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Final Preparations






Part of: Secrets of Space
From: Pharaoh's Broker

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.





Next: Farewell To Earth

Previous: What Is On Mars?



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