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   Chapter 5 LEAVING THE EARTH.

A Trip to Venus: A Novel By John Munro Characters: 9096

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Check!"

I was playing a game of chess with an old acquaintance, Viscount --, after dinner, one evening, in the luxurious smoking-room of a fashionable club in the West End of London.

Having got his queen into a very tight corner, I sipped a glass of wine, lit a Turkish cigarette, and leaned back in my chair with an agreeable sense of triumph.

My companion, on the other hand, puffed rapidly at his cigar, and took a long drink of hot whiskey and water, then fixed his attention on the board, and stroked his beard with an air of the deepest gravity. Had you only seen his face at that moment you would have supposed that all the care of a mighty empire weighed upon his shoulders. The countenance of a grand vizier, engaged in considering an ultimatum of Lord Salisbury, were frivolous in comparison. There is little doubt that if Lord -- had applied to the serious business of life as much earnest deliberation as he gave to the movement of a pawn, he would have made a very different figure in Society. But having been born without any effort of his own to all that most men covet-rank, wealth, and title-he showed a rare spirit of contentment, and did his best to make the world happier by enjoying himself.

As he was a very slow player, I began to think of a matter which lay nearer to my heart than the game, I mean the project of travelling to Venus. Tests of the new flying machine, by Professor Gazen and myself, as well as our enquiries into the character of Mr. Carmichael, having proved quite satisfactory, I had signed an agreement for the construction of an ethereal ship or car, equally capable of navigating the atmosphere to distant regions of the globe, and of traversing the immense reaches of empty space between the earth and the other members of the solar system.

As Miss Carmichael had determined to accompany her father, and assist him in his labours, it was built to carry three persons, with room to spare for another, and the trial trips, made secretly on foggy nights, had encouraged us to undertake the longer voyage into space. I am glad to say that Professor Gazen, having taken part in one of these, had got the better of his caution, and finally made up his mind to join the expedition.

I suspect that he was influenced in his decision by the heroic example of Miss Carmichael. At all events I know he tried very hard to dissuade her from going; but all his arguments could not shake her inflexible resolution, and truly, there was something sublime in the quiet fidelity of this young woman to her aged father which commanded our admiration.

At length, all preparations for the voyage were complete, and as we did not wish to excite any remark, it was arranged that we should start on the first night that was dark enough to conceal our movements.

While these thoughts were passing through my head, a footman, in plush, entered the smoking-room, and presented a telegram on a golden salver. Anticipating the contents, I tore it open, and read as follows:

"We leave to-night. Come on at once.-CARMICHAEL."

After writing a reply to the message, I turned to the Viscount, who had never raised his eyes from the board, and said,

"You had better give me the game."

He simply stared at me, and asked,

"Why?"

"Well, make it a draw."

"Oh, dear no. Let's play it out."

"I can't. I'm sorry to say I must leave you now. I have just received a telegram making an urgent appointment. When beauty calls-"

"Oh!" replied his lordship, with an amiable smile. "In that case we'll finish it another time. I mean to win this game."

"It will take you all your time."

"I'll wager you ten to one-a thousand sovereigns to a hundred that I win."

It is not my habit to lay wagers; but I was anxious to be gone.

"All right," I responded with a laugh, as I went away. "Good-night!"

On arriving at Mr. Carmichael's cottage I found the rest of the party waiting for me. No time was lost in proceeding to the garden, where the car stood ready to mount into the air. All the lights were out, and in the darkness it might have been mistaken for a tubular boiler of a dumpy shape. It was built of aluminium steel, able to withstand the impact of a meteorite, and the interior was lined with caoutchouc, which is a non-conductor of heat, as well as air-proof. The foot or basement contained the driving mechanism, and a small cabin for Mr. Carmichael. The upper shell, or main body, of an oval contour, projected beyond the basement, and was surmounted by an observatory and connin

g tower. It was divided into several compartments, that in the middle being the saloon, or common chamber. At one end there was a berth for Miss Carmichael, and at the other one for Professor Gazen and myself, with a snug little smoking cell adjoining it. Every additional cubic inch was utilised for the storage of provisions, cooking utensils, arms, books, and scientific apparatus.

The vessel was entered by a door in the middle, and a railed gallery or deck ran round it outside. The interior was lighted by ports, or scuttles, of stout glass; but electricity was also at our service. Air constantly evaporating from the liquid state would fill the rooms, and could escape through vent holes in the walls. This artificial atmosphere was supplemented by a reserve fund of pure oxygen gas compressed in steel cylinders, and a quantity of chemicals for purifying the air. It need hardly be said that we did not burden the ship with unnecessary articles, and that every piece of furniture was of the lightest and most useful kind.

I think we all felt the solemnity of the moment as we stepped into the black hull which might prove our living coffin. No friends were by to sadden us with their parting; but the old earth had grown dearer to us now that we were about to leave it, perhaps for ever. Mr. Carmichael descended by the trap into the engine room, while we others stood on the landing beside the open door, mute and expectant.

Presently, a shudder of the vessel sent a strange thrill to our hearts, and almost before we knew it, we had left the ground.

"We're off!" ejaculated Gazen, and although a slight vibration was all the movement we could feel, we saw the earth sinking away from us. At first we rose very slowly, because the machine had to contend against the force of gravity; but as the weight of the car diminished the higher we ascended, our speed gradually augmented, and we knew that in the long run it would become prodigious. The night was moonless, and a thick mantle of clouds obscured the heavens; but the planet Venus was now an evening star, and after attaining a considerable height, we steered towards the west. Our course took us over the metropolis, which lay beneath us like a vast conflagration.

Far as the eye could see, myriads of lights glimmered like watch fires through the murk of the dismal streets, growing thicker and thicker as we approached the heart of the city, and appearing to blend their lustres. Through the midst of the glittering expanse we could trace the black tide of the river, crossed by the sparkling lines of the bridges, and reflecting the red lanterns of the ships and barges. The principal squares and thoroughfares were picked out, with rows and clusters of gas and electric lamps, as with studs of gold and silver. The clock on the Houses of Parliament glowed like the full moon on a harvest night. Now and again the weird blaze of a furnace, or the shifting beam of an advertisement, attracted our attention. With indescribable emotion we hung over the immense panorama, and recognised the familiar streets and buildings-the Bank and Post Office, St. Paul's Cathedral and Newgate Prison, the Law Courts and Somerset House, the British Museum, the National Gallery of Arts, Trafalgar Square, and Buckingham Palace. We watched the busy multitudes swarming like ants in the glare of the pavements from the dreary slums and stalls of Whitechapel to the newspaper offices of Fleet Street; the shops and theatres of the Strand; the music halls and restaurants of Piccadilly Circus. A deep and continuous roar, a sound like that of the ocean ascended from the toiling millions below.

"Isn't it awful!" exclaimed Miss Carmichael, in a tone of reverence. "What a city! I seem to understand how an angel feels when he regards the world in space, or a God when He listens to the prayers of humanity."

"For my part," said Gazen, "I feel as though I were standing on my head."

By this time we had lost the sense of danger, and gathered confidence in our mode of travel.

"I fancy the clouds overhead are the real earth," explained the astronomer, "and that I'm looking down into the starry heavens, with its Milky Way. I say, though, isn't it jolly up here-soaring above all these moiling mannikins below-wasting their precious lives grubbing in the mire-dead to the glories of the universe-seeking happiness and finding misery. Ugh!-wish I had a packet of dynamite to drop amongst them and make them look up. Hallo!"

The earth had suddenly vanished from our sight.

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