspiring Soul in all the universe. Besides, they may have been signalling for centuries, off and on, without our knowing it."
"Then, again," said Gazen, with a pawky twinkle in his eye, "our electric light may have woke them up."
"Perhaps they are signalling now," said I, "while we are wasting precious time. I wish you would look."
"Yes, if you like; but I don't think you'll see any 'luminous projections,' human or otherwise."
"I shall see the face of Mars, anyhow, and that will be a rare experience. It seems to me that a view of the heavenly bodies through a fine telescope, as well as a tour round the world, should form a part of a liberal education. How many run to and fro upon the earth, hunting for sights at great trouble and expense, but how few even think of that sublimer scenery of the sky which can be seen without stirring far from home! A peep at some distant orb has power to raise and purify our thoughts like a strain of sacred music, or a noble picture, or a passage from the grander poets. It always does one good."
Professor Gazen silently turned the great refracting telescope in the direction of Mars, and peered attentively through its mighty tube for several minutes.
"Is there any light?" I inquired.
"None," he replied, shaking his head. "Look for yourself."
I took his place at the eye-piece, and was almost startled to find the little coppery star, which I had seen half-an-hour before, apparently quite near, and transformed into a large globe. It resembled a gibbous moon, for a considerable part of its disc was illuminated by the sun.
A dazzling spot marked one of its poles, and the rest of its visible surface was mottled with ruddy and greenish tints which faded into white at the rim. Fascinated by the spectacle of that living world, seen at a glance, and pursuing its appointed course through the illimitable ether, I forgot my quest, and a religious awe came over me akin to that felt under the dome of a vast cathedral.
"Well, what do you make of it?"
The voice recalled me to myself, and I began to scrutinise the dim and shadowy border of the terminator for the feeblest ray of light, but all in vain.
"I can't see any 'luminous projection'; but what a magnificent object in the telescope!"
"It is indeed," rejoined the professor, "and though we have not many opportunities of seeing it, we know it better than the other planets, and almost as well as the moon. Its features have been carefully mapped like those of the moon, and christened after celebrated astronomers."
"Yourself included, I hope."
"No, sir; I have not that honour. It is true that a man I know, an enthusiastic amateur in astronomy, dubbed a lot of holes and corners in the moon after his private friends and acquaintances, myself amongst them: 'Snook's Crater,' 'Smith's Bottom,' 'Tiddler's Cove,' and so on; but I regret to say the authorities declined to sanction his nomenclature."
"I presume that bright spot on the Southern limb is one of the polar ice-caps," said I, still keeping my eye on the planet.
"Yes," replied the professor, "and they are seen to wax and wane in winter and summer. The reddish-yellow tracts are doubtless continents of an ochrey soil; and not, as some think, of a ruddy vegetation. The greenish-grey patches are probably seas and lakes. The land and water are better mixed on Mars than on the earth—a fact which tends to equalise the climate. There is a belt of continents round the equator: 'Copernicus,' 'Galileo,' 'Dawes,' and others, having long winding lakes and inlets. These are separated by narrow seas from other islands on the north or south, such as: 'Haze Land, 'Storm Land,' and so forth, which occupy what we should call the temperate zones, beneath the poles; but I suspect they are frigid enough. If you look closely you will see some narrow streaks crossing the continents like fractures. These are the famous 'Canals' of Schiaparelli, who discovered (and I wish I had his eyes) that many of them were 'doubled,' that is, had another canal alongside. Some of these are nearly 2,000 miles long, by fifty miles broad, and 300 miles apart."
"That beats the Suez Canal."
"I am afraid they are not artificial. The doubling is chiefly observed at the vernal equinox, our month of May, and is perhaps due to spring floods, or vegetation in valleys of the like trend, as we find in Siberia. The massing of clouds or mists will account for the peculiar whiteness at the edge of the limb, and an occasional veiling of the landscape."
While he spoke, my attention was suddenly arrested by a vivid point of light which appeared on the dark side of the terminator, and south of the equator.
"Hallo!" I exclaimed, involuntarily. "There's a light!"
"Really!" responded Gazen, in a tone of surprise, not unmingled with doubt. "Are you sure?"
"Quite. There is a distinct light on one of the continents."
"Let me see it, will you?" he rejoined, hastily; and I yielded up my place to him.
"Why, so there is," he declared, after a pause. "I suspect it has been hidden under a cloud till now."
We turned and looked at each other in silence.
"It can't be the light Javelle saw," ejaculated Gazen at length. "That was on Hellas Land."
"Should the Martians be signalling they would probably use a system of lights. I daresay they possess an electric telegraph to work it."
The professor put his eye to the glass again, and I awaited the result of his observation with eager interest.
"It's as steady as possible," said he.
"The steadiness puzzles me," I replied. "If it would only flash I should call it a signal."
"Not necessarily to us," said Gazen, with mock gravity. "You see, it might be a lighthouse flashing on the Kaiser Sea, or a night message in the autumn manoeuvres of the Martians, who are, no doubt, very warlike; or even the advertisement of a new soap."
"Seriously, what do you think of it?" I asked.
"I confess it's a mystery to me," he answered, pondering deeply; and then, as if struck by a sudden thought, he added: "I wonder if it's any good trying the spectroscope on it?"
So saying, he attached to the telescope a magnificent spectroscope, which he employed in his researches on the nebulae, and renewed his observation.
"Well, that's the most remarkable thing in all my professional experience," he exclaimed, resigning his place at the instrument to me.
"What is?" I demanded, looking into the spectroscope, where I could distinguish several faint streaks of coloured light on a darker background.
"You know that we can tell the nature of a substance that is burning by splitting up the light which comes from it in the prism of a spectroscope. Well, these bright lines of different colours are the spectrum of a luminous gas."
"Indeed! Have you any idea as to the origin of the blaze?"
"It may be electrical—for instance, an aurora. It may be a volcanic eruption, or a lake of fire such as the crater of Kilauea. Really, I can't say. Let me see if I can identify the bright lines of the spectrum."
I yielded the spectroscope to him, and scarcely had he looked into it ere he cried out—
"By all that's wonderful, the spectrum has changed. Eureka! It's thallium now. I should know that splendid green line amongst a thousand."
"Thallium!" I exclaimed, astonished in my turn.
"Yes," responded Gazen, hurriedly. "Make a note of the observation, and also of the time. You will find a book for the purpose lying on the desk."
I did as directed, and awaited further orders. The silence was so great that I could plainly hear the ticking of my watch laid on the desk before me. At the end of several minutes the professor cried—
"It has changed again: make another note."
"What is it now?"
"Sodium. The yellow bands are unmistakable."
A deep stillness reigned as before.
"There she goes again," exclaimed the professor, much excited. "Now I can see a couple of blue lines. What can that be? I believe it's indium."
Another long pause ensued.
"Now they are gone," ejaculated Gazen once more. "A red and a yellow line have taken their place. That should be lithium. Hey, presto!—and all was dark."
"What's the matter?"
"It's all over." With these words he removed the spectroscope from the telescope, and gazed anxiously at the planet "The light is gone," he continued, after a minute. "Perhaps another cloud is passing over it. Well, we must wait. In the meantime let us consider the situation. It seems to me that we have every reason to be satisfied with our night's work. What do you think?"
There was a glow of triumph on his countenance as he came and stood before me.
"I believe it's a signal," said I, with an air of conviction.
"Why should it change so regularly? I've timed each spectrum, and found it to last about five minutes before another took its place."
The professor remained thoughtful and silent.
"Is it not by the light which comes from them that we have gained all our knowledge of the constitution of the heavenly bodies?" I continued. "A ray from the remotest star brings in its heart a secret message to him who can read it. Now, the Martians would naturally resort to the same medium of communication as the most obvious, simple, and practicable. By producing a powerful light they might hope to attract our attention, and by imbuing it with characteristic spectra, easily recognised and changed at intervals, they would distinguish the light from every other, and show us that it must have had an intelligent origin."
"We should know that the Martians had a civilisation at least as high as our own. To my mind, that would be a great discovery—the greatest since the world began."
"But of little use to either party."
"As for that, a good many of our discoveries, especially in astronomy, are not of much use. Suppose you find out the chemical composition of the nebulae you are studying, will that lower the price of bread? No; but it will interest and enlighten us. If the Martians can tell us what Mars is made of, and we can return the compliment as regards the earth, that will be a service."
"But the correspondence must then cease, as the editors say."
"I'm not so sure of that."
"My dear fellow! How on earth are we to understand what the Martians say, and how on Mars are they to understand what we say? We have no common code."
"True; but the chemical bodies have certain well-defined properties, have they not?"
"Yes. Each has a peculiarity marking it from all the rest. For example, two or more may resemble each other in colour or hardness, but not in weight."
"Precisely. Now, by comparing their spectra can we not be led to distinguish a particular quality, and grasp the idea of it? In short, can the Martians not impress that idea on us by their spectro-telegraph?"
"I see what you mean," said Professor Gazen; "and, now I think of it, all the spectra we have seen belong to the group called 'metals of the alkalies and alkaline earths,' which, of course, have distinctive properties."
"At first, I should think the Martians would only try to attract our notice by striking spectra."
"Lithium is the lightest metal known to us."
"Well, we might get the idea of 'lightness' from that."
"Sodium," continued the professor, "sodium is a very soft metal, with so strong an affinity for oxygen that it burns in water. Manganese, which belongs to the 'iron group,' is hard enough to scratch glass; and, like iron, is decidedly magnetic. Copper is red—"
"The signals for colour we might get from the spectra direct."
"Mercury or quicksilver is fluid at ordinary temperatures, and that might lead us to the idea of movement—animation—life itself."
"Having got certain fundamental ideas," I went on, "by combining these we might arrive at other distinct conceptions. We might build up an ideographic or glyphic language of signs—the signs being spectra. The numerals might be telegraphed by simple occultations of the light. Then from spectra we might pass by an easy step to equivalent signals of long and short flashes in various combinations, also made by occulting the light. With such a code, our correspondence might go on at great length, and present no difficulty; but, of course, we must be able to reply."
"If the Martians are as clever as you are pleased to imagine, we ought to learn a good deal from them."
"I hope we may, and I'm sure the world will be all the better for a little superior enlightenment on some points."
"Well, we must follow the matter up, at all events," said the professor, taking another peep through the telescope. "For the present the Martian philosophers appear to have shut up shop; and, as my nebula has now risen, I should like to do a little work on it before daybreak. Look here, if it's a fine night, can you join me to-morrow? We shall then continue our observations; but, in the meanwhile, you had better say nothing about them."
On my way home I looked for the ruddy planet as I had done in the earlier part of the night, but with very different feelings in my heart. The ice of distance and isolation separating me from it seemed to have broken down since then, and instead of a cold and alien star, I saw a friendly and familiar world—a companion to our own in the eternal solitude of the universe.
HOW CAN WE GET TO THE OTHER PLANETS?
The next evening promised well, and I kept my appointment, but unfortunately a slight haze gathered in the sky and prevented us from making further observations. While hoping in vain for it to clear away, Professor Gazen and I talked over the possibility of journeying to other worlds. The gist of our argument was afterwards published in a conversation, entitled "Can we reach the other planets?" which appeared in The Day after To-morrow. It ran as follows:
I. (the writer). "Do you think we shall ever be able to leave the earth and travel through space to Mars or Venus, and the other members of the Solar System?"
G. (Checking an impulse to smile and shaking his head), "Oh, no! Never."
I. "Yet science is working miracles, or what would have been accounted miracles in ancient times."
G. "No doubt, and hence people are apt to suppose that science can do everything; but after all Nature has set bounds to her achievements."
I. "Still, we don't know what we can and what we cannot do until we try."
G. "Not always; but in this case I think we know. The celestial bodies are evidently isolated in space, and the tenants of one cannot pass to another. We are confined to our own planet."
I. "A similar objection might have been urged against the plan of Columbus."
G. "That was different. Columbus only sailed through unknown seas to a distant continent. We are free to explore every nook and cranny of the earth, but how shall we cross the immense void which parts us from another world, except on the wings of the imagination?"
I. "Great discoveries and inventions are born of dreams. There are minds which can foresee what lies before us, and the march of science brings it within our reach. All or nearly all our great scientific victories have been foretold, and they have generally been achieved by more than one person when the time came. The telescope was a dream for ages, so was the telephone, steam and electric locomotion, aerial navigation. Why should we scout the dream of visiting other worlds, which is at least as old as Lucian? Ere long, and perhaps before the century is out, we shall be flying through the air to the various countries of the globe. In succeeding centuries what is to hinder us from travelling through space to different planets?"
G. "Quite impossible. Consider the tremendous distance—the lifeless vacuum—that separates us even from the moon. Two hundred and forty thousand miles of empty space."
I. "Some ten times round the world. Well, is that tremendous vacuum absolutely impassable?"
G. "To any but Jules Verne and his hero, the illustrious Barbicane, president of the Gun Club."
[Footnote 1: The Voyage a la Lune, by Jules Verne.]
I. "Jules Verne has an original mind, and his ideas, though extravagant, are not without value. Some of them have been realised, and it may be worth while to examine his notion of firing a shot from the earth to the moon. The projectile, if I remember, was an aluminium shell in the shape of a conical bullet, and contained three men, a dog or two, and several fowls, together with provisions and instruments. It was air tight, warmed and illuminated with coal gas, and the oxygen for breathing was got from chlorate of potash, while the carbonic acid produced by the lungs and gas-burners was absorbed with caustic potash to keep the air pure. This bullet-car was fired from a colossal cast-iron gun founded in the sand. It was aimed at a point in the sky, the zenith, in fact, where it would strike the moon four days later, that is, after it had crossed the intervening space. The charge of gun-cotton was calculated to give the projectile a velocity sufficient to carry it past the 'dead-point,' where the gravity of the earth upon it was just balanced by that of the moon, and enable it to fall towards the moon for the rest of the way. The sudden shock of the discharge on the car and its occupants was broken by means of spring buffers and water pressure."
G. "The last arrangement was altogether inadequate."
I. "It was certainly a defect in the scheme."
G. "Besides, the initial velocity of the bullet to carry it beyond the 'dead-point,' was, I think, 12,000 yards a second, or something like seven miles a second."
I. "His estimate was too high. An initial velocity of 9,000 yards, or five miles a second, would carry a projectile beyond the sensible attraction of the earth towards the moon, the planets, or anywhere; in short, to an infinite distance. Indeed, a slightly lower velocity would suffice in the case of the moon, owing to her attraction."
G. "But how are we to give the bullet that velocity? I believe the highest velocity obtained from a single discharge of cordite, one of our best explosives, was rather less than 4,000 feet, or only about three-quarters of a mile per second. With such a velocity, the projectile would simply rise to a great height and then fall back to the ground."
I. "Both of these drawbacks can be overcome. We are not limited to a single discharge. Dr. S. Tolver Preston, the well-known writer on molecular science, has pointed out that a very high velocity can be got by the use of a compound gun, or, in other words, a gun which fires another gun as a projectile. Imagine a first gun of enormous dimensions loaded with a smaller gun, which in turn is loaded with the bullet. The discharge of the first gun shoots the second gun into the air, with a certain velocity. If, now, the second gun, at the instant it leaves the muzzle of the first, is fired automatically, say by utilising the first discharge to press a spring which can react on a hammer or needle, the bullet will acquire a velocity due to both discharges, and equivalent to the velocity of the second gun at the time it was fired plus the velocity produced by the explosion of its own charge. In this way, by employing a series of guns, fired from each other in succession, we can graduate the starting shock, and give the bullet a final velocity sufficient to raise it against gravity, and the resistance of the atmosphere, which grows less as it advances, and send it away to the moon or some other distant orb."
[Footnote 2: Engineering, January 13th, 1893.]
G. "Your spit-fire mode of progression is well enough in theory, but it strikes me as just a little complicated and risky. I, for one, shouldn't care to emulate Elijah and shoot up to Heaven in that style."
I. "If it be all right in theory, it will be all right in practice. However, instead of explosives we might employ compressed air to get the required velocity. In the air-gun or cannon, as you probably know, a quantity of air, compressed within a chamber of the breech, is allowed suddenly to expand behind the bullet and eject it from the barrel. Now, one might manage with a simple gun of this sort, provided it had a very long barrel, and a series of air chambers at intervals from the breech to the muzzle. Each of these chambers, beginning at the breech, could be opened in turn as the bullet passed along the barrel, so that every escaping jet of gas would give it an additional impulse."
G. (with growing interest). "That sounds neater. You might work the chambers by electricity."
I. "We could even have an electric gun. Conceive a bobbin wound with insulated wire in lieu of thread, and having the usual hole through the axis of the frame. If a current of electricity be sent through the wire, the bobbin will become a hollow magnet or 'solenoid,' and a plug of soft iron placed at one end will be sucked into the hole. In this experiment we have the germ of a solenoid cannon. The bobbin stands for the gun-barrel, the plug for the bullet-car, and the magnetism for the ejecting force. We can arrange the wire and current so as to draw the plug or car right through the hole or barrel, and if we have a series of solenoids end to end in one straight line, we can switch the current through each in succession, and send the projectile with gathering velocity through the interior of them all. In practice the barrel would consist of a long straight tube, wide and strong enough to contain the bullet-car without flexure, and begirt with giant solenoids at intervals. Each of the solenoids would be excited by a powerful current, one after the other, so as to urge the projectile with accelerating speed along the tube, and launch it into the vast."
G. "That looks still better than the pneumatic gun."
I. "A magnetic gun would have several advantages. For instance, the currents can be sent through the solenoids in turn as quickly as we desire by means of a commutator in a convenient spot, for instance, at the butt end of the gun, so as to follow up the bullet with ease, and give it a planetary flight. By a proper adjustment of the solenoids and currents, this could be done so gradually as to prevent a starting shock to the occupants of the car. The velocity attained by the car would, of course, depend on the number and power of the solenoids. If, for example, each solenoid communicated to the car a velocity of nine yards per second, a thousand solenoids, each magnetically stronger than another in going from breech to muzzle, would be required to give a final velocity of five miles a second. In such a case, the length of the barrel would be at least 1,000 yards. Economy and safety would determine the best proportions for the gun, but we are now considering the feasibility of the project, not its cost. With regard to position and supports, the gun might be constructed along the slope of a hill or mound steep enough to give it the angle or elevation due to the aim. As the barrel would not have to resist an explosive force, it should not be difficult to make, and the inside could be lubricated to diminish the friction of the projectile in passing through it. Moreover, it is conceivable that the car need never touch the sides, for by a proper adjustment of the magnetism of the solenoids we might suspend it in mid-air like Mahomet's coffin, and make it glide along the magnetic axis of the tube."
G. "It seems a promising idea for an actual gun, or an electric despatch and parcel post, or even a railway. The bullet, I suppose, would be of iron."
I. "Probably; but aluminium is magnetic in a lower degree than iron, and its greater lightness might prove in its favour. We might also magnetise the car, say by surrounding it with a coil of wire excited from an accumulator on board. The car, of course, would be hermetically sealed, but it would have doors and windows which could be opened at pleasure. In open space it would be warmed and lighted by the sun, and in the shadow of a planet, if need were, by coal-gas and electricity. In either case, to temper the extremes of heat or cold, the interior could be lined with a non-conductor. Liquefied oxygen or air for breathing, and condensed fare would sustain the inmates; and on the whole they might enjoy a comfortable passage through the void, taking scientific observations, and talking over their experiences."
G. "It would be a novel observatory, quite free from atmospheric troubles. They might be able to make some astronomical discoveries."
I. "A novel laboratory as well, for in space beyond the attraction of the earth there would be no gravity. The travellers would not feel a sense of weight, but as the change would be gradual they would get accustomed to it, and suffer no inconvenience."
G. "They would keep their gravity in losing it."
I. "The car, meeting with practically no resistance in the ether, would tend to move in the same direction with the same velocity, and anything put overboard would neither fall nor rise, but simply float alongside. When the car came within the sensible attraction of the moon, its velocity would gradually increase as they approached each other."
G. "Always supposing the aim of the gun to have been exact. You might hit the moon, with its large disc and comparatively short range, provided no wandering meteorite diverted the bullet from its course; but it would be impossible to hit a planet, such as Venus or Mars, a mere point of light, and thirty or forty million miles away, especially as both the earth and planet are in rapid motion. A flying rifle-shot from a lightning express at a distant swallow would have more chance of success. If you missed the mark, the projectile would wheel round the planet, and either become its satellite or return towards the earth like that of Jules Verne in his fascinating romance."
I. "Jules Verne, and other writers on this subject, appear to have assumed that all the initial effort should come from the cannon. Perhaps it did not suit his literary purpose to employ any other driving force. At all events he possessed one in the rockets of Michel Ardan, the genial Frenchman of the party, which were intended to break the fall of the projectile on the moon."
G. "If I recollect, they were actually fired to give the car a fillip when it reached the dead-point on its way back to the earth."
I. "Even in a vacuum, where an ordinary propeller could not act, the bullet may become a prime mover, and co-operate with the gun. A rocket can burn without an atmosphere, and the recoil of the rushing fumes will impel the car onwards."
G. "Do you think a rocket would have sufficient power to be of any service?"
I. "Ten or twelve large rockets, capable of exerting a united back pressure of one and a half tons during five or six minutes on a car of that weight at the earth's surface, would give it in free space a velocity of two miles a second, which, of course, would not be lost by friction."
G. "So that it would not be absolutely necessary to give the projectile an initial velocity of five miles a second."
I. "No; and, besides, we are not solely dependent on the rocket. A jet of gas, at a very high pressure, escaping from an orifice into the vacuum or ether, would give us a very high propelling force. By compressing air, oxygen, or coal-gas (useful otherwise) in iron cylinders with closed vents, which could be opened, we should have a store of energy serviceable at any time to drive the car. In this way a pressure or thrust of several tons on the square inch might be applied to the car as long as we had gas to push it forwards."
G. "Certainly, and by applying the pressure, whether from the rocket or the gas, to the front and sides, as well as to the rear of the car, you would be able to regulate the speed, and direct the car wherever you wanted to go."
I. "Moreover, beyond the range of gravitation, we could steer and travel by pumping out the respired air, or occasionally projecting a pebble from the car through a stuffing box in the wall, or else by firing a shot from a pistol."
G. "You might even have a battery of machine guns on board, and decimate the hosts of heaven."
I. "Our bullets would fly straight enough, anyhow, and I suppose they would hit something in course of time."
G. "If they struck the earth they would be solemnly registered as falling stars."
I. "Certainly they would be burnt up in passing through the atmosphere of a planet and do no harm to its inhabitants."
G. "Well, now, granting that you could propel the car, and that although your gun was badly aimed you could steer towards a planet, how long would the journey take?"
I. "The self-movement of the car would enable us to save time, which is a matter of the first importance on such a trip. In the plan of Jules Verne, the bullet derives all its motion from the initial effort, and consequently slows down as it rises against the earth's attraction, until it begins again to quicken under the gravitation of the moon. Hence his voyage to our satellite occupied four days. As we could maintain the velocity of the car, however, we should accomplish the distance in thirteen hours at a speed of five miles a second, and more or less in proportion."
G. "About as long as the journey from London to Aberdeen by rail. What about Mars or Venus?"
I. "At the same speed we should cover the 36,000,000 miles to these planets in 2,000 hours, or 84 days, that is, about three months. With a speed of ten miles a second, which is not impossible, we could reach them in six weeks."
G. "One could scarcely go round the world in the same time. But, having got to a planet, how are you going to land on it? Are you not afraid you will be dissipated like a meteorite by the intense heat of friction with the planet's atmosphere, or else be smashed to atoms by the shock?"
I. "We might steer by the stars to a point on the planet's orbit, mathematically fixed in advance, and wait there until it comes up. The atmosphere of the approaching planet would act as a kind of buffer, and the fall of the car could be further checked by our means of recoil, and also by a large parachute. We should probably be able to descend quite slowly to the surface in this way without damage; but in case of peril, we could have small parachutes in readiness as life-buoys, and leap from the car when it was nearing the ground."
G. "I presume you are taking into account the velocity of the planet in its orbit? That of the earth is 18 miles a second, or a hundred times faster than a rifle bullet; that of Venus, which is nearer the sun, is a few miles more; and that of Mars, which is further from the sun, is rather less."
I. "For that reason the more distant planets would be preferable to land on. Uranus, for instance, has an orbital velocity of four miles a second, and his gravity is about three-fourths that of the earth. Moreover, his axis lies almost exactly on the plane of the ecliptic, so that we could choose a waiting place on his orbit where the line of his axis lay in the direction of his motion, and simply descend on one of his poles, at which the stationary atmosphere would not whirl the car, and where we might also profit by an ascending current of air. The attraction of the sun is so slight at the distance of Uranus, that a stone flung out of the car would have no perceptible motion, as it would only fall towards the sun a mere fraction of an inch per second, or some 355 feet an hour; hence, as Dr. Preston has calculated, one ounce of matter ejected from the car towards the sun every five minutes, with a velocity of 880 feet a second, would suffice to keep a car of one and a half tons at rest on the orbit of the planet. Indeed, the vitiated air, escaping from the car through a small hole by its own pressure, would probably serve the purpose. Just before the planet came up, and in the nick of time we could fire some rockets, and give the car a velocity of two or three miles a second in the direction of the planet's motion, so that he would overtake us, with a speed not over great to ensure a safe descent. Our parachutes would be out, and at the first contact with the atmosphere, the car would probably be blown away; but it would soon acquire the velocity of the planet, and gradually sink downwards to the surface."
G. "What puzzles me is how you are to get back to the earth."
I. "Whoever goes must take the risk; but if, as appears likely, both Mars and Venus are inhabited by intelligent beings, we should probably be able to construct another cannon and return the way we came."
G. (smiling). "Well, I confess the project does not look so impracticable as it did. After all, travelling in a vacuum seems rather pleasant. One of these days, I suppose, we astronomers will be packed in bullets and fired into the ether to observe eclipses and comets' tails."
I. "In all that has been said we have confined ourselves to ways and means already known; but science is young, and we shall probably discover new sources of energy. It may even be possible to dispense with the gun, and travel in a locomotive car. Lord Kelvin has shown that if Lessage's hypothesis of gravitation be correct, a crystal or other body may be found which is lighter along one axis than another, and thus we may be able to draw an unlimited supply of power from gravity by simply changing the position of the crystal; for example, by raising it when lighter, and letting it fall when heavier. This form of 'perpetual motion' might be equally obtainable if Dr. Preston's theory of an ether as the cause of gravity be true. Indeed, Professor Poynting is now engaged in searching for such a crystal, which, if discovered, will upset the second law of thermo-dynamics. I merely mention this to show that science is on the track of concealed motive powers derived from the ether, and we cannot now tell what the engines of the future will be like. For ought we know, the time is coming when there will be a regular mail service between the earth and Mars or Venus, cheap trips to Mercury, and exploring expeditions to Jupiter, Saturn, or Uranus."
[Footnote 3: Philosophical Magazine, February, 1895.]
A NEW FORCE.
"I have read your article on the possibility of travelling to the other members of the Solar system with much interest. It is a problem at which I, myself, have been working for a great many years, and I believe that I have now discovered a means of solving it in a practical manner. If you would care to see my experiments, and will do me the honour of coming here, I shall be glad to show them in confidence any time you may appoint.—Yours truly,
The above letter, marked "Private," was forwarded to me through the editor of The Day After To-morrow. The writer of it was a total stranger to me, even by report, and at first I did not know what to make of it. Was the man a charlatan, or a "crank?" There were no signs of craziness or humbug in his frank and simple sentences. Had he really found out a way of crossing the celestial spaces? In these days it is better not to be too sceptical as to what science will accomplish. It is, in fact, wise to keep the mind open and suspend the judgment. We are standing on the threshold of the Arcana, and at any hour the search-light of our intellect may penetrate the darkness, and reveal to our wondering gaze the depths of the inner mechanism of Nature.
I resolved to accept his invitation.
A few days later I presented myself at the home of my unknown correspondent. It was a lonely little cottage, in the midst of a wild flat or waste of common ground on the outskirts of London. I should say it had once been the dwelling of a woodman engaged in the neighbouring forest. A tall, thick hedge of holly surrounded the large garden, and almost concealed it from the curiosity of an occasional wanderer on the heath.
Certainly it did not look the sort of place to find a man of science, and the old misgivings assailed my mind in greater force than ever. Half regretting that I had come, and feeling in a dubious element, I opened the wicket, and knocked at the door.
It was answered by a young woman, in a plain gown of some dark stuff, with a white collar round the neck. In spite of her dress I could see that she was not an ordinary cottage girl. Pretty, without being beautiful, there was a distinction in her voice and manner which bespoke the gentlewoman. With a pleasant smile, she welcomed me as one who had been expected, and ushered me into a small sitting-room, poorly furnished, but with a taste and refinement unusual in a workman's home. A large piano stood in one of the corners, and a pile of classical music lay on a chair beside it. The mantelpiece was decorated with cut flowers, and the walls were hung with portraits and sketches in crayons and water-colour.
"My father will be down in a moment," she said, with a slight American accent. "He is delighted to have the pleasure of meeting you. It is so kind of you to come."
Before I had time to respond, Mr. Carmichael entered the parlour. He was a man of striking and venerable presence. His long white locks, his bulging brow, pregnant with brain, his bushy eyebrows and deep blue-grey eyes, his aquiline nose and flowing beard, gave an Olympian cast to his noble head. Withal, I could not help noticing that his countenance was lined with care, his black coat seamed and threadbare, his hands rough and horny, like those of a workman. If he appeared a god, it was a god in exile or disgrace; a Saturn rather than a Jove.
"Now to the matter," said he, after a few words of kindly welcome. "Evidently the question of inter-planetary travel is coming to the front. In your article you suggest that a locomotive car, that is to say, a car able to propel itself through what we, in our ignorance, call empty space, though, in reality, it is chock-full, and very 'thrang' as the Scotch say, might yet be contrived, and even worked by energy drawn from the ether direct. When I read that, sir, I sat up and rubbed my eyes."
"Your spectacles, father," said Miss Carmichael.
"Well, it's the same thing," went on the old man. "For like many another prophet, sir, you had prophesied better than you knew."
"How do you mean?" I inquired, with a puzzled air.
"If you will step with me into the garden I will show you."
I rose and followed him into a large shed, which was fitted up as a workshop and laboratory. It contained several large benches, provided with turning lathes and tools, a quantity of chemicals, and scientific apparatus.
"I am going to do a thing that I have never done in my life before," said Mr. Carmichael, in a sad and doubtful tone; "I have kept this secret so long that it seems like parting with myself to disclose it, to disclose even the existence of it. I have fed upon it as a young man feeds on love. It has been my nourishment, my manna in the wilderness of this world, my solace under a thousand trials, my inspiration from on High. I verily believe it has kept my old carcase together. Mind!" he added, with a penetrating glance of his grey eyes, which gleamed under their bushy brows like a pool of water in a cavern overhung with brambles, "promise me that whatever you see and hear will remain a secret on your part. Never breathe a word of it to a living soul. You are the only person, except my own daughter, whom I have ever taken into my confidence."
I gave him my word of honour.
"Very well," he continued, lifting a small metal box from one of the tables, and patting it with his hand. "I have been working at the subject of aerial navigation for well-nigh thirty years, and this is the result."
I looked at the metal case, but could see nothing remarkable about it.
"It seems a little thing, hardly worth a few pence, and yet how much I have paid for it!" said the inventor, with a sigh, and a far-away expression in his eyes. "Many a time it has reminded me of the mouse's nest that was turned up by the ploughshare.
"'Thy wee bit heap o' strae and stibble Has cost thee mony a weary nibble.'
Of course this is only a model."
"A model of a flying machine?" I inquired, in a tone of surprise.
"You may call it so," he answered; "but it is a flying machine that does not fly or soar in the strict sense of the words, for it has neither wings nor aeroplane. It is, in fact, an aerial locomotive, as you will see."
While he spoke, Mr. Carmichael opened the case of the instrument, and adjusted the mechanism inside. Immediately afterwards, to my astonishment, the box suddenly left his hands, and flew, or rather glided, swiftly through the air, and must have dashed itself against the wall of the laboratory had not its master run and caught it.
"Wonderful!" I exclaimed, forgetting the attitude of caution and reserve which I had deemed it prudent to adopt.
The inventor laughed with childish glee, enjoying his triumph, and stroking the case as though it were a kitten.
"It would be off again if I would let it. Whoa, there!" said he, again adjusting the mechanism. "I can make it rise, or sink, or steer, to one side or the other, just as I please. If you will kindly hold it for a minute, I will make it go up to the ceiling. Don't be afraid, it won't bite you."
I took the uncanny little instrument in my hands, whilst Mr. Carmichael ascended a ladder to a kind of loft in the shed. It only weighed a few pounds, and yet I could feel it exerting a strong force to escape.
"Ready!" cried the inventor, "now let go," and sure enough, the box rose steadily upwards until it came within his grasp. "I am going to send it down to you again," he continued, and I expected to see it drop like a stone to the ground; but, strange to say, it circled gracefully through the air in a spiral curve, and landed gently at my feet.
"You see I have entire control over it," said Mr. Carmichael, rejoining me; "but all you have seen has taken place in air, and you might, therefore, suppose that I have an air propellor inside, and that air is necessary to react against it, like water against the screw of a steamboat, in order to produce the motion. I will now show you that air is not required, and that my locomotive works quite as well in a vacuum."
So saying, he put the model under a large bell-jar, from which he exhausted the air with a pump; and even then it moved about with as much alacrity and freedom as it had done in the atmosphere.
I confess that I was still haunted by a lingering suspicion of the machine and its inventor; but this experiment went far to destroy it. Even if the motive power was derived from a coiled spring, or compressed air, or electricity, in the box, how was it possible to make it act without the resistance offered by the air? Magnetism was equally out of the question, since no conceivable arrangement of magnets could have brought about the movements I had seen. Either I was hypnotised, and imposed upon, or else this man had discovered what had been unknown to science. His earnest and straightforward manner was not that of a mountebank. There had been no attempt to surround his work with mystery, and cloak his demonstration in unmeaning verbiage. It is true I had never heard of him in the world of science, but after all an outsider often makes a great discovery under the nose of the professors.
"Am I to understand," said I, "that you have found a way of navigating both the atmosphere and the ether?"
"As you see," he replied, briefly.
"What the model has done, you are able to do on a larger scale—in a practical manner?"
"Assuredly. It is only a matter of size."
"And you can maintain the motion?"
"As long as you like."
"Marvellous! And how is it done?"
"Ah!" exclaimed the inventor, "that is my secret. I am afraid I must not answer that question at present."
"Is the plan not patented?"
"No. The fact is, I have not yet investigated the subject as fully as I would like. My mind is not quite clear as to the causes of the phenomena. I have discovered a new field of research, and great discoveries are still to be made in it. Were I to patent the machine, I should have to divulge what I know. Indeed, but for the sake of my daughter, I am not sure that I should ever patent it. Even as it stands, it will revolutionise not merely our modes of travel, but our industries. It has been to me a labour of love, not of money; and I would gladly make it a gift of love to my fellowmen."
"It is the right spirit," said I; "and I have no doubt that a grateful world would reward you."
"I wouldn't like to trust it," replied Mr. Carmichael, with a smile and shrug of the shoulders. "How many inventors has it doomed to pine in poverty and neglect, or die of a broken heart? How often has it stolen, aye stolen, the priceless fruits of their genius and labour? Speaking for myself, I don't complain; I haven't had much to do with it. My withdrawal from it has been voluntary. I was born in the south of Scotland, and educated for the medical profession; but I emigrated to America, and was engaged in one of Colonel Fremont's exploring expeditions to the Rocky Mountains. After that I was appointed to the chair of Physical Science in a college of Louisville, Kentucky, where my daughter was born. One day, when I was experimenting to find out something else, I fell by accident upon the track of my discovery, and ever since I have devoted my life to the investigation. It appeared to me of the very highest importance. As time went on, I grew more and more absorbed in it. Every hour that I had to give to my official and social duties seemed thrown away. A man cannot serve two masters, and as I also found it difficult to carry on my experiments in secrecy, I resigned my post. I had become a citizen of the United States, but my wife was a Welshwoman, and had relations in England. So we came to London. When she died, I settled in this isolated spot, where I could study in peace, enjoy the fresh air, and easily get the requisite books and apparatus. Here, with my daughter, I live a very secluded life. She is my sole companion, my housekeeper, my servant, and my assistant in the laboratory. She knows as much about my machine, and can work it as well as I do myself. Indeed, I don't know what I should have done without her. She has denied herself the ordinary amusements of her age. Her devotion to me has been beautiful."
The voice of the old man trembled, and I fancied I could read in his hollow eyes the untold martyrdom of genius.
"At last," he continued, "I have brought the matter into a practical shape, and like many other inventors, for the first time I stand in need of advice. Happening to see your article in the Magazine, I resolved to invite you to come and see what I have done in hopes that you might be able to advise and perhaps help me."
"I think," said I, after a moment's reflection, "I think the next thing to be done is to make a large working machine, and try it on a voyage."
"Quite so," he replied; "and I am prepared to build one that will go to any part of the earth, or explore the higher regions of the atmosphere, or go down under the sea, or even make a trip to one of the nearer planets, Mars or Venus as the case may be. But I am poor; my little fortune is all but exhausted, and here, at the end of the race, within sight of the goal, I lack the wherewithal to reach it. Now, sir, if you can see your way to provide the funds, I will give you a share in the profits of the invention."
I pondered his words in silence. Visions of travel through the air in distant lands, above the rhododendron forests of the Himalayas, or the green Savannahs of the Orinoco, the coral isles of the Pacific; yea, further still, through the starlit crypts of space to other spheres were hovering in my fancy. The singular history of the man, too, had touched my feelings. Nevertheless, I hesitated to accept his offer there and then. It was hardly a proposal to decide upon without due consideration.
"I will think it over and let you know," said I at length. "Have you any objection to my consulting Professor Gazen, the well-known astronomer? He is a friend of mine. Perhaps he will be able to assist us."
"None whatever, so long as he keeps the affair to himself. You can bring him to see the experiments if you like. All I reserve is that I shall not be asked to explain the inner action of the machine. That must remain a secret; but some day I hope to show you even that."
THE ELECTRIC ORRERY.
"Half-moon Junction! Change here for Venus, Mercury, the Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune!"
So I called in the style of a Clapham railway porter, as I entered the observatory of Professor Gazen on the following night.
"What is the matter?" said he with a smile. "Are you imitating the officials of the Universal Navigation Company in the distant future?"
"Not so distant as you may imagine," I responded significantly; and then I told him all that I had seen and heard of the new flying machine.
The professor listened with serious attention, but manifested neither astonishment nor scepticism.
"What do you think about it?" I asked. "What should I do in the case?"
"Well, I hardly know," he replied doubtfully. "It is rather out of my line, and after my experience with Mars the other night, I am not inclined to dogmatise. At all events, I should like to see and try the machine before giving an opinion."
"I will arrange for that with the inventor."
"Possibly I can find out something about him from my American friends—if he is genuine. What's his name again?"
"Nasmyth Carmichael," repeated Gazen, musingly. "It seems to me I've heard the name somewhere. Yes, now I recollect. When I was a student at Cambridge, I remember reading a textbook on physics by Professor Nasmyth Carmichael, an American, and a capital book it was—beautifully simple, clear, and profound like Nature herself. Professors, as a rule, and especially professors of science, are not the best writers in the world. Pity they can't teach the economy of energy without wasting that of their readers. Carmichael's book was not a dead system of mathematics and figures, but rather a living tale, with illustrations drawn from every part of the world. I got far more help from it than the prescribed treatises, and the best of that was a liking for the subject. I believe I should have been plucked without it."
"The very man, no doubt."
"He was remarkably sane when he wrote that book, whatever he is now. As to his character, that is another question. Given a work of science, to find the character of the author. Problem."
"I shall proceed cautiously in the affair. Before I commit myself, I must be satisfied by inspection and trial that there is neither trickery nor self-delusion on his part. We can make some trial trips, and gain experience before we attempt to leave the world."
"If you take my advice you will keep to the earth altogether."
"Surely, if we can ascend into the higher regions of the atmosphere, we can traverse empty space. You would have me stop within sight of the goal. The end of travel is to reach the other planets."
"Why not say the fixed stars when you are about it?"
"On the contrary, with a vessel large enough to contain the necessaries of life, a select party of ladies and gentlemen might start for the Milky Way, and if all went right, their descendants would arrive there in the course of a few million years."
"Rather a long journey, I'm afraid."
"What would you have? A million years quotha! nay, not so much. It depends on the speed and the direction taken. If they were able to cover, say, the distance from Liverpool to New York in a tenth of a second, they would get to Alpha in the constellation Centaur, perhaps the nearest of the fixed stars, in twenty or thirty years—a mere bagatelle. But why should we stop there?" went on Gazen. "Why should we not build large vessels for the navigation of the ether—artificial planets in fact—and go cruising about in space, from universe to universe, on a celestial Cook's excursion—"
"We are doing that now, I believe."
"Yes, but in tow of the Sun. Not at our own sweet will, like gipsies in a caravan. Independent, free of rent and taxes, these hollow planetoids would serve for schools, hotels, dwelling-houses—"
"And lunatic asylums."
"They would relieve the surplus population of the globe," continued Gazen, warming to his theme. "It is an idea of the first political importance—especially to British statesmen. The Empire is only in its infancy. With a fleet of ethereal gunboats we might colonise the solar system, and annex the stars. What a stroke of business!"
"Another illusion gone," I observed "Think of Manchester cotton in the Pleiades! Of Scotch whiskey in Orion! However, I am afraid your policy would lead to international complications. The French would set up a claim for 'Ancient Lights.' The Germans would discover a nebulous Hinterland under their protection. The Americans would protest in the name of the Monroe Doctrine. It is necessary to be modest. Let us return to our muttons."
"Everybody will be able to pick a world that suits him," pursued Gazen, still on the trail of his thought. "If he grows tired of one he can look round for a better. Criminals will be weeded out and sent to Coventry, I mean transplanted into a worse. When a planet is dying of old age, the inhabitants will flit to another."
"Seriously, if Carmichael's machine turns out all right, will you join me in a trip?"
"Thanks, no. I believe I shall wait and see how you get on first."
"And where would you advise me to go, Mars or Venus?"
The professor smiled, but I was quite in earnest.
"Well," he replied, "Mars is evidently inhabited; but so is Venus, probably, and of the two I think you will find her the more hospitable and the nearest. When do you propose to start?"
"Perhaps within six months."
"We must consider their relative distances from the earth. By the way, I don't think you have seen my new electrical orrery."
"An electrical orrery," I exclaimed. "Surely that is something new!"
"So far as I am aware; but you never know in these days. There is nothing new under the sun, or even above it."
So saying, he opened a small door in the side of the observatory, and, ushering me into a very dark apartment, closed it behind us.
"Follow me, there is no danger," said he, taking me by the arm, and guiding me for several paces into the darkness.
At length we halted, and I looked all around me, but was unable to perceive a single object.
"Where are we?" I enquired; "in the realms of Chaos and Old Night?"
"You are now in the centre of the Universe," replied Gazen; "or, to speak more correctly, at a point in space overlooking the solar system."
"Well, I can't see it," said I. "Have you got such a thing as a match about you?"
"Let there be light!" responded Gazen in a reverent manner, and instantly a soft, weird radiance was over all. The contrast of that sudden illumination with the preceding darkness was electrical in more senses than one, and I could not repress a cry of genuine admiration.
A kind of twilight still reigned, and after the first moment of surprise, I perceived that we were standing on a light metal gangway in the middle of a great hollow cell of a luminous black or dark blue colour, relieved by innumerable bright points, and resembling the night sky in miniature.
"I need hardly say that is a model of the celestial sphere," whispered Gazen, indicating the starry vault.
"It is a wonderful imitation," I responded, my awestruck eyes wandering over the mysterious tracts of the Milky Way and the familiar constellations of the mimic heavens. "May I ask how it is done—how you produce that impression of infinite distance?"
"By means of translucent shells illuminated from behind. The stars, of course, are electric lamps, and some of them, as you see, have a tinge of red or blue."
Most of the light, however, came from a brilliant globe of a bluish lustre, which appeared to occupy the centre of the crystal sphere, and was surrounded by a number of smaller and fainter orbs that shone by its reflected rays.
"This, again, is a model of the solar system," said Gazen. "The central luminary is, of course, the sun, and the others are the planets with their satellites."
"They seem to float in air."
"That is because their supports are invisible, or nearly so. Both their lights and periodic motions are produced by the electric current."
"Surely they are not moving now?"
"Oh, yes, and with velocities proportionate to those of the real bodies; but you know that whilst the actual movements of the sun and planets are so rapid, the dimensions of the system are so vast that if you could survey the whole from a standpoint in space, as we are supposed to do, it would appear at rest. Let us look at them a little closer."
I followed Gazen along the gangway which encircled the orrery, and allowed us to survey each of the planets closer at hand.
"This kind of place would make a good theatre for a class in astronomy," said I, "or for the meetings of the Interplanetary Congress of Astronomers, in the year 2000. You can turn on the stars and planets when you please. I wish you would give me a lecture on the subject now. My knowledge is a little the worse for wear, and a man ought to know something of the worlds around him—especially if he intends to visit them."
"I should only bore you with an old story."
"Not at all. You cannot be too simple and elementary. Regard me as a small boy in the stage of
"'Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are!'"
"Very well, my little man, have you any idea how many stars you can see on a clear night?"
"No, Tommy. You are wrong, my dear boy. Go to the foot of your class. With the naked eye we can only distinguish three or four thousand, but with the telescope we are able to count at least fifty millions. They are thickest in the Milky Way, which, as you can see, runs all round the heavens, over your head, and under your feet, like an irregular tract of hazy light, a girdle of stars in short. Of course we cannot tell how many more there are beyond the range of vision, or what other galaxies may be scattered in the depths of space. The stars are suns, larger or smaller than our own, and of various colours—white, blue, yellow, green, and red. Some are single, but others are held together in pairs or groups by the force of gravitation. From their immense distance they appear fixed to us, but in reality they are flying in all directions at enormous velocities. Alpha, of the constellation Cygnus, for example, is coming towards us at a speed of 500 million leagues per annum, and some move a great deal faster. Most of them probably have planets circling round them in different stages of growth, but these are invisible to us. Here and there amongst them we find luminous patches or 'nebulae,' which prove to be either clusters of stars or stupendous clouds of glowing gases. Our sun is a solitary blue star on the verge of the Milky Way, 20 billion miles from Alpha Centauri his next-door neighbour. He is travelling in a straight line towards the constellation Hercules at the rate of 20,000 miles an hour, much quicker than a rifle bullet; and, nevertheless, he will take more than a million years to cover the distance. Eight large or major planets, with their satellites, and a flock of minor planets or planetoids, are revolving round him as their common centre and luminary at various distances, but all in the same direction. The orbits, or paths, about the sun are ovals or ellipses, almost circular, of which the sun occupies one focus, and they are so nearly in one plane, or at one level, that if seen from the sun, they would appear to wander along a narrow belt of the heavens, called the zodiac, which extends a few degrees on each side of the Elliptic or apparent course of the sun against the stars. The planets are all globes, more or less flat at the poles, like an orange, and each is turning and swaying on its axis, thus exposing every part to the light and warmth of the sun. They are divided by the planetoids into an inner and an outer band. The inner four are Mercury, Venus, the Earth, and Mars; the outer four are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Moreover, a number of comets and swarms of meteoric stones or meteorites are circulating round the sun in eccentric paths, which cross those of the planets. Such is the solar system—a lonely archipelago in the ethereal ocean—a little family of worlds."
"Not without its jars, I'm afraid."
"The sun is chief of the clan," continued Gazen, "and keeps it together by the mysterious tie of gravitation. While flying through space, he turns round his own axis like a rifle bullet in 25 or 26 days. His diameter is 860,000 miles, and although he is not much denser than sea-water, his mass is over 700 times greater than the combined mass of all his retinue. Gravity on his surface being 28 times stronger than on the earth, a piece of timber would be as heavy as gold there, and a stone let fall would drop 460 feet the first second instead of 16 feet as here. He is built of the same kind of matter as the earth and other planets, but is hotter than the hottest electric arc or reverberatory furnace. Apparently his glowing bulk is made up of several concentric shells like an onion. First there is a kernel or liquid nucleus, probably as dense as pitch. Above it is the photosphere, the part we usually see, a jacket of incandescent clouds, or vapours, which in the telescope is seen to resemble 'willow leaves,' or 'rice grains in a plate of soup,' and in the spectroscope to reveal the rays of iron, manganese, or other heavy elements. What we call 'faculae' (or little torches), are brighter streaks, not unlike some kinds of coral. The 'Sunspots' are immense gaps or holes in the photosphere, some of them 150,000 miles in diameter, which afford us a peep at the glowing interior. There are different theories as to their nature, hence they provide rival astronomers with an excellent opportunity of spotting each other's reputations. For instance, I look upon them as eruptions, and Professor Sylvanus Pettifer Possil (my pet aversion) regards them as cyclonic storms; consequently we never lose an opportunity of erupting and storming at each other. Above the photosphere comes a stratum of cooler vapours and gases, namely, hydrogen and helium, a very light element recently found on the earth, along with argon, in the rare mineral cleveite. Tremendous jets of blazing hydrogen are seen to burst through the clouds of the photosphere, and play about in this higher region like the flames of a coal fire. These are the famous 'red flames' or 'prominences,' which are seen during a total eclipse as a ragged fringe of rosy fire about the black disc of the moon. Some of them rush through the chromosphere to a height of 80,000 miles in 15 minutes.
"Higher still is the 'corona,' an aureole of silvery beams visible in a total eclipse, and resembling the star of a decoration. The streamers have been traced for hundreds of thousands of miles beyond the solar disc. It appears to consist of meteoric stones, illuminated by the sunlight as well as of incandescent vapours of 'coronium,' a very light element unknown on the earth, and probably, too, of electrical discharges. The 'zodiacal light,' that silvery glow often seen in the west after sunset, or in the east before sunrise, may be a prolongation of it."
"I daresay these meteorites are swarming about the sun like midges about a lamp," said I.
"And just as eager to get burnt up," replied Gazen, with a smile. "Let us pass now to the planets. The little one next the sun is Mercury, who can be seen as a rosy-white star soon after sunset or before sunrise. He is about 36 million miles, more or less, from the sun; travels round his orbit in 88 days, the length of his year; and spins about his axis in 24 hours, making a day and night. His diameter is 3,000 miles, and his mass is nearly seven times that of an equal volume of water. The attraction of gravity on his surface is barely half that on the earth, and a man would feel very light there. Mercury seems to have a dense atmosphere, and probably high mountains, if not active volcanoes. The sunshine is from four to nine times stronger there than on the earth, and as summer and winter follow each other in six weeks, he is doubtless rather warm.
"Venus, the 'Shepherd's Star,' and the brightest object in the heavens after the moon, can sometimes be seen by day, and casts a distinct shadow at night. She is about 67 million miles from the sun, revolves round him in 225 days, and rotates on her axis in 23 to 24 hours, or as Schiaparelli believes, in 224 days. Her diameter is 7,600 miles, and her mass nearly five times that of an equal volume of water. Gravity is rather less there than it is here. Like Mercury, she appears to have a cloudy atmosphere, and very high mountains. On the whole she resembles the earth, but is, perhaps, a younger as well as a warmer planet.
"The green ball, next to Venus, is, I need hardly say, our own dear little world. Terra, or the earth, is 93 million miles from the sun, goes round him in 365 days, and turns on her axis in 24 hours less four minutes. Her diameter is 7,918 miles, and her density is 5.66 times that of water. She is attended by a single satellite, the moon, which revolves round her in 27.3 days, at a distance of 238,000 miles. The moon rotates on her axis in about the same time, and hence we can only see one side of her. She is 2,160 miles in diameter, but her mass is only one-eightieth that of the earth. A pound weight on the moon would scale six pounds on the earth. Having little or no atmosphere or water, she is apparently a dead world.
"The red planet beyond the earth is Mars, who appears in the sky as a ruddy gold or coppery star. He is 141 million miles from the sun, travels his orbit in 687 days, and wheels round his axis in 24 hours 37 minutes. His diameter is 4,200 miles, and his mass about one-ninth that of the earth. A body weighing two pounds on the earth would only make half a pound on Mars. As you know, his atmosphere is clear and thin, his surface flat, and subject to floods from the melting of the polar snows. Mars is evidently a colder and more aged planet than the earth.
"He is accompanied by two little moons, Phobos (Fear), which is from ten to forty miles in diameter, and revolves round him in 7 hours 39 minutes, at a distance of 6,000 miles, a fact unparalleled in astronomy; and Deimos (Rout), who completes a revolution in 30 hours 18 minutes, at a distance of 14,500 miles.
"About 400 planetoids have been discovered up to now, but we are always catching more of them. Medusa, the nearest, is 198 million miles, and Thule, the farthest, is 396 million miles from the sun. Vesta, the brightest and probably the largest, a pale yellow, or, as some say, bluish white orb, visible with the naked eye, is from 200 to 400 miles in diameter. It is impossible to say which is the smallest. Probably the mass of the whole is not greater than one quarter that of the earth.
"Jupiter, surnamed the 'giant planet,' who almost rivals Venus in her splendour, is 480 million miles from the sun; travels round his orbit in 12 years less 50 days; and is believed to whirl round his axis in 10 hours. His diameter is 85,000 miles, and his bulk is not only 1,200 times that of the earth, but exceeds that of all the other planets put together. Nevertheless, his mass is only 200 to 300 times that of the earth, for his density is not much greater than that of water. What we see is evidently his vaporous atmosphere, which is marked by coloured spots and bands or belts, probably caused by storms and currents, especially in the equatorial regions. Jupiter is thought to be self luminous, at least in parts, and is, perchance, a cooling star, not yet entirely crusted over.
"Four or five numbered satellites, about the size of our moon and upwards, are circulating round him in orbits from 2,000 to 1,000,000 miles distant in periods ranging from 11 hours to 16 days 18 hours.
"Saturn, the 'ringed planet,' who appears as a dull red star of the first magnitude, is the most interesting of all the planets. He is 884 million miles from the sun; his period of revolution is 291/2 years, and he turns on his axis in 10 hours 14 minutes. His diameter is 75,000 miles, but his mass is only 94 times that of the earth, for he is lighter than pinewood. His atmosphere is marked with spots and belts, and on the whole his condition is like that of Jupiter.
"Two flat rings or hoops, divided by a dark space, encircle his ball in the plane of his equator. The inner ring is over 18,000 miles from the ball, and nearly 17,000 miles broad. The gap between is 1,750 miles wide, and the outer ring is over 10,000 miles broad. The rings are banded, bright or dark, and vary in thickness from 40 to 250 miles. They consist of innumerable small satellites and meteoric stones, travelling round the ball in rather more than ten hours, and are brightest in their densest parts. Of course they form a magnificent object in the night sky of the planet, and it may be that our own zodiacal light is the last vestige of a similar ring, and not an extension of the solar corona.
"Saturn has eight moons outside his rings, the nearest, Mimas, being 115,000, and the farthest, Japetus, 220,400 miles from his ball. With the exception of Japetus, they revolve round him in the plane of his rings, and when these are seen edgewise, appear to run along it like beads on a string.
"Uranus, the next planet visible, is a pale star of the sixth magnitude, 1,770 million miles from the sun, and completes his round in 84 years. His axis, differing from those of the foregoing planets, lies almost in the plane of his orbit, but we cannot speak as to his axial rotation. He is 31,000 miles in diameter, and somewhat heavier, bulk for bulk, than water. Four satellites revolve round him, the nearest, Ariel, being 103,500, and the farthest, Oberon, 347,500 miles distant. Unlike the orbits of the foregoing satellites, which are nearly in the same plane as the orbits of their primaries, those of the satellites of Uranus are almost perpendicular to his own. They are travelled in periods of two and a half to thirteen and a half days.
"Neptune, invisible to the naked eye, but seen as a pale blue star in the telescope, is 2,780 million miles from the sun, and makes a revolution in 165 years. His diameter is about 35,000 miles, and his density rather less than that of water.
"Neptune has one satellite, at a distance of 202,000 miles, which, like those of Uranus, revolves about its primary in an orbit at a considerable angle to his own in five days twenty-one hours. Both Neptune and Uranus are probably dying suns.
"Comets of unknown number travel in long elliptical or parabolic orbits round the sun at great velocities. They seem to consist partly of glowing vapours, especially hydrogen, and partly of meteoric stones. 'Shooting stars,' that is to say, stones which fall to the earth, are known to swarm in their wake, and are believed to be as plentiful in space as fishes in the sea."
"The trash or leavings of creation," said I reflectively.
"And the raw material, for nothing is lost," rejoined Gazen. "Now, in spite of all its diversity, there is a remarkable symmetry in the solar system. The planets are all moving round the sun in one direction along circular paths. As a rule each is nearly as far again from the sun as the next within it. Thus, if we take Mercury as 3/4 inch from the sun, Venus is about 11/4 inches, the Earth 21/4, Mars 2, the planetoids 51/4, Jupiter 93/4, Saturn 14, Uranus 36, and Neptune 60 inches. On the same scale, by the way, Enckes' comet at Aphelion, its farthest distance from the sun, would be about 12 feet; Donatis almost a mile; and Alpha Centauri, a near star in the Milky Way, some ten miles.
"The stately march of the planets in their orbits becomes slower the farther they are from the sun. The velocity of Mercury in its orbit is thirty, that of Jupiter is eight, and that of Neptune is only three miles a second. On the other hand, the inner planets, as a rule, take some twenty-four hours, and the outer only ten hours to spin round their axis. The inner planets are small in comparison with the outer. If we represent the sun by a gourd, 20 inches in diameter, Mercury will seem a bilberry (⅟₁₆ inch) Venus, a white currant, the Earth a black currant (1/4 inch), Mars a red currant (⅛ inch), the planetoids as fine seed, Jupiter an orange or peach (2 inches), Saturn a nectarine or greengage (1 inch), Uranus a red cherry (3/4 inch), and Neptune a white cherry (barely 1 inch in diameter). By putting the sun and planets in a row, and drawing a contour of the whole, we obtain the figure of a dirk, a bodkin, or an Indian club, in which the sun stands for the knob (disproportionately big), the inner planets for the handle, and the outer for the blade or body. Again, the average density of the inner planets exceeds that of the outer by nearly five to one, but the mass of any planet is greater than the combined masses of all which are smaller than it. The inner planets derive all their light and heat from the sun, and have few or no satellites; whereas the outer, to all appearance, are secondary suns, and have their own retinue of worlds. On the similitude of a clan or house we may regard the inner planets as the immediate retainers of the chief, and the outer as the chieftains of their own septs or families."
"How do you account for the symmetrical arrangement?" I enquired.
"The origin of the solar system is, you know, a mystery," replied the astronomer. "According to the nebular hypothesis we may imagine that two or more dark suns, perhaps encircled with planets, have come into collision. Burst into atoms by the stupendous shock they would fill the surrounding region with a vast nebula of incandescent gases in a state of violent agitation. Its luminous fringes would fly immeasurably beyond the present orbit of Neptune, and then rush inwards to the centre, only to be driven outwards again. Surging out and in, the fluid mass would expand and contract alternately, until in course of ages the fiery tides would cease to ebb and flow. If the impact had been somewhat indirect it would rotate slowly on its axis, and under the influence of gravity and centrifugal force acquire a globular shape which would gradually flatten to a lenticular disc. As it cooled and shrank in volume it would whirl the faster round its axis, and grow the denser towards its heart. By and by, as the centrifugal force overcame gravity, the nebula would part, and the lighter outskirts would be shed one after another in concentric rings to mould the planets. The inner rings, being relatively small and heavy, would probably condense much sooner than the large, light, outer rings. The planetoids are apparently the rubbish of a ring which has failed to condense into one body, perhaps through its uniformity or thinness. The separation of so big a mass as Jupiter might well attenuate the border."
"If the planetoids were born of a single small ring, might not several planets be condensed from a large one?"
"I see nothing to hinder it. A large ring might split into smaller rings, or condense in several centres."
"Because it seems to me that might explain the distinction between the inner and the outer planets. Perhaps the outer were first thrown off in one immense ring, and then the inner in a smaller ring. Before separation the nebula viewed edgewise might resemble your Indian club."
"A 'dumb-bell nebula,' like those we find in the heavens," observed Gazen. "Be that as it may, the rings would collect into balls, and some of these, especially the outer, would cast off rings which would condense into moons, always excepting the rings of Saturn, which, like the planetoids, are evidently a failure. The solar system would then appear as a group of suns, a cluster of stars, in short, a constellation. Each would be what we call a 'nebulous star,' not unlike the sun at present; that is to say, it would be surrounded by a glowing atmosphere of vapours, and perhaps meteoric matter. Under the action of gravity, centrifugal force, and tidal retardation, their orbits would become more circular, they would gradually move further apart, rotate more slowly on their axes, and assume the shapes they have now. In cooling down, new chemical compounds, and probably elements would be formed, since the so-called elements are perhaps mere combinations of a primordial substance which have been produced at various temperatures. The heavier elements, such as platinum, gold, and iron, would sink towards the core; and the lighter, such as carbon, silicon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen, would rise towards the surface. A crust would form, and portions of it breaking in or bursting out together with eruptions and floods of molten lava, would disturb the poise of the planet, and give rise to inequalities of surface, to continents, and mountains. When the crust was sufficiently stable, sound, and cool, the mists and clouds would condense into rivers, lakes, or seas, and the atmosphere would become clear. In due course life would make its appearance."
"Can you account for that mystery?"
"No. Science is bound in honour, no doubt, to explain all it can without calling in a special act of creation; but the origin of life and intelligence seems to go beyond it, so far. Spontaneous generation from dead matter is ruled out of court at present. We believe that life only proceeds from life. As for the hypothesis that meteoric stones, the 'moss-grown fragments of another world' may have brought life to the earth, I hardly know what to think of it."
"Has life ever been found on a meteoric stone?"
"Not that I know. Carbon, at all events in the state of graphite and diamond, has been got from them. They arc generally a kind of slag, containing nodules or crystals of iron, nickle, and other metals, and look to me as if they had solidified from a liquid or vapour. Are they ruins of an earlier cosmos—the crumbs of an exploded world—matter ejected from the sun—the snow of a nebulous ring—frozen spray from the fiery surge of a nebula? we cannot tell; but, according to the meteoric as distinguished from the nebular hypothesis of the solar system, the sun, planets, and comets, as well as the stars and nebula were all generated by the clash of meteorites; and not as I have supposed, of dead globes."
"Which hypothesis do you believe?"
"There may be some truth in both," replied Gazen. "The two processes might even go on together. What if meteorites are simply frozen nebula? It is certain that the earth is still growing a little from the fall of meteoric stones, and that part of the sun's heat comes from meteoric fuel. Most of it, however, arises from the shrinkage of his bulk. Five or ten million years ago the sun was double the size he is now. Twenty or thirty million years ago he was rather a nebula than a sun. In five or ten million more he will probably be as Jupiter is now—a smoking cinder."
"And the earth—how long is it since she was crusted over?"
"Anything from ten to several hundred million years. In that time the stratified rocks have been deposited under water, the land and sea have taken their present configurations; the atmosphere has been purified; plants and animals have spread all over the surface. Man has probably been from twenty to a hundred thousand years or more on the earth, but his civilization is a thing of yesterday."
"How long will the earth continue fit for life?"
"Perhaps five or ten million years. The entire solar system is gradually losing its internal heat, and must inevitably die of sheer inanition. The time is coming when the sun will drift through space, a black star in the midst of dead worlds. Perhaps the system will fall together, perhaps it will run against a star. In either case there would probably be a 'new heaven and a new earth.'"
"Born like a phoenix from the ashes of the old," said I, feeling the justice of the well-worn simile.
"I daresay the process goes on to all eternity."
The sublime idea, with its prospect of the infinite, held us for a time in silence. At length my thoughts reverted to the original question which had been forgotten.
"Now, whether should I go to Mars or Venus?" I enquired, fixing my eyes on these planets and trying to estimate their relative distances from the earth.
Gazen made a mental computation, and replied with decision,
"All right," I responded. "Venus let it be."
LEAVING THE EARTH.
I was playing a game of chess with an old acquaintance, Viscount ——, after dinner, one evening, in the luxurious smoking-room of a fashionable club in the West End of London.
Having got his queen into a very tight corner, I sipped a glass of wine, lit a Turkish cigarette, and leaned back in my chair with an agreeable sense of triumph.
My companion, on the other hand, puffed rapidly at his cigar, and took a long drink of hot whiskey and water, then fixed his attention on the board, and stroked his beard with an air of the deepest gravity. Had you only seen his face at that moment you would have supposed that all the care of a mighty empire weighed upon his shoulders. The countenance of a grand vizier, engaged in considering an ultimatum of Lord Salisbury, were frivolous in comparison. There is little doubt that if Lord —— had applied to the serious business of life as much earnest deliberation as he gave to the movement of a pawn, he would have made a very different figure in Society. But having been born without any effort of his own to all that most men covet—rank, wealth, and title—he showed a rare spirit of contentment, and did his best to make the world happier by enjoying himself.
As he was a very slow player, I began to think of a matter which lay nearer to my heart than the game, I mean the project of travelling to Venus. Tests of the new flying machine, by Professor Gazen and myself, as well as our enquiries into the character of Mr. Carmichael, having proved quite satisfactory, I had signed an agreement for the construction of an ethereal ship or car, equally capable of navigating the atmosphere to distant regions of the globe, and of traversing the immense reaches of empty space between the earth and the other members of the solar system.
As Miss Carmichael had determined to accompany her father, and assist him in his labours, it was built to carry three persons, with room to spare for another, and the trial trips, made secretly on foggy nights, had encouraged us to undertake the longer voyage into space. I am glad to say that Professor Gazen, having taken part in one of these, had got the better of his caution, and finally made up his mind to join the expedition.
I suspect that he was influenced in his decision by the heroic example of Miss Carmichael. At all events I know he tried very hard to dissuade her from going; but all his arguments could not shake her inflexible resolution, and truly, there was something sublime in the quiet fidelity of this young woman to her aged father which commanded our admiration.
At length, all preparations for the voyage were complete, and as we did not wish to excite any remark, it was arranged that we should start on the first night that was dark enough to conceal our movements.
While these thoughts were passing through my head, a footman, in plush, entered the smoking-room, and presented a telegram on a golden salver. Anticipating the contents, I tore it open, and read as follows:
"We leave to-night. Come on at once.—CARMICHAEL."
After writing a reply to the message, I turned to the Viscount, who had never raised his eyes from the board, and said,
"You had better give me the game."
He simply stared at me, and asked,
"Well, make it a draw."
"Oh, dear no. Let's play it out."
"I can't. I'm sorry to say I must leave you now. I have just received a telegram making an urgent appointment. When beauty calls—"
"Oh!" replied his lordship, with an amiable smile. "In that case we'll finish it another time. I mean to win this game."
"It will take you all your time."
"I'll wager you ten to one—a thousand sovereigns to a hundred that I win."
It is not my habit to lay wagers; but I was anxious to be gone.
"All right," I responded with a laugh, as I went away. "Good-night!"
On arriving at Mr. Carmichael's cottage I found the rest of the party waiting for me. No time was lost in proceeding to the garden, where the car stood ready to mount into the air. All the lights were out, and in the darkness it might have been mistaken for a tubular boiler of a dumpy shape. It was built of aluminium steel, able to withstand the impact of a meteorite, and the interior was lined with caoutchouc, which is a non-conductor of heat, as well as air-proof. The foot or basement contained the driving mechanism, and a small cabin for Mr. Carmichael. The upper shell, or main body, of an oval contour, projected beyond the basement, and was surmounted by an observatory and conning tower. It was divided into several compartments, that in the middle being the saloon, or common chamber. At one end there was a berth for Miss Carmichael, and at the other one for Professor Gazen and myself, with a snug little smoking cell adjoining it. Every additional cubic inch was utilised for the storage of provisions, cooking utensils, arms, books, and scientific apparatus.
The vessel was entered by a door in the middle, and a railed gallery or deck ran round it outside. The interior was lighted by ports, or scuttles, of stout glass; but electricity was also at our service. Air constantly evaporating from the liquid state would fill the rooms, and could escape through vent holes in the walls. This artificial atmosphere was supplemented by a reserve fund of pure oxygen gas compressed in steel cylinders, and a quantity of chemicals for purifying the air. It need hardly be said that we did not burden the ship with unnecessary articles, and that every piece of furniture was of the lightest and most useful kind.
I think we all felt the solemnity of the moment as we stepped into the black hull which might prove our living coffin. No friends were by to sadden us with their parting; but the old earth had grown dearer to us now that we were about to leave it, perhaps for ever. Mr. Carmichael descended by the trap into the engine room, while we others stood on the landing beside the open door, mute and expectant.
Presently, a shudder of the vessel sent a strange thrill to our hearts, and almost before we knew it, we had left the ground.
"We're off!" ejaculated Gazen, and although a slight vibration was all the movement we could feel, we saw the earth sinking away from us. At first we rose very slowly, because the machine had to contend against the force of gravity; but as the weight of the car diminished the higher we ascended, our speed gradually augmented, and we knew that in the long run it would become prodigious. The night was moonless, and a thick mantle of clouds obscured the heavens; but the planet Venus was now an evening star, and after attaining a considerable height, we steered towards the west. Our course took us over the metropolis, which lay beneath us like a vast conflagration.
Far as the eye could see, myriads of lights glimmered like watch fires through the murk of the dismal streets, growing thicker and thicker as we approached the heart of the city, and appearing to blend their lustres. Through the midst of the glittering expanse we could trace the black tide of the river, crossed by the sparkling lines of the bridges, and reflecting the red lanterns of the ships and barges. The principal squares and thoroughfares were picked out, with rows and clusters of gas and electric lamps, as with studs of gold and silver. The clock on the Houses of Parliament glowed like the full moon on a harvest night. Now and again the weird blaze of a furnace, or the shifting beam of an advertisement, attracted our attention. With indescribable emotion we hung over the immense panorama, and recognised the familiar streets and buildings—the Bank and Post Office, St. Paul's Cathedral and Newgate Prison, the Law Courts and Somerset House, the British Museum, the National Gallery of Arts, Trafalgar Square, and Buckingham Palace. We watched the busy multitudes swarming like ants in the glare of the pavements from the dreary slums and stalls of Whitechapel to the newspaper offices of Fleet Street; the shops and theatres of the Strand; the music halls and restaurants of Piccadilly Circus. A deep and continuous roar, a sound like that of the ocean ascended from the toiling millions below.
"Isn't it awful!" exclaimed Miss Carmichael, in a tone of reverence. "What a city! I seem to understand how an angel feels when he regards the world in space, or a God when He listens to the prayers of humanity."
"For my part," said Gazen, "I feel as though I were standing on my head."
By this time we had lost the sense of danger, and gathered confidence in our mode of travel.
"I fancy the clouds overhead are the real earth," explained the astronomer, "and that I'm looking down into the starry heavens, with its Milky Way. I say, though, isn't it jolly up here—soaring above all these moiling mannikins below—wasting their precious lives grubbing in the mire—dead to the glories of the universe—seeking happiness and finding misery. Ugh!—wish I had a packet of dynamite to drop amongst them and make them look up. Hallo!"
The earth had suddenly vanished from our sight.
We had entered the clouds.
For half-an-hour we were muffled in a cold, damp mist, and total darkness, and had begun to think of going indoors when, all at once, the car burst into the pure and starlit region of the upper air.
A cry of joyous admiration escaped from us all.
The spectacle before us was indeed sublime.
The sky of a deep dark blue was hung with innumerable stars, which seemed to float in the limpid ether, and the rolling vapours through which we had passed were drawn like a sable curtain between us and the lower world. The stillness was so profound that we could hear the beating of our own hearts.
"How beautiful!" exclaimed Miss Carmichael, in a solemn whisper, as if she were afraid that angels might hear.
"There is Venus right ahead," cried the astronomer, but in a softer tone than usual, perhaps out of respect for the sovereign laws of the universe. "The course is clear now—we are fairly on the open sea—I mean the open ether. I must get out my telescope."