‘Perhaps, but he hasn’t done it yet, Daddy.’
‘Young Curtance will do it if anyone can. And they’ll have to believe him.’
‘But, Daddy dear, it doesn’t even say that he is going to try for Mars. Venus is much nearer; it’s probably that.’
‘Nonsense, Joan, nonsense. Of course it’s Mars. Look here, it says he intends to start sometime in October. Well, Mars comes into opposition about the middle of April next year. Obviously he’s working on Drivers’ estimates of just under twelve weeks for the outward journey and under eleven for the return. That will give him a few days there to prospect and to overhaul his machine. He can’t afford to leave the return a day past opposition. You see, it all fits in.’
‘I don’t see, darling, but I’ve no doubt you’re right.’
‘Of course I’m right, it’s as plain as can be. I’m going to write to him.’ The girl shook her head.
‘I shouldn’t do that. He might hand it over to one of the newspapers and you know what that would mean.’
The man paused in his elation, and frowned. ‘Yes. Perhaps he would. We’ll wait, my dear. We’ll wait until he tells them what he’s found there. Then we’ll go back home and see who laughs last. .’
At five o’clock a telephone conversation between Mrs. Dale Curtance and her mother in law was in progress.
‘. . . But, Mary dear, this is useless,’ the elder Mrs. Curtance was saying.
‘You’ll never be able to stop him. I know Dale. Once he’s made his mind up to a thing like this, he can’t be stopped.’
‘But he must be stopped. I can’t let him do it. I’ll move everything to stop him. You don’t know what it means to me.’
‘My dear, I know what it means to me and I am his mother. I also know something of what it means to him. We’ve just got to suppress our own selfishness.’
‘Selfishness! You call it selfishness to try to stop him killing himself?’
‘Mary, don’t you see what you are doing? You’re losing him. If you did manage to stop him, he’d hate you for it, and if you go on as you are doing, he’ll hate you for trying to stop him. Please, please give it up, Mary. It’s not fair on Dale or yourself or the child. In your condition you can’t afford to behave like this. All we can do is what most women have to do make the best of it.’
‘Oh, you don’t understand. Without him there’ll be nothing for me to make the best of.’
‘There will be the child, Mary. You must get right away from all this. Come down here and stay quietly with me till that’s over.’
‘How can I “stay quietly” anywhere while this is going on? You must come up and see him. Perhaps if we both talked to him Will you come?’
Mrs. Curtance paused before she answered. ‘All right, I will come.’
She put down the receiver and sighed. The most that she could hope for was that Mary should be convinced of the futility of kicking against fate.
At six o’clock the announcer read two S.O.S. messages and the weather report, and added: ‘No doubt everyone has read the newspaper reports of Mr. Curtance’s proposed bid for the Keuntz Prize. We have been able to persuade Mr. Curtance himself to come to the studio to tell you what he hopes to do. Mr. Dale Curtance.’
Dale’s pleasant features faded in on millions of television screens, smiling in a friendly fashion at his unseen audience. ‘It is kind of the B.B.C. to invite me here this evening,’ he began, ‘and I am grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to correct certain misunderstandings which seem to be current regarding my intentions. Firstly, let me say that it is quite true that I mean to attempt to reach another planet and to return to Earth. And it is also true, for a number of reasons which I will not go into now, that the planet I have chosen for this attempt is Mars. But it is quite untrue that I intend to make this flight alone. Actually there will be five of us aboard my ship when she takes off.
‘I should like to dispel, too; the prevalent idea that I am engaged in deliberate suicide. I assure you we are not. All five of us could easily find much cheaper and less arduous ways of killing ourselves.
‘There are, of course, risks. In fact, there are three distinct kinds of risk: the known ones which we can and shall prepare against: the known ones which we must trust to luck to avoid: and the entirely unknown. But we are convinced that we have more than a sporting chance against them all if we were not, we should not be making the attempt.
‘Thanks to the courage and pertinacity of those who from the time of Piccard’s ascent into the stratosphere in 1931 have pushed forward the examination of space, we shall not be shooting ourselves into the completely unknown. Thanks also to them, the design of my ship will be an improvement on any which has gone before, and unlike those of the early pioneers she is designed to contend with many of the known conditions of space as well as in the hope of surviving the unknown. Each expedition to leave Earth stands a better chance of success than its predecessor which is another way of saying that it risks less. Therefore, I say that if we are successful in this venture, if we gain for Britain the honour of being the first nation to achieve trans-spatial communication, it must never be forgotten that better men than we gave their lives to make it possible.
‘If one can single out one man from an army of heroes and say, “This is the greatest of them all,” I should point my finger at Richard Drivers. Compared with the risks that brave genius took, we take none. The story of that amazing man’s persistence in the face of a jeering world when three of his friends had already crashed to their deaths upon the Moon, and the tale of his lonely flight around it are among the deathless epics of the race. Whatever may be done by us or by others after us, his achievement stands alone. And it will be he who made the rest possible.
‘So, you see, we are not pioneers. We are only followers in a great tradition, hoping to tread the way of knowledge a little farther than the last man. If it is granted to us to be successful, we shall be satisfied to have been not entirely unworthy of our forerunners and of our country.’
The red light flickered and the televising mechanism slowed as the studio was cut off from the world. An important looking gentleman entered. He greeted Dale and shook hands.
‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘Very good of you to come at such short notice.’
Dale grinned and shook his head. ‘No, my thanks are due to you.’ The other looked puzzled. ‘You’ve not seen this evening’s Banner?’ Dale went on. ‘They’re trying to stop me. That means the Hail will be at it tomorrow. I was glad to get my word in first.’
‘Trying to stop you?’
‘Yes. Don’t know why. Some stunt of theirs, I suppose. Nobody’s going to stop me, but they might be a bit of nuisance if they got a big following.’
‘H’m. It’s a wonder people don’t get sick of Dithernear’s stunts, but they don’t seem to. Well, I’m glad you came and I hope you are as optimistic as you sounded.’
‘I am nearly,’ Dale admitted, as they parted.
CHAPTER IV. AND REACTIONS.
INTO the Curtance sheds where the great rocket rested in its thicket of scaffolding only the faintest ripples of popular excitement penetrated. Though Dale gave interviews freely enough to avid pressmen, he was adamant in his refusal to permit interruption in the routine of his shops, and the reception of those few journalists who attempted to enter by subterfuge was ungentle. An augmented corps of watchmen with the assistance of police dogs guarded doors behind which work went on with the same unhurried efficiency as in the days before the secret was out. The most obvious and concrete result of world wide interest was a new shed hastily run up to accommodate Dale’s swollen secretariat.
The inquest upon the intruder was reported in full detail and followed with close attention, but it failed to provide any sensational revelations, and the body remained unidentified. The chief witness gave his evidence clearly, received the congratulations of the coroner upon his narrow escape and left the court with an increased reputation for courage.
Two days later the Chicago Emblem announced that the dead man had been an American citizen named Forder. It indignantly demanded a closer inquiry into the circumstances, hinting that Dale might show up less well. The leader on the subject finished by truculently demanding the passage of a special bill through Congress to prevent the Keuntz Prize from going abroad.