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A Columbus of Space by Garrett P. Serviss

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characters. At least Ala understands it perfectly. As for Ingra, perhaps
he doesn't want to understand it. I can't make out the cause of his
enmity, but it is certain that he doesn't like us, and if it all depended
upon him, it would go hard with us. I believe that we shall have to stand
a trial of some kind, but remember that we've got a powerful advocate. I
don't regret our running off, for, as I anticipated, it afforded us the
opportunity to establish some sort of terms. The mere fact that we return
willingly when they know that we might have fled beyond their reach
should count in our favor, for, as I have always insisted, these are
highly intelligent people, with civilized ideas. If I had not been sure
of that I should have continued the flight and depended upon some other
means of recovering the car--or constructing a new one."

We had become so much accustomed to accept Edmund's decisions as final
that none of us thought of objecting to what he had done; unless it might
have been Henry, but he kept his thoughts to himself.

CHAPTER XI

BEFORE THE THRONE OF VENUS

While we were dropping down toward the city, with a great fleet of air
ships attending, Edmund opened his mind upon another curious difficulty
besetting us.

"You, of course, noted," he said, "how close we approached at one time to
the cloud dome. The existence of that sky screen is a circumstance which
may possibly be decisive in the determination of our fate."

"Favorable or unfavorable?" I asked.

"Unfavorable, for this reason. If these people could be made to
understand that we are visitors from another world, and not inhabitants
of the other side of their own planet, they might treat us with greater
consideration, and even with a certain superstitious deference. The
imagination is doubtless as active with them as with terrestrial beings,
and if you can once touch the imagination, even of the most intelligent
and instructed persons, you can do almost anything you choose with them.
But how am I to convey to them any idea of this kind? Seeing neither sun,
nor moon, nor stars, they can have no conception of such a thing as
another world than their own."

"Couldn't you persuade them," said Jack, "that we come from the upper
side of the cloud dome? You could pretend that it's very fine living up
there--plenty of sunshine and good air."

Edmund laughed.

"I'm afraid, Jack, that they are too intelligent to believe that a person
of your avoirdupois could walk on the clouds. You're not quite angelic
enough for that. I'm sure that they know perfectly well what the dome
consists of."

"The presence of Juba with us is another difficulty," I suggested. "If,
as you suppose, they recognize certain racial characteristics in him,
which convince them that he belongs to the other side of Venus, then they
are sure to believe that we belong there, too."

"Certainly. But I must find some way round the difficulty. I depend upon
the intelligence of Ala. If she had been killed, nothing could have saved
us. We have had an unpleasant escape from something too closely
resembling the misfortune of Oedipus."

In the meanwhile, we reached the capital and disembarked on the great
tower. To our intense surprise and delight, instead of being reconducted
to prison, we were led into a magnificent apartment, with open arches
facing toward the distant mountains, and a repast was spread before us.
Juba, to our great contentment, was allowed to accompany us. I think that
Jack was the most pleased member of the party at the sight of the food.
We sat at a round table, and I observed that the eatables consisted, as
with Juba's people, exclusively of vegetables, except that there were
birds, of species unknown to us, but of most exquisite flavor, and a
light, white wine, the most delicious that I ever tasted.

When we had finished eating, we fell to admiring the view, and Jack
pulled out his pipe, and, aided by Edmund's pocket lamp, which possessed
an attachment for cigar lighting, began to smoke, leaning back
luxuriously in his seat, with as much nonchalance as if he had been in
the smoking room at the Olympus. I think I may say that we all exhibited
a _sang froid_ amidst our novel surroundings that would have astonished
us if we had stopped to analyze our feelings, but in that respect Jack
was often the coolest member of the party, although he had not the iron
nerves of Edmund. On this occasion, he was not long in producing a
sensation. No sooner had the smoke begun to curl from his lips than the
attendants in the room were thrown into a state of laughable
consternation. Evidently they thought, like the servant of Walter
Raleigh, that the smoke must come from an internal fire. Their looks
showed alarm as well as astonishment.

"Keep your pipe concealed," whispered Edmund. "Take a few strong whiffs,
and hide it in your pocket before they observe whence the smoke really
comes. This may do us some good; it will, at least, serve to awake their
imagination, and that is what we need."

Jack did as requested, first filling his mouth with smoke, and then
slowly letting it out in puffs that more and more astonished the
onlookers, who kept at a respectful distance, and excitedly discussed the
phenomenon. Suddenly, Jack, with characteristic mobility of thought,
turned to Edmund and demanded:

"Edmund, why didn't those fellows shoot us when we were running away?
There were enough of them to bring us down with the wildest sort of
shooting."

"They didn't shoot," was the reply, "because they had nothing to shoot
with. I have made up my mind that they are an unwarlike people. I don't
believe that they have the slightest idea what a gun is. Yet they are no
cowards, and they'll fight if there is need of fighting, and no doubt
they have weapons of some kind; only they are not natural slaughterers
like ourselves, and I shouldn't be surprised if war is unknown on Venus.

"All the same," said Jack, "I wish I had my pistol back. I tried to hide
it, but those fellows had their eyes on it, and it's confiscated. I'm
glad you think they don't know how to use it."

"And I'm glad," returned Edmund, "that you haven't got your pistol.
You've been altogether too handy with it. Now," he continued, "let us
consider our situation. You see at a glance that we have gained a great
deal as a result of the parley; the way we have just been treated here
shows plainly enough that we shall, at least, have a fair trial, and we
couldn't have counted on that before. You can never make people listen to
reason against their inclination unless you hold certain advantages, and
our advantage was that we clearly had it in our power to continue our
flight. My only anxiety now is in regard to the means of holding them to
the agreement--for agreement it certainly was--and of impressing them not
only with a conviction of our innocence but with a sense of our reserve
power, and the more mysterious I can make that power seem to them, the
better. That is why I welcomed even the incident of Jack's smoking. We
shall surely be arraigned before a court of some kind, and I imagine that
we shall not have long to wait. What I wish particularly is that all of
you shall desist from every thought of resistance, and follow strictly
such instructions as I may have occasion to give you."

He had hardly ceased speaking when a number of official-looking persons
entered the room where we were.

"Here come the cops," said Jack. "Now for the police court."

He was not very far wrong. We were gravely conducted to one of the little
craft which served for elevators, and after a rapid descent, were led
through a maze of passages terminating in a vast and splendid apartment,
apparently perfectly square in plan, and at least three hundred feet on a
side. It was half filled with a brilliant throng, in which our entry
caused a sensation. Light entered through lofty windows on all four
sides. The floor seemed to be of a rose-colored marble, with inlaid
diapering of lapis lazuli, and the walls and ceiling were equally rich.
But that which absolutely fascinated the eye in this great apartment was
a huge circle high on the wall opposite the entrance door, like a great
clock face, or the rose window of a cathedral, from which poured
trembling streams of colored light.

"Chromatic music, once more," said Edmund, in a subdued voice. "Do you
know, that has a strange effect upon my spirits, situated as we are. It
is a prelude that may announce our fate; it might reveal to us the
complexion of our judges, if I could but read its meaning."

"It is too beautiful to spell tragedy," I said.

"Ah, who knows? What is so fascinating as tragedy for those who are only
lookers-on?"

"But, Edmund," I protested, "why do you, who are always the most hopeful,
now fall into despondency?"

"I am not desponding," he replied, straightening up. "But this soundless
music thrills me with its mysterious power, and sometimes it throws me
into dejection, though I cannot tell why. To me, when what I firmly
believe was the great anthem of this wonderful race, was played in the
sky with spectral harmonies, there was, underlying all its mystic beauty,
an infinite sadness, an impending sense of something tragic and
terrible."

I was deeply surprised and touched by Edmund's manner, and would have
questioned him further, but we were interrupted by the officials, who now
led us across the vast apartment and to the foot of a kind of throne
which stood directly under the great clock face. Then, for the first
time, we recognized Ala, seated on the throne. Beside her was a person of
majestic stature, with features like those of a statue of Zeus, and long
curling hair of snowy whiteness. The severity of his aspect struck cold
to my heart, but Ala's countenance was smiling and full of encouragement.
As we were led to our places a hush fell upon the throng of attendants,
and the colors ceased to play from the circle.

"Orchestra stopped," whispered the irrepressible Jack. "Curtain rises."

The pause that followed brought a fearful strain upon my nerves, but in a
moment it was broken by Ala, who fixed her eyes upon Edmund's face as he
stood a little in advance of the rest of us. He returned her regard
unflinchingly. Every trace of the feeling which he had expressed to me
was gone. He stood erect, confident, masterful, and as I looked, I felt a
thrill of pride in him, pride in his genius which had brought us hither,
pride in our mother earth--for were we not her far-wandering children?

[Illustration: "'Who and what are you, and whence do you come?'"]

I summoned all my powers in the effort to understand the tongueless
speech which I knew was issuing from Ala's eyes. And I did understand it!
Although there was not a sound, I would almost have sworn that my ears
heard the words:

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

Breathlessly I awaited Edmund's answer. He slowly lifted his hand and
pointed upward. He was, then, going at once to proclaim our origin from
another world; to throw over us the aegis of the earth!

The critical experiment had begun, and I shivered at the thought that
here they knew no earth; here no flag could protect us. I saw perplexity
and surprise in Ala's eyes and in those of the stern Zeus beside her.
Suddenly a derisive smile appeared on the latter's lips, while Ala's
confusion continued. God! Were we to fail at the very beginning?

Edmund calmly repeated his gesture, but it met with no response; no
indication appeared to show that it awakened any feeling other than
uncomprehending astonishment in one of his judges and derision in the
other. And then, with a start, I caught sight of Ingra, standing close
beside the throne, his face made more ugly by the grin which overspread
it.

I was almost wild; I opened my mouth to cry I know not what, when there
was a movement behind, and Juba stepped to Edmund's side, dropped on his
knees, rose again, and fixed his great eyes upon the judges!

My heart bounded at the thoughts which now raced through my brain. Juba
belonged to their world, however remote the ancestral connection might
be; he possessed at least the elements of their unspoken language; and
_it might be a tradition among his people, who we knew worshipped the
earth-star, that it was a brighter world than theirs_. Had Edmund's
gesture suddenly suggested to his mind the truth concerning us--a truth
which the others had not his means of comprehending--and could he now
bear effective testimony in our favor?

With what trembling anxiety I watched his movements! Edmund, too, looked
at him with mingled surprise and interest in his face. Presently he
raised his long arm, as Edmund had done, and pointed upward. A momentary
chill of disappointment ran through me--could he do no more than that?
But he _did_ more. Half unconsciously I had stepped forward where I could
see his face. _His eyes were speaking._ I knew it. And, thank God! there
was a gleam of intelligence answering him from the eyes of our judges.

He had made his point; he had suggested to them a thought of which they
had never dreamed!

They did not thoroughly comprehend him; I could see that, for he must
have been for them like one speaking a different dialect, to say nothing
of the fundamental difficulty of the idea that he was trying to convey,
but yet the meaning did not escape, and as he continued his strange
communication, the wonder spread from face to face, for it was not only
the judges who had grasped the general sense of what he was telling them.
Even at that critical moment there came over me a feeling of admiration
for a language like this; a truly universal language, not limited by
rules of speech or hampered by grammatical structure. At length it became
evident that Juba had finished, but he continued standing at Edmund's
side.

Ala and her white-headed companion looked at one another, and I tried to
read their thoughts. In her face, I believed that I could detect every
sign of hope for us. Occasionally she glanced with a smile at Edmund. But
the old judge was more implacable, or more incredulous. There was no
kindness in his looks, and slowly it became clear that Ala and he were
opposed in their opinion.

Suddenly she placed her hand upon her breast, where the bullet must have
grazed her, and made an energetic gesture, including us in its sweep,
which I interpreted to mean that she had no umbrage against those who had
unintentionally injured her. It was plain that she insisted upon this
point, making it a matter personal to herself, and my hopes rose when I
thought that I detected signs of yielding on the part of the other. At
this moment, when the decision seemed to hang in the balance, a new
element was introduced into the case with dramatic suddenness and
overwhelming force.

For several minutes I had seen nothing of Ingra, but my thoughts had been
too much occupied with more important things to take heed of his
movements. Now he appeared at the left of the throne, leading a file of
fellows bearing a burden. They went direct to the foot of the throne, and
deposited their burden within a yard of the place where Edmund was
standing. They drew off a covering, and I could not repress a cry of
consternation.

It was the body of one of their compatriots, and a glance at it sufficed
to show the manner in which death had been inflicted. It had been crushed
in a way which could probably mean nothing else than a fearful fall. The
truth flashed upon me like a gleaming sword. The victim must have been
precipitated from the air ship which we had struck at the beginning of
our flight!

And there stood our enemy, Ingra, with exultation written on his
features. He had made a master stroke, like a skillful prosecutor.

"Hang him!" I heard Jack mutter between his teeth. "Oh, if I only had my
pistol!"

"Then you would make matters a hundred times worse," I whispered. "Keep
your head, and remember Edmund's injunction."

The behavior of the latter again awoke my utmost admiration.
Contemptuously turning his back upon Ingra, he faced Ala and old Zeus,
and as their regards mingled, I knew well what he was trying to express.
This time, since his meaning involved no conception lying utterly beyond
their experience, he was more successful. He told them that the death of
this person was a fact hitherto unknown to us, and that, like the injury
to Ala, it had been inflicted without our volition. I believed that this
plea, too, was accepted as valid by Ala; but not so with the other. He
understood it perfectly, and he rejected it on the instant. My reason
told me that nothing else could have been expected of him, for, truly,
this was drawing it rather strong--to claim twice in succession immunity
for evils which had undeniably originated from us.

Our case looked blacker and blacker, as it became evident that the
opposition between our two judges had broken out again, and was now more
decided than before. The features of the old man grew fearfully stern,
and he rejected all the apparent overtures of Ala. He had been willing to
pardon the injury and insult to her person, since she herself insisted
upon pardon, but now the affair was entirely different. Whether purposely
or not, we had caused the death of a subject of the realm, and he was not
to be swerved aside from what he regarded as his duty. My nerves shook at
the thought that we knew absolutely nothing about the social laws of this
people, and that, among them, the rule of an eye for an eye, and blood
for blood, might be more inviolable than it had ever been on the earth.

As the discussion proceeded, with an intensity which spoken words could
not have imparted to it, Ala's cheeks began to glow, and her eyes to
glitter with strange light. One could see the resistance in them rising
to passion, and, at last, as the aged judge again shook his head, with
greater emphasis than ever, she rose, as if suddenly transformed. The
majestic splendor of her countenance was thrilling. Lifting her jeweled
arm with an imperious gesture, she commanded the attendants to remove the
bier, and was instantly obeyed. Then she beckoned to Edmund, and without
an instant's hesitation, he stepped upon the lower stage of the throne.
With the stride of a queen, she descended to his side, and, resting her
hand on his shoulder, looked about her with a manner which said, as no
words could have done:

"It is the power of my protection which encircles him!"

CHAPTER XII

MORE MARVELS

It was not until long afterwards that we fully comprehended all that Ala
had done in that simple act; but I will tell you now what it meant. By
the unwritten law of this realm of Venus, she, as queen, had the right to
interpose between justice and its victim, and such interposition was
always expressed in the way which we had witnessed. It was a right rarely
exercised, and probably few then present had ever before seen it put into
action. The sensation which it caused was, in consequence, exceedingly
great, and a murmur of astonishment arose from the throng in the great
apartment, and hundreds pressed around the throne, staring at us and at
the queen. The majestic look which had accompanied her act gradually
faded, and her features resumed their customary expression of kindness.
The old judge had risen as she stepped from her place beside him, and he
seemed as much astonished as any onlooker. His hands trembled, he shook
his head, and a single word came from his mouth, pronounced with a
curious emphasis. Ala turned to him, with a new defiance in her eyes,
before which his opposition seemed to wither, and he sank back into his
seat.

But there was at least one person present who accepted the decision with
a bad grace--Ingra. He had been sure of victory in his incomprehensible
persecution of us, he had played a master card, and now his
disappointment was written upon his face. With surprise, I saw Ala
approach him, smiling, and I was convinced that she was trying to
persuade him to cease his opposition. There was a gentleness in her
manner--almost a deference--which grated upon my feelings, while Jack's
disgust could find no words sufficient to express itself:

"Beauty and the beast!" he growled. "By Jo, if _he's_ got any influence
over her, I'm sorry for her."

"Well, well, don't worry about him," I said. "He's played his hand and
lost, and if you were in his place, you wouldn't feel any better about
it."

"No, I'd go and hang myself, and that's what he ought to do. But isn't
_she_ a queen, though!"

Ala now resumed her place upon the throne, and issued orders which
resulted in our being conducted to apartments that were set aside for us
in the palace. There were four connecting rooms, and Juba had one of
them. But we immediately assembled in the chief apartment, which had been
assigned to Edmund. There was much more deference in the manner of our
attendants than we had observed before, and as soon as they left us we
fell to discussing the recent events. Jack's first characteristic act was
joyously to slap Juba on the back:

"Bully old boy!" he exclaimed. "Edmund, where'd we have been without
Juba?"

"I ought to have foreseen that," said Edmund. "If I had been as wise as I
sometimes think myself, I'd have arranged the thing differently. Of
course it should have been obvious all the while that Juba would be our
trump card. I dimly saw that, but I ought to have instructed him in
advance. As it was, his own intelligence did the business. He understood
my claim to an origin outside this planet, when they could not. It must
have come over him all at a flash."

"But do you think that they understand it now?" I asked.

"To a certain extent, yes. But it is an utterly new idea to them, and all
the better for us that it is so. It is so much the more mysterious; so
much the more effective with the imagination. But this is not the end of
it; they will want to know more--especially Ala--and now that Juba has
broken the ice, it will be comparatively easy to fortify the new opinion
which they have conceived of us."

"But Ingra nearly wrecked it all," I remarked.

"Yes, that was a stunning surprise. How devilish cunning the fellow is;
and how inexplicable his antipathy to us."

"I believe that it is a kind of jealousy," I said.

"A kind of natural cussedness, _I_ guess," put in Jack.

"Why should he be jealous?" asked Edmund.

"I don't know, exactly; but you know we are not simple barbarians in
their eyes, and Ingra may have conceived a prejudice against us, somehow,
on that very account."

"Very unlikely," Edmund returned, "but we shall find out all about it in
time; in the meanwhile, do nothing to prejudice him further, for he is a
power that we have got to reckon with."

The conversation then turned upon the mysterious language that had been
employed at what we called the trial. I expressed the admiration which I
had felt for such a means of communication when I had observed the effect
that Juba had been able to produce.

"Yes," said Edmund, "it seems as wonderful as it is beautiful, but there
is no reason why it should not have been acquired by the inhabitants of
the earth. We have the elements, not merely in what we call telepathy, or
mind reading, but in our everyday converse. Try it yourself, and you will
be astonished at what the eyes, the looks, are able to convey. Even
abstract ideas are not beyond their reach. Often we abandon speech for
this better method of conveying our meaning. How many a turn in the
history of mankind has depended upon the unspoken diplomacy of the eyes;
how many a crisis in our personal lives is determined, not by words, but
by looks."

"That's right," said Jack, "more matches are made with eyes than with
lips."

Edmund smiled and continued: "There's nothing really mysterious about it.
It has a purely physical basis, and only needs attention and development
to become the most perfect mode of mental communication that intellectual
beings could possibly possess."

"And the music and language of color?" I asked. "How has that been
developed?"

"As naturally as the silent speech. We have it, and we feel it, in
pictures, in flower gardens, and in landscapes; only with us it is a
frozen music. Living music exists on the earth only in the form of
sonorous vibrations because we have not developed our sense of the
harmony of colors except when they lie dead and motionless before us. A
great painting by Raphael or Turner is to one of these color hymns of
Venus like a printed score, which merely suggests its harmonies, compared
with the same composition when poured forth from a perfect instrument
under the fingers of a master player."

"Well, Edmund," interposed Jack, "I've no doubt it's all as you say, and
I'd like to know just enough of their speechless speech to tell Ingra
what he ought to hear; and if I understood their music, I'd play him a
dead march, sure."

"But," continued Edmund, disregarding Jack's interruption, "mark me,
there's something else behind all this. I have a dim foreglimpse of it,
and if we have luck, we'll know more before long."

I find that the enthusiasm which these wonderful memories arouse, as they
flood back into my mind, is leading me to dwell upon too many details,
and I must sum up in fewer words the story of the events which
immediately followed our acquittal, although it involves some of the most
astonishing discoveries that we made in the world of Venus.

As Edmund had surmised, Ala lost no time in seeking more light upon the
mystery surrounding us. Within twenty-four hours after the dramatic scene
in the hall of judgment, we were summoned before her, in a splendid
apartment, which was apparently an audience chamber, where we found her
surrounded by several of her female attendants, as well as by what seemed
to be high officers of the court; and among them, to our displeasure, was
Ingra. He, in fact, appeared to be the most respected and important
personage there, next to the queen herself, and he kept close by her
side. Edmund glanced at him, and half turning to us, shook his head. I
took his meaning to be that we were not to manifest any annoyance over
Ingra's presence.

The queen was very gracious, and seats were offered to us. Immediately
she began to question Edmund, as I could see; but with all my efforts I
could make out nothing of what was "said." But Juba evidently was able to
follow much of the conversation, in which he manifested the liveliest
interest. The conference lasted about an hour, and at its conclusion, we
retired to our apartments. There we eagerly questioned Edmund concerning
what had occurred.

He seemed to be greatly impressed and pleased. He told us that he had
learned more than he had communicated, but that he had succeeded, as he
believed, in making clearer to Ala our celestial origin. Still, he
doubted if she fully comprehended it, while as for Ingra, he was sure
that the fellow rejected our claim entirely, and persisted in regarding
us as inhabitants of the dark hemisphere.

"Bosh!" cried Jack. "He's too stupid to understand anything above the
level of his nose, and I'd like to flatten that for him!"

"No," said Edmund, "he's not stupid, but I'm afraid he's malicious. If he
were a little more stupid, it would be the better for us."

"But does Ala comprehend the difference between us and Juba--I mean in
regard to origin?" I asked.

"I think so. In fact Juba bears unmistakable signs that he is of their
world, although so different in physical appearance. His remarkable
comprehension of their method of mental communication is alone sufficient
to stamp him as ancestrally one of them. And yet," Edmund continued,
musing, "think of the vast stretch of ages that separates the inhabitants
of the two sides of this planet, the countless eons of evolution that
have brought about the differences now existing! I am delighted to
find that Ala has some understanding of all this. She has had good
teachers--do not smile--for what you have seen of their mechanical
achievements proves that science exists and is cultivated here; and from
her savants she has learned--what our astronomers have deduced--that
formerly Venus turned rapidly on her axis, and had days and nights
swiftly succeeding one another. But they do not know the scientific
reasons as completely as we do. With them this is knowledge based largely
upon tradition, 'ancestral voices' echoing down through periods of time
so vast that our most ancient legends seem but tales of yesterday.
Whatever may be the measure of man's antiquity on the earth, I am certain
that here intellectual life has existed for millions upon millions of
years, and its history stretches back beyond the time when the brake of
tidal friction had so far destroyed the rotation of the planet that its
surface became permanently divided between the reigns of day and night."

I listened with amazement and could not help exclaiming:

"But, Edmund, how could you learn all this in so short a time?"

"Because," he replied, smiling, "the language of the mind, unhampered by
dragging words and blundering sentences, plays back and forth with the
quickness of thought. There is another thing, too, which I have learned,
a thing so amazing that it daunts me. I have found, I believe, the
explanation of that minor note of infinite sadness which, as I told you,
I always feel, even in the most joyous-seeming paeans of their color
music. I think it is due to their forereaching science, which assures
them that this world has entered upon the last stage of its existence
which began with the arrest of its axial rotation, and which will end
with the total extinction of life through the evaporation of all the
waters under the never-setting sun, and the consequent complete
desiccation of this now so beautiful land."

"But," I objected, "you have said that they never see the sun."

"That was, I believe, a mistake, I am sure that they never see the stars
or the planets, but I think that sometimes they see the sun, or, at least
that there is a tradition of its having been seen. The whole thing is yet
obscure to me, but I have received an inkling of something very, very
strange in that regard."

"Then, Ala may think that it is from the sun that we claim to come," I
said, disregarding his last remark, which had a significance which even
he could not then have appreciated.

"I am not sure; we must wait for further light. But I have still another
communication not so instinct with mystery. We are to be shown the
sources of their mechanical power--the means by which they run all their
motors."

"Hurrah," cried Jack. "Now, that's something I like! I can understand a
machine--if you don't ask me to run it--but as for this talking through
the eyes, and playing Jim Crow with rainbows, it's too much for me."

It was not many hours later when we were conducted by Ala, accompanied as
usual by the inevitable Ingra, and a brilliant cortege of attendants,
upon our first excursion through the capital. We embarked in a gorgeous
air ship, and flying low at first, skirted the roofs of the innumerable
houses which constituted the bulk of the city resting on the ground. The
oriental magnificence of the views which we caught in the winding streets
and frequent squares crowded with people, excited our interest to the
utmost. But we kept on without descending or stopping until, at length,
we passed the limits of the immense metropolis, and, flying more rapidly,
and at a greater elevation, soon approached what, at a distance, appeared
to be a waterfall, greater than Niagara, pouring out of the air!

"What marvel can this be?" I asked.

"A fountain," responded Edmund.

"A cataract turned upside down," exclaimed Jack. "Well, I've ceased to be
surprised at anything I see here. I wouldn't be astonished now to find
that their whole old planet was hollow, and full of gnomes, or whatever
you call 'em."

When we got nearer we saw that Edmund's description was substantially
correct. The vast mass of water gushed from the top of a broad plateau,
in the form of a gigantic vertical fountain, with a roar so stupendous
that Ala and her attendants immediately covered their ears with
protectors, and we should not have been sorry to follow their example,
for our eardrums were almost burst by the billowing force of the sound
waves. The water shot upward four or five hundred feet with geyser-like
plumes reaching a thousand feet, and then descended in floods on all
sides. But the slope of the ground was such that eventually it was all
collected in a river, which flowed away with great swiftness, past the
distant city, and disappeared in the direction of the sea from which we
had come. The solid column of rising water must have been, at its base,
three hundred feet in diameter!

But our amazement was redoubled when we recognized, at various points of
vantage, squat, metallic towers of enormous strength, which caught the
descending water, allowing it to issue in roaring torrents from their
bases.

"Those," shouted Edmund in our ears, "are power houses. I knew already
that these people had learned the mechanical uses of electricity; and if
we have seen no electric lights as yet, it is because, in a world of
perpetual daylight, they have little or no use for them. They employ the
power for other purposes."

"But how do you account for this incredible fountain?" I asked.

"It must be due to geological causes, if I may use a terrestrial term.
You observe that the land all has a slope hitherward from the distant
range of mountains, and that between us and the sea there is a chain of
hills. The metropolis lies at the lower edge of a vast basin, and it must
be that the relatively porous surface, over many thousands of square
miles, is underlain by an almost unbroken shell of rock, impermeable to
water. The result is that the drainage of this whole immense region,
after being collected under ground, flows together to this point, where
the existence of a huge vent in the upper layer offers it a way of
escape, and it comes spouting out of the great crater with the
consequences which you behold."

Many objections to Edmund's theory occurred to my mind; but he spoke so
confidently, the course of things on this strange planet had so often
followed his indications, and I felt myself so incapable of suggesting a
more satisfactory hypothesis, that I made no reply, as a geologist,
perhaps, would have done. At any rate the wonderful phenomenon existed
before our eyes, explanation or no explanation. We learned afterwards
that the river formed by the giant fountain passed through a gap in the
hills to the seaward, and the more I reflected upon Edmund's idea the
more acceptable I found it.

A great deal of the water was led away from the foot of the plateau out
of which the fountain issued by ditches constructed to irrigate the rich
gardens surrounding the metropolis and the open agricultural country for
many miles around. At the queen's invitation, although she did not
accompany us, we inspected one of the power houses, and Edmund found the
greatest delight in studying the details of the enormous dynamos and the
system of cables by which, quite in our own manner, the electric power
was conveyed to the city. We noticed that everywhere the most ingenious
devices were employed for killing noise.

"I knew we should find all this," said Edmund--"although I did not
precisely anticipate the form that the natural supply of energy would
take--as soon as I saw the aerial screws that give buoyancy to the great
towers. In fact, I foresaw it as soon as I found, in inspecting the
machinery of the air ship which brought us from the sea, that their
motors were driven by storage batteries. It was obvious, then, that they
had some extraordinary source of energy."

"Oh, of course, you knew it all!" muttered Henry under his breath. "But
if you were as omniscient as you think yourself, you'd not be in this
fool's paradise."

"What's that you're saying?" demanded Jack, partly catching the import of
Henry's remark, and beginning to ruffle his feathers.

"Oh, nothing," mumbled Henry, and I shook my head at Jack to keep quiet.
We all felt at times Edmund's assumption of superiority, but Jack and I
were willing to put up with it as one of the privileges of genius. If
Edmund had not believed in himself, he would never have brought us
through. And besides, we always found that he was right, and if he
sometimes spoke rather boastingly of his knowledge and foresight, at
least it was real knowledge and genuine foresight.

CHAPTER XIII

WE FALL INTO TROUBLE AGAIN

It was not long after our visit to the marvelous fountain when Jack
proposed to me that he and I should make a little excursion on our own
account in the city. Edmund was absent at the moment, engaged in some
inquiries which interested him, under the guidance of Ala and her
customary attendants. I forget why Jack and I had stayed behind, since
both Juba and Henry had accompanied Edmund, but it was probably because
we wished to make some necessary repairs to our garments for I confess
that I shared a little of the coquettishness of Jack in that matter. At
any rate, we grew weary of being alone, and decided to venture just a
little way in search of adventure. We calculated that the tower of the
palace, which was so conspicuous, would serve us as a landmark, and that
there was no danger of getting lost.

Nobody interfered with us at our departure, as we had feared they might,
and in a short time we had become so absorbed in the strange spectacles
of the narrow streets, lined with shops and filled with people on foot,
while small air ships continually passed just above the roofs, that we
forgot the necessity of keeping our landmark constantly in view, and were
lost without knowing it.

One thing which immediately struck us was the entire absence of beasts of
burden--nothing like horses or mules did we see. There were not even
dogs, although, as I have told you, some canine-like animals dwelt with
the people of the caverns. Everybody went either on foot or in air ships.
There were no carriages, except a kind of palanquin, some running on
wheels and others borne by hand.

"I should think they would have autos," said Jack, "with all their
science and ingenuity which Edmund admires so much."

But there was not a sign of anything resembling an auto; the silence of
the crowded streets was startling, and made the scene more dreamlike.
Everybody appeared to be shod with some noise-absorbing material. We
strolled along, turning corners with blissful carelessness, staring and
being stared at (for, of course, everybody knew who we were), peering
into open doors and the gaping fronts of bazaars, chattering like a
couple of boys making their first visit to a city, and becoming every
moment more hopelessly, though unconsciously, lost, and more interested
by what we saw. The astonishing display of pleasing colors and the
brilliancy of everything fascinated us. I had never seen anything
comparable to this in beauty, variety, and richness. We passed a market
where we saw some of the bright-plumaged birds that we had eaten at our
first repast hung up for sale. They had a way of serving these birds at
table with the brilliant feathers of the head and neck still attached, as
if they found a gratification even at their meals in seeing beautiful
colors before them.

Other shops were filled with birds in gilded cages, which we should have
taken for songsters but for the fact that, although crowds gathered about
and regarded them with mute admiration, not a sound issued from their
throats--at least we heard none. A palanquin stopped at one of these
shops, and a lady alighted and bought three beautiful birds which she
carried away in their cages, watching them with every indication of the
utmost pleasure, which we ascribed to the splendor of their plumage and
the gracefulness of their forms. As a crowd watched the transaction
without interference on the part of the shopkeeper, or evidence of
annoyance on that of the lady, we took the liberty of a close look
ourselves. Then we saw their money.

"Good, yellow gold," whispered Jack.

Such, indeed, it seemed to be. The lady took the money, which consisted
of slender rings, chased with strange characters, from a golden purse,
and the whole transaction seemed so familiar that we might well have
believed ourselves to be witnessing a purchase in a bazaar of Cairo or
Damascus. This scene led to a desire on Jack's part to buy something
himself.

"If I only had some of their money," he said, "I'd like to get some
curiosities to carry home. I wonder if they'd accept these?" and he drew
from his pocket some gold and silver coins.

"No doubt they'd be glad to have a few as keepsakes," I said.

"By Jo! I think I'll try it," said Jack, "but not here. I'm not a bird
fancier myself. Let's look a little farther."

We wandered on, getting more and more interested, and followed by a
throng of curious natives, who treated us, I must say, much more
respectfully than we should have been treated in similar circumstances at
home. Many of the things we saw, I cannot describe, because there is
nothing to liken them to, but all were as beautiful as they were strange.
At last we found a shop whose contents struck Jack's fancy. The place
differed from any that we had yet seen; it was much larger, and more
richly fitted up than the others, and there were no counters, the things
that it contained being displayed on the inner walls, while a single
keeper, of a grave aspect, and peculiarly attired, all in black, occupied
a seat at the back. The objects on view were apparently ornaments to be
hung up, as we hang plaques on the wall. They were of both gold and
silver, and in some the two metals were intermixed, with pleasing
effects. What seemed singular was the fact that the _motif_ of the
ornaments was always the same, although greatly varied in details of
execution. As near as I could make it out, the intention appeared to be
to represent a sunburst. There was invariably a brilliant polished boss
in the center, sometimes set with a jewel, and surrounding rays of
crinkled form, which plunged into a kind of halo that encircled the
entire work. The idea was commonplace, and it did not occur to me amidst
my admiration of the extreme beauty of the workmanship that there was any
cause for surprise in the finding of a sunburst represented here. Jack
was enthusiastic.

"That's the ticket for me," he said. "How would one of those things look
hanging over the fireplace of old Olympus? You bet I'm going to persuade
the old chap to exchange one for a handful of good solid American money."

I happened to glance behind us while Jack was scooping his pocket, and
was surprised to see that the crowd of idlers, which had been following
us, had dispersed. Looking out of the doorway, I saw some of them
furtively regarding us from a respectful distance. I twitched Jack by the
sleeve:

"See here," I said, "there's some mistake about this. I don't believe
that this is a shop. You'd better be careful, or we may make a bad
break."

"Oh, pshaw!" he replied; "it's a shop all right, or if it isn't exactly a
shop that old duffer will be glad to get a little good money for one of
his gimcracks."

My suspicion that all was not right was not allayed when I noticed that
the old man, whose complexion differed from the prevailing tone here, and
who was specially remarkable by the possession of an eagle-beaked nose, a
peculiarity that I had not before observed among these people, began to
frown as Jack brusquely approached him. But I could not interfere before
Jack had thrown a handful of coin in his lap, and, reaching up, had put
his hand upon one of the curious sunbursts, saying:

"I guess this will suit; what do you say, Peter?"

Instantly the old fellow sprang to his feet, sending the coins rolling
over the polished floor, and with eyes ablaze with anger, seized Jack by
the throat. I sprang to his aid, but in a second four stout fellows,
darting out of invisible corners, grappled us, and before we could make
any effective resistance, they had our arms firmly bound behind our
backs! Jack exerted all his exceptional strength to break loose, but in
vain.

"I tried to stop you, Jack--" I began, in a tone of annoyance, but
immediately he cut me off:

"This is on _me_, Peter; don't you worry. _You_ haven't done anything."

"I'm afraid it's on all of us," I replied. "The whole party, Edmund and
all, may have to suffer for our heedlessness."

"Fiddlesticks," he returned. "I haven't got his old ornament, but he's
got my coin. This looks like a skin game to me. What in thunder did he
hang the things up for if he didn't want to sell 'em?"

"But I told you this wasn't a shop."

"No, I see it isn't; it's a trap for suckers, I guess."

Jack's indignation grew hotter as we were dragged out into the street,
and followed by a crush of people drawn to the scene, were hurried along,
we knew not whither. In fact, his indignation swallowed up the alarm
which he ought to have experienced, and which I felt in full force. I
beat my brains in vain to find some explanation for the merciless
severity with which we were treated so out of all proportion to the
venial fault that had unconsciously been committed, and my perplexity
grew when I saw in the faces of the crowd surrounding us, and running to
keep up, a look of horror, as if we had been guilty of an unspeakable
crime. We were too much hurried and jolted by our captors to address one
another, and in a short time we were widely separated, Jack being led, or
rather dragged, ahead, as if to prevent any communication between us.
Once in a while, to my regret, I observed him exerting all his force to
break his bonds and slinging his custodians about; but he could not get
away, and at last, to my infinite comfort, he ceased to struggle, and
went along as quietly as the rapid pace would permit.

Presently an air ship swooped down from above, and alighted in a little
square which we had just entered. Immediately we were taken aboard, with
small regard to our comfort, and the air ship rose rapidly, and bore off
in the direction of the great tower of the palace which we could now see.
Upon our arrival we were taken through the inevitable labyrinth of
corridors, and finally found ourselves in a place that was entirely new
to us.

It was a round chamber, perhaps two hundred feet in diameter, lighted,
like the Roman Pantheon, by a huge circular opening in the vaulted roof,
through which I caught a glimpse of the pearl-tinted cloud dome, which
seemed infinitely remote. No opposition was made when I pushed ahead in
order to be at Jack's side, and as a throng quickly hedged us round, our
conductors released their hold, although our arms remained bound. When at
last we stood fast we were in front of a rich dais, containing a
thronelike seat occupied by a personage attired in black, the first
glimpse of whose face gave me such a shock as I had not experienced since
the priest of the earth-worshipers seized me for his prey. I have never
seen anything remotely resembling that face. It was without beard, and of
a ghastly paleness. It was seen only in profile, except when, with a
lightning-like movement, it turned, for the fraction of a second, toward
us, and was instantly averted again. It made my nerves creep to look at
it. The nose was immense, resembling a huge curved beak, and the eyes, as
black and glittering as jet, were roofed with shaggy brows, and seemed
capable of seeing crosswise.

Sometimes one side of the face and sometimes the other was presented, the
transition being effected by two instantaneous jerks, with a slight pause
between, during which the terrible eyes transfixed us. At such moments
the creature--though he bore the form of a man--seemed to project his
dreadful countenance toward the object of his inspection like a monstrous
bird stretching forth its neck toward its prey. The effect was
indescribable, terrifying, paralyzing! The eyes glowed like fanned
embers.

"In God's name," gasped Jack, leaning his trembling shoulder upon me,
"what is it?"

I was, perhaps, more unmanned than he, and could make no reply.

Then there was a movement in the throng surrounding us, and the old man
of the sunbursts appeared before the throne, and, after dropping on his
knees and rising again, indicated us with his long finger, and, as was
plain, made some serious accusation. The face turned upon us again with a
longer gaze than usual, and we literally shrank from it. Then its owner
rose from his seat, towering up, it seemed, to a height of full seven
feet, shot his hand out with a gesture of condemnation, and instantly sat
down again and averted his countenance. There seemed to have been a world
of meaning in this brief act to those who could comprehend it. We were
seized, even more roughly than before, and dragged from the chamber, and
at the end of a few minutes found ourselves thrown into a dungeon, where
there was not the slightest glimmer of light, and the door was locked
upon us.

It was a long time before either of us summoned up the courage to speak.
At length I said faintly:

"Jack, I'm afraid it's all over with us. We must have done something
terrible, though I cannot imagine what it was."

But Jack, after his manner, was already recovering his spirits, and he
replied stoutly:

"Nonsense, Peter, we're all right, as Edmund says. Wait till he comes and
he'll fix it."

"But how can he know what has happened? And what could he do if he did?
More likely they will all be condemned along with us."

Jack felt around in the dark and got me by the hand, giving it a hearty
pressure.

"Remember Ala," he said. "She's our friend, or Edmund's, and they'll
bring us out of this. You want to brace up."

"Remember Ingra!" I responded with a shiver, and I could feel Jack start
at the words.

"Hang him!" he muttered. "If I'd only finished him when I had the drop!"

After that neither spoke. If Jack's thoughts were blacker than mine he
must have wished for his pistol to blow out his own brains. At no time
since our arrival on the planet had I felt so depressed. I had no courage
left; could see no lightening of the gloom anywhere. In the horror of the
darkness which enveloped us, the _horror of space_ came over my spirit.
One feels a little of that sometimes when the breadth of an ocean
separates him from home, and from all who really care for him--but what
is the Atlantic or the Pacific to millions upon millions of leagues of
interplanetary space! To be cast away among the inhabitants of another
world than one's own! To have lost, as we had done (for in that moment of
despair I was _sure_ Edmund could never repair the car), the only
possible means of return! To have offended, just _because_ we were
strangers, and _could_ not know better, some incomprehensible social law
of this strange people, who owned not a drop of the blood of our race, or
of any race whatsoever dwelling on the earth! To lie under the
condemnation of that goblin face, without the possibility of pleading
even the mercy that our hearts instinctively grant to the smallest mite
of fellow life on our own planet! To be alone! friendless! forsaken!
condemned!--in a far-off, kinless world! I could have fallen down in
idolatry before a grain of sand from the shore of the Atlantic!

In the murkiest depth of my despair a sound roused me with a shock that
made my heart ache. In a moment the door opened, light streamed in, and
Edmund stood there.

CHAPTER XIV

THE SUN GOD

Strangely enough, I, who have an exceptional memory for spoken words,
cannot, by any effort, recall what Edmund said, as his face beamed in
upon us. I have only a confused recollection that he spoke, and that his
words had a marvelous effect upon my broken spirit. But I can see, as if
it were yet before me, the smile that illumined his features. My heart
bounded with joy, as if a messenger had come straight from the earth
itself, bearing a reprieve whose authority could not be called in
question.

Jack's joy was no less than mine, although he had not suffered mentally
as I had done. And the sight of Ala was hardly less reassuring to us, but
to find Ingra, too, present was somewhat of a shock to our confidence in
speedy delivery from trouble. And, in fact, we were not at once
delivered. We had to spend many weary hours yet in our dark prison, but
they were rendered less gloomy by Edmund's assurance that he would save
us. The confidence that he always inspired seems to me to have been
another mark of his genius. We had an instinct that he could do in any
circumstances what was impossible to ordinary men.

At last the welcome moment came, and we were led forth, free, and
rejoined Edmund, Henry, and Juba in our apartments. Then, for the first,
we learned what we had done, and how narrow had been our escape from a
terrible doom. It was a new chapter of wonder that Edmund opened before
us. I shall tell it in his own words.

"When I returned to the palace and found you missing I was greatly
wrought up. Immediately I applied to Ala for aid in finding you. She was
quickly informed of all the circumstances of your arrest, and I saw at
once, by the expression of her features, that it was a matter of the
utmost gravity. I was not reassured by Ingra's evident joy. I could read
in his face the pleasure that the news gave him, and I perceived that
there was again opposition between him and Ala, and that she was trying,
with less success than I hoped for, to bring him round to her view.

"With no little trouble I finally discovered the nature of your offense.
I understood it the more readily because I had already begun to suspect
the existence among these people of a strange form of idolatry, in some
respects akin to the earth-worship of the cavern dwellers. I have told
you that certain things had led me to think that they occasionally see
the sun here. It is a phenomenon of excessive rarity, and whole
generations sometimes pass without its recurrence. It is due to an
opening which at irregular periods forms for a brief space of time in the
cloud dome. I imagine that it may be in some way connected with sunspots,
but here they have no notion of its cause, and look upon it as entirely
miraculous.

"Whenever this rare event occurs it gives rise to extraordinary religious
excitement, and ceremonies concerning which there is some occult mystery
that I have not yet penetrated. I suspect that the ceremonies are not
altogether unlike the Bacchanalian festivals of ancient Greece. At any
rate the momentary appearance of the sun at these times is regarded as
the avatar of a supreme god, and their whole religious system is based
upon it. So universal and profound is the superstition to which it gives
rise that the most instructed persons among them are completely under its
dominion. The eagle-beaked individual who condemned you, and whom I have
since seen, is the chief priest of this superstition, and within his
sphere his power is unlimited. It is solely to the belief--which, through
Ala, I have succeeded in impressing upon him--that we are _children of
the sun_ that I owe the success of my efforts in your behalf. Without
that you would surely have been sacrificed, and we with you.

"One of the forms which this superstition takes is a belief that the
anger of the sun god can be mollified by offerings of images, made in his
likeness, which are first consecrated by the chief priest, and then hung
up on the walls of certain small temples, which are scattered through the
city, and are always kept open to the air under the guard of a minor
priest and his attendants. A whole family, as I understand it, deems
itself protected by one of these images, which are made by artists who
never touch any other work, and which are only granted to those who have
undergone a painful series of purifications in the great temple. The
preliminary ceremonies finished, the images are suspended, and at certain
times those to whom they belong go and kneel and pray before them, as
before their guardian saints."

"What a fool I was not to understand it," I murmured.

"You will understand now," Edmund continued, "how serious was Jack's
offense in insulting a priest, and laying impious hands upon a sacred
image, belonging, no doubt, to a family whose antiquity of descent would
make our oldest pedigrees on the earth seem as ephemeral as the existence
of a May fly; for I am convinced that here life has gone on,
uninterrupted by wars and changes of dynasty, for untold ages.

"It is a marvel that you escaped, for already they were preparing the
awful sacrifice. The chief priest was amazed when an interposition was
made on your behalf. Such a thing had never been known, and, as I have
said, it was only by acting upon his superstition that I succeeded, with
Ala's assistance, in obtaining a reprieve. As the case stands, we find
ourselves occupying a dangerous eminence, which it may be difficult for
us to maintain. I must beseech you to be on your guard, and to act only
under my direction. It is all the more serious for us because I am
convinced that Ingra has no faith whatever in the legend which protects
us. He persists in believing that we are simply interlopers from the dark
hemisphere, and the opposition between him and Ala has now become so
sharp that he would gladly witness our destruction. I am sure that he
will do his utmost to unmask us, and thus send us to our death."

"But--" I began.

"Wait a moment," said Edmund, "I have not yet finished. I must now tell
you who Ingra is. _He is the destined consort of Ala._ That explains his
influence over her. From what I can make out, it appears that he is of
the royal blood, and that the marriage of the queen is arranged, not by
her preference, but by an unwritten law, administered by the chief
priest. She has no choice in the matter."

"I should say not," broke in Jack. "She never would have chosen that
jackanapes! If you hadn't spoiled my aim I'd have relieved her of the
burden."

"Not another word of that!" said Edmund severely. "In no manner, not even
by a look, are you ever to express your dislike of him. And remember, you
must govern your very thoughts, for here they lie open, as legible as
print."

"Hang me," growled Jack, "if I like a world where a man can't even think
his own thoughts because his mind goes bare! Take me back where you have
to speak before you are understood."

"When you have wicked thoughts don't look them in the eyes," said Edmund,
half smiling, "and then you will run no danger. It is through the eyes
that they read. Now, to resume what I was saying, I am more than ever
anxious to recover the car, and to find the materials that will enable me
to repair its machinery. With it in our possession, and in good shape, we
shall be in a position to run away whenever it may seem necessary to do
so, and in the meantime to impose our legend upon them by the possession
of so apparently miraculous a means of conveying ourselves through space.
It will be overwhelming proof of the truth of our assertion of an origin
outside their world, and perhaps, upon the whole, it is just as well that
they should think that we belong to the sun, of whose existence they have
some knowledge, rather than to the earth, of which they know nothing, in
spite of the inkling that Juba succeeded in conveying to them."

"The car is here, isn't it?" I asked.

"Yes, it is in the great tower, but it is useless in its present
condition."

"And what materials do you want to find?"

"Primarily nothing but uranium. They understand chemistry here. They have
the apparatus that I need, but they do not know how to use it as I do.
The uranium certainly exists somewhere. They mine gold and silver, and
other things, and when I can find their mines, without exciting their
suspicion, and can get the use of a laboratory in secret, I shall soon
have what I need. But I must be very circumspect, for it would not do to
let them perceive that chemistry really lies at the basis of our miracle.
It is this necessity for secrecy which troubles me most. But I shall find
a way."

"For God's sake, find it quick," Henry burst out. "And then get away from
this accursed planet."

Edmund looked at him a moment before replying:

"We shall go when the necessity for going arises, and not before. We have
not yet seen all the interesting things of this world."

I believe that even Jack and I shared to some extent Henry's
disappointment on hearing this announcement. We should have been glad to
know that we were to start on the return journey as soon as the car was
in shape to transport us. But the event proved that Edmund's instinct
was, as usual, right, and that the things which were yet to be seen and
experienced were well worth the fearful risk we ran in remaining.

While Edmund undertook the delicate inquiries which were necessary in
order to determine the direction that his search for uranium should take,
and to enable him to conduct his chemical processes without awaking
suspicion as to his real purpose, we were left much of the time in charge
of a party of attendants who, by his intercession, had been selected to
act as our guides when we wished to examine the wonders of the palace and
the capital. Sometimes he accompanied us; but more often he was with Ala
and her suite, including her uneludable satellite, Ingra.

"I bless my stars that he doesn't favor _us_ with his delightful
company," was Jack's comment, when he saw Ingra tagging along after Ala
and Edmund.

I privately believed that Ingra had his spies among our attendants, but I
was careful not to mention my suspicions to Jack.

But, oh, the delight of those excursions! Those streets; and those aerial
towers, which rose like forests of coral in a gulf of liquid ether! They
shine often in my dreams. A thousand times I have tried to put into
words, simply for my own satisfaction, a description of the things that
we saw, and the impressions that they made on my mind--but it is
impossible. I understand now why the tales of travelers into strange
lands never convey a tithe of what is in the writers' minds; they
simply cannot; the necessary words and analogies do not exist. I can only
use general terms, ransacking the vocabulary of adjectives--"beautiful,"
"wonderful," "fascinating," "marvelous," "indescribable," "magical,"
"enchanting," "amazing," "inexplicable," "_sans pareil_"--what you
will--but all that says nothing except to my own mind. Only the language
of Venus could describe the charms and the wonders of Venus!

There was one thing, however, which was sufficiently comprehensible--_the
great library_. Edmund was not with us when we paid our first visit to
it; but he had predicted its existence during one of our conversations,
when we were talking of the silent language.

"This people," he had said, "has a great history behind it, extending
over periods which would amaze our disinterrers of human antiquity, but
an intelligent race cannot make history without also keeping records of
it. Tradition alone, handed on from mind to mind, would not answer their
requirements. The possession of the power to communicate thought without
spoken language does not presuppose a power of memory any more perfect
than we have. The brain forgets, the imagination misleads, with them as
with us, and consequently they must have books of some kind--which
implies a written or printed language. It is probable that this language
does not correspond with the very meager one of which we occasionally
hear them pronounce a few words. The latter is, I am convinced, used only
for names and interjections, and sometimes to call the attention of the
person addressed, while the former must be a rich and carefully
elaborated system of literary expression, which may not be phonetic at
all. We shall find that this is so; and there are unquestionably
libraries--probably a great imperial library--devoted to history and
science. There must be schools also."

Thus Edmund had spoken, and thus we found it to be. The great library was
in a building separate from the palace. It was admirably lighted from
without, and its nature was apparent the moment we were led into it. The
"books" were long scrolls, which might have been taken for parchment or
papyrus, and the characters written on them resembled those of the
Chinese language, but worked out in exquisite colors, which might
themselves have had a meaning. The rolls were kept in proper receptacles
under the charge of librarians, and we saw many grave persons at desks
poring over them. Absolute silence reigned, and as I gazed at the scene I
found admiration for this extraordinary people taking the place of the
prejudice which I had recently been led to feel against them.

Jack, unusually impressed, whispered to me that Edmund must have been
playing us some Hindoo bedevilment trick, for he could not believe that
we were actually in a foreign world. The same impression came over me.
This was too earthlike; too much as if, instead of being on the planet
Venus, we had been transported to some land of antique civilization in
our own world. But, after all, we _knew where we were_, and as the
realization of that fact came to us we could only stare with increasing
astonishment at the scene before us. I may say here that Edmund
subsequently visited this great library, and also some of the schools,
and I know that he made notes of what he discovered and learned in them,
with the purpose, as I supposed, of writing upon the subject after his
return. But the expected book, which would have supplemented and
clarified much of what I have undertaken to tell, with but a half
understanding of what we saw, never appeared.

Our wonderful excursions came to an end when Edmund at length announced
that he had obtained the information he needed, and that we were about to
make a trip to some of the mines of Venus.

"I have discovered," he said, "that Venus is exceedingly rich in the
precious metals, as well as in iron and lead. They mine them all, and
we shall visit the mines under Ala's escort. My real purpose, of
course, is to find uranium, of whose properties, strangely--and for us
luckily--enough, they seem to have no knowledge. Nevertheless, they are
capital chemists as far as they go, and possess laboratories provided
with all that I shall need. They refine the metals at the mines
themselves, so that I am sure of finding everything necessary to do my
work right on the ground. The substance which I obtain from uranium is so
concentrated that I can carry in my pocket all that will be required to
repair the damage done to the transformers in the car. A careful
examination, which I have made of the car, proves that the terrific
shocks the machinery suffered in the crystal mountains caused an atomic
readjustment which destroyed the usefulness of the material in the
transformers, and while I might, by laboratory treatment, possibly
restore its properties, I think it safer to obtain an entirely fresh
supply. We shall start with the queen's ship within a few hours; so you
had better make your preparations at once."

CHAPTER XV

AT THE MERCY OF FEARFUL ENEMIES

If we could have foreseen what was to happen during this trip, even
Edmund, I believe, would have shrunk from undertaking it. But we all
embarked upon it gladly, because we had conceived the highest
expectations of the delight that it would afford us; and at the news that
we were to visit mines of gold richer than any on the earth, Henry
exhibited the first enthusiasm that he had shown since our departure from
home.

Embarked on Ala's splendid "yacht," as Jack called it, and attended by
her usual companions, we rapidly left the city behind, and sped away
toward the purple mountains, so often seen in the distance. The voyage
was a long one, but at length we drew near the foothills, and beheld the
mountains towering into peaks behind. Lofty as they looked, there was no
snow on their summits. We now descended where plumes of smoke had for
some time attracted our attention, and found ourselves at one of the
mines. It was a gold mine. The processes of extracting the ore,
separating the metal, etc., were conducted with remarkable silence, but
they showed a knowledge of metallurgy that would have amazed us if we had
not already seen so much of the capacity of this people. Yet similarly to
the scene in the library, its earth-likeness was startling.

"This sort of thing is uncanny," said Jack, as we were led through the
works. "It makes me creep to see them doing things just as we do them at
home, except that they are so quiet about it. If everything was different
from our ways it would seem more natural."

"Anyhow," I replied, "we may take it as a great compliment to ourselves,
for it shows that we have found out ways of doing things which cannot be
improved even in Venus."

I should like to describe in detail the wonders of this mine, but I have
space for only a few words about it. It was, Edmund learned, the richest
on the planet, and was the exclusive property of the government,
furnishing the larger part of its revenues, which were not comparable
with those of a great terrestrial nation because of the absence of all
the expenditures required by war. No fleets and no armies existed here,
and no tariffs were needed where commerce was free. This great mine was
the Laurium of Venus. The display of gold in the vaults connected with it
exceeded a hundredfold all that the most imaginative historian has ever
written of the treasures of Montezuma and Atahualpa. Henry's eyes fairly
shone as he gazed upon it, and he could not help saying to Edmund:

"You might have had riches equal to this if you had stayed at home and
developed your discovery."

Edmund contemptuously shrugged his shoulders, and turned away without a
word.

We were afterwards conducted to a silver mine, which we also inspected,
and finally to a lead mine in another part of the hills. This was in
reality the goal at which Edmund had been aiming, for he had told us that
uranium was sometimes found in association with lead. Our joy was very
great when, after a long inspection, he informed us that he had
discovered uranium, and that it now remained only to submit it to certain
operations in a laboratory in order to prepare the substance that was to
give renewed life to those lilliputian monsters in the car, which fed
upon men's breath and begot power illimitable.

"I must now contrive," said Edmund, "to get admission to the laboratory
connected with the mine, and to do my work without letting them suspect
what I am about."

He managed it somehow, as he managed all things that he undertook, and
within forty-eight hours after our arrival he was hard at work, evidently
exciting the admiration of the native chemists by the knowledge and skill
which he displayed. At first they crowded around him so that he was
hampered in his efforts to conceal the real object of his labors; but at
last they left him comparatively alone, and I could see by his expression
whenever I visited the laboratory that things were going to his liking.
But the work was long and delicate. Edmund had to fabricate secretly some
of the chemical apparatus he needed, destroying it as fast as it served
its purpose, so that weeks of time rolled by before he had what he called
the "thimbleful of omnipotence" that was to make us masters of our fate.
As fast as he produced it he put it in a metal box, shaped like a
snuffbox, and covertly he showed it to us. It consisted of brilliant
black grains, finer than millet seeds.

"Every one of those minute grains," he told us, "is packed with as much
potential energy as that of a ton's weight suspended a mile above the
earth."

But while the little box was being gradually filled with crystallized
powder, we, who could lend no aid in the fabrication of Edmund's miracle,
improved the opportunity to make acquaintance with the beauties of the
surrounding country. Ala had returned to the capital, leaving an air ship
at our disposal, and, of all persons in the world, _Ingra in command_! We
refused all invitations to accompany him in the air ship, preferring to
make our excursions on foot, accompanied at first by some of the
attendants that Ala had left. Edmund did not share our fears that Ingra
meditated mischief.

"He doesn't dare," was his reply to all our representations. But nothing
could induce Jack and me to trust to Ingra's tender mercies.

Among the favorite spots which we had found to visit in the neighborhood
of the mine was a little knoll crowned with a group of the most beautiful
trees that I ever saw, and washed at its base by a brook of exquisitely
transparent water which tinkled over a bed of white and clear-yellow
pebbles, sparkling like jewels. More than once at the beginning I fished
some of them out in the belief that they were nuggets of pure gold
polished by the water. In a pool under the translucent shadow of the
overhanging trees played small fish so splendid in their varied hues that
they looked like miniature rainbows darting about beneath the water.
Birds of vivid color sometimes flitted among the branches overhead. There
was but one "rainy day" while we were at the mine; all the rest of the
time not a cloud appeared under the great dome, and a scented zephyr
continually drew down from the mountains and fanned us. Here, then, we
passed many hours and many days, chatting of our adventures and our
chances, drowsily happy in the pure physical enjoyment which this
charming spot afforded.

When at last Edmund informed us that his box was full, and he was ready
to return to the capital, we would not let him go without first
conducting him to our little paradise. All together, then, with the
exception of Juba, who, by some interference of an overlooking
providence, was left at the mine, we set out in the highest spirits to be
for once our leader's leaders in the exploration of some of the charms of
Venus. Edmund was no less delighted than we had been with the place, and
yielding to its somnolent influences we were soon stretched side by side
on the spreading roots of a giant tree, and sleeping the sleep of
sensuous languor.

Our waking was as terrible as it was sudden. I heard a cry, and at the
same instant felt an irresistible hand grasping me by the throat. As I
opened my eyes I saw that the whole party were prisoners. Nearby an air
ship was quivering, as, held in leash, it lightly touched the ground; and
a dozen gigantic fellows, whipping our hands behind our backs, hurried us
aboard, the great mechanical bird, which instantly rose, describing a
circle that carried us above the treetops. I did not try to struggle, for
I felt how vain would be any effort that I could make.

Glancing about me, the very first features I recognized were those of
Ingra. At last he had us in his power!

I looked at Edmund, but his face was set in thought, and he did not
return my glance. Henry, as usual, had plunged into silent hopelessness,
and Jack was a picture of mingled rage and despair. Although we were
loosely fastened side by side to a rail on the deck, neither of us spoke
for perhaps half an hour. In the meantime the air ship rose to a height
greater than that of the nearby mountains, and then more slowly
approached them. At last it began to circle, as if an uncertainty
concerning the route to be chosen had arisen, and I observed, for we
could look all about in spite of our bonds, that Ingra and one who
appeared to be his lieutenant were engaged in an animated discussion.
They pointed this way and that, and the debate grew every moment more
earnest. This continued for a long time, while the ship hovered, running
slowly in the wide circles. We could not then know how much this
hesitation meant for us. If Ingra had been as rapid in his decision now
as he was in the act of taking us prisoners, this history would never
have been written. I watched Edmund, and saw that his attention was
absorbed by what our captors were about, and even in that emergency I
felt a touch of comfort through my unfailing confidence in our leader.

Finally a decision seemed to have been reached, and we set off over the
crest of the range. As its huge peaks towered behind us and we descended
nearer the ground, my heart sank again, for now we were cut off from the
world beyond, and in the improbable event of any pursuit, how could the
pursuers know what course we had taken, or where to look for us? And,
then, who would pursue? Juba could do nothing, Ala was far away at the
capital, even supposing that she should be disposed to set out in search
of us, and hours, perhaps days, must elapse before she could be informed
of what had happened. Not even when Jack and I were in the dungeon had
our case seemed so desperate.

But how the gods repent when they have sunk men in the blackest pit of
despair, sending them a messenger of hope to steady their hearts!

Good fortune had willed that we should be so placed upon the deck that we
faced most easily sternward. Suddenly, as I gazed despondently at the
serrated horizon receding in the distance, a thrill ran through my nerves
at the sight of a dark speck in the sky, which seemed to float over one
of the highest peaks. A second look assured me that it was moving; a
third gave birth to the wild thought that it was in chase. Then I turned
to Edmund and whispered:

"There is something coming behind us."

"Very well, do nothing to attract attention," he returned. "I have seen
it. They are following us."

I said nothing to Jack or Henry, who had not yet caught sight of the
object; but I could not withdraw my eyes from it. Sometimes I persuaded
myself that it was growing larger, and then, with the intensity of my
gaze, it blurred and seemed to fade. At last Jack spied it, and
instantly, in his impetuous way, he exclaimed:

"Edmund! Look there!"

His voice drew Ingra's attention, and immediately the latter observed the
direction of our glances, and himself saw the growing speck. He turned
with flushed face to his lieutenant and in a trice the vessel began
fairly to leap through the air.

"Ah, Jack," said Edmund reproachfully, but yet kindly, "if only you could
always think before you speak! It is certain from Ingra's alarm that we
are pursued by somebody whom he does not wish to meet. Most likely it is
the queen, although it seems impossible that she could so quickly have
learned of our mishap. Peter and I have been watching that object, which
is unquestionably an air ship, in silence for the last twenty minutes,
during which it has perceptibly gained upon us. But for your lack of
caution it might have come within winning distance before it was
discovered by Ingra, but now--"

The rebuke was deserved, perhaps, but yet I wished that Edmund had not
given it, so painful was the impression that it made upon Jack's
generous heart. His countenance was convulsed, and a tear rolled down his
cheek--all the more pitiful to see because his arms were pinioned, and he
could do nothing to conceal his agitation. Edmund was stricken with
remorse when he saw the effect of his words.

"Jack," he said, "forgive me; I am sorry from the bottom of my heart. I
should not have blamed you for a little oversight, when I alone am to
blame for the misfortunes of us all."

"All right, Edmund, all right," returned Jack in his usual cheerful
tones. "But, see here, I don't admit that you are to blame for anything.
We're all in this boat together and hanged if we won't get out of it
together, too, and you'll be the man to fetch us out."

Edmund smiled sadly, and shook his head.

Meanwhile Ingra, with the evident intention of concealing the movements
of the vessel, dropped her so low that we hardly skipped the tops of the
trees that we were passing over, for now we had entered a wide region of
unbroken forest. Still that black dot followed straight in our wake, and
I easily persuaded myself that it was yet growing larger. Edmund declared
that I was right, and expressed his surprise, for we were now flying at
the greatest speed that could be coaxed out of the motors. Suddenly a
shocking thought crossed my mind. I tried to banish it, fearing that
Ingra might read it in my eyes, and act upon it. Suppose that he should
hurl us overboard! It was in his power to do so, and it seemed a quick
and final solution. But he showed no intention to do anything of the
kind. He may have had good reasons for refraining, but, at the time I
could only ascribe his failure to take a summary way out of his
difficulty to a protecting hand which guarded us even in this extremity.

On we rushed through the humming air, and still the pursuing speck chased
us. And minute by minute it became more distinct against the background
of the great cloud dome. Presently Edmund called our attention to
something ahead.

"There," he said, "is Ingra's hope and our despair."

I turned my head and saw that in front the sky was very dark. Vast clouds
seemed to be rolling up and obscuring the dome. Already there was a
twilight gloom gathering about us.

"This," said Edmund, "is apparently the edge of what we may call the
temperate zone, which must be very narrow, surrounding in a circle the
great central region that lies under the almost vertical sun. The clouds
ahead indicate the location of a belt of contending air currents,
resembling that which we crossed after floating out of the crystal
mountains. Having entered them, we shall be behind a curtain where our
enemy can work his will with us."

Was it knowledge of this fact which had restrained Ingra from throwing us
overboard? Was he meditating for us a more dreadful fate?

It was, indeed, a land of shadow which we now began to enter, and we
could see that ahead of us the general inclination of the ground was
downward. I eagerly glanced back to see if the pursuers were yet in
sight. Yes! There was the speck, grown so large now that there could be
no doubt that it was an air ship, driven at its highest speed. But we had
entered so far under the curtain that the greater part of the dome was
concealed, the inky clouds hanging like a penthouse roof far behind. We
could plainly perceive the chasers; but could they see us? I tried to
hope that they could, but reason was against it. Still they were
evidently holding the course.

But even this hope faded when Ingra cunningly changed our course, turning
abruptly to the left in the gloom. He knew, then, that we were invisible
to the pursuers. But not content with one change, he doubled like a
hunted fox. We watched for the effect of these maneuvers upon those
behind us, and to our intense disappointment, though not to our surprise,
we saw that they were continuing straight ahead. They surely could not
have seen us, and even if they anticipated Ingra's ruse, how could they
baffle it, and find our track again? At last the spreading darkness
swallowed up the arc of illuminated sky behind, and then we were alone in
the gloom.

This, you will understand, was not the deep night of the other side of
the planet; it was rather a dusky twilight, and as our eyes became
accustomed to it, we could begin to discern something of the character of
our surroundings. We flew within a hundred yards of the ground, which
appeared to be perfectly flat, and soon we were convinced by the
pitchy-black patches which frequently interrupted the continuity of the
umbrageous surface beneath, that it was sprinkled with small bodies of
water--in short, a gigantic Dismal Swamp, or Everglade. I need hardly say
that it was Edmund who first drew this inference, and when its full
meaning burst upon my mind I shuddered at the hellish design which Ingra
evidently entertained. Plainly, he meant to throw us into the morass,
either to drown in the foul water, whose miasma now assailed our
nostrils, or to starve amidst the fens! But his real intention, as you
will perceive in a little while, was yet more diabolical.

The bird ship stooped lower, just skimming the tops of strange trees, the
most horrible vegetable forms that I have ever beheld. And then, without
warning, we were seized and pushed overboard, while the vessel, making a
broad swoop, quickly disappeared. Henry alone uttered a loud cry as we
fell.

We crashed through the clammy branches and landed close together in a
swamp. Fortunately the water was not deep, and we were able to struggle
upon our feet and make our way to a comparatively dry open place, perhaps
half an acre in extent. No sooner were we all safe on the land than I
noticed Edmund struggling violently and then he exclaimed:

"Here, quick! Hold a hand here!"

As he spoke he backed up to me.

"Take a match from this box which I have twisted out of my pocket, and
while I hold the box, scratch it, and hold the flame against the bonds
around my wrists."

I managed to get out a match, and scratched it. But the match broke.
Edmund, with the skill of a prestidigitator, got out another match, and
pushed it into my fingers. It failed again.

"It's got to be done!" he said. "Here, Jack, you try."

Again he extracted a match, as Jack backed up in my place. Whether his
hands happened to be less tightly bound, or whether luck favored him,
Jack, on a second attempt, succeeded in illuminating a match.

"Don't lose it," urged Edmund, as the light flashed out; "burn the cord."

Jack tried. The smell of burning flesh arose, but Edmund did not wince.
In a few seconds the match went out.

"Another!" said Edmund, and the operation was repeated. A dozen separate
attempts of this kind had been made, and I believe that I felt the pain
inflicted by them more than Edmund did, when, making a tremendous effort,
he burst the charred cord. His hands and wrists must have been fearfully
burned, but he paid no attention to that. In a flash he had out his knife
and cut us all loose. It was a mercy that they had not noticed the flame
of the matches from the air ship, for if they had, unquestionably Ingra
would have returned and made an end of us.

After our release we stood a few moments in silence, awaiting our
leader's next move. Presently a sonorous sign startled us, followed by a
sticky, tramping sound.

"In God's name, what's that?" exclaimed Jack.

[Illustration: "It curled itself over the edge of the hovering air ship
and drew it down."]

"We'll see," said Edmund quietly, and threw open his pocket lantern.

As the light streamed out there was a rustle in the branches above us,
and the form of an air ship pushed into view.

Ingra!

No, it was not Ingra! Thank God, there was the bushy head of Juba visible
on the deck as the ship drifted over us! And near him stood Ala and a
half dozen attendants.

As one man we shouted, but the sound had not ceased to echo when, out of
the horrible tangle about us, rose, with a swift, sinuous motion, a
monstrous anacondalike arm, flesh pink in the electric beam, but covered
with spike-edged spiracles! It curled itself over the edge of the
hovering air ship and drew it down.

CHAPTER XVI

DREADFUL CREATURES OF THE GLOOM

The deck of the air ship was tipped up at an angle of forty-five degrees
by the pressure, and with inarticulate cries most of those on board
tumbled off, some falling into the water and some disappearing amidst the
tangled vegetation. Ala was visible, as the machine sank lower, and
crashed through the branches, clinging to an upright on the sloping deck,
while Juba, who hung on like a huge baboon, was helping her to maintain
her place.

Almost at the same moment I caught sight of the head of the monstrous
animal which had caused the disaster. It was as massive as that of an
elephant or mammoth; and the awful arm resembled a trunk, but was of
incredible size. Moreover, it was covered with sucking mouths or disks.
The creature apparently had four eyes ranged round the conical front of
the head where it tapered into the trunk, and two of these were visible,
huge, green, and deadly bright in the gleam of the lantern.

For a moment we all stood as if petrified; then the great arm was thrown
with a movement quick as lightning round both Ala and Juba as they clung
to the upright! My heart shot into my mouth, but before the animal could
haul in its prey, a series of terrific reports rattled like the discharge
of a machine gun at my ear. The monstrous arm released the victims, and
waved in agony, breaking the thick, clammy branches of the vegetation,
and the vast head disappeared. Edmund had fired all the ten shots in his
automatic pistol with a single pressure of the double trigger and an
unvarying aim, directed, no doubt, at one of the creature's eyes.

"Quick!" he shouted, as the air ship, relieved from the stress, righted
itself; "climb aboard."

The vessel had sunk so low, and the vegetation was so crowded about it,
that we had no great difficulty in obeying his commands. He was the last
aboard, and instantly he grasped the controlling apparatus, and we rose
out of the tangle. We could hear the wounded monster thrashing in the
swamp, but saw only the reflection of its movements in the commotion of
the branches.

I had expected that Edmund would immediately fly at top speed away from
the dreadful place, but, instead, as soon as we were at a safe elevation,
he brought the air ship to a hover, circling slowly above the
comparatively open spot of dry ground at the edge of the swamp.

"We cannot leave the poor fellows who have fallen overboard," he said, as
quietly as if he had been safely aboard his own car. "We must stay here
and find them."

Soon their cries came to our ears, and turning down the light of the
lantern we saw five of them collected together on the solid ground, and
gesticulating to us in an agony of terror. Edmund swept the ship around
until we were directly over the poor fellows, and then allowed it to
settle until it rested on the ground beside them. I trembled with
apprehension at this bold maneuver, but Edmund was as steady as a rock.
Ala instantly comprehended his intention, and encouraged her followers,
who were all but paralyzed with fright, to clamber aboard. A momentary
communication of the eyes took place between Edmund and Ala, and I
understood that he was demanding if all had been found.

There was another--and not a trace of him could be seen.

"We must wait a moment," said Edmund, reloading the chamber of his pistol
while he spoke. "I'll look about for him."

"In God's name, Edmund! You don't think of going down there!"

"But I do," he said firmly, and before I could put my hand on his arm he
had dropped from the deck. The gigantic creature that he had wounded was
still thrashing about a little distance off, occasionally making horrible
sounds, but Edmund seemed to have no fear. We saw him, with amazement,
walk collectedly round the ground encircled by the swamp, peering into
the tangle, and frequently uttering a call. But his search was vain, and
after five minutes of the most intense nervous strain that I ever
endured, I thanked Heaven for seeing him return in safety, and come
slowly aboard. There was another consultation with Ala, which evidently
related to the ability of the engineer of the ship to resume his
functions. This had a satisfactory result, for the fellow took his place,
and the vessel finally quitted the ground. But, at Edmund's request, it
rose only to a moderate height, and then began again to circle about. He
would not yet give up the search.

We flew in widening circles, Edmund keeping his lantern directed toward
the ground, and the full horror of these interminable morasses now became
plain. I was in a continual shudder at the evidence of Ingra's pitiless
scheme for our destruction. He had meant that we should be the prey of
the unspeakable inhabitants of the fens, and had believed that there was
no possibility of escape from them. We became aware that there was a
great variety of them in the swamps and thickets beneath through the
noises that they made--heart-quaking cries, squealing sounds, gruntings,
and, most trying of all, a loud, piercing whistle whose sibilant
pulsations penetrated the ear like thrusts of a needle. I pictured to
myself a colossal serpent as the most probable author of this terrifying
sound, but the error of my fancy was demonstrated by a tragedy which
shook even Edmund's iron nerves.

Always circling, and always watching what was below by the light of the
lantern, which was of extraordinary power for so small an instrument, we
saw occasionally a curling trunk uplifted above the vegetation, as if its
owner imagined that the strange light playing on the branches was some
delicate prey that could be grasped, and sometimes a gliding form whose
details escaped detection, when, upon passing over a relatively open
place, like that where our adventure had occurred, a blood-curdling sight
met our eyes.

Directly ahead, in the focus of the reflector of the lantern, and not
more than a hundred feet distant, stood a prodigious black creature, on
eight legs, rolling something in its mandibles, which were held close to
what seemed to be its mouth.

"Good Lord!" cried Jack. "It's a tarantula as big as a buffalo!"

"It has caught the missing man!" said Edmund. "Look!"

He pointed to a shred of garment dangling on a thorny branch. I felt sick
at heart, and I heard a groan from Jack. After all, these people were
like us, and our feelings would not have been more keenly agitated if the
victim had been a descendant of Adam.

"He is beyond all help," I faltered.

"But he can be avenged," said Edmund, in a tone that I had never heard
him use before.

As he spoke he whipped out his pistol, and crash! crash! crash! sounded
the hurrying shots. As their echo ceased, the giant arachnid dropped his
prey, and then there came from him--clear, piercing, quivering through
our nerves--that arrowy whistle that had caused us to shudder as we
unwillingly listened to it darting out of the gloom of the impenetrable
thickets.

Then, to our horror, the creature, which, if touched at all by the shots,
had not been seriously injured, picked up its prey and bounded away in
the darkness. Edmund instantly turned to Ala, and I knew as well as if he
had spoken, what his demand was. He wished to follow, and his wish was
obeyed. We swooped ahead, and in a minute we saw the creature again. It
had stopped on another oasis of dry land, and it still carried its
dreadful burden. Its head was toward us, and it appeared to be watching
our movements. Its battery of eyes glittered wickedly, and I noticed the
bristle of stiff hairs, like wires, that covered its body and legs.

Again Edmund fired upon it, and again it uttered its stridulous pipe of
defiance, or fear, and leaped away in the tangle. We sped in pursuit, and
when we came upon it for the third time it had stopped in an opening so
narrow that the bow of the air ship almost touched it before we were
aware of its presence. This time its prey was no longer visible. There
was no question now that its attitude meant defiance. Cold shivers ran
all over me as, with fascinated eyes, I gazed at its dreadful form. It
seemed to be gathering itself for a spring, and I shrank away in terror.

Crash! bang! bang! bang! sounded the shots once more, and in the midst of
them there came a blinding tangle of bristled, jointed legs that thrashed
the deck, a thud that shook the air ship to its center, and a cry from
Jack, who fell on his back with a crimson line across his face.

"Give me your pistol!" shouted Edmund, snatching my arm.

I hardly know how I got it out of my pocket, I was so unnerved, but it
was no sooner in Edmund's hand than he was leaning over the side of the
deck and pouring out the shots. When the pistol was emptied he
straightened up, and said simply:

"_That_ devil is ended."

Then he turned to where Jack lay on the deck. We all bent over him with
anxious hearts, even Ala sharing our solicitude. He had lost his senses,
but a drop from Edmund's flask immediately brought him round, and he rose
to his feet.

"I'm all right," he said, with a rather sickly smile; "but," drawing his
hand across his brow and cheek, "he got me here, and I thought it was a
hot iron. Where is he now?"

"Dead," said Edmund.

"Jo, I'd have liked to finish him myself!"

We were worried by the appearance of the wound, like a long, deep
scratch, on Jack's face, but, of course, we said nothing about our
worriment to him. Edmund bound it up, as best he could, and it afterwards
healed, but it took a long time about it, and left a mark that never
disappeared. There was probably a little poison in it.

Edmund himself needed the attention of a surgeon, for his wrists had been
cruelly burned by the matches, but he would not allow us to speak of his
sufferings, and putting on some slight bandages, he declared that it was
time now to get out of this wilderness of horrors. He communicated with
Ala, and in a few minutes we were speeding, at a high elevation, toward
the land of the opaline dome. So far above the morasses we no longer
heard the brute voices of its terrible inhabitants, nor saw the swaying
of the branches as they looked about in search of prey.

"This," said Edmund, "exceeds everything that I could have imagined. I do
not know in what classification to put any of the strange beasts that we
have seen. They can only be likened to the monsters of the early dawn on
the earth, in the age of the dinosaurs. But they are _sui generis_, and
would make our anatomists and paleontologists stare. I am only surprised
that we have encountered no flying dragons here."

"But was it really a--a giant spider that captured Ala's man?" I asked
with a shudder.

"God knows what it was! It had the form of a spider, and it leaped like
one. If it had been armored I could never have killed it. I think the
shock of its impact against the air ship helped to finish it."

It was only after we had issued from under the curtain of twilight that
we learned the story of the chase which had brought our salvation. Edmund
first obtained it from Ala and Juba, filling out the outlines of their
wordless narrative with his ready power of interpretation, and then he
told it to us."

"We owe our lives to Juba," he said. "Ala had just returned to the mine
from the capital when our abduction took place. Juba, who had wandered
out on our track, saw from a distance the seizure, and a few minutes
afterwards Ala's air ship arrived. He instantly communicated the facts to
her, and without losing an instant the chase was begun. Ingra's delay in
choosing his course was the thing that saved us. They knew that they must
not lose sight of us for an instant, and their motors were driven to
their highest capacity. Fortunately, Ala's vessel is one of the
speediest, and they were able to gain on us from the start. Slowly they
drew up until the border of the twilight zone was reached. Then as we
entered under the clouds we were swallowed from the sight of all except
Juba. But for his wonderful eyes, there would have been no hope of
continuing the chase. He had lived all his life in a land of darkness and
now he began to feel himself at home. Throwing off the shades which he
has worn since our arrival, he had no difficulty in following the
movements of Ingra, even after our vessel had completely faded from the
view of all the others. So, without abating their fearful speed, they
plunged into the gloom straight upon our track. The nose of the
bloodhound is not more certain in the chase than were Juba's eyes in that
terrible flight through the darkness. When Ingra changed his course and
doubled, Juba saw the maneuver and turned the dodge against its inventor,
for now Ingra could not see them, and did not know that they were still
on his track. They cut off the corners, and gained so rapidly that they
were close at hand when Ingra rose from the swamp after pitching us
overboard. They had heard Henry's cry, which served to tell them what had
happened, and to direct them to the spot. But even Juba could not discern
us in the midst of the vegetation, and it was the sudden flashing out of
our lamp which revealed our location when they were about to pass
directly over us."

I need not say with what breathless attention we listened to this
remarkable story, which Edmund's scientific imagination had constructed
out of the bones of fact that he had been able to gather.

"Jo," said Jack, "our luck is simply outlandish!"

Then he broke out in one of his fits of enthusiasm. Slapping Juba on the
shoulder, he danced around him, laughing joyously, and exclaiming:

"Bully old boy! Oh, you're a trump! Wait till I get you in New York, and
I'll give you the time of your life! Eh, Edmund, won't we make him a
member of Olympus? Golly, won't he make a sensation!"

And Jack hugged himself again with delight. His reference to home threw
us into a musing. At length I asked:

"Shall we ever see the earth again, Edmund?"

"Why, of course we shall," he replied heartily. "I have the material I
need, and it only remains to repair the car. I shall set about it the
moment we reach the capital. Do you know," he continued, "this adventure
has undoubtedly been a benefit to us."

"How so?"

"By increasing our prestige. They have seen the terrible power of the
pistols. They have seen us conquer monsters that they must have regarded
as invincible. When they see what the car can do, even Ingra will begin
to fear us, and to think that we are more than mortal."

"But what will Ala think of Ingra now?"

"Ah, I cannot tell; but, at any rate, he cannot have strengthened himself
in her regard, for it is plain that she, at least, has no desire to see
us come to harm. But he is a terrible enemy still, and we must continue
to be on our guard against him."

"I should think that he would hardly dare to show himself now," I
remarked.

"Don't be too sure of that. After all, we are interlopers here, and he
has all the advantages of his race and his high rank. Ala is interested
in us because she has, I believe I may say, a philosophical mind, with a
great liking for scientific knowledge. It was she who planned and
personally conducted the expedition toward the dark hemisphere. From me
she has learned a little. She appreciates our knowledge and our powers,
and would ask nothing better than to learn more about us and from us. Her
prompt pursuit and interference to save us when she must have understood,
perfectly, Ingra's design, shows that she will go far to protect us; but
we must not presume too much on her ability to continue her protection,
nor even on her unvarying disposition to do so. For the present, however,
I think that we are safe, and I repeat that our position has been
strengthened. Ingra made a great mistake. He should have finished us out
of hand."

"His leaving us to be devoured by those fearful creatures showed an
inexplicable cruelty on his part; he chose the most horrible death he
could think of for us," I said.

"Oh, I don't know," replied Edmund. "Did you ever see a laughing boy
throw flies into a spider's den? It is my idea that he simply wished to
have us disappear mysteriously, and then _he_ would never have offered an
explanation, unless it might have been the malicious suggestion that we
had suddenly decamped to return to the world we pretended to have come
from. And but for Ala's unexpected return to the mine he would have
succeeded. No doubt his crew were pledged to secrecy."

CHAPTER XVII

EARTH MAGIC ON VENUS

We were no sooner installed again at the capital than Edmund began his
"readjustment of the atomic energies."

"Blessed if I know what he means," said Jack; "but he gets the goods, and
that's enough for me."

In reality I did not understand it any better than Jack did, only I had
more knowledge than he of the nature of the forces that Edmund employed.
We went with him to the place in the great tower where the car had been
stored, and where it seemed to be regarded with a good deal of
superstitious awe. But they had not yet the least idea of its marvelous
powers. We were preparing for them the greatest surprise of their lives,
and our impatience to see the effect that would be produced when we made
our first flight grew by day, while Edmund, shut up alone in the car,
labored away at his task.

"I wonder what they think he is doing in there," I said, the third day
after our return, as we sat on a balcony of the floating tower, with our
feet nonchalantly elevated on a railing, and our eyes drinking in the
magnificent prospect of the vast city, as brilliant in variegated colors
as a flower garden, while a soft breeze, that gently swayed the gigantic
gossamer, soothed us like a perfumed fan.

"Worshipping the sun god, I reckon," laughed Jack. "But, see here, Peter,
what do you make of this religion of theirs, anyway?"

"I don't know what to make of it," I replied. "But if the sun really does
appear to them once in a lifetime, or so, as Edmund thinks, it seems to
me natural enough that they should worship it. We have done more
surprising things of the kind on the earth."

"Not civilized people like these."

"Oh, yes. The Egyptians were civilized, and the Romans, and they
worshipped all sorts of strange things that struck their fancy. And what
can you say to the Greeks--they were civilized enough, and look what a
collection of gods they had."

"But the wise heads among them didn't really believe in their gods."

"I'm not sure of that; at any rate they had to pretend that they
believed. No doubt there were some who secretly scoffed at the popular
belief, and it may be the same here. I shouldn't wonder if Ingra were one
of the scoffers. Edmund has a great opinion of his intelligence, and if
he really doesn't believe in the thing, he is all the more dangerous for
us, because you know that now we are depending a good deal on their
superstition for our safety."

"But Ala is very intelligent, a regular wonder, I should think, from what
Edmund says; and yet she accepts their superstition as gospel."

"Lucky for us that she does believe," I said. "But there's some great
mystery behind all this; Edmund has convinced me of that. We don't begin
to understand it yet, and there are moments when I think that Edmund is
afraid of the whole thing. He seems dimly to foresee some catastrophe
connected with it, though what it may be I cannot imagine, and I think he
doesn't know himself."

Henry listened to our conversation without proffering a remark--quite the
regular thing with him--and at this point Jack, yielding to the
overpowering sense of well-being, and the soothing influence of the
delicious air and delightful view, closed his eyes for a nap.

Presently Edmund came and roused us all up with the remark that he had
finished his work. Jack was instantly on his feet:

"Hurrah!" he exclaimed. "Now for another trip that will open the eyes of
these Venusians. Where shall we go, Edmund?"

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