View Full Version : First Men in the Moon, The - Herbert George Wells

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06-01-2007, 11:47 PM
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

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 Fahr. 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 1 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 exceeding.

"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

"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 Fahr, 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

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

"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 I 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.