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   Chapter 3 A NEW FORCE.

A Trip to Venus: A Novel By John Munro Characters: 14394

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"SIR,

"I have read your article on the possibility of travelling to the other members of the Solar system with much interest. It is a problem at which I, myself, have been working for a great many years, and I believe that I have now discovered a means of solving it in a practical manner. If you would care to see my experiments, and will do me the honour of coming here, I shall be glad to show them in confidence any time you may appoint.-Yours truly,

"NASMYTH CARMICHAEL."

The above letter, marked "Private," was forwarded to me through the editor of The Day After To-morrow. The writer of it was a total stranger to me, even by report, and at first I did not know what to make of it. Was the man a charlatan, or a "crank?" There were no signs of craziness or humbug in his frank and simple sentences. Had he really found out a way of crossing the celestial spaces? In these days it is better not to be too sceptical as to what science will accomplish. It is, in fact, wise to keep the mind open and suspend the judgment. We are standing on the threshold of the Arcana, and at any hour the search-light of our intellect may penetrate the darkness, and reveal to our wondering gaze the depths of the inner mechanism of Nature.

I resolved to accept his invitation.

A few days later I presented myself at the home of my unknown correspondent. It was a lonely little cottage, in the midst of a wild flat or waste of common ground on the outskirts of London. I should say it had once been the dwelling of a woodman engaged in the neighbouring forest. A tall, thick hedge of holly surrounded the large garden, and almost concealed it from the curiosity of an occasional wanderer on the heath.

Certainly it did not look the sort of place to find a man of science, and the old misgivings assailed my mind in greater force than ever. Half regretting that I had come, and feeling in a dubious element, I opened the wicket, and knocked at the door.

It was answered by a young woman, in a plain gown of some dark stuff, with a white collar round the neck. In spite of her dress I could see that she was not an ordinary cottage girl. Pretty, without being beautiful, there was a distinction in her voice and manner which bespoke the gentlewoman. With a pleasant smile, she welcomed me as one who had been expected, and ushered me into a small sitting-room, poorly furnished, but with a taste and refinement unusual in a workman's home. A large piano stood in one of the corners, and a pile of classical music lay on a chair beside it. The mantelpiece was decorated with cut flowers, and the walls were hung with portraits and sketches in crayons and water-colour.

"My father will be down in a moment," she said, with a slight American accent. "He is delighted to have the pleasure of meeting you. It is so kind of you to come."

Before I had time to respond, Mr. Carmichael entered the parlour. He was a man of striking and venerable presence. His long white locks, his bulging brow, pregnant with brain, his bushy eyebrows and deep blue-grey eyes, his aquiline nose and flowing beard, gave an Olympian cast to his noble head. Withal, I could not help noticing that his countenance was lined with care, his black coat seamed and threadbare, his hands rough and horny, like those of a workman. If he appeared a god, it was a god in exile or disgrace; a Saturn rather than a Jove.

"Now to the matter," said he, after a few words of kindly welcome. "Evidently the question of inter-planetary travel is coming to the front. In your article you suggest that a locomotive car, that is to say, a car able to propel itself through what we, in our ignorance, call empty space, though, in reality, it is chock-full, and very 'thrang' as the Scotch say, might yet be contrived, and even worked by energy drawn from the ether direct. When I read that, sir, I sat up and rubbed my eyes."

"Your spectacles, father," said Miss Carmichael.

"Well, it's the same thing," went on the old man. "For like many another prophet, sir, you had prophesied better than you knew."

"How do you mean?" I inquired, with a puzzled air.

"If you will step with me into the garden I will show you."

I rose and followed him into a large shed, which was fitted up as a workshop and laboratory. It contained several large benches, provided with turning lathes and tools, a quantity of chemicals, and scientific apparatus.

"I am going to do a thing that I have never done in my life before," said Mr. Carmichael, in a sad and doubtful tone; "I have kept this secret so long that it seems like parting with myself to disclose it, to disclose even the existence of it. I have fed upon it as a young man feeds on love. It has been my nourishment, my manna in the wilderness of this world, my solace under a thousand trials, my inspiration from on High. I verily believe it has kept my old carcase together. Mind!" he added, with a penetrating glance of his grey eyes, which gleamed under their bushy brows like a pool of water in a cavern overhung with brambles, "promise me that whatever you see and hear will remain a secret on your part. Never breathe a word of it to a living soul. You are the only person, except my own daughter, whom I have ever taken into my confidence."

I gave him my word of honour.

"Very well," he continued, lifting a small metal box from one of the tables, and patting it with his hand. "I have been working at the subject of aerial navigation for well-nigh thirty years, and this is the result."

I looked at the metal case, but could see nothing remarkable about it.

"It seems a little thing, hardly worth a few pence, and yet how much I have paid for it!" said the inventor, with a sigh, and a far-away expression in his eyes. "Many a time it has reminded me of the mouse's nest that was turned up by the ploughshare.

"'Thy wee bit heap o' strae and stibble

Has cost thee mony a weary nibble.'

Of course this is only a model."

"A model of a flying machine?" I inquired, in a tone of surprise.

"You may call it so," he answered; "but it is a flying machine that does not fly or soar in the strict sense of the words, for it has neither wings nor aeroplane. It is, in fact, an aerial locomotive, as you will see."

While he spoke, Mr. Carmichael opened the case of the instrument, and adjusted the mechanism inside. Immediately afterwards, to my astonishment, the box suddenly left his hands, and flew, or rather glided, swiftly through the air, and must have dashed itself against the wall of the laboratory had not its master run and caught it.

"Wonderful!" I exclaimed, forgetting the attitude of caution and reserve which I had deemed it prudent to adopt.

The inventor laughed with childish glee, enjoying his triumph, and stroking the case as though it were a kitten.

"It would be off again if I would let it. Whoa, there!" said he, again adjusting the mechanism. "I can make it rise, or sink, or steer, to one side or the other, just as I please. If you will kindly hold it for a minute, I will make it go up to the ceiling. Don't be afraid, it won't bite you."

I took the uncanny little instrument in my hands, whilst Mr. Ca

rmichael ascended a ladder to a kind of loft in the shed. It only weighed a few pounds, and yet I could feel it exerting a strong force to escape.

"Ready!" cried the inventor, "now let go," and sure enough, the box rose steadily upwards until it came within his grasp. "I am going to send it down to you again," he continued, and I expected to see it drop like a stone to the ground; but, strange to say, it circled gracefully through the air in a spiral curve, and landed gently at my feet.

"You see I have entire control over it," said Mr. Carmichael, rejoining me; "but all you have seen has taken place in air, and you might, therefore, suppose that I have an air propellor inside, and that air is necessary to react against it, like water against the screw of a steamboat, in order to produce the motion. I will now show you that air is not required, and that my locomotive works quite as well in a vacuum."

So saying, he put the model under a large bell-jar, from which he exhausted the air with a pump; and even then it moved about with as much alacrity and freedom as it had done in the atmosphere.

I confess that I was still haunted by a lingering suspicion of the machine and its inventor; but this experiment went far to destroy it. Even if the motive power was derived from a coiled spring, or compressed air, or electricity, in the box, how was it possible to make it act without the resistance offered by the air? Magnetism was equally out of the question, since no conceivable arrangement of magnets could have brought about the movements I had seen. Either I was hypnotised, and imposed upon, or else this man had discovered what had been unknown to science. His earnest and straightforward manner was not that of a mountebank. There had been no attempt to surround his work with mystery, and cloak his demonstration in unmeaning verbiage. It is true I had never heard of him in the world of science, but after all an outsider often makes a great discovery under the nose of the professors.

"Am I to understand," said I, "that you have found a way of navigating both the atmosphere and the ether?"

"As you see," he replied, briefly.

"What the model has done, you are able to do on a larger scale-in a practical manner?"

"Assuredly. It is only a matter of size."

"And you can maintain the motion?"

"As long as you like."

"Marvellous! And how is it done?"

"Ah!" exclaimed the inventor, "that is my secret. I am afraid I must not answer that question at present."

"Is the plan not patented?"

"No. The fact is, I have not yet investigated the subject as fully as I would like. My mind is not quite clear as to the causes of the phenomena. I have discovered a new field of research, and great discoveries are still to be made in it. Were I to patent the machine, I should have to divulge what I know. Indeed, but for the sake of my daughter, I am not sure that I should ever patent it. Even as it stands, it will revolutionise not merely our modes of travel, but our industries. It has been to me a labour of love, not of money; and I would gladly make it a gift of love to my fellowmen."

"It is the right spirit," said I; "and I have no doubt that a grateful world would reward you."

"I wouldn't like to trust it," replied Mr. Carmichael, with a smile and shrug of the shoulders. "How many inventors has it doomed to pine in poverty and neglect, or die of a broken heart? How often has it stolen, aye stolen, the priceless fruits of their genius and labour? Speaking for myself, I don't complain; I haven't had much to do with it. My withdrawal from it has been voluntary. I was born in the south of Scotland, and educated for the medical profession; but I emigrated to America, and was engaged in one of Colonel Fremont's exploring expeditions to the Rocky Mountains. After that I was appointed to the chair of Physical Science in a college of Louisville, Kentucky, where my daughter was born. One day, when I was experimenting to find out something else, I fell by accident upon the track of my discovery, and ever since I have devoted my life to the investigation. It appeared to me of the very highest importance. As time went on, I grew more and more absorbed in it. Every hour that I had to give to my official and social duties seemed thrown away. A man cannot serve two masters, and as I also found it difficult to carry on my experiments in secrecy, I resigned my post. I had become a citizen of the United States, but my wife was a Welshwoman, and had relations in England. So we came to London. When she died, I settled in this isolated spot, where I could study in peace, enjoy the fresh air, and easily get the requisite books and apparatus. Here, with my daughter, I live a very secluded life. She is my sole companion, my housekeeper, my servant, and my assistant in the laboratory. She knows as much about my machine, and can work it as well as I do myself. Indeed, I don't know what I should have done without her. She has denied herself the ordinary amusements of her age. Her devotion to me has been beautiful."

The voice of the old man trembled, and I fancied I could read in his hollow eyes the untold martyrdom of genius.

"At last," he continued, "I have brought the matter into a practical shape, and like many other inventors, for the first time I stand in need of advice. Happening to see your article in the Magazine, I resolved to invite you to come and see what I have done in hopes that you might be able to advise and perhaps help me."

"I think," said I, after a moment's reflection, "I think the next thing to be done is to make a large working machine, and try it on a voyage."

"Quite so," he replied; "and I am prepared to build one that will go to any part of the earth, or explore the higher regions of the atmosphere, or go down under the sea, or even make a trip to one of the nearer planets, Mars or Venus as the case may be. But I am poor; my little fortune is all but exhausted, and here, at the end of the race, within sight of the goal, I lack the wherewithal to reach it. Now, sir, if you can see your way to provide the funds, I will give you a share in the profits of the invention."

I pondered his words in silence. Visions of travel through the air in distant lands, above the rhododendron forests of the Himalayas, or the green Savannahs of the Orinoco, the coral isles of the Pacific; yea, further still, through the starlit crypts of space to other spheres were hovering in my fancy. The singular history of the man, too, had touched my feelings. Nevertheless, I hesitated to accept his offer there and then. It was hardly a proposal to decide upon without due consideration.

"I will think it over and let you know," said I at length. "Have you any objection to my consulting Professor Gazen, the well-known astronomer? He is a friend of mine. Perhaps he will be able to assist us."

"None whatever, so long as he keeps the affair to himself. You can bring him to see the experiments if you like. All I reserve is that I shall not be asked to explain the inner action of the machine. That must remain a secret; but some day I hope to show you even that."

"Thanks."

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