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Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Up in a balloon

Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/186 Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/187 below increased into a dull sullen roar, like the distant voice of some mighty waterfall. Oaths and prayers, the wail of suffering and the merry laugh of careless men, seemed joined together in one vast cry to heaven. It was a solemn and an awful sound. What a lesson that short half-hour would teach most men. Let him look on that great city—the largest and proudest in the universe—how small, how insignificant it looks! What must he feel himself, one of the smallest and most insignificant atoms animating that tiny city. Ah me! the great ones of the earth are but miserable little pigmies after all!

In about a quarter of an hour after leaving the gardens we were nearly above Euston Square Station, the lines leading from which appeared like narrow white threads stretching across the country. We soon after passed over the New Cattle Market, in which I could distinguish a flock of Lilliputian sheep—from their apparent size the whole lot of them would have made but an indifferent meal.

We now began to think of descending, and my friend, deserting his hoop, came down to me in the car, and, untying the bottom of the balloon, began at intervals to permit the gas to escape. The rope which communicates with the valve passes through the interior of the balloon into the car, and a slight pull opens an aperture of about eighteen inches in diameter in the crown of the balloon, which closes with a snap when the cord is loosened. Through this aperture the gas escapes at the rate of some three or four hundred cubic feet per second.

The effect was instantaneous: the papers which before had sunk so rapidly, now soared above our heads like pigeons released from a trap. The objects beneath us grew rapidly more distinct, and my companion began anxiously to scan the earth for a convenient spot to land upon.

We already saw crowds of excited people rushing from every direction towards the point we appeared likely to make in our descent.

"Ah!" said the intrepid one, with a keen sense of former injuries; "you may run, but you'll have to run a very long way if you wish to see me land to-night. You see, sir," he continued, turning to me, "these people have no sense; the moment I touch the ground I am surrounded by a crowd of roughs, who break the fences and tread down the crops so much that I have often seven or eight pounds to pay for the damage they do."

We accordingly let out ballast consisting of bags of fine sand, weighing some 14 lbs. each; in an instant we rose some thousand feet, but the gas that sustained us was getting contaminated with oxygen, and slowly and gradually we settled down again. We now let down a rope about 600 feet long with a small cross-bar of wood at the end, and also our grapnel fastened to a somewhat shorter rope,

Majestically we swooped towards the earth: first, our rope touched the ground, and a hundred yards further on our grapnel caught and held; the jerk was but slight, a few moments more and we touch the ground so gently that a glass of water would hardly have been spilt in my hand.

The balloon, like a bright and beautiful denizen of the air, disdaining the base material earth, tried to soar again into the heavens. Too late, my pretty bird, you are caught! Two or three sturdy labourers have hold of the line that hangs from the car—a few ineffectual struggles and she is a hopeless captive, the valve is opened, and all power of resistance is soon over. I step from the car, and in a few short minutes the beautiful life-like creature lies an inanimate shapeless mass on the earth.

I cannot conscientiously deny that I experienced some slight feeling of satisfaction at again setting foot on terra firma. Throughout the journey, however, I suffered from no giddiness, and after the first moment felt but little nervousness. The scene beneath me was too glorious, too unexpected, and too absorbing to leave room for any other feelings in my mind save those of surprise and delight. I experienced no oppression from the rarification of the atmosphere, although we had been, according to my companion, above a mile from the earth.

There is no use in describing the packing-up of the balloon—the noise, confusion, and squabbling for beer. My gallant little friend, however, was a host in himself, and in exactly an hour from the time we started the whole thing was packed up and on the shoulders of our numerous and willing assistants.

We found ourselves about six miles from London and close to a station on the Great Northern Railway.

My friends were anxiously awaiting my return at Cremorne, and round a merry supper-table, I gave them the history of my first experiences as An Aëronaut.