‘That’s the point,’ Fuller said as he showed the article to Dale. ‘That’s the Keuntz works behind this, I’ll bet. They’re afraid of you lifting the prize.’
Dale nodded. ‘Looks like it. Still, it’s good news in one way. It suggests that they aren’t building a rocket to try for it themselves.’
‘I don’t know.’ Fuller was less sanguine. ‘I know our reports say so, but you never can tell how much double and triple crossing is going on with these agents. It might equally well mean that they are having a shot at it and think that any rivals will be put off if there is no chance of their getting the prize.’
‘Well, our men haven’t let us down yet. You can be sure that if they were building a space rocket anywhere we’d have heard of it somehow just as they or somebody else seem to have heard of ours.’
‘Perhaps. I should say it was they, since the man you shot was an American. Anyway, they’re out to get that prize and the interest it’s accumulated. Apart from the money, it’d put them back at the top of the rocket plane industry. Their reputation’s been slumping badly the last year or two, you know for anyone else to get it would mean the end of them.’
The following day the Daily Hail threw overboard its noisy but uninfectious policy of Save Britain’s Speed King From Himself and joined with the Excess in a vituperative duet against the Emblem. A scathing reply from the latter involving George III and the American debt was side tracked by the Potsdamer Tageblatt which pointed out on behalf of the Fatherland chat Keuntz, a German before he was an American, had with true German generosity offered his prize to the whole world. Keuntz, replied the Emblem, with some heat, was also a Jew who had been forced to flee from the kindly Fatherland in the days of the first Fi1hrer. America, the land of the free, had given him sanctuary, therefore, etc., etc. And the battle went on.
Outside the main brawl the Views Record was announcing that ‘Mars Must be Internationalized’. Swannen Haffer in the Daily Socialist was asking, ‘Will the Martian Workers be Exploited?’ The Daily Artisan was predicting the discovery of a flourishing system of Martian Soviets. Gerald Birdy wrote articles on ‘Planning a New World’ and the need for a Planetician in the Cabinet. Woman’s Love in publishing an article on ‘Wives of Pioneers’ with special, if inaccurate, references to Mary Curtance (who, though journalistically unfortunate in lacking children of her own, was indiscriminately devoted to those of other people), narrowly missed making the one scoop of its life. The Illustrated London Views published a sectional drawing of a typical rocketship and gave interesting data on the solar system. The Wexford Bee Keepers’ Gazette announced that it had its eye on Mr. Curtance, and warned him to stay where God had put him.
The shares of Commercial Explosives, Limited, rose for three days as if propelled by their own fuel, and then fell back to a little above normal. A heavy slump in the price of gold took everyone by surprise. The cause was traced to a rumour that spectroscopy showed the presence of gold in great quantities on Mars; the rumour was duly exploded, but gold failed to respond. This caused less surprise, the behaviour of gold being unaccountable at the best of times. The Stock Exchange betting stood at 500 to one against Dale reaching Mars, and 10,000 to one against the double journey. A rumour that the Russians had for years been building a bigger and better rocket, to be called the Tovaritch, refused to be crushed until the Soviet Government issued an official denial of such a rocket’s existence or even contemplation. Rumours of German, American and Japanese rival rockets were less hardy. The pastime of guessing the names of Dale’s companions attained the status of a national game.
Meanwhile the work on the Curtance rocket went steadily forward throughout the summer. Dale was too busy to feel anything save an anxiety that his ship should be finished to schedule by the middle of September, certainly too busy to feel lonely because his wife had gone to his mother’s home.
For Mary had given in. She had dropped her opposition and released him from his promise, but she had been unable to stand the sense of restlessness pervading the house. She had fled to the quiet Dorset countryside where only an occasional gyrocurt with its white sails whirling as it sauntered along amid summer clouds reminded her of the reign of machines.
Occasionally the child moved in her womb, hurting her. It would not be long now. Poor baby, what a world to come into. She hoped it would be a boy. This was a man’s world, women walked unhappily and fearfully among its gears and flywheels, making shift with dreams and snatching what little joy was spared them. The machines were the hateful dictators of men and women alike. Only men could be so dense as to think that they themselves were the rulers . . .
CHAPTER V. GREAT DAY.
THE few hardy souls who had elected to spend the night upon the open inhospitality of Salisbury Plain slept no later than dawn’ upon the morning of the twelfth of October, 1981 for it was with the first rays of sunlight that the influx which would last all day began.
The hysterical ballyhoo timed to reach its climax upon this day had been sustained with an unsurpassed degree of journalistic art. The birth of a son to Dale Curtance had given a fillip to interest at a convenient moment, and every newspaper reader in the country had become familiar with the, at present, somewhat dough like features of Victor Curtance. The announcement of the names of Dale’s companions for the flight had caught three unknown men and one rather more familiar figure into an undying fulguration of publicity.
Every person who could reach a radio set had seen and heard a prince of the royal blood say: ‘I name this ship the Gloria Mundi. May God guide her and bring her safely back to us,’ and the film of the occasion had been shown at every cinema. The arduous feat of transport ing the Gloria Mundi from the sheds of her birth at Kingston to a suitably desolate portion of Salisbury Plain for the take off, had been followed in detail with critical attention. The discovery by an advance guard that a part of the route had been tampered with and the subsequent disinterment of a case of dynamite (with detonator and wires attached) had roused indignation and speculation to feverish heats. The assurance that Dale himself was continually guarded by two or more armed police detectives met with immense popular appreciation. The song, ‘Curty, the King of the Clouds’, written at the time of the first Equatorial Flight, had been revived and stood in frequency of performance second only to the National Anthem. For the last fortnight the Press had really let itself go, and in loyal response to its efforts the public was prepared to invade the Plain on a scale perturbing to the authorities.
The first active sign of preparation in the grey light of that historic Monday was the ascent of more than a dozen small captive balloons, painted a bright yellow, and ranged in a circle about the scene of operations. Within the perimeter they marked no craft save police patrols was to be permitted at any height whatever, and it was considered likely that the five mile circle would insure an ample margin of safety. Half a dozen police gyrocurts rose and set themselves to hover in positions strategic for the control of traffic both by land and air.’
The first great charaplane of the day came booming out of the west. It landed to deposit its passengers, and within five minutes had taken off again to fetch another load. Machines of every kind from the dainty flipabout to the massive gyrobus, all with the early morning sunlight glancing from brightly painted bodies beneath swirling white sails, started to float in from each quarter, and the task of directing them to their appointed parks began in earnest. Within half an hour of the first car’s arrival the congested road traffic had slowed to a tedious, bottom gear crawl.
The crowds began to pour from the ‘plane parks and carparks, making for their enclosures and, the favoured few, for the stands. Hawkers in good voice offered silver trinkets in the form of miniature rockets, picture postcards of Dale, pictures of the rocketship itself and printed handkerchiefs as suitable mementoes of the occasion. A hundred camp kitchens began to cater for the hungry. Half a dozen loudspeakers burst into the inevitable ‘Curty, the King of the Clouds’. A number of persons were already failing to Find the Lady. And still it was only eight a.m.