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Book II Chapter 1

THE LAST OF THE EARTH.

Finding that they were rapidly swinging towards their proper course, and that the earth in its journey about the sun would move out of their way, they divided their power between repelling the body they had left and increasing the attraction of the moon, and then set about getting their house in order.

Bearwarden, having the largest appetite, was elected cook, the others sagely divining that labour so largely for himself would be no trial. Their small but business- like-looking electric range was therefore soon in full blast, with Bearwarden in command. It had enough current to provide heat for cooking for four hundred hours, which was an ample margin, and it had this advantage, that, no matter how much it was used, it could not exhaust the air as any other form of heat would.

There were also a number of sixteen-candle-power incandescent lamps, so that when passing through the shadow of a planet, or at night after their arrival on Jupiter, their car would be brightly illuminated. They had also a good search-light for examining the dark side of a satellite, or exploring the spaces in Saturn's rings. Having lunched sumptuously on canned chicken soup, beef a la jardiniere, and pheasant that had been sent them by some of their admirers that morning, they put the bones and the glass can that had contained the soup into the double-doored partition or vestibule, placing a large sheet of cardboard to act as a wad between the scraps and the outside door. By pressing a button they unfastened the outside door, and the articles to be disposed of were shot off by the expansion of the air between the cardboard disk and the inside door; after which the outside door was drawn back to its place by a current sent through a magnet, but little power being required to reclose it with no resisting atmospheric pressure. As the electricity ran along a wire passing through a hermetically sealed opening in the floor, there was no way by which more air than that in the vestibule could escape; and as the somewhat flat space between the doors contained less than one cubic foot, the air- pressure inside the Callisto could not be materially lessened by a few openings.

"By filling the vestibule as full as possible," said Bearwarden, "and so displacing most of its air, we shall be able to open the outside door oftener without danger of rarefaction."

The things they had discharged flew off with considerable speed and were soon out of sight; but it was not necessary for them to move fast, provided they moved at all, for, the resistance being nil, they would be sure to go beyond the range of vision, provided enough time was allowed, even if the Callisto's speed was not being increased by apergy, in which case articles outside and not affected would be quickly left behind.

The earth, which at first had filled nearly half their sky, was rapidly growing smaller. Being almost between themselves and the sun, it looked like a crescent moon; and when it was only about twenty times the size of the moon they calculated they must have come nearly two hundred thousand miles. The moon was now on what a sailor would call the starboard bow--i. e., to the right and ahead. Being a little more than three quarters full, and only about fifty thousand miles off, it presented a splendid sight, brilliant as polished silver, and about twenty-five times as large as they had ever before seen it with the unaided eye.

It was just ten hours since they had started, and at that moment 9 A. M. in New York; but, though it was night there, the Callisto was bathed in a flood of sunlight such as never shines on earth. The only night they would have was on the side of the Callisto turned away from the sun, unless they passed through some shadow, which they intended to avoid on account of the danger of colliding with a meteor in the dark. The moon and the Callisto were moving on converging lines, the curve on which they had entered having swung them to the side nearest the earth; but they saw that their own tremendous and increasing speed would carry them in front of the moon in its nearly circular orbit. Wishing to change the direction of their flight by the moon's attraction, they shut off the power driving them from the earth, whereupon the Callisto turned its heavy base towards the moon. They were already moving at such speed that their momentum alone would carry them hundreds of thousands of miles into space, and were then almost abreast of the earth's satellite, which was but a few thousand miles away. The spectacle was magnificent. As they looked at it through their field glasses or with the unaided eye, the great cracks and craters showed with the utmost clearness, sweeping past them almost as the landscape flies past a railway train. There was something awe-inspiring in the vast antiquity of that furrowed lunar surface, by far the oldest thing that mortal eye can see, since, while observing the ceaseless political or geological changes on earth, the face of this dead satellite, on account of the absence of air and water and consequent erosion, has remained unchanged for bygone ages, as it doubtless will for many more.

They closely watched the Callisto's course. At first it did not seem to deflect from a straight line, and they stood ready to turn on the apergetic force again, when the car very slowly began to show the effect of the moon's near pull; but not till they had so far passed it that the dark side was towards them were they heading straight for Jupiter. Then they again turned on full power and got a send-off shove on the moon and earth combined, which increased their speed so rapidly that they felt they could soon shut off the current altogether and save their supply.

"We must be ready to watch the signals from the arctic circle," said Bearwarden. "At midnight, if the calculations are finished, the result will be flashed by the searchlight." It was then ten minutes to twelve, and the earth was already over four hundred thousand miles away. Focusing their glasses upon the region near the north pole, which, being turned from the sun, was towards them and in darkness, they waited.

"In this blaze of sunlight," said Cortlandt, "I am afraid we can see nothing."

Fortunately, at this moment the Callisto entered the moon's tapering shadow.

"This," said Ayrault, "is good luck. We could of course have gone into the shadow; but to change our course would have delayed us, and we might have lost part of the chance of increasing our speed."

"There will be no danger from, meteors or sub-satellites here," said Bearwarden, "for anything revolving about the moon at this distance would be caught by the earth."

The sun had apparently set behind the moon, and they were eclipsed. The stars shone with the utmost splendour against the dead-black sky, and the earth appeared as a large crescent, still considerably larger than the satellite to which they were accustomed. Exactly at midnight a faint phosphorescent light, like that of a glow-worm, appeared in the region of Greenland on the planet they had left. It gradually increased its strength till it shone like a long white beam projected from a lighthouse, and in this they beheld the work of the greatest search-light ever made by man, receiving for a few moments all the electricity generated by the available dynamos at Niagara and the Bay of Fundy, the steam engines, and other sources of power in the northern hemisphere. The beam lasted with growing intensity for one minute; it then spelled out with clean-cut intervals, according to the Cable Code: "23@ no' 6". The southern hemisphere pumps are now raising and storing water at full blast. We have already begun to lower the Arctic Ocean."

"Victory!" shouted Bearwarden, in an ecstasy of delight. "Nearly half a degree in six months, with but one pole working. If we can add at this rate each time to the speed of straightening already acquired, we can reverse our engines in five years, and in five more the earth will be at rest and right."

"Look!" said Ayrault, "they are sending something else." The flashes came in rapid succession, reaching far into space. With their glasses fixed upon them, they made out these sentences: "Our telescopes, in whatever part of the earth was turned towards you, have followed you since you started, and did not lose sight of you till you entered the moon's shadow. On your present course you will be in darkness till 12.16, when we shall see you again."

On receiving this last earthly message, the travellers sprang to their searchlight, and, using its full power, telegraphed back the following: "Many thanks to you for good news about earth, and to Secretary Deepwaters for lending us the navy. Result of work most glorious. Remember us to everybody. Shadow's edge approaching."

This was read by the men in the great observatories, who evidently telephoned to the arctic Signal Light immediately, for it flashed back: "Got your message perfectly. Wish you greatest luck. The T. A. S. Co. has decked the Callisto's pedestal with flowers, and has ordered a tablet set up on the site to commemorate your celestial journey."

At that moment the shadow swept by, and they were in the full blaze of cloudless day. The change was so great that for a moment they were obliged to close their eyes. The polished sides of the Callisto shone so brightly that they knew they were easily seen. The power temporarily diverted in sending them the message then returned to the work of draining the Arctic Ocean, which, as the north pole was now returning to the sun, was the thing to do, and the travellers resumed their study of the heavenly bodies.