While the doctor was saying this, he had been busy making tests of his apparatus. He now called me to see his buoyancy gauge, which was a half-spherical mass of steel weighing just ten pounds. It was pierced with a hole at right angles to its plane surface and strung upon a vertical copper wire. Small leaden weights, weighing from an ounce to four pounds each, were provided to be placed upon the plane surface of the steel. The doctor explained its action to me thus:-- "The polarizing action of the gravity apparatus affects only steel and iron, and has no effect upon lead. Therefore, when the current is conducted through the copper wire into the soft steel ball, it will immediately rise up the wire, by the repulsion of negative gravity. Now, if the leaden weights are piled upon the steel ball one by one, until it is just balanced half way up the wire, our buoyancy is thus measured or weighed. For instance, with the first two batteries turned in we have a buoyancy a little exceeding one pound. That means, we should rise with one-tenth the velocity that we should fall. Turning in two more batteries, you see the buoyancy is three pounds, or our flying speed will be three-tenths of our falling speed. With all the batteries acting upon the gauge, you see it will carry up more than ten pounds of lead, because the pressure of the air is against weight and in favour of buoyancy. So long as we are in atmospheres, then, it is possible to fall up more rapidly than to fall down; but, on account of friction and the resultant heat, it is not safe to do so."
"So we have been doing the hard thing, by falling all our lives, when flying would really have been easier!" I put in.
"We have been overlooking a very simple thing for a long time, just as our forefathers overlooked the usefulness of steam, being perfectly well acquainted with its expansive qualities. But let us be off. Close your port-hole, and screw it in tightly and permanently for the trip. Then let down your bunk and prepare for a night of awkward, cramped positions. We shall be more uncomfortable to-night than any other of the trip. You see, when we start, this thing will stand up on its rear end, and that end will continue to be the bottom until we begin to fall into Mars. Then the forward end will be the bottom. But after the first night our weight will have so diminished that we can sleep almost as well standing on our heads as any other way. Within fifteen hours you will have lost all idea which end of you should be right side up, and we will be quite as likely to float in the middle of the projectile as to rest upon anything."
My bed was hinged in the middle, and one end lifted up until it looked like a letter L, with the shorter part extending across the projectile and the longer part reaching up the side. I could sit in it in a half reclining posture. The doctor then pulled out a fan-like, extending lattice-work of steel slats, to form a sort of false floor over the port-hole. This was full of diamond-shaped openings between the slats, so that the view out of the rear window was not obstructed. Then he did the same to form a false floor for his compartment. Finally he said to me,-- "Now, if you are all ready, I will stand her on end;" and by applying the currents to the forward end only he caused her to rise slowly until she stood upright. The cupboard in my compartment and the desk in his end were each hung upon a central bolt, and they righted themselves as the projectile stood up, so that nothing in them was disarranged. I was sitting on the lower hinge of my bed, clutching tightly and watching everything, when the doctor called to me to turn the little wheel which operated a screw and served to push out the rudder.
"But the whole weight of the projectile is now on the rudder," I objected.
"You will have to make over all your ideas of weight," he said, with some impatience. "Run the rudder out. The gauge shows an ounce of buoyancy, which is nearly enough to counteract all the dead weight we have. You can lift the rest with the rudder-screw."
And, true enough, it was perfectly easy to whirl the little wheel around which made the rudder creep out. There was a steering wheel in the doctor's compartment and one in my own. He set it exactly amidships, and told me to prepare for the ascent. I turned out the gas in my compartment and crouched nervously over the port-hole window to watch the panorama of Earth fade away.
"Here go two batteries!" he cried. I held on frantically, expecting that we would leap into the heavens in one grand bound, as I had seen the model do. But we began to rise very slowly, a foot and a half the first second, three feet the next, and so on, as the doctor told me afterwards. It was all so slow and quiet that I was suddenly possessed with a fear that after all the projectile was a failure. Had a balloon started so slowly, it would never have risen far. This fear held me for only a minute, for when I looked down again, the landscape below was beginning to look like a dim map or a picture, instead of the reality. The doctor was steering to the northward, directly over the lake. I could see its great purple, restful surface below me, but more plainly could I discern the outline where its silvery edge bathed the white sands of the shore. Following this outline I could see a web of railroads, like ropes bent around the lower end of the lake. The night was too dark to see it long. The hundreds of huge oil tanks of Whiting had now disappeared, and I could see only the flaming tops of the iron furnaces of South Chicago. Suddenly they went out in an instant, as if a thick fog had smothered them, and there was a long minute of pale mist; and then suddenly a bright blue sky, the twinkling stars and a veil of grey shutting off all view of the Earth.
"We have passed through the clouds," said the doctor cheerily. "What does the barometer register?"
I looked, and was astonished to see the mercury down to fifteen. I asked him if he thought the barometer might be broken.
"No, that is quite right," he replied. "That is half the surface pressure, which shows that we are two and a half miles high. I have four batteries in, and we are going at a constantly increasing speed now."
I could easily believe it, for the wind howled around my compartment and whistled over the rudder aperture in a most dismal way. Whenever the rudder was changed, there was a new sound to the moaning. Still, as I looked back at the clouds, I saw that no wind was moving them. It was not wind, but only the air whistling as we rushed through it.
"Watch the barometer, and let me know the exact time when it registers seven and a half inches," said the doctor. "We shall be five miles high then, and we started at nine o'clock to a second."
I noted the rapidly sinking mercury and opened my watch. When it was just at seven and a half, I looked at the watch, and it said half a minute after nine. Knowing that could not be correct, I held it to my ear and discovered it was stopped. I attempted to wind it, but found it almost wound up.
"Something wrong with my watch, Doctor. You will have to look."
"Half a minute after nine, that can't be right!" he exclaimed. Then as the truth flashed upon him he added,-- "There is the first thing I have overlooked! Our watch springs are steel, and the magnetic currents affect them. It is strange I did not think of that, for I knew a mariner's compass would be of no use to us in steering on account of the currents. For that reason I have risen above the clouds so as to steer by the stars. I am making for the North Star yonder, now."
"We will have to get back to the same primitive methods of measuring time," I put in. "Neither weight clocks nor spring clocks would have been of any account. And an hour glass would tell a different tale just as gravity varied. We will have to rely on the Moon and stars, and it may be rather awkward." But I did not then appreciate how awkward it would be when even the markings of day and night would be taken away from us.
"We can count our pulse or go by our stomachs," said the doctor, who was really disappointed at having forgotten anything. But he was destined to get used to that. Presently he inquired,-- "What is the barometer now? Perhaps we are high enough for the present."
"There is scarcely two inches of mercury in the tube!" I cried out.
He hesitated for a moment as if calculating, and then said,-- "That makes us ten miles high. Work the rudder gradually very much farther out for this thinner atmosphere, and we will try falling awhile, with a long slant to northward."
And so saying, the doctor detached all the polarizing batteries, and I could hear the monotonous howling of the wind die down; and the whistling ceased altogether as the feeble resistance of the rarefied air slowly but surely overcame our momentum. As we began to fall, the doctor turned the rudder hard down, in order to give us a long sailing slant. This modified the position of the projectile so that it lay almost flat again, with a dip of the forward end downward.
"Lie down and have a nap while she is in this comfortable position," he said to me. "When you waken, I shall have a surprise for you."
The Terrors of Light I was weary from the trials of the day on Earth, and fell asleep easily. It was the red sunlight streaming in at the port-hole that awakened me. I thought I had slept but a very short time, but the night was evidently over. As soon as the doctor heard me moving, he cried out to me,-- "Here is the daylight I promised you. Did you ever see it at midnight before?"
"How do you know it is midnight? It looks more like a red sunset to me," I said, for the sun was just in the horizon.
"The sun has just set, and is now rising. It did not go out of sight, but gradually turned about and began to mount again. That is how I know it is midnight."
"Sunset presses so closely upon sunrise that night is crowded out altogether. Then this must be the land of the midnight sun that I have read about?"
"Yes, we are very near the Earth again, and this is far inside the arctic polar circle, where the sun never goes down during summer, but sets for a long night in the winter. I have kept far to the westward to avoid the magnetic pole, which might play havoc with my apparatus."
"Then your little side-trip is----"
"To the North Pole, of course!" he cried triumphantly.
How simple this vexed problem had become, after all! It had worsted the most daring travellers of all countries for centuries. Thousands upon thousands spent in sending expeditions to find the Pole had only called for other thousands to fit out relief expeditions. Ship after ship had been crashed, life after life had been clutched in its icy hand! But now it had become an after-thought, a side-trip, a little excursion to be made while waiting for midnight! And it is often that such a simple solution of the most baffling difficulties is found at last.
The doctor had been observing his quadrant, and was now busy making calculations. He called me up to his compartment.
"Longitude, 144 degrees and 45 minutes west; Latitude, 89 degrees 59 minutes and 30 seconds north. That is the way it figures out. We were half a mile from the Pole when I took my observation. We must have just crossed over it since then."
"Go down a little nearer, so we may see what it looks like!" I said excitedly.
"I dare not go too close to all that ice, or we may freeze the mercury in our thermometer and barometer. We must keep well in the sunlight, but I will lower a little."
What mountains of crusted snow! What crags and peaks of solid ice! It was impossible to tell whether it was land or sea underneath. Judging by the general level it must have been a sea, but no water was visible in any direction. The great floes of ice were piled high upon each other. A million sharp, glittering edges formed ramparts in every direction to keep off the invader by land. How impotent and powerless man would be to scale these jagged walls or climb these towering mountains! How absolutely impossible to reach by land, how simple and easy to reach through the air! The North Pole and Aerial Navigation had been cousin problems that baffled man for so long, and their solution had come together.
"Empty a biscuit tin to contain this record, and we will toss it out upon this world of ice, so that if any adventurer ever gets this far north he may find that we have already been here," said the doctor, bringing down a freshly-written page for me to sign. It read as follows:-- "Aboard Anderwelt's Gravity Projectile, 12.25 a.m., June 12th, 1892. The undersigned, having left the vicinity of Chicago at nine o'clock on the evening of June 11th, took bearings here, showing that they passed over the North Pole soon after midnight. Then they took up their course to the planet Mars.
"(Signed) HERMANN ANDERWELT. ISIDOR WERNER."
This was duly enclosed in the biscuit tin, which I bent and crimped a little around the top so that the cover would stay on tightly. Then I learned how such things were conveyed outside the projectile. A cylindrical, hollow plunger fitting tightly into the rear wall was pulled as far into the projectile as it would come. A closely fitting lid on the top of the cylinder was lifted, and the tin deposited within. The lid was then fitted down again, and the plunger was pushed out and turned over until the weight of the lid caused it to fall open and the contents to drop out. The tin sailed down, struck a tall crag, bounded off, and fell upon a comparatively level plateau. The cylinder was then turned farther over, causing the lid to close, and the plunger was pulled in again. I remember how crisply cold was that one cubic foot of air that came back with the cylinder. My teeth had been chattering ever since I wakened, and I had been too excited to put on a heavier coat.
"What is the thermometer?" asked the doctor. It was a Fahrenheit instrument we were carrying.
"Thirty-eight degrees below zero, and still falling!" I told him.
"Then we must be off at once, and at a good speed, to warm up. Now say a long good-bye to Earth, for it may be nothing more than a pale star to us hereafter."
The doctor steered to westward as he rose steadily to a height of about ten miles. Then he fell with a long slant to the south-west. He was working back into the darkness of night again. We had lost the sun long before we started to rise again.
"We are now well above the Pacific Ocean, about fifteen hundred miles north-west of San Francisco," said the doctor, consulting his large globe.
"It seems to me you cross continents with remarkable ease and swiftness. From Chicago to San Francisco alone is almost three thousand miles," I ventured.
"But we have been gone four hours, and if we had simply stood still above the Earth for four hours it would have travelled under us about four thousand miles, so that San Francisco would already have passed the place where we started."
"Then one only needs to get off somewhere and remain still in order to make a trip around the World!" I exclaimed.
"You are quite right, and travelling upon the Earth's surface is the most awkward method, because it is impossible to take advantage of the Earth's own rapid motion. Around the World in eighty days was once considered a remarkable feat, but if we were to travel steadily westward we should make the circuit in very much less than twenty-four hours. The motion of the Earth upon its axis is such an immense advantage that if we were only going from Chicago to London, the trip could be more easily and quickly made by going to the westward some twenty-one thousand miles, rather than going directly eastward less than four thousand miles. For going eastward we should have to travel a thousand miles an hour in order to keep up with the Earth. It is questionable whether we could make that speed tacking up and slanting down."
"Then we shall have to follow the course of Empire, always westward!" I laughed.
While we were talking thus, the whizzing and whistling of the wind, which had been at first very loud and hissing, had gradually died down. I looked at the barometer, and reported that there was scarcely three-eighths of an inch of mercury in the tube.
"We are practically above the atmosphere, then," said the doctor, turning in all the batteries. He tried the rudder in the ether, and found it turned her when fully extended and turned rather hard over.
"I tried to sleep this morning at Whiting to prepare for to-night's work," said the doctor presently; "but I find I am getting uncontrollably drowsy. Come up, and I will show you the course we most keep, and then I will lie down to get a little rest."
I mounted to his compartment and gazed through the telescope at Mars, looking like a little, red baby-moon, floating in one side of the blue circle.
"Keep him always in view, but in the edge of the field like that," said the doctor. "We must always steer a little to the right of him--that is, a little behind him."
"But he travels around the sun in the same direction the Earth does," I objected. "I should think we ought to aim a little ahead of him, or to the left, to allow for his motion forward in his orbit."
"That looks reasonable at first sight, doesn't it?" said the doctor. "But a little learning is a dangerous thing. I will explain to you why we must steer a little behind him after I have had my nap. I am too sleepy now;" and he finished with a yawn.
He soon fell asleep, and I was left alone to think over the events of the day and the still more strange happenings of the night. It hurt my eyes to look long through the telescope, so I closed them and gave free rein to my thoughts.
How soon will it be morning? How shall I know when it is morning? That term "morning" applies only to the surface of revolving planets. I had just seen the morning come at midnight, and then the darkness of night fall again directly after morning. After all, what are night and morning? The one is a passing into the shadow of the Earth, and the other is simply the emerging into the light. They depend on a rotation, and we shall know no more of them until we land on a revolving planet again. But which shall we have on the trip, night or daylight? Naturally we would very soon emerge from the little shadow cast by the Earth. It had taken us but an hour or two to travel out of it into the daylight and then back into the darkness again. Even if we did not leave it, the Earth would move on and leave us.
And what then? Nothing but uninterrupted, untempered, unhindered daylight! Eternal, dazzling, direct sunlight, unrelieved by any night, unstrained through any clouds! This deep blue of the starry night would be succeeded by the hot, white light of a scorching, gleaming Sun. And then (the thought chilled my bones as it fell upon me!), then how would we see Mars? How would we see any star, or perchance the Moon? Even the Earth might be drowned in that sea of everlasting, all-engulfing brilliancy! Nothing in all the Universe would be visible but the beaming Sun, and he too blindingly bright to look upon.
As the truth of all this took hold of me, it filled me with a growing terror. At any moment we might emerge from this grateful shadow of the Earth, and then we would be lost, drowned, engulfed in a blinding, sight-suffocating light! In desperate terror I looked around toward the doctor, as if for assistance. He was sleeping peacefully. He had never thought of it! This was the great thing he had overlooked! Even at starting he had a dreadful presentiment of it.
He was a great man, and his discovery a wonderful one; but here was the trouble with it. He had solved the question of navigating space, but the sunlight! the dazzling, burning, terrible sunlight! how was he to navigate that? It was simply impossible! We would have to turn back before we emerged into it. We would have to retrace our path while we were still in the grateful shadow. Ah, the blessedness of night after all!
Then slowly and cautiously, so that I might not waken him, I crept down to the rear window to see how far away the Earth was. We were at so great a distance that I could see the whole outline of it, as a great dull globe filling all the view behind us. And as I looked again I started and uttered a cry! A thin sickle of bright, white light glimmered over the whole eastern edge of it, like the first glimpse of the new Moon, but a hundred times larger! It was the sunlight! It must be creeping around the eastern edge, and would soon engulf us.
The doctor had been aroused by my cry. Not seeing me in his compartment, he had gone at once to the telescope.
"What is the matter?" he said. "You have lost the course a little." And as I peered out of my port-hole I saw that narrow sickle of light grow thinner and thinner, and finally go out. Had I imagined it all? No, I had seen it.
"Ah, Doctor, I am so glad you have wakened. I am frightened, terrified, by the light!"
The Valley of the Shadow "Light! Where have you seen any light?"
"I saw the Earth begin to shine like a New Moon on the eastern edge, but----"
"Ah, that was a danger signal. I am glad you awakened me. But you are actually pale and trembling! There is no danger if you keep the course. You see, that rim of light has faded and disappeared since I corrected the course."
"Yes, but you cannot keep in this little Earthly shadow much longer; and what can we possibly do when we emerge into the fathomless, trackless effulgence of eternal sunshine? Let us turn back before we plunge into it," I pleaded.
"So that is what terrified you! Well, you have hit upon one of the greatest difficulties of the trip; but it is far from insurmountable. We will not turn back yet, especially as we have started in the most opportune time. You have mentioned this 'little shadow.' It is eight thousand miles wide at the surface of the Earth, and gradually, very gradually, tapers down to nothing far out in space. Have you ever calculated how far it reaches?"
"No," I answered. "But we moved out of it and back into it at the surface very easily, and besides, as the Earth moves forward in its orbit, the shadow will leave us."
"This little shadow is eight hundred and fifty-six thousand miles long, and we will never leave it as long as it lasts!" exclaimed the doctor. "Just at this time it points like a long arrow out in the direction of Mars. It is moving gradually as the Earth moves and hourly correcting its aim. At opposition time it will point directly and unerringly at Mars. Therefore it is a way prepared, surveyed, and marked for us through the all-enveloping sunlight, which otherwise would be dreadful enough."
"But how can we be sure of keeping in it? It is rapidly narrowing as it reaches farther out."
"I see I should have explained that to you before I went to sleep, and saved you this fright. The shadow now points behind Mars, as it is many days yet before it overtakes that planet in opposition. That is why I told you to steer always a little behind the planet. But you went a little out of the course, and immediately something warned us. That rim of light on the east of the Earth was notice to us that we were not in the centre of the shadow, but bearing too far to the left. We must keep absolutely in the dark of the Earth, with no light visible on either side of it. If a thin rim should appear on one side, we must turn toward the other until it is all dark again."
"Grant that this shadow is so enormously long, yet it is only scarcely one-fortieth of the distance to Mars," I objected. "After we emerge from it, what then?"
"With the aid of my telescope we shall probably be able to see the Earth as an orb, half or quarter as large as the Moon usually appears to us, and to observe its phases until we are several million miles from it. We must continue to keep the rim of light, which will then surround it, equal on all sides."
"Ah, but I am afraid," I interrupted, "that as soon as we pass out of this shadow the sunlight will be so bright that we cannot see any planets, not even the Earth. You know we cannot see the Moon only a quarter of a million miles away when the sun shines."
"In that case we must move the telescope to your window, put on a darkened lens, and steer so as to keep the Earth as a spot in the middle of the Sun. It must appear to us as Venus does to the Earth when she is making a transit across the face of the sun. But by our continual shifting we prevent the Earth from making a transit, and hold it as a steady spot in the centre of the Sun. This we can do for many, many million miles, continuing until we have reached the vicinity of Mars.
"And you must also remember," continued the doctor, "that the brighter the light the darker will be the shadow. Now, this projectile is a perfectly black, non-reflecting object five feet wide. It will cast a shadow in front of it five hundred feet long. When we are comparatively near Mars my telescope, situated in the miniature night cast by the projectile, will find the planet, and we can then steer directly for him. If we should chance within eighty thousand miles of him, he would attract us to him in a straight line. But we shall not rely upon chance. Moreover, when we are as near to him as that, the light and heat of the Sun's rays will have decreased sixty or seventy per cent. When Mars is farthest from the Sun, he receives only one-third as much light as the Earth does. But he is now almost at his nearest point to the Sun, and receives half as much light."
"Well, you certainly have a pretty clear idea of how to steer the course all the way, Doctor. And I was hasty enough to think you had overlooked this entire phase of the subject!" I ejaculated.
"Indeed, I have thought of it very much. And we should not enjoy all these advantages if we had not started just before opposition. At any other time the Earth's shadow would not point toward Mars, nor would the transit of the Earth over the Sun be of any use to us."
"All this reassures me greatly," I replied; "but I shall keep a close watch from my rear window for danger lights on the Earth."
"It must be time for breakfast," put in the doctor. "Will you see how tempting a meal you can prepare?"
There was one reservoir built inside the compartments, from which we drew cool water, and another built next to the outer steel framework, from which we could draw boiling water. As this tank was connected with the discharge pipe of the air-pump, and thus with the exterior, I was disgusted to find that, although the water boiled furiously, and was rapidly wasting away in steam, it did not become hot enough to make good beef tea. The heat escaped with the steam at a comparatively low temperature, so that I was compelled to boil water over my gas jet for the meat extract, which we drank instead of coffee. I also prepared some sandwiches of roast beef and cold ham, and with great relish we began our diet of ready cooked foods, which was to continue for so long.
After this meal I felt quite sleepy, for I had enjoyed but three hours' rest. The doctor saw my yawns and told me to turn out the gas and have a long doze, and I was glad enough to do so.
I must have slept soundly for an hour or two, and then I remember dozing and rolling lazily in my bed, as I usually did at home on Sunday mornings. During my previous nap the bunk had seemed hard and cramped, and I had privately grumbled at the doctor for overlooking personal comforts; but now I felt that luxurious sensation of sleeping on soft mattresses and yielding springs, though of course I had neither. I do not know how soon I should have thoroughly awakened had I not lifted my hand to rub my eye, and unwittingly dealt myself a stinging blow in the face. This roused me.
But what was the matter with that arm? It was as it had once been in a nightmare, when it felt detached from its place, and moved lightly and without effort, like a bough in the wind. I pinched it with my other hand, and it was quite sensible to the pain. In fact, the other arm was now acting in the same queer way. I arose in bed quickly to see what was the matter, and the upper part of my body bent violently over and struck against my knees. Then my effort to take an upright position threw me on my back again. Evidently my muscles were not working as they were when I went to bed. They must be over-excited and over-active. I immediately thought of my heart as the principal and controlling muscle, and in my eagerness to feel its beating my hand dealt me a slap in the chest. These blows, though rapid, did not seem to hurt as much as they ought, after the first stinging sensation. I found my heart was beating regularly enough.
"Doctor!" I cried out presently, more to test my voice than for anything else. It sounded perfectly natural, and my vocal chords were not over-stimulated or abnormal.
He came half way down from his compartment soon after hearing me, and rested his elbow against one side of the aperture between the compartments, leaning against the other side easily. He had a scale made of heavy coiled spring in his hand.
"I wish to calculate our distance from the Earth," he said. "Do you mind weighing yourself on these scales?" and he held the spiral down toward me.
"You can't support my weight!" I exclaimed, and springing up from the bed I bumped my head against the partition between the compartments, eight feet above my floor. I grasped the lower ring of the scale he held down and lifted up my feet. It seemed as if something were still supporting me from below, for scarcely one-tenth my weight had fallen upon my hands.
"You weigh twenty and a half pounds," he said, and then inquired, "What did you weigh on Earth?"
"One hundred and eighty-five pounds," I answered, just beginning to understand that our greatly increased distance from the Earth had much reduced her attraction for us.