[The following piece appeared in the San Francisco Post on 8 April 1873. This is the only installment to appear in the extant issues.]
an you come and dine with me?”
“Impossible, I assure you. I have an engagement in Fifth avenue at 5 o’clock, sharp, and it is now close on 3 by the electric clock of the floating tabernacle.”
The above conversation took place at the World Exchange, California street, in the month of May, in the year 1973. The youth who required his friend’s presence at the dinner table was one of those gay sons of fortune, who owned half a dozen balloons of various patterns, steam and air, and who one day speculating in the mining stocks of the newly discovered mines of Japan, and the next buying easily into aerial navigation shares in New York, and the double speed howitzer Postal Transfer Stock, the central depot of which was located in the Floating Sea Bathing and Resuscitation Resort, just half way between London and New York, and situated in a sequestered quarter of the Atlantic ocean, found himself in a few months a millionaire.
Augustus Henry Cacklton, however, consented to neglect his engagement at the house of a wealthy Knickerbocker to enjoy a quiet dinner, five thousand feet above the land level, with his friend Charles Spoonwell.
The fathers of both young men had speculated in the Flash Package Express Company’s shares, which sent ore, baggage and other light articles to European ports by submarine Atlantic stations.
Young Cacklton, when quite a boy, and just having graduated from the General information and foreign Historical Acquisition College, entered into the business of his parent with enthusiasm, and soon became an expert in submarine surveys. His chum Spoonwell was often invited to join in the favorite pastime of the period, namely, discharging iron bolts at the bellies of the leviathans that frequently came so near to the submarine stations as to endanger the safety of the freight that was passing and repassing on the rolling tracks of the company.
It was a gala day in San Francisco. For many hundred yards above the city, floated balloons of various colors and patterns, and the air was dense with the forms of flying traders, who, laden with burdens of wine and sweetmeats, proffered their dainties at every poised dining palace. Occasionally an Asiatic or European mass of holiday seekers floated by, many miles above the ordinary level, and sometimes the occupants of those gorgeous resorts recognizing an acquaintance, dropped down parachutically to exchange a few words of greeting with their California friends. Sometimes, one of the many beautiful island kingdoms of the period, changing its resting place from tropical seas to a more temporate clime, glided by in the soft evening air, supported by thousands of willing winged subjects, and followed by the careless idlers from all quarters of the globe, who had dined, or who were endeavoring by this exercise to acquire a good appetite for the principal meal of the day.
As Cacklton and his friend sat together, enjoying a course of tonno, which had come a few moments before from the Adriatic, the latter seemed to be under the influence of a profound melancholy.
“What is the matter?” asked Harry, carelessly shaking the ashes of a cigarette into St. George’s Channel; for the young men, having been caught in a strong current of air, had imperceptibly floated some five miles above those waters.
“I could hardly explain it to you, my dear fellow,” rejoined the other; “but I assure you, it is nothing serious—merely one of those unaccountable affections of the heart which proceed from unknown sources. Well, to be candid, a few months ago I became enamored of—now I know you will smile—of a mermaid waiting girl in an eating saloon on the submarine route, just fifteen hundred miles from New York. Of course, my dear boy, I was careful not to make any demonstrative display of my affection; but then, you know how a fellow will trip sometimes. I brought with me to the station a fancy submarine Patent Floater and Water Foamer, and as society was very flat down there, why we often had a quiet ride together.”
“So, so,” laughed the auditor of this romance. “I can imagine the rest. She accompanied you on the shark hunts, of course, and together you looked for pearls in oysters.”
“Well, something of that sort,” acknowledged Spoonwell; “but the climax of the affair came to pass when one day, while I was spearing sword fish, my air pipe, which you know was always connected with the main reservoir, broke; and, I assure you, my friend, I would have been inevitably smothered but for the presence of mind of my companion. She connected the broken portions at once, and carried me on her tail fin, half fainting, to the depot.”
“Quite a romance, indeed,” laughed the other; “but, hallo! who have we here?”
At that moment an elegantly constructed air chariot drew up by the veranda of the dining saloon, where the two young men were seated. Both vehicles were at this time immediately over the Sea of Galilee, and the white walls of Jerusalem gleamed in the distance. A lady in the prime of life, and with a parachute attached to her ankles, in case of accident, stood up on a beautifully embroidered cushion and said, in a clear and liquid voice:
“Your pardon, gentlemen, but having several hours ago departed from a broken arch of London bridge, from which I was engaged in sketching the ruins of St. Paul’s, and having in the meantime been overcome by sleep, I am completely bewildered as to my whereabouts. May I inquire if that sheet of water some miles below us is the lower lake of Killarney, as I am inclined to believe, or the Mediterranean, as some of my attendants would persuade me?”
The young men, bowing gracefully, informed her that it was the Sea of Galilee, and the gorgeous balloon pursued its way.
“Suppose,” said Cacklton, after a long pause, “we change our course, and run into yonder cloud. My supply of electricity is running rather short, and I want to get this tube charged in case we should run across an eagle.”
“As you like,” responded his friend, and in a moment they were in the center of a dark nebulous mass, from which the active attendants of the youths, rapidly extracted a large supply of sheet lightning for the popular sport of eagle shooting, a common amusement of the young bloods of the day.
As they passed from the gloom, the sun was just setting over the imposing minarets of Constantinople.
“In an hour,” remarked Spoonwell, “we shall be in San Francisco. But, hallo?” he added, as a newsboy, with the clipper constructed wings of the period, flew by, flinging dexterously into their car, as he passed them, the last edition of the evening paper.
“I am anxious to see that sparring match between the wives of two of our excellent townsmen. They tell me Mrs. Judkin has been a long time in training.”
“Dear me, and what an excellent muscle she has. Her husband is one of the best milliners in town, too.”
As the gorgeous dining car hovered over San Francisco, Cacklton settled the bill, and the young men, arranging their parachutes, dropped swiftly down through the several thousand feet of space between them and the earth. Already the citizens of that gay town were preparing to enjoy the delicious moonlight. Some on gayly colored wings with silken lanterns pendant on each side, poised themselves on the housetops, or found amusement in making descents through skylights into the dwellings of their familiar friends. Others, in hired air cars or fancy balloons of their own, awaited impatiently the coming forth of the damsel whose presence was to make the ride so agreeable. And then as the evening wore on and the air cars shot upward, the sky seemed traversed by innumerable comets, and the whole scene was one of wonderful splendor and vivacity.
As Cacklton and his friend picked their way through the ropes that held the swelling balloon to earth, a city messenger flew up and descended by the side of the former gentleman.
“Mr. Spoonwell?” he inquired, with a respectful shake of his rear steering tail.
“The same; what is it?”
“Just by the shores of Goat Island Cemetery, where all the great monopolists of antiquity lie buried, a lady who just arrived from the Gulf of Tartary, awaits your presence.”
“A sea lady, I understand you to say?”
“Yes sir; but,” added the messenger, knowingly, “with the most beautiful eyes and scales I ever beheld.”
Spoonwell scowled at this impertinence, and stopped to take leave of his friend.
“Can you believe,” he said, on parting, “that our ancestors were so lamentably ignorant, as to consider the glimmering of truth then beginning to dawn on them as the grossest superstition, and to regard the idea of submarine beings with almost similar forms and similar tastes to ours, as the wildest of myths? But, farewell. If my suspicions are correct about this rendezvous, I shall have to travel all night in order to breakfast on the banks of the Amour river. Adieu!”
What befel him shall be made the subject of the next chapter.