We Start On A Very Long Voyage
From: To Mars Via The Moon
"Well, I suppose it is about time to get ready for starting?"
The speaker was a smart, well-set-up man about forty-three years of age,
whose keen and alert expression, clear eyes and well-cut features were a
true index to the intellectuality and integrity of his character; whilst
his closely compressed lips and the deep vertical line down the centre
of his forehead betokened a dogged perseverance in carrying into effect
anything he might undertake.
John Yiewsley Claxton, for that was his name, was my very intimate
friend of at least twenty-five years' standing; and during the greater
portion of that time he had been my constant companion. We had passed
through many trials and troubles together, but a better friend and
companion no man could have desired.
We were just finishing a last quiet smoke and chat in my snuggery at
Norbury, near Croydon, preparatory to starting off on a very long
journey for which all arrangements had been completed, and we had risen
early that morning in order to have everything in readiness.
John took his pipe from his lips as he spoke, then, rising, stretched
out his arms and braced himself up like one ready and eager for any
emergency; the next minute he was smoking in his usual calm and
thoughtful manner. I rose when he did, then giving a few final
instructions to Mrs. Challen, my housekeeper, we bade her "good-bye" and
stepped out on to the lawn, thence crossing over to a gate at the far
end of the garden, we passed into an extensive field and walked toward a
large shed that stood near its centre.
It was a most beautiful evening near the beginning of August 1909, clear
and calm. The sun had only just passed below the horizon, the sky
immediately above it being a rippled glory of gold, merging higher up
into gold flecked with crimson, then into a placid sea of pale
apple-green. Above this were fleecy clouds of delicate rose-pink, which
reflected their splendours upon the higher parts of the surrounding
hills, the latter standing out clear and sharp, and glowing with roseate
hues, whilst their bases were seen dimly as through a thin veiling of
Surely nothing could be better for the commencement of our long-planned
trip. The moon would not rise until about a quarter-past nine, and
darkness would have descended by the time we were ready to start. This
was exactly what we required, because we did not wish either our
preparations or our departure to be observed.
Just as we arrived within hail of the shed the door opened, and a
rugged-featured man with sandy hair stepped out. This was Kenneth
M'Allister, our engineer and general factotum in all mechanical
matters-a typical specimen of a Scotch engineer. He had followed his
profession in its different phases on tramp-steamers, on ocean liners,
naval gunboats, and even on battle-ships, besides having served for
several years in the workshops of a great firm of electrical engineers.
Whether repairing a broken propeller-shaft two or three scores of tons
in weight, the most intricate machinery, or the most delicate electric
mechanism, he was equally at home and sure in his work; in fact nothing
seemed to come amiss to him. His machinery was always the object of his
most anxious care, and, providing that all worked satisfactorily,
nothing else troubled him much.
"Well, M'Allister," I called to him, "is everything ready for our trip
"Heh, mon," he replied, "everything is all ready; will you look in and
take a turn round the ship?"
"Certainly we will," I answered; so we all went into the shed, where we
gazed with equal pride and satisfaction upon the splendid shining object
which was housed therein. Here, in perfect readiness for its destined
service, was our air-ship-if it could be so called-upon which we three
had expended years of thought, experiment, and work.
Outwardly it was shaped somewhat like a fish, being constructed of a
special metal-our joint invention-which we had named "martalium." The
metal was composed of aluminium and two other rarer metals which, when
combined together, produced a substance almost as light as aluminium,
yet many times harder and tougher than case-hardened steel; whilst its
surface shone like burnished silver and could never in any circumstances
become tarnished or affected by rust.
The ship was ninety-five feet in length, and its diameter twenty feet in
the broadest part, tapering off to a point at either end.
With the exception of the steering and balancing fans, there was no
machinery whatever visible on the exterior of the vessel. Several
windows along each side, together with a few at the top and bottom of
the vessel, gave light to the interior, and would allow for observations
being made in any direction. These windows were all constructed of a
special toughened glass obtained from Vienna, very thick and warranted
to withstand the hardest blows. Along each side of the vessel there was
an observation platform or gallery on to which the exterior doors
opened, and each gallery was provided with a protecting railing.
The interior of the ship was divided into five separate compartments,
the rear one being the general living and sleeping room, having
observation windows so arranged as to command an outlook in all
directions. The next compartment was mainly a store-room, but, like all
the others, could be used for observation purposes; next to that was a
small compartment intended for a special purpose which will hereafter be
apparent; then another containing water storage, apparatus for
compressing or rarefying air, as well as machinery for producing the
Lastly, right in the forepart of the vessel was M'Allister's special
sanctum, containing the driving, lighting, warming, and steering
machinery, but electric buttons and switches were also provided for
controlling these in every compartment, so that whichever one we
happened to be in we were prepared for all emergencies. Periscopes
capable of being turned in all directions also communicated with every
compartment, thus we could always see what might be around us.
All the machinery was either electric or magnetic, some of it being very
simple; other portions were extremely intricate, but nearly all was the
outcome of our joint inventions. Such parts as could not profitably be
made by ourselves had been carefully distributed between several firms
of founders and engineers, in order that none could have any means of
discovering the use to which they were intended to be put. The whole of
the shell of the vessel was double, with a packed space between the two
skins; and each door opened into a small lobby, having another door on
the farther side, to ensure that every part might be kept perfectly
air-tight when required.
By the time we had completed a thorough inspection of the vessel and its
machinery, and overhauled the stores to make sure that everything
requisite was on board, it had become nearly dark, so, moving a switch,
M'Allister swung open the great doors at the end of the shed. The vessel
was standing upon a low trolley having many wheels running on rails,
with a small electric motor beneath it, and, upon M'Allister moving the
trolley switch, the whole affair glided smoothly out into the open
field. I may as well confess that we owed this trolley and the mode of
its working to ideas gained during an inspection of the construction and
working of the conduit trams belonging to the London County Council.
When the vessel was out in the open we congratulated ourselves upon its
splendid proportions and business-like appearance.
I asked M'Allister whether "he was satisfied with the result of our
"Mon," he replied, "she's grand, and it's fine to have the handling of
such machinery; everything works as slick as grease!" It was a pleasure
to hear him talk about his machines, for he was always so enthusiastic
where they were concerned.
"Now," I suggested, "before we start we'll give our good ship her name."
"Bravo!" said John Claxton, "and we'll drink to her success, a good
voyage and a safe return"; and he was so struck by the brilliancy of his
idea that he actually took his pipe from his lips, and, holding it in
his hand, regarded it with thoughtful contemplation for quite three
I accordingly went to the store-room and brought out two bottles of
champagne. Directly M'Allister saw them he entered a vigorous and
emphatic protest, saying, "Heh, Professor! you're surely not going to
celebrate this most auspicious event with such poor fizzy stuff as
champagne? Let's have a wee drop of good old Scotch whisky, and do the
John Claxton here interposed: "Let M'Allister have his whisky if he
prefers it, and we'll have the 'fizz'!" So I went laughing to the store
again and returned with a bottle of special Scotch, whereat
M'Allister's eye gleamed as he smiled approval.
Then, taking up a bottle of the champagne, I broke it over the prow of
the vessel, and we solemnly christened her the Areonal in honour of
the planet for which we were bound.
Raising high our glasses we gave the toast of "The Areonal; may she
and her passengers have a good voyage and a safe return home!"
M'Allister peered over the rim of his glass, and, with upturned eyes,
remarked that "his old wife in Glasgow would be looking for his safe
return in a few months' time"; then his glass slowly tipped up, and the
old Scotch whisky disappeared.
Claxton and I at once stepped on board the vessel, and having just set
the machinery slowly moving so as to raise the vessel a few feet, I put
on the neutral power so that the ship remained poised in the air.
M'Allister ran the trolley back into the shed, closed the doors, and
switched off the electric current; then climbed the extending ladder,
and came on board, John steadying the vessel by an anchor rope in the
M'Allister took over the command of the machinery, and, setting it in
motion, the Areonal at once rose slowly and gracefully straight up
into the air.
John and I were standing outside on the platform, from whence, looking
toward the house, we could plainly see Mrs. Challen at the open door of
our sitting-room waving farewell to us-her figure silhouetted against
the bright light of the room. We waved back to her in response, but I am
very doubtful if she could see our signal, as she was looking into the
We now rose rapidly as M'Allister switched on more power, and far away
to the northward we could see over the whole extent of the vast
metropolis, with its countless miles of lighted streets. On turning
towards the east the Crystal Palace, which was lighted up, was a very
conspicuous object against the skyline over the Sydenham hills.
John, when he saw it, remarked that "it would have been an appropriate
tribute to our enterprise if the Palace Company had provided one of
their grand firework displays as a send-off for us"; "but," he added,
"these companies will never do what is expected of them!" On the
westward side the lights all along the hill where Sutton lies were
clearly visible; farther off was Epsom, and, with the aid of a glass, we
could even faintly see the lights of Guildford in the far distance.
Nearly south of us Croydon seemed from our altitude to lie almost
beneath our vessel. We directed our course towards the south-east,
passing over the railway-station at Thornton Heath, with Croydon to the
right of us, just as the clock of the Croydon Town Hall was striking
nine. The long lines of lighted streets made a fine panorama, and we
could trace the lights of the moving tram-cars out to Anerley, South
Norwood, Purley, Wallington, and Mitcham.
Although we were fully 5000 feet, or nearly a mile, above the earth it
was surprising how clearly we could hear the sounds from below-the
rumble of the electric tram-cars, the clang of their gongs, the
toot-toot of the motor-horns, and, louder still, the whistles of the
locomotives on the London and Brighton Railway were borne to us with
almost startling distinctness through the still night air.
Our electric lights were now switched on at their full power, their
bright beams shining out through the windows all around the vessel.
Whilst we were on the ground we only used just sufficient light to see
by, as we did not wish to draw attention to our proceedings; but now we
were well up and on our way it mattered not who saw us.
With increased speed we passed over South Norwood and the village of
Shirley, rising higher and higher as we proceeded on our way. The moon,
which was just past the full, had not risen above the horizon of those
upon the earth below us; but we had now attained such an altitude that
it became visible to us, low down on the horizon and far ahead on our
left hand. Owing to our height above the earth it soon became impossible
for us to see the places over which we passed, and as we were moving
over an open part of Kent there were very few lights which we could have
seen in any case. As there was nothing of particular interest to attract
our attention which we had not already seen on our trial trips, we
entered our general room and sat down to supper.
The machinery had been set to maintain a speed of 150 miles an hour
until we passed beyond the limits of the earth's atmosphere; for though,
no doubt, we might safely have travelled faster, we did not intend
taking any risk of overheating our vessel by the friction of the
Notwithstanding the speed at which we were travelling we were quite
unconscious of any movement in our vessel. The impression we received
was not that we were rushing away from the earth, but that the earth was
rapidly falling away from our position in space.
It may, perhaps, be desirable that I should now give a little
information respecting myself and my friends, together with some
explanation of our reasons for embarking upon such a very long voyage.
Next: Personal Reminiscences Why We Decided On The Voyage
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