"That one which finds a way to visit the others first," he answered, with a touch of pride.
"But there may be a tinge of personal conceit in that idea," I suggested.
"Possibly a mere tinge, but the essence of it is apparent truth," he declared. "That planet which has learned the most, made the greatest discoveries and the most useful inventions, is the best and fittest teacher of the others, and will be the sharpest and keenest to gather new information and formulate new science. It is eminently fit that representatives of such a planet should visit the others, and eminently unfit that any primitive civilization engaged in base wars and striving for mere conquest should be allowed that privilege. An all-wise Creator would not permit a huge, strong, ignorant race entirely to overrun and extinguish one weaker but more intelligent. He might permit a strong, intelligent, masterful race to rule and direct a weaker and dependent one, as a schoolmaster rules and guides a child."
"Then you think we are the wise and masterful race?"
"As no other race has yet discovered us; as they have all left the Space Problem unsolved, and as it has been uncovered to us, that is my irresistible conclusion."
"Still, you will not go with ideas of conquest, but to teach and to learn?"
"We shall take with us swords, shields, and fire-arms, for defence. Unless I mistake the nature of their metals, our steel will resist any weapon they can manufacture. But what explosives or what noxious gases they may have, all strange to us, it is impossible to conjecture. Therefore, we shall go with peace in our hands."
"What progress do you think they have made in inventions?" I suggested, as the doctor hesitated.
"If they are winged men, I should say they have never felt that urgent need of railroads, steam boats, telegraphs and telephones, which was the mother of their invention here. Flying or air-travelling machines will no more have occurred to them than a walking machine to us. They will have thoroughly explored every part of their planet, and it is possible that their cities will have been built on high plateaus, or even on mountain peaks. But they will not have builded greatly, for they will have been able to use the great architecture of nature in a way impossible to us."
"Have you heard the theory advanced by some humorous scientist not long ago, that the organs of locomotion and prehension would some day, or on some planet, be supplanted by machinery, and that digestive apparatus would give way for artificially prepared blood?" I asked.
"Oh, yes, that fanciful idea is novel, but irrational. It makes man only a fraction of a being. On every planet, no matter what the advancement of civilization, we shall find complete beings, not dependent on adventitious machinery for locomotion or labour, or on artificial or animal blood for nutriment. Think how helpless such a creature would be at the loss or rusting of his machinery, and at the exhaustion of just the right sort of nutritive fluid. Our digestive apparatus will convert a thousand different foods into blood. Suppose we could live only on buffalo meat? We should all have been dead long ago. We might as well imagine men as mere fungus brains, swimming in rivers of blood; or as beings beyond the necessity of personal thought, and living on brain sandwiches, cut from the thinking heads of others. Eating is not only a necessity, but a pleasure----"
"That is just what I was thinking," I interposed, looking at my watch, for it was growing late.
"Well, now I have told you how I would have peopled Mars had the order been sent to me here to do it," said the doctor, "will you go along with me, and see how nearly I am right?"
"I am afraid not," I replied; "my business ties forbid. However, I want to see you make the start and the moment you return!"
Final Preparations On the tenth day of June, Dr. Anderwelt had written me as follows: "Please catch the 7.25 train on the Lake Shore for Whiting this evening. I will take the same train, and we will walk from Whiting to a deserted railway siding two miles further on, where the projectile has been shipped. We will unload it from the flat car and take it into a grove of scrub oaks on the shore of Lake Michigan, near by. This will be enough to demonstrate to you our control of gravity. The experimental model is there also, and we will send it off on a trip if you like. Everything will be ready for the start to Mars to-morrow night."
I dined early and caught the train specified at Twenty-Second Street. The doctor was looking for me from the rear platform of a car. It was a local train, and crept slowly out through the smoky blackness of South Chicago, illuminated here and there by the flaming chimneys of her great iron furnaces, to the little city of pungent smells, of petroleum tanks and oil refineries, in Northern Indiana. The doctor was explaining the difficulties he had experienced in getting a companion for the trip.
"Men whom I could hire for mere wages are not intelligent enough to understand the workings of the projectile, or to comprehend the risks they may run. Besides, their companionship and assistance during the trip through space and on a new planet is worth nothing. On the other hand, I could not afford to go about explaining the workings of so important an invention miscellaneously to people capable of understanding it in an experimental search for a companion. I might not find one among twenty, and I would be tossing my secrets to the winds, and inviting all the daily papers to send their representatives to report the start. My reputation as a scientist, on the other side, is too dear to me to risk a public failure. If the projectile acts, as I am confident it must, on our return we shall take out letters patent and form our company to exploit the business features. But primarily, this is a test of the projectile and a journey of exploration and research. Business afterward."
Naturally on this point we had disagreed. My motto had always been "Business first!" and I had desired to have the patents secured immediately. But the doctor would not consent to the filing of the required specifications and claims, lest his secrets should be learned before success was demonstrated. As a compromise, the doctor had agreed to leave the necessary descriptions and data in a sealed envelope with me, which I was to be at liberty to open and place on record at any time during the doctor's absence that I might deem it necessary in order to protect our rights.
"Whom have you finally secured to go with you, then?" I asked.
"I will tell you that after we have finished to-night's work," said the doctor, and then abruptly changed the subject.
The walk from Whiting was inspiriting. It was a beautiful night. There was not a cloud in the sky and no Moon, which made the stars all the brighter. Everything was still, save the constant lapping of the great lake on the sandy shore, but a short way off.
"Yonder is the mustard seed planted in the heavens, which shall grow into a whole new world for us!" exclaimed the doctor, pointing out a particularly bright star. "That is Mars rushing on to opposition. In six weeks he will be nearest to the Earth; so for that time he will be flying to meet us. To-morrow is our last day on Earth; to-morrow night the ether! And in six weeks, diminutive but mighty man will have known two worlds!"
"There you go, soaring again!" I cried. "Let us keep on practical subjects. What have the foundry people who built this thing, and the railroad people who brought it down here, thought about its probable use? Have they not guessed something?"
"You may trust the popular mind not to guess flying unless it sees wings! They have imagined this is a new sort of torpedo, sent down here for a private trial in the lake. In fact, the conductor of the freight train, who switched the car off here, asked me in a confidential way if he should get teams and men and help me to launch her? I have fostered this idea, and really had the projectile sent here to carry out that impression."
A more fitting place for an unobserved start could not have been selected, however. All this part of the country is a sandy waste, with a sparse growth of scrub oaks and but little vegetation. There are no farms, and the nearest houses are at Whiting. No one could see our work, except, possibly, the passengers from occasional trains, which rushed by without stopping, and were infrequent at this time of day.
As we were arriving, I stood off at some distance to observe the black object on the open car. It was five feet through, and twenty feet long, not counting the rudder, which was now entirely drawn into the rear end.
"Looks exactly like a cigar," I said. "Sharp and pointed in front, slightly swelled in the middle, and cut squarely off behind. Only it is too thick for its length, of course."
But the doctor already had the rear port-hole open. This was two feet in diameter, and permitted a rather awkward entrance to the rear compartment. The interior was crowded with boxes, as yet unpacked, containing scientific instruments, tinned foods, biscuits, meat extracts, condensed milk and coffee, bottled fruits, vegetables, and the like. Over these the doctor worked his way to the forward compartment, while I followed him, anxious to explore the interior.
"I will unpack all these goods and put them in their places to-morrow forenoon," explained the doctor. "Here, in my compartment on the left, I have my gravity apparatus, battery cells and the like, and a small table for writing and other work. On the right is the bunk on which I sleep, and under it is the big telescope, neatly fitted and swinging up easily into place before the mica window."
"Has the compressed air been put in yet?" I inquired.
"Oh, yes, that had to be done in the city, where they have powerful air compressors. I would have preferred this purer air out here, but it was impossible. The air we put in only increased the weight of the projectile eighteen pounds, but it will be sufficient for two of us for six months. We were obliged to make the most careful and thorough tests for leaks in the air-chambers; for if there were any of these, our life would leak out with the air."
"And such airless satellites as the Moon will make the most desperate efforts to steal your atmosphere, too!" I added.
"Yes, but we will give them only our foul air as a small stock-in-trade with which they may begin business. But I see my batteries are commencing to work nicely. I think I can lift her now. You go outside and make a hitch with that rope you saw just forward of the middle of the projectile. Then, when I have neutralized her weight, you tow her over beyond that clump of trees you saw near the shore. That will be out of the view of trains."
"Must I concentrate my mind or keep my thoughts fixed on anything?" I asked quizzically.
"Rubbish! Concentrate it on this. If the projectile starts up, don't try to hold her with your little rope. Let go quickly, or you may get uncomfortable holding on!"
I went outside, untied the coil of rope and threw one end over. Meantime the doctor had opened the forward window, so that he might give directions, and I said to him,-- "I can't get the rope under her; she is lying flat on the car."
"Wait a moment and I will lift her for you," he replied. The railroad ties rose a little out of the sand, and there was a slight creaking of the woodwork of the car as the weight came off. Presently the forward end of the projectile rose slowly an inch, two inches!
"That's enough!" I cried, thrusting the rope under, and she settled back gently. Having made my knot, I went out to the other end of the rope, about thirty feet distant. Forgetting the doctor's injunction about not hanging on, I wrapped the rope around my body, worked my feet firmly into the sand, and finally cried out, "All ready!"
There was a faint creaking of the car again, and soon the doctor said, "Pull away!" I threw all my force into the effort and gave a tremendous heave, and tumbled over backwards. Had I not done so, the projectile must have hit me as it glided rapidly from the car, sinking very slowly to the sand about fifty feet away. I scrambled to my feet, went in front again, and easily dragged it along on the sand to an open place just beyond the trees. There the doctor allowed it to settle. It sank into the loose sand about eight inches, remaining steady in this position.
"She works beautifully!" I cried. "How I would like to see her turned loose for a real flight!"
"That will come to-morrow night," said the doctor, crawling out of the port-hole. "But if you will help me remove these boxes from the experimental model, you shall see it lost in the sky." We uncovered and dragged out a small steel thing, about the same shape as the projectile, but less than a foot thick and four feet long. It had a lid opening into its batteries from the top. The doctor entered his compartment to secure some chemicals.
"If you have no further use for this model," I suggested, "why not create a very strong current and let it sail off into indefinite space?"
"Very well; I don't wish to leave it behind me for some one to discover, and I can't take it along. We will send it off for a long trip, and if it falls back it will be into the lake."
"Wait a moment, then! Let's put a good-bye message in it;" and so saying I took an old envelope from my pocket and wrote on the back of it with a pencil in a bold hand: "Farewell to Earth for ever!" Laughing, I put this inside and closed the lid.
Then the doctor turned down a thumb-screw upon a little wire which connected the poles, and stepped back quickly. Presently the forward end began to rise slowly, until it stood upright, but there it hesitated. The doctor stepped forward and gave the thumb-screw a hard turn down, and the model lifted immediately, rising at first gradually, but soon shooting off with the whizz of a rocket over the lake. We watched it as long as we could distinguish its dark outline.
"It will go a long way," said the doctor. "I have never seen it make so good a start. It will lose itself in the lake far from here."
We fastened up the front window and the port-hole, and started back to Whiting, where the doctor was to remain all night, so as to begin work early in the morning. Presently, as we walked along, the doctor said,-- "Well, Isidor, now you have seen a practical demonstration of the elementary working of the projectile. You also have some idea of all there is to be discovered up yonder in the red planet. You are the most interested in making and profiting by those discoveries. I want you to consent to go along."
"Haven't you secured a companion, then?" I inquired.
"Yes, I have a friend, a countryman of mine here, who will go wherever I say. He appreciates neither the risks nor the opportunities of the trip, still he will take my word for everything. Yet if I ask him to go I take the responsibility of his life as well as my own. He is not a suitable man, however, and I have really relied on you to come," he insisted.
"My dear doctor, I have every faith in you and in the projectile, and I prophesy a most successful trip. I should like nothing better than the adventure; but you must not count on me; I could not leave my business. There's a fever in my blood that thirsts for it!"
"Your business, indeed! You will never really amount to much till you have left it. It's half a throw of dice and the other half a struggle of cut-throats!"
"That is what people say who know nothing at all about it," I retorted. "It occupies a large and important place in the world's commerce. Besides, I could not well leave Ruth and my uncle."
"Isn't it time you did something to make her proud of you, and to be worthy the education which he gave you? You have a chance now to be great. Isn't that worth ten chances to be rich? What would you have thought of Galileo if he hadn't had time to use the telescope after inventing it, but had devoted his time and talent to the maccaroni market? You are one man in ten million; you have an opportunity Columbus would have been proud of! Will you neglect it for mere gold-grubbing? Leave that to the rest of your race and to this money-mad Chicago. You come along with me. Let's make this work-a-day world of ours take time to stop and shake hands with her heavenly neighbours!"
"You tempt me to do it, Doctor! Can you wait two or three days for me?"
"I can, but Mars won't," he answered laconically. "Besides, you must not tell any one that you are going."
"If there are any two things I love, it's a secret and a hurry! I will be here to-morrow night," I exclaimed.
Farewell to Earth The next day I quietly bought in my wheat, and told Flynn I was thinking of taking a little vacation. I said I was worn out fighting the contrary market, and told him to run the office as if it were his own until I returned. At home I said nothing about the vacation, for I didn't care to have my stories agree very perfectly. I simply packed a few necessities for the trip in a dress-suit case. My uncle was used to seeing me carry my evening clothes to the Club in this manner, and I casually told him I should remain the night this time.
I could not leave without kissing cousin Ruth good-bye, but this excited no suspicion, as it was a thing I did on every pretext. Then I slipped out and took back streets till I was several blocks away from the house. Taking a closed carriage here, I was driven to the same station and took the same train for Whiting as on the previous evening. I found the doctor awaiting me with a lantern. As we walked down the tracks in the twilight I said to him,-- "I never made so quick a preparation, nor attempted so long a trip. I have left my friends a lot of guessing! Now, how soon shall we be off?"
"Within an hour," he answered. "Mars will not be directly overhead until midnight, but there is a little side trip I wish to make first, to test the projectile before we get too far above the Earth's surface."
The sky was densely cloudy, there was no Moon, and it was already growing very dark. As we began to have difficulty in finding the way, the doctor lighted his lantern. Peering up into the darkness, I said to him,-- "There is not a star visible. How are you to find your way in the heavens a night like this?"
"That is all perfectly easy. We shall soon rise far above those clouds, and then the stars will come out. Besides, I shall show you perfect daylight again before midnight."
"I don't see just how, but I will take your word for it, Doctor. I daresay you have thought it all out, and the whole trip will contain no surprises for you."
"I have tried to think it all out and prepare for everything. But I am certain I have forgotten something. I have a feeling amounting to a dreadful presentiment that I have overlooked something important. I wish you would see if you can think of anything I have omitted."
"The only really important thing I have remembered is half a dozen boxes of the best cigars," I replied.
"Leave them right here in Whiting," he said with emphasis. "We are carrying only a limited supply of pure air, and we cannot afford to contaminate it with tobacco smoke. No, sir, you can't smoke on this trip."
"Then I won't go! Imagine not smoking for two whole months! Do you think I have sworn off?"
"No, not yet. But you must. It pollutes the air, which we must keep clean and fresh as long as possible."
"Now, Doctor, you must let me have a good smoke once a day, just before pumping the air out of my compartment."
"No, not even that. It is impossible to pump all the air out, and what is left mixes back with what is in my compartment. Once contaminated with tobacco smoke, we could never get it perfectly pure again."
"Well, may I smoke on Mars, then? I will take them along for that. But, I warn you, I eat like a farm horse when I can't smoke."
"I have provided plenty to eat, but I know I have forgotten something. Mention something now, mention everything you can think of, so that I may see if it is provided for."
"Have you any money?" I asked. "I have changed some into gold, and have a fairly heavy bag here."
"Oh, yes, I have some gold and silver money, besides a lot of beads, trinkets, and gaudy tinsel things, such as earthly savages have been willing to barter valuable merchandise for."
"So you are going on a trading expedition, are you?" I asked.
"Not exactly. I leave all that to your superior abilities. But we may find these things valuable to give as presents. Many of them are of tin, and if they do not happen to have that useful metal on Mars, they will be of rare value there."
We had now reached the little grove where the projectile was hidden. I proceeded to open the rear port-hole, saying,-- "Let me look inside, and when I see what you have, some other necessary thing may suggest itself."
"Let me go in first, for I am afraid you will allow the menagerie to escape," he said, as he peered in by the light of the lantern. A diminutive fox terrier barked from the inside, and wagged his tail faster than a watch ticks, so glad he was to see us. The bright light also awakened a small white rabbit that had been asleep in the doctor's compartment.
"You are taking these along for companions, I suppose?"
"Yes, for that and for experiments. We may reach places where it will be necessary to determine whether living, breathing things can exist before we try it ourselves. Then we shall put one of these out and observe the effects."
"You may experiment on the rabbit all you please, but this little puppy and I are going to be fast friends, and we shall die together; shan't we, Two-spot?"
"Why do you call him Two-spot? There is only one spot on him, and his name is Himmelshundchen."
"Rubbish! The idea of such a long, heavy name for such a little puppy! I shall call him Two-spot because he is the smallest thing in the pack. Heavenly-puppy, indeed!"
The doctor had entered and lighted a small gas jet, supplied on the Pintsch system from compressed gas stored in one of the chambers. The rear compartment, which was to be mine, looked half an arsenal and half a pantry. On the right side a cupboard was filled with newly-cooked meats. I remember how plentiful the store looked at the time, but, alas! how soon it vanished and we were reduced to tinned and bottled foods! There was a cold joint of beef, a quarter of roast mutton, three boiled hams and four roast chickens.
On the left, folding up into the concavity of the wall, like the upper berth of a Pullman sleeping car, was my bunk. On the walls not thus occupied the arms were hung. There were two repeating rifles, each carrying seventeen cartridges; two large calibre hammerless revolvers; two long and heavy swords, designed for cleaving rather than for stabbing; two chain shirts, to be worn under the clothing to protect against arrows; and finally two large shields, made of overlapping steel plates and almost four feet high. The doctor explained to me that the idea was to rest the lower edge of these on the ground and crouch behind them. They were rather heavy and cumbersome to be carried far, and were grooved in three sections, so that they slipped together into an arc one-third of their circumference.
I examined everything closely and asked a hundred questions, but the doctor seemed to have provided for every necessity or contingency.
"Let us waste no more time," said I. "If we have forgotten anything, we must get along without it. All aboard! What is our first stop?"
"The planet Mars, only thirty-six million miles away, if we are successful in meeting him just as he comes into opposition on the third day of August. This is the most favourable opposition in which to meet him for the past quarter of a century. Back in the year 1877 he was only about thirty-five million miles away, and it was then that we learned most that we know of his physical features. But we shall not have a more favourable time than this for the next seventeen years."
"Still it seems like nonsense to talk about travelling such an incomprehensible distance, doesn't it?" I ventured.
"Not at all!" he replied positively. "If the Earth travels a million miles per day in her orbit, without any motion being apparent to her inhabitants, why should we not travel just as fast and just as unconsciously? We are driven by the same force. The same engine of the Creator's which drives all the universe, drives us. When we have left the atmosphere we shall rush through the void of space without knowing whether we are travelling at a thousand miles per minute or standing perfectly still. Our senses will have nothing to lay hold on to form a judgment of our rate of speed. But if we make an average of only five hundred miles per minute we shall accomplish the distance in about fifty days, and arrive soon after opposition."
"But have you given up stopping on the Moon?" I asked. "I had great hopes of making those rich discoveries there."
"We must leave all that until our return trip. I have chosen this starting time in the dark of the Moon in order to have the satellite on the other side of the Earth and out of the way. She would only impede our progress, as we wish to acquire a tremendous velocity just as soon as we leave the atmosphere. We must accelerate our speed as long as gravity will do it for us. When we can no longer gain speed, we shall at least continue to maintain our rapid pace.
"But if we stopped on the Moon, we should only have her weak gravity to repel us towards Mars, and we could make but little speed. On our return, the stop on the Moon will be a natural and easy one. We shall be near home and can afford to loiter."