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H.G. Wells on flying to the moon

H.G. Wells has been in the literary news this year as the subject of a book by his son, Anthony West, whose mother was writer Rebecca West. Long ago Wells made news with novels of the future, such as ''First Men in the Moon '' (1901). In this passage the narrator and his companion, Cavor, peer from a vehicle somewhat less advanced than the one that finally did reach the lunar goal.

''And now,'' said I, ''to look at the landscape of the moon! But! - It's tremendously dark, Cavor!''

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The glass was dewy, and as I spoke I wiped at it with my blanket. ''We're half an hour or so beyond the day,'' he said. ''We must wait.''

It was impossible to distinguish anything. We might have been in a sphere of steel for all that we could see. My rubbing with the blanket simply smeared the glass, and as fast as I wiped it, it became opaque again with freshly-condensed moisture, mixed with an increasing quantity of blanket hairs. Of course I ought not to have used the blanket. In my efforts to clear the glass I slipped upon the damp surface and hurt my shin against one of the oxygen cylinders that protruded from our bale.

The thing was exasperating - it was absurd. Here we were just arrived upon the moon, amidst we knew not what wonders, and all we could see was the grey and streaming wall of the bubble in which we had come.

''Confound it,'' I said, ''but at this rate we might have stopped at home!'' and I squatted on the bale and shivered and drew my blanket closer about me.

Abruptly the moisture turned to spangles and fronds of frost. ''Can you reach the electric heater?'' said Cavor. ''Yes - that black knob. Or we shall freeze.''

I did not wait to be told twice. ''And now,'' said I, ''what are we to do?''

''Wait,'' he said.

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''Wait?''

''Of course. We shall have to wait until our air gets warm again, and then this glass will clear. We can't do anything till then. It's night here yet - we must wait for the day to overtake us. Meanwhile, don't you feel hungry?''

For a space I did not answer him, but sat fretting. I turned reluctantly from the crater wall. These hummocks looked like snow. At the time I thought they were snow. But they were not - they were mounds and masses of frozen air!

So it was at first; and then, sudden, swift, and amazing, came the lunar day.

The sunlight had crept down the cliff, it touched the drifted masses at its base, and incontinently came striding with seven-leagued boots toward us. The distant cliff seemed to shift and quiver, and at the touch of the sun a reek of grey vapour poured upwards from the crater floor, whirls and puffs and drifting wraiths of grey, thicker and broader and denser, until at last the whole westward plain was steaming like a wet handkerchief held before the fire, and the westward cliffs were no more than a refracted glare beyond.

''It is air,'' said Cavor. ''It must be air. . . .''


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