Nor need we recount the number of cheers which rose from all sides like fireworks when Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans appeared on the platform and hoisted the American colors. Need we say that the majority of the crowd had come from afar not so much to see the "Go-Ahead" as to gaze on these extraordinary men?
Why two and not three? Why not Frycollin? Because Frycollin thought his campaign in the "Albatross" sufficient for his fame. He had declined the honor of accompanying his master, and he took no part in the frenzied declamations that greeted the president and secretary of the Weldon Institute.
Of the members of the illustrious assembly not one was absent from the reserved places within the ropes. There were Truck Milnor, Bat T. Fynn, and William T. Forbes with his two daughters on his arm. All had come to affirm by their presence that nothing could separate them from the partisans of "lighter than air."
About twenty minutes past eleven a gun announced the end of the final preparations. The "Go-Ahead" only waited the signal to start. At twenty-five minutes past eleven the second gun was fired.
The "Go-Ahead" was about one hundred and fifty feet above the clearing, and was held by a rope. In this way the platform commanded the excited crowd. Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans stood upright and placed their left hands on their hearts, to signify how deeply they were touched by their reception. Then they extended their right hands towards the zenith, to signify that the greatest of known balloons was about to take possession of the supra-terrestrial domain.
A hundred thousand hands were placed in answer on a hundred thousand hearts, and a hundred thousand other hands were lifted to the sky.
The third gun was fired at half-past eleven. "Let go!" shouted Uncle Prudent; and the "Go-Ahead" rose "majestically"--an adverb consecrated by custom to all aerostatic ascents.
It really was a superb spectacle. It seemed as if a vessel were just launched from the stocks. And was she not a vessel launched into the aerial sea? The "Go-Ahead" went up in a perfectly vertical line--a proof of the calmness of the atmosphere--and stopped at an altitude of eight hundred feet.
Then she began her horizontal maneuvering. With her screws going she moved to the east at a speed of twelve yards a second. That is the speed of the whale--not an inappropriate comparison, for the balloon was somewhat of the shape of the giant of the northern seas.
A salvo of cheers mounted towards the skillful aeronauts. Then under the influence of her rudder, the "Go-Ahead" went through all the evolutions that her steersman could give her. She turned in a small circle; she moved forwards and backwards in a way to convince the most refractory disbeliever in the guiding of balloons. And if there had been any disbeliever there he would have been simply annihilated.
But why was there no wind to assist at this magnificent experiment? It was regrettable. Doubtless the spectators would have seen the "Go-Ahead" unhesitatingly execute all the movements of a sailing-vessel in beating to windward, or of a steamer driving in the wind's eye.
At this moment the aerostat rose a few hundred yards. The maneuver was understood below. Uncle Prudent and his companions were going in search of a breeze in the higher zones, so as to complete the experiment. The system of cellular balloons--analogous to the swimming bladder in fishes--into which could be introduced a certain amount of air by pumping, had provided for this vertical motion. Without throwing out ballast or losing gas the aeronaut was able to rise or sink at his will. Of course there was a valve in the upper hemisphere which would permit of a rapid descent if found necessary. All these contrivances are well known, but they were here fitted in perfection.
The "Go-Ahead" then rose vertically. Her enormous dimensions gradually grew smaller to the eye, and the necks of the crowd were almost cricked as they gazed into the air. Gradually the whale became a porpoise, and the porpoise became a gudgeon.