ANANA DECIDED THAT it would be better to make three smaller balloons instead of one large one.
“Here’s how it is. To get equal strength the material of a large balloon has to be much stronger and heavier per square inch than that of a smaller balloon. By making three smaller ones, instead of one large one, we gain in strength of material and lose in weight. So, each of us will ascend in his aerostat.”
She added, “Also, since the smaller ones won’t present as much area to the wind, they’ll be easier to handle.”
Kickaha had lost too many arguments with her to object.
McKay resented being “bossed” by a woman, but he had to admit that she was the authority.
They worked frantically to make the final preparations. Even Shoobam helped, and the knowledge of what would happen on the day of liftoff did not shadow her cheeriness. At least, if she felt sorrow or dread, she did not show it.
Finally, the time came. The three bags lay on the ground, stretched out behind the wall of the windbreak. A net of thin but tough cured membrane strips enclosed each bag. These, the suspension ropes, were attached directly to the basket. Anana would have liked to have tied them to a suspension hoop below which the basket would be hung by foot ropes. This arrangement afforded better stability.
However, it was almost impossible to carve three rings from wood. Besides, if the ring was made strong enough to stand up under the weight of the basket, its passenger, and the fuel, it would have to be rather heavy.
The ends of the suspension ropes were tied to the corners and along the sides of a rectangular car or basket made of pieces of bark glued together. In the center of the car was a thick layer of earth, on top of which were piled sticks. Wood shavings were packed at the bottom of the pile so the fire could be started easily. A layer of tinder would be ignited by sparks from a flint and a knife or the axe.
The wall of earth serving as a windbreak had been tumbled over four times because of the shape-changing of terrain. The fifth one was almost twice as high and four times as long as the one built for the test balloon. It was roofed over by branches laid on cross-logs supported by uprights.
Three gallows, primitive cranes, stood near the open end of the enclosure. A cable made of twisted cords ran from the upper sides of the horizontal arm to the top of the balloon. One end was tied around the top of the balloon.
The three people pulled the envelopes up, one by one, until all three hung limply below the gallows arms. The ends of the hoist ropes were secured to nearby uprights. McKay, who had wanted to be first to lift off, probably because it made him nervous to wait, lit the fire. Smoke began to ascend into a circular skin hanging down from the neck of the balloon.
When the bag had started to swell from the expanding hot air, Anana lit the fire in her car. Kickaha waited a few minutes and then started a flame in his basket.
The bands of the “dawn” sky began to glow. Snorts and barks and one roar came from the animals on the plains, awakening to another day of feeding and being fed upon. The wind was at an estimated minimum eight miles an hour velocity and without gusts.
McKay’s envelope began to inflate. As soon it was evident that it would stand up by itself, McKay leaped up past the balloon, reached out with his axe, and severed the cable attached to the top. He fell, hack, landing at the same time the cable did. After rising, he waited another minute, then pulled the balloon from beneath the gallows by the basket.
When Anana’s balloon had lifted enough to support itself, she cut the cable, and Kickaha soon did the same to his.
Shoobam, who had been sitting to one side, pulled herself up on the crutch and hobbled over to Anana. She spoke in a low tone, Anana embraced her, then slashed at the wrists held out to her. Kickaha wanted to look away, but he thought that if someone else did the dirty work he could at least observe it.