"That is disappointing," he answered, "for we are only eight thousand miles from home; but our velocity is still constantly increasing."
"I would like to buy things here and sell them at the surface," I exclaimed.
"You wouldn't make anything by it if you used the ordinary balance scales," replied the doctor.
Try as hard as I would, I could not accustom my muscles to these new conditions. They were too gross and clumsy for the fine and delicate efforts which were now necessary. I was constantly hitting and slapping myself, though these blows scarcely hurt, and never resulted in bruises. I attempted a thorough re-training of my muscles, which was to all intents an utter failure, for weight continued diminishing much more rapidly than my stubborn muscles could appreciate. After another eight thousand miles, which were quickly made, we had but one twenty-fifth our usual weight, which reduced me to seven pounds. And for most of the trip we weighed practically nothing, suffering many inconveniences on that account.
Tricks of Refraction The doctor figured out that we should be quite insensible to any weight when we were seventy-five thousand miles from the Earth. At fifty thousand miles I would still weigh a pound, and when we had finished the first million miles, the entire projectile, with its two occupants and all its dead weight, would weigh considerably less than an ounce. That was a mere start on the enormous trip ahead of us; but when that distance was reached, we could no longer count upon terrestrial gravity for accelerating our speed. We must travel with our accumulated momentum, unless by that time the Sun should have taken the place of the Earth, and with his vaster forces continue to repel us Marsward.
As we sat talking the doctor grew weary, and soon unconsciously dropped asleep. I left him to enjoy his rest, and, tossing a scrap of ham bone to Two-spot, I went up to take my place at the telescope.
Mars seemed to be exactly in the right part of the field. I surveyed the starry stretches ahead with a feeling a little akin to fear. I was queerly affected by the vast expanse of loneliness outside, and by the deathly quiet prevailing both without and within. There was not the slightest whizzing or whistling now. We might be hanging perfectly motionless in space for all I knew. The batteries made no sound either. I could hear only the low, regular breathing of the doctor as he slept, and the slight crunching of Two-spot on his bone. Presently I thought of looking for the danger lights, but I looked through the telescope instead, and saw the little red planet in his proper place.
What a vast distance we were from any planet! If anything were to happen to us, no one on Earth or in the heavens would ever know of it. I had never been homesick, but a very little would have made me Earthsick just then. I did not like the upper end of the projectile because I could not look back at the home planet. I wondered if it was all dark back that way, or if those warning lights had begun to appear. That idea seemed to haunt me. I touched the steering wheel just a little while I kept my eyes on Mars. He moved slightly in the field at once. Then I turned the wheel back until he took his former place. It was reassuring to know how easily the projectile minded her great rudder, which was now fully extended like an enormous wing. This made me feel that we were masters of the situation, that all this vast space was as nothing to us, that any planet in the heavens must mind us, and that though Earth was driving us away, she must draw us back if we willed it. More than that, she would warn us of all dangers. Perhaps she was sending that warning now. I had promised to look out for it. I felt that I must go down. I crept softly past the doctor and stooped over the port-hole. My eyes had scarcely found the Earth in the darkness when I drew back quickly and clapped my hand over my mouth to prevent a cry escaping me. Then I looked again more closely. There was no small illuminated portion of the surface this time, but a great smear of light just outside the edge of the Earth. It was of a dull red colour, with rainbow tints around the edges, and was much the shape of a great umbrella held just above one quarter of her surface to westward.
I gave the steering wheel in my compartment a sharp turn in the direction which should cause the light to disappear. Then I crouched and looked again, but instead of being reduced in size the light broadened and swelled. It was as if one edge of the umbrella were left against the Earth's surface, and then the umbrella was being turned gradually around until it faced me and formed an enormous disc, apparently a third as big as the Earth. Then, as it slowly moved outward, its edge seemed to cleave to the Earth's, as two drops of water do when about to separate. Finally, it detached itself entirely, and stood as a great muddy red orb a little to the west of and above the Earth. It filled me with dismay to see all this happen after I had turned the rudder in the direction which should have corrected our course. In desperation I gave the wheel an additional hard turn and looked again. At last the great red patch was shrinking; slowly it diminished, and finally disappeared. But just as I was breathing a sigh of relief, I noticed the white sickle of light on the east side that I had seen before; only it was increasing most threateningly now. Yes, it was assuming the same umbrella shape and detaching itself a little from the eastern edge of the Earth. There was still a narrow rim of bright white light on the Earth, and this dimmer umbrella shape was faintly separated from its edge. Its outlines were marked by flashes of rainbow colours, as had been the case on the other side. I sprang to the wheel and gave it several frantic turns back the other way. Then I ran up to the telescope for a hurried view, and Mars was nowhere to be seen! I hastened back to the wheel and gave it a vicious additional turn. I was determined to prevent this umbrella from opening at me! And true enough it ceased enlarging, and gradually shrank and settled back upon the surface of the Earth. Then slowly it faded and disappeared, as it had done before when the doctor had corrected the course. I eased back the wheel and went to look for Mars again, but he was not in the field. As I returned I brushed unconsciously against the doctor in my excitement. He roused himself, sat up, and watched me peering out of the port-hole. I was gazing at a new appearance.
"There it is again!" I cried, for below the Earth and to westward a pale white disc came into view all at once, not gradually, as if emerging from behind the Earth, but springing out complete and detached.
"Doctor!" I said, catching him by the arm and pulling him down to the port-hole, "what is that?"
"That? That is the Moon, my boy. Has it excited you so much?"
"Yes; I have been trying to dodge it. But you had better look to the wheel," I cried.
He ran up to the telescope, and I heard him exclaim, "Donnerwetter!" half under his breath. But with a few careful turns of the wheel he found the planet again, and moved him to the right part of the field. Meanwhile the Full Moon shone on us with its pale glimmer. But a thin rim of it next to the Earth gleamed brightly with rich silver light.
"I thought you said we had started in the dark of the Moon. I thought it was behind the Earth," I interposed.
"That is the New Moon just emerging. It will probably not be seen on the Earth until to-morrow night, but as we are at a greater distance we see it first," replied the doctor.
"But that is not a New Moon, it is a Full Moon, which should not be seen for fourteen days yet," I objected.
"Pardon me, it is a New Moon," he insisted. "That inner rim of brightness is all the sunlight she reflects. The paler glimmer is Earth-light, which she reflects. When she is really a Full Moon, she will be perfectly dark to us."
Then I explained to him the first umbrella appearance, and its gradual swelling and final disappearance.
"Rainbow colours around the edge and a gradual changing of the shape, you say? That means refraction. The Earth's atmosphere has been playing tricks on you. The umbrella of dull red light was a refracted view of the Moon before she really came into sight. Rays of light from the hidden Moon were bent around to you. Then, as she gradually moved from behind the Earth, her appearance was magnified by the convex lens formed by the atmosphere, bent over that planet. Presently it diminished and went out altogether, you say?"
"Yes, but that was because I steered away from her," I replied.
"No; you could hardly lose her so easily," he answered. "Did you ever try holding an object behind a water-bottle or a gold-fish jar? There is a place near the edge of the jar where a thing cannot be seen, though the glass and water are perfectly transparent. The rays of light from the object are bent around, through the glass and water, away from the eyes of the observer. It was like that with the Moon when she disappeared. She was really drawing out from the Earth all the time. Finally, when her light passed beyond the atmosphere altogether, she became suddenly visible in a different place and shining with another colour. What we see now is the real Moon in her true place. The other appearances were all tricks of refraction."
"But when I had turned away," I explained, "there came a thin rim of bright light on the other side of the Earth, and a gradually appearing umbrella shape there too."
"Ah, then you steered far enough out of your course to see part of the illuminated surface of the Earth. That was the real danger light. And if it began to assume the umbrella shape, detached from the Earth, that was due to atmospheric refraction of sunlight. This great shadow we are travelling in has an illuminated core, which we shall encounter when we have proceeded a little further. I tell you of it now, so it may not give you another shock. Have you ever noticed the small bright spot which illuminates the centre of the shadow cast by a glass of water? That is partly the same as the core of light which exists in the heart of this shadow. Rays from the sun, passing on all sides of the Earth, are refracted through the atmosphere and bent inward. You must have steered over into some of these rays just now, and then turned back from them. Somewhat farther on all these refracted rays will meet at a common centre, which they will illuminate, and we shall have an oasis of rainbow-tinged sunlight in this great desert of shadow. The sun will then appear to us to be an enormous circle of dull light entirely surrounding the Earth."
"I don't fancy running into that at all," said I. "Can't we avoid it by steering out?"
"Avoid it!" exclaimed the doctor. "We must investigate it, and photograph the peculiar appearance of the sun. Light seems to have more terrors for you than anything else just now. You must get over your rush-and-do tendency; you must stifle your emotions and impulses, and learn to think of things in a more calm and scientific manner."
"But that is not so easy for me, Doctor. Whenever I am left alone, a feeling of dread possesses me. I am used to having many people, bustling noises, and confused movement all about me. The silence of Space stifles me, and the loneliness of the ether oppresses and overcomes me strangely."
"I prescribe a change of air for you," answered the doctor. "You will do better in a rarer atmosphere. Let us send what we have been breathing back to Whiting, and make a new one to suit ourselves."
The Twilight of Space "Shall I come up into your compartment for the operation?" I asked.
"No; for this first time we will pump out my compartment, as I wish to observe from the rear port-hole the action of the air which we set free."
The bulkhead, with its bevelled edge, was therefore fitted into the opening between the compartments, and I took the first turn at the lever handle of the air-pump, while the doctor observed from the window. I had given the handle less than a dozen vigorous strokes when the doctor suddenly exclaimed,-- "Stop! Wait a moment;" and he began pulling at the bulkhead, which was already rather tightly wedged in by the air pressure. "I have left the rabbit inside," he said, when he found breath to speak. And poor little bunny's heart was beginning to beat fast when he was rescued.
Then we began again. The doctor watched the escaping air for some time, evidently forgetting that I was at all interested in it.
"All quite as I expected," he said at last. "Only I had forgotten about the snow."
"Nothing will ever be very new or interesting to you," I put in; "but pray remember I am here, and rapidly getting empty of breath and full of curiosity."
Then he relieved me at the pump handle, and this is what I saw from the port-hole: The air escaping from the discharge pipe of the air-pump was visible, and looked like dull, grey steam. Immediately on being set free it swelled and expanded greatly, and sank away from us slowly. But at the instant of its expansion the cold thus produced froze the moisture of the air into a fine fleecy snow, which lasted but a second as it sank away from us and melted in the heat, which the thermometer showed to be close upon ninety-five degrees. This miniature snowstorm was seen for an instant only after each down motion of the pump handle.
"Where is this air going?" I inquired. "The little clouds of it seem to drop away from us like lead; but that must be because of our speed."
"It is falling back to the Earth, to join the outer layer of rare atmosphere there. If we had a positive current instead of a negative one, the air would not leave us, but we should gradually be surrounded by an atmosphere of our own, which we should retain until some planet, whose gravitational attraction is vastly stronger than ours, stole it from us. When we begin to fall into Mars, we shall acquire such an enveloping atmosphere; and we can draw upon it and re-compress it if our inner supply should become exhausted."
"If this air is falling home to earth," said I, "we could send messages back in that manner."
"We can drop them back at any time, regardless of the air," he answered, and then added suddenly, "but it will make a beautiful experiment to drop out a bottle now."
He ceased pumping, and opening a bottle of asparagus tips, he placed them in a bowl, and prepared to drop out the bottle. I took my pencil and wrote this message to go inside,--"Behold, I have decreed a judgment upon the Earth; for it shall rain pickle bottles and biscuit tins for the period of forty days, because of the wickedness of the world, unless she repent!" And I pictured to myself the perplexity of the poor devil who should see this message come straight down from heaven!
In order to make his experiment more successful, the doctor put in half a dozen bullets from one of the rifles, to make the weight more perceptible. Then he put the bottle into the discharging cylinder, and preparing to push it out he stooped over the port-hole. At a signal from him I gave the pump handle several quick, successive motions, and at the same instant he let drop the bottle. At once he cried out,-- "Beautiful! and just as I thought."
"But I didn't see it!" I protested. "What was it?"
"The instant the bottle was released the discharged air was immediately attracted toward it, and gradually surrounded it entirely. It was like a little planet with an atmosphere of its own, as they fell back to the Earth together."
"But I couldn't see it; I had to pump," I complained. "We must do it again."
"We shall soon have our bottled things all emptied out on plates to dry up and spoil," he objected. So I emptied a biscuit tin this time, and delaying for no message, I put it in the discharging cylinder. Then I bent over the port-hole and gave the signal for the pumping. As I thrust out the tin I was astonished to see the lid pop off the first thing. The quick expansion of the air inside it did that. This air, as well as the air from the discharge pipe, seemed to flee from it instead of surrounding it, as the doctor had said. I continued watching so long that he finally said,-- "Hasn't it fallen out of sight yet?"
"No; it is not falling away swiftly as the air does. It is following the projectile! It is not gathering any air about it as you said it would. It does not quite keep up with us; but considering our speed, it is doing remarkably well!"
The doctor was not inclined to believe me until he had looked for himself. He watched and pondered for a minute or two. Then his surprise ceased, and he spoke in that assured way which always irritated me.
"Quite natural, after all," he said. "That biscuit can is made of thin sheet-iron with a surface coating of tin. The iron has become magnetized by induction, and the Earth repels the can just as it repels us. It will follow us to the dead-line, and probably on to Mars, unless the sheet-iron loses its polarization. If we had cast out a thing of solid iron, it would rush ahead of us, instead of falling a little behind, as this does, for it would have no dead weight to carry. But we could not put such a thing out of the rear end, for no force would make it fall that way. If we put it out of the forward port-hole, it would beat us in the race toward Mars."
I remarked to the doctor that the air-pump seemed to be incorrectly built, for its action was strangely difficult in the reverse manner that it should have been. The down strokes went by themselves with a quick snap, but the up strokes were as if against pressure, and the moment the handle was released it flew down again. He had not tested the pump at the surface, as it was of a well-known make, but it certainly seemed to work backwards. Moreover, the more nearly we had a compartment emptied of air, the more difficult the pumping should become, but here again the reverse seemed to be the case, for the longer we worked the easier the up strokes became.
The temperature of the projectile was still fairly comfortable, and the doctor allowed the condensed air to issue very slowly into the partial vacuum in his compartment until it produced a barometric pressure of twenty-seven. Then we pulled back the bulkhead, and when the new atmosphere had mixed with the old in my compartment, a pressure of twenty-eight resulted.
"That is about the way the barometer stands during tempests at sea," remarked the doctor. I could not notice much difference from the air we had previously had. Possibly it was fresher and slightly more exhilarating.
The effort at the pump had made us both hungry again, and I prepared from meat extracts a warm and rather thick gravy to put over the asparagus tips. I attempted to pour it, but it was so light that its sticky consistency prevented it from running. We had a hundred such examples daily of the changes which lack of weight caused in the simplest operations. With sandwiches made of biscuits and condensed meat, we eked out a luncheon. This must have been about noon, for when it was over I remember noticing that we no longer needed the gas in the compartment, for there was a gradually increasing mellow light outside.
"Are we already emerging from the shadow?" I inquired eagerly.
"No, not yet," replied the doctor. "But we are now entering its illuminated core. I must prepare to photograph the strange appearance of the Sun that we shall see presently."
I hastened to the port-hole, and did not leave until it was all over. What I then saw was one of the most beautiful things of the whole trip. The light outside was not bright, but soft and dreamy, like the first twilight after a rich day of summer. The great corona all around the outer edge of the Earth was the most magnificent appearance I have ever seen. It was not at all dazzling, but had the melting shades, first of a sunrise and then of a gorgeous sunset. We had missed the gradual appearance of the phenomenon, but we had a good view of its highest splendour. The colours were continually but slowly changing, and finally the darker hues gradually suffused and dyed the pinks and crimsons.
The Earth was now about three times the diameter of a rising Full Moon, and the corona was about a quarter her width, and looked as if twenty shell-pink suns were set one against the other and overlapping all about the edge of the dark orb.
"How do you know that is not really the extending edge of the Sun?" I asked the doctor. "Perhaps we are already far enough away to see it all about the Earth like that."
"If that were really the Sun, the light from his extending edge would illuminate the surface of the Earth towards us. The planet's outline would be irregular and partly glowing, but you see it is quite dull and dark, and the outline is most plainly visible."
In rapt attention I watched the delicate shell-pink change to a deeper hue of orange, and then our twilight waned a little and turned a sombre grey. Presently the corona glowed a rich maroon, gradually dying to a luminous purple, which slowly deepened and darkened, and finally melted into the general blackness. And lo! we were in the shadow again, and the dreamily beautiful panorama was over.
"It must have lasted nearly an hour," said the doctor. "I am sorry we did not notice the beginning, but it must have commenced with the same dull shades we saw at the end, and gradually changed to brighter colours. I secured three negatives when the glow was most intense."
"Then we have had a waxing and a waning twilight coming together in the middle of our night. And the corona was like a sunrise, followed immediately by a sunset," I exclaimed.
"And why shouldn't it appear so?" said the matter-of-fact doctor. "Twilight is the commonest phenomenon of refraction with which we are acquainted, and sunrise and sunset are merely a mixture of refraction and reflection. There is nothing new about it."
"Now, Doctor, we must remain friends, but you shall not continually tarnish my poetry with your accursed science! I thank my Creator that He made me ignorant enough to admire the beauties of nature. You are continually peeping behind the scenes, and pointing out the grease paints, the lime-lights and the sham effects. Let me enjoy the beauty of the tableau, no matter how it is produced. I would give all of your pat knowledge for that feeling of profound awe which rises in the untutored breast at beholding the magnificent grandeur of unfamiliar nature."
"When your ecstasy has quite passed, I shall appreciate a little cold mutton and biscuits, and then we must pump out again," he replied.
Telling the Time by Geography After supper I went up into his compartment, and having arranged the bulkhead, began the tedious operation at the pump handle. It was a matter of pure muscular strength, as the effort had to be made to lift the handle, which snapped back sharply when released. I was working vigorously when I was suddenly struck dumb at seeing the handle break off just at the point of leverage, so that it was quite impossible to operate it. The doctor heard the handle fall, and looked around in great vexation.
"That means asphyxiation within twenty-four hours!" he exclaimed.
"Which is plenty of time to think it over," I answered.
After all, why was this pumping necessary? If a way could be devised to open a valve, all the air would rush out of my compartment as easily as beer runs out of a bung-hole. In fact, it did rush out a little at a time, which is what made the handle go down of itself. But any such new valve would have to be automatically closed, as it would be manifestly impossible to enter and shut it. I kept on thinking, and finally began examining the partition between the compartments. There seemed to be several long screws that went quite through it.
"Doctor, did you ever hear of those wise people who, after every freshet, shipped the surplus water down the river in boats? Well, it strikes me this air-pumping is just about as useless labour. Help me pull in the bulkhead and I will show you something."
I went at once to the cylinder we used for discharging things from the projectile. With a pair of pliers I chipped off a small piece of the edge of the closing lid in two places, one near each end. This made two little irregular holes into the cylinder about eight inches apart. Then I pushed it half way out, so that one hole was outside and the other inside. Of course the air rushed through the inner hole into the cylinder, and thence through the outer hole to the exterior.
"Shut that thing!" cried the doctor, when he saw what I had done. "Do you wish to suffocate us? That will let the air out perfectly, but how are you going to close it to admit the condensed air?"
"People unskilled in these matters are so hasty!" I said rather sarcastically. "Wait until I have finished and you will see."
I found he had a screw-driver, and I loosened one of the long screws and enlarged the half of its hole toward my compartment. Then I whittled a block of soft wood, so that it would slide smoothly into this half of the hole. Driving the screw home again, I just allowed its tip to enter the end of the block. Then I fastened a piece of stout twine to the cylinder and the other end to the block of wood, which was almost opposite it. Pushing the cylinder half way out, I made the twine taut, and hastening into the doctor's compartment, I thrust in the bulkhead. The air was rapidly escaping. Waiting long enough for all of it to have leaked out, I then unscrewed the long screw, which gradually drew in the block of wood and the twine, and thus pulled the cylinder into the projectile so that there was no connection with the exterior. Then the doctor let in the condensed air to a barometric pressure of twenty-six, and the whole operation was over in a few minutes. My compartment must have been almost a complete vacuum. When it was over, I cried rather triumphantly to the doctor,-- "There, you see, one doesn't need a steam pump to make the water run over Niagara! At this distance from the surface, nature abhors a gas and prefers a vacuum!" He was inclined to be rather sulky at first, but he really did not like pumping any better than I did.
I should say it was about five hours later that we noticed it was growing gradually lighter outside. Mars lost his ruddiness and grew pale in a grey field. Our view of the Earth was also becoming more and more misty.
"We are emerging from the black core of the shadow into the semi-illuminated penumbra," said the doctor. Then he altered his course experimentally, and found a slightly darker path, but it soon began changing again to grey.
"There is no use trying to keep in the umbra any longer. It is growing too narrow. The penumbra will last quite a long time yet, but it will gradually get fainter and fainter. We shall not plunge at once into the dreadful light you fear so much. Keep your eyes glued to the Earth. I can scarcely see Mars any longer. The whole field is getting blank and white."
The rear vista was also growing a pale white, and I could distinguish the form of the Earth as a darker object slightly larger than a full moon when risen. But it was all growing dimmer and dimmer as the penumbra faded toward the perfect light.
"Mars is completely gone now," said the doctor. "The field of the telescope is one pale curtain of light. I have steered to the left to go ahead of him now, as there is no longer any reason for going behind him."
I heard him working at the telescope as if loosening it from its fastenings, but I dared not take my eyes from the Earth to see what he was doing. Presently he called out to me,-- "Make room down there. I must bring the instrument down and observe the Earth now. Be careful you don't lose sight of her." But the instant he removed the telescope from its bearings and uncovered his forward window, I lost all view of the Earth. The new light now entering by his window, from behind me, made it impossible to see so far.
"Too late!" I cried; "I have lost her! We are alone in limitless space, without even the company of the planets!"
But while the doctor was carefully lowering the telescope, my eyes were still searching, and presently I perceived a thin crescent of faintly brighter light, growing gradually wider. It was like a new moon dimly seen in a clear part of the sky when the afternoon sun is cloud-hidden. The doctor stopped to look where I pointed it out to him, and then changed the wheel a little.
"That is a thin slice of the illuminated part of the Earth," he said. "We can no longer see the dark side which has been visible to us while in the shadow. Fortunately our new course a little ahead of Mars will give us a constant view of this thin crescent."
We now stood the instrument on end over the port-hole window, which brought the small end near the aperture between the compartments. When the doctor had secured a focus, he called me to look. The crescent was greatly magnified, but the outline of the sphere on the other side could not be seen, nor could anything be distinguished in the centre. Both the outer and inner edges of the crescent were ragged and irregular in places, and there were faint darker spots on its surface. I called the doctor's attention to the fact that the ragged appearance was always in the form of extending teeth on the outer side of the crescent, and in the form of notches eaten into its inner edge. He studied all these appearances carefully and finally said,-- "This crescent is that part of Earth which is just coming into morning. It is gradually shifting from east to west with the Earth's rotation of course. What we see now, however, is land almost from pole to pole. There is a small sea just above the middle, which might be the Mediterranean. Moreover, it must be mountainous land to cause the ragged edges and the shadows inside."
Then he turned away to get his globe, and I took the place at the instrument. He was slowly turning the globe and examining it thoughtfully as he said to himself,-- "The only continuous land from pole to pole with one interrupting sea must be over the two Americas or over Europe and Africa. The American mountain ranges run from north to south, while through Europe and Africa they are scarce, and almost uniformly run from east to west. Besides, the sand of Sahara would be sure to show as a large, bright, regular spot. A section from longitude 70 to 80 west would include the Green Mountains and the Alleghanies of North America and the Andes of South America, and in that case the darker spot in the centre would be the Caribbean Sea."
"Look here!" I cried. "Toward the lower end the inner outline is growing darker but more regular, and faint streaks or shadows reach through the brighter light toward the dark greenish regular surface which looks like water."
He observed closely and said,-- "Those shadows must be cast to westward by the enormous peaks of the Andes, and the dark greenish surface they reach toward must be the Pacific Ocean."
Then he consulted his globe while I looked. "The first two to come into view," he said, "would be the two great peaks in Bolivia, over twenty-one thousand feet high."
"There are two of them together," I said, "and now others are rapidly coming into view. There are five more scattered unequally, and then, lower down, three near together."