Chapter 5

 

As this narrative is the story of the personal adventures of Lord Redgrave and his bride, and not an account of events at which all the world has already wondered, there is no necessity to describe in any detail the extraordinary sequence of circumstances which began when the Astronef dropped without warning from the clouds in front of the White House at Washington, and his lordship, after paying his respects to the President, proceeded to the British Embassy and placed the copy of the Anglo-American agreement in Lord Pauncefote’s hands.

Mrs. Van Stuyler’s spirits had risen as the Astronef descended towards the lights of Washington, and when the President and Lord Pauncefote paid a visit to the wonderful craft, the joint product of American genius and English capital and constructive skill, she immediately assumed, at Redgrave’s request, the position of lady of the house pro tem., and described the “change of plans,” as she called it, which led to their transfer from the St. Louis to the Astronef with an imaginative fluency which would have done credit to the most enterprising of American interviewers.

You see, my dear,” she said to Zaidie afterwards, “as everything turned out so very happily, and as Lord Redgrave behaved in such a splendid way, I thought it was my duty to make everything appear as pleasant to the President and Lord Pauncefote as I could.”

It was real good of you, Mrs. Van,” said Zaidie. “If I hadn’t been paralysed with admiration I believe I should have laughed. Now if you’ll just come with us on our trip, and write a book about it afterwards just as you told—I mean as you described what happened between the St. Louis and Washington, to the President and Lord Pauncefote, you’d make a million dollars out of it. Say now, won’t you come?”

My dear Zaidie,” Mrs. Van Stuyler replied, “you know that I am very fond of you. If I’d only had a daughter I should have wanted her to be just like you, and I should have wanted her to marry a man just like Lord Redgrave. But there’s a limit to everything. You say that you are going to the moon and the stars, and to see what the other planets are like. Well, that’s your affair. I hope God will forgive you for your presumption, and let you come back safe, but I——No. Ten—twenty millions wouldn’t pay me to tempt Providence like that.”

The Astronef had landed in front of the White House, as everybody knows, on the eve of the Presidential election. After dinner in the deck-saloon, as the Space Navigator lay in the midst of a square of troops, outside which a huge crowd surged and struggled to get a look at the latest miracle of constructive science, the President and the British Ambassador said goodbye, and as soon as the gangway ladder was drawn in the Astronef, moved by no visible agency, rose from the ground amidst a roar of cheers coming from a hundred thousand throats. She stopped at a height of about a thousand feet, and then her forward searchlight flashed out, swept the horizon, and vanished. Then it flashed out again intermittently in the longs and shorts of the Morse Code, and these, when translated, read:

Vote for sound men and sound money!”

In five minutes the wires of the United States were alive with the terse, pregnant message, and under the ocean in the dark depths of the Atlantic ooze, vivid narratives of the coming of the miracle went flashing to a hundred newspaper offices in England and on the Continent. The New York correspondent of the London Daily Express added the following paragraph to his account of the strange occurrence:

The secret of this amazing vessel, which has proved itself capable of traversing the Atlantic in a day, and of soaring beyond the limits of the atmosphere at will, is possessed by one man only, and that man is an English nobleman. The air is full of rumours of universal war. One vessel such as this could scatter terror over a continent in a few days, demoralise armies and fleets, reduce Society to chaos, and establish a one-man despotism on the ruins of all the Governments of the world. The man who could build one ship like this could build fifty, and, if his country asked him to do it, no doubt he would. Those who, as we are almost forced to believe, are even now contemplating a serious attempt to dethrone England from her supreme place among the nations of Europe, will do well to take this latest potential factor in the warfare of the immediate future into their most serious consideration.”

This paragraph was not perhaps as absolutely correct as a proposition in Euclid, but it stopped the war. The Deutschland came in the next day, and again the press was flooded, this time with personal narratives, and brilliantly imaginative descriptions of the Vision which had descended from the clouds, made rings round the great liner going at her best speed, and then vanished in an instant beyond the range of field-glasses and telescopes.

Thus did the creature of Professor Rennick’s inventive genius play its first part as the peacemaker of the world.

When the Astronef’s message had been duly given and recorded, her propellers began to revolve, and her head swung round to the north-east. So began, as all the world now knows, the most extraordinary electioneering trip that ever was known. First Baltimore, then Philadelphia, and then New York saw the flashes in the sky. There were illuminations, torchlight processions, and all the machinery of American electioneering going at full blast. But when people saw, far away up in the starlit night, those swiftly-changing beams glittering down, as it were, out of infinite Space, and when the telegraph operators caught on to the fact that they were signals, a sort of awe seemed to come over both Republicans and Democrats alike. Even Tammany’s thoughts began to lift above the sordid level of boodle. It was almost like a message from another world. There was something supernatural about it, and when it was translated and rushed out in extra editions of the evening papers: “Vote for sound men and sound money” became the watchword of millions.

From New York to Boston, Boston to Albany, and then across country to Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago, Omaha—then westward to St. Paul and Minneapolis, and northward to Portland and Seattle, southward to San Francisco and Monterey, then eastward again to Salt Lake City, and then, after a leap across the Rockies which frightened Mrs. Van Stuyler almost to fainting point and made Zaidie gasp for breath, away southward to Santa Fé and New Orleans.

Then northward again up the Mississippi Valley to St. Louis, and thence eastward across the Alleghanies back to Washington—such was the famous night-voyage of the Astronef, and so by means of that long silver tongue of light did she spread the message of common-sense and commercial honesty throughout the length and breadth of the Great Republic. The world knows how America received and interpreted it the next day.

Meanwhile Mr. Russell Rennick had taken train to Washington, and the day after the election he willingly took back all that he had intended with regard to the Marquis of Byfleet, accepted Lord Redgrave in his stead, and bestowed his avuncular blessing at the wedding breakfast held in the deck-chamber of the Astronef poised in mid-air, five hundred feet above the dome of the Capitol, a week later. To this he added a cheque for a million dollars—payable to the Countess of Redgrave on her return from her wedding trip.

Breakfast over, the wedding party made an inspection of the wonderful vessel under the guidance of her Commander. After this, while they were drinking their coffee and liqueurs, and the men were smoking their cigars in the deck-chamber, a score of the most distinguished men and women in the United States experienced the novel sensation of sitting quietly in deck-chairs while they were being hurled at the rate of a hundred and fifty miles an hour through the atmosphere.

They ran up to Niagara, dropped to within a few feet of the surface of the Falls, passed over them, fell to the Rapids, and drifted down them within a couple of yards of the raging waters. Then in an instant they leapt up into the clouds, dropped again, and took a slanting course for Washington at a speed incredible, but to them quite imperceptible, save for the blurred rush of the half-visible earth behind them.

That night the Astronef rested again in front of the steps of the White House, and Lord and Lady Redgrave were the guests at a semi-official banquet given by the newly re-elected President. The speech of the evening was made by the President himself in proposing the health of the bride and bridegroom, and this is the way he ended:

There is something more in the ceremony which we have been privileged to witness than the union of a man and a woman in the bonds of holy matrimony. Lord Redgrave, as you know, is the descendant of one of the noblest and most ancient families in the Motherland of New Nations. Lady Redgrave is the daughter of the oldest and, I hope I may be allowed to say without offence, the greatest of those nations. It is, perhaps, early days to talk about a formal federation of the Anglo-Saxon people, but I think I am only voicing the sentiments of every good American when I say that, if the rumours which have drifted over and under the Atlantic, rumours of a determined attempt on the part of certain European powers to assault and, if possible, destroy that magnificent fortress of individual liberty and collective equity which we call the British Empire should unhappily prove to be true, then it may be that the rest of the world will find that America does not speak English for nothing.

But I must also remind you that a few yards from the doors of the White House there lies the greatest marvel, I had almost said the greatest miracle, that has ever been accomplished by human genius and human industry. That wonderful vessel in which some of us have been privileged to take the most marvellous journey in the history of mechanical locomotion was thought out by an American man of science, the man whose daughter sits on my right hand to-night. In her concrete material form this vessel, destined to navigate the shoreless Ocean of Space, is English. But she is also the result of the belief and the faith of an Englishman in an American ideal… . So when she leaves this earth, as she will do in an hour or so, to enter the confines of other worlds than this—and, it may be, to make the acquaintance of peoples other than those who inhabit the earth—she will have done infinitely more than she has already done, incredible as that seems. She will not only have convinced this world that the greatest triumph of human genius is of Anglo-Saxon origin, but she will carry to other worlds than this the truth which this world will have learnt before the nineteenth century ends.

England in the person of Lord Redgrave, and America in the person of his Countess, leave this world to-night to tell the other worlds of our system, if haply they may find some intelligible means of communication, what this world, good and bad, is like. And it is within the bounds of possibility that in doing so they may inaugurate a wider fellowship of created beings than the limits of this world permit; a fellowship, a friendship, and, as the Astronef entitles us to believe, even a physical communication of world with world which, in the dawn of the twentieth century, may transcend in sober fact the wildest dreams of all the philanthropists and the philosophers who have sought to educate humanity from Socrates to Herbert Spencer.”