THROUGH SPACE TO MARS
Or the Longest Journey on Record
By Roy Rockwood
#4 in the "Great Marvel Series"
"Mark, hand me that test tube, will you, please?"
The lad who had made the request looked over at his companion, a boy of about his own age, who was on the other side of the laboratory table.
"The big one, or the small one?" questioned Mark Sampson.
"The large one," answered Jack Darrow. "I want to put plenty of the chemical in this time and give it a good try."
"Now be careful, Jack. You know what happened the last time."
"You mean what nearly happened. The tube burst, but we didn't get hurt. I have to laugh when I think of the way you ducked under the table. Ha, ha! It was awfully funny!"
"Humph! Maybe you think so, but I don't," responded Mark with rather a serious air. "I noticed that you got behind a chair."
"Well, of course. I didn't want broken glass in my eyes. Come on, are you going to hand me that test tube, or will I have to come and get it? We haven't much more time to-day."
"Oh, here's the tube," said Mark as he passed it over. "But please be careful, Jack."
Jack measured out some black chemical that resembled gunpowder, and poured it into the test tube which Mark handed him. Then he inserted in the opening a cork, from which extended a glass tube, to the outer end of which was fastened a rubber pipe.
He paused in his experiment to laugh again.
"What are you making—laughing gas?" asked Mark.
"No. But—excuse me—ha, ha! I can't help laughing when I think of the way you ducked under the table the other day."
"Maybe you'll laugh on the other side of your countenance, as Washington White would say," commented Mark; "especially if that big tube bursts."
"But it isn't going to burst."
"How do you know?"
"Well, I worked out this experiment carefully. I've calculated just how strong the new gas will be, and—"
"Ah, that's just it. It's a new gas, and you've never yet succeeded in making it, have you?"
"And it takes a different combination of chemicals to make it from any you ever experimented with before, doesn't it?" asked Mark.
"It does. But—"
"Yes, and I don't see how you can tell, with any amount of calculation, just how much force will develop from those chemicals, as no one ever put them together before."
"Well, maybe I can't," admitted Jack. "But this tube is very strong, and even if it does break nothing very serious can happen."
"Unless the gas you expect to generate is stronger than you have any idea of."
"Well, I'm going to do it. I've got half an hour before Professor Lenton and his class comes in, and that's time enough. Here, just hold this rubber tube under this jar, will you? And be sure to keep the edge of the jar below the surface of the water. I don't want any of the gas to escape."
He handed Mark the end of the rubber tube, and the somewhat nervous student, who was helping his chum Jack in the experiment, inserted it under the edge of a large bell-glass, the open mouth of which was placed just under the surface of water in a shallow pan.
The two lads were students at the Universal Electrical and Chemical College. They stood high in their classes, and were often allowed to conduct experiments on their own responsibility, this being one of those occasions. Jack, who was somewhat older than his companion, was of a more adventurous turn of mind, and was constantly trying new things. Not always safe ones, either, for often he had produced small explosions in the laboratory of the college. Only minor damage had been done thus far, but, as Mark said, one could never tell what was going to happen when Jack mixed certain things in test tubes and placed them over a spirit lamp, or the flame of a Bunsen burner.
"Have you got that tube under the jar?" asked Jack as he lighted a large Bunsen flame.
"It's under," answered Mark. "But say, what are you going to do in case you prove that your theory is right, and that you can make a new kind of gas? What good will it be?"
"Lots of good. If I'm right, this will be the lightest gas ever made. Much lighter than hydrogen—"
"Lighter than the kind Professor Henderson made for use in the Flying Mermaid, in which we went to the center of the earth?"
"No, I'm afraid I can't equal his gas; but then, no one can ever hope to. I'm going to make a new gas, though, and I'll show you that it will be much lighter and more powerful than hydrogen."
"More powerful, eh? Then I wish you'd have some one else hold this. I'm afraid the test tube will burst."
"What if it does? It can't hurt you—very much. But here, since you're so nervous, I'll put a pile of books all around the tube and the burner. Then, if it bursts, the books will prevent the pieces of glass from flying all about. Does that satisfy you?" and Jack began heaping some books about the burner, over which he was about to suspend the test tube containing the queer chemical.
"Yes," returned Mark doubtfully. "I suppose it's all right—unless the books will be blown all over."
"Well, I'll be jig-sawed!" exclaimed Jack with a laugh. "There's no satisfying you. You're too particular, Mark."
"Maybe; but I don't want to get hurt."
"You'll not be injured in the least. Look, you're quite a distance away, and even if it does explode and the books are scattered away, it can't hurt much to be hit by one of these volumes. There, I'm all ready now. Hold the tube firmly."
He placed the test tube in a support, clamping it fast, so that it would be held steady over the flame. Then he turned on more of the illuminating gas, which, coming through the Bunsen burner, was made intensely hot. A little column of flame now enveloped the big test tube containing the powder.
There was a little crackling sound as the heat expanded the powder, and the end of the test tube became quite red from the flame.
"That tube'll melt!" exclaimed Mark, peering over the pile of books. "It's too near the flame."
"Guess you're right," admitted Jack. "I'll raise it up a bit."
He turned down the flame and elevated the tube slightly. Then he took a position where he could watch the process of making what he hoped would be a new kind of gas. He wanted to be where he could see the vapor beginning to collect in the top of the tube, pass off through the glass in the cork, and then through the little rubber hose to the bell glass held by Mark. If the gas was generated too quickly, Jack knew he would have to turn down the heat slightly.
The crackling sound continued. Then, as Jack watched, he saw a thick, yellowish vapor collecting in the top of the test tube near the cork.
"It's coming!" he cried. "There's my new gas!"
"What's the name of it?" asked Mark.
"I haven't named it yet. I want to collect it in the jar and show it to Professor Lenton. He said he didn't believe I could make it."
The boys resumed their careful watching of the experiment. It was a nervous moment, for, from experience, Mark knew you never could tell what would happen when Jack began to try new combinations of chemicals. He was ready to drop down on an instant's warning, out of the way of flying missiles.
"See any bubbles in that pan of water yet?" cried Jack.
"No, not yet."
"That's queer. The test tube is full of the yellow gas, and some ought to be over to where you are now. I'm going to turn on some more heat."
He increased the Bunsen flame. The crackling noise was louder. The test tube became a fiery red.
"It's bubbling now!" suddenly called Mark.
"That's good! The experiment is a success! I knew I could make it. Is any of the gas coming up in the glass jar?"
Mark bent over to make a closer examination. There were a few seconds of silence, broken only by the roaring of the burner and the crackling of the black powder.
"Yes, there is vapor in the jar," he said.
"Good! That's the stuff!" cried Jack. "Now I guess Professor Lenton will admit that I'm right."
He turned the Bunsen flame up higher. A moment later he uttered a cry, for he saw the cork being forced from the test tube. The pressure of the new gas was too much for it.
"Lookout!" cried Jack. "She's going up!"
Then followed a sharp explosion, and the laboratory seemed filled with fragments of broken glass and torn books.
JACK MAKES OXYGEN
"There it goes! There it goes!" cried Mark, making a dive for the laboratory door, but slipping and sprawling on the floor. "There it goes, Jack!"
"No; it's gone already!" cried Jack, who, even in the midst of danger and excitement, seemed to remain calm and still to have his appreciation of it joke.
"Come on!" cried Mark as he scrambled to his feet. "We must get out of here, Jack!"
"What's the use now? It's all over."
There was a tinkling sound, as fragments of the broken test tube, the bell-jar and other things began falling about the room.
Mark was fumbling at the door of the laboratory, seeking to escape.
"Come on back," said Jack. "It's all over. There's no more danger. We'll try it again."
Just then one of the pile of books, that had been blown on an upper shelf, came down, landing on Mark's head.
"No danger?" cried Mark, trembling from excitement. "No danger? What do you call that?" and he pointed to the books at his feet, while he rubbed his head ruefully.
"Well, there aren't any more," observed Jack, with a look upward.
Just then the door opened, and an elderly gentleman, wearing spectacles, entered the laboratory. He seemed much excited.
"What happened? Is any one hurt? Was there an explosion here?" he asked.
Then he saw the devastation on all sides—the broken glass, the scattered and torn books—and he noticed Mark rubbing his head.
"There was—er—a slight explosion," replied Jack, a faint smile spreading over his face.
"Are you hurt?" the professor asked quickly, stepping over to Mark. "Shall I get a doctor?"
"A book hit him," explained Jack.
"A book! Did a book explode?"
"No, sir. You see, I was making a new kind of gas, and Mark was helping me. He was afraid the test tube would explode, so I piled books around it, and—"
"And it did blow up!" cried Mark, still rubbing his head. "The test tube, and the other tube, and the rubber hose, and the bell-jar. I told you it would, Jack."
"Then you weren't disappointed," retorted Jack, this time with a broad smile. "I don't like to disappoint people," he added.
"What kind of gas was it, Darrow?" asked Professor Lenton.
"Well, I hadn't exactly named it yet," answered the young inventor. "I was going to show it to you, and see what you thought of it. It's the kind you said I couldn't make."
"And did you make it?" asked the instructor grimly.
"Where is it?"
"It's—er—well, you can smell it," replied Jack.
Sure enough, there was a strong, unpleasant odor in the laboratory, but that was usual in the college where all sorts of experiments were constantly going on.
"Hum—yes," admitted the professor. "I do perceive a new odor. But I'm glad neither of you was hurt, and the damage doesn't seem to be great."
"No, sir. It was my own apparatus I was using," explained Jack. "I'll be more careful next time. I'll not put in so much of the chemical."
"I don't believe there had better be a 'next time' right away," declared Mr. Lenton.
"The next attempt you make to invent a powerful gas, you had better generate it in something stronger than a glass test tube. Use an iron retort."
"Yes, sir," replied Jack.
"And now you had better report for your geometry lesson," went on the professor. "I need the laboratory now for a class in physics. Just tell the janitor to come here and sweep up the broken glass. I am very glad neither of you boys was seriously injured. You must be more careful next time."
"Oh, Mark was careful enough," said Jack. "It was all my fault. I didn't think the gas was quite so powerful."
"All right," answered the professor with a smile as Jack and Mark passed out on their way to another classroom.
The two lads, whom some of my readers have met before in the previous books of this series, were friends who had become acquainted under peculiar circumstances. They were orphans, and, after having had many trying experiences, each of them had left his cruel employers, and, unknown to each other previously, had met in a certain village, where they were obliged to beg for food. They decided to cast their lots together, and, boarding a freight train, started West.
The train, as told in the first volume to this series, called "Through the Air to the North Pole," was wrecked near a place where a certain Professor Amos Henderson, and his colored helper, Washington White, lived. Mr. Henderson was a learned scientist who was constantly building new wonderful machines. He was working on an airship, in which to set out and locate the North Pole, when he discovered Jack and Mark, injured in the freight wreck. He and Washington White carried the lads to the inventor's workshop, and there the boys recovered. When they were well enough, the professor invited them to live with him, and, more than that, to take a trip with him North Pole.
They went, in company with Washington and an old hunter, named Andy Sudds, and some other men, whom the professor took along to help him.
Many adventures befell the party. They had battles with wild beasts in the far north, and were attacked by savage Esquimaux. Once they were caught in a terrible storm. They actually passed over the exact location of the North Pole, and Professor Henderson made some interesting scientific observations.
In the second volume of this series, entitled "Under the Ocean to the South Pole," Professor Henderson, Jack, Mark, Washington and old Andy Sudds, made even a more remarkable trip. The professor had a theory that there was an open sea at the South Pole, and he wanted to prove it. He decided that the best way to get there was to go under the ocean in a submarine boat, and he and the boys built a very fine, craft, called the Porpoise, which was capable of being propelled under water at a great depth.
The voyagers had rather a hard time of it. They were caught in a great sea of Sargasso grass, monstrous suckers held the boat in immense arms, and it required hard fighting to get free. The boys and the others had the novel experience of walking about on the bottom of the sea in new kinds of diving suits invented by the professor.
On their journey to the South Pole, the adventurers came upon a strange island in the Atlantic, far from the coast of South America. On it was a great whirlpool, into which the Porpoise was nearly sucked by a powerful current. They managed to escape, and had a glimpse of unfathomable depths. They passed on, but could not forget the strange hole in the island.
Mark suggested that it might lead to the center of the earth, which is hollow, according to some scientists, and after some consideration, Professor Henderson, on his return from the South Pole, decided to go down the immense shaft.
To do this required a different kind of vessel from any he had yet built. He would need one that could sail on the water, and yet float in the air like a balloon or aeroplane.
How he built this queer craft and took a most remarkable voyage, you will find set down in the third book of this series, entitled "Five Thousand Miles Underground."
In their new craft, called the Flying Mermaid, the professor, the boys, Washington and Andy, sailed until they came to the great shaft leading downward. Then the ship rose in the air and descended through clouds of vapor. After many perils they reached the center of the earth, where they found a strange race of beings.
One day, to their horror, an earthquake dosed the shaft by which they had come to the center of the earth. The boys were in despair of ever getting to the surface again, but the professor had been prepared for this emergency, and he had built a strong cylinder, into which all the travelers placed themselves. Then it was projected into a powerful upward shooting column of water, which Professor Henderson hoped would take them to the surface of the earth. Nor was he mistaken. They had a terrible journey, but came safely out of it.
They opened the cylinder, to find themselves floating on the sea, and they were rescued by a passing vessel. Of course, they had abandoned the Mermaid, leaving the craft in the center of the earth, but they had brought back with them some valuable diamonds, which formed their fortune.
This ended, for a time, the experiments of the professor, who decided to settle down to a quiet life, and write out the observations he had made on the three voyages. The boys wanted to get an education, and, investing their share from the sale of the diamonds, they took up a course at the Universal Electrical and Chemical College. Each had an ambition to become as great an inventor as was Professor Henderson, with whom they continued to live in a small city on the Maine coast. Washington White and Andy Sudds also dwelt with the professor, Andy going off on occasional hunting trips, and Washington acting as a sort of body servant to Mr. Henderson.
Jack and Mark had completed one term at the college, and were in the midst of the second when this story opens.
They had not lost their love for making queer voyages, and one of their greatest desires was to help the professor turn out a craft even more wonderful than the Electric Monarch, the Porpoise or the Flying Mermaid. It was in this connection that Jack was experimenting on the new gas, when the slight accident happened.
"Are you going to try that again?" asked Mark, as he and his chum walked along to their geometry class.
"Sure," replied Jack. "I want that to succeed. I know I am on the right track."
"You came near getting blown off the track," remarked his companion, which was as near to a joke as he ever would come, for, though Jack was jolly and full of fun, Mark was more serious, inclined to take a sterner view of life.
"Oh, I'll succeed yet!" exclaimed Jack. "And when I do—you'll see something—that's all."
"And feel it, too," added Mark, putting his hand on his head, the book having raised quite a lump.
It was several days after this before the boys had the chance to work alone in the laboratory again, and Jack had to promise not to try his experiment with the new gas before this privilege was granted him.
"Want any help?" asked Dick Jenfer, another student, as he saw Jack and Mark enter the laboratory.
"Yes, if you want to hold a test tube for me," answered Jack. "I'm going to try a new way of making oxygen."
"No, thanks! Not for mine!" exclaimed Dick as he turned away. "I don't want to be around when you try your new experiments. The old way of making oxygen is good enough for me."
"Well, I have a new scheme," went on Jack.
Soon he and Mark, whom he had again induced to help him, were busy with test tubes, rubber hose, Bunsen flames, jars of water, and all that is required to make oxygen.
Somewhat to his own surprise, the experiment Jack tried was a success. He collected a jarful of oxygen, generated in a way he had thought out for himself. It was much simpler than the usual method.
Just as he concluded the test, some one opened the laboratory door. It was Professor Lenton.
"I have a telegram for you," he said.
"Yes. It just arrived."
Jack tore open the yellow envelope.
"It's from Professor Henderson," he said.
"Is anything the matter?" asked Mark.
"I don't know," answered Jack. "It says: 'Come home at once.' I wonder what's wrong?"
"I hope nothing serious," said Professor Lenton.
"You may both prepare to leave this afternoon. I am sorry. Let me hear from you when you reach Professor Henderson. I trust nothing has happened to him. He is too great a scientist for us to lose."
WASHINGTON MEETS THE BOYS
All thoughts of experiments were driven from the minds of Jack and Mark by the telegram. They imagined that something had happened to their old friend, and it worried them. If he was dangerously hurt, as might be, for he was constantly experimenting in a small way, it would mean that a great change must take place in their lives.
"What do you suppose can have happened?" asked Mark, as he and Jack went to their rooms to get ready to leave the college.
"I haven't the least idea. Maybe he wants us to go on another trip."
Mark finished packing, and Jack was not far behind him. Then the lads went to the railroad station, where they purchased tickets for home and were soon on a train. On the journey they could not help but refer occasionally to the telegram, though Jack kept insisting that nothing so serious had happened. Mark was not quite in such good spirits.
"Well, here we are," announced Jack, about three hours later, as the train pulled into a small station. "And there's Washington on the platform waiting for us."
Jack hurried out of the car, followed by Mark.
"Hello, Wash!" cried the fat lad. "How are you? Catch this valise!" and he threw it to the colored man before the train had come to a stop. Washington deftly caught the grip, though he had to make a quick movement to accomplish it.
"I 'clar t' gracious!" he exclaimed. "Dat suttinly am a most inconsequential mannah in which to project a transmigatory object in contiguousness to mah predistination."
"Whoa, there!" cried Jack. "Better take two bites at that, Wash!"
"Dat's all right, Massa Jack," answered the colored man. "I'se glad to see yo', an' I suttinly hopes dat de transubstantiationableness ob my—"
"Wow!" cried Jack. "Say that over again, and say it slow."
"Don't yo' foregather mah excitability?" asked the colored man rather anxiously.
"Yes, I guess so. What's the answer? How's the professor? How's Andy? What's the matter? Why did he send for us?"
"Wait! Wait! Please wait!" begged Washington. "One ob dem interrogatorial projections at a time, Massa Jack. Where am Massa Mark?"
"Here I am," replied Jack's chum, as he followed him out on the platform of the train, which had come to a stop.
"Dats right!" exclaimed Washington. "Let me hab yo' extended article ob transportation an' I'll jest expidite it in—"
"I guess you mean it, all right," interrupted Jack. "But what's up? Why did the professor send for us?"
"I doan't know, Massa Jack."
"You don't know?"
"Nopy. He jest done gone tell me to send dat transmigatory telegraph, an' dat's all."
"But why does he want us? He's not sick, is he?" asked Mark.
"Never felt bettah!" exclaimed Washington as he walked along the street leading from the depot, a valise in either hand. "His state ob health am equal to de sophistication ob de soporiferousness."
"You mean he sleeps well?" questioned Jack.
"Dat's what I done meant to convey to yo', Massa Jack."
"Well, why don't you say it?" asked Mark.
"Dat's jest what I done. I said—"
"Never mind," interrupted Jack.
"Then you can't tell us why the professor sent for us?"
"He's got company," went on Washington, as if he had just thought of that.
"Company?" exclaimed both boys.
"Who is it?"
"Why, his name am Santell Roumann."
"What an odd name!" commented Mark.
"Is he a doctor?" asked Jack.
"He speaks wid a Germannes aceetnuation," said Washington. "He suttinly uses de most ogilistic conglomerations—"
"If he can beat you, he's a wonder," said Jack. "But where did he come from?"
"I 'clar t' goodness I doan't know. All I knows is dat he jest comed. One day he wasn't dere, and come next day he was."
"Does the professor know him?"
"Suah! He's a friend ob de perfesser," added Washington. "De perfesser was pow'ful glade t' see him."
"'Then he must be some scientist," said Mark.
"Dat's it! He's chock full obscientistical bombasticness an' labiodentalisms," said the colored man.
"I guess the professor wanted us to meet him and learn something that we couldn't in college," spoke Mark. "Well, we'll soon be there."
"Yes," assented Jack. "I want to find out what it's all about. Santell Roumann—that's an odd name."
"An' he's a mighty odd man," supplemented Washington.
They reached the house a few minutes later, and went in the front door. The sounds of two voices came from the library. One of them was that of Professor Henderson. He was saying:
"I tell you it can't be done! It is utterly impossible! It is madness to think of such a terrible trip!"
"And I tell you it can be done—it shall be done and you are the very man to accomplish it," insisted the other. "You and your young assistants will succeed. I know you will. You will go with me, and we will make the longest journey on record."
"I wonder what they can be talking about?" asked Mark of Jack, as they paused outside the library door.
"I don t know, but it concerns us."
"What makes you think so?"
"Because, didn't you hear the stranger speak of us as the 'young assistants'? That's us."
"Very likely. But who is the man in with Professor Henderson, and what is the wonderful journey he is talking about?"
"Dat gen'man in wid de perfesser am also a perfessor." Explained Washington in a whisper. "He's Perfesser Santell Roumann. Now I 'spects I'd better saggasiate mahself inter proximity t' de culinary reservation."
"You mean you've got to go to the kitchen?" asked Jack with a smile.
"Dat's what I approximated to yo'," replied the colored man.
"I wonder if we'd better go in now, or wait until Professor Henderson is through talking to Mr. Roumann?" asked Mark.
"Yo' am to go right in," remarked Washington. "Dem's de orders I got when I went t' de statione t' meet yo'."
"All right," assented Jack. "Come on, Mark. We'll find out what's wanted of us."
The two boys entered the library, whence the voices of Professor Henderson and Mr. Roumann could still be heard in earnest discussion. Mr. Henderson looked up as his proteges advanced to the middle of the apartment.
"Jack! Mark!" he exclaimed. "I am very glad you came so promptly. I have something very important to communicate to you—something that I hope will make up for the loss you suffer in being taken away from college in the middle of the term. Or, to be more correct, Mr. Roumann will impart most of the information, for it is at his suggestion that I sent for you."
"Are these the young assistants of whom you spoke?" asked the other man, and the boys noticed that he was a big, burly German, with a bushy, gray beard, and penetrating, blue eyes.
"This is Jack Darrow," said the professor, indicating the stout youth, "and the other is Mark Sampson. They have lived with me several years now, and we have had many adventures together."
"Ha! Hum! Yes!" murmured Mr. Roumann, then he said something in German.
"I beg your pardon," he went on quickly. "I have a habit of talking to myself in my own language once in a while. What I said was that I did not know the lads were so young. I am somewhat apprehensive—"
"Do not be alarmed on the score of their youth," cried Professor Henderson. "I assure you that they have had a peculiar training, and, in some scientific attainments, they know as much as I do. You will not find them too young for our purpose, in case we decide that the thing can be done."
"I tell you it can be done, and it shall be done," insisted Mr. Roumann.
"I have my doubts," went on Mr. Henderson.
Jack and Mark must have shown the wonder they felt at this talk between the professor and his friend, for their guardian turned to them and said:
"Boys, you must excuse me for not telling you at once the reason why I sent for you. The truth is that Mr. Roumann has laid a very strange proposition before me. It is so stupendous that I hardly know whether to consider it or not. I want to talk with you about it, and see what you think."
"They will go with us, will they not?" asked Mr. Roumann.
"That is for them to say," replied Mr. Henderson.
"Go where?" asked Jack, wondering if there was in prospect another voyage to one of the Poles, or a trip to the interior of the earth.
Professor Henderson looked at the other man. They were silent a moment.
"Shall I tell them?" asked Mr. Henderson.
"Surely," assented Mr. Roumann. "It all depends on you and them whether we go or remain on earth."
Jack started. Then there was a question of getting off the earth. He began to think there might be exciting times for Mark and himself.
"Mr. Roumann has proposed a wonderful plan to me," went on Professor Henderson. "It is nothing more nor less than a trip to—"
"Mars!" burst out the blue-eyed man. "We are going to make the most wonderful journey on record. A trip through space to the planet Mars! Such an opportunity for reaching it, and proving whether or not there is life on it, will not occur again for many years. It is now but thirty-five millions of miles away from us. Soon it will begin to recede, at the rate of twenty-eight millions of miles a year, until it is two hundred and thirty four millions of miles away from us. Then we may never be able to reach it. Now, when it is but thirty-five millions of miles away, we have a chance to get there."
"I still believe it is impossible," said Professor Henderson in a low voice.
"Nothing is impossible!" exclaimed Mr. Roumann. "We shall go to Mars! I say it! I who know! I who hold the secret of the wonderful power that will take us there, and, what is more, bring us back! I say it! We shall go!"
"Impossible!" said the professor again, shaking his head.
"Don't say that word!" implored Mr. Roumann. "I will prove to you that we shall go."
"Go to Mars!" exclaimed Mark.
"Thirty-five million miles!" exclaimed Jack with awe in his tones. "How can we ever cover that distance? No airship ever made would do it."
"Not an airship, perhaps," said Mr. Roumann, "but something else. I will tell you how—"
"Perhaps I had better explain from the beginning," interrupted Mr. Henderson.
"Maybe it will be better," assented the other.
"Boys, be seated," spoke their guardian, and Jack and Mark took chairs. "Mr. Santell Roumann is an inventor, like myself," went on Mr. Henderson. "I have known him for several years, but I had not seen him in a long time, until he called on me the other day with his strange proposition. We used to attend the same college, but since his graduation he has been experimenting in Germany."
"Where I discovered the secret of the wonderful power that will take us to Mars," added Mr. Roumann.
"That is one point on which we differ," continued Mr. Henderson. "Mr. Roumann believes we can get to the red planet, which, as he correctly says, is nearer to us now than it will be again in many years. I do not see how we can get there through the intervening space."
"And I will prove to you that we can," insisted the other. "The power which I shall use is strongest known. But it depends on you and your young assistants."
"On us?" asked Jack.
"Yes," replied Mr. Santell Roumann. "If and Professor Henderson can build the proper projectile, we shall go."
"A projectile!" exclaimed Jack.
"A projectile," said Mr. Roumann again. "I have studied it all out, and I think the projectile, shaped somewhat like a great shell, such as they use in warfare, or, more properly speaking, built like a cigar or a torpedo, is the only feasible means of reaching Mars. We shall go in a projectile, two hundred feet long, and ten feet in diameter at the largest point. That will offer the least resistance to the atmosphere of the earth, though when we get within the atmosphere of Mars, and are subjected to its attraction of gravitation, we shall meet with even less resistance."
"Why?" asked Jack, who wanted to know the reason for everything.
"Because," answered Mr. Roumann, "from my observations I have proved that the atmosphere of Mars is much less dense than is that surrounding the earth, and the attraction of gravitation there is about two-thirds less. That is, an object that weighs one hundred pounds on the earth will weigh only thirty-three pounds on Mars."
"That's the stuff!" cried Jack.
"Why?" asked Mr. Roumann in some surprise.
"Then I'll have a chance to lose weight," replied Jack. "I'm getting too fat here. I weigh a hundred and eighty pounds, and that's too much for a lad of my age. When I get to Mars I'll only weigh—let's see, two-thirds of one hundred and eighty—" and Jack got out pencil and paper and began figuring.
"It's sixty pounds!" exclaimed Mark, who was quick at figures.
"How are we to get to Mars, Mr. Roumann?" demanded Jack.
"I will tell you," answered the blue-eyed man. "When you and the professor have constructed the projectile, after plans which I shall draw, I will apply my new, wonderful, secret power, and—"
"If yo' gen'men will kindly project yo'se'ves hitherward, an' proceed to discuss de similitodinariness ob de interplanetary conjunction what am waitin' fo' yo' heah, de obverseness of de inner constitutions will be expeditiously relieved," spoke the colored man, suddenly looking in the room.
"Does that mean supper is ready, Washington?" asked Professor Henderson.
"Yes, sah. It suah do."
"Then why didn't you say so?"
"I did, perfesser."
"Well, perhaps you thought so. Washington has a very peculiar habit of using big words, just because they sound so imposing," went on the professor. "He spends all his spare time consulting the dictionary."
"I have noticed it," remarked Mr. Roumann, smiling.
"Well, suppose we go out to supper?" went on Mr. Henderson. "You boys must be hungry."
"I can eat," admitted Jack.
"You'll get stouter if you do," warned Mark with a smile.
"Can't help it. Wait until we get to Mars."
"Oh, yes, you didn't finish telling us how we were to get there, Mr. Roumann," said Jack.
"I'll tell you while we're at supper," said the scientist. "I confess that Washington's announcement came just at the right time. I am very hungry."
THE SECRET POWER
For a few minutes after they were seated at the table nothing was heard but the rattle of the dishes and the clatter of knives and forks. Washington was a fine cook, and there was a plentiful supply of just what the boys liked best.
When the meal was well under way, the dining room door opened, and a strange figure entered. It was that of rather an aged man, who walked with soft, cat-like tread, and who leaned forward, as if on the trail of some enemy or wild beast. His eyes were bright, however, in spite of his age.
"Andy Sudds!" exclaimed Jack. "I was wondering where you were."
"Well, snap my gunlock, if it isn't Jack Darrow!" exclaimed Andy.
"Any luck?" asked Mark, for he knew the old man must have been hunting.
"And Mark, too!" went on the old hunter. "Well, this is a surprise. No, I didn't have any luck—that is, what you could call luck. There's been a weasel carrying off our chickens and killing them, and I went out to shoot it."
"Did you cotch it, Mistah Sudds?" asked Washington anxiously.
"I didn't 'cotch' it," answered Andy with a grin. "I killed it. I guess the chickens will be safe now, Wash. But I'm hungry. I've been hiding out there by the chicken coop all the afternoon. But what brings you boys back from college?"
"We came home because we are going to take a trip to Mars," explained Jack.
"Mars! Mars! Good land! Where'll you folks go next?" exclaimed Andy. "Wash, pass me some of that cold ham."
"You said you would tell us now how we were to get there, Mr. Roumann," said Jack, who was anxious, as was Mark, to hear the particulars.
"And so I will," replied the scientist. "You must know that I have long been interested in the planet Mars, for several reasons. Some reasons I will tell you now, and the others I will disclose at a future time."
"Mars, you know, is the fourth major planet, computing their positions in distance from the sun. First there is Mercury, then—"
"I know," interrupted Jack; "Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. I learned them at school."
"That's right," said Mr. Roumann. "But, while Mercury is only about thirty-six millions of miles from the sun at its nearest point, the closest it ever comes to the earth is fifty-seven millions of miles, while, as I told you, Mars is now but thirty-five millions of miles away, a difference in favor of Mars of twenty-two millions of miles, quite a distance when one has to travel it. Neptune, the farthest of the major planets, is two billion eight hundred millions of miles from the sun, and it is separated from this earth by—"
"By two billion seven hundred and eight million miles," said Mark quickly.
"How do you make that out?" asked Jack in some surprise.
"By subtracting ninety-two millions of miles, which is the distance from the earth to the sun, from the number of miles Neptune is away from the sun," said Mark.
"That's right," admitted Mr. Henderson. "You're very quick at figures, Mark."
"Well, let's get to Mars," said Jack. "Maybe Andy can find some new kind of game there."
"Me? I'm not going to any place so many millions of miles away from here," answered the old hunter, looking up from his plate. "It's good enough hunting here."
"Wait until you see," said Mr. Roumann with a smile. "I expect to find many marvels on Mars."
"If we get there," added Mr. Henderson.
"We'll get there," declared Mr. Roumann confidently. "As I said, I have long been interested in Mars, and one reason is that I want to prove that there is life on it—that it is inhabited by a superior race of beings. Another reason is that I expect to find on it a supply—or at least specimens—of a most valuable substance—"
Mr. Roumann stopped suddenly.
"Well?" asked Mr. Henderson questioningly, for there was an odd manner about the blue-eyed scientist.
"That is something I do not wish to speak about at present," said Mr. Roumann quickly. "I will tell you my other reason for going to Mars—when we get there."
"Now, as to the method. As I told you, Professor Henderson, and as I intimated to you boys, we will go in a long, torpedo-shaped projectile, which, though it will not be very large in diameter, will be long enough to contain all our machinery and ourselves, with a sufficient store of provisions for a year or more. But I know what you are going to ask, and that is: How can I send the projectile through space?
"Well, I'll tell you—that is, partly tell you, for some parts of my secret can never be revealed. I have discovered a wonderful power, more wonderful than man ever dreamed of before. I have called it Etherium, for the reason that I expect it to carry us through the ether, or space that exists outside of the atmosphere of this earth and that of Mars.
"Now, professor, do you think you and your assistants can build a proper projectile?"
"We built an airship that went to the North Pole, we constructed a submarine that took us to the South Pole, and we had the Flying Mermaid, in which we went to the center of the earth," said Mr. Henderson. "I think we can build you the torpedo-shaped projectile. But what will make it move through thirty-five millions of miles of space?"
"I will!" exclaimed the other. "I and my wonderful, secret power—Etherium! If you will build the projectile I will do the rest. I will give you the plans for the machinery at once, and you can begin as soon as you are ready. You have a large workshop here, I understand."
"Yes, we have all the means at our command," admitted Mr. Henderson.
"But it must be built in secret," stipulated Mr. Roumann. "No one must know about it until we are ready to leave. Several unscrupulous men have tried to steal my secret."
"We can construct the projectile and machinery so that no one but ourselves, and one or two trusty mechanics, will ever know about it," promised Mr. Henderson.
"Good! Now, when can you begin? As I told you, Mars is already beginning to move away from us at the rate of twenty-eight millions of miles a year. That is over two millions of miles a month, and every day counts."
"We will start at once," promised Mr. Henderson. "That is, if Jack and Mark decide they want to go. I will let them choose. Boys, do you want to try to go to Mars, or go back to college?"
"Mars! Every time!" cried Jack. "I want to begin to weigh less."
"I'll go wherever Jack goes," said Mark.
"Very well, then," assented the professor. "But you must remember, Mr. Roumann, that I am still unconvinced that you possess the secret of a power that will project a heavy object through space to Mars—thirty-five millions of miles away. I do not say it can't be done, only I want to be shown. I will aid you all I can, and I will accompany you. But I fear we shall never get to Mars."
"And I tell you we will!" insisted the other. "Come, I will prove it to you by mathematics, and by illustrating some of the force of my new secret power. Let us go to the laboratory."
The professor took from a valise, which sat in a corner of the room, a bundle of papers. Then, followed by the professor and the boys, he started for the private laboratory of Mr. Henderson.
As they left the dining-room they heard an unexpected noise at one of the windows. They looked quickly up, and Jack saw the face of a man staring in.
Before he could cry out, there came the sound of Washington's voice:
"Hey dar! Git away from dere! Skedaddle, now, or I'll prognostigate yo' inter modicums ob transmigatory infatisamatisms!"
The face disappeared from the window, and the sound of footsteps in rapid retreat was heard.
BUILDING THE PROJECTILE
"Did you see that?" exclaimed Jack.
"What?" asked Professor Henderson quickly.
"Some one at the window," replied Jack.
"I saw the face," added Mark. "It was a man looking in."
"A man? What sort of a man?" inquired Mr. Roumann, and he showed some excitement.
"I couldn't tell very well," answered Jack. "I saw him for only a second. But the man was looking right in."
"Did he have a heavy black mustache?" asked the German, and strode rapidly toward the window.
"No, he didn't have a mustache at all," said Jack. "He was smooth-shaven. I'm sure of that."
"Then it can't be he," murmured Mr. Roumann.
"Who did you think it was?" asked Professor Henderson.
"I—I thought it was an enemy of mine," was the answer. "Some one who has been trying to discover my secret. But the man whom I fear has a heavy black mustache, and this one, you say, Jack, had none?"
"None at all."
"Then it's all right."
Jack thought of saying that the man might have shaved his mustache off, but he did not want Mr. Roumann to worry.
"I guess he was only a tramp," said Amos Henderson. "Some one wandering about looking for a chicken coop that isn't locked. Or, perhaps, seeking a chance to rob."
Jack said nothing, but from the glimpse he had had of the man's face, he did not believe the fellow was a tramp. There was too much intelligence shown. The face was an evil one, and seemed to indicate that the man had an object in peering into the window—a motive that was not connected with a chicken coop.
"I'll tell Andy to keep watch for a while tonight with his gun," went on the professor. "I don't like prowlers around here. I have some valuable tools in my machine shop, and they might steal them."
"Now, Professor Henderson," began Mr. Roumann, when he had taken his seat at a small table and spread out his plans in front of him, "I am only going to sketch briefly, for you and your young assistants, what I propose. As I have said, we will need a projectile, two hundred feet long and about ten feet through in the thickest part. In that we will build sleeping and living apartments, lacks to store the air which we will have to breathe while traveling through space, other tanks for water, a compartment for food, another for scientific instruments, and we will need a comparatively large space for my machinery."
"Why will it take up so much space?" asked the professor. "I thought you said the new power required only a small machine to generate it."
"That is true, but you see we will have to carry two kinds of machines."
"Two? Why is that?"
"Because we are going to travel through two, and perhaps three, different mediums. We are going to shoot through the atmosphere of the earth; then through the vast region beyond that, filled with what is called ether."
"And is that different from our atmosphere?" asked Mark.
"Much different," replied Mr. Roumann. "There is no air to it at all. The secret power which I have invented is perfectly adapted to project us through this ether. That is why I call it Etherium. Then when we reach Mars, we will find a different atmosphere, somewhat like this earth's, I expect, but which will require still another kind of power to move us in. I hope, however, that the same force which sends us through the limits of the atmosphere of this earth will take us through that of Mars. So that is why I need so much space for machinery."
"Well, I guess we can build the projectile for you," said Mr. Henderson. "It will take us nearly a month, though."
"No longer, I hope," said the German. "Every day is valuable. Once the projectile is finished we will enter it, seal ourselves up, and be shot through space. When we get to Mars—well, there are many things to do when we reach there."
"I shall be much interested in seeing if they have discovered a way of conquering the air," said Mr. Henderson. "If they are a race of superior intelligence, as some authorities believe, from the fact that Mars may have been inhabited for millions of years before this earth was formed, they must have advanced very greatly in science. The mastery of the air—in making flying machines—would be one of the surest tests."
"I think you will find the Martians a very learned race, professor," said Mr. Roumann.
"I want to see if the boys there are like the fellows on earth— playing baseball, football and so on," marked Jack.
"I shall be interested in the colleges," added Mark, "and in the great canals of Mars."
"I believe there will be plenty to interest us on the planet which glows so red at night," went on Mr. Henderson. "But, Mr. Roumann, it is only fair to tell you that the building of this projectile will cost considerable money. I do not hesitate on this account, but, as you know, the Flying Mermaid, in which we went to the center of the earth, had to be abandoned there. That was quite a heavy loss. I should not like—"
"You will suffer no loss in this case," interrupted Roumann. "I appreciate that the projectile cost a large sum. I have no money to advance you, but I can promise you that when we reach Mars you will be amply repaid. We shall be rich—rich beyond your wildest dreams. There will be gold in untold quantities—"
"I never heard that there was much gold on Mars," said Jack.
"Not in the form of gold," said the German, who was growing very excited, "but something that can be turned into gold. I am on the track of the most wonderful substance—that which gives Mars its red color—that which will—"
He stopped suddenly.
"I must say no more now," he added, calming himself by a strong effort. "Sufficient to state that you will never regret making the trip to the wonderful planet."
"But now about your new force—how powerful is it?" asked Mr. Henderson. "You promised to demonstrate it to me."
"Yes, and I will do so."
Thereupon the German plunged into a mass of figures and calculations, which were quite puzzling to the boys, but which seemed very clear to Mr. Henderson. The German drew several rough outlines, and the discussion became quite technical. Toward the close, the inventor of the-secret force gave a demonstration of its power. By means of certain chemicals and an electric current he developed from the end of a wire a force sufficient to knock over a heavy block of steel, weighing over a ton.
"That is only a small sample of what my force will do," he said. "In the proper machine it will be ten times more strong. The conditions here are not exactly harmonious. Now, are you satisfied, Professor Henderson?"
"Yes. I could not help but be after that demonstration, it is wonderful."
"And you will make the projectile for me—for us?"
"I will. I'll start at once."
"Good! And I promise that you will come back from Mars even more wealthy than you were when you returned from the center of the earth."
"Most of that wealth is now gone," said Mr. Henderson with a smile. "I have enough left, however, to build the projectile, and we'll start at once."
"Hurrah for Mars!" cried Jack.
"And the marvelous red substance!" added Mark.
"Hush! Not a word about that!" cried Mr. Roumann warningly. "That must be kept a profound secret!"
The next day the boys, Professor Henderson, Washington White, and some trusty machinists began the building of the Annihilator, as the projectile was to be called, because it was to annihilate space.
AT TERRIFIC SPEED
"Now, boys," remarked Mr. Roumann one morning about a week after work had been in progress on the projectile, "I did not mention it, of course, but I hope you will not let it become known in the village that we are constructing a machine in which to proceed to Mars. It would not do to have a lot of curious people out here."
"Oh, you needn't worry about that," replied Jack. "We have built several things in the shop here, and no one ever knew about them until we were ready to have them start off."
"We'll tell Andy Sudds to keep on guard with his rifle," suggested Mark. "That will prevent curious persons coming too close."
"That will be a good idea," declared Mr. Roumann.
"You need have no fear of anything being discovered," put in Mr. Henderson, who was busy planning the engine-room of the strange craft.
"When we first came here we used to be bothered by curious persons, but I soon found a method of keeping them away."
"How was that?" inquired the German.
"Why, I ran a wire all around the shop, and charged the conductor with a mild current of electricity. Some people got shocked by coming too close, and after that they gave my place a wide berth. I'll do the same thing now."
"A fine idea," commented Mr. Roumann. "But what about Washington White? He is so fond of talking, and using big words, that he may disclose our plans."
"No, I can trust Washington," declared the professor. "But, as a further precaution, I have not told him what our object is. All he knows is that we are building a new machine, but he does not know what it is for, nor where we are going."
"Maybe when he does find out he'll not want to go," added Mark.
"Do you intend to take him with us?" asked Mr. Roumann.
"I think so—if he'll go," replied Mr. Henderson. "He has always been with me, and he is very helpful on these trips. But I shall not tell him where we are going until we are almost ready to start. But now, Mr. Roumann, I'd like to consult with you about the installation of the motor, or whatever we are to call it, by means of which your secret force is to be used."
"A motor will be as good a name as any other. We'll call it the Etherium motor."
"What will we call the other one?" asked Jack.
"What other one?"
"The motive power by which we are to go through the atmosphere of the earth."
"Well, we can call that the atmospheric motor," replied Mr. Roumann. "However, there is no hurry about that. I want to get the work in the engine-room under way first."
He and the professor were soon deep in the discussion, while Jack and Mark, with the aid of the machinists, were busy constructing the main part of the projectile.
The first thing to be done was to build the shell of the projectile. This consisted of plates of a new and peculiar metal, invented by Professor Henderson. The plates were riveted together, in the shape of a great cigar, two hundred feet long. This work took some time, but, as the professor had in his shop the proper machinery for it, a small force could accomplish a great deal of work.
The rear of the projectile was to be occupied by the mysterious apparatus that was to drive it through space. In this compartment would be many strange machines, including the one which Mr. Roumann had invented to use the terrific and secret force of which he was the discoverer.
There were apparatus for distilling water from the atmosphere, others for manufacturing oxygen, dynamos for furnishing light to the interior of the Annihilator, motors for working the various small machines, and a number of other appliances.
Forward from the engine-room was a space to be used in storing away the food supplies, and the materials necessary for generating the force used, as well as for making a new supply of air when needed.
Amidships was a living-room, with a plate-glass window on either side. There was not much space to move about in it, as, owing to the long and narrow shape of the projectile, economy of room was enforced. Still, the place was a lengthy one, with tables and chairs, which could be folded up out of the way when not in use. There was provision for a library of scientific and other books, and a piano played by electricity and brass disks, somewhat on the order of modern player-pianos.
"What are those apertures in the sides of the living-room?" asked Jack of Mr. Roumann, as the lad glanced over a sheet of blue-print paper, on which was shown a plan of the projectile.
"Those," said the German, "are for the guns."
"Guns!" exclaimed Mark. "Why, they're too big for guns. They are large enough to put a cannon through."
"And that is just what is going to be put through them, my boy," went on Mr. Roumann. "From those openings, and you will see that there are four of them, will protrude the muzzles of my electric cannons."
"Do we need them?" asked Jack.
"You can't tell what we'll need when we get to Mars," was the slow answer. "You must remember that we know nothing about the inhabitants of the planet. While I believe that the people there are of a very high grade of intelligence, we must be prepared for the worst. We may find them terrible savages, who will want to attack and destroy us. With the electric cannon we can defend ourselves."
"That's so," admitted Jack. "We had to fight the Esquimaux up north,"
"And the putty-men in the center of the earth," added Mark.
Forward of the living-room, and near what corresponded to the bow of the projectile, were the sleeping-rooms, consisting of two long, narrow compartments, with a passageway between them, like the aisle in a sleeping-car. The beds were berths against the wall, much as in the Pullman cars of to-day.
In the very "nose" of the Annihilator was the pilot house. Here were grouped together the wheels, levers, cams, gears, pistons and other apparatus that controlled the big projectile. Standing in it, and peering out through a heavy plate glass window, the operator could guide the machine in any direction he desired, and he could also regulate the rate of progress.
A number of scientific instruments were carried, for showing and registering the speed and direction of the Annihilator, the distance it was above the earth, and there was an indicator to note how near the travelers came to Mars. There was also a powerful telescope, and a number of cameras so arranged that they would automatically take pictures.
"We'll have to travel through space pretty fast in order to cover thirty-five millions of miles," observed Jack, stopping in his work of helping rivet some of the plates.
"About how fast will we have to go, Mr. Roumann?"
"I have it all figured out," replied the German.
"I hope our projectile will stand it," remarked Mr. Henderson. "We did not have to make such terrific speed on our other voyages."
"I think that the Annihilator, as we have planned it, will not suffer from the strain of speed," when on Mr. Roumann, looking up from his study of some blue-prints. "You may be astonished when I tell you we shall have to travel at the rate of one hundred miles a second."
"One hundred miles a second!" exclaimed Jack. "That's pretty fast, isn't it?"
"It's at the rate of eight million six hundred and forty thousand miles a day," came from Mark, who was a rapid figurer.
"And to cover thirty-five million miles would take us less than five days," said Jack. "But such an enormous speed—"
"We must travel at about that speed," interrupted Mr. Roumann, "though I fancy we will be nearer ten days than five in reaching Mars."
"Why?" asked Jack.
"Because we will not dare travel at such terrific speed as one hundred miles a second through the atmosphere of the earth. We would be burned into cinders by the mere friction of the air. Therefore, I shall send the Annihilator comparatively slowly through the earth's atmosphere, and perhaps I will find that I shall have to do the same thing when we near Mars. But while traveling through the ether, or the space that is between the two can go as fast as we like, which will as Mark has said, eight million miles per day."
"But even that rate," began Jack, "is going to pretty fast."
"It is faster than almost anything except light," went on Mr. Roumann.
"Light travels one hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second," stated Mark, who remembered his physics. "That's more than seven times around the earth in a second."
"Correct," said Mr. Roumann with a smile. "But sound, as you know, only goes a little over a thousand feet a second, at a temperature of thirty-two degrees above zero. In a warmer atmosphere it travels slightly faster. We are going much faster than sound ever travels. A cannon ball will travel about three thousand feet per second, so we are even going to beat cannon balls. At least, we hope we are, when we get beyond the earth's atmosphere."
"That's going to be terrific speed," remarked Jack dubiously, as if there was some risk in it.
"You need not worry," said Mr. Roumann. "You know we are building the Annihilator with a double shell, with a space between the two walls."
"Yes?" said Jack questioningly.
"Well, in that space I intend to put a new kind of gas, that will absorb all the heat that may be generated by our flight through space," went on Mr. Roumann. "Now that you know you have nothing to fear, let us go on with the work."
A MYSTERIOUS THEFT
"Would yo' kindly permit me t' prognostigate yo' attention fo' de monumental contraction of impossibilitiness in de circomlocution ob attaining de maximum nutrition ob internal combustion?" asked Washington White about an hour later, as he poked his head into the workshop, where the professor, the boys and Mr. Roumann, together with the machinists, were busily engaged.
"What's that, Wash?" asked Jack with a wink at Mark. "Would you mind saying that over again?"
"Not in de leastest, Massa Jack," replied the colored man. "What I done intended to convey to de auditory sensibilities ob de auricular nerves ob do exterior contraption ob de—"
"Hold on, Washington!" cried Professor Henderson with a laugh. "That sounds as if it was going in be worse than the other. Did I understand you to say that you wanted us to come to dinner?"
"Dat's jest it, pertesser. I done 'spress mahself in de most disproportionate language what I knows how, an' yet it seems laik some pussons cain't understand de appreciableness ob simplisosity."
"Simplisosity is a new one," murmured Mark, while Washington, with an injured look at Jack, who was laughing, went back to his kitchen to prepare to serve the meal.
"I wonder what we'll get to eat when we get up above?" asked Jack, taking advantage of a lull during the meal, when Washington was in the kitchen, for it had been agreed that nothing was yet to be said to the colored man as to their destination, though Andy Sudds knew of their plans. But Andy could be depended on not to talk too much.
"Eat?" repeated the professor. "Why, I fancy that we will take enough along from the earth to last us, eh, Mr. Roumann?"
"Not altogether. I am positive that there is life on Mars, and where there is life there must be things to sustain it. Perhaps the food there will not be such as we are used to, but when our supply, runs short we will have to depend on what we will get there."
"How long do you expect to stay?" asked Mark.
"It is hard to say. When I get what I want I shall be ready to return—that is, after having studied the inhabitants and made some scientific observations."
"Maybe the Martians will like us so that they let us come back," suggested Jack with a laugh.
"Oh, I fancy we will be able to get away," said Mr. Roumann. "But now I must get back to the shop. I am having a little more trouble with my Etherium motor than I anticipated."
"I don't exactly understand how that works," said Jack. "The plans don't call for any opening the stern of the Annihilator for a propeller to project from, and there is no provision for a tube, such as we used to send compressed air from the Flying Mermaid. Nor is there anything in front to pull the Annihilator along."
"We need nothing like that," explained the German scientist. "The powerful force which I discovered does not need a tube or a propeller to enable it to be used. The simplest explanation of it is that it consists of waves of energy, which pass from certain square surfaces attached to the motor. The force flows from the plates right through the stern of the ship, passing through the metal without the necessity for any openings. The wireless waves, as they may be called, act on the ether, and, by pushing against it send the projectile forward, just as if it was a stream of compressed air acting on the atmosphere, or a propeller in the water. Of course, that is to be used when we pass beyond the atmosphere. In the latter space I shall use a different force, as I also shall when we approach Mars."
"Then you can't see this force?" asked Mark.
"No more than you can see the wireless impulses that flow from the wires of an aerial station."
"Yet it's there, just the same," spoke Jack.
"Indeed, it is," answered the scientist. "But, now I must get back to my motor."
"Yes," added Professor Henderson, "we must, all get busy. What are you going to do, Andy?"
"Well, I thought I'd go off hunting. I'm no good at building machinery. I thought you might like something for dinner—say a brace of ducks."
"Good!" cried Jack, who was fond of eating, which, perhaps, accounted for his stoutness.
It was a fine day, just right for hunting, and Andy set off with his gun over his shoulder.
"I wonder if there'll be any game on Mars," said Mark. "I think I'd like to hunt there with Andy."
"If other things are in proportion, the game there will be very different from that on this earth," said the scientist. "We may find monsters there which you never dreamed of."
"That'll be just the stuff for you, Andy," cried Jack.
"Well, bring on your monsters," said the old hunter, as he walked toward the little lake, where wild ducks abounded. "I'll try and shoot some for you."
"Andy takes everything as a matter of course," went on Jack. "No sort of animal seems to frighten him. If he should happen to meet a dinotherium, such as used to live ages ago, he'd shoot it first, and wonder about it afterward."
"And we, are likely to meet with stranger beasts than dinotheriums on Mars," said Mr. Roumann.
"What am dat dinotherium?" asked Washington, entering the room at that moment and catching the word.
"Washington wants to work that into his conversation!" exclaimed Jack with a laugh. "But you want to be careful, Wash."
"Why so, Massa Jack?"
"Because the dinotheriurn was a fearful beast. It was about twenty feet long, lived in the water, and ate all sorts of weeds."
"How long you say he was?"
"About twenty feet."
"He must eat a pow'ful sight ob weeds, den. Wish I had one."
"Cause mah garden am jest oberrun wid weeds. If I had one ob dem dinnasorriouses—"
"Dinotheriums," corrected Jack.
"Dat's what I said," observed Washington with dignity. "If I had one ob dem, I wouldn't hab t' weed mah garden. Where am one to be possessed ob, Massa Jack?"
"I guess you were born a few million years too late," was the lad's answer. "They lived a few centuries before the flood."
"Good land!" exclaimed Washington, his eyes opening wide. "Before Noah built de ark?"
"Landy gracious! Dat animai'd be so old by dis time dat he couldn't chew de weeds after he pulled'em. Guess I'll hab t'do mah own weedin'."
"I reckon you will," added Mark.
They went back to the machine shop, and for the next week were very busy over the Annihilator. It was beginning to assume shape, and some of the machinery was installed.
One evening, after a hard day's work, when they 'were all seated in the big living-room of Professor Henderson's home, discussing the progress they were making, Jack suddenly held up his hand for silence.
"What's the matter?"' asked Mark.
"I thought I heard somebody walking around the house," was the stout lad's answer.
"Maybe it's Washington," suggested the professor. "He generally goes out to see if his chickens are shut up. He is very proud of his flock of hens, and seems to hate to kill any for pot-pie."
They all listened. Plainly there was some one or some animal moving about under the windows of the living-room.
"That doesn't sound like Washington," said Mr. Roumann.
Just then the colored man, who had been upstairs, attending to some of the housework (for he was the only servant the professor kept), came down.
"Were you just outside, Washington?" asked Mr. Henderson.
"No, sah. I'se been upstairs, makin' beds."
"There it is again!" cried Jack suddenly.
The footsteps sounded more plainly, and one of the window shutters rattled.
"Dat's somebody after mah chickens!" exclaimed the colored man. "I'se gwine t' git him, too!"
He started for the door, but the professor held him back.
"Let Andy go," he said. "He will make less noise than any of us."
He looked at the old hunter and nodded. Andy understood, and, taking his gun from a corner, slipped out of a side door, making no more noise than a cat.
The others, left in the living-room, waited in silence. They could hear the stealthy footsteps, which, however, seemed now to be moving away.
"I wonder who or what it can be?" murmured the professor. "This is the second time some one has been sneaking around here. I don't like it."
"It does look suspicious," admitted Jack. "Do you suppose the man you spoke of, Mr. Roumann, who you thought might try to discover your secret, has traced you here, and is endeavoring to steal it?"
"No, I hardly think so. I took good care to conceal my movements, and not even my closest friends know that I am here with Professor Henderson, making a projectile, the trip of which will astonish the world. No, I think this must be some other person."
"It's a pusson after mah chickens!" insisted Washington. "If yo'll allow me, perfesser, t' project mahself inter de promixity of his inner consciousness—"
"No, you just stay here," decided Mr. Henderson. "You might get into trouble if you went out and tried conclusions with a thicken thief, which I suppose is what you are trying to say you want to do."
"Dat's what I did say, perfesser."
They could no longer hear the footsteps, but the silence of the night was suddenly broken by the report of Andy's gun.
"There! He's shot at him!" cried Jack.
"I hope he disabled dat chicken stealer!" yelled the colored man. "Anybody what'll steal chickens—"
"Hush!" commanded Mr. Henderson.
Another shot rang out, and then the sound of footsteps could be heard.
"He's running past here," called Jack, hurrying to the door.
He caught sight of a dark figure rushing past, and was about to follow, but the outline was immediately lost in the darkness, and Jack that it would be a useless move. Andy came up.
"Did you hit him?" cried Jack
"No. I only fired over his head," replied the old hunter.
"Who was it?"
"I don't know, but it was some man prowling around, and for no good purpose, I take it."
"Did he steal any ob my chickens?" asked Washington.
"No; he wasn't near the coop."
"I guess it was only a tramp," said Mr. Henderson.
"I hope he doesn't go near the machine shop," added Mr. Roumann. "Still, if he did, the two machinists sleeping there would hear him."
They returned to the room, and Andy stood his gun in a corner. The weapon was seldom far from him.
"What was he doing when you saw him?" asked Mr. Henderson.
"Just sneaking along the window here as if listening."
"Maybe he was trying to hear what we were talking about," suggested Jack.
"Or trying to discover my secret," added Mr. Roumann quickly. "Fortunately I never talk about the secret of the power. But I shall be anxious about the machine shop."
"Suppose we go out and take a look around it," proposed Mark. "Ned and Sam will know if any intruder has been sneaking around there."
They all went out where the Annihilator was in process of building, but the machinists said they had not been disturbed, and they were sure no one had stolen anything.
There was no further disturbance that night, but when Mr. Roumann paid an early visit to the machine shop the next morning, he uttered a cry of surprise.
"What is it?" asked Jack, who accompanied him.
"The plates—the plates of the Etherium motor!" cried the scientist. "They have been stolen!"
A CRAZY MACHINIST
For a moment Jack stared at Mr. Roumann. He did not appreciate the seriousness of the announcement. The scientist was hurrying here and there, looking under benches and on tables for missing plates.
"Do you mean the plates that make the motor go?" asked Jack.
"No, not those, but the plates from which the mysterious force is projected into space—the plates that give the forward motion to the projectile. They have been stolen. They were taken last night, and the man Andy fired at stole them!"
"Will that prevent us from making the trip?"
"No. I have duplicate plates."
"Then little harm is done."
"No particular harm is done to the projectile, but I am afraid that, with the plates in his possession, the man may discover the secret of the power that I use. Oh, I should have locked them up, but I thought they would be safe."
"What has happened?" asked Mr. Henderson, entering the machine shop at that moment. The scientist told him, and expressed his fear.
"Do you really think there is any danger that the man, whoever he was, will learn how to use the plates?" inquired the professor.
"Perhaps, and then, again, perhaps not. I think it will be very difficult for him to work out the secret of the power from the plates, for they are only a small part of the mechanism. Still, he may do so. I am convinced now that this man is either the same one of whom I stand in fear, or he is some one hired by him to steal my secret."
"Then we had better notify the police," suggested Mark.
"No, that would never do," answered Mr. Roumann. "I would have to describe the plates, in order to have the authorities identify them in the possession of the thief, and I do not care to do that. No; the best plan will be to hasten work or the Annihilator, and start for Mars before the thief can gain any advantage from the plates. If he should succeed in discovering from the plate how to make the power that is discharged in wireless currents, it will take him a long time, and we can be away before then. Let us hasten our work and start for Mars."
"You say you have duplicates of the plates?" asked Jack.
"Yes. I was afraid lest something happen to one set, so I made three. Well, it will do no good to worry, but I wish I had the plates back."
"I don't see how he got them," observed Mark. "There doesn't seem to be anything broken, to indicate how the thief got in, and he certainly didn't touch Professor Henderson's live wire."
Not a window or a door had been forced, and the two machinists, who slept in the shop, declared they had heard no suspicious sounds during the night. It was a mysterious theft, and there seemed to be no means of solving it.
At Mr. Roumann's suggestion they all increased their hours of work on the Annihilator. They wanted to have it finished ahead of the time set, and it seemed that this would be done.
Day after day, and far into the night, they labored. Bit by bit the machinery was installed, the supplies were gathered together, the great water tanks were built, to provide a supply of the fluid in case of any accident to the distilling apparatus. The Etherium motor was almost finished, and the other, motor, which was to drive the Annihilator through the earth's atmosphere, was nearly ready to install. The steering apparatus necessitated considerable labor, and when it was finished Amos Henderson declared they had made a mistake, and would have to build it all over again.
This lost them a week, and time was precious, as there was no telling what the thief would do with the stolen plates.
"I tell you what, but we're going to have a better ship than any of the others we built," remarked Jack one day, as he and Mark were putting the finishing touches to the living-room.
"This isn't a ship," said Mark. "It's a projectile."
"I guess I can call it a ship if I want to," was the retort. "It's going to sail through the air, and it's an airship, of course. Wait until you see the one I'm going to build when I get that new gas invented."
"I'll not go with you," said Mark. "There's too much danger of being blown up."
"There won't be, after I have it perfected. But say, won't it be fine when we're shooting through space to sit here in an easy chair and read a book and eat sandwiches?"
"I guess you think as much of eating as you do of reading, Jack."
"Well, almost, that's a fact. I must cut out some of my eating, too. I've gained five pounds this week, because of not doing any studying. But wait until I get to Mars. Then I'll weigh less."
"I hope Mr. Roumann lets us help run the machinery," went on Mark.
"I guess he'll have to. He'll need help, and I understand that he and the professor, you and I, and Washington and Andy are the only ones going along. He and the professor can't run the affair all alone, and they'll have to have our help. Wash and Andy won't be much good at machinery."
"That's so. My! Think of steering a two hundred-foot projectile through space, when we're moving at the rate of one hundred miles a second!"
"Great, isn't it?" commented Jack.
"It would be a bad thing if it ever got away from us," said Mark.
"Yes; or if we steered into a comet."
"That's so. We may run into one of those things—or a shooting star."
"As long as we don't fall into the sun and get burned up we'll be all right," went on Jack. "And when we get to Mars I know what I'm going to do."
"Go for a sail on one of the big canals. Mars is covered with them, astronomers say."
"Maybe the Martians won't let you."
"Maybe not. I wish we could start to-morrow."
"Well, we can't. The Annihilator isn't near done. We will be at her for two weeks yet."
The boys were busy for some time fitting up the living-room. They were in the midst of this occupation, and were conversing about the strange experiences in store for them, when Jack was startled by hearing a strange voice say:
"Say, don't you want some help building this airship?"
He looked up, to see a man standing near one of the entrances to the projectile—an entrance that would be closed when the Annihilator was finished. The man was a stranger, and from his appearance Jack judged that he was a mechanic.
"How'd you get in here?" asked Mark, for he knew it was against the rules for any stranger to enter the machine shop, much less approach the projectile.
"I walked," replied the man. "I saw the door open, and I heard hammering going on in here. I knew it was a machine shop, and as I'm a first class machinist, out of work, I thought I'd apply for the job."
"How'd you get past the doorkeeper?" inquired Jack, for he knew that Andy Sudds was supposed to be on guard with his gun.
"He wasn't at the door," went on the man. "There was nobody there, so I walked in. Can't you give me a job on the airship?"
"How do you know it's an airship?" asked Jack.
"Oh, I know. I know lots of things," and the man winked one eye at the lad. "I built a balloon once."
"Did you?" asked Mark. He began to think perhaps the man might be able to aid them.
"Sure I did. I know about airships. I'll work for low wages, and I'll keep my mouth closed. Oh, I know what patents mean. Say," he went on in a whisper, "you'd be surprised to know where I went in my balloon. I'll tell you," and he looked around as if to make sure no one was listening.
"Where did you go?" asked Jack.
"Up to the moon," was the surprising reply. "And, say, it's all a mistake about it being made of green cheese. It's green apples—that's what it's made of. I know, for I was there, and I ate some. They gave me an awful pain in my head, too," and the man passed his hand across his brow. "A fearful pain," he went on.
Jack and Mark looked at each other. They did not understand the man's strange talk and actions.
"You don't believe me, do you?" the stranger asked. "Well, if you want a good machinist, hire me. I know all about airships and traveling through space. Why, I once did a dance on the tail of a comet, only the comet got mad and shook me off. I'll show you how I danced."
He threw a somersault, lighted on his hands, and began to waltz about in the somewhat contracted space of the living-room of the projectile. Then he set up a loud shout as he regained his feet.
"That's how!" he cried.
The boys were alarmed. The man was evidently crazy, or perhaps he might be doing this for effect, in order to disarm their suspicions, so that he could discover Mr. Roumann's secret. They did not know what to do.
"Come on, we'll all have a dance!" cried the man. "My name is Axtell—Fred Axtell. I used to live on the moon—tra-la-la!"
His loud voice attracted the attention of Mr. Henderson, who was working at the far end of the shop. The professor ran toward the place where the strangely acting man was, the latter having now emerged from the ship, followed by the boys.
"Here we go! Off to the moon!" cried the man, and catching up a big hammer he began to pound on the sides of the Annihilator as if he would destroy the projectile.
WASHINGTON IS AFRAID
"Here! Here! Stop him! Grab that man!" cried Mr. Roumann, as he rushed toward Axtell, who was hammering away madly.
Jack and Mark started for the fellow.
"Keep away!" cried the machinist, swinging the sledge toward the boys. "I want to work on an airship, and I'm going to do it. I'll make some dents in it, and then I'll straighten them out! Whoop!"
Mr. Henderson hastened forward. He took in the situation at a glance.
"That man is insane!" the professor whispered to the German scientist. "Let me deal with him."
"Do something quickly," pleaded Mr. Roumann, "or he will damage the projectile."
"This is the way I work!" cried the insane man, and he brought down the hammer with great force on the rounded sides of the Annihilator. He made quite a dent in it.
"Stop him!" begged Mr. Ronan.
Mark and Jack had retreated out of reach of the big hammer, the professor and the German were consulting together, and in the door of the shop appeared Andy Sudds with his gun. He had gone away for a moment, in which interval the crazy machinist had appeared.
"Andy will scare him with his gun," whispered Jack to Mark.
Just then Mr. Henderson called out:
"If you want work, I can give it to you."
Axtell stopped his pounding of the projectile, laid his hammer down, and asked in a mild voice:
"Can you give me work now?"
"Of course," answered the professor, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to give work to insane persons. His calm manner and soothing words had a quieting effect on the lunatic. The glare died out of his eyes.
"Come with me," went on Mr. Henderson. "I have some work outside."
"What is it?" asked Axtell suspiciously.
"I want you to dig a hole so we can put this airship in it," whispered the professor. "Come outside."
He wanted to get the man out of the machine shop, where he could better deal with the fellow.
"That's just the kind of work I want," declared the unfortunate person. "I love to dig holes in the ground. I once dug one clear through to China. Get me a shovel."
He seemed to have forgotten all about the projectile, and meekly followed Mr. Henderson. The latter led him some distance from the shop, talking soothingly to the man, and promising that he should soon have a shovel. But there was no necessity for going to these measures.
Axtell suddenly caught sight of Washington coming toward him, and he exhibited the greatest fear.
"Hide me!" he exclaimed to the professor. "Hide me in the airship! Here comes the king of the cannibal islands!" And away he ran at top speed and disappeared in the woods behind the Henderson place. A search was at once made, but he could not be located.
Andy was rather worried lest he be blamed for not remaining on guard, but no one thought of censuring him, as he was such a faithful watchman and had only left the shop in answer to a call from Washington, who thought he heard some strange animal after his chickens.
"But I'll not desert my post again," declared the old hunter, as he looked to the loading of his gun.
"If any other crazy men get inside, they'll have to answer to me."
Work on the projectile was resumed, and for a week went on uninterruptedly. It was nearing completion, though there were many details yet to look after. Mr. Roumann was having more trouble with his Etherium motor than he anticipated.
"The atmospheric motor is all right," he declared, "and it works to perfection," which was indeed true, for in tests they made they found that the motor, the force of which was only less powerful and complicated than the secret power that was to hurl them through space, would easily send the projectile through the comparatively thin atmosphere of the earth. They did not actually move the Annihilator, since to do so would mean they would have to take it out of the shed. But they made tests and experiments with heavy objects, applying the force to them, and, by calculation, Mr. Roumann and the professor found that the force would actually send the projectile on the start of its journey.
"But there is one point about my Etherium motor that still bothers me," said the German.
"Can I help you solve it?" asked Mr. Henderson.
"No, thank you. I think I am on the right track. I will have it perfected in a few days, and then we will be off for Mars. I can scarcely wait until I get to that wonderful planet, thirty-five millions of miles away, where I hope to get possession of a most wonderful substance. Once we are on Mars—"
"'Scuse me, Mistah Roumann," interrupted Washington White, who happened to be in the machine shop at that moment, and overheard what the scientist said, "'scuse me, but did I done heah yo' promulgate de ostentatious fact dat yo' is gwine to de planet Mars?"
"That's where we're going, Wash," replied Jack, for it had been decided that the colored man could now be told of their destination.
"Yo' means dat red star what shines in de sky?"
"That's the one, Washington."
"An' how far did yo' say it was from heah?" was the question directed at Mr. Henderson.
"Well, it's about thirty-five millions of miles from the earth."
"And is yo' all goin'?"
"Yes, we expect to."
"Is dis heah contraption yo' done been buildin'?"
"And is I gwine, too, perfesser?"
"I calculated on taking you, Washington. You went north and south with me, and down into the center of the earth. I thought you'd like to go on this trip."
Washington laid down the hammer he had come in to borrow to fix the chicken coop. He looked around on the circle of smiling faces.
"I—I 'spects I'd bettah be lookin' fo' annudder place, perfesser," he said quietly.
"Why, you aren't afraid to go to Mars, when you went with us in the Flying Mermaid down into the earth, are you?" asked Jack.
"'Scuse me, Massa Jack," said the colored man solemnly, "dis trip am wuss dan any ob de udders. It suah am. Good land a' massy! T' t'ink ob being projected transmigatorially in de obverse tangent ob de parallelism circumdelegated on de inverse side ob a duodecimo. It's too altogether imparipinated fo' dis chile! I'se afraid dat's what I is! I'se too much afraid t' go," and Washington started to run from the shop, as if he feared that the big projectile would take after him.
A STRANGE EXPLOSION
"Here, come back, Washington," called Mr. Henderson.
"No, sah! I ain't gwine t' entrust mahself 'n any sech t'ing as dat!" cried Washington. "I ain't gwine t' be shot up froo de sky. Why, good land a' massy! 'Sposin' we was t' hit a star, or land on de moon? I'd look purty, wouldn't I, hangin' on one ob de moon's horns? How's I eber gwinee git down? I axes yo' dat. How's I gwine f git down?"
"Well," said Professor Henderson with a laugh, "if you did get caught on one of the horns of the moon, Washington, I guess it would be a pretty hard matter to get down."
"Dat's what I done said," insisted the colored man.
"You could slide down a moonbeam," said Jack with a laugh.
"Yes, an' mebby git hit by a comet or be kamked sensible by a piece ob star," objected Washington, as if Jack's plan was a feasible one. "No, sah, I ain't gwine along nohow. Dis ole earth am good enough fo' me. I don't want to die an' go floatin' through space. When I dies I wants t' be buried decent-like. I ain't gwine wid yo' at all."
It began to look as if Washington's revolt was a settled fact. Yet they depended on him to go. However, Professor Henderson solved the problem for him.
"Who will cook my meals for me, if you don't go, Washington?" he asked solemnly.
"Is you really goin', perfesser?"
"I certainly am."
"An' yo' t'ink it's safe?"
"Yes, or I shouldn't go. But I can't have much comfort if I don't have my meals right, for I can't cook very well, and as for Jack and Mark—"
"Hu! Dem boys can't cook wuff a cent. Is dey gwine t' go 'long?"
"We sure are," answered Jack.
"Hu! Den I 'spects I'se got t' go," said the colored man, scratching his head in perplexity. "I can't let de perfesser go alone, wid nobody t' do his cookin' fer him. Well, I'll go, but—but I'se mighty skeered, jest de same."
"You needn't be, Washington," said Mr. Henderson kindly. "We will be perfectly safe in the Annihilator, and when we get to Mars I am sure you will like it there."
"I've got to, wedder I does or not," said Washington simply. "Well, t' t'ink ob me seein' dis work goin' on, day after day, an' me nebber suspectin' dat yo' was goin' on sech a transmigatory flight in de direction ob an interplanetary sphere what transmits effulgent rays transversely an' pyritiferilously changes 'em inter crimson light most advantageously."
"I guess you're all right now, after getting that out of your system," observed Mark.
It was two days after this that Jack and Mark, who were working in the shop with Mr. Roumann, suddenly heard him utter a cry.
"Has anything happened?" called Jack, dropping his tools and hastening to the engine-room, where the scientist was.
"Yes!" cried the German.
He was pacing rapidly up and down the contracted space, waving a piece of metal above his head. Jack thought he might have hurt himself.
"I have discovered what was the matter with my Etherium motor!" exclaimed Mr. Roumann. "I didn't bend this piece of metal properly. That was why the machine did not work satisfactorily. Now it is all right. We can start in a week."
"That's good!" said Mark, who had joined his chum. "Are you sure it will work now, Mr. Roumann?"
"Quite sure. But we will have a test to make certain. Send Professor Henderson here, Please."
The other scientist came from the house, and the test was made. To the delight of all the Etherium motor worked perfectly. The slight adjustment of the piece of metal had been all that was needed.
"Now we can get ready to leave in a week," repeated the German enthusiastically.
In fact, the projectile was finished, and all that was necessary was to put in the stores and some supplies, turn on the power, and they would be off through space.
The actual starting of the Annihilator was, of course, to be left entirely to Mr. Roumann. He had not disclosed to his companions the secret of the force that was to make it move, nor had he told them how to work the Etherium and atmospheric motors. He would start the machinery in operation, and he had promised to show the professor and the boys how to control it, but the secret of the wonderful power he kept to himself.
"I think we can let the two machinists go now," said Mr. Henderson at the conclusion of the tests. "We shall not need them any more if we are almost ready to start."
"No, we can dispense with their services," agreed Mr. Roumann; and, accordingly, Ned and Sam were paid off, and left, promising to say nothing of the wonderful apparatus on which they had been working.
The next week was a busy one. Mr. Roumann spent most of his time in the engine-room, assembling the machinery of the two motors, and arranging the connections between them and the pilot house in the "nose" of the projectile. The strange gas had been forced in between the two shells of the projectile, to absorb the heat that would be generated by friction, and nearly all the stores had been put aboard.
The electric guns were installed, ready to be run out of the openings of the living-room to repel any attack of the Martians, and then the ports were closed tightly.
Finishing touches were being put on the Annihilator, and Mr. Henderson and his German friend were kept very busy. As for the boys, they helped wherever they could, and did considerable work, for they had been well trained by their guardian.
Andy remained on guard at the door with his gun. He said he was going to take no more chances with the crazy machinist.
Nothing further had been seen or heard of the mysterious thief who had stolen the plates, and it was supposed that he was unable to make any use of them.
One afternoon, about three days before the time set to start for Mars, Mr. Roumann was working alone in the machine shop. The boys and Professor Henderson had done all there was for them to do, and the Annihilator was practically finished.
"Are you going to take along any extra-sized bullets, Andy?" asked Jack of the old hunter, who was on guard, as usual, at the door.
"I don't see why I should. I guess the regular ones will do when I get to Mars."
"I don't know about that," went on Jack. "We may find bigger game than elephants or sea lions there."
"If we do, I'll use a new kind of explosive electric bullet Mr. Roumann told me about," declared Andy. "It has a charge of electricity in it, and he says it will kill the biggest animal that ever lived, with one shot."
"Then you're all right," said Mark. "Well we'll soon be on our way now."
"I suppose Washington will want to take some of his chickens along?" ventured Jack.
"Well, I don't see why he can't," said Andy. "They take pigeons up in balloons, and I guess chickens would live in the Annihilator—at least, until we ate them,"
They stood about the entrance to the machine shop, talking of various topics, but they always came back to the subject of the wonderful journey before them.
Suddenly Jack, who had strolled a little away from the door, looked toward the rear of the big shed that housed the projectile, and uttered a cry. Mark heard him, and ran to his chum's side.
"Look!" exclaimed Jack, pointing to two men who were running away from the shop. "Who are those men?"
"One is that crazy machinist!" cried Mark.
"And the other is the tramp we saw looking in the window that night!" added Jack. "Come on! Let's catch them! They may have done some damage! Andy! Here! With your gun! Quick!"
The old hunter hastened to join the boys. He reached them in time to see the two intruders making for the woods back of the shed.
"Hold on there!" cried Andy, quickly raising his gun and firing over their heads.
But the men did not stop. Hardly had the echoes of Andy's weapon died away, than there sounded a loud explosion from the shop. A cloud of smoke poured from the windows.
"They've blown up the projectile!" cried Mark. "Come on!"
They ran toward the place where the explosion had occurred. As they neared the end of the shed Washington came running out. He showed great fear.
"Come quick! Come quick!" he cried.
"What's the matter?" shouted Jack.
"Somebody's blowed de place up, an' Mr. Roumann am killed!" was the answer.
THE ELECTRIC REMEDY
"Get Professor Henderson!" directed Jack, "Where is Mr. Roumann, Washington?"
"In heah!" exclaimed the colored man, pointing to the shop. "He am all blowed to pieces!"
Jack and Mark were terribly afraid. The smoke of the explosion hung all about. They rushed through it, and into the shop. Part of the side of the wooden building had been blown out.
"Where is he?" asked Mark. "I can't see anything."
"Over here," called Jack, as he saw a huddled heap in one corner. As the smoke cleared away he could see pieces of machinery scattered all about.