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Telling The Time By Geography






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

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."

"Then there is not the slightest doubt that we see the Lower Andes," he
said. "These last you mention are scattered just as you say along the
border between Chili and Argentina, and the group of three are near
Valparaiso, the peak of Aconcagua being the tallest. But watch now for
the group in Ecuador, about midway between the top and bottom of the
crescent. There are four very large peaks and numerous smaller ones."

"The middle all looks bright yet, like land, with no shadows or greenish
spots. But a queer thing is happening lower down, where the shadows have
ceased lengthening and are now fading. There are several fine points of
light just beyond the outer edge of the crescent. They are mere bright
specks, but gradually they join with the surface, making a rough toothed
edge."

"Ah, that phenomenon has been observed upon the Moon," said he. "That is
the sun shining on the snow-capped peaks first, and then, when the
diminutive outline of the mountain comes into view, it looks like a
tooth."

"The same is happening all down the coast," I reported. "Now I see it on
the lower group of three."

"Give me the instrument," demanded the doctor. "That can be nothing but
the west coast of South America, and if that be the case, the whole
thing will be repeated for the tall group in Ecuador, dominated by
Chimborazo."

As I surrendered the telescope to him, the whole lower part of the
crescent was dark, but with regular edges. Only in the middle, which
should have been about the Equator, and in the upper part, was there the
bright lustre of land reflection. He watched for fully half an hour
before observing anything remarkable. At last he exclaimed,--

"Now they are beginning! Five streaks near together and just at the
Equator. They are almost equidistant from each other, and the next to
the lowest one is the longest. Now the top one begins to fade! Yes, and
a point of light has appeared detached from the outer edge, and now
another and another! They are growing inward toward the surface. Now
they are all connected like five saw teeth; the bottom one is the
shortest, and that next very high one is old Chimborazo."

"Then it is morning at Quito and also at Pittsburg!" I said, tracing up
the 80th meridian.

"Yes, and we have been one complete day and about five hours more
travelling the nine hundred thousand miles that lie between this and
Earth," replied he.

"That makes us one full meal behind time," I said; "but we have
discovered a way to make the Andes call us for breakfast. When the
Pacific Ocean has passed from view, Japan and Australia shall strike
noon for us, and we will have supper and call it night when the Indian
Ocean is gone and darkest Africa has come into view!"





Next: Space Fever

Previous: The Twilight Of Space



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