Chapter 9 MANNERS AND CUSTOMS

Next morning Esmo asked me to accompany him on a visit to the seaport I have mentioned. In the course of this journey I had opportunities of learning many things respecting the social and practical conditions of human life and industry on Mars that had hitherto been unknown to me, and to appreciate the enormous advance in material civilisation which has accompanied what seems to me, as it would probably seem to any other Earth-dweller, a terrible moral degeneration. Most of these things I learned partly from my own observation, partly from the explanations of my companion; some exclusively from what he told me. We passed a house in process of building, and here I learned the manner in which the wonders of domestic architecture, which had so surprised me by their perfection and beauty, are accomplished. The material employed in all buildings is originally liquid, or rather viscous. In the first place, the foundation is excavated to a depth of two or three feet, the ground beaten hard, and the liquid concrete poured into the level tank thus formed. When this has hardened sufficiently to admit of their erection, thin frames of metal are erected, enclosing the spaces to be occupied by the several outer and interior walls.

These spaces are filled with the concrete at a temperature of about 80° C. The tracery and the bas-reliefs impressed on the walls are obtained by means of patterns embossed or marked upon thinner sheets placed inside the metallic frames. The hardening is effected partly by sudden cooling, partly by the application of electricity under great hydraulic pressure. The flat roof is constructed in the same manner, the whole mass, when the fluid concrete is solidified, being simply one continuous stone, as hard and cohesive as granite. Where a flat roof would be liable to give way or break from its own weight, the arch or dome is employed to give the required strength, and consequently all the largest Martial buildings are constructed in the form of vaults or domes. As regards the form of the building, individual or public taste is absolutely free, it being just as easy to construct a circular or octagonal as a rectangular house or chamber; but the latter form is almost exclusively employed for private dwellings. The jewel-like lustre and brilliancy I have described are given to the surfaces of the walls by the simultaneous action of cold, electricity, and pressure, the principle of which Esmo could not so explain as to render it intelligible to me. Almost the whole physical labour is done by machinery, from the digging and mixing of the materials to their conveyance and delivery into the place prepared for them by the erection of the metallic frames, and from the erection to the removal of the latter. The translucent material for the windows I have described is prepared by a separate process, and in distinct factories, and, ready hardened and cut into sheets of the required size, is brought to the building and fixed in its place by machinery. It can be tinted to the taste of the purchaser; but, as a rule, a tintless crystal is preferred. The entire work of building a large house, from the foundation to the finishing and removal of the metallic frames, occupies from half-a-dozen to eighteen workmen from four to eight days. This, like most other labour in Mars, goes on continuously; the electric lamps, raised to a great height on hollow metallic poles, affording by night a very sufficient substitute for the light of the sun. All work is done by three relays of artisans; the first set working from noon till evening, the next from evening till morning, and the third from morning to noon. The Martial day, which consists of about twenty-four hours forty minutes of our time, is divided in a somewhat peculiar manner. The two-hour periods, of which “mean” sunrise and sunset are severally the middle points, are respectively called the morning and evening zydau. Two periods of the same length before and after noon and midnight are distinguished as the first and second dark, the first and second mid-day zyda. There remain four intervals of three hours each, popularly described as the sleeping, waking, after-sunrise, and fore-sunset zyda respectively. This is the popular reckoning, and that marked upon the instruments which record time for ordinary purposes, and by these the meals and other industrial and domestic epochs are fixed. But for purposes of exact calculation, the day, beginning an hour before mean sunrise, is distributed into twelve periods, or antoi, of a little more than two terrestrial hours each. These again are subdivided by twelve into periods of a little more than 10m., 50s., 2-1/2s., and 5/24s respectively; but of these the second and last are alone employed in common speech. The uniform employment of twelve as the divisor and multiplier in tables of weight, distance, time, and space, as well as in arithmetical notation, has all the conveniences of the decimal system of France, and some others besides due to the greater convenience of twelve as a base. But as regards the larger divisions of time, the Martials are placed at a great disadvantage by the absence of any such intermediate divisions as the Moon has suggested to Terrestrials. The revolutions of the satellites are too rapid and their periods too brief to be of service in dividing their year of 668-2/3 solar days. Martial civilisation having taken its rise within the tropics—indeed the equatorial continents, which only here and there extend far into the temperate zone, and two minor continents in the southern ocean, are the only well-peopled portions of the planet—the demarcation of the seasons afforded by the solstices have been comparatively disregarded. The year is divided into winter and summer, each beginning with the Equinox, and distinguished as the North and South summer respectively. But these being exceedingly different in duration—the Northern half of the planet having a summer exceeding by seventy-six days that of the Southern hemisphere—are of no use as accurate divisions of time. Time is reckoned, accordingly, from the first day of the year; the 669th day being incomplete, and the new year beginning at the moment of the Equinox with the 0th day. In remote ages the lapse of time was marked by festivals and holidays occurring at fixed periods; but the principle of utility has long since abolished all anniversaries, except those fixed by Nature, and these pass without public observance and almost without notice.

The climate is comparatively equable in the Northern hemisphere, the summer of the South being hotter and the winter colder, as the planet is much nearer the Sun during the former. On an average, the solar disc seems about half as large as to eyes on Earth; but the continents lying in a belt around the middle of the planet, nearly the whole of its population enjoy the advantages of tropical regularity. There are two brief rainy seasons on the Equator and in its neighbourhood, and one at each of the tropics. Outside these the cold of winter is aggravated by cloud and mist. The barometer records from 20 inches to 21 inches at the sea-level. Storms are slight, brief, and infrequent; the tides are insignificant; and sea-voyages were safe and easy even before Martial ingenuity devised vessels which are almost independent of weather. During the greater part of the year a clear sky from the morning to the evening zyda may be reckoned upon with almost absolute confidence. A heavy dew, thoroughly watering the whole surface, rendering the rarity of rain no inconvenience to agriculture, falls during the earlier hours of the night, which nevertheless remains cloudy; while the periods of sunset and sunrise are, as I have already said, marked almost invariably by dense mist, extending from one to four thousand feet above the sea-level, according to latitude and season. From the dissipation of the morning to the fall of the evening mist, the tropical temperature ranges, according to the time of the day and year, from 24° to 35° C. A very sudden change takes place at sunset. Except within 28° of the Equator, night frosts prevail during no small part of the year. Fine nights are at all times chilly, and men employed out of doors from the fall of the evening to the dispersal of the morning mists rely on an unusually warm under-dress of soft leather, as flexible as kid, but thicker, which is said to keep in the warmth of the body far better than any woven material. Women who, from whatever reason, venture out at night, wear the warmest cloaks they can procure. Those of limited means wear a loosely woven hair or woollen over-robe in lieu of their usual outdoor garment, resembling tufted cotton. Those who can afford them substitute for the envelope of down, described a while back, warm skin or fur overgarments, obtained from the sub-arctic lands and seas, and furnished sometimes by a creature not very unlike our Polar bear, but passing half his time in the water and living on fish; sometimes by a mammal more resembling something intermediate between the mammoth and the walrus, with the habits of the hippopotamus and a fur not unlike the sealskin so much affected in Europe.

Outside the city, at a distance protecting it from any unpleasant vapours, which besides were carried up metallic tubes of enormous height, were several factories of great extent, some chemical, some textile, others reducing from their ores, purifying, forging, and producing in bulk and forms convenient for their various uses, the numerous metals employed in Mars. The most important of these—zorinta—is obtained from a tenacious soil much resembling our own clay. [12] It is far lighter than tin, has the colour and lustre of silver, and never tarnishes, the only rust produced by oxidation of its surface being a white loose powder, which can be brushed or shaken off without difficulty. Of this nearly all Martial utensils and furniture are constructed; and its susceptibility to the electric current renders it especially useful for mechanical purposes, electricity supplying the chief if not the sole motive-power employed in Martial industry. The largest factories, however, employ but a few hands, the machinery being so perfect as to perform, with very little interposition from human hands, the whole work, from the first purification to the final arrangement. I saw a mass of ore as dug out from the ground put into one end of a long series of machines, which came out, without the slightest manual assistance, at the close of a course of operations so directed as to bring it back to our feet, in the form of a thin sheet of lustrous metal. In another factory a mass of dry vegetable fibre was similarly transformed by machinery alone into a bale of wonderfully light woven drapery resembling satin in lustre, muslin or gauze in texture.

The streets were what, even in the finest and latest-built American cities, would be thought magnificent in size and admirable in construction. The roadway was formed of that concrete, harder than granite, which is the sole material employed in Martial building, and which, as I have shown, can take every form and texture, from that of jewels or of the finest marble to that of plain polished slate. Along each side ran avenues of magnificent trees, whose branches met at a height of thirty feet over the centre. Between these and the houses was a space reserved for the passage of light carriages exclusively. The houses, unlike those in the country, were from two to four stories in height.

All private dwellings, however, were built, as in the country, around a square interior garden, and the windows, except those of the front rooms employed for business purposes, looked out upon this. The space occupied, however, was of course much smaller than where ground was less precious, few dwellings having four chambers on the same floor and front. The footway ran on the level of what we call the first story, over a part of the roof of the ground floor; and the business apartments were always the front chambers of the former, while the stores of the merchants were collected in a single warehouse occupying the whole of the ground front. No attempt was made to exhibit them as on Earth. I entered with my host a number of what we should call shops. In every case he named exactly the article he wanted, and it was either produced at once or he was told that it was not to be had there, a thing which, however, seldom happened. The traders are few in number. One or two firms engaged in a single branch of commerce do the whole business of an extensive province. For instance, all the textile fabrics on sale in the province were to be seen in one or other of two warehouses; all metals in sheets, blocks, and wires in another; in a third all finished metal-work, except writing materials; all writing, phonographic, and telegraphic conveniences in a fourth; all furs, feathers, and fabrics made from these in a fifth. The tradesman sells on commission, as we say, receiving the goods from the manufacturer, the farmer, or the State, and paying only for what are sold at the end of each year, reserving to himself one-twenty-fourth of the price. Prices, however, do not vary from year to year, save when, on rare occasions, an adverse season or a special accident affects the supply and consequently the price of any natural product—choice fruit, skins, silver, for instance—obtained only from some peculiarly favoured locality.

The monetary system, like so many other Martial institutions, is purely artificial and severely logical. It is held that the exchange value of any article of manufacture or agricultural produce tends steadily downwards, while any article obtained by mining labour, or supplied by nature alone, tends to become more and more costly. The use of any one article of either class as a measure of value tends in the long-run to injustice either towards creditors or debtors. Labour may be considered as the most constant in intrinsic value of all things capable of sale or barter; but the utmost ingenuity of Martial philosophers has failed to devise a fixed standard by which one kind of labour can be measured against another, and their respective productive force, and consequently their value in exchange, ascertained. One thing alone retains in their opinion an intrinsic value always the same, and if it increase in value, increases only in proportion as all produce is obtained in greater quantities or with greater facility. Land, therefore, is in their estimation theoretically the best available measure of value—a dogma which has more practical truth in a planet where population is evenly diffused and increases very slowly, if at all, than it might have in the densely but unevenly peopled countries of Europe or Asia. A staltâ, or square of about fifty yards (rather more than half an acre), is the primary standard unit of value. For purposes of currency this is represented by a small engraved document bearing the Government stamp, which can always at pleasure be exchanged for so much land in a particular situation. The region whose soil is chosen as the standard lies under the Equator, and the State possesses there some hundreds of square miles, let out on terms thought to ensure its excellent cultivation and the permanence of its condition. The immediate convertibility of each such document, engraven on a small piece of metal about two inches long by one in breadth, and the fortieth part of an inch in thickness, is the ultimate cause and permanent guarantee of its value. Large payments, moreover, have to be made to the State by those who rent its lands or purchase the various articles of which it possesses a monopoly; or, again, in return for the services it undertakes, as lighting roads and supplying water to districts dependent on a distant source. Great care is taken to keep the issue of these notes within safe limits; and as a matter of fact they are rather more valuable than the land they represent, and are in consequence seldom presented for redemption therein. To provide against the possibility of such an over-issue as might exhaust the area of standard land at command of the State, it is enacted that, failing this, the holder may select his portion of State domain wherever he pleases, at twelve years’ purchase of the rental; but in point of fact these provisions are theoretically rather than practically important, since not one note in a hundred is ever redeemed or paid off. The “square measure,” upon which the coinage, if I may so call it is based, following exactly the measure of length, each larger area in the ascending scale represents 144 times that below it. Thus the styly being a little more than a foot, the steely is about 13 feet, or one-twelfth of the stâly; but the steeltâ (or square steely) is 1/144th part of the stâltâ. The stoltâ, again, is about 600 yards square, or 360,000 square yards, 144 times the stâltâ. The highest note, so to speak, in circulation represents this last area; but all calculations are made in staltau, or twelfths thereof. The stâltâ will purchase about six ounces of gold. Notes are issued for the third, fourth, and twelfth parts of this: values smaller than the latter are represented by a token coinage of square medals composed of an alloy in which gold and silver respectively are the principal elements. The lowest coin is worth about threepence of English money.

Stopping at the largest public building in the city, a central hexagon with a number of smaller hexagons rising around it, we entered one of the latter, each side of which might be some 30 feet in length and 15 in height. Here were ranged a large number of instruments on the principle of the voice-writer, but conveying the sound to a vast distance along electric wires into one which reverses the voice-recording process, and repeats the vocal sound itself. Through one of these, after exchanging a few words with one of the officials in charge of them, Esmo carried on a conversation of some length, the instrument being so arranged that while the mouth is applied to one tube another may be held to the ear to receive the reply. In the meantime I fell in with one of the officers, apparently very young, who was strongly interested at the sight of the much-canvassed stranger, and, perhaps on this account, far more obliging than is common among his countrymen. From him I learnt that this, with another method I will presently describe, is the sole means of distant communication employed in Mars. Those who have not leisure or do not care to visit one of the offices, never more than twelve-miles distant from one another, in which the public instruments are kept, can have a wire conveyed to their own house. Almost every house of any pretension possesses such a wire. Leading me into the next apartment, my friend pointed out an immense number of instruments of a box-like shape, with a slit in which a leaf of about four inches by two was placed. These were constantly ejected and on the instant mechanically replaced. The fallen leaves were collected and sorted by the officers present, and at once placed in one or other of another set of exactly similar instruments. Any one possessing a private wire can write at his own desk in the manual character a letter or message on one of these slips. Placing it in his own instrument, it at once reproduces itself exactly in his autograph, and with every peculiarity, blot, or erasure, at the nearest office. Here the copy is placed in the proper box, and at once reproduced in the office nearest the residence of the person to whom it is addressed, and forwarded in the same manner to him. A letter, therefore, covering one of these slips, and saying as much as we could write in an average hand upon a large sheet of letter-paper, is delivered within five minutes at most from the time of despatch, no matter how great the distance.

I remarked that this method of communication made privacy impossible.

But,” replied the official, “how could we possibly have time to indulge in curiosity? We have to sort hundreds of these papers in an hour. We have just time to look at the address, place them in the proper box, and touch the spring which sets the electric current at work. If secrecy were needed a cipher would easily secure it, for you will observe that by this telegraph whatever is inscribed on the sheet is mechanically reproduced; and it would be as easy to send a picture as a message.”

I learnt that a post of marvellous perfection had, some thousand years ago, delivered letters all over Mars, but it was now employed only for the delivery of parcels. Perhaps half the commerce of Mars, except that in metals and agricultural produce, depends on this post. Purchasers of standard articles describe by the telegraph-letter to a tradesman the exact amount and pattern of the goods required, and these are despatched at once; a system of banking, very completely organised, enabling the buyer to pay at once by a telegraphic order.

When Esmo had finished his business, we walked down, at my request, to the port. Around three sides of the dock formed by walls, said to be fifty feet in depth and twenty in thickness, ran a road close to the water’s edge, beyond which was again a vast continuous warehouse. The inner side was reserved for passenger vessels, and everywhere the largest ships could come up close, landing either passengers or cargo without even the intervention of a plank. The appearance of the ships is very unlike that of Terrestrial vessels. They have no masts or rigging, are constructed of the zorinta, which in Mars serves much more effectively all the uses of iron, and differ entirely in construction as they are intended for cargo or for travel. Mercantile ships are in shape much like the finest American clippers, but with broad, flat keel and deck, and with a hold from fifteen to twenty feet in depth. Like Malayan vessels, they have attached by strong bars an external beam about fifty feet from the side, which renders overturning almost impossible. Passenger ships more resemble the form of a fish, but are alike at both ends. Six men working in pairs four hours at a time compose the entire crew of the largest ship, and half this number are required for the smallest that undertakes a voyage of more than twelve hours.

I may here mention that the system of sewage is far superior to any yet devised on Earth. No particle of waste is allowed to pollute the waters. The whole is deodorised by an exceedingly simple process, and, whether in town or country, carried away daily and applied to its natural use in fertilising the soil. Our practice of throwing away, where it is an obvious and often dangerous nuisance, material so valuable in its proper place, seemed to my Martial friends an inexplicable and almost incredible absurdity.

As we returned, Esmo told me that he had been in communication with the Camptâ, who had desired that I should visit him with the least possible delay.

This,” he said, “will hurry us in matters where I at any rate should have preferred a little delay. The seat of Government is by a direct route nearly six thousand miles distant, and you will have opportunity of travelling in all the different ways practised on this planet. A long land-journey in our electric carriages, with which you are not familiar, is, I think, to be avoided. The Camptâ would wish to see your vessel as well as yourself; but, on the whole, I think it is safer to leave it where it is. Kevimâ, and I propose to accompany you during the first part of your journey. At our first halt, we will stay one night with a friend, that you may be admitted a brother of our Order.”

And,” said I, “what sort of a reception may I expect at the end of my journey?”

I think,” he answered, “that you are more likely to be embarrassed by the goodwill of the Camptâ than by the hostility of some of those about him. His character is very peculiar, and it is difficult to reckon upon his action in any given case. But he differs from nearly all his subjects in having a strong taste for adventure, none the less if it be perilous; and since his position prevents him from indulging this taste in person, he is the more disposed to take extreme interest in the adventures of others. He has, moreover, a great value for what you call courage, a virtue rarely needed and still more rarely shown among us; and I fancy that your venture through space has impressed him with a very high estimate of your daring. Assuredly none of us, however great his scientific curiosity, would have dreamed of incurring such a peril, and incurring it alone. But I must give you one warning. It is not common among us to make valuable gifts: we do not care enough for any but ourselves to give except with the idea of getting something valuable in return. Our princes are, however, so wealthy that they can give without sacrifice, and it is considered a grave affront to refuse any present from a superior. Whatever, then, our Suzerain may offer you—and he is almost sure, unless he should take offence, to give you whatever he thinks will induce you to settle permanently in the neighbourhood of his Court—you must accept graciously, and on no account, either then or afterwards, lead him to think that you slight his present.”

I must say,” I replied, “that while I wish to remain in your world till I have learnt, if not all that is to be learnt, yet very much more than I at present know about it, the whole purpose of my voyage would be sacrificed if I could not effect my return to Earth.”

I suppose so,” he answered, “and for that reason I wish to keep your vessel safe and within your reach; for to get away at all you may have to depart suddenly. But you will not do wisely to make the Prince suspect that such is your intention. Tell him of what you wish to see and to explore in this world; tell him freely of your own, for he will not readily fancy that you prefer it to this; but say as little as possible of your hopes of an ultimate return, and, if you are forced to acknowledge them, let them seem as indefinite as possible.”

By this time, returning by another road, Esmo stopped the carriage at the gate of an enclosed garden of moderate size, about two miles from Ecasfe. Entering alone, he presently returned with another gentleman, wearing a dress of grey and silver, with a white ribbon over the shoulder; a badge, I found, of official rank or duties. Mounting his own carriage, this person accompanied us home.