Melbourne and Mars/Chapter 6

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
Melbourne and Mars by Joseph Fraser
Chapter VI


Gaston's Class.

"FOR several days now I have been a pupil of Gaston's. He is a bright-eyed, cheerful man, and is always in a smiling and happy mood. He leads us all to ask questions, and makes our lessons a treat. As before, each pupil has a recess, in which is found all that is required both for the school and the playfields. The box of blocks is gone and in its place there are a lot of pieces of wood of various forms. The abacus is replaced by one, the beads of which have double wires that hold them so that figures and cyphers stamped upon them are always in sight. It has another peculiarity. A wire runs perpendicularly across the centre, keeping the beads half to the right and halt to the left. An elder boy, one who has been in Gaston's class for some time, caught me pondering over the new abacus. He explained it to me, saying that the perpendicular wire was the decimal point, and that the beads to the left went up by powers of ten, and those to the right went down by tenths, hundredths, etc. That small white square let into the bead is meant to hold a figure. However you will soon find all that out."

It will not be wise to burden these pages with all the incidents and accidents that happen to a sharp boy in a primary school, even under the tuition of a teacher like Gaston, aided as he is by models and illustrations and samples of natural productions and manufactured goods. The class is willing to learn, is eager to listen and to look, and gather up the knowledge that the teacher is so able to impart. In school hours there is no listlessness, no weariness, no heavy task, nor are there any lessons to carry home. There is no spelling to learn, no tables to commit to memory, and all school work is done in school hours.

They go to school once a day, and spend four hours in school work. After an hour and a half of study the class goes through several of the exercises learned in Hildreth'a class, and some new ones, all set to music, and many of them accompanied with song. In this way half-an-hour is spent, and they study another hour and a half. That done, they go into the playfield with the whole school, and play as they like with entire freedom for half-an-hour. The last hour is spent in reading, writing from dictation, and if any child is puzzled or in doubt about a lesson Gaston will answer questions at his desk during this hour.

Five hours at school and nothing to eat! Poor children. Our diarist says little about food so far, but a little later on he says the people in general have only one meal daily, hut that children have a little food early in the day, and their next meal with their elders early in the afternoon when all work ceases.

One accident happens which is worth recording, since it might easily have proved fatal and stopped the records of this very real dreamland:—

"I had been in Gaston's class for about three months (earth time) when one afternoon early we all went for a journey in our flying fish. We had all got used to it now, and I frequently looked over the sides at the houses and beautiful gardens below us. The land beneath us was a perfect paradise of beauty. The houses nestled amongst their trees, nearly all of which were fruit-bearing, and the interspersed flower gardens glowed radient with all the colors of the sunrise, the sunset, and the rainbow. There was nothing trim and chessboard-like in the appearance of the ground, and at the same time there were no roads and no disorderly open spaces. Every inch of the land was utilised. Oh the delight of floating through that perfumed summer air free from dust, smoke, noise, and all the disagreeables we would have if floating at about three hundred feet above an earth town, or even village, No jarring, grating sounds, only the sound of musical voices now and then, with snatches of song. We were approaching a clear lake, smooth as a mirror, reflecting some trees that grew on its further side so clearly that every leaf and twig that grew upward in the air appeared to grow downward in the water. We crossed the lake, flying slowly and enjoying the scene. When about halfway over I looked down over the side, and saw the reflection of our air boat with its fins or wings sweeping to and fro slowly and silently. I had no idea before how graceful the machine looked when in motion. I leaned over a little and called mother to see how pretty the reflection. She moved towards me, not to look, but to seize my clothing. The slight oscillation caused by her movement brought about what she feared, for over I went. For a little while I remember feeling the air rush past me, and seeing the tops of the trees coming to meet me. And then something touched my back; an instant more and I was firmly clenched by my clothing. My father had followed me down in the machine and caught me. But he was too late to get up into the air again. Our wings were tangled in the tree top, and one of them in its final stroke knocked me out of father's hand. 'Clutch the branches,' said he, as I dropped into the foliage. I tried to do so, and broke my fall materially. I do not remember getting to the ground.

* * * * * * * *

I next remember waking out of a pleasant sleep and finding myself in mother's oval chamber. Two voices were speaking gently, one was my mother's and the other was strange to me. I was the subject of their remarks. Perhaps I ought to have uttered some sound, but I just lay there dreamily trying to find out how I had got there, and listening to bits of the conversation now and then.

"You think, then, that what my little boy has said in his wanderings Really proves him an earth-born?"

"Yes, and more than that. They prove him to be living a dual life. On earth he must be a man of middle age, for he speaks to his children as if upgrown and his peers."

"How strange to have a child like that. He is old enough to be his mother's father. Is my experience unique, or are there many such?"

"My studies in medical psychology have taught me that there are three kinds of earth-borns on our planet. First, those who have lived on earth and become fit for introduction, to our higher life, which is to them a kind of heaven and reward for virtuous and religious living; second, those who, while still living on earth, put out a new life and live here also quite unconscious of the old life; third, those who live on both planets, and are conscious of the two lives. Your boy belongs to the second class at present, but can at any time begin to belong to the third. In his earth life he is conscious of this life, but in this he is unconscious of the other."

"Perhaps not quite so. He was asking me about money not long ago. He cannot have heard of money here. From whence came the money question?"

"It came like many other questions asked by children out of the past and out of the deep. Before we know whence such questions spring we shall have to know from where the life of the questioner springs."

"To return to this question of dual identity. How does the soul animate two bodies, and get from one to the other? My boy is never absent-minded. I have had no reason to suspect him of being anywhere else but here.

"There are thousands of mysteries of the soul of which we know nothing, but if we were to question your son some day we might get an answer to your question. In similar cases people have been sent into a magnetic trance, and have said that, for the soul there are no such limitations as time and space, that it can be: where it will when it will, that the Author of the soul's being can alone regulate or limit its movements."

"Then my son can fly from one body to the other, the two bodies being on different planets at enormous and ever-varying distances apart, without much loss of time?"

"Without any loss. It would take you a thousand times as long to walk through that open door into this room as it will take him to come from the other side of the solar system."

"Thank you, doctor. I fear I have taken up too much of your valuable time with my questionings. After all, I am so much the mother that I am glad to hear that, but for a little stiffness and pain my boy will be well when he wakes."

"At this moment I made some movement and hurt my side, and cried out with the pain. I had never felt pain before. My cry brought mother and her companion to my side. Mother bade me be still and keep quiet, and Doctor Hildreth, the physician for our district, class-mother Hildreth's sister, looked into my eyes, and felt my pulse, and said to mother, 'He is quite out of danger; he needs no farther aid from me.'"

When the doctor had gone mother told me that in falling through the tree I had broken two ribs and got much bruised, and had been unconscious for several days, owing to having fallen upon my head. She told me that if I did not wish my wounds to hurt me I must keep still and they would soon heal.

In the next few days I found that father's hands had been cut with the last stroke of the wing of our air boat while trying to hold me up, and that if he had not let me fall into the tree I should probably have been killed by the same blow. Mother had clutched Emma, and held on until rescued by another air boat, and our flying fish had suffered serious damage and gone to be repaired."

From this it appears that accidents may happen even in the grand world of our diarist's dreams. A day or two later he resumes his narrative:—"I am back in Gaston's class. All my classmates have congratulated me on my fortunate escape. I begin to feel that I am of some importance in the world. Gaston notices the state of things and wisely puts me right, and makes my case a lesson at the same time. This, too, without hurting my feelings.

He says:—"You are very properly glad to see Charlie Frankston amongst you after his narrow escape from death, and he doubtless rejoiced to find himself with you again. Do not, however, make too much of a hero of Charlie. There was nothing heroic about the transaction except the bravery and skill exhibited by his father in saving his life, which he undoubtedly did, although he could not prevent the final little fall through, the tree. Charlie's part was just that of a careless and curious little boy, and what he did perilled the life of all his family. Let us hope that the lesson he has received may last him for life.

Had Charlie's father been going in any other direction he would have caught Charlie before he got to the tree tops. For the air boat can be made to descend faster than a falling body. If there had been more room and time the boat would have gone under Charlie, and still descending, would have caught him without stopping his fall too rapidly. Some of you know the air boat rules of flight. To the north three hundred feet, to the south six hundred feet, to the east, nine hundred feet, and to the west twelve hundred feet.

When the accident happened Charlie's family were going north, and so could not fly at a height of more than three hundred feet. The manometer in the air boat, or flying fish, as it is frequently called, always indicates the height, and the compass the direction. Before these rules were made and strictly enforced accidents were frequent. They are now rare. A swift moving boat may give a slower one a push in the back, but the overtaking boat has to pass to the right, and is held as in fault if it damaged the slower one. Special boats may travel in any direction and at any rate in the upper air. Below the twelve hundred feet the boats travel at right angles, and changing direction change height. They are also limited as to speed, not being allowed to go more than a mile a minute.'"[1]

For some months now, nearly a year, our diarist's days are much alike. To record them as they are mentioned would be tiresome to writer and reader. They are the days of a schoolboy who is fond of his studies, his teacher and his classmates, and whose whole life is harmonious, happy and healthy.

The air boat is repaired, and the family takes afternoon trips as before, Charley being more careful now. The summer is passed, and preparations are being made for the coming winter. Incidently we find that the school week is only four days, and that the fifth is a rest day from all work, and is regarded as a Sabbath. The temporary consciousness of earth-life in the new life that he manifested when injured has not been repeated, so that he can only set down the experiences that come in the ordinary way, and can be remembered.

But now comes winter, an important event for the quickening faculties of a boy of nearly four years, each year counting almost double our three hundred and eighty-five days.

Winter twice as long as an earth winter, and more than twice as severe on a planet that receives only four-ninths as much heat and light as our own. No wonder that Charlie's mother and father are busy storing up food in the larder and getting out and airing the soft, warm winter clothing and out-door wraps. It is a busy time, but no one seems unhappy or anxious. All work cheerfully, as preparing for a season that brings its own pleasures.

Speaking of this approaching winter Jacob says:—"I can remember last winter quite well. The weather was very cold, and I was not allowed to be out of doors much. During part of it I was attending Hildreth's class. I remember that I used to slide on rough ice that had grass underneath it, and that we tumbled about and made merry. Our house was always warm, and so was the class-room, but the out-door life was very cold. If we were not running about and sliding we had to hurry indoors.

This winter I am going to have skates, and father has taken the flying fish back to the depôt, and got a sleigh in its place. I asked father who was going to draw the sleigh, and he pointed out a machine, underneath which he said would do that very easily and for any distance. In my waking hours I cannot understand these machines. They seem natural enough to my dreamlife. There must be some great force in the air-boat to move it at the speed at which it travels, carrying all of us and now the sleigh. It is not steam. It moves in silence, and never shows a trace of smoke or heat. I have never seen a coal or a piece of firewood; nothing is burnt. Mother touches a knob and we have a warm fire glowing in the stove, another and the room is beautifully lit, although there is no flame and no brilliant point of light visible. Many things appear more perfect in my dreamworld than in my waking one.

Hard frost has set in, snow has fallen. Early this morning my father told me we would try my new skates this afternoon if the weather did not get too cold. I hurried home from school, and we all had dinner, after which we got into the sleigh and all slid along over the white snow. We were not long in reaching the very lake into which I had almost dropped last summer. How different the scene, and yet how exhilarating. All is life and graceful motion. Thousands of skaters, of both sexes and all ages, are gliding rapidly and easily about, while a band discourses sweet and lively music on the shore. They all look happy, and all seem to enter into their enjoyments heartily, as if they were entirely free from suffering and care. The elder people, and there are many here, are just as bright and happy looking at the younger ones. Even those who sit in their sleighs and watch, and those who prefer walking to gliding have all the same happy look, a look that tells of content and happiness, of something more than the mere pleasure of the day.

As for the music that attends everything. We are a very musical people, so much so that our lives may be said to be set to music. It is as if we were constantly expressing our joy in thankful song.

My father has got his skates and mine firmly fixed and away we go on the ice, he holding me up when my feet fly apart or run before me or behind me, leaving me to tumble but for his firm hand. At last we come to a comparatively quiet corner, and father, taking a seat on the bank, bids me strike out for myself. This I do, again and again coming to grief most times, but falling lightly and not hurting myself much. After another run behind father, who gives me the end of a scarf to hold on by, we go to mother and the sleigh and away home.

Our home life seems easy and happy as compared with that of my earlier childhood. Lights and fires give no work. Mother has only one meal to cook. There are no dusty streets, smoke, dirt and dust are almost unknown things. Labor-saving appliances of all kinds are freely used in household work, so that taken altogether the wife and mother has no need to work much longer than the husband and father. The winter evenings we spent very pleasantly. Sometimes we had visitors, at others we visited our friends. We had merry games—games of chance and skill, reading, impersonations, dramatic and musical performances, dancing, calisthenics. All the people had plenty of time and opportunity for self improvement, and most of them took care to excel in some accomplishment. First-class teachers of all the arts gave lessons to those who wished without any charge upon their labor. That is, all tuition of every kind is absolutely free.

All other things are free to all appearance in some sense. At the depôts we get all we want for asking. Only there is this difference: an account is kept with each responsible person or each head of a family, and his production balanced with his consumption. All consumed by an individual or family is practically paid for by the labor or production of the individual or family, and generally the account is much in favor of the worker, for there are no profits. The State is the only middleman, and the costs of carriage and storage and distribution are the only additions made to prime cost. The difference between lessons and personal necessaries is this, the former are not entered against his account, the latter are.

Teachers, lecturers, doctors, writers, actors, musicians, preachers— in short, all who work for the amusement, instruction and healing of humanity are provided for by the State, and when past labor are still surrounded by such comforts and luxuries as they have been accustomed to. In all this world such a thing as poverty is unknown. Nor can anyone become rich. No matter how much a man or woman may spare the State account he or she can hoard nothing, nor even draw upon the depôt for articles that must ran to waste. Nor can anyone own a foot of land. No one can make a will. At death, or prior to that event, purely personal belongings may be promised or given to various members of a family, but there can be no bickering over the distribution of wealth. The State is the heir of each generation, and as the lives of all our men and women are honorable and profitable, as we have no criminals and no paupers, and as all work who are permitted to do so, the State gains much by each generation, and can easily afford to sustain teachers and the like, maintain schools and places of amusement in each centre of population, and provide for the wants of worn out workers.

And our workers do not wear out soon. The conditions of life are easy and they are free from worry and almost free from temptation. Our day is twenty-five hours, and they only work five at a trade. The majority work a little in the afternoons in their fruit and flower gardens, or for their own amusement; but there is no such thing as bustle, strain, anxiety as to money or any other worrying matter. The general happiness and the zest manifested by comparatively aged people doubtless has its source in the conditions of life.

Our intercourse with one another is very easy. We are not expected to provide foods and drinks for our afternoon or evening guests. Those who wish to eat together go to the caravansary, where wholesome and varied meats are supplied early in the afternoon to all comers, the only formality being that each name is sent to the depôt for the district. You pay for your friend's dinner if you wish by repeating your own name. This, however, is rarely allowed, for your friend is your equal, and stands as well in the register as you do.

Another reason for the freedom of our intercourse is freedom from titles. We have no 'Miss' nor 'Mistress,' no 'Sir' nor 'Esquire.' Each man or woman goes by name. The profession is allowed to be used as an affix, as 'Classmother,' 'Doctor,' 'Teacher;' but even these confer no rank.

I did not gather up all the above information while out skating with father. I got most of it at various times from Gaston, who spends half-an-hour every fourth day in telling us of things pertaining to our everyday lives. I am getting on well with my studies. It is very easy to learn, every study is made so interesting. We were prepared for Gaston's class while going through Hildreth's, and the present teacher seems to know just what we want to learn next. We do not appear to have much to learn in ordinary arithmetic, and we are busy measuring surfaces and solids of various forms every morning. When we have proved by our arithmetic that a certain surface contains a certain number of feet, we have to measure it up in single feet and show them. For this we have a large ground space that will bear chalking, and a smooth, black wall in the playground. Sometimes several pupils join in working out a problem in full size. The other day I and two class-mates had to find the centre of a polygon—an irregular one. We worked at it for two hours, making triangles and measuring their area and finding the centres, first of one then of two, until at last we got the centre of all the centres.

The next day we had to work it out again on a small scale on thin cardboard. When this was done the figure was cut out and balanced on a point, and in two cases out of three the centre had been so correctly found that the balancing point coincided with the centres we had discovered. The third was very nearly correct. All our lessons were made interesting in this way, and when we had learned them we could not forget them.

In order to learn geography we had to find the cardinal points by the sun, and to draw plans of the school, the playfields, paths, and environs. Then we were led on to draw more extended plans on a smaller scale, including the positions of scores of houses, and in each case showing the way to the pupil's own abode.

Until we were well versed in topography we were taught nothing of geography. The former science was merged into the latter one. We were well advanced in the study of geography before we knew that we had begun it. Gaston teaches us what is called the 'Ancient' system, & division that was in vogue many thousands of years ago, when we had many nations and different languages and political systems. This system gives us historic names, and has something of poetry and suggestiveness in it, especially for the people who rejoice in having descended from the grander of the old nations. The new system of districts and sections, bounded only by the invisible lines of latitude and longitude, and distinguished mostly by numbers, may be more practical and handier for telegraphic and other modes of communication, but it has none of the charms of association with a past out of which we have gradually emerged.

There is no political geography to study, for we have only one government, which Gaston calls an Executive. It has to watch the whole planet for the benefit of all the people, to prevent excesses and deficiencies of manufacture and production, to store up surpluses and send supplies to any district that is likely to suffer from scarcity. It regulates the great streams of what, at one time would have been called commerce.

In teaching geography Gaston uses a great globe so mounted that we can all see it. Our world has two great oceans, and several smaller seas surrounded by land. The water surface is about one-third, the land surface two-thirds of the whole. Gaston tells us of thousands of miles of canals connecting these oceans, and of thousands of ships that are need in carrying heavy and bulky articles from place to place by these oceans, seas and canals. He says that on some planets there is a much larger area covered with water. Our nearest neighbour, and nearer to the sun, a larger planet than ours, having mostly two great masses of land surrounded by water, and being about two-thirds covered with water. This planet is much studied and constantly watched with most powerful telescopes, for it is known to be inhabited by rational beings. Proofs of this are given by some of the giant telescopes, and there are other sources of information.

Gaston teaches us how to draw globes and maps, and to put in the proper lines of longitude and latitude; but his course does not include astronomical geography. Not that we are left in entire ignorance even of that branch, for Gaston made the room dark on several fourth days, and spent his half hour in showing by globes of light and the big globe how days and nights came, and how we got winter and summer, and why some parts of the world were hotter than others, and how by going in one direction or another we lost sight of certain stars and stood at different angles to the sunlight.

He taught us a good deal regarding our two moons, the near one that flies round the world more than three times a day, and the other that takes more than a day to get through its changes. These moons are of very little use as givers of light, but the nearer one keeps the air in motion in equatorial regions, and by causing a small, swift-moving tide does the same thing for the central seas. Exact details of these subjects he did not give: what he told us just sharpened up our appetites for more knowledge.

"I have learned to skate easily without tumbling, and I find that mother can skate just as well as any of us, if not better. She and father sometimes leave me to take care of Emma, who is too little yet, and away they go gliding as merrily as the rest. Mother is the merriest and prettiest woman of them all.

Our time in Gaston's class is nearly over. It is and has been a happy time for all concerned. There has been no inattention, and there is not a boy in the class, nor a girl either, who has fallen short of the expectations of the teacher. We have not a single dunce. We have all had our education carried far enough to enable us to travel to any part of the world and engage in any ordinary industrial pursuit. When I leave I have to help mother at home for about half a year and learn how to perform domestic duties, and then to go to the school of mechanics and learn to make electrical machinery like father does."

This chapter contains a condensed statement of all that; our diarist has written during nearly two years. He has evidently got to seeing more clearly and knowing more in his dream life. His mental growth is apparently rapid, but not more so than that of his peers. Evidently the children with whom he is associated are clever, intelligent and morally better than the average whom he would meet in any school on earth. Possibly the civilisation of the planet upon which he lives much of his time, the planet Mars, is much older and much higher than that of the earth. The people appear to have nothing to worry them, no monetary difficulties, no strife nor unhealthy competition, no contending nationalities, no wars, no crimes. Naturally, being introduced, to such people we want to know more of them, their modes of life, their history, how their lives came to be so fully perfected. Fortunately our diarist has much to tell upon these points, and his teachers, finding out that he is living a dual life, give him several standards of comparison that enable him to compare measurements and enable us to understand martial humanity.

  1. The mile mentioned by Gaston is probably the mile of the new world, which our diarist later on tells us, is one ten-thousandth the diameter of the planet—short of four thousand of our miles. The new mile, therefore, is about one-third, of ours, and the distance per hour allowed somewhere near thirty-three earth miles—a very respectable speed.