THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON

 

by H.G. Wells

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Mr. Bedford Meets Mr. Cavor at Lympne

 

As I sit down to write here amidst the shadows of vine-leaves under the

blue sky of southern Italy, it comes to me with a certain quality of

astonishment that my participation in these amazing adventures of Mr.

Cavor was, after all, the outcome of the purest accident. It might have

been any one. I fell into these things at a time when I thought myself

removed from the slightest possibility of disturbing experiences. I had

gone to Lympne because I had imagined it the most uneventful place in the

world. "Here, at any rate," said I, "I shall find peace and a chance to

work!"

 

And this book is the sequel. So utterly at variance is destiny with all

the little plans of men. I may perhaps mention here that very recently I

had come an ugly cropper in certain business enterprises. Sitting now

surrounded by all the circumstances of wealth, there is a luxury in

admitting my extremity. I can admit, even, that to a certain extent my

disasters were conceivably of my own making. It may be there are

directions in which I have some capacity, but the conduct of business

operations is not among these. But in those days I was young, and my youth

among other objectionable forms took that of a pride in my capacity for

affairs. I am young still in years, but the things that have happened to

me have rubbed something of the youth from my mind. Whether they have

brought any wisdom to light below it is a more doubtful matter.

 

It is scarcely necessary to go into the details of the speculations that

landed me at Lympne, in Kent. Nowadays even about business transactions

there is a strong spice of adventure. I took risks. In these things

there is invariably a certain amount of give and take, and it fell to me

finally to do the giving reluctantly enough. Even when I had got out of

everything, one cantankerous creditor saw fit to be malignant. Perhaps you

have met that flaming sense of outraged virtue, or perhaps you have only

felt it. He ran me hard. It seemed to me, at last, that there was nothing

for it but to write a play, unless I wanted to drudge for my living as a

clerk. I have a certain imagination, and luxurious tastes, and I meant to

make a vigorous fight for it before that fate overtook me. In addition to

my belief in my powers as a business man, I had always in those days had

an idea that I was equal to writing a very good play. It is not, I

believe, a very uncommon persuasion. I knew there is nothing a man can do

outside legitimate business transactions that has such opulent

possibilities, and very probably that biased my opinion. I had, indeed,

got into the habit of regarding this unwritten drama as a convenient

little reserve put by for a rainy day. That rainy day had come, and I set

to work.

 

I soon discovered that writing a play was a longer business than I had

supposed; at first I had reckoned ten days for it, and it was to have a

pied-a-terre while it was in hand that I came to Lympne. I reckoned myself

lucky in getting that little bungalow. I got it on a three years'

agreement. I put in a few sticks of furniture, and while the play was in

hand I did my own cooking. My cooking would have shocked Mrs. Bond. And

yet, you know, it had flavour. I had a coffee-pot, a sauce-pan for eggs,

and one for potatoes, and a frying-pan for sausages and bacon--such was

the simple apparatus of my comfort. One cannot always be magnificent, but

simplicity is always a possible alternative. For the rest I laid in an

eighteen-gallon cask of beer on credit, and a trustful baker came each

day. It was not, perhaps, in the style of Sybaris, but I have had worse

times. I was a little sorry for the baker, who was a very decent man

indeed, but even for him I hoped.

 

Certainly if any one wants solitude, the place is Lympne. It is in the

clay part of Kent, and my bungalow stood on the edge of an old sea cliff

and stared across the flats of Romney Marsh at the sea. In very wet

weather the place is almost inaccessible, and I have heard that at times

the postman used to traverse the more succulent portions of his route with

boards upon his feet. I never saw him doing so, but I can quite imagine

it. Outside the doors of the few cottages and houses that make up the

present village big birch besoms are stuck, to wipe off the worst of the

clay, which will give some idea of the texture of the district. I doubt if

the place would be there at all, if it were not a fading memory of things

gone for ever. It was the big port of England in Roman times, Portus

Lemanis, and now the sea is four miles away. All down the steep hill are

boulders and masses of Roman brickwork, and from it old Watling Street,

still paved in places, starts like an arrow to the north. I used to stand

on the hill and think of it all, the galleys and legions, the captives and

officials, the women and traders, the speculators like myself, all the

swarm and tumult that came clanking in and out of the harbour. And now

just a few lumps of rubble on a grassy slope, and a sheep or two--and I.

And where the port had been were the levels of the marsh, sweeping round

in a broad curve to distant Dungeness, and dotted here and there with tree

clumps and the church towers of old medical towns that are following

Lemanis now towards extinction.

 

That outlook on the marsh was, indeed, one of the finest views I have ever

seen. I suppose Dungeness was fifteen miles away; it lay like a raft on

the sea, and farther westward were the hills by Hastings under the setting

sun. Sometimes they hung close and clear, sometimes they were faded and

low, and often the drift of the weather took them clean out of sight. And

all the nearer parts of the marsh were laced and lit by ditches and

canals.

 

The window at which I worked looked over the skyline of this crest, and it

was from this window that I first set eyes on Cavor. It was just as I was

struggling with my scenario, holding down my mind to the sheer hard work

of it, and naturally enough he arrested my attention.

 

The sun had set, the sky was a vivid tranquillity of green and yellow, and

against that he came out black--the oddest little figure.

 

He was a short, round-bodied, thin-legged little man, with a jerky quality

in his motions; he had seen fit to clothe his extraordinary mind in a

cricket cap, an overcoat, and cycling knickerbockers and stockings. Why he

did so I do not know, for he never cycled and he never played cricket. It

was a fortuitous concurrence of garments, arising I know not how. He

gesticulated with his hands and arms, and jerked his head about and

buzzed. He buzzed like something electric. You never heard such buzzing.

And ever and again he cleared his throat with a most extraordinary noise.

 

There had been rain, and that spasmodic walk of his was enhanced by the

extreme slipperiness of the footpath. Exactly as he came against the sun

he stopped, pulled out a watch, hesitated. Then with a sort of convulsive

gesture he turned and retreated with every manifestation of haste, no

longer gesticulating, but going with ample strides that showed the

relatively large size of his feet--they were, I remember, grotesquely

exaggerated in size by adhesive clay--to the best possible advantage.

 

This occurred on the first day of my sojourn, when my play-writing energy

was at its height and I regarded the incident simply as an annoying

distraction--the waste of five minutes. I returned to my scenario. But

when next evening the apparition was repeated with remarkable precision,

and again the next evening, and indeed every evening when rain was not

falling, concentration upon the scenario became a considerable effort.

"Confound the man," I said, "one would think he was learning to be a

marionette!" and for several evenings I cursed him pretty heartily. Then

my annoyance gave way to amazement and curiosity. Why on earth should a

man do this thing? On the fourteenth evening I could stand it no longer,

and so soon as he appeared I opened the french window, crossed the

verandah, and directed myself to the point where he invariably stopped.

 

He had his watch out as I came up to him. He had a chubby, rubicund face

with reddish brown eyes--previously I had seen him only against the

light. "One moment, sir," said I as he turned. He stared. "One moment,"

he said, "certainly. Or if you wish to speak to me for longer, and it is

not asking too much--your moment is up--would it trouble you to

accompany me?"

 

"Not in the least," said I, placing myself beside him.

 

"My habits are regular. My time for intercourse--limited."

 

"This, I presume, is your time for exercise?"

 

"It is. I come here to enjoy the sunset."

 

"You don't."

 

"Sir?"

 

"You never look at it."

 

"Never look at it?"

 

"No. I've watched you thirteen nights, and not once have you looked at the

sunset--not once."

 

He knitted his brows like one who encounters a problem.

 

"Well, I enjoy the sunlight--the atmosphere--I go along this path,

through that gate"--he jerked his head over his shoulder--"and round--"

 

"You don't. You never have been. It's all nonsense. There isn't a way.

To-night for instance--"

 

"Oh! to-night! Let me see. Ah! I just glanced at my watch, saw that I had

already been out just three minutes over the precise half-hour, decided

there was not time to go round, turned--"

 

"You always do."

 

He looked at me--reflected. "Perhaps I do, now I come to think of it. But

what was it you wanted to speak to me about?"

 

"Why, this!"

 

"This?"

 

"Yes. Why do you do it? Every night you come making a noise--"

 

"Making a noise?"

 

"Like this." I imitated his buzzing noise. He looked at me, and it was

evident the buzzing awakened distaste. "Do I do that?" he asked.

 

"Every blessed evening."

 

"I had no idea."

 

He stopped dead. He regarded me gravely. "Can it be," he said, "that I

have formed a Habit?"

 

"Well, it looks like it. Doesn't it?"

 

He pulled down his lower lip between finger and thumb. He regarded a

puddle at his feet.

 

"My mind is much occupied," he said. "And you want to know why! Well, sir,

I can assure you that not only do I not know why I do these things, but I

did not even know I did them. Come to think, it is just as you say;

I never _have_ been beyond that field.... And these things annoy you?"

 

For some reason I was beginning to relent towards him. "Not annoy,"

I said. "But--imagine yourself writing a play!"

 

"I couldn't."

 

"Well, anything that needs concentration."

 

"Ah!" he said, "of course," and meditated. His expression became so

eloquent of distress, that I relented still more. After all, there is a

touch of aggression in demanding of a man you don't know why he hums on

a public footpath.

 

"You see," he said weakly, "it's a habit."

 

"Oh, I recognise that."

 

"I must stop it."

 

"But not if it puts you out. After all, I had no business--it's something

of a liberty."

 

"Not at all, sir," he said, "not at all. I am greatly indebted to you. I

should guard myself against these things. In future I will. Could I

trouble you--once again? That noise?"

 

"Something like this," I said. "Zuzzoo, zuzzoo. But really, you know--"

 

"I am greatly obliged to you. In fact, I know I am getting absurdly

absent-minded. You are quite justified, sir--perfectly justified. Indeed,

I am indebted to you. The thing shall end. And now, sir, I have already

brought you farther than I should have done."

 

"I do hope my impertinence--"

 

"Not at all, sir, not at all."

 

We regarded each other for a moment. I raised my hat and wished him a good

evening. He responded convulsively, and so we went our ways.

 

At the stile I looked back at his receding figure. His bearing had changed

remarkably, he seemed limp, shrunken. The contrast with his former

gesticulating, zuzzoing self took me in some absurd way as pathetic. I

watched him out of sight. Then wishing very heartily I had kept to my own

business, I returned to my bungalow and my play.

 

The next evening I saw nothing of him, nor the next. But he was very much

in my mind, and it had occurred to me that as a sentimental comic

character he might serve a useful purpose in the development of my plot.

The third day he called upon me.

 

For a time I was puzzled to think what had brought him. He made

indifferent conversation in the most formal way, then abruptly he came to

business. He wanted to buy me out of my bungalow.

 

"You see," he said, "I don't blame you in the least, but you've

destroyed a habit, and it disorganises my day. I've walked past here for

years--years. No doubt I've hummed.... You've made all that impossible!"

 

I suggested he might try some other direction.

 

"No. There is no other direction. This is the only one. I've inquired.

And now--every afternoon at four--I come to a dead wall."

 

"But, my dear sir, if the thing is so important to you--"

 

"It's vital. You see, I'm--I'm an investigator--I am engaged in a

scientific research. I live--" he paused and seemed to think. "Just over

there," he said, and pointed suddenly dangerously near my eye. "The house

with white chimneys you see just over the trees. And my circumstances are

abnormal--abnormal. I am on the point of completing one of the most

important--demonstrations--I can assure you one of the most important

demonstrations that have ever been made. It requires constant thought,

constant mental ease and activity. And the afternoon was my brightest

time!--effervescing with new ideas--new points of view."

 

"But why not come by still?"

 

"It would be all different. I should be self-conscious. I should think of

you at your play--watching me irritated--instead of thinking of my work.

No! I must have the bungalow."

 

I meditated. Naturally, I wanted to think the matter over thoroughly

before anything decisive was said. I was generally ready enough for

business in those days, and selling always attracted me; but in the first

place it was not my bungalow, and even if I sold it to him at a good price

I might get inconvenienced in the delivery of goods if the current owner

got wind of the transaction, and in the second I was, well--undischarged.

It was clearly a business that required delicate handling. Moreover,

the possibility of his being in pursuit of some valuable invention also

interested me. It occurred to me that I would like to know more of this

research, not with any dishonest intention, but simply with an idea

that to know what it was would be a relief from play-writing. I threw

out feelers.

 

He was quite willing to supply information. Indeed, once he was fairly

under way the conversation became a monologue. He talked like a man long

pent up, who has had it over with himself again and again. He talked for

nearly an hour, and I must confess I found it a pretty stiff bit of

listening. But through it all there was the undertone of satisfaction one

feels when one is neglecting work one has set oneself. During that first

interview I gathered very little of the drift of his work. Half his words

were technicalities entirely strange to me, and he illustrated one or two

points with what he was pleased to call elementary mathematics, computing

on an envelope with a copying-ink pencil, in a manner that made it hard

even to seem to understand. "Yes," I said, "yes. Go on!" Nevertheless I

made out enough to convince me that he was no mere crank playing at

discoveries. In spite of his crank-like appearance there was a force about

him that made that impossible. Whatever it was, it was a thing with

mechanical possibilities. He told me of a work-shed he had, and of three

assistants--originally jobbing carpenters--whom he had trained. Now,

from the work-shed to the patent office is clearly only one step. He

invited me to see those things. I accepted readily, and took care, by a

remark or so, to underline that. The proposed transfer of the bungalow

remained very conveniently in suspense.

 

At last he rose to depart, with an apology for the length of his call.

Talking over his work was, he said, a pleasure enjoyed only too rarely. It

was not often he found such an intelligent listener as myself, he mingled

very little with professional scientific men.

 

"So much pettiness," he explained; "so much intrigue! And really, when one

has an idea--a novel, fertilising idea--I don't want to be uncharitable,

but--"

 

I am a man who believes in impulses. I made what was perhaps a rash

proposition. But you must remember, that I had been alone, play-writing in

Lympne, for fourteen days, and my compunction for his ruined walk still

hung about me. "Why not," said I, "make this your new habit? In the place

of the one I spoilt? At least, until we can settle about the bungalow.

What you want is to turn over your work in your mind. That you have always

done during your afternoon walk. Unfortunately that's over--you can't get

things back as they were. But why not come and talk about your work to me;

use me as a sort of wall against which you may throw your thoughts and

catch them again? It's certain I don't know enough to steal your ideas

myself--and I know no scientific men--"

 

I stopped. He was considering. Evidently the thing, attracted him. "But

I'm afraid I should bore you," he said.

 

"You think I'm too dull?"

 

"Oh, no; but technicalities--"

 

"Anyhow, you've interested me immensely this afternoon."

 

"Of course it would be a great help to me. Nothing clears up one's ideas

so much as explaining them. Hitherto--"

 

"My dear sir, say no more."

 

"But really can you spare the time?"

 

"There is no rest like change of occupation," I said, with profound

conviction.

 

The affair was over. On my verandah steps he turned. "I am already greatly

indebted to you," he said.

 

I made an interrogative noise.

 

"You have completely cured me of that ridiculous habit of humming," he

explained.

 

I think I said I was glad to be of any service to him, and he turned away.

 

Immediately the train of thought that our conversation had suggested must

have resumed its sway. His arms began to wave in their former fashion.

The faint echo of "zuzzoo" came back to me on the breeze....

 

Well, after all, that was not my affair....

 

He came the next day, and again the next day after that, and delivered

two lectures on physics to our mutual satisfaction. He talked with an

air of being extremely lucid about the "ether" and "tubes of force," and

"gravitational potential," and things like that, and I sat in my other

folding-chair and said, "Yes," "Go on," "I follow you," to keep him

going. It was tremendously difficult stuff, but I do not think he ever

suspected how much I did not understand him. There were moments when I

doubted whether I was well employed, but at any rate I was resting from

that confounded play. Now and then things gleamed on me clearly for a

space, only to vanish just when I thought I had hold of them. Sometimes my

attention failed altogether, and I would give it up and sit and stare at

him, wondering whether, after all, it would not be better to use him as a

central figure in a good farce and let all this other stuff slide. And

then, perhaps, I would catch on again for a bit.

 

At the earliest opportunity I went to see his house. It was large and

carelessly furnished; there were no servants other than his three

assistants, and his dietary and private life were characterised by a

philosophical simplicity. He was a water-drinker, a vegetarian, and all

those logical disciplinary things. But the sight of his equipment settled

many doubts. It looked like business from cellar to attic--an amazing

little place to find in an out-of-the-way village. The ground-floor rooms

contained benches and apparatus, the bakehouse and scullery boiler had

developed into respectable furnaces, dynamos occupied the cellar, and

there was a gasometer in the garden. He showed it to me with all the

confiding zest of a man who has been living too much alone. His seclusion

was overflowing now in an excess of confidence, and I had the good luck to

be the recipient.

 

The three assistants were creditable specimens of the class of "handy-men"

from which they came. Conscientious if unintelligent, strong, civil, and

willing. One, Spargus, who did the cooking and all the metal work, had

been a sailor; a second, Gibbs, was a joiner; and the third was an

ex-jobbing gardener, and now general assistant. They were the merest

labourers. All the intelligent work was done by Cavor. Theirs was the

darkest ignorance compared even with my muddled impression.

 

And now, as to the nature of these inquiries. Here, unhappily, comes a

grave difficulty. I am no scientific expert, and if I were to attempt to

set forth in the highly scientific language of Mr. Cavor the aim to which

his experiments tended, I am afraid I should confuse not only the reader

but myself, and almost certainly I should make some blunder that would

bring upon me the mockery of every up-to-date student of mathematical

physics in the country. The best thing I can do therefore is, I think to

give my impressions in my own inexact language, without any attempt to

wear a garment of knowledge to which I have no claim.

 

The object of Mr. Cavor's search was a substance that should be

"opaque"--he used some other word I have forgotten, but "opaque" conveys

the idea--to "all forms of radiant energy." "Radiant energy," he made me

understand, was anything like light or heat, or those Rontgen Rays there

was so much talk about a year or so ago, or the electric waves of Marconi,

or gravitation. All these things, he said, _radiate_ out from centres, and

act on bodies at a distance, whence comes the term "radiant energy." Now

almost all substances are opaque to some form or other of radiant energy.

Glass, for example, is transparent to light, but much less so to heat, so

that it is useful as a fire-screen; and alum is transparent to light, but

blocks heat completely. A solution of iodine in carbon bisulphide, on the

other hand, completely blocks light, but is quite transparent to heat. It

will hide a fire from you, but permit all its warmth to reach you. Metals

are not only opaque to light and heat, but also to electrical energy,

which passes through both iodine solution and glass almost as though they

were not interposed. And so on.

 

Now all known substances are "transparent" to gravitation. You can use

screens of various sorts to cut off the light or heat, or electrical

influence of the sun, or the warmth of the earth from anything; you can

screen things by sheets of metal from Marconi's rays, but nothing will cut

off the gravitational attraction of the sun or the gravitational

attraction of the earth. Yet why there should be nothing is hard to say.

Cavor did not see why such a substance should not exist, and certainly I

could not tell him. I had never thought of such a possibility before. He

showed me by calculations on paper, which Lord Kelvin, no doubt, or

Professor Lodge, or Professor Karl Pearson, or any of those great

scientific people might have understood, but which simply reduced me to a

hopeless muddle, that not only was such a substance possible, but that it

must satisfy certain conditions. It was an amazing piece of reasoning.

Much as it amazed and exercised me at the time, it would be impossible to

reproduce it here. "Yes," I said to it all, "yes; go on!" Suffice it for

this story that he believed he might be able to manufacture this possible

substance opaque to gravitation out of a complicated alloy of metals and

something new--a new element, I fancy--called, I believe, _helium_, which

was sent to him from London in sealed stone jars. Doubt has been thrown

upon this detail, but I am almost certain it was _helium_ he had sent him

in sealed stone jars. It was certainly something very gaseous and thin.

If only I had taken notes...

 

But then, how was I to foresee the necessity of taking notes?

 

Any one with the merest germ of an imagination will understand the

extraordinary possibilities of such a substance, and will sympathise a

little with the emotion I felt as this understanding emerged from the haze

of abstruse phrases in which Cavor expressed himself. Comic relief in a

play indeed! It was some time before I would believe that I had

interpreted him aright, and I was very careful not to ask questions that

would have enabled him to gauge the profundity of misunderstanding into

which he dropped his daily exposition. But no one reading the story of it

here will sympathise fully, because from my barren narrative it will be

impossible to gather the strength of my conviction that this astonishing

substance was positively going to be made.

 

I do not recall that I gave my play an hour's consecutive work at any time

after my visit to his house. My imagination had other things to do. There

seemed no limit to the possibilities of the stuff; whichever way I tried I

came on miracles and revolutions. For example, if one wanted to lift a

weight, however enormous, one had only to get a sheet of this substance

beneath it, and one might lift it with a straw. My first natural impulse

was to apply this principle to guns and ironclads, and all the material

and methods of war, and from that to shipping, locomotion, building, every

conceivable form of human industry. The chance that had brought me into

the very birth-chamber of this new time--it was an epoch, no less--was

one of those chances that come once in a thousand years. The thing

unrolled, it expanded and expanded. Among other things I saw in it my

redemption as a business man. I saw a parent company, and daughter

companies, applications to right of us, applications to left, rings and

trusts, privileges, and concessions spreading and spreading, until one

vast, stupendous Cavorite company ran and ruled the world.

 

And I was in it!

 

I took my line straight away. I knew I was staking everything, but I

jumped there and then.

 

"We're on absolutely the biggest thing that has ever been invented," I

said, and put the accent on "we." "If you want to keep me out of this,

you'll have to do it with a gun. I'm coming down to be your fourth

labourer to-morrow."

 

He seemed surprised at my enthusiasm, but not a bit suspicious or hostile.

Rather, he was self-depreciatory. He looked at me doubtfully. "But do you

really think--?" he said. "And your play! How about that play?"

 

"It's vanished!" I cried. "My dear sir, don't you see what you've got?

Don't you see what you're going to do?"

 

That was merely a rhetorical turn, but positively, he didn't. At first I

could not believe it. He had not had the beginning of the inkling of an

idea. This astonishing little man had been working on purely theoretical

grounds the whole time! When he said it was "the most important" research

the world had ever seen, he simply meant it squared up so many theories,

settled so much that was in doubt; he had troubled no more about the

application of the stuff he was going to turn out than if he had been a

machine that makes guns. This was a possible substance, and he was going

to make it! V'la tout, as the Frenchman says.

 

Beyond that, he was childish! If he made it, it would go down to posterity

as Cavorite or Cavorine, and he would be made an F.R.S., and his portrait

given away as a scientific worthy with Nature, and things like that. And

that was all he saw! He would have dropped this bombshell into the world

as though he had discovered a new species of gnat, if it had not happened

that I had come along. And there it would have lain and fizzled, like one

or two other little things these scientific people have lit and dropped

about us.

 

When I realised this, it was I did the talking, and Cavor who said, "Go

on!" I jumped up. I paced the room, gesticulating like a boy of twenty.

I tried to make him understand his duties and responsibilities in the

matter--_our_ duties and responsibilities in the matter. I assured him we

might make wealth enough to work any sort of social revolution we fancied,

we might own and order the whole world. I told him of companies and

patents, and the case for secret processes. All these things seemed to

take him much as his mathematics had taken me. A look of perplexity came

into his ruddy little face. He stammered something about indifference to

wealth, but I brushed all that aside. He had got to be rich, and it was no

good his stammering. I gave him to understand the sort of man I was, and

that I had had very considerable business experience. I did not tell him

I was an undischarged bankrupt at the time, because that was temporary,

but I think I reconciled my evident poverty with my financial claims. And

quite insensibly, in the way such projects grow, the understanding of a

Cavorite monopoly grew up between us. He was to make the stuff, and I was

to make the boom.

 

I stuck like a leech to the "we"--"you" and "I" didn't exist for me.

 

His idea was that the profits I spoke of might go to endow research, but

that, of course, was a matter we had to settle later. "That's all right,"

I shouted, "that's all right." The great point, as I insisted, was to get

the thing done.

 

"Here is a substance," I cried, "no home, no factory, no fortress, no ship

can dare to be without--more universally applicable even than a patent

medicine. There isn't a solitary aspect of it, not one of its ten thousand

possible uses that will not make us rich, Cavor, beyond the dreams of

avarice!"

 

"No!" he said. "I begin to see. It's extraordinary how one gets new points

of view by talking over things!"

 

"And as it happens you have just talked to the right man!"

 

"I suppose no one," he said, "is absolutely _averse_ to enormous wealth.

Of course there is one thing--"

 

He paused. I stood still.

 

"It is just possible, you know, that we may not be able to make it after

all! It may be one of those things that are a theoretical possibility, but

a practical absurdity. Or when we make it, there may be some little

hitch!"

 

"We'll tackle the hitch when it comes." said I.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

 

 

The First Making of Cavorite

 

But Cavor's fears were groundless, so far as the actual making was

concerned. On the 14th of October, 1899, this incredible substance was

made!

 

Oddly enough, it was made at last by accident, when Mr. Cavor least

expected it. He had fused together a number of metals and certain other

things--I wish I knew the particulars now!--and he intended to leave

the mixture a week and then allow it to cool slowly. Unless he had

miscalculated, the last stage in the combination would occur when the

stuff sank to a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. But it chanced

that, unknown to Cavor, dissension had arisen about the furnace tending.

Gibbs, who had previously seen to this, had suddenly attempted to shift

it to the man who had been a gardener, on the score that coal was soil,

being dug, and therefore could not possibly fall within the province of

a joiner; the man who had been a jobbing gardener alleged, however, that

coal was a metallic or ore-like substance, let alone that he was cook.

But Spargus insisted on Gibbs doing the coaling, seeing that he was a

joiner and that coal is notoriously fossil wood. Consequently Gibbs

ceased to replenish the furnace, and no one else did so, and Cavor was

too much immersed in certain interesting problems concerning a Cavorite

flying machine (neglecting the resistance of the air and one or two

other points) to perceive that anything was wrong. And the premature

birth of his invention took place just as he was coming across the field

to my bungalow for our afternoon talk and tea.

 

I remember the occasion with extreme vividness. The water was boiling, and

everything was prepared, and the sound of his "zuzzoo" had brought me out

upon the verandah. His active little figure was black against the autumnal

sunset, and to the right the chimneys of his house just rose above a

gloriously tinted group of trees. Remoter rose the Wealden Hills, faint

and blue, while to the left the hazy marsh spread out spacious and serene.

And then--

 

The chimneys jerked heavenward, smashing into a string of bricks as they

rose, and the roof and a miscellany of furniture followed. Then overtaking

them came a huge white flame. The trees about the building swayed and

whirled and tore themselves to pieces, that sprang towards the flare. My

ears were smitten with a clap of thunder that left me deaf on one side for

life, and all about me windows smashed, unheeded.

 

I took three steps from the verandah towards Cavor's house, and even as I

did so came the wind.

 

Instantly my coat tails were over my head, and I was progressing in great

leaps and bounds, and quite against my will, towards him. In the same

moment the discoverer was seized, whirled about, and flew through the

screaming air. I saw one of my chimney pots hit the ground within six

yards of me, leap a score of feet, and so hurry in great strides towards

the focus of the disturbance. Cavor, kicking and flapping, came down

again, rolled over and over on the ground for a space, struggled up and

was lifted and borne forward at an enormous velocity, vanishing at last

among the labouring, lashing trees that writhed about his house.

 

A mass of smoke and ashes, and a square of bluish shining substance rushed

up towards the zenith. A large fragment of fencing came sailing past me,

dropped edgeways, hit the ground and fell flat, and then the worst was

over. The aerial commotion fell swiftly until it was a mere strong gale,

and I became once more aware that I had breath and feet. By leaning back

against the wind I managed to stop, and could collect such wits as still

remained to me.

 

In that instant the whole face of the world had changed. The tranquil

sunset had vanished, the sky was dark with scurrying clouds, everything

was flattened and swaying with the gale. I glanced back to see if my

bungalow was still in a general way standing, then staggered forwards

towards the trees amongst which Cavor had vanished, and through whose tall

and leaf-denuded branches shone the flames of his burning house.

 

I entered the copse, dashing from one tree to another and clinging to

them, and for a space I sought him in vain. Then amidst a heap of smashed

branches and fencing that had banked itself against a portion of his

garden wall I perceived something stir. I made a run for this, but before

I reached it a brown object separated itself, rose on two muddy legs, and

protruded two drooping, bleeding hands. Some tattered ends of garment

fluttered out from its middle portion and streamed before the wind.

 

For a moment I did not recognise this earthy lump, and then I saw that it

was Cavor, caked in the mud in which he had rolled. He leant forward

against the wind, rubbing the dirt from his eyes and mouth.

 

He extended a muddy lump of hand, and staggered a pace towards me. His

face worked with emotion, little lumps of mud kept falling from it. He

looked as damaged and pitiful as any living creature I have ever seen, and

his remark therefore amazed me exceedingly.

 

"Gratulate me," he gasped; "gratulate me!"

 

"Congratulate you!" said I. "Good heavens! What for?"

 

"I've done it."

 

"You _have_. What on earth caused that explosion?"

 

A gust of wind blew his words away. I understood him to say that it wasn't

an explosion at all. The wind hurled me into collision with him, and we

stood clinging to one another.

 

"Try and get back--to my bungalow," I bawled in his ear. He did not hear

me, and shouted something about "three martyrs--science," and also

something about "not much good." At the time he laboured under the

impression that his three attendants had perished in the whirlwind.

Happily this was incorrect. Directly he had left for my bungalow they had

gone off to the public-house in Lympne to discuss the question of the

furnaces over some trivial refreshment.

 

I repeated my suggestion of getting back to my bungalow, and this time he

understood. We clung arm-in-arm and started, and managed at last to reach

the shelter of as much roof as was left to me. For a space we sat in

arm-chairs and panted. All the windows were broken, and the lighter

articles of furniture were in great disorder, but no irrevocable damage

was done. Happily the kitchen door had stood the pressure upon it, so that

all my crockery and cooking materials had survived. The oil stove was

still burning, and I put on the water to boil again for tea. And that

prepared, I could turn on Cavor for his explanation.

 

"Quite correct," he insisted; "quite correct. I've done it, and it's all

right."

 

"But," I protested. "All right! Why, there can't be a rick standing, or a

fence or a thatched roof undamaged for twenty miles round...."

 

"It's all right--_really_. I didn't, of course, foresee this little upset.

My mind was preoccupied with another problem, and I'm apt to disregard

these practical side issues. But it's all right--"

 

"My dear sir," I cried, "don't you see you've done thousands of pounds'

worth of damage?"

 

"There, I throw myself on your discretion. I'm not a practical man, of

course, but don't you think they will regard it as a cyclone?"

 

"But the explosion--"

 

"It was not an explosion. It's perfectly simple. Only, as I say, I'm apt

to overlook these little things. Its that zuzzoo business on a larger

scale. Inadvertently I made this substance of mine, this Cavorite, in a

thin, wide sheet...."

 

He paused. "You are quite clear that the stuff is opaque to gravitation,

that it cuts off things from gravitating towards each other?"

 

"Yes," said I. "Yes."

 

"Well, so soon as it reached a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit,

and the process of its manufacture was complete, the air above it, the

portions of roof and ceiling and floor above it ceased to have weight.

I suppose you know--everybody knows nowadays--that, as a usual thing,

the air _has_ weight, that it presses on everything at the surface of the

earth, presses in all directions, with a pressure of fourteen and a half

pounds to the square inch?"

 

"I know that," said I. "Go on."

 

"I know that too," he remarked. "Only this shows you how useless

knowledge is unless you apply it. You see, over our Cavorite this ceased

to be the case, the air there ceased to exert any pressure, and the air

round it and not over the Cavorite was exerting a pressure of fourteen

pounds and a half to the square in upon this suddenly weightless air. Ah!

you begin to see! The air all about the Cavorite crushed in upon the air

above it with irresistible force. The air above the Cavorite was forced

upward violently, the air that rushed in to replace it immediately lost

weight, ceased to exert any pressure, followed suit, blew the ceiling

through and the roof off....

 

"You perceive," he said, "it formed a sort of atmospheric fountain, a kind

of chimney in the atmosphere. And if the Cavorite itself hadn't been loose

and so got sucked up the chimney, does it occur to you what would have

happened?"

 

I thought. "I suppose," I said, "the air would be rushing up and up over

that infernal piece of stuff now."

 

"Precisely," he said. "A huge fountain--"

 

"Spouting into space! Good heavens! Why, it would have squirted all the

atmosphere of the earth away! It would have robbed the world of air! It

would have been the death of all mankind! That little lump of stuff!"

 

"Not exactly into space," said Cavor, "but as bad--practically. It would

have whipped the air off the world as one peels a banana, and flung it

thousands of miles. It would have dropped back again, of course--but on

an asphyxiated world! From our point of view very little better than if it

never came back!"

 

I stared. As yet I was too amazed to realise how all my expectations had

been upset. "What do you mean to do now?" I asked.

 

"In the first place if I may borrow a garden trowel I will remove some of

this earth with which I am encased, and then if I may avail myself of your

domestic conveniences I will have a bath. This done, we will converse more

at leisure. It will be wise, I think"--he laid a muddy hand on my arm--"if

nothing were said of this affair beyond ourselves. I know I have caused

great damage--probably even dwelling-houses may be ruined here and there

upon the country-side. But on the other hand, I cannot possibly pay for

the damage I have done, and if the real cause of this is published, it

will lead only to heartburning and the obstruction of my work. One cannot

foresee everything, you know, and I cannot consent for one moment to

add the burthen of practical considerations to my theorising. Later

on, when you have come in with your practical mind, and Cavorite is

floated--floated is the word, isn't it?--and it has realised all you

anticipate for it, we may set matters right with these persons. But not

now--not now. If no other explanation is offered, people, in the present

unsatisfactory state of meteorological science, will ascribe all this to a

cyclone; there might be a public subscription, and as my house has

collapsed and been burnt, I should in that case receive a considerable

share in the compensation, which would be extremely helpful to the

prosecution of our researches. But if it is known that _I_ caused this,

there will be no public subscription, and everybody will be put out.

Practically I should never get a chance of working in peace again. My

three assistants may or may not have perished. That is a detail. If they

have, it is no great loss; they were more zealous than able, and this

premature event must be largely due to their joint neglect of the furnace.

If they have not perished, I doubt if they have the intelligence to

explain the affair. They will accept the cyclone story. And if during the

temporary unfitness of my house for occupation, I may lodge in one of the

untenanted rooms of this bungalow of yours--"

 

He paused and regarded me.

 

A man of such possibilities, I reflected, is no ordinary guest to

entertain.

 

"Perhaps," said I, rising to my feet, "we had better begin by looking for

a trowel," and I led the way to the scattered vestiges of the greenhouse.

 

And while he was having his bath I considered the entire question alone.

It was clear there were drawbacks to Mr. Cavor's society I had not

foreseen. The absentmindedness that had just escaped depopulating the

terrestrial globe, might at any moment result in some other grave

inconvenience. On the other hand I was young, my affairs were in a mess,

and I was in just the mood for reckless adventure--with a chance of

something good at the end of it. I had quite settled in my mind that I was

to have half at least in that aspect of the affair. Fortunately I held my

bungalow, as I have already explained, on a three-year agreement, without

being responsible for repairs; and my furniture, such as there was of it,

had been hastily purchased, was unpaid for, insured, and altogether devoid

of associations. In the end I decided to keep on with him, and see the

business through.

 

Certainly the aspect of things had changed very greatly. I no longer

doubted at all the enormous possibilities of the substance, but I began to

have doubts about the gun-carriage and the patent boots. We set to work at

once to reconstruct his laboratory and proceed with our experiments. Cavor

talked more on my level than he had ever done before, when it came to the

question of how we should make the stuff next.

 

"Of course we must make it again," he said, with a sort of glee I had not

expected in him, "of course we must make it again. We have caught a

Tartar, perhaps, but we have left the theoretical behind us for good and

all. If we can possibly avoid wrecking this little planet of ours, we

will. But--there must be risks! There must be. In experimental work there

always are. And here, as a practical man, _you_ must come in. For my own

part it seems to me we might make it edgeways, perhaps, and very thin. Yet

I don't know. I have a certain dim perception of another method. I can

hardly explain it yet. But curiously enough it came into my mind, while I

was rolling over and over in the mud before the wind, and very doubtful

how the whole adventure was to end, as being absolutely the thing I

ought to have done."

 

Even with my aid we found some little difficulty, and meanwhile we kept at

work restoring the laboratory. There was plenty to do before it became

absolutely necessary to decide upon the precise form and method of our

second attempt. Our only hitch was the strike of the three labourers, who

objected to my activity as a foreman. But that matter we compromised after

two days' delay.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

 

 

The Building of the sphere

 

I remember the occasion very distinctly when Cavor told me of his idea of

the sphere. He had had intimations of it before, but at the time it seemed

to come to him in a rush. We were returning to the bungalow for tea, and

on the way he fell humming. Suddenly he shouted, "That's it! That

finishes it! A sort of roller blind!"

 

"Finishes what?" I asked.

 

"Space--anywhere! The moon."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Mean? Why--it must be a sphere! That's what I mean!"

 

I saw I was out of it, and for a time I let him talk in his own fashion. I

hadn't the ghost of an idea then of his drift. But after he had taken tea

he made it clear to me.

 

"It's like this," he said. "Last time I ran this stuff that cuts things

off from gravitation into a flat tank with an overlap that held it down.

And directly it had cooled and the manufacture was completed all that

uproar happened, nothing above it weighed anything, the air went squirting

up, the house squirted up, and if the stuff itself hadn't squirted up too,

I don't know what would have happened! But suppose the substance is loose,

and quite free to go up?"

 

"It will go up at once!"

 

"Exactly. With no more disturbance than firing a big gun."

 

"But what good will that do?"

 

"I'm going up with it!"

 

I put down my teacup and stared at him.

 

"Imagine a sphere," he explained, "large enough to hold two people and

their luggage. It will be made of steel lined with thick glass; it will

contain a proper store of solidified air, concentrated food, water

distilling apparatus, and so forth. And enamelled, as it were, on the

outer steel--"

 

"Cavorite?"

 

"Yes."

 

"But how will you get inside?"

 

"There was a similar problem about a dumpling."

 

"Yes, I know. But how?"

 

"That's perfectly easy. An air-tight manhole is all that is needed. That,

of course, will have to be a little complicated; there will have to be a

valve, so that things may be thrown out, if necessary, without much loss

of air."

 

"Like Jules Verne's thing in _A Trip to the Moon_."

 

But Cavor was not a reader of fiction.

 

"I begin to see," I said slowly. "And you could get in and screw yourself

up while the Cavorite was warm, and as soon as it cooled it would become

impervious to gravitation, and off you would fly--"

 

"At a tangent."

 

"You would go off in a straight line--" I stopped abruptly. "What is to

prevent the thing travelling in a straight line into space for ever?" I

asked. "You're not safe to get anywhere, and if you do--how will you get

back?"

 

"I've just thought of that," said Cavor. "That's what I meant when I said

the thing is finished. The inner glass sphere can be air-tight, and,

except for the manhole, continuous, and the steel sphere can be made in

sections, each section capable of rolling up after the fashion of a roller

blind. These can easily be worked by springs, and released and checked by

electricity conveyed by platinum wires fused through the glass. All that

is merely a question of detail. So you see, that except for the thickness

of the blind rollers, the Cavorite exterior of the sphere will consist of

windows or blinds, whichever you like to call them. Well, when all these

windows or blinds are shut, no light, no heat, no gravitation, no radiant

energy of any sort will get at the inside of the sphere, it will fly on

through space in a straight line, as you say. But open a window, imagine

one of the windows open. Then at once any heavy body that chances to be in

that direction will attract us--"

 

I sat taking it in.

 

"You see?" he said.

 

"Oh, I _see_."

 

"Practically we shall be able to tack about in space just as we wish. Get

attracted by this and that."

 

"Oh, yes. That's clear enough. Only--"

 

"Well?"

 

"I don't quite see what we shall do it for! It's really only jumping off

the world and back again."

 

"Surely! For example, one might go to the moon."

 

"And when one got there? What would you find?"

 

"We should see--Oh! consider the new knowledge."

 

"Is there air there?"

 

"There may be."

 

"It's a fine idea," I said, "but it strikes me as a large order all the

same. The moon! I'd much rather try some smaller things first."

 

"They're out of the question, because of the air difficulty."

 

"Why not apply that idea of spring blinds--Cavorite blinds in strong

steel cases--to lifting weights?"

 

"It wouldn't work," he insisted. "After all, to go into outer space is not

so much worse, if at all, than a polar expedition. Men go on polar

expeditions."

 

"Not business men. And besides, they get paid for polar expeditions. And

if anything goes wrong there are relief parties. But this--it's just

firing ourselves off the world for nothing."

 

"Call it prospecting."

 

"You'll have to call it that.... One might make a book of it perhaps," I

said.

 

"I have no doubt there will be minerals," said Cavor.

 

"For example?"

 

"Oh! sulphur, ores, gold perhaps, possibly new elements."

 

"Cost of carriage," I said. "You know you're not a practical man. The

moon's a quarter of a million miles away."

 

"It seems to me it wouldn't cost much to cart any weight anywhere if you

packed it in a Cavorite case."

 

I had not thought of that. "Delivered free on head of purchaser, eh?"

 

"It isn't as though we were confined to the moon."

 

"You mean?"

 

"There's Mars--clear atmosphere, novel surroundings, exhilarating sense

of lightness. It might be pleasant to go there."

 

"Is there air on Mars?"

 

"Oh, yes!"

 

"Seems as though you might run it as a sanatorium. By the way, how

far is Mars?"

 

"Two hundred million miles at present," said Cavor airily; "and you go

close by the sun."

 

My imagination was picking itself up again. "After all," I said,

"there's something in these things. There's travel--"

 

An extraordinary possibility came rushing into my mind. Suddenly I saw,

as in a vision, the whole solar system threaded with Cavorite liners

and spheres deluxe. "Rights of pre-emption," came floating into my

head--planetary rights of pre-emption. I recalled the old Spanish

monopoly in American gold. It wasn't as though it was just this planet

or that--it was all of them. I stared at Cavor's rubicund face, and

suddenly my imagination was leaping and dancing. I stood up, I walked

up and down; my tongue was unloosened.

 

"I'm beginning to take it in," I said; "I'm beginning to take it in." The

transition from doubt to enthusiasm seemed to take scarcely any time at

all. "But this is tremendous!" I cried. "This is Imperial! I haven't

been dreaming of this sort of thing."

 

Once the chill of my opposition was removed, his own pent-up excitement

had play. He too got up and paced. He too gesticulated and shouted. We

behaved like men inspired. We _were_ men inspired.

 

"We'll settle all that!" he said in answer to some incidental difficulty

that had pulled me up. "We'll soon settle that! We'll start the drawings

for mouldings this very night."

 

"We'll start them now," I responded, and we hurried off to the laboratory

to begin upon this work forthwith.

 

I was like a child in Wonderland all that night. The dawn found us both

still at work--we kept our electric light going heedless of the day. I

remember now exactly how these drawings looked. I shaded and tinted while

Cavor drew--smudged and haste-marked they were in every line, but

wonderfully correct. We got out the orders for the steel blinds and frames

we needed from that night's work, and the glass sphere was designed within

a week. We gave up our afternoon conversations and our old routine

altogether. We worked, and we slept and ate when we could work no longer

for hunger and fatigue. Our enthusiasm infected even our three men, though

they had no idea what the sphere was for. Through those days the man Gibbs

gave up walking, and went everywhere, even across the room, at a sort of

fussy run.

 

And it grew--the sphere. December passed, January--I spent a day

with a broom sweeping a path through the snow from bungalow to

laboratory--February, March. By the end of March the completion was in

sight. In January had come a team of horses, a huge packing-case; we

had our thick glass sphere now ready, and in position under the crane

we had rigged to sling it into the steel shell. All the bars and blinds

of the steel shell--it was not really a spherical shell, but polyhedral,

with a roller blind to each facet--had arrived by February, and the

lower half was bolted together. The Cavorite was half made by March, the

metallic paste had gone through two of the stages in its manufacture,

and we had plastered quite half of it on to the steel bars and blinds.

It was astonishing how closely we kept to the lines of Cavor's first

inspiration in working out the scheme. When the bolting together of

the sphere was finished, he proposed to remove the rough roof of the

temporary laboratory in which the work was done, and build a furnace

about it. So the last stage of Cavorite making, in which the paste is

heated to a dull red glow in a stream of helium, would be accomplished

when it was already on the sphere.

 

And then we had to discuss and decide what provisions we were to

take--compressed foods, concentrated essences, steel cylinders containing

reserve oxygen, an arrangement for removing carbonic acid and waste from

the air and restoring oxygen by means of sodium peroxide, water

condensers, and so forth. I remember the little heap they made in the

corner--tins, and rolls, and boxes--convincingly matter-of-fact.

 

It was a strenuous time, with little chance of thinking. But one day,

when we were drawing near the end, an odd mood came over me. I had been

bricking up the furnace all the morning, and I sat down by these

possessions dead beat. Everything seemed dull and incredible.

 

"But look here, Cavor," I said. "After all! What's it all for?"

 

He smiled. "The thing now is to go."

 

"The moon," I reflected. "But what do you expect? I thought the moon was

a dead world."

 

He shrugged his shoulders.

 

"We're going to see."

 

"Are we?" I said, and stared before me.

 

"You are tired," he remarked. "You'd better take a walk this afternoon."

 

"No," I said obstinately; "I'm going to finish this brickwork."

 

And I did, and insured myself a night of insomnia. I don't think I have

ever had such a night. I had some bad times before my business collapse,

but the very worst of those was sweet slumber compared to this infinity of

aching wakefulness. I was suddenly in the most enormous funk at the thing

we were going to do.

 

I do not remember before that night thinking at all of the risks we were

running. Now they came like that array of spectres that once beleaguered

Prague, and camped around me. The strangeness of what we were about to do,

the unearthliness of it, overwhelmed me. I was like a man awakened out of

pleasant dreams to the most horrible surroundings. I lay, eyes wide open,

and the sphere seemed to get more flimsy and feeble, and Cavor more unreal

and fantastic, and the whole enterprise madder and madder every moment.

 

I got out of bed and wandered about. I sat at the window and stared at

the immensity of space. Between the stars was the void, the unfathomable

darkness! I tried to recall the fragmentary knowledge of astronomy I had

gained in my irregular reading, but it was all too vague to furnish any

idea of the things we might expect. At last I got back to bed and snatched

some moments of sleep--moments of nightmare rather--in which I fell and

fell and fell for evermore into the abyss of the sky.

 

I astonished Cavor at breakfast. I told him shortly, "I'm not coming with

you in the sphere."

 

I met all his protests with a sullen persistence. "The thing's too mad,"

I said, "and I won't come. The thing's too mad."

 

I would not go with him to the laboratory. I fretted bout my bungalow for

a time, and then took hat and stick and set out alone, I knew not whither.

It chanced to be a glorious morning: a warm wind and deep blue sky, the

first green of spring abroad, and multitudes of birds singing. I lunched

on beef and beer in a little public-house near Elham, and startled the

landlord by remarking apropos of the weather, "A man who leaves the world

when days of this sort are about is a fool!"

 

"That's what I says when I heerd on it!" said the landlord, and I found

that for one poor soul at least this world had proved excessive, and there

had been a throat-cutting. I went on with a new twist to my thoughts.

 

In the afternoon I had a pleasant sleep in a sunny place, and went on my

way refreshed. I came to a comfortable-looking inn near Canterbury. It

was bright with creepers, and the landlady was a clean old woman and took

my eye. I found I had just enough money to pay for my lodging with her. I

decided to stop the night there. She was a talkative body, and among many

other particulars learnt she had never been to London. "Canterbury's as

far as ever I been," she said. "I'm not one of your gad-about sort."

 

"How would you like a trip to the moon?" I cried.

 

"I never did hold with them ballooneys," she said evidently under the

impression that this was a common excursion enough. "I wouldn't go up in

one--not for ever so."

 

This struck me as being funny. After I had supped I sat on a bench by the

door of the inn and gossiped with two labourers about brickmaking, and

motor cars, and the cricket of last year. And in the sky a faint new

crescent, blue and vague as a distant Alp, sank westward over the sun.

 

The next day I returned to Cavor. "I am coming," I said. "I've been a

little out of order, that's all."

 

That was the only time I felt any serious doubt our enterprise. Nerves

purely! After that I worked a little more carefully, and took a trudge for

an hour every day. And at last, save for the heating in the furnace, our

labours were at an end.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

 

 

Inside the Sphere

 

"Go on," said Cavor, as I sat across the edge of the manhole, and looked

down into the black interior of the sphere. We two were alone. It was

evening, the sun had set, and the stillness of the twilight was upon

everything.

 

I drew my other leg inside and slid down the smooth glass to the bottom of

the sphere, then turned to take the cans of food and other impedimenta

from Cavor. The interior was warm, the thermometer stood at eighty, and as

we should lose little or none of this by radiation, we were dressed in

shoes and thin flannels. We had, however, a bundle of thick woollen

clothing and several thick blankets to guard against mischance.

 

By Cavor's direction I placed the packages, the cylinders of oxygen, and

so forth, loosely about my feet, and soon we had everything in. He walked

about the roofless shed for a time seeking anything we had overlooked, and

then crawled in after me. I noted something in his hand.

 

"What have you got there?" I asked.

 

"Haven't you brought anything to read?"

 

"Good Lord! No."

 

"I forgot to tell you. There are uncertainties-- The voyage may last--

We may be weeks!"

 

"But--"

 

"We shall be floating in this sphere with absolutely no occupation."

 

"I wish I'd known--"

 

He peered out of the manhole. "Look!" he said. "There's something

there!"

 

"Is there time?"

 

"We shall be an hour."

 

I looked out. It was an old number of _Tit-Bits_ that one of the men must

have brought. Farther away in the corner I saw a torn _Lloyd's News_. I

scrambled back into the sphere with these things. "What have you got?" I

said.

 

I took the book from his hand and read, "The Works of William

Shakespeare".

 

He coloured slightly. "My education has been so purely scientific--"

he said apologetically.

 

"Never read him?"

 

"Never."

 

"He knew a little, you know--in an irregular sort of way."

 

"Precisely what I am told," said Cavor.

 

I assisted him to screw in the glass cover of the manhole, and then he

pressed a stud to close the corresponding blind in the outer case. The

little oblong of twilight vanished. We were in darkness. For a time

neither of us spoke. Although our case would not be impervious to sound,

everything was very still. I perceived there was nothing to grip when the

shock of our start should come, and I realised that I should be

uncomfortable for want of a chair.

 

"Why have we no chairs?" I asked.

 

"I've settled all that," said Cavor. "We won't need them."

 

"Why not?"

 

"You will see," he said, in the tone of a man who refuses to talk.

 

I became silent. Suddenly it had come to me clear and vivid that I was a

fool to be inside that sphere. Even now, I asked myself, is to too late to

withdraw? The world outside the sphere, I knew, would be cold and

inhospitable enough for me--for weeks I had been living on subsidies from

Cavor--but after all, would it be as cold as the infinite zero, as

inhospitable as empty space? If it had not been for the appearance of

cowardice, I believe that even then I should have made him let me out. But

I hesitated on that score, and hesitated, and grew fretful and angry, and

the time passed.

 

There came a little jerk, a noise like champagne being uncorked in another

room, and a faint whistling sound. For just one instant I had a sense of

enormous tension, a transient conviction that my feet were pressing

downward with a force of countless tons. It lasted for an infinitesimal

time.

 

But it stirred me to action. "Cavor!" I said into the darkness, "my

nerve's in rags. I don't think--"

 

I stopped. He made no answer.

 

"Confound it!" I cried; "I'm a fool! What business have I here? I'm not

coming, Cavor. The thing's too risky. I'm getting out."

 

"You can't," he said.

 

"Can't! We'll soon see about that!"

 

He made no answer for ten seconds. "It's too late for us to quarrel now,

Bedford," he said. "That little jerk was the start. Already we are flying

as swiftly as a bullet up into the gulf of space."

 

"I--" I said, and then it didn't seem to matter what happened. For a time

I was, as it were, stunned; I had nothing to say. It was just as if I had

never heard of this idea of leaving the world before. Then I perceived an

unaccountable change in my bodily sensations. It was a feeling of

lightness, of unreality. Coupled with that was a queer sensation in the

head, an apoplectic effect almost, and a thumping of blood vessels at the

ears. Neither of these feelings diminished as time went on, but at last I

got so used to them that I experienced no inconvenience.

 

I heard a click, and a little glow lamp came into being.

 

I saw Cavor's face, as white as I felt my own to be. We regarded one

another in silence. The transparent blackness of the glass behind him made

him seem as though he floated in a void.

 

"Well, we're committed," I said at last.

 

"Yes," he said, "we're committed."

 

"Don't move," he exclaimed, at some suggestion of a gesture. "Let your

muscles keep quite lax--as if you were in bed. We are in a little

universe of our own. Look at those things!"

 

He pointed to the loose cases and bundles that had been lying on the

blankets in the bottom of the sphere. I was astonished to see that they

were floating now nearly a foot from the spherical wall. Then I saw from

his shadow that Cavor was no longer leaning against the glass. I thrust

out my hand behind me, and found that I too was suspended in space, clear

of the glass.

 

I did not cry out nor gesticulate, but fear came upon me. It was like

being held and lifted by something--you know not what. The mere touch of

my hand against the glass moved me rapidly. I understood what had

happened, but that did not prevent my being afraid. We were cut off from

all exterior gravitation, only the attraction of objects within our sphere

had effect. Consequently everything that was not fixed to the glass was

falling--slowly because of the slightness of our masses--towards the

centre of gravity of our little world, which seemed to be somewhere about

the middle of the sphere, but rather nearer to myself than Cavor, on

account of my greater weight.

 

"We must turn round," said Cavor, "and float back to back, with the things

between us."

 

It was the strangest sensation conceivable, floating thus loosely in

space, at first indeed horribly strange, and when the horror passed, not

disagreeable at all, exceeding restful; indeed, the nearest thing in

earthly experience to it that I know is lying on a very thick, soft

feather bed. But the quality of utter detachment and independence! I had

not reckoned on things like this. I had expected a violent jerk at

starting, a giddy sense of speed. Instead I felt--as if I were

disembodied. It was not like the beginning of a journey; it was like the

beginning of a dream.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5

 

 

 

 

The Journey to the Moon

 

Presently Cavor extinguished the light. He said we had not overmuch

energy stored, and that what we had we must economise for reading. For a

time, whether it was long or short I do not know, there was nothing but

blank darkness.

 

A question floated up out of the void. "How are we pointing?" I said.

"What is our direction?"

 

"We are flying away from the earth at a tangent, and as the moon is

near her third quarter we are going somewhere towards her. I will open

a blind--"

 

Came a click, and then a window in the outer case yawned open. The sky

outside was as black as the darkness within the sphere, but the shape of

the open window was marked by an infinite number of stars.

 

Those who have only seen the starry sky from the earth cannot imagine its

appearance when the vague, half luminous veil of our air has been

withdrawn. The stars we see on earth are the mere scattered survivors that

penetrate our misty atmosphere. But now at last I could realise the

meaning of the hosts of heaven!

 

Stranger things we were presently to see, but that airless, star-dusted

sky! Of all things, I think that will be one of the last I shall forget.

 

The little window vanished with a click, another beside it snapped open

and instantly closed, and then a third, and for a moment I had to close my

eyes because of the blinding splendour of the waning moon.

 

For a space I had to stare at Cavor and the white-lit things about me to

season my eyes to light again, before I could turn them towards that

pallid glare.

 

Four windows were open in order that the gravitation of the moon might act

upon all the substances in our sphere. I found I was no longer floating

freely in space, but that my feet were resting on the glass in the

direction of the moon. The blankets and cases of provisions were also

creeping slowly down the glass, and presently came to rest so as to block

out a portion of the view. It seemed to me, of course, that I looked

"down" when I looked at the moon. On earth "down" means earthward, the way

things fall, and "up" the reverse direction. Now the pull of gravitation

was towards the moon, and for all I knew to the contrary our earth was

overhead. And, of course, when all the Cavorite blinds were closed, "down"

was towards the centre of our sphere, and "up" towards its outer wall.

 

It was curiously unlike earthly experience, too, to have the light coming

up to one. On earth light falls from above, or comes slanting down

sideways, but here it came from beneath our feet, and to see our shadows

we had to look up.

 

At first it gave me a sort of vertigo to stand only on thick glass and

look down upon the moon through hundreds of thousands of miles of vacant

space; but this sickness passed very speedily. And then--the splendour of

the sight!

 

The reader may imagine it best if he will lie on the ground some warm

summer's night and look between his upraised feet at the moon, but for

some reason, probably because the absence of air made it so much more

luminous, the moon seemed already considerably larger than it does from

earth. The minutest details of its surface were acutely clear. And since

we did not see it through air, its outline was bright and sharp, there was

no glow or halo about it, and the star-dust that covered the sky came

right to its very margin, and marked the outline of its unilluminated

part. And as I stood and stared at the moon between my feet, that

perception of the impossible that had been with me off and on ever since

our start, returned again with tenfold conviction.

 

"Cavor," I said, "this takes me queerly. Those companies we were going to

run, and all that about minerals?"

 

"Well?"

 

"I don't see 'em here."

 

"No," said Cavor; "but you'll get over all that."

 

"I suppose I'm made to turn right side up again. Still, _this_--

For a moment I could half believe there never was a world."

 

"That copy of _Lloyd's News_ might help you."

 

I stared at the paper for a moment, then held it above the level of my

face, and found I could read it quite easily. I struck a column of mean

little advertisements. "A gentleman of private means is willing to lend

money," I read. I knew that gentleman. Then somebody eccentric wanted to

sell a Cutaway bicycle, "quite new and cost 15 pounds," for five pounds;

and a lady in distress wished to dispose of some fish knives and forks, "a

wedding present," at a great sacrifice. No doubt some simple soul was

sagely examining these knives and forks, and another triumphantly riding

off on that bicycle, and a third trustfully consulting that benevolent

gentleman of means even as I read. I laughed, and let the paper drift from

my hand.

 

"Are we visible from the earth?" I asked.

 

"Why?"

 

"I knew some one who was rather interested in astronomy. It occurred to me

that it would be rather odd if--my friend--chanced to be looking through

come telescope."

 

"It would need the most powerful telescope on earth even now to see us as

the minutest speck."

 

For a time I stared in silence at the moon.

 

"It's a world," I said; "one feels that infinitely more than one ever did

on earth. People perhaps--"

 

"People!" he exclaimed. "No! Banish all that! Think yourself a sort of

ultra-arctic voyager exploring the desolate places of space. Look at it!"

 

He waved his hand at the shining whiteness below. "It's dead--dead! Vast

extinct volcanoes, lava wildernesses, tumbled wastes of snow, or frozen

carbonic acid, or frozen air, and everywhere landslip seams and cracks and

gulfs. Nothing happens. Men have watched this planet systematically with

telescopes for over two hundred years. How much change do you think they

have seen?"

 

"None."

 

"They have traced two indisputable landslips, a doubtful crack, and one

slight periodic change of colour, and that's all."

 

"I didn't know they'd traced even that."

 

"Oh, yes. But as for people--!"

 

"By the way," I asked, "how small a thing will the biggest telescopes show

upon the moon?"

 

"One could see a fair-sized church. One could certainly see any towns or

buildings, or anything like the handiwork of men. There might perhaps be

insects, something in the way of ants, for example, so that they could

hide in deep burrows from the lunar light, or some new sort of creatures

having no earthly parallel. That is the most probable thing, if we are to

find life there at all. Think of the difference in conditions! Life must

fit itself to a day as long as fourteen earthly days, a cloudless

sun-blaze of fourteen days, and then a night of equal length, growing

ever colder and colder under these, cold, sharp stars. In that night

there must be cold, the ultimate cold, absolute zero, 273 degrees

Centigrade, below the earthly freezing point. Whatever life there is

must hibernate through that, and rise again each day."

 

He mused. "One can imagine something worm-like," he said, "taking its

air solid as an earth-worm swallows earth, or thick-skinned monsters--"

 

"By the bye," I said, "why didn't we bring a gun?"

 

He did not answer that question. "No," he concluded, "we just have to go.

We shall see when we get there."

 

I remembered something. "Of course, there's my minerals, anyhow," I said;

"whatever the conditions may be."

 

Presently he told me he wished to alter our course a little by letting the

earth tug at us for a moment. He was going to open one earthward blind

for thirty seconds. He warned me that it would make my head swim, and

advised me to extend my hands against the glass to break my fall. I did as

he directed, and thrust my feet against the bales of food cases and air

cylinders to prevent their falling upon me. Then with a click the window

flew open. I fell clumsily upon hands and face, and saw for a moment

between my black extended fingers our mother earth--a planet in a

downward sky.

 

We were still very near--Cavor told me the distance was perhaps eight

hundred miles and the huge terrestrial disc filled all heaven. But already

it was plain to see that the world was a globe. The land below us was in

twilight and vague, but westward the vast gray stretches of the Atlantic

shone like molten silver under the receding day. I think I recognised the

cloud-dimmed coast-lines of France and Spain and the south of England, and

then, with a click, the shutter closed again, and I found myself in a

state of extraordinary confusion sliding slowly over the smooth glass.

 

When at last things settled themselves in my mind again, it seemed quite

beyond question that the moon was "down" and under my feet, and that the

earth was somewhere away on the level of the horizon--the earth that had

been "down" to me and my kindred since the beginning of things.

 

So slight were the exertions required of us, so easy did the practical

annihilation of our weight make all we had to do, that the necessity for

taking refreshment did not occur to us for nearly six hours (by Cavor's

chronometer) after our start. I was amazed at that lapse of time. Even

then I was satisfied with very little. Cavor examined the apparatus for

absorbing carbonic acid and water, and pronounced it to be in satisfactory

order, our consumption of oxygen having been extraordinarily slight. And

our talk being exhausted for the time, and there being nothing further

for us to do, we gave way to a curious drowsiness that had come upon us,

and spreading our blankets on the bottom of the sphere in such a manner as

to shut out most of the moonlight, wished each other good-night, and

almost immediately fell asleep.

 

And so, sleeping, and sometimes talking and reading a little, and at times

eating, although without any keenness of appetite,[*] but for the most part

in a sort of quiescence that was neither waking nor slumber, we fell

through a space of time that had neither night nor day in it, silently,

softly, and swiftly down towards the moon.

 

[* Footnote: It is a curious thing, that while we were in the sphere we

felt not the slightest desire for food, nor did we feel the want of it when

we abstained. At first we forced our appetites, but afterwards we fasted

completely. Altogether we did not consume one-hundredth part of the

compressed provisions we had brought with us. The amount of carbonic acid

we breathed was also unnaturally low, but why this was, I am quite unable

to explain.]

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

 

 

 

The Landing on the Moon

 

I remember how one day Cavor suddenly opened six of our shutters and

blinded me so that I cried aloud at him. The whole area was moon, a

stupendous scimitar of white dawn with its edge hacked out by notches of

darkness, the crescent shore of an ebbing tide of darkness, out of which

peaks and pinnacles came glittering into the blaze of the sun. I take it

the reader has seen pictures or photographs of the moon and that I need

not describe the broader features of that landscape, those spacious

ring-like ranges vaster than any terrestrial mountains, their summits

shining in the day, their shadows harsh and deep, the gray disordered

plains, the ridges, hills, and craterlets, all passing at last from a

blazing illumination into a common mystery of black. Athwart this world

we were flying scarcely a hundred miles above its crests and pinnacles.

And now we could see, what no eye on earth will ever see, that under the

blaze of the day the harsh outlines of the rocks and ravines of the

plains and crater floor grew gray and indistinct under a thickening

haze, that the white of their lit surfaces broke into lumps and patches,

and broke again and shrank and vanished, and that here and there strange

tints of brown and olive grew and spread.

 

But little time we had for watching then. For now we had come to the real

danger of our journey. We had to drop ever closer to the moon as we spun

about it, to slacken our pace and watch our chance, until at last we could

dare to drop upon its surface.

 

For Cavor that was a time of intense exertion; for me it was an anxious

inactivity. I seemed perpetually to be getting out of his way. He leapt

about the sphere from point to point with an agility that would have been

impossible on earth. He was perpetually opening and closing the Cavorite

windows, making calculations, consulting his chronometer by means of the

glow lamp during those last eventful hours. For a long time we had all our

windows closed and hung silently in darkness hurling through space.

 

Then he was feeling for the shutter studs, and suddenly four windows were

open. I staggered and covered my eyes, drenched and scorched and blinded

by the unaccustomed splendour of the sun beneath my feet. Then again the

shutters snapped, leaving my brain spinning in a darkness that pressed

against the eyes. And after that I floated in another vast, black silence.

 

Then Cavor switched on the electric light, and told me he proposed to bind

all our luggage together with the blankets about it, against the

concussion of our descent. We did this with our windows closed, because in

that way our goods arranged themselves naturally at the centre of the

sphere. That too was a strange business; we two men floating loose in that

spherical space, and packing and pulling ropes. Imagine it if you can! No

up nor down, and every effort resulting in unexpected movements. Now I

would be pressed against the glass with the full force of Cavor's thrust,

now I would be kicking helplessly in a void. Now the star of the electric

light would be overhead, now under foot. Now Cavor's feet would float up

before my eyes, and now we would be crossways to each other. But at last

our goods were safely bound together in a big soft bale, all except two

blankets with head holes that we were to wrap about ourselves.

 

Then for a flash Cavor opened a window moonward, and we saw that we were

dropping towards a huge central crater with a number of minor craters

grouped in a sort of cross about it. And then again Cavor flung our little

sphere open to the scorching, blinding sun. I think he was using the

sun's attraction as a brake. "Cover yourself with a blanket," he cried,

thrusting himself from me, and for a moment I did not understand.

 

Then I hauled the blanket from beneath my feet and got it about me and

over my head and eyes. Abruptly he closed the shutters again, snapped one

open again and closed it, then suddenly began snapping them all open, each

safely into its steel roller. There came a jar, and then we were rolling

over and over, bumping against the glass and against the big bale of our

luggage, and clutching at each other, and outside some white substance

splashed as if we were rolling down a slope of snow....

 

Over, clutch, bump, clutch, bump, over....

 

Came a thud, and I was half buried under the bale of our possessions, and

for a space everything was still. Then I could hear Cavor puffing and

grunting, and the snapping of a shutter in its sash. I made an effort,

thrust back our blanket-wrapped luggage, and emerged from beneath it. Our

open windows were just visible as a deeper black set with stars.

 

We were still alive, and we were lying in the darkness of the shadow of

the wall of the great crater into which we had fallen.

 

We sat getting our breath again, and feeling the bruises on our limbs. I

don't think either of us had had a very clear expectation of such rough

handling as we had received. I struggled painfully to my feet. "And now,"

said I, "to look at the landscape of the moon! But--! It's tremendously

dark, Cavor!"

 

The glass was dewy, and as I spoke I wiped at it with my blanket. "We're

half an hour or so beyond the day," he said. "We must wait."

 

It was impossible to distinguish anything. We might have been in a sphere

of steel for all that we could see. My rubbing with the blanket simply

smeared the glass, and as fast as I wiped it, it became opaque again with

freshly condensed moisture mixed with an increasing quantity of blanket

hairs. Of course I ought not to have used the blanket. In my efforts to

clear the glass I slipped upon the damp surface, and hurt my shin against

one of the oxygen cylinders that protruded from our bale.

 

The thing was exasperating--it was absurd. Here we were just arrived upon

the moon, amidst we knew not what wonders, and all we could see was the

gray and streaming wall of the bubble in which we had come.

 

"Confound it!" I said, "but at this rate we might have stopped at home;"

and I squatted on the bale and shivered, and drew my blanket closer about

me.

 

Abruptly the moisture turned to spangles and fronds of frost. "Can you

reach the electric heater," said Cavor. "Yes--that black knob. Or we

shall freeze."

 

I did not wait to be told twice. "And now," said I, "what are we to do?"

 

"Wait," he said.

 

"Wait?"

 

"Of course. We shall have to wait until our air gets warm again, and then

this glass will clear. We can't do anything till then. It's night here

yet; we must wait for the day to overtake us. Meanwhile, don't you feel

hungry?"

 

For a space I did not answer him, but sat fretting. I turned reluctantly

from the smeared puzzle of the glass and stared at his face. "Yes,"

I said, "I am hungry. I feel somehow enormously disappointed. I had

expected--I don't know what I had expected, but not this."

 

I summoned my philosophy, and rearranging my blanket about me sat down on

the bale again and began my first meal on the moon. I don't think I

finished it--I forget. Presently, first in patches, then running rapidly

together into wider spaces, came the clearing of the glass, came the

drawing of the misty veil that hid the moon world from our eyes.

 

We peered out upon the landscape of the moon.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

 

 

 

Sunrise on the Moon

 

As we saw it first it was the wildest and most desolate of scenes. We were

in an enormous amphitheatre, a vast circular plain, the floor of the giant

crater. Its cliff-like walls closed us in on every side. From the westward

the light of the unseen sun fell upon them, reaching to the very foot of

the cliff, and showed a disordered escarpment of drab and grayish rock,

lined here and there with banks and crevices of snow. This was perhaps a

dozen miles away, but at first no intervening atmosphere diminished in the

slightest the minutely detailed brilliancy with which these things glared

at us. They stood out clear and dazzling against a background of starry

blackness that seemed to our earthly eyes rather a gloriously spangled

velvet curtain than the spaciousness of the sky.

 

The eastward cliff was at first merely a starless selvedge to the starry

dome. No rosy flush, no creeping pallor, announced the commencing day.

Only the Corona, the Zodiacal light, a huge cone-shaped, luminous haze,

pointing up towards the splendour of the morning star, warned us of the

imminent nearness of the sun.

 

Whatever light was about us was reflected by the westward cliffs. It

showed a huge undulating plain, cold and gray, a gray that deepened

eastward into the absolute raven darkness of the cliff shadow. Innumerable

rounded gray summits, ghostly hummocks, billows of snowy substance,

stretching crest beyond crest into the remote obscurity, gave us our first

inkling of the distance of the crater wall. These hummocks looked like

snow. At the time I thought they were snow. But they were not--they were

mounds and masses of frozen air.

 

So it was at first; and then, sudden, swift, and amazing, came the lunar

day.

 

The sunlight had crept down the cliff, it touched the drifted masses at

its base and incontinently came striding with seven-leagued boots towards

us. The distant cliff seemed to shift and quiver, and at the touch of the

dawn a reek of gray vapour poured upward from the crater floor, whirls and

puffs and drifting wraiths of gray, thicker and broader and denser, until

at last the whole westward plain was steaming like a wet handkerchief held

before the fire, and the westward cliffs were no more than refracted glare

beyond.

 

"It is air," said Cavor. "It must be air--or it would not rise like

this--at the mere touch of a sun-beam. And at this pace...."

 

He peered upwards. "Look!" he said.

 

"What?" I asked.

 

"In the sky. Already. On the blackness--a little touch of blue. See! The

stars seem larger. And the little ones and all those dim nebulosities we

saw in empty space--they are hidden!"

 

Swiftly, steadily, the day approached us. Gray summit after gray summit

was overtaken by the blaze, and turned to a smoking white intensity. At

last there was nothing to the west of us but a bank of surging fog, the

tumultuous advance and ascent of cloudy haze. The distant cliff had

receded farther and farther, had loomed and changed through the whirl,

and foundered and vanished at last in its confusion.

 

Nearer came that steaming advance, nearer and nearer, coming as fast as

the shadow of a cloud before the south-west wind. About us rose a thin

anticipatory haze.

 

Cavor gripped my arm. "What?" I said.

 

"Look! The sunrise! The sun!"

 

He turned me about and pointed to the brow of the eastward cliff, looming

above the haze about us, scarce lighter than the darkness of the sky. But

now its line was marked by strange reddish shapes, tongues of vermilion

flame that writhed and danced. I fancied it must be spirals of vapour that

had caught the light and made this crest of fiery tongues against the sky,

but indeed it was the solar prominences I saw, a crown of fire about the

sun that is forever hidden from earthly eyes by our atmospheric veil.

 

And then--the sun!

 

Steadily, inevitably came a brilliant line, came a thin edge of

intolerable effulgence that took a circular shape, became a bow, became a

blazing sceptre, and hurled a shaft of heat at us as though it was a

spear.

 

It seemed verily to stab my eyes! I cried aloud and turned about blinded,

groping for my blanket beneath the bale.

 

And with that incandescence came a sound, the first sound that had reached

us from without since we left the earth, a hissing and rustling, the

stormy trailing of the aerial garment of the advancing day. And with the

coming of the sound and the light the sphere lurched, and blinded and

dazzled we staggered helplessly against each other. It lurched again, and

the hissing grew louder. I had shut my eyes perforce, I was making clumsy

efforts to cover my head with my blanket, and this second lurch sent me

helplessly off my feet. I fell against the bale, and opening my eyes had a

momentary glimpse of the air just outside our glass. It was running--it

was boiling--like snow into which a white-hot rod is thrust. What had

been solid air had suddenly at the touch of the sun become a paste, a

mud, a slushy liquefaction, that hissed and bubbled into gas.

 

There came a still more violent whirl of the sphere and we had clutched

one another. In another moment we were spun about again. Round we went and

over, and then I was on all fours. The lunar dawn had hold of us. It meant

to show us little men what the moon could do with us.

 

I caught a second glimpse of things without, puffs of vapour, half liquid

slush, excavated, sliding, falling, sliding. We dropped into darkness. I

went down with Cavor's knees in my chest. Then he seemed to fly away from

me, and for a moment I lay with all the breath out of my body staring

upward. A toppling crag of the melting stuff had splashed over us, buried

us, and now it thinned and boiled off us. I saw the bubbles dancing on the

glass above. I heard Cavor exclaiming feebly.

 

Then some huge landslip in the thawing air had caught us, and spluttering

expostulation, we began to roll down a slope, rolling faster and faster,

leaping crevasses and rebounding from banks, faster and faster, westward

into the white-hot boiling tumult of the lunar day.

 

Clutching at one another we spun about, pitched this way and that, our

bale of packages leaping at us, pounding at us. We collided, we gripped,

we were torn asunder--our heads met, and the whole universe burst into

fiery darts and stars! On the earth we should have smashed one another a

dozen times, but on the moon, luckily for us, our weight was only

one-sixth of what it is terrestrially, and we fell very mercifully. I

recall a sensation of utter sickness, a feeling as if my brain were upside

down within my skull, and then--

 

Something was at work upon my face, some thin feelers worried my ears.

Then I discovered the brilliance of the landscape around was mitigated by

blue spectacles. Cavor bent over me, and I saw his face upside down, his

eyes also protected by tinted goggles. His breath came irregularly, and

his lip was bleeding from a bruise. "Better?" he said, wiping the blood

with the back of his hand.

 

Everything seemed swaying for a space, but that was simply my giddiness. I

perceived that he had closed some of the shutters in the outer sphere to

save me--from the direct blaze of the sun. I was aware that everything

about us was very brilliant.

 

"Lord!" I gasped. "But this--"

 

I craned my neck to see. I perceived there was a blinding glare outside,

an utter change from the gloomy darkness of our first impressions. "Have I

been insensible long?" I asked.

 

"I don't know--the chronometer is broken. Some little time.... My dear

chap! I have been afraid..."

 

I lay for a space taking this in. I saw his face still bore evidences of

emotion. For a while I said nothing. I passed an inquisitive hand over my

contusions, and surveyed his face for similar damages. The back of my

right hand had suffered most, and was skinless and raw. My forehead was

bruised and had bled. He handed me a little measure with some of the

restorative--I forget the name of it--he had brought with us. After a

time I felt a little better. I began to stretch my limbs carefully. Soon

I could talk.

 

"It wouldn't have done," I said, as though there had been no interval.

 

"No! it _wouldn't_."

 

He thought, his hands hanging over his knees. He peered through the glass

and then stared at me.

 

"Good Lord!" he said. "No!"

 

"What has happened?" I asked after a pause. "Have we jumped to the

tropics?"

 

"It was as I expected. This air has evaporated--if it is air. At any

rate, it has evaporated, and the surface of the moon is showing. We are

lying on a bank of earthy rock. Here and there bare soil is exposed. A

queer sort of soil!"

 

It occurred to him that it was unnecessary to explain. He assisted me into

a sitting position, and I could see with my own eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

 

 

 

A Lunar Morning

 

The harsh emphasis, the pitiless black and white of scenery had altogether

disappeared. The glare of the sun had taken upon itself a faint tinge of

amber; the shadows upon the cliff of the crater wall were deeply purple.

To the eastward a dark bank of fog still crouched and sheltered from the

sunrise, but to the westward the sky was blue and clear. I began to

realise the length of my insensibility.

 

We were no longer in a void. An atmosphere had arisen about us. The

outline of things had gained in character, had grown acute and varied;

save for a shadowed space of white substance here and there, white

substance that was no longer air but snow, the arctic appearance had gone

altogether. Everywhere broad rusty brown spaces of bare and tumbled earth

spread to the blaze of the sun. Here and there at the edge of the

snowdrifts were transient little pools and eddies of water, the only

things stirring in that expanse of barrenness. The sunlight inundated the

upper two blinds of our sphere and turned our climate to high summer, but

our feet were still in shadow, and the sphere was lying upon a drift of

snow.

 

And scattered here and there upon the slope, and emphasised by little

white threads of unthawed snow upon their shady sides, were shapes like

sticks, dry twisted sticks of the same rusty hue as the rock upon which

they lay. That caught one's thoughts sharply. Sticks! On a lifeless

world? Then as my eye grew more accustomed to the texture of their

substance, I perceived that almost all this surface had a fibrous texture,

like the carpet of brown needles one finds beneath the shade of pine

trees.

 

"Cavor!" I said.

 

"Yes."

 

"It may be a dead world now--but once--"

 

Something arrested my attention. I had discovered among these needles a

number of little round objects. And it seemed to me that one of these had

moved. "Cavor," I whispered.

 

"What?"

 

But I did not answer at once. I stared incredulous. For an instant I

could not believe my eyes. I gave an inarticulate cry. I gripped his arm.

I pointed. "Look!" I cried, finding my tongue. "There! Yes! And there!"

 

His eyes followed my pointing finger. "Eh?" he said.

 

How can I describe the thing I saw? It is so petty a thing to state, and

yet it seemed so wonderful, so pregnant with emotion. I have said that

amidst the stick-like litter were these rounded bodies, these little oval

bodies that might have passed as very small pebbles. And now first one and

then another had stirred, had rolled over and cracked, and down the crack

of each of them showed a minute line of yellowish green, thrusting outward

to meet the hot encouragement of the newly-risen sun. For a moment that

was all, and then there stirred, and burst a third!

 

"It is a seed," said Cavor. And then I heard him whisper very softly,

"Life!"

 

"Life!" And immediately it poured upon us that our vast journey had not

been made in vain, that we had come to no arid waste of minerals, but to a

world that lived and moved! We watched intensely. I remember I kept

rubbing the glass before me with my sleeve, jealous of the faintest

suspicion of mist.

 

The picture was clear and vivid only in the middle of the field. All about

that centre the dead fibres and seeds were magnified and distorted by the

curvature of the glass. But we could see enough! One after another all

down the sunlit slope these miraculous little brown bodies burst and gaped

apart, like seed-pods, like the husks of fruits; opened eager mouths.

that drank in the heat and light pouring in a cascade from the newly-risen

sun.

 

Every moment more of these seed coats ruptured, and even as they did so

the swelling pioneers overflowed their rent-distended seed-cases, and

passed into the second stage of growth. With a steady assurance, a swift

deliberation, these amazing seeds thrust a rootlet downward to the earth

and a queer little bundle-like bud into the air. In a little while the

whole slope was dotted with minute plantlets standing at attention in the

blaze of the sun.

 

They did not stand for long. The bundle-like buds swelled and strained and

opened with a jerk, thrusting out a coronet of little sharp tips,

spreading a whorl of tiny, spiky, brownish leaves, that lengthened

rapidly, lengthened visibly even as we watched. The movement was slower

than any animal's, swifter than any plant's I have ever seen before. How

can I suggest it to you--the way that growth went on? The leaf tips grew

so that they moved onward even while we looked at them. The brown

seed-case shrivelled and was absorbed with an equal rapidity. Have you

ever on a cold day taken a thermometer into your warm hand and watched the

little thread of mercury creep up the tube? These moon plants grew like

that.

 

In a few minutes, as it seemed, the buds of the more forward of these

plants had lengthened into a stem and were even putting forth a second

whorl of leaves, and all the slope that had seemed so recently a lifeless

stretch of litter was now dark with the stunted olive-green herbage of

bristling spikes that swayed with the vigour of their growing.

 

I turned about, and behold! along the upper edge of a rock to the eastward

a similar fringe in a scarcely less forward condition swayed and bent,

dark against the blinding glare of the sun. And beyond this fringe was the

silhouette of a plant mass, branching clumsily like a cactus, and swelling

visibly, swelling like a bladder that fills with air.

 

Then to the westward also I discovered that another such distended form

was rising over the scrub. But here the light fell upon its sleek sides,

and I could see that its colour was a vivid orange hue. It rose as one

watched it; if one looked away from it for a minute and then back, its

outline had changed; it thrust out blunt congested branches until in a

little time it rose a coralline shape of many feet in height. Compared

with such a growth the terrestrial puff-ball, which will sometimes swell a

foot in diameter in a single night, would be a hopeless laggard. But then

the puff-ball grows against a gravitational pull six times that of the

moon. Beyond, out of gullies and flats that had been hidden from us, but

not from the quickening sun, over reefs and banks of shining rock, a

bristling beard of spiky and fleshy vegetation was straining into view,

hurrying tumultuously to take advantage of the brief day in which it must

flower and fruit and seed again and die. It was like a miracle, that

growth. So, one must imagine, the trees and plants arose at the Creation

and covered the desolation of the new-made earth.

 

Imagine it! Imagine that dawn! The resurrection of the frozen air, the

stirring and quickening of the soil, and then this silent uprising of

vegetation, this unearthly ascent of fleshiness and spikes. Conceive it

all lit by a blaze that would make the intensest sunlight of earth seem

watery and weak. And still around this stirring jungle, wherever there was

shadow, lingered banks of bluish snow. And to have the picture of our

impression complete, you must bear in mind that we saw it all through a

thick bent glass, distorting it as things are distorted by a lens, acute

only in the centre of the picture, and very bright there, and towards the

edges magnified and unreal.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

 

 

 

Prospecting Begins

 

We ceased to gaze. We turned to each other, the same thought, the same

question in our eyes. For these plants to grow, there must be some air,

however attenuated, air that we also should be able to breathe.

 

"The manhole?" I said.

 

"Yes!" said Cavor, "if it is air we see!"

 

"In a little while," I said, "these plants will be as high as we are.

Suppose--suppose after all-- Is it certain? How do you know that stuff

_is_ air? It may be nitrogen--it may be carbonic acid even!"

 

"That's easy," he said, and set about proving it. He produced a big piece

of crumpled paper from the bale, lit it, and thrust it hastily through the

man-hole valve. I bent forward and peered down through the thick glass for

its appearance outside, that little flame on whose evidence depended so

much!

 

I saw the paper drop out and lie lightly upon the snow. The pink flame of

its burning vanished. For an instant it seemed to be extinguished. And

then I saw a little blue tongue upon the edge of it that trembled, and

crept, and spread!

 

Quietly the whole sheet, save where it lay in immediate contact with the

snow, charred and shrivelled and sent up a quivering thread of smoke.

There was no doubt left to me; the atmosphere of the moon was either pure

oxygen or air, and capable therefore--unless its tenuity was excessive--of

supporting our alien life. We might emerge--and live!

 

I sat down with my legs on either side of the manhole and prepared to

unscrew it, but Cavor stopped me. "There is first a little precaution,"

he said. He pointed out that although it was certainly an oxygenated

atmosphere outside, it might still be so rarefied as to cause us grave

injury. He reminded me of mountain sickness, and of the bleeding that

often afflicts aeronauts who have ascended too swiftly, and he spent some

time in the preparation of a sickly-tasting drink which he insisted on my

sharing. It made me feel a little numb, but otherwise had no effect on me.

Then he permitted me to begin unscrewing.

 

Presently the glass stopper of the manhole was so far undone that the

denser air within our sphere began to escape along the thread of the

screw, singing as a kettle sings before it boils. Thereupon he made me

desist. It speedily became evident that the pressure outside was very much

less than it was within. How much less it was we had no means of telling.

 

I sat grasping the stopper with both hands, ready to close it again if, in

spite of our intense hope, the lunar atmosphere should after all prove too

rarefied for us, and Cavor sat with a cylinder of compressed oxygen at

hand to restore our pressure. We looked at one another in silence, and

then at the fantastic vegetation that swayed and grew visibly and

noiselessly without. And ever that shrill piping continued.

 

My blood-vessels began to throb in my ears, and the sound of Cavor's

movements diminished. I noted how still everything had become, because of

the thinning of the air.

 

As our air sizzled out from the screw the moisture of it condensed in

little puffs.

 

Presently I experienced a peculiar shortness of breath that lasted indeed

during the whole of the time of our exposure to the moon's exterior

atmosphere, and a rather unpleasant sensation about the ears and

finger-nails and the back of the throat grew upon my attention, and

presently passed off again.

 

But then came vertigo and nausea that abruptly changed the quality of my

courage. I gave the lid of the manhole half a turn and made a hasty

explanation to Cavor; but now he was the more sanguine. He answered me in

a voice that seemed extraordinarily small and remote, because of the

thinness of the air that carried the sound. He recommended a nip of

brandy, and set me the example, and presently I felt better. I turned the

manhole stopper back again. The throbbing in my ears grew louder, and then

I remarked that the piping note of the outrush had ceased. For a time I

could not be sure that it had ceased.

 

"Well?" said Cavor, in the ghost of a voice.

 

"Well?" said I.

 

"Shall we go on?"

 

I thought. "Is this all?"

 

"If you can stand it."

 

By way of answer I went on unscrewing. I lifted the circular operculum

from its place and laid it carefully on the bale. A flake or so of snow

whirled and vanished as that thin and unfamiliar air took possession of

our sphere. I knelt, and then seated myself at the edge of the manhole,

peering over it. Beneath, within a yard of my face, lay the untrodden snow

of the moon.

 

There came a little pause. Our eyes met.

 

"It doesn't distress your lungs too much?" said Cavor.

 

"No," I said. "I can stand this."

 

He stretched out his hand for his blanket, thrust his head through its

central hole, and wrapped it about him. He sat down on the edge of the

manhole, he let his feet drop until they were within six inches of the

lunar ground. He hesitated for a moment, then thrust himself forward,

dropped these intervening inches, and stood upon the untrodden soil of the

moon.

 

As he stepped forward he was refracted grotesquely by the edge of the

glass. He stood for a moment looking this way and that. Then he drew

himself together and leapt.

 

The glass distorted everything, but it seemed to me even then to be an

extremely big leap. He had at one bound become remote. He seemed twenty or

thirty feet off. He was standing high upon a rocky mass and gesticulating

back to me. Perhaps he was shouting--but the sound did not reach me. But

how the deuce had he done this? I felt like a man who has just seen a new

conjuring trick.

 

In a puzzled state of mind I too dropped through the manhole. I stood up.

Just in front of me the snowdrift had fallen away and made a sort of

ditch. I made a step and jumped.

 

I found myself flying through the air, saw the rock on which he stood

coming to meet me, clutched it and clung in a state of infinite amazement.

 

I gasped a painful laugh. I was tremendously confused. Cavor bent down

and shouted in piping tones for me to be careful.

 

I had forgotten that on the moon, with only an eighth part of the earth's

mass and a quarter of its diameter, my weight was barely a sixth what it

was on earth. But now that fact insisted on being remembered.

 

"We are out of Mother Earth's leading-strings now," he said.

 

With a guarded effort I raised myself to the top, and moving as cautiously

as a rheumatic patient, stood up beside him under the blaze of the sun.

The sphere lay behind us on its dwindling snowdrift thirty feet away.

 

As far as the eye could see over the enormous disorder of rocks that

formed the crater floor, the same bristling scrub that surrounded us was

starting into life, diversified here and there by bulging masses of a

cactus form, and scarlet and purple lichens that grew so fast they seemed

to crawl over the rocks. The whole area of the crater seemed to me then to

be one similar wilderness up to the very foot of the surrounding cliff.

 

This cliff was apparently bare of vegetation save at its base, and with

buttresses and terraces and platforms that did not very greatly attract

our attention at the time. It was many miles away from us in every

direction; we seemed to be almost at the centre of the crater, and we saw

it through a certain haziness that drove before the wind. For there was

even a wind now in the thin air, a swift yet weak wind that chilled

exceedingly but exerted little pressure. It was blowing round the

crater, as it seemed, to the hot illuminated side from the foggy darkness

under the sunward wall. It was difficult to look into this eastward fog;

we had to peer with half-closed eyes beneath the shade of our hands,

because of the fierce intensity of the motionless sun.

 

"It seems to be deserted," said Cavor, "absolutely desolate."

 

I looked about me again. I retained even then a clinging hope of some

quasi-human evidence, some pinnacle of building, some house or engine, but

everywhere one looked spread the tumbled rocks in peaks and crests, and

the darting scrub and those bulging cacti that swelled and swelled, a flat

negation as it seemed of all such hope.

 

"It looks as though these plants had it to themselves," I said. "I see no

trace of any other creature."

 

"No insects--no birds, no! Not a trace, not a scrap nor particle of

animal life. If there was--what would they do in the night? ... No;

there's just these plants alone."

 

I shaded my eyes with my hand. "It's like the landscape of a dream. These

things are less like earthly land plants than the things one imagines

among the rocks at the bottom of the sea. Look at that yonder! One might

imagine it a lizard changed into a plant. And the glare!"

 

"This is only the fresh morning," said Cavor.

 

He sighed and looked about him. "This is no world for men," he said. "And

yet in a way--it appeals."

 

He became silent for a time, then commenced his meditative humming.

 

I started at a gentle touch, and found a thin sheet of livid lichen

lapping over my shoe. I kicked at it and it fell to powder, and each speck

began to grow.

 

I heard Cavor exclaim sharply, and perceived that one of the fixed

bayonets of the scrub had pricked him. He hesitated, his eyes sought

among the rocks about us. A sudden blaze of pink had crept up a ragged

pillar of crag. It was a most extraordinary pink, a livid magenta.

 

"Look!" said I, turning, and behold Cavor had vanished.

 

For an instant I stood transfixed. Then I made a hasty step to look over

the verge of the rock. But in my surprise at his disappearance I forgot

once more that we were on the moon. The thrust of my foot that I made in

striding would have carried me a yard on earth; on the moon it carried me

six--a good five yards over the edge. For the moment the thing had

something of the effect of those nightmares when one falls and falls. For

while one falls sixteen feet in the first second of a fall on earth, on

the moon one falls two, and with only a sixth of one's weight. I fell, or

rather I jumped down, about ten yards I suppose. It seemed to take quite a

long time, five or six seconds, I should think. I floated through the air

and fell like a feather, knee-deep in a snow-drift in the bottom of a

gully of blue-gray, white-veined rock.

 

I looked about me. "Cavor!" I cried; but no Cavor was visible.

 

"Cavor!" I cried louder, and the rocks echoed me.

 

I turned fiercely to the rocks and clambered to the summit of them.

"Cavor!" I cried. My voice sounded like the voice of a lost lamb.

 

The sphere, too, was not in sight, and for a moment a horrible feeling of

desolation pinched my heart.

 

Then I saw him. He was laughing and gesticulating to attract my attention.

He was on a bare patch of rock twenty or thirty yards away. I could not

hear his voice, but "jump" said his gestures. I hesitated, the distance

seemed enormous. Yet I reflected that surely I must be able to clear a

greater distance than Cavor.

 

I made a step back, gathered myself together, and leapt with all my might.

I seemed to shoot right up in the air as though I should never come down.

 

It was horrible and delightful, and as wild as a nightmare, to go flying

off in this fashion. I realised my leap had been altogether too violent.

I flew clean over Cavor's head and beheld a spiky confusion in a gully

spreading to meet my fall. I gave a yelp of alarm. I put out my hands and

straightened my legs.

 

I hit a huge fungoid bulk that burst all about me, scattering a mass of

orange spores in every direction, and covering me with orange powder. I

rolled over spluttering, and came to rest convulsed with breathless

laughter.

 

I became aware of Cavor's little round face peering over a bristling

hedge. He shouted some faded inquiry. "Eh?" I tried to shout, but could

not do so for want of breath. He made his way towards me, coming gingerly

among the bushes.

 

"We've got to be careful," he said. "This moon has no discipline. She'll

let us smash ourselves."

 

He helped me to my feet. "You exerted yourself too much," he said, dabbing

at the yellow stuff with his hand to remove it from my garments.

 

I stood passive and panting, allowing him to beat off the jelly from my

knees and elbows and lecture me upon my misfortunes. "We don't quite

allow for the gravitation. Our muscles are scarcely educated yet. We must

practise a little, when you have got your breath."

 

I pulled two or three little thorns out of my hand, and sat for a time on

a boulder of rock. My muscles were quivering, and I had that feeling of

personal disillusionment that comes at the first fall to the learner of

cycling on earth.

 

It suddenly occurred to Cavor that the cold air in the gully, after the

brightness of the sun, might give me a fever. So we clambered back into

the sunlight. We found that beyond a few abrasions I had received no

serious injuries from my tumble, and at Cavor's suggestion we were

presently looking round for some safe and easy landing-place for my next

leap. We chose a rocky slab some ten yards off, separated from us by a

little thicket of olive-green spikes.

 

"Imagine it there!" said Cavor, who was assuming the airs of a trainer,

and he pointed to a spot about four feet from my toes. This leap I managed

without difficulty, and I must confess I found a certain satisfaction in

Cavor's falling short by a foot or so and tasting the spikes of the scrub.

"One has to be careful you see," he said, pulling out his thorns, and with

that he ceased to be my mentor and became my fellow-learner in the art of

lunar locomotion.

 

We chose a still easier jump and did it without difficulty, and then leapt

back again, and to and fro several times, accustoming our muscles to the

new standard. I could never have believed had I not experienced it, how

rapid that adaptation would be. In a very little time indeed, certainly

after fewer than thirty leaps, we could judge the effort necessary for a

distance with almost terrestrial assurance.

 

And all this time the lunar plants were growing around us, higher and

denser and more entangled, every moment thicker and taller, spiked plants,

green cactus masses, fungi, fleshy and lichenous things, strangest radiate

and sinuous shapes. But we were so intent upon our leaping, that for a

time we gave no heed to their unfaltering expansion.

 

An extraordinary elation had taken possession of us. Partly, I think, it

was our sense of release from the confinement of the sphere. Mainly,

however, the thin sweetness of the air, which I am certain contained a

much larger proportion of oxygen than our terrestrial atmosphere. In spite

of the strange quality of all about us, I felt as adventurous and

experimental as a cockney would do placed for the first time among

mountains and I do not think it occurred to either of us, face to face

though we were with the unknown, to be very greatly afraid.

 

We were bitten by a spirit of enterprise. We selected a lichenous kopje

perhaps fifteen yards away, and landed neatly on its summit one after the

other. "Good!" we cried to each other; "good!" and Cavor made three steps

and went off to a tempting slope of snow a good twenty yards and more

beyond. I stood for a moment struck by the grotesque effect of his

soaring figure--his dirty cricket cap, and spiky hair, his little round

body, his arms and his knicker-bockered legs tucked up tightly--against

the weird spaciousness of the lunar scene. A gust of laughter seized me,

and then I stepped off to follow. Plump! I dropped beside him.

 

We made a few gargantuan strides, leapt three or four times more, and sat

down at last in a lichenous hollow. Our lungs were painful. We sat holding

our sides and recovering our breath, looking appreciation to one another.

Cavor panted something about "amazing sensations." And then came a thought

into my head. For the moment it did not seem a particularly appalling

thought, simply a natural question arising out of the situation.

 

"By the way," I said, "where exactly is the sphere?"

 

Cavor looked at me. "Eh?"

 

The full meaning of what we were saying struck me sharply.

 

"Cavor!" I cried, laying a hand on his arm, "where is the sphere?"

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

 

 

 

Lost Men in the Moon

 

His face caught something of my dismay. He stood up and stared about him

at the scrub that fenced us in and rose about us, straining upward in a

passion of growth. He put a dubious hand to his lips. He spoke with a

sudden lack of assurance. "I think," he said slowly, "we left it ...

somewhere ... about _there_."

 

He pointed a hesitating finger that wavered in an arc.

 

"I'm not sure." His look of consternation deepened. "Anyhow," he said,

with his eyes on me, "it can't be far."

 

We had both stood up. We made unmeaning ejaculations, our eyes sought in

the twining, thickening jungle round about us.

 

All about us on the sunlit slopes frothed and swayed the darting shrubs,

the swelling cactus, the creeping lichens, and wherever the shade remained

the snow-drifts lingered. North, south, east, and west spread an identical

monotony of unfamiliar forms. And somewhere, buried already among this

tangled confusion, was our sphere, our home, our only provision, our only

hope of escape from this fantastic wilderness of ephemeral growths into

which we had come.

 

"I think after all," he said, pointing suddenly, "it might be over there."

 

"No," I said. "We have turned in a curve. See! here is the mark of my

heels. It's clear the thing must be more to the eastward, much more.

No--the sphere must be over there."

 

"I _think_," said Cavor, "I kept the sun upon my right all the time."

 

"Every leap, it seems to me," I said, "my shadow flew before me."

 

We stared into one another's eyes. The area of the crater had become

enormously vast to our imaginations, the growing thickets already

impenetrably dense.

 

"Good heavens! What fools we have been!"

 

"It's evident that we must find it again," said Cavor, "and that soon.

The sun grows stronger. We should be fainting with the heat already if

it wasn't so dry. And ... I'm hungry."

 

I stared at him. I had not suspected this aspect of the matter before. But

it came to me at once--a positive craving. "Yes," I said with emphasis.

"I am hungry too."

 

He stood up with a look of active resolution. "Certainly we must find the

sphere."

 

As calmly as possible we surveyed the interminable reefs and thickets that

formed the floor of the crater, each of us weighing in silence the chances

of our finding the sphere before we were overtaken by heat and hunger.

 

"It can't be fifty yards from here," said Cavor, with indecisive gestures.

"The only thing is to beat round about until we come upon it."

 

"That is all we can do," I said, without any alacrity to begin our hunt.

"I wish this confounded spike bush did not grow so fast!"

 

"That's just it," said Cavor. "But it was lying on a bank of snow."

 

I stared about me in the vain hope of recognising some knoll or shrub that

had been near the sphere. But everywhere was a confusing sameness,

everywhere the aspiring bushes, the distending fungi, the dwindling snow

banks, steadily and inevitably changed. The sun scorched and stung, the

faintness of an unaccountable hunger mingled with our infinite perplexity.

And even as we stood there, confused and lost amidst unprecedented things,

we became aware for the first time of a sound upon the moon other than the

air of the growing plants, the faint sighing of the wind, or those that we

ourselves had made.

 

Boom.... Boom.... Boom.

 

It came from beneath our feet, a sound in the earth. We seemed to hear it

with our feet as much as with our ears. Its dull resonance was muffled by

distance, thick with the quality of intervening substance. No sound that I

can imagine could have astonished us more, or have changed more completely

the quality of things about us. For this sound, rich, slow, and

deliberate, seemed to us as though it could be nothing but the striking of

some gigantic buried clock.

 

Boom.... Boom.... Boom.

 

Sound suggestive of still cloisters, of sleepless nights in crowded

cities, of vigils and the awaited hour, of all that is orderly and

methodical in life, booming out pregnant and mysterious in this fantastic

desert! To the eye everything was unchanged: the desolation of bushes and

cacti waving silently in the wind, stretched unbroken to the distant

cliffs, the still dark sky was empty overhead, and the hot sun hung and

burned. And through it all, a warning, a threat, throbbed this enigma of

sound.

 

Boom.... Boom.... Boom....

 

We questioned one another in faint and faded voices.

 

"A clock?"

 

"Like a clock!"

 

"What is it?"

 

"What can it be?"

 

"Count," was Cavor's belated suggestion, and at that word the striking

ceased.

 

The silence, the rhythmic disappointment of the silence, came as a fresh

shock. For a moment one could doubt whether one had ever heard a sound. Or

whether it might not still be going on. Had I indeed heard a sound?

 

I felt the pressure of Cavor's hand upon my arm. He spoke in an

undertone, as though he feared to wake some sleeping thing. "Let us keep

together," he whispered, "and look for the sphere. We must get back to the

sphere. This is beyond our understanding."

 

"Which way shall we go?"

 

He hesitated. An intense persuasion of presences, of unseen things about

us and near us, dominated our minds. What could they be? Where could they

be? Was this arid desolation, alternately frozen and scorched, only the

outer rind and mask of some subterranean world? And if so, what sort of

world? What sort of inhabitants might it not presently disgorge upon us?

 

And then, stabbing the aching stillness as vivid and sudden as an

unexpected thunderclap, came a clang and rattle as though great gates of

metal had suddenly been flung apart.

 

It arrested our steps. We stood gaping helplessly. Then Cavor stole

towards me.

 

"I do not understand!" he whispered close to my face. He waved his hand

vaguely skyward, the vague suggestion of still vaguer thoughts.

 

"A hiding-place! If anything came..."

 

I looked about us. I nodded my head in assent to him.

 

We started off, moving stealthily with the most exaggerated precautions

against noise. We went towards a thicket of scrub. A clangour like hammers

flung about a boiler hastened our steps. "We must crawl," whispered Cavor.

 

The lower leaves of the bayonet plants, already overshadowed by the newer

ones above, were beginning to wilt and shrivel so that we could thrust our

way in among the thickening stems without serious injury. A stab in the

face or arm we did not heed. At the heart of the thicket I stopped, and

stared panting into Cavor's face.

 

"Subterranean," he whispered. "Below."

 

"They may come out."

 

"We must find the sphere!"

 

"Yes," I said; "but how?"

 

"Crawl till we come to it."

 

"But if we don't?"

 

"Keep hidden. See what they are like."

 

"We will keep together," said I.

 

He thought. "Which way shall we go?"

 

"We must take our chance."

 

We peered this way and that. Then very circumspectly, we began to crawl

through the lower jungle, making, so far as we could judge, a circuit,

halting now at every waving fungus, at every sound, intent only on the

sphere from which we had so foolishly emerged. Ever and again from out of

the earth beneath us came concussions, beatings, strange, inexplicable,

mechanical sounds; and once, and then again, we thought we heard

something, a faint rattle and tumult, borne to us through the air. But

fearful as we were we dared essay no vantage-point to survey the crater.

For long we saw nothing of the beings whose sounds were so abundant and

insistent. But for the faintness of our hunger and the drying of our

throats that crawling would have had the quality of a very vivid dream. It

was so absolutely unreal. The only element with any touch of reality was

these sounds.

 

Picture it to yourself! About us the dream-like jungle, with the silent

bayonet leaves darting overhead, and the silent, vivid, sun-splashed

lichens under our hands and knees, waving with the vigour of their growth

as a carpet waves when the wind gets beneath it. Ever and again one of the

bladder fungi, bulging and distending under the sun, loomed upon us. Ever

and again some novel shape in vivid colour obtruded. The very cells that

built up these plants were as large as my thumb, like beads of coloured

glass. And all these things were saturated in the unmitigated glare of the

sun, were seen against a sky that was bluish black and spangled still, in

spite of the sunlight, with a few surviving stars. Strange! the very forms

and texture of the stones were strange. It was all strange, the feeling of

one's body was unprecedented, every other movement ended in a surprise.

The breath sucked thin in one's throat, the blood flowed through one's

ears in a throbbing tide--thud, thud, thud, thud....

 

And ever and again came gusts of turmoil, hammering, the clanging and

throb of machinery, and presently--the bellowing of great beasts!

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 11

 

 

 

 

The Mooncalf Pastures

 

So we two poor terrestrial castaways, lost in that wild-growing moon

jungle, crawled in terror before the sounds that had come upon us. We

crawled, as it seemed, a long time before we saw either Selenite or

mooncalf, though we heard the bellowing and gruntulous noises of these

latter continually drawing nearer to us. We crawled through stony ravines,

over snow slopes, amidst fungi that ripped like thin bladders at our

thrust, emitting a watery humour, over a perfect pavement of things like

puff-balls, and beneath interminable thickets of scrub. And ever more

helplessly our eyes sought for our abandoned sphere. The noise of the

mooncalves would at times be a vast flat calf-like sound, at times it rose

to an amazed and wrathy bellowing, and again it would become a clogged

bestial sound, as though these unseen creatures had sought to eat and

bellow at the same time.

 

Our first view was but an inadequate transitory glimpse, yet none the less

disturbing because it was incomplete. Cavor was crawling in front at the

time, and he first was aware of their proximity. He stopped dead,

arresting me with a single gesture.

 

A crackling and smashing of the scrub appeared to be advancing directly

upon us, and then, as we squatted close and endeavoured to judge of the

nearness and direction of this noise, there came a terrific bellow behind

us, so close and vehement that the tops of the bayonet scrub bent before

it, and one felt the breath of it hot and moist. And, turning about, we

saw indistinctly through a crowd of swaying stems the mooncalf's shining

sides, and the long line of its back loomed out against the sky.

 

Of course it is hard for me now to say how much I saw at that time,

because my impressions were corrected by subsequent observation. First of

all impressions was its enormous size; the girth of its body was some

fourscore feet, its length perhaps two hundred. Its sides rose and fell

with its laboured breathing. I perceived that its gigantic, flabby body

lay along the ground, and that its skin was of a corrugated white,

dappling into blackness along the backbone. But of its feet we saw

nothing. I think also that we saw then the profile at least of the almost

brainless head, with its fat-encumbered neck, its slobbering omnivorous

mouth, its little nostrils, and tight shut eyes. (For the mooncalf

invariably shuts its eyes in the presence of the sun.) We had a glimpse of

a vast red pit as it opened its mouth to bleat and bellow again; we had a

breath from the pit, and then the monster heeled over like a ship, dragged

forward along the ground, creasing all its leathery skin, rolled again,

and so wallowed past us, smashing a path amidst the scrub, and was

speedily hidden from our eyes by the dense interlacings beyond. Another

appeared more distantly, and then another, and then, as though he was

guiding these animated lumps of provender to their pasture, a Selenite

came momentarily into ken. My grip upon Cavor's foot became convulsive at

the sight of him, and we remained motionless and peering long after he had

passed out of our range.

 

By contrast with the mooncalves he seemed a trivial being, a mere ant,

scarcely five feet high. He was wearing garments of some leathery

substance, so that no portion of his actual body appeared, but of this, of

course, we were entirely ignorant. He presented himself, therefore, as a

compact, bristling creature, having much of the quality of a complicated

insect, with whip-like tentacles and a clanging arm projecting from his

shining cylindrical body case. The form of his head was hidden by his

enormous many-spiked helmet--we discovered afterwards that he used the

spikes for prodding refractory mooncalves--and a pair of goggles of

darkened glass, set very much at the side, gave a bird-like quality to the

metallic apparatus that covered his face. His arms did not project beyond

his body case, and he carried himself upon short legs that, wrapped though

they were in warm coverings, seemed to our terrestrial eyes inordinately

flimsy. They had very short thighs, very long shanks, and little feet.

 

In spite of his heavy-looking clothing, he was progressing with what would

be, from the terrestrial point of view, very considerable strides, and his

clanging arm was busy. The quality of his motion during the instant of his

passing suggested haste and a certain anger, and soon after we had lost

sight of him we heard the bellow of a mooncalf change abruptly into a

short, sharp squeal followed by the scuffle of its acceleration. And

gradually that bellowing receded, and then came to an end, as if the

pastures sought had been attained.

 

We listened. For a space the moon world was still. But it was some time

before we resumed our crawling search for the vanished sphere.

 

When next we saw mooncalves they were some little distance away from us in

a place of tumbled rocks. The less vertical surfaces of the rocks were

thick with a speckled green plant growing in dense mossy clumps, upon

which these creatures were browsing. We stopped at the edge of the reeds

amidst which we were crawling at the sight of them, peering out at then

and looking round for a second glimpse of a Selenite. They lay against

their food like stupendous slugs, huge, greasy hulls, eating greedily and

noisily, with a sort of sobbing avidity. They seemed monsters of mere

fatness, clumsy and overwhelmed to a degree that would make a Smithfield

ox seem a model of agility. Their busy, writhing, chewing mouths, and eyes

closed, together with the appetising sound of their munching, made up an

effect of animal enjoyment that was singularly stimulating to our empty

frames.

 

"Hogs!" said Cavor, with unusual passion. "Disgusting hogs!" and after

one glare of angry envy crawled off through the bushes to our right. I

stayed long enough to see that the speckled plant was quite hopeless for

human nourishment, then crawled after him, nibbling a quill of it between

my teeth.

 

Presently we were arrested again by the proximity of a Selenite, and this

time we were able to observe him more exactly. Now we could see that the

Selenite covering was indeed clothing, and not a sort of crustacean

integument. He was quite similar in his costume to the former one we had

glimpsed, except that ends of something like wadding were protruding from

his neck, and he stood on a promontory of rock and moved his head this way

and that, as though he was surveying the crater. We lay quite still,

fearing to attract his attention if we moved, and after a time he turned

about and disappeared.

 

We came upon another drove of mooncalves bellowing up a ravine, and then

we passed over a place of sounds, sounds of beating machinery as if some

huge hall of industry came near the surface there. And while these sounds

were still about us we came to the edge of a great open space, perhaps two

hundred yards in diameter, and perfectly level. Save for a few lichens

that advanced from its margin this space was bare, and presented a powdery

surface of a dusty yellow colour. We were afraid to strike out across

this space, but as it presented less obstruction to our crawling than the

scrub, we went down upon it and began very circumspectly to skirt its

edge.

 

For a little while the noises from below ceased and everything, save for

the faint stir of the growing vegetation, was very still. Then abruptly

there began an uproar, louder, more vehement, and nearer than any we had

so far heard. Of a certainty it came from below. Instinctively we crouched

as flat as we could, ready for a prompt plunge into the thicket beside us.

Each knock and throb seemed to vibrate through our bodies. Louder grew

this throbbing and beating, and that irregular vibration increased until

the whole moon world seemed to be jerking and pulsing.

 

"Cover," whispered Cavor, and I turned towards the bushes.

 

At that instant came a thud like the thud of a gun, and then a thing

happened--it still haunts me in my dreams. I had turned my head to look

at Cavor's face, and thrust out my hand in front of me as I did so.

And my hand met nothing! I plunged suddenly into a bottomless hole!

 

My chest hit something hard, and I found myself with my chin on the edge

of an unfathomable abyss that had suddenly opened beneath me, my hand

extended stiffly into the void. The whole of that flat circular area was

no more than a gigantic lid, that was now sliding sideways from off the

pit it had covered into a slot prepared for it.

 

Had it not been for Cavor I think I should have remained rigid, hanging

over this margin and staring into the enormous gulf below, until at last

the edges of the slot scraped me off and hurled me into its depths. But

Cavor had not received the shock that had paralysed me. He had been a

little distance from the edge when the lid had first opened, and

perceiving the peril that held me helpless, gripped my legs and pulled me

backward. I came into a sitting position, crawled away from the edge for a

space on all fours, then staggered up and ran after him across the

thundering, quivering sheet of metal. It seemed to be swinging open with a

steadily accelerated velocity, and the bushes in front of me shifted

sideways as I ran.

 

I was none too soon. Cavor's back vanished amidst the bristling thicket,

and as I scrambled up after him, the monstrous valve came into its

position with a clang. For a long time we lay panting, not daring to

approach the pit.

 

But at last very cautiously and bit by bit we crept into a position from

which we could peer down. The bushes about us creaked and waved with the

force of a breeze that was blowing down the shaft. We could see nothing at

first except smooth vertical walls descending at last into an impenetrable

black. And then very gradually we became aware of a number of very faint

and little lights going to and fro.

 

For a time that stupendous gulf of mystery held us so that we forgot even

our sphere. In time, as we grew more accustomed to the darkness, we could

make out very small, dim, elusive shapes moving about among those

needle-point illuminations. We peered amazed and incredulous,

understanding so little that we could find no words to say. We could

distinguish nothing that would give us a clue to the meaning of the faint

shapes we saw.

 

"What can it be?" I asked; "what can it be?"

 

"The engineering!... They must live in these caverns during the night, and

come out during the day."

 

"Cavor!" I said. "Can they be--that--it was something like--men?"

 

"_That_ was not a man."

 

"We dare risk nothing!"

 

"We dare do nothing until we find the sphere!"

 

"We _can_ do nothing until we find the sphere."

 

He assented with a groan and stirred himself to move. He stared about him

for a space, sighed, and indicated a direction. We struck out through the

jungle. For a time we crawled resolutely, then with diminishing vigour.

Presently among great shapes of flabby purple there came a noise of

trampling and cries about us. We lay close, and for a long time the sounds

went to and fro and very near. But this time we saw nothing. I tried to

whisper to Cavor that I could hardly go without food much longer, but my

mouth had become too dry for whispering.

 

"Cavor," I said, "I must have food."

 

He turned a face full of dismay towards me. "It's a case for holding out,"

he said.

 

"But I _must_," I said, "and look at my lips!"

 

"I've been thirsty some time."

 

"If only some of that snow had remained!"

 

"It's clean gone! We're driving from arctic to tropical at the rate of a

degree a minute...."

 

I gnawed my hand.

 

"The sphere!" he said. "There is nothing for it but the sphere."

 

We roused ourselves to another spurt of crawling. My mind ran entirely on

edible things, on the hissing profundity of summer drinks, more

particularly I craved for beer. I was haunted by the memory of a sixteen

gallon cask that had swaggered in my Lympne cellar. I thought of the

adjacent larder, and especially of steak and kidney pie--tender steak and

plenty of kidney, and rich, thick gravy between. Ever and again I was

seized with fits of hungry yawning. We came to flat places overgrown with

fleshy red things, monstrous coralline growths; as we pushed against them

they snapped and broke. I noted the quality of the broken surfaces. The

confounded stuff certainly looked of a biteable texture. Then it seemed to

me that it smelt rather well.

 

I picked up a fragment and sniffed at it.

 

"Cavor," I said in a hoarse undertone.

 

He glanced at me with his face screwed up. "Don't," he said. I put down

the fragment, and we crawled on through this tempting fleshiness for

a space.

 

"Cavor," I asked, "why not?"

 

"Poison," I heard him say, but he did not look round.

 

We crawled some way before I decided.

 

"I'll chance it," said I.

 

He made a belated gesture to prevent me. I stuffed my mouth full. He

crouched watching my face, his own twisted into the oddest expression.

"It's good," I said.

 

"O Lord!" he cried.

 

He watched me munch, his face wrinkled between desire and disapproval,

then suddenly succumbed to appetite and began to tear off huge mouthfuls.

For a time we did nothing but eat.

 

The stuff was not unlike a terrestrial mushroom, only it was much laxer in

texture, and, as one swallowed it, it warmed the throat. At first we

experienced a mere mechanical satisfaction in eating; then our blood began

to run warmer, and we tingled at the lips and fingers, and then new and

slightly irrelevant ideas came bubbling up in our minds.

 

"Its good," said I. "Infernally good! What a home for our surplus

population! Our poor surplus population," and I broke off another large

portion. It filled me with a curiously benevolent satisfaction that there

was such good food in the moon. The depression of my hunger gave way to an

irrational exhilaration. The dread and discomfort in which I had been

living vanished entirely. I perceived the moon no longer as a planet from

which I most earnestly desired the means of escape, but as a possible

refuge from human destitution. I think I forgot the Selenites, the

mooncalves, the lid, and the noises completely so soon as I had eaten that

fungus.

 

Cavor replied to my third repetition of my "surplus population" remark

with similar words of approval. I felt that my head swam, but I put this

down to the stimulating effect of food after a long fast. "Ess'lent

discov'ry yours, Cavor," said I. "Se'nd on'y to the 'tato."

 

"Whajer mean?" asked Cavor. "'Scovery of the moon--se'nd on'y to the

'tato?"

 

I looked at him, shocked at his suddenly hoarse voice, and by the badness

of his articulation. It occurred to me in a flash that he was intoxicated,

possibly by the fungus. It also occurred to me that he erred in imagining

that he had discovered the moon; he had not discovered it, he had only

reached it. I tried to lay my hand on his arm and explain this to him, but

the issue was too subtle for his brain. It was also unexpectedly difficult

to express. After a momentary attempt to understand me--I remember

wondering if the fungus had made my eyes as fishy as his--he set off upon

some observations on his own account.

 

"We are," he announced with a solemn hiccup, "the creashurs o' what we

eat and drink."

 

He repeated this, and as I was now in one of my subtle moods, I determined

to dispute it. Possibly I wandered a little from the point. But Cavor

certainly did not attend at all properly. He stood up as well as he could,

putting a hand on my head to steady I himself, which was disrespectful,

and stood staring about him, quite devoid now of any fear of the moon

beings.

 

I tried to point out that this was dangerous for some reason that was not

perfectly clear to me, but the word "dangerous" had somehow got mixed with

"indiscreet," and came out rather more like "injurious" than either; and

after an attempt to disentangle them, I resumed my argument, addressing

myself principally to the unfamiliar but attentive coralline growths on

either side. I felt that it was necessary to clear up this confusion

between the moon and a potato at once--I wandered into a long parenthesis

on the importance of precision of definition in argument. I did my best to

ignore the fact that my bodily sensations were no longer agreeable.

 

In some way that I have now forgotten, my mind was led back to projects

of colonisation. "We must annex this moon," I said. "There must be

no shilly-shally. This is part of the White Man's Burthen. Cavor--we

are--hic--Satap--mean Satraps! Nempire Caesar never dreamt. B'in all

the newspapers. Cavorecia. Bedfordecia. Bedfordecia--hic--Limited.

Mean--unlimited! Practically."

 

Certainly I was intoxicated.

 

I embarked upon an argument to show the infinite benefits our arrival

would confer on the moon. I involved myself in a rather difficult proof

that the arrival of Columbus was, on the whole, beneficial to America. I

found I had forgotten the line of argument I had intended to pursue, and

continued to repeat "sim'lar to C'lumbus," to fill up time.

 

From that point my memory of the action of that abominable fungus becomes

confused. I remember vaguely that we declared our intention of standing no

nonsense from any confounded insects, that we decided it ill became men to

hide shamefully upon a mere satellite, that we equipped ourselves with

huge armfuls of the fungus--whether for missile purposes or not I do not

know--and, heedless of the stabs of the bayonet scrub, we started forth

into the sunshine.

 

Almost immediately we must have come upon the Selenites. There were six of

them, and they were marching in single file over a rocky place, making the

most remarkable piping and whining sounds. They all seemed to become aware

of us at once, all instantly became silent and motionless, like animals,

with their faces turned towards us.

 

For a moment I was sobered.

 

"Insects," murmured Cavor, "insects! And they think I'm going to crawl

about on my stomach--on my vertebrated stomach!

 

"Stomach," he repeated slowly, as though he chewed the indignity.

 

Then suddenly, with a sort of fury, he made three vast strides and leapt

towards them. He leapt badly; he made a series of somersaults in the air,

whirled right over them, and vanished with an enormous splash amidst the

cactus bladders. What the Selenites made of this amazing, and to my mind

undignified irruption from another planet, I have no means of guessing. I

seem to remember the sight of their backs as they ran in all directions,

but I am not sure. All these last incidents before oblivion came are vague

and faint in my mind. I know I made a step to follow Cavor, and tripped

and fell headlong among the rocks. I was, I am certain, suddenly and

vehemently ill. I seem to remember, a violent struggle and being gripped

by metallic clasps....

 

My next clear recollection is that we were prisoners at we knew not what

depths beneath the moon's surface; we were in darkness amidst strange

distracting noises; our bodies were covered with scratches and bruises,

and our heads racked with pain.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

 

 

 

The Selenite's Face

 

I found myself sitting crouched together in a tumultuous darkness. For a

long time I could not understand where I was, nor how I had come to this

perplexity. I thought of the cupboard into which I had been thrust at

times when I was a child, and then of a very dark and noisy bedroom in

which I had slept during an illness. But these sounds about me were not

the noises I had known, and there was a thin flavour in the air like the

wind of a stable. Then I supposed we must still be at work upon the

sphere, and that somehow I had got into the cellar of Cavor's house. I

remembered we had finished the sphere, and fancied I must still be in it

and travelling through space.

 

"Cavor," I said, "cannot we have some light?"

 

There came no answer.

 

"Cavor!" I insisted.

 

I was answered by a groan. "My head!" I heard him say; "my head!"

 

I attempted to press my hands to my brow, which ached, and discovered they

were tied together. This startled me very much. I brought them up to my

mouth and felt the cold smoothness of metal. They were chained together. I

tried to separate my legs and made out they were similarly fastened, and

also that I was fastened to the ground by a much thicker chain about the

middle of my body.

 

I was more frightened than I had yet been by anything in all our strange

experiences. For a time I tugged silently at my bonds. "Cavor!" I cried

out sharply. "Why am I tied? Why have you tied me hand and foot?"

 

"I haven't tied you," he answered. "It's the Selenites."

 

The Selenites! My mind hung on that for a space. Then my memories came

back to me: the snowy desolation, the thawing of the air, the growth of

the plants, our strange hopping and crawling among the rocks and

vegetation of the crater. All the distress of our frantic search for the

sphere returned to me.... Finally the opening of the great lid that

covered the pit!

 

Then as I strained to trace our later movements down to our present

plight, the pain in my head became intolerable. I came to an

insurmountable barrier, an obstinate blank.

 

"Cavor!"

 

"Yes?"

 

"Where are we?"

 

"How should I know?"

 

"Are we dead?"

 

"What nonsense!"

 

"They've got us, then!"

 

He made no answer but a grunt. The lingering traces of the poison seemed

to make him oddly irritable.

 

"What do you mean to do?"

 

"How should I know what to do?"

 

"Oh, very well!" said I, and became silent. Presently, I was roused from

a stupor. "O Lord!" I cried; "I wish you'd stop that buzzing!"

 

We lapsed into silence again, listening to the dull confusion of noises

like the muffled sounds of a street or factory that filled our ears. I

could make nothing of it, my mind pursued first one rhythm and then

another, and questioned it in vain. But after a long time I became aware

of a new and sharper element, not mingling with the rest but standing out,

as it were, against that cloudy background of sound. It was a series of

relatively very little definite sounds, tappings and rubbings, like a

loose spray of ivy against a window or a bird moving about upon a box. We

listened and peered about us, but the darkness was a velvet pall. There

followed a noise like the subtle movement of the wards of a well-oiled

lock. And then there appeared before me, hanging as it seemed in an

immensity of black, a thin bright line.

 

"Look!" whispered Cavor very softly.

 

"What is it?"

 

"I don't know."

 

We stared.

 

The thin bright line became a band, and broader and paler. It took upon

itself the quality of a bluish light falling upon a white-washed wall. It

ceased to be parallel-sided; it developed a deep indentation on one side.

I turned to remark this to Cavor, and was amazed to see his ear in a

brilliant illumination--all the rest of him in shadow. I twisted my head

round as well as my bonds would permit. "Cavor," I said, "it's behind!"

 

His ear vanished--gave place to an eye!

 

Suddenly the crack that had been admitting the light broadened out, and

revealed itself as the space of an opening door. Beyond was a sapphire

vista, and in the doorway stood a grotesque outline silhouetted against

the glare.

 

We both made convulsive efforts to turn, and failing, sat staring over our

shoulders at this. My first impression was of some clumsy quadruped with

lowered head. Then I perceived it was the slender pinched body and short

and extremely attenuated bandy legs of a Selenite, with his head depressed

between his shoulders. He was without the helmet and body covering they

wear upon the exterior.

 

He was a blank, black figure to us, but instinctively our imaginations

supplied features to his very human outline. I, at least, took it

instantly that he was somewhat hunchbacked, with a high forehead and long

features.

 

He came forward three steps and paused for a time. His movements seemed

absolutely noiseless. Then he came forward again. He walked like a bird,

his feet fell one in front of the other. He stepped out of the ray of

light that came through the doorway, and it seemed as though he vanished

altogether in the shadow.

 

For a moment my eyes sought him in the wrong place, and then I perceived

him standing facing us both in the full light. Only the human features I

had attributed to him were not there at all!

 

Of course I ought to have expected that, only I didn't. It came to me as

an absolute, for a moment an overwhelming shock. It seemed as though it

wasn't a face, as though it must needs be a mask, a horror, a deformity,

that would presently be disavowed or explained. There was no nose, and the

thing had dull bulging eyes at the side--in the silhouette I had supposed

they were ears. There were no ears.... I have tried to draw one of these

heads, but I cannot. There was a mouth, downwardly curved, like a human

mouth in a face that stares ferociously....

 

The neck on which the head was poised was jointed in three places, almost

like the short joints in the leg of a crab. The joints of the limbs I

could not see, because of the puttee-like straps in which they were

swathed, and which formed the only clothing the being wore.

 

There the thing was, looking at us!

 

At the time my mind was taken up by the mad impossibility of the creature.

I suppose he also was amazed, and with more reason, perhaps, for amazement

than we. Only, confound him! he did not show it. We did at least know what

had brought about this meeting of incompatible creatures. But conceive how

it would seem to decent Londoners, for example, to come upon a couple of

living things, as big as men and absolutely unlike any other earthly

animals, careering about among the sheep in Hyde Park! It must have taken

him like that.

 

Figure us! We were bound hand and foot, fagged and filthy; our beards two

inches long, our faces scratched and bloody. Cavor you must imagine in his

knickerbockers (torn in several places by the bayonet scrub) his Jaegar

shirt and old cricket cap, his wiry hair wildly disordered, a tail to

every quarter of the heavens. In that blue light his face did not look red

but very dark, his lips and the drying blood upon my hands seemed black.

If possible I was in a worse plight than he, on account of the yellow

fungus into which I had jumped. Our jackets were unbuttoned, and our shoes

had been taken off and lay at our feet. And we were sitting with our backs

to this queer bluish light, peering at such a monster as Durer might have

invented.

 

Cavor broke the silence; started to speak, went hoarse, and cleared his

throat. Outside began a terrific bellowing, as if a mooncalf were in

trouble. It ended in a shriek, and everything was still again.

 

Presently the Selenite turned about, flickered into the shadow, stood for

a moment retrospective at the door, and then closed it on us; and once

more we were in that murmurous mystery of darkness into which we had

awakened.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13

 

 

 

 

Mr. Cavor Makes Some Suggestions

 

For a time neither of us spoke. To focus together all the things we had

brought upon ourselves seemed beyond my mental powers.

 

"They've got us," I said at last.

 

"It was that fungus."

 

"Well--if I hadn't taken it we should have fainted and starved."

 

"We might have found the sphere."

 

I lost my temper at his persistence, and swore to myself. For a time we

hated one another in silence. I drummed with my fingers on the floor

between my knees, and gritted the links of my fetters together. Presently

I was forced to talk again.

 

"What do you make of it, anyhow?" I asked humbly.

 

"They are reasonable creatures--they can make things and do things.

Those lights we saw..."

 

He stopped. It was clear he could make nothing of it.

 

When he spoke again it was to confess, "After all, they are more human

than we had a right to expect. I suppose--"

 

He stopped irritatingly.

 

"Yes?"

 

"I suppose, anyhow--on any planet where there is an intelligent animal--it

will carry its brain case upward, and have hands, and walk erect."

 

Presently he broke away in another direction.

 

"We are some way in," he said. "I mean--perhaps a couple of thousand feet

or more."

 

"Why?"

 

"It's cooler. And our voices are so much louder. That faded quality--it

has altogether gone. And the feeling in one's ears and throat."

 

I had not noted that, but I did now.

 

"The air is denser. We must be some depths--a mile even, we may

be--inside the moon."

 

"We never thought of a world inside the moon."

 

"No."

 

"How could we?"

 

"We might have done. Only one gets into habits of mind."

 

He thought for a time.

 

"Now," he said, "it seems such an obvious thing."

 

"Of course! The moon must be enormously cavernous, with an atmosphere

within, and at the centre of its caverns a sea.

 

"One knew that the moon had a lower specific gravity than the earth, one

knew that it had little air or water outside, one knew, too, that it was

sister planet to the earth, and that it was unaccountable that it should

be different in composition. The inference that it was hollowed out was as

clear as day. And yet one never saw it as a fact. Kepler, of course--"

 

His voice had the interest now of a man who has discerned a pretty

sequence of reasoning.

 

"Yes," he said, "Kepler with his sub-volvani was right after all."

 

"I wish you had taken the trouble to find that out before we came,"

I said.

 

He answered nothing, buzzing to himself softly, as he pursued his

thoughts. My temper was going.

 

"What do you think has become of the sphere, anyhow?" I asked.

 

"Lost," he said, like a man who answers an uninteresting question.

 

"Among those plants?"

 

"Unless they find it."

 

"And then?"

 

"How can I tell?"

 

"Cavor," I said, with a sort of hysterical bitterness, "things look bright

for my Company..."

 

He made no answer.

 

"Good Lord!" I exclaimed. "Just think of all the trouble we took to get

into this pickle! What did we come for? What are we after? What was the

moon to us or we to the moon? We wanted too much, we tried too much. We

ought to have started the little things first. It was you proposed the

moon! Those Cavorite spring blinds! I am certain we could have worked them

for terrestrial purposes. Certain! Did you really understand what I

proposed? A steel cylinder--"

 

"Rubbish!" said Cavor.

 

We ceased to converse.

 

For a time Cavor kept up a broken monologue without much help from me.

 

"If they find it," he began, "if they find it ... what will they do with

it? Well, that's a question. It may be that's _the_ question. They won't

understand it, anyhow. If they understood that sort of thing they would

have come long since to the earth. Would they? Why shouldn't they? But

they would have sent something--they couldn't keep their hands off such a

possibility. No! But they will examine it. Clearly they are intelligent

and inquisitive. They will examine it--get inside it--trifle with the

studs. Off! ... That would mean the moon for us for all the rest of our

lives. Strange creatures, strange knowledge...."

 

"As for strange knowledge--" said I, and language failed me.

 

"Look here, Bedford," said Cavor, "you came on this expedition of your own

free will."

 

"You said to me, 'Call it prospecting'."

 

"There's always risks in prospecting."

 

"Especially when you do it unarmed and without thinking out every

possibility."

 

"I was so taken up with the sphere. The thing rushed on us, and carried us

away."

 

"Rushed on _me_, you mean."

 

"Rushed on me just as much. How was I to know when I set to work on

molecular physics that the business would bring me here--of all places?"

 

"It's this accursed science," I cried. "It's the very Devil. The medieval

priests and persecutors were right and the Moderns are all wrong. You

tamper with it--and it offers you gifts. And directly you take them it

knocks you to pieces in some unexpected way. Old passions and new

weapons--now it upsets your religion, now it upsets your social ideas,

now it whirls you off to desolation and misery!"

 

"Anyhow, it's no use your quarrelling with me now. These creatures--these

Selenites, or whatever we choose to call them--have got us tied

hand and foot. Whatever temper you choose to go through with it in, you

will have to go through with it.... We have experiences before us that

will need all our coolness."

 

He paused as if he required my assent. But I sat sulking. "Confound your

science!" I said.

 

"The problem is communication. Gestures, I fear, will be different.

Pointing, for example. No creatures but men and monkeys point."

 

That was too obviously wrong for me. "Pretty nearly every animal," I

cried, "points with its eyes or nose."

 

Cavor meditated over that. "Yes," he said at last, "and we don't. There's

such differences--such differences!"

 

"One might.... But how can I tell? There is speech. The sounds they make,

a sort of fluting and piping. I don't see how we are to imitate that. Is

it their speech, that sort of thing? They may have different senses,

different means of communication. Of course they are minds and we are

minds; there must be something in common. Who knows how far we may not get

to an understanding?"

 

"The things are outside us," I said. "They're more different from us than

the strangest animals on earth. They are a different clay. What is the

good of talking like this?"

 

Cavor thought. "I don't see that. Where there are minds they will have

something similar--even though they have been evolved on different

planets. Of course if it was a question of instincts, if we or they are

no more than animals--"

 

"Well, are they? They're much more like ants on their hind legs than human

beings, and who ever got to any sort of understanding with ants?"

 

"But these machines and clothing! No, I don't hold with you, Bedford. The

difference is wide--"

 

"It's insurmountable."

 

"The resemblance must bridge it. I remember reading once a paper by the

late Professor Galton on the possibility of communication between the

planets. Unhappily, at that time it did not seem probable that that would

be of any material benefit to me, and I fear I did not give it the

attention I should have done--in view of this state of affairs. Yet....

Now, let me see!

 

"His idea was to begin with those broad truths that must underlie all

conceivable mental existences and establish a basis on those. The great

principles of geometry, to begin with. He proposed to take some leading

proposition of Euclid's, and show by construction that its truth was known

to us, to demonstrate, for example, that the angles at the base of an

isosceles triangle are equal, and that if the equal sides be produced the

angles on the other side of the base are equal also, or that the square on

the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the

squares on the two other sides. By demonstrating our knowledge of these

things we should demonstrate our possession of a reasonable

intelligence.... Now, suppose I ... I might draw the geometrical figure

with a wet finger, or even trace it in the air...."

 

He fell silent. I sat meditating his words. For a time his wild hope of

communication, of interpretation, with these weird beings held me. Then

that angry despair that was a part of my exhaustion and physical misery

resumed its sway. I perceived with a sudden novel vividness the

extraordinary folly of everything I had ever done. "Ass!" I said; "oh,

ass, unutterable ass.... I seem to exist only to go about doing

preposterous things. Why did we ever leave the thing? ... Hopping about

looking for patents and concessions in the craters of the moon!... If only

we had had the sense to fasten a handkerchief to a stick to show where we

had left the sphere!"

 

I subsided, fuming.

 

"It is clear," meditated Cavor, "they are intelligent. One can

hypothecate certain things. As they have not killed us at once, they

must have ideas of mercy. Mercy! at any rate of restraint. Possibly of

intercourse. They may meet us. And this apartment and the glimpses we had

of its guardian. These fetters! A high degree of intelligence..."

 

"I wish to heaven," cried I, "I'd thought even twice! Plunge after plunge.

First one fluky start and then another. It was my confidence in you! Why

didn't I stick to my play? That was what I was equal to. That was my

world and the life I was made for. I could have finished that play. I'm

certain ... it was a good play. I had the scenario as good as done.

Then.... Conceive it! leaping to the moon! Practically--I've thrown my

life away! That old woman in the inn near Canterbury had better sense."

 

I looked up, and stopped in mid-sentence. The darkness had given place to

that bluish light again. The door was opening, and several noiseless

Selenites were coming into the chamber. I became quite still, staring at

their grotesque faces.

 

Then suddenly my sense of disagreeable strangeness changed to interest. I

perceived that the foremost and second carried bowls. One elemental need

at least our minds could understand in common. They were bowls of some

metal that, like our fetters, looked dark in that bluish light; and each

contained a number of whitish fragments. All the cloudy pain and misery

that oppressed me rushed together and took the shape of hunger. I eyed

these bowls wolfishly, and, though it returned to me in dreams, at that

time it seemed a small matter that at the end of the arms that lowered one

towards me were not hands, but a sort of flap and thumb, like the end of

an elephant's trunk. The stuff in the bowl was loose in texture, and

whitish brown in colour--rather like lumps of some cold souffle, and it

smelt faintly like mushrooms. From a partially divided carcass of a

mooncalf that we presently saw, I am inclined to believe it must have been

mooncalf flesh.

 

My hands were so tightly chained that I could barely contrive to reach the

bowl; but when they saw the effort I made, two of them dexterously

released one of the turns about my wrist. Their tentacle hands were soft

and cold to my skin. I immediately seized a mouthful of the food. It had

the same laxness in texture that all organic structures seem to have upon

the moon; it tasted rather like a gauffre or a damp meringue, but in no

way was it disagreeable. I took two other mouthfuls. "I wanted--foo'!"

said I, tearing off a still larger piece....

 

For a time we ate with an utter absence of self-consciousness. We ate and

presently drank like tramps in a soup kitchen. Never before nor since have

I been hungry to the ravenous pitch, and save that I have had this very

experience I could never have believed that, a quarter of a million of

miles out of our proper world, in utter perplexity of soul, surrounded,

watched, touched by beings more grotesque and inhuman than the worst

creations of a nightmare, it would be possible for me to eat in utter

forgetfulness of all these things. They stood about us watching us, and

ever and again making a slight elusive twittering that stood the suppose,

in the stead of speech. I did not even shiver at their touch. And when the

first zeal of my feeding was over, I could note that Cavor, too, had been

eating with the same shameless abandon.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 14

 

 

 

 

Experiments in intercourse

 

When at last we had made an end of eating, the Selenites linked our hands

closely together again, and then untwisted the chains about our feet and

rebound them, so as to give us a limited freedom of movement. Then they

unfastened the chains about our waists. To do all this they had to handle

us freely, and ever and again one of their queer heads came down close to

my face, or a soft tentacle-hand touched my head or neck. I don't remember

that I was afraid then or repelled by their proximity. I think that our

incurable anthropomorphism made us imagine there were human heads inside

their masks. The skin, like everything else, looked bluish, but that was

on account of the light; and it was hard and shiny, quite in the

beetle-wing fashion, not soft, or moist, or hairy, as a vertebrated

animal's would be. Along the crest of the head was a low ridge of whitish

spines running from back to front, and a much larger ridge curved on

either side over the eyes. The Selenite who untied me used his mouth to

help his hands.

 

"They seem to be releasing us," said Cavor. "Remember we are on the moon!

Make no sudden movements!"

 

"Are you going to try that geometry?"

 

"If I get a chance. But, of course, they may make an advance first."

 

We remained passive, and the Selenites, having finished their

arrangements, stood back from us, and seemed to be looking at us. I say

seemed to be, because as their eyes were at the side and not in front, one

had the same difficulty in determining the direction in which they were

looking as one has in the case of a hen or a fish. They conversed with one

another in their reedy tones, that seemed to me impossible to imitate or

define. The door behind us opened wider, and, glancing over my shoulder, I

saw a vague large space beyond, in which quite a little crowd of Selenites

were standing. They seemed a curiously miscellaneous rabble.

 

"Do they want us to imitate those sounds?" I asked Cavor.

 

"I don't think so," he said.

 

"It seems to me that they are trying to make us understand something."

 

"I can't make anything of their gestures. Do you notice this one, who is

worrying with his head like a man with an uncomfortable collar?"

 

"Let us shake our heads at him."

 

We did that, and finding it ineffectual, attempted an imitation of the

Selenites' movements. That seemed to interest them. At any rate they all

set up the same movement. But as that seemed to lead to nothing, we

desisted at last and so did they, and fell into a piping argument among

themselves. Then one of them, shorter and very much thicker than the

others, and with a particularly wide mouth, squatted down suddenly beside

Cavor, and put his hands and feet in the same posture as Cavor's were

bound, and then by a dexterous movement stood up.

 

"Cavor," I shouted, "they want us to get up!"

 

He stared open-mouthed. "That's it!" he said.

 

And with much heaving and grunting, because our hands were tied together,

we contrived to struggle to our feet. The Selenites made way for our

elephantine heavings, and seemed to twitter more volubly. As soon as we

were on our feet the thick-set Selenite came and patted each of our faces

with his tentacles, and walked towards the open doorway. That also was

plain enough, and we followed him. We saw that four of the Selenites

standing in the doorway were much taller than the others, and clothed in

the same manner as those we had seen in the crater, namely, with spiked

round helmets and cylindrical body-cases, and that each of the four

carried a goad with spike and guard made of that same dull-looking metal

as the bowls. These four closed about us, one on either side of each of

us, as we emerged from our chamber into the cavern from which the light

had come.

 

We did not get our impression of that cavern all at once. Our attention

was taken up by the movements and attitudes of the Selenites immediately

about us, and by the necessity of controlling our motion, lest we should

startle and alarm them and ourselves by some excessive stride. In front of

us was the short, thick-set being who had solved the problem of asking us

to get up, moving with gestures that seemed, almost all of them,

intelligible to us, inviting us to follow him. His spout-like face turned

from one of us to the other with a quickness that was clearly

interrogative. For a time, I say, we were taken up with these things.

 

But at last the great place that formed a background to our movements

asserted itself. It became apparent that the source of much, at least, of

the tumult of sounds which had filled our ears ever since we had recovered

from the stupefaction of the fungus was a vast mass of machinery in active

movement, whose flying and whirling parts were visible indistinctly over

the heads and between the bodies of the Selenites who walked about us. And

not only did the web of sounds that filled the air proceed from this

mechanism, but also the peculiar blue light that irradiated the whole

place. We had taken it as a natural thing that a subterranean cavern

should be artificially lit, and even now, though the fact was patent to my

eyes, I did not really grasp its import until presently the darkness came.

The meaning and structure of this huge apparatus we saw I cannot explain,

because we neither of us learnt what it was for or how it worked. One

after another, big shafts of metal flung out and up from its centre, their

heads travelling in what seemed to me to be a parabolic path; each dropped

a sort of dangling arm as it rose towards the apex of its flight and

plunged down into a vertical cylinder, forcing this down before it. About

it moved the shapes of tenders, little figures that seemed vaguely

different from the beings about us. As each of the three dangling arms of

the machine plunged down, there was a clank and then a roaring, and out of

the top of the vertical cylinder came pouring this incandescent substance

that lit the place, and ran over as milk runs over a boiling pot, and

dripped luminously into a tank of light below. It was a cold blue light, a

sort of phosphorescent glow but infinitely brighter, and from the tanks

into which it fell it ran in conduits athwart the cavern.

 

Thud, thud, thud, thud, came the sweeping arms of this unintelligible

apparatus, and the light substance hissed and poured. At first the thing

seemed only reasonably large and near to us, and then I saw how

exceedingly little the Selenites upon it seemed, and I realised the full

immensity of cavern and machine. I looked from this tremendous affair to

the faces of the Selenites with a new respect. I stopped, and Cavor

stopped, and stared at this thunderous engine.

 

"But this is stupendous!" I said. "What can it be for?"

 

Cavor's blue-lit face was full of an intelligent respect. "I can't dream!

Surely these beings-- Men could not make a thing like that! Look at those

arms, are they on connecting rods?"

 

The thick-set Selenite had gone some paces unheeded. He came back and

stood between us and the great machine. I avoided seeing him, because I

guessed somehow that his idea was to beckon us onward. He walked away in

the direction he wished us to go, and turned and came back, and flicked

our faces to attract our attention.

 

Cavor and I looked at one another.

 

"Cannot we show him we are interested in the machine?" I said.

 

"Yes," said Cavor. "We'll try that." He turned to our guide and smiled,

and pointed to the machine, and pointed again, and then to his head, and

then to the machine. By some defect of reasoning he seemed to imagine that

broken English might help these gestures. "Me look 'im," he said, "me

think 'im very much. Yes."

 

His behaviour seemed to check the Selenites in their desire for our

progress for a moment. They faced one another, their queer heads moved,

the twittering voices came quick and liquid. Then one of them, a lean,

tall creature, with a sort of mantle added to the puttee in which the

others were dressed, twisted his elephant trunk of a hand about Cavor's

waist, and pulled him gently to follow our guide, who again went on ahead.

Cavor resisted. "We may just as well begin explaining ourselves now. They

may think we are new animals, a new sort of mooncalf perhaps! It is most

important that we should show an intelligent interest from the outset."

 

He began to shake his head violently. "No, no," he said, "me not come on

one minute. Me look at 'im."

 

"Isn't there some geometrical point you might bring in apropos of that

affair?" I suggested, as the Selenites conferred again.

 

"Possibly a parabolic--" he began.

 

He yelled loudly, and leaped six feet or more!

 

One of the four armed moon-men had pricked him with a goad!

 

I turned on the goad-bearer behind me with a swift threatening gesture,

and he started back. This and Cavor's sudden shout and leap clearly

astonished all the Selenites. They receded hastily, facing us. For one of

those moments that seem to last for ever, we stood in angry protest, with

a scattered semicircle of these inhuman beings about us.

 

"He pricked me!" said Cavor, with a catching of the voice.

 

"I saw him," I answered.

 

"Confound it!" I said to the Selenites; "we're not going to stand that!

What on earth do you take us for?"

 

I glanced quickly right and left. Far away across the blue wilderness of

cavern I saw a number of other Selenites running towards us; broad and

slender they were, and one with a larger head than the others. The cavern

spread wide and low, and receded in every direction into darkness. Its

roof, I remember, seemed to bulge down as if with the weight of the vast

thickness of rocks that prisoned us. There was no way out of it--no way

out of it. Above, below, in every direction, was the unknown, and these

inhuman creatures, with goads and gestures, confronting us, and we two

unsupported men!

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

 

 

 

The Giddy Bridge

 

Just for a moment that hostile pause endured. I suppose that both we and

the Selenites did some very rapid thinking. My clearest impression was

that there was nothing to put my back against, and that we were bound to

be surrounded and killed. The overwhelming folly of our presence there

loomed over me in black, enormous reproach. Why had I ever launched

myself on this mad, inhuman expedition?

 

Cavor came to my side and laid his hand on my arm. His pale and terrified

face was ghastly in the blue light.

 

"We can't do anything," he said. "It's a mistake. They don't understand.

We must go. As they want us to go."

 

I looked down at him, and then at the fresh Selenites who were coming to

help their fellows. "If I had my hands free--"

 

"It's no use," he panted.

 

"No."

 

"We'll go."

 

And he turned about and led the way in the direction that had been

indicated for us.

 

I followed, trying to look as subdued as possible, and feeling at the

chains about my wrists. My blood was boiling. I noted nothing more of that

cavern, though it seemed to take a long time before we had marched across

it, or if I noted anything I forgot it as I saw it. My thoughts were

concentrated, I think, upon my chains and the Selenites, and particularly

upon the helmeted ones with the goads. At first they marched parallel with

us, and at a respectful distance, but presently they were overtaken by

three others, and then they drew nearer, until they were within arms

length again. I winced like a beaten horse as they came near to us. The

shorter, thicker Selenite marched at first on our right flank, but

presently came in front of us again.

 

How well the picture of that grouping has bitten into my brain; the back

of Cavor's downcast head just in front of me, and the dejected droop of

his shoulders, and our guide's gaping visage, perpetually jerking about

him, and the goad-bearers on either side, watchful, yet open-mouthed--a

blue monochrome. And after all, I do remember one other thing besides the

purely personal affair, which is, that a sort of gutter came presently

across the floor of the cavern, and then ran along by the side of the path

of rock we followed. And it was full of that same bright blue luminous

stuff that flowed out of the great machine. I walked close beside it, and

I can testify it radiated not a particle of heat. It was brightly shining,

and yet it was neither warmer nor colder than anything else in the cavern.

 

Clang, clang, clang, we passed right under the thumping levers of another

vast machine, and so came at last to a wide tunnel, in which we could even

hear the pad, pad, of our shoeless feet, and which, save for the trickling

thread of blue to the right of us, was quite unlit. The shadows made

gigantic travesties of our shapes and those of the Selenites on the

irregular wall and roof of the tunnel. Ever and again crystals in the

walls of the tunnel scintillated like gems, ever and again the tunnel

expanded into a stalactitic cavern, or gave off branches that vanished

into darkness.

 

We seemed to be marching down that tunnel for a long time. "Trickle,

trickle," went the flowing light very softly, and our footfalls and their

echoes made an irregular paddle, paddle. My mind settled down to the

question of my chains. If I were to slip off one turn _so_, and then to

twist it _so_ ...

 

If I tried to do it very gradually, would they see I was slipping my wrist

out of the looser turn? If they did, what would they do?

 

"Bedford," said Cavor, "it goes down. It keeps on going down."

 

His remark roused me from my sullen pre-occupation.

 

"If they wanted to kill us," he said, dropping back to come level with me,

"there is no reason why they should not have done it."

 

"No," I admitted, "that's true."

 

"They don't understand us," he said, "they think we are merely strange

animals, some wild sort of mooncalf birth, perhaps. It will be only

when they have observed us better that they will begin to think we

have minds--"

 

"When you trace those geometrical problems," said I.

 

"It may be that."

 

We tramped on for a space.

 

"You see," said Cavor, "these may be Selenites of a lower class."

 

"The infernal fools!" said I viciously, glancing at their exasperating

faces.

 

"If we endure what they do to us--"

 

"We've got to endure it," said I.

 

"There may be others less stupid. This is the mere outer fringe of their

world. It must go down and down, cavern, passage, tunnel, down at last to

the sea--hundreds of miles below."

 

His words made me think of the mile or so of rock and tunnel that might be

over our heads already. It was like a weight dropping, on my shoulders.

"Away from the sun and air," I said. "Even a mine half a mile deep is

stuffy." remarked.

 

"This is not, anyhow. It's probable--Ventilation! The air would blow

from the dark side of the moon to the sunlit, and all the carbonic acid

would well out there and feed those plants. Up this tunnel, for example,

there is quite a breeze. And what a world it must be. The earnest we have

in that shaft, and those machines--"

 

"And the goad," I said. "Don't forget the goad!"

 

He walked a little in front of me for a time.

 

"Even that goad--" he said.

 

"Well?"

 

"I was angry at the time. But--it was perhaps necessary we should get on.

They have different skins, and probably different nerves. They may not

understand our objection--just as a being from Mars might not like our

earthly habit of nudging."

 

"They'd better be careful how they nudge me."

 

"And about that geometry. After all, their way is a way of understanding,

too. They begin with the elements of life and not of thought. Food.

Compulsion. Pain. They strike at fundamentals."

 

"There's no doubt about that," I said.

 

He went on to talk of the enormous and wonderful world into which we were

being taken. I realised slowly from his tone, that even now he was not

absolutely in despair at the prospect of going ever deeper into this

inhuman planet-burrow. His mind ran on machines and invention, to the

exclusion of a thousand dark things that beset me. It wasn't that he

intended to make any use of these things, he simply wanted to know them.

 

"After all," he said, "this is a tremendous occasion. It is the meeting

of two worlds! What are we going to see? Think of what is below us here."

 

"We shan't see much if the light isn't better," I remarked.

 

"This is only the outer crust. Down below-- On this scale-- There will

be everything. Do you notice how different they seem one from another?

The story we shall take back!"

 

"Some rare sort of animal," I said, "might comfort himself in that way

while they were bringing him to the Zoo.... It doesn't follow that we are

going to be shown all these things."

 

"When they find we have reasonable minds," said Cavor, "they will want to

learn about the earth. Even if they have no generous emotions, they will

teach in order to learn.... And the things they must know! The

unanticipated things!"

 

He went on to speculate on the possibility of their knowing things he had

never hoped to learn on earth, speculating in that way, with a raw wound

from that goad already in his skin! Much that he said I forget, for my

attention was drawn to the fact that the tunnel along which we had been

marching was opening out wider and wider. We seemed, from the feeling of

the air, to be going out into a huge space. But how big the space might

really be we could not tell, because it was unlit. Our little stream of

light ran in a dwindling thread and vanished far ahead. Presently the

rocky walls had vanished altogether on either hand. There was nothing to

be seen but the path in front of us and the trickling hurrying rivulet of

blue phosphorescence. The figures of Cavor and the guiding Selenite

marched before me, the sides of their legs and heads that were towards the

rivulet were clear and bright blue, their darkened sides, now that the

reflection of the tunnel wall no longer lit them, merged indistinguishably

in the darkness beyond.

 

And soon I perceived that we were approaching a declivity of some sort,

because the little blue stream dipped suddenly out of sight.

 

In another moment, as it seemed, we had reached the edge. The shining

stream gave one meander of hesitation and then rushed over. It fell to a

depth at which the sound of its descent was absolutely lost to us. Far

below was a bluish glow, a sort of blue mist--at an infinite distance

below. And the darkness the stream dropped out of became utterly void and

black, save that a thing like a plank projected from the edge of the cliff

and stretched out and faded and vanished altogether. There was a warm air

blowing up out of the gulf.

 

For a moment I and Cavor stood as near the edge as we dared, peering into

a blue-tinged profundity. And then our guide was pulling at my arm.

 

Then he left me, and walked to the end of that plank and stepped upon it,

looking back. Then when he perceived we watched him, he turned about and

went on along it, walking as surely as though he was on firm earth. For a

moment his form was distinct, then he became a blue blur, and then

vanished into the obscurity. I became aware of some vague shape looming

darkly out of the black.

 

There was a pause. "Surely!--" said Cavor.

 

One of the other Selenites walked a few paces out upon the plank, and

turned and looked back at us unconcernedly. The others stood ready to

follow after us. Our guide's expectant figure reappeared. He was returning

to see why we had not advanced.

 

"What is that beyond there?" I asked.

 

"I can't see."

 

"We can't cross this at any price," said I.

 

"I could not go three steps on it," said Cavor, "even with my hands free."

 

We looked at each other's drawn faces in blank consternation.

 

"They can't know what it is to be giddy!" said Cavor.

 

"It's quite impossible for us to walk that plank."

 

"I don't believe they see as we do. I've been watching them. I wonder if

they know this is simply blackness for us. How can we make them

understand?"

 

"Anyhow, we must make them understand."

 

I think we said these things with a vague half hope the Selenites might

somehow understand. I knew quite clearly that all that was needed was an

explanation. Then as I saw their faces, I realised that an explanation was

impossible. Just here it was that our resemblances were not going to

bridge our differences. Well, I wasn't going to walk the plank, anyhow. I

slipped my wrist very quickly out of the coil of chain that was loose, and

then began to twist my wrists in opposite directions. I was standing

nearest to the bridge, and as I did this two of the Selenites laid hold of

me, and pulled me gently towards it.

 

I shook my head violently. "No go," I said, "no use. You don't

understand."

 

Another Selenite added his compulsion. I was forced to step forward.

 

"I've got an idea," said Cavor; but I knew his ideas.

 

"Look here!" I exclaimed to the Selenites. "Steady on! It's all very well

for you--"

 

I sprang round upon my heel. I burst out into curses. For one of the armed

Selenites had stabbed me behind with his goad.

 

I wrenched my wrists free from the little tentacles that held them. I

turned on the goad-bearer. "Confound you!" I cried. "I've warned you of

that. What on earth do you think I'm made of, to stick that into me? If

you touch me again--"

 

By way of answer he pricked me forthwith.

 

I heard Cavor's voice in alarm and entreaty. Even then I think he wanted

to compromise with these creatures. "I say, Bedford," he cried, "I know a

way!" But the sting of that second stab seemed to set free some pent-up

reserve of energy in my being. Instantly the link of the wrist-chain

snapped, and with it snapped all considerations that had held us

unresisting in the hands of these moon creatures. For that second, at

least, I was mad with fear and anger. I took no thought of consequences.

I hit straight out at the face of the thing with the goad. The chain was

twisted round my fist.

 

There came another of these beastly surprises of which the moon world is

full.

 

My mailed hand seemed to go clean through him. He smashed like--like

some softish sort of sweet with liquid in it! He broke right in! He

squelched and splashed. It was like hitting a damp toadstool. The flimsy

body went spinning a dozen yards, and fell with a flabby impact. I was

astonished. I was incredulous that any living thing could be so flimsy.

For an instant I could have believed the whole thing a dream.

 

Then it had become real and imminent again. Neither Cavor nor the other

Selenites seemed to have done anything from the time when I had turned

about to the time when the dead Selenite hit the ground. Every one stood

back from us two, every one alert. That arrest seemed to last at least a

second after the Selenite was down. Every one must have been taking the

thing in. I seem to remember myself standing with my arm half retracted,

trying also to take it in. "What next?" clamoured my brain; "what next?"

Then in a moment every one was moving!

 

I perceived we must get our chains loose, and that before we could do this

these Selenites had to be beaten off. I faced towards the group of the

three goad-bearers. Instantly one threw his goad at me. It swished over

my head, and I suppose went flying into the abyss behind.

 

I leaped right at him with all my might as the goad flew over me. He

turned to run as I jumped, and I bore him to the ground, came down right

upon him, and slipped upon his smashed body and fell. He seemed to wriggle

under my foot.

 

I came into a sitting position, and on every hand the blue backs of the

Selenites were receding into the darkness. I bent a link by main force and

untwisted the chain that had hampered me about the ankles, and sprang to

my feet, with the chain in my hand. Another goad, flung javelin-wise,

whistled by me, and I made a rush towards the darkness out of which it had

come. Then I turned back towards Cavor, who was still standing in the

light of the rivulet near the gulf convulsively busy with his wrists, and

at the same time jabbering nonsense about his idea.

 

"Come on!" I cried.

 

"My hands!" he answered.

 

Then, realising that I dared not run back to him, because my

ill-calculated steps might carry me over the edge, he came shuffling

towards me, with his hands held out before him.

 

I gripped his chains at once to unfasten them.

 

"Where are they?" he panted.

 

"Run away. They'll come back. They're throwing things! Which way shall we

go?"

 

"By the light. To that tunnel. Eh?"

 

"Yes," said I, and his hands were free.

 

I dropped on my knees and fell to work on his ankle bonds. Whack came

something--I know not what--and splashed the livid streamlet into drops

about us. Far away on our right a piping and whistling began.

 

I whipped the chain off his feet, and put it in his hand. "Hit with that!"

I said, and without waiting for an answer, set off in big bounds along

the path by which we had come. I had a nasty sort of feeling that these

things could jump out of the darkness on to my back. I heard the impact of

his leaps come following after me.

 

We ran in vast strides. But that running, you must understand, was an

altogether different thing from any running on earth. On earth one leaps

and almost instantly hits the ground again, but on the moon, because of

its weaker pull, one shot through the air for several seconds before one

came to earth. In spite of our violent hurry this gave an effect of long

pauses, pauses in which one might have counted seven or eight. "Step,"

and one soared off! All sorts of questions ran through my mind: "Where are

the Selenites? What will they do? Shall we ever get to that tunnel? Is

Cavor far behind? Are they likely to cut him off?" Then whack, stride, and

off again for another step.

 

I saw a Selenite running in front of me, his legs going exactly as a man's

would go on earth, saw him glance over his shoulder, and heard him shriek

as he ran aside out of my way into the darkness. He was, I think, our

guide, but I am not sure. Then in another vast stride the walls of rock

had come into view on either hand, and in two more strides I was in the

tunnel, and tempering my pace to its low roof. I went on to a bend, then

stopped and turned back, and plug, plug, plug, Cavor came into view,

splashing into the stream of blue light at every stride, and grew larger

and blundered into me. We stood clutching each other. For a moment, at

least, we had shaken off our captors and were alone.

 

We were both very much out of breath. We spoke in panting, broken

sentences.

 

"You've spoilt it all!" panted Cavor. "Nonsense," I cried. "It was that

or death!"

 

"What are we to do?"

 

"Hide."

 

"How can we?"

 

"It's dark enough."

 

"But where?"

 

"Up one of these side caverns."

 

"And then?"

 

"Think."

 

"Right--come on."

 

We strode on, and presently came to a radiating dark cavern. Cavor was in

front. He hesitated, and chose a black mouth that seemed to promise good

hiding. He went towards it and turned.

 

"It's dark," he said.

 

"Your legs and feet will light us. You're wet with that luminous stuff."

 

"But--"

 

A tumult of sounds, and in particular a sound like a clanging gong,

advancing up the main tunnel, became audible. It was horribly suggestive

of a tumultuous pursuit. We made a bolt for the unlit side cavern

forthwith. As we ran along it our way was lit by the irradiation of

Cavor's legs. "It's lucky," I panted, "they took off our boots, or we

should fill this place with clatter." On we rushed, taking as small steps

as we could to avoid striking the roof of the cavern. After a time we

seemed to be gaining on the uproar. It became muffled, it dwindled, it

died away.

 

I stopped and looked back, and I heard the pad, pad of Cavor's feet

receding. Then he stopped also. "Bedford," he whispered; "there's a sort

of light in front of us."

 

I looked, and at first could see nothing. Then I perceived his head and

shoulders dimly outlined against a fainter darkness. I saw, also, that

this mitigation of the darkness was not blue, as all the other light

within the moon had been, but a pallid gray, a very vague, faint white,

the daylight colour. Cavor noted this difference as soon, or sooner, than

I did, and I think, too, that it filled him with much the same wild hope.

 

"Bedford," he whispered, and his voice trembled. "That light--it is

possible--"

 

He did not dare to say the thing he hoped. Then came a pause. Suddenly I

knew by the sound of his feet that he was striding towards that pallor. I

followed him with a beating heart.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 16

 

 

 

 

Points of View

 

The light grew stronger as we advanced. In a little time it was nearly as

strong as the phosphorescence on Cavor's legs. Our tunnel was expanding

into a cavern, and this new light was at the farther end of it. I

perceived something that set my hopes leaping and bounding.

 

"Cavor," I said, "it comes from above! I am certain it comes from above!"

 

He made no answer, but hurried on.

 

Indisputably it was a gray light, a silvery light.

 

In another moment we were beneath it. It filtered down through a chink in

the walls of the cavern, and as I stared up, drip, came a drop of water

upon my face. I started and stood aside--drip, fell another drop quite

audibly on the rocky floor.

 

"Cavor," I said, "if one of us lifts the other, he can reach that crack!"

 

"I'll lift you," he said, and incontinently hoisted me as though I was a

baby.

 

I thrust an arm into the crack, and just at my finger tips found a little

ledge by which I could hold. I could see the white light was very much

brighter now. I pulled myself up by two fingers with scarcely an effort,

though on earth I weigh twelve stone, reached to a still higher corner of

rock, and so got my feet on the narrow ledge. I stood up and searched up

the rocks with my fingers; the cleft broadened out upwardly. "It's

climbable," I said to Cavor. "Can you jump up to my hand if I hold it down

to you?"

 

I wedged myself between the sides of the cleft, rested knee and foot on

the ledge, and extended a hand. I could not see Cavor, but I could hear

the rustle of his movements as he crouched to spring. Then whack and he

was hanging to my arm--and no heavier than a kitten! I lugged him up

until he had a hand on my ledge, and could release me.

 

"Confound it!" I said, "any one could be a mountaineer on the moon;" and

so set myself in earnest to the climbing. For a few minutes I clambered

steadily, and then I looked up again. The cleft opened out steadily, and

the light was brighter. Only--

 

It was not daylight after all.

 

In another moment I could see what it was, and at the sight I could have

beaten my head against the rocks with disappointment. For I beheld simply

an irregularly sloping open space, and all over its slanting floor stood a

forest of little club-shaped fungi, each shining gloriously with that

pinkish silvery light. For a moment I stared at their soft radiance, then

sprang forward and upward among them. I plucked up half a dozen and flung

them against the rocks, and then sat down, laughing bitterly, as Cavor's

ruddy face came into view.

 

"It's phosphorescence again!" I said. "No need to hurry. Sit down and make

yourself at home." And as he spluttered over our disappointment, I began

to lob more of these growths into the cleft.

 

"I thought it was daylight," he said.

 

"Daylight!" cried I. "Daybreak, sunset, clouds, and windy skies! Shall we

ever see such things again?"

 

As I spoke, a little picture of our world seemed to rise before me, bright

and little and clear, like the background of some old Italian picture.

"The sky that changes, and the sea that changes, and the hills and the

green trees and the towns and cities shining in the sun. Think of a wet

roof at sunset, Cavor! Think of the windows of a westward house!" He made

no answer.

 

"Here we are burrowing in this beastly world that isn't a world, with its

inky ocean hidden in some abominable blackness below, and outside that

torrid day and that death stillness of night. And all these things that

are chasing us now, beastly men of leather--insect men, that come out of

a nightmare! After all, they're right! What business have we here smashing

them and disturbing their world! For all we know the whole planet is up

and after us already. In a minute we may hear them whimpering, and their

gongs going. What are we to do? Where are we to go? Here we are as

comfortable as snakes from Jamrach's loose in a Surbiton villa!"

 

"It was your fault," said Cavor.

 

"My fault!" I shouted. "Good Lord!"

 

"I had an idea!"

 

"Curse your ideas!"

 

"If we had refused to budge--"

 

"Under those goads?"

 

"Yes. They would have carried us!"

 

"Over that bridge?"

 

"Yes. They must have carried us from outside."

 

"I'd rather be carried by a fly across a ceiling."

 

"Good Heavens!"

 

I resumed my destruction of the fungi. Then suddenly I saw something that

struck me even then. "Cavor," I said, "these chains are of gold!"

 

He was thinking intently, with his hands gripping his cheeks. He turned

his head slowly and stared at me, and when I had repeated my words, at the

twisted chain about his right hand. "So they are," he said, "so they

are." His face lost its transitory interest even as he looked. He

hesitated for a moment, then went on with his interrupted meditation. I

sat for a space puzzling over the fact that I had only just observed this,

until I considered the blue light in which we had been, and which had

taken all the colour out of the metal. And from that discovery I also

started upon a train of thought that carried me wide and far. I forgot

that I had just been asking what business we had in the moon. Gold....

 

It was Cavor who spoke first. "It seems to me that there are two courses

open to us."

 

"Well?"

 

"Either we can attempt to make our way--fight our way if necessary--out

to the exterior again, and then hunt for our sphere until we find it, or

the cold of the night comes to kill us, or else--"

 

He paused. "Yes?" I said, though I knew what was coming.

 

"We might attempt once more to establish some sort of understanding with

the minds of the people in the moon."

 

"So far as I'm concerned--it's the first."

 

"I doubt."

 

"I don't."

 

"You see," said Cavor, "I do not think we can judge the Selenites by what

we have seen of them. Their central world, their civilised world will be

far below in the profounder caverns about their sea. This region of the

crust in which we are is an outlying district, a pastoral region. At any

rate, that is my interpretation. These Selenites we have seen may be only

the equivalent of cowboys and engine-tenders. Their use of goads--in all

probability mooncalf goads--the lack of imagination they show in expecting

us to be able to do just what they can do, their indisputable brutality,

all seem to point to something of that sort. But if we endured--"

 

"Neither of us could endure a six-inch plank across the bottomless pit for

very long."

 

"No," said Cavor; "but then--"

 

"I _won't_," I said.

 

He discovered a new line of possibilities. "Well, suppose we got ourselves

into some corner, where we could defend ourselves against these hinds and

labourers. If, for example, we could hold out for a week or so, it is

probable that the news of our appearance would filter down to the more

intelligent and populous parts--"

 

"If they exist."

 

"They must exist, or whence came those tremendous machines?"

 

"That's possible, but it's the worst of the two chances."

 

"We might write up inscriptions on walls--"

 

"How do we know their eyes would see the sort of marks we made?"

 

"If we cut them--"

 

"That's possible, of course."

 

I took up a new thread of thought. "After all," I said, "I suppose you

don't think these Selenites so infinitely wiser than men."

 

"They must know a lot more--or at least a lot of different things."

 

"Yes, but--" I hesitated.

 

"I think you'll quite admit, Cavor, that you're rather an exceptional

man."

 

"How?"

 

"Well, you--you're a rather lonely man--have been, that is. You haven't

married."

 

"Never wanted to. But why--"

 

"And you never grew richer than you happened to be?"

 

"Never wanted that either."

 

"You've just rooted after knowledge?"

 

"Well, a certain curiosity is natural--"

 

"You think so. That's just it. You think every other mind wants to know. I

remember once, when I asked you why you conducted all these researches,

you said you wanted your F.R.S., and to have the stuff called Cavorite,

and things like that. You know perfectly well you didn't do it for that;

but at the time my question took you by surprise, and you felt you ought

to have something to look like a motive. Really you conducted researches

because you had to. It's your twist."

 

"Perhaps it is--"

 

"It isn't one man in a million has that twist. Most men want--well,

various things, but very few want knowledge for its own sake. I don't, I

know perfectly well. Now, these Selenites seem to be a driving, busy sort

of being, but how do you know that even the most intelligent will take an

interest in us or our world? I don't believe they'll even know we have a

world. They never come out at night--they'd freeze if they did. They've

probably never seen any heavenly body at all except the blazing sun. How

are they to know there is another world? What does it matter to them if

they do? Well, even if they have had a glimpse of a few stars, or even of

the earth crescent, what of that? Why should people living inside a

planet trouble to observe that sort of thing? Men wouldn't have done it

except for the seasons and sailing; why should the moon people?...

 

"Well, suppose there are a few philosophers like yourself. They are just

the very Selenites who'll never have heard of our existence. Suppose a

Selenite had dropped on the earth when you were at Lympne, you'd have

been the last man in the world to hear he had come. You never read a

newspaper! You see the chances against you. Well, it's for these chances

we're sitting here doing nothing while precious time is flying. I tell you

we've got into a fix. We've come unarmed, we've lost our sphere, we've got

no food, we've shown ourselves to the Selenites, and made them think we're

strange, strong, dangerous animals; and unless these Selenites are perfect

fools, they'll set about now and hunt us till they find us, and when they

find us they'll try to take us if they can, and kill us if they can't, and

that's the end of the matter. If they take us, they'll probably kill us,

through some misunderstanding. After we're done for, they may discuss us

perhaps, but we shan't get much fun out of that."

 

"Go on."

 

"On the other hand, here's gold knocking about like cast iron at home. If

only we can get some of it back, if only we can find our sphere again

before they do, and get back, then--"

 

"Yes?"

 

"We might put the thing on a sounder footing. Come back in a bigger

sphere with guns."

 

"Good Lord!" cried Cavor, as though that was horrible.

 

I shied another luminous fungus down the cleft.

 

"Look here, Cavor," I said, "I've half the voting power anyhow in this

affair, and this is a case for a practical man. I'm a practical man, and

you are not. I'm not going to trust to Selenites and geometrical diagrams

if I can help it. That's all. Get back. Drop all this secrecy--or most

of it. And come again."

 

He reflected. "When I came to the moon," he said, "I ought to have come

alone."

 

"The question before the meeting," I said, "is how to get back to the

sphere."

 

For a time we nursed our knees in silence. Then he seemed to decide for my

reasons.

 

"I think," he said, "one can get data. It is clear that while the sun is

on this side of the moon the air will be blowing through this planet

sponge from the dark side hither. On this side, at any rate, the air will

be expanding and flowing out of the moon caverns into the craters....

Very well, there's a draught here."

 

"So there is."

 

"And that means that this is not a dead end; somewhere behind us this

cleft goes on and up. The draught is blowing up, and that is the way we

have to go. If we try to get up any sort of chimney or gully there is, we

shall not only get out of these passages where they are hunting for us--"

 

"But suppose the gully is too narrow?"

 

"We'll come down again."

 

"Ssh!" I said suddenly; "what's that?"

 

We listened. At first it was an indistinct murmur, and then one picked out

the clang of a gong. "They must think we are mooncalves," said I, "to be

frightened at that."

 

"They're coming along that passage," said Cavor.

 

"They must be."

 

"They'll not think of the cleft. They'll go past."

 

I listened again for a space. "This time," I whispered, "they're likely to

have some sort of weapon."

 

Then suddenly I sprang to my feet. "Good heavens, Cavor!" I cried. "But

they will! They'll see the fungi I have been pitching down. They'll--"

 

I didn't finish my sentence. I turned about and made a leap over the

fungus tops towards the upper end of the cavity. I saw that the space

turned upward and became a draughty cleft again, ascending to impenetrable

darkness. I was about to clamber up into this, and then with a happy

inspiration turned back.

 

"What are you doing?" asked Cavor.

 

"Go on!" said I, and went back and got two of the shining fungi, and

putting one into the breast pocket of my flannel jacket, so that it stuck

out to light our climbing, went back with the other for Cavor. The noise

of the Selenites was now so loud that it seemed they must be already

beneath the cleft. But it might be they would have difficulty in

clambering in to it, or might hesitate to ascend it against our possible

resistance. At any rate, we had now the comforting knowledge of the

enormous muscular superiority our birth in another planet gave us. In

other minute I was clambering with gigantic vigour after Cavor's blue-lit

heels.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 17

 

 

 

 

The Fight in the Cave of the Moon Butchers

 

I do not know how far we clambered before we came to the grating. It may

be we ascended only a few hundred feet, but at the time it seemed to me we

might have hauled and jammed and hopped and wedged ourselves through a

mile or more of vertical ascent. Whenever I recall that time, there comes

into my head the heavy clank of our golden chains that followed every

movement. Very soon my knuckles and knees were raw, and I had a bruise on

one cheek. After a time the first violence of our efforts diminished, and

our movements became more deliberate and less painful. The noise of the

pursuing Selenites had died away altogether. It seemed almost as though

they had not traced us up the crack after all, in spite of the tell-tale

heap of broken fungi that must have lain beneath it. At times the cleft

narrowed so much that we could scarce squeeze up it; at others it expanded

into great drusy cavities, studded with prickly crystals or thickly beset

with dull, shining fungoid pimples. Sometimes it twisted spirally, and at

other times slanted down nearly to the horizontal direction. Ever and

again there was the intermittent drip and trickle of water by us. Once or

twice it seemed to us that small living things had rustled out of our

reach, but what they were we never saw. They may have been venomous beasts

for all I know, but they did us no harm, and we were now tuned to a pitch

when a weird creeping thing more or less mattered little. And at last, far

above, came the familiar bluish light again, and then we saw that it

filtered through a grating that barred our way.

 

We whispered as we pointed this out to one another, and became more and

more cautious in our ascent. Presently we were close under the grating,

and by pressing my face against its bars I could see a limited portion of

the cavern beyond. It was clearly a large space, and lit no doubt by some

rivulet of the same blue light that we had seen flow from the beating

machinery. An intermittent trickle of water dropped ever and again between

the bars near my face.

 

My first endeavour was naturally to see what might be upon the floor of

the cavern, but our grating lay in a depression whose rim hid all this

from our eyes. Our foiled attention then fell back upon the suggestion of

the various sounds we heard, and presently my eye caught a number of faint

shadows that played across the dim roof far overhead.

 

Indisputably there were several Selenites, perhaps a considerable number,

in this space, for we could hear the noises of their intercourse, and

faint sounds that I identified as their footfalls. There was also a

succession of regularly repeated sounds--chid, chid, chid--which began

and ceased, suggestive of a knife or spade hacking at some soft substance.

Then came a clank as if of chains, a whistle and a rumble as of a truck

running over a hollowed place, and then again that chid, chid, chid

resumed. The shadows told of shapes that moved quickly and rhythmically,

in agreement with that regular sound, and rested when it ceased.

 

We put our heads close together, and began to discuss these things in

noiseless whispers.

 

"They are occupied," I said, "they are occupied in some way."

 

"Yes."

 

"They're not seeking us, or thinking of us."

 

"Perhaps they have not heard of us."

 

"Those others are hunting about below. If suddenly we appeared here--"

 

We looked at one another.

 

"There might be a chance to parley," said Cavor.

 

"No," I said. "Not as we are."

 

For a space we remained, each occupied by his own thoughts.

 

Chid, chid, chid went the chipping, and the shadows moved to and fro.

 

I looked at the grating. "It's flimsy," I said. "We might bend two of the

bars and crawl through."

 

We wasted a little time in vague discussion. Then I took one of the bars

in both hands, and got my feet up against the rock until they were almost

on a level with my head, and so thrust against the bar. It bent so

suddenly that I almost slipped. I clambered about and bent the adjacent

bar in the opposite direction, and then took the luminous fungus from my

pocket and dropped it down the fissure.

 

"Don't do anything hastily," whispered Cavor, as I twisted myself up

through the opening I had enlarged. I had a glimpse of busy figures as I

came through the grating, and immediately bent down, so that the rim of

the depression in which the grating lay hid me from their eyes, and so lay

flat, signalling advice to Cavor as he also prepared to come through.

Presently we were side by side in the depression, peering over the edge at

the cavern and its occupants.

 

It was a much larger cavern than we had supposed from our first glimpse of

it, and we looked up from the lowest portion of its sloping floor. It

widened out as it receded from us, and its roof came down and hid the

remoter portion altogether. And lying in a line along its length,

vanishing at last far away in that tremendous perspective, were a number

of huge shapes, huge pallid hulls, upon which the Selenites were busy. At

first they seemed big white cylinders of vague import. Then I noted the

heads upon them lying towards us, eyeless and skinless like the heads of

sheep at a butcher's, and perceived they were the carcasses of mooncalves

being cut up, much as the crew of a whaler might cut up a moored whale.

They were cutting off the flesh in strips, and on some of the farther

trunks the white ribs were showing. It was the sound of their hatchets

that made that chid, chid, chid. Some way away a thing like a trolley

cable, drawn and loaded with chunks of lax meat, was running up the slope

of the cavern floor. This enormous long avenue of hulls that were destined

to be food gave us a sense of the vast populousness of the moon world

second only to the effect of our first glimpse down the shaft.

 

It seemed to me at first that the Selenites must be standing on

trestle-supported planks,[*] and then I saw that the planks and supports

and the hatchets were really of the same leaden hue as my fetters had

seemed before white light came to bear on them. A number of very

thick-looking crowbars lay about the floor, and had apparently assisted

to turn the dead mooncalf over on its side. They were perhaps six feet

long, with shaped handles, very tempting-looking weapons. The whole

place was lit by three transverse streams of the blue fluid.

 

[* Footnote: I do not remember seeing any wooden things on the moon; doors

tables, everything corresponding to our terrestrial joinery was made of

metal, and I believe for the most part of gold, which as a metal would,

of course, naturally recommend itself--other things being equal--on

account of the ease in working it, and its toughness and durability.]

 

We lay for a long time noting all these things in silence. "Well?" said

Cavor at last.

 

I crouched over and turned to him. I had come upon a brilliant idea.

"Unless they lowered those bodies by a crane," I said, "we must be nearer

the surface than I thought."

 

"Why?"

 

"The mooncalf doesn't hop, and it hasn't got wings."

 

He peered over the edge of the hollow again. "I wonder now--" he began.

"After all, we have never gone far from the surface--"

 

I stopped him by a grip on his arm. I had heard a noise from the cleft

below us!

 

We twisted ourselves about, and lay as still as death, with every sense

alert. In a little while I did not doubt that something was quietly

ascending the cleft. Very slowly and quite noiselessly I assured myself

of a good grip on my chain, and waited for that something to appear.

 

"Just look at those chaps with the hatchets again," I said.

 

"They're all right," said Cavor.

 

I took a sort of provisional aim at the gap in the grating. I could hear

now quite distinctly the soft twittering of the ascending Selenites, the

dab of their hands against the rock, and the falling of dust from their

grips as they clambered.

 

Then I could see that there was something moving dimly in the blackness

below the grating, but what it might be I could not distinguish. The whole

thing seemed to hang fire just for a moment--then smash! I had sprung

to my feet, struck savagely at something that had flashed out at me. It

was the keen point of a spear. I have thought since that its length in the

narrowness of the cleft must have prevented its being sloped to reach me.

Anyhow, it shot out from the grating like the tongue of a snake, and

missed and flew back and flashed again. But the second time I snatched and

caught it, and wrenched it away, but not before another had darted

ineffectually at me.

 

I shouted with triumph as I felt the hold of the Selenite resist my pull

for a moment and give, and then I was jabbing down through the bars,

amidst squeals from the darkness, and Cavor had snapped off the other

spear, and was leaping and flourishing it beside me, and making

inefficient jabs. Clang, clang, came up through the grating, and then an

axe hurtled through the air and whacked against the rocks beyond, to

remind me of the fleshers at the carcasses up the cavern.

 

I turned, and they were all coming towards us in open order waving their

axes. They were short, thick, little beggars, with long arms, strikingly

different from the ones we had seen before. If they had not heard of us

before, they must have realised the situation with incredible swiftness. I

stared at them for a moment, spear in hand. "Guard that grating, Cavor," I

cried, howled to intimidate them, and rushed to meet them. Two of them

missed with their hatchets, and the rest fled incontinently. Then the two

also were sprinting away up the cavern, with hands clenched and heads

down. I never saw men run like them!

 

I knew the spear I had was no good for me. It was thin and flimsy, only

effectual for a thrust, and too long for a quick recover. So I only chased

the Selenites as far as the first carcass, and stopped there and picked up

one of the crowbars that were lying about. It felt comfortingly heavy, and

equal to smashing any number of Selenites. I threw away my spear, and

picked up a second crowbar for the other hand. I felt five times better

than I had with the spear. I shook the two threateningly at the Selenites,

who had come to