This story was published to coincide with the apparition of Halley's Comet in 1910. The next apparition was in 1986--not, as the author implies, in 1985. —R.G.
"THERE go two of the most remarkable men of this or any other age!" said my friend Dick Hastington, of H. M. Royal Aerial Guard Flotilla. "One is the great scientist who has ventured out into space itself, and the other is the fellow who was plucky enough to go with him!"
We were standing on the high-level platform of the Imperial Aero Club at Sydenham, which, as most people know, soars aloft over the site of the once celebrated Crystal Palace.
Pleasure air-yachts of all sorts and kinds, gay with bunting, were passing to and fro, or lying alongside waiting for their owners. We had been amusedly watching these graceful craft, and noting the versatility and originality exhibited in their decoration. Most curious in this respect is the ingenuity often apparent in connection with the propellers and spirals. Gold and silver gilding seems to be a favourite method, and the effect, when the sun's rays fall upon them as they revolve at high speeds, is often dazzling. Some there are which give out in addition flashes of coloured light, and form what have been aptly termed spinning rainbows. It is scarcely necessary to believe the popular idea that this effect is due to their being set with actual jewels, since pieces of coloured glass, or tinsel, would, I imagine, produce practically the same results.
It is needless to say that among the aeronauts on the decks, lounging under the striped awnings, or lazily reclining on costly rugs beside waving palms and banks of gorgeous flowers, the spectator has the privilege of gazing upon the very uppermost layers, so to speak, of the "Upper Crust," Never, surely, was that old-world term more strictly applicable than it is to-day, when to be in the "smart" aeronautical set is to be in the highest in—or over—the land, in more senses than one.
My companion, as an officer on one of the "crack" Royal guardships, is naturally in a position to know "who's who." There are not, in fact, many celebrities whom he does not know, at any rate by sight, and he had been pointing them out for my special edification.
Here and there, darting in and out among the slower-going pleasure-craft like swallows on the wing, indulging in daring dives and sudden turns that made one dizzy to look at, were some of those long, low, weird-looking structures which are the latest craze in racing aeroplanes. One of them was, in fact, the famous "Rocket," winner of the Gold Cup in last year's Aerial Derby. She had come alongside, and it was from her deck that the two distinguished men referred to by Hartington had landed.
"I see, of course," I answered. "that one of the two is Professor Ramsden—though, by the way, I did not know he was a bit lame. But I do not recognise the other,"
"You don't know who the other is?" cried Dick. "Why, that's Earnshaw—Lionel Earnshaw!"
"Oh, yes, of course! I've heard of him! Wasn't it his name that was mixed with some impossible tail—I mean tale—in connection with the recent appearance of Halley's Comet?"
"Don't you joke about what you don't understand," returned Dick gravely. "The thing is true enough. It actually happened. Ramsden went out to meet that celestial visitor known as Halley's Comet—not literally, you know, but with the idea of getting somewhere near its path—near enough to take scientific notes or observations, and all that sort of thing. Earnshaw, though not what you may term a fully fledged scientist himself, is an old college-chum of Ramsden, and has been his companion in several of his daring excursions in the cause of science. This particular trip came very near to being their last, for they got entangled within the comet's attraction, or suction, or whatever it is, and had the deuce and all of a job to get away. However, if you would care to know the exact facts you had better ask Earnshaw himself. I see he's just gone into the pavilion smoking-room. We'll go after him, if you like; and if we're fortunate enough to be able to buttonhole him, you can talk to him yourself."
As a matter of fact, we persuaded him to lunch with us; and it was after that function, and over a cup of coffee and a cigar, that I heard the wonderful narrative which I am now setting down in the narrator's own words.
I MUST confess (said Earnshaw) that when Ramsden told me he was going farther out into space than he had ever yet ventured, in order to submit the coming comet to scientific observation. I thought he was, so to speak, going a bit too far. And when he asked me to accompany him, I don't mind telling you that I was inclined to—well, to put my feelings into vulgar parlance, to funk it.
However, I gave in to him—as has happened before—and in the end we started upon what very nearly proved to be our last expedition.
Thus, for the first time in the history of what is known as Halley's Comet mortals have gone forth from the surface of our earth to meet it on, so to say, its own ground. The first time in its history! Think what that history has probably been! This comet has been visiting our "neighbourhood" at intervals of seventy-five years or so, for unknown ages. Its appearances were recorded by Chinese astronomers two or three thousand years B.C., but that, after all, is a trifle. It was probably paying its flying visits here thousands upon thousands of years before the Chinese themselves—and they are pretty ancient—were ever invented. In all likelihood its unusual shape in the sky startled and alarmed the troglodytes; perhaps mildly surprised some of our simian ancestors who happened to see it from their roosting-places in the treetops of the primeval forests. It may have looked calmly down upon those "monsters of the slime and the ooze" which we know existed on our globe millions of years ago. Its last visit to what Ramsden calls the "tiny circus-ring in space" allotted to our solar system, occurred in 1910. It is a curious fact that its appearance then coincided very nearly with the invention of aeroplanes, and the first really practicable flying-machines.
What, I wonder, would our grandfathers of those days have thought if anyone could have foretold to them that those early attempts were to lead, within the space of less than a century, to the present developments in aviation; and, above all, to the construction of such a great "dirigible"—as they used to be called—as that with which Ramsden has astonished the nations of the earth.
I expect you have both read descriptions of Ramsden's great flying-machine, and are familiar with its general appearance. Illustrations of it have been given in, I suppose, all the papers of the world, and the shop-windows are full of postcards with pictures of it, taken from every point of view. So you are aware that it is just an egg-shaped structure of colossal size, very much like a submarine boat, with, as in that case, a conning-tower near the centre. The aeronauts are boxed up, too, inside, as they are in a submarine. Sometimes it is represented with large wings—these are only used to assist in rising through the earth's atmosphere, or to retard the descent. Before it has quite passed that limit in starting from the earth, the wings are drawn inside, and stowed away. After that, Ramsden depends for a means of locomotion upon three things: two are the attractive and repulsive powers of the sun respectively; and the third is the movement of ethereal currents. For there are regular, well-defined currents in the ether outside our planet, just as there are in the seas and oceans which lap our shores, only they move, perhaps, a million times faster.
I am not going to inflict on you two fellows a long, dry, scientific explanation of the various inventions, discoveries, the amazingly ingenious machinery, and so forth, which go to make up this marvellous structure, and which have made it the wonder of the whole world and the envy of all the other nations. Weeks might easily be taken up in giving a real, true, and sufficient description. But there are just two or three points which it is necessary I should make clear in order that you may properly understand what follows.
The fact that the sun exercises a powerful attractive force seems to have been known to astronomers throughout the ages. But that also exerts a repulsive or repellent force upon some elements is a comparatively recent discovery. So far as is known, it seems to have been first put forward as a theory in the nineteenth century by a Russian savant named Bredichin [*]. I can give you his exact words, for I have read them so often that I got them by heart. Curiously enough, he was speaking of the cause of comets' tails. He said: "They are formed of matter upon which the sun's repulsive force is from twelve to fifteen times as great as is the gravitational attraction, so that the particles leave the comet with a relative velocity of at least four or five miles a second; and this velocity is increased as they recede until it becomes enormous, the particles travelling several millions of miles in a day."
[* Fyodor Aleksandrovich Bredikhin (1831-1904) was a Russian astronomer. His surname is sometimes given as Bredichin in the literature, and non-Russian sources sometimes render his first name as Theodor.]
These—the sun's attractive and repulsive forces—are the two wondrous locomotive forces of Nature which my friend has captured, tamed, and harnessed, as it were, and which enable him to travel to and fro between the sun and its planets at a rate which, years ago, seemed unthinkable—even to a scientist with a lively imagination.
Therefore it is that when we are setting out on one of these journeys, Ramsden always starts a little before noon, and rises from the earth in as straight a line towards the sun as the wind and other weather conditions will allow.
Once above the atmosphere, we have the sun always shining on us. There is no night there. Yet the cold is intense, something almost inconceivable hundreds of degrees below zero. Ramsden, however, passes the sun's rays through great burning-glasses, and in that way obtains a never-failing supply of light, heat, electricity, the latter supplying, in turn, motive-power for his machinery.
For air he depends partly upon a stock of liquid air which he takes with him, and partly upon a process of his own by which vitiated air can be purified from its noxious qualities and rendered fit to breathe over again.
As the aerostat is over a thousand feet in length, there is plenty of breathing room, plenty of space.
As an instance of this, I may mention that Ramsden' own particular sanctum is a big apartment or saloon 50 by 40 feet, and over 20 feet high. In this room, arranged vertically against one ride, he has a most complicated switchboard fitted with switches, levers, telephones, and so on, with which he directs and controls everything that goes on on board. At one end of it rises the conning-tower, with a light metal staircase leading up to it, and underneath this again is a screen upon which views are thrown of everything outside, as in a camera.
Into this sanctum he allows no one to intrude except myself—save by special invitation. He even keeps the door locked, both when he is in the place and when he is out of it.
There is one more point I must touch upon in order to explain the sequel. You, of course, know that out in space , away from the earth's influence, there is no such thing as what we call specific gravity or weight. Therefore, it was necessary, before Ramsden could move far from the earth, that he should devise a system of what may be termed artificial weight. How it is done I cannot explain—it is his own secret; I can only tell you that he has succeeded. As we leave the earth, and its attraction grows less powerful, he turns on his artificial substitute. Similarly, when he is returning, he gradually turns it off again, else, by the time we reached terra firma, we should all be groaning under a sense of double weight.
Behold us, then, out in space, far away from earth, waiting about for the comet, near—comparatively speaking—to the track it was expected to follow!
Four days—or, rather, a space of time equal to four of our days and nights—we waited, during which we had it under observation all the time. Through his powerful telescopes Ramsden showed it to me, a tiny speck of light amongst the myriads of stars which could be seen in the vast black recesses of space like living jewels set in, or suspended from, a vast black curtain. For, as I dare say you know, what we call the sky is black out there—not blue as it appears to us here.
We were alone in his sanctum, with the door locked as usual, and he had left the telescope for a short respite in order to take some light refreshment. It was certainly very light—a biscuit or two, and a glass of sherry.
On his way back to the telescope in the conning tower, his eye fell upon the screen and he uttered a sharp exclamation.
"At last, Earnshaw!" he cried enthusiastically, "It is coming visibly nearer! You can see it here! Come and look!"
I went over to the screen. as you may suppose, in a somewhat excited state. For it was impossible for any mortal man to say what awful risks we might be incurring in venturing thus near to the path of one of these "Spectres of Space," as comets have been well called.
There was the image of the comet, right enough, and it was easy to see that it must be rushing in our direction.
From a mere speck of light, it had already increased to the size of a star of the first magnitude. After that it grew in apparent size much more quickly. Very soon is looked as big as the moon; presently it had become larger than the sun.
From that it grew and grew in size and volume and immensity till it had became a veritable blaze of glory, so terrible in its intensity, even on the screen, that I could bear it no longer.
I looked long enough to note that flashes of vivid light of all colours shot from it on every side, and took one frightened peep into the maelstrom of whirling, seething, tumbling, incandescent elements in its awful depths. Then the sight became too much for the human brain to contemplate. I turned away and went back to the chair I had just left, into which I dropped, feeling crushed and overwhelmed, trembling like a frightened child, and with my hands before my closed eyes.
The heat had become stifling, and I remember thinking that the outer shell of the aerostat must have become red hot, and wondering whether it would melt. I remember, too, hearing Ramsden say: "Great heavens! We've ventured too near!"
There were noises going on which I shall not attempt to describe, for the reason that I know no earthly sounds to which they can be compared. I pass on to what followed.
Somehow, I became aware that this stupendous, appalling phenomenon had passed us. The stifling heat, and sense of dazzling splendour of which I had been conscious, even though my eyelids had been shut, had grown less insupportable, and at last I ventured to open my eyes and look round.
Before, however, I had time to open them sufficiently to see whether things were still as they had been, I and the chair on which I sat were jerked upwards, and thrown violently into the air.
For a moment or two I felt dazed, half-stunned. When I once more essayed to look round, I discovered that things were by no means as they had been. They were, indeed, far, far otherwise.
To my astonishment, my utter bewilderment, I found myself neither on the floor nor against either the roof or sides. I was against nothing, touching nothing, simply suspended in mid-air, as though I had suddenly become a balloon filled with just sufficient hydrogen gas to float in the air without rising or sinking.
I extended my arms and hands, instinctively trying to clutch at something, but there was nothing within reach at which I could grasp. I kicked out my feet—and kicked at nothing.
Again I worked my arms and hands about, and then my legs, but only clawed feebly and helplessly at the empty air as does a beetle that has been turned on its back. But a beetle in that position would have had the better of me, for it could at least feel that its back was on something substantial; mine was not.
As I have said, I was suspended in mid-air. I was not even floating, or drifting, ever so little, this way or that. That was the worst part of it. Even the forlorn waving of my arms and kicking of my legs failed to impart the slightest motion to my body.
I turned my head and looked down sideways, and found that I was a good ten feet off the floor. I turned my head the other way, and estimated that I was fully as much from the ceiling.
Then I looked about for Ramsden, and I really cannot say whether it was surprise or relief. I saw that he was sprawling in mid-air exactly as I was, except that he was at a somewhat lower level. His legs and arms were working away just as uselessly and helplessly as my own.
"Ramsden!" I cried. "For Heaven's sake tell me what has happened?"
He turned his head at the sound of my voice.
"We've been caught by that blamed comet—that's what happened!" be snapped. And I could hear that he spoke viciously, through his closed teeth.
"D—do—er—blamed—comets—always serve you like this when they catch you?" I asked.
" No—not necessarily. Something else happened, worse luck! The pull came so suddenly that things were jerked out of their places."
"I seem to have been very much jerked out of mine," I said; and, what's worse, I can't get back. What does it mean?"
"I'll tell you, old chap. If you screw your head round a bit, you'll be able to see that a heavy grating below us has been shot up into the air."
I looked down, and caught sight of the grating. Yes, I could see that it had been thrown upwards, but—wonder of wonders—it had not fallen back! As a matter of fact—I noticed—it was almost touching the top of the big switchboard.
"Why," I exclaimed, "the blessed thing is still up in the air—like we are! What does it mean? Is it some of your scientific witchcraft?"
Ramsden laughed grimly.
"The explanation is simple enough. That grating was thrown against the switchboard, and it must needs happen that it should strike, of all the levers there, the particular switch which controls my artificial-gravity force. So it's now shut off you understand—and this is the result!"
Then it all dawned on me. We had now no specific gravity, none of us, nor had any of the various things about the place. Nothing in the whole aerostat had any longer what we call weight. Everything there, from massive metal gratings to furniture and human beings, was absolutely without weight.
"Look about you," said Ramsden, "and you will have a useful lesson as to the sort of world we should all be living in if there were no such thing as weight on the earth."
I proceeded to gaze farther afield, and I must say that the scene was sufficiently amazing.
Not far from me was an armchair—it was the one I had been sitting on a minute or two before. We had both been shot up into the air together, but had parted company en route; and I had travelled a little the farther while the chair had turned over. It was suspended just as I was, so near to me that I could almost—but not quite—touch one of its upturned legs.
Below the chair I could see papers and books that had been lying on the table—with the table itself close by—and two or three mats and rugs, all, in like manner, hanging suspended in the air.
Looking in another direction I saw two surprising sights. The decanter of sherry, which had been standing on the table, had been thrown up some distance with such force that the stopper had flown out, and the decanter itself had turned on one side, partly spilling the contents. But, marvel of marvels, as it seemed to me, no part of it—neither the decanter, nor the stopper, nor even the wine itself—had fallen! There was the sherry spread out in mid-air, partly in, partly out, of the decanter, extending in a line which gradually tailed oft into mere drops, which sparkled and glistened like a number of amber-coloured gems.
Not far away was the inkstand, and here the ink had been thrown out and hung in the air in like manner.
The more I stared about, the greater grew my wonderment. Everything that was movable or portable—instruments, a clock, plates, biscuits—had been pitched upwards, and there remained. The last thing I noticed in mid-air was my pipe, which I had put down on the table. It hung suspended like everything else. It was still smoking, the smoke rising from it in blue spirals—the only thing in the place able to move from wherever it had been thrown.
"What's happening outside? What are you going to do?" I asked, after I noted all these wonders.
"My dear Earnshaw," he rejoined quietly. "the position is this: we've been captured by the comet, and are now being dragged after it at a speed which, if I were to give it in miles per second, or per day, would make your head ache to think of. Unless we can somehow fight free, this aerostat may continue to accompany the said comet in its erratic wanderings through space for untold ages after we have starved to death and our skeletons have turned to dust."
"A cheerful prospect to contemplate!" I cried. "Do you mean that we are doomed?"
"I cannot yet tell. It all depends upon whether we have been caught by the attraction of the comet itself, or only by the swirl—as we should call it if it were water—of its passage through the ether. For even out here, in the seemingly thin, intangible ether, at the speed at which a comet travels, such a thing may be possible."
"Which do you really believe it to be?"
"The last: otherwise I imagine we should not all be in our present peculiar situation. By this time the comet would have made its own force of gravity felt upon ourselves, as well as on all these things you see floating around you."
"Well, what are you going to do?"
"I am trying to think. If one of us could only struggle down to the switchboard yonder, and turn the gravity-lever back into its place, that would be the first important step gained. After that I should know how to go to work. Everything depends upon one of us being able to reach the switchboard."
But that was just what we could not either of us do. I racked my brains to think of some means by which it might be accomplished, but all in vain. Doubtless Ramsden was also exercising his wits, for all he was worth, in the same direction and, seemingly, as vainly.
Suddenly there came a knocking at the door, straining my head round to glance in that direction, I could see dimly through the glazed panel a vague shape that looked like a great fish, as one might view it through the glass side of an aquarium.
"Somebody on the other side!" Ramsden exclaimed. "Now if they would only have the sense to make their way through—"
"They are no better off out there than we are," I said.
"True. But, don't you see, the fellow, whoever he is, has managed to get as far as the side, which is more than we can do. If I could once do that much, I could manage the rest—that is," he added, "if I got to the right place."
"But the door is locked," I reminded him.
"Yes; but if he had any sense he would break the panel."
Just then there came another loud knock, this time accompanied by the sound of breaking glass. I looked, and caught sight of a number of pieces of thick glass bursting inwards. They did not fall, but remained in the air a foot or two from the door. Through the hole thus made I saw part of a suspended figure which, however, floated away in weird fashion, backwards from the door.
" The fool!" muttered Ramsden. "Now he's mulled it! He's allowed himself to be pushed back by the rebound from his own blow, and I dare say he won't be able to get up to the door again!"
And, in fact, this was the case. So there we were, no better off than before.
And, meantime, we were being whirled through space farther and farther from poor old Mother Earth. Every minute meant—I think Ramsden afterwards reckoned it—an extra 10,000 miles or so.
There was dead silence for some moments. Then Ramsden spoke again, and from his altered tone I felt sure that he had thought of some plan.
"Earnshaw," he said, "do you see that ball of string in the air?"
I had noticed it before. It had been chucked off the table with the rest of the things, and was now hanging suspended between the two of us. Some of the string had trailed out two or three feet behind the ball itself.
"Now listen carefully to me! Do you think you can get one of your boots off?"
"What on earth for? What good would it do?"
"We're not on earth," he reminded me. "But never mind that. See if you can manage it."
I began struggling to get my boot off. It was a most extraordinary sensation! I felt as if I were in momentary danger of tumbling to the floor head first, but of course that was mere fancy. Unfortunately, that was the last thing likely to happen just then. After contortions that would have made a professional contortionist turn blue with envy, I only succeeded in getting very red in the face. In my struggles I wriggled this way and that, and merely found, at he end of it all, that I had not altered my position in the least.
"Throw your pocket-handkerchief over the leg of that chair and draw it up to you," said Ramsden, who had been keenly watching my efforts. "It will be easier to get your boot off, if you can get into it."
For the life of me I couldn't see why he should put me to all this bother to get my boot off. I could not imagine what good it could do, or what possible use I or he was going to make of it afterwards.
However, he was the skipper, and it was only for me to obey.
Making a loop of my handkerchief, I threw it over the upturned leg, caught it, and drew it towards me; or rather, the chair and myself seemed to approach each other as by mutual consent. Then I climbed in between the four legs and sat on the upturned seat.
"Now," said Ramsden, "with the resistance that those four legs afford, you ought to be able to get your boot off."
I agreed that this might be so, and proceeded to put it to the test. It was an eerie sort of thing—sitting there, on a topsy-turvy chair, in the empty air. It rocked and swayed, with every motion I made, in a most disconcerting and puzzling manner. However at last I got the boot off.
"There!" I exclaimed triumphantly. "There you are! Or, at any rate, here you are! And now what, am I to do with (it?")
"This is what I wish you to do with it: I want you to throw it at that ball of string in such a manner as to drive the ball within my reach. Do you understand?"
"Oho! I see! Yes, I believe I do."
"Do you think you can manage it? Be very careful now! If you drive it in the wrong direction we are done—and every moment's delay is full of all sorts of mischievous possibilities. Think well before you throw! Remember the altered conditions, and consider carefully the difference they make scientifically."
"Ay, ay! I'll do my best!"
I took the lace out first by way of precaution, poised the boot, and then threw it as carefully as if my life depended upon it—as, indeed, it probably did.
It travelled along, struck the ball of string, and pushed it before it, but alas! not quite in the direction I had intended. I trembled with anxiety as I watched it, and saw it take a line which promised to carry it beyond Ramsden's reach.
And that is what the beastly thing actually did; only it happened, by good fortune, that the loose piece which trailed from it was pulled along at an angle, and my friend just managed to catch at the end.
"That's lucky," he murmured. "Now for the next act."
Putting his hand in his pocket he drew forth a key and fastened the string to the ring. Then I saw his glance travel to a tie-rod which ran across the saloon some little distance away. At last I guessed his plan.
His design was to throw the key in such a manner as to catch it round the rod. In an ordinary way it would have been the easiest thing to do, but under the present puzzling conditions it proved anything but easy. There being no weight in the key to cause it to drop upon the other side, it failed to twist round as he hoped, and again and again he pulled it back for a fresh throw. However, at last he got a twist on it, and was finally able to pull himself, in gingerly fashion, near enough to the rod to grasp it. A little later he had passed along it, hand over hand, and had reached the end.
Here he was over the switchboard, for the rod was fixed to the side of the room above it.
But his difficulties were not over. He was yet some eight feet above the board, and I still wondered how he was going to reach it; for the side of the saloon was quite smooth, and there was absolutely nothing to take hold of to assist his descent. I knew, too, by this time, that if he touched the side it would only, probably, have the effect of sending him floating out away from it.
First, however, he uncoiled more string, and twisted many lengths of it together to make it stronger, and finally fastened one end securely to the rod. This, I perceived, was in order to make sure of being able to pull himself back to the rod in case his first attempt failed.
"Now, Earnshaw," he said, "look out for a sudden tumble to the floor! I shall have to shoot the lever back as best I can, and it will almost certainly be done suddenly. I cannot shift it by degrees, as I do when we are drawing near to Mother Earth. If we both come croppers it can't be helped."
"All right!" I returned. "We must take our chance."
Then he pushed himself with a sharp jerk from the rod and floated downwards, just for all the world like a balloon, but he went too far, and failed to touch the lever on his way. Pulling himself back by the aid of the string, he tried again. This time the impulse was not sufficient, and he did not sink down far enough. He managed to touch the side, but—as I had anticipated—the only result was that the rebound sent him away from it again.
I forget how many fresh efforts he made. I did not count them, but the moments dragged by so slowly that they appeared everlasting.
Suddenly there came a series of bangs and smashes I felt myself plunged downwards; and then for a moment I knew nothing. When half-stunned, I picked myself up from the floor, I had to struggle out of the remains of the wrecked armchair which, fortunately, had in some measure broken my fall.
I looked about me. The floor was littered with papers, books, instruments, biscuits, mats, rugs, and general furniture—to say nothing of broken glass and crockery—strewn about in hopeless confusion.
The decanter lay in fragments, in one place, with the spilt wine near it; and the remains of the inkstand were in another, near a great, black stain on the carpet. The pieces of thick glass from the door were now on the floor, too; and Ramsden was hopping about on one leg, saying things to himself.
"What's the matter?" I asked, when I had got my wits back. "Are you hurt?"
"That confounded grating came down on my toe!" he cried. "I believe it has smashed it!"
I am sorry to say it had—or very nearly; and ever since then, as I dare say you noticed to-day, he has walked with a limp.
That, as it turned out, was the most serious outcome of our adventure. A lot of damage of one sort and another had, of course, been done in various ways, but nothing that could not be put right or replaced.
We were still being whirled along in the wake of the comet; but Ramsden, in spite of the pain he was in, set to work to get free; and eventually, I need not say, he succeeded, or I should not now be here talking to you.
THERE was a pause when Earnshaw had finished his narrative. Then Harrington spoke:
"And what, may I ask, was the gain to science? Were the scientific results of any real astronomical value?"
"There weren't any, practically speaking," was the answer. "This little upset prevented Ramsden from making the careful observations he had intended. Even some notes he had set down were rendered useless by the ink that was spilt over them. And the worst of it is," Earnshaw added regretfully, "Ramsden says there won't be another comet within our reach for at least fifty years!"