HotFreeBooks.com
The Log of the Flying Fish - A Story of Aerial and Submarine Peril and Adventure
by Harry Collingwood
1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The Log of the "Flying Fish" A Story of Aerial and Submarine Peril and Adventure

By Harry Collingwood This book has a firm place in British literature, for it was one of the very first in the genre of science-fiction.

A German professor, living for some reason in London, takes on some adventurous and rich Englishmen, and sets off with them in an airship that is made of a material so light that it can rise vertically into the air if you pump out some of the air in its ballast tanks. It can also plunge into the depths of the ocean, because this special material, aetherium, is so strong that it can withstand water pressure to a great depth.

In this vehicle they visit the North Pole, having several adventures on the way, including finding the remains of a Viking ship. They visit a region in Africa where they depose the existing King and install a King who is more to their taste. Then they head off for Mount Everest, where they become the first persons to sit on the summit. Here again they have more adventures of a perilous kind.

It's a good book, well worth reading, and I commend it to you. NH. THE LOG OF THE "FLYING FISH" A STORY OF AERIAL AND SUBMARINE PERIL AND ADVENTURE

BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD



CHAPTER ONE.

PROFESSOR VON SCHALCKENBERG MAKES A STARTLING SUGGESTION.

The "Migrants'" Club stands on the most delightful site in all London; and it is, as the few who are intimately acquainted with it know full well, one of the most cosy and comfortable clubs in the great metropolis.

It is by no means a famous club; the building itself has a very simple, unpretentious elevation, with nothing whatever about it to attract the attention of the passer-by; but its interior is fitted up in such a style of combined elegance and comfort, and its domestic arrangements are so perfect, as to leave nothing to be desired.

Its numerous members are essentially wanderers upon the face of the earth—that is the one distinguishing characteristic wherein they most widely differ from their fellow-men—they are ceaseless travellers; mighty hunters in far-off lands; adventurous yachtsmen; eager explorers; with a small sprinkling of army and navy men. Their visits to their club are infrequent in the extreme; but, during the brief and widely separated intervals when they have the opportunity to put in an appearance there, they like to be made thoroughly comfortable; and no pains are spared to secure their complete gratification in this respect.

The smoke-room of the "Migrants'" presented an appearance of especial comfort and attractiveness on a certain cold and stormy February evening a few years ago. A large fire blazed in the polished steel grate and roared cheerfully up the chimney, in rivalry of the wind, which howled and scuffled and rumbled in the flue higher up. An agreeable temperature pervaded the room, making the lashing of the fierce rain on the window-panes sound almost pleasant as one basked in the light and warmth of the apartment and contrasted it with the state of cold and wet and misery which reigned supreme outside. A dozen opal-shaded gas- burners brilliantly lighted the room, and revealed the fact that it was handsomely and liberally furnished with luxurious divans, capacious easy-chairs, a piano, a table loaded with the papers and periodicals of the day, an enormous mirror over the black marble mantel-piece, a clock with a set of silvery chimes for the quarters, and a deep, mellow-toned gong for the hours, and so many pictures that the whole available surface of the walls was completely covered with them. These pictures— executed in both oil and water-colour—represented out-of-the-way scenes visited, or incidents participated in by the members who had executed them, and all possessed a considerable amount of artistic merit; it being a rule of the club that every picture should be submitted to a hanging committee of distinctly artistic members before it could be allowed a place upon the smoke-room walls.

The occupants of the room on the evening in question were four in number. One, a German, known as the Professor Heinrich von Schalckenberg, was half buried in the recesses of a huge arm-chair, from the depths of which he perused the pages of the Science Monthly, smoking meanwhile a pipe with a huge elaborately carved meerschaum bowl and a long cherry-wood stem. From the ferocious manner in which he glared through his spectacles at the pages of the magazine, from the impatience with which he from time to time dashed his disengaged hand through the masses of his iron-grey hair, and from the frequent ejaculations of "Pish!" "Psha!" "Ach!" and so on which escaped his lips, accompanied by vast volumes of smoke, it seemed evident that he was not altogether at one with the author whose article he was perusing. He was an explorer and a scientist.

Near the Herr Professor there reclined upon a divan the form of Sir Reginald Elphinstone, sometimes called by his friends "the handsome baronet," said to be the richest commoner in England. At the age of thirty-five, having freely exposed himself to all known sources of peril, except those involved in a trip to the Polar regions, in his eager pursuit of sport and adventure, Sir Reginald seemed, for the moment, to have no object left him in life but to shoot as many rings as possible of cigar-smoke through each other, as he lay there on the divan in an attitude more easy than elegant.

Square in front of the fire, dreamily puffing at his cigar and apparently studying the merits of a painting hanging behind him, and on the reflected image of which in the mirror before him his eyes lazily rested, sat Cyril Lethbridge, ex-colonel of the Royal Engineers, a successful gold-seeker, and almost everything else to which a spice of adventure could possibly attach itself.

And next him again, on the side of the fire-place opposite to the Herr Professor, lounged Lieutenant Edward Mildmay, R.N.

The lieutenant was skimming through the daily papers. Presently he looked up and remarked to the colonel:

"I see that some Frenchmen have been making experiments in the navigation of balloons."

"Ah, indeed!" responded the colonel, with his head thrown critically on one side, and his eyes still fixed on the reflection of the picture. "And with what result?"

"Oh, failure, of course."

"And failure it always will be. The thing is simply an impossibility," remarked the colonel.

"No, bardon me, colonel, id is not an imbossibilidy by any means."

This from the professor.

"Indeed? Then how do you account for it, professor, that all attempts to navigate a balloon have hitherto failed?" asked the colonel.

"Begause, my dear zir, the aeronauts have never yed realised all the requiremends of zuccess," replied the professor, laying down his magazine as though quite prepared to go thoroughly into the question.

The colonel accepted the challenge, and, rousing himself from his semi- recumbent posture, said:

"That is quite possible; but what are the requirements of success?"

The professor knocked the ashes out of his meerschaum, refilled it with the utmost deliberation, carefully lighted it, gave a few vigorous puffs, and replied:

"The requiremends of zuccess in balloon navigation are very zimilar to those which enable a man to draverse the ocean. If a man wants to make a voyage agross the ocean he embargs in a ship, not on a life-buoy. Now a balloon is nothing more than a life-buoy; id zusdains a man, but that is all. Id drifts aboud with the currends of air jusd as a life-buoy drifts aboud with the currends of ocean, and the only advandage which the aeronaud has over the man with the life-buoy is thad the former can ascend or descend in search of a favourable air currend, whereas the ladder is obliged do dake the ocean currends as they come."

"Very true," remarked the colonel; "and what do you deduce from that, professor?"

"I deduse from thad thad the man who wands to navigade the air musd do as his brother the sailor does, he musd have a ship."

"Well, is not a balloon a sort of air ship?"

"You may gall it zo iv you like, colonel, I do nod; I call it merely a buoy," returned the professor. "A ship is a zomething gabable of moving in the elemend which zustains it; a balloon is ingabable of any indebendend movement in the air; it drifts aboud at the mercy of every idle wind that blows. Id is like a ship on a breathless sea; withoud any means of brobulsion the ship lies motionless, or drifts at the mercy of the currends. Bud give the ship a means of brobulsion, and navigation ad once begomes bossible. And zo will it be with balloons."

"Well, that has already been tried," remarked the colonel; "but the buoyancy of a balloon is too slight to permit of its being fitted with engines and a boiler."

"My vriendt," said the professor impressively, "whad would you think of the man who tried to pud the engines and boilers of an Atlantic liner in a leedle boad?"

"I should think him an unmitigated ass," retorted the colonel.

"Jusd so. Yed thad is whad the aeronauds have been doing; they have been drying to make the leedle boad-balloon garry the brobelling bower of the aerial ship. In other words, they have not made their balloons large enough."

"Then you think they have not yet reached the practical limit to the size of a balloon?" asked the colonel.

"They have—very nearly—if balloons are do be made only of silk," was the reply. "Bud if navigable balloons are to be gonsdrugded, aeronauds musd durn do other maderials and adobd another form. As I said before, they musd build a shib, and she musd be of sufficiend size to float in the air and to garry all her eguipments."

"But such an aerial ship would be a veritable monster" protested the colonel.

"Zo are the Adlandic liners of the presend day," quietly answered the professor.

"Phew!" whistled the colonel. The baronet rose from the divan, flung away the stump of his cigar, and settled himself to listen, and perhaps take part in the singular conversation.

"And of what would you build your aerial ship, professor?" asked the colonel when he had in some measure recovered from his astonishment.

"Of the lighdesd and, ad the zame dime, sdrongesd maderial I gould find," answered the professor. "Once get the aeronaud to realise thad greadly ingreased bulk and a differend form are necessary, and id will nod be long before he will find a suitable building maderial. Iv I were an aeronaud I should dry medal."

"Metal!" exclaimed the colonel. "Oh, come, professor; now you are romancing, you know. A ship of metal would never float in the atmosphere."

"A zimilar remarg was made nod zo very many years ago when id was suggesded that ocean shibs could be buildt of medal," retorted the professor. "Yed there are thousands of medal shibs in exisdenze do-day; and there can be no doubt as do the facd thad they fload. And zo will an aerial shib. The gread—in facd the only diffiguldy in the madder is thad air is eight hundred dimes lighder than wader; and an air shib of given dimensions musd therefore be ad leasd eight hundred dimes lighder than her ocean sisder do enable her do fload in the atmosphere. The broblem, then, is this: How are you to gonsdrugt a medal shib, of given dimensions, sdrong enough do hold dogether and withsdand the shock of goming do earth, yed of less weighd than her own bulk of air? With the medals hitherdoo ad our disbosal, I admid thad the dask is a diffiguld one; bud I maindain thad id is by no means an imbossibilidy. An ocean shib musd be buildt sdrong enough nod only do susdain the weighd of her gargo—often amounding do upwards of a thousand dons—bud also do withstand the dremendous and incessandly varying sdrain do which she is exbosed when garrying thad gargo through a moundainous sea. This enormous sdrength necessidades the use of a gorresbonding thickness—and therefore weighd—of the medal used in her gonsdruction. Such brovision would of gourse be unnecessary in the gase of an aerial shib; begause no one would dream of garrying an ounze of unnecessary weighd through the air; and there are no moundain seas in the admosphere to sdrain a shib. A vasd saving in weighd would resuld from these zirgumsdances alone; and a further saving—zufficiend, I believe, to aggomblish the desired object—gan, no doubd, be effecded by skilful engineers, one of whose greadesd driumphs id is do design sdrugdures in which the maximum of sdrength is zecured with the minimum of weighd. Id musd nod be forgodden, either, thad an air shib musd, in one imbordand bardigular, be dreated exactly like her ocean sisder. An ocean shib gonsdrugded, say, of sdeel, will sink if filled with wader, begause sdeel is heavier than wader, bulk for bulk; bud bump oud all the wader from her inderior, and if she be proberly gonsdrugded, she will fload on the elemend she is indended do navigade. And the same with an air shib: bump out all or nearly all the air which she gondains, and if she be gonsdrugded in aggordanze with the brincibles I have indigaded, she will fload in the lighder elemend."

"Upon my word, professor, you have argued your case extremely well," exclaimed the colonel. "I can see only one difficulty in the way; and that is in the matter of weight."

"Which diffiguldy I have gombledely gonquered," triumphantly exclaimed the professor, rising excitedly from his seat with flushed cheeks and flashing eyes. "Do me, Heinrich von Schalckenberg, belongs the honour and glory of having made dwo mosd imbordand disgoveries, disgoveries of ingalgulable value do the worldt, disgoveries which will enable me do soar ad will indo the highesd regions of the embyrean, do skim the surface of the ocean, or do blunge do ids lowesd debths."

"Bravo, professor; that was positively dramatic!" exclaimed the baronet. "You have mistaken your business, my dear sir; you were undoubtedly born to be an actor. But what are these two most important discoveries of which you so exultantly speak?"

"They are a new medal and a new power," exclaimed the professor. Then, fumbling in his breast-pocket, he drew forth a wallet from which he extracted a small rectangular plate of—apparently—polished silver. It measured about five inches long by four inches broad, and was about a quarter of an inch thick.

"There, Sir Reginald," he exclaimed, offering the plate to the baronet, "dell me whad you think of thad."

"Very pretty indeed," commented Sir Reginald, as he held out his hand to take it. "What is it? Silver? Phew! No; it can't be that," as his fingers closed upon it; "it is far too light for silver. Why, it seems to be absolutely devoid of weight altogether. What is it, professor?"

"Thad, my good sir, is my new medal, which I gall 'aethereum' begause of ids wonderful lighdness. See here."

There was a very handsome cut glass water-jug, full, standing on the table in a capacious salver of hammered brass. The professor took up the jug and emptied it into the salver, almost filling the latter. Then he laid the glittering slab of metal down on the surface of the water, where it floated as buoyantly as though it had been an empty box constructed of the lightest cardboard. The professor raised the salver from the table and agitated the water, to show that the metal actually floated.

"Why, it floats as lightly as a cork!" exclaimed the colonel in the utmost astonishment.

"Korg!" exclaimed the professor disdainfully, "korg is heavy gombared with this. This is the lighdesd solid known. Loog ad this."

The professor lifted the plate of metal out of the water, and, wiping it dry very carefully with his silk pocket-handkerchief, held it suspended, flat side downwards, between his finger and thumb. Then, when he had poised it as nearly horizontal as he could guess at, he let it go. It wavered about in the air as a thin sheet of paper would have done, and finally sailed aslant and very gently to the ground, amid the astonished exclamations of the beholders, by whom it was immediately examined with the utmost curiosity.

"You have seen for yourselves and gan therefore judge how marvellously lighd this medal is," continued the professor when the plate had been handed back to him; "bud ids sdrength you musd dake my word for, as I have no means ad hand do illusdrade id. Ids sdrength is as wonderful as ids lighdness, being—zo var as I have had obbordunidy do desd id— exactly one hundred dimes thad of the besd sdeel."

"If that be the case, professor, then I should say you have solved the problem of aerial navigation," remarked the colonel. "But you spoke of having also discovered a new power. What is it?"

The professor once more instituted a search in his pockets, and at length produced a small paper packet, which, on being opened, was found to contain about a table-spoonful of green metallic-looking crystals.

"There id is," he said, handing the packet to the colonel for inspection.

"Um!" ejaculated the colonel, turning the crystals over slowly with his finger. "Quite new to me; I don't recognise them at all. And what is the nature of the power derivable from these crystals?"

"Dreated in one way they give off elegdricidy; dreated in another way they yield an exbansive gas, which may be subsdiduded for either gunbowder or sdeam," answered the professor.

"Are they explosive, then?" asked the colonel.

"Nod in their bresend form. You mighd doss all those crysdals indo the fire with imbunidy; but bowder them and mix indo a baste with a zerdain acid, and whad you now hold in your hand would develop exblosive bower enough to demolish this building," was the quiet reply.

The professor's little audience looked at him incredulously; a look to which he responded by saying:

"Id is quide drue, I assure you," in such convincing tones as left no room for further doubt. They knew the professor well; knew him to be quite incapable of the slightest attempt at deception or exaggeration.

"Then, if I have understood you aright, you will construct your aerial ship of your new metal, and apply your new power to give motion to her machinery?" said the colonel.

"Yes. Thad is do say, I would if I bossessed the means do build such a ship as I have described. Bud I am a scientist, and therefore boor. Never mind; I have no doubt thad, when I make my discoveries known, I shall find some wealthy man who, for the sake of science, will find der money," said the professor hopefully.

"How much would it cost to build an aerial ship such as you have been speaking of?" asked the baronet.

"Oh! I cannod say. Nod zo very much. Berhabs a hundred thousandt bounds," was the reply.

"Phew! That's rather 'steep,' as the Yankees say. But—'a fool and his money are soon parted'—if you are convinced that your scheme is really practicable, professor, I will find the needful," remarked the baronet.

"Bragdigable! My dear sir, id is as bragdigable as id is to build a shib which will navigade the ocean. I have thoughd the madder oudt, and there is nod a single weak boindt anywhere in my scheme. Led me have der money and I will brovide you with the means of zoaring above the grest of Mount Everest, or of exbloring the deepest ocean valleys," exclaimed the professor enthusiastically.

"Good!" remarked the baronet quietly. "That is a bargain. Meet me here at noon to-morrow, and we will go together to my bankers, where I will transfer one hundred thousand pounds to your account. And—what say you, gentlemen?—when this wonderful ship is completed will you join the professor and me in an experimental trip round the world?"

"I shall be delighted," exclaimed the colonel.

"Nothing would please me better," remarked the lieutenant.

And so it was agreed.

"Well," remarked the baronet reflectively, and as though he already began to feel doubtful as to the wisdom of his agreement with the professor, "if it has no other good result it will at least afford employment to a few of the unfortunate fellows who are now hanging about idle day after day."

The professor looked up sharply.

"What!" he exclaimed. "Of whom are you sbeaging, my dear Sir Reginald?"

"I am speaking of the unfortunate individual known as 'the British Workman,'" was the baronet's quiet reply.

"Am I do understandt thad you make the embloymend of English workmen a gondition of the underdaking?" asked the professor somewhat sharply.

"By no means, my dear sir," answered Sir Reginald; "I shall not attempt to impose conditions of any kind upon you. But I should naturally expect that, if English workmen are as capable of executing the work as foreigners, the former would be given the preference in a matter involving the expenditure of say a hundred thousand pounds of an Englishman's money."

"Quide zo," concurred the professor; "and you would be perfectly justified in such an expegdation if the Bridish workman was the steady, indusdrious, reliable fellow he once was. Bud, unfordunadely, he is nod the same, zo var ad leasd as reliabilidy is concerned. You gannod any longer debend ubon him. Id is no longer bossible to underdake a work of any imbordance withoudt the gonsdand haunting fear that your brogress will be inderrubted—berhaps ad a most cridical juncture—by a 'sdrike,' The greadt quesdion which, above all others, do-day agidades the British mind is: 'Do whadt cause is the bresendt debression of drade addribudable?' And, in my obinion, gendlemen, the answer to that quesdion is thad id is very largely due do the consdandly recurring sdrikes which have become almosdt a habid with the Bridish workman. The 'sdrike' is the most formidable engine which has ever been brought indo oberation do seddle the differences bedween embloyer and embloyed; and, whilst I am willing to admid thad in certain cases id has resulded in the repression and redress of long-sdanding oppression and injusdice, id has been used with such a lack of discrimination as do have almost ruined the drade of the goundry. With the invention of the 'sdrike' the workman thoughd he had ad lasd discovered the means of enriching himself ad the expense of his embloyer, or of securing his fair and righdful share of the brofids of his labour, as he described id; and, udderly ignorand of the laws of bolidigal egonomy, recognising in the 'sdrike' merely an insdrumend for forcing a higher rade of wages from his embloyer, he has gone on recklessly using id undil the unfordunade gabidalist, finding himself unable do produce his wares ad a cost which will enable him do successfully gompede with the manufagdurers of other goundries, has been gombelled to glose his works and remove his gabidal and his energies to a spodt where he gan find workmen less unreasonable in their demands. There is no more capable or valuable workman in existence than the English artisan, if he gould only be induced to do his honest best for his embloyer; there is hardly any branch of industry in which he is nod ad leasd the equal, if not very greadly the suberior of the foreigner; and id is even yet in his power to recover the command of the world's market by the suberior excellence of his broductions, if he could only be brevailed upon do abandon sdrikes and do be satisfied with a wage which will allow the cabidalist a fair and moderade redurn for the use of his money and brains and for the risks he has do run. If the British workman would gollecdively make up his mind to do this, and would acquaindt the gabidalist with his decision, we should speedily see a revival of drade and embloymend for every really capable workman. Bud in the meantime there unfordunadely seems do be very little chance of this; and in so delicade a madder as the gonsdrugdion of this ship of ours, it would be nod only unwise, but also unfair to you to run the risk of a failure through the embloymendt of untractable or unreliable workmen; and if, therefore, you had insisted on my embloying Englishmen, I should have been relugdandly gombelled do wash my hands of the whole affair. Ad the same dime I feel id due do myself do say thad, even had you nod mendioned the madder, I should have done my best to secure Englishmen for the work, as of course I shall now; bud I do nod feel very sanguine as do the resuldt."

"My dear professor!" exclaimed the baronet, smiling at the intense earnestness of the German, "are you not laying on the colour rather thickly? I admit with sorrow that your portrait is only too truthful—as a portrait—still I cannot help thinking it rather highly coloured. They are surely not all as despicable as you have painted them?"

"No," answered the professor with enthusiasm, "no they are nod. Id was only a few weeks ago thad I read of the workmen of a cerdain firm bresending their employers with a full week's work free, in order to helb the firm out of their beguniary diffiguldies. Now, they, I admid, were fine, noble, sensible fellows; they had indelligence enough to regognize the diffiguldies of the siduation, and do grabble with them in a sensible way. I warrand you they always worked honesdly and efficiendly whether their embloyer's eye was on them or nod. And they will find their reward in due time; their embloyers will never rest until they have recouped the men for their generous sacrifice. But where will you find another body of men like them? They are only the one noble, grand exception which goes do brove my rule."

"Well, professor, though what you have said is, in the main, only too true, I cannot agree with you altogether; I believe there are a few good, intelligent, reliable men to be found here and there, in addition to those splendid fellows of whom you have just told us," said the baronet. "But," he continued, "I will not attempt to constrain you in any way. If you cannot find exactly what you want here, import men from abroad, by all means. I have a great deal of sympathy for want and suffering when they are the result of misfortune; but when they are brought on by a man's own laziness or perversity he must go elsewhere for sympathy and help; I have none to spare for people of that sort."



CHAPTER TWO.

THE REALISATION OF A SCIENTIST'S DREAM.

Punctual to the moment, Professor von Schalckenberg opened the door of the smoke-room at the "Migrants'," and entered the apartment as the deep-toned notes of Big Ben were heard sounding the hour of noon on the day following that upon which occurred the conversation recorded in the preceding chapter. Sir Reginald Elphinstone was already there; and after a few words of greeting the two men left the club together, and, entering the baronet's cab, which was in waiting, drove away to the banker's, where the business of the money transfer was soon concluded.

The pair then separated; and for the next fortnight the professor was busy all day, and during a great part of the night, with his drawings and calculations. At the end of that time, having completed his work on paper to his satisfaction, he took advantage of a fine day to make a little excursion. Proceeding to London Bridge, he embarked in a river steamer, about ten o'clock in the morning, and indulged himself in a run down the river. He kept his eyes sharply about him as the boat sped down the stream; and just before reaching Blackwall he saw what he thought would suit him. It was a ship-building yard, "for sale, or to let, with immediate possession", as an immense notice-board informed him. Landing at the pier, he made his way back to the yard, and, having with some difficulty found the man in charge of the keys, proceeded to inspect the premises. They turned out to be as nearly what he wanted as he could reasonably hope to find, being very spacious, with a full supply of "plant," in perfect working order, and with enough spare room to allow of the laying down of the special "plant" necessary for the manufacture of his new metal. Having satisfied himself upon this point, he next obtained the address of the parties who had the letting of the yard and works, and proceeded back to town by rail. The parties of whom he was now in search proved to be a firm of solicitors having offices in Lincoln's Inn; and by them, when he had stated the object of his call, he was received with—figuratively—open arms. The premises had been lying idle and profitless for some time; and they were only too glad to let them to him upon a two years' lease upon terms highly advantageous to him and his client the baronet.

This important business settled, the next thing was to lay down the special plant already referred to; and so energetic was the professor in his management of this and the other necessary preliminaries that six months sufficed to place the yard in a fit state for the commencement of actual operations.

And now the professor's troubles began in real earnest. Impressed with the idea that he was perhaps wrong after all, and the baronet right, in his judgment of the British workman, Herr von Schalckenberg determined to run the risk of giving the Englishmen another trial. He had no difficulty whatever in engaging an efficient office staff; but when it came to securing the services of foremen, mechanics, and labourers, the unhappy German was driven almost to despair. He advertised his wants widely, of course, and, in response to his advertisements, the applications for employment poured in almost literally without number. The great entrance-gates of the works were fairly besieged, and the roadway outside blocked by the great army of applicants, who were admitted into the presence of the professor in gangs of twenty at a time. The professor had set out with the resolve that he would deal as liberally with his employes as he possibly could, consistently with justice to his client, the baronet; and with this object he had spared no pains to ascertain the rate of wages then ruling for such men as he wanted. With the data thus obtained he had drawn up a scale of pay which he was prepared to offer, and beyond which he had resolved not to go. Armed with this, he interviewed the countless applicants as they presented themselves before him; and the result was enough to drive to distraction even a more patient man than Herr von Schalckenberg. The applicants proved to be, almost without exception, trades-unionists, out on strike because their employers had declined or had been unable to accede to the exorbitant demands of the workmen. These workmen had in many cases been idle for months; yet they now unhesitatingly refused employment, and refused it insolently too, because the wages offered by the professor, though fully equal to those paid by other employers, were less than they chose to consider themselves entitled to. Their wives and children were, by their own admission, naked and starving, and here was an opportunity to clothe and feed them, yet they rejected it scornfully. And naked, starving though the families of these wretches might be and actually were, almost every man of them, bearing out the professor's criticism of them, had a short dirty pipe in his mouth and smelt strongly of drink. There were a few exceptions to this rule— about one in every fifty applicants, perhaps—and they were almost all non-union men, who eagerly and thankfully accepted employment, careless of the sneers, gibes, and threats of the others; and these proved to be, with scarcely a single exception, steady, reliable, honest, and capable men, who soon worked themselves into leading positions. The professor wanted about two hundred men, and he succeeded in securing twenty; after which his overtasked patience gave out, and in despair he obtained the remainder from Germany.

All this took time; and it was not until nearly eight months after the conversation in the "Migrants'" smoke-room that the professor was actually able to commence work in the building yard. Then, however, the operations proceeded apace. Day after day long mineral trains jolted and clanked noisily along the siding and into the yard, where they disgorged their loads and made way for still other trains; day after day clumsy steam colliers hauled in alongside the yard wharf and under the fussy steam-cranes to discharge their cargoes; and very soon the lofty furnace chimneys began to belch forth a never-ending cloud of inky smoke. Very soon, too, the belated wayfarer might possibly, had he been so disposed, have obtained a chance glimpse, through accidental chinks in the close palisading, of a long range of brilliantly lighted buildings, wherein, if the doors happened to be inadvertently left open, he would have witnessed huge outpourings of dazzling molten metal, which, after being subjected to the action of certain chemicals, and passing through divers strange processes, was passed as it solidified through a series of powerful rolling mills, which relentlessly squeezed and flattened it out, until it finally emerged, still glowing red with fervent heat, in the shape of long flat symmetrically shaped sheets, or angle-bars and girders of various sections. And, a little later on, an inquisitive individual, could he have obtained a peep into the jealously boarded-in building shed, might have seen a far-reaching series of light circular ribs of glittering silver-like metal, of gradually decreasing diameter as they spread each way from the central rib, rearing themselves far aloft toward the ground-glass skylight which surmounted the roof of the building. But perhaps the strangest sight of all, could one but have gained admission into the forge to see it, was the huge main shaft of the ship, which, after having been mercilessly pounded and battered into shape by the giant Nasmith hammers, was coolly seized by only a couple of men, and by them easily carried into the machine-shop, there to receive its finishing touches in the lathe.

And so the work went on, steadily yet rapidly, until at length it so nearly approached completion that the professor was every week enabled to dispense with the services of and pay off an increasingly large number of men. Finally, the day arrived when the score or so of painters and decorators, who then constituted the sole remnant of the professor's late army of workmen, completed their task of beautifying the interior of the aerial ship, and, receiving their pay, were dismissed to seek a new field of labour. The official staff now alone remained, and to these, after making them a pleasant little complimentary speech expressing his appreciation of the zeal and ability with which they had discharged their duties, Herr von Schalckenberg announced the pleasant intelligence that, although he had now no further need of their services, Sir Reginald Elphinstone had, upon his—the professor's—earnest recommendation, successfully used his influence to secure them other and immediate employment. The professor then handed each man a cheque for his salary, including three months' extra pay in lieu of the usual notice of dismissal to which he was entitled, together with a letter of introduction to his new employer, and, shaking hands with the staff all round, bade them good-bye, wishing them individually success in their new posts. Then, watching them file out of the office for the last time, he waited until all had left the premises, when he turned the key in the door, and making his way into the interior of the building shed, found himself at length alone with his completed work.

How the professor spent the next few hours no man but himself can say; but it is reasonable to suppose that, man of science though he was, he was still sufficiently human to regard with critical yet innocent pride and exultation the wonderful fabric which owed its existence to the inventive ingenuity of his fertile brain. It is probable, too, that when he had at length gratified himself with an exhaustive contemplation of its many points of interest, he went on board the ship, and with his own eyes and hands made a final inspection and trial of all her machinery, to satisfy himself that everything was complete and ready. At all events, however the professor may have passed those few hours of precious solitude, when he finally handed over the keys to the yard watchman and bade him "good-night" late on that summer evening, his whole bearing and appearance was that of a thoroughly happy and satisfied man.



CHAPTER THREE.

THE "FLYING FISH."

During the whole of the following week stores of various kinds necessary to the comfort and sustenance of the voyagers were being constantly delivered at the building yard, where they were received by the valet and cook of Sir Reginald Elphinstone—the only servants or assistants of any kind who were to accompany the expedition—and promptly stowed away by them, under the direction of the professor, who was exceedingly anxious to accurately preserve the proper "trim" of the vessel—a much more important and difficult matter than it would have been had she been designed to navigate the ocean only. By mid-day on Saturday the last article had been received, including the personal belongings of the travellers, the stowage was completed, and everything was ready for an immediate start.

At three o'clock on the following Monday afternoon the voyagers met in the smoke-room of the "Migrants'" as a convenient and appropriate rendezvous, and, without having dropped the slightest hint to anyone respecting the novel nature of their intended journey, quietly said "Good-bye" to the two or three men who happened to be there, and, chartering a couple of hansoms, made the best of their way to Fenchurch Street railway station, from whence they took the train to Blackwall. On emerging from the latter station they placed themselves under the guidance of the professor, and were by him conducted in a few minutes to the building yard. The professor was the only one of the quartette who had as yet set eyes on the vessel in which they were about to embark; and the remaining three naturally felt a little flutter of curiosity as they passed through the gateway and saw before them the enormous closely-boarded shed which jealously hid from all unprivileged eyes the latest marvel of science. But they were Englishmen, and as such it was a part of their creed to preserve an absolutely unruffled equanimity under every conceivable combination of circumstances, so between the whiffs of their cigars they chatted carelessly about anything and everything but the object upon which their thoughts were just then centred.

But the baronet's equanimity was for a moment upset when the professor, after a perhaps unnecessarily prolonged fumbling with the key, threw open the wicket which gave admission to the interior of the shed, and, stepping back to allow his companions to precede him, exclaimed in tones of exultant pride, in that broken English of his which it is unnecessary to further reproduce:

"Behold, gentlemen, the embodiment of a scientist's dream—the Flying Fish!"

The baronet advanced a pace or two, then stopped short, aghast.

"Good heavens!" he ejaculated. "What, in the name of madness, have you done, professor? That huge object will never float in the air; and I should say it will be a pretty expensive business to get her into the water, if indeed it is worth while to put her there."

The other two, the representatives of the army and of the navy, though probably as much astonished as the baronet, said nothing. They knew considerably more than the latter about the capabilities of science; and though they might possibly entertain grave doubts as to the success of the professor's experiment, they did not feel called upon to express an off-hand opinion that it would prove a failure.

The baronet might well be excused his hasty expression of incredulity. Towering above and in front of him, filling up the entire space of the enormous shed from end to end and from ground to roof-timbers, he saw an immense cylinder, pointed at both ends, and constructed entirely of the polished silver-like metal which the professor had called aethereum. The sides of the ship from stem to stern formed a series of faultless curves; the conical bow or fore body of the ship being somewhat longer, and therefore sharper, than the after body, which partook more of the form of an ellipse than of a cone; the curvilinear hull was supported steadily in position by two deep broad bilge-keels, one on either side and about one-third the extreme length of the ship; and, attached to the stern of the vessel by an ingeniously devised ball-and-socket joint in such a manner as to render a rudder unnecessary, was to be seen a huge propeller having four tremendously broad sickle-shaped blades, the palms of which were hollowed in such a manner as to gather in and concentrate the air, or water, about the boss and powerfully project it thence in a direct line with the longitudinal axis of the ship. Crowning the whole there was a low superstructure immediately over and of the same length as the bilge-keels, very much resembling the upper works of a double- bowed vessel such as are some of the small Thames river steamers. This was decked over, and afforded a promenade about two hundred feet long by thirty feet wide. And, lastly, rising from the centre of this deck there was a spacious pilot-house with a dome-like roof, from the interior of which the movements of the vessel could be completely controlled. The entire hull of the vessel, excepting the double-bowed superstructure, was left unpainted, and it shone like a polished mirror. The superstructure, however, was painted a delicate grey tint, with the relief of a massive richly gilded cable moulding all round the shear- strake and the further adornment of a broad ribbon of a rich crimson hue rippling through graceful wreaths of gilded scroll-work at bow and stern, the name Flying Fish being inscribed on the ribbon in gold letters. Altogether, notwithstanding her unusual form, the aerial ship was an exceedingly graceful and elegant object, and, but for her enormous proportions, looked admirably adapted for her work.

Under other circumstances the professor would probably have been seriously offended at the baronet's incredulous exclamation; but as it was he was so confident of his success—so gratified and triumphant altogether—that he could afford to be not only forgiving but actually tolerant. He therefore replied to Sir Reginald only with a mute smile of amused compassion for the baronet's lamentable ignorance and unbelief.

The professor's smile somewhat reassured Sir Reginald, though he still continued to eye his novel possession very dubiously.

"You once spoke of Atlantic liners," he at last remarked to the professor; "but surely this craft is larger than the largest Atlantic liner afloat. What are her dimensions?"

"She is six hundred feet long, by sixty feet diameter at the point of her greatest girth," quietly replied the professor.

"And do you mean to tell me that such a monster will ever float in the air?" ejaculated the baronet, his incredulity returning and taking possession of him with tenfold tenacity.

"I do," answered the professor firmly, his self-love at length becoming slightly ruffled. "In that ship you shall to-night soar higher into the empyrean than mortal has ever soared before; and after that you shall, if you choose, sleep calmly until morning at the bottom of the English Channel. By and by at the dinner-table I will endeavour to demonstrate to you, my dear friend, that it is her immense proportions alone which will enable her to float in so thin a fluid as air."

"Very well," said the baronet in the tones of a man still utterly unconvinced; "if you say so, I suppose I must doubt no more. Now, please, introduce to us the novel details of this wonderful craft of yours."

"With pleasure," answered the professor, his brow clearing and a gratified smile suffusing his countenance. "A few minutes will suffice to show you all that can be seen from the outside. Those small circular pieces of glass which you perceive let into the hull here and there are, as you have no doubt already surmised, windows to enable us to observe what is passing outside. The larger windows at the bow and stern protect powerful electric lamps, and are exclusively for the purpose of lighting up our surroundings when we are at the bottom of the sea. This,"—pointing to what looked like a circular trap-door in the bottom of the ship, some fifteen feet from the centre on the port side—"is the anchor recess; and this,"—pointing to a corresponding arrangement on the starboard side—"is the door through which we shall obtain egress from and access to the ship when she is at the bottom of the sea."

"Do you mean by that, that we are going to leave the ship and walk about on the bed of the ocean?" asked the baronet.

"Certainly," answered the professor with a look of surprise. "Our exploration of the ocean's bed will probably be one of the most interesting incidents of the expedition."

The baronet shrugged his shoulders and the professor continued:

"These bilge-keels serve a threefold purpose; they enable the ship to rest steadily and firmly on the ground, as you see, which, from her peculiar form, she could not otherwise do; they also form the sheaths, so to speak, of four anchors to fasten her securely to the ground either above or beneath the water—a most necessary precaution, believe me; and they also add considerably to the cubical contents of the water- chambers, with which they communicate, which will help to sink the ship to the bottom. Lastly, there is the propeller, the only peculiarities of which are its great diameter—fifty feet—its enormous surface area, and the fact that it is attached to the hull in such a way as to admit of its being turned freely in any direction, thus dispensing with all necessity for a rudder."

"Why have you left the hull unpainted, professor? I suppose you had some good reason for so doing?" remarked the colonel, chiming into the conversation.

"I had no less than three good reasons for leaving the hull of the ship unpainted," answered the professor. "In the first place, aethereum is quite insensible to the attacks of air and water—it never oxidises, and paint was therefore unnecessary for its preservation. In the next place, the quantity of paint necessary to cover that enormous surface would weigh something considerable; and, as I have throughout the work taken the utmost pains to keep down all the weight to the lowest ounce consistent with absolute safety, I rejected it on that account. And lastly, I take it that we are anxious to avoid all unnecessary observation; and I believe this cannot be better accomplished than by preserving the brilliant metallic lustre of the hull, which, especially when we are floating in mid-air, will reflect the tints of the surrounding atmosphere, and so make it almost impossible to distinguish us."

"Except when the sun's rays fall directly upon us, eh, professor?" remarked Mildmay.

"In that case," returned the professor, "observers will see a dazzling flash of light in which all shape will be indistinguishable."

"And we shall thus be mistaken for a meteorite," exclaimed the baronet somewhat sarcastically. "Excellent! admirable! I really must congratulate you, professor, upon the wonderful foresight with which you seem to have provided for every possible and impossible emergency. Now, what is the next marvel?"

"There is nothing more down here. We will now proceed on board, if you please, gentlemen," said the professor; and he forthwith led the way up a ladder which leaned against the vessel's lofty side. This conducted them as far as the upper curve of her cylindrical bilge, at which point they encountered a flight of light ornamental openwork steps permanently attached to the ship's side, up which they passed to the gangway in the stout metal railing which served instead of bulwark, and so reached the spacious promenade deck. Looking down into the yard from this coign of vantage, they seemed to be an enormous height from the ground; and the baronet shrugged his shoulders more expressively than ever as he glanced first below and then around him, realising more fully than ever, as he did so, the immense proportions of his new possession. He said nothing, however, but turned inquiringly to the professor.

"This way, gentlemen, if you please," said the German, in answer to the look; and he led them aft to what may be styled the quarter-deck.

"You spoke about the weight of a coat of paint on the hull just now, but I see you have planked the deck. The weight of all this planking must be something considerable," remarked Mildmay.

"A mere trifle; it is only a thin veneering just to give a secure and comfortable foothold," remarked the professor. He paused at what looked like a trap-door in the deck and said:

"We shall not be always soaring in the air nor groping about at the bottom of the sea; we shall sometimes be riding on the surface; and I have therefore thought it advisable to provide a couple of boats. Here is one of them."

He stooped down, seized hold of and turned a ring in the flap, and raised the trap-door, disclosing a dark pit-like recess of considerable dimensions. Letting the flap fold back flat on the deck, the professor then stooped down and grasped the handle of a horizontal lever which lay just below the level of the deck, and drew it up into a perpendicular position, and, as he did so, a pair of davits, the upper portions of which had been plainly visible, rose through the aperture close to the protecting railing, bringing with them a handsomely modelled boat hanging from the tackles. The professor deftly turned the davits outward, and there hung the boat at the quarter in the exact position she would have occupied in an ordinary ship.

"Bravo, professor; very clever indeed!" exclaimed Mildmay. "But what is the object of those four curved tubes projecting through the boat's bottom?"

"Those tubes," answered the professor, "are the boat's means of propulsion. You see," he explained, "being built of aethereum, the boat is extremely light, and draws so little water that a screw propeller would be quite useless to her. So I have substituted those tubes instead. One pair, you will observe, points toward the stern, and one pair toward the bow. The boat's engine is a powerful three-cylinder pump, and it sucks the water strongly in through the tubes which point forward, discharging it as powerfully out through those which point astern; thus drawing and driving the boat along at a speed of about twelve knots per hour, which is as fast, I fancy, as we shall ever want her to go. If you want to go astern the movement of a single lever reverses the whole process. There is a similar boat on the other side."

The boat having been returned to her hiding-place, the professor next led his friends to the structure which occupied the centre of the deck. It was a perfectly plain erection, with curved sides meeting in a kind of stem and stern-post at its forward and after ends, with a curved dome-like roof, several small circular windows all round its sides, and no apparent means of entry.

"Why, how is this, professor? You have actually built your pilot- house—for such I suppose it is—without a door," exclaimed the baronet with returning good-humour as he perceived that, even in the event of the Flying Fish failing to fly, he would still have a very wonderful ship for his money.

"As you have rightly supposed, this is the pilot-house," answered the professor, with one hand pressing lightly against the gleaming wall of the structure. "But as to its being without a door, you are mistaken, for there it is."

And as he spoke a door, hitherto unnoticed in the side of the building, flew open.

"Why, you are a veritable magician, professor! How on earth did you manage that?" exclaimed the colonel.

"Easily enough," answered the professor. "Just look here, all of you. This is a secret door which it is necessary you should all know how to open. Now, there are four of us, are there not? Very well; find the fourth rivet from the bottom in the fourth row from the after end of the building—here it is—push it to your left—not press it; pressing is no good—and open flies the door. Push the rivet to the right when the door is open, and you shut it—so," suiting the action to the word. "Now, Sir Reginald, let me see if you can open that door."

The baronet opened and closed the door without difficulty; and then the other two essayed the attempt with similarly successful results.

"That is all right," commented the professor. "Now step inside, please; and close the door—so: when you want to open it from the inside you simply turn this handle—so, and open it comes."

The quartette now found themselves inside the pilothouse, which proved to be two stories in height. On their right hand they beheld the companion-way leading to the interior of the ship, with a wide flight of stairs of delightfully easy descent, handsomely carpeted, and a magnificent massive handrail and balusters of gleaming aethereum. The square opening to the companion-way was also protected by a similar handrail and balusters, producing an exceedingly rich effect and seeming to promise a corresponding sumptuousness of fitting in the saloons below.

Just clear of the head of the companion staircase and leading up one side of the pilot-house was another light staircase of open grid-work leading to the floor above, which, at a height of seven feet, spanned the building from side to side. This floor was also of light open gridwork, affording easy verbal communication between persons occupying the different stories in the pilot-house. Through this open grid-floor could be seen various apparatus, the objects of which the new-comers were naturally anxious to learn; and to this floor the professor accordingly led his companions up the staircase.

The first object to which he directed attention was a long straight bar of aethereum handsomely moulded into the form of a thick cable, and finished off at the outer end with the semblance of a "Matthew Walker" knot. This bar issued at its inner end from a handsomely panelled and moulded casing which extended down through both floors of the pilot- house, presumably covering in and protecting the mechanism with which the bar was obviously connected.

"This," said the professor, laying his hand on the bar, "is the steering apparatus—the tiller as you call it—of the ship. It moves, as you see, in all directions, and communicates a corresponding movement to the propeller—as you may see, if you will take the trouble to look out through one of those windows."

The trio immediately did so, and saw, as the professor had stated, that with every movement of the tiller, right or left, up or down, the propeller inclined itself at a corresponding angle. A handsome binnacle compass stood immediately in front of the tiller, but the professor did not call attention to it, rightly assuming that his companions were fully acquainted with its use and purpose.

On the professor's right, as he stood at the tiller, was an upright lever working in a quadrant, and communicating, like the tiller—and indeed all the other apparatus—with the interior of the ship.

"This," said the professor, directing attention to the lever, "is the lever which controls the valves of the main engines. I have fashioned and arranged it exactly like the corresponding lever in a locomotive. Placed vertically, thus, the engines remain motionless. Thrown forward, thus, the engines will turn ahead. And thrown backward, thus, they will turn astern. That is simple enough. And so is this," directing attention to a dial on his left hand which stood facing him. The dial had a single hand which was obviously intended to travel over a carefully graduated arc of ninety degrees painted on the dial-face, and which, in addition to the graduations, was marked in the proper positions with the words "Stop;" "Quarter speed;" "Half speed;" "Full speed;" and also with two arrows pointing in opposite directions marked "On" and "Off" respectively. Just beneath the dial was a small wheel with a crank-handle projecting from one of its spokes, and on this crank-handle the professor now laid his hand.

"This," he said, "regulates the valve which admits vapour into the engine; and the dial-hand shows the extent to which the valve is opened. Turn the wheel in the direction of the arrow marked 'On'—thus, and you admit vapour into the engine. You will observe that, as I turn the wheel, the hand on the dial travels over the arc and indicates the extent to which the valve is open. There; now it is fully open, and the cylinders are full of vapour." Then he quickly reversed the wheel and sent the index hand back to "Stop," keeping a wary eye on his companions as he did so.

"These are dangerous things to meddle with," he remarked apologetically. "The engines are of one hundred thousand horse-power; and, full as the ship now is of air at the atmospheric pressure, they would drive her irresistibly along the ground and through all obstacles. I must beg that none of you will meddle with the machinery until you are fully acquainted with its tremendous power."

"What is this pendulum-looking affair, professor?" asked the colonel, pointing to a pendulum the point of which hung in a shallow basin-like depression thickly studded with needle-points which the pendulum just cleared by a hair's-breadth.

"That," explained the professor, "is a device for automatically regulating the balance, or 'trim' as you call it, of the ship when she is floating in the air. You will readily understand that when freed of air, and thus deprived of weight, as it were, the most trifling matter will suffice to derange her equilibrium; one of us, walking from side to side, or from one end of the deck to the other, would very seriously incline her from the horizontal, and thus alter the direction of her flight, possibly with disastrous results; so I have devised this little apparatus to prevent all that. This pendulum, as you see, is so delicately poised that it will instantly respond to the slightest deviation from a horizontal position, and, swaying over one of these needle-points, will send an electric current to the air-pump, causing it to promptly inject a sufficient quantity of air into the proper chamber to restore the equilibrium. But, as we may desire occasionally to direct the flight of the ship in an upward or a downward direction, I have so arranged matters that the apparatus shall be thrown out of gear when the tiller is sloped in either direction out of the horizontal; and as we shall not require it when the ship is on or below the surface of the ocean, I have here provided a small knob by pressing which inwards the apparatus can also be thrown out of gear until it is again wanted."

"Excellent!" exclaimed the baronet. "I must again congratulate you, professor, on your truly wonderful forethought. And what is this, pray?"

"That," said the German, "is the controlling lever of the air-pump. When we want to sink into the depths of the ocean, I thrust this lever over—so; and the pump at once begins to pump air into the air- chambers."

"Out of them, I suppose you mean," interrupted the baronet.

"Into them, I mean," insisted the professor. "You must understand," he continued, noting the baronet's look of astonishment, "that air, like everything else, has weight. Feathers are light; but you may pack them so tightly into a receptacle as to make them very weighty; and so is it with air: the more air you force into a receptacle of given size the heavier you make that receptacle; and, provided that both your forcing apparatus and your receptacle are strong enough to endure the tremendous pressure, you may at last force enough air into the receptacle to sink it. And that is precisely what we shall do; we shall force air into our air-chambers until the ship is on the point of sinking, and we shall then close the valves, stop the air-pump, and, opening the sea-cocks of the water-chambers, admit water enough into the ship to send her to the bottom like a stone."

"Well! you astonish me, I freely admit," gasped the baronet. "This is the first time I ever heard of a ship being sunk by filling her with air. And then the cool way in which you talk of our 'sinking to the bottom like a stone!' I undertook this enterprise because I wanted to experience a new sensation; and it appears to me that there are a good many of them in store for me. However, it is all right; go on with your explanations, my dear sir."

"These," said the professor, indicating several levers marked with distinguishing labels ranged all along one side of the pilot-house, "are the levers opening and closing the valves of the air and water chambers, and need no further description. This," he continued, pointing to a small box with a little knob projecting out of the top of it, "is the apparatus for firing our torpedo shells."

The baronet glanced mutely round at his companions, and shrugged his shoulders expressively, as who should say, "What next?"

The colonel and the lieutenant nodded approvingly, however, and the latter said:

"That is capital, professor; we ought to have the means of fighting the ship, if necessary; but I was beginning to fear you had overlooked that matter, having seen no provision for anything of the kind. But where is your torpedo port? you omitted to point that out to us when we were under the ship's bottom."

"There was nothing to show," replied the professor; "and I can explain the matter just as well up here as I could have done when we were down below. The conical point which forms the extreme forward end of the ship is solid and movable. Under ordinary circumstances it remains firmly fixed in position; but when it becomes necessary to fire a torpedo-shell the solid point is made to slide in along a grooved tube for a certain distance; the shell is then placed in the tube and fired, when the solid point follows it out and becomes again securely fixed in its former position. In addition to this arrangement, I have two large guns which can be worked through ports in the dining-saloon, and six wonderful magazine rifles invented by a Mr Maxim, a friend of mine. They are perhaps the most wonderful pieces of mechanism in the ship, for when the first shot has been fired they will go on firing themselves at the marvellous rate of six hundred shots per minute so long as you keep them supplied with cartridges. Then I have also provided an ample supply of ordinary guns and rifles, swords, pikes, pistols, and in fact everything we are likely to require for the purposes of sport or defence. These small knobs afford the means of lighting the electric lamp in the lantern on the top of the pilot-house and those in the bow and stern of the ship. And that is all to which I think I need direct your attention here at present. Now, if you please, we will go down and look at the machinery."

The party accordingly left the pilot-house and directed their steps below by way of the grand staircase. At the bottom of this they found themselves upon a spacious landing magnificently carpeted, and lighted at each end by a circular window in the side of the ship. In front of them as they descended the staircase, and at a distance of about twelve feet from its base, a partition stretched from side to side of the ship, evidently forming one of the saloon bulkheads. Along the face of this a series of Corinthian pilasters, supporting a noble cornice at the junction of wall and ceiling, divided up the partition into a corresponding number of panels, which were enriched with elegant mouldings of fanciful scroll-work and painted in creamy white and gold. In two instances, however, at points which divided the partition into three equal parts, the panels were replaced by handsome massively moulded doors of unpainted aethereum, imparting a very rich and handsome effect. These doors were, however, closed, and the curiosity of the new-comers as to what was to be seen on the other side of them had to remain for a short time ungratified.

Passing round to the back of the grand staircase (in which direction lay the sleeping apartments, bath-rooms, and domestic offices) they found themselves at the head of another staircase much narrower than the former. The one now before them was only about four feet wide, winding cork-screw fashion round the tube which encased the communications between the pilot-house and the engine-room, etcetera, and it was in its turn encased in a cylindrical bulk-head, in which, on their way below, they passed several doors giving access, as the professor explained, to the different decks.

Winding their way downward for a considerable distance they at length reached the foot of the staircase and passed at once through a doorway marked "Engine Room." The first sensation of those who now visited this apartment for the first time was disappointment. The room, though full of machinery, was small, absurdly so, it seemed to them. So also with the machinery itself. The main engines, consisting of a pair of three- cylinder compound engines, though made throughout of aethereum, and consequently presenting an exceedingly handsome appearance, suggested more the idea of an exquisite model in silver than anything else, the pair occupying very little more space than those of one of the larger Thames river steamers. The impression of diminutiveness and inadequacy of power passed away, however, when the professor informed his companions that the vapour would enter the high-pressure cylinder at the astounding pressure of five thousand pounds to the square inch, and that, though the engines themselves would only make fifty revolutions per minute, the propeller, would be made, by means of speed-multiplying gear, to revolve at the rate of one thousand times per minute in air of ordinary atmospheric pressure.

"But how on earth do you manage to get your vapour up to that tremendous pressure?" asked the colonel.

"Oh!" answered the professor, "that is a mere matter of mixing. According to the proportions in which the crystals and the acid are mingled together, so is the pressure of the vapour."

"And how do you mingle them together?" asked the lieutenant.

"This," said the professor, leading them up to a small boiler-like vessel, "is the generator. The crystals are placed in a hopper at one end, and the acid in that small tank at the other, from whence they are respectively conducted along tubes into a small well in the bottom of the generator, where, their proportions being regulated by the size of the tubes through which they pass, they mingle and generate a vapour having a pressure of five thousand pounds on the square inch. See, there is the gauge, and it is now registering a pressure of five thousand pounds."

"Good Heavens, man!" exclaimed the baronet, starting back; "you don't mean to say that your generator is now, at this moment, subjected to that enormous pressure of more than two tons per square inch? Supposing it exploded, what would become of us?"

"We should be consumed in an instant by the fierce heat of the liberated vapour," replied the professor calmly. "But," he continued, "you need have no apprehension of an explosion. When that generator was being made I had a second one constructed at the same time, precisely similar in every respect, and this second one I tested to destruction, with the satisfactory result that it endured without distress a pressure of thirty-five tons per square inch, showed the first signs of weakness when it became subjected to a pressure of thirty-eight tons, and burst at a joint when under a pressure of forty-three tons per square inch. You may therefore feel quite satisfied that the generator is fully equal to a continuous pressure of at least fifteen tons, instead of the trifle over two which it will have to sustain."

The remainder of the machinery possessing no very startling or novel features, it was passed by with merely an admiring glance at its exquisite finish; and the quartette, leaving the engine-room, passed round on the other side of the spiral staircase to a room marked "Diving Room."

Entering this they found themselves in an apartment about twenty feet square, one side of which was wholly occupied by four cupboards labelled respectively "Sir Reginald Elphinstone," "Colonel Lethbridge," "Lieutenant Mildmay," and "Von Schalckenberg."

"This," explained the professor, "is the room wherein we shall equip ourselves for our submarine rambles; and here," opening one of the cupboards, "are the costumes which we shall wear upon such occasions."

The opened cupboard contained an ordinary indiarubber diving-dress, a sort of double knapsack, a number of heterogeneous articles, and, lastly, a suit of armour.

"Why, professor, what, in the name of all that is comical, is the meaning of this? Are we to walk forth among the fishes equipped like the knights of old?" asked the baronet, pointing to the armour.

"I will explain," said the professor. "In an ordinary diving-dress a man can only descend to a depth of something like fifteen fathoms. Instances have certainly occurred where this depth has been exceeded, a Liverpool diver named Hooper having descended as far as thirty-four fathoms, if my information is correct; but this was quite an exceptional circumstance; and, as I have said, fifteen fathoms may be taken as the average depth at which a man can move about and work in comfort. The reason for this limit is that beyond it the pressure of the water on the exposed hands is so great as to drive the blood to the head and bring on a fainting fit, if nothing worse; besides which, the volume of air inside the dress necessary to counteract the outside pressure of the water would be so great as to speedily result in suffocation. Now, if our explorations were limited to a depth of fifteen fathoms only they would hardly be worth the undertaking; so I have devised these suits of armour, in which we may safely explore the profoundest depths of the ocean to which the Flying Fish can penetrate. The armour is, as you see, composed of a number of small scales or plates of aethereum, and is so constructed that, whilst it is perfectly flexible, permitting the utmost freedom of movement to the wearer, it is also absolutely water- tight and incompressible, no matter how great the exterior pressure to which it is subjected. The wearer of it will consequently be perfectly protected at all points from the enormous water pressure; and he will be able to breathe in comfort, his air being supplied to him at the normal atmospheric pressure. In equipping himself the diver will first don the india-rubber diving-dress in the usual way. Then he will assume this double-haversack, the larger chamber of which, worn on the back, will contain a supply of air, whilst the smaller of the two, worn on the chest, is charged with a supply of chemicals for the purification of the air after it has been breathed. The two are connected together by a pair of flexible tubes, as you may perceive, and the mere expansion and contraction of the chest, in the act of breathing, sets in motion the simple apparatus which produces the necessary circulation of air between the two chambers. Having secured this haversack in position the diver next dons his body armour, and straps about his waist this belt, with its electric lamp and its dagger. The dagger, as you see, is double- bladed; it has a haft of insulating material, and the blades have connected to them this insulated wire at the point where the blades and the handle unite. You thus have a weapon which, on being plunged into the body of a foe, not only inflicts a severe wound, but also administers an electric shock of such terrible intensity as must result in instant death. The last portion of the armour to be assumed is the helmet, on the top of which is securely fixed an electric lamp, which, with the aid of the one at the belt, will give us, I imagine, as much light as we are likely to need.

"Having donned our armour we pass out of this chamber into the next, which I call the chamber of egress, carefully closing the door behind us."

The professor, suiting the action to the word, ushered his companions into the next chamber, closing the door behind him, and they found themselves in a small room some ten feet square by seven feet in height. This room, in common with the diving-room, was brilliantly lighted by an electric lamp inclosed in a lantern of abnormally thick glass.

"Arrived here," continued the professor, "we are all ready to sally forth upon our submarine explorations; all we have to do therefore is, first to fill the chamber with water by means of this valve, then open the trap-door and step forth upon the bottom of the sea."

As the professor said this he released the fastenings of the door, and it fell down, forming a sort of inclined plane, over which they passed, to find themselves once more on the solid earth, under the ship's bottom, with the starboard bilge-keel rising like a wall of silver before them. They passed along the lane formed by this keel and the cylindrical bottom of the ship, and then stepped back with one accord to take another glance aloft at the huge bulk of the ship as she towered high above them. They now became conscious of the sounds of vigorous hammering and of men's voices in the direction of the river gable of the building shed, and on looking in that direction they saw that the contractor, whom the professor had engaged for the purpose, was already at work with his men removing the boarding which had hitherto concealed the Flying Fish from passers-by on the river, thus making a way for the exit of the ship a little later on.

The little party had re-entered the hull by way of the trap-door, and the professor had just made the fastenings once more secure, when, far away aloft from somewhere within the recesses of the ship, they heard the loud, sonorous, sustained note of a gong.

"Ah, that is good!" exclaimed Herr von Schalckenberg, rubbing his hands; "that is the dinner gong; and I am hungry. Come, my friends, to the dining saloon, and let us partake of the first of, I hope, many pleasant meals on board the Flying Fish."



CHAPTER FOUR.

THE NOVEL BEGINNING OF A SINGULAR VOYAGE.

On reaching the head of the spiral staircase the professor paused for a moment to direct the attention of his companions to a long passage which extended apparently along the middle of the ship to the fore-end of the superstructure. The passage was about five feet wide, and the ceiling was of ground glass, through which a flood of light streamed brilliantly down.

"In that direction," said the professor, "are to be found, first, the kitchen, pantry, larder, and store-room; then next to them come my laboratory and workshop, with the armoury and magazine on the opposite side; then the quarters of the cook and the valet; next these again are the bath-rooms and lavatories; and finally, at the extreme end of the passage, there are the state-rooms or sleeping apartments, eight in number—four for ourselves and four spare ones."

George, the valet—whose duties, however, on board the Flying Fish were to be rather those of steward and general handy man—stood during the progress of this brief explanation with his hand on the handle of the saloon door; and now, as the professor turned and nodded, he flung the door wide open and stood aside for the baronet and his friends to enter.

They now found themselves in the dining-saloon, an apartment thirty feet square and about ten feet high to the lower edge of the cornice. The walls, of unpainted aethereum, were broken up into panels by fluted pilasters with richly-moulded capitals, each panel having a frosted border covered with delicate tracery, whilst the central portion of the panel was left plain and polished, serving the purpose of a mirror, in which the room and its multiplied reflections on the opposite wall was again reflected in a long perspective. The floor was covered with a rich Turkey carpet, into which one sank ankle deep; the chairs, sofas, the massive sideboard, the wide table, in fact all the furniture in the room, was constructed of aethereum and modelled after the choicest designs, the upholstery being in rich embossed velvet of a delicate light-blue shade. The table glittered with a brilliant array of plate and glass; and the entire apartment was suffused with rich, soft, rainbow-tinted light, streaming down through the magnificent coved skylight of stained glass, which served instead of ceiling to the saloon.

"Superb!"

"Magnificent!"

"Exquisite!"

Such were the exclamations which burst from the professor's companions as they paused to look about them and take in all the details of the splendidly furnished and decorated apartment. A dozen eager questions rushed from their lips; but Herr von Schalckenberg was hungry, and the dinner was served, he therefore contented himself with bowing profoundly and pointing to the dinner-table.

"Come, gentlemen," exclaimed the baronet laughingly, "take your seats, I beg. It is evident that we have quite exhausted both the professor's patience and his strength, and that we shall get no more information out of him until both have been restored by a good dinner."

With which remark Sir Reginald set the example by taking his place at the head of the table, as he was entitled to do in virtue of his ownership of the Flying Fish.

The dinner was an admirable one, in all respects quite worthy the exceptional nature of the occasion; and under its genial influence, and that of the choice wines which accompanied it, the conversation soon grew extremely animated. The topic was, of course, the aerial ship and the novel and interesting character of her various equipments. The professor speedily redeemed his afternoon's promise to the baronet, and at length succeeded in completely convincing that hitherto sceptical individual that, so far from the enormous proportions of the Flying Fish being detrimental to her, they constituted the principal basis upon which he was justified in his anticipations of her success as an aerial ship.

Having at length made this perfectly plain, he was next called upon by Lieutenant Mildmay to explain a certain peculiarity in the binnacle compass, which had attracted that gentleman's notice and excited his curiosity.

"I observed," he said, "that the compass-card bore round its outer rim, at every quarter point, a small upright needle. As everything on board here, however apparently insignificant, seems to have its own especial purpose, I should like to know the purpose which those small needles are designed to serve."

"Ha, ha, my friend! so you noticed them, did you? I quite expected that, as a seaman, you very soon would," said the professor. "Well, I will tell you what they are. They form part of a little device of mine to render the ship self-steering, or, more correctly, to make the compass itself steer her in any given direction. Having noticed those needles, you doubtless also noticed that across the 'lubber's mark' there was a small slit some six inches long in the side of the compass- box?"

The lieutenant nodded.

"Good!" ejaculated the professor. "Had you looked outside the box you would also have observed two long slender arms pivoted close together, their outer and longer extremities being united, and carrying a small needle which travels, point downwards, along the arc of a circle. Now the action of the instrument is this. Supposing that you wish the ship to travel along, say, a southerly course, you manipulate the helm in the usual manner until the south point of the compass-card swings round to the lubber's mark. The moment that these two accurately coincide you pull toward you a small lever within easy reach of your hand, and the two arms glide in through the slit in the side of the compass-box, passing one on each side of the needle on the edge of the card, and your apparatus is then connected up ready for action. Now, so long as the ship's bows remain pointed accurately to the south, the south point on the compass-card continues coincident with the lubber's mark, and nothing happens. But should the ship deviate ever so slightly from her proper course the heavy, yet sensitive, compass needle at once swings round in sympathy; the small needle on the edge of the card moves the two slender arms which embrace it; the downward-pointing needle at the further extremity of these arms travels along the arc; and electric communication is at once established with the steering machinery, which promptly acts in such a way as to bring back the ship to her original course."

"Capital! Admirable!" ejaculated Sir Reginald and the lieutenant together, the former continuing:

"Upon my word, professor, you are a veritable wizard—a magician with powers exceeding those of the most potent of your brethren referred to in the 'Arabian Nights.'"

The professor made a laughing disclaimer. "No, no, my dear sir," said he, "I am no magician, but only a poor scientist. Nevertheless, the wonders of science far exceed those of the 'Arabian Nights,' and will well repay the man who cares to patiently study them."

Enlivened by conversation of a character so interesting to all present, the sitting was prolonged to quite an inordinate length, and though no one, except perhaps the professor, noted the fact, it was past midnight when the adventurous quartette rose from the table, and taking their wine and cigars with them, moved into the music-room, at the same time dismissing the patient George for the night.

The music-room was a much larger apartment than the dining saloon, being, like the latter, the full width of the superstructure, and measuring forty feet between the fore and the after bulkheads. It was the next room abaft the dining saloon, and was even more elaborately furnished and decorated than the latter. The walls, divided up in the same manner as those of the other apartment, were adorned with choice pictures, and exquisite statues of frosted aethereum were grouped on pedestals at frequent intervals all round the room. A coved and panelled ceiling of decorated aethereum sprang from the upper edge of the richly moulded cornice; and a skylight of magnificent stained glass, somewhat similar to that of the dining saloon, surmounted the whole. A grand piano and a noble chamber organ, both in superbly modelled aethereum cases, occupied opposite sides of the apartment; a very handsome clock, with a set of silvery chimes for the quarters and a deep rich-toned gong for the hours, occupied a conspicuous position on a wall bracket; chairs, couches, and divans of seductive shape and ample capacity were dotted here and there about the rich carpet; and a handsome table occupied the centre of the room, supporting and reflecting in the silvery depths of its undraped top a noble epergne of choice hot-house flowers.

"Why, how is this?" exclaimed the colonel as he sank into the luxurious depths of a most inviting arm-chair; "my watch must be all wrong, and your clock there is also wrong, professor; they both assert that it is half-past twelve o'clock, yet the sun has not yet set," pointing aloft to the skylight, through which a brilliant flood of sunshine was streaming down into the magnificent apartment.

"The sun has not yet set? Then we will soon make it do so," laughingly remarked the professor, rising from his seat and approaching one of the walls of the apartment, whilst the baronet and the lieutenant stared in dismay at their own watch-faces. The German began to manipulate a couple of tiny knobs which occupied unobtrusive positions in the base of one of the pilasters, and the sunlight gradually deepened into a rich orange hue, then changed to a soft pearly grey, which gradually deepened into a dim delicious twilight in which little was visible save the pictured glass in the skylight above; then it gradually brightened again, and presently a flood of glorious silvery moonlight streamed down through the skylight and suffused the room. Finally, with an instantaneous change, the brilliant sunlight was again restored. "Another wonder!" exclaimed Sir Reginald. "How do you manage it, professor?"

"Oh! that is a very simple matter," was the reply; "it is merely a cunning arrangement of variously tinted glass shades interposed between the electric light above the centre of the skylight and the mirrors which reflect the light down through the stained glass into the room. As you probably noticed when on the deck, there are no actual skylights in the usual acceptation of the term; ours are only make-believes; but they struck me as affording an agreeable means of lighting the saloons, so I introduced them."

In further conversation, diversified by music, the time slipped rapidly away; and at length the clock on the bracket proclaimed that it was two hours after midnight.

As the sonorous strokes of the gong announced the fact, the professor rose to his feet, and in a voice tremulous with sudden nervous excitement, said:

"Gentlemen, the hour for our departure, the hour which is to witness the success or failure of our grand experiment, has arrived. The river and the streets of the great city are by this time nearly or quite deserted; and we may therefore hope that our movements will attract little or no notice. Are you ready?"

"Ready!" ejaculated the baronet; "of course we are, my dear sir. Is not this the moment to which we have all been anxiously looking forward for more than two years? Proceed, professor, we will follow you; and whatever orders you may give us shall be obeyed to the letter."

"Come, then," said the professor; and he led the way through the dining saloon and up the grand staircase to the lower compartment of the pilot- house, and thence out on deck.

To their eyes, fresh from the brilliantly lighted saloons, the night appeared intensely dark; but in a minute or two, becoming accustomed to the gloom, they were able to perceive that the ladder had been taken away from the ship's side, and also that the contractor had completed his task of removing the planking at the river end of the shed, thus clearing a way for the exit of the great ship. They walked to the after extremity of the deck, and from that point were not only able, in the breathless stillness then prevailing, to distinctly hear the gurgle and rush of the river, but also to dimly make out the shining, swirling surface of the water as the flood-tide swept past them.

"The air is absolutely motionless," said the professor. "No more favourable moment could possibly have been chosen for the difficult task of moving the Flying Fish out of her present cramped quarters, and we will at once avail ourselves of it. Lieutenant, I will ask you to return here presently on the 'look-out,' as you sailors term it. Your duty will be to see that when we move out of the shed we do not come into collision with anything. Perhaps you, colonel, will kindly go to the other end the deck, also on the 'look-out;' and, as for you, Sir Reginald, I must ask you to stand on the deck just outside the pilothouse, to see that the electric lamp on the top of it does not come into collision with the roof-timbers, and so drag the roof off the shed. But as it is necessary that you should all become acquainted with the working of the ship, you had better be with me in the pilot-house until we are actually ready to move."

"Now," continued the professor when the quartette had made their way to the upper floor of the pilot-house, which was moderately illuminated by an electric lamp of small power, "the first thing to be done is to place the tiller of the ship in a horizontal position, and thus bring into action the automatic balancing gear. So! It is done. The next thing is to expel the air from the entire hull of the ship, excepting, of course, the comparatively insignificant portion reserved for habitation, and this I do by injecting vapour into the several compartments. The vapour drives out the air, and then, condensing like steam, creates, if required, a perfect vacuum. This large wheel controls the valve which we now want to open. I turn it this way, so—and now we shall see what will happen."

Two large dials were attached to the side of the pilothouse, close together; and upon these the professor now intently fixed his gaze. The index-hands of both were seen to be moving. A period of perhaps half a minute elapsed, and then the professor, suddenly shutting off the vapour, went over and closely inspected both dials.

"Good!" he exclaimed, after a single keen glance at each of them. "Gentlemen, let us congratulate each other. Our experiment is a SIGNAL SUCCESS!"

"How do you know that, professor? How can you tell?" eagerly asked his companions.

"Look at these two dials; they will tell you," replied the professor. "This dial," tapping one with his finger, "indicates the weight of the ship, or the pressure with which she bears upon the ground. This one," indicating the other, "shows the pressure of air inside the hull of the ship. The first, as you see, shows that the ship is now pressing upon the ground with a force of less than a single ton—in other words, she now weighs less than one ton. The air-gauge shows that there is still an air pressure of six pounds per square inch inside the hull, and we therefore have, as I expected we should, a large margin of buoyancy. Now, lieutenant, do me the favour to turn on the vapour once more, very cautiously. Steady! Stop! There, Sir Reginald, the index has reached zero, and your ship is now as nearly as possible without weight; and if a man were now underneath her, he might, notwithstanding her gigantic proportions, easily raise her upon his shoulders. Now comes the delicate part of our operation. To your stations on the deck quickly, gentlemen, if you please."

1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse