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  • 1894
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several failures to find the stairs they descended to the door they had entered. Branasko opened it a little, and a breeze came in. They sat down on the stone, and after a while, in sheer fatigue, they fell asleep. Hours passed. Branasko rose with a start, and shook Johnston.

“Our speed is lessening,” he exclaimed. “We must be going down. Be ready to jump out the instant we stop. There, let me open the door wider.”

Chapter XIV.

When Tradmos spoke the words of warning, Thorndyke put his arm round the princess and drew her after Tradmos, who was hastening away in the gloom.

“Wait,” she said, drawing back. “Let us not get excited. We are really as safe here as there; for in their madness they will kill one another and trample them under foot.” She led him to a parapet overlooking the great court below. “Hear them,” she said, in pity, “listen to their blows and cries. That was a woman’s voice, and some man must have struck her.”

“Tell me what is best to do,” said the Englishman. “I want to protect you, but I am helpless; I don’t know which way to turn.”

“Wait,” she said simply, and the Englishman thought she drew closer to him, as if touched by his words.

There was a crash of timbers–a massive door had fallen–a scrambling of feet on the stone pavement, and they could see the dark human mass surging into the court through the corridors leading from the streets.

“What are they doing?” asked Thorn dyke.

She shrank from the parapet as if she had been struck.

“Tearing the pillars down,” she replied aghast; “this part of the palace will fall. Oh, what can be done!”

There was a grinding of stone upon stone, a mad yell from an hundred throats, the crash of glass, and, with a thunderous sound, a colossal pillar fell to the earth. The roof beneath the feet of the princess and Thorndyke trembled and sagged, and the tiling split and showered about them.

Raising Bernardino in his arms, as if she were an infant, Thorndyke sprang toward the stairway leading to his chambers, but the roof had sunken till it was steep and slippery. One instant he was toppling over backward, the next, by a mighty effort, he had recovered his equilibrium, and finally managed to reach a safer place. As he hurried on another pillar went down. The roof sagged lower, and an avalanche of mortar and tiling slid into the court below. Yells, groans, and cries of fury rent the air.

Bernardino had fainted. Thorndyke tried to restore her to consciousness, but dared not put her from him for an instant. On he ran, and presently reached a flight of stairs which he thought led to his chambers. He descended them, and was hastening along a narrow corridor on the floor beneath when Bernardino opened her eyes. She asked to be released from his arms. He put her down, but supported her along the corridor.

“We have lost our way,” he said, as he discovered that the corridor, instead of leading to his chambers, turned off obliquely in another direction.

“Let’s go on anyway,” she suggested; “it may lead us out. I have never been here before. I–” A great crash drowned her words. The floor quivered and swayed, but it did not fall. On they ran through the darkness, till Thorndyke felt a heavy curtain before. He paused abruptly, not knowing what to do. Bernardino felt of its texture, perplexed for an instant.

“Draw it aside, it seems to hang across the corridor,” she said. He obeyed her, and only a few yards further on they saw another curtain with bars of light above and below it. They drew this aside, and found themselves on the threshold of a most beautiful apartment.

In the mosaic floor were pictures cut in colored stones, and the ceiling was a silken canopy as filmy and as delicately blue as the sky on a summer’s night. The floor was strewn with richly embroidered pillows, couches, rugs and ottomans; and here and there were palm trees and beds of flowers and grottoes. A solitary light, representing the moon, showed through the silken canopy in whose folds little lights sparkled like far-off stars.

Thorndyke looked at the princess inquiringly. She was bewildered.

“I have no idea where we are,” she murmured. “I am sure I have never been here before; but there is another apartment beyond. Listen! I hear cries.”

“Some one in distress,” he answered, and he drew her across the room and through a door into another room more beautiful than the one they had just left. Here, huddled together at a window overlooking the court, were six or eight beautiful young women. They were staring out into the darkness, and moaning and muttering low cries of despair.

“It is my father’s ladies,” ejaculated the princess aghast. “He would be angry if he knew we had come here. No one but himself enters these apartments.”

Just then one of the women turned a lovely and despairing face toward them, and came forward and knelt at the feet of Bernardino.

“Oh, save us, Princess,” she cried.

“Be calm,” said the princess, touching the white brow of the woman. “The danger may soon pass; this portion of the palace is too strongly built for them to injure it.” Then she turned to Thorndyke: “We must hasten on and find our way down; it would never do for us to be seen here.” Then she turned to the kneeling woman and said gently: “I hope you will say nothing to the king of this; we lost our way in trying to get down from the roof.”

“I will not,” gladly promised the woman, and seeing that Bernardino knew not which way to turn, she guided them to a door opening into a dimly-lighted corridor. “It will take you out to the balconies and down to the audience-chamber,” she said. The princess thanked her, and she and the Englishman descended several flights of stairs. Reaching one of the balconies they met the denser darkness of the outside and the deafening clang and clamor of the multitude. There was no light of any kind, and Thorndyke and his charge had to press close against the balustrade of the balcony to keep from being crushed by the mad torrent of humanity.

Now and then a strident voice would rise above the din:–

“Down with the palace! Death to the king!”

The trumpet in the tower sounded again and again.

“It is my father trying to attract their attention,” explained the princess. “Something very serious has happened for once. In speaking of the time the sun went out before, he told me that he had made an invention which, in such a crisis, would instantly restore confidence to the people. I cannot understand why he does not use it. Oh, I am afraid they will kill him!”

Thorndyke tried to console her, for he saw that she was weeping, but just then there was a strange lull in the general tumult. What could have happened?

“The dawn! the ideal dawn!” cried Bernardino, pointing to the eastern sky. Thorndyke looked in wonder. A purple light had spread along the horizon, and as it gradually softened into gray and slowly turned to pink, the noise of the populace died down. No sound could now be heard save the low groans of wounded men and women. What a sight met the view as the rose-light shimmered over the city! The dead and dying lay under the feet of the crowd. Almost every creature bore some mark of violence. Eyes were blood- shot, clothing torn, limbs were bleeding, and mingled fury and sudden hope struggled in each ashen face. The young trees and shrubbery had been trampled under foot, and walls, arcades and triumphal arches had been thrown down. The fragments of statues lay here and there, and the bodies of human beings filled the basins of broken fountains.

“It is not the sun,” explained Bernardino; “but the invention my father spoke of. He is doing it to calm them.”

Thorndyke made no answer. He stood as if transfixed, gazing at the horizon. The rose-light had spread over a third of the sky when gradually there appeared in its centre a bright circle of yellow light. The yellow light faded, leaving a perfect picture of the throne of the king; and as the now silent masses looked at the picture, a curtain behind the throne parted and the king himself appeared. He advanced and sat on the throne, and turned a calm face towards his subjects.

“Wonderful!”ejaculated Bernardino, and her face was full of hope. “See what he will do!”

“Where is the picture?” asked Thorndyke; “can it be seen by all of–of the people?”

“Yes, by all Alpha, for it is on the sky.”

Thorndyke said nothing further, for the king had stood up, and with hands out-stretched was bowing. Above the circle of light, as if cut out of the solid blackness, in flaming letters stood the word,


And there was silence. Even the lips of the wounded men closed as the king began to speak. The sound of his voice seemed as far away as the stars, and to permeate all space:–

“All danger is over. Tidings from the west state that the sun is setting. No harm has come to it. It will rise in the morning, and the moon and stars will be out in a few hours. Let the dead be removed, the wounded cared for, and everything be repaired. This is my will.”

That was all. The king bowed sedately and retired from the throne, and the circle and pink glow faded from the black sky. The stillness was unbroken for a moment, then glad murmurings were heard in all directions.

“They are lighting the palace,” cried the princess. “See, down there is the arcade leading to the rotunda.”

“I am glad it is over,” said Thorndyke.

She grasped his arm and impulsively looked into his face. “But your friend, we have forgotten him, and done nothing to save him, and now it is too late.”

“We could not help it; we had to think of our own safety.”

“I shall send for Captain Tradmos and try to devise some other plan,” she said, as they descended the stairs.

“We should not be seen together,” she added, as they approached the throne-room; “besides, you ought to go to your chambers. No one is allowed to be out when the dead is being removed.”

“Where is the dead taken?”

“Over the wall, to be burned in the internal fires,” she concluded, as she was leaving him.

He found everything in order in his rooms and he lay down and tried to sleep, but he was too much excited over the happenings of the day. Hours must have passed when his attention was drawn to a bright light shining on the wall of his room. He went to a window and looked out on the court. The light came from the rising moon.

Below lay the ruins of fallen columns, capitals, cornices and statues. Figures in black cloaks and cowls were removing the dead from the debris. With a fluttering sound something swooped down past his window to the ground. It looked like a great bird, carrying the car of a flying-machine. Thorndyke watched its circular descent to the earth, and shuddered with horror as the black figures filled the car with bodies and the gruesome machine spread its wings and rose slowly till it was clear of the domes and pinnacles of the palace, and then flew away westward.

Other machines came, and, one after another, received their ghastly burdens and departed. In a short time all the dead was removed, and hundreds of workmen came from the palace and began repairing the fallen masonry.

Thorndyke went back to his couch and tried to sleep, but in vain. Slowly the hours of night passed, and as the purple of dawn rose in the east he dressed himself and went up on the roof. The moon had gone down and the stars were fading from the sky. The dark earth below showed no signs of life; but as the purple light softened into gray he saw that the streets of the city were filled with silent expectant people, all watching the eastern sky. And, as the gray light flushed into rose, and the rose began to scintillate with gold, they began to stir, and a hum of joyful voices was heard. The promised day had come.

Chapter XV.

The sun was, indeed, slowing up. The two men peered out at the door.

“It would be unlucky for us if it should not come so near to the earth as it did on the other side,” whispered Branasko.

“I can hardly feel any motion to the thing at all,” replied the American. “Look! for some reason it is not so dark below. I can see the rocks. Surely we have already passed over the wall.”

“That’s so,” returned the Alphian. “Come; we must be quick and watch our opportunity to land. I can’t imagine where the light comes from unless it be from the people waiting for the arrival of the sun.” Every instant the speed was lessening. Overhead the cables were beginning to creak and groan, and, now and then, the great globe swung perilously near some tall stony peak, or passed under a mighty stalactite. Slower and slower it got till, when within a few feet of the ground, it stopped its onward motion and only swung back and forth like a pendulum.

“Quick,” whispered Branasko, “we must get down while it is swinging, no time to lose–not an instant!” And as the sun moved backward, with his hand on the doorsill, he leaped to the earth. Johnston followed him. They were not a moment too soon, for about fifty yards away they saw a body of sixty or seventy men with lights in their hands hastening toward them.

“Just in time,” exulted Branasko, and he quickly drew Johnston into a little cave in the face of a cliff. Crouching behind a great rock, they saw and heard the men as they approached.

Some of them walked around the sun, and two, evidently in authority, entered the door. The others were placing ladders against the side of the sphere, when suddenly there was a loud clattering in the interior, a whirling of wheels under the platform above, and the surface of the sun burst into light.

The two refugees were momentarily blinded. Branasko had the presence of mind to quickly draw his companion down close to the earth behind the rock. “They could see us in the light,” he whispered.

There was a joyous clamoring of voices among the men, and they withdrew several yards to look at the sun. This drew them nearer the hiding-place of the two refugees.

“Only an accident,” said a voice; “it won’t happen again.”

Then one of them went into the sun and the lights died out. In a moment the sun began to move. Slowly and majestically it swept over the rocky earth, followed by the crowd, till it reached a great hole and sank into it.

“Gone into the tunnel,” said the Alphian, as the crowd disappeared behind the cliff.

“What are we to do now?” asked Johnston. “We certainly can’t go through with the sun.”

“Wait till the next trip,” grimly replied Branasko.

The rumbling noise from the big hole gradually died away, and the two men left their hiding-place.

“What is that?” asked Johnston. He pointed to the west, where a red light shone against the towering cliffs.

“It must be the internal fires,” answered Branasko, with a noticeable shudder. “Let’s go nearer; I have heard that there is a point near here where one can look down into the Lake of Flame.”

“The Lake of Flame!” echoed the American, “What is that?” “It is where all of the dead of Alpha is cast by the black ‘vultures of death.'”

Johnston said nothing, for it was difficult to keep up with the Alphian, who was bounding over rocks and dangerous fissures toward the red glow in the distance.

At every step the atmosphere got warmer, and they detected a slight gaseous odor in the air. Finally, after an arduous tramp of an hour, they climbed up a steep hill and looked sharply down into a vast bubbling lake of molten matter more than a thousand yards below. Branasko noticed a stone weighing several tons evenly balanced on the verge of the great gulf, and pushed it with both his hands. It rocked, broke loose from its slender hold on the cliff and bounded out into the red space. Down it went, lessen- ing as it sank till it became a mere black speck and then disappeared.

“That’s where the dead go,” said Branasko gloomily.

Just then the American, happening to glance up, saw something like a huge black bird with outspread wings circling about in the red light over the pit. Branasko saw it, too, and his face paled and a tremolo was in his voice when he spoke.

“It is one of the ‘vultures of death;’ don’t stir; we won’t be seen if we remain where we are!” The strange machine sank lower over the lake of fire, till, as if buoyed up on the hot air, with faintly quivering wings, it paused. A man opened a door of the black car and carelessly threw out the bodies of a woman and a child.

The bodies whirled over and over and disappeared in the pit, and the man closed the door. The machine then rose and gracefully winged its flight to the east. In a moment others came with their grim burdens, and still others, till the mouth of the pit was dark with them.

“Something has happened,” whispered Branasko, “some great calamity, for surely so many people do not die in Alpha in a single day.”

For an hour they watched the coming and going of the vultures, till, finally the last one hovered over the lake of fire. Suddenly the machine swerved so near to Branasko and Johnston that they shrank close to the earth to keep from being seen. Something was evidently wrong with the machine, for there was a wild look of desperation on the driver’s face as he tugged excitedly at the pilot-wheel. But all his efforts only caused the air-ship to dart irregularly from side to side, and, now and then, to strike the rocks of the pit’s mouth, to shoot up suddenly, or to sink dangerously down toward the fire.

“He is losing control of it,” whispered Branasko,”he does not know what to do. See, he is trying to lighten the load, by kicking out the body.”

That was true, and, as the machine made a sudden plunge toward the cliff a few yards to the left of the refugees, the dead body, which the driver had managed to move to the door with his feet, fell out and lodged upon the edge of the cliff instead of falling into the fiery depths. The machine bounded up a few yards and paused, now apparently under the control of its driver. The man looked down hesitatingly at the corpse for a moment and then lowered the machine to the sloping rock near where the body lay. He alighted and cautiously crept down the steep incline to the body. He raised it in his arms and was about to cast it from him when his foot slipped, and with a cry of horror he fell with his burden over the cliff’s edge into the red abyss.

Johnston uttered an exclamation of horror, but Branasko was unmoved. After a moment he rose, and carefully scanning the space overhead, he crawled on hands and knees toward the machine. Johnston heard him chuckling to himself and uttering spasmodic laughs, and he watched him closely as he reached the machine. For several minutes he seemed to be inspecting it critically, both inside and out; then he stood away from it, a bold, black silhouette on a background of flame, and motioned the American to come to him.

Johnston promptly, but not without many misgivings, obeyed his signal. “What are you up to?” asked he, as the Alphian assisted him to rise from his hands and knees.

Branasko touched the machine and smiled. His face was shining with enthusiasm.

“The question of our returning to Alpha is settled,” he said sententiously.


“We can go in this.”

“Can you manage it?”

“Easily; that fellow must have been drunk; the machine is in good order, I think.”

“When do you propose to start?” and the American eyed the funeral- car dubiously.

“The night is before us; we could not get a better time.” As he spoke he entered the car and laid his hand on the wheel. Johnston, obeying his nod, followed, shuddering as he remarked the traces of blood on the floor.

“All right!” Branasko turned the wheel slowly, and the wings outside began to flap, and the car mounted into the air like a startled bird and flew out quickly over the pit.

Branasko bit his lip, and Johnston heard him stifle an exclamation of impatience. As for the American, he was at once thrilled and fascinated by the awful sight below; he could now see beneath the overhanging mouth of the pit, and look far down into a boundless lake of molten matter that seemed as restless as an ocean in a storm.

Then the air became so hot he could hardly breathe. He looked at the Alphian in alarm. The latter was whirling the wheel first one way and then another with a startled look of fear in his eyes, and then Johnston noticed that the walls of the pit were rising about them, and the black canopy overhead rapidly receding.

They were sinking down into the fire.

Almost wild with terror, the American sprang toward the wheel, but Branasko pushed him away roughly.

“Stand back,” he ordered gruffly. “It is the heat; let me alone!”

The American sank into his seat. The heat became more and more intense. Both men were purple in the face, and the perspiration was rolling from their bodies in streams. Down sank the machine.

“I can’t manage it,” said Branasko hoarsely, “we’d as well give up.”
Just then Johnston noticed the mouth of a cave behind Branasko.

“Look,” he cried, “can’t we get into it?”

Branasko looked over his shoulder, and, as he saw the cave, he uttered a glad cry. He quickly turned the wheel and drew out a lever at his right. The machine obeyed instantly; it swerved round suddenly and dived into the cave. The cool air soon revived them, and Branasko had little trouble in bringing the car to a resting- place on the rocky floor of the cave. Before them hung impenetrable darkness, behind a curtain of red light.

“We are in a pretty pickle now,” said Johnston despondently, as they alighted from the car.

“Nothing to do but to make the best of it,” sighed Branasko.

“Perhaps this cave may lead out into some place of safety.”

Johnston’s eyes had become somewhat accustomed to the gloom, and he began to peer into the darkness.

“I see a light,” he exclaimed; “it cannot be a reflection from the fire in the pit, for it is whiter.”

The Alphian gazed at it steadily for a moment, then he said decidedly: “We must go and see what it is.” Without another word he started toward the white, star-like spot, sliding his hand over the rocky wall, and springing over a fissure in the floor.

Gradually the light grew brighter, till, as they suddenly rounded a cliff, a grand sight burst upon their view. They found themselves in a vast dome-shaped cavern, thousands of yards in diameter and height. And almost in the centre of the floor, from a red and purple mound of cooling lava, leapt a white stream of molten matter from the floor to the dome. And in the black dome, where the lava turned to molten spray, hung countless stalactites of every color known to the artistic eye. And from the foot of the fountain ran a tortuous rivulet that lighted the walls and roof of a narrow chamber that extended for miles down toward the bowels of the earth.

Branasko was delighted.

“The king does not know of this,” he declared, “else he would make it accessible to his people, and call it one of the wonders of Alpha. By accidentally sinking into the pit we have discovered it. But,” he concluded, “we must at once try to find some way out other than that by which we came.”

They turned from the beautiful fountain, and, holding to each other’s hands, and aided by the light behind them, they stumbled laboriously through the semi-darkness. Branasko’s ears were very acute. He paused to listen.

“Hark ye!” he cautioned.

The combined roar of the pit and the fountain of lava had sunk to a low murmur, but ahead of them they now heard a rushing sound like a distant tornado.

“Come on,” said the Alphian, and he drew his companion after him with an eagerness the American was slow to understand. The light in the cavern gradually grew brighter. By a circuitous route they were again approaching the pit of fire, though it was still hidden from sight.

Finally they reached a point where the wind was blowing stiffly, and further on a volume of cold spray suddenly dashed upon them and wet them to the skin. And when their eyes had become accustomed to the rolling mist, they saw a great lake, and pouring into it from high above was a mighty waterfall.

“Mercy!” ejaculated the Alphian, in great alarm. “If this is salt water we are lost. All Alpha will come to an end!”

“What do you mean?” And Johnston wondered if Branasko’s trials and struggle could have turned his brain.

“If it be salt water, then it has broken in from the ocean above Alpha,” he explained. “The king has often said that not a drop of the ocean has ever entered the great cavern.”

Branasko stooped and wet his hand in a little pool at his feet. “I am almost afraid to taste it,” said he, holding his hand near his mouth. “It would settle all our fates.” He waited a moment and then touched his fingers to his tongue.

“Salt!” That was all he said for several moments. He folded his arms and looked mutely toward the boiling lake. Presently he raised his eyes to the great hole in the roof, and groaned: “The break is gradually widening. These stones are freshly broken, and the great bowl is filling.”

“It will fill all Alpha with water and drown every soul in it,” added the terrified American.

“That, however, is not the most immediate danger,” said Branasko wisely. “They would first suffocate, and later their bodies would be swallowed up in the stomach of the earth.”

“What do you mean?”

Branasko shrugged his shoulders. “As soon as this bowl is filled with water, which would not take many hours, it would run over into the lake of fire and produce an explosion that would rend Alpha from end to end.”

“Who knows, it might turn the whole Atlantic into the centre of the earth, and destroy the entire earth.” But Branasko was unable to grasp the full magnitude of the remark, for to him the world was simply a vast cavern lighted by human ingenuity. He fastened a narrow splinter of stone upright in the shallow water at his eet, and, lying down on his stomach with his eyes close to it, he studied it for several minutes. When he got up, a desperate gleam was in his dark eyes.

“It is rising fast,” he said. “We must attempt to get to the capitol and warn the king. It is possible that he may be able to stop the opening. The only thing left to us is to try our machine again.”

Johnston found it hard to keep pace with him as he bounded out of the mist and on toward the faint glow ahead. Reaching the flying machine Branasko entered it and turned on a small electric light.

“Ah,” he grunted with satisfaction, “I have found a light. I can now see what is the matter with it.”

Johnston stood outside and heard him hammering on the metal parts in the car, and became so absorbed in thinking of the peril of their position that he was startled when Branasko cried out to him:–“All right. I think we can make it do; a pin has lost out, but perhaps I can hold the piece in place with my foot. If only we can stand the heat of the pit long enough to rise above it, we may escape.”

Johnston followed him into the car. Branasko seated himself firmly and gave the wheel a little turn. Slowly the machine rose. “See!” cried Branasko, “it is under control. “We must not be too hasty. Now for the pit!”

The heart of the American was in his mouth as the long black wings waved up and down and the air-ship, like some live thing, shuddered and swept gracefully out of the mouth of the cave into the glare and heat of the pit.

“Hold your breath!” yelled Branasko, and he bent lower into the car to escape the shower of hot ashes that was falling about them. Far out over the lake in a straight line they glided, and there came to a sudden halt. Johnston’s eyes were glued on his companion’s face. Branasko sat doubled up, every muscle drawn, his eyes bulging from their sockets. Would he be strong enough? To Johnston everything seemed in a whirl. The walls of the pit were rising around them.

Chapter XVI.

Thorndyke went down into his chambers to make his toilet and was ready to leave when there was a soft rap on his door. He opened it, and to his surprise saw Bernardino modestly draw herself back into the shadow of the hall.

“Pardon me, but I must speak to you,” she stammered in confusion.

“What is it?” he asked, going out to her.

“I want to advise you to avoid my father to-day. He is greatly disappointed with the accident of yesterday, and he is never courteous to strangers when he is displeased. He was particularly anxious to have you entertained by the fete.”

“Thank you; I shall keep out of his way,” promised the Englishman. “Where had I better stay–here in my rooms?”

“No, he might send for you. If you would care to see Winter Park, I can go with you as your guide.”

“I should be delighted; nothing could please me more.”

“But,” (as a servant passed in the room with a tray) “that is your breakfast. Meet me at the fountain at the north entrance of the palace in half an hour.” And, drawing her veil over her face, she vanished in the darkness of the corridor.

After he had breakfasted and sent the man away, he hastened below to the place designated by the princess. She was waiting for him under the palm trees, and was so disguised that he would not have known her but for her low amused laugh as he was about to pass her.

“It would not do for any one to suspect me,” she explained; “my father would never forgive me for doing this.” She pointed to a flying-machine near by. “We must take the air; I have made all the arrangements. Winter Park is beyond the limits of the city.”

He followed her across the grass to the machine and into the car. They could see the driver behind the glass of the narrow compartment in which he sat, and when he turned the polished metal wheel the machine rose like a liberated balloon.

Thorndyke looked out of the window. The blue haze of the fifth hour of the morning was breaking over everything, and as the domes, pinnacles, and vari-colored roofs fell away in the beautiful light, the breast of the Englishman heaved with delightful emotions. Bernardino was watching his face with a gratified smile.

“You like Alpha,” she said, half anxiously, half inquiringly.

“Very much,” he replied; “but I want to show you the great world I came from;–and some day perhaps I can.”

The blood ran into her cheeks suddenly, and then as quickly receded, leaving a wistful expression in her eyes. She sighed. “It has been my dream for a long time. I have always imagined that it is more wonderful than Alpha; but you know there is no chance for you to return now.”

“I shall manage to escape some way and you shall go with me as my wife.”

Her blushes came again. “I did not know that you cared that much for me,” she said. Then, as if to change the subject, she pointed through the window. “See, we are approaching the Park, and shall descend in a moment.”

He looked out of the window and then drew his head in quickly.

“We are coming down into a big lake!” he cried out. “Oh, no, it is only the glass roof of the park,” she laughed; “true, it does look like water in the sunlight.”

The machine sank lower and finally rested on a plot of grass in a little square ornamented with beds of flowers and white statues. Thorndyke saw a seemingly endless wall, so high that he could not calculate its height. Bernardino preceded him in at a great arching door in the wall, and they found themselves in a stone- paved vestibule several hundred feet square.

A maid servant came forward at once and brought heavy fur clothing for them and invited them into separate toilet rooms. When he came out Bernardino was waiting for him. He could hardly breathe, so thick were the furs he had put on.

“It is warm here, but it will be colder in a moment,” said the princess. And she led him to a door across the room. When the door was opened, Thorndyke uttered an exclamation of astonishment. Before their eyes lay a wide expanse of snow-covered roads, woodlands and frozen lakes and streams. The air was as crisp and invigorating as a Canadian winter.

Bernardino led him to a pavilion where a number of pleasure- seekers were gathered and selected a sleigh and two mettlesome horses. She took the reins from the man, and sprang lightly into the graceful cutter. Thorndyke followed her and wrapped the thick robes about her feet. Away they sped like the wind down the smooth road, through a leafless forest. Overhead the glass roof could not be seen, but a lowering gray cloud hung over them and a light snow was falling.

“Winter Park is a great resort,” the princess explained; “we get tired of the unchanging climate, and it is pleasant to visit such a place as this. There is a winter park in every town of any size in Alpha.”

They drove along the shore of a beautiful lake, on the frozen surface of which hundreds of skaters were darting here and there, and passed hillsides on which crowds of young people were coasting in sleds. When they had driven about ten miles in a circuitous route she turned the horses round.

“We had better return,” she said; “you have not seen all of the Park, but we can visit it some other time.”

Outside they found their flying-machine awaiting them, and were soon on the way back to the city. They parted at the fountain in the park, she hastening to the palace, and he turning to stroll through the little wood behind him.

He was passing a thick bunch of trees when he was startled by hearing his name called. He turned round, but at first saw no one.

“Thorndyke!” There it was again, and then he saw a hand beckoning to him from a hedge of ferns at his right. He stepped back a few paces; a man came out of the wood.

It was Johnston, his face was white and haggard, his clothing rent and soiled.

“My God, can it be you?” gasped the Englishman.

“Nobody else,” groaned Johnston, cautiously advancing and laying a trembling hand on the arm of Thorndyke; “but don’t talk loud, they will find me.”

“Where did you come from?”

Johnston pointed first to the east, and then swept his hand over the sky to the west.

“Over the wall,” he said despondently. “From the dead lands behind the sun.”

“How did you get back here?”

For reply Johnston parted the fern leaves and pointed to the lank figure of the tall Alphian, who lay curled up on the grass as if asleep. “He brought me in that flying- machine there; but he has spent all his strength in trying to manage the thing, which was out of order, and now he is helpless. Twice we came within an inch of sinking down into the internal fires. The last time we escaped only by the breadth of a hair; if he had not had the endurance of a man of iron he would have succumbed to the heat and we would have been lost. We sank so far down that I became insensible and never knew a thing till the fresh air revived me. See, my beard and hair are singed, and look how he is blistered. Poor fellow! He is a hero.” Johnston stepped back and shook the Alphian, but the poor fellow’s head only rolled to one side, showing his bloodshot eyes. He was in- sensible.

“He is in a bad fix,” said Thorndyke; “where did he come from?”

“Banished like myself; we met over there in the dark and roamed about together.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know; I was following his lead. We will both be put to death if we are discovered.”

“Did he not tell you his plan?”

Johnston started visibly. “Oh, I forgot,” he exclaimed. “He declares that all this vast cavern is in danger. Over in the west we discovered a hole in the roof through which the ocean is streaming in a torrent. He calculated that before many hours the water would overflow into the internal fires and produce a volcanic eruption that will swallow up all of Alpha.”

“Merciful Heaven! and you are hiding here at such a moment? The king must be informed at once.”

Johnston had grown suddenly paler. “It may not be as bad as Branasko feared, and the king would have no mercy on me and him.”

“Leave that to me,” said Thorndyke; “I have made a good friend of the Princess Bernardino. She will tell me what is best to do. Remain here.”

In breathless haste, Thorndyke went into the audience chamber. Fortunately the king was not on his throne, and he caught sight of the confidential maid of the princess.

She saw him approaching, and withdrew behind a cluster of tall white jars of porcelain containing rare plants.

“I must see your mistress,” he said; “tell her to come to me at once; we are in great peril!”

The girl swept her eyes over the balconies and the throne and said: “She is in her apartments, sir; I shall bring her.”

“Tell her to meet me at the fountain where we last met,” and he hastened back to the spot mentioned.

She soon came. “What is it?” she asked excitedly.

“Johnston is back,” he replied. “He is in the wood there with a fellow who escaped with him in a disabled flying-machine. He says the sea has broken through over in the west and is streaming into Alpha in a torrent.”

“Surely there is some mistake,” she said; “such a thing has never happened.”

“It may have been caused by the explosives during the storm,” went on Thorndyke. “Branasko, the Alphian who was with Johnston, says we are in imminent peril.”

“There must be some mistake,” she repeated incredulously, as she looked to westward. The green glow of the second hour of the afternoon lay over everything. She stood mute and motionless for a long time,

looking steadily at the horizon; then she started suddenly, changed her position, and shaded her eyes from the sunlight.

“It really does seem to me that there is a cloud rising, and it is unlike any cloud I ever saw.”

“I see it too!” cried the Englishman; “it must be that the water has already reached the internal fires.”

Bernardino was very pale when she turned to him.

“My father must know this at once; come with me.”

Into the palace, through the vast rotunda, past the throne, and into the very apartment of the king himself she led him hastily. A royal attendant met them and held up his hands warningly. “The king is asleep,” he said in an undertone.

“Wake him — wake him at once!” commanded the excited girl.

“I cannot, it would offend him,” was the reply.

She did not pause an instant, but darting past the man and running to the king’s couch, she drew the curtain aside and touched the sleeper. He waked in anger, but her first word disarmed him.

“Alpha is in danger.”

“What!” he growled, half awake.
“The sea is breaking through in the west, and running into the internal fires.”

“How do you know that?”

“A dense cloud is rising in the west, and:—-“

“Impossible!” the word came from far down in his throat, and he was ghastly pale. He ran to the table and touched a button and, to the astonishment of Thorndyke, the walls on the western side of the room silently parted, showing a little balcony overlooking the street below. The king went hastily out and looked toward the west. The others followed him.
The princess stifled a cry of alarm when she glanced at the sky.

Great black, rolling clouds were rapidly spreading along the horizon.

The king looked at them as helplessly as a frightened child. “The air!” he groaned. “It is hot!” and then he held out his hand to the princess, and showed her a flake of soot on it, and he dumbly pointed to others that were falling about them.

“How did you discover it?” he asked, and Thorndyke saw that he was trying to appear calm.

“Mr.–this gentleman’s friend has returned from banishment, and—-“

“Returned! has the wall been destroyed?”

“No; he accidentally discovered the danger, and came in a flying- machine to warn you.”

“Where is he? bring him to me, quick!”

“But you will not —-“

He waved his hand impatiently. “Go; if Alpha is saved he shall be at liberty–if it is not, what does it matter?”

Thorndyke hastened away after Johnston, who, when he was told of the king’s words, readily accompanied his friend to the presence of the ruler. They found him with his daughter still on the balcony.

“How did you discover this?” asked the king, turning to the American.

As quickly as possible, Johnston related his adventures, and particularly the story of the shooting fountain and the fall of salt water. The king did not wait for him to conclude. He ran back into his chamber, touched another button, and the next instant alarm-bells were ringing all over the city.

“A signal to the protectors,” explained the princess to Thorndyke; “by this time they are ringing all over Alpha. Oh, what will become of us?” as she spoke she leaned over the balustrade and looked down into the street. Vast crowds had gathered and were motionless, except at points where the purple-clad “protectors” rushed from public buildings to assemble in squads on the street corner.

Chapter XVII.

Bernardino turned to look after her father as he was leaving the room.

“He is going to the observatory,” she said to Thorndyke and Johnston. “Let us go also.” And they followed the king into the room with the glass roof and walls covered with mirrors which he had shown the strangers several days before. A white-headed old man stood at the stand, his fingers trembling over the half circle of electric buttons. In a mirror before him he was studying the reflection of a town of perhaps a hundred houses. The streets were filled with excited citizens, and a squad of protectors stood ready for action near a row of flying-machines.

“Ornethelo,” said the king, and at the sound of his voice the old man turned and bowed humbly.

“All right,” went on the king, “I will take your place a moment.”

He went to the stand and touched a button. Instantly the scene changed; fields, forests, streams and hills ran by in a murky blur, and then a larger town flashed on the mirror. Here the same stir and alertness characterized the scene. The gaze of every inhabitant was fixed on the threatening horizon. Rapidly the scenes shifted at the king’s will, till a hundred cities, towns and villages had been reviewed.

“Enough! They are all ready–all faithful,” groaned the king, “and, Ornethelo, they may all have to perish to-day, and all for our ambition. Poor mortals!”

Ornethelo’s face was half submerged in the beard on his breast, but he looked up suddenly and spoke:

“For their sakes, then, we ought not to delay; there may yet be hope.”

“You are right, Ornethelo.” There was a ring of hope in the voice of the king. “Quick! show me my capitol, that I may see if all the protectors are ready.”

Ornethelo touched another button, and, as if seen from a great height, the fair and wondrous city dawned before the eyes of the spectators. In every street policemen and protectors and flying- machines stood in orderly readiness. The housetops were colored with the variegated costumes of men, women and children. Over all lay the wondrous sunlight, through the green splendor of which the flakes of soot were falling like black snow.

The king touched the old man’s arm. “I must see beyond the walls; are the connections made?”

“Ready, sir.”

“Try them; they must not fail me now!”

The old man tremblingly unlocked a cabinet on the table, and another row of electric buttons was displayed. Ornethelo touched one. Immediately there was a sharp clicking sound under the stand, and the view was swept from the mirror. Nothing could be seen but a dark suggestion of towering cliffs and yawning caverns.

“Not the east, Ornethelo,” cried the king impatiently. “Go on! the west! the west!”

The black landscape flashed by like a glimpse of night from a flying train, and then a blur of redly illuminated smoke in rolling billows seemed to swell out from the surface of the mirror into the room.

“There, slow!” cried the king, and then a frightful scene burst upon their sight. They beheld a great belching pit of fire and flames. The sky from the earth to the zenith was a vast expanse of illuminated smoke, and the black landscape round about was cut by rivulets of molten lava rolling on and on like restless streams of quicksilver.

The king leaned against the stand as if faint with despair. “Call Prince Arthur!” he ordered, and almost at that instant the young man appeared.


The king pointed a quivering finger at the mirror, and said huskily:

“Let not the sun go down! Let its light be white as at noon.”

“But, father, it has never been done before; it—-“

“Alpha has never faced such danger. All our dream is about to end. Go!”

Without a word the young man hastened away, and it seemed scarcely a moment before the sunlight streaming in at the oval glass roof changed from green to white.

The king pushed Ornethelo impatiently aside; his eyes held a dull gleam of despair, and he seemed to have grown ten years older. He touched a button, and the awful scene at the pit gave place to a bright view of the capitol, which was plainly seen from its crowded centre to its scattering suburbs. The squads of “protectors” stood like armies ready for battle, their rigid faces still toward the awful west.

“They are ready–the signal!” yelled the king, waving his hand, “the signal!” Ornethelo caught his breath suddenly and tottered as he went across the room, and touched a button on the wall. The king’s eyes were glued on the mirrored view of the capitol, his trembling hands held out, as if commanding silence. Then a deafening trumpet blast broke on the ear. The masses of citizens pressed near the edges of the roofs and close against the walls along the streets, as the protectors rushed into the flying- machines. Another trumpet-blast, and away they flew, a long black line, every instant growing smaller as it receded in the murky distance. The princess, white and silent, led Thorndyke and Johnston back to the balcony. The line of machines was now a mere thread in the sky, but the ominous cloud in the west had increased, and fine sand and ashes were added to the fall of soot.

“What was that?” gasped the princess. It was a low rumble like distant thunder, and the balcony shook violently.

“An earthquake,” said Thorndyke. “I am really afraid there is not a ghost of a chance for us; the water running into the fire is sure to cause an eruption of some sort, and even a slight one would be likely to enlarge the opening to the ocean.”

Johnston nodded knowingly as he looked into his friend’s face, but, considering the presence of the princess, he said nothing.

“My brother, Prince Marentel, is the greatest man in our kingdom,” she re marked. “He has taken enough explosives to remove a mountain.”

“How will he use them?” asked Thorndyke.

“I don’t know, but I fancy he will try to close the opening in some way.”

The latter slowly shook his head. “I fear he will fail. The fall must be as voluminous as Niagara by this time.”

“My father must have lost hope, or he would not have stopped the sun,” sighed the princess, and she cast a sad glance towards the west. The rolling clouds had become more dense, and the rumbling and booming in the distance was growing more frequent. A thin gray cloud passed before the sun, and a dim shadow fell over the city.

“That is a natural cloud,” said Thorndyke; “it comes from the steam that rises from the pit.”

“It is exactly like our rain clouds,” returned the princess; “but it comes from the steam, as you say. But let us go into the Electric Auditorium and hear the news. As soon as anything is done we will hear of it there.” The others had no time to question her, for she was hastening into the corridor outside. She piloted them down a flight of stairs into a large circular room beneath the surface of the ground. It was filled with seats like a modern theatre, and in the place where the stage would have been, stood a mighty mirror over an hundred feet square. She led them to a private box in front of the mirror. The room was filled from the first row of chairs to the rear with a silent, anxious crowd. In the massive frame of the mirror were numerous bell-shaped trumpets like those on the ordinary phonograph, though much larger.

“Watch the mirror,” whispered Bernardino as she sat down.

And at that instant the surface of the great glass began to glow like the sky at dawn, and all the lights in the room went out. Then from the trumpets in the frame came the loud ringing of musical bells.

“They are ready,” whispered Bernardino; “now watch and listen.”

The pink light on the mirror faded, and a life-like reflection appeared–the reflection of a young man standing on a rock in bold relief against a dark background of rugged, slabbering cliffs and the forbidding mouths of caves.

“Waldmeer!” ejaculated the princess, and she relapsed into silence.

The young man held in his hand a cup-shaped instrument from which extended a wire to the ground. He raised it to his lips, and instantly a calm, deliberate voice came from the mirror, soft and low and yet loud, enough to reach the most remote parts of the great room.

“The ocean,” began he, “is pouring into the ‘Volcano of the Dead’ in a gradually increasing torrent. Prince Marentel hopes temporarily to delay the crisis by partially turning the torrent away from the pit into the lowlands of the country. For that purpose a portion of the endless wall is being torn down, and Marentel’s forces are placing their explosives. After this is done an attempt will be made to stop the original break. There is, however, little hope. The prince has warned the king to be prepared for the worst.”

At this point, the speaker turned as if startled toward the red glare at his right. He quickly picked up another instrument attached to a wire and put it to his ear. A look of horror changed his face as he turned to the audience and began to speak:–“The opening in the wall is not progressing rapidly. Workmen are drowning and the tunnel of the sun is filling with water. It will be impossible for the sun to go through to the east.”

Just then there was a far-away crash, and instantly the mirror was void. There was now no sound except the low groans of women in the audience and the subdued curses of maddened men. The silence was profound. Then the mirror began to glow, and the image of another man took Waldmeer’s place.

“It is the Mayor of Telmantio,” whispered the princess, “a place near the western limits of Alpha.”

He held a like instrument to the one used by Waldmeer, and through it spoke:–“Venus, one of the great stars, has been shaken from the firmament. It fell in the suburbs of Telmantio, and many lives were lost.”

That was all, and the figure vanished. Presently Waldmeer reappeared. He seemed to be standing nearer the pit, for the entire background was aflame; volumes of black smoke now and then hid him from view, and a thick shower of ashes and small stones were falling round him. He spoke, but his voice was drowned in a deafening explosion, and the whole landscape about him seemed afire. In the semi-darkness hundreds of protectors could be seen struggling in the rushing water, moving stones and building a dam. Waldmeer again faced his far-off audience and spoke:–“Prince Marentel has turned the course of the stream. All now depends on the success or failure of his final test with explosives, which will take place in about half an hour.”

“We ought to go outside again,” suggested Bernardino, as Waldmeer’s image disappeared; “my father might want us.”

Seeing no one in the king’s apartment, they passed through it to the balcony. Half the sky was now covered with mingled fog and smoke, and the sun could be seen only now and then. A drizzling rain was falling–a rain that brought down clots of ashes and soot. But this made no difference to the throngs in the now muddy and slippery streets. They stood shivering in damp and soiled clothing, their blearing eyes fixed hopelessly on the lowering signs in the west. Johnston noticed a bent figure crouched against a wall beneath them. It was Branasko.

“Who is it?” inquired the princess.

“Branasko, the companion of my adventures,” he replied.

“Call him to us,” she said eagerly, and the American went down to the Alphian.

As they entered together, Branasko uncovered his dishevelled head and bowed most humbly.

“You look tired and sick and hungry; have you eaten anything today?” she asked.

“Not in two days,” he replied.

The princess called to a frightened maid who was wringing her hands in a corridor.

“Give this man food and drink at once,” she ordered, and Branasko, with a grateful bow and glance, withdrew. Johnston followed him to the door.

“Fear nothing,” he said. “If the danger passes we are safe; the king has promised to pardon me, and he will do the same for you.”

“There is no hope for any of us,” replied Branasko grimly; “but I do not want to die with this gnawing in my stomach; adieu.”

“If the worst comes, is there any chance for us to escape from here to the outer world?” the Englishman was asking the princess when Johnston turned back to them.

“For a few hundred, yes,–by the sub-water ships, but for all, no; and, then, my father would not consent to rescue a part and not the whole of his subjects. He would not try to save himself or any of his family.”

The clouds still covered the sun; but on the eastern sky its rays were shining gloriously. Ever and anon there sounded from afar a low rumbling as if the earth were swelling with heat.

Johnston left the two lovers together and went to the door of the Electric Auditorium, and over the heads of the breathless crowd he watched the great mirror. After a few moments Waldmeer appeared and spoke:

“Prince Marentel is operating with great difficulty. A large quantity of his explosives has been injured by water, but he hopes there is enough left intact to serve his purpose. The final explosion will soon take place. The greatest peril hangs over Alpha.”

Waldmeer’s reflection was becoming in-distinct, and sick at heart the American elbowed his way through the muttering crowd into the corridor. Here he met Branasko, and together they walked back to Thorndyke and the princess, who were mutely watching the signs in the east. Just then the sun slowly emerged from the cloud.

“Look!” cried Bernardino in horror. “The cloud is not moving; the sun has not stopped! It is going down and we shall soon be in utter darkness. Oh, it is awful–to die in this way!”

The king had just returned, and he over-heard her words. He came hastily to the edge of the balcony, and gazed at the sun. The others held their breath and waited. His face became more rigid; he swayed a little as he turned to her.

“You are right, my daughter,” he groaned; “it is going down; the cowardly dogs in the east have deserted their posts. It is going down! It will sink into a tunnel filled with water, and the light of Alpha will be extinguished forever. We are undone! Say your prayers, my child, your prayers, I tell you, for an Infinite God is angry at our pretensions!”

“Don’t despair, father,” and Bernardino put her arms gently round the old man’s neck. “You understand the solar machinery; could you not stop the sun?”

The eyes of the old man flashed. He seemed electrified as he drew himself from her embrace and looked anxiously over the balustrade to a flying-machine in the street below.

“I might reach the east in time,” he cried; “yes, you are right, I was acting cowardly. The fastest air-ship in Alpha is ready, and Nanleon can drive it to its utmost speed. If the worst comes, I shall see you no more, good-bye!” He kissed her brow tenderly, and her eyes filled as he hastened away. Down below they saw him spring lightly into the gold-mounted car, and the next instant the graceful vessel rose above the palace roof and sped like an arrow across the sky toward the east.

A faint cheer broke from the lips of the crowd which seemed suddenly to take new hope from the king’s departure. Some of them waved their hats and scarfs, and many watched the air-ship till it had disappeared in the murky distance.

“He may not get there in time!” cried the princess; “it seems to be going down faster than it ever did before, and he has a great distance to go.”

The little party on the balcony were silent for a long time. Presently Bernardino turned her tearful eyes to the face of Thorndyke.

“The smoke and steam do not seem so voluminous, do you think all will go well?”

The Englishman slowly shook his head. “I don’t want to depress you more than you are; but I think at such a time we ought to realize the worst. It is true, the clouds are not so heavy, and the earth- quakes are less frequent, but, unfortunately, it is owing to the fact that the volume of water has been turned away from the pit into the tunnel. Be prepared for the worst. If your father cannot reach the machinery in the east soon enough, our light will go out; and, worse than that, if Prince Marentel should fail in his next venture with explosives, all hope will be gone.”

“I have never desired to live so much as now,” she answered, inclining with an air of tenderness toward, him. “I never knew what it was to fear death till–till you came to us.”

He made no reply. There was a lump in his throat and he could not trust his voice to speech. Branasko and Johnston left them together to go into the Electric Auditorium. They returned in great haste.

“The prince is ready for the explosion,” panted Johnston. Thorndyke, old man, this is simply awful! It is not like standing up to be shot at, or being jerked through the clouds in a balloon. It seems to me that out there is the endless space of infinity, and that all the material world is coming to an end. My God! look at that hellish fire, the awful smoke and that black sky! Oh, the blasphemy of a such a paltry imitation of the handiwork of the Creator! We are damned! I say damned, and by a just and angry God!”

“Don’t be a fool,” said Thorndyke, and he threw a warning glance at Bernardino, who, with staring, distended eyes was listening to Johnston.

“No, he is right,” she said in a low tone. “I have never seen your world, but I know my people must be woefully wrong. In your land they say men teach things about Infinity and an eternal life for the soul; and that one may prepare for that life by living pure, and in striving to attain a high spiritual state. Oh, why have you not told me about that? It is the one important thing. I have long wanted to know if my soul will be safe at death, but I can learn nothing of my people. They have always tried to rival God, and, in their mad pursuit of perfection in science, they have been reduced to–this. That black cloud is the frown of God, hose mad flames may burst forth at any moment and engulf us.”

She uttered a low groan and hung her head as if in prayer. Johnston and Thorndyke were awed to silence. Never had the Englishman loved her as at that moment. She was no longer simply a beautiful human creature, but a divinity, speaking truths from Heaven itself. He felt too unworthy to stand in her presence, and yet his heart was aching to comfort her.

She raised her pallid face heavenward and extended her fair, fragile hands toward the lowering sky and began to pray. “My Creator,” she said reverently, childishly, “I have never come to Thee, but they say that people far away from this dark land, under Thy own sun, moon and stars do ask aid of Thee, and I, too, want Thy help. Forgive me and my people. They have been sinful, and vain, and thoughtless, but let them not perish in utter gloom. Forgive them, O thou Maker of all that exists–thou Creator of pain that we may love joy, Creator of evil that we may know good, turn not from us! We are but thoughtless children–and Thy children–give us time to realize the awful error of our hollow pretensions! Give them all now, at once, if they are to die, that spirit which is awakened in me by the awful majesty of Thy anger! Hear me, O God!” And with a sob she sank on her knees, clasped her hands and raised them upward. Thorndyke tried to lift her up, but she shook her head and continued her prayer in silence. A marked change had come over Branasko. He looked at Johnston and Thorndyke in a strange, helpless way, and then, in a corner of the balcony the begrimed and tattered man fell on his knees. He knew not the meaning of prayer, but there was something in the reverent attitude of the princess that drew his untutored being toward his Maker. He covered his face with his hands and his shaggy head sank to his knees.

Johnston hastened back into the Auditorium. Returning in a moment, he found the Englishman tenderly lifting Bernardino from her knees and Branasko still crouching in a corner.

“What is the news?” asked Thorndyke.

“Everything is ready for the explosion. The prince seems only waiting because he dreads failure. The people in there are so frightened that they cannot move from their seats.”

Just then Branasko raised a haggard face and looked appealingly at the princess. She caught his eye.

“Fear nothing, good man,” she said; “the God of the Christians will not harm us; we are safe in His hands. I felt it here in my heart when I prayed to Him. Oh, why has my father and the other kings of Alpha not taught us that grand simple truth! But before I die I want to leave this dark pit of sin, and look out once into endless, world- filled space.”

A joyous flush came into the face of the Alphian. His fear had vanished. She had promised him safety. He bowed worshipfully, but he spoke not, for Bernardino was eagerly pointing to the sun.

“Look!” she cried gleefully, with the merry tremolo of a happy, surprised child. “The sun is not moving. Father has been successful! It is a good omen! God will save us!”

It was true; the sun was standing still. A deep silence was on the city. The crowds in the street neither moved nor spoke. Without a murmur or complaint they stood facing the frowning west. Suddenly the silence was interrupted by a low volcanic rumble. The earth heaved, and rolled, and far away in the suburbs of the city the spire of a public building fell with a loud crash. A groan swept from mouth to mouth and then died away.

“The cloud is increasing rapidly,” said Thorndyke. “I can really see little hope. I shall return in a moment.”

While he was gone Bernardino knelt and prayed. Again overcome with fear Branasko crouched down in his corner. Another shudder and rumble from the earth, another long moan from the people. Thorndyke came back. He spoke to the princess:

“The dam built by Prince Marentel has been swept away. The ocean is pouring into the internal fires. There is scarcely any hope now.”

Branasko groaned, but Bernardino’s face was aglow with celestial faith. She shook her head.

“They will not be destroyed in this way,” she said;” they have had no chance to know God.”

“It all depends on the explosion which may take place at any moment,” and Thorndyke took her into his arms and whispered into her ear, “I do not care for myself; but I cannot bear to think of your suffering pain.”

She answered only by pressing his hand. The clouds were now rolling upward in greater volume than ever. It was growing darker. The little group on the balcony could now scarcely see the people below them. The fall of damp ashes was resumed. The air had grown hot and close.

Boom! Boom! Boom! the streets of the city rose nd fell with the undulating motion of a swelling sea. Blacker and blacker grew the sky; closer and closer the atmosphere; damper and damper became the fog; thicker and thicker fell the wet sand and ashes.

“Perhaps we would be safer in the streets,” suggested Thorndyke, drawing Bernardino closer into his arms, “the palace may fall on us.”

But the princess shook her head. “Father would not know where to find me, I shall await him here.” Branasko had edged nearer to her. His eyes were glued on her face and he hung on her words as if his fate were in her hands. He had no regard for the opinions of the others.

“The explosion will soon take place now unless something has happened contrary to the expectations of the prince,” said the Englishman.

Boom! Boom! kr-kr-kr-kr-boom! The noise seemed to shake the earth to its centre. Now the far-away pit was belching forth fire and molten lava rather than steam and smoke. The flames had spread out against the sloping roof of the cavern, and seemed to extend for a mile along the horizon. “They can do nothing in that heat,” exclaimed Johnston; “they could not get near enough to the pit. Thorndyke, old fellow, I can’t see a ghost of a chance. We might as well say good-bye.”

“Hush!” It was the voice of the princess. “I feel that we shall not be lost, I say.” And as she spoke Branasko crept toward her and raised the hem of her gown to his white lips. Something dark came between them and the far-off glare. It was a flying-machine.

“It is father,” cried Bernardino, and she called out to him: “Father! father! Here we are, waiting for you!” In a moment he was with them.

“All right in the east,” he said gloomily. “Baryonay is there. They deserted him, but they returned when the flames went down. This is awful, daughter; it means death! It means annihilation!”

She put her arms round his neck and drew his face close to hers. “No, no,” she said earnestly; “I see with a new light–a new spiritual light. There is mercy in the divine heart of Him that made the walls of our little world and constructed countless other worlds. I have prayed for mercy, and into my heart has come a sweet peace I never knew before. We shall not be lost. He will give us time to give up our sinful life here and seek Him.”

The old man quivered as with ague; he searched her face eagerly, drew her spasmodically into his arms, and then sank to the floor, overcome with exhaustion.

The roar in the west was increasing. Hot ashes, gravel and small stones were falling on the roofs and the people. Now and then a cry of pain was heard, but they would not seek the shelter of the buildings. If they had to die they wanted to fall facing the enemy. Suddenly the king rose. He looked to the west and groaned. Something told them that the explosion was coming. Expectation, horrible suspense was in the air. There was a mighty flare of light. The entire heavens were lighted from horizon to horizon, and then the light went out.

“Oh, I thought it —-” but the princess did not finish her sentence.

“The explosion,” said Thorndyke, “the sound will follow in a moment.”

“My God, have mercy on us!” cried the king. But his prayer was drowned in a deafening sound. Bernardino had leaned into the arms of her lover. “Don’t despair,” he said tenderly, “the prince may have been successful.”

“I feel that he has,” she replied. “But, oh, it is dreadful!”

The crowds below seemed to understand that their fate depended on the news that would reach them in a few minutes.

Boom! Boom! kr-kr-kr-kr-boom! There seemed to be no lessening of the volcanic disturbance, and the earth groaned and rocked and quivered as before.

“It is impossible to tell yet,” groaned the king. “Oh, God, save us; give us a chance to escape this awful doom!”

Johnston bethought himself that he might learn something in the Electric Auditorium and he went into it. It was empty and dark; not a soul was there save himself. He was turning to leave when his eye was drawn to the great mirror by a faint pink glow appearing upon it. He stood still, a superstitious fear coming over him as he thought of being alone with a possible messenger from the far-away scene of disaster. The light went out tremblingly; then it flashed up again, and the American thought he saw the face of Waldmeer. The light grew steadier, stronger. It was Waldmeer, but he was submerged in smoke. Hark! he was speaking.

“Marentel is successful! Entrance closed temporarily, and will be strengthened!”

Johnston rushed out to the balcony.
“I have been to the Auditorium,” he announced. “I have seen Waldmeer. He says the experiment was successful. It is closed temporarily, and can be strengthened.”

The king grasped the hand of the American. “Thank God!” he ejaculated, “if I can only save my people I shall desire nothing more.” The princess moved toward him affectionately, but he put her aside and retired into the palace.

“He will at once communicate with the people,” remarked Bernardino hopefully, and she turned her face again toward the west. The red glare was dying down, and the dense clouds in the sky were thinning. In an hour the face of the sun broke through the smoke, and the flying-machines of the protectors began to return.

That night the king caused the pink light of the “Ideal Dawn” to flood the eastern sky, and, as before, he appeared in a circle of dazzling light and addressed his subjects:

“All danger to life is over; but the ultimate fate of Alpha is sealed. Prince Marentel has effectually closed the entrance of the ocean, but the internal fires are gradually burning through the rocky bed of the ocean. In a couple of years Alpha will be demolished. All our wealth shall be equally distributed among you, and my ships shall transport you to whatever destination you desire. Let there be no haste. Order shall be preserved throughout.”

That was all. The king bowed and the picture faded from view. A deep silence was over everything. The only light came from the stars and from the moon. Then there was a sound like the wind passing over a vast forest of dry-leaved trees–the people were returning to their homes.

“I should have thought they would greet the king’s announcement with a cheer of joy,” said Thorndyke to the princess, as they returned to the palace.

“They don’t know whether to weep or laugh,” she replied. “They love Alpha, and the other world will be strange to most of them. As for myself, now that I am to leave, I feel a few misgivings.”

“I shall see that you are perfectly happy,” he said tenderly. “You are to be my wife. I shall always love you and care for you; you need have no fears.”

And a moment later, with joyous tears and face aglow, she assured him she had none.