Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A Columbus of Space by Garrett P. Serviss

Part 1 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Produced by Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

A COLUMBUS OF SPACE

BY GARRETT P. SERVISS

[Illustration: "Standing on the steps ... was a creature shaped like a
man, but more savage than a gorilla."]

TO THE READERS OF
JULES VERNE'S ROMANCES
THIS STORY IS DEDICATED

Not because the author flatters himself that he can walk in the Footsteps
of that Immortal Dreamer, but because, like Jules Verne, he believes that
the World of Imagination is as legitimate a Domain of the Human Mind as
the World of Fact.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I. A MARVELOUS INVENTION

II. A TRIP OF TERROR

III. THE PLANETARY LIMITED

IV. THE CAVERNS OF VENUS

V. OFF FOR THE SUN LANDS

VI. LOST IN THE CRYSTAL MOUNTAINS

VII. THE CHILDREN OF THE SUN

VIII. LANGUAGE WITHOUT SPEECH

IX. AN AMAZING METROPOLIS

X. IMPRISONMENT AND A WONDERFUL ESCAPE

XI. BEFORE THE THRONE OF VENUS

XII. MORE MARVELS

XIII. WE FALL INTO TROUBLE AGAIN

XIV. THE SUN GOD

XV. AT THE MERCY OF FEARFUL ENEMIES

XVI. DREADFUL CREATURES OF THE GLOOM

XVII. EARTH MAGIC ON VENUS

XVIII. WILD EDEN

XIX. THE SECRET OF THE CAR

XX. THE CORYBANTIA OF THE SUN

XXI. THE EARTH

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

"Standing on the steps ... was a creature shaped like a man, but more
savage than a gorilla"

"We were in the heart of the _Crystal Mountains!_"

"'Who and what are you, and whence do you come?'"

"It curled itself over the edge of the hovering air ship and drew it
down"

CHAPTER I

A MARVELOUS INVENTION

I am a hero worshiper; an insatiable devourer of biographies; and I say
that no man in all the splendid list ever equaled Edmund Stonewall. You
smile because you have never heard his name, for, until now, his
biography has not been written. And this is not truly a biography; it is
only the story of the crowning event in Stonewall's career.

Really it humbles one's pride of race to see how ignorant the world is of
its true heroes. Many a man who cuts a great figure in history is, after
all, a poor specimen of humanity, slavishly following old ruts, destitute
of any real originality, and remarkable only for some exaggeration of the
commonplace. But in the case of Edmund Stonewall the world cannot be
blamed for its ignorance, because, as I have already said, his story
remains to be written, and hitherto it has been guarded as a profound
secret.

I do not wish to exaggerate; yet I cannot avoid seeming to do so in
simply telling the facts. If Stonewall's proceedings had become
Matter of common knowledge the world would have been--I must speak
plainly--revolutionized. He held in his hands the means of realizing the
wildest dreams of power, wealth, and human mastery over the forces of
nature, that any enthusiast ever treasured in his prophetic soul. It was
a part of his originality that he never entertained the thought of
employing his advantage in any such way. His character was entirely free
from the ordinary forms of avidity. He cared nothing for wealth in
itself, and as little for fame. All his energies were concentrated upon
the attainment of ends which nobody but himself would have regarded as of
any practical importance. Thus it happened that, having made an invention
which would have put every human industry upon a new footing, and
multiplied beyond the limits of calculation the activities and
achievements of mankind, this extraordinary person turned his back upon
the colossal fortune which he had but to stretch forth his hand and
grasp, refused to seize the unlimited power which his genius had laid at
his feet, and used his unparalleled discovery for a purpose so eccentric,
so wildly unpractical, so utterly beyond the pale of waking life, that to
any ordinary man he must have seemed a lunatic lost in an endless dream
of bedlam. And to this day I cannot, without a nervous thrill, think how
the desire of all the ages, the ideal that has been the loadstar for
thousands of philosophers, savants, inventors, prophets, and dreamers,
was actually realized upon the earth; and yet of all its fifteen hundred
million inhabitants but a single one knew it, possessed it, controlled
it--and he would not reveal it, but hoarded and used his knowledge for
the accomplishment of the craziest design that ever took shape in a human
brain.

Now, to be more specific. Of Stonewall's antecedents I know very little.
I only know that, in a moderate way, he was wealthy, and that he had no
immediate family ties. He was somewhere near thirty years of age, and
held the diploma of one of our oldest universities. But he was not, in a
general way, sociable, and I never knew him to attend any of the reunions
of his former classmates, or to show the slightest interest in any of the
events or functions of society, although its doors were open to him
through some distant relatives who were widely connected in New York, and
who at times tried to draw him into their circle. He would certainly have
adorned it, but it had no attraction for him. Nevertheless he was a
member of the Olympus Club, where he frequently spent his evenings. But
he made very few acquaintances even there, and I believe that except
myself, Jack Ashton, Henry Darton, and Will Church, he had no intimates.
And we knew him only at the club. There, when he was alone with us, he
sometimes partly opened up his mind, and we were charmed by his variety
of knowledge and the singularity of his conversation. I shall not
disguise the fact that we thought him extremely eccentric, although the
idea of anything in the nature of insanity never entered our heads. We
knew that he was engaged in recondite researches of a scientific nature,
and that he possessed a private laboratory, although none of us had ever
entered it. Occasionally he would speak of some new advance of science,
throwing a flood of light by his clear expositions upon things of which
we should otherwise have remained profoundly ignorant. His imagination
flashed like lightning over the subject of his talk, revealing it at the
most unexpected angles, and often he roused us to real enthusiasm for
things the very names of which we almost forgot amidst the next day's
occupations.

There was one subject on which he was particularly
eloquent--radioactivity; that most strange property of matter whose
discovery had been the crowning glory of science in the closing decade of
the nineteenth century. None of us really knew anything about it except
what Stonewall taught us. If some new incomprehensible announcement
appeared in the newspapers we skipped it, being sure that Edmund would
make it all clear at the club in the evening. He made us understand, in a
dim way, that some vast, tremendous secret lay behind it all. I recall
his saying, on one occasion, not long before the blow fell:

"Listen to this! Here's Professor Thomson declaring that a single grain
of radium contains in its padlocked atoms energy enough to lift a million
tons three hundred yards high. Professor Thomson is too modest in his
estimates, and he hasn't the ghost of an idea how to get at that energy.
Neither has Professor Rutherford, nor Lord Kelvin; _but somebody will get
at it, just the same_."

He positively thrilled us when he spoke thus, for there was a look in his
eyes which seemed to penetrate depths unfathomable to our intelligence.
Yet we had not the faintest conception of what was really passing in his
mind. If we had understood it, if we had caught a single clear glimpse of
the workings of his intellect, we should have been appalled. And if we
had known how close we stood to the verge of an abyss of mystery about to
be lighted by such a gleam as had never before been emitted from the
human spirit, I believe that we would have started from our chairs and
fled in dismay.

But we understood nothing, except that Edmund was indulging in one of his
eccentric dreams, and Jack, in his large, careless, good-natured way
broke in with:

"Well, Edmund, suppose _you_ could 'get at it,' as you say; what would
you do with it?"

Stonewall's eyes gleamed for a moment, and then he replied, with a
curious emphasis:

"I might do what Archimedes dreamed of."

None of us happened to remember what it was that Archimedes had dreamed,
and the subject was dropped.

For a considerable time afterwards we saw nothing of Stonewall. He did
not come to the club, and we were beginning to think of looking him up,
when one evening, quite unexpectedly, he dropped in, wearing an unusually
cheerful expression. We had greatly missed him, and we now greeted him
with effusion. His animation impressed us all, and he had no sooner
shaken hands than he said, with suppressed excitement in his voice:

"Well, I've 'got at it.'"

"Got at what?" drawled Jack.

"The inter-atomic energy. I've got it under control."

"The deuce you have!" said Jack.

"Yes, I've arrived where a certain professor dreamed of being when he
averred that 'when man knows that every breath of air he draws has
contained within itself force enough to drive the workshops of the world
he will find out some day, somehow, some way of tapping that energy.' The
thing is done, for I've tapped it!"

We stared at one another, not knowing what to say, except Jack, who,
inspired by the spirit of mischief, drawled out:

"Ah, yes, I remember. Well then, Edmund, as I asked you before, what are
you going to do with it?"

There was not really any thought among us of poking fun at Edmund; we
respected and admired him far too much for that; nevertheless, catching
the infection of banter from Jack, we united in demanding, in a manner
which I can now see must have appeared most provoking:

"Why, yes, Edmund, tell us what you are going to do with it."

And then Jack added fuel by mockingly, though with perfectly good-natured
intention, taking Edmund by the hand and swinging him in front of us
with:

"Gentlemen, Archimedes junior."

Stonewall's eyes flashed and his cheek darkened, but for a moment he said
nothing. Presently, with a return of his former affability, he said:

"I wish you would come over to the laboratory and let me show you what I
am going to do."

Of course we instantly assented. Nothing could have pleased us better
than this invitation, for we had long been dying to see the inside of
Edmund's laboratory. We all got our hats and started out with him. We
knew where he lived, occupying a whole house though he was a bachelor,
but none of us had ever seen the inside of it, and our curiosity was on
the _qui vive_. He led us through a handsome hallway and a rear apartment
directly into the back yard, half of which we were surprised to find
inclosed and roofed over, forming a huge shanty, like a workshop. Edmund
opened the door of the shanty and ushered us in.

A remarkable object at once concentrated our attention. In the center of
the place was the queerest-looking thing that you can well imagine. I can
hardly describe it. It was round and elongated like a boiler, with
bulging ends, and seemed to be made of polished steel. Its total length
was about eighteen feet, and its width ten feet. Edmund approached it and
opened a door in the end, which was wide and high enough for us to enter
without stooping or crowding.

"Step in, gentlemen," he said, and unhesitatingly we obeyed him, all
except Church, who for some unknown reason remained outside, and when we
looked for him had disappeared.

Edmund turned on a bright light, and we found ourselves in an
oblong chamber, beautifully fitted up with polished woodwork, and
leather-cushioned seats running round the sides. Many metallic knobs and
handles shone on the walls.

"Sit down," said Edmund, "and I will tell you what I have got here."

He stepped to the door and called again for Church but there was no
answer. We concluded that, thinking the thing would be too deep to be
interesting, he had gone back to the club. That was not what he had done,
as you will learn later, but he never regretted what he did do. Getting
no response from Church, Edmund finally sat down with us on one of the
leather-covered benches, and began his explanation.

"As I was telling you at the club," he said, "I've solved the mystery of
the atoms. I'm sure you'll excuse me from explaining my method" (there
was a little raillery in his manner), "but at least you can understand
the plain statement that I've got unlimited power at my command. These
knobs and handles that you see are my keys for turning it on and off, and
controlling it as I wish. Mark you, this power comes right out of the
heart of what we call matter; the world is chock full of it. We have
known that it was there at least ever since radioactivity was discovered,
but it looked as though human intelligence would never be able to set it
free from its prison. Nevertheless I have not only set it free, but I am
able to control it as perfectly as if it were steam from a boiler, or an
electric current from a dynamo."

Jack, who was as unscientific a person as ever lived, yawned, and Edmund
noticed it. But he showed no irritation, merely smiling, and saying, with
a wink at me and Henry:

"Even this seems to be rather too deep, so perhaps I had better show you,
instead of telling you, what I mean. Excuse me a moment."

He stepped out of the door, and we remained seated. We heard a noise
outside like the opening of a barn door, and immediately Edmund
reappeared and closed the door of the chamber in which we were. We
watched him with growing curiosity. With a singular smile he pressed a
knob on the wall, and instantly we felt that the chamber was rising in
the air. It rocked a little like a boat in wavy water. We were startled,
of course, but not alarmed.

"Hello!" exclaimed Jack. "What kind of a balloon is this?"

"It's something more than a balloon," was Edmund's reply, and as he spoke
he touched another knob, and we felt the car, as I must now call it, come
to rest. Then Edmund opened a shutter at one side, and we all sprang up
to look out. Below us we saw roofs and the tops of two trees standing at
the side of the street.

"We're about a hundred feet up," said Edmund quietly. "What do you think
of it now?"

"Wonderful! wonderful!" we exclaimed in a breath. And I continued:

"And do you say that it is inter-atomic energy that does this?"

"Nothing else in the world," returned Edmund.

But bantering Jack must have his quip:

"By the way, Edmund," he demanded, "what was it that Archimedes dreamed?
But no matter; you've knocked him silly. Now, what are you going to do
with your atomic balloon?"

Edmund's eyes flashed:

"You'll see in a minute."

The scene out of the window was beautiful, and for a moment we all
remained watching it. The city lights were nearly all below our level,
and away off over the New Jersey horizon I noticed the planet Venus, near
to setting, but as brilliant as a diamond. I am fond of star-gazing, and
I called Edmund's attention to the planet as he happened to be standing
next to me.

"Lovely, isn't she?" he said with enthusiasm. "The finest world in the
solar system, and what a strange thing that she should have one side
always day and the other always night."

I was surprised by his exhibition of astronomic lore, for I had never
known that he had given any attention to the subject, but a minute later
the incident was forgotten as Edmund suddenly pushed us back from the
window and closed the shutter.

"Going down again so soon?" asked Jack.

Edmund smiled. "Going," he said simply, and put his hand to one of the
knobs. Immediately we felt ourselves moving very slowly.

"That's right, Edmund," put in Jack again, "let us down easy; I don't
like bumps."

We expected at each instant to feel the car touch the cradle in which it
had evidently rested, but never were three mortals so mistaken. What
really did happen can better be described in the words of Will Church,
who, you will remember, had disappeared at the beginning of our singular
adventure. I got the account from him long afterwards. He had written it
out carefully and put it away in a safe, as a sort of historic document.
Here is Church's narrative, omitting the introduction, which read like a
law paper:

"When we went over from the club to Stonewall's house, I dropped behind
the others, because the four of them took up the whole width of the
sidewalk. Stonewall was talking to them, and my attention was attracted
by something uncommon in his manner. He had an indefinable carriage of
the head which suggested to me the suspicion that everything was not just
as it should be. I don't mean that I thought him crazy, or anything of
that kind, but I felt that he had some scheme in his mind to fool us.

"I bitterly repented, after things turned out as they did, that I had not
whispered a word to the others. But that would have been difficult, and,
besides, I had no idea of the seriousness of the affair. Nevertheless, I
determined to stay out of it, so that the laugh should not be on me at
any rate. Accordingly when the others entered the car I stayed outside,
and when Stonewall called me I did not answer.

"When he came out to open the roof of the shed, he did not see me in the
shadow where I stood. The opening of the roof revealed the whole scheme
in a flash. I had had no suspicion that the car was any kind of a
balloon, and even after he had so significantly thrown the roof open, and
then entered the car and closed the door, I was fairly amazed to see the
thing began to rise without the slightest noise, and as if it were
enchanted. It really looked diabolical as it floated silently upward and
passed through the opening, and the sight gave me a shiver.

"But I was greatly relieved when it stopped at a height of a hundred feet
or so, and then I said to myself that I should have been less of a fool
if I had stayed with the others, for now they would have the laugh on me
alone. Suddenly, while I watched, expecting every moment to see them drop
down again, for I supposed that it was merely an experiment to show that
the thing would float, the car started upward, very slowly at first, but
increasing its speed until it had attained an elevation of perhaps five
hundred feet. There it hung for a moment, like some mail-clad monster
glinting in the quavering light of the street arcs, and then, without
warning, made a dart skyward. For a minute it circled like a strange bird
taking its bearings, and finally rushed off westward until I lost sight
of it behind some tall buildings. I ran into the house to reach the
street, but found the outer door locked, and not a person visible. I
called but nobody came. Returning to the yard I discovered a place where
I could get over the fence, and so I escaped into the street. Immediately
I searched the sky for the mysterious car, but could see no sign of it.
They were gone! I almost sank upon the pavement in a state of helpless
excitement, which I could not have explained to myself if I had stopped
to reason; for why, after all, should I take the thing so tragically. But
something within me said that all was wrong. A policeman happened to
pass.

"'Officer! officer!' I shouted, 'have you seen it?'

"'Seen what?' asked the blue-coat, twirling his club.

"'The car--the balloon,' I stammered.

"'Balloon in your head! You're drunk. Get long out o' here!'

"I realized the impossibility of explaining the matter to him, and
running back to the place where I had got over the fence I climbed into
the yard and entered the shed. Fortunately the policeman paid no further
attention to my movements after I left him. I sat down on the empty
cradle and stared up through the opening in the roof, hoping against hope
to see them coming back. It must have been midnight before I gave up my
vigil in despair, and went home, sorely puzzled, and blaming myself for
having kept my suspicions unuttered. I finally got to sleep, but I had
horrible dreams.

"The next day I was up early looking through all the papers in the hope
of finding something about the car. But there was not a word. I watched
the news columns for several days without result. Whenever the coast was
clear I haunted Stonewall's yard, but the fatal shed yawned empty, and
there was not a soul about the house. I cannot describe my feelings. My
friends seemed to have been snatched away by some mysterious agency, and
the horror of the thing almost drove me crazy. I felt that I was, in a
manner, responsible for their disappearance.

"One day my heart sank at the sight of a cousin of Jack Ashton's
motioning to me in the street. He approached, with a troubled look. 'Mr.
Church,' he said, 'I think you know me; can you tell me what has become
of Jack? I haven't seen him for several days.' What could I say? Still
believing that they would soon come back, I invented, on the spur of the
moment, a story that Jack, with a couple of intimate friends, had gone
off on a hunting expedition. I took a little comfort in the reflection
that my friends, like myself, were bachelors, and consequently at liberty
to disappear if they chose.

"But when more than a week had passed with out any news of them I was
thrown into despair. I had to give up all hope. Remembering how near we
were to the coast, I concluded that they had drifted out over the sea and
gone down. It was hard for me, after the lie I had told, to let out the
truth to such of their friends as I knew, but I had to do it. Then the
police took the matter in hand and ransacked Stonewall's laboratory and
the shanty without finding anything to throw light on the mystery. It was
a newspaper sensation for a few days, but as nothing came of it everybody
soon forgot all about it--all except me. I was left to my loneliness and
my regrets.

"A year has now passed with no news from them. I write this on the
anniversary of their departure. My friends, I know, are dead--somewhere!
Oh, what an experience it has been! When your friends die and are buried
it is hard enough but when they disappear in a flash and leave no
token--! It is almost beyond endurance!"

CHAPTER II

A TRIP OF TERROR

I take up the story at the point where I dropped it to introduce Church's
narrative.

As minute after minute elapsed and we continued in motion we changed our
minds about the descent, and concluded that the inventor was going to
give us a much longer ride than we had anticipated. We were startled and
puzzled but not really alarmed, for the car traveled so smoothly that it
gave one a sense of confidence. On the other hand, we felt a little
indignation that Edmund should treat us like a lot of boys, without wills
of our own. No doubt we had provoked him, though unintentionally, but
this was going too far on his part. I am sure we were all hot with this
feeling and presently Jack flamed out:

"Look here, Edmund," he exclaimed, dropping his customary good-natured
manner, "this is carrying things with a pretty high hand. It's a good
deal like kidnapping, it seems to me. I didn't give you permission to
carry me off in this way, and I want to know what you mean by it and what
you are about. I've no objection to making a little trip in your car,
which is certainly mighty comfortable, but first I'd like to be asked
whether I want to go or no."

Edmund shrugged his shoulders and made no reply. He was very busy just
then with the metallic knobs. Suddenly we were jerked off our feet as if
we had been in a trolley driven by a green motorman. Edmund also would
have fallen if he had not clung to one of the handles. We felt that we
were spinning through the air at a fearful speed. Still Edmund uttered
not a word, but while we staggered upon our feet, and steadied ourselves
with hands and knees on the leather-cushioned benches like so many
drunken men, he continued pulling and pushing at his knobs. Finally the
motion became more regular and it was evident that the car had slowed
down from its wild rush.

"Excuse me," said Edmund, then, quite in his natural manner, "the thing
is new yet and I've got to learn the stops by experience. But there's no
occasion for alarm."

But our indignation had grown hotter with the shake-up that we had just
had, and as usual Jack was spokesman for it:

"Maybe there is no occasion for alarm," he said excitedly, "but will you
be kind enough to answer my question, and tell us what you're about and
where we are going?"

And Henry, too, who was ordinarily as mute as a clam, broke out still
more hotly:

"See here! I've had enough of this thing! Just go down and let me out. I
won't be carried off so, against my will and knowledge."

By this time Edmund appeared to have got things in the shape he wanted,
and he turned to face us. He always had a magnetism that was
inexplicable, and now we felt it as never before. His features were
perfectly calm, but there was a light in his eyes that seemed electric.
As if disdaining to make a direct reply to the heated words of Jack and
Henry he began in a quiet voice:

"It was my first intention to invite you to accompany me on a very
interesting expedition. I knew that none of you had any ties of family or
business to detain you, and I felt sure that you would readily consent.
In case you should not, however, I had made up my mind to go alone. But
you provoked me more than you knew, probably, at the club, and after we
had entered the car, and, being myself hot-tempered, I determined to
teach you a lesson. I have no intention, however, of abducting you. It is
true that you are in my power at present, but if you now say that you do
not wish to be concerned in what I assure you will prove the most
wonderful enterprise ever undertaken by human beings, I will go back to
the shed and let you out."

We looked at one another, in doubt what to reply until Jack, who, with
all his impulsiveness had more of the milk of human kindness in his heart
than anyone else I ever knew, seized Edmund's hand and exclaimed:

"All right, old boy, bygones are bygones; I'm with you. Now what do you
fellows say?"

"I'm with you, too," I cried, yielding to the spur of Jack's enthusiasm
and moved also by an intense curiosity. "I say go ahead."

Henry was more backward. But his curiosity, too, was aroused, and at
length he gave in his voice with the others.

Jack swung his hat.

"Three cheers, then, for the modern Archimedes! You won't take that amiss
now Edmund."

We gave the cheers, and I could see that Edmund was immensely pleased.

"And now," Jack continued, "tell us all about it. Where are we going?"

"Pardon me, Jack," was Edmund's reply, "but I'd rather keep that for a
surprise. You shall know everything in good time; or at least everything
that you can understand," he added, with a slightly malicious smile.

Feeling a little more interest than the others, perhaps, in the
scientific aspects of the business, I asked Edmund to tell us something
more about the nature of his wonderful invention. He responded with great
good humor, but rather in the manner of a schoolmaster addressing pupils
who, he knows, cannot entirely follow him.

"These knobs and handles on the walls," he said, "control the driving
power, which, as I have told you, comes from the atoms of matter which I
have persuaded to unlock their hidden forces. I push or turn one way and
we go ahead, or we rise; I push or turn another way and we stop, or go
back. So I concentrate the atomic force just as I choose. It makes us go,
or it carries us back to earth, or it holds us motionless, according to
the way I apply it. The earth is what I kick against at present, and what
I hold fast by; but any other sufficiently massive body would serve the
same purpose. As to the machinery, you'd need a special education in
order to understand it. You'd have to study the whole subject from the
bottom up, and go through all the experiments that I have tried. I
confess that there are some things the fundamental reason of which I
don't understand myself. But I know how to apply and control the power,
and if I had Professor Thomson and Professor Rutherford here, I'd make
them open their eyes. I wish I had been able to kidnap them."

"That's a confession that, after all, you've kidnapped us," put in Jack,
smiling.

"If you insist upon stating it in that way--yes," replied Edmund, smiling
also. "But you know that now you've consented."

"Perhaps you'll treat us to a trip to Paris," Jack persisted.

"Better than that," was the reply. "Paris is only an ant-hill in
comparison with what you are going to see."

And so, indeed, it turned out!

Finally all got out their pipes, and we began to make ourselves at home,
for truly, as far as luxurious furniture was concerned, we were as
comfortable as at the Olympus Club, and the motion of the strange craft
was so smooth and regular that it soothed us like an anodyne. It was only
those unnamed, subtle senses which man possesses almost without being
aware of their existence that assured us that we were in motion at all.

After we had smoked for an hour or so, talking and telling stories quite
in the manner of the club, Edmund suddenly asked, with a peculiar smile:

"Aren't you a little surprised that this small room is not choking full
of smoke? You know that the shutters are tightly closed."

"By Jo," exclaimed Jack, "that's so! Why here we've been pouring out
clouds like old Vesuvius for an hour with no windows open, and yet the
air is as clear as a bell."

"The smoke," said Edmund impressively, "has been turned into atomic
energy to speed us on our way. I'm glad you're all good smokers, for that
saves me fuel. Look," he continued, while we, amazed, stared at him,
"those fellows there have been swallowing your smoke, and glad to get
it."

He pointed at a row of what seemed to be grinning steel mouths, barred
with innumerable black teeth, and half concealed by a projecting ledge at
the bottom of the wall opposite the entrance, and as I looked I was
thrilled by the sight of faint curls of smoke disappearing within their
gaping jaws.

"They are omnivorous beasts," said Edmund. "They feed on the carbon from
your breath, too. Rather remarkable, isn't it, that every time you expel
the air from your lungs you help this car to go?"

None of us knew what to say; our astonishment was beyond speech. We began
to look askance at Edmund, with creeping sensations about the spine. A
formless, unacknowledged fear of him entered our souls. It never occurred
to us to doubt the truth of what he had said. We knew him too well for
that; and, then, were we not here, flying mysteriously through the air in
a heavy metallic car that had no apparent motive power? For my part,
instead of demanding any further explanations, I fell into a hazy reverie
on the marvel of it all; and Jack and Henry must have been seized the
same way, for not one of us spoke a word, or asked a question; while
Edmund, satisfied, perhaps, with the impression he had made, kept equally
quiet.

Thus another hour passed, and all of us, I think, had fallen into a doze,
when Edmund aroused us by saying:

"I'll have to keep the first watch, and all the others, too, this night."

"So then we're not going to land to-night?"

"No, not to-night, and you may as well turn in. You see that I have
prepared good, comfortable bunks, and I think you'll make out very well."

As Edmund spoke he lifted the tops from some of the benches along the
walls, and revealed excellent beds, ready for occupancy.

"I believe that I have forgotten nothing that we shall really need," he
added. "Beds, arms, instruments, books, clothing, furs, and good things
to eat."

Again we looked at one another in surprise, but nobody spoke, although
the same thought probably occurred to each--that this promised to be a
pretty long trip, judging from the preparations. Arms! What in the world
should we need of arms? Was he going to the Rocky Mountains for a bear
hunt? And clothing, and furs!

But we were really sleepy, and none of us was very long in taking Edmund
at his word and leaving him to watch alone. He considerately drew a shade
over the light, and then noiselessly opened a shutter and looked out.
When I saw that, I was strongly tempted to rise and take a look myself,
but instead I fell asleep. My dreams were disturbed by visions of the
grinning nondescripts at the foot of the wall, which transformed
themselves into winged dragons, and remorselessly pursued me through the
measureless abysses of space.

When I woke, windows were open on both sides of the car, and brilliant
sunshine was streaming in through one of them. Henry was still asleep,
Jack was yawning in his bunk, and Edmund stood at one of the windows
staring out. I made a quick toilet, and hastened to Edmund's side.

"Good morning," he said heartily, taking my hand. "Look out here, and
tell me what you think of the prospect."

As I put my face close to the thick but very transparent glass covering
the window, my heart jumped into my mouth!

"In Heaven's name, where are we?" I cried out.

Jack, hearing my agitated exclamation, jumped out of his bunk and ran to
the window also. He gasped as he gazed out, and truly it was enough to
take away one's breath!

We appeared to be at an infinite elevation, and the sky, as black as ink,
was ablaze with stars, although the bright sunlight was streaming into
the opposite window behind us. I could see nothing of the earth.
Evidently we were too high for that.

"It must lie away down under our feet," I murmured half aloud, "so that
even the horizon has sunk out of sight. Heavens, what a height!"

I had that queer uncontrollable qualm that comes to every one who finds
himself suddenly on the edge of a soundless deep.

Presently I became aware that straight before us, but afar off, was a
most singular appearance in the sky. At first glance I thought that it
was a cloud, round and mottled, But it was strangely changeless in form,
and it had an unvaporous look.

"Phew!" whistled Jack, suddenly catching sight of it and fixing his eyes
in a stare, "what's _that?_"

"_That's the earth!_"

It was Edmund who spoke, looking at us with a quizzical smile. A shock
ran through my nerves, and for an instant my brain whirled. I saw that it
was the truth that he had uttered, for, as sure as I sit here, his words
had hardly struck my ears when the great cloud rounded out and hardened,
the deception vanished, and I recognized, as clearly as ever I saw them
on a school globe, the outlines of Asia and the Pacific Ocean!

In a second I had become too weak to stand, and I sank trembling upon a
bench. But Jack, whose eyes had not accommodated themselves as rapidly as
mine to the gigantic perspective, remained at the window, exclaiming:

"Fiddlesticks! What are you trying to give us? The earth is down below, I
reckon."

But in another minute he, too, saw it as it really was, and his
astonishment equaled mine. In fact he made so much noise about it that he
awoke Henry, who, jumping out of bed, came running to see, and when we
had explained to him where we were, sank upon a seat with a despairing
groan and covered his face. Our astonishment and dismay were too great to
permit us quickly to recover our self-command, but after a while Jack
seized Edmund's arm, and demanded:

"For God's sake, tell us what you've been doing."

"Nothing that ought to appear very extraordinary," answered Edmund, with
uncommon warmth. "If men had not been fools for so many ages they might
have done this, and more than this long ago. It's enough to make one
ashamed of his race! For countless centuries, instead of grasping the
power that nature had placed at the disposal of their intelligence, they
have idled away their time gabbling about nothing. And even since, at
last, they have begun to do something, look at the time that they have
wasted upon such petty forces as steam and 'electricity,' burning whole
mines of coal and whole lakes of oil, and childishly calling upon winds
and tides and waterfalls to help them, when they had under their thumbs
the limitless energy of the atoms, and no more understood it than a baby
understands what makes its whistle scream! It's inter-atomic force that
has brought us out here, and that is going to carry us a great deal
farther."

We simply listened in silence; for what could we say? The facts were more
eloquent than any words, and called for no commentary. Here we _were_,
out in the middle of space; and _there_ was the earth, hanging on
nothing, like a summer cloud. At least we knew where we were if we didn't
quite understand how we had got there.

Seeing us speechless, Edmund resumed in a different tone:

"We made a fairly good run during the night. You must be hungry by this
time, for you've slept late; suppose we have breakfast."

So saying, he opened a locker, took out a folding table, covered it
with a white cloth, turned on something resembling a little electric
range, and in a few minutes had ready as appetizing a breakfast of eggs
and as good a cup of coffee as I ever tasted. It is one of the
compensations of human nature that it is able to adjust itself to the
most unheard-of conditions provided only that the inner man is not
neglected. The smell of breakfast would almost reconcile a man to
purgatory--anyhow it reconciled us for the time being to our unparalleled
situation, and we ate and drank, and indulged in as cheerful good
comradeship as that of a fishing party in the wilderness after a big
morning's catch.

When the breakfast was finished we began to chat and smoke, which
reminded me of those gulping mouths under the wainscot, and I leaned down
to catch a glimpse of their rows of black fangs, thinking to ask Edmund
for further explanation about them; but the sight gave me a shiver, and I
felt the hopelessness of trying to understand their function.

Then we took a turn at looking out of the window to see the earth. Edmund
furnished us with binoculars which enabled us to recognize many
geographical features of our planet. The western shore of the Pacific was
now in plain sight, and a few small spots, near the edge of the ocean, we
knew to be Japan and the Philippines. The snowy Himalayas showed as a
crinkling line, and a huge white smudge over the China Sea indicated
where a storm was raging and where good ships, no doubt, were battling
with the tossing waves.

After a time I noticed that Edmund was continually going from one window
to the other and looking out with an air of anxiety. He seemed to be
watching for something, and there was a look of mingled expectation and
apprehension in his eyes. He had a peephole at the forward end of the car
and another in the floor, and these he frequently visited. I now recalled
that even while we were at breakfast he had seemed uneasy and
occasionally left his seat to look out. At last I asked him:

"What are you looking for, Edmund?"

"Meteors."

"Meteors, out here!"

"Of course. You're something of an astronomer; don't you know that they
hang about all the planets? They didn't give me any rest last night. I
was on tender hooks all the time while you were sleeping. I was half
inclined to call one of you to help me. We passed some pretty ugly
fellows while you slept, I can tell you! You know that this is an
unexplored sea that we are navigating, and I don't want to run on the
rocks."

"But we seem to be a good way off from the earth now," I remarked, "and
there ought not to be much danger."

"It's not as dangerous as it was, but there may be some of them yet
around here. I'll feel safer when we have put a few more million miles
behind us."

_A few more million miles!_ We all stood aghast when we heard the words.
We had, indeed, imagined that the earth looked as if it might be a
million miles away, but, then, it was merely a passing impression, which
had given us no sense of reality; but now when we heard Edmund say that
we actually had traveled such a distance, the idea struck us with
overwhelming force.

"In the name of all that's good, Edmund," cried Jack, "at what rate are
we traveling, then?"

"Just at present," Edmund replied, glancing at an indicator, "we're
making twenty miles a second."

_Twenty miles a second!_ Our excited nerves had another shock.

"Why," I exclaimed, "that's faster than the earth moves in its orbit!"

"Yes, a trifle faster; but I'll probably have to work up to a little
better speed in order to get where I want to go before our goal begins to
run away from us."

"Ah, there you are," said Jack. "That's what I wanted to know. What is
our goal? Where are we going?"

Before Edmund could reply we all sprang to our feet in affright. A loud
grating noise had broken upon our ears. At the same instant the car gave
a lurch, and a blaze of the most vicious lightning streamed through a
window.

"Confound the things!" shouted Edmund, springing to the window, and then
darting to one of his knobs and beginning to twist it with all his force.

In a second we were sprawling on the floor--all except Edmund, who kept
his hold on the knob. Our course had been changed with amazing quickness,
and our startled eyes beheld a huge misshapen object darting past the
window.

"Here comes another!" cried Edmund, again seizing the knob.

I had managed to get my face to the window, and I certainly thought that
we were done for. Apparently only a few rods away, and rushing straight
at the car, was a vast black mass, shaped something like a dumb-bell,
with ends as big as houses, tumbling over and over, and threatening us
with annihilation. If it hit us, as it seemed sure that it would do, I
knew that we should never return to the earth, unless in the form of
pulverized ashes!

CHAPTER III

THE PLANETARY LIMITED

But Edmund had seen the meteor sooner than I, and as quick as thought he
swerved the car, and threw us all off our feet once more. But we should
have been thankful if he had broken our heads, since he had saved us from
instant destruction.

The danger, however, was not yet passed. Scarcely had the immense
dumb-bell (which Edmund declared must have been composed of solid iron,
so great was its effect on his needles) disappeared, before there came
from outside a blaze so fierce that it fairly slapped our lids shut.

"A collision!" Edmund exclaimed. "The thing has struck another big
meteor, and they are exchanging fiery compliments."

He threw himself flat on the floor, and stared out of the peephole. Then
he jumped to his feet and gave us another tumble.

"They're all about us," he faltered, breathless with exertion; then,
having drawn a deep inspiration, he continued: "We're like a boat in a
raging freshet, with rocks, tree trunks, and cakes of ice threatening it
on all sides. But we'll get out of it. The car obeys its helm as if it
appreciated the danger. Why, I got away from that last fellow by setting
up atomic reaction against it, as a boatman pushes with his pole."

Even in the midst of our terror we could not but admire our leader. His
resources seemed boundless, and our confidence in him grew with every
escape. While he kept guard at the peepholes we watched for meteors from
the windows. We must have come almost within striking distance of a
thousand in the course of an hour, but Edmund decided not to diminish
our speed, for he said that he could control the car quicker when it was
under full headway.

So on we rushed, dodging the things like a crow in a flock of pestering
jays, and we really enjoyed the excitement. It was more fascinating sport
than shooting rapids in a careening skiff, and at last we grew so
confident in the powers of our car and its commander that we were rather
sorry when the last meteor passed, and we found ourselves once more in
open, unimpeded space.

After that the time passed quietly. We ate our meals and went to bed and
rose as regularly as if we had been at home. In one respect, however,
things were very different from what they were on the earth. We had no
night! The sun shone continually, although the sky was black and always
glittering with stars. None of us needed to be told by our conductor that
this was due to the fact that we no longer had the shadow of the earth to
make night for us when the sun was behind it. The sun was now never
behind the earth, or any other great opaque body, and when we wished to
sleep we made an artificial night, for our special use, by closing all
the shutters. And there was no atmosphere about us to diffuse the
sunlight, and so to hide the stars. We kept count of the days by the aid
of a calendar clock; there seemed to be nothing that Edmund had
forgotten. And it was a delightful experience, the wonder of which grew
upon us hour by hour. It was too marvelous, too incredible, to be
believed, and yet--_there we were!_

Once the idea suddenly came to me that it was astonishing that we had not
long ago perished for lack of oxygen. I understood, of course, from what
Edmund had said, that the mysterious machines along the wall absorbed the
carbonic acid, but we must be constantly using up the oxygen. When I put
my difficulty before Edmund he laughed.

"That's the easiest thing of all," he said. "Look here."

He threw open a little grating.

"In there," he continued, "there's an apparatus which manufactures just
enough oxygen to keep the air in good condition. It is supplied with
materials to last a month, which will be much longer than this expedition
will take."

"There you are again," exclaimed Jack. "I was asking you about that when
we ran into those pesky meteors. What _is_ this expedition? Where are we
going, anyway?"

"Well," Edmund replied, "since we have become pretty good shipmates, I
don't see any objection to telling you. We are going to Venus."

"Going to Venus!" we all cried in a breath.

"To be sure. Why not? We've got the proper sort of conveyance, haven't
we?"

There was no denying that. Our conveyance had already brought us some
millions of miles out into space; why, indeed, should it not be able to
carry us to Venus, or any other planet?

"How far is it to Venus?" asked Jack.

"When we quit the earth," Edmund answered, "Venus was rapidly approaching
inferior conjunction. You know what that is," addressing me, "it's when
the planet comes between the sun and the earth. The distance from the
earth is not always the same at such a conjunction, but I figured out
that on this occasion, after allowing for the circuit we should have to
make, there would be just twenty-seven million miles to travel. At an
average speed of twenty miles a second we could do that distance in
fifteen days, fourteen and one half hours. But, of course, I had to lose
some time going slow through the earth's atmosphere, for otherwise the
car would have taken fire, like a meteor, on account of the friction.
Then, too, I shall have to slow up on entering the atmosphere of Venus,
which appears to be very deep and dense; so, upon the whole, I don't
count on landing upon Venus in less than sixteen days from the time of
our departure. We've already been out five days, and within eleven more I
expect to introduce you to the inhabitants of another world."

The inhabitants of another world! Again Edmund had thrown out an idea
which took us all aback.

"Do you believe there are any inhabitants on Venus?" I asked at length.

"Certainly. I know there are."

"For sure," put in Jack, stretching out his legs and pulling at his pipe.
"Who'd go twenty-seven million miles to pay a visit if he didn't know
there was somebody at home?"

"Then that's what you put the arms aboard for," I remarked.

"Yes, but I hope we shall not have to use them."

"Strikes me that this is a sort of pirate ship," said Jack. "But what
kind of arms have you got, Edmund?"

For answer Edmund threw open a locker and showed us a gleaming array of
automatic guns and pistols and even some cutlasses.

"Decidedly piratical!" exclaimed the incorrigible Jack. "You'd better
hoist the black flag. But, see here, Edmund, with all this inter-atomic
energy that you talk about, why in the world didn't you invent something
new--something that would just knock the Venustians silly, and blow their
old planet up if necessary? Automatic arms are pretty good at home, on
that unprogressive earth that you have spurned with your heels, but
they'll likely be rather small pumpkins on Venus."

"I didn't prepare anything else," Edmund replied, "because, in the first
place, I was too busy with more important things, and in the second place
because I don't really anticipate that we shall have any use for arms. I
only took these as a precaution."

"You mean to try moral suasion, I suppose," drawled Jack. "Well, anyhow,
I hope they'll be glad to see us, and since it is Venus that we are going
to visit, I don't look for much fighting. I'm glad you made it Venus
instead of Mars, Edmund, for, from all I've heard of Mars with its
fourteen-foot giants, I don't think I should like to try the pirate
business in that direction."

We all laughed at Jack's fancies; but there was something tremendously
thrilling in the idea. Think of landing on another world! Think of
meeting inhabitants there! Really, it made one's head spin.

"Confound it, this is all a dream," I said to myself. "I'm on my back in
bed with a nightmare. I'll kick myself awake."

But do what I would I could make no dream of it. On the contrary, I felt
that I had never been quite so much awake in all my life before.

After a while we all settled down to take the thing in earnest. And then
the charm of it began to master our imaginations. We talked over the
prospects in all their aspects. Edmund said little, and Henry nothing,
but Jack and I were stirred to the bottom of our romantic souls. Henry
was different. He had no romance in his make-up. He always looked at the
money in a thing. To his mind, going to Venus was playing the fool, when
we had at our command the means of owning the earth.

"Edmund," he said, after mumbling for a while under his breath, "this is
the most utter tomfoolery that ever I heard of. Here you've got an
invention that would revolutionize mechanics, and instead of utilizing it
you rush off into space on a hairbrained adventure. You might have been
twenty times a billionaire inside of a year if you had stayed at home and
developed the thing. Why, it's folly; pure, beastly folly! Going to
Venus! What can you make on Venus?"

Edmund only smiled. After a little he said:

"Well, I'm sorry for you, Henry. But then you're cut out on the ordinary
pattern. But cheer up. When we go back, perhaps I'll let you take out a
patent, and you can make the billions. For my part, Venus is more
interesting to me than all the money you could pile up between the
Atlantic Ocean and the Rocky Mountains. Why," he continued, warming up,
and straightening with a certain pride which he had, "am I not the
Columbus of Space?--And you my lieutenants," he added, with a smile.

"Right you are," cried Jack enthusiastically. "The Columbus of Space,
that's the ticket! Where's old Archimedes now? Buried, by Jo! _He_
couldn't go to Venus! And what need we care for your billionaires?"

Edmund patted Jack on the back, and I rather sympathized with his
enthusiasm myself.

The time ran on, and we watched anxiously the day-hand of the calendar
clock. Soon it had marked a week; then ten days; then a fortnight. We
knew we must be getting very close to our goal, yet up to this time
neither Jack, nor Henry, nor I had caught a glimpse of Venus. Edmund,
however, had seen it, but he told us that in order to do so he had been
obliged to alter our course because the planet was directly in the eye of
the sun. In consequence of the change of course we were now approaching
Venus from the east--flanking her, so to speak--and Edmund described her
appearance as that of an enormous crescent. Finally he invited us to take
a look for ourselves.

I shall never forget that first view! It was only a glimpse, for Edmund
was nervous about meteors again, and would allow us only a moment at the
peephole because he wished to be continually on the watch himself. But,
brief as was the view, that vast gleaming sickle hanging in the black sky
was the most tremendous thing I ever looked upon!

Soon afterwards Edmund changed the course again, and then we saw her no
more. We had not come upon the swarms of meteors that Edmund had expected
to find lurking about the planet, and he said that he now felt safe in
running into her shadow, and making a landing on her night hemisphere.
You will allow me to remind you that Schiaparelli had long before found
out that Venus doesn't turn on her axis once every twenty-four hours,
like the earth, but keeps always the same face to the sun; the
consequence being that she has perpetual day on one side and perpetual
night on the other. I asked Edmund why he should not rather land on the
daylight side; but he replied that his plan was safer, and that we could
easily go from one side to the other whenever we chose. It didn't turn
out to be so easy after all, but that is another part of the story.

"I hardly expect to find any inhabitants on the night side," Edmund
remarked, "for it must be fearfully cold there--too cold for life to
exist, perhaps; but I have provided against that as far as we are
concerned. Still, one can never tell. There _may_ be inhabitants there,
and at any rate I am going to find out. If there are none, we'll just
stop long enough to take a look at things, and then the car will quickly
transport us to the daylight hemisphere, where life certainly exists. By
landing on the uninhabited side, you see, we shall have a chance to
reconnoiter a little, and can approach the inhabitants on the other side
so much the more safely."

"That sounds all right enough," said Jack, "but if Venus is correctly
named, I'm for getting where the inhabitants are as quick as possible."

When we swung round into the shadow of the planet we got her between the
sun and ourselves, and as she completely hid the sun, we now had
perpetual night about the car. Out of the peephole she looked like a
stupendous black circle, blacker than the sky itself, but round the rim
was a beautiful ring of light.

"That's her atmosphere," Edmund explained, "lighted up by the sun from
behind. But, for the life of me, I cannot tell what those immense flames
mean."

He referred to a vast circle of many-colored spires that blazed and
flickered like a burning rainbow at the inner edge of the ring of light.
It was one of the most awful, and yet beautiful, sights that I had ever
gazed upon.

"That's something altogether outside my calculations," Edmund added. "I
can't account for it at all."

"Perhaps they are already celebrating our arrival with fireworks,"
suggested Jack, always ready to take the humorous view of everything.

"That's not fire," Edmund responded earnestly. "But what it is I confess
I can't imagine. We'll find out, however, for I haven't come all this
distance to be scared off."

And here I must try to explain a very curious thing which had puzzled our
senses, though not our understanding (because Edmund had promptly
explained it), throughout the voyage, and that was--levitation. On our
first day out from the earth, we began to notice the remarkable ease with
which we handled things, and the strange tendency we had to bump into one
another because we seemed to be all the time employing more strength than
was necessary and almost to be able to walk on air. Jack declared that he
felt as if his head had become a toy balloon.

"It's the lack of weight," said Edmund. "Every time we double our
distance from the earth we lose another three quarters of our weight. If
I had thought to bring along a spring dynamometer, I could have shown
you, Jack, that when we were 4,000 miles above the earth's surface the
200 good pounds with which you depress the scales at home had diminished
to 50, and that when we had passed about 150,000 miles into space you
weighed no more than a couple of ounces. From that point on, it has been
the attraction of the sun to which we have owed whatever weight we had,
and the floor of the car has been toward the sun, because, at that
distance from the earth, the latter ceases to exercise the master force,
and the pull of the sun becomes greater than the earth's. But as we
approach Venus the latter begins to restore our weight, and when we
arrive on her surface we shall weigh about four fifths as much as when we
started from the earth."

"But I don't look as if I had lost any avoirdupois," said Jack, glancing
at his round limbs. "And when you give us a fling I seem to strike pretty
hard, though in other respects I confess I do feel a good deal like an
angel."

"Ah," said Edmund, laughing, "that's the _inertia of mass_. Your mass is
the same, although your weight has almost disappeared. Weight depends
upon the distance from the attracting body, but mass is independent of
everything."

"Do you mean to say that angels are massive?"

"They may be as massive as they like provided they keep well away from
great centers of gravitation."

"But Venus is such a center--then there can't be any angels there."

"I hope to find something better than angels," was Edmund's smiling
reply.

Now, as we drew near to Venus, the truth of Edmund's statements became
apparent. We felt that our weight was returning, and our muscular
activity sinking back to the normal again. We imagined that every minute
we could feel our feet pressing more heavily upon the floor.

Our approach was so rapid that the immense black circle grew visibly
minute by minute. Soon it was so large that we could no longer see its
boundaries through the peephole in the floor.

"We're now within a thousand miles," said Edmund, "and must be close to
the upper limits of the atmosphere. I'll have to slow down, or else we'll
be burnt up by the heat of friction."

He proceeded to slow down a little more rapidly than was comfortable. It
was jerk after jerk, as he dropped off the power, and put on the brakes,
but at last we got down to the speed of a fast express train. Soon we
were so close that the surface of the planet became dimly visible, simply
from the starlight. We were now settling down very cautiously, and
presently we began to notice curious shafts of light which appeared to
issue from the ground, as if the surface beneath us had been sprinkled
with iron founderies.

"Aha!" cried Edmund, "I believe there _are_ inhabitants on this side
after all. Those lights don't come from volcanoes. I'm going to make for
the nearest one, and we'll soon know what they are."

Accordingly we steered for one of the gleaming shafts. It was a thrilling
moment, I can tell you--that when we first saw another world than ours
under our feet! As we approached the light it threw a pale illumination
on the ground around. Everything appeared to be perfectly flat and level.
It was like dropping down at night upon a vast prairie. But the features
of the landscape were indistinguishable in the gloom. Edmund boldly
continued to approach until we were within a hundred feet of the shaft of
light, which we could now perceive issued directly from the ground.
Suddenly, with the slightest perceptible bump, we touched the soil, and
the car came to rest. We had landed on Venus!

"It's unquestionably frightfully cold outside," said Edmund, "and we'll
now put on these things."

He dragged out of one of his many lockers four suits of thick fur
garments, and as many pairs of fur gloves, together with caps and shields
for the face, leaving only narrow openings for the eyes. When we had got
them on we looked like so many Esquimaux. Finally Edmund handed each of
us a pair of small automatic pistols, telling us to put them where they
would be handy in our side pockets.

"Boarders all!" cried the irrepressible Jack. "Pirates, do your duty!"

Our preparations being made, we opened the door. The air that rushed in
almost hardened us into icicles!

"It won't hurt you," said Edmund in a whisper. "It can't be down to
absolute zero on account of the dense atmosphere. You'll get used to it
in a few minutes. Come on."

His whispering gave us a sense of imminent danger, but nevertheless we
followed as he led the way straight toward the shaft of light. On nearing
it we saw that it came out of an irregularly round hole in the ground.
When we got yet nearer we were astonished to see rough steps which led
down into the pit. The next instant we were frozen in our tracks! For a
moment my heart stopped beating.

Standing on the steps, just below the level of the ground, and intently
watching us, with eyes as big and luminous as moons, was a creature
shaped like a man, but more savage than a gorilla!

CHAPTER IV

THE CAVERNS OF VENUS

For two or three minutes the creature continued to stare at us,
motionless; and we stared at him. It was so dramatic that it makes my
nerves tingle now when I think of it. His eyes alone were enough to
harrow up your soul. Huge beyond belief, round and luminous as full
moons, they were filled with the phosphorescent greenish-yellow glare
that sometimes appears in the expanded pupils of a cat or a wild beast.
The great hairy head was black, but the stocky body was as white as a
polar bear. The arms were apelike and very long and muscular, and the
entire aspect of the creature betokened immense strength and activity.

Edmund was the first to recover from the stupor of surprise, and
instantly he did a thing so apparently absurd but so marvelous in its
calculated effect that no brain but his could have conceived it. It
shakes me at once with laughter and recollected terror when I recall it.

"WELL, HELLO YOU!" he called out in a voice of such stentorian power that
we jumped as at a thunderclap. The effect on the strange brute was
electric. A film shot across the big eyes, he leaped into the air,
uttering a squeak that was ridiculous, coming from an animal of such size
and strength, and instantly disappeared, tumbling down the steps.

But we were as much frightened as the ugly monster himself. We stared at
Edmund, speechless in our amazement. Never could I have believed it
possible for such a voice to issue from the human throat. It was not the
voice of our friend, nor the voice of a man at all, but an indescribable
clangor; and the words I have quoted had been scarcely distinguishable,
so shattered were they by the crash of sound that whirled them into our
astonished ears. Edmund, seeing us gaping in speechless wonder, laughed
with such an appearance of hearty enjoyment as I had never known him to
exhibit--and his merriment produced another thunderous explosion that
shook the air.

Then the truth burst upon me, and I exclaimed:

"It's the atmosphere!"

I had not spoken very loudly, but the words seemed to reverberate in my
mouth, as if to testify to the correctness of my explanation.

"Yes," said Edmund, taking pains to moderate his voice, "you've hit it,
it's the atmosphere. I had calculated on an effect of the kind, but the
reality exceeds all that I had anticipated. Spectroscopic analysis as
well as telescopic appearances demonstrated long ago that the atmosphere
of Venus was extraordinarily extensive and dense, from which fact I
inferred that we should encounter some wonderful acoustic phenomena here,
and this was in my mind when, on stepping out of the car, I addressed you
in a whisper. The reaction even of the whisper on my organs of speech
told me that I was right, and showed me what to expect if the full power
of the voice were used. When we caught sight of the creature at the top
of the pit I had no desire to shoot him, and I saw that he was too
powerful to be captured alive. In a second I had decided what to do. It
ran through my mind that, in a world where the density, and probably
something also in the peculiar constitution of the air, had the effect of
vastly magnifying sound, the phonetic and acoustic organs of the
inhabitants would be modified, and that the sounds uttered by them would
be much fainter than those that we are accustomed to hear from living
creatures on the earth. That being so, I argued that a very great and
heavy sound coming from a strange animal would produce in the creature
before us a paralyzing terror. You have seen that it did so. I expect
that this will give us an immense advantage to begin with. We have
already inspired so great a fear that I believe that we can now safely
follow the creature into its habitation, and encounter without danger any
of its congeners that may be there. Nevertheless, I shall not ask you to
run any risks, and I will alone descend into the pit."

"If you do, may I be hanged for sheep stealing!"

You will guess at once that it was Jack who had spoken thus.

"No, sir," he continued, "if you go, we all go. Isn't that so, boys?"

In answer to an appeal thus put, neither Henry nor myself could have hung
back even if we had had the disposition to do so. But I believe that we
all instinctively felt that our place was by Edmund's side, wherever he
might choose to go.

"Go ahead, then, Edmund," Jack added, seeing that we consented, "we're
with you." And then his enthusiasm taking fire, as usual, he exclaimed:
"Hurrah! Columbus forever! We've conquered a hemisphere with a blank
shot."

And so we began our descent into the mysterious pit. The strange light
that came from it, and formed a shaft in the dense atmosphere above like
sunlight in a haymow, was accompanied by a considerable degree of heat,
which was very grateful to our lungs after the frigid plunge that we had
taken from the comfortable car. As we descended, the temperature
continually rose until we were glad to throw off our Arctic togs, and
leave them on a shelf of rock to await our return. But, fortunately, we
did not forget to take the pistols from the pockets before leaving the
garments. I am very uncertain what would have been the future course of
our history if we had neglected this precaution.

It was an awful hole for depth. The steps, rudely cut, wound round and
round the sides like those in a cathedral tower, but the pit was not
perfectly circular. It looked like a natural formation, such as the
vertical entrance to a limestone cavern, or the throat of a sleeping
volcano. But whatever the nature of the pit might be, I was convinced
that the steps were of artificial origin. They were reasonably regular in
height and broad enough for two, or even three, persons to go abreast.

When we had descended perhaps as much as two hundred feet, we suddenly
found ourselves in a broad cavern with a surprisingly level floor. The
temperature had been steadily rising all the time, and here it was as
warm as in an ordinary living room. The cavern appeared to be about
twenty yards broad and eight or ten feet in height, with a flat roof of
rock. It was dimly illuminated by a small heap of what seemed to be hard
coal, burning in a very roughly constructed brazier, which, as far as
looks went, one would have said was constructed of iron.

You will imagine our surprise upon seeing these things. The appearance of
the gorilla-like beast with the awful eyes had certainly not led us to
anticipate the finding in his lair of any such evidences of human
intelligence, and we stood fast in our tracks for a minute or two, nobody
speaking a word. Then Edmund said:

"This is far better than I hoped. I had not thought about caverns, though
I ought to have foreseen the probability of something of the kind. It is
hard to drive out life as long as a world has solid foundations, and air
for breathing. I shall be greatly surprised now if these creatures do not
turn out to be at least as intelligent as our African or Australian
savages."

"But," said I, "the fellow that we saw surely cannot have more
intelligence than a beast. There must be some more highly developed
creatures living here."

"I'm not so sure of that," Edmund responded. "Looks go for nothing in
such a case. He had arms and hands, and his brain may be well organized."

"If his brain is as big as his eyes," Jack put in, "he ought to be able
to give odds to old Solomon and beat him easy. My, but I'd like to see
their spectacles--if they ever wear any!"

Jack's humor recalled us from our meditation, and we began to look about
more carefully. There was not a living creature in sight, but over in a
corner I detected a broad hole, down which the steps continued to
descend.

"Here's the way," said Edmund, discovering the steps at the same moment.
"Down we go."

He again led the way, and we resumed the descent. As we stumbled along
downward we began to talk of a strange but agreeable odor which we had
noticed in the cavern. Edmund said that it was due, perhaps, to some
peculiar quality of the atmosphere.

"I think," he continued, "that it is heavily charged with oxygen. You
have noticed that none of us feels the slightest fatigue, notwithstanding
the precipitancy of our long descent."

I reflected that this might also be the cause of our rising courage, for
I was sure that not one of us felt the slightest fear in thus pushing on
toward dangers of whose nature we could form no idea. The steps,
precisely like those above, wound round and round and led us down I
should say as much as three hundred feet before we entered another
cavern, larger and loftier than the first.

And there we found them!

There was never another such sight! It made our blood run cold once more,
rather with surprise than fear, though the latter quickly followed.

Ranged along the farther side of the cavern, and visible in the light of
another glowing heap in the center, were as many as thirty of those huge
hairy creatures, standing shoulder to shoulder, their great eyes glaring
like bull's-eye lanterns. But the thing that filled us with terror was
their motions.

You have read, with thrilling nerves, how a huge cobra, reared on his
coils, sways his terrible head from side to side before striking. Well,
all those black heads before us were swaying in unison, but with a
sickening circular movement, which was regularly reversed in direction.
Three times by the right and then three times by the left those heads
circled, in rhythmic cadence, while the luminous eyes seemed to leave
phosphorescent rings in the air, intersecting one another in consequence
of the rapidity of the motion.

It was such a spectacle as I had never beheld in the wildest dream. It
was baleful. It was the charm of the serpent fascinating his terrified
prey. In an instant I felt my brain turning, and I staggered in spite of
my utmost efforts. A kind of paralysis stiffened my limbs.

Presently, all moving together, and uttering a hissing, whistling sound,
they began slowly to approach us, keeping in line, each shaggy leg lifted
at the same moment, like so many soldiers on parade, while the heads
continued to swing, and the glowing eyes to cut linked circles in the
air. But for Edmund we should certainly have been lost. Standing a little
to the fore, he spoke to us over his shoulder, in a low voice:

"Take out your pistols, but don't shoot unless they make a rush. Then
kill as many as you can. I'll knock over the leader in the center, and I
think that will be enough."

We could as easily have stirred our arms if we had been marble statues,
but he promptly raised his pistol, and the explosion followed on the
instant. The report was like an earthquake. It shocked us into our senses
and almost out of them again. The weight of the air and the confinement
of the cavern magnified and concentrated the sound so that it was awful
beyond belief. The fellow in the center was hurled back as if shot from a
catapult, and the others fell at flat as he, and lay there groveling,
their big eyes filming and swaying, but no longer in unison.

The charm was broken, and as we saw our fearful enemies prostrate, our
courage returned at a bound.

"I thought as much," said Edmund coolly. "But I'm sorry now that I aimed
at that fellow; the sound alone would have sufficed. It was not necessary
to take life. However, we should probably have had to come to it
eventually, and now we have them thoroughly cowed. Our safety consists in
keeping them terrified."

Thus speaking, Edmund boldly approached the groveling row, and pushed
with his foot the furry body of the one he had shot. The bullet had gone
through his head. At Edmund's approach the creatures sank lower on the
rocky floor, and those nearest him turned up their moon eyes with an
expression of submission and supplication that was grotesque. He motioned
us to join him and, imitating him, we began to pat and smooth the
shrinking bodies until, understanding that we would not hurt them, they
gradually acquired confidence.

In the meantime the crowd in the cavern increased, others coming in
through side passages, and exhibiting the utmost astonishment at the
spectacle which greeted them. It was clear that those who had taken part
in the opening scene imparted to the newcomers a knowledge of the
situation of affairs, and we could see that our prestige was thoroughly
established. It remained to utilize our advantage, and we looked to
Edmund to show how it should be done. He was equal to the undertaking,
but I shall not trouble you with the details of his diplomacy. Let it
suffice to say that by a combination of gentleness and firmness he
quickly reduced almost the entire population of the caverns (for, as we
afterwards discovered, there were a dozen or more of these underground
dwellings connected by horizontal passages through the rocks) into
subjection to his will. I say "almost," because, as you will see in a
little while, there were certain members of this extraordinary community
who possessed a spirit of independence too strong to be so easily
subdued.

As we became better acquainted with the cave dwellers we found that they
were by no means as savage as they looked. Their appearance was certainly
grotesque, and even unaccountable. Why, for instance, should their heads
have been covered with coarse black disordered hair while their bodies,
from the neck down, were almost beautiful with a natural raiment of
golden white, as soft as silk and as brilliant as floss? I never could
explain it, and Edmund was no less puzzled by this peculiarity. The
immense size of their eyes did not seem astonishing after we began to
reflect upon the consequences of the relative lack of light in their
world. It was but a natural adjustment to their environment; with such
eyes they could see in the dark better than cats. Their feet were bare
and covered on the soles with thick soft skin, while the insides of their
long hands were almost as white and delicate as those of a human being.

Their intelligence was sufficiently demonstrated by the construction of
the hundreds of rocky steps leading from the caverns to the surface of
the ground, and by their employment of fire, and manufacture of the
metallic braziers which contained it. But this was not all. We found that
in some of the winding passages connecting the caverns they cultivated
food. It consisted entirely of vegetables of various kinds, and all
unlike any that I ever saw on the earth. Water dripped from the roofs of
these particular passages, and the almost colorless vegetation thrived
there with astonishing luxuriance. They had many simple ways of cooking
their food, and it was evident that they possessed some form of salt,
though we did not discover the deposit from which they must have drawn
it. They collected water in cisterns hollowed in the rock.

Although we still had abundance of food in the car, Edmund insisted on
trying theirs, and it proved to be very palatable.

"This is fortunate, though hardly surprising," said Edmund. "If we had
found the food on Venus uneatable, we should indeed have been in a fine
fix. While we remain here we will eat as the natives eat, and save our
own supplies for future need."

The only brute animals that we saw in the caverns were some doglike
creatures, about as large as terriers, but very furry, which showed the
utmost terror whenever we appeared.

One of the first things that we discovered outside the main cavern where
we had made our debut was the burial ground of the community. This
happened when they came to dispose of the fellow that Edmund had shot.
They formed a regular procession, which greatly impressed us, and we
followed them as they bore the body through several winding ways into a
large cavern, at a considerable distance from any of the others. Here
they had dug a grave, and, to our astonishment, there appeared to be
something resembling a religious ceremony connected with the interment.
And then, for the first time, we distinguished the females from the
others. But a still greater surprise awaited us. It was no less than
plain evidence of regular family relationship.

As the body was lowered into the grave one of the females approached with
every sign of distress and sorrow. Jack declared that he saw tears
running down her hairy cheeks. She held two little ones by the hand, and
this spectacle produced an astonishing effect upon Edmund, revealing an
entirely new side of his character. I have told you that he expressed
regret for having killed the fellow in the cavern, but now, at the sight
before him, he seemed filled with remorse.

"I wish I had never come here!" he said bitterly. "The first thing I have
done is to kill an inoffensive and intelligent creature."

"Intelligent, perhaps," said Jack, "but inoffensive--not by a long shot!
Where'd we have been if you hadn't killed him? They'd have made mincemeat
of us."

"No," replied Edmund, sorrowfully shaking his head, "it wasn't necessary.
The noise would have sufficed; and I ought to have known it."

"Why didn't you shout, then? That scared the first one," put in Henry,
whose soul, it must be said, was not overflowing with sympathy.

"I did what I thought was best at the moment," Edmund replied, with a
broken voice. "They were so many and so threatening that I imagined my
voice alone might not be effective. But I'm sorry, sorry!"

"Henry, you're a fool!" cried the sympathetic Jack. "Come now, Edmund,"
he continued, kindly laying a hand on his shoulder, "what you did was the
only thing under heaven that could have been done. You're wrong to blame
yourself. By Jo, if you hadn't done it I would!"

But Edmund only shook his head, as if refusing to be comforted. It was
the first sign of weakness that we had seen in our incomparable leader,
but I am sure it only increased our respect for him--at least that's true
of Jack and me. After that I noticed that Edmund was far more gentle than
before in his relations with the people of the caverns.

Not long after this painful incident we made a discovery of extreme
interest. It was nothing less than a big smithy! Edmund had foretold that
we should find something of the kind.

"Those braziers and cooking pots," he had said, "and the tools that must
have been needed to build the steps and to dig their graves, prove that
they know how to work in iron. If it is not done in these caverns, then
they get it from some other similar community. But I think it likely that
we shall come upon some signs of the work hereabouts."

"Maybe they import it from Pittsburg," was the remark that fun-loving
Jack could not refrain from making.

"Well, you'll see," said Edmund.

And, as I have already told you, he was right. We did find the smithy,
with several stout fellows pounding out rude tools with equally rude
hammers of iron. Of course we could ask them no questions, for their
language was only a kind of squeak, and they seemed to converse mostly by
means of expressive signs. But Edmund was not long in drawing his
conclusions.

"This," he said, after closely examining the metal, "is native iron.
There's nothing remarkable in the fact that it should be here. All the
solid planets, as you know" (turning to me), "are very largely composed
of iron, and Venus, being nearer the center of the system, may have
proportionally more of it than the earth. And these fellows have found
out its usefulness, and how to work it. There's nothing surprising in
that, either, for some of our savages have done as much on the earth. Now
I'll make another prediction--we are going to find coal here. That is
inevitable, since we know that they burn it in the caverns. I shouldn't
wonder if it were close at hand, from the look of these rocks."

He approached the wall of the cavern containing the smithy, and
immediately exclaimed:

"Look here! Here it is!"

And sure enough, on joining him we saw a seam of as fine anthracite as
Pennsylvania ever produced.

"A Carboniferous Age on Venus!" Edmund continued. "What do you think of
that? But, of course, it was sure to be so; all the planets that are old
enough have been through practically the same stages. Think of it! The
plants that gave origin to this coal must have flourished here when Venus
still rotated on her axis rapidly enough to have day and night succeeding
one another on all sides of her, for now no vegetation except the
insignificant plants that grow in these caverns can live on this
hemisphere. And think, too, of the countless ages that must have been
consumed in slowing down her rotation by the friction of her ocean
tides."

"Has Venus got any oceans?" asked Jack.

"I haven't a doubt of it; but we shall find none on this side, although
they must once have been here."

We all mused for a time on the subject that Edmund had started, when
suddenly his face lighted up with the greatest animation, and he
exclaimed, but as if speaking to himself rather than to us:

"Capital! It couldn't have happened better!"

"What's capital?" drawled Jack.

"Why, this smithy, and these Tubal Cains here. Unconsciously they have
solved for me a problem that has given me considerable trouble. Almost as
soon as we got acquainted with the people of the caverns the idea
occurred to me that I should like to take some of them with us when we
visit the other hemisphere. There are many interesting observations that
their presence on that side of Venus would give rise to, and, besides,
they might be of great use to us. Of course I meant to bring them back to
their home. But the puzzling question has been how to transport them. The
car has a full load already."

"They've got good legs; make 'em walk," said Jack.

Edmund burst into a laugh.

"Why, Jack," he asked, "how far do you think it is to the other side of
Venus?"

"I don't know," said Jack, "but I suppose it's not very far round her.
How far is it?"

"Five thousand miles, at least, to the edge of the sunlit hemisphere."

Jack whistled.

"By Jo! I wouldn't have believed it."

"Well, it's a fact," said Edmund, "and of course I don't propose to take
several months to make the journey. Now the sight of these fellows at
work has shown me just how it can be done in short order. It's this way:
I'll have iron sleds made, put the natives that I propose to take along
upon them, hitch them by wire cables, which luckily I've got, to the car,
and away we'll spin. The power of the car is practically unlimited, and,
as you have observed, the ground is as flat and smooth as a prairie, and,
moreover, is coated with an icy covering."

Jack glowed with enthusiasm over this project, and was about to indulge
in one of his characteristic outbreaks, when there came an interruption
which ended in a drama that put silver streaks among my coal-black locks!
Some one came in where we were and called off the workmen, who went out
with the others in great haste. Of course we followed at their heels. On
reaching the principal cavern, we found a singular scene. Two natives,
whom we had never seen before, were evidently in charge of some kind of a
ceremony. They wore tall, conical hats made of polished metal and covered
with hieroglyphics, and carried staves of iron in their hands.

"Priests," Edmund immediately whispered. "Now we'll see something
interesting."

The "priests" marshaled all the others, numbering several hundreds, into
a long column, and then began a slow, solemn march up the steps. The
leaders produced a squeaking music by blowing into the ends of their
staves. Women were mingled with men, and even the children were there,
too. We followed at the tail of the procession, our curiosity at the
highest pitch. At the rate we went it must have taken nearly an hour to
mount the steps, but at last all emerged in the open air, where the cold
struck to our marrow. The natives didn't seem to mind it, but we ran back
and donned our furs. Then we re-ascended and stepped out into the Arctic
night, finding the crowd assembled not far from the entrance to the
cavern. The frosty sky was ablaze with stars, and directly overhead shone
a planet of amazing size and splendor with a little one beside it.

"The earth and the moon!" exclaimed Edmund.

I cannot describe the flood of feeling that went over me at that sight!
But in a moment Edmund interrupted my meditation by saying, in a quick,
nervous way:

"_Look at that!_"

The natives had formed themselves in a circle with the two priests
standing alone in the center. All but these two had dropped on their
knees, while the leaders, elevating their long arms toward the zenith,
gazed upward, uttering a kind of chant in their queer, squeaking voices.

"Don't you see what they're about?" demanded Edmund, twitching me
irritably by the sleeve. "They're worshipping the earth!"

It was the truth--the amazing truth! They were worshipping our planet in
the sky! And, indeed, she looked worth worshipping. Never have I seen so
splendid a star. She was twenty times as bright as the most brilliant
planet that any terrestrial astronomer ever beheld; and the moon, glowing
beside her like an attendant, redoubled the beauty of the sight.

"It's just the moment of the conjunction," said Edmund. "This is their
religion; the earth is their goddess, and when she is nearest and
brightest they perform this ceremony in her honor. I wouldn't have missed
this for a world."

Suddenly the two priests began to pirouette, and as they whirled more and
more rapidly, their huge glowing eyes made phosphorescent circles in the
gloom like those that had so alarmed and fascinated us in the cavern.
They gyrated round the ring of worshipers with accelerated speed, and all
those poor creatures fell under the fascination and drooped with heads to
the ground. Now for the first time I caught sight of an oblong object
rising a couple of feet above the ground in the center of the circle. I
was wondering what it might be when the spinning priests, who had
gradually drawn closer to the ring of worshipers, dived into the circle,
and, catching each a native in his arms, ran with their captives to the
curious object that I have just described.

"It's a sacrificial stone!" exclaimed Edmund. "They're going to kill them
as an offering to the earth and her child the moon."

I was frozen with horror at the sight, but just as the second priest
reached the altar, where the first victim had already been pinned with
the sharp point of the sacrificial staff, his captive, suddenly
recovering his senses, and terrified by the awful fate confronting him,
uttered a cry, wrenched himself loose, and, running like the wind, leaped
over the circle and disappeared in the darkness. The fugitive passed
close by us, and Jack shouted as he darted past:

"Good boy!"

The enraged priest was after him like lightning, and as he came near us
his awful eyes seemed to emit actual flames. But the runner had vanished.
Without an instant's hesitation the priest shot out his great arm and
caught _me_ by the throat! In another second I felt myself carried in a
bound, as if a tiger had seized me, over the drooping heads of the
worshipers and toward the horrible altar.

CHAPTER V

OFF FOR THE SUN LANDS

Dreadful as the moment was, I did not lose my senses. On the contrary, my
mind was fearfully clear and active. There was not a horror that I
missed. The strength and agility of my captor were astounding. I could no
more have struggled with him than with a lion. Only one thing flashed
upon me to do; I yelled with all the strength of my lungs. But they had
become accustomed to our voices now, and the maddened creature was so
intent upon his fell purpose that a cannon-shot would not have diverted
him from it.

He got me to the altar, where the preceding victim already lay with his
heart torn out, and, pressing me against it with all his bestial force,
raised the pointed staff to transfix me. With dying eyes I saw the earth
gleaming, magnificent, directly over my head, and my heart bounded with
unreasoning hope at the sight. It was my mother planet, powerful to save!

All this passed in a second, while the dreadful spear was poised for its
work. Even in that fraction of time I noticed the bunching muscles of the
murderer's hairy arm, and then I pressed my eyes shut.

_Bang!_

Something touched me, and I felt the warm blood gushing. Then I knew no
more.

* * * * *

In the midst of a dream of boyhood scenes a murmur of familiar voices
awoke me. I opened my eyes, but as I could not make out where I was,
closed them again.

Then I heard Edmund saying:

"He's coming out all right."

Thereupon, I reopened my eyes, but still the scene puzzled me. I saw
Edmund's face, and behind those of Jack and Henry, wearing anxious looks.
But this was not my room! It seemed to be a cave, with faint firelight
reflections on the walls.

"Where am I?" I asked.

"Back in the cavern, and coming along all right," said Edmund.

Back in the cavern! What did he mean? Then, suddenly, memory returned.

"So he didn't sacrifice me!" I cried.

"Not on your life!" Jack's hearty voice responded. "Edmund was too quick
for that."

"But only by a fraction of a second!" said Edmund, smiling.

"What happened, then?" I asked, my recollections coming back stronger and
stronger.

"A mighty good shot happened," said Jack. "The best I ever saw."

I looked inquiringly at Edmund. He saw that I could bear it, and he
began:

"When that fellow snatched you up and leaped inside the circle I had my
furs wrapped so closely around me, not anticipating any danger, that for
quite ten seconds I was unable to get out my pistol. I tore the garment
open just in time, for already he was pressing you against the accursed
altar with his spear poised. I didn't waste any time finding my aim, but
even as it was the iron point had touched you when the bullet crashed
through his brain. The shock swerved the weapon a little and you were
only wounded in the shoulder. You got a scratch which might have been
serious but for your Arctic coat. The fellow fell dead beside you, and
under the circumstances I felt compelled to shoot the other one also, for
he was insane with the delirium of their bloody rite, and I knew that our
lives would never be safe if he remained ready for mischief.

"I'm sorry to have had to begin killing right and left again, but I guess
that's the lot of all invaders, wherever they may go. It's the second
lesson for these savages, and I believe it will prove final. When their
priests were dead and the others had no fight in them, even if they had
intended any harm to us. Nobody knows to what those chaps might have led
them, and my conscience is easy this time."

"How long have I been here?" I asked.

"Two days by the calendar clock?" replied Jack.

"Yes, two days," Edmund assented. "I never saw a man so knocked out by a
shock, for the wound wasn't much; I fixed that up in five minutes. But I
don't blame you. In your place I should have been scared to the bottom of
my soul also. But look at yourself."

He held a pocket mirror before me, and then I saw that my hair was
streaked with gray!

"But we haven't been idle in the meanwhile," Edmund went on. "I've got
two sleds nearly completed, and to-morrow at midnight--earth time--I mean
to set out for the sunny lands of Venus."

"How in the world could you have worked so fast?" I asked in surprise.

"Because I had certain tools in the car which vastly facilitated the
operation; but I must admit that the savage blacksmiths worked well, too,
and showed surprising intelligence in comprehending my directions.
Perhaps that was because I had learned their language."

"Learned their language!" I exclaimed, staring in amazement.

"Well, perhaps that's putting it a little too strong; but I have learned
enough to establish a pretty good understanding with them. There's
nothing like working together to make intelligent creatures comprehend
one another."

"But what kind of a language is it, then?" I asked.

"A language to make your hair stand on end," put in Jack. "The language
that ghosts speak, I reckon! Not that I understand the least little bit
of it, but I judge from what Edmund says."

With increasing bewilderment I looked at our leader. He smiled, and then
looked thoughtful for a moment before again speaking. At last he said:

"It's a subject that I may be better able to discuss after I have learned
more about it. All I can say at present is that it appears to be a kind
of telepathy. You know that their voices seem hardly more cultivated, or
capable of regular articulation, than those of mere brutes; and, besides,
they have a certain horror of sound. These smiths wear coverings over
their ears to minify the noise of their hammering. Yet they are able to
converse, partly by physical signs, but more, I am sure, by some means
which they possess of transferring thought without the mediation of any
senses familiar to us. Sometimes I imagine that their extraordinary eyes
play a large part in the phenomenon. But, however that may be, they
certainly are able to read some of my thoughts, when we are in close
relations and working together. One of them is especially gifted in this
way, and what do you think? I have discovered his name!"

"Now, Edmund--" I began incredulously.

"Yes," he persisted, "it's a fact. You are to remember that they do
interchange some of their ideas by means of sounds, and they have certain
words, among which I am disposed to think are their individual
designations. One of these words particularly attracted my attention
because I observed that it was always addressed to the person I have just
spoken of, and I finally concluded that it was his name. As near as I can
imitate it, it sounds something like 'Juba.' So that's what I call him,
and he's going to be the chief of the party that I propose to take with
us. His services may be invaluable to us."

A great deal more was said on this curious subject, but since we did not
arrive at a complete understanding of it until after we had reached the
other side of the planet, I shall postpone any further explanation to the
chapters which will be devoted to our astonishing adventures on that part
of Venus.

My wound, as Edmund had said, was very slight, and the effects of the
shock having passed off during the period of my unconsciousness, I was
soon busy with the others in making the final preparations for our
departure. The sleds were, of course, very rude affairs, but they were
also very strong. Among the innumerable stores which Edmund's foresight
had led him to put into the car were a number of exceedingly strong but
light metallic cables. With these the two sleds were hitched, one behind
the other, and a line about a hundred feet long connected them with the
car. The latter could thus rise to a considerable height without lifting
the sleds from the ground.

The sleds were provisioned from the stores of the natives, and we also
took some of their food in the car, not only to eke out our own but
because we had come to like it.

Edmund had already chosen the fellows who were to accompany us, and among
them were two of the smiths besides Juba. In all they were eight. How he
succeeded in persuading them I do not know, but not the slightest
objection was apparent on their part, or on the part of their compatriots
in the caverns. We were all ready at the predetermined time, and the
scene at our departure was a strange one.

At least five hundred natives had assembled in a furry crowd around the
entrance to the caverns to see us off. When we started, the fellows on
the sleds, being unused to the motion, clung together like so many
awkward white bears taking a ride in the circus. Their friends stood
about the ill-omened sacrificial altar, waving their long arms, while
their huge eyes goggled in the starlight.

Jack, in a burst of enthusiasm, fired four or five parting shots from his
pistol. As the reports crashed through the heavy air, you should have
seen the crowd vanish down the hole! The sight made me wince, for they
must have gone down like a cataract, all heaped together. But they were
tough, and I trust no heads were broken. The effect on the eight fellows
on the sleds came near being disastrous. I expected to see them leap off
and run, which no doubt they would have done if Edmund had not taken, for
other reasons, the precaution to tie them fast. But they strained at
their bonds, and squealed in terror.

"Give me your pistol!" commanded Edmund, in a voice of thunder, and with
blazing eyes.

Jack was almost twice his size, but he handed over the pistol with the
air of a rebuked schoolboy.

"When you learn how to use it, I'll give it back to you," said Edmund
sternly, and that closed the incident.

Then we began gradually to put on speed, and as the ground was icy smooth
and entirely unobstructed, we were soon traveling at the rate of sixty
miles an hour. The plan of the sleds worked like magic, and after their
first terror had passed away it was plain to be seen that the natives
enjoyed the new sensation immensely. And, indeed, it was a glorious spin!

But in a little while a danger developed which we had not thought of. It
arose from the existence of other caverns whose mouths opened upon the
plain. To have precipitated the sleds into these would have been fatal.
Luckily, shafts of light issued from all of them, and warned by these, we
managed to avoid the danger. But it was not entirely passed before we had
traveled at least a hundred miles. It was like an immense city of prairie
dogs without mounds. The cavern that we had discovered on our arrival was
evidently situated on the outskirts of the group, and now we were passing
through the center of it. Occasionally we saw a huge white form disappear
in one of the holes as we swiftly approached, but that was all we beheld
of the inhabitants. But the spectacle of the shafts of light rising all

Book of the day: