A Journey in Other Worlds by J. J. Astor - HTML preview
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.
At last the preparations were completed, and it was arranged that the Callisto should begin its journey at eleven o'clock A. M., December 21st--the northern hemisphere's shortest day.
Though six months' operations could hardly be expected to have produced much change in the inclination of the earth's axis, the autumn held on wonderfully, and December was pronounced very mild. Fully a million people were in and about Van Cortlandt Park hours before the time announced for the start, and those near looked inquiringly at the trim little air-ship, that, having done well on the trial trip, rested on her longitudinal and transverse keels, with a battery of chemicals alongside, to make sure of a full power supply.
The President and his Cabinet--including, of course, the shining lights of the State and Navy Departments--came from Washington. These, together with Mr. and Mrs. Preston, and a number of people with passes, occupied seats arranged at the sides of the platform; while sightseers and scientists assembled from every part of the world.
"There's a ship for you!" said Secretary Stillman to the Secretary of the Navy. "She'll not have to be dry-docked for barnacles, neither will the least breeze make the passengers sick."
"That's all you landlubbers think of," replied Deepwaters. "I remember one of the kings over in Europe said to me, as he introduced me to the queen: 'Your Secretary of State is a great man, but why does he always part his hair in the middle?'
"'So that it shall not turn his head,' I replied.
"'But with so gallant and handsome an officer as you to lean upon,' he answered, 'I should think he could look down on all the world.' Whereupon I asked him what he'd take to drink."
"Your apology is accepted," replied Secretary Stillman.
Cortlandt also came from Washington, where, as chief of the Government's Expert Examiners Board, he had temporary quarters. Bearwarden sailed over the spectators' heads in one of the Terrestrial Axis Straightening Company's flying machines, while Ayrault, to avoid the crowd, had come to the Callisto early, and was showing the interior arrangements to Sylvia, who had accompanied him. She was somewhat piqued because at the last moment he had not absolutely insisted on carrying her off, or offered, if necessary, to displace his presidential and Doctor-of-Laws friends in order to make room. "You will have an ideal trip," she said, looking over some astronomical star-charts and photographic maps of Jupiter and Saturn that lay on the table, with a pair of compasses, "and I hope you won't lose your way."
"I shall need no compass to find my way back," replied Ayrault, "if I ever succeed in leaving this planet; neither will star-charts be necessary, for you will be a magnet stronger than any compass, and, compared with my star, all others are dim."
"You should write a book," said Sylvia, "and put some of those things in it." She was wearing a bunch of forget-me-nots and violets that she had cut from a small flowergarden of potted plants Ayrault had sent her, which she had placed in her father's conservatory.
At this moment the small chime clock set in the Callisto's wood-work rang out quarter to eleven. As the sounds died away, Sylvia became very pale, and began to regret in her womanly way that she had allowed her hero to attempt this experiment.
"Oh," she said, clinging to his arm, "it was very wrong of me to let you begin this. I was so dazzled by the splendour of your scheme when I heard it, and so anxious that you should have the glory of being the first to surpass Columbus, that I did not realize the full meaning. I thought, also, you seemed rather ready to leave me," she added gently, "and so said little; you do not know how it almost breaks my heart now that I am about to lose you. It was quixotic to let you undertake this journey."
"An undertaker would have given me his kind offices for one even longer, had I remained here," replied Ayrault. "I cannot live in this humdrum world without you. The most sustained excitement cannot even palliate what seems to me like unrequited love."
"O Dick!" she exclaimed, giving him a reproachful glance, "you mustn't say that. You know you have often told me my reason for staying and taking my degree was good. My lot will be very much harder than yours, for you will forget me in the excitement of discovery and adventure; but I--what can I do in the midst of all the old associations?"
"Never mind, sweetheart," he said, kissing her hand, "I have seemed on the verge of despair all the time."
Seeing that their separation must shortly begin, Ayrault tried to assume a cheerful look; but as Sylvia turned her eyes away they were suspiciously moist.
Just one minute before the starting-time Ayrault took Sylvia back to her mother, and, after pressing her hand and having one last long look into her--or, as he considered them, HIS--deep-sea eyes, he returned to the Callisto, and was standing at the foot of the telescopic aluminum ladder when his friends arrived. As all baggage and impedimenta bad been sent aboard and properly stowed the day before, the travellers had not to do but climb to and enter by the second-story window. It distressed Bearwarden that the north pole's exact declination on the 21st day of December, when the axis was most inclined, could not be figured out by the hour at which they were to start, so as to show what change, if any, had already been brought about, but the astronomers were working industriously, and promised that, if it were finished by midnight, they would telegraph the result into space by flash-light code.
Raising his hat to his fiancee and his prospective parents-in-law, Ayrault followed them up. To draw in and fold the ladder was but the work of a moment. As the clocks in the neighbouring steeples began to strike eleven, Ayrault touched the switch that would correspond to the throttle of an engine, and the motors began to work at rapidly increasing speed. Slowly the Callisto left her resting-place as a Galatea might her pedestal, only, instead of coming down, she rose still higher.
A large American flag hanging from the window, which, as they started, fluttered as in a southern zephyr, soon began to flap as in a stiff breeze as the car's speed increased. With a final wave, at which a battery of twenty-one field-pieces made the air ring with a salute, and the multitude raised a mighty cheer, they drew it in and closed the window, sealing it hermetically in order to keep in the air that, had an opening remained, would soon have become rarefied.
Sylvia had waved her handkerchief with the utmost enthusiasm, in spite of the sadness at her heart. But she now had other use for it in trying to hide her tears. The Callisto was still going straight up, with a speed already as great as a cannon ball's, and was almost out of sight. The multitude then began to disperse, and Sylvia returned to her home.
Let us now follow the Callisto. The earth and Jupiter not being exactly in opposition, as they would be if the sun, the earth, and Jupiter were in line, with the earth between the two, but rather as shown in the diagram, the Callisto's journey was considerably more than 380,000,000 miles, the mean opposition distance. As they wished to start by daylight--i. e., from the side of the earth turned towards the sun--they could not steer immediately for Jupiter, but were obliged to go a few hundred miles in the direction of the sun, then change their course to something like a tangent to the earth, and get their final right direction in swinging near the moon, since they must be comparatively near some material object to bring apergy into play.
The maximum power being turned on, the projectile shot from the earth with tremendous and rapidly increasing speed, by the shortest course--i. e., a straight line--so that for the present it was not necessary to steer. Until beyond the limits of the atmosphere they kept the greatest apergetic repulsion focused on the upper part of their cylinder, so that its point went first, and they encountered least possible resistance. Looking through the floor windows, therefore, the travellers had a most superb view. The air being clear, the eastern border of North America and the Atlantic were outlined as on a map, the blue of the ocean and brownish colour of the land, with white snow- patches on the elevations, being very marked. The Hudson and the Sound appeared as clearly defined blue ribbons, and between and around the two they could see New York. They also saw the ocean dotted for miles with points in which they recognized the marine spiders and cruisers of the North Atlantic squadron, and the ships on the home station, which they knew were watching them through their glasses.
"I see," said Cortlandt, "that Deepwaters has been as good as his word, and has his ships on the watch to rescue us in case we fail."
"Yes," replied Bearwarden, "he is the right sort. When he gave that promise I knew his men would be there."
They soon perceived that they had reached the void of space, for, though the sun blazed with a splendour they had never before seen, the firmament was intensely black, and the stars shone as at midnight. Here they began to change their course to a curve beginning with a spiral, by charging the Callisto apergetically, and directing the current towards the moon, to act as an aid to the lunar attraction, while still allowing the earth to repel, and their motion gradually became the resultant of the two forces, the change from a straight line being so gradual, however, that for some minutes they scarcely perceived it. The coronal streamers about the sun, such as are visible on earth during a total eclipse, shone with a halo against the ultra-Cimmerian background, bursting forth to a height of twenty or thirty thousand miles above the surface in vast cyclonic storms, producing so rapid a motion that a column of incandescent gas may move ten thousand miles in less than ten minutes. Whether these great streaks were in part electrical phenomena similar to the aurora borealis, or entirely of intensely heated material thrown up by explosions within the sun's mass, they could not tell even from their point of vantage.
"I believe," said Cortlandt, pointing to the streamers, "that they are masses of gas thrown beyond the sun's atmosphere, which expand enormously when the pressure to which they are subjected in the sun is removed--for only in space freed from resistance could they move at such velocities, and that their brilliancy is increased by great electrical disturbance. If they were entirely the play of electrical forces, their change of place would be practically instantaneous, which, however rapid their movement, is not the case."