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A Columbus of Space by Garrett P. Serviss

Part 4 out of 4

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"We shall go nowhere just at present. I want first to make sure by a
trial trip that everything is in perfect shape. For that purpose I shall
wait for the hours of repose when there will be nobody to watch us."

I must here explain more fully what I have already said--that in this
land of unceasing daylight, everybody took repose as regularly as on the
earth. That is a necessity for all physical organisms. When they slept,
they retired into darkened chambers, and passed several hours in peaceful
slumber. We had learned the time when this periodical need for sleep
seized upon the entire population, and although, naturally, there were a
few wide-awakes who kept "late hours," yet within a certain time after
the habitual hour for repose had arrived it was a rare thing to see
anybody stirring. We had, then, only to wait until "the solemn dead of
night" came on in order that Edmund might try his experiment with almost
a certainty of not being observed. This was the easier, since latterly
there had been no guard kept over our movements. We were not confined in
any way, and could go and come as we pleased. Evidently, if anybody
thought of such a thing as an attempt to escape on our part, they trusted
to the fact that we had no means of getting away, for after our first
exploit of that kind, all the air ships were carefully guarded, and
placed beyond our reach. As to the car, there was nothing about it to
suggest that it could fly, and probably they took it simply for some kind
of boat, since they had seen us employ it only in navigating the sea. I
have often thought, with wonder, of their unsuspiciousness in permitting
Edmund to spend so much time alone and undisturbed in the car. Possibly,
there was something in Jack's suggestion, that they supposed it to be
connected with our religious observances. Anyhow, so it was; and I can
only ascribe the fact to the kindness of that overlooking Power which so
often interfered in our behalf, making it no disparagement of our claim
upon its protection that we had abandoned our mother earth and ventured
so far away into space!

One thing decidedly in our favor was that, since our return from the mine
(the adventure in the land of bogs and monsters was, as far as Edmund
could ascertain, unknown at the capital, except by those who had taken
part in it), we had been accustomed to pass the hours of repose in the
tower. We should thus be close to the car when we got ready to start.
Another equally favorable circumstance--and perhaps it was even more
important--was the absence of Ingra, who, either because he did not care
just now to face Ala, or because he had gone off somewhere after throwing
us to the animals and was not yet aware of our escape, had not shown
himself. If he had been present it might not have been so easy for Edmund
to make his preparations.

Never had the great city seemed to me so long in quieting down for its
periodical rest as on this occasion. After all was deserted in the
streets below, people were still moving about on the tower, and it did
seem as if they had taken a fit of wakefulness expressly to annoy us and
interfere with our plans. We kept stealing out of our sleeping room, and
looking cautiously about, for at least two hours, but always there was
some one stirring in the immediate neighborhood. At last a tall fellow,
who had been standing an interminable time at the rail directly in front
of the storage place of the car, and whom Jack had half seriously
threatened to throttle if he stood there any longer, turned and went
yawning away. No sooner was he out of sight than Edmund led the way, and
with the slightest possible noise, aided by Juba, who was as strong as
three men, we got the car out on the platform. I was in a fever lest
there should be a squeak from the little wheels that carried it. But they
ran as still as rubber.

"Get in," whispered Edmund; and we obeyed him with alacrity.

Would it go?

Even Edmund could not answer that question. He pulled a knob, and I held
my breath. There was the slightest perceptible tremor. Was it going to
balk? No, thank Heaven! It was under way. In a few seconds we were off
the tower in the free air. Edmund pressed a button, and the speed
instantly increased. The gorgeous tower seemed to be flying away from us
like a soap bubble. Jack, in ecstasy, could hardly repress a cheer.

"Hurrah, if you want to,"' said Edmund.

"They won't hear you, and now I don't care if they do. The apparatus is
all right, and we'll give them something to wake up for. My only anxiety
was lest they should witness a failure, which might have led to
disagreeable consequences. There must be no dropping of knives in our
juggling."

"Good!" cried Jack. "Then let's give 'em a salute."

Edmund smiled and nodded his head:

"The guns are in the locker," he said.

Jack had one of the automatic rifles out in a hurry.

"Shoot high," said Edmund, "and off toward the open country. The
projectiles fly far, and I guess we can take the risk."

He threw both windows open, and Jack aimed skyward and began to pull the
trigger.

Bang! bang! bang! Heavens, what a noise it was! The car must have seemed
a flying volcano. And it woke them up! The sleeping city poured forth its
millions to gaze and wonder. Surely they had never heard such a
thundering. Within five minutes we saw them on the roofs and in the
towers. Many were staring at us through a kind of opera glasses which
they had. Then from a dozen aerial pavilions the colors broke forth and
quivered through the air.

"Saluting us!" exclaimed Jack, delighted.

"Asking one another questions, rather," said Edmund.

They certainly asked enough of them, and I wondered what answers they
returned.

"Probably they think we're off for good," said I.

"And aren't we?" asked Henry anxiously.

"Not yet," Edmund replied, and Henry's countenance fell.

The car turned and approached the great tower again. We swept round it
within a hundred yards, and could see the amazement in the faces that
watched us. But if they were astonished they were not terror-stricken.
Within ten minutes twenty air ships were swiftly approaching us. Edmund
allowed them to come within a few yards, and then darted away, rushed
round the whole city like a flying cloud, and finally rose straight up
with dizzying velocity, which made the vast metropolis shrink to a
colored patch, as if we had been viewing it through the wrong end of a
telescope.

"I'll go right up through the cloud dome now," he said. "Nothing could
more impress them with a sense of our power than that; and when we come
back again they will know that we have no fear, and the very act will be
a proof of origin from the sky."

When we were in the midst of the mighty curtain of vapor, I was
interested in noticing the peculiar quality of the light that surrounded
us. We seemed to be immersed in a rose-pink mist.

"I do not understand," I said to Edmund, "how this dome is maintained at
so great an elevation, and in apparent independence of the rain clouds
which sometimes form beneath. No rain ever falls from the dome itself,
and yet it consists of true clouds."

"I think," he replied, "that the dome is due to vapors which assemble at
a general level of condensation, and do not form raindrops, partly
because of the absence of dust to serve as nuclei at this great height,
and partly because of some peculiar electrical condition of the air,
arising from the relative nearness of Venus to the sun, which prevents
the particles of vapor from gathering into drops heavy enough to fall.
You will observe that there is a peculiar inner circulation in the vapor
surrounding us, marked by ascending and descending currents which are
doubtless limited by the upper and lower surfaces of the dome. The true
rain clouds form in the space beneath the dome, where there seems to be
an independent circulation of the winds."

On entering the cloud vault Edmund had closed the windows, explaining
that it was not merely the humidity which led him to do so, but the
diminishing density of the air which, when we had risen considerably
above the dome, would become too rare for comfortable breathing. In a
little while his conjecture about a peculiar electrical condition was
justified by a pale-blue mist which seemed to fill the air in the car;
but we felt no effects and the mechanism was not disturbed. Owing to our
location on Venus, still at a long distance from the center of the
sunward hemisphere, the sun was not directly overhead, but inclined at a
large angle to the vertical, so that when we began to approach the upper
surface of the vault, and the vapor thinned out, we saw through one of
the windows a pulsating patch of light, growing every moment brighter and
more distinct, until as we shot out of the clouds it instantly sharpened
into a huge round disk of blinding brilliance.

"The sun! The sun!" we cried.

We had not seen it for months. When it had gleamed out for a short time
during our drift across the water from the land of ice into the belt of
tempests, we had been too much occupied with our safety to pay attention
to it; but now the wonder of it awed us. Four times as large and four
times as bright and hot as it appears from the earth, its rays seemed to
smite with terrific energy. Juba, wearing his eye shades, shrank into a
corner and hid his face.

"It is well that we are protected by the walls of the car and the thick
glass windows," said Edmund, "for I do not doubt that there are solar
radiations in abundance here which scarcely affect us on the earth, but
which might prove dangerous or even mortal if we were exposed to their
full force."

Even at the vast elevation which we had now attained there was still
sufficient air to diffuse the sunlight, so that only a few of the
brightest stars could be glimpsed. Below us the spectacle was magnificent
and utterly unparalleled. There lay the immense convex shield of Venus,
more dazzling than snow, and as soft in appearance as the finest wool. We
gazed and gazed in silent admiration, until suddenly Henry, who had shown
less enthusiasm over the view than the rest of us, said, in a doleful
voice:

"And now that we are here--free, free, where we can do as we like--with
all means at our command--oh! why will you return to that accursed
planet? Edmund, in the name of God, I beseech you, go back to the earth!
Go now! For the love of Heaven do not drag us into danger again! Go home!
Oh, go home!"

The appeal was pitiful in its intensity of feeling, and a shade of
hesitation appeared on Edmund's face. If it had been Jack or I, I believe
that he would have yielded. But he slowly shook his head, saying in a
sympathetic tone:

"I am sorry, Henry, that you feel that way. But I _cannot_ leave this
planet yet. Have patience for a little while and then we will go home."

I doubt whether afterwards, Edmund himself did not regret that he had
refused to grant Henry's prayer. If we had gone now when it was in our
power to go without interference, we should have been spared the most
tragic and heart-rending event of all that occurred during the course of
our wandering. But Edmund seemed to feel the fascination of Venus as a
moth feels that of the candle flame.

When we emerged again on the lower side of the dome we were directly over
the capital. We had been out of view for at least three hours, but many
were still gazing skyward, toward the point where the car had
disappeared, and when we came into sight once more there were signs of
the utmost agitation. The prismatic signals began to flash from tower to
tower, conveying the news of the reappearance of the car, and as we drew
near we saw the crowds reassembling on every point of vantage. We went
out on the window ledges to watch the display.

"Perhaps they think that we have been paying a visit to the sun," I
suggested.

"Well, if they do I shall not undeceive them," said Edmund, "although it
goes against the grain to make any pretense of the kind. Ala,
particularly, is so intelligent, and has so genuine a desire for
knowledge, that if I could only cause her to comprehend the real truth it
would afford me one of the greatest pleasures of my life."

"I hope old Beak Nose is getting his fill of this show," put in Jack.
"He'll be likely to treat us with more respect after this. By the way, I
wonder what's become of my money. I think I'll sue out a writ of replevin
in the name of the sun to recover it."

Nobody replied to Jack's sally, and the car rapidly approached the great
tower.

"Are you going to land there?" I asked.

"I certainly shall," Edmund responded with decision.

"But they'll seize the car!" exclaimed Henry in affright.

"No, they won't. They are too much afraid of it."

Any further discussion was prevented by a sight which arrested the eyes
of all of us. On the principal landing of the tower, whence we had
departed with the car, stood Ala with her suite, and by her side was
Ingra!

His sudden apparition was a great surprise, as well as a great
disappointment, for we had felt sure that he was not in the city, and I,
at least, had persuaded myself that he might be in disgrace for his
attempt on our lives. Yet here he was, apparently on terms of confidence
with her whom we had regarded as our only sure friend.

"Hang him!" exclaimed Jack. "There he is! By Jo, if Edmund had only
invented a noiseless gun of forty million atom power, I'd rid Venus of
_him_, in the two-billionth part of a second!"

"Keep quiet," said Edmund, sternly, "and remember what I now tell you; in
no way, by look or act, is any one of us to indicate to him the slightest
resentment for what he did. Ignore him, as if you had never seen him."

By this time the car had nearly touched the landing. Edmund stepped
inside a moment and brought it completely to rest, anchoring it, as he
whispered to me, by "atomic attraction." When the throng on the tower saw
the car stop dead still, just in contact with the landing, but manifestly
supported by nothing but the air--no wings, no aeroplanes, no screws, no
mechanism of any kind visible--there arose the first _voice of a crowd_
that we had heard on the planet. It fairly made me jump, so unexpected,
and so contrary to all that we had hitherto observed, was the sound. And
this multitudinous voice itself had a quality, or timbre, that was unlike
any sound that had ever entered my ears. Thin, infantine, low, yet
multiplied by so many mouths to a mighty volume, it was fearful to listen
to. But it lasted only a moment; it was simply a universal ejaculation,
extorted from this virtually speechless people by such a marvel as they
had never dreamed of looking upon. But even this burst of astonishment,
as Edmund afterwards pointed out, was really a tribute to their
intelligence, since it showed that they had instantly appreciated both
the absence of all mechanical means of supporting the car and the fact
that here was something that implied a power infinitely exceeding any
that they possessed. And to have produced in a world where aerial
navigation was the common, everyday means of conveyance, such a sensation
by a performance in the _air_ was an enormous triumph for us!

No sooner had we gathered at the door of the car to step out upon the
platform than an extraordinary thing occurred. The front of the crowd
receded into the form of a semicircle, of which the point where we stood
marked the center, and in the middle of the curve, slightly in advance of
the others, stood forth the tall form of the eagle-beaked high priest
with the terrible face, flanked on one side by Ala and on the other by
the Jovelike front of the aged judge before whom our first arraignment
had taken place. Directly behind Ala stood Ingra. The contrast between
the three principal personages struck my eye even in that moment of
bewilderment--Ala stately, blonde, and beautiful as a statue of her own
Venus; the high priest ominous and terrifying in aspect, even now when we
felt that he was honoring us; and the great judge, with his snow-white
hair and piercing eyes, looking like a god from Olympus.

"Do you note the significance of that arrangement?" Edmund asked, nudging
me. "Ala, the queen, yields the place of honor to the high priest. That
indicates that our reception is essentially a religious one, and proves
that our flight sunward has had the expected effect. Now we have the head
of the religious order on our side. Human nature, if I may use such a
term, is the same in whatever world you find it. Touch the imagination
with some marvel and you awaken superstition; arouse superstition and you
can do what you like."

It would be idle for me to attempt to describe our reception because
Edmund himself could only make shrewd guesses as to the meaning of what
went on, and you would probably not be particularly interested in his
conjectures. Suffice it to say that when it was over, we felt that, for a
time at least, we were virtually masters of the situation.

Only one thing troubled my mind--what did Ingra think and what would he
do? At any rate, he, too, for the time being, seemed to have been carried
away with the general feeling of wonder, and narrowly as I watched him I
could detect in his features no sign of a wish to renew his persecution.

CHAPTER XVIII

WILD EDEN

The next day after our return from the trip above the cloud dome, and our
astonishing reception (you will, of course, understand the sense in which
I use the term "day"), Edmund sprang another surprise upon us.

"I have persuaded Ala," he said, "to make a trip in the car."

"You don't mean it!"

"Oh, yes, and I am sure she will be delighted."

"But she is not going alone?"

"Surely no; she will be accompanied by one of her women--and by Ingra."

"_Ingra_!"

"Of course. Did you suppose that he would consent to be left behind? Ala
herself would refuse to go without him."

"Then," I said, with deep disappointment, "he has resumed all his
influence over her."

"I'm not sure he ever lost it," returned Edmund. "You forget his rank,
and his position as her destined consort. Whatever we do we have got to
count him in."

Jack raged inwardly, but said nothing. For my part, I almost wished
Jack's bullet had not gone astray at that first memorable shooting.

"Now," Edmund continued, "the car, as you know, has but a limited amount
of room. I do not wish to crowd it uncomfortably, but I can take six
persons. Ala's party comprises three, so there is room for just two
besides myself. You will have to draw lots."

"Is Juba included in the drawing?"

"Yes, and I'm half inclined to take him anyway, and let you three draw
for the one place remaining."

"You can count me out," said Henry. "If there is another to stay with me
I prefer to remain."

"Very well," said Edmund, "then Peter and Jack can draw lots."

"Since we can't all go," said Jack, "and since that fellow is to be of
the party, I'll stay with Henry."

So it was settled without an appeal to chance, and I went with Edmund and
Juba. As usual Edmund immediately put his project into execution. It
showed an astonishing confidence in us that Ala should consent to make
such a trip, and that her people, and especially Ingra, should assent to
it, and I could not sufficiently wonder at the fact. But we were now at
the summit of favor and influence, and it is impossible to guess what
thoughts may have been in their minds. At any rate, it showed how
completely Edmund had established himself in Ala's esteem, and I suspect
that her woman's curiosity had played a large part in the decision. There
was another thing which astonished me yet more, and, in fact, awakened a
good deal of apprehension in my mind. I could not but wonder that Edmund,
after all the precautions that he had previously taken, should now think
of admitting these people into the car, where they could witness his
manipulations of the mechanism. I spoke to him about it. "Rest your mind
easy about that," he said. "Now that everything goes like a charm, they
will suspect nothing. It will be all a complete mystery to them. Even the
gods used natural agencies when they visited the earth without shaking
the belief of mankind in them. I employ no force of which they have the
least idea, and if they see me touch a button, or pull a knob, what can
that convey to their minds except an impression of mysterious power?"

I said no more, but I was not convinced, and the sequel proved that, for
once, Edmund had made a serious mistake, the more amazing because he had
been the first to detect the exceptional intelligence and shrewdness of
Ingra. But, no doubt, in the exultation of his recent triumph, he counted
upon the strength of the superstitious regard in which we were held.

Our departure from the tower was the signal for the assembling of great
crowds of spectators again, and we sailed away with the utmost _eclat_.
Ala at once showed all the eager excitement of a child over so novel and
enjoyable an experience. The motion of the car was entirely unlike that
of the air ships. Perfectly steady, it skimmed along at a speed which
filled her with amazement and delight. The city, with its towers, seemed
to fly away from us by magic, and the trees and fields beneath ran into
streaming lines. The windows were thrown wide open, and all stood by
them, watching the scene. Finally Ala wished to go out on the window
ledges, where one was perfectly secure if he kept a firm hold on the
supports. Edmund was most of the time with us outside, only stepping
within when he wished to change the course. I thought that he showed a
disposition to conceal his manipulations as much as possible, as if what
I had said had made an impression. But all were so much occupied with
their novel sensations that, for the time at least, there was no danger
of their taking note of anything else.

I believe that it must have been some intimation from Ala which finally
led Edmund to hold his course toward the mountains, but in a direction
different from that which led to the mines. When he had once chosen this
direction he worked up the speed to fully a hundred miles an hour, and
all were compelled to go inside on account of the wind created by our
rush through the air. We held on thus for five hours. During this time
Edmund spread a repast made up of dishes chosen from the supplies in the
car, and, of course, utterly strange to our guests. They found them to
their taste, however, and were delighted with Edmund's entertainment. We
spent a long time at our little table, and I was surprised at the variety
of delicious things which Edmund managed to extract from his stores.
There was even some champagne, and I noticed that Edmund urged it upon
Ingra, who, nothing loth, drank enough to make him decidedly tipsy, a
fact which was not surprising since we had found that the wines of Venus
were very light, and but slightly alcoholized.

At length we began to approach what proved to be the goal of our journey.
Before us spread a vast extent of forest composed of trees of the most
beautiful forms and foliage. Some towered up to a great height, spreading
their pendulous branches over the less aspiring forms, like New England
elms; others were low and bushy, and afire with scarlet blossoms, whose
perfume filled the air; a few resembled gigantic grasses or great timothy
stems, surmounted with nodding plumes of golden leaves, streaming out
like gilt gonfalons in the breeze; but there was one species, as tall and
massive as oaks, and scattered everywhere through the forest, that I
could liken to nothing but enormous rose bushes in the full bloom of
June. When we began to pass above this strange woodland, Ala made some
communication to Edmund which caused him to slow down the movement of the
car. By almost imperceptible touches he controlled the motive power, and
presently we came to rest above a delightful glade, where a small stream
ran at the foot of a gravelly slope, crowned with grass and overhung by
trees.

Here the car was allowed to settle gently upon the ground, and all
alighted. Ingra, over whom the influence of the champagne had been
growing, tottered on his legs in a way that would have filled Jack with
uncontrollable delight, but Edmund gravely helped him out of the car and
steadied him to a seat on the soft turf under the tree. I saw Ala
regarding Ingra with a puzzled look, and no wonder, for Edmund had been
careful that no one else should take enough of the wine to produce more
than the slightest exhilaration of spirits. It is possible that Edmund
had plied Ingra with the idea of rendering him less observant, and it
probably had that effect; but it resulted, as you will see presently, in
a revelation which finally put Edmund on guard against the very danger to
which he had seemed so insensible when I mentioned it to him before our
start.

The place where we now were was, beyond comparison, the most charming
that we had yet seen. A very Eden it seemed, wild, splendid, and remote
from all cultivation. The air was loaded with indescribable fragrance
shed from the thousands of strange blossoms that depended from trees and
shrubs, and starred the rich grass. I learned afterwards from Edmund, who
had it from Ala, that the spot was famous for its beauty and other
attractions, and was sometimes visited in air ships from the capital. But
for them, what took us but a few hours was a trip extending over several
days of time. One would have said that the forest was imbedded in a
garden of the most extraordinary orchids. The shapes of some of the
flowers were so fantastic that it seemed impossible that Nature could
have produced them. And their colors were no less unparalleled,
inimitable, and incredible.

The flowery bank on which we had chosen our resting place was removed a
few yards from the spot where the car rested, and the latter was hidden
from view by intervening branches and huge racemes of gorgeous flowers,
hanging like embroidered curtains about us. A peculiarity of the place
was that little zephyr-like breezes seemed to haunt it, coming one could
not tell whence, and they stirred the hanging blossoms, keeping them in
almost continual rhythmic motion. The effect was wonderfully charming,
but I observed that Ala was especially influenced by it. She sat with her
maid beside her, and fixed her eyes, with an expression of ecstasy, upon
the swinging flowers. I whispered to Edmund to regard her singular
absorption. But he had already noticed it, and seemed to be puzzling his
brain with thoughts that it suggested to him.

Thus as we sat, the leaves of a tree over our heads were lightly stirred,
and a bird, adorned with long plumes more beautiful than those of a bird
of paradise, alighted on a branch, and began to ruffle its iridescent
feathers in a peculiar way. With every movement waves of color seemed to
flow over it, merging and dissolving in the most marvelous manner. As
soon as this bird appeared, Ala gave it all her attention, and the
pleasure which she experienced in watching it was reflected upon her
countenance. She seemed positively enraptured. After a few moments the
conviction came to me that she was _listening!_ Her whole attitude
expressed it. And yet not an audible sound came from the bird. At last I
whispered to Edmund:

"Edmund, I believe that Ala hears something which we do not."

"Of course she does," was his reply. "There is music here, such music as
was never heard on earth. That bird is _singing_, but our ears are not
attuned to its strain. You know the peculiarity of this atmosphere with
regard to sound, and that all of these people have a horror of loud
noises. But their ears detect sounds which are beyond the range of the
vibrations that affect ours. If you will observe the bird closely you
will perceive that there is a slight movement of its throat. But that is
not the greatest wonder, by any means. I am satisfied that there is _a
direct relation here between sounds and colors_. The swaying of the
flowers in the breeze and the rhythmic motion of the bird's plumage
produce harmonious combinations and recombinations of colors which are
transformed into sounds as exquisite as those of the world of insects. A
cluster of blossoms, when the wind stirs them, shake out a kind of
aeolian melody, and it was that which so entranced Ala a few moments ago.
She hears it still, but now it is mastered by the more perfect harmonies
that come from the bird, partly from its throat but more from the
agitation of its delicate feathers."

You may imagine the wonder with which I listened to this. It immediately
recalled what Jack and I had observed at the shop of the bird fancier,
and when the lady carried off her seemingly mute pets in the palanquin.

"But," I said, after a moment of reflection, "how can such a thing be? To
me it seems surely impossible."

"I can only try to explain it by an analogy," said Edmund. "You know how,
by a telephone, sounds are first transmuted into electric vibrations and
afterwards reshaped into sonorous waves. You know, also, that we have
used a ray of light to send telephonic messages, through the
sensitiveness of a certain metal which changes its electric resistance in
accord with the intensity of the light that strikes it. Thus with a beam
of light we can reproduce the human voice. Well, what we have done
awkwardly and tentatively by the aid of imperfect mechanical
contrivances, Nature has here accomplished perfectly through the peculiar
composition of the air and some special adjustment of the auditory
apparatus of this people.

"Light and sound, color and music, are linked for them in a manner
entirely beyond our comprehension. It is plain to me now that the music
of color which we witnessed at the capital, was something far more
complete and wonderful than I then imagined. Together with the pleasure
which they derive from the harmonic combinations of shifting hues, they
drink in, at the same time, the delight arising from sounds which are
associated with, and, in many cases, awakened by, those very colors. It
is probable that all their senses are far more fully, though more
delicately, developed than ours. The perfume of these wonderful flowers
is probably more delightful to Ala than to us. As there are sounds which
they hear though inaudible to us, and colors visible to them which lie
beyond the range of our vision, so there may be vibrations affecting the
olfactory nerves which make no impression upon our sense of smell."

"Well, well," I exclaimed, "this seems appropriate to Venus."

"Yes," said Edmund with a smile, "it is appropriate; and yet I am not
sure that some day we may not arrive at something of the kind on the
earth."

I was about to ask him what he meant when there came an exciting
interruption. Ingra, who had fallen more and more under the influence of
the champagne, had stumbled to the other side of the little glade,
virtually unnoticed, and Juba had wandered out of sight. Suddenly there
came from the direction of the car the sound of a struggle mingled with
inarticulate cries. We sprang to our feet, and, running to the car, found
both Ingra and Juba inside it. The former had his hands on one of the
knobs controlling the mechanism, and Juba had grasped him round the waist
and was trying to drag him away. Ingra was resisting with all his
strength, and uttering strange noises, whose sense, if they had any, we,
of course, did not comprehend. Just as we reached the door, Juba
succeeded in wrenching his opponent from his hold, and immediately gave
him a fling which sent him clear out of the car, tumbling in a heap at
our feet. Juba's eyes were ablaze with a dangerous light, but the moment
he encountered Edmund's gaze he quietly walked away and sat down on the
bank. Ala was immediately by our side, and I thought that I could read
embarrassment as well as surprise in her looks. Fortunately the knob that
Ingra had grasped had been thrown out of connection; else he and Juba
might have made an involuntary voyage through space.

We picked up Ingra, found a seat for him, and Edmund, going down to the
brook, filled a pocket flask with water and flung it in the fellow's
face. This was repeated several times with the effect of finally
straightening out his muddled senses sufficiently to warrant us in
embarking for the return trip. All the way home Ingra was in a sulky
mood, like any terrestrial drunkard after a debauch, but he kept his eyes
on all Edmund's movements with an expression of cunning, which he had not
sufficient self-command to conceal, and which could leave no doubt in our
minds as to the nature of the quest which had led him into the car. As to
Juba--although his interference had been of no practical benefit, since
Ingra, especially in his present state, could surely have made no
discovery of any importance--the devotion which he had again shown to our
interests endeared him the more to us. Ala's manner showed that she was
deeply chagrined, and thus our trip, which had opened so joyously, ended
in gloom, and we were glad when the car again touched the platform, and
our guests departed.

CHAPTER XIX

THE SECRET OF THE CAR

Jack and Henry were overjoyed to see us again, for after our departure
they had fallen into a despondent mood, and began to imagine all sorts of
evil.

"Jo!" was Jack's greeting; "I never was so glad to see anybody in my
life. Edmund, don't you ever go off and leave any of us alone again."

"I'll never leave you again," responded Edmund. "You can count on that."

Then we told them the story of what we had seen, and of what had happened
in the wild Eden that we had visited. They were not so much interested in
the most wonderful thing of all--the combination of sound and color--as
they were in the conduct of Ingra. Jack laughed until he was tired over
Ingra's drunkenness, but he drew a long face when he heard of the
adventure in the car.

"Edmund," he said earnestly, "I am beginning to be of Henry's opinion;
you had better get away from here without losing a moment."

"No," said Edmund, "we'll not go yet. The time hasn't come to run away.
What difference does it make even if Ingra does suspect that the car is
moved by some mechanism instead of by pure magic? He could not understand
it if I should explain it to him."

"But you have said that he is extraordinarily intelligent."

"So he is, but his intelligence is limited by the world he lives in, and
while there are many marvelous things here, nobody has the slightest
conception of inter-atomic force. They have never heard even of
radioactivity. At the same time I don't mean that they shall go nosing
about the car. I'll take care of that."

"But," said Jack, "it grinds me to see that brute Ingra get off scot-free
after trying to murder us. And what has he got against us, anyway? But
for him we should never have had any trouble. He was against us from the
beginning."

"I don't think he was particularly _against_ us at the start," said
Edmund. "Only he was for treating us with less consideration than Ala was
disposed to show. But after the first accidental shooting, and the
drubbing that Juba gave him, naturally his prejudices were aroused, and
he could hardly be blamed for thinking us dangerous. Then, when he found
himself defeated, and his wishes disregarded, on all sides, he began to
hate us. It is easy enough to account for his feelings. Now, since our
recent astonishing triumph, being himself incredulous about our celestial
origin, he will try to undermine us by showing that our seeming miracle
is no miracle at all."

"And you gave him the chance by taking him in the car!" I could not help
exclaiming.

"Yes," said Edmund, with a smile. "I admit that I made a mistake. I
counted too much upon the influence of the sense of mystery. But it will
come out all right."

"I doubt it," I persisted. "He will never rest now until he has found out
the secret."

Nothing more was said on the subject, but Edmund was careful not to leave
the car unguarded. It was always kept afloat, though in contact with the
landing. The expenditure of energy needed to keep it thus anchored
without support was, Edmund assured us, insignificant in comparison with
the quantity stored in his mysterious batteries.

We were not long in finding, on all sides, evidence that our trip up
through the cloud dome had been a master stroke, and that the presumable
incredulity of Ingra with regard to our claims was not shared by others.
He might have his intimates, who entertained prejudices against us
resembling his own, but if so we saw nothing of them. In fact, Ingra was
much less in evidence than before, but I did not feel reassured by that;
on the contrary, it made me all the more fearful of some plot on his
part, and Jack was decidedly of my opinion.

"Hang him!" he said, "he's up to some mischief, and I know it. Much as I
detest him, I'd rather have him _in_ sight than _out_, just now. He makes
me feel like a snake in a bush; if he'd only show his ugly head, or
spring his rattle, I'd be more comfortable."

But the kindness and deference with which we were treated, and the new
wonders that were shown to us in the capital, gradually drove Ingra from
our minds. Now we were permitted to enter the temples without opposition,
our presence there according with our new character of "children of the
sun." We saw the worship that was offered before the solar images by
family parties, and attended, as favored guests, the periodical
ceremonies in the great temple. Edmund confessed that the high priest
greatly embarrassed him by staring into his eyes, and plainly assuming
that he knew things of which he was profoundly ignorant.

"The hardest thing I ever undertook," he said, "is to hold my mind in
suspense during these trying interviews, when he endeavors to read the
depths of my soul, and I to throw a veil over them which he cannot
penetrate."

In some way, Edmund discovered that the high priest and all the priests
connected with the sun worship (and they certainly bore a family
likeness) belonged to a special race, whose roots ran back into the most
remote antiquity, and about whose persons clung a sacredness that placed
them, in some respects, above the royal family itself. We frequently
visited the great library, where Edmund undertook a study of the language
of the printed rolls, though what he made of it I never clearly
understood. I do not think that he succeeded in deciphering any of it. He
also spent much time studying their mechanics and engineering, for which
he professed great admiration.

But most interesting of all to us was what Edmund himself accomplished. I
have told you of his remark about the color-sound music, viz., that he
thought it not impossible that even human senses might be enabled to
appreciate it. Well, he actually realized that wildly improbable dream!
He fitted up a laboratory of his own in which he labored sometimes for
twenty hours at a stretch, and at last he brought to us the astonishing
invention he had made.

I can make no pretense of understanding it; although Edmund declared
that, in substance, it was no more wonderful than a telephone. The
machine consisted of a little metal box. (He made three of them, and I
have mine yet, but it will not work on the earth, and it lies on my table
as I write, serving for the most wonderful paper weight that a man ever
possessed.) When this box was pressed against the ear in front of one of
the revolving disks that threw out blending colors, or in the presence of
a "singing" bird, the most divine harmonies seemed to awake _in the
brain_. I cannot make the slightest approach to a description of the
marvelous phenomenon. One felt his whole being infused with ecstatic
joy. It was the very soul of music itself, celestial, ineffable! The
wonder-box also enabled us to catch many sounds peculiar to the
atmosphere of Venus, formed of vibrations, as Edmund had explained, that
lie outside our gamut. But to these, apart from the music, I could never
listen. They were _too_ abnormal, filling one with inexplicable terror,
as if he had been snatched out of nature and compelled to listen to the
sounds of a preternatural world. The only sound that I ever heard with my
natural ear which bore the slightest resemblance to these was the awful
piercing whistle of the monster that killed Ala's man.

Yet we derived immense pleasure from the possession of those little
boxes. With their aid, we could appreciate the exquisite melodies that
were played everywhere--in great halls where thousands were assembled, in
the temples great and small, and in the homes of the people, to which we
were often admitted. In every house there was on one of the walls a
"musical rose," whose harmonies entranced the visitor. And the variety of
musical _motifs_ seemed to be absolutely without limit. One was never
tired of the entertainment because there was so little repetition.

On one ever-memorable occasion we heard the great national, or, as Edmund
preferred to call it, "racial" hymn, played in the air from the principal
tower. When we had only beheld the play of colors characterizing this
composition we had found it altogether delightful, although, as I have
said, Edmund detected, even then, some underlying tone of sadness or
despair; but when its _sounds_ broke into the brain the effect was
overwhelming. The entire thing seemed to have been "written in a minor
key," of infinite world-embracing pathos. The listener was plunged into
depths of feeling that seemed unfathomable, eternal--and unendurable.

"Heavens!" whispered Jack to me in an awed voice, dropping the box from
his ear, "I can't _stand_ it!"

I saw tears running down his face, and felt them on my own. Edmund and
Henry were equally affected, and could not continue to listen. Edmund
said nothing, but I recalled his words about the traditional belief of
this people that their world had entered upon the last stage of its
existence. Then I watched the countenances about us; they wore an
expression of solemnity, and yet there was something which spoke of an
uplifting pride, awakened by the great paean, and swelling the heart with
memories of interminable ages of past glory.

"Come," said Edmund at last, turning away, "this is not for us. The
measureless sadness we feel, but the triumphant reflection of ancestral
greatness is for them alone. Heavens! what an artist he must have been
who composed this!--if it be not like the Iliad, the work of an age
rather than of a man."

We almost forgot the passage of time in the enjoyment of our now
delightful and untroubled existence, but there came at last a rude
awakening from this life, which had become for us like a dream.

As I have said, we had ceased to worry about Ingra, whom we seldom saw,
and who, when we did see him, gave no indication of continued enmity. At
first we had kept the car under continual surveillance, but as time went
on we became careless in this respect, and at last we did not guard it at
all.

One day, during the time of repose, I happened to be, with Juba, in our
room on that stage of the great tower where the car was anchored, while
Edmund and the others were below in the palace. Juba was already asleep,
and I was lying down and courting drowsiness, when a slight noise outside
attracted my attention. I stepped softly to the door and looked out. The
door of the car was open! Supposing that Edmund was there I approached to
speak to him. By good fortune I was wearing the soft slippers worn by
everybody here, and which we had adopted, so that my footsteps made no
sound.

As I reached the car door and looked in, I nearly dropped in the
intensity of my surprise and consternation. There, at the farther end,
was Ingra, on his knees before the mechanical mouths which swallowed the
invisible elements of power from the air; and beside him was another,
also on his knees, and busy with tools, apparently trying to detach the
things. The explanation flashed over my mind; Ingra had brought a skilled
engineer to aid him in discovering the secret of the car, and, no doubt,
to rob it of its mysterious mechanism. They seemed to fear no
interruption, because Ingra had undoubtedly informed himself of the fact
that for a day or two past we had abandoned the use of our room in the
tower, and taken our repose in our apartments in the palace. It was by
mere chance that Juba and I had, on this occasion, remained so long aloft
that I had decided to take our sleep in the tower room.

Anticipating no surveillance, Ingra was not on his guard, and had no idea
that I was behind him. Instinctively I grasped for my pistol but
instantly remembered that it was with my coat in the room. I tiptoed
back, awoke Juba, making him a sign to be noiseless, got the pistol, and
returned, without a sound, to the open door of the car with Juba at my
heels. They were yet on their knees, with their heads under the shelf,
and I heard the slight grating made by the tool that Ingra's assistant
was using. The pistol was in my hand. What should I do? Shoot him down
without warning, or trust to the strength of Juba to enable us to
overcome them both and make them prisoners?

While I hesitated, and it was but a moment, Ingra suddenly rose to his
feet and confronted us. An exclamation burst from his lips, and the other
sprang up. I covered Ingra with the pistol and pulled the trigger. There
was not a sound! The sickening remembrance then burst over me that I had
not reloaded the pistol since Edmund had emptied its whole chamber in the
closing fight with the tarantula of the swamps. Ingra, followed by his
man, sprang upon me like a tiger. In a twinkling I lay on my back, and
before I could recover my feet, I saw Juba and Ingra in a deadly
struggle, while the other ran away and disappeared. Jumping up I ran to
Juba's assistance, but the fight was so furious, and the combatants
whirled so rapidly, that I could get no hold. I saw, however, that Juba
was more than a match for his opponent, and I darted into the car to get
one of the automatic rifles, thinking that I could use it as a club to
put an end to the struggle if the opportunity should offer. But the
locker was firmly closed and I could not open it. After a minute of vain
efforts I returned to the combatants and found that Juba had nearly
completed his mastery. He had Ingra doubled over his knee and was
endeavoring to pinion his hands.

At this instant, when the victory seemed complete, and our enemy in our
power, Juba uttered a faint cry and fell in a heap. Blood instantly
stained the floor around him, and Ingra, with a bound, dropping a long
knife, attained the door of a nearby chamber, and was out of sight before
I could even start to pursue him. Nevertheless, I ran after him, but
quickly became involved in a labyrinth where it was useless to continue
the search, and where I nearly lost my way.

I then returned to see how seriously Juba had been wounded. He had
crawled into the car. I bent over him--he was dead! The knife had
inflicted a fearful wound, and it seemed wonderful that he could have
made his way unassisted even over the short distance from where he was
struck down to the door of the car.

_Juba dead!_ I felt faint and sick! But the critical nature of the
emergency helped to steady my nerves by giving me something else to think
of and to do. Edmund must be called at once. There were no "elevators"
running regularly during the general hours of repose, and I did not know
the way up and down the tower by the ladder-like stairways which
connected the stages. But there were signals by which the little craft
that served as elevators could be summoned in case of necessity, and I
pulled one of the signal cords. It seemed an age before the air ship
came, and another before I could reach Edmund.

His great self-control enabled him to conceal his grief at my news, but
Jack was overcome. He had really loved Juba almost as if he had been
human and a brother. The big-hearted fellow actually sobbed as if his
heart would break. Then came the reaction, and I should never have
believed that Jack Ashton could exhibit such malevolent ferocity. His
lips all but foamed, as he fairly shouted, striking his big fists
together:

"This'll be _my_ job! Edmund! Peter! You hear me! Don't either of you
dare to lay a hand on _that devil!_ He's _mine!_ Oh! I'll--" But he could
not finish his sentence for gnashing his teeth.

We calmed him as best we could and then summoned an air ship. While we
waited, Edmund suddenly put his hand in his pocket, and withdrawing it
quickly, said, with a bitter smile:

"What a fool I have been in my carelessness. Ingra has had the key
abstracted from my pocket by some thief. That explains how he got the car
open."

The moment the ship came we hurriedly ascended to the platform. When
Edmund saw poor Juba's body lying in the car and learned how he had made
his way there to die, he was more affected than when he first heard of
his death.

"He has died for us," he said solemnly; "he has crawled here as to a
refuge, and here he shall remain until I can bury him among his people in
his old home. Would to God I had never taken him from it!"

"Then you will start at once for the dark hemisphere?" I asked.

"At the earliest possible moment; and it shall be on the way to our own
home."

But we were not to depart before even a more terrible tragedy had
darkened over us, for now the tide of fate was suddenly running at flood.

CHAPTER XX

THE CORYBANTIA OF THE SUN

I have several times mentioned Edmund's half-formed impression that there
was some very remarkable ceremony connected with the cyclical apparition
of the sun before the eyes of its worshipers. He had said, you may
recall, that it seemed probable that the religious rites on these rare
occasions bore some resemblance to the _bacchanalia_, or _dionysia_, of
ancient Greece. How he had derived that idea I do not know, but it proved
to have been but too well founded---only he had not guessed the full
truth. The followers of Dionysus made themselves drunken with the wine of
their god and then indulged in the wildest excesses. Here, as we were now
to learn, the worshipers of the sun were seized with another kind of
madness, leading to scenes that I believe, and hope, have never had their
parallel upon the earth.

With our hearts sore for Juba, we had completed our preparations for
departure within six hours after his tragic death. Ala had been informed
of the tragedy, and had visited the car and looked upon the dead form,
which I thought greatly affected her. Edmund held little communication
with her, but it was evidently with her cooperation that he was able to
procure a kind of coffin, in which we placed Juba's body. I do not know
whether Edmund informed her of his purpose to quit the planet, but she
must have known that we were going to convey our friend somewhere for
interment.

We were actually on the point of casting loose the car, Ala and a crowd
of attendants watching our movements, when there came the second great
sound of united voices which we had heard in this speechless world. It
rose like a sudden wail from the whole city. There was a rushing to and
fro, Ala's face grew as pale as death, and her attendants fell upon their
knees and began to lift their hands heavenward, with an expression of
terror and wild appeal.

At the same time we noticed a sudden brightening about us, and Edmund
stepping out on the platform, immediately beckoned, with the first signs
of uncontrollable excitement that I had ever seen him display. I was
instantly at his side, and a single glance told the story.

High in the heavens, the sun had burst forth in all its marvelous
splendor!

A vast rift was open in the cloud dome, through which the gigantic god of
day poured down his rays with a fierceness that was inconceivable. The
heat was like the blast of a furnace, and I felt my head beginning to
swim.

"Quick!" cried Edmund, grasping my sleeve and pulling me into the car.
"These rays are fatal! My God, what a sight!"

As by magic the atmosphere had become crowded with air ships, and throngs
of thousands were pouring from them upon the great platform and the other
stages, as well as upon the surrounding towers. Every available space was
filling up with people hastening from below. As fast as they arrived they
threw themselves into the most extraordinary postures of adoration,
lifting hands and eyes to the sun. I remember thinking, in a flash, that
the intense glare of light must burn to the very sockets of their
eyes--but they did not flinch. It was evident, however, that those who
looked directly in the sun's face were blinded.

I looked round for Ala, and noticed with a thrill that her beautiful eyes
were wide open and glancing with an expression that I cannot describe,
over her kneeling people. Beside her was the towering form of the great
priest, who was staring straight at the sun--and yet, although his eyes
were open, it was evident that they were not rendered altogether
sightless even by that awful light. They burned like coals. He was making
strange gestures with his long arms, and in unison with his every
movement a low, heart-thrilling sound came from the throats of the
multitude.

Edmund, at my shoulder, muttered under his breath:

"Shall I try to save her from this?--But to what good?"

For a moment he seemed to hesitate, and I thought that he was about to
rush out upon the platform and seize Ala in order to rescue her from some
danger that he foresaw; when, all at once, the multitude rose to its
feet, staggering, and began to rush to and fro, colliding with one
another, falling, rising again, grappling, struggling, uttering terrible
cries--and then I saw the flash of knives.

"Good heavens!" shouted Edmund. "It is the ultraviolet rays! They have
gone mad!"

In the meantime the gigantic high priest whirled upon his heel, swinging
his arms abroad and uttering a kind of chant which was audible above the
dreadful clamor of the rabid multitude. Though he had no weapon, he
seemed the inspirer of this Aceldama, and around him its fury raged.
Presently he drew close to Ala, who still stood motionless, as if
petrified by the awful scene. I felt Edmund give a violent start, and
before I comprehended his intention, he had dashed from the car, and was
forcing his way through the struggling throng toward the queen.

"Edmund!" I shouted. "For God's sake, come back!"

Jack started to follow him, but I held him back with all my strength.

"Let me go!" he yelled. "Edmund will be killed!"

"And you, too!" I answered. "Break open the locker and get the guns!"

Jack threw himself upon the door of the locker, and strove to wrench it
open. Meanwhile, half paralyzed with excitement, I remained standing at
the door. I saw Edmund hurl aside those who attacked him, and push on
toward his goal. But a minute later a knife reached him, and he fell.

"Quick, Jack, quick!" I shouted; "Edmund is down!"

He had not got the locker open, but he darted to my side, and together we
rushed out into the press. Shall I ever forget that moment! We were
pushed, hustled, struck, hurled to and fro; but we had only a few steps
to go, and we reached our leader where he lay. Seizing him, we succeeded
somehow in carrying him into the car. Our clothes were torn, our hands
and faces were bleeding, and there was blood on Jack's shoulder. Edmund
was alive. We placed him on a bench, and then the fascination of the
spectacle without again enchained us.

Suddenly my eyes fell upon Ingra, who had not previously made his
appearance. He was as insane as the others, and like many of them had a
knife in his hand. In a moment he pushed his way toward Ala, and my heart
rose in my throat, for I did not know what mad thought might be in his
mind. If I had had a weapon, I believe I should have shot him, but before
he had arrived within three yards of the queen there came an explosion of
flame--I do not know how else to describe it, for it was so sudden--and
the great platform was instantly wrapped in licking tongues of fire.

The wickerwork caught like tinder, and the gauzy screws threw off streams
of sparks like so many Fourth of July pinwheels. The gush of heat from
the conflagration was terrible, and I turned my eyes in horror from the
stricken multitude which seemed to have been shocked back into sanity by
the sudden universal danger only to find itself a helpless prey to the
flames.

"It's all over with them!" cried Jack.

His words awoke me to our own danger. We must get away instantly. Knowing
the proper button to touch to throw the mechanism into action, I pushed
it forcibly and pulled out a knob which I had often seen Edmund
manipulate in starting the car. It responded immediately, and in a second
we were afloat, and clear of the tower. Seeing that the direction which
the car was taking would remove us from the reach of the flames, and that
there was nothing ahead to obstruct its progress, and knowing that Edmund
often left it to run of itself when the speed was slow, and there was no
occasion to change its course, I now hurried with Jack to Edmund's side.
Henry all this time had been lying on a bench like one in a trance.

Jack and I stripped off Edmund's coat, and at once saw the nature of his
wound. A knife had penetrated his side, and there was considerable
effusion of blood, but I was surgeon enough to feel sure that the wound
was not mortal. He roused up as he felt us working over him, and opening
his eyes, said faintly:

"You will find bandages under the locker. What has happened? We are
moving."

"The tower is all in flames!" exclaimed Jack, before I could interrupt
him, for I should have preferred not to tell Edmund the real situation
just at that moment.

Jack's words roused him like an electric shock. He pushed us aside, and
struggled to his feet. Then he sprang to a knob, and brought the car to
rest.

We had been moving slowly, and had not gone more than a quarter of a mile
from the tower. The car had swung round so that the fire was not visible
from the open door, but now, as Edmund arrested its progress, it swayed
back again and the spectacle burst into view. The heat smote us in the
face even at this distance. In the few minutes since I had last seen the
tower the flames had made incredible progress. The whole of the immense
structure was blazing. Spires of flame leaped and swayed from its summit,
partitions were falling, platforms giving way, and hundreds of air ships
caught by the sheets of fire were crumpling and falling in swooping
curves like birds whose wings had been seared. I was thankful that we
could not see the unfortunates who were perishing in that furnace. It was
but too evident that not a soul on the tower could have escaped.

I glanced at Edmund's face. It was pale and set--the face of a man gazing
upon an awful tragedy with which he is absolutely powerless to interfere.
His breath came quick, but he did not utter a word. Then came the
reaction, and, staggering, he leaned on my shoulder, and I led him to the
bench from which he had risen. For a moment I thought he had fainted, but
when I put a flask to his lips he swallowed a mouthful and immediately
recovered sufficient strength to sit up, resting his head on his hand.

"Had we not better go on?" I asked.

"Ye-es," he replied, after a moment's hesitation. "We can do nothing.
They are all gone; the queen has perished with the rest! Pull out that
knob on the right, but gently, and then push this button. We must circle
round the outskirts until we see whether the fire will seize upon the
other towers and extend to the city below."

I followed his directions, and, as we started our circuit, the vast tower
suddenly swayed aside, and then, tumbling in upon itself, it went down in
a whirl of smoke and eddying sparks.

As far as we could see none of the other aerial structures had caught
fire. The entire absence of wind was no doubt the favorable circumstance
that saved them. But all the towers were swaying under the impulse
imparted to them by the excited multitudes that crowded their platforms.
Although the light of the conflagration faded as soon as the principal
tower fell, the others continued to shine brilliantly in the solar rays,
but suddenly, as we watched, the splendor failed, and the subdued
illumination characteristic of the endless daylight under the great dome
took its place. The rift in the clouds above had closed as unexpectedly
as it had recently opened, and the sun was no longer visible. It had been
in view less than an hour, but in that brief space what scenes had been
enacted!

Presently Edmund, shaking his head sadly, said:

"It is useless to stay longer. Even if the conflagration should spread we
could do nothing to help the unfortunates. They must depend upon
themselves."

He then gave me directions for changing our course to a direct line away
from the city, at the same time increasing the speed. In the meantime he
himself aided in binding up his wound.

"If there were the slightest chance that Ala could have escaped," he
said, after a few minutes, "I would remain here, and search for her, but
it is only too clear what her fate has been. She was really our only
friend, and now that she is gone, we must get away from the sight and
memory of these things as quickly as possible."

Seeing that his strength was gradually coming back to him, and secretly
rejoicing that he bore this terrible blow so stoically, I felt that we
might now converse about the catastrophe which we had witnessed.

"What do you think was the cause of the sudden outburst of fire?" I
asked.

"It could hardly have been the direct action of the sunlight," he
replied. "It must have resulted from some accidental concentration of the
solar rays upon an inflammable substance by a mirror."

"I recall seeing a large concave glass on the principal platform in which
they were fond of looking at their magnified images," I said.

"Yes, and no doubt that was the instrument chosen by fate to bring about
this terrible end. The power of the sunbeams is twice as great here as
upon the earth, and the heat in the focus of a mirror a couple of feet in
diameter would suffice to set fire to the flimsy materials which abounded
on the tower. Once started in such a place it ran like sparks in a train
of gunpowder."

"But the madness that seized the multitude before the catastrophe--what
did you mean by saying that it was the ultraviolet rays?"

"I used the term," Edmund replied slowly, "without attaching a very clear
meaning to it. It simply expressed the general thought that was in my
mind. It may be some other form of solar radiation to which we are not
accustomed on the earth, but which is specially effective here when the
sun is uncovered because of the greater nearness of Venus. This
atmosphere, notwithstanding its density, may well be diaphanous to the
ultraviolet rays, owing to some peculiarity in its composition which I
have not had time to study. At any rate, it is evident, from what we have
seen, that the rays of the unclouded sun almost instantly affect the
brain. I, myself, felt them as if a thousand needles had been thrust
through my skull; and I believe that they are responsible, rather than
the shock of the wound in my side, for my present weakness."

"And did you foresee the consequences of the uncovering of the sun?"

"Not altogether. I had been led to think that something extraordinary
must accompany the periodical appearances of the great orb, and if I
could have known that an apparition was at hand I might have made
preparations for it and we might have been able to save Ala. When I saw
what was going on, I tried to reach her, and you know the result."

"But is it not incredible that a people of so peaceable a disposition
should be seized with such murderous instincts when driven out of their
senses by the effect of the rays?"

"No, it does not seem so to me. You know the general tendency of sudden
madness, which usually produces a complete reversal of the ordinary
instincts of the demented persons, making them dangerous to their dearest
friends. But why talk longer of this? It is too painful--too
overwhelming. What can man do against the great forces of Nature? At this
moment I solemnly declare to you that I regret that I ever entered upon
this expedition."

While we had been talking, the car had receded to a great distance from
the city, and now all but the tops of a few of the airy pinnacles were
lost to our sight forever. But as we gazed, straining our sight for a
last look, we perceived a familiar flickering of prismatic lightning on
the horizon. We glanced at each other meaningly. It was the color speech
again. But, oh, what must be the burden of their communications now!
Suddenly, Edmund, whose eyes were fixed with intensity upon the scene,
remarked, half shuddering:

"It is the great Paean."

Seized with curiosity, I pressed the magic box to my ear, and faintly
there echoed in my brain a few disconnected strains of that solemn music.
But now, more than ever, it was insufferable to me, and I dropped the box
with a crash.

As Edmund recovered his strength he once more took charge of the car, and
in a little while he had risen to a great height in order to take
advantage of the easier going in the lighter atmosphere above. Thus we
ran on for several hours until we began to catch sight of the sea, which
was soon beneath us, while far ahead we saw the tumbling clouds marking
the location of the belt of tempests behind which we knew lay the range
of the crystal mountains. At length we issued from beneath the cloud
dome, and then we saw the sun again, and the storms whipping the waters,
whose waves occasionally flashed up at us through rifts in the streaming
clouds beneath. And at last the icy peaks began to glitter on the
horizon, and we knew that we were nearing the world of eternal night and
frost. It was with strange feelings that we once more beheld the crystal
mountains, for our minds were filled with the recollection of the scenes
that had occurred among them when we were helpless in the grasp of their
tempests. But now there was a certain exhilaration in the thought that
this time we could safely sail over their summits. As we passed over them
we looked eagerly for landmarks that might show where our former passage
had occurred, and as Edmund purposely dropped as close to their summits
as it was safe to go, I at last believed that I recognized the mighty
peak of rainbows that had so nearly wrecked us.

When we had left the mountains behind and entered into the region of
night, I asked Edmund how he would proceed in order to find the location
of the caverns.

"I shall go by the stars," he said. "I noted the bearing of the place,
and I have no doubt that I can find it again."

CHAPTER XXI

THE EARTH

Edmund's reference to the stars instantly drew my attention to the
heavens. They were ablaze with amazing gems, but at first I could not see
the earth among them.

"I know what you are looking for," said Edmund. "Here, look through the
peephole in the bow. From our present position the earth appears but
little elevated above the horizon, but when we reach the caverns, which
are in the center of the dark hemisphere, we shall see her overhead."

I knelt at the peephole, and my heart was in my throat. There was our
glorious planet, oh, so bright! and close beside her the moon. At the
sight, an irrepressible longing arose in me to be once more at home. Jack
and Henry took their turns at looking, and they were no less affected
than I had been. But Edmund retained a perfect self-command:

"Do you know," he asked with an odd smile (for now the lamps were
glowing, and we had plenty of light in the car), "how long we have been
absent from home?"

Not one of us had kept a record.

"It is just six hundred and four days," he continued, "since we left New
York. We were sixteen days on our way to Venus; six days after our
arrival at the caverns occurred the conjunction of the earth, and the
ceremonies that Peter will not forget as long as he refrains from hair
dye; two days later we departed for the sun lands; and since then five
hundred and eighty days have passed. Now, between one conjunction of the
earth and Venus to the next, five hundred and eighty-four days elapse.
Already five hundred and eighty-two of those days have passed, so that
within two days another conjunction will occur, and if we are then at the
caverns we shall doubtless witness another sacrifice to the earth and the
moon."

"God forbid!" I exclaimed.

"I feel as you do," said Edmund. "We have seen enough of such things. In
order, then, to hasten our arrival at the caverns, where we must bury
Juba, for on that I insist, I am going to rise up out of the atmosphere,
in order that we may fly with planetary speed. We can thus reach the
caverns, traversing the five thousand miles of distance that yet remain,
in something like an hour, for some time must be lost in rising out of
and returning into the atmosphere, and in the meantime I must make
observations to determine our location. Having found the caverns we will
complete our rites at Juba's grave, and get away for good before the
sacrificial ceremonies begin."

It was a programme that suited us all, and it was quickly carried out. I
had not thought that my admiration of Edmund's ability could be
increased, but it was carried a notch higher when I saw how easily,
guiding himself by the ever-visible stars, he located the caverns. When
he knew that he was directly over them he dropped the car swiftly, and we
could not repress a cry as we saw directly beneath us the familiar shafts
of light issuing from the ground.

"We may have to do a little searching," said Edmund, as we approached the
lights, "for, of course, my observations are not accurate enough to
enable me to locate the exact spot where we landed before."

But fortune favored us marvelously, and the very first opening that we
approached was at once recognized, for there stood the sacrificial altar.

We anchored the car near the shaft, and carried out Juba's coffin.

"Wait here," said Edmund, "while I descend."

"No, you're not going alone," exclaimed Jack. "I'll go with you."

Edmund made no objection and he and Jack descended the steps. Half an
hour elapsed before they returned, accompanied by a dozen of the natives,
stolid, and not exhibiting the signs of surprise over our return which I
had expected to see. Edmund had now made so much progress in their
strange means of communication that he had little difficulty in causing
them to comprehend what was wanted. They easily carried the coffin, and
all of us followed down into the depths. It was the strangest funeral
procession that ever a man saw!

While the grave was being prepared in the underground cemetery where we
had witnessed the interment of the first victim of our pistols, Henry and
I remained as a sort of guard of honor for Juba in the lower of the two
great chambers which have been described in the earlier chapters of this
history, and there a most singular thing occurred. We were startled by a
low whining, and looking about saw one of the doglike creatures which
appeared to be the only inhabitants of the caverns except the natives
seated on its haunches close to the coffin, and exhibiting exactly the
signs of distress that a dog sometimes displays over its dead master.
That we were taken aback by this scene I need not assure you. We had
never observed, during our former visit, that either Juba or any of his
people was followed by these creatures; in fact, they had always fled at
our approach, and we had paid little attention to them.

But now, if the poor animal could have spoken, he could not more plainly
have told us that, by means of the mysterious instinct which beings of
his kind possess, he had recognized the presence of his old master, and
was mourning for him. It was truly a touching spectacle, and Henry was
hardly less moved by it than I. When Edmund and Jack came back, having
superintended the preparations, Jack was cut to the heart by the sight.
Immediately he declared that the "dog" must accompany us in the car, and
Edmund assented by a grave inclination of the head. The animal followed
us to the grave, and remained there watching us intently. He seemed to
have dismissed his fear, as if he comprehended that we were friends of
his master.

There were not more than twenty of the natives present at the interment,
and none of them showed signs of sorrow. And when the grave was closed
and we turned away, the little creature followed at our heels. Edmund had
carved on a flat stone the word "JUBA," and left it lying on the grave,
and Jack, having nothing else, threw a silver dollar on top of it. The
natives probably regarded these things as talismans, or religious
symbols, for they treated them with the greatest deference, and no doubt
they lie there yet, and will continue to lie there through all the eons,
for in those dry caverns the progress of decay can hardly be perceptible
even after the passage of ages. It was a singular fact, noted by Edmund,
that the natives exhibited not the slightest curiosity concerning their
comrades who had been lost in the crystal mountains, and I really doubt
whether they knew what the coffin contained.

When we had paid the last honors to Juba, we began to think of our final
departure. This place had become disagreeable to us. After the brilliant
scenes that we had witnessed on the other side of the planet, the gloom
here, and the absence of all that had made the land of perpetual daylight
seem a paradise of beauty, were intensely oppressive to our spirits. But
Edmund still wished to make some investigations, and we were compelled to
await his movements. What the nature of his investigations was I do not
know, for I was devoured by the desire to get away, and did not inquire.
But fully twenty-four hours had elapsed before our leader was ready to
depart. In the meanwhile "Juba's dog" had become firmly attached to Jack,
who petted it as probably no creature of its race had ever been petted
before. It was a strange-looking animal; about as large as a terrier,
with a big square head, covered with long black hair, while, in startling
imitation of the hirsute adornment of the natives themselves, its body
was clothed with a golden-white pelt of silky texture. It would eat
anything we offered it, and seemed immensely pleased with its new master,
as it had every reason for being.

During the last hours of our stay we noticed unmistakable indications of
preparation for the dreaded ceremonies of the conjunction, and our
departure was hastened on that account. The priests, whom Edmund had been
compelled to put out of the way of further mischief on the former
occasion, had been replaced by others, and we thought that, perhaps, this
being the first opportunity for the display of their functions, they
would try to make it memorable--which presented a still stronger reason
why we should not delay. But, with one thing and another, we were held
back until the very eve of the ceremonies.

When we finally stood ready to enter the car, with Juba's dog at Jack's
heels, the procession up the steps had already begun. Edmund decided to
wait until the multitude had all assembled. They came trooping up into
the starlight, and I am sure that they had no idea of what we intended to
do. Undoubtedly they must have recalled what had happened on the other
occasion, but they showed no sign of either regret or anxiety on that
account. They arranged themselves in a dense circle, as before, and the
priests took their place in the center. At this moment Edmund gave the
word to enter the car. We sprang into it, and immediately Jack and I went
out on a window ledge in order to get a better view of the scene. Edmund
started the car, and we rose straight toward the earth which glowed in
the zenith. Our movement was unexpected, and we at once arrested the
attention even of the priests. The beginning of the ceremony was stopped
short. All eyes were evidently drawn to us, and when they saw the
direction that we were taking a low murmur arose.

"Let me give them a parting salute," said Jack.

Edmund thought a moment, and then said:

"Very well, take a gun, but don't fire at them. If it terrifies them into
abandoning their sacrifice we shall have done one good thing in this
world."

Jack instantly had the gun roaring, and although we were now high above
their heads, we could see that they were seized with consternation,
rising from their knees, and running wildly about. Whether the noise and
the sight of us flying toward the earth, had the effect which Edmund had
hoped for, will never be known; but the last sight we had of living
beings on Venus was the spectacle of those white forms darting about in
the starry gloom.

Our long journey home was interrupted by one more almost tragic episode.
When we had been ten days in flight, and the earth had become like a
round moon of dazzling brilliance, Juba's dog, which had grown feeble and
refused to eat, died. Jack was broken-hearted, and protested when Edmund
said that the body of the animal must be thrown out. He would have liked
to try to stuff the skin, but Edmund was firm.

"But if you open a window," I said, "the air will escape."

"Some of it will undoubtedly escape," Edmund replied. "But, luckily, this
is the air of Venus which we are carrying, and being very dense, we can
spare a little of it without serious results. I shall be quick, and there
will be no danger."

It was as he had said. When the window was partially opened, for only a
second or two, we distinctly felt a lowering of the atmospheric pressure
that made us gasp for a moment, but instantly Edmund had the window
closed again, and we were all right. As we shot away we saw the little
white body gleaming in the sunlight like a thistledown, and then it
disappeared forever.

"It is a new planet born," said Edmund, "and the law of gravitation will
pay it as much attention as if it were a Jupiter. It may wander in space
for untold ages, and sometime it may even fall within the sphere of the
earth's attraction, and then Jack's wish will have been fulfilled; but it
will be but a flying spark, flashing momentarily in the heavens as it
shoots through the air."

* * * * *

Our home-coming was a strange one. For some reason of his own Edmund did
not wish to take the car to New York. He landed in the midst of the
Adirondack woods, far from any habitation, and there, concealed in a
swamp, he insisted upon leaving the car. We made our way out of the
wilderness to the nearest railway station, and our first care was to
visit a barber and a clothing merchant. Probably, as we carried some of
the guns, they took us for a party of hunters who wished to furbish up
before revisiting civilization.

On reaching New York, we went, in the evening, straight to the Olympus
Club, where our arrival caused a sensation. We found Church in the old
corner, staring dejectedly at a newspaper. He did not see who was
approaching him. Jack slapped him on the shoulder, and as he looked up
and recognized us he fell back nearly fainting, and with mouth open,
unable to utter a word.

"Come, old man," said Jack, "so we've found you! What did you run away
for? Let me introduce you to the Columbus of Space, and don't you forget
that I'm one of his lieutenants."

I don't think that Church has ever fully believed our story. He thinks,
to this day, that we lost our "balloon," as he calls it, and invented the
rest. We purposely allowed the newspaper reporters to take the same view
of the case, but when we four were alone we unburdened our hearts, and
relived the marvelous life of Venus. I use the past tense, because I have
yet to tell you most disquieting news.

Edmund has disappeared.

Within three months after our return he bade us good night at an
unusually early hour and we have never seen him since, although more than
a year has now elapsed since he went out of the room at the Olympus. Jack
and I have made every effort to find a trace of him, without avail. Led
by a natural suspicion, we have ransacked the Adirondack woods, but we
could never satisfy ourselves that we had found the place where the car
was left. Henry persists in the belief that Edmund is trying in secret to
develop his invention, with the intention of "revolutionizing industry
and making himself a multibillionaire." But Jack and I know better!
Wherever he may be, whatever may occupy his wonderful powers, we feel
that the ordinary concerns of the earth have no interest for him. Yet we
are sure that if he is alive he often thinks of us.

Last night as Jack and I were walking to the club with my completed
manuscript under my arm, a falling star shot across the sky.

"Do you know what that recalls to me?" asked Jack, with a far-off
expression in his eyes.

"What?"

"Juba's dog."

Neither of us spoke again before we reached the clubhouse steps, but I am
certain that through both our minds there streamed a glittering
procession of such memories as life on this planet could never give birth
to. And they ended with a sigh.

THE END

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