Melbourne and Mars/Chapter 9

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CHAPTER IX.


My use of the Freedom.

"FROM now forward as long as I live I can draw from any depot on the planet anything that I want. I can visit any workshop or mine, can travel by any public conveyance, can work at any trade, can study any subject at any seat of learning, can use to any extent telegraphic, telephonic, or other means of communication, can see the most sacred and ancient manuscripts and books of the ages that are gone, can visit the observatories, of which we have many, and study the heavens by the aid of the most powerful telescopes to be found in the universe. I can dress as I please, and wherever my lot is cast the best of accommodation and provision is at my service. When I marry, if ever such an event should occur, my wife will have the same advantages. Seeing that such a favor has at this early period of my life been conferred upon me I will take care to be worthy of it. Already I can see many ways in which my discovery can be utilised. If I make myself thoroughly capable as a mechanic I shall be able to do much more than I can now. Still, no pupil who has gone through a course at Bertrand's technical school can complain of inability to use tools and understand mechanical operations, and his school is only one of thousands of similar ones.

I have not said much of our sports and games; but it must not be inferred that we have no play. Indeed, I question if there is any place in the solar system, at any race, where we can be beaten in the enjoyment of active sports and games. Public gymnasiums are very abundant, and men and women of all ages visit them. For a few years after she is married a woman has probably other duties to attend to, and does not frequent the gymnasiums, but she comes with her sons and daughters in a while and lets them see that the skill and strength of her youth have not quite departed. Probably we owe much of our activity, vigor, health and longevity to this kind of education. If we did not play we should not develop our muscles and become the well-knit and compact people that we are. For our work is so easy and light that it would not alone cause more than a very partial development. We have ball games of more than a dozen kinds; we have skating and ice dances, sleighing, sliding, hill shooting with small sleighs, upon which only two people can sit. We have dancing and archery and music—music to everything and everywhere. We have air sports. Sometimes a hundred flying fishes will take turns at performing difficult feats. These are generally little air boats built for the use of one person, though larger ones are sometimes brought into play. People are not allowed to use air boats until they have had plenty of practice in rapid movements, executed with great precision.

The swift descent is always one part of a programme of air sports. Twenty boats or so are placed in line, forty feet apart, so that their wings will not be liable to clash, at the height of a thousand feet. At a given signal an article is dropped from each, and each boat darts down in pursuit. The boat has to pass the falling body, and to go underneath and catch it. In a competition of this kind more than half will succeed, and first place is given to the one who catches his falling body the first and commences remounting. The successful competitors are placed in line again at a height of six hundred feet, and again at three hundred feet, until the most skilful sailor is discovered.

I take my share in these air sports and have proved myself competent, thanks to father, who, for months, patiently instructed me and superintended my practice. I took great interest in air sailing, for did I not owe my life to father's skill in this very art?

A balloon hunt is another feature of our air sports. A small balloon is inflated and allowed to ascend for about a mile in vertical height, during which time it may have drifted a good distance. When it is supposed to be high enough and far enough away to endure a good chase a number of competitors start in pursuit. It is understood that when the racers see that one of their number is in reach that they cease flying, lest the boats collide. This rule is usually obeyed; indeed, we have no wilful lawbreakers anywhere.

On the occasion of my last balloon hunt, however, I had succeeded in reaching the prize a little in advance of my friends, and had just seized the cord to open the valve, which would have emptied the balloon in two minutes, when crash goes the left wing of my boat, and over it tilts, pitching me from my seat. Fortunately my first instinct led me to clutch the little ring of cords attached to the mouth of my prize, and so when my disabled boat sank from under me I was hanging by my hands to the balloon. This was not large enough, to sustain my weight, and so I began to follow my boat. The man who had drifted against me and caused my accident kept close, so that he could aid me at any moment. We got to the ground in safety, I alighting no more heavily than if I had jumped from a height of six feet. Several of my friends followed my boat, and staying the rapidity of its descent got it to the ground without further damage. Such presence of mind is very common. It is largely used in averting accidents on sea, on land, and in the air.

Although we are not great travellers by water, and in spite of rivers and seas being scarce, those of us who have the opportunity make the most of aquatic sports. We all learn to swim, and sailing and rowing are very common accomplishments. We dive at great depths also, and we keep our seas clear of the enemies of the edible fish. We do not care to have sea monsters robbing us of an important article of food, and also making bathing and swimming into dangerous pastimes. We do a deal of fishing both in fresh and salt water. Our sea water is very cold, and so dense with salt and dissolved mineral matters that we can scarcely sink in it.

We have no hunting of wild beasts; they have all been exterminated long ago. This extermination has extended to vermin and insect plagues, and even to some kinds of animalculæ. There is nothing that can bite, sting, or injure us in any way.

We have done for the air what we have done for the sea. Our birds of song have not to dread the hawk, and our plumper edible birds have, nothing to fear unless they get too numerous, in which case they are killed by the silent discharge of an electric fowling piece. We have no large cattle nor any horses, only asses and goats. A few playful, half tame little animals are to be seen in forest reserves, but these do not trench upon food supplies nor take up ground that could be devoted to farming.

Gunnery is almost a lost art, partly because men have ceased to slay each other and partly because there is nothing to destroy. Still we practise archery pretty freely, for both sexes can join in the game and it is not a wasteful pastime. Our ammunition serves again and again. Indeed our metals are none too abundant. We have none to waste in useless tools, and none to fire away in balls, bullets and shot. We have plenty of games for either sex, and plenty in which both can participate, but we have not one that of necessity involves waste or it is uncommonly dangerous to life or limb. We have accidents now and then, whether at work or at play, and sometimes deaths occur, but these do not furnish reasons for giving up our games."

Such is the gist of our diarist's communications during nearly two years. He says a deal about the workshop, the work, and the thoughtful and skilful men who instruct him from time to time. He even repeats many little scraps of conversation, and tells of incidents in home life and that of the workshop, but if the diary were copied in its entirety there would be little to interest the general reader. He now says that he is going to commence his tenth year and his travels about at the same time.