Magick7's Moonlight Stories Index

 

 

 

 

The Adventures of Rollo Aubrey, Earl of Redgrave, and his bride, Lilla Zaidie

 

George Griffith

 

 

 

A Visit To The Moon

INTRODUCTORY NOTE

The World Of The War God

INTRODUCTION

A Glimpse Of The Sinless Star

INTRODUCTION

The World Of The Crystal Cities

INTRODUCTION

In Saturn's Realm

INTRODUCTION

Homeward Bound

A Honeymoon In Space

Prologue

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

Chapter XX

The World Peril Of 1910

Prologue — A Race For A Woman

Chapter II — Norah's Good-Bye

Chapter III — Seen Under The Moon

Chapter IV — The Shadow Of The Terror

Chapter V — A Glimpse Of The Moon

Chapter VI — The Note Of War

Chapter VII — Caught!

Chapter VIII — First Blood

Chapter IX — The “Flying Fish”

Chapter X — First Blows From The Air

Chapter XI — The Tragedy Of The Two Squadrons

Chapter XII — How London Took The News

Chapter XIII — A Crime And A Mistake

Chapter XIV — The Eve Of Battle

Chapter XV — The Strife Of Giants

Chapter XVI — How The French Landed At Portsmouth

Chapter XVII — Away From The Warpath

Chapter XVIII — A Glimpse Of The Peril

Chapter XIX — A Change Of Scene

Chapter XX — The Night Of Terror Begins—

Chapter XXI — —And Ends

Chapter XXII — Disaster

Chapter XXIII — The Other Campaign Begins

Chapter XXIV — Tom Bowcock-Pitman

Chapter XXV — Preparing For Action

Chapter XXVI — The First Bombardment Of London

Chapter XXVII — Lennard's Ultimatum

Chapter XXVIII — Concerning Astronomy And Oysters

Chapter XXIX — The Lion Wakes

Chapter XXX — Mr Parmenter Says

Chapter XXXI — John Castellan's Thread

Chapter XXXII — A Vigil In The Night

Chapter XXXIII — Mr Parmenter Returns

Chapter XXXIV — The “Auriole”

Chapter XXXV — The “Auriole” Hoists The White Ensign

Chapter XXXVI — A Parley At Aldershot

Chapter XXXVII — The Verdict of Science

Chapter XXXVIII — Waiting For Doom

Chapter XXXIX — The Last Fight

EPILOGUE — “And On Earth, Peace!”

The Romance Of Golden Star

Prologue

I — His Highness The Mummy

II — A Physiological Experiment

The Story of Vilcaroya

CHAPTER I — Back Through The Shadows

CHAPTER II — Brothers Of The Blood

CHAPTER III — In The Hall Of Gold

CHAPTER IV — The Sister Stars

CHAPTER V — How Djama Did His Work

CHAPTER VI — The Waking Of Golden Star

CHAPTER VII — In The Throne-Room Of Yupanqui

CHAPTER VIII — How The Soul Of Golden Star Came Back

CHAPTER IX — The Treachery Of Djama

CHAPTER X — On The Rodadero

CHAPTER XI — How We Took The City Of The Sun

CHAPTER XII — Queen And Crown

CHAPTER XIII — How Djama Paid His Debt

CHAPTER XIV — The Re-Kindling Of The Sacred Fire

The Raid Of Le Vengeur

I.—The Dream Of Captain Flaubert

II.—A Dinner At Albert Gate

III.—The Water-Ray

IV.—In The Solent

From Pole To Pole

I.

II.

III.

IV.

V.

VI.

A Corner In Lightning

I.

II.

 
This eBook was produced by: Richard Scott

A Visit To The Moon




INTRODUCTORY NOTE


The adventures of Rollo Lenox Smeaton Aubrey, Earl of Redgrave, and his bride Lilla Zaidie, daughter of the late Professor Hartley Rennick, Demonstrator in Physical Science in the Smith-Oliver University in New York, were first made possible by that distinguished scientist's now famous separation of the Forces of Nature into their positive and negative elements. Starting from the axiom that everything in Nature has its opposite, he not only divided the Universal Force of Gravitation into its elements of attraction and repulsion, but also constructed a machine which enabled him to develop either or both of these elements at will. From this triumph of mechanical genius it was but a step to the magnificent conception which was subsequently realised by Lord Redgrave in the Astronef. Lord Redgrave had met Professor Rennick, about a year before his lamented death, when he was on a holiday excursion in the Canadian Rockies with his daughter. The young millionaire nobleman was equally fascinated by the daring theories of the Professor, and by the mental and physical charms of Miss Zaidie. And thus the chance acquaintance resulted in a partnership, in which the Professor was to find the knowledge and Lord Redgrave the capital for translating the theory of the “R. Force” (Repulsive or Antigravitational Force) into practice, and constructing a vessel which would be capable, not only of rising from the earth, but of passing the limits of the terrestrial atmosphere, and navigating with precision and safety the limitless ocean of Space.

Unhappily, before the Astronef, or star-navigator, was completed at the works which Lord Redgrave had built for her construction on his estate at Smeaton, in Yorkshire, her inventor succumbed to pulmonary complications following an attack of influenza. This left Lord Redgrave the sole possessor of the secret of the “R. Force.” A year after the Professor's death he completed the Astronef, and took her across the Atlantic by rising into Space until the attraction of the earth was so far weakened that in a couple of hours' time he was able to descend in the vicinity of New York. On this trial trip he was accompanied by Andrew Murgatroyd, an old engineer who had superintended the building of the Astronef. This man's family had been attached to his Lordship's for generations and for this reason he was selected as engineer and steersman of the Navigator of the Stars.

The excitement which was caused, not only in America but over the whole civilised world, by the arrival of the Astronef from the distant regions of Space to which she had soared; the marriage of her creator to the daughter of her inventor in the main saloon while she hung motionless in a cloudless sky a mile above the Empire City; their return to earth; the wedding banquet; and their departure to the moon, which they had selected as the first stopping-place on their bridal trip—these are now matters of common knowledge. The present series of narratives begins as the earth sinks away from under them, and their Honeymoon in Space has actually begun.

WHEN the Astronef rose from the ground to commence her marvellous voyage through the hitherto untraversed realms of Space, Lord Redgrave and his bride were standing at the forward-end of a raised deck which ran along about two-thirds of the length of the cylindrical body of the vessel. The walls of this compartment, which was about fifty feet long by twenty broad, were formed of thick, but perfectly transparent, toughened glass, over which, in cases of necessity, curtains of ribbed steel could be drawn from the floor, which was of teak and slightly convex. A light steel rail ran round it and two stairways ran up from the other deck of the vessel to two hatches, one fore and one aft, destined to be hermetically closed when the Astronef had soared beyond breathable atmosphere and was crossing the airless, heatless wastes of interplanetary pace.

Lord and Lady Redgrave and Andrew Murgatroyd were the only members of the crew of the Star-navigator. No more were needed, for on board this marvellous craft nearly everything was done by machinery; warming, lighting, cooking, distillation and re-distillation of water, constant and automatic purification of the air, everything, in fact, but the regulation of the mysterious “R. Force” could be done with a minimum of human attention. This, however, had to be minutely and carefully regulated, and her commander usually performed this duty himself.

The developing engines were in the lowest part of the vessel amidships. Their minimum power just sufficed to make the Astronef a little lighter than her own bulk of air, so that when she visited a planet possessing an atmosphere sufficiently dense, the two propellers at her stern would be capable of driving her through the air at the rate of about a hundred miles an hour. The maximum power would have sufficed to hurl the vessel beyond the limits of the earth's atmosphere in a few minutes.

When they had risen to the height of about a mile above New York, her ladyship, who had been gazing in silent wonder and admiration at the strange and marvellous scene, pointed suddenly towards the East and said: “Look, there's the moon! Just fancy—-our first stopping-place! Well, it doesn't look so very far off at present.”

Redgrave turned and saw the pale yellow crescent of the new moon just rising above the eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

“It almost looks as if we could steer straight to it right over the water, only, of course, it wouldn't wait there for us,” she went on.

“Oh, it'll be there when we want it, never fear,” laughed his lordship, “and, after all, it's only a mere matter of about two hundred and forty thousand miles away, and what's that in a trip that will cover hundreds of millions? It will just be a sort of jumping-off place into Space for us.”

“Still I shouldn't like to miss seeing it,” she said. “I want to know what there is on that other side which nobody has ever seen yet, and settle that question about air and water. Won't it just be heavenly to be able to come back and tell them all about it at home? But fancy me talking stuff like this when we are going, perhaps, to solve some of the hidden mysteries of Creation and, maybe, to look upon things that human eyes were never meant to see,” she went on, with a sudden change in her voice.

He felt a little shiver in the arm that was resting upon his, and his hand went down and caught hers.

“Well, we shall see a good many marvels, and, perhaps, miracles, before we come back, but I hardly think we shall see anything that is forbidden. Still, there's one thing we shall do, I hope. We shall solve once and for all the great problem of the worlds—whether they are inhabited or not. By the way,” he went on, “I may remind your ladyship that you are just now drawing the last breaths of earthly air which you will taste for some time, in fact until we get back! You may as well take your last look at earth as earth, for the next time you see it, it will be a planet.”

She went to the rail and looked over into the enormous void beneath, for all this time the Astronef had been mounting towards the zenith. She could see, by the growing moonlight, vast, vague shapes of land and sea. The myriad lights of New York and Brooklyn were mingled in a tiny patch of dimly luminous haze. The air about her had suddenly grown bitterly cold, and she saw that the stars and planets were shining with a brilliancy she had never seen before. Her husband came to her side, and, laying his arm across her shoulder, said:

“Well, have you said goodbye to your native world? It is a hit solemn, isn't it, saying goodbye to a world that you have been born on; which contains everything that has made up your life, everything that is dear to you?”

“Not quite everything!” she said, looking up at him. “At least, I don't think so.”

He immediately made the only reply which was appropriate under the circumstances; and then he said, drawing her towards the staircase: “Well, for the present this is our world; a world travelling among worlds, and as I have been able to bring the most delightful of the Daughters of Terra with me, I, at any rate, am perfectly happy. Now, I think it's getting on to supper time, so if your ladyship will go to your household duties, I'll have a look at my engines and make everything snug for the voyage.”

The first thing he did when he got on to the main deck, was to hermetically close the two companion-ways; then he went and carefully inspected the apparatus for purifying the air and supplying it with fresh oxygen from the tanks in which it was stored in liquid form. Lastly he descended into the lower hold of the ship and turned on the energy of repulsion to its full extent, at the same time stopping the engines which had been working the propellers.

It was now no longer necessary or even possible to steer the Astronef. She was directed solely by the repulsive force which would carry her with ever-increasing swiftness, as the attraction of the earth became diminished, towards that neutral point some two hundred thousand miles away, at which the attraction of the earth is exactly balanced by the moon. Her momentum would carry her past this point, and then the “R. Force” would be gradually brought into play in order to avert the unpleasant consequences of a fall of some forty odd thousand miles.

Andrew Murgatroyd, relieved from his duties in the wheelhouse, made a careful inspection of the auxiliary machinery, which was under his special charge, and then retired to his quarters forward to prepare his own evening meal. Meanwhile her ladyship, with the help of the ingenious contrivances with which the kitchen of the Astronef was stocked, and with the use of which she had already made herself quite familiar, had prepared a dainty little souper a deux. Her husband opened a bottle of the finest champagne that the cellars of New York could supply, to drink at once to the prosperity of the voyage, and the health of his beautiful fellow-voyager.

When supper was over and the coffee made he carried the apparatus up the stairs on to the glass-domed upper deck. Then he came back and said:

“You'd better wrap yourself up as warmly as you can, dear, for it's a good deal chillier up there than it is here.”

When she reached the deck and took her first glance about her, Zaidie seemed suddenly to lapse into a state of somnambulism. The whole heavens above and around were strewn with thick clusters of stars which she had never seen before. The stars she remembered seeing from the earth were only little pinpoints in the darkness compared with the myriads of blazing orbs which were now shooting their rays across the silent void of Space. So many millions of new ones had come into view that she looked in vain for the familiar constellations. She saw only vast clusters of living gems of all colours crowding the heavens on every side of her. She walked slowly round the deck, looking to right and left and above, incapable for the moment either of thought or speech, but only of dumb wonder, mingled with a dim sense of overwhelming awe. Presently she craned her neck backwards and looked straight up to the zenith. A huge silver crescent, supporting, as it were, a dim, greenish coloured body in its arms stretched overhead across nearly a sixth of the heavens.

Her husband came to her side, took her in his arms, lifted her as if she had been a little child, so feeble had the earth's attraction now become, and laid her in a long, low deck-chair, so that she could look at it without inconvenience. The splendid crescent grew swiftly larger and more distinct, and as she lay there in a trance of wonder and admiration she saw point after point of dazzlingly white light flash out on to the dark portions, and then begin to send out rays as though they were gigantic volcanoes in full eruption, and were pouring torrents of living fire from their blazing craters.

“Sunrise on the moon!” said Redgrave, who had stretched himself on another chair beside her. “A glorious sight, isn't it! But nothing to what we shall see tomorrow morning—only there doesn't happen to be any morning just about here.”

“Yes,” she said dreamily, “glorious, isn't it? That and all the stars—but I can't think of anything yet, Lenox! It's all too mighty and too marvellous. It doesn't seem as though human eyes were meant to look upon things like this. But where's the earth? We must be able to see that still.”

“Not from here,” he said, “because it's underneath us. Come below, and you shall see Mother Earth as you have never seen her yet.”

They went down into the lower part of the vessel, and to the after-end behind the engine-room. Redgrave switched on a couple of electric lights, and then pulled a lever attached to one of the side-walls. A part of the flooring, about 6ft. square, slid noiselessly away; then he pulled another lever on the opposite side and a similar piece disappeared, leaving a large space covered only by absolutely transparent glass. He switched off the lights again and led her to the edge of it, and said:

“There is your native world, dear; that is the earth!”

Wonderful as the moon had seemed, the gorgeous spectacle, which lay seemingly at her feet, was infinitely more magnificent. A vast disc of silver grey, streaked and dotted with lines and points of dazzling light, and more than half covered with vast, glittering, greyish-green expanses, seemed to form, as it were the floor of the great gulf of space beneath them. They were not yet too far away to make out the general features of the continents and oceans, and fortunately the hemisphere presented to them happened to be singularly free from clouds.

Zaidie stood gazing for nearly an hour at this marvellous vision of the home-world which she had left so far behind her before she could tear herself away and allow her husband to shut the slides again. The greatly diminished weight of her body almost entirely destroyed the fatigue of standing. In fact, at present on board the Astronef it was almost as easy to stand as it was to lie down.

There was of course very little sleep for any of the travellers on this first night of their adventurous voyage, but towards the sixth hour after leaving the earth her ladyship, overcome as much by the emotions which had been awakened within her as by physical fatigue, went to bed, after making her husband promise that he would wake her in good time to see the descent upon the moon. Two hours later she was awake and drinking the coffee which Redgrave had prepared for her. Then she went on to the upper deck.

To her astonishment she found on one hand, day more brilliant than she had ever seen it before, and on the other hand, darkness blacker than the blackest earthly night. On the right hand was an intensely brilliant orb, about half as large again as the full moon seen from earth, shining with inconceivable brightness out of a sky black as midnight and thronged with stars. It was the sun, the sun shining in the midst of airless space.

The tiny atmosphere inclosed in the glass-domed space was lighted brilliantly, but it was not perceptibly warmer, though Redgrave warned her ladyship not to touch anything upon which the sun's rays fell directly as she would find it uncomfortably hot. On the other side was the same black immensity of space which she had seen the night before, an ocean of darkness clustered with islands of light. High above in the zenith floated the great silver-grey disc of earth, a good deal smaller now, and there was another object beneath which was at present of far more interest to her. Looking down to the left she saw a vast semi-luminous area in which not a star was to be seen. It was the earth-lit portion of the long familiar and yet mysterious orb which was to be their resting-place for the next few hours.

“The sun hasn't risen over there yet,” said Redgrave, as she was peering down into the void. “It's earth-light still. Now look at the other side.”

She crossed the deck and saw the strangest scene she had yet beheld. Apparently only a few miles below her was a huge crescent-shaped plain arching away for hundreds of miles on either side. The outer edge had a ragged look, and little excrescences, which soon took the shape of flat-topped mountains projected from it and stood out bright and sharp against the black void beneath, out of which the stars shone up, as it seemed, sharp and bright above the edge of the disc.

The plain itself was a scene of the most awful and utter desolation that even the sombre fancy of a Dante could imagine. Huge mountain walls, towering to immense heights and inclosing great circular and oval plains, one side of them blazing with intolerable light, and the other side black with impenetrable obscurity; enormous valleys reaching down from brilliant day into rayless night—perhaps down into the empty bowels of the dead world itself; vast, grey-white plains lying round the mountains, crossed by little ridges and by long, black lines which could only be immense fissures with perpendicular sides—but all hard grey-white and black, all intolerable brightness or repulsive darkness; not a sign of life anywhere, no shady forests, no green fields, no broad, glittering oceans; only a ghastly wilderness of dead mountains and dead plains.

“What an awful place!” said Zaidie, in a slowly spoken whisper. “Surely we can't land there. How far are we from it?” “About fifteen hundred miles,” replied Redgrave, who was sweeping the scene below him with one of the two powerful telescopes which stood on the deck. “No, it doesn't look very cheerful, does it; but it's a marvellous sight for all that, and one that a good many people on earth would give their ears to see from here. I'm letting her drop pretty fast, and we shall probably land in a couple of hours or so. Meanwhile, you may as well get out your moon atlas and your Jules Verne and Flammarion, and study your lunography. I'm going to turn the power a bit astern so that we shall go down obliquely and see more of the lighted disc. We started at new moon so that you should have a look at the full earth, and also so that we could get round to the invisible side while it is lighted up.”

They both went below, he to deflect the repulsive force so that one set of engines should give them a somewhat oblique direction, while the other, acting directly on the surface of the moon, simply retarded their fall; and she to get her maps and the ever-fascinating works of Jules Verne and Flammarion. When they got back, the Astronef had changed her apparent position, and, instead of falling directly on to the moon, was descending towards it in a slanting direction. The result of this was that the sunlit crescent rapidly grew in breadth, whilst peak after peak and range after range rose up swiftly out of the black gulf beyond. The sun climbed quickly up through the star-strewn, mid-day heavens, and the full earth sank more swiftly still behind them.

Another hour of silent, entranced wonder and admiration followed, and then Lenox remarked to Zaidie: “Don't you think it's about time we were beginning to think of breakfast, dear, or do you think you can wait till we land?”

“Breakfast on the moon!” she exclaimed. “That would be just too lovely for words! Of course we'll wait.”

“Very well,” he said, “you see that big, black ring nearly below us, that, as I suppose you know, is the celebrated Mount Tycho. I'll try and find a convenient spot on the top of the ring to drop on, and then you will be able to survey the scenery from seventeen or eighteen thousand feet above the plains.”

About two hours later a slight jarring tremor ran through the frame of the vessel, and the first stage of the voyage was ended. After a passage of less than twelve hours the Astronef had crossed a gulf of nearly two hundred and fifty thousand miles and rested quietly on the untrodden surface of the lunar world.

“We certainly shan't find any atmosphere here,” said Redgrave, when they had finished breakfast, “although we may in the deeper parts, so if your ladyship would like a walk we'd better go and put on our breathing dresses.”

These were not unlike diving dresses, save that they were much lighter. The helmets were smaller, and made of aluminium covered with asbestos. A sort of knapsack fitted on to the back, and below this was a cylinder of liquefied air which, when passed through the expanding apparatus, would furnish pure air for a practically indefinite period, as the respired air passed into another portion of the upper chamber, where it was forced through a chemical solution which deprived it of its poisonous gases and made it fit to breathe again.

The pressure of air inside the helmet automatically regulated the supply, which was not permitted to circulate into the dress, as the absence of air-pressure on the moon would cause it to instantly expand and probably tear the material, which was a cloth woven chiefly of asbestos fibre. The two helmets could be connected for talking purposes by a light wire communicating with a little telephonic apparatus inside the helmet.

They passed out of the Astronef through an air-tight chamber in the wall of her lowest compartment, Murgatroyd closing the first door behind them. Redgrave opened the next one and dropped a short ladder on to the grey, loose, sand-strewn rock of the little plain on which they had stopped. Then he stood aside and motioned for Zaidie to go down first.

She understood him, and, taking his hand, descended the four easy steps. And so hers was the first human foot which, in all the ages since its creation, had rested on the surface of the World that Had Been. Redgrave followed her with a little spring which landed him gently beside her, then he took both her hands and pressed them hard in his. He would have kissed her if he could; but that of course was out of the question.

Then he connected the telephone wire, and hand in hand they crossed the little plateau towards the edge of the tremendous gulf, fifty-four miles across, and nearly twenty thousand feet deep. In the middle of it rose a conical mountain about five thousand feet high, the summit of which was just beginning to catch the solar rays. Half of the vast plain was already brilliantly illuminated, but round the central cone was a vast semi-circle of shadow impenetrable in its blackness.

“Day and night in this same valley, actually side by side!” said Zaidie. Then she stopped, and pointed down into the brightly lit distance, and went on hurriedly: “Look, Lenox, look at the foot of the mountain there! Doesn't that seem like the ruins of a city?”

“It does,” he said, “and there's no reason why it shouldn't be. I've always thought that, as the air and water disappeared from the upper parts of the moon, the inhabitants, whoever they were, must have been driven down into the deeper parts. Shall we go down and see?”

“But how?” she said. He pointed towards the Astronef. She nodded her helmeted head, and they went back to the vessel. A few minutes later the Astronef had risen from her resting-place with a spring which rapidly carried her over half of the vast crater, and then she began to drop slowly into the depths. She grounded as gently as before, and presently they were standing on the lunar surface about a mile from the central cone. This time, however, Redgrave had taken the precaution to bring a magazine rifle and a couple of revolvers with him in case any strange monsters, relics of the vanished fauna of the moon, might still be taking refuge in these mysterious depths. Zaidie, although like a good many American girls, she could shoot excellently well, carried no weapon more offensive than a whole-plate camera and a tripod, which here, of course, only weighed a sixth of their earthly weight.

The first thing that Redgrave did when they stepped out on to the sandy surface of the plain was to stoop down and strike a wax match; there was a tiny glimmer of light which was immediately extinguished.

“No air here,” he said, “so we shall find no living beings—at any rate, none like ourselves.”

They found the walking exceedingly easy although their boots were purposely weighted in order to counteract to some extent the great difference in gravity. A few minutes' sharp walking brought them to the outskirts of the city. It had no walls, and in fact exhibited no signs of preparations for defence. Its streets were broad and well-paved; and the houses, built of great blocks of grey stone joined together with white cement, looked as fresh and unworn as though they had only been built a few months, whereas they had probably stood for hundreds of thousands of years. They were flat roofed, all of one storey and practically of one type.

There were very few public buildings, and absolutely no attempt at ornamentation was visible. Round some of the houses were spaces which might once have been gardens. In the midst of the city, which appeared to cover an area of about four square miles, was an enormous square paved with flag stones, which were covered to the depth of a couple of inches with a light grey dust, and, as they walked across it, this remained perfectly still save for the disturbance caused by their footsteps. There was no air to support it, otherwise it might have risen in clouds about them.

From the centre of this square rose a huge Pyramid nearly a thousand feet in height, the sole building in the great, silent city which appeared to have been raised as a monument, or, possibly, a temple by the hands of its vanished inhabitants. As they approached this they saw a curious white fringe lying round the steps by which it was approached. When they got nearer they found that this fringe was composed of millions of white-bleached bones and skulls, shaped very much like those of terrestrial men except that the ribs were out of all proportion to the rest of the bones.

They stopped awe-stricken before this strange spectacle. Redgrave stooped down and took hold of one of the bones, a huge thigh bone. It broke in two as he tried to lift it, and the piece which remained in his hand crumbled instantly to white powder.

“Whoever they were,” said Redgrave, “they were giants. When air and water failed above they came down here by some means and built this city. You see what enormous chests they must have had. That would be Nature's last struggle to enable them to breathe the diminishing atmosphere. These, of course, will be the last descendants of the fittest to breathe it; this was their temple, I suppose, and here they came to die—I wonder how many thousand years ago—perishing of heat, and cold, and hunger, and thirst, the last tragedy of a race, which, after all, must have been something like our own.”

“It is just too awful for words,” said Zaidie. “Shall we go into the temple? That seems one of the entrances up there, only I don't like walking over all those bones.”

Her voice sounded very strange over the wire which connected their helmets.

“I don't suppose they'll mind if we do,” replied Redgrave, “only we mustn't go far in. It may be full of cross passages and mazes, and we might never get out. Our lamps won't be much use in there, you know, for there's no air. They'll just be points of light, and we shan't see anything but them. It's very aggravating, but I'm afraid there's no help for it. Come along!”

They ascended the steps, crushing the bones and skulls to powder beneath their feet, and entered the huge, square doorway, which looked like a rectangle of blackness against the grey-white of the wall. Even through their asbestos-woven clothing they felt a sudden shock of icy cold. In those few steps they had passed from a temperature of tenfold summer heat into one far below that of the coldest spots on earth. They turned on the electric lamps which were fitted to the breast-plates of their dresses, but they could see nothing save the glow of the lamps. All about them was darkness impenetrable, and so they reluctantly turned back to the doorway, leaving all the mysteries which the vast temple might contain to remain mysteries to the end of time. They passed down the steps again and crossed the square, and for the next half hour Zaidie, who was photographer to the expedition, was busy taking photographs of the Pyramid with its ghastly surroundings, and a few general views of this strange City of the dead.

Then they went back to the Astronef. They found Murgatroyd pacing up and down under the dome looking about him with serious eyes, but yet betraying no particular curiosity. The wonderful vessel was at once his home and his idol, and nothing but the direct orders of his master would have induced him to leave her even in a world in which there was probably not a living human being to dispute possession of her.

When they had resumed their ordinary clothing, she rose rapidly from the surface of the plain, crossed the encircling wall at the height of a few hundred feet, and made her way at a speed of about fifty miles an hour towards the regions of the South Pole. Behind them to the north-west they could see from their elevation of nearly thirty thousand feet the vast expanse of the Sea of Clouds. Dotted here and there were the shining points and ridges of light, marking the peaks and crater walls which the rays of the rising sun had already touched. Before them and to right and left of them rose a vast maze of crater-rings and huge ramparts of mountain-walls inclosing plains so far below their summits that the light of neither sun nor earth ever reached them.

By directing the force exerted by what might now be called the propelling part of the engines against the mountain masses, which they crossed to right and left and behind, Redgrave was able to take a zigzag course which carried him over many of the walled plains which were wholly or partially lit up by the sun, and in nearly all of the deepest their telescopes revealed what they had found within the crater of Tycho. At length, pointing to a gigantic circle of white light fringing an abyss of utter darkness, he said:

“There is Newton, the greatest mystery of the moon. Those inner walls are twenty-four thousand feet high; that means that the bottom, which has never been seen by human eyes, is about five thousand feet below the surface of the moon. What do you say, dear—shall we go down and see if the searchlight will show us anything? There may be air there.”

“Certainly!” replied Zaidie decisively, “haven't we come to see things that nobody else has ever seen?”

Redgrave signalled to the engine-room, and presently the Astronef changed her course, and in a few minutes was hanging, bathed in sunlight, like a star suspended over the unfathomable gulf of darkness below.

As they sank beyond the sunlight, Murgatroyd turned on both the head and stern searchlights. They dropped down ever slowly and more slowly until gradually the two long, thin streams of light began to spread themselves out, and by the time the Astronef came gently to a rest they were swinging round her in broad fans of diffused light over a dark, marshy surface, with scattered patches of moss and reeds which showed dull gleams of stagnant water between them.

“Air and water at last!” said Redgrave, as he rejoined his wife on the upper deck, “air and water and eternal darkness! Well, we shall find life on the moon here if anywhere. Shall we go?”

“Of course,” replied her ladyship, “what else have we come for? Must we put on the breathing-dresses?”

“Certainly,” he replied, “because, although there's air we don't know yet whether it is breathable. It may be half carbon-dioxide for all we know; but a few matches will soon tell us that.”

Within a quarter of an hour they were again standing on the surface. Murgatroyd had orders to follow them as far as possible with the head searchlight, which, in the comparatively rarefied atmosphere, appeared to have a range of several miles. Redgrave struck a match, and held it up level with his head. It burnt with a clear, steady, yellow flame.

“Where a match will burn a man can breathe,” he said. “I'm going to see what lunar air is like.”

“For Heaven's sake be careful, dear,” came the reply in pleading tones across the wire.

“All right, but don't open your helmet till I tell you.”

He then raised the hermetically-closed slide of glass, which formed the front of the helmets half an inch or so. Instantly he felt a sensation like the drawing of a red-hot iron across his skin. He snapped the visor down and clasped it in its place. For a moment or two he gasped for breath and then he said rather faintly:

“It's no good, it's too cold, it would freeze the blood in our veins. I think we'd better go back and explore this valley under cover. We can't do anything in the dark, and we can see just as well from the upper deck with the searchlights. Besides, as there's air and water here, there's no telling but there may be inhabitants of sorts such as we shouldn't care to meet.”

He took her hand, and, to Murgatroyd's intense relief, they went back to the vessel.

Redgrave then raised the Astronef a couple of hundred feet and, by directing the repulsive force against the mountain walls, developed just sufficient energy to keep them moving at about twelve miles an hour.

They began to cross the plain with their searchlights flashing out in all directions. They had scarcely gone a mile before the headlight fell upon a moving form half walking, half crawling among some stunted brown-leaved bushes by the side of a broad, stagnant stream.

“Look!” said Zaidie, clasping her husband's arm, “is that a gorilla, or—no, it can't be a man.”

The light was turned full upon the object. If it had been covered with hair it might have passed for some strange type of the ape tribe, but its skin was smooth and of a livid grey. Its lower limbs were evidently more powerful than its upper; its chest was enormously developed, but the stomach was small. The head was big and round and smooth. As they came nearer they saw that in place of finger-nails it had long white feelers which it kept extended and constantly waving about as it groped its way towards the water. As the intense light flashed full on it, it turned its head towards them. It had a nose and a mouth. The nose was long and thick, with huge mobile nostrils, and the mouth formed an angle something like a fish's lips, and of teeth there seemed none. At either side of the upper part of the nose there were two little sunken holes, in which this thing's ancestors of countless thousand years ago had possessed eyes.

As she looked upon this awful parody of what had once perhaps been a human face, Zaidie covered hers with her hands and uttered a little moan of horror.

“Horrible, isn't it?” said Redgrave. “I suppose that's what the last remnants of the lunarians have come to, evidently once men and women something like ourselves. I daresay the ancestors of that thing have lived here in coldness and darkness for hundreds of generations. It shows how tremendously tenacious nature is of life.

“Ages ago that awful thing's ancestors lived up yonder when there were seas and rivers, fields and forests just as we have them on earth; men and women who could see and breathe and enjoy everything in life and had built up civilisations like ours. Look, it's going to fish or something. Now we shall see what it feeds on. I wonder why that water isn't frozen. I suppose there must be some internal heat left still, split up into patches, I daresay, and lakes of lava. Perhaps this valley is just over one of them, and that's why these creatures have managed to survive. Ah, there's another of them, smaller not so strongly formed. That thing's mate, I suppose, female of the species. Ugh, I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of years it will take for our descendants to come to that.”

“I hope our dear old earth will hit something else and be smashed to atoms before that happens!” exclaimed Zaidie, whose curiosity had now partly overcome her horror. “Look, it's trying to catch something.”

The larger of the two creatures had groped its way to the edge of the sluggish, foetid water and dropped or rather rolled quietly into it. It was evidently cold-blooded or nearly so, for no warm-blooded animal could have withstood that more than glacial cold. Presently the other dropped in, too, and both disappeared for some minutes. Then suddenly there was a violent commotion in the water a few yards away; and the two creatures rose to the surface of the water, one with a wriggling eel-like fish between its jaws.

They both groped their way towards the edge, and had just reached it and were pulling themselves out when a hideous shape rose out of the water behind them. It was like the head of an octopus joined to the body of a boa-constrictor, but head and neck were both of the same ghastly, livid grey as the other two bodies. It was evidently blind, too, for it took no notice of the brilliant glare of the searchlight. Still it moved rapidly towards the two scrambling forms, its long white feelers trembling out in all directions. Then one of them touched the smaller of the two creatures. Instantly the rest shot out and closed round it, and with scarcely a struggle it was dragged beneath the water and vanished.

Zaidie uttered a little low scream and covered her face again, and Redgrave said: “The same old brutal law again. Life preying upon life even on a dying world, a world that is more than half dead itself. Well, I think we've seen enough of this place. I suppose those are about the only types of life we should meet anywhere, and one acquaintance with them satisfies me completely. I vote we go and see what the invisible hemisphere is like.”

“I have had all I want of this side,” said Zaidie, looking away from the scene of the hideous conflict, “so the sooner the better.”

A few minutes later the Astronef was again rising towards the stars with her searchlights still flashing down into the Valley of Expiring Life, which seemed worse than the Valley of Death. As he followed the rays with a pair of powerful field glasses, Redgrave fancied that he saw huge, dim shapes moving about the stunted shrubbery and through the slimy pools of the stagnant rivers, and once or twice he got a glimpse of what might well have been the ruins of towns and cities; but the gloom soon became too deep and dense for the searchlights to pierce and he was glad when the Astronef soared up into the brilliant sunlight once more. Even the ghastly wilderness of the lunar landscape was welcome after the nameless horrors of that hideous abyss.

After a couple of hours rapid travelling, Redgrave pointed down to a comparatively small, deep crater, and said:

“There, that is Malapert. It is almost exactly at the south pole of the moon, and there,” he went on pointing ahead, “is the horizon of the hemisphere which no earthborn eyes but ours and Murgatroyd's have ever seen.”

Contrary to certain ingenious speculations which have been indulged in, they found that the hemisphere, which for countless ages has never been turned towards the earth, was almost an exact replica of the visible one. Fully three-fourths of it was brilliantly illuminated by the sun, and the scene which presented itself to their eyes was practically the same which they had beheld on the earthward side; huge groups of enormous craters and ringed mountains, long, irregular chains crowned with sharp, splintery peaks, and between these vast, deeply depressed areas, ranging in colour from dazzling white to grey-brown, marking the beds of the vanished lunar seas.

As they crossed one of these, Redgrave allowed the Astronef to sink to within a few thousand feet of the surface, and then he and Zaidie swept it with their telescopes. Their chance search was rewarded by what they had not seen in the sea-beds of the other hemisphere. These depressions were far deeper than the others, evidently many thousands of feet deep, but the sun's rays were blazing full into this one, and, dotted round its slopes at varying elevations, they made out little patches which seemed to differ from the general surface.

“I wonder if those are the remains of cities,” said Zaidie. “Isn't it possible that the populations might have built their cities along the seas, and that their descendants may have followed the waters as they retreated, I mean as they either dried up or disappeared into the centre?”

“Very probable indeed, dear,” he said, “we'll go down and see.”

He diminished the vertically repulsive force a little, and the Astronef dropped slantingly towards the bed of what might once have been the Pacific of the Moon. When they were within about a couple of thousand feet of the surface it became quite plain that Zaidie was correct in her hypothesis. The vast sea-floor was literally strewn with the ruins of countless cities and towns, which had been inhabited by an equally countless series of generations of men and women, who had, perhaps, lived in the days when our own world was a glowing mass of molten rock, surrounded by the envelope of vapours which has since condensed to form its oceans.

The nearer they approached to the central and deepest depression the more perfect the buildings became until, down in the lowest depth, they found a collection of low-built square edifices, scarcely better than huts which had clustered round the little lake into which ages before the ocean had dwindled. But where the lake had been there was now only a depression covered with grey sand and brown rock.

Into this they descended and touched the lunar soil for the last time. A couple of hours' excursion among the houses proved that they had been the last refuge of the last descendants of a dying race, a race which had steadily degenerated just as the successions of cities had done, as the bitter fight for mere existence had become keener and keener until the two last essentials air and water, had failed and then the end had come.

The streets, like the square of the great temple of Tycho, were strewn with myriads and myriads of bones, and there were myriads more scattered round what had once been the shores of the dwindling lake. Here, as elsewhere, there was not a sign or a record of any kind—carving or sculpture.

Inside the great Pyramid of the City of Tycho they might, perhaps, have found something—some stone or tablet which bore the mark of the artist's hand; elsewhere, perhaps, they might have found cities reared by older races, which might have rivalled the creations of Egypt and Babylon, but there was no time to look for these. All that they had seen of the dead World had only sickened and saddened them. The untravelled regions of Space peopled by living worlds more akin to their own were before them, and the red disc of Mars was glowing in the zenith among the diamond-white clusters which gemmed the black sky behind him.

More than a hundred millions of miles had to be traversed before they would he able to set foot on his surface, and so, after one last look round the Valley of Death about them Redgrave turned on the full energy of the repulsive force in a vertical direction, and the Astronef leapt upwards in a straight line for her new destination. The unknown hemisphere spread out in a vast plain beneath them, the blazing sun rose on their left, and the brilliant silver orb of the Earth on their right, and so, full of wonder, and yet without regret, they bade farewell to the World that Was The Moon.



THE END

The World Of The War God



INTRODUCTION


For their honeymoon Rollo Lenox Smeaton Aubrey, Earl of Redgrave, and his bride, Lilla Zaidie, leave the earth on a visit to the moon and the principal planets; their sole companion being Andrew Murgatroyd, an old engineer who had superintended the building of the Astronef in which the journey is made. By means of the “R Force,” or Anti-Gravitational Force, of the secret of which Lord Redgrave is the sole possessor, they are able to navigate with precision and safety the limitless ocean of space. Their adventures on the moon were described in the first story of the series.



THE Earth and the Moon were more than a hundred Million miles behind in the depths of Space, and the Astronef had crossed this immense gap in eleven days and a few hours; but this apparently inconceivable speed was not altogether due to the powers of the Navigator of the Stars, for Lord Redgrave had taken advantage of the passage of the planet along its orbit towards that of the earth; therefore, while the Astronef was approaching Mars with ever-increasing speed, Mars was travelling towards the Astronef at the rate of sixteen miles a second. The great silver disc of the earth had diminished until it looked only a little larger than Venus appears from the earth. In fact the planet Terra is to the inhabitants of Mars what Venus is to us, the star of the morning and evening.

Breakfast on the morning of the twelfth day, or, since there is neither day nor night in Space, it would be more correct to say the twelfth period of twenty-four earth-hours as measured by the chronometers, was just over, and the Commander of the Astronef was standing with his bride in the forward end of the glass-covered deck looking downwards at a vast crescent of rosy light which stretched out over an arc of more than ninety degrees. Two tiny black spots were travelling towards each other across it. “Ah!” said her ladyship, going towards one of the telescopes, “there are the moons. I was reading my Gulliver last night. I wonder what the old Dean would have given to be here, and see how true his guess was. Have you made up your mind to land on them?”

“I don't see why we shouldn't,” said her husband. “I think they'd make rather convenient stopping-places; besides, we want to know whether they have atmospheres and inhabitants.”

“What, people living on those wee things?” she laughed, “why, they're only about thirty or forty miles round, aren't they?”

“That's about it,” he said, “but that's just one of the points I want to solve, and as for life, it doesn't always mean people, you know. We are only a few hundred miles away from Deimos, the outer one, and he is twelve thousand five hundred miles from Mars. I vote we drop on him first and let him carry us towards his brother Phobos. Then when we've examined him we'll drop down to Phobos and take a trip round Mars on him. He does the journey in about seven hours and a half, and as he's only three thousand seven hundred miles above the surface we ought to get a very good view of our next stopping-place.”

“That ought to be quite a delightful trip!” said her ladyship, “but how commonplace you are getting, Lenox. That's so like you Englishmen. We are doing what has only been dreamt of before, and here you are talking about moons and planets as if they were railway stations.”

“Well, if your ladyship prefers it, we will call them undiscovered islands and continents in the Ocean of Space. That does sound a little bit better, doesn't it? Now I must go down and see to my engines.”

When he had gone, Zaidie sat down to the telescope again and kept it on one of the little black spots travelling across the crescent of Mars. Both it and the other spot rapidly grew larger, and the features of the planet itself became more distinct. She could make out the seas and continents and the mysterious canals quite plainly through the clear rosy atmosphere, and, with the aid of the telescope, she could even make out the glimmer which the inner moon threw upon the unlighted portion of the disc.

Deimos grew bigger and bigger, and in about half-an-hour the Astronef grounded gently on what looked to her like a dimly-lighted circular plain, but which, when her eyes became accustomed to the light, was more like the summit of a conical mountain. Redgrave raised the keel a little from the surface again and propelled her towards a thin circle of light on the tiny horizon. As they crossed into the sunlit portion it became quite plain that Deimos at any rate was as airless and lifeless as the moon. The surface was composed of brown rock and red sand broken up into miniature hills and valleys. There were a few traces of byegone volcanic action, but it was evident that the internal fires of this tiny world must have burnt themselves out very quickly.

“Not much to be seen here,” said Redgrave, “and I don't think it would be safe to go out. The attraction is so weak here that we might find ourselves falling off with very little exertion. You might take a couple of photographs of the surface, and then we'll be off to Phobos.”

A few minutes later Zaidie got a couple of good photographs of the satellite. The attraction of Mars now began to make itself strongly felt, and the Astronef dropped rapidly through the eight thousand miles which separate the inner and outer Moons of Mars. As they approached Phobos they saw that half the little disc was brilliantly lighted by the same rays of the sun which were glowing on the rapidly increasing crescent of Mars beneath them. By careful manipulation of his engines Lord Redgrave managed to meet the approaching satellite with a hardly perceptible shock about the centre of its lighted portion, that is to say the side turned towards the planet.

Mars now appeared as a gigantic rosy moon filling the whole vault of the heavens above them. Their telescopes brought the three thousand seven hundred and fifty miles down to about fifty. The rapid motion of the tiny satellite afforded them a spectacle which might be compared to the rising of a moon glowing with rosy light and hundreds of times larger than the earth. The speed of the vehicle of which they had taken possession, something like four thousand two hundred miles an hour, caused the surface of the planet to apparently sweep away from below them from west to east, just as the earth appears to slip away from under the car of a balloon.

Neither of them left the telescopes for more than a few minutes during this aerial circumnavigation. Murgatroyd, outwardly impassive, but inwardly filled with solemn fears for the fate of this impiously daring voyage, brought them wine and sandwiches and later on tea and toast and more sandwiches; but they hardly touched even these, so absorbed were they in the wonderful spectacle which was passing swiftly under their eyes. Their telescopes were excellent ones, and at that distance Mars gave up all his secrets.

Phobos revolves from west to east almost along the plane of the planet's equator. To left and right they saw the huge ice-caps of the South and North Poles gleaming through the red atmosphere with a pale sunset glimmer. Then came the great stretches of sea, often obscured by vast banks of clouds, which, as the sunlight fell upon them, looked strangely like the earth-clouds at sunset. Then, almost immediately underneath them spread out the great land areas of the equatorial region. The three continents of Halle, Gallileo, and Tycholand; then Huygens—which is to Mars what Europe, Asia, and Africa are to the earth. Then Herschell and Copernicus. Nearly all of these land masses were split up into semi-regular divisions by the famous canals which have so long puzzled terrestrial observers.

“Well, there is one problem solved at any rate,” said Redgrave, when after a journey of nearly four hours they had crossed the western hemisphere. “Mars is getting, very old, her seas are diminishing, and her continents are increasing, and those canals are the remains of gulfs and isthmuses which have been widened and deepened and lengthened by human, or we'll say Martian, labour, partly, I've no doubt, for purposes of navigation, and partly to keep the inhabitants of the interior of the continent within measurable distance of the sea. There's not the slightest doubt about that. Then, you see, we've seen scarcely any mountains to speak of so far, only ranges of low hills.”

“And that means, I suppose,” said Zaidie, “that they've all been worn down as the mountains of the earth are worn away. I was reading Flammarion's 'End of the World' last night, and he, you know, painted the earth at the end as an enormous plain of land, no hills or mountains, no seas, and only sluggish rivers draining into marshes. I suppose that's what they're coming to down yonder. Now, I wonder what sort of civilisation we shall find. Perhaps we shan't find any at all. Suppose all their civilisations have worn out, and they are degenerating into the same struggle for sheer existence those poor creatures in the moon must have had.”

“Or suppose,” said his lordship seriously, “we find that they have passed the zenith of civilisation, and are dropping back into savagery, but still have the use of weapons and means of destruction which we, perhaps, have no notion of, and are inclined to use them. We'd better be careful, dear.”

“What do you mean, Lenox?” she said. “They wouldn't try to do us any harm, would they? Why should they?”

“I don't say they would,” he replied, “but still you never know. You see, their ideas of right and wrong and hospitality and all that sort of thing might quite different to what we have on the earth. In fact, they may not be men at all, but just a sort of monster with a semi-human intellect, perhaps a superhuman one with ideas that we have no notion of. Then there's another thing: suppose they fancied a trip through Space, and thought that they had quite as good a right to the Astronef as we have? I dare say they've seen us if they've got telescopes, as no doubt they have, perhaps a good deal more powerful than ours, and they may be getting ready to receive us now. I think I'll get the guns up before we go down, in case our reception may not be a friendly one.”

The defensive armament of the Astronef consisted of four pneumatic guns, which could be mounted on swivels, two ahead and two astern, and which carried a shell containing either one of two kinds of explosives invented by her creator. One was a solid, and burst on impact with an explosive force equal to about twenty pounds of dynamite. The other consisted of two liquids separated in the shell, and these, when mixed by the breaking of the partition, nurse into a volume of flame which could not be extinguished by any known human means. It would burn even in a vacuum, since it supplied its own elements of combustion. The guns would throw these shells to a distance of about seven terrestrial miles. On the upper deck there were also stands for a couple of light machine guns, capable of discharging seven hundred bullets a minute.

The small arms consisted of a couple of heavy, ten-bore, elephant guns carrying explosive bullets, a dozen rifles and fowling pieces of different makes of which three, a single and a double-barrelled rifle and a double-barrelled shot-gun, belonged to her ladyship, as well as a dainty brace of revolvers, one of half-a-dozen brace of various calibres which completed the minor armament of the Astronef.

These guns were got up and mounted while the attraction of the planet was comparatively feeble, and the guns themselves were, therefore, of very little weight. On the surface of the earth a score of men could not have done the work, but on board the Astronef, suspended in space, his lordship and Murgatroyd found the work easy, and Zaidie herself picked up a Maxim and carried it about as though it were a toy sewing-machine.

“Now I think we can go down,” said Redgrave, when everything had been put in position as far as possible. “I wonder whether we shall find the atmosphere of Mars suitable for terrestrial lungs. It will be rather awkward if it isn't.”

A very slight exertion of repulsive force was sufficient to detach the Astronef from the body of Phobos. She dropped rapidly towards the surface of the planet, and within three hours they saw the sunlight for the first time since they had left the Earth shining through an unmistakable atmosphere, an atmosphere of a pale, rosy hue, instead of the azure of the earthly skies, and an angular observation showed that they were within fifty miles of the surface of the undiscovered world.

“Well, there's air here of some sort, there's no doubt. We'll drop a bit further and then Andrew shall start the propellers. They'll very soon give us an idea of the density. Do you notice the change in the temperature? That's the diffused rays instead of the direct ones. Twenty miles, I think that will do. I'll stop her now and we'll prospect for a landing-place.”

He went down to apply the repulsive force directly to the surface of Mars, so as to check the descent, and then he put on his breathing-dress, went into the exit chamber, closed one door behind him, opened the other and allowed it to fill with Martian air; then he shut it again, opened his visor and took a cautious breath.

It may, perhaps, have been the idea that he, the first of all the sons of Earth, was breathing the air of another world, or it might have been some peculiar property from the Martian atmosphere, but he immediately experienced a sensation such as usually follows drinking a glass of champagne. He took another breath, and another. Then he opened the inner door and went on to the lower deck, saying to himself:

“Well, the air's all right if it is a bit champagney, rich in oxygen, I suppose, with perhaps a trace of nitrous-oxide in it. Still, it's certainly breathable and that's the principal thing.

“It's all right, dear.” he said as he reached the upper deck where Zaidie was walking about round the sides of the glass dome gazing with all her eyes at the strange scene of mingled cloud and sea, and land, which spread for an immense distance on all sides of them. “I have breathed the air of Mars, and even at this height it is distinctly wholesome, though of course it's rather thin, and I had it mixed with some of our own atmosphere. Still I think it will agree all right with us lower down.”

“Well, then,” said Zaidie, “suppose we get down below those clouds and see what there really is to be seen.”

“Your ladyship has but to speak and be obeyed,” he replied, and disappeared into the lower regions of the vessel.

In a couple of minutes she saw the cloud belt below them rising rapidly. When her husband returned the Astronef plunged into a sea of rosy mist.

“The clouds of Mars,” she exclaimed, “fancy a world with pink clouds! I wonder what there is on the other side.” The next moment they saw.

Just below them, at a distance of about five earth-miles, lay an irregularly triangular island, a detached portion of the Continent of Huygens almost equally divided by the Martian equator, and lying with another almost similarly shaped island between the fortieth and fiftieth meridians of west longitude. The two islands were divided by a broad straight stretch of water about the width of the English Channel between Folkestone and Boulogne. Instead of the bright blue green of terrestrial seas, this connecting link between the great Northern and Southern Martian oceans had an orange tinge.

The land immediately beneath them was of a gently undulating character, something like the Downs of South-Eastern England. No mountains were visible in any direction. The lower portions, particularly along the borders of the canals and the sea, were thickly dotted with towns and cities, apparently of enormous extent. To the north of the Island Continent there was a Peninsula, covered with a vast collection of buildings, which, with the broad streets and spacious squares which divided them, must have covered an area of something like two hundred square miles.

“There's the London of Mars!” said Redgrave, pointing down towards it; “where the London of Earth will be in a few thousand years, close to the equator. And you see all those other towns and cities crowded round the canals! I dare say when we go across the northern and southern temperate zones we shall find them in about the state that Siberia or Patagonia are in.”

“I dare say we shall,” replied Zaidie, “Martian civilisation is crowding towards the equator, though I should call that place down there the greater New York of Mars, and see there's Brooklyn just across the canal. I wonder what they're thinking about us down there.”

“Hullo, what's that!” exclaimed Redgrave, interrupting her and pointing towards the great city whose roofs, apparently of glass, were flashing with a thousand tints in the pale crimson sunlight. “That's either an air-ship or another Astronef, and it's evidently coming up to interview us. So they've solved the problem, have they? Well, dear, I think it quite possible that we're in for a pretty exciting time on Mars.”

While he was speaking a little dark shape, at first not much bigger than a bird, had risen from the glittering roofs of the city. It rapidly increased in size until in a few minutes Zaidie got a glimpse of it through one of the telescopes and said:

“It's a great big thing something like the Astronef, only it has wings and, I think, masts; yes, there are three masts and there's something glittering on the tops of them.”

“Revolving helices, I suppose. He's screwing himself up into the air. That shows that they must either have stronger and lighter machinery here than we have, or, as the astronomers have thought, this atmosphere is denser than ours and therefore easier to fly in. Then, of course, things are only half their earthly weight here. Well, I suppose we may as well let them come and reconnoitre; then we shall see what kind of creatures they are. Ah! there are a lot more of them, some coming from Brooklyn, too, as you call it. Come up into the wheelhouse and I'll relieve Murgatroyd so that he can go and look after his engines. We shall have to give these gentlemen a lesson in flying. Meanwhile, in case of accidents, we may as well make ourselves as invulnerable as possible.”

A few minutes later they were in the little steel conning-tower forward, watching the approach of the Martian fleet through the thick windows of toughened glass which enabled them to look in every direction except straight down. The steel coverings had been drawn down over the glass dome of the main deck, and Murgatroyd had gone down to the engine-room, which was connected with the conning-tower by telephone and electric signal, as well as by speaking tubes. Fifty feet ahead of them stretched out a long shining spur, the forward end of the Astronef of which ten feet were solid steel, a ram which no floating structure built by human hands could have resisted.

Redgrave was at the wheel, standing with his hands on the steering-wheel, looking more serious than he had done so far during the voyage. Zaidie stood beside him with a powerful binocular telescope watching, with cheeks a little paler than usual, the movements of the Martian air-ships. She counted twenty-five vessels rising round them in a wide circle.

“I don't like the idea of a whole fleet coming up,” said Redgrave, as he watched them rising, and the ring narrowing round the still motionless Astronef. “If they only wanted to know who and what we are, or to leave their cards on us, as it were, and bid us welcome to the world, one ship could have done that just as well as fifty. This lot coming up looks as if they wanted to get round and capture us.”

“It does look like it!” said Zaidie, with her glasses fixed on the nearest of the vessels; “and now I can see they've guns, too, something like ours, and, perhaps, as you said just now, they may have explosives that we don't know anything about. Oh, dear, suppose they were able to smash us up with a single shot!”

“You needn't be afraid of that, dear!” said Redgrave, laying his hand on her shoulder; “but, of course, it's perfectly natural that they should look upon us with a certain amount of suspicion, dropping like this on them from the stars. Can you see anything like men on board them yet?”

“No, they're all closed in,” she replied, “just as we are; but they've got conning-towers like this, and something like windows along the sides; that's where the guns are, and the guns are moving, they're pointing them at us. Lenox, I'm afraid they're going to shoot.”

“Then we may as well spoil their aim,” he said, pressing an electric button three times, and then once more after a little interval. In obedience to the signal Murgatroyd turned on the repulsive force to half power, and the Astronef leapt up vertically a couple of thousand feet; then Redgrave pressed the button once and stopped. Another signal set the propellers in motion, and as she sprang forward across the circle formed by the Martian air-ships, they looked down and saw that the place which they had just left was occupied by a thick, greenish-yellow cloud.

“Look, Lenox, what on earth is that?” exclaimed Zaidie, pointing down to it.

“What on Mars would be nearer the point, dear,” he said, with what she thought a somewhat vicious laugh. “That I'm afraid means anything but a friendly reception for us. That cloud is one of two things. It's either made by the explosion of twenty or thirty shells, or else it's made of gases intended to either poison us or make us insensible, so that they can take possession of the ship. In either case I should say that the Martians are not what we should call gentlemen.”

“I should think not,” she said angrily. “They might at least have taken us for friends till they had proved us enemies, which they wouldn't have done. Nice sort of hospitality that, considering how far we've come, and we can't shoot back because we haven't got the ports open.”

“And a very good thing too!” laughed Redgrave. “If we had had them open, and that volley had caught us unawares, the Astronef would probably have been full of poisonous gases by this time, and your honeymoon, dear, would have come to a somewhat untimely end. Ah, they're trying to follow us! Well, now we'll see how high they can fly.”

He sent another signal to Murgatroyd, and the Astronef, still beating the Martian air with the fans of her propellers, and travelling forward at about fifty miles an hour, rose in a slanting direction through a dense bank of rosy-tinted clouds, which hung over the bigger of the two cities—New York, as Zaidie had named it. When they reached the golden red sunlight above it, the Astronef stopped her ascent, and with half a turn of the wheel her commander sent her sweeping round in a wide circle. A few minutes later they saw the Martian fleet rise almost simultaneously through the clouds. They seemed to hesitate a moment, and then the prow of every vessel was directed towards the swiftly moving Astronef.

“Well, gentlemen.” said Redgrave, “you evidently don't know anything about Professor Rennick and his R. Force; and yet you ought to know that we couldn't have come through space without being able to get beyond this little atmosphere of yours. Now let us see how fast you can fly.”

Another signal went down to Murgatroyd, and the whirling propellers became two intersecting circles of light. The speed of the Astronef increased to a hundred miles an hour, and the Martian fleet began to drop behind and trail out into a triangle like a flock of huge birds.

“That's lovely; we're leaving them!” exclaimed Zaidie leaning forward with the glasses to her eyes and tapping the floor of the conning-tower with her toe as if she wanted to dance, “and their wings are working faster than ever. They don't seem to have any screws.”

“Probably because they've solved the problem of the bird's flight,” said Redgrave, “They're not gaining on us, are they?”

“No, they're at about the same distance.”

“Then we'll see how they can soar.”

Another signal went over the wire, the Astronef's propellers slowed down and stopped, and the vessel began to rise swiftly towards the Zenith, which the Sun was now approaching. The Martian fleet continued the impossible chase until the limits of the navigable atmosphere. about eight earth-miles above the surface, was reached. Here the air was evidently too rarefied for their wings to act. They came to a standstill arranged in an irregular circle, their occupants no doubt looking up with envious eyes upon the shining body of the Astronef glittering like a tiny star in the sunlight ten thousand feet above them.

“Now, gentlemen,” said Redgrave, “I think we have shown you that we can fly faster and soar higher than you can. Perhaps you'll be a bit more civil now. And, if you're not, well, we shall have to teach you manners.”

“But you're not going to fight them all dear, are you? Don't let us be the first to bring war and bloodshed with us into another world.”

“Don't trouble about that, little woman, it's here already,” said her husband. “People don't have air-ships and guns, which fire shells or whatever they were, without knowing what war is. From what I've seen, I should say these Martians have civilised themselves out of all the emotions, and, I daresay, have fought pitilessly for the possession of the last habitable lands of the planet. They've preyed upon each other till only the fittest are left, and those, I suppose, were the ones who invented the air-ships and finally got possession of all that existed. Of course that would give them the command of the planet, land, and sea. In fact, if we were able to make the personal acquaintance of the Martians, we should probably find them a set of over-civilised savages.”

“That's a rather striking paradox, isn't it, dear?” said Zaidie, slipping her hand through his arm: “but still it's not at all bad. You mean, of course, that they've civilised themselves out of all the emotions until they're just a set of cold, calculating, scientific animals. After all they must be. We should not have done anything like that on earth if we'd had a visitor from Mars. We shouldn't have got out cannons, and shot at him before we'd even made his acquaintance.

“Now, if he or they had dropped in America as we were going down there, we should have received them with deputations, given them banquets, which they might not have been able to eat, and speeches, which they would not understand, photographed them, filled the newspapers with everything that we could imagine about them, put them in a palace car and hustled them round the country for everybody to look at.”

“And meanwhile,” laughed Redgrave, “some of your smart engineers, I suppose, would have gone over the vessel they had come in, found out how she was worked, and taken out a dozen patents for her machinery.”

“Very likely,” replied Zaidie, with a saucy little toss of her chin; “and why not? We like to learn things down there—and anyhow that would be better than shooting at them.”

While this little conversation was going on, the Astronef was dropping rapidly into the midst of the Martian fleet, which had again arranged itself in a circle. Zaidie soon made out through the glasses that the guns were pointed upwards.

“Oh, that's your little game, is it!” said Redgrave, when she told him of this. “Well, if you want a fight, you can have it.”

As he said this, his jaws came together, and Zaidie saw a look in his eyes that she had never seen there before. He signalled rapidly two or three times to Murgatroyd. The propellers began to whirl at their utmost speed, and the Astronef, making a spiral downward course, swooped down on to the Martian fleet with terrific velocity. Her last curve coincided almost exactly with the circle occupied by the fleet. Half-a-dozen spouts of greenish flame came from the nearest vessel, and for a moment the Astronef was enveloped in a yellow mist.

“Evidently they don't know that we are air-tight, and they don't use shot or shell. They've got past that. Their projectiles kill by poison or suffocation. I daresay a volley like that would kill a regiment. Now give that fellow a lesson which he won't live to remember.”

They swept through the poison mist. Redgrave swung the wheel round. The Astronef dropped to the level of the ring of Martian vessels which had now got up speed again. Her steel ram was directed straight at the vessel which had fired the last shot. Propelled at a speed of more than a hundred miles an hour, it took the strange-winged craft amidships. As the shock came, Redgrave put his arm round Zaidie's waist and held her close to him, otherwise she would have been flung against the forward wall of the conning-tower.

The Martian vessel stopped and bent up. They saw human figures, more than half as large again as men, inside her, staring at them through the windows in the sides. There were others at the breeches of the guns in the act of turning the muzzles on the Astronef; but this was only a momentary glimpse, for in a second or two after the Astronef's spur had pierced her, the Martian air-ship broke in twain, and her two halves plunged downwards through the rosy clouds.

“Keep her at full speed, Andrew,” said Redgrave down the speaking-tube, “and stand by to jump if we want to.”

“Ready, my lord!” came back up the tube.

The old Yorkshireman during the last few minutes had undergone a transformation which he himself hardly understood. He recognised that there was a fight going on, that it was a case of “burn, sink and destroy,” and the thousand-year-old savage awoke in him just, as a matter of fact, it had done in his lordship.

“Well, they can pick up the pieces down there,” said Redgrave, still holding Zaidie tight to his side with one hand and working the wheel with the other. “Now we'll teach them another lesson.”

“What are you going to do, dear?” she said, looking up at him with somewhat frightened eyes.

“You'll see in a moment,” he said, between his shut teeth. “I don't care whether these Martians are degenerate human beings or only animals; but from my point of view the reception that they have given us justifies any kind of retaliation. If we'd had a single port hole open during the first volley you and I would have been dead by this time, and I'm not going to stand anything like that without reprisals. They've declared war on us, and killing in war isn't murder.”

“Well, no, I suppose not,” she said; “but it's the first fight I've been in, and I don't like it. Still, they did receive us pretty meanly, didn't they?”

“Meanly? If there was anything like a code of interplanetary morals, one might call it absolutely caddish.”

He sent another message to Murgatroyd. The Astronef sprang a thousand feet towards the zenith; another signal, and she stopped exactly over the biggest of the Martian air-ships; another, and she dropped on to it like a stone and smashed it to fragments. Then she stopped and mounted again above the broken circle of the fleet, while the pieces of the air-ship and what was left of her crew plunged downwards through the crimson clouds in a fall of nearly thirty thousand feet.

Within the next few moments the rest of the Martian fleet had followed it, sinking rapidly down through the clouds and scattering in all directions. “They seem to have had enough of it,” laughed Redgrave, as the Astronef, in obedience to another signal, began to drop towards the surface of Mars. “Now we'll go down and see if they're in a more reasonable frame of mind. At any rate we've won our first scrimmage, dear.”

“But it was rather brutal, Lenox, wasn't it?”

“When you are dealing with brutes, Zaidie, it is sometimes necessary to be brutal.”

“And you look a wee bit brutal now,” she replied, looking up at him with something like a look of fear in her eyes. “I suppose that is because you have just killed somebody—or some things—whichever they are.”

“Do I, really?”

The hard-set jaw relaxed and his lips melted into a smile under his moustache, and he bent down and kissed her. And then he said:

“Well, what do you suppose I should have thought of them if you had had a whiff of that poison?”

“Yes, dear,” she said; “I see now.”

When the Astronef dropped through the clouds, they saw that the fleet had not only scattered, but was apparently getting as far out of reach as possible. One vessel had dropped into the principal square in the centre of the city which her ladyship had called New York.

“That fellow has gone to report, evidently,” said Redgrave. “We'll follow him, but I don't think we'd better open the ports even then. There's no telling when they might give us a whiff of that poison-mist, or whatever it is.”

“But how are you going to talk to them, then, if they can talk?—I mean, if they know any language that we do?”

“They're something like men, and so I suppose they understand the language of signs, at any rate. Still, if you don't fancy it, we'll go somewhere else.”

“No thanks,” she said. “That's not my father's daughter. I haven't come a hundred million miles from home to go away before the first act's finished. We'll go down to see if we can make them understand.”

By this time the Astronef was hanging suspended over an enormous square about half the size of Hyde Park. It was laid out just as a terrestrial park would be in grassland, flower beds, and avenues, and patches of trees, only the grass was a reddish yellow, the leaves of the trees were like those of a beech in autumn, and the flowers were nearly all a deep violet, or a bright emerald green.

As they descended they saw that the square, or Central Park, as her ladyship at once christened it, was flanked by enormous blocks of buildings, palaces built of a dazzlingly white stone, and topped by domed roofs, and lofty cupolas of glass.

“Isn't that just lovely!” she said, swinging her binoculars in every direction. “Talk about Fifth Avenue and the houses in Central Park; why, it's the Chicago Exposition, and the Paris one, and your Crystal Palace, multiplied by about ten thousand, and all spread out just round this one place. If we don't find these people nice, I guess we'd better go back and build a fleet like this, and come and take it.”

“There spoke the new American imperialism,” laughed Redgrave. “Well, we'll go and see what they're like first, shall we?”

The Astronef dropped a little more slowly than the air-ship had done, and remained suspended a hundred feet or so above her after she had reached the ground. Swarms of human figures, but of more than human statures clad in tunics and trousers or knickerbockers, came out of the glass-domed palaces from all sides into the park. They were nearly all of the same stature and there appeared to be no difference whatever between the sexes. Their dress was absolutely plain; there was no attempt at ornament or decoration of any kind.

“If there are any of the Martian women among those people,” said her ladyship, “they've taken to rationals and they've grown about as big as the men. And look; there's someone who seems to want to communicate with us. Why, they're all bald! They haven't got a hair among them—and what a size their heads are!”

“That's brains—too much brains, I expect! Those people have lived too long. I expect they've ceased to be animals—civilised themselves out of everything in the way of passions and emotions, and are just purely intellectual beings, with as much human nature about them as a limited company has.”

The orderly swarms of figures, which were rapidly filling the park, divided as he was speaking, making a broad lane from one of its entrances to where the Astronef was hanging above the air-ship. A light four-wheeled vehicle, whose framework and wheels glittered like burnished gold, sped towards them, driven by some invisible agency. Its only occupant was a huge man, dressed in the universal costume, saving only a scarlet sash in place of the cord-girdle which the others wore round their waists. The vehicle stopped near the air-ship, over which the Astronef was hanging, and, as the figure dismounted, a door opened in the side of the vessel and three other figures, similar both in stature and attire, came out and entered into conversation with him.

“The Admiral of the Fleet is evidently making his report,” said Redgrave. “Meanwhile, the crowd seems to be taking a considerable amount of interest in us.”

“And very naturally, too!” replied Zaidie. “Don't you think we might go down now and see if we can make ourselves understood in any way? You can have the guns ready in case of accidents, but I don't think they'll try and hurt us now. Look, the gentleman with the red sash is making signs.”

“I think we can go down now all right,” replied Redgrave, “because it's quite certain they can't use the poison guns on us without killing themselves as well. Still, we may as well have our own ready. Andrew, load up and get that port Maxim ready. I hope we shan't want it, but we may. I don't quite like the look of these people.”

“They're very ugly, aren't they?” said Zaidie; “and really you can't tell which are men and which are women. I suppose they've civilised themselves out of everything that's nice, and are just scientific and utilitarian and everything that's horrid.”

“I shouldn't wonder. They look to me as if they've just got common sense as we call it, and hadn't any other sense; but, at any rate, if they don't behave themselves, we shall be able to teach them manners of a sort, though I dare say we've done that to some extent already.”

As he said this Redgrave went into the conning-tower, and the Astronef moved from above the air-ship, and dropped gently into the crimson grass about a hundred feet from her. Then the ports were opened, the guns, which Murgatroyd had loaded, were swung into position, and they armed themselves with a brace of revolvers each, in case of accident.

“What delicious air this is!” said her ladyship, as the ports were opened, and she took her first breath of the Martian atmosphere. “It's ever so much nicer than ours; it's just like breathing champagne.”

Redgrave looked at her with an admiration which was tempered by a sudden apprehension. Even in his eyes she had never seemed so lovely before. Her cheeks were glowing and her eyes were gleaming with a brightness that was almost feverish, and he was himself sensible of a strange feeling of exultation, both mental and physical, as his lungs filled with the Martian air.

“Oxygen,” he said shortly, “and too much of it! Or, I shouldn't wonder if it was something like nitrous-oxide—you know, laughing gas.”

“Don't!” she laughed, “it may be very nice to breathe, but it reminds one of other things which aren't a bit nice. Still, if it is anything of that sort it might account for these people having lived so fast. I know I feel just now as if I were living at the rate of thirty-six hours a day and so, I suppose, the fewer hours we stop here the better.”

“Exactly!' said Redgrave, with another glance of apprehension at her. Now, there's his Royal Highness, or whatever he is, coming. How are we going to talk to him? Are you all ready, Andrew?”

“Yes, my lord, all ready,” replied the old Yorkshireman, dropping his huge, hairy hand on the breech of the Maxim.

“Very well, then, shoot the moment you see them doing anything suspicious, and don't let anyone except his Royal Highness come nearer than a hundred yards.”

As he said this, Redgrave, revolver in hand, went to the door, from which the gangway steps had been lowered, and, in reply to a singularly expressive gesture from the huge Martian, who seemed to stand nearly nine feet high, he beckoned to him to come up on to the deck.

As he mounted the steps the crowd closed round the Astronef and the Martian air-ship; but, as though in obedience to orders which had already been given, they kept at a respectful distance of a little over a hundred yards away from the strange vessel, which had wrought such havoc with their fleet. When the Martian reached the deck Redgrave held out his hand and the giant recoiled, as a man on earth might have done if, instead of the open palm, he had seen a clenched hand gripping a knife.

“Take care, Lenox,” exclaimed Zaidie, taking a couple of steps towards him, with her right hand on the butt of one of her revolvers. The movement brought her close to the open door, and in full view of the crowd outside.

If a seraph had come on earth and presented itself thus before a throng of human beings, there might have happened some such miracle as was wrought when the swarm of Martians beheld the strange beauty of this radiant daughter of the earth. As it seemed to them, when they discussed it afterwards, ages of purely mechanical and utilitarian civilisation had brought all conditions of Martian life up—or down—to the same level. There was no apparent difference between the males and females in stature; their faces were all the same, with features of mathematical regularity, pale skin, bloodless cheeks, and all expression, if such it could be called, utterly devoid of emotion.

But still these creatures were human, or at least their forefathers had been. Hearts beat in their breasts, blood flowed through their veins, and so the magic of this marvellous vision instantly awoke the long-slumbering elementary instincts of a bye-gone age. A low murmur ran through the vast throng, a murmur, half-human, half-brutish, which swiftly rose to a hoarse, screaming roar.

“Look out, my lord! Quick! Shut the door, they're coming! It's her ladyship they want; she must look like an angel from Heaven to them. Shall I fire?”

“Yes,” said Redgrave, gripping the lever, and bringing the door down. “Zaidie, if this fellow moves, put a bullet through him. I'm going to talk to that air-ship before he gets his poison guns to work.”

As the last word left his lips, Murgatroyd put his thumb on the spring on the Maxim. A roar such as Martian ears had never heard before resounded through the vast square, and was flung back with a thousand echoes from the walls of the huge palaces on every side. A stream of smoke and flame poured out of the little port-hole, and then the onward-swarming throng seemed to stop, and the front ranks of it began to sink down silently in long rows.

Then through the roaring rattle of the Maxim, sounded the deep, sharp bang of Redgrave's gun, as he sent twenty pounds' weight of an explosive, invented by Zaidie's father, which was nearly four times as powerful as Lyddite, into the Martian air-ship. Then came an explosion, which shook the air for miles around. A blaze of greenish flame, and a huge cloud of steamy smoke, showed that the projectile had done its work, and, when the smoke drifted away, the spot on which the air-ship had lain was only a deep, red, jagged gash in the ground. There was not even a fragment of the ship to be seen.

Then Redgrave left the gun and turned the starboard Maxim on to another swarm which was approaching the Astronef from that side. When he had got the range, he swung the gun slowly from side to side. The moving throng stopped, as the other one had done, and sank down to the red grass, now dyed with a deeper red.

Meanwhile, Zaidie had been holding the Martian at something more than arm's length with her revolver. He seemed to understand perfectly that if she pulled the trigger, the revolver would do something like what the Maxims had done. He appeared to take no notice whatever either of the destruction of the air-ship or of the slaughter that was going on around the Astronef. His big pale blue eyes were fixed upon her face. They seemed to be devouring a loveliness such as they had never seen before. A dim, pinky flush stole for the first time into his sallow cheeks, and something like a light of human passion came into his eyes.

Then he spoke. The words were slowly uttered, passionless, and very distinct. As words they were unintelligible but there was no mistaking their meaning or that of the gestures which accompanied them. He bent forward, towering over her with outstretched arms, huge, hideous, and half human.

Zaidie took a step backwards and, just as Redgrave whipped out one of his revolvers, she pulled the trigger of hers. The bullet cut a clean hole through the smooth, hairless skull of the Martian, and he dropped to the deck without a sound other than what was made by his falling body.

“That's the first man I've ever killed,” she faltered, as her hand fell to her side, and the revolver dropped from it. “Still, do you think it really was a man?”

“That a man!” said Redgrave through his clenched teeth. “Not much! Here, Andrew, open that door again and help me to heave this thing overboard, and then we'd better be off or we shall be having the rest of the fleet with their poison guns around us. Hurry up! Zaidie, I think you'd better go below for the present, little woman, and keep the door of your room tight shut. There's no telling what these animals may do if they get a chance at us.”

Although she would rather have remained on deck to see what was to happen, she saw that he was in earnest, and so she at once obeyed.

The dead body of the Martian was tumbled out, Murgatroyd closed all the air-tight doors of the upper deck chamber, while Redgrave set the engines in motion and, with hardly a moment's delay, the Astronef sprang up into the crimson sky from her first and last battle-field in the well-named world of the War God.



THE END

A Glimpse Of The Sinless Star



INTRODUCTION


For their honeymoon Rollo Lenox Smeaton Aubrey, Earl of Redgrave, and his bride, Lilla Zaidie, leave the earth on a visit to the moon and the principal planets, their sole companion being Andrew Murgatroyd, an old engineer who had superintended the building of the Astronef, in which the journey is made. By means of the “R.Force,” or Anti-Gravitational Force, of the secret of which Lord Redgrave is the sole possessor, they are able to navigate with precision and safety the limitless ocean of space. Their adventures on the moon and on Mars have been described in the first two stories of the series.



“How very different Venus looks now to what it does from the earth,” said Zaidie as she took her eye away from the telescope, through which she had been examining the enormous crescent, almost approaching to what would be called upon earth a half-moon, which spanned the dark vault of space ahead of the Astronef.

“I wonder what she'll be like. All the authorities are agreed that on Venus, having her axis of revolution very much inclined to the plane of her orbit, the seasons are so severe that for half the year its temperate zone and its tropics have a summer about twice as hot as our tropics and the other half they have a winter twice as cold as our coldest. I'm afraid, after all, we shall find the Love-Star a world of salamanders and seals; things that can live in a furnace and bask on an iceberg; and when we get back home it will be our painful duty, as the first explorers of the fields of space, to dispel another dearly-cherished popular delusion.”

“I'm not so very sure about that,” said Lenox, glancing from the rapidly growing crescent, which was still so far away, to the sweet smiling face that was so near to his. “Don't you see something very different there to what we saw either on the moon or Mars? Now just go back to your telescope and let us take an observation.”

“Well,” said Zaidie, “as our trip is partly, at least, in the interest of science, I will.” and then, when she had got her own telescope into focus again—for the distance between the Astronef and the new world they were about to visit was rapidly lessening—she took a long look through it, and said:

“Yes, I think I see what you mean. The outer edge of the crescent is bright, but it gets greyer and dimmer towards the inside of the curve. Of course Venus has an atmosphere. So had Mars; but this must be very dense. There's a sort of halo all round it. Just fancy that splendid thing being the little black spot we saw going across the face of the sun a few days ago! It makes one feel rather small, doesn't it?”

“That is one of the things which a woman says when she doesn't want to be answered; but, apart from that, your ladyship was saying?”

“What a very unpleasant person you can be when you like! I was going to say that on the moon we saw nothing but black and white, light and darkness. There was no atmosphere, except in those awful places I don't want to think about. Then, as we got near Mars, we saw a pinky atmosphere, but not very dense; but this, you see, is a sort of pearl-grey white shading from silver to black. But look—what are those tiny bright spots? There are hundreds of them.”

“Do you remember, as we were leaving the earth, how bright the mountain ranges looked; how plainly we could see the Rockies and the Andes?”

“Oh, yes, I see; they're mountains; thirty-seven miles high some of them, they say; and the rest of the silver-grey will be clouds, I suppose. Fancy living under clouds like those.”

“Only another case of the adaptation of life to natural conditions, I expect. When we get there, I daresay we shall find that these clouds are just what make it possible for the inhabitants of Venus to stand the extremes of heat and cold. Given elevations, three or four times as high as the Himalayas, it would be quite possible for them to choose their temperature by shifting their altitude.

“But I think it's about time to drop theory and see to the practice,” he continued, getting up from his chair and going to the signal board in the conning-tower. “Whatever the planet Venus may be like, we don't want to charge it at the rate of sixty miles a second. That's about the speed now, considering how fast she's travelling towards us.”

“And considering that, whether it is a nice world or not, it's about as big as the earth, and so we should get rather the worst of the charge,” laughed Zaidie, as she went back to her telescope.

Redgrave sent a signal down to Murgatroyd to reverse engines, as it were, or, in other words, to direct the “R. Force” against the planet, from which they were now only a couple of hundred thousand miles distant. The next moment the sun and stars seemed to halt in their courses. The great silver-grey crescent which had been increasing in size every moment appeared to remain stationary, and then when Lenox was satisfied that the engines were developing the force properly, he sent another signal down, and the Astronef began to descend.

The half-disc of Venus seemed to fall below them, and in a few minutes they could see it from the upper deck spreading out like a huge semi-circular plain of silver grey light ahead, and on both sides, of them. The Astronef was falling upon it at the rate of about a thousand miles a minute towards the centre of the half crescent, and every moment the brilliant spots above the cloud-surface grew in size and brightness.

“I believe the theory about the enormous height of the mountains of Venus must be correct after all,” said Redgrave, tearing himself with an evident wrench away from his telescope. “Those white patches can't be anything else but the summits of snow-capped mountains. You know how brilliantly white a snow-peak looks on earth against even the whitest of clouds.”

“Oh, yes,” said her ladyship, “I've often seen that in the Rockies. But it's lunch time, and I must go down and see how my things in the kitchen are getting on. I suppose you'll try and land somewhere where it's morning, so that we can have a good day before us. Really it's very convenient to be able to make your own morning or night as you like, isn't it? I hope it won't make us too conceited when we get back, being able to choose our mornings and our evenings; in fact, our sunrises and sunsets on any world we like to visit in a casual way like this.”

“Well,” laughed Redgrave, as she moved away towards the companion stairs, “after all, if you find the United States, or even the planet Terra, too small for you, we've always got the fields of Space open to us. We might take a trip across the zodiac or down the Milky Way.”

“And meanwhile,” she replied, stopping at the top of the stairs and looking round, “I'll go down and get lunch. You and I may be king and queen of the realms of Space, and all that sort of thing; but we've got to eat and drink after all.”

“And that reminds me,” said Redgrave, getting up and following her, “we must celebrate our arrival on a new world as usual. I'll go down and get out the champagne. I shouldn't be surprised if we found the people of the Love-World living on nectar and ambrosia, and as fizz is our nearest approach to nectar—”

“I suppose,” said Zaidie, as she gathered up her skirts and stepped daintily down the companion stairs, “if you find anything human or at least human enough to eat and drink, you'll have a party and give them champagne. I wonder what those wretches on Mars would have thought of it if we'd only made friends with them?”

Lunch on board the Astronef was about the pleasantest meal of the day. Of course there was neither day nor night, in the ordinary sense of the word, except as the hours were measured off by the chronometers. Whichever side or end of the vessel received the direct rays of the sun, there then was blazing heat and dazzling light. Elsewhere there was black darkness, and the more than icy cold of space; but lunch was a convenient division of the waking hours, which began with a stroll on the upper deck and a view of the ever-varying splendours about them and ended after dinner in the same place with coffee and cigarettes and speculations as to the next day's happenings.

This lunch hour passed even more pleasantly and rapidly than others had done, for the discussion as to the possibilities of Venus was continued in a quite delightful mixture of scientific disquisition and that converse which is common to most human beings on their honeymoon.

As there was nothing more to be done or seen for an hour or two, the afternoon was spent in a pleasant siesta in the luxurious saloon of the star-navigator; because evening to them would be morning on that portion of Venus to which they were directing their course, and, as Zaidie said, when she subsided into her hammock: “It will be breakfast time before we shall be able to get dinner.”

As the Astronef fell with ever-increasing velocity towards the cloud-covered surface of Venus, the remainder of her disc, lit up by the radiance of her sister-worlds, Mercury, Mars, and the earth, and also by the pale radiance of an enormous comet, which had suddenly shot into view from behind its southern limb, became more or less visible.

Towards six o'clock, according to earth, or rather Astronef, time, it became necessary to exert the full strength of her engines to check the velocity of her fall. By eight she had entered the atmosphere of Venus, and was dropping slowly towards a vast sea of sunlit cloud, out of which, on all sides, towered thousands of snow-clad peaks, with wide-spread stretches of upland above which the clouds swept and surged like the silent billows of some vast ocean in ghost-land.

“I thought so!” said Redgrave, when the propellers had begun to revolve and Murgatroyd had taken his place in the conning-tower. “A very dense atmosphere loaded with clouds. There's the sun just rising, so your ladyship's wishes are duly obeyed.”

“And doesn't it seem nice and homelike to see him rising through an atmosphere above the clouds again? It doesn't look a bit like the same sort of dear old sun just blazing like a red-hot moon among a lot of white hot stars and planets. Look, aren't those peaks lovely, and that cloud-sea? Why, for all the world we might be in a balloon above the Rockies or the Alps, And see,” she continued, pointing to one of the thermometers fixed outside the glass dome which covered the upper deck, “it's only sixty-five even here. I wonder if we could breathe this air, and oh, I do wonder what we shall see on the other side of those clouds.”

“You shall have both questions answered in a few minutes,” replied Redgrave, going towards the conning-tower. “To begin with, I think we'll land on that big snow-dome yonder, and do a little exploring. Where there are snow and clouds there is moisture, and where there is moisture a man ought to be able to breathe.”

The Astronef, still falling, but now easily under the command of the helmsman, shot forwards and —s towards a vast dome of snow which, rising some two thousand feet above the cloud-sea, shone with dazzling brilliance in the light of the rising sun. She landed just above the edge of the clouds. Meanwhile they had put on their breathing suits, and Redgrave had seen that the air chamber, through which they had to pass from their own little world into the new ones that they visited, was in working order. When the outer door was opened and the ladder lowered he stood aside, as he had done on the moon, and her ladyship's was the first human foot which made an imprint on the virgin snows of Venus.

The first thing Lenox did was to raise the visor of his helmet and taste the air of the new world. It was cool, and fresh, and sweet, and the first draught of it sent the blood tingling and dancing through his veins. Perfect as the arrangements of the Astronef were in this respect, the air of Venus tasted like clear running spring water would have done to a man who had been drinking filtered water for several days. He threw the visor right up and motioned to Zaidie to do the same. She obeyed, and, after drawing a long breath, she said:

“That's glorious! It's like wine after water, and rather stagnant water too. But what a world, snow-peaks and cloud-sea, islands of ice and snow in an ocean of mist! Just look at them! Did you ever see anything so lovely and unearthly in your life? I wonder how high this mountain is, and what there is on the other side of the clouds. Isn't the air delicious! Not a bit too cold after all—but, still, I think we may as well go back and put on something more becoming. I shouldn't quite like the ladies of Venus to see me dressed like a diver.”

“Come along then,” laughed Lenox, as he turned back towards the vessel. “That's just like a woman. You're about a hundred and fifty million miles away from Broadway or Regent Street. You are standing on the top of a snow mountain above the clouds of Venus, and the moment that you find the air is fit to breathe you begin thinking about dress. How do you know that the inhabitants of Venus, if there are any, dress at all?”

“What nonsense! Of course they do—at least, if they are anything like us.”

As soon as they got back on board the Astronef and had taken their breathing-dresses off, Redgrave and the old engineer, who appeared to take no visible interest in their new surroundings, threw open all the sliding doors on the upper and lower decks so that the vessel might be thoroughly ventilated by the fresh sweet air. Then a gentle repulsion was applied to the huge snow mass on which the Astronef rested. She rose a couple of hundred feet, her propellers began to whirl round, and Redgrave steered her out towards the centre of the vast cloud-sea which was almost surrounded by a thousand glittering peaks of ice and domes of snow.

“I think we may as well put off dinner, or breakfast as it will be now, until we see what the world below is like,” he said to Zaidie, who was standing beside him on the conning-tower.

“Oh, never mind about eating just now; this is altogether too wonderful to be missed for the sake of ordinary meat and drink. Let's go down and see what there is on the other side.”

He sent a message down the speaking tube to Murgatroyd, who was below among his beloved engines, and the next moment sun and clouds and ice-peaks had disappeared and nothing was visible save the all-enveloping silver-grey mist.

For several minutes they remained silent, watching and wondering what they would find beneath the veil which hid the surface of Venus from their view. Then the mist thinned out and broke up into patches which drifted past them as they descended on their downward-slanting course.

Below them they saw vast, ghostly shapes of mountains and valleys, lakes and rivers, continents, islands, and seas. Every moment these became more and more distinct, and soon they were in full view of the most marvellous landscape that human eyes had ever beheld.

The distances were tremendous. Mountains, compared with which the Alps or even the Andes would have seemed mere hillocks, towered up out of the vast depths beneath them. Up to the lower edge of the all-covering cloud-sea they were clad with a golden-yellow vegetation, fields and forests, open, smiling valleys, and deep, dark ravines through which a thousand torrents thundered down from the eternal snows beyond, to spread themselves out in rivers and lakes in the valleys and plains which lay many thousands of feet below.

“What a lovely world!” said Zaidie, as she at last found her voice after what was almost a stupor of speechless wonder and admiration. “And the light! Did you ever see anything like it? It's neither moonlight nor sunlight. See, there are no shadows down there; it's just all lovely silvery twilight. Lenox, if Venus is as nice as she looks from here I don't think I shall want to go back. It reminds me of Tennyson's Lotus Eaters, 'The land where it is always afternoon.'”

“I think you are right after all. We are thirty million miles nearer to the sun than we were on the earth, and the light and heat have to filter through those clouds. They are not at all like earth-clouds from this side. It's the other way about. The silver lining is on this side. Look, there isn't a black or a brown one, or even a grey one within sight. They are just like a thin mist, lighted by millions of electric lamps. It's a delicious world, and if it isn't inhabited by angels it ought to be.”

While they were talking, the Astronef was still sweeping swiftly down towards the surface through scenery of whose almost inconceivable magnificence no human words could convey any adequate idea. Underneath the cloud-veil the air was absolutely clear and transparent; clearer, indeed, than terrestrial air at the highest elevations, and, moreover, it seemed to be endowed with a strange luminous quality, which made objects, no matter how distant, stand out with almost startling distinctness.

The rivers and lakes and seas, which spread out beneath them, seemed never to have been ruffled by the blast of a storm or wind, and shone with a soft silvery grey light, which seemed to come from below rather than from above. The atmosphere, which had now penetrated to every part of the Astronef, was not only exquisitely soft but also conveyed a faint but delicious sense of languorous intoxication to the nerves.

“If this isn't Heaven it must be the half-way house,” said Redgrave, with what was, perhaps, under the circumstances, a pardonable irreverence. “Still, after all, we don't know what the inhabitants may be like, so I think we'd better close the doors, and drop on the top of that mountain spur running out between the two rivers into the bay. Do you notice how curious the water looks after the earth-seas; bright silver, instead of blue and green?”

“Oh, it's just lovely,” said Zaidie. “Let's go down and have a walk. There's nothing to be afraid of. You'll never make me believe that a world like this can be inhabited by anything dangerous.”

“Perhaps, but we mustn't forget what happened on Mars; still, there's one thing, we haven't been tackled by any aerial fleets yet.”

“I don't think the people here want air-ships. They can fly themselves. Look! there are a lot of them coming to meet us. That was a rather wicked remark of yours about the half-way house to Heaven; but those certainly look something like angels.”

As Zaidie said this, after a somewhat lengthy pause, during which the Astronef had descended to within a few hundred feet of the mountain-spur, she handed a pair of field-glasses to her husband and pointed downward towards an island which lay a couple of miles or so off the end of the spur.

Redgrave put the glasses to his eyes, and, as he took a long look through them, moving them slowly up and down, and from side to side, he saw hundreds of winged figures rising from the island and soaring towards them.

“You were right, dear,” he said, without taking the glass from his eyes, “and so was I. If those aren't angels, they're certainly something like men, and, I suppose, women too, who can fly. We may as well stop here and wait for them. I wonder what sort of an animal they take the Astronef for.”

He sent a message down the tube to Murgatroyd, and gave a turn and a half to the steering-wheel. The propellers slowed down and the Astronef landed with a hardly perceptible shock in the midst of a little plateau covered with a thick soft moss of a pale yellowish green, and fringed by a belt of trees which seemed to be over three hundred feet high, and whose foliage was a deep golden bronze.

They had scarcely landed before the flying figures reappeared over the tree-tops and swept downwards in long spiral curves towards the Astronef.

“If they're not angels, they're very like them,” said Zaidie, putting down her glasses.

“There's one thing,” replied her husband; “they fly a lot better than the old masters' angels or Dore's could have done, because they have tails—or at least something that seems to serve the same purpose, and yet they haven't got feathers.”

“Yes, they have, at least round the edges of their wings or whatever they are, and they've got clothes, too, silk tunics or something of that sort—and there are men and women.”

“You're quite right. Those fringes down their legs are feathers, and that's how they fly.”

The flying figures which came hovering near to the Astronef, without evincing any apparent sign of fear, were certainly the strangest that human eyes had looked upon. In some respects they had a sufficient resemblance to human form for them to be taken for winged men and women, while in another they bore a decided resemblance to birds. Their bodies and limbs were almost human in shape, but of slenderer and lighter build; and from the shoulder-blades and muscles of the back there sprang a pair of wings arching up above their heads.

The body was covered in front and down the back between the wings with a sort of tunic of a light, silken-looking material, which must have been clothing, since there were many different colours.

In stature these inhabitants of the Love-Star varied from about five feet six to five feet, but both the taller and the shorter of them were all of nearly the same size, from which it was easy to conclude that this difference in stature was on Venus, as well as on the earth, one of the broad distinctions between the sexes.

They flew once or twice completely round the Astronef with an exquisite ease and grace which made Zaidie exclaim: “Now, why weren't we made like that on earth!”

To which Redgrave, after a look at the barometer, replied:

“Partly, I suppose, because we weren't built that way, and partly because we don't live in an atmosphere about two and a half times as dense as ours.”

Then several of the winged figures alighted on the mossy covering of the plain and walked towards the vessel.

“Why, they walk just like us, only much more prettily!” said Zaidie. “And look what funny little faces they've got! Half bird, half human, and soft, downy feathers instead of hair. I wonder whether they talk or sing. I wish you'd open the doors again, Lenox. I'm sure they can't possibly mean us any harm; they are far too innocent for that. What soft eyes they have, and what a thousand pities it is we shan't be able to understand them.”

They had left the conning-tower and both his lordship and Murgatroyd were throwing open the sliding doors and, to Zaidie's considerable displeasure, getting the deck Maxims ready for action in case they should be needed. As soon as the doors were open Zaidie's judgement of the inhabitants of Venus was entirely justified.

Without the slightest sign of fear, but with very evident astonishment in their round golden-yellow eyes, they came walking close up to the sides of the Astronef. Some of them stroked her smooth, shining sides with their little hands, which Zaidie now found had only three fingers and a thumb. Many ages before they might have been bird's claws, but now they were soft and pink and plump, utterly strange to work as manual work is understood upon earth.

“Just fancy getting Maxim guns ready to shoot those delightful things,” said Zaidie, almost indignantly, as she went towards the doorway from which the gangway ladder ran down to the soft, mossy turf. “Why, not one of them has got a weapon of any sort; and just listen,” she went on, stopping in the opening of the doorway, “have you ever heard music like that on earth? I haven't. I suppose it's the way they talk. I'd give a good deal to be able to understand them. But still, it's very lovely, isn't it?”

“Ay, like the voices of syrens enticing honest folk to destruction,” said Murgatroyd, speaking for the first time since the Astronef had landed; for this big, grizzled, taciturn Yorkshireman, who looked upon the whole cruise through Space as a mad and almost impious adventure, which nothing but his hereditary loyalty to his master's name and family could have persuaded him to share in, had grown more and more silent as the millions of miles between the Astronef and his native Yorkshire village had multiplied day by day.

“Syrens—and why not?” laughed Redgrave. “Yes, Zaidie, I never heard anything like that before. Unearthly, of course it is; but then we're not on earth. Now, Zaidie, they seem to talk in song-language. You did pretty well on Mars with your sign-language, suppose we go out and show them that you can speak the song-language, too.”

“What do you mean?” she said; “sing them something?”

“Yes,” he replied, “they'll try to talk to you in song, and you won't be able to understand them; at least, not as far as words and sentences go. But music is the universal language on earth, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be the same through the Solar System. Come along, tune up, little woman!”

They went together down the gangway stairs, he dressed in an ordinary English tweed grey suit, with a golf cap on the back of his head, and she in the last and daintiest of costumes which had combined the art of Paris and London and New York before the Astronef soared up from Central Park.

The moment that she set foot on the golden-yellow sward she was surrounded by a swarm of the winged, and yet strangely human creatures. Those nearest to her came and touched her hands and face, and stroked the folds of her dress. Others looked into her violet-blue eyes, and others put out their queer little hands and touched her hair.

This and her clothing seemed to be the most wonderful experience for them, saving always the fact that she had no wings.

Redgrave kept close beside her until he was satisfied that these strange half-human, and yet wholly interesting creatures were innocent of any intention of harm, and when he saw two of the winged daughters of the Love-Star put up their hands and touch the thick coils of her hair, he said:

“Take those pins and things out and let it down. They seem to think that your hair's part of your head. It's the first chance you've had to work a miracle, so you may as well do it. Show them the most beautiful thing they've ever seen.”

“What babies you men can be when you get sentimental!” laughed Zaidie, as she put her hands up to her head. “How do you know that this may not be ugly in their eyes?”

“Quite impossible!” he replied. “They're a great deal too pretty themselves to think you ugly.”

While he was speaking Zaidie had taken off a Spanish mantilla which she had thrown over her head as she came out, and which the ladies of Venus seemed to think was part of her hair. Then she took out the comb and one or two hairpins which kept the coils in position, deftly caught the ends, and then, after a few rapid movements of her fingers, she shook her head, and the wondering crowd about her saw, what seemed to them a shimmering veil, half gold, half silver, in the strange, reflected light from the cloud-veil, fall down from her head over her shoulders.

They crowded still more closely round her, but so quietly and so gently that she felt nothing more than the touch of wondering hands on her arms, and dress, and hair. Her husband, as he said afterwards, was “absolutely out of it.” They seemed to imagine him to be a kind of uncouth monster, possibly the slave of this radiant being which had come so strangely from somewhere beyond the cloud-veil. They looked at him with their golden-yellow eyes wide open, and some of them came up rather timidly and touched his clothes, which they seemed to think were his skin.

Then one or two, more daring, put their little hands up to his face and touched his moustache, and all of them, while both examinations were going on, kept up a running conversation of cooing and singing which evidently conveyed their ideas from one to the other on the subject of this most marvellous visit of these two strange beings with neither wings nor feathers, but who, most undoubtedly, had other means of flying, since it was quite certain that they had come from another world.

There was a low cooing note, something like the language in which doves converse, and which formed a sort of undertone. But every moment this rose here and there into higher notes, evidently expressing wonder or admiration, or both.

“You were right about the universal language,” said Redgrave, when he had submitted to the stroking process for a few moments. “These people talk in music, and, as far as I can see or hear, their opinion of us, or, at least, of you, is distinctly flattering. I don't know what they take me for, and I don't care, but, as we'd better make friends with them, suppose you sing them 'Home, Sweet Home,' or 'The Swanee River.' I shouldn't wonder if they consider our talking voices most horrible discords, so you might as well give them something different.”

While he was speaking the sounds about them suddenly hushed, and, as Redgrave said afterwards, it was something like the silence that follows a cannon shot. Then, in the midst of the hush, Zaidie put her hands behind her, looked up towards the luminous silver surface which formed the only visible sky of Venus, and began to sing “The Swanee River.”

The clear, sweet notes rang up through the midst of a sudden silence. The sons and daughters of the Love-Star ceased the low, half-humming, half-cooing tones in which they seemed to be whispering to each other, and Zaidie sang the old plantation song through for the first time that a human voice had sung it to ears other than human.

As the last note thrilled sweetly from her lips she looked round at the crowd of strange half-human figures about her, and something in their unlikeness to her own kind brought back to her mind the familiar scenes which lay so far away, so many millions of miles across the dark and silent Ocean of Space.

Other winged figures, attracted by the sound of her singing had crossed the trees, and these, during the silence which came after the singing of the song, were swiftly followed by others, until there were nearly a thousand of them gathered about the side of the Astronef.

There was no crowding or jostling among them. Each one treated every other with the most perfect gentleness and courtesy. No such thing as enmity or ill-feeling seemed to exist among them, and, in perfect silence, they waited for Zaidie to continue what they thought was her first speech of greeting. The temper of the throng somehow coincided exactly with the mood which her own memories had brought to her, and the next moment she sent the first line of “Home Sweet Home” soaring up to the cloud-veiled sky.

As the notes rang up into the still, soft air a deeper hush fell on the listening throng. Heads were bowed with a gesture almost of adoration, and many of those standing nearest to her bent their bodies forward, and expanded their wings, bringing them together over their breasts with a motion which, as they afterwards learnt, was intended to convey the idea of wonder and admiration, mingled with something like a sentiment of worship.

Zaidie sang the sweet old song through from end to end, forgetting for the time being everything but the home she had left behind her on the banks of the Hudson. As the last notes left her lips, she turned round to Redgrave and looked at him with eyes dim with the first tears that had filled them since her father's death, and said, as he caught hold of her outstretched hand:

“I believe they've understood every word of it.”

“Or, at any rate, every note. You may be quite certain of that,” he replied. “If you had done that on Mars it might have been even more effective than the Maxims.”

“For goodness sake don't talk about things like that in a heaven like this! Oh, listen! They've got the tune already!” It was true! The dwellers of the Love-Star, whose speech was song, had instantly recognised the sweetness of the sweetest of all earthly songs. They had, of course, no idea of the meaning of the words; but the music spoke to them and told them that this fair visitant from another world could speak the same speech as theirs. Every note and cadence was repeated with absolute fidelity, and so the speech, common to the two far-distant worlds, became a link connecting, this wandering son and daughter of the earth with the sons and daughters of the Love-Star.

The throng fell back a little and two figures; apparently male and female, came to Zaidie and held out their right hands and began addressing her in perfectly harmonised song, which, though utterly unintelligible to her in the sense of speech, expressed sentiments which could not possibly be mistaken, as there was a faint suggestion of the old English song running through the little song-speech that they made, and both Zaidie and her husband rightly concluded that it was intended to convey a welcome to the strangers from beyond the cloud-veil.

And then the strangest of all possible conversations began. Redgrave, who had no more notion of music than a walrus, perforce kept silence. In fact, he noticed with a certain displeasure which vanished speedily with a musical, and half-malicious little laugh from Zaidie, that when he spoke the bird-folk drew back a little and looked in something like astonishment at him, but Zaidie was already in touch with them, and half by song and half by signs she very soon gave them an idea of what they were and where they had come from. Her husband afterwards told her that it was the best piece of operatic acting he had ever seen, and, considering all the circumstances, this was very possibly true.

In the end the two, who had come to give her what seemed to be the formal greeting, were invited into the Astronef. They went on board without the slightest sign of mistrust, and with only an expression of mild wonder on their beautiful and almost childlike faces.

Then, while the other doors were being closed, Zaidie stood at the open one above the gangway and made signs showing that they were going up beyond the clouds and then down into the valley, and as she made the signs she sang through the scale, her voice rising and falling in harmony with her gestures. The bird-folk understood her instantly, and as the door closed and the Astronef rose from the ground, a thousand wings were outspread and presently hundreds of beautiful soaring forms were circling about the Navigator of the Stars.

“Don't they look lovely,” said Zaidie. “I wonder what they would think if they could see us flying above New York or London or Paris with an escort like this. I suppose they're going to show us the way. Perhaps they have a city down there. Suppose you were to go and get a bottle of champagne and see if Master Cupid and Miss Venus would like a drink. We'll see then if our nectar is anything like theirs.”

Redgrave went below. Meanwhile, for lack of other possible conversation, Zaidie began to sing the last verse of “Never Again.” The melody almost exactly described the upward motion of the Astronef, and she could see that it was instantly understood, for when she had finished, their two voices joined in an almost exact imitation of it.

When Redgrave brought up the wine and the glasses they looked at them without any sign of surprise. The pop of the cork did not even make them look round.

“Evidently a semi-angelic people, living on nectar and ambrosia, with nectar very like our own,” he said, as he filled the glasses. “Perhaps you'd better give it to them. They seem to understand you better than they do me—you being, of course, a good bit nearer to the angels than I am.”

“Thanks!” she said, as she took a couple of glasses up, wondering a little what their visitors would do with them. Somewhat to her surprise, they took them with a little bow and a smile and sipped at the wine, first with a little glint of wonder in their eyes, and then with smiles which are unmistakable evidence of perfect appreciation.

“I thought so,” said Redgrave, as he raised his own glass, and bowed gravely towards them. “This is our nearest approach to nectar, and they seem to recognise it.”

“And don't they just look like the sort of people who live on it, and, of course, other things,” added Zaidie, as she too lifted her glass, and looked with laughing eyes across the brim at her two guests.

But meanwhile Murgatroyd had been applying the repulsive force a little too strongly. The Astronef shot up with a rapidity which soon left her winged escort far below. She entered the cloud-veil and passed beyond it. The instant that the unclouded sun-rays struck the glass-roofing of the upper deck, their two guests, who had been moving about examining everything with a childlike curiosity, closed their eyes and clasped their hands over them, uttering little cries, tuneful and musical, but still with a note of strange discord in them.

“Lenox, we must go down again,” exclaimed Zaidie. “Don't you see they can't stand the light; it hurts them. Perhaps, poor dears, it's the first time they've ever been hurt in their lives. I don't believe they have any of our ideas of pain or sorrow or anything of that sort. Take us back under the clouds, quick, or we may blind them.”

Before she had finished speaking, Redgrave had sent a signal down to Murgatroyd, and the Astronef began to drop back again towards the surface of the cloud-sea. Zaidie had, meanwhile, gone to her lady guest and dropped the black lace mantilla over her head, and, as she did so, she caught herself saying:

“There, dear, we shall soon be back in your own light. I hope it hasn't hurt you. It was very stupid of us to do a thing like that.”

The answer came in a little cooing murmur, which said: “Thank you!” quite as effectively as any earthly words could have done, and then the Astronef dropped through the cloud-sea. The soaring forms of her lost escort came into view again and clustered about her; and, surrounded by them, she dropped, in obedience to their signs, down between the tremendous mountains and towards the island, thick with golden foliage, which lay two or three earth-miles out in a bay, where four converging rivers spread out into the sea.

It would take the best part of a volume rather than a few lines to give even an imperfect conception of the purely Arcadian delights with which the hours of the next ten days and nights were filled; but some idea of what the Space-voyagers experienced may be gathered from this extract of a conversation which took place in the saloon of the Astronef on the eleventh evening.

“But look here, Zaidie,” said his lordship, “as we've found a world which is certainly much more delightful than our own, why shouldn't we stop here a bit? The air suits us and the people are simply enchanting. I think they like us, and I'm sure you're in love with every one of them, male and female. Of course, it's rather a pity that we can't fly unless we do it in the Astronef. But that's only a detail. You're enjoying yourself thoroughly, and I never saw you looking better or, if possible, more beautiful; and why on earth—or Venus—do you want to go?”

She looked at him steadily for a few moments, and with an expression which he had never seen on her face or in her eyes before, and then she said slowly and very sweetly, although there was something like a note of solemnity running through her tone:—

“I altogether agree with you, dear; but there is something which you don't seem to have noticed. As you say, we have had a perfectly delightful time. It's a delicious world, and just everything that one would think it to be, either Aurora or Hesperus looked at from the earth; but if we were to stop here we should be committing one of the greatest crimes, perhaps the greatest, that ever was committed within the limits of the Solar System.”

“My dear Zaidie, what in the name of what we used to call morals on the earth, do you mean?”

“Just this,” she replied, leaning a little towards him in her deck chair. “These people, half angels, and half men and women, welcomed us after we dropped through their cloud-veil, as friends; a bit strange to them, certainly, but still they welcomed us as friends. They've taken us into their palaces, they've given us, as one might say, the whole planet. Everything was ours that we liked to take.”

“We've been living with them ten days now, and neither you nor I, nor even Murgatroyd, who, like the old Puritan that he is, seems to see sin or wrong in everything that looks nice, has seen a single sign among them that they know anything about what we call sin or wrong on earth.”

“I think I understand what you're driving at,” said Redgrave. “You mean, I suppose, that this world is something like Eden before the fall, and that you and I—oh—but that's all rubbish you know.”

She got up out of her chair and, leaning over his, put her arm round his shoulder. Then she said very softly: “I see you understand what I mean, Lenox. It doesn't matter how good you think me or I think you, but we have our original sin. You're an earthly man and I'm an earthly woman, and, as I'm your wife, I can say it plainly. We may think a good bit of each other, but that's no reason why we shouldn't be a couple of plague-spots in a sinless world like this.”

Their eyes met, and he understood. Then he got up and went down to the engine-room.

A couple of minutes later the Astronef sprang upwards from the midst of the delightful valley in which she was resting. In five minutes she had passed through the cloud-veil, and the next morning when their new friends came to visit them and found that they had vanished back into Space, there was sorrow for the first time among the sons and daughters of the Love-Star.



THE END

The World Of The Crystal Cities



INTRODUCTION


For their honeymoon Rollo Lenox Smeaton Aubrey, Earl of Redgrave, and his bride, Lilla Zaidie, leave the earth on a visit to the moon and the principal planets, their sole companion being Andrew Murgatroyd, an old engineer who had superintended the building of the Astronef, in which the journey is made. By means of the “R. Force,” or Anti-Gravitational Force, of the secret of which Lord Redgrave is the sole possessor, they are able to navigate with precision and safety the limitless ocean of space. Their adventures on the Moon, Mars, and Venus have been described in the first three stories of the series.



“FIVE HUNDRED MILLION miles from the earth and forty-seven million miles from Jupiter,” said his lordship, as he came into breakfast on the morning of the twenty-eighth day after leaving Venus.

During this brief period the Astronef had recrossed the orbits of the Earth and Mars and passed through that marvellous region of the Solar System, the Belt of the Asteroides. Nearly a hundred million miles of their journey had lain through this zone, in which hundreds and possibly thousands of tiny planets revolve in vast orbits round the Sun.

Then had come a desert void of over three hundred million miles, through which the Astronef voyaged alone, surrounded by the ever-constant splendours of the Heavens, but visited only now and then by one of those Spectres of Space, which we call comets.

Astern, the disc of the Sun steadily diminished, and ahead, the grey-blue shape of Jupiter, the Giant of the Solar System, had grown larger and larger until now they could see it as it had never been seen before—a gigantic three-quarter moon filling up the whole Heavens in front of them almost from Zenith to Nadir.

Its four satellites, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Calisto were distinctly visible to the naked eye, and Europa and Ganymede happened to be in such a position with regard to the Astronef that her crew could see not only the bright sides turned towards the sun, but also the black shadow-spots which they cast on the cloud-veiled face of the huge planet.

“Five hundred million miles!” said Zaidie, with a little shiver, “that seems an awful long way from home, doesn't it? Though, of course, we've brought our home with us to a certain extent. Still I often wonder what they are thinking about us on the dear old earth. I don't suppose anyone ever expects to see us again. However, it's no good getting homesick in the middle of a journey when you're outward bound.”

They were now falling very rapidly towards the huge planet, and, as the crescent approached the full they were able to examine the mysterious bands as human observers had never examined them before. For hours they sat almost silent at their telescopes, trying to probe the mystery which has baffled human science since the days of Gallileo.

“I believe I was right, or, in other words, the people I got the idea from are,” said Redgrave eventually, as they approached the orbit of Calisto, which revolves at a distance of about eleven hundred thousand miles from the surface of the planet.

“Those belts are made of clouds or vapour in some stage or other. The lightest—the ones along the equator and what we should call the Temperate Zones—are the highest, and therefore coolest and whitest. The dark ones are the lowest and hottest. I daresay they are more like what we call volcanic clouds. Do you see how they keep changing? That's what's bothered our astronomers. Look at that big one yonder a bit to the north, going from brown to red. I suppose that's something like the famous red spot which they have been puzzling about. What do you make of it?”

“Well,” said Zaidie, looking up from her telescope, “it's quite certain that the glare must come from underneath. It can't be sunlight, because the poor old sun doesn't seem to have strength enough to make a decent sunset or sunrise here, and look how it's running along to the westward! What does that mean, do you think?”

“I should say it means that some half-formed Jovian Continent has been flung sky high by a big burst-up underneath, and that's the blaze of the incandescent stuff running along. Just fancy a continent, say ten times the size of Asia, being split up and sent flying in a few moments like that. Look, there's another one to the north. On the whole, dear, I don't think we should find the climate on the other side of those clouds very salubrious. Still, as they say the atmosphere of Jupiter is about ten thousand miles thick, we may be able to get near enough to see something of what's going on.

“Meanwhile, here comes Calisto. Look at his shadow flying across the clouds. And there's Ganymede coming up after him, and Europa behind him. Talk about eclipses, they must be about as common here as thunderstorms are with us.”

“We don't have a thunderstorm every day,” corrected Zaidie, “but on Jupiter they have two or three eclipses every day. Meanwhile, there goes Jupiter himself. What a difference distance makes! This little thing is only a trifle larger than our moon, and it's hiding everything else.”

As she was speaking, the full-orbed disc of Calisto, measuring nearly three thousand miles across, swept between them and the planet. It shone with a clear, somewhat reddish light like that of Mars. The Astronef was feeling its attraction strongly, and Redgrave went to the levers and turned on about a fifth of the R. Force to avoid contact with it.

“Another dead world,” said Redgrave, as the surface of Calisto revolved swiftly beneath them, “or, at any rate, a dying one. There must be an atmosphere of some sort, or else that snow and ice wouldn't be there, and the land would be either black or white as it was on the Moon. It's not worth while landing there. Ganymede will be much more interesting.”

Zaidie took half-a-dozen photographs of the surface of Calisto while they were passing it at a distance of about a hundred miles, and then went to get lunch ready.

When they got on to the upper deck again Calisto was already a half-moon in the upper sky nearly five hundred thousand miles away and the full orb of Ganymede, shining with a pale golden light, lay outspread beneath them. A thin, bluish-grey arc of the giant planet over-arched its western edge.

“I think we shall find something like a world here,” said Zaidie, when she had taken her first look through her telescope. “There's an atmosphere and what looks like thin clouds. Continents, and oceans, too! And what is that light shining up between the breaks? Isn't it something like our Aurora?”

As the Astronef fell towards the surface of Ganymede she crossed its northern pole, and the nearer they got the plainer it became that a light very like the terrestrial Aurora was playing about it, illuminating the thin, yellow clouds with a bluish-violet light, which made magnificent contrasts of colouring amongst them.

“Let us go down there and see what it's like,” said Zaidie. “There must be something nice under all those lovely colours.”

Redgrave checked the R. Force and the Astronef fell obliquely across the pole towards the equator. As they approached the luminous clouds Redgrave turned it on again, and they sank slowly through a glowing mist of innumerable colours, until the surface of Ganymede came into plain view about ten miles below them.

What they saw then was the strangest sight they had beheld since they had left the Earth. As far as their eyes could reach, the surface of Ganymede was covered with vast orderly patches, mostly rectangular, of what they at first took for ice, but which they soon found to be a something that was self-illuminating.

“Glorified hot houses, as I'm alive,” exclaimed Redgrave. “Whole cities under glass, fields, too, and lit by electricity or something very like it. Zaidie, we shall find human beings down there.”

“Well, if we do I hope they won't be like the half-human things we found on Mars! But isn't it all just lovely! Only there doesn't seem to be anything outside the cities, at least nothing but bare, flat ground with a few rugged mountains here and there. See, there's a nice level plain near the big glass city, or whatever it is. Suppose we go down there.”

Redgrave checked the after-engine which was driving them obliquely over the surface of the satellite, and the Astronef fell vertically towards a bare flat plain of what looked like deep yellow sand, which spread for miles alongside one of the glittering cities of glass.

“Oh, look, they've seen us!” exclaimed Zaidie. “I do hope they're going to be as friendly as those dear people on Venus were.”

“I hope so,” replied Redgrave, “but if they're not, we've got the guns ready.”

As he said this about twenty streams of an intense bluish light suddenly shot up all round them, concentrating themselves upon the hull of the Astronef, which was now about a mile and a half from the surface. The light was so intense that the rays of the sun were lost in it. They looked at each other, and found that their faces were almost perfectly white in it. The plain and the city below had vanished.

To look downwards was like staring straight into the focus of a ten thousand candlepower electric arc lamp. It was so intolerable that Redgrave closed the lower shutters, and meanwhile he found that the Astronef had ceased to descend. He shut off more of the R. Force, but it produced no effect. The Astronef remained stationary. Then he ordered Murgatroyd to set the propellers in motion. The engineer pulled the starting levers, and then came up out of the engine-room and said to Lord Redgrave:

“It's no good, my lord; I don't know what devil's world we've got into now, but they won't work. If I thought that engines could be bewitched—”

“Oh, nonsense, Andrew!” said his lordship rather testily. “It's perfectly simple; those people down there, whoever they are, have got some way of demagnetising us, or else they've got the R. Force too, and they're applying it against us to stop us going down. Apparently they don't want us. No, that's just to show us that they can stop us if they want to. The light's going down. Begin dropping a bit. Don't start the propellers, but just go and see that the guns are all right in case of accidents.”

The old engineer nodded and went back to his engines, looking considerably scared. As he spoke the brilliancy of the light faded rapidly and the Astronef began to sink towards the surface.

As a precaution against their being allowed to drop with force enough to cause a disaster, Redgrave turned the R. Force on again and they dropped slowly towards the plain, through what seemed like a halo of perfectly white light. When she was within a couple of hundred yards of the ground a winged car of exquisitely graceful shape, rose from the roof of one of the huge glass buildings nearest to them, flew swiftly towards them, and after circling once round the dome of the upper deck, ran close alongside.

The car was occupied by two figures of distinctly human form but rather more than human stature. Both were dressed in long, close-fitting garments of what seemed like a golden brown fleece. Their heads were covered with a close hood and their hands with thin, close-fitting gloves.

“What an exceedingly handsome man!” said Zaidie, as one of them stood up. “I never saw such a noble-looking face in my life; it's half philosopher, half saint. Of course, you won't be jealous.”

“Oh, nonsense!” he laughed. “It would be quite impossible to imagine you in love with either. But he is handsome, and evidently friendly—there's no mistaking that. Answer him, Zaidie; you can do it better than I can.” The car had now come close alongside. The standing figure stretched its hands out, palms upward, smiled a smile which Zaidie thought was very sweetly solemn, next the head was bowed, and the gloved hands brought back and crossed over his breast. Zaidie imitated the movements exactly. Then, as the figure raised its head, she raised hers, and she found herself looking into a pair of large luminous eyes, such as she could have imagined under the brows of an angel. As they met hers, a look of unmistakable wonder and admiration came into them. Redgrave was standing just behind her; she took him by the hand and drew him beside her, saying with a little laugh:

“Now, please look as pleasant as you can; I am sure they are very friendly. A man with a face like that couldn't mean any harm.”

The figure repeated the motions to Redgrave, who returned them, perhaps a trifle awkwardly. Then the car began to descend, and the figure beckoned to them to follow.

“You'd better go and wrap up, dear. From the gentleman's dress it seems pretty cold outside, though the air is evidently quite breathable,” said Redgrave, as the Astronef began to drop in company with the car. “At any rate, I'll try it first, and, if it isn't, we can put on our breathing-dresses.”

When Zaidie had made her winter toilet, and Redgrave had found the air to be quite respirable, but of Arctic cold, they went down the gangway ladder about twenty minutes later.

The figure had got out of the car which was lying a few yards from them on the sandy plain, and came forward to meet them with both hands outstretched.

Zaidie unhesitatingly held out hers, and a strange thrill ran through her as she felt them for the first time clasped gently by other than earthly hands, for the Venus folk had only been able to pat and stroke with their gentle little paws, somewhat as a kitten might do. The figure bowed its head again and said something in a low, melodious voice, which was, of course, quite unintelligible save for the evident friendliness of its tone. Then, releasing her hands, he took Redgrave's in the same fashion, and then led the way towards a vast, domed building of semi-opaque glass, or a substance which seemed to be something like a mixture of glass and mica, which appeared to be one of the entrance gates of the city.

When they reached it a huge sheet of frosted glass rose silently from the ground. They passed through, and it fell behind them. They found themselves in a great oval antechamber along each side of which stood triple rows of strangely shaped trees whose leaves gave off a subtle and most agreeable scent. The temperature here was several degrees higher, in fact about that of an English spring day, and Zaidie immediately threw open her big fur cloak saying:

“These good people seem to live in Winter Gardens, don't they? I don't think I shall want these things much while we're inside. I wonder what dear old Andrew would have thought of this if we could have persuaded him to leave the ship.”

They followed their host through the antechamber towards a magnificent pointed arch, raised on clusters of small pillars each of a different coloured, highly polished stone which shone brilliantly in a light which seemed to come from nowhere. Another door, this time of pale, transparent, blue glass, rose as they approached; they passed under it and, as it fell behind them, half-a-dozen figures, considerably shorter and slighter than their host, came forward to meet them. He took off his gloves and cape and thick outer covering, and they were glad to follow his example for the atmosphere was now that of a warm June day.

The attendants, as they evidently were, took their wraps from them, looking at the furs and stroking them with evident wonder; but with nothing like the wonder which came into their wild, soft grey eyes when they looked at Zaidie, who, as usual when she arrived on a new world, was arrayed in one of her daintiest costumes.

Their host was now dressed in a tunic of a light blue material, which glistened with a lustre greater than that of the finest silk. It reached a little below his knees, and was confined at the waist by a sash of the same colour but of somewhat deeper hue. His feet and legs were covered with stockings of the same material and colour, and his feet, which were small for his stature and exquisitely shaped, were shod with thin sandals of a material which looked like soft felt, and which made no noise as he walked over the delicately coloured mosaic pavement of the street—for such it actually was—which ran past the gate.

When he removed his cap they expected to find that he was bald like the Martians, but they were mistaken. His well-shaped head was covered with long, thick hair of a colour something between bronze and grey. A broad band of metal, looking like light gold, passed round the upper part of his forehead, and from under this the hair fell in gentle waves to below his shoulders.

For a few moments Zaidie and Redgrave stared about them in frank and silent wonder. They were standing in a broad street running in a straight line, apparently several miles, along the edge of a city of crystal. It was lined with double rows of trees with beds of brilliantly coloured flowers between them. From this street others went off at right angles and at regular intervals. The roof of the city appeared to be composed of an infinity of domes of enormous extent, supported by tall clusters of slender pillars standing at the street corners.

Presently their host touched Redgrave on the shoulder and pointed to a four-wheeled car of light framework and exquisite design, containing seats for four besides the driver, or guide, who sat behind. He held out his hand to Zaidie, and handed her to one of the front seats just as an earth-born gentleman might have done. Then he motioned to Redgrave to sit beside her, and mounted behind them.

The car immediately began to move silently, but with considerable speed, along the left-hand side of the outer street, which, like all the others, was divided by narrow strips of russet-coloured grass and flowering shrubs.

In a few minutes it swung round to the right, crossed the road, and entered a magnificent avenue, which, after a run of some four miles, ended in a vast, park-like square, measuring at least a mile each way.

The two sides of the avenue were busy with cars like their own, some carrying six people, and others only the driver. Those on each side of the road all went in the same direction. Those nearest to the broad side-walks between the houses and the first row of trees went at a moderate speed of five or six miles an hour, but along the inner sides, near the central line of trees, they seemed to be running as high as thirty miles an hour. Their occupants were nearly all dressed in clothes made of the same glistening, silky fabric as their host wore, but the colourings were of infinite variety. It was quite easy to distinguish between the sexes, although in stature they were almost equal.

The men were nearly all clothed as their host was. The women were dressed in flowing garments something after the Greek style, but they were of brighter hues, and much more lavishly embroidered than the men's tunics were. They also wore much more jewellery. Indeed, some of the younger ones glittered from head to foot with polished metal and gleaming stones.

“Could anyone ever have dreamt of such a lovely place?” said Zaidie, after their wondering eyes had become accustomed to the marvels about them, “and yet—oh dear, now I know what it reminds me of! Flammarion's book, 'The End Of The World,' where he describes the remnants of the human race dying of cold and hunger on the Equator in places something like this. I suppose the life of poor Ganymede is giving out, and that's why they've got to live in glorified Crystal Palaces like this, poor things.”

“Poor things!” laughed Redgrave, “I'm afraid I can't agree with you there, dear. I never saw a jollier looking lot of people in my life. I daresay you're quite right, but they certainly seem to view their approaching end with considerable equanimity.”

“Don't be horrid, Lenox! Fancy talking in that cold-blooded way about such delightful-looking people as these, why, they are even nicer than our dear bird-folk on Venus, and, of course, they are a great deal more like ourselves.”

“Wherefore it stands to reason that they must be a great deal nicer!” he replied, with a glance which brought a brighter flush to her cheeks. Then he went on: “Ah, now I see the difference.”

“What difference? Between what?”

“Between the daughter of Earth and the daughters of Ganymede,” he replied. “You can blush, and I don't think they can. Haven't you noticed that, although they have the most exquisite skins and beautiful eyes and hair and all that sort of thing, not a man or woman of them has any colouring. I suppose that's the result of living for generations in a hothouse.”

“Very likely,” she said; “but has it struck you also that all the girls and women are either beautiful or handsome, and all the men, except the ones who seem to be servants or slaves, are something like Greek gods, or, at least, the sort of men you see on the Greek sculptures?”

“Survival of the fittest, I presume. These will be the descendants of the highest races of Ganymede,—the people who conceived the idea of prolonging human life like this and were able to carry it out. The inferior races would either perish of starvation or become their servants. That's what will happen on Earth, and there is no reason why it shouldn't have happened here.”

As he said this the car swung out round a broad curve into the centre of the great square, and a little cry of amazement broke from Zaidie's lips as her glance roamed over the multiplying splendours about her.

In the centre of the square, in the midst of smooth lawns and flower beds of every conceivable shape and colour, and groves of flowering trees, stood a great, domed building, which they approached through an avenue of overarching trees interlaced with flowering creepers.

The car stopped at the foot of a triple flight of stairs of dazzling whiteness which led up to a broad, arched doorway. Several groups of people were sprinkled about the avenue and steps and the wide terrace which ran along the front of the building. They looked with keen, but perfectly well-mannered surprise at their strange visitors, and seemed to be discussing their appearance; but not a step was taken towards them nor was there the slightest sign of anything like vulgar curiosity.

“What perfect manners these dear people have!” said Zaidie, as they dismounted at the foot of the staircase. “I wonder what would happen if a couple of them were to be landed from a motor car in front of the Capitol at Washington. I suppose this is their Capitol, and we've been brought here to be put through our paces. What a pity we can't talk to them. I wonder if they'd believe our story if we could tell it.”

“I've no doubt they know something of it already,” replied Redgrave;” they're evidently people of immense intelligence. Intellectually, I daresay, we're mere children compared with them, and it's quite possible that they have developed senses of which we have no idea.”

“And perhaps,” added Zaidie, “all the time that we are talking to each other our friend here is quietly reading everything that is going on in our minds.”

Whether this was so or not their host gave no sign of comprehension. He led them up the steps and through the great doorway where he was met by three splendidly dressed men even taller than himself.

“I feel beastly shabby among all these gorgeously attired personages,” said Redgrave, looking down at his plain tweed suit, as they were conducted with every manifestation of politeness along the magnificent vestibule beyond.

At the end of the vestibule another door opened, and they were ushered into a large hall which was evidently a council-chamber. At the further end of it were three semi-circular rows of seats made of the polished silvery metal, and in the centre and raised slightly above them another under a canopy of sky-blue silk. This seat and six others were occupied by men of most venerable aspect, in spite of the fact that their hair was just as long and thick and glossy as their host's or even as Zaidie's own.

The ceremony of introduction was exceedingly simple. Though they could not, of course, understand a word he said, it was evident from his eloquent gestures that their host described the way in which they had come from Space, and landed on the surface of the World of the Crystal Cities, as Zaidie subsequently rechristened Ganymede.

The President of the Senate or Council spoke a few sentences in a deep musical tone. Then their host, taking their hands, led them up to his seat, and the President rose and took them by both hands in turn. Then, with a grave smile of greeting, he bent his head and resumed his seat. They joined hands in turn with each of the six senators present, bowed their farewells in silence, and then went back with their host to the car.

They ran down the avenue, made a curving sweep round to the left—for all the paths in the great square were laid in curves, apparently to form a contrast to the straight streets—and presently stopped before the porch of one of the hundred palaces which surrounded it. This was their host's house, and their home during the rest of their sojourn on Ganymede.

It is, as I have already said, greatly to be regretted that the narrow limits of these brief narratives make it impossible for me to describe in detail all the experiences of Lord Redgrave and his bride during their Honeymoon in Space. Hereafter I hope to have an opportunity of doing so with the more ample assistance of her ladyship's diary; but for the present I must content myself with the outlines of the picture which she may some day consent to fill in.

The period of Ganymede's revolution round its gigantic primary is seven days, three hours, and forty-three minutes, practically a terrestrial week, and both of the daring navigators of Space describe this as the most interesting and delightful week in their lives, not even excepting the period which they spent in the Eden of the Morning Star.

There the inhabitants had never learnt to sin; here they had learnt the lesson that sin is mere foolishness, and that no really sensible or properly educated man or woman thinks crime worth committing.

The life of the Crystal Cities, of which they visited four in different parts of the satellite, using the Astronef as their vehicle, was one of peaceful industry and calm innocent enjoyment. It was quite plain that their first impressions of this aged world were correct. Outside the cities spread a universal desert on which life was impossible. There was hardly any moisture in the thin atmosphere. The rivers had dwindled into rivulets and the seas into vast, shallow marshes. The heat received from the Sun was only about a twenty-fifth of that received on the surface of the Earth, and this was drawn to the cities and collected and preserved under their glass domes by a number of devices which displayed superhuman intelligence.

The dwindling supplies of water were hoarded in vast subterranean reservoirs and by means of a perfect system of redistillation the priceless fluid was used over and over again both for human purposes and for irrigating the land within the cities.

Still the total quantity was steadily diminishing, for it was not only evaporating from the surface, but, as the orb cooled more and more rapidly towards its centre, it descended deeper and deeper below the surface, and could now only be reached by means of marvellously constructed borings and pumping machinery which extended down several miles into the ground.

The dwindling store of heat in the centre of the little world, which had now cooled through more than half its bulk, was utilised for warming the air of the cities, and also to drive the machinery which propelled it through the streets and squares. All work was done by electricity developed directly from this source, which also actuated the repulsive engines which had prevented the Astronef from descending.

In short, the inhabitants of Ganymede were engaged in a steady, ceaseless struggle to utilise the expiring natural forces of their world to prolong to the latest possible date their own lives and the exquisitely refined civilisation to which they had attained. They were, in fact, in exactly the same position in which the distant descendants of the human race may one day be expected to find themselves.

Their domestic life, as Zaidie and Lenox saw it while they were the guests of their host, was the perfection of simplicity and comfort, and their public life was characterised by a quiet but intense intellectuality which, as Zaidie had said, made them feel very much like children who had only just learnt to speak.

As they possessed magnificent telescopes, far surpassing any on earth, the wanderers were able to survey, not only the Solar System, but the other systems far beyond its limits as no other of their kind had ever been able to do before. They did not look through or into the telescopes. The lens was turned upon the object, which was thrown, enormously magnified, upon screens of what looked something like ground glass some fifty feet square. It was thus that they saw, not only the whole visible surface of Jupiter as he revolved above them and they about him, but also their native earth, sometimes a pale silver disc or crescent close to the edge of the Sun, visible only in the morning and the evening of Jupiter, and at other times like a little black spot crossing the glowing surface.

It was, of course, inevitable that the Astronef—which Murgatroyd could not be persuaded to leave once during their stay—should prove an object of intense interest to their hosts. They had solved the problem of the Resolution of Forces, and, as they were shown pictorially, a vessel had been made which embodied the principles of attraction and repulsion. It had risen from the surface of Ganymede, and then, possibly because its engines could not develop sufficient repulsive force, the tremendous pull of the giant planet had dragged it away. It had vanished through the cloud-belts towards the flaming surface beneath—and the experiment had never been repeated.

Here, however, was a vessel which had actually, as Redgrave had convinced his hosts by means of celestial maps and drawings of his own, left a planet close to the Sun, and safely crossed the tremendous gulf of six hundred and fifty million miles which separated Jupiter from the centre of the system. Moreover he had twice proved her powers by taking his host and two of his newly-made friends, the chief astronomers of Ganymede, on a short trip across space to Calisto and Europa, the second satellite of Jupiter, which, to their very grave interest they found had already passed the stage in which Ganymede was, and had lapsed into the icy silence of death.

It was these two journeys which led to the last adventure of the Astronef in the Jovian System. Both Redgrave and Zaidie had determined, at whatever risk, to pass through the cloud-belts of Jupiter, and catch a glimpse, if only a glimpse, of a world in the making. Their host and the two astronomers, after a certain amount of quiet discussion, accepted their invitation to accompany them, and on the morning of the eighth day after their landing on Ganymede, the Astronef rose from the plain outside the Crystal City, and directed her course towards the centre of the vast disc of Jupiter.

She was followed by the telescopes of all the observatories until she vanished through the brilliant cloud-band, eighty-five thousand miles long and some five thousand miles broad, which stretched from east to west of the planet. At the same moment the voyagers lost sight of Ganymede and his sister satellites.

The temperature of the interior of the Astronef began to rise as soon as the upper cloud-belt was passed. Under this, spread out a vast field of brown-red cloud, rent here and there into holes and gaps like those storm-cavities in the atmosphere of the Sun, which are commonly known as sun-spots. This lower stratum of cloud appeared to be the scene of terrific storms, compared with which the fiercest earthly tempests were mere zephyrs.

After falling some five hundred miles further they found themselves surrounded by what seemed an ocean of fire, but still the internal temperature had only risen from seventy to ninety-five. The engines were well under control. Only about a fourth of the total R. Force was being developed, and the Astronef was dropping swiftly, but steadily.

Redgrave, who was in the conning-tower controlling the engines, beckoned to Zaidie and said:

“Shall we go on?”

“Yes,” she said. “Now we've got as far as this I want to see what Jupiter is like, and where you are not afraid to go, I'll go.”

“If I'm afraid at all it's only because you are with me, Zaidie,” he replied, “but I've only got a fourth of the power turned on yet, so there's plenty of margin.”

The Astronef, therefore, continued to sink through what seemed to be a fathomless ocean of whirling, blazing clouds, and the internal temperature went on rising slowly but steadily. Their guests, without showing the slightest sign of any emotion, walked about the upper deck now singly and now together, apparently absorbed by the strange scene about them.

At length, after they had been dropping for some five hours by Astronef time, one of them, uttering a sharp exclamation, pointed to an enormous rift about fifty miles away. A dull, red glare was streaming up out of it. The next moment the brown cloud-floor beneath them seemed to split up into enormous wreaths of vapour, which whirled up on all sides of them, and a few minutes later they caught their first glimpse of the true surface of Jupiter.

It lay as nearly as they could judge, some two thousand miles beneath them, a distance which the telescopes reduced to less than twenty; and they saw for a few moments the world that was in the making. Through floating seas of misty steam they beheld what seemed to them to be vast continents shape themselves and melt away into oceans of flames. Whole mountain ranges of glowing lava were hurled up miles high to take shape for an instant and then fall away again, leaving fathomless gulfs of fiery mist in their place.

Then waves of molten matter rose up again out of the gulfs, tens of miles high and hundreds of miles long, surged forward, and met with a concussion like that of millions of earthly thunder-clouds. Minute after minute they remained writhing and struggling with each other. flinging up spurts of flaming matter far above their crests. Other waves followed them, climbing up their bases as a sea-surge runs up the side of a smooth, slanting rock. Then from the midst of them a jet of living fire leapt up hundreds of miles into the lurid atmosphere above, and then, with a crash and a roar which shook the vast Jovian firmament, the battling lava-waves would split apart and sink down into the all-surrounding fire-ocean, like two grappling giants who had strangled each other in their final struggle.

“It's just Hell let loose!” said Murgatroyd to himself as he looked down upon the terrific scene through one of the portholes of the engine-room; “and, with all respect to my lord and her ladyship, those that come this near almost deserve to stop in it.”

Meanwhile, Redgrave and Zaidie and their three guests were so absorbed in the tremendous spectacle, that for a few moments no one noticed that they were dropping faster and faster towards the world which Murgatroyd, according to his lights, had not inaptly described. As for Zaidie, all her fears were for the time being lost in wonder, until she saw her husband take a swift glance round upwards and downwards, and then go up into the conning-tower. She followed him quickly, and said:

“What is the matter, Lenox, are we falling too quickly?”

“Much faster than we should,” he replied, sending a signal to Murgatroyd to increase the force by three-tenths.

The answering signal came back, but still the Astronef continued to fall with terrific rapidity, and the awful landscape beneath them—a landscape of fire and chaos—broadened out and became more and more distinct.

He sent two more signals down in quick succession. Three-fourths of the whole repulsive power of the engines was now being exerted, a force which would have been sufficient to hurl the Astronef up from the surface of the Earth like a feather in a whirlwind. Her downward course became a little slower, but still she did not stop. Zaidie, white to the lips, looked down upon the hideous scene beneath and slipped her hand through Redgrave's arm. He looked at her for an instant and then turned his head away with a jerk, and sent down the last signal.

The whole energy of the engines was now directing the maximum of the R. Force against the surface of Jupiter, but still, as every moment passed in a speechless agony of apprehension, it grew nearer and nearer. The fire-waves mounted higher and higher, the roar of the fiery surges grew louder and louder. Then, in a momentary lull, he put his arm round her, drew her close up to him, and kissed her and said:

“That's all we can do, dear. We've come too close and he's too strong for us.”

She returned his kiss and said quite steadily:

“Well, at any rate, I'm with you, and it won't last long, will it?”

“Not very long now, I'm afraid,” he said between his clenched teeth.

Almost the next moment they felt a little jerk beneath their feet—a jerk upwards; and Redgrave shook himself out of the half stupor into which he was falling and said:

“Hallo, what's that! I believe we're stopping—yes, we are—and we're beginning to rise, too. Look, dear, the clouds are coming down upon us—fast too! I wonder what sort of miracle that is. Ay, what's the matter, little woman?”

Zaidie's head had dropped heavily on his shoulder. A glance showed him that she had fainted. He could do nothing more in the conning-tower, so he picked her up and carried her towards the companion-way, past his three guests, who were standing in the middle of the upper deck round a table on which lay a large sheet of paper.

He took her below and laid her on her bed, and in a few minutes he had brought her to and told her that it was all right. Then he gave her a drink of brandy and water, and went hack on to the upper deck. As he reached the top of the stairway one of the astronomers came towards him with the sheet of paper in his hand, smiling gravely, and pointing to a sketch upon it.

He took the paper under one of the electric lights and looked at it. The sketch was a plan of the Jovian System. There were some signs written along one side, which he did not understand, but he divined that they were calculations. Still, there was no mistaking the diagram. There was a circle representing the huge bulk of Jupiter; there were four smaller circles at varying distances in a nearly straight line from it, and between the nearest of these and the planet was the figure of the Astronef, with an arrow pointing upwards.

“Ah, I see!” he said, forgetting for a moment that the other did not understand him, “That was the miracle! The four satellites came into line with us just as the pull of Jupiter was getting too much for our engines, and their combined pull just turned the scale. Well, thank God for that, sir, for in a few minutes more we should have been cinders!”

The astronomer smiled again as he took the paper back. Meanwhile the Astronef was rushing upward like a meteor through the clouds. In ten minutes the limits of the Jovian atmosphere were passed. Stars and gems and planets blazed out of the black vault of Space, and the great disc of the World that Is to Be once more covered the floor of Space beneath them—an ocean of cloud, covering continents of lava and seas of flame.

They passed Io and Europa, which changed from new to full moons as they sped by towards the Sun, and then the golden yellow crescent of Ganymede also began to fill out to the half and full disc, and by the tenth hour of earth-time after they had risen from its surface, the Astronef was once more lying beside the gate of the Crystal City.

At midnight on the second night after their return, the ringed shape of Saturn, attended by his eight satellites, hung in the zenith magnificently inviting. The Astronef's engines had been replenished after the exhaustion of their struggle with the might of Jupiter. Zaidie and Lenox said farewell to their friends of the dying world. The doors of the air chamber closed. The signal tinkled in the engine-room, and a few moments later a blur of white lights on the brown background of the surrounding desert was all they could distinguish of the Crystal City under whose domes they had seen and learnt so much.



THE END

In Saturn's Realm



INTRODUCTION


For their honeymoon Rollo Lenox Smeaton Aubrey, Earl of Redgrave, and his bride, Lilla Zaidie, leave the earth on a visit to the Moon and the principal planets, their sole companion being Andrew Murgatroyd, an old engineer who had superintended the building of the Astronef, in which the journey is made. By means of the “R Force,” or Anti-Gravitational Force, of the secret of which Lord Redgrave is the sole possessor, they are able to navigate with precision and safety the limitless ocean of Space. Their adventures on the Moon, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter have been described in the first four stories of the series.



THE relative position of the two giants of the Solar System at the moment when the Astronef left the surface of Ganymede, the third and largest satellite of Jupiter, was such that she had to make a journey of rather more than 340,000,000 miles before she passed within the confines of the Saturnian System.

At first her speed, as shown by the observations which Redgrave took by means of instruments designed for such a voyage by Professor Rennick, was comparatively slow. This was due to the tremendous “pull” or attraction of Jupiter and its four moons on the fabric of the Star Navigator; but this backward drag rapidly decreased as the pull of Saturn and his System began to overmaster that of Jupiter.

It so happened, too, that Uranus, the next outer planet of the Solar System, revolving round the Sun at the tremendous distance of more than 1,700,000,000 miles, was approaching its conjunction with Saturn, and thus the pull of the two huge orbs and their systems of satellites acted together on the tiny bulk of the Astronef, producing a constant acceleration of speed.

Jupiter and his System dropped behind, sinking, as it seemed to the wanderers, down into the bottomless gulf of Space, but still forming by far the most brilliant and splendid object in the skies. The far distant Sun which, seen from the Saturnian System, has only about a ninetieth of the superficial extent which he presents to the Earth, dwindled away rapidly until it began to look like a huge planet, with the Earth, Venus, Mars, and Mercury as satellites. Beyond the orbit of Saturn, Uranus, with his eight moons, was shining with the lustre of a star of the first magnitude, and far above and beyond him again hung the pale disc of Neptune, the outer guard of the Solar System, separated from the Sun by a gulf of more than 2,750,000,000 miles.

When two-thirds of the distance between Jupiter and Saturn had been traversed, Saturn lay beneath them like a vast globe surrounded by an enormous circular ocean of many-coloured fire, divided, as it were, by circular shores of shade and darkness. On the side opposite to them a gigantic conical shadow extended beyond the confines of the ocean of light. It was the shadow of half the globe of Saturn cast by the Sun across his rings. Three little dark spots were also travelling across the surface of the rings. They were the shadows of Mimas, Encealadus, and Tethys, the three inner satellites. Japetus, the most distant, which revolves at a distance ten times greater than that of the Moon from the Earth, was rising to their left above the edge of the rings, a pale, yellow, little disc shining feebly against the black background of Space. The rest of the eight satellites were hidden behind the enormous bulk of the planet, and the infinitely vaster area of the rings.

Day after day Zaidie and her husband had been exhausting the possibilities of the English language in attempting to describe to each other the multiplying marvels of the wondrous scene which they were approaching at a speed of more than a hundred miles a second, and at length Zaidie, after nearly an hour's absolute silence, during which they sat with eyes fastened to their telescopes, looked up and said:

“It's no use, Lenox, all the fine words that we've been trying to think of have just been wasted. The angels may have a language that you could describe that in, but we haven't. If it wouldn't be something like blasphemy I should drop down to the commonplace, and call Saturn a celestial spinning-top, with bands of light and shadow instead of colours all round it.”

“Not at all a bad simile either,” laughed Redgrave, as he got up from his chair with a yawn and a stretch of his athletic limbs, “still, it's as well that you said celestial, for, after all, that's about the best word we've found yet. Certainly the ringed world is the most nearly heavenly thing we've seen so far.”

“But,” he went on, “I think it's about time we were stopping this headlong fall of ours. Do you see how the landscape is spreading out round us? That means that we're dropping pretty fast. Whereabouts would you like to land? At present we're heading straight for the north pole.”

“I think I'd rather see what the rings are like first,” said Zaidie; “couldn't we go across them?”

“Certainly we can,” he replied, “only we'll have to be a bit careful.”

“Careful, what of—collisions? I suppose you're thinking of Proctor's explanation that the rings are formed of multitudes of tiny satellites?”

“Yes, but I should go a little farther than that, I should say that his rings and his eight satellites are to Saturn what the planets generally and the ring of the Asteroides are to the Sun, and if that is the case—I mean if we find the rings made up of myriads of tiny bodies flying round with Saturn—it might get a bit risky.

“You see the outside ring is a bit over 160,000 miles across, and it revolves in less than eleven hours. In other words we might find the ring a sort of celestial maelstrom, and if we once got into the whirl, and Saturn exerted his full pull on us, we might become a satellite, too, and go on swinging round with the rest for a good bit of eternity.”

“Very well, then,” she said, “of course we don't want to do anything of that sort, but there's something else I think we could do,” she went on, taking up a copy of Proctor's “Saturn and its System,” which she had been reading just after breakfast. “You see those rings are, all together, about 10,000 miles broad; there's a gap of about 1700 miles between the big dark one and the middle bright one, and it's nearly 10,000 miles from the edge of the bright ring to the surface of Saturn. Now why shouldn't we get in between the inner ring and the planet? If Proctor was right and the rings are made of tiny satellites and there are myriads of them, of course they'll pull up while Saturn pulls down. In fact Flammarion says somewhere, that along Saturn's equator there is no weight at all.”

“Quite possible,” said Redgrave, “and, if you like, we'll go and prove it. Of course, if the Astronef weighs absolutely nothing between Saturn and the rings, we can easily get away. The only thing that I object to is getting into this 170,000 mile vortex, being whizzed round with Saturn every ten and a half hours, and sauntering round the Sun at 21,000 miles an hour.”

“Don't,” she said, “really it isn't good to think about these things, situated as we are. Fancy, in a single year of Saturn there are nearly 25,000 days. Why, we should each of us be about thirty years older when we got round, even if we lived, which, of course, we shouldn't. By the way, how long could we live for, if the worst came to the worst?”

“About two earth-years at the outside,” he replied, “but, of course, we shall be home long before that.”

“If we don't become one of the satellites of Saturn,” she replied, “or get dragged away by something into the outer depths of Space.”

Meanwhile the downward speed of the Astronef had been considerably checked. The vast circle of the rings seemed to suddenly expand, though it now covered the whole floor of the vault of Space.

As the Astronef dropped towards what might be called the limit of the northern tropic of Saturn, the spectacle presented by the rings became every minute more and more marvellous—purple and silver, black and gold, dotted with myriads of brilliant points of many-coloured lights, they stretched upwards like vast rainbows in the Saturnian sky as the Astronef's position changed with regard to the horizon of the planet. The nearer they approached the surface, the nearer the gigantic arch of the many coloured rings approached the zenith. Sun and stars sank down behind it, for now they were dropping through the fifteen-year-long twilight that reigns over that portion of the globe of Saturn which during half of his year of thirty terrestrial years is turned away from the Sun.

The further they dropped towards the rings the more certain it became that the theory of the great English astronomer was the correct one. Seen through the telescopes at a distance of only thirty or forty thousand miles, it became perfectly plain that the outer or darker ring as seen from the Earth, was composed of myriads of tiny bodies so far separated from each other that the rayless blackness of Space could be seen through them.

“It's quite evident,” said Redgrave, “that those are rings of what we should call meteorites on earth, atoms of matter which Saturn threw off into Space after the satellites were formed .”

“And I shouldn't wonder, if you will excuse my interrupting you,” said Zaidie, “if the moons themselves have been made up of a lot of these things going together when they were only gas, or nebula or something of that sort. In fact, when Saturn was a good deal younger than he is now, he may have had a lot more rings and no moons, and now these aerolites, or whatever they are, can't come together and make moons, because they've got too solid.”

Meanwhile the Astronef was dropping rapidly down towards the port on of Saturn's surface which was illuminated by the rays of the Sun, streaming under the lower arch of the inner ring.

As they passed under it the whole scene suddenly changed. The rings vanished. Overhead was an arch of brilliant light a hundred miles thick, spanning the whole of the visible heavens. Below lay the sunlit surface of Saturn divided into light and dark bands of enormous breadth.

The band immediately below them was of a brilliant silver-grey, very much like the central zone of Jupiter. North of this on the one side stretched the long shadow of the rings, and southward other bands of alternating white and gold and deep purple succeeded each other till they were lost in the curvature of the vast planet. The poles were of course invisible since the Astronef was now too near to the surface; but on their approach they had seen unmistakable evidence of snow and ice.

As soon as they were exactly under the Ring-arch, Redgrave shut off the R. Force, and, somewhat to their astonishment, the Astronef began to revolve slowly on its axis, giving them the idea that the Saturnian System was revolving round them. The arch seemed to sink beneath their feet while the belts of the planet rose above them.

“What on earth is the matter?” said Zaidie. “Everything has gone upside down.”

“Which shows.” replied Redgrave, “that as soon as the Astronef became neutral the rings pulled harder than the planet, I suppose because we're so near to them, and, instead of falling on to Saturn, we shall have to push up at him.”

“Oh yes, I see that,” said Zaidie, “but after all it does look a little bit bewildering, doesn't it, to be on your feet one minute and on your head the next?”

“It is, rather; but you ought to be getting accustomed to that sort of thing now. In a few minutes neither you, nor I, nor anything else will have any weight. We shall be just between the attraction of the Rings and Saturn, so you'd better go and sit down, for if you were to give a bit of an extra spring in walking you might be knocking that pretty head of yours against the roof,” said Redgrave, as he went to turn the R. Force on to the edge of the Rings.

A vast sea of silver cloud seemed now to descend upon them. Then they entered it, and for nearly half-an-hour the Astronef was totally enveloped in a sea of pearl-grey luminous mist.

“Atmosphere!” said Redgrave, as he went to the conning-tower and signalled to Murgatroyd to start the propellers. They continued to rise and the mist began to drift past them in patches, showing that the propellers were driving them ahead.

They now rose swiftly towards the surface of the planet. The cloud wrack got thinner and thinner, and presently they found themselves floating in a clear atmosphere between two seas of cloud, the one above them being much less dense than the one below.

“I believe we shall see Saturn on the other side of that,” said Zaidie, looking up at it. “Oh dear, there we are going round again.”

“Reaching the point of neutral attraction,” said Redgrave; “once more you'd better sit down in case of accidents.”

Instead of dropping into her deck chair as she would have done on Earth, she took hold of the arms and pulled herself into it, saying:

“Really it seems rather absurd to have to do this sort of thing. Fancy having to hold yourself into a chair. I suppose I hardly weigh anything at all now.”

“Not much,” said Redgrave, stooping down and taking hold of the end of the chair with both hands. Without any apparent effort he raised her about five feet from the floor, and held her there while the Astronef made another revolution. For a moment he let go, and she and the chair floated between the roof and the floor of the deck-chamber. Then he pulled the chair away from under her, and as the floor of the vessel once more turned towards Saturn, he took hold of her hands and brought her to her feet on deck again.

“I ought to have had a photograph of you like that!” he laughed. “I wonder what they'd think of it at home?”

“If you had taken one I should certainly have broken the negative. The very idea, a photograph of me standing on nothing! Besides, they'd never believe it on Earth.”

“We might have got old Andrew to make an affidavit to that effect,” he began.

“Don't talk nonsense, Lenox! Look! There's something much more interesting. There's Saturn at last. Now I wonder if we shall find any sort of life there—and shall we be able to breathe the air?”

“I hardly think so,” he said, as the Astronef dropped slowly through the thin cloud-veil. “You know spectrum analysis has proved that there is a gas in Saturn's atmosphere which we know nothing about, and, whatever it may be for the inhabitants' it's not very likely that it would agree with us, so I think we'd better be content with our own. Besides, the atmosphere is so enormously dense that even if we could breathe it it might squash us up. You see we're only accustomed to fifteen pounds on the square inch, and it may be hundreds of pounds here.”

“Well,” said Zaidie, “I haven't got any particular desire to be flattened out like that, or squeezed dry like an orange. It's not at all a nice idea, is it? But, look, Lenox,” she went on, pointing downwards, “surely this isn't air at all, or at least it's something between air and water. Aren't these things swimming about in it—something like fish in the sea? They can't be clouds, and they aren't either fish or birds. They don't fly or float. Well, this is certainly more wonderful than anything else we've seen, though it doesn't look very pleasant. They're not nice looking, are they? I wonder if they are at all dangerous!”

While she was saying this Zaidie had gone to her telescope, and was sweeping the surface of Saturn, which was now about 100 miles distant. Her husband was doing the same. In fact, for the time being they were all eyes, for they were looking on a stranger sight than human beings had ever seen before.

Underneath the inner cloud-veil the atmosphere of Saturn appeared to them somewhat as the lower depths of the ocean would appear to a diver, granted that he was able to see for hundreds of miles about him. Its colour was a pale greenish yellow. The outside thermometers showed that the temperature was a hundred and seventy-five. In fact the interior of the Astronef was getting uncomfortably like a Turkish bath, and Redgrave took the opportunity of at once freshening and cooling the air by releasing a little from the cylinders where it was stored in liquid form.

From what they could see of the surface of Saturn it seemed to be a dead level, greyish-brown in colour, and not divided into oceans and continents. In fact there were no signs whatever of water within range of their telescopes. There was nothing that looked like cities, or any human habitations, but the ground, as they got nearer to it, seemed to be covered with a very dense vegetable growth, not unlike gigantic forms of seaweed, and of somewhat the same colour. In fact, as Zaidie remarked, the surface of Saturn was not at all unlike what the floors of the ocean of the Earth might be if they were laid bare.

It was evident that the life of this portion of Saturn was not what, for want of a more exact word, might be called terrestrial. Its inhabitants, however they were constituted, floated about in the depths of this semi-gaseous ocean as the denizens of earthly seas did in the terrestrial oceans. Already their telescopes enabled them to make out enormous moving shapes, black and grey-brown and pale red, swimming about, evidently by their own volition, rising and falling and often sinking down on to the gigantic vegetation which covered the surface, possibly for the purpose of feeding. But it was also evident that they resembled the inhabitants of earthly oceans in another respect since it was easy to see that they preyed upon each other.

“I don't like the look of those creatures at all,” said Zaidie when the Astronef had come to a stop and was floating about five miles above the surface. “They're altogether too uncanny. They look to me something like jelly-fish about the size of whales only they have eyes and mouths. Did you ever see such awful looking eyes, bigger than soup-plates and as bright as a cat's. I suppose that's because of the dim light. And the nasty wormy sort of way they swim, or fly, or whatever it is. Lenox, I don't know what the rest of Saturn may be like, but I certainly don't like this part. It's quite too creepy and unearthly for my taste. Look at the horrors fighting and eating each other. That's the only bit of earthly character they've got about them; the big ones eating the little ones. I hope they won't take the Astronef for something nice to eat.”

“They'd find her a pretty tough morsel if they did,” laughed Redgrave, “but still we may as well get some speed on her in case of accident.”

In obedience to a signal to Murgatroyd, the propellers began to revolve, beating the dense air and driving the Star Navigator about twenty miles an hour through the depths of this strangely-peopled ocean.

They approached nearer and nearer to the surface, and as they did so the strange creatures about them grew more and more numerous. They were certainly the most extraordinary living things that human eyes had looked upon. Zaidie's comparison to the whale and the jelly fish was by no means incorrect; only when they got near enough to them they found, to their astonishment, that they were double-headed—that is to say, they had a head furnished with mouth, nostrils, ear-holes, and eyes at each end of their bodies.

The larger of the creatures appeared to have a certain amount of respect for each other. Now and then they witnessed a battle-royal between two of the monsters who were pursuing the same prey. Their method of attack was as follows: the assailant would rise above his opponent or prey, and then, dropping on to its back, envelope it and begin tearing at its sides and under parts with huge beak-like jaws, somewhat resembling those of the largest kind of the earthly octopus, only very much larger. The substance composing their bodies appeared to be not unlike that of a terrestrial jelly-fish, but much denser, and having the tenacity of soft India rubber save at the double ends, where it was much harder, in fact a good deal more like horn.

When one of them had overpowered an enemy or a victim the two sank down into the vegetation, and the victor began to eat the vanquished. Their means of locomotion consisted of huge fins, or rather half fins, half wings, of which they had three laterally arranged behind each head, and four much longer and narrower, above and below, which seemed to be used mainly for steering purposes.

They moved with equal ease in either direction, and they appeared to rise or fall by inflating or deflating the middle portions of their bodies, somewhat as fish do with their swimming bladders.

The light in the lower regions of this strange ocean was dimmer than earthly twilight, although the Astronef was steadily making her way beneath the arch of the rings towards the sunlit hemisphere.

“I wonder what the effect of the searchlight would be on these fellows!” said Redgrave. “Those huge eyes of theirs are evidently only suited to dim light. Let's try and dazzle some of them.”

“I hope it won't be a case of the moths and the candle!” said Zaidie. “They don't seem to have taken much interest in us so far. Perhaps they haven't been able to see properly, but suppose they were attracted by the light and began crowding round us and fastening on to us, as the horrible things do with each other. What should we do then? They might drag us down and perhaps keep us there; but there's one thing, they'd never eat us, because we could keep closed up and die respectably together.”

“Not much fear of that, little woman,” he said, “we're too strong for them. Hardened steel and toughened glass ought to be more than a match for a lot of exaggerated jelly-fish like these,” said Redgrave, as he switched on the head search-light. “We've come here to see strange things and we may as well see them. Ah, would you my friend. No, this is not one of your sort, and it isn't meant to eat.”

A huge, double-headed monster, apparently some four hundred feet long, came floating towards them as the search-light flashed out, and others began instantly to crowd about them, just as Zaidie had feared.

“Lenox, for Heaven's sake be careful!” cried Zaidie, shrinking up beside him as the huge, hideous head, with its saucer eyes and enormous beak-like jaws wide open, came towards them. “And look, there are more coming. Can't we go up and get away from them?”

“Wait a minute, little woman,” replied Redgrave, who was beginning to feel the passion of adventure thrilling in his nerves “If we fought the Martian air fleet and licked it I think we can manage these things. Let's see how he likes the light.”

As he spoke he flashed the full glare of the five thousand candle-power lamp full on to the creature's great cat-like eyes. Instantly it bent itself up into an arc. The two heads, each the exact image of the other, came together. The four eyes glared half dazzled into the conning-tower and the four huge jaws snapped viciously together.

“Lenox, Lenox, for goodness sake let us go up!” cried Zaidie shrinking still closer to him. “That thing's too horrible to look at.”

“It is a beast, isn't it?” he said, “but I think we can cut him in two without much trouble.”

He pressed one of the buttons on the signal board three times quickly and once slowly. It was the signal for full speed on the propellers, that is to say about a hundred earth-miles an hour. The Astronef ought to have sprung forward and driven her ram through the huge, brick-red body of the hideous creature which was now only a couple of hundred yards from them; but instead of that a slow, jarring, grinding thrill seemed to run through her, and she stopped. The next moment Murgatroyd put his head up through the companion-way which led from the upper deck to the conning-tower, and said in a tone whose calm indicated, as usual, resignation to the worst that could happen:

“My lord, two of those beasts, fishes or live balloons, or whatever they are, have come across the propellers. They're cut up a good bit, but I've had to stop the engines, and they're clinging all round the after part. We're going down, too. Shall I disconnect the propellers and turn on the repulsion?”

“Yes, certainly, Andrew!” cried Zaidie, “and all of it, too. Look, Lenox, that horrible thing is coming. Suppose it broke the glass, and we couldn't breathe this atmosphere!”

As she spoke the enormous, double-headed body advanced until it completely enveloped the forward part of the Astronef. The two hideous heads came close to the sides of the conning-tower; the huge, palely luminous eyes looked in upon them. Zaidie, in her terror, even thought that she saw something like human curiosity in them.

Then, as Murgatroyd disappeared to obey the orders which Redgrave had sanctioned with a quick nod, the heads approached still closer, and she heard the ends of the pointed jaws, which she now saw were armed with shark-like teeth, striking against the thick glass walls of the conning-tower.

“Don't be frightened, dear!” he said, putting his arm round her, just as he had done when they thought they were falling into the fiery seas of Jupiter. “You'll see something happen to this gentleman soon. Big and all as he is there won't be much left of him in a few minutes. They are like those monsters they found in the lowest depths of our own seas. They can only live under tremendous pressure. That's why we didn't find any of them up above. This chap'll burst like a bubble presently. Meanwhile, there's no use in stopping here. Suppose you go below and brew some coffee and bring it up on deck with a drop of brandy in it, while I go and see how things are looking aft. It doesn't do you any good, you know, to be looking at monsters of this sort. You can see what's left of them later on.”

Zaidie was not at all sorry to obey him, for the horrible sight had almost sickened her.

They were still under the arch of the rings, and so, when the full strength of the R. Force was directed against the body of Saturn, the vessel sprang upwards like a projectile fired from a cannon.

Redgrave went back into the conning-tower to see what happened to their assailant. It was already trying vainly to detach itself and sink back into a more congenial element. As the pressure of the atmosphere decreased its huge body swelled up into still huger proportions. The skin on the two heads puffed up as though air was being pumped in under it. The great eyes protruded out of their sockets; the jaws opened widely as though the creature were gasping for breath.

Meanwhile Murgatroyd was seeing something very similar at the after end, and wondering what was going to happen to his propellers, the blades of which were deeply imbedded in the jelly-like flesh of the monsters.

The Astronef leaped higher and higher, and the hideous bodies which were clinging to her swelled out huger and huger, and Redgrave even fancied that he heard something like the cries of pain from both heads on either side of the conning-tower. They passed through the inner cloud-veil, and then the Astronef began to turn on her axis, and, just as the outer envelope came into view the enormously distended bulk of the monsters collapsed, and their fragments, seeming now more like the tatters of a burst balloon, dropped from the body of the Astronef and floated away down into what had once been their native element.

“Difference of environment means a lot, after all,” said Redgrave to himself. “I should have called that either a lie or a miracle if I hadn't seen it, and I'm jolly glad I sent Zaidie down below.”

“Here's your coffee, Lenox,” said Zaidie's voice from the upper deck, “only it doesn't seem to want to stop in the cups, and the cups keep getting off the saucers. I suppose we're turning upside down again.”

Redgrave stepped somewhat gingerly on to the deck, for his body had so little weight under the double attraction of Saturn and the Rings that a very slight effort would have sent him flying up to the roof of the deck-chamber.

“That's exactly as you please,” he said, “just hold that table steady a minute. We shall have our centre of gravity back soon. And now, as to the main question, suppose we take a trip across the sunlit hemisphere of Saturn to, what I suppose we should call, on Earth, the South Pole. We can get resistance from the Rings, and as we are here we may as well see what the rest of Saturn is like. You see, if our theory is correct as to the Rings gathering up most of the atmosphere of Saturn about its equator, we shall get to higher altitudes where the air is thinner and more like our own, and therefore it is quite possible that we shall find different forms of life in it too—or if you've had enough of Saturn and would prefer a trip to Uranus?”

“No, thanks,” said Zaidie quickly. “To tell you the truth, Lenox, I've had almost enough star-wandering for one honeymoon, and though we've seen nice things as well as horrible things—especially those ghastly, slimy creatures down there—I'm beginning to feel a bit homesick for good old mother Earth. You see, we're nearly a thousand million miles from home, and, even with you, it makes one feel a bit lonely. I vote we explore the rest of this hemisphere up to the pole, and then, as they say at sea—I mean our sea—'bout ship, and see if we can find our own old world again. After all, it's more homelike than any of these, isn't it?”

“Just take your telescope and look at it,” said Redgrave, pointing towards the Sun, with its little cluster of attendant planets. “It looks something like one of Jupiter's little moons down there, doesn't it, only not quite as big?”

“Yes, it does, but that doesn't matter. The fact is that it's there, and we know what it's like, and it's home, if it is a thousand million miles away, and that's everything.”

By this time they had passed through the outer band of clouds. The huge, sunlit arch of the Rings towered up to the zenith, and apparently overarched the whole heavens. Below and in front of them lay the enormous semi-circle of the hemisphere which was turned towards the Sun, shrouded by its many colored bands of clouds. The Repulsive Force was directed strongly against the lower Ring, and the Asfronef dropped rapidly in a slanting direction through the cloud-bands towards the southern temperate zone of the planet.

They passed through the second, or dark, cloud-band at the rate of about three thousand miles an hour, aided by the Repulsion against the Rings and, the attraction of the planet, and soon after lunch, the materials of which now consented to remain on the table, they passed through the clouds and found themselves in a new world of wonders.

On a far vaster scale, it was the Earth during that period of its development which is called the Reptilian Age. The atmosphere was still dense and loaded with aqueous vapour, but the waters had already been divided from the land.

They passed over vast, marshy continents and islands, and warm seas, above which thin clouds of steam still hung. They passed through these, and, as they swept southward with the propellers working at their utmost speed, they caught glimpses of giant forms rising out of the steamy waters near the land; of others crawling slowly over it, dragging their huge bulk through a tremendous vegetation, which they crushed down as they passed, as a sheep on earth might push its way through a field of standing corn.

Yet other shapes, huge winged and ungainly, fluttered with a slow, bat-like motion, through the lower strata of the atmosphere.

Every now and then during the voyage across the temperate zone the propellers were slowed down to enable them to witness some Titanic conflict between the gigantic denizens of land and sea and air. But her ladyship had had enough of horrors on the Saturnian equator, and so she was quite content to watch this phase of evolution (as it had happened on the Earth many thousands of ages ago) from a convenient distance, and so the Astronef sped on southward without approaching the surface nearer than a couple of miles.

“It'll be all very nice to see and remember and dream about afterwards,” she said, “but really I don't think I can stand any more monsters just now, at least not at close quarters, and I'm quite sure if those things can live there we couldn't, any more than we could have lived on Earth a million years or so ago. No, really I don't want to land, Lenox, let's go on.”

They went on at a speed of about a hundred miles an hour, and, as they progressed southward, both the atmosphere and the landscape rapidly changed. The air grew clearer and the clouds lighter. Lands and seas were more sharply divided, and both teeming with life. The seas still swarmed with serpentine monsters of the saurian type, and the firmer lands were peopled by huge animals, mastodons, bears, giant tapirs, nyledons, deinotheriums, and a score of other species too strange for them to recognise by any earthly likeness, which roamed in great herds through the vast twilit forests and over boundless plains covered with grey-blue vegetation.

Here, too, they found mountains for the first time on Saturn; mountains steep-sided, and many earth-miles high.

As the Astronef was skirting the side of one of these ranges Redgrave allowed it to approach more closely than he had so far done to the surface of Saturn.

“I shouldn't wonder if we found some of the higher forms of life up here,” he said. “If there is anything here that's going to develop some clay into the human race of Saturn, it would naturally get up here.”

“Of course it would,” said Zaidie, “as far as possible out of the reach of those unutterable horrors on the equator. I should think that would be one of the first signs they would show of superior intelligence. Look, I believe there are some of them. Do you see those holes in the mountain side there? And there they are, something like gorillas, only twice as big, and up the trees, too—and what trees! They must be seven or eight hundred feet high.”

“Tree and cave-dwellers, and ancestors of the future royal race of Saturn, I suppose!” said Redgrave. “They don't look very nice, do they? Still, there's no doubt about their being far superior in intelligence to what we left behind us. Evidently this atmosphere is too thin for the two-headed jelly-fishes, and the saurians to breathe. These creatures have found that out in a few hundreds of generations, and so they have come to live up here out of the way. Vegetarians, I suppose, or perhaps they live on smaller monkeys and other animals, just as our ancestors did.”

“Really, Lenox,” said Zaidie, turning round and facing him, “I must say that you have a most unpleasant way of alluding to one's ancestors. They couldn't help what they were.”

“Well, dear,” he said, going towards her, “marvellous as the miracle seems, I'm heretic enough to believe it possible that your ancestors even, millions of years ago, perhaps, may have been something like those; but then, of course, you know I'm a hopeless Darwinian.”

“And, therefore, entirely horrid, as I've often said before when you get on subjects like these. Not, of course, that I'm ashamed of my poor relations; and then, after all, your Darwin was quite wrong when he talked about the descent of man—and woman. We—especially the women—have ascended from that sort of thing, if there's any truth in the story at all; though, personally, I must say I prefer dear old Mother Eve.”

“Who never had a sweeter daughter!” he replied, drawing her towards him.

“And, meanwhile, compliments being barred, I'll go and get dinner ready,” she said. “After all, it doesn't matter what world one's in, one get's hungry all the same.”

The dinner, which was eaten somewhere in the middle of the fifteen-year-long day of Saturn, was a very pleasant one, because they were now nearing the turning-point of their trip into the depths of Space, and thoughts of home and friends were already beginning to fly back across the thousand-million-mile gulf which lay between them and the Earth which they had left only a little more than two months ago.

While they were at dinner the Astronef rose above the mountains and resumed her southward course. Zaidie brought the coffee up on deck as usual after dinner, and, while Redgrave smoked his cigar and Zaidie her cigarette, they luxuriated in the magnificent spectacle of the sunlit side of Rings towering up, rainbow built on rainbow, to the zenith of their visible heavens.

“What a pity there aren't any words to describe it!” said Zaidie. “I wonder if the descendants of the ancestors of the future human race on Saturn will invent anything like a suitable language. I wonder how they'll talk about those Rings millions of years hence.”

“By that time there may not be any Rings,” Lenox replied, blowing a ring of smoke from his own lips. “Look at that—made in a moment and gone in a moment—and yet on exactly the same principle, it gives one a dim idea of the difference between time and eternity. After all it's only another example of Kelvin's theory of vortices. Nebulae, and asteroids, and planet-rings, and smoke-rings are really all made on the same principle.”

“My dear Lenox, if you're going to get as philosophical and as commonplace as that I'm going to bed. Now that I come to think of it, I've been about fifteen earth-hours out of bed, so it's about time I went. It's your turn to make the coffee in the morning—our morning I mean—and you'll wake me in time to see the South Pole of Saturn, won't you? You're not coming yet, I suppose?”

“Not just yet, dear. I want to see a bit more of this, and then I must go through the engines and see that they're all right for that thousand million mile homeward voyage you're talking about. You can have a good ten hours' sleep without missing much, I think, for there doesn't seem to be anything more interesting than our own Arctic life down there. So good-night, little woman, and don't have too many nightmares.”

“Good-night!” she said, “if you hear me shout you'll know that you've to come and protect me from monsters. Weren't those two-headed brutes just too horrid for words? Good-night, dear!”



THE END

Homeward Bound



AFTER leaving Saturn the Astronef pursued her lonely course on her homeward voyage across the fields of space, while the Ringed World, which had so nearly proved the end of Lord and Lady Redgrave's wanderings, grew dimmer every hour behind them.

On the morning of the fourth day from Saturn Lord Redgrave went as usual into the conning-tower to examine the instruments and to see that everything was in order. To his intense surprise he found, on looking at the gravitational compass, which was to the Astronef what the ordinary compass is to a ship at sea, that the vessel was a long way out of her course.

Such a thing had never yet occurred. Up to now the Astronef had obeyed the laws of gravitation and repulsion with absolute exactness. He made another examination of the instruments; but no, all were in perfect order.

“I wonder what the deuce is the matter,” he said, after he had looked for a few moments with frowning eyes at the Heavens before him. “By Jove, we're swinging more. This is getting serious.”

He went back to the compass. The long, slender needle was slowly swinging farther and farther out of the middle line of the vessel.

“There can only be two explanations of that,” he went on, thrusting his hands deep into his trouser pockets; “either the engines are not working properly, or some enormous and invisible body is pulling us towards it out of our course. Let's have a look at the engines first.”

When he reached the engine-room he said to Murgatroyd, who was indulging in his usual pastime of cleaning and polishing his beloved charges:

“Have you noticed anything wrong during the last hour or so, Murgatroyd?”

“No, my lord, at least not so far as concerns the engines. They're all right. Hark now, they're not making more noise than a lady's sewing machine,” replied the old Yorkshireman with a note of resentment in his voice. The suspicion that anything could be wrong with his shining darlings was almost a personal offence to him. “But is anything the matter, my lord, if I might ask?”

“We're a long way off our course, and for the life of me I can't understand it,” replied Redgrave. “There's nothing about here to pull us out of our line. Of course the stars—good Lord, I never thought of that! Look here, Murgatroyd, not a word abuut this to her ladyship. and stand by to raise the power by degrees, as I signal to you.”

“Ay, my lord. I hope it's nothing bad.”

Redgrave went back to the conning-tower without replying. The only possible solution of the mystery of the deviation had suddenly dawned upon him, and a very serious solution it was. He remembered that there were such things as dead suns—the derelicts of the Ocean of Space—vast, invisible orbs, lightless and lifeless, too distant from any living sun to be illumined by its rays, and yet exercising the only force left to them, the force of attraction. Might not one of these have wandered near enough to the confines of the Solar system to exert this force, a force of absolutely unknown magnitude, upon the Astronef?

He went to a little desk beside the instrument-table and plunged into a maze of mathematics, of masses and weights, angles and distances. Half-an-hour later he stood looking at the last symbol on the last sheet of paper with something like fear. It was the fatal x which remained to satisfy the last equation, the unknown quantity which represented the unseen force that was dragging the Astronef into the outer wilderness of interstellar space, into far-off regions from which, with the remaining force at his disposal, no return would be possible.

He signalled to Murgatroyd to increase the development of the R. Force from a tenth to a half. Then he went to the lower saloon, where Zaidie was busy with her usual morning “tidy-up.” Now that the mystery was explained there was no reason to keep her in the dark. Indeed, he had given her his word that he would conceal from her no danger, however great, that might threaten them when he had once assured himself of its existence.

She listened to him in silence and without a sign of fear beyond a little lifting of the eyelids and a little fading of the colour in her cheeks.

“And if we can't resist this force,” she said, when he had finished, “it will drag us millions—perhaps millions of millions—of miles away from our own system into outer space, and we shall either fall on the surface of this dead sun and be reduced to a puff of lighted gas in an instant, or some other body will pull us away from it, and then another away from that, and so on, and we shall wander among the stars for ever and ever until the end of time!”

“If the first happens, darling, we shall die—together—without knowing it. It's the second that I'm most afraid of. The Astronef may go on wandering among the stars for ever—but we have only water enough for three weeks more. Now come into the conning—tower and we'll sec how things are going.”

As they bent their heads over the instrument-table Redgrave saw that the remorseless needle had moved two degrees more to the right. The keel of the Astronef, under the impulse of the R. Force, was continually turning. The pull of the invisible orb was dragging the vessel slowly but irresistibly out of her line.

“There's nothing for it but this,” said Redgrave, putting out his hand to the signal-board, and signalling to Murgatroyd to put the engines to their highest power. “You see, dear, our greatest danger is this; we have had to exert such a tremendous lot of power that we haven't any too much to spare, and if we have to spend it in counteracting the pull of this dead sun, or whatever it is, we may not have enough of what I call the R. Fluid left to get home with.”

“I see,” she said, staring with wide-open eyes at the needle. “You mean that we may not have enough to keep us from falling into one of the planets or perhaps into the sun itself. Well, supposing the dangers are equal, this one is the nearest, and so I guess we've got to fight it first.”

“Spoken like a good American!” he said, putting his arm across her shoulders and looking at once with infinite pride and infinite regret at the calm, proud face which the glory of resignation had adorned with a new beauty.

She bowed her head and then looked away again so that he should not see that there were tears in her eyes. He took his hand from her shoulder and stared in silence down at the needle. It was stationary again.

“We've stopped!” he said, after a pause of several moments. “Now, if the body that's taken us out of our course is moving away from us we win, if it's coming towards us we lose. At any rate, we've done all we can. Come along, Zaidie, let's go and have a walk on deck.”

They had scarcely reached the upper deck when something happened which dwarfed all the other experiences of their marvellous voyage into utter insignificance. Above and around them the constellations blazed with a splendour inconceivable to an observer on earth, but ahead of them gaped the vast, black void which sailors call “the coal-hole,” and in which the most powerful telescopes have only discovered a few faintly luminous bodies. Suddenly, out of the midst of this infinity of darkness, there blazed a glare of almost intolerably brilliant radiance. Instantly the forward end of the Astronef was bathed in light and heat—the light and heat of a re-created sun, whose elements had been dark and cold for uncounted ages.

Hundreds of tiny points of light, unknown worlds which had been dark for myriads of years, twinkled out of the blackness. Then the fierce glare grew dimmer. A vast mantle of luminous mist spread out with inconceivable rapidity, and in the midst of this blazed the central nucleus—the sun which in far-off ages to come would be the giver of light and heat, of life and beauty to worlds unborn, to planets which were now only little eddies of atoms whirling in that ocean of nebulous flame.

For more than an hour the two voyagers stood motionless and silent, gazing on the indescribable splendours of a spectacle such as no human eyes but theirs had ever beheld. Every earthly thought seemed burnt out of their souls by the glory and the wonder of it. It was almost as though they were standing in the very presence of God, for were they not witnessing the supreme act of omnipotence, a new creation? Their peril, a peril such as had never threatened mortals before, was utterly forgotten. They had even forgotten each other's presence. For the time being they existed only to look and to wonder.

They were called at length out of their trance by the matter-of-fact voice of Murgatroyd saying: “My lord, she's back to her course. Will I keep the power on full?”

“Eh! What's that?” exclaimed Redgrave, as they both turned quickly round. “Oh, it's you, Murgatroyd. The power? Yes, keep it on full till I have taken the bearings.”

“Ay, my lord, very good.” replied the engineer. As he left the deck Redgrave put his arm round Zaidie and drew her gently towards him and said: “Zaidie, truly you are favoured among women! You have seen the beginning of a new creation. You will certainly be saved somehow after that.”

“Yes, and you too, dear,” she murmured, as though still half-dreaming. “It is very glorious and wonderful; but what is it all—I mean, what is the explanation of it?”

“The merely scientific explanation, dear, is very simple. I see it all now. The force that was dragging us out of our course was the united pull of two dead stars approaching each other in the same orbit. They may have been doing that for millions of years. The shock of their meeting has transformed their motion into light and heat. They have united to form a single sun and a nebula, which will some day condense into a system of planets like ours. To-night the astronomers on earth will discover a new star—a variable star as they'll call it—for it will grow dimmer as it moves away from our system. It has often happened before.”

Then they turned back to the conning-tower. The needle had swung to its old position. The new star, henceforth to be known in the annals of astronomy as Lilla-Zaidie, had already set for them to the right of the Astronef and risen on the left, and, at a distance of over nineteen hundred million miles from the earth, the corner was turned, and the homeward voyage began.

A few days later they crossed the path of Jupiter, but the giant was invisible, far away on the other side of the sun. Redgrave laid his course so as to avail himself to the utmost of the “pull” of the planets without going near enough to them to be compelled to exert too much of the priceless R. Force, which the indicators showed to be running perilously low.

Between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars they made a decided economy by landing on Ceres, one of the largest of the asteroids, and travelling about fifty million miles on her towards the orbit of the earth without any expenditure of force whatever. They found the tiny world possessed of a breathable atmosphere and a fluid resembling water but nearly as dense as mercury. A couple of flasks of it form the greatest treasures of the British Museum and the National Museum at Washington. The vegetable world was represented by coarse grass, lichens, and dwarf shrubs, and the animal by different species of worms, lizards and flies, and small burrowing animals of the rodent type.

As the orbit of Ceres, like that of the other asteroids, is considerably inclined to that of the earth, the Astronef rose from its surface when the plane of the earth's revolution was reached, and the glittering swarm of miniature planets plunged away into space beneath them.

“Where to now?” said Zaidie, as her husband came down on deck from the conning-tower.

“I am going to try to steer a middle course between the orbits of Mercury and Venus,” he replied. “They just happen to be so placed now that we ought to be able to get the advantage of the pull of both of them as we pass, and that will save us a lot of power. The only thing I'm afraid of is the pull of the sun, equal to goodness knows how many times the attraction of all the planets put together. You see, little woman, it's like this,” he went on, taking out a pencil and going down on one knee on the deck: “Here's the Astronef; there's Venus; there's Mercury; there's the sun; and there, away on the other side of him, is Mother Earth: If we can turn that corner safely and without expending too much power we should be all right.”

“And if we can't, what will happen?”

“It will be a choice between morphine and cremation in the atmosphere of the sun, dear, or rather gradually roasting as we fall towards it.”

“Then, of course, it will be morphine,” she said quite quietly, as she turned away from his diagram and looked at the now fast increasing disc of the sun. A well-balanced mind speedily becomes accustomed even to the most terrible perils, and Zaidie had now looked this one so long and so steadily in the face that for her it had already become merely the choice between two forms of death with just a chance of escape hidden in the closed hand of Fate.

Thirty-six earth-hours later the glorious golden disc of Venus lay broad and bright beneath them. Above was the blazing orb of the Sun, nearly half as big again as it appears from the earth, with Mercury, a round black spot, travelling slowly across it.

“My dear Bird-Folk!” said Zaidie, looking down at the lovely world below them. “If home wasn't home-”

“We can be back among them in a few hours with absolute safety,” interrupted her husband, catching at the suggestion. “I've told you the truth about getting back to the earth. It's only a chance at best, and even if we pass the sun we may not have force enough left to prevent the Astronef from being smashed to dust or burnt up in the atmosphere. After all we might do worse-”

“What would you do if you were alone, Rollo?” she said, interrupting him in turn.

“I should take my chance and go on. After all home's home and worth a struggle. But you, dear-”

“I'm you, and so I take the same chances as you do. Besides, we're not perfect enough for a world where there isn't any sin. We should probably get quite miserable there. No, home's home, as you say.”

“Then home it is, dear!” he replied.

The vast, resplendent hemisphere of the Love-Star sunk down into the vault of space, growing swiftly smaller and dimmer as the Astronef sped towards the little black spot on the face of the sun, which to them was like a buoy marking a place of utter and hopeless shipwreck in the ocean of immensity.

The chronometer, still set to earth time, had now begun to mark the last hours of the Astronef's voyage. She was not only travelling at a speed of which figures could give no comprehensible idea, but the Sun, Mercury, and the Earth were rushing towards her with a compound velocity, composed of the movement of the Solar System through space and of the movement of the two planets round the sun.

Murgatroyd was at his post in the engine-room. Redgrave and Zaidie had gone into the conning-tower, perhaps for the last time. For good fortune or evil, for life or death, they would see the end of the voyage together.

“How far yet, dear?” she said, as Venus began to slip away behind them, rising like a splendid moon in their wake.

“Only sixty million miles or so, a matter of a few hours, more or less—it all depends,” he replied, without taking his eyes off the compass.

“Sixty millions! Why I feel almost at home again.”

“But we have to turn the corner of the street yet, dear, and after that there's a fall of more than twenty-five million miles on to the more or less kindly breast of Mother Earth.”

“A fall! It does sound rather awful when you put it that way; but I am not going to let you frighten me. I believe Mother Earth will receive her wandering children quite as kindly as they deserve.”

The moon-like disc of Venus grew swiftly smaller, and the black spot on the face of the sun larger and larger as the Astronef rushed silently and imperceptibly, and yet with almost inconceivable velocity, towards doom or fortune. Neither Zaidie nor Redgrave spoke again for nearly three hours—hours which to them seemed to pass like so many minutes. Their eyes were fixed on the black disc of Mercury, which, as they approached it, expanded with magical rapidity till it completely eclipsed the blazing orb behind it. Their thoughts were far away on the still invisible earth and all the splendid possibilities that it held for two young lives like theirs.

As the sunlight vanished they looked at each other in the golden moonlight of Venus, and Zaiclie let her head rest for a moment on her husband's shoulder. Then a swiftly broadening gleam of light shot out from behind the black circle of Mercury. The first crisis had come. Redgrave put out his hand to the signal-board and rang for full power. The planet seemed to swing round as the Astronef rushed into the blaze. In a few minutes it passed through the phases from “new” to “full.” Venus became eclipsed in turn as they swung between Mercury and the Sun, and then Redgrave, after a rapid glance to either side, said:

“If we can only keep the two pulls balanced we shall do it. That will keep us in a straight line, and our own momentum ought to carry us into the earth's attraction.”

Zaidie did not reply. She was shading her eyes with her hand from the almost intolerable brilliance of the sun's rays, and looking straight ahead to catch the first glimpse of the silver-grey orb. Her husband read her thoughts and respected them. But a few minutes later he startled her out of her dream of home by exclaiming:

“Good God, we're turning!”

“What do you say, dear? Turning what?”

“On our own centre. Look! I'm afraid only a miracle can save us now, darling.”

She looked to the left-hand side where he was pointing. The sun, no longer now a sun, but a vast ocean of flame filling, nearly a third of the vault of space, was sinking beneath them, on the right Mercury was rising. Zaidie knew only too well what this meant. It meant that the keel of the Astronef was being dragged out of the straight line which would cut the earth's orbit some forty million miles away. It meant that, in spite of the exertion of the full power that the engines could develop, they had begun to fall into the sun.

Redgrave laid his hand on his wife's, and their eyes met. There was no need for words. Perhaps speech just then would have been impossible. In that mute glance each looked into the other's soul and was content. Then he left the conning-tower, and Zaidie dropped on to her knees before the instrument-table and laid her forehead upon her clasped hands.

Her husband went to the saloon, unlocked a little cupboard in the wall and took out a blue bottle of corrugated glass labeled “Morphine, poison.” He took another empty bottle of white glass and measured fifty drops into it. Then he went to the engine-room and said abruptly:

“Murgatroyd, I'm afraid it's all up with us. We're falling into the sun, and you know what that means. In a few hours the Astronef will be red-hot. So it's roasting alive—or this. I recommend this.”

“And what might that be, my lord?” said the old engineer, looking at the bottle which his master held vut towards him. “That's morphine—poison. Fill that up with water, drink it, and in half-an-hour you'll be dead without knowing it. Of course, you won't take it until there's absolutely no hope; but, granted that, you'll find this a better death than roasting or baking alive.” Then his voice changed suddenly as he went on: “Of course, I need not say, Murgatroyd, how deeply I regret now that I asked you to come in the Astronef.”

“My lord, my people have served yours for seven hundred years, and, whether on earth or among the stars, where you go it is my duty to go also. But don't ask me to take the poison. It is not for me to say that a journey like this is tempting Providence, but, by my lights, if I am to die it will be the death that Providence sends.”

“I daresay you're right in one way, Murgatroyd, but it's no time to argue about beliefs now. There's the bottle. Do as you think right. And now, in case the miracle doesn't happen, good-bye.

“Good-bye, my lord, if it be so,” replied the old Yorkshireman, taking the hand which Redgrave held out to him. “I'll keep the power on to the last, I suppose?”

“Yes, you may as well. If it doesn't keep us away from the Sun it won't be much use to us in two or three hours.”

He left the engine-room and went back to the conning-tower. Zaidie was still on her knees. Beneath and around them the awful gulf of flame was broadening and deepening. Mercury was rising higher and growing smaller. He put the bottle down on the table and waited. Then Zaidie looked up. Her eyes were clear, and her face was perfectly calm. She rose and put her arm through his, and said:

“Well, is there any hope, dear? There can't be now, can there? Is that the morphine?”

“Yes,” he replied, slipping his arm beneath hers and round her waist. “I'm afraid there's not much hope now, little womam. We're using up the last of the power, and you see-”

As he said this he looked at the thermometer. The mercury had risen from 65 deg. Fahrenheit, the normal temperature of the interior of the Astronef, to 93 deg., and during the half-minute that he watched it rose another degree. There was no mistaking such a warning as that. He had brought two little liqueur glasses in his pocket from the saloon. He divided the morphine between them, and filled them up with water.

“Not until the last moment, dear,” said Zaidie, as he set one of them before her. “We have no right to do it until then.”

“Very well. When the mercury reaches a hundred and fifty. After that it will go up ten and fifteen degrees at a jump, and we—”

“Yes, at a hundred and fifty,” she replied, cutting short a speech she dared not hear the end of. “I understand. It will be impossible to hope any more.”

Now, side by side, they stood and watched the thermometer.

Ninety-five—ninety-eight—a hundred and three—a hundred and ten—eighteen—twenty-four—thirty-two—forty-one—

The silent minutes passed, and with each the silver thread—for them the thread of life—grew, with strange contradiction, longer and longer, and with every minute it grew more quickly.

A hundred and forty-six.

With his right arm Redgrave drew Zaidie still closer to him. He put out his left hand and took up the little glass. She did the same.

“Good-bye, dear, till we have slept and wake again!”

“Good-bye, darling, God grant that we may!” But the agony of that last farewell was more than Zaidie could hear. She looked away at the little glass in her hand, a hand which even now did not tremble. Then she raised her eyes again to take one last look at the glory of the stars, and at the Fate incarnate in flame which lay beneath them.

“The Earth, the Earth—thank God, the Earth!”

With the hand that held the draught of Lethe—which in another moment would have passed her lips—she caught at her husband's hand, pulled the glass out of it, and then with a little sigh she dropped senseless on the floor of the conning-tower. Redgrave looked for a moment in the direction that her eyes had taken. A pale, silver-grey crescent, with a little white spot near it, was rising out of the blackness beyond the edge of the solar ocean of flame. Home was in sight at last, but would they reach it—and how?

He picked her up and carried her to their room and laid her on the bed. Then he went to the medicine chest again, this time for a very different purpose.

An hour later, they were on the upper deck with their telescopes turned on to the rapidly-growing crescent of the home-world, which, in its eternal march through space, had come into the line of direct attraction just in time to turn the scale in which the lives of the star-voyagers were trembling. The higher it rose, the bigger and broader and brighter it grew, and, at last, Zaidie—forgetting in her transport of joy all the perils that were yet to come—sprang to her feet and clapped her hands, and cried:

“There's America!”

Then she dropped back into her long deck-chair and began a good, hearty, healthy cry.

Note.—The manner of the ending of the Astronef's marvellous voyage is now as much a matter of public knowledge as are the circumstances of its beginning. Everyone knows now how, with the remains of the R force, Lord Redgrave managed to steer the star-navigator so accurately between the earth and the moon that, descending obliquely towards the earth, she became, during eleven days and twelve nights of terrible suspense, a tiny satellite of the Mother Planet with a constantly decreasing orbit. How, during one awful hour, by the exertions of the last unit of power, of which her engines were capable, she almost grazed the highest peaks of the Bolivian Andes, swept like a meteor over the foot-hills and plains of the western slope of Peru and took the waters of the Pacific barely ten miles from the coast. It is equally needless to recapitulate the delights and the splendours of the welcome home which the whole civilised world united to give to Lord Redgrave and his lovely countess, whose diary of the star voyage has, thanks to her Ladyship's generous condescension, furnished alike the groundwork and the inspiration of the present series of narratives.



THE END

A Honeymoon In Space




Prologue


ABOUT eight o'clock on the morning of the 5th of November, 1900, those of the passengers and crew of the American liner St. Louis who happened, whether from causes of duty or of their own pleasure, to be on deck, had a very strange—in fact a quite unprecedented experience.

The big ship was ploughing her way through the long, smooth rollers at her average twenty-one knots towards the rising sun, when the officer in charge of the navigating bridge happened to turn his glasses straight ahead. He took them down from his eyes, rubbed the two object-glasses with the cuff of his coat, and looked again. The sun was shining through a haze which so far dimmed the solar disc that it was possible to look straight at it without inconvenience to the eyes.

The officer took another long squint, put his glasses down, rubbed his eyes and took another, and murmured, “Well I'm damned!”

Just then the Fourth Officer came up on to the bridge to relieve his senior while he went down far a cup of coffee and a biscuit. The Second took him away to the other end of the bridge, out of hearing of the helmsman and the quartermaster standing by, and said almost in a whisper:

“Say, Norton, there's something ahead there that I can't make out. Just as the sun got clear above the horizon I saw a black spot go straight across it, right through the upper and lower limbs. “I looked again, and it was plumb in the middle of the disc. “Look, he went on, speaking louder in his growing excitement, there it is again! I can see it without the glasses now. See?”

The Fourth did not reply at once. He had the glasses close to his eyes, and was moving them slowly about as though he were following some shifting object in the sky. Then he handed them back, and said:

“If I didn't believe the thing was impossible I should say that's an air-ship; but, for the present, I guess I'd rather wait till it gets a bit nearer, if it's coming. Still, there is something. Seems to be getting bigger pretty fast, too. Perhaps it would be as well to notify the old man. What do you think?”

“Guess we'd better,” said the Second. “S'pose you go down. Don't say anything except to him. We don't want any more excitement among the people than we can help.”

The Fourth nodded and went down the steps, and the Second began walking up and down the bridge, every now and then taking another squint ahead. Again and again the mysterious shape crossed the disc of the sun, always vertically as though, whatever it might be, it was steering a direct course from the sun to the ship, its apparent rising and falling being due really to the dipping of her bows into the swells.

“Well, Mr. Charteris, what's the trouble?” said the Skipper as he reached the bridge. “Nothing wrong, I hope? Have you sighted a derelict, or what? Ay, what in hell's that!”

His hands went up to his eyes and he stared for a few moments at the pale yellow oblate shape of the sun.

At this moment the St. Louis' head dipped again, and the Captain saw something like a black line swiftly drawn across the sun from bottom to top.

“That's what I wanted to call your attention to, sir,” said the Second in a low tone. “I first noticed it crossing the sun as it rose through the mist. I thought it was a spot of dirt on my glasses, but it has crossed the sun several times since then, and for some minutes seemed to remain dead in the middle of it. Later on it got quite a lot larger, and whatever it is it's approaching us pretty rapidly. You see it's quite plain to the naked eye now.”

By this time several of the crew and of the early loungers on deck had also caught sight of the strange thing which seemed to be hanging and swinging between the sky and the sea. People dived below for their glasses, knocked at their friends' state-room doors and told them to get up because something was flying towards the ship through the air; and in a very few minutes there were hundreds of passengers on deck in all varieties of early morning costume, and scores of glasses, held to anxious eyes, were being directed ahead.

The glasses, however, soon became unnecessary, for the passengers had scarcely got up on deck before the mysterious object to the eastward at length took definite shape, and as it did so mouths were opened as well as eyes, for the owners of the eyes and mouths beheld just then the strangest sight that travellers by sea or land had ever seen.

Within the distance of about a mile it swung round at right angles to the steamer's course with a rapidity which plainly showed that it was entirely obedient to the control of a guiding intelligence, and hundreds of eager eyes on board the liner saw, sweeping down from the grey-blue of the early morning sky, a vessel whose hull seemed to be constructed of some metal which shone with a pale, steely lustre.

It was pointed at both ends, the forward end being shaped something like a spur or ram. At the after end were two flickering, interlacing circles of a glittering greenish-yellow colour, apparently formed by two intersecting propellers driven at an enormous velocity. Behind these was a vertical fan of triangular shape. The craft appeared to be flat-bottomed, and for about a third of her length amidships the upper half of her hull was covered with a curving, dome-like roof of glass.

“She's an air-ship of some sort, there's no doubt about that,” said the Captain, “so I guess the great problem has got solved at last. And yet it ain't a balloon, because it's coming against the wind, and it's nothing of the aeroplane sort neither, because it hasn't planes or kites or any fixings of that kind. Still it's made of something like metal and glass, and it must take a lot of keeping up. It's travelling at a pretty healthy speed too. Getting on for a hundred miles an hour, I should guess. Ah! he's going to speak us! Hope he's honest.”

Everybody on board the St. Louis was up on deck by this time, and the excitement rose to fever-heat as the strange vessel swept down towards them from the middle sky, passed them like a flash of light, swung round the stern, and ranged up alongside to starboard some twenty feet from the bridge rail.

She was about a hundred and twenty feet long, with some twenty feet of depth and thirty of beam, and the Captain and many of his officers and passengers were very much relieved to find that, as far as could be seen, she carried no weapons of offence.

As she ranged up alongside, a sliding door opened in the glass-domed roof amidships, just opposite to the end of the St. Louis' bridge. A tall, fair-haired, clean-featured man, of about thirty, in grey flannels, tipped up his golf cap with his thumb, and said:

“Good morning, Captain! You remember me, I suppose? Had a fine passage, so far? I thought I should meet you somewhere about here.”

The Captain of the St. Louis, in common with every one else on board, had already had his credulity stretched about as far as it would go, and he was beginning to wonder whether he was really awake; but when he heard the hail and recognised the speaker he stared at him in blank and, for the moment, speechless bewilderment. Then he got hold of his voice again and said, keeping as steady as he could:

“Good morning, my Lord! Guess I never expected to meet even you like this in the middle of the Atlantic! So the newspaper men were right for once in a way, and you have got an airship that will fly?”

“And a good deal more than that, Captain, if she wants to. I am just taking a trial trip across the Atlantic before I start on a run round the Solar System. Sounds like a lie, doesn't it? But it's coming off. Oh, good morning, Miss Rennick! Captain, may I come on board?”

“By all means, my Lord, only I'm afraid I daren't stop Uncle Sam's mails, even for you.”

“There's no need for that, Captain, on a smooth sea like this,” Was the reply. “Just keep on as you are going and I'll come alongside.”

He put his head inside the door and called something up a speaking-tube which led to a glass walled chamber in the forward part of the roof, where a motionless figure stood before a little steering wheel.

The craft immediately began to edge nearer and nearer to the liner's rail, keeping speed so exactly with her that the threshold of the door touched the end of the bridge without a perceptible jar. Then the flannel-clad figure jumped on to the bridge and held out his hand to the Captain.

As they shook hands he said in a low tone, “I want a word or two in private with you, as soon as possible.”

The commander saw a very serious meaning in his eyes. Besides, even if he had not made his appearance under such extraordinary circumstances, it was quite impossible that one of his social position and his wealth and influence could have made such a request without good reason for it, so he replied:

“Certainly, my Lord. Will you come down to my room?”

Hundreds of anxious, curious eyes looked upon the tall athletic figure and the regular-featured, bronzed, honest English face as Rollo Lenox Smeaton Aubrey, Earl of Redgrave, Baron Smeaton in the Peerage of England, and Viscount Aubrey in the Peerage of Ireland, followed the Captain to his room through the parting crowd of passengers. He nodded to one or two familiar faces in the crowd, for he was an old Atlantic ferryman, and had crossed five times with Captain Hawkins in the St. Louis.

Then he caught sight of a well and fondly remembered face which he had not seen for over two years. It was a face which possessed at once the fair Anglo-Saxon skin, the firm and yet delicate Anglo-Saxon features, and the wavy wealth of the old Saxon gold-brown hair; but a pair of big, soft, pansy eyes, fringed with long, curling, black lashes, looked out from under dark and perhaps Just a trifle heavy eye-brows. Moreover, there was that indescribable expression in the curve of her lips and the pose of her head; to say nothing of a lissome, vivacious grace in her whole carriage which proclaimed her a daughter of the younger branch of the Race that Rules.

Their eyes met for an instant, and Lord Redgrave as startled and even a trifle angered to see that she flushed up quickly, and that the momentary smile with which she greeted him died away as she turned her head aside. Still, he was a man accustomed to do what he wanted and what he wanted to do just then was to shake hands with Lilla Zaidie Rennick, and so he went straight towards her, raised his cap, and held out his hand saying, first with a glance into her eyes, and then with one upward at the Astronef:

“Good morning again, Miss Rennick! You see it is done.”

“Good morning, Lord Redgrave!” she replied, he thought, a little awkwardly. “Yes, I see you have kept your promise. What a pity it is too late! But I hope you will be able to stop long enough to tell us all about it. This is Mrs. Van Stuyler, who has taken me under her protection on my journey to Europe.”

His lordship returned the bow of a tall, somewhat hard-featured matron who looked dignified even in the somewhat nondescript costume which most of the ladies were wearing. But her eyes were kindly, and he said:

“Very pleased to meet, Mrs. Van Stuyler. I heard you were coming, and I was in hopes of catching you on the other side before you left. And now, if you will excuse me, I must go and have a chat with the Skipper. He raised his cap again and presently vanished from the curious eyes of the excited crowd, through the door of the Captain's apartment.”

Captain Hawkins closed the door of his sitting-room as he entered, and said:

“Now, my Lord, I'm not going to ask you any questions to begin with, because if I once began I should never stop; and besides, perhaps you'd like to have your own say right away.”

“Perhaps that will be the shortest way,” said his lordship. “The fact is, we've not only the remains of this Boer business on our hands, but we've had what is practically a declaration of war from France and Russia. Briefly it's this way. A few weeks ago, while the Allies thought they were fighting the Boxers, it came to the knowledge of my brother, the Foreign Secretary, that the Tsung-Li-Yamen had concluded a secret treaty with Russia which practically annulled all our rights over the Yang-tse Valley, and gave Russia the right to bring her Northern Railway right down through China.

“As you know, we've stood a lot too much in that part of the world already, but we couldn't stand this; so about ten days ago an ultimatum was sent declaring that the British government would consider any encroachment on the Yang-tse valley as an unfriendly act.

“Meanwhile France chipped in with a notification that she was going to occupy Morocco as a compensation for Fashoda, and added a few nasty things about Egypt and other places. Of course we couldn't stand that either, so there was another ultimatum, and the upshot of it all was that I got a wire late last night from my brother telling me that war would almost certainly be declared to-day, and asking me for the use of this craft of mine as a sort of dispatch—boat if she was ready. She is intended for something very much better than fighting purposes, so he couldn't ask me to use her as a war-ship; besides, I am under a solemn obligation to her inventor—her creator, in fact, for I've only built her—to blow her to pieces rather than allow her to be used as a fighting machine except, of course, in sheer personal self-defence.

“There is the telegram from my brother, so you can see there's no mistake, and just after it came a messenger asking me, if the machine was a success, to bring this with me across the Atlantic as fast as I could come. It is the duplicate of an offensive and defensive alliance between Great Britain and the United States, of which the details had been arranged just as this complication arose. Another is coming across by a fast cruiser, and, of course, the news will have got to Washington by cable by this time.

“By the time you get to the entrance of the Channel you will probably find it swarming with French cruisers and torpedo-destroyers, so if you'll be advised by me, you'll leave Queenstown out and get as far north as possible.

“Lord Redgrave,” said the Captain, putting out his hand, “I'm responsible for a good bit right here, and I don't know how to thank you enough. I guess that treaty's been given away back to France by some of our Irish statesmen by now, and it'd be mighty unhealthy for the St. Louis to fall in with a French or Russian cruiser—”

“That's all right, Captain,” said Lord Redgrave, taking his hand. “I should have warned any other British or American ship. At the same time, I must confess that my motives in warning you were not entirely unselfish. The fact is, there's some one on board the St. Louis whom I should decidedly object to see taken off to France as a prisoner of war.”

“And may I ask who that is?” said Captain Hawkins.

“Why not?” replied his lordship. “It's the young lady I spoke to on deck just now, Miss Rennick. Her father was the inventor of that craft of mine. No one would believe his theories. He was refused patents both in England and America the ground of lack of practical utility. I met him about two years ago, that is to say rather more an a year before his death, when I was stopping at Banff up in the Canadian Rockies. We made a travellers' acquaintance, and he told me about this idea of his. I was very much interested, but I'm afraid I must confess that I might not have taken it practically if the Professor hadn't happened to possess an exceedingly beautiful daughter. However, of course I'm pretty glad now that I did do though the experiments cost nearly five thousand pounds and the craft herself close on a quarter of a million. Still, she is worth every penny of it, and I was bringing her over to offer to Miss Rennick as a wedding present, that is to say if she'd have it—and me.”

Captain Hawkins looked up and said rather seriously:

“Then, my Lord, I presume you don't know—”

“Don't know what?”

“That Miss Rennick is crossing in the care of Mrs. Van Stuyler, to be married in London next month.”

“The devil she is! And to whom, may I ask?” exclaimed his lordship, pulling himself up very straight.

“To the Marquis of Byfleet, son of the Duke of Duncaster. I wonder you didn't hear of it. The match was arranged last fall. From what people say she's not very desperately in love with him, but—well, I fancy it's like rather too many of these Anglo-American matches. A couple of million dollars on one side, a title on the other, and mighty little real love between them.”

“But,” said Redgrave between his teeth, “I didn't understand that Miss Rennick ever had a fortune; in fact I'm quite certain that if her father had been a rich man he'd have worked out his invention himself.”

“Oh, the dollars aren't his. In fact they won't be hers till she marries,” replied the Captain. “They belong to her uncle, old Russell Rennick. He got in on the ground floor of the New York and Chicago ice trusts, and made millions. He's going to spend some of them on making his niece a Marchioness. That's about all there is to it.”

“Oh, indeed!” said Redgrave, still between his teeth. “Well, considering that Byfleet is about as big a wastrel as ever disgraced the English aristocracy, I don't think either Miss Rennick or her uncle will make a very good bargain. However, of course that's no affair of mine now. I remember that this Russell Rennick refused to finance his brother when he really wanted the money. He made a particularly bad bargain, too, then, though he didn't know it; for a dozen crafts like that, properly armed, would imply smash up the navies of the world, and make sea-power a private trust. After all, I'm not particularly sorry, because then it wouldn't have belonged to me. Well now, Captain, I'm going to ask you to give me a bit of breakfast when it's ready, then I must be off. I want to be in Washington to-night.”

“To-night! What, twenty-one hundred miles!”

“Why not?” said Redgrave; “I can do about a hundred and fifty an hour through the atmosphere, and then, you see, if that isn't fast enough I can rise outside the earth's attraction, let it spin round, and then come down where I want to.”

“Great Scott!” remarked Captain Hawkins inadequately, but with emphasis. “Well, my Lord, I guess we'll go down to breakfast.”

But breakfast was not quite ready, and so Lord Redgrave rejoined Miss Rennick and her chaperon on deck. All eyes and a good many glasses were still turned on the Astronef, which had now moved a few feet away from the liner's side, and was running along, exactly keeping pace with her.

“It's so wonderful, that even seeing doesn't seem believing,” said the girl, when they had renewed their acquaintance of two years before.

“Well,” he replied, “it would be very easy to convince you. She shall come alongside again, and if you and Mrs. Van Stuyler will honour her by your presence for half an hour while breakfast is getting ready, I think I shall be able to convince you that she is not the airy fabric of a vision, but simply the realisation in metal and glass and other things of visions which your father saw some years ago.”

There was no resisting an invitation put in such a way. Besides, the prospect of becoming the wonder and envy of every other woman on board was altogether too dazzling for words.

Mrs. Van Stuyler looked a little aghast at the idea at first, but she too had something of the same feeling as Zaidie, and besides, there could hardly be any impropriety in accepting the invitation of one of the wealthiest and most distinguished noblemen in the British Peerage. So, after a little demur and a slight manifestation of nervousness, she consented.

Redgrave signalled to the man at the steering wheel. The Astronef slackened pace a little, dropped a yard or so, and slid up quite close to the bridge-rail again. Lord Redgrave got in first and ran a light gangway down on to the bridge. Zaidie and Mrs. Van Stuyler were carefully handed up. The next moment the gangway was drawn up again, the sliding glass doors clashed to, the Astronef leapt a couple of thousand feet into the air, swept round to the westward in a magnificent curve, and vanished into the gloom of the upper mists.

Chapter I


THE situation was one which was absolutely without parallel in all the history of courtship from the days of Mother Eve to those of Miss Lilla Zaidie Rennick. The nearest approach to it would have been the old-fashioned Tartar custom which made it lawful for a man to steal his best girl, if he could get her first, fling her across his horse's crupper and ride away with her to his tent.

But to the shocked senses of Mrs. Van Stuyler the present adventure appeared a great deal more terrible than that. Both Zaidie and herself had sprung to their feet as soon as the upward rush of the Astronef had slackened and they were released from their seats. They looked down through the glass walls of what may be called the hurricane deck-chamber of the Astronef, and saw below them a snowy sea of clouds just crimsoned by the rising sun.

In this cloud-sea, which spread like a wide-meshed veil between them and the earth, there were great irregular rifts which looked as big as continents on a map. These had a blue-grey background, or it might be more correct to say under-ground, and in the midst of one of these they saw a little black speck which after a moment or two took the shape of a little toy ship, and presently they recognised it as the eleven-thousand-ton liner which a few moments ago had been their ocean home.

Mrs. Van Stuyler was shaking in every muscle, afflicted by a sort of St. Vitus' dance induced by physical fear and outraged propriety. Quite apart from these, however, she experienced a third sensation which made for a nameless inquietude. She was a woman of the world, well versed in most of its ways, and she fully recognised that that single bound from the bridge-rail of the St. Louis to the other side of the clouds had already carried her and her charge beyond the pale of human law.

The same thought, mingled with other feelings, half of wonder and half of re-awakened tenderness, was just then uppermost in Miss Zaidie's mind. It was quite obvious that the man who could create and control such a marvellous vehicle as this could, morally as well as physically, lift himself beyond the reach of the conventions which civilised society had instituted for its own protection and government.

He could do with them exactly as he pleased. They were utterly at his mercy. He might carry them away to some unexplored spot on one of the continents, or to some unknown island in the midst of the wide Pacific. He might even transport them into the midst of the awful solitudes which surround the Poles. He could give them the choice between doing as he wished, submitting unconditionally to his will, or committing suicide by starvation.

They had not even the option of jumping out, for they did not know how to open the sliding doors; and even if they had done, what feminine nerves could have faced a leap into that awful gulf which lay below them, a two-thousand-foot dive through the clouds into the waters of the wintry Atlantic?

They looked at each other in speechless, dazed amazement. Far away below them on the other side of the clouds the St. Louis was steaming eastward, and with her were going the last hopes of the coronet which was to be the matrimonial equivalent of Miss Zaidie's beauty and Russell Rennick's millions.

They were no longer of the world. Its laws could no longer protect them. Anything might happen, and that anything depended absolutely on the will of the lord and master of the extraordinary vessel which, for the present, was their only world.

“My dearest Zaidie!” Mrs. Van Stuyler gasped, when she at length recovered the power of articulate speech, “what an entirely too awful thing this is! Why, it's abduction and nothing less. Indeed it's worse, for he's taken us clean off the earth, and there's no more chance of rescue than if he took us to one of those planets he said he could go to. If I didn't feel a great responsibility for you, dear, I believe I should faint.”

By this time Miss Zaidie had recovered a good deal of her usual composure. The excitement of the upward rush, and what was left of the momentary physical fear, had flushed her cheeks and lighted her eyes. Even Mrs. Van Stuyler thought her looking, if possible, more beautiful than she had done under the most favourable of terrestrial circumstances. There was a something else too, which she didn't altogether like to see, a sort of resignation to her fate which, in a young lady situated as she was then, Mrs. Van Stuyler considered to be distinctly improper.

“It is rather startling, isn't it?” she said, with hardly a trace of emotion in her voice; “But I have no doubt that everything will be all right in the end.”

“Everything all right, my dear Zaidie! What on Earth, or I might say under heaven, do you mean?”

“I mean,” replied Zaidie even more composedly than before, and also with a little tightening of her lips, “that Lord Redgrave is the owner of this vessel, and that therefore it is quite impossible that anything out of the way could happen to us—I mean anything more out of the way than this wonderful jump from the sea to the sky has been, unless, of course, Lord Redgrave is going to take us for a voyage among the stars.”

“Zaidie Rennick!” said Mrs. Van Stuyler, bridling up into her most frigid dignity, “I am more than surprised to hear you talk in such a strain. Perfectly safe, indeed! Has it not struck you that we are absolutely at this man's—this Lord Redgrave's, mercy, that he can take us where he likes, and treat us just as he pleases?”

“My dear Mrs. Van,” replied Zaidie, dropping back into her familiar form of address, but speaking even more frigidly than her chaperon had done, “you seem to forget that, however extraordinary our situation may be just now, we are in the care of an English gentleman. Lord Redgrave was a friend of my father's, the only man who believed in his ideals, the only man who realised them, the only man—”

“That you were ever in love with, eh?” said Mrs. Van Stuyler with a snap in her voice. “Is that so? Ah, I begin to see something now.”

“And I think, if you possess your soul in patience, you will see something more before long,” snapped Miss Zaidie in reply. Then she stopped abruptly and the flush on her cheek deepened, for at that moment Lord Redgrave came up the companion way from the lower deck carrying a big silver tray with a coffee pot, three cups and saucers, a rack of toast, and a couple of plates of bread and butter and cake.

Just then a sort of social miracle happened. The fact was that Mrs. Van Stuyler had never before had her early coffee brought to her by a peer of the British Realm. She thought it a little humiliating afterwards, but for the moment all sorts of conventional barriers seemed to melt away. After all she was a woman, and some years ago she had been a young one. Lord Redgrave was an almost perfect specimen of English manhood in its early prime. He was one of the richest peers in England, and he was bringing her her coffee. As she said afterwards, she wilted, and she couldn't help it.

“I'm afraid I have kept you waiting a long time for your coffee, ladies,” said Redgrave, as he balanced the tray on one hand and drew a wicker table towards them with the other. “You see there are only two of us on board this craft, and as my engineer is navigating the ship, I have to attend to the domestic arrangements.”

Mrs. Van Stuyler looked at him in the silence of mental paralysis. Miss Zaidie frowned, smiled, and then began to laugh.

“Well, of all the cold-blooded English ways of putting things—” she began.

“I beg your pardon?” said Lord Redgrave as he put the tray down on the table.

“What Miss Rennick means, Lord Redgrave,” interrupted Mrs. Van Stuyler, struggling out of her paralytic condition, “and what I, too, should like to say, is that under the circumstances—”

“You think that I am not as penitent as I ought to be. Is that so?” said Redgrave, with a glance and a smile mostly directed towards Miss Zaidie.

“Well, to tell you the truth,” he went on, “I am not a bit penitent. On the contrary, I am very glad to have been able to assist the Fates as far as I have done.”

“Assist the Fates!” gasped Mrs. Van Stuyler, helping herself shakingly to sugar, while Miss Zaidie folded a gossamer slice of bread and butter and began to eat it; “I think, Lord Redgrave, that if you knew all the circumstances, you would say that you were working against them.”

“My dear Mrs. Van Stuyler,” he replied, as he filled his own coffee cup, “I quite agree with you as to certain fates, but the Fates which I mean are the ones which, with good or bad reason, I think are working on my side. Besides, I do know all the circumstances, or at least the most important of them. That knowledge is, in fact, my principal excuse for bringing you so unceremoniously above the clouds.”

As he said this he took a sideway glance at Miss Zaidie. She dropped her eyelids and went on eating her bread and butter; but there was a little deepening of the flush on her cheeks which was to him as the first flush of sunrise to a benighted wanderer.

There was a rather awkward silence after this. Miss Zaidie stirred the coffee in her cup with a dainty Queen Anne spoon, and seemed to concentrate the whole of her attention upon the operation. Then Mrs. Van Stuyler took a sip out of her cup and said:

“But really, Lord Redgrave, I feel that I must ask you whether you think that what you have done during the last few minutes (which already, I assure you, seem hours to me) is—well, quite in accordance with the—what shall I say—ah, the rules that we have been accustomed to live under?”

Lord Redgrave looked at Miss Zaidie again. She didn't even raise her eyelids, only a very slight tremor of her hand as she raised her cup to her lips told that she was even listening. He took courage from this sign, and replied:

“My dear Mrs. Van Stuyler, the only answer that I can make to that just now is to remind you that, by the sanction of ages, everything is supposed to be fair under two sets of circumstances, and, whatever is happening on the earth down yonder, we, I think, are not at war.”

The next moment Miss Zaidie's eyelids lifted a little. There was a tremor about her lips almost too faint to be perceptible, and the slightest possible tinge of colour crept upwards towards her eyes. She put her cup down and got up, walked towards the glass walls of the deck-chamber, and looked out over the cloud-scape.

The shortness of her steamer skirt made it possible for Lord Redgrave and Mrs. Van Stuyler to see that the sole of her right boot was swinging up and down on the heel ever so slightly. They came simultaneously to the conclusion that if she had been alone she would have stamped, and stamped pretty hard. Possibly also she would have said things to herself and the surrounding silence. This seemed probable from the almost equally imperceptible motion of her shapely shoulders.

Mrs. Van Stuyler recognised in a moment that her charge was getting angry. She knew by experience that Miss Zaidie possessed a very proper spirit of her own, and that it was just as well not to push matters too far. She further recognised that the circumstances were extraordinary, not to say equivocal, and that she herself occupied a distinctly peculiar position.

She had accepted the charge of Miss Zaidie from her Uncle Russell for a consideration counted partly by social advantages and partly by dollars. In the most perfect innocence she had permitted not only her charge but herself to be abducted—for, after all, that was what it came to—from the deck of an American liner, and carried, not only beyond the clouds, but also beyond the reach of human law, both criminal and conventional.

Inwardly she was simply fuming with rage. As she said afterwards, she felt just like a bottled volcano which would like to go off and daren't.

About two minutes of somewhat surcharged silence passed. Mrs. Van Stuyler sipped her coffee in ostentatiously small sips. Lord Redgrave took his in slower and longer ones, and helped himself to bread and butter. Miss Zaidie appeared perfectly contented with her contemplation of the clouds.

Chapter II


AT length Mrs. Van Stuyler, being a woman of large experience and some social deftness, recognised that a change of subject was the easiest way of retreat out of a rather difficult situation. So she put her cup down, leant back in her chair, and, looking straight into Lord Redgrave's eyes, she said with purely feminine irrelevance:

“I suppose you know, Lord Redgrave, that, when we left, the machine which we call in America Manhood Suffrage—which, of course, simply means the selection of a government by counting noses which may or may not have brains above them—was what some of our orators would call in full blast. If you are going to New York after Washington, as you said on the boat, we might find it a rather inconvenient time to arrive. The whole place will be chaos, you know; because when the citizen of the United States begins electioneering, New York is not a very nice place to stop in except for people who want excitement, and so if you will excuse me putting the question so directly, I should like to know what you just do mean to do—”

Lord Redgrave saw that she was going to add “With us,” but before he had time to say anything, Miss Zaidie turned round, walked deliberately towards her chair, sat down, poured herself out a fresh cup of coffee, added the milk and sugar with deliberation, and then after a preliminary sip said, with her cup poised halfway between her dainty lips and the table:

“Mrs. Van, I've got an idea. I suppose it's inherited, for dear old Pop had plenty. Anyhow we may as well get back to common-sense subjects. Now look here,” she went on, switching an absolutely convincing glance straight into her host's eyes, “My father may have been a dreamer, but still he was a Sound Money man. He believed in honest dealings. He didn't believe in borrowing a hundred dollars gold and paying back in fifty dollars silver. What's your opinion, Lord Redgrave; you don't do that sort of thing in England, do you? Uncle Russell is a Sound Money man too. He's got too much gold locked up to want silver for it.”

“My dear Zaidie,” said Mrs. Van Stuyler, “what have democratic and republican politics and bimetallism got to do with—”

“With a trip in this wonderful vessel which Pop told me years ago could go up to the stars if it ever was made? Why just this, Lord Redgrave is an Englishman and too rich to believe in anything but sound money, so is Uncle Russell, and there you have it, or should have.”

“I think I see what you mean, Miss Rennick,” said their host, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands behind his head, as steamboat travellers are wont to do when seas are smooth and skies are blue. “The Astronef might come down like a vision from the clouds and preach the Gospel of Gold in electric rays of silver through the commonplace medium of the Morse Code. How's that for poetry and practice?”

“I quite agree with his lordship as regards the practice,” said Mrs. Van Stuyler, talking somewhat rudely across him to Zaidie. “It would be an excellent use to put this wonderful invention to. And then, I am sure his lordship would land us in Central Park, so that we could go to your Uncle's house right away.”

“No, no, I'm afraid I must ask you to excuse me there, Mrs. Van Stuyler,” said Redgrave, with a change of tone which Miss Zaidie appreciated with a swiftly veiled glance. “You see, I have placed myself beyond the law. I have, as you have been good enough to intimate, abducted—to put it brutally—two ladies from the deck of an Atlantic liner. Further, in doing so I have selfishly spoiled the prospects of one of the ladies. But, seriously, I really must go to Washington first—”

“I think, Lord Redgrave,” interrupted Mrs. Van Stuyler, ignoring the last unfinished sentence and assuming her best Knickerbocker dignity, “if you will forgive me saying so, that that is scarcely a subject for discussion here.”

“And if that's so,” interrupted Miss Zaidie, the less we say about it the better. What I wanted to say was this. We all want the Republicans in, at least all of us that have much to lose. Now, if Lord Redgrave was to use this wonderful air-ship of his on the right side—why there wouldn't be any standing against it.

“I must say that until just now I had hardly contemplated turning the Astronef into an electioneering machine. Still, I admit that she might be made use of in a good cause, only I hope—”

“That we shan't want you to paste her over with election bills, eh?—or start handbill-snowstorms from the deck—or kidnap Croker and Bryan just as you did us, for instance?”

“If I could, I'm quite sure that I shouldn't have as pleasant guests as I have now on board the Astronef. What do you think, Mrs. Van Stuyler?”

“My dear Lord Redgrave,” she replied, “that would be quite impossible. The idea of being shut up in a ship like this which can soar not only from earth, but beyond the clouds, with people who would find out your best secrets and then perhaps shoot you so as to be the only possessors of them—well, that would he foolishness indeed.”

“Why, certainly it would,” said Zaidie; “The only use you could have for people like that would be to take them up above the clouds and drop them out. But suppose we—I mean Lord Redgrave—took the Astronef down over New York and signalled messages from the sky at night with a searchlight—”

“Good,” said their host, getting up from his deck-chair and stretching himself up straight, looking the while at Miss Zaidie's averted profile. “That's gorgeously good! We might even turn the election. I'm for sound money all the time, if I may be permitted to speak American.”

“English is quite good enough for us, Lord Redgrave,” said Miss Zaidie a little stiffly. “We may have improved on the old language a bit, still we understand it, and—well, we can forgive its short-comings. But that isn't quite to the point.”

“It seems to me,” said Mrs. Van Stuyler, “that we are getting nearly as far from the original subject as we are from the St. Louis. May I ask, Zaidie, what you really propose to do?”

“Do is not for us to say,” said Miss Zaidie, looking straight up to the glass roof of the deck-chamber. “You see, Mrs. Van, we're not free agents. We are not even first-class passengers who have paid their fares on a contract ticket which is supposed to get them there.”

“If you'll pardon me saying so,” said Lord Redgrave, stopping his walk up and down the deck, “that is not quite the case. To put it in the most brutally material form, it is quite true that I have kidnapped you two ladies and taken you beyond the reach of earthly law. But there is another law, one which would bind a gentleman even if he were beyond the limits of the Solar System, and so if you wish to be landed either in Washington or New York it shall be done. You shall be put down within a carriage drive of your own residence, or of Mr. Russell Rennick's. I will myself see you to his door, and there we may say goodbye, and I will take my trip through the Solar System alone.”

There was another pause after this, a pause pregnant with the fate of two lives. They looked at each other—Mrs. Van Stuyler at Zaidie, Zaidie at Lord Redgrave, and he at Mrs Van Stuyler again. It was a kind of three-cornered duel of eyes, and the eyes said a good deal more than common human speech could have done.

Then Lord Redgrave, in answer to the last glance from Zaidie's eyes,” said slowly and deliberately:

“I don't want to take any undue advantage, but I think I am justified in making one condition. Of course I can take you beyond the limits of the world that we know, and to other worlds that we know little or nothing of. At least I could do so if I were not bound by law as strong as gravitation itself; but now, as I said before, I just ask whether or not my guests or, if you think it suits the circumstances better, my prisoners, shall be released unconditionally wherever they choose to be landed.”

He paused for a moment and then, looking straight into Zaidie's eyes, he added:

“The one condition I make is that the vote shall be unanimous.”

“Under the circumstances, Lord Redgrave,” said Mrs. Van Stuyler, rising from her seat and walking towards him with all the dignity that would have been hers in her own drawing-room, “there can only be one answer to that. Your guests or your prisoners, as you choose to call them, must be released unconditionally.”

Lord Redgrave heard these words as a man might hear words in a dream. Zaidie had risen too. They were looking into each other's eyes, and many unspoken words were passing between them. There was a little silence, and then, to Mrs. Van Stuyler's unutterable horror, Zaidie said, with just the suspicion of a gasp in her voice:

“There's one dissentient. We are prisoners, and I guess I'd better surrender at discretion.”

The next moment her captor's arm was round her waist, and Mrs. Van Stuyler, with her twitching fingers linked behind her back, and her nose at an angle of sixty degrees, was staring away through the blue immensity, dumbly wondering what on earth or under heaven was going to happen next.

Chapter III


AFTER a couple of minutes of silence which could be felt, Mrs. Van Stuyler turned round and said angrily:

“Zaidie, you will excuse me, perhaps, if I say that your conduct is not—I mean has not been what I should have expected—what I did, indeed, expect from your uncle's niece when I undertook to take you to Europe. I must say—”

“If I were you, Mrs. Van, I don't think I'd say much more about that, because, you see, it's fixed and done. Of course, Lord Redgrave's only an earl, and the other is a marquis, but, you see, he's a man, and I don't quite think the other one is—and that's about all there is to it.”

Their host had just left the deck-saloon, taking the early coffee apparatus with him, and Miss Zaidie, in the first flush of her pride and re-found happiness, was taking a promenade of about twelve strides each way, while Mrs. Van Stuyler, after partially relieving her feelings as above, had seated herself stiffly in her wicker-chair, and was following her with eyes which were critical and, if they had been twenty years younger, might also have been envious.

“Well, at least I suppose I must congratulate you on your ability to accommodate yourself to most extraordinary circumstances. I must say that as far as that goes I quite envy you. I feel as though I ought to choke or take poison, or something of that sort.”

“Sakes, Mrs. Van, please don't talk like that!” said Zaidie, stopping in her walk just in front of her chaperon's chair. “Can't you see that there's nothing extraordinary about the circumstances except this wonderful ship? I have told you how Pop and I met Lord Redgrave in our tour through the Canadian Rockies two or three years ago. No, it's two years and nine months next June; and how he took an interest in Pop's theories and ideas about this same ship that we are on now—”

“Oh yes,” said Mrs. Van Stuyler rather acidly, “and not only in the abstract ideas, but apparently in a certain concrete reality.”

“Mrs. Van,” laughed Zaidie, with a cunning twist on her heel, “I know you don't mean to be rude, but—well, now did any one ever call you a concrete reality? Of course it's correct just as a scientific definition, perhaps—still, anyhow, I guess it's not much good going on about that. The facts are just this way. I consented to marry that Byfleet marquis just out of sheer spite and blank ignorance. Lord Redgrave never actually asked me to marry him when we were in the Rockies, but he did say when he went back to England that as soon as he had realised my father's ideal he would come over and try and realise one of his own. He was looking at me when he said it, and he looked a good deal more than he said. Then he went away, and poor Pop died. Of course I couldn't write and tell him, and I suppose he was too proud to write before he'd done what he undertook to do, and I, like most girl-fools in the same place would have done, thought that he'd given the whole thing up and just looked upon the trip as a sort of interlude in globe-trotting, and thought no more about Pop's ideas and inventions than he did about his daughter.”

“Very natural, of course,” said Mrs. Van Stuyler, somewhat mollified by the subdued passion which Zaidie had managed to put into her commonplace words; “And so as you thought he had forgotten you and was finding a wife in his own country, and a possible husband came over from that same country with a coronet—”

“That'll do, Mrs. Van, thank you,” interrupted Miss Zaidie, bringing her daintily-shod foot down on the deck this time with an unmistakable stamp. “We'll consider that incident dosed if you please. It was a miserable, mean, sordid business altogether; I am utterly, hopelessly ashamed of it and myself too. Just to think that I could ever—”

Mrs. Van Stuyler cut short her indignant flow of words by a sudden uplifting of her eyelids and a swift turn of her head towards the companion way. Zaidie stamped again, this time more softly, and walked away to have another look at the clouds.

“Why, what on earth is the matter?” she exclaimed, shrinking back from the glass wall. “There's nothing—we're not anywhere!”

“Pardon me, Miss Rennick, you are on board the Astronef,” said Lord Redgrave, as he reached the top of the companion way, “and the Astronef is at present travelling at about a hundred and fifty miles an hour above the clouds towards Washington. That is why you don't see the clouds and sea as you did after we left the St. Louis. At a speed like this they simply make a sort of grey-green blur. We shall be in Washington this evening, I hope.”

“To-night, sir—I beg your pardon, my Lord!” gasped Mrs. Van Stuyler. “A hundred and fifty miles an hour! Surely that's impossible.”

“My dear Mrs. Van Stuyler,” said Redgrave, with a side-look at Zaidie, “nowadays 'impossible' is hardly an English or even an American word. In fact, since I have had the honour of realising some of Professor Rennick's ideas it has been relegated to the domain of mathematics. Not even he could make two and two more or less than four, but—well, would you like to come into the conning-tower and see for yourselves? I can show you a few experiments that will, at any rate, help to pass the time between here and Washington.”

“Lord Redgrave,” said Mrs. Van Stuyler, dropping gracefully back into her wicker armchair, “if I may say so, I have seen quite enough impossibilities, and—er, well—other things since we left the deck of the St. Louis to keep me quite satisfied until, with your Lordship's permission, I set foot on solid ground again, and I should also like to remind you that we have left everything behind us on the St. Louis, everything except what we stand up in, and—-and—”

“And therefore it will be a point of honour with me to see that you want for nothing while you are on board the Astronef, and that you shall be released from your durance—”

“Now don't say vile, Lenox—-I mean—”

“It is perfectly plain what you mean, Zaidie,” said Mrs. Van Stuyler, in a tone which seemed to send a chill through the deck-chamber. “Really, the American girl—-”

“Just wants to tell the truth,” laughed Zaidie, going towards Redgrave. “Lord Redgrave, if you like it better, says he wants to marry me, and, peer or peasant, I want to marry him, and that's all there is to it. You don't suppose I'd have—”

“My dear girl, there's no need to go into details,” interrupted Mrs. Van Stuyler, inspired by fond memories of her own youth; “we will take that for granted, and as we are beyond the social region in which chaperons are supposed to be necessary, I think I will have a nap.”

“And we'll go to the conning-tower, eh?”

“Breakfast will be ready in about half an hour,” said Redgrave, as he took Zaidie by the arm and led her towards the forward end of the deck-chamber. “Meanwhile, au revoir! If you want anything, touch the button at your right hand, just as you would on board the St. Louis.”

“I thank your lordship,” said Mrs. Van Stuyler, half melting and half icy still. “I shall be quite content to wait until you come back. Really I feel quite sleepy.”

“That's the effect of the elevation on the dear old lady's nerves,” Redgrave whispered to Zaidie as he helped her up the narrow stairway which led to the glass domed conning-tower, in which in days to come she was destined to pass some of the most delightful and the most terrible moments of her life.

“Then why doesn't it affect me that way?” said Zaidie, as she took her place in the little chamber, steel-walled and glass-roofed, and half filled with instruments of which she, Vassar girl and all as she was, could only guess the use.

“Well, to begin with, you are younger, which is an absolutely unnecessary observation; and in the second place, perhaps you were thinking about something else.”

“By which I suppose you mean your lordship's noble self.”

This was said in such a tone and with such an indescribable smile that there immediately ensued a gap in the conversation, and a silence which was a great deal more eloquent than any words could have made it.

When Miss Zaidie had got free again she put her hands up to her hair, and while she was patting it into something like shape again she said:

“But I thought you brought me here to show me some experiments, and not to—”

“Not to take advantage of the first real opportunity of tasting some of the dearest delights that mortal man ever stole from earth or sea? Do you remember that day when we were coming down from the big glacier—when your foot slipped and I just caught you and saved a sprained ankle?”

“Yes, you wretch, and went away next day and left something like a broken heart behind you! Why didn't you—Oh what idiots you men can be when you put your minds to it!”

“It wasn't quite that, Zaidie. You see, I'd promised your father the day before—of course I was only a younger son then—that I wouldn't say anything about realising my ideal until I had realised his, and so—”

“And so I might have gone to Europe with Uncle Russell's millions to buy that man Byfleet's coronet, and pay the price—

“Don't, Zaidie, don't! That is quite too horrible to think of, and as for the coronet, well, I think I can give you one about as good as his, and one that doesn't want re-gilding. Good Lord, fancy you married to a thing like that! What could have made you think of it?”

“I didn't think,” she said angrily; “I didn't think and I didn't feel. Of course I thought that I'd dropped right out of your life, and after that I didn't care. I was mad right through, and I'd made up my mind to do what others did—take a title and a big position, and have the outside as bright as I could get it, whatever the inside might be like. I'd made up my mind to be a society queen abroad, and a miserable woman at home—-and, Lenox, thank God and you, that I wasn't!”

Then there was another interlude, and at the end of it Redgrave said:

“Wait till we've finished our honeymoon in space, and come back to earth. You won't want any coronets then, although you'll have one, for all the lands of earth won't hold another woman like yourself—your own sweet self! Of course it doesn't now, but there, you know what I mean. You'll have been to other worlds, you'll have made the round trip of the Solar System, so to say, and—”

“And I think, dear, that is about promise of wonders enough, and of other things too—no, you're really quite too exacting. I thought you brought me here to show me some of the wonders that this marvellous ship of yours can work.”

“Then just one more and I'll show you. Now you stand up there on that step so that you can see all round, and watch with all your eyes, because you are going to see something that no woman ever saw before.”

Chapter IV


ABOVE a tiny little writing-desk fixed to the wall of the conning-tower there was a square mahogany board with six white buttons in pairs. On one side of the board hung a telephone and on the other a speaking-tube. To the right hand opposite where Zaidie stood were two nickel—plated wheels and behind each of them a white disc, one marked off into 360 degrees, and the other into 100 with subdivisions of tens. Overhead hung an ordinary tell-tale compass, and compactly placed on other parts of the wall were barometers, thermometers, barographs, and, in fact, practically every instrument that the most exacting of aeronauts or space-explorers could have asked for.

“You see, Zaidie, this is what one might call the cerebral chamber of the Astronef and, granted that my engines worked all right, I could make her do anything I wanted without moving out of here, but as a rule, of course, Murgatroyd is in the engine-room. If he wasn't the most whole-souled Wesleyan that Yorkshire ever produced, I believe he'd become an idolater and worship the Astronef's engines.”

“And who is Murgatroyd, please?”

“In the first place he is what I might call an hereditary retainer of the House of Redgrave. His ancestors have served mine for the last seven hundred years. When my ancestors were burglar-barons, his were men-at-arms. When we went on the Crusades they went too; when we raised a regiment for the King against the Parliament they were naturally the first to enlist in it; and as we gradually settled down into peaceful respectability they did the same. Lastly, when we went into trade as ironmasters and engineers they went in too. This Murgatroyd, for instance, was master-foreman of my works at Smeaton, and he was the only man I dared trust with the secrets of the Astronef, and the only one I would trust myself on board her with, and that's why we're a crew of two. You see the command of a vessel like this is a fairly big business, and if it got into the wrong sort of hands—”

“Yes, I see,” said Zaidie with a little nod. “It would be just too awful to think about. Why you might keep the world in terror with it; but I know you wouldn't do that, because, for one thing, I wouldn't let you.”

“Gently, gently, Ma'm'selle; permit me most humbly to remind you that you are still my prisoner, and that I am still Commander of the Astronef.”

“Oh, very well then,” said Zaidie, interrupting him with a pretty little gesture of impatience, “and now suppose you let me see what the Astronef's commander can do with her.”

“Certainly,” replied Redgrave, “and with the greatest pleasure—but, by the way, that reminds me you haven't paid your footing yet.”

When due payment had been given and taken, or perhaps it would be more correct to say taken and given, Redgrave put his finger on one of the buttons.

Immediately Zaidie heard the swish of the air past the smooth wall of the conning-tower grow fainter and fainter. Then there came a little check which nearly upset her balance, and presently the clouds beneath them began to take shape and great white continents of them with grey oceans in between went sweeping silently and swiftly away behind them.

Redgrave turned the wheel in front of the 100-degree disc a little to the left. The next instant the clouds rose up. For a moment Zaidie could see nothing but white mist on all sides. Then the atmosphere cleared again, and she saw far below her what looked like a vast expanse of ocean that had been suddenly frozen solid.

There were the long Atlantic rollers tipped with snowy foam. Here and there at wide intervals were little black dots, some of them with brown trails behind them, others with little patches of white which showed up distinctly against the dark grey-blue of the sea. Every moment they grew bigger. Then the white-crested waves began to move, and the big ocean steamers and full-rigged sailing ships looked less and less like toys. Just under them there was a very big one with four funnels pouring out dense volumes of black smoke. Redgrave took up a pair of glasses, looked at her for a moment and said:

“That's the Deutschland, the new Hamburg-American record-breaker. Suppose we go down and have a lark with her. I wonder if she's taking news of the war. We're in with Germany, and they may know something about it.”

“That would be just too lovely!” said Zaidie. “Let's go and show them how we can break records. I suppose they've seen us by this time and are just wondering with all their wits what we are. I guess they'll feel pretty tired about poor Count Zeppelin's balloon when they see us.”

Redgrave noted the “we” and the “us” with much secret satisfaction.

“All right,” he said, “we'll go and give them a bit of a startler.”

In front of the conning-tower there was a steel flagstaff about tell feet high, with halliards rove through a sheer in the top. He took a little roll of bunting out of a locker under the desk, opened a glass slide, brought in the halliards and bent the flag on.

Meanwhile the long shape of the great liner was getting bigger and bigger. Her decks were black with people staring up at this strange apparition which was dropping upon them from the clouds. Another minute and the Astronef had dropped to within five hundred feet of the water, and about half a mile astern of the Deutschland. Redgrave turned the wheel back two or three inches and touched a second button.

The Astronef stopped her descent instantly, and then she shot forward. The new greyhound was making her twenty-two and a half knots, hurling a broad white torrent of foam away from under her counters. But in half a minute the Astronef was alongside her.

Redgrave ran the roll of bunting up to the top of the flagstaff, pulled one of the halliards, and the White Ensign of England floated out. Almost at the same moment the German flag went up to the staff at the stern of the Deutschland, and they heard a roar of cheers, mingled with cries of wonder, come up from her swarming decks.

Each flag was dipped thrice in due course. Redgrave took off his cap and bowed to the Captain on the bridge. Zaidie nodded and fluttered her handkerchief in reply to hundreds of others that were waving on the decks. Mrs. Van Stuyler woke up in wonder and waved hers instinctively, half longing to change crafts. In fact, if it hadn't been for her absolute devotion to the proprieties she would have obeyed her first impulse and asked Lord Redgrave to put her on board the steamer.

While the officers and crew and passengers of the Deutschland were staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the graceful glittering shape of the Astronef, Redgrave touched the first button in the second row once, moved the 100-degree wheel on a few degrees, and then gave the other a quarter turn. Then he closed the window slide, and the next moment Zaidie saw the great liner sink down beneath them in a curious twisting sort of way. She seemed to stop still and then spin round on her centre, getting smaller and smaller every moment.

“What's the matter, Lenox?” she said, with a little gasp. “What's the Deutschland doing? She seems to be spinning round on her own axis like a top.”

“That's only the point of view, dear. She's just plugging along straight on her way to New York, and we've been making rings round her and going up all the time. But of course you don't notice the motion here any more than you would if you were in a balloon.”

“But I thought you were going to speak to them. Surely you don't mean to say that you intended that just as a little bit of showing off?”

“That's about what it comes to, I suppose, but you must not think it was altogether vanity. You see the German Government has bought Count Zeppelin's air-ship or steerable balloon, as it ought to be called, always supposing that they can steer it in a wind, and of course their idea is to make a fighting machine of it. Now Germany is engaged to stand by us in this trouble that's coming, and by way of cementing the alliance I thought it was just as well to let the wily Teuton know that there's something flying the British flag which could make very small mincemeat of their gas-bags.”

“And what about Old Glory?” said Miss Zaidie. “The Astronef was built with English money and English skill, but—”

“She is the creature of American genius. Of course she is. In fact she is the first concrete symbol of the Anglo-American Alliance, and when the daughter of her creator has gone into partnership with the man who made her we'll have two flagstaffs, and the Jack and Old Glory will float side by side.”

“And meanwhile where are we going?” Asked Zaidie, after a moment's interval. “Ah, there we are through the clouds again. What makes us rise? Is that the force that Pop told me he discovered?”

“I'll answer the last question first,” said Redgrave. “That was the greatest of your father's discoveries. He got at the secret of gravitation, and was able to analyse it into two separate forces just as Volta did with electricity—positive and negative, or, to put it better, attractive and repulsive.

“Three out of the five sets of engines in the Astronef develop the R. Force, as I call it for short. This wheel with the hundred degrees marked behind it regulates the development. The further I turn it this way to the right, the more the R. Force overcomes the attractive force of the earth or any other planet that we may visit. Turn it back, and gravitation asserts itself. If I put this arrow-head on the wheel opposite zero the weight of the Astronef is about a hundred and fifty tons, and of course she would go down like a stone, and a very big one at that. At ten she weighs nothing; that is to say the R Force exactly counteracts gravitation. At eleven she begins to rise. At a hundred she would be hurled away from the earth like a shell from a twelve-inch gun, or even faster. Now, watch.”

He took up the speaking-tube. “Is she all tight everywhere, Andrew?”

“Yes, my Lord,” came gurgling through the tube.

Then Redgrave slowly turned the wheel till the indicator pointed to twenty-five. Zaidie, all eyes and wonder, saw a vast sea of glittering white spread out beneath them, an ocean of snow with grey-blue patches here and there. It sank away from under them till the patches became spots and the sunlit clouds a vast, luminous blur. The air about them grew marvellously clear and limpid. The sun blazed down on them with a tenfold intensity of light, but Zaidie was astonished to find that very little heat penetrated the glass walls and roof of the conning-tower.

“What an awful height!” she exclaimed, looking round at him with something like fear in her eyes. “How high are we, Lenox?”

“You'll find afterwards that the Astronef doesn't take any account of high or low or up or down,” he replied, looking at the dial of an aneroid barometer by the side of him. “Roughly speaking, we're rather over 60,000 feet—say ten miles—from the surface of the Atlantic. That's why I asked Andrew whether everything was tight. You see we couldn't breathe the air there is outside there—too thin and cold—and so the Astronef makes her own atmosphere as we go along. But I won't spoil what you're going to see by any more of this. So if you please, we'll go down now and get along to Washington. Anyhow, I hope I've convinced you so far that I've kept my promise.”

“Yes, dear, you have, and splendidly! I've only one regret. If he was only here now, what a happy man he'd be! Still, I daresay he knows all about it and is just as happy. In fact he must be. I feel certain he must. The very soul of his intellect was in the dream of this ship, and now that it's a reality he must he here still. Isn't it part of himself? Isn't it his mind that's working in these wonderful engines of yours, and isn't it his strength that lifts us up from the earth and takes us down again just as you please to turn that wheel?”

“There's little doubt about that, Zaidie,” said Redgrave quietly, but earnestly. “You know we North-country folk all have our traditions and our ghosts; and what more likely than that the spirit of a dead man or a man gone to other worlds should watch over the realisation of his greatest work on earth? Why shouldn't we believe that, we who are going away from this world to other ones?”

“Why not?” Interrupted Zaidie, “why, of course we will. And now suppose we come down in more ways than one and go and give poor Mrs. Van Stuyler something to eat and drink. The dear old girl must be frightened half out of her wits by this time.”

“Very well,” replied Redgrave; “But we'll come down literally first, so that we can get the propellers to work.”

He turned the wheel back till the indicator pointed to five. The cloud-sea came up with a rush. They passed through it, and stopped about a thousand feet above the sea. Redgrave touched the first button twice, and then the next one twice. The air began to hiss past the walls of the conning-tower. The crest-crowned waves of the Atlantic seemed to sweep in a hurrying torrent behind them, and then Redgrave, having made sure that Murgatroyd was at the after-wheel, gave him the course for Washington, and then went down to induct his bride-elect into the art and mystery of cooking by electricity as it was done in the kitchen of the Astronef.

Chapter V


As this narrative is the story of the personal adventures of Lord Redgrave and his bride, and not an account of events at which all the world has already wondered, there is no necessity to describe in any detail the extraordinary sequence of circumstances which began when the Astronef dropped without warning from the clouds in front of the White House at Washington, and his lordship, after paying his respects to the President, proceeded to the British Embassy and placed the copy of the Anglo-American agreement in Lord Pauncefote's hands.

Mrs. Van Stuyler's spirits had risen as the Astronef descended towards the lights of Washington, and when the President and Lord Pauncefote paid a visit to the wonderful craft, the joint product of American genius and English capital and constructive skill, she immediately assumed, at Redgrave's request, the position of lady of the house pro tem, and described the “change of plans,” as she called it, which led to their transfer from the St. Louis to the Astronef with an imaginative fluency which would have done credit to the most enterprising of American interviewers.

“You see, my dear,” she said to Zaidie afterwards, “as everything turned out so very happily, and as Lord Redgrave behaved in such a splendid way, I thought it was my duty to make everything appear as pleasant to the President and Lord Pauncefote as I could.”

“It was real good of you, Mrs. Van,” said Zaidie. “If I hadn't been paralysed with admiration I believe I should have laughed. Now if you'll just come with us on our trip, and write a book about it afterwards just as you told—I mean as you described what happened between the St. Louis and Washington, to the President and Lord Pauncefote, you'd make a million dollars out of it. Say now, won't you come?”

“My dear Zaidie,” Mrs. Van Stuyler replied, “you know that I am very fond of you. If I'd only had a daughter I should have wanted her to be just like you, and I should have wanted her to marry a man just like Lord Redgrave. But there's a limit to everything. You say that you are going to the moon and the stars, and to see what the other planets are like. Well, that's your affair. I hope God will forgive you for your presumption, and let you come back safe, but I—No. Ten—twenty millions wouldn't pay me to tempt Providence like that.”

The Astronef had landed in front of the White House, as everybody knows, on the eve of the Presidential election. After dinner in the deck-saloon, as the Space Navigator lay in the midst of a square of troops, outside which a huge crowd surged and struggled to get a look at the latest miracle of constructive science, the President and the British Ambassador said goodbye, and as soon as the gang-way ladder was drawn in the Astronef, moved by no visible agency, rose from the ground amidst a roar of cheers coming from a hundred thousand throats. She stopped at a height of about a thousand feet, and then her forward searchlight flashed out, swept the horizon, and vanished. Then it flashed out again intermittently in the longs and shorts of the Morse Code, and these, when translated, read:

“Vote for sound men and sound money!”

In five minutes the wires of the United States were alive with the terse, pregnant message, and under the ocean in the dark depths of the Atlantic ooze, vivid narratives of the coming of the miracle went flashing to a hundred newspaper offices in England and on the Continent. The New York correspondent of the London Daily Express added the following paragraph to his account of the strange occurrence:

“The secret of this amazing vessel, which has proved itself capable of traversing the Atlantic in a day, and of soaring beyond the limits of the atmosphere at will, is possessed by one man only, and that man is an English nobleman. The air is full of rumours of universal war. One vessel such as this could scatter terror over a continent in a few days, demoralise armies and fleets, reduce Society to chaos, and establish a one-man despotism on the ruins of all the Governments of the world. The man who could build one ship like this could build fifty, and, if his country asked him to do it, no doubt he would. Those who, as we are almost forced to believe, are even now contemplating a serious attempt to dethrone England from her supreme place among the nations of Europe, will do well to take this latest potential factor in the warfare of the immediate future into their most serious consideration.”

This paragraph was not perhaps as absolutely correct as a proposition in Euclid, but it stopped the war. The Deutschland came in the next day, and again the press was flooded, this time with personal narratives, and brilliantly imaginative descriptions of the vision which had descended from the clouds, made rings round the great liner going at her best speed, and then vanished in an instant beyond the range of field-glasses and telescopes.

Thus did the creature of Professor Rennick's inventive genius play its first part as the peacemaker of the world.

When the Astronef's message had been duly given and recorded, her propellers began to revolve, and her head swung round to the north-east. So began, as all the world now knows, the most extraordinary electioneering trip that ever was known. First Baltimore, then Philadelphia, and then New York saw the flashes in the sky. There were illuminations, torchlight processions, and all the machinery of American electioneering going at full blast. But when people saw, far away up in the starlit night, those swiftly-changing beams glittering down, as it were, out of infinite Space, and when the telegraph operators caught on to the fact that they were signals, a sort of awe seemed to come over both Republicans and Democrats alike. Even Tammany's thoughts began to lift above the sordid level of boodle. It was almost like a message from another world. There was something supernatural about it, and when it was translated and rushed out in extra editions of the evening papers: “Vote for sound men and sound money” became the watchword of millions.

From New York to Boston, Boston to Albany, and then across country to Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago, Omaha—then westward to St. Paul and Minneapolis, and northward to Portland and Seattle, southward to San Francisco and Monterey, then eastward again to Salt Lake City, and then, after a leap across the Rockies which frightened Mrs Van Stuyler almost to fainting point and made Zaidie gasp for breath, away southward to Santa Fe and New Orleans.

Then northward again up the Mississippi Valley to St. Louis, and thence eastward across the Alleghanies back to Washington—such was the famous night-voyage of the Astronef, and so by means of that long silver tongue of light did she spread the message of common-sense and commercial honesty throughout the length and breadth of the Great Republic. The world knows how America received and interpreted it the next day.

Meanwhile Mr. Russell Rennick had taken train to Washington, and the day after the election he willingly took back all that he had intended with regard to the Marquis of Byfleet, accepted Lord Redgrave in his stead, and bestowed his avuncular blessing at the wedding breakfast held in the deck-chamber of the Astronef poised in mid-air, five hundred feet above the dome of the Capitol, a week later. To this he added a cheque for a million dollars—payable to the Countess of Redgrave on her return from her wedding trip.

Breakfast over, the wedding party made an inspection of the wonderful vessel under the guidance of her Commander. After this, while they were drinking their coffee and liqueurs, and the men were smoking their cigars in the deck-chamber, a score of the most distinguished men and women in the United States experienced the novel sensation of sitting quietly in deck-chairs while they were being hurled at the rate of a hundred and fifty miles an hour through the atmosphere.

They ran up to Niagara, dropped to within a few feet of the surface of the Falls, passed over them, fell to the Rapids, and drifted down them within a couple of yards of the raging waters. Then in an instant they leapt up into the clouds, dropped again, and took a slanting course for Washington at a speed incredible, but to them quite imperceptible, save for the blurred rush of the half-visible earth behind them.

That night the Astronef rested again in front of the steps of the White House, and Lord and Lady Redgrave were the guests at a semi-official banquet given by the newly re-elected President. The speech of the evening was made by the President himself in proposing the health of the bride and bridegroom, and this is the way he ended:

“There is something more in the ceremony which we have been privileged to witness than the union of a man and a woman in the bonds of holy matrimony. Lord Redgrave, as you know, is the descendant of one of the noblest and most ancient families in the Motherland of New Nations. Lady Redgrave is the daughter of the oldest and, I hope I may be allowed to say without offence, the greatest of those nations. It is, perhaps, early days to talk about a formal federation of the Anglo-Saxon people, but I think I am only voicing the sentiments of every good American when I say that, if the rumours which have drifted over and under the Atlantic, rumours of a determined attempt on the part of certain European powers to assault and, if possible, destroy that magnificent fortress of individual liberty and collective equity which we call the British Empire should unhappily prove to be true, then it may be that the rest of the world will find that America does not speak English for nothing.

“But I must also remind you that a few yards from the doors of the White House there lies the greatest marvel, I had almost said the greatest miracle, that has ever been accomplished by human genius and human industry. That wonderful vessel in which some of us have been privileged to take the most marvellous journey in the history of mechanical locomotion was thought out by an American man of science, the man whose daughter sits on my right hand tonight. In her concrete material form this vessel, destined to navigate the shoreless Ocean of Space, is English. But she is also the result of the belief and the faith of an Englishman in an American ideal& . So when she leaves this earth, as she will do in an hour or so, to enter the confines of other worlds than this—and, it may be, to make the acquaintance of peoples other than those who inhabit the earth—she will have done infinitely more than she has already done, incredible as that seems. She will not only have convinced this world that the greatest triumph of human genius is of Anglo-Saxon origin, but she will carry to other worlds than this the truth which this world will have learnt before the nineteenth century ends.

“England in the person of Lord Redgrave, and America in the person of his Countess, leave this world to-night to tell the other worlds of our system, if haply they may find some intelligible means of communication, what this world, good and bad, is like. And it is within the bounds of possibility that in doing so they may inaugurate a wider fellowship of created beings than the limits of this world permit; a fellowship, a friendship, and, as the Astronef entitles us to believe, even a physical communication of world with world which, in the dawn of the twentieth century, may transcend in sober fact the wildest dreams of all the philanthropists and the philosophers who have sought to educate humanity from Socrates to Herbert Spencer.”

Chapter VI


AFTER the Astronef's forward searchlight had flashed its farewells to the thronging, cheering crowds of Washington, her propellers began to whirl, and she swung round northward on her way to say goodbye to the Empire City.

A little before midnight her two lights flashed down over New York and Brooklyn, and were almost instantly answered by hundreds of electric beams streaming up from different parts of the Twin Cities, and from several men-of-war lying in the bay and the river.

“Goodbye for the present! Have you any messages for Mars?” Flickered out from above the Astronef's conning-tower.

What Uncle Sam's message was, if he had one, was never deciphered, for fifty beams began dotting and dashing at once, and the result was that nothing but a blur of many mingled rays reached the conning-tower from which Lord Redgrave and his bride were taking their last look at human habitations.

“You might have known that they would all answer at once,” said Zaidie. “I suppose the news papers, of course, want interviews with the leading Martians, and the others want to know what there is to be done in the way of trade. Anyhow, it would be a feather in Uncle Sam's cap if he made the first Reciprocity Treaty with another world.”

“And then proceeded to corner the commerce of the Solar System,” laughed Redgrave. “Well, we'll see what can be done. Although I think, as an Englishman, I ought to look after the Open Door.”

“So that the Germans could get in before you, eh? That's just like you dear, good-natured English. But look,” she went on, pointing downwards, “they're signalling again, all at once this time.”

Half a dozen beams shone out together from the principal newspaper offices of New York. Then simultaneously they began the dotting and dashing again. Redgrave took them down in pencil, and when the signalling had stopped he read off:

“No war. Dual Alliance climbs down. Don't like idea of Astronef. Cables just received. Goodbye, and good luck! Come back soon, and safe!”

“What? We have stopped the war!” exclaimed Zaidie, clasping his arm. “Well, thank God for that. How could we begin our voyage better? You remember what we were saying the other day, Lenox. If that's only true, my father somewhere knows now what a blessing he has given his brother men! We've stopped a war which might have deluged the world in blood. We've saved perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives, and kept sorrow from thousands of homes. Lenox, when we get back, you and the States and the British Government will have to build a fleet of these ships, and then the Anglo-Saxon race must say to the rest of the world—-”

“The millennium has come and its presiding goddess is Zaidie Redgrave. If you don't stop fighting, disband your armies and turn your fleets into liners and cargo boats, she'll proceed to sink your ships and decimate your armies until you learn sense. Is that what you mean, dear?” laughed Redgrave, as he slipped his left hand round her waist and laid his right on the searchlight-switch to reply to the message.

“Don't be ridiculous, Lenox. Still, I suppose that is something like it. They wouldn't deserve anything else if they were fools enough to go on fighting after they knew we could wipe them out.

“Exactly. I perfectly agree with your Ladyship, but still sufficient unto the day is the Armageddon thereof. Now I suppose we'd better say goodbye and be off.”

“And what a goodbye,” whispered Zaidie, with an upward glance into the starlit ocean of Space which lay above and around them. “Goodbye to the world itself! Well, say it, Lenox, and let us go; I want to see what the others are like.”

“Very well then; goodbye it is,” he said, beginning to jerk the switch backwards and forwards with irregular motions, sending short flashes and longer beams down towards the earth.

The Empire City read the farewell message.

“Thank God for the peace. Goodbye for the present. We shall convey the joint compliments of John Bull and Uncle Sam to the peoples of the planets when we find them. Au revoir!”

The message was answered by the blaze of the concentrated searchlights from land and sea all directed on the Astronef. For a moment her shining shape glittered like a speck of diamond in the midst of the luminous haze far up in the sky, and then it vanished for many an anxious day from mortal sight.

A few moments later Zaidie pointed over the stern and said:

“Look, there's the moon! Just fancy—our first stopping place! Well, it doesn't look so very far off at present.”

Redgrave turned and saw the pale yellow crescent of the new moon swimming high above the eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

“It almost looks as if we could steer straight to it right over the water—only, of course, it wouldn't wait there for us,” she went on.

“Oh, it'll be there when we want it, never fear,” he laughed, “and, after all, it's only a mere matter of about two hundred and forty thousand miles away, and what's that in a trip that will cover hundreds of millions? It will just be a sort of jumping-off place into Space for us.”

“Still, I shouldn't like to miss seeing it,” she said. “I want to see what there is on that other side which nobody has ever seen yet, and settle that question about air and water. Won't it just be heavenly to be able to come back and tell them all about it at home? But just fancy me talking stuff like this when we are going, perhaps, to solve some of the hidden mysteries of Creation, and, may be, look upon things that human eyes were never meant to see,” she went on, with a sudden change in her voice.

He felt a little shiver in the arm that was resting upon his, and his hand went down and caught hers.

“Well, we shall see a good many marvels, and, perhaps, miracles, before we come back, but why should there be anything in Creation that the eyes of created beings should not look upon? Anyhow, there's one thing we shall do I hope, we shall solve once and for all the great problem of the worlds.

“Look, for instance,” he went on, turning round and pointing to the west, there is Venus following the sun. In a few days I hope you and I will be standing on her surface, perhaps trying to talk by signs with her inhabitants, and taking photographs of her scenery. There's Mars too, that little red one up yonder. Before we come back we shall have settled a good many problems about him, too. We shall have navigated the rings of Saturn, and perhaps graphed them from his surface. We shall have crossed the bands of Jupiter, and found out whether they are clouds or not; perhaps we shall have landed on one of his moons and taken a voyage round him.

“Still, that's not the question just now, and if you are in a hurry to circumnavigate the moon we'd better begin to get a wriggle on us as they say down yonder; so come below and we'll shut up. A bit later I'll show you something that no human eyes have ever seen.”

“What's that?” she asked as they turned away towards the companion ladder.

“I won't spoil it by telling you,” he said, stopping at the top of the stairs and taking her by the shoulders. “By the way,” he went on, “I may remind your Ladyship that you are just now drawing the last breaths of earthly air which you will taste for some time, in fact until we get back. And you may as well take your last look at earth as earth, for the next time you see it it will be a planet.”

She turned to the open window and looked over into the enormous void beneath, for all this time the Astronef had been mounting swiftly towards the zenith.

She could see, by the growing moonlight, vast, vague shapes of land and sea. The myriad lights of New York and Brooklyn were mingled in a tiny patch of dimly luminous haze. The air about her had suddenly grown bitterly cold, and she saw that the stars and planets were shining with a brilliancy she had never seen before. Redgrave came back to her, and laying his arm across her shoulder, said:

“Well, have you said goodbye to your native world? It is a bit solemn, isn't it, saying goodbye to a world that you have been born on; which contains everything that has made up your life, everything that is dear to you?”

“Not quite everything,” she said, looking up at him—“At least I don't think so.”

He lost no time in making the only reply which was appropriate under the circumstances; and then he said, drawing her close to him:

“Nor I, as you know, darling. This is our world, a world travelling among worlds, and since I have been able to bring the most delightful of the daughters of Terra with me, I, at any rate, am perfectly happy. Now, I think it's getting on to supper time, so if your Ladyship will go to your household duties, I'll have a look at my engines and make everything snug for the voyage.”

The first thing he did when he left the conning-tower was to hermetically close every external opening in the ship. Then he went and carefully inspected the apparatus for purifying the air and supplying it with fresh oxygen from the tanks in which it was stored in liquid form. Lastly he descended into the lower hold and turned on the energy of repulsion to its fullest extent, at the same time stopping the engines which had been working the propellers.

It was now no longer necessary or even possible to steer the Astronef. She was directed solely by the repulsive force which would carry her with ever increasing swiftness, as the attraction of the earth diminished, towards that neutral point at which the attraction of the earth is exactly balanced by the moon. Her momentum would carry her past this point, and then the “R. Force” would be gradually brought into play in order to avert the unpleasant consequences of a fall of some forty odd thousand miles.

Andrew Murgatroyd, relieved from his duties in the wheel-house, made a careful inspection of the auxiliary machinery, which was under his special charge, and then retired to his quarters in the after end of the vessel to prepare his own evening meal.

Meanwhile, her Ladyship with the help of the ingenious contrivances with which the kitchen of the Astronef was stocked, had prepared a dainty little Souper a deux. Her husband opened a bottle of the finest champagne that the cellars of Smeaton could supply, to drink to the prosperity of the voyage, and the health of his beautiful fellow-voyager. When he had filled the two tall glasses the wine began to run over the side which was toward the stern of the vessel. They took no notice of this at first, but when Zaidie put her glass down she stared at it for a moment, and said, in a half-frightened voice “why, what's the matter, Lenox? Look at the wine! It won't keep straight, and yet the table's perfectly level—and see! the water in the jug looks as though it were going to run up the side.”

Redgrave took up the glass and held it balanced in his hand. When he had got the surface of the wine level the glass was no longer perpendicular to the table.

“Ah, I see what it is,” he said, taking another sip and putting the glass down. “You notice that, although the wine isn't lying straight in the glass, it isn't moving about. It's just as still as it would be on earth. That means that our centre of gravity is not exactly in line with the centre of the earth. We haven't quite swung into our proper position, and that reminds me, dear. You will have to be prepared for some rather curious experiences in that way. For instance, just see if that jug of water is as heavy as it ought to be.”

She took hold of the handle, and exerting, as she thought, just enough force to lift the jug a few inches, was astonished to find herself holding it out at arm's length with scarcely any effort. She put it down again very carefully as though she were afraid it would go floating off the table, and said, looking rather scared:

“That's very strange, but I suppose it's all perfectly natural?”

“Perfectly; it merely means that we have left Mother Earth a good long way behind us.”

“How far?” she asked.

“I can't tell you exactly,” he replied, “until I go to the instrument-room and take the angles, but I should say roughly about seventy thousand miles. When we've finished we'll go and have coffee on the upper deck, and then we shall see something of he glories of Space as no human eyes have ever seen them before.”

“Seventy thousand miles away from home already, and we only started a couple of hours ago!” Zaidie found the idea a trifle terrifying, and finished her meal almost in silence. When she got up she was not a little disconcerted when the effort she made not only took her off her chair but off her feet as well. She rose into the air nearly to the surface of the table.

“Sakes!” she said, “this is getting quite a little embarrassing; I shall be hitting my head against the roof next.”

“Oh, you'll soon get used to it,” he laughed, pulling her down on to her feet by the skirt of her dress; “Always remember to exert very little strength in everything you do, and don't forget to do everything very slowly.”

When the coffee was made he carried the apparatus up into the deck-chamber. Then he came back and said:

“You'd better wrap yourself up warmly. It's a good deal colder up there than it is here.”

When she reached the deck and took a first glance about her, Zaidie seemed suddenly to lapse into a state of somnambulism.

The whole heavens above and around were strewn with thick clusters of stars which she had never seen before. The stars she remembered seeing from the earth were only pin-points in the darkness compared with the myriads of blazing orbs which were now shooting their rays across the black void of Space.

So many millions of new ones had come into view, that she looked in vain for the familiar constellations. She saw only vast clusters of living gems of every colour crowding the heavens on every side of her.

She walked slowly round the deck, gazing to right and left and above, incapable for the moment either of thought or speech, but only of dumb wonder, mingled with a dim sense of overwhelming awe. Presently she craned her neck backwards and looked straight up to the zenith. A huge silver crescent, supporting, as it were, a dim greenish-coloured body in its arms, stretched overhead across nearly a sixth of the heavens.

Then Redgrave came to her side, took her in his arms, lifted her as if she had been a little child, and laid her in a long, low deck-chair, so that she could look at it without inconvenience.

The splendid crescent seemed to be growing visibly bigger, and as she lay there in a trance of wonder and admiration she saw point after point of dazzling white light flash out in the dark portions, and then begin to send out rays as though they were gigantic volcanoes in full eruption, and were pouring torrents of living fire from their blazing craters.

“Sunrise on the Moon!” said Redgrave, who had stretched himself on another chair beside her. “A glorious sight, isn't it? But nothing to what we shall see tomorrow morning—only there doesn't happen to be any morning just about here.”

“Yes,” she said dreamily, “glorious, isn't it? That and all the stars—but I can't think anything yet, Lenox, it's all too mighty and too marvellous. It doesn't seem as though human eyes were meant to look upon things like this But where's the earth? We must be able to see that still.”

“Not from here,” he said, “because it's underneath us. Come below now, and you shall see what I promised you.”

They went down into the lower part of the vessel and to the after end behind the engine-room. Redgrave switched on a couple of electric lights, and then pulled a lever attached to one of the side-walls. A part of the flooring about six feet square slid noiselessly away; then he pulled another lever on the opposite side and a similar piece disappeared, leaving a large space covered only by a thick plate of absolutely transparent glass. He switched off the lights again and led her to the edge of it, and said:

“There is your native world, dear. That is your Mother Earth.”

Wonderful as the moon had seemed, the gorgeous spectacle which lay seemingly at her feet was infinitely more magnificent. A vast disc of silver grey, streaked and dotted with lines and points of dazzling lights, and more than half covered with vast, glimmering, greyish-green expanses, seemed to form the floor of the tremendous gulf beneath them. They were not yet too far away to make out the general features of the continents and oceans, and fortunately the hemisphere presented to them happened to be singularly free from clouds.

To the right spread out the majestic outlines of the continents of North and South America, and to the left Asia, the Malay Archipelago, and Australia. At the top was a vast, roughly circular area of dazzling whiteness, and Redgrave, pointing to this, said:

“There, look up a little further north than the middle of that white patch, and you'll see what eyes but yours and mine have ever seen—the North Pole! When we come back we shall see the South Pole, because we shall approach the earth from the other end, as it were.

“I suppose you recognise a good deal of the picture. All that bright part up to the north, with the black spots on it, is Canada. The black spots are forests. That long white line to the left is the Rockies. You see they're all bright at the north, and as you go south you only see a few bright dots. Those are the snow-peaks.

“Those long thin white lines in South America are the tops of the Andes, and the big, dark patches to the right of them are the forests and plains of Brazil and the Argentine. Not a bad way of studying geography, is it? If we stopped here long enough we should see the whole earth spin right round under us, but we haven't time for that. We shall be in the moon before it's morning in New York, but we shall probably get a glimpse of Europe to-morrow.”

Zaidie stood gazing for nearly an hour at this marvellous vision of the home-world which she had left so far behind her before she could tear herself away and allow her husband to shut the slides again. The greatly diminished weight of her body destroyed the fatigue of standing almost entirely. In fact, on board the Astronef just then it was almost as easy to stand as it was to lie down.

There was of course very little sleep for the travellers on this first night of their wonderful voyage, but towards the sixth hour after leaving the earth, Zaidie, overcome as much by the emotions which had been awakened within her as by physical fatigue, went to bed, after making her husband promise that he would wake her in good time to see the descent upon the moon. Two hours later she was awake and drinking the coffee which he had prepared for her. Then she went on to the upper deck.

To her astonishment she found, on one hand, day more brilliant than she had ever seen it before, and on the other hand darkness blacker than the blackest earthly night. On the right was an intensely brilliant orb, about half as large again as the full moon seen from the earth, shining with inconceivable brightness out of a sky black as midnight and thronged with stars. It was the Sun; the Sun shining in the midst of airless Space.

The tiny atmosphere enclosed in the glass-domed deck-space was lighted brilliantly, but it was not perceptibly warmer, though Redgrave warned her not to touch anything upon which the sun's rays fell directly, as she might find it uncomfortably hot. On the other side was the same black immensity which she had seen the night before, an ocean of darkness clustered with islands of light. High above in the zenith floated the great silver-grey disc of earth, a good deal smaller now. But there was another object beneath them which was at present of far more interest to her.

Looking down to the left, she saw a vast semi-luminous area in which not a star was to be seen. It was the earth-lit portion of the long familiar and yet mysterious orb which was to be their resting place for the next few hours.

“The sun hasn't risen over there yet,” said Redgrave, as she was peering down into the void. “It's earth-light still. Now look at the other side.”

She crossed the deck, and saw the strangest scene she had yet beheld. Apparently only a few miles below her was a huge crescent-shaped plain arching away for hundreds of miles on either side. The outer edge had a ragged look, and little excrescences, which soon took the shape of flat-topped mountains, projected from it and stood out bright and sharp against the black void beneath, out of which the stars shone up, as it seemed, a few feet beyond the edge of the disc.

The plain itself was a scene of awful and utter desolation. Huge mountain-walls, towering to immense heights and enclosing great circular and oval plains, one side of them blazing with intolerable light, and the other side black with impenetrable obscurity; enormous valleys reaching down from brilliant day into rayless night—perhaps down into the very bowels of the dead world itself; vast grey-white plains lying round the mountains, crossed by little ridges and by long black lines, which could only be immense fissures with perpendicular sides—but all hard, grey-white and black, all intolerable brightness or inky gloom; not a sign of life anywhere; no shady forests, no green fields, no broad, glittering oceans; only a ghastly wilderness of dead mountains and dead plains.

“What an awful place,” Zaidie whispered. “Surely we can't land there. How far are we from it?”

“About fifteen hundred miles,” replied Redgrave, who was sweeping the scene below him with one of the two powerful telescopes which stood on the deck. “No, it doesn't look very cheerful, does it? But it's a marvellous sight for all that, and one that a good many people on earth would give one of their eyes to see from here. I'm letting her drop pretty fast, and we shall probably land in a couple of hours or so. Meanwhile you may as well get out your moon atlas, and study your lunography. I'm going to turn the power a bit astern so that we shall go down obliquely, and see more of the lighted disc. We started at new moon so that you should have a look at the full earth, and also so that we could get round to the invisible side while it is lighted up.” They both went below, he to deflect the repulsive force so that one set of engines should give them a somewhat oblique direction, while the other, acting directly on the surface of the moon, simply retarded their fall; and she to get out her maps.

When they got back the Astronef had changed her apparent position, and, instead of falling directly on to the moon, was descending towards it in a slanting direction. The result of this was that the sunlit crescent rapidly grew in breadth. Peak after peak and range after range rose up swiftly out of the black gulf beyond. The sun climbed quickly up through the star-strewn, mid-day heavens, and the full earth sank more swiftly still behind them.

Another hour of silent, entranced wonder and admiration followed, and then Redgrave said:

“Don't you think it's about time we were beginning to think of breakfast, dear—or do you think you can wait till we land?”

“Breakfast on the moon!” she exclaimed. “That would be just too lovely for words—of course we'll wait!”

“Very well,” he said; “you see that big black ring nearly below us?—-that, as I suppose you know, is the celebrated Mount Tycho. I'll try and find a convenient spot on the top of the ring to drop on, and then you will be able to survey the scenery from seventeen or eighteen thousand feet above the plains.”

About two hours later a slight, jarring tremor ran through the frame of the vessel, and the first stage of the voyage was ended. After a passage of less than twelve hours the Astronef had crossed a gulf of nearly two hundred and fifty thousand miles, and rested on the untrodden surface of the lunar world.

Chapter VII


“WELL, Madame, we've arrived. This is the moon and there is the earth. To put it into plain figures, you are now two hundred and forty thousand odd miles away from home. I think you said you would like breakfast on the surface of the World that Has Been, and so, as it's about eleven o'clock earth-time, we'll call it a dejeuner, and then we'll go and see what this poor old skeleton of a world is like.”

“Oh, then we shan't actually have breakfast on the moon?”

“My dear child, of course you will. Isn't the Astronef resting now—right now as they say in some parts of the States on the top of the crater wall of Tycho? Aren't we really and actually on the surface of the moon? Just look at this frightful black and white, god-forsaken landscape! Isn't it like everything that you've ever learnt about the moon? Nothing but light and shade, black and white, peaks of mountains blazing in sunlight, and valleys underneath them as black as the hinges of” ”—Tophet,” said Zaidie, interrupting him quickly. “Yes, I see what you mean. So we'll have our dejeuner here, breathing our own nice atmosphere, and eating and drinking what was grown on the soil of dear old Mother Earth. It's a wee bit paralysing to think of, isn't it, dear? Two hundred and forty thousand miles across the gulf of Space—and we sitting here at our breakfast table just as comfortable as though we were in the Cecil in London, or the Waldorf-Astoria in New York!”

“There's nothing much in that, I mean as regards distance. You see, before we've finished we shall probably, at least I hope we shall, be eating a breakfast or a dinner together a thousand million miles or more from New York or London. Your Ladyship must remember that this is only the first stage on the journey, the jumping-off place as you called it. You see the distance from Washington to New York is—well, it isn't even a hop, skip and a jump in comparison with—”

“Oh yes, I see what you mean of course, and so I suppose I had better cut off or short-circuit such sympathies with Mother Earth as are not connected with your noble self, and get breakfast ready. How's that?”

“Well,” said Lord Redgrave, looking at her as she rose from the table, I think our honeymoon in Space is young enough yet to make it possible for me to say that your Ladyship's opinion is exactly right.

“That's a hopeless commonplace! Really, Lenox, I thought you were capable of something better than that.”

“My dear Zaidie, it has been my fate to have many friends who have had honeymoons on earth, and some of their experience seems to be that the man who contradicts his wife during the first six weeks of matrimony simply makes an ass of himself. He offends her and makes himself unhappy, and it sometimes takes six months or more to get back to bearings.”

“What a lot of silly men and women you must have known, Lenox. Is that the way Englishmen start marriage in England? If it is, I don't wonder at Englishmen coming across the Atlantic in liners and air-ships and so on to get American wives. I guess you can't understand your own womenfolk.”

“Or perhaps they don't understand us; but anyhow, I don't think I've made any great mistake.”

“No, I don't think you have. Of course if I thought so I wouldn't be here now. But this is very well for a breakfast talk; all the same, I should like to know how we are going to take the promenade you promised me on the surface of the moon?”

“Your Ladyship has only to finish her breakfast, and then everything shall be made plain to her, even the deepest craters of the mountains of the moon.”

“Very well, then, I will eat swiftly and in obedience; and meanwhile, as your Lordship seems to have finished, perhaps—”

“Yes, I will go and see to the mechanical necessities,” said Redgrave, swallowing his last cup of coffee, and getting up. “If you'll come down to the lower deck when you've finished, I'll have your breathing-suit ready for you, and then we'll go into the air-chamber.”

“Thanks, dear, yes,” she said, putting out her hand to him as he left the table, the ante-chamber to other worlds. “Isn't it just lovely? Fancy me being able to leave one world and land on another, and have you to say just those few words which make it all possible. I wonder what all the girls of all the civilised countries of earth would give just to be me right now.”

“They could none of them give what you gave me, Zaidie, because you see from my point of view there's only one Zaidie in the world—or as perhaps I ought to say just now, in the Solar System.”

“Very prettily said, sir!” she laughed, when she had given him his due reward for his courtly speech. “I am too dazed with all these wonders about me to—”

“To reply to it? You've given me the most convincing reply possible. Now finish your breakfast, and I'll tell you when the breathing—dresses and the air-chamber are ready. By the way, don't forget your cameras. It's quite possible we may find something worth taking pictures of, and you needn't trouble much about the weight. You know, you and I and all that we carry will only weigh about a sixth of what we did on the earth.”

“Very well, then, I'll take the whole-plate apparatus as well as the Kodak and the panorama camera. When I'm ready, Murgatroyd will tell you to come down.”

“But isn't he coming with us too?”

“My dear girl, if I were to ask Murgatroyd to leave the Astronef there'd be a mutiny on board—a mutiny of one against one. No, he's left his native world; but he says he's done it in a ship that's made with British steel out of English iron mines, smelted, forged and fashioned in English works, and so to him it's a bit of England, however far away from Mother Earth it may be; and if you ever see Andrew Murgatroyd's big head and good, ungainly body outside the Astronef in any of the worlds, dead or alive, that we're going to visit—well, when we get back to Mother Earth you may ask me—”

“I don't think I'll have to ask you for anything, Lenox. I believe if I wanted anything you'd know before I did, so go away and get those breathing-dresses ready. I didn't come to the moon to talk commonplaces with a husband I've been married to for nearly three days.”

“Is it really as long as that?”

“Oh, don't be ridiculous, even if you are beyond the limits of earthly conventionalities. Anyhow, I've been married long enough to want my own way, and just now I want a promenade on the moon.”

“The will of her Ladyship is a law unto her servant, and that which she hath said shall be done! If you come down on to the lower deck in ten minutes everything shall be ready.”

With this he disappeared down the companion-way.

About five minutes afterwards Andrew Murgatroyd showed his grizzled, long-bearded face with its high forehead, heavy brows, and broad-set eyes, long nose and shaven upper lip, just above the stairway and said, for all the world as though he might have been giving out the number of the hymn in his beloved Ebenezer at Smeaton:

“If it pleases yer Ladyship, his Lordship is ready, and if you'll please come down I'll show you the way.”

“Oh, thank you, Mr. Murgatroyd!” said Zaidie, getting up and going towards the companion-way; “But I'm afraid you don't think that—I mean you don't seem to take very much interest—”

“If your Ladyship will pardon me,” said the old man, standing aside to let her go down, “it is not my business to think on board his Lordship's vessel. I am his servant, and my fathers have been his fathers' servants for more years than I'd like to count. If it wasn't that way I wouldn't be here. Will your Ladyship please to come down?”

Zaidie bowed her beautiful head in recognition of this ages-old devotion, and said as she passed him, more sweetly than he had ever heard human lips speak:

“Thank you, Mr. Murgatroyd. You've taught me something in those few words that we have no knowledge of in the States. Good service is as honourable as good mastership. Thank you.”

Murgatroyd put up his lower lip and half smiled with his upper, for he was not yet quite sure of this radiant beauty, who, according to his ideas, should have been English and wasn't. Then, with a rather clumsy and yet eloquent gesture, he showed her the way down to the air-chamber.

She nodded to him with a smile as she passed in through the air-tight door, and when she heard the levers swing to and the bolts shoot into their places she felt as though, for the time being, she had said goodbye to a friend.

Her husband was waiting for her almost fully clad in his breathing-dress. He had hers all ready to put on, and when the necessary changes and investments had been made, Zaidie found herself clad in a costume which was not by any means unlike the diving-dresses of common use, save that they were very much lighter in construction.

The helmets were smaller, and not having to withstand outside pressure they were made of welded aluminium, lined thickly with asbestos, not to keep the cold out, but the heat in. On the back of the dress there was a square case, looking like a knap-sack, containing the expanding apparatus, which would furnish breathable air for an almost unlimited time as long as the liquefied air from a cylinder hung below it passed through the cells in which the breathed air had been deprived of its carbonic acid gas and other noxious ingredients.

The pressure of air inside the helmet automatically regulated the supply, which was not permitted to circulate through the other portions of the dress, The reasons for this precaution were very simple. Granted the absence of atmosphere on the moon, any air in the dress, which was woven of a cunning compound of silk and asbestos, would instantly expand with irresistible force, burst the covering, and expose the limbs of the explorers to a cold which would be infinitely more destructive than the hottest of earthly fires. It would wither them to nothing in a moment.

A human hand or foot—we won't say anything about faces exposed to the summer or winter temperature of the moon—that is to say, to its sunlight and its darkness—would be shrivelled into dry bone in a moment, and therefore Lord Redgrave, foreseeing this, had provided the breathing-dresses. Lastly, the two helmets were connected, for purposes of conversation by a light wire, the two ends of which were connected with a little telephonic receiver and transmitter inside each of the head-dresses.

“Well, now I think we're ready,” said Redgrave, putting his hand on the lever which opened the outer door.

His voice sounded a little queer and squeaky over the wire, and for the matter of that so did Zaidie's as she replied:

“Yes, I'm ready, I think. I hope these things will work all right.”

“You may be quite sure that I shouldn't have put you into one of them if I hadn't tested them pretty thoroughly,” he replied, swinging the door open and throwing out a light folding iron ladder which was hinged to the floor.

They were in the shade cast by the hull of the Astronef. For about ten yards in front of her Zaidie saw a dense black shadow, and beyond it a stretch of grey-white sand lit up by a glare of sunlight which would have been intolerable if it had not been for the smoke-coloured slips of glass which had been fitted behind the glass visors of the helmets.

Over it were thickly scattered boulders and pieces of rock bleached and desiccated, and each throwing a black shadow, fantastically shaped and yet clearly defined on the grey-white sand behind it. There was no soil, and all the softer kind of rock and stone had crumbled away ages ago. Every particle of moisture had long since evaporated; even chemical combinations had been dissolved by the alternations of heat and cold known only on earth to the chemist in his laboratory.

Only the hardest rocks, such as granites and basalts, remained. Everything else had been reduced to the universal grey-white impalpable powder into which Zaidie's shoes sank when she, holding her husband's hand, went down the ladder and stood at the foot of it—first of the earth-dwellers to set foot on another world.

Redgrave followed her with a little spring from the centre of the ladder which landed him with strange gentleness beside her. He took both her gloved hands and pressed them hard in his. He would have kissed his welcome to the World that Had Been if he could, but that of course was out of the question, and so he had to be content with telling her that he wanted to.

Then, hand in hand, they crossed the little plateau towards the edge of the tremendous gulf, fifty-four miles across and nearly twenty thousand feet deep, which forms the crater of Tycho. In the middle of it rose a conical mountain about five thousand feet high, the summit of which was just beginning to catch the solar rays. Half of the vast plain was already brilliantly illuminated, but round the central cone was a semicircle of shadow of impenetrable blackness.

“Day and night in this same valley, actually side by side!” said Zaidie. Then she stopped and pointed down into the brightly lit distance, and went on hurriedly, “Look, Lenox; look at the foot of the mountain there! Doesn't that seem like the ruins of a city?”

“It does,” he said, “and there's no reason why it shouldn't be. I've always thought that, as the air and water disappeared from the upper parts of the moon, the inhabitants, whoever they were, must have been driven down into the deeper parts. Shall we go down and see?”

“But how?” she said.

He pointed towards the Astronef. She nodded her helmeted head, and they went back towards the vessel.

A few minutes later the Space-Navigator had risen from her resting-place with an impetus which rapidly carried her over half of the vast crater, and then she began to drop slowly into the depths. She grounded gently, and presently they were standing on the ground about a mile from the central cone. This time, however, Redgrave had taken the precaution to bring a magazine rifle and a couple of revolvers with him in case any strange monsters, relics of the vanished fauna of the moon, might still be taking refuge in these mysterious depths. Zaidie, although like a good many American girls she could shoot excellently well, carried no weapon more offensive than the photographic apparatus aforesaid.

The first thing that Redgrave did when they stepped out on to the sandy surface of the plain was to stoop down and strike a wax match. There was a tiny glimmer of light, which was immediately extinguished.

“No air here,” he said, “so we shall find no living beings—at any rate, none like ourselves.”

They found the walking exceedingly easy, although their boots were purposely weighted in order to counteract, to some extent, the great difference in gravity. A few minutes brought them to the outskirts of the city. It had no walls and exhibited no signs of any devices for defence. Its streets were broad and well-paved, and the houses, built of great blocks of grey stone joined together with white cement, looked as fresh and unworn as though they had only been built a few months, whereas they had probably stood for hundreds of thousands of years. They were flat-roofed, all of one storey and practically of one type.

There were very few public buildings, and absolutely no attempt at ornamentation was visible. Round some of the houses were spaces which might once have been gardens. In the midst of the city, which appeared to cover an area of about four square miles, was an enormous square paved with flag-stones, which were covered to the depth of a couple of inches with a light grey dust, which, as they walked across it, remained perfectly still save for the disturbance caused by their footsteps. There was no air to support it, otherwise it might have risen in clouds about them.

From the centre of this square rose a huge pyramid nearly a thousand feet in height, the sole building of the great silent city which appeared to have been raised most probably as a temple by the hands of its long-dead inhabitants.

When they got nearer they saw a white fringe round the steps by which it was approached, and they soon found that this fringe was composed of millions of white-bleached bones and skulls, shaped very much like those of terrestrial men, save that they were very much larger, and that the ribs were out of all proportion to the rest of the skeleton. They stopped awe-stricken before this strange spectacle. Redgrave stooped down and took hold of one of the bones, a huge femur. It broke in two as he tried to lift it, and the piece which remained in his hand crumbled instantly to white powder.

“Whoever they were,” he said, “they were giants. When air and water failed above, they came down here by some means and built this city. You see what enormous chests they must have had. That would be Nature's last struggle to enable them to breathe the diminishing atmosphere. These, of course, were the last descendants of the fittest to breathe it; this was their temple, I suppose, and here they came to die—I wonder how many thousand years ago—perishing of heat, and cold, and hunger, and thirst; the last tragedy of a race, which, after all, must have been something like ourselves.”

“It's just too awful for words,” said Zaidie. “Shall we go into the temple? That seems one of the entrances up there, only I don't like walking over all those bones.”

“I don't suppose they'll mind if we do,” replied Redgrave, “only we mustn't go far in. It may be full of cross passages and mazes, and we might never get out. Our lamps won't be much use in there, you know, for there's no air. They'll just be points of light, and we shan't see anything but them. It's very aggravating, but I'm afraid there's no help for it. Come along.”

They ascended the steps, crushing the bones and skulls to powder beneath their feet, and entered the huge, square doorway, which looked like a rectangle of blackness against the grey-white of the wall. Even through their asbestos-woven clothing they felt a sudden shock of icy cold. In those few steps they had passed from a temperature of tenfold summer heat into one below that of the coldest spots on earth They turned on the electric lamps which were fitted to the breastplates of their dresses, but they could see nothing save the thin thread of light straight in front of them. It did not even spread. It was like a polished needle on a background of black velvet.

All about them was darkness impenetrable, and so they reluctantly turned back to the doorway, leaving all the mysteries which that vast temple of a long-vanished people might contain to remain mysteries to the end of time.

They passed down the steps again and crossed the square, and for the next half-hour Zaidie was busy taking photographs of the pyramid with its ghastly surroundings, and a few general views of this strange City of the Dead.

Chapter VIII


WHEN they got back they found Murgatroyd pacing up and down the floor of the deck-chamber, looking about him with serious eyes, but betraying no other visible sign of anxiety. The Astronef was at once his home and his idol, and, as Redgrave had said, even his own direct orders would hardly have induced him to leave her even in a world in which there was not a living human being to dispute possession of her.

When they had resumed their ordinary clothing the Astronef rose from the surface of the plain, crossed the encircling wall at the height of a few hundred feet, and made her way at a speed of about fifty miles an hour towards the regions of the South Pole.

Behind them to the north-west they could see from their elevation of nearly thirty thousand feet the vast expanse of the Sea of Clouds. Dotted here and there were the shining points and ridges of light marking the peaks and crater-walls which the rays of the rising sun had already touched. Before them and to the right and left rose a vast maze of ragged, splintery peaks and huge ramparts of mountain-walls enclosing plains so far below their summits that the light of neither sun nor earth ever reached them.

By directing the force exerted by what might now be called the propelling part of the engines against the mountain masses which they crossed to right and left and behind, Redgrave was able to take a zigzag course that carried them over many of the walled plains which were wholly or partially lit up by the sun, and in nearly all of the deepest their telescopes revealed something like what they had found within the crater of Tycho. At length, pointing to a gigantic circle of white light fringing an abyss of utter darkness, he said: “There is Newton, the greatest mystery of the moon. Those inner walls are twenty-four thousand feet high; that means that the bottom, which has never been seen by human eyes, is about five thousand feet below the surface of the moon. What do you say, dear—shall we go down and see if the searchlight will show us anything? You know there may be something like breathable air down there, and perhaps living creatures who call breathe it.”

“Certainly!” replied Zaidie decisively; “Haven't we come to see things that nobody else has ever seen?”

Redgrave went down to the engine-room, and presently the Astronef changed her course, and in a few minutes was hanging with her polished hull bathed in sunlight, like a star suspended over the unfathomable gulf of darkness below.

As they sank below the level of the sun-rays, Murgatroyd turned on both the searchlights. They dropped down ever slowly and more slowly until gradually the two long, thin streams of light began to spread themselves out; the lower they went the more the beams spread out, and by the time the Astronef came gently to a rest they were swinging round her in broad fans of diffused light over a dark, marshy surface, with scattered patches of grey moss and reeds, with dull gleams of stagnant water showing between them.

“Air and water at last! I thought so,” said Redgrave, as he rejoined her on the upper deck; “Air and water and eternal darkness! Well, we shall find life on the moon here if anywhere.”

“I suppose we had better put on our breathing-dresses, hadn't we?” Asked Zaidie.

“Certainly,” he replied, “because, although there is some sort of air, we don't know yet whether we shall be able to breathe it. It may be half carbon dioxide for all we know; but a few matches will soon tell us that.”

Within a quarter of an hour they were again standing on the surface. Murgatroyd had orders to follow them as far as possible with the head searchlight, which, in the comparatively rarefied atmosphere, appeared to have a range of several miles. Redgrave struck a match, and held it up level with his head; it burnt with a clear, steady, yellow flame.

“Where a match will burn a man should be able to breathe,” he said. “I'm going to see what lunar air is like.”

“For Heaven's sake be careful, dear,” came the reply in pleading tones across the wire.

“All right; but don't open your helmet until I tell you.”

He then raised the hermetically closed slide of glass, which formed the front of the helmets, half an inch or so. Instantly he felt a sensation like the drawing of a red-hot iron across his skin. He snapped the visor down and clasped it in its place. For a moment or two he gasped for breath, and then he said rather faintly:

“It's no good, it's too cold. It would freeze the blood of a salamander. I think we'd better go back and explore this place under cover. We can't do anything in the dark, and we can see just as well from the upper deck with the searchlights. Besides, as there's air and water here, there's no telling but there may be inhabitants of sorts such as we shouldn't care to meet.”

He took her hand, and to Murgatroyd's great relief they went back to the vessel.

Redgrave then raised the Astronef a couple of hundred feet and, by directing the repulsive force against the mountain walls, developed just sufficient energy to keep them moving at about twelve miles an hour.

They began to cross the plain with their searchlights flashing out in all directions. They had scarcely gone a mile before the head-light fell upon a moving form half walking, half crawling among some stunted brown-leaved bushes by the side of a broad, stagnant stream.

“Look!” said Zaidie, clasping his arm, “is that a gorilla, or—no, it can't be a man.”

The light was turned full upon the object. If it had been covered with hair it might have passed for some strange type of the ape tribe, hut its skin was smooth and of a livid grey. Its lower limbs were evidently more powerful than its upper; its chest was enormously developed, but the stomach was small. The head was big and round and smooth. As they came nearer they saw that in place of fingernails it had long white feelers which it kept extended and constantly waving about as it groped its way towards the water. As the intense light flashed full on it, it turned its head towards them. It had a nose and a mouth—the nose, long and thick, with huge mobile nostrils; the mouth forming an angle something like a fish's lips. Teeth there seemed none. At either side of the upper part of the nose there were two little sunken holes—in which this thing's ancestors of countless thousands of years ago had once had eyes.

As she looked upon this awful parody of what had once perhaps been a human face, Zaidie covered hers with her hands and uttered a little moan of horror.

“Horrible, isn't it?” said Redgrave. “I suppose that's what the last remnants of the Lunarians have come to. Evidently once men and women, something like ourselves. I daresay the ancestors of that thing have lived here in coldness and darkness for hundreds of generations. It shows how tremendously tenacious Nature is of life.

“Ages ago, no doubt, that brute's ancestors lived up yonder when there were seas and rivers, fields and forests, just as we have them on earth, among men and women who could see and breathe and enjoy everything in life and had built up civilisations like ours!

“Look, it's going to fish or something. Now we shall see what it feeds on. I wander why the water isn't frozen. I suppose there must be some internal heat left still. A few patches with lakes of lava under them. Perhaps this valley is just over one, and that's why these creatures have managed to survive.

“Ah! there's another of them, smaller, not so strongly formed. That thing's mate, I suppose-female of the species. Ugh! I wonder how many hundred of thousands of years it will take for our descendants to come to that.”

“I hope our dear old earth will hit something else and be smashed to atoms before that happens!” exclaimed Zaidie, whose curiosity had now partly overcome her horror. “Look, it's trying to catch something!”

The larger of the two creatures had groped its way to the edge of the sluggish, oily water and dropped, or rather rolled, quietly into it. It was evidently cold-blooded, or nearly so, for no warm-blooded animal would have taken to such water so naturally. Presently the other dropped in too, and both disappeared for some moments. Then, in the midst of a violent commotion in the water a few yards away, they rose to the surface of the water, the larger with a wriggling, eel-like fish between its jaws.

They both groped their way towards the edge, and had just reached it and were pulling themselves out when a hideous shape rose out of the water behind them. It was like the head of an octopus joined to the body of a boa-constrictor, but head and neck were both of the same ghastly, livid grey as the other two creatures. It was evidently blind, too, for it took no notice of the brilliant glare of the searchlight, but it moved rapidly towards the two scrambling forms, its long white feelers trembling out in all directions. Then one of them touched the smaller of the two shapes. Instantly the rest shot out and closed round it, and with scarcely a struggle it was dragged beneath the water and vanished.

Zaidie uttered a little low scream and covered her face again, and Redgrave said:

“The same old brutal law you see, life preying upon life even on a dying world, a world that is more than half dead itself. Well, I think we've seen enough of this place. I suppose those arc about the only types of life we should meet anywhere, and I don't want to know much more about them. I vote we go and see what the invisible hemisphere is like.”

“I have had all I want of this side,” said Zaidie, looking away from the scene of the hideous tragedy, “so the sooner we go, the better I shall like it.”

A few minutes later the Astronef was again rising towards the stars with her searchlights still flashing down into the Valley of Expiring Life, which had seemed to them even worse than the Valley of Death. As he followed the rays with a pair of powerful field glasses, Redgrave fancied that he saw huge, dim shapes moving about the stunted shrubbery and through the slimy pools of the stagnant rivers, and once or twice he got a glimpse of what might well have been the ruins of towns and cities, but the gloom soon became too deep and dense for the searchlights to pierce and he was glad when the Astronef soared up into the brilliant sunlight once more. Even the ghastly wilderness of the lunar landscape was welcome after the nameless horrors of that hideous abyss.

After a couple of hours' rapid travelling, Redgrave pointed down to a comparatively small, deep crater, and said:

“There, this is Malapert. It is almost exactly at the south pole of the moon, and there,” he went on, pointing ahead, “is the horizon of the hemisphere which no earthborn eyes have ever seen.”

“Except ours,” said Zaidie somewhat inconsequently, “and I wonder what we shall see.”

“Probably something very like what we have seen on this side,” replied Redgrave, and as the event proved, he was right.

Contrary to many ingenious speculations which have been indulged in by both scientist and romancer, they found that the hemisphere, which for countless ages had never been turned towards the earth, was almost an exact replica of the visible one. Fully three-fourths of it was brilliantly illuminated by the Sun, and what they saw through their glasses was practically the same as what they had beheld on the earthward side; huge groups of enormous craters and ringed mountains, long, irregular chains crowned with sharp, splintery peaks, and between these vast, deeply depressed areas, ranging in colour from dazzling white to grey-brown, marking the beds of the vanished lunar seas.

As they crossed one of these, Redgrave allowed the Astronef to sink to within a few thousand feet of the surface, and then he and Zaidie swept it with their telescopes. Their chance search was rewarded by something they had not seen in the sea-beds of the other hemisphere.

These depressions were far deeper than the others, evidently many thousands of feet below the average surface, but the sun's rays were blazing full into this one, and, dotted round its slopes at varying elevations, they made out little patches which seemed to differ from the general surface.

“I wonder if those are the remains of cities,” said Zaidie. “Isn't it possible that the old peoples of the moon might have built their cities along the seas just as we do, and that their descendants may have followed the waters as they retreated, I mean as they either dried up or disappeared into the centre?”

“Very probable indeed, dearest of philosophers,” he said, picking her up with one arm and kissing the smiling lips which had just uttered this most reasonable deduction. “Now we'll go down and see.”

He diminished the vertically repulsive force a little, and the Astronef dropped slantingly towards the bed of what might once have been the Pacific of the Moon.

When they were within about a couple of thousand feet of the surface it became perfectly plain that Zaidie was correct in her hypothesis. The vast sea floor was thickly strewn with the ruins of countless cities and towns, which had been inhabited by an equally countless series of generations of men and women, who had perhaps lived and loved in the days when our own world was a glowing mass of molten rock, surrounded by the envelope of vapours which has since condensed to form our oceans.

They dropped still lower and ran diagonally across the ocean-bed, and as they did so Zaidie's proposition was more and more completely confirmed, for they saw that the towns and cities which stood highest were the most dilapidated, and that the buildings had evidently been torn and crumbled away by the action of wind and water, snow and ice.

The nearer they approached to the central and deepest depression, the better preserved and the simpler the buildings became, until down in the lowest depths they found a collection of low-built square edifies, scarcely better than huts, which had clustered round the little lake into which, ages before, the ocean had dwindled. But where the lake had been there was now only a shallow depression covered with grey sand and brown rock.

Into this they descended and touched the lunar surface for the last time. A couple of hours' excursion among the houses proved that they had been the last refuge of the last descendants of a dying race, a race which had socially degenerated just as the succession of cities had done architecturally, age by age, as the long-drawn struggle for mere existence had become keener and keener until the two last essentials, air and water, had failed—and then the end had come.

The streets, like the square of the great Temple of Tycho, were strewn with myriads and myriads of bones, and there were myriads more scattered round what had once been the shores of the dwindling lake. Here, as elsewhere, there was not a sign or a record of any kind—carving or sculpture. If there were any such on the surface of the moon they had not discovered them. The buildings which they had seen evidently belonged to the decadent period during which the dwindling remnants of the Selenites asked only to eat and drink and breathe.

Inside the great Pyramid of the City of Tycho they might, perhaps, have found something—some stone or tablet which bore the mark of the artist's hand; elsewhere, perhaps, they might have found cities reared by older races, which might have rivalled the creations of Egypt and Babylon, but they had neither time nor inclination to look for these.

All that they had seen of the Dead World had only sickened and saddened them. The untravelled regions of Space peopled by living worlds more akin to their own were before them. The red disc of Mars was glowing in the zenith among the diamond-white clusters which gemmed the black sky behind him.

More than a hundred millions of miles had to be traversed before they would be able to set foot on his surface, and so, after one last look round the Valley of Death about them, Redgrave turned on the full energy of the repulsive force in a vertical direction, and the Astronef leapt upwards in a straight line for her new destination. The Unknown Hemisphere spread out in a vast plain beneath them, the blazing sun rose on their left, and the brilliant silver orb of the earth on their right, and so, full of wonder and yet without regret, they bade farewell to the World that Had Been.

Chapter IX


THE Earth and the Moon were more than a hundred Million miles behind in the depths of Space, and the Astronef had crossed this immense gap in eleven days and a few hours; but this apparently inconceivable speed was not altogether due to the powers of the Navigator of the Stars, for Lord Redgrave had taken advantage of the passage of the planet along its orbit towards that of the earth; therefore, while the Astronef was approaching Mars with ever-increasing speed, Mars was travelling towards the Astronef at the rate of sixteen miles a second.

The great silver disc of the earth had diminished until it looked only a little larger than Venus appears from the earth. In fact the planet Terra is to the inhabitants of Mars what Venus is to us, the star of the morning and evening.

Breakfast on the morning of the twelfth day—or, since there is neither day nor night in Space, it would be more correct to say the twelfth period of twenty-four earth-hours as measured by the chronometers—was just over, and Redgrave was standing with his bride in the forward end of the deck-chamber looking downwards at a vast crescent of rosy light which stretched out over an arc of more than ninety degrees. Two tiny black spots were travelling towards each other across it.

“Ah!” she said, going towards one of the telescopes, “there are the moons. I was reading my Gulliver last night. I wonder what the old Dean would have given to be here, and see how true his guess was. Are we going to land on them?”

“I don't see why we shouldn't,” he said. “I think we might find them convenient stopping-places; besides, you know that this isn't only a pleasure-trip. We have to add as much as we can to the sum of human knowledge, and so of course we shall have to find out whether the moons of Mars have atmospheres and inhabitants.”

“What, people living on those wee things?” she laughed, “why, they're only about thirty or forty miles round, aren't they?”

“About,” he said, “but that's just one of the points I want to solve; and as for life, it doesn't always mean people, you know. We are only a few hundred miles away from Deimos, the outer one, and he is twelve thousand five hundred miles from Mars. I vote we drop on him first and let him carry us towards Phobos. And then when we've examined him we'll pay a visit to his brother and take a trip round Mars on him. Phobos does the journey in about seven hours and a half, and as he's only three thousand seven hundred miles above the surface, we ought to get a very good view of our next stopping-place.”

“That ought to be quite delightful,” said Zaidie, “but how commonplace you are getting, Lenox. That's so like you Englishmen. We are doing what has only been dreamt of before, and here you are talking about moons and planets as if they were railway stations.”

“Well, if your ladyship prefers it, we will call them undiscovered islands and continents in the Ocean of Space. That does sound a little bit better, doesn't it? Now I must go down and see to my engines.”

When he had gone, Zaidie sat down to the telescope again and kept it focussed on one of the little black spots travelling across the crescent of Mars. Both it and the other spot rapidly grew larger, and the features of the planet itself became more distinct. Soon even with her unaided eyes she could make out the seas and continents and the mysterious canals quite plainly through the clear, rosy atmosphere, and, with the aid of the telescope, she could even make out the glimmering twilight which the inner moon threw upon the unlighted portion of the planet's disc.

Deimos grew bigger and bigger, and in about half an hour the Astronef grounded gently on what looked to Zaidie like a dimly lighted circular plain, but which, when her eyes became accustomed to the light, was more like the summit of a conical mountain. Redgrave raised the keel a little from the surface again and steered towards a thin circle of light on the tiny horizon.

As they crossed into the sunlit portion it became quite plain that Deimos, at any rate, was as airless and lifeless as the moon. The surface was composed of brown rock and red sand broken up into miniature hills and valleys. There were a few traces of byegone volcanic action, but it was evident that the internal fires of this tiny world must have burnt themselves out very quickly.

“Not much to be seen here,” said Redgrave as he came up the companion way, “and I don't think it would be safe to go out. The attraction is so weak here that we might find ourselves falling off with very little exertion. Still, you may as well take a couple of photographs of the surface, and then we'll be off to Phobos.”

Zaidie got her apparatus to work, and when she had taken her slides down to the dark-room, Redgrave turned the R. Force on very slightly and Phobos began to sink away beneath them. The attraction of Mars now began to make itself strongly felt, and the Astronef dropped rapidly through the eight thousand miles which separate the inner and outer satellites.

As they approached Phobos they saw that half the little disc was brilliantly lighted by the same rays of the sun which were glowing on the rapidly increasing crescent of Mars beneath them. By careful manipulation of his engines Lord Redgrave managed to meet the approaching satellite with a hardly perceptible shock about the centre of its lighted portion, that is to say the side turned towards the planet.

Mars now appeared as a gigantic rosy moon filling the whole vault of the heavens above them. Their telescopes brought the three thousand seven hundred and fifty miles down to about fifty. The rapid motion of the tiny satellite afforded them a spectacle which might be compared to the rising of a moon glowing with rosy light and hundreds of times larger than the earth. The speed of the vehicle of which they had taken possession, something like four thousand two hundred miles an hour, caused the surface of the planet to apparently sweep away from below them, just as the earth appears to slip away from under the car of a balloon.

Neither of them left the telescopes for more than a few minutes during this aerial circumnavigation. Murgatroyd, outwardly impassive, but inwardly filled with solemn fears for the fate of this impiously daring voyage, brought them wine and sandwiches, and later on tea and toast and more sandwiches; but they took no moment's heed of these, so absorbed were they in the wonderful spectacle which was swiftly passing under their eyes.

The main armament of the Astronef consisted of four pneumatic guns, which could be mounted on swivels, two ahead and two astern, which carried a shell containing either one of two kinds of explosives invented by her creator.

One of these was a solid, and burst on impact with an explosive force equal to about twenty pounds of lyddite. The other consisted of two liquids separated by a partition in the shell, and these, when mixed by the breaking of the partition, burst into a volume of flame which could not be extinguished by any known human means. It would burn even in a vacuum, since it supplied its own elements of combustion. The guns would throw these shells to a distance of about seven terrestrial miles. On the upper deck there were also stands for a couple of light machine guns capable of discharging seven hundred explosive bullets a minute.

Professor Rennick, although a man of peace, had little sympathy with the laws of “civilised” warfare which permit men to be blown into rags of flesh and splinters of bone by explosive shells of a pound weight and upwards, and only allow projectiles of less weight to be used against “savages”. He believed that when war was necessary it had to be war—and the sooner it was over the better for everybody concerned.

The small arms consisted of a couple of heavy ten-bore elephant guns carrying three-ounce melinite shells; a dozen rifles and fowling pieces of different makes of which three, a single and a double-barrelled rifle and a double-barrelled shot-gun, belonged to her ladyship, as well as a dainty brace of revolvers, one of half-a-dozen brace of various calibres which completed the minor armament of the Astronef.

The guns were got up and mounted while the attraction of the planet was comparatively feeble, and the guns themselves therefore of very little weight. On the surface of the earth a score of men could not have done the work, but on board the Astronef, suspended in space, her crew of three found the work easy. Zaidie herself picked up a Maxim and carried it about as though it were a toy sewing-machine.

“Now I think we can go down.” said Redgrave, when everything had been put in position as far as possible. “I wonder whether we shall find the atmosphere of Mars suitable for terrestrial lungs. It will be rather awkward if it isn't.”

A very slight exertion of repulsive force was sufficient to detach the Astronef from the body of Phobos. She dropped rapidly towards the surface of the planet, and within three hours they saw the sunlight, for the first time since they had left the Earth, shining through an unmistakable atmosphere, an atmosphere of a pale, rosy hue, instead of the azure of the earthly skies. An angular observation showed that they were within fifty miles of the surface of the undiscovered world.

“Well, we shall find air here of some sort, there's no doubt. We'll drop a bit further and then Andrew shall start the propellers. They'll very soon give us an idea of the density. Do you notice the change in the temperature? That's the diffused rays instead of the direct ones. Twenty miles! think that will do. I'll stop her now and we'll prospect for a landing-place.”

He went down to apply the repulsive force directly to the surface of Mars, so as to check the descent, and then he put on his breathing-dress, went into the exit-chamber, closed one door behind him, opened the other and allowed it to fill with Martian air; then he shut it again, opened his visor and took a cautious breath.

It may, perhaps, have been the idea that he, the first of all the sons of Earth, was breathing the air of another world, or it might have been some property peculiar to the Martian atmosphere, but he immediately experienced a sensation such as usually follows the drinking of a glass of champagne. He took another breath, and another, then he opened the inner door and went back to the lower deck, saying to himself: “Well, the air's all right if it is a bit champagney, rich in oxygen, I suppose, with perhaps a trace of nitrous-oxide in it. Still, it's certainly breathable and that's the principal thing.

“It's all right, dear,” he said as he reached the upper deck where Zaidie was walking about round the sides of the glass dome gazing with all her eyes at the strange scene of mingled cloud and sea and land which spread for an immense distance on all sides of them. “I have breathed the air of Mars, and even at this height it is distinctly wholesome, though of course it's rather thin, and I had it mixed with some of our own atmosphere. Still I think it will agree all right with us lower down.”

“Well, then,” said Zaidie, “suppose we get down below those clouds and see what there really is to be seen.”

“As there's a fairly big problem to be solved shortly I'll see to the descent myself,” he replied, going towards the stair-way.

In a couple of minutes she saw the cloud belt below them rising rapidly. When Redgrave returned the Astronef was plunging into a sea of rosy mist.

“The clouds of Mars,” she exclaimed, “fancy a world with pink clouds! I wonder what there is on the other side.”

The next moment they saw. Just below them, at a distance of about five earth-miles, lay an irregularly triangular island, a detached portion of the Continent of Huygens almost equally divided by the Martian equator, and lying with another almost similarly shaped island between the fortieth and fiftieth meridians of west longitude. The two islands were divided by a broad, straight stretch of water about the width of the English Channel between Folkestone and Boulogne. Instead of the bright blue-green of terrestrial seas, this connecting link between the great Northern and Southern Martian oceans had an orange tinge.

The land immediately beneath them was of a gently undulating character, something like the Downs of South-Eastern England. No mountains were visible in any direction. The lower portions, particularly along the borders of the canals and the sea, were thickly dotted with towns and cities, apparently of enormous extent. To the north of the Island Continent there was a peninsula, which was covered with a vast collection of buildings, which, with the broad streets and spacious squares which divided them, must have covered an area of something like two hundred square miles.

“There's the London of Mars!” said Redgrave, pointing down towards it; “where the London of Earth will be in a few thousand years, close to the equator. And you see, all those other towns and cities crowded round the canals! I daresay when we go across the northern and southern temperate zones we shall find them in about the state that Siberia or Patagonia are in.”

“I dare say we shall,” replied Zaidie, “Martian civilisation is crowding towards the equator, though I should call that place down there the greater New York of Mars, and—see—there's Brooklyn just across the canal. I wonder what they're thinking about us down there.”

Phobos revolves from west to east almost along the plane of the planet's equator. To left and right they saw the huge ice-caps of the South and North Poles gleaming through the red atmosphere with a pale sunset glimmer. Then came the great stretches of sea, often obscured by vast banks of clouds, which, as the sunlight fell upon them, looked strangely like the earth-clouds at sunset.

Then, almost immediately underneath them, spread out the great land areas of the equatorial region. The three continents of Halle, Gallileo, and Tycholand; then Huygens—which is to Mars what Europe, Asia, and Africa are to the earth, then Herschell and Copernicus. Nearly all of these land masses were split up into semi-regular divisions by the famous canals which have so long puzzled terrestrial observers.

“Well, there is one problem solved at any rate,” said Redgrave, when after a journey of nearly four hours they had crossed the western hemisphere. “Mars is getting, very old, her seas are diminishing, and her continents are increasing. Those canals are the remains of gulfs and straits which have been widened and deepened and lengthened by human, or I should say Martian, labour, partly, I've no doubt, for purposes of navigation, and partly to keep the inhabitants of the interior of the continent within measurable distance of the sea. There's not the slightest doubt about that. Then, you see, there are scarcely any mountains to speak of so far, only ranges of low hills.”

“And that means, I suppose,” said Zaidie, “that they've all been worn down as the mountains of the earth are being. I was reading Flammarion's 'End of the World' last night, and he, you know, describes the earth at the last as just one big plain of land, no hills or mountains, no seas, and only sluggish rivers draining into marshes.

“I suppose that's what they're coming to down yonder. Now, I wonder what sort of civilisation we shall find. Perhaps we shan't find any at all. Suppose all their civilisations have worn out, and they are degenerating into the same struggle for sheer existence those poor creatures in the moon must have had.”

“Or suppose,” said his lordship rather seriously, “we find that they have passed the zenith of civilisation, and are dropping back into savagery, but still have the use of weapons and means of destruction which we, perhaps, have no notion of, and are inclined to use them. We'd better be careful, dear.”

“What do you mean, Lenox?” she said. “They wouldn't try to do us any harm, would they? Why should they?”

“I don't say they would,” he replied, “but still you never know. You see, their ideas of right and wrong and hospitality and all that sort of thing might quite different to what we have on the earth. In fact, they may not be men at all, but just a sort of monster with perhaps a superhuman intellect, with all sorts of extra-human ideas in it.”

“Then there's another thing,” he went on. “Suppose they fancied a trip through Space, and thought that they had as good a right to the Astronef as we have? I daresay they've seen us by this time if they've got telescopes, as no doubt they have, perhaps a good deal more powerful than ours, and they may be getting ready to receive us now. I think I'll get the guns in place before we go down, in case their moral ideas, as dear old Hans Breitmann called them, are not quite the same as ours.”

Chapter X


The words were hardly out of his mouth before Zaidie, who still had her glasses to her eyes, and was looking down towards the great city whose glazed roofs were flashing with a thousand tints in the pale crimson sunlight, said with a little tremor in her voice:

“Look, Lenox, down there—don't you see something coming up? That little black thing. Just look how fast it's coming up; it's quite distinct already. It's a sort of flying-ship, only it has wings and, I think, masts too. Yes, I can see three masts, and there's something glittering on the tops of them. I wonder if they're coming to pay us a polite morning call, or whether they're going to treat us like trespassers in their atmosphere.”

“There's no telling, but those things on top of the masts look like revolving helices,” replied Redgrave, after a brief look through his telescope. “He's screwing himself up into the air. That shows that they must either have stronger and lighter machinery here than we have, or, as the astronomers have thought, this atmosphere is denser than ours and therefore easier to fly in. Then, of course, things are only half their earthly weight here.

“Well, whether it's peace or war, I suppose we may as well let them come and reconnoitre. Then we shall see what kind of creatures they are. Ah! there are a lot more of them, some coming from Brooklyn, too, as you call it. Come up into the conning-tower and I'll relieve Murgatroyd, so that he can go and look after his engines. We shall have to give these gentlemen a lesson in flying. Meanwhile, in case of accidents, we may as well make ourselves as invulnerable as possible.”

A few minutes later they were in the conning-tower again, watching the approach of the Martian fleet through the thick windows of toughened glass which enabled them to look in every direction except straight down. The steel coverings had been drawn down over the glass dome of the deck-chamber, and Murgatroyd had gone down to the engine-room. Fifty feet ahead of them stretched out the long shining spur, of which ten feet were solid steel, a ram which no floating structure built by human hands could have resisted.

Redgrave was standing with his hand on the steering-wheel, looking more serious than he had done so far in the voyage. Zaidie stood beside him with a powerful binocular telescope watching, with cheeks a little paler than usual, the movements of the Martian air-ships. She counted twenty-five vessels rising round them in a wide circle.

“I don't like the idea of a whole fleet coming up,” said Redgrave, as he watched them rising, and the ring narrowing round the still motionless Astronef. “If they only wanted to know who and what we are, or to leave their cards on us, as it were, and bid us welcome to the world, one ship could have done that just as well as a fleet. This lot coming up looks as if they wanted to get round and capture us.”

“It does look like it!” said Zaidie, with her glasses fixed on the nearest of the vessels; “and now I can see they've guns, too, something like ours, and, perhaps, as you said just now, they may have explosives that we don't know anything about. Oh, Lenox, suppose they were able to smash us up with a single shot!”

“You needn't be afraid of that, dear!” He said, putting his arm round her shoulders; “Of course it's perfectly natural that they should look upon us with a certain amount of suspicion, dropping like this on them from the stars. Can you see anything like men on board them yet?”

“No, they're all closed in just as we are,” she replied; “but they've got conning-towers like this, and something like windows along the sides; that's where the guns are, and the guns are moving. They're pointing them at us. Lenox, I'm afraid they're going to shoot.”

“Then we may as well spoil their aim,” he said, pressing an electric button three times, and then once more after a little interval.

In obedience to the signal Murgatroyd turned on the repulsive force to half power, and the Astronef leapt up vertically a couple of thousand feet; then Redgrave pressed the button once and she stopped. Another signal set the propellers in motion, and as she sprang forward across the circle formed by the Martian air-ships, they looked down and saw that the place which they had just left was occupied by a thick, greenish-yellow cloud.

“Look, Lenox, what on earth is that?” exclaimed Zaidie, pointing down to it.

“What on Mars would be nearer the point, dear,” he said, with what she thought a somewhat vicious laugh. “That, I'm afraid, means anything but a friendly reception for us. That cloud is one of two things—it's the smoke of the explosion of twenty or thirty shells, or else it's made of gases intended to either poison us or make us insensible, so that they can take possession of the ship. In either case I should say that the Martians are not what we should call gentlemen.”

“I should think not,” she said angrily. “They might at least have taken us for friends till they had proved us enemies, which they wouldn't have done. Nice sort of hospitality that, considering how far we've come, and we can't shoot back because we haven't got the ports open.”

“And a very good thing too!” laughed Redgrave. “If we had had them open, and that volley had caught us unawares, the Astronef would probably have been full of poisonous gases by this time, and your honeymoon, dear, would have come to a somewhat untimely end. Ah, they're trying to follow us! Well, now we'll see how high they can fly.”

He sent another signal to Murgatroyd, and the Astronef, still beating the Martian air with the fans of her propellers, and travelling forward at about fifty miles an hour, rose in a slanting direction through a dense bank of rosy-tinted clouds, which hung over the bigger of the two cities—New York, as Zaidie had named it.

When they reached the golden red sunlight above it the Astronef stopped her ascent, and then, with half a turn of the steering-wheel, her commander sent her sweeping round in a wide circle. A few minutes later they saw the Martian fleet rise almost simultaneously through the clouds. They seemed to hesitate a moment, and then the prow of every vessel was directed towards the swiftly moving Astronef.

“Well, gentlemen.” said Redgrave, “you evidently don't know anything about Professor Rennick and his R. Force; and yet you ought to know that we couldn't have come through space without being able to get beyond this little atmosphere of yours. Now let us see how fast you can fly.”

Another signal went down to Murgatroyd, the whirling propellers became two intersecting circles of light. The speed of the Astronef increased to a hundred-and-fifty miles an hour, and the Martian fleet began to drop behind and trail out into a triangle like a flock of huge birds.

“That's lovely; we're leaving them!” exclaimed Zaidie leaning forward with the glasses to her eyes and tapping the floor of the conning—tower with her toe as if she wanted to dance, “and their wings are working faster than ever. They don't seem to have any screws.”

“Probably because they've solved the problem of bird's flight,” said Redgrave, “They're not gaining on us, are they?”

“No, they're at about the same distance.”

“Then we'll see how they can soar.”

Another signal went down the tube. The Astronef's propellers slowed down and stopped, and the vessel began to rise swiftly towards the Zenith, which the Sun was now approaching. The Martian fleet continued the impossible chase until the limits of the navigable atmosphere. about eight earth-miles above the surface, was reached. Here the air was evidently too rarefied for their wings to act. They came to a standstill, looking like the links of a broken chain, their occupants no doubt looking up with envious eyes upon the shining body of the Astronef glittering like a tiny star in the sunlight ten thousand feet above them.

“Well, gentlemen,” said Redgrave after a swift glance round. “I think we have shown you that we can fly faster and soar higher than you can. Perhaps you'll be a bit more civil now. If you're not we shall have to teach you manners.”

“But you're not going to fight them all dear, are you? Don't let us be the first to bring war and bloodshed with us into another world.”

“Don't trouble about that, little woman, it's here already,” he replied, a trifle savagely. “People don't have air-ships and guns, which fire shells or poison-bombs, or whatever they were, without knowing what war is. From what I've seen, I should say these Martians have civilised themselves out of all the emotions, and, I daresay, have fought pitilessly for the possession of the last habitable lands of the planet.

“They've preyed upon each other till only the fittest are left, and those, I suppose, were the ones who invented the air-ships and finally got possession of all that was worth having. Of course that would give them the command of the planet, land and sea. In fact, if we are able to make the personal acquaintance of the Martians, we shall probably find them a set of over-civilised savages.”

“That's a rather striking paradox, isn't it, dear?” said Zaidie, slipping her hand through his arm; “but still it's not at all bad. You mean, of course, that they may have civilised themselves out of all the emotions until they're just a set of cold, calculating, scientific animals. After all they must be something of the sort, for I'm quite sure we would not have done anything like that on earth if we'd had a visitor from Mars. We shouldn't have got out cannons and shot at him before we'd even made his acquaintance.

“Now, if he, or they, had dropped in America as we were going down there, we should have received them with deputations, given them banquets, which they might not have been able to eat, and speeches, which they would not understand, and photographed them, and filled the newspapers with everything that we could imagine about them, and then put them in a palace car and hustled them round the country for everybody to look at.”

“And meanwhile,” laughed Redgrave, “some of your smart engineers, I suppose, would have gone over the vessel they had come in, found out how she was worked, and taken out a dozen patents for her machinery.”

“Very likely,” replied Zaidie, with a saucy little toss of her chin; “and why not? We like to learn things down there—and anyhow that would be much more really civilised than shooting at them.”

While this little conversation was going on, the Asfronef was dropping rapidly into the midst of the Martian fleet, which had again arranged itself in a circle. Zaidie soon made out through her glasses that the guns were pointed upwards.

“Oh, that's your little game, is it!” said Redgrave, when she told him of this. “Well, if you want a fight, you can have it.”

As he said this, his jaws came together, and Zaidie saw a look in his eyes that she had never seen there before. He signalled rapidly two or three times to Murgatroyd. The propellers began to whirl at their utmost speed, and the Astronef, making a spiral downward course, swooped down on to the Martian fleet with terrific velocity. Her last curve coincided almost exactly with the circle occupied by the ships. Half-a-dozen spouts of greenish flame came from the nearest vessel, and for a moment the Astronef was enveloped in a yellow mist.

“Evidently they don't know that we are air-tight, and they don't use shot or shell. They've got past that. Their projectiles kill by poison or suffocation. I daresay a volley like that would kill a regiment. Now I'll give that fellow a lesson which he won't live to remember.”

They swept through the poison-mist. Redgrave swung the wheel round. The Astronef dropped to the level of the ring of Martian vessels, which had now got up speed again. Her steel ram was directed straight at the vessel which had fired the last shot. Propelled at a speed of nearly two hundred miles an hour, it took the strange-winged craft amidships. As the shock came, Redgrave put his arm round Zaidie's waist and held her close to him, otherwise she would have been flung against the forward wall of the conning-tower.

The Martian vessel stopped and bent up. They saw human figures more than half as large again as men inside her staring at them through the windows in the sides. There were others at the breaches of the guns in the act of turning the muzzles on the Astronef; but this was only a momentary glimpse, for in a second the Astronef's spur had pierced her, the Martian air-ship broke in twain, and her two halves plunged downwards through the rosy clouds.

“Keep her at full speed, Andrew.” said Redgrave down the speaking-tube, “and stand by to jump if we want to.”

“All ready, my lord!” came back up the tube.

The old Yorkshireman during the last few minutes had undergone a transformation which he himself hardly understood. He recognised that there was a fight going on, that it was a case of “burn, sink and destroy,” and the thousand-year-old savage awoke in him just, as a matter of fact, it had done in his lordship.

“They can pick up the pieces down there, what there is left of them,” said Redgrave, still holding Zaidie tight to his side with one hand and working the wheel with the other, “and now we'll teach them another lesson.”

“What are you going to do, dear?” she said, looking up at him with somewhat frightened eyes.

“You'll see in a moment,” he said, between his shut teeth. “I don't care whether these Martians are degenerate human beings or only animals; but from my point of view the reception that they have given us justifies any kind of retaliation. If we'd had a single port hole open during the first volley you and I would have been dead by this time, and I'm not going to stand anything like that without reprisals. They've declared war on us, and killing in war isn't murder.”

“Well, no, I suppose not,” she said; “but it's the first fight I've been in, and I don't like it. Still, they did receive us pretty meanly, didn't they?”

“Meanly? If there was anything like a code of interplanetary morals, one might call it absolutely caddish. I don't believe even Stead himself could stand that—unless, of course, he wasn't here.”

He sent another message to Murgatroyd. The Astronef sprang a thousand feet towards the zenith; another signal, and she stopped exactly over the biggest of the Martian air-ships; another, and she dropped on to it like a stone and smashed it to fragments. Then she stopped and mounted again above the broken circle of the fleet, while the pieces of the air-ship and what was left of her crew plunged downwards through the crimson clouds in a fall of nearly thirty thousand feet.

Within the next few moments the rest of the Martian fleet had followed it, sinking rapidly down through the clouds and scattering in all directions.

“They seem to have had enough of it,” laughed Redgrave, as the Astronef, in obedience to another signal, began to drop towards the surface of Mars. “Now we'll go down and see if they're in a more reasonable frame of mind. At any rate we've won our first scrimmage, dear.”

“But it was rather brutal, Lenox, wasn't it?”

“When you are dealing with brutes, little woman, it is sometimes necessary to be brutal.”

“And you look a wee bit brutal now,” she replied, looking up at him with something like a look of fear in her eyes. “I suppose that is because you have just killed somebody—or somethings—whichever they are.”

“Do I, really?”

The hard-set jaw relaxed and his lips melted into a smile under his moustache, and he bent down and kissed her.

“Well, what do you suppose I should have thought of them if you had had a whiff of that poison?”

“Yes, dear,” she whispered in between the kisses, “I see now.”

Chapter XI


The Astronef dropped swiftly down through the crimson-tinged clouds, and a few minutes later they saw that the fleet had scattered in units in all directions, apparently with the intention of getting as far as possible out of reach of that terrible ram. Only one of them, the largest, which carried what looked like a flag of woven gold at the top of its centre mast, remained in sight after a few minutes. It was almost immediately below them when they had passed through the clouds, and they could see it sinking straight down towards the centre of what appeared to be the principal square of the bigger of the two cities which Zaidie had named New York and Brooklyn.

“That fellow has gone to report, evidently,” said Redgrave. “We'll follow him just to see what he's up to, but I don't think we'd better open the ports even then. There's no telling when they might give us a whiff of that poison-mist, or whatever it is.”

“But how are you going to talk to them, then, if they can talk?—I mean, if they know any language that we do?”

“They're something like men, and so I suppose they understand the language of signs, at any rate. Still, if you don't fancy it, we'll go somewhere else.”

“No thanks,” she said. “That's not my father's daughter. I haven't come a hundred million miles from home to go away before the first act's finished. We'll go down to see if we can make them understand.”

By this time the Astronef was hanging suspended over an enormous square about half the size of Hyde Park. It was laid out just as a terrestrial park would be in grassland, flower beds, and avenues, and patches of trees, only the grass was a reddish yellow, the leaves of the trees were like those of a beech in autumn, and the flowers were nearly all a deep violet, or a bright emerald green.

As they descended they saw that the square, or Central Park, as Zaidie at once christened it, was flanked by enormous blocks of buildings, palaces built of a dazzlingly white stone, and topped by domed roofs and lofty cupolas of glass.

“Isn't that just lovely!” she said, swinging her binoculars in every direction. “Talk about your Park Lane and the houses round Central Park; why, it's the Chicago Exposition, and the Paris one, and your Crystal Palace, multiplied by about ten thousand, and all spread out just round this one place. If we don't find these people nice, I guess we'd better go back and build a fleet like this, and come and take it.”

“There spoke the new American imperialism,” laughed Redgrave. “Well, we'll go and see what they're like first, shall we?”

The Astronef dropped a little more slowly than the air-ship had done, and remained suspended a hundred feet or so above her after she had reached the ground. Swarms of human figures, but of more than human stature, clad in tunics and trousers or knickerbockers, came out of the glass-domed palaces from all sides into the park. They were nearly all of the same stature and there appeared to be no difference whatever between the sexes. Their dress was absolutely plain; there was no attempt at ornament or decoration of any kind.

“If there are any of the Martian women among those people,” said her ladyship, “they've taken to rationals and they've grown about as big as the men.”

“That's exactly what's happening on earth, you know, dear. I don't mean about the rationals, but the women growing up, especially in America. I come of a pretty long family—but look!”

“Well, I only come to your ear,” she said.

“And our descendants of ten thousand years hence—”

“Oh, don't bother about them!” she said. “Look; there's someone who seems to want to communicate with us. Why, they're all bald! They haven't got a hair among them—and what a size their heads are!”

“That's brains—too much brains, in fact! These people have lived too long. I daresay they've ceased to be animals—civilised themselves out of everything in the way of passions and emotions, and are just purely intellectual beings, with as much human nature about them as Russian diplomacy or those things we saw at the bottom of Newton crater. I don't like the look of them.”

The orderly swarms of figures, which were rapidly filling the park, divided as he was speaking, making a broad lane from one of its entrances to where the Astronef was hanging above the air-ship. A light four-wheeled vehicle, whose framework and wheels glittered like burnished gold, sped towards them, driven by some invisible agency.

Its only occupant was a huge man, dressed in the universal costume, saving only a scarlet sash in place of the cord-girdle which the others wore round their waists. The vehicle stopped near the air-ship, over which the Astronef was hanging, and, as the figure dismounted, a door opened in the side of the vessel and three other figures, similar both in stature and attire, came out and entered into conversation with him.

“The Admiral of the Fleet is evidently making his report,” said Redgrave. “Meanwhile, the crowd seems to be taking a considerable amount of interest in us.”

“And very naturally, too!” replied Zaidie. “Don't you think we might go down now and see if we can make ourselves understood in any way? You can have the guns ready in case of accidents, but I don't think they'll try and hurt us now. Look, the gentleman with the red sash is making signs.”

“I think we can go down now all right,” replied Redgrave, “because it's quite certain they can't use the poison guns on us without killing themselves as well. Still, we may as well have our own ready. Andrew, get that port Maxim ready. I hope we shan't want it, but we may. I don't quite like the look of these people.”

“They're very ugly, aren't they?” said Zaidie; “and really you can't tell which are men and which are women. I suppose they've civilised themselves out of everything that's nice, and are just scientific and utilitarian and everything that's horrid.”

“I shouldn't wonder. They look to me as if they've just got common sense, as we call it, and hadn't any other sense; but, at any rate, if they don't behave themselves, we shall be able to teach them manners of a sort, though we may possibly have done that to some extent already.”

As he said this Redgrave went into the conning-tower, and the Astronef moved from above the air-ship, and dropped gently into the crimson grass about a hundred feet from her. Then the ports were opened, the guns, which Murgatroyd had loaded, were swung into position, and they armed themselves with a brace of revolvers each, in case of accident.

“What delicious air this is!” said her ladyship, as the ports were opened, and she took her first breath of the Martian atmosphere. “It's ever so much nicer than ours; it's just like breathing champagne.”

Redgrave looked at her with an admiration which was tempered by a sudden apprehension. Even in his eyes she had never seemed so lovely before. Her cheeks were glowing and her eyes were gleaming with a brightness that was almost feverish, and he was himself sensible of a strange feeling of exultation, both mental and physical, as his lungs filled with the Martian air.

“Oxygen,” he said shortly, “and too much of it! Or, I shouldn't wonder if it was something like nitrous-oxide—you know, laughing gas.”

“Don't!” she laughed, “it may be very nice to breathe, but it reminds one of other things which aren't a bit nice. Still, if it is anything of that sort it might account for these people having lived so fast. I know I feel just now as if I were living at the rate of thirty-six hours a day and so, I suppose, the fewer hours we stop here the better.”

“Exactly!” said Redgrave, with another glance of apprehension at her. “Now, there's his Royal Highness, or whatever he is, coming. How are we going to talk to him? Are you all ready, Andrew?”

“Yes, my lord, all ready,” replied the old Yorkshireman, dropping his huge, hairy hand on the breach of the Maxim.

“Very well, then, shoot the moment you see them doing anything suspicious, and don't let anyone except his Royal Highness come nearer than a hundred yards.”

As he said this Redgrave went to the door, from which the gangway steps had been lowered, and, in reply to a singularly expressive gesture from the huge Martian, who seemed to stand nearly nine feet high, he beckoned to him to come up on to the deck.

As he mounted the steps the crowd closed round the Astronef and the Martian air-ship; but, as though in obedience to orders which had already been given, they kept at a respectful distance of a little over a hundred yards away from the strange vessel, which had wrought such havoc with their fleet. When the Martian reached the deck, Redgrave held out his hand and the giant recoiled, as a man on earth might have done if, instead of the open palm, he had seen a clenched hand gripping a knife.

“Take care, Lenox,” exclaimed Zaidie, taking a couple of steps towards him, with her right hand on the butt of one of her revolvers. The movement brought her close to the open door, and in full view of the crowd outside.

If a seraph had come on earth and presented itself thus before a throng of human beings, there might have happened some such miracle as was wrought when the swarm of Martians beheld the strange beauty of this radiant daughter of the earth.

As it seemed to the space-voyagers, when they discussed it afterwards, ages of purely utilitarian civilisation had brought all conditions of Martian life up—or down—to the same level. There was no apparent difference between the males and females in stature; their faces were all the same, with features of mathematical regularity, pale skin, bloodless cheeks, and an expression, if such it could be called, utterly devoid of emotion.

But still these creatures were human, or at least their forefathers had been. Hearts beat in their breasts, blood of a sort still flowed through their veins, and so the magic of this marvellous vision instantly awoke the long-slumbering elementary instincts of a byegone age. A low murmur ran through the vast throng, a murmur half-human, half-brutish, which swiftly rose to a hoarse screaming roar.

“Look out, my lord! Quick! Shut the door, they're coming! It's her ladyship they want; she must look like an angel from Heaven to them. Shall I fire?”

“Yes,” said Redgrave, gripping the lever, and bringing the door down. “Zaidie, if this fellow moves, put a bullet through him. I'm going to talk to that air-ship before he gets his poison guns to work.”

As the last word left his lips, Murgatroyd put his thumb on the spring on the Maxim. A roar such as Martian ears had never heard before resounded through the vast square, and was flung back with a thousand echoes from the walls of the huge palaces on every side. A stream of smoke and flame poured out of the little port-hole, and then the onward-swarming throng seemed to stop, and the front ranks of it began to sink down silently in long rows.

Then through the roaring rattle of the Maxim sounded the deep, sharp bang of Redgrave's gun, as he sent twenty pounds' weight of Rennickite, as he had christened it, into the Martian air-ship. There was the roar of an explosion which shook the air for miles around. A blaze of greenish flame and a huge cloud of steamy smoke showed that the projectile had done its work, and, when the smoke drifted away, the spot on which the air-ship had lain was only a deep, red, jagged gash in the ground. There was not even a fragment of the ship to be seen.

This done, Redgrave went and turned the starboard Maxim on to another swarm which was approaching the Astronef from that side. When he had got the range, he swung the gun slowly from side to side. The moving throng stopped, as the other one had done, and sank down to the red grass, now dyed with a deeper red.

Meanwhile, Zaidie had been holding the Martian at something more than arm's length with her revolver. He seemed to understand perfectly that, if she pulled the trigger, the revolver would do something like what the Maxims had done. He appeared to take no notice whatever either of the destruction of the airship or of the slaughter that was going on around the Astronef. His big pale blue eyes were fixed upon her face. They seemed to be devouring a loveliness such as they had never seen before. A dim, pinky flush stole for the first time into his waxy cheeks, and something like a light of human passion came into his eyes.

Then, to the utter astonishment of both Redgrave and Zaidie, he said slowly and deliberately, and with only just enough tinge of emotion in his voice to make Redgrave want to shoot him:

“Beautiful. Perfect. More perfect than ours. I want it. Give Palace and Garden of Eternal Summer for it. Two thousand work-slaves and fifty—”

“And I'll see you damned first, sir, whoever you are!” said Redgrave, clapping his hand on to the butt of the revolver, and forgetting for the moment that he was speaking in another world than his own. “What the devil do you mean, sir, by insulting my wife—?”

“Insulting. Wife. What is that? We have no words like those.”

“But you speak English,” exclaimed Zaidie, going a little nearer to him, but still keeping the muzzle of her revolver pointing up to his hairless head. “No, Lenox, don't be afraid about me, and don't get angry. Can't you see that this person hasn't got any temper? I suppose it was civilised out of his ancestors ages ago. He doesn't know what a wife or an insult is. He just looks upon me as a desirable piece of property to be bought, and I daresay he offered you a very handsome price. Now, don't look so savage, because you know bargains like that have been made even on our dear old virtuous Mother Earth. For instance, if you hadn't met us in the middle of the Atlantic—”

“That'll do, Zaidie,” Redgrave interrupted almost roughly. “That's not exactly the question, but I see what you mean, and it was a bit silly of me to get angry.”

“Silly? Angry? What do those words mean?” said the Martian in his slow, passionless, mechanical voice “Who are you? Whence come you?”

“I'll answer the last part first,” said Redgrave.

“We come from the earth, the planet which you see after sunset and before sunrise.”

“Yes, the Silver Star,” said the Martian without any note of wonder or surprise in his voice. “Are all the dwellers there like the gods and angels our children read about in the old legends?”

“Gods and angels!” laughed Zaidie. “There, Lenox, there's a compliment for you. I really think we ought to be as civil to his Royal Highness after that as possible.” Then she went on, addressing the Martian, “No, we are not all gods and angels on earth. There are no gods and very few angels. In fact there are none except those which exist in the fancy of certain prejudiced persons. But that doesn't matter, at least not just now,” she continued with American directness. “What we want to know just now is, why you speak English, and what sort of a world this Mars is?”

The Martian evidently only understood the most direct essentials of her speech. He saw that she asked two questions, and he answered them.

“Speak English?” He replied, with a little shake of his huge head. “We know not English, but there is no other speech. There is only ours. Cycles ago there were other speeches here, but those who spoke them were killed. It was inconvenient. One speech for a world is best.”

“I see what he means,” said Redgrave, looking towards Zaidie. “The Martian people have developed along practically the same lines as we are doing, but they have done it faster and got a long way ahead of us. We are finding out that the speech we call English is the shortest and most convenient. The Martians found it out long ago and killed everybody who spoke anything else. After all, what we call speech is only the translation of thoughts into sounds. These people have been thinking for ages with the same sort of brains as ours, and they've translated their thoughts into the same sounds. What we call English they, I daresay, call Martian, and that's all there is in it that I can see.”

“Of course,” laughed Zaidie. “Wonderful until you know how, eh? Like most things. Still I must say that our friend here speaks English something like a phonograph, and if he'll excuse me saying so, which of course he will, he doesn't seem to have much more human nature about him.”

“I'm not quite so sure on that point,” said Redgrave, “but—”

“Oh, never mind about that now!” she interrupted, and then, turning towards the Martian, who had been listening intently as though he was trying to make sense out of what they had been saying, she went on speaking slowly and very plainly-

“Tell me, sir, if you please, do you know what 'angry' means? Are you not angry with us for destroying your air-ships up there in the clouds, and the one that came down, and for shooting all those people of yours?”

The Martian looked at her with a little light in his big blue eyes, and two faint little spots of red just under them, and said: “Anger! Yes, I remember, that is what we called brain-heat. Our teachers found it to be madness and it was abolished. It was not convenient. The air-ships were not convenient to you, so you abolished them. The folk, too, that you abolished with those things,” pointing to the guns, “they were not convenient. If you hadn't done that they would have abolished you. There is no more to say.”

“What brutes,” said Zaidie, turning away from him, her head thrown back and her lips curling in unutterable disgust. “Well, if these people have civilised themselves along the same lines that we are doing, thinking the same things and speaking something like the same speech, thank God we shall be dead before our civilisation reaches a stage like this. That's not a man. It's only a machine of flesh and bone and nerves, and I suppose it has blood of some sort.”

A beautiful woman always looks most beautiful when she is just a little angry. Redgrave had never seen Zaidie look quite so lovely as she did just then. The Martian, whose ancestors had for generations forgotten what human emotion was like, only saw in her anger a miracle which made her a thousand times more beautiful than before, and as he looked upon her glowing cheeks and gleaming eyes some instinct insensibly transmitted through many generations awoke to sudden life in some unused corner of his brain.

His pale clear eyes lit up with something like a glow of human passion. The pink spots under his eyes spread downwards over his cheeks. Some half-articulate sounds came from between his thin lips. Then they were drawn back and showed his smooth, toothless gums. He took a couple of long, swift strides towards her, and then bent forward, towering over her with long, outstretched arms, huge, hideous, and half-human.

Zaidie sprang backwards as he came towards her, her right hand went up, and, just as Redgrave levelled his revolver, and Murgatroyd, true to the old Berserk instinct, took a rifle by the barrel and swung the stock above his head, Zaidie pulled her trigger. The bullet cut a clean hole through the smooth, hairless skull of the Martian. A dark, red spot came just between his eyes, his huge frame shrank together and collapsed in a heap on the deck.

“Oh, I've killed him! God forgive me, killed a man!” she whispered, as her hand fell to her side, and the revolver dropped from her fingers. “But, Lenox, do you really think it was a man?”

“That thing a man!” He replied between his clenched teeth. “He wanted you, and spoke English of a sort, so there was something human about him, but anyhow he's better dead. Here, Andrew, open that door again and help me to heave this thing overboard. Then I think we'd better be off before we have the rest of the fleet with their poison guns round us. Zaidie, I think you'd better go to your room for the present. Take a nip of cognac and then lie down, and mind you keep the door tight shut. There's no telling what these animals might do if they had a chance, and just now it's my business and Andrew's to see that they don't.”

Though she would much rather have remained on deck to see anything more that might happen, she saw that he was really in earnest, and so like a wise wife who commands by obeying, she obeyed, and went below.

Then the dead body of the Martian was tumbled out of the side door. The windows through which the guns had been fired were hermetically closed, and a few minutes later the Astronef vanished from the surface of Mars, to remain a memory and a marvel to the dwindling generations of the worn-out world which is as this may be in the far-off days that are to come.

Chapter XII


“How very different Venus looks now to what it does from the earth,” said Zaidie, a couple of mornings later, by earth-time, as she took her eye away from the telescope through which she had been examining an enormous golden crescent which spanned the dark vault of space ahead of and slightly below the Astronef.

“Yes,” replied Redgrave, “she looks—”

“How do you know that she is a she?” said Zaidie, getting up and laying a hand on his shoulder as he sat at his own telescope. “Of course I know what you mean, that according to our own ideas on Earth, it is the planet or the world which has been supposed for ages to, as it were, shine on the lovers of earth with the light reflected from the—the—well, I suppose you know what I mean.”

“Seeing that you are the most perfect terrestrial incarnation of the said goddess that I have seen yet,” he replied, slipping his arm round her waist and pulling her down onto his knees, “I don't think that this is quite the view you ought to take. Surely if Venus ever had a daughter—”

“Oh, nonsense! After we've travelled all these millions of miles together do you really expect me to believe stuff like that?”

“My dear girl-graduate,” he said, tightening his grip round her waist a little, “you know perfectly well that if we had travelled beyond the limits of the Solar System, if we had outsailed old Halley's Comet itself, and dived into the uttermost depths of Space outside the Milky Way, you and I would still be a man and a woman, and, being, as may be presumed, more or less in love with each other—”

“Less indeed!” said Zaidie; “You're speaking for yourself, I hope.”

And then when she had partially disengaged herself and sat up straight, she said between her laughs—

“Really, Lenox, you're quite absurd for a person who has been married as long as you have, I don't mean in time, but in space. Was it a thousand years or a couple of hundred million miles ago that we were married? Really I am getting my ideas of time and space quite mixed up.

“But never mind that! What I was going to say is that, according to all the authorities which your girl-graduate has been reading since we left Mars, Venus—-oh, doesn't she look just gorgeous, and our old friend the Sun behind there blazing out of darkness like one of the furnaces at Pittsburg—I beg your pardon, Lenox, I'm afraid I'm getting quite provincial. I suppose we're considerably more than a hundred million miles away?”

“Yes, dear; we're about a hundred and fifty millions, and at that distance, if you'll excuse me saying so, even the United States would seem almost like a province, wouldn't they?”

“Well, yes; that's just where distance doesn't lend enchantment to the view, I suppose.”

“But what was it you were going to say before that—-”

“The interlude, eh? Well, before the interlude you were accusing me of being a graduate as well as a girl. Of course I can't help that, but what I was going to say was—-”

“If you are going to talk science, dear, perhaps we'd better sit on different chairs. I may have been married for a hundred and fifty million miles, but the honeymoon isn't half way through yet, you know.”

Then there was another interlude of a few seconds' duration. When Zaidie was seated beside her own telescope again, she said, after another glance at the splendid crescent which, as the Astronef approached at a speed of over forty miles a second, increased in size and distinctness every moment:

“What I mean is this. All the authorities are agreed that on Venus, her axis of revolution bang so very much inclined to the plane of her orbit, the seasons are so severe that half the year its temperate zone and its tropics have a summer about twice as hot as ours tropics and the other half they have a winter twice as cold as our coldest. I'm afraid, after all, we shall find the Love-Star a world of salamanders and seals; things that can live in a furnace and bask on an iceberg; and when we get back home it will be our painful duty, as the first explorers of the fields of space, to dispel another dearly-cherished popular delusion.”

“I'm not so very sure about that,” said Lenox, glancing from the rapidly growing crescent, to the sweet smiling face beside him. “Don't you see something very different there to what we saw either on the Moon or Mars? Now just go back to your telescope and let us take an observation.”

“Well,” said Zaidie, rising, “as our trip is partly, at least, in the interest of science, I will.” And then, when she had got her own telescope into focus again—for the distance between the Astronef and the new world they were about to visit was rapidly lessening—she took a long look through it, and said:

“Yes, I think I see what you mean. The outer edge of the crescent is bright, but it gets greyer and dimmer towards the inside of the curve. Of course Venus has an atmosphere. So had Mars; but this must be very dense. There's a sort of halo all round it. Just fancy that splendid thing being the little black spot we saw going across the face of the Sun a few days ago! It makes one feel rather small, doesn't it?”

“That is one of the things which a woman says when she doesn't want to be answered; but, apart from that, you were saying—”

“What a very unpleasant person you can be when you like! I was going to say that on the Moon we saw nothing but black and white, light and darkness. There was no atmosphere, except in those awful places I don't want to think about. Then, as we got near Mars, we saw a pinky atmosphere, but not very dense; but this, you see, is a sort of pearl-grey white shading from silver to black. But look—what are those tiny bright spots? There are hundreds of them.”

“Do you remember as we were leaving the earth, how bright the mountain ranges looked; how plainly we could see the Rockies and the Andes?”

“Oh, yes, I see; they're mountains; thirty-seven miles high some of them, they say; and the rest of the silver-grey will be clouds, I suppose. Fancy living under clouds like those.”

“Only another case of the adaptation of life to natural conditions, I expect. When we get there, I daresay we shall find that these clouds are just what make it possible for the inhabitants of Venus to stand the extremes of heat and cold. Given elevations, three or four times as high as the Himalayas, it would be quite possible for them to choose their temperature by shifting their altitude.

“But I think it's about time to drop theory and see to the practice,” he continued, getting up from his chair and going to the signal board to the conning-tower. “Whatever the planet Venus may be like, we don't want to charge it at the rate of sixty miles a second. That's about the speed now, considering how fast she's travelling towards us.”

“And considering that, whether it is a nice world or not, it's nearly as big as the earth, I guess we should get rather the worst of the charge,” laughed Zaidie, as she went back to her telescope.

Redgrave sent a signal down to Murgatroyd to reverse engines, as it were, or, in other words, to direct the “R. Force” against the planet, from which they were now only a couple of hundred thousand miles distant. The next moment the sun and stars seemed to halt in their courses. The great golden-grey crescent which had been increasing in size every moment, appeared to remain stationary, and then, when he was satisfied that the engines were developing the Force properly, he sent another signal down, and the Astronef began to descend.

The half-disc of Venus seemed to fall below them, and in a few minutes they could see it from the upper deck spreading out like a huge semi-circular plain of light ahead and on both sides of them. The Astronef was falling upon it at the rate of about a thousand miles a minute towards the centre of the half crescent, and every moment the brilliant spots above the cloud-surface grew in size and brightness.

“I believe the theory about the enormous height of the mountains of Venus must be correct after all,” said Redgrave, tearing himself with an evident wrench away from his telescope. “Those white patches can't be anything else but the summits of snow-capped mountains. You know how brilliantly white a snow-peak looks on earth against the whitest of clouds.”

“Oh, yes,” said Zaidie, “I've often seen that in the Rockies. But it's lunch time, and I must go down and see how my things in the kitchen are getting on. I suppose you'll try and land somewhere where it's morning, so that we can have a good day before us. Really, it's very convenient to be able to make your own morning or night as you like, isn't it? I hope it won't make us too conceited when we get back, being able to choose our mornings and our evenings; in fact, our sunrises and sunsets on any world we like to visit in a casual way like this.”

“Well,” laughed Redgrave, as she moved away towards the companion stairs, “after all, if you find the United States, or even the planet Terra, too small for you, we've always got the fields of Space open to us. We might take a trip across the Zodiac or down the Milky Way.”

“And meanwhile,” she replied, stopping at the top of the stairs and looking round, “I'll go down and get lunch. You and I may be king and queen of the realms of Space, and all that sort of thing, but we've got to eat and drink, after all.”

“And that reminds me,” said Redgrave, getting up and following her, “we must celebrate our arrival on a new world as usual. I'll go down and get out the wine. I shouldn't be surprised if we found the people of the Love-World living on nectar and ambrosia, and as fizz is our nearest approach to nectar—”

“I suppose,” said Zaidie, as she gathered up her skirts and stepped daintily down the companion stairs, “if you find anything human or at least human enough to eat and drink, you'll have a party and give them champagne. I wonder what those wretches on Mars would have thought of it if we'd only made friends with them?”

Lunch on board the Astronef was about the pleasantest meal of the day. Of course there was neither day nor night, in the ordinary sense of the word, except as the hours were measured off by the chronometers. Whichever side or end of the vessel received the direct rays of the sun, was bathed in blazing heat and dazzling light. Elsewhere there was black darkness, and the more than icy cold of space; but lunch was a convenient division of the waking hours, which began with a stroll on the upper deck and a view of the ever-varying splendours about them, and ended after dinner in the same place with coffee and cigarettes and speculations as to the next day's happenings.

This lunch hour passed even more pleasantly and rapidly than others had done, for the discussion as to the possibilities of Venus was continued in a quite delightful mixture of scientific disquisition and that converse which is common to most human beings on their honeymoon.

As there was nothing more to be done or seen for an hour or two, the afternoon was spent in a pleasant siesta in the luxurious deck-saloon; because evening to them would be morning on that portion of Venus to which they were directing their course, and, as Zaidie said, when she subsided into her hammock:

It would be breakfast-time before they could get dinner.

As the Astronef fell with ever-increasing velocity towards the cloud-covered surface of Venus, the remainder of her disc, lit up by the radiance of her sister-worlds, Mercury, Mars, and the Earth, and also by the pale radiance of an enormous comet, which had suddenly shot into view from behind its southern limb, became more or less visible.

Towards six o'clock it became necessary to exert the full strength of her engines to check the velocity of her fall. By eight she had entered the atmosphere of Venus, and was dropping slowly towards a vast sea of sunlit cloud, out of which, on all sides, towered thousands of snow-clad peaks, rounded summits, and widespread stretches of upland above which the clouds swept and surged like the silent billows of some vast ocean in Ghostland.

“I thought so!” said Redgrave, when the propellers had begun to revolve and Murgatroyd had taken his place in the conning-tower. “A very dense atmosphere loaded with clouds. There's the sun just rising, so your ladyship's wishes are duly obeyed.”

“And doesn't it seem nice and homelike to see him rising through an atmosphere above the clouds again? It doesn't look a bit like the same sort of dear old sun just blazing like a red-hot moon among a lot of white hot stars and planets. Look, aren't those peaks lovely, and that cloud-sea?—Why, for all the world we might be in a balloon above the Rockies or the Alps. And see,” she continued, pointing to one of the thermometers fixed outside the glass dome which covered the upper deck, “it's only sixty-five even here. I wonder if we can breathe this air, and oh, I do wonder what we shall see on the other side of those clouds.”

“You shall have both questions answered in a few minutes,” replied Redgrave, going towards the conning-tower. “To begin with, I think we'll land on that big snow-dome yonder, and do a little exploring. Where there are snow and clouds there is moisture, and where there is moisture a man ought to be able to breathe.”

The Astronef, still falling, but now easily under the command of the helmsman, shot forwards and downwards towards a vast dome of snow which, rising some two thousand feet above the cloud-sea, shone with dazzling brilliance in the light of the rising Sun. She landed just above the edge of the clouds. Meanwhile they had put on their breathing-suits, and Redgrave had seen that the air chamber through which they had to pass from their own little world into the new ones that they visited was in working order. When the outer door was opened and the ladder lowered he stood aside, as he had done on the moon, and Zaidie's was the first human foot which made an imprint on the virgin snows of Venus.

The first thing Lenox did was to raise the visor of his helmet and taste the air of the new world. It was cool, and fresh, and sweet, and the first draught of it sent the blood tingling and dancing through his veins. Perfect as the arrangements of the Astronef were in this respect, the air of Venus tasted like clear running spring water would have done to a man who had been drinking filtered water for several days. He threw the visor right up and motioned to Zaidie to do the same. She obeyed, and, after drawing a long breath, she said:

“That's glorious! It's like wine after water, and rather stagnant water too. But what a world, snow-peaks and cloud-sea, islands of ice and snow in an ocean of mist! Just look at them! Did you ever see anything so lovely and unearthly in your life? I wonder how high this mountain is, and what there is on the other side of the clouds. Isn't the air delicious! Not a bit too cold after all—but, still, I think we may as well go back and put on something more becoming. I shouldn't quite like the ladies of Venus to see me dressed like a diver.”

“Come along then,” laughed Lenox, as he turned back towards the vessel. “That's just like a woman. You're about a hundred and fifty million miles away from Broadway or Regent Street. You are standing on the top of a snow mountain above the clouds of Venus, and the moment that you find the air is fit to breathe you begin thinking about dress. How do you know that the inhabitants of Venus, if there are any, dress at all?”

“What nonsense! Of course they do—at least, if they are anything like us.”

As soon as they got back on board the Astronef and had taken their breathing-dresses off, Redgrave and the old engineer, who appeared to take no visible interest in their new surroundings, threw open all the sliding doors on the upper and lower decks so that the vessel might be thoroughly ventilated by the fresh sweet air. Then a gentle repulsion was applied to the huge snow mass on which the Astronef rested. She rose a couple of hundred feet, her propellers began to whirl round, and Redgrave steered her out towards the centre of the vast cloud-sea which was almost surrounded by a thousand glittering peaks of ice and domes of snow.

“I think we may as well put off dinner, or breakfast as it will be now, until we see what the world below is like,” he said to Zaidie, who was standing beside him on the conning-tower.

“Oh, never mind about eating just now, this is altogether too wonderful to be missed for the sake of ordinary meat and drink. Let's go down and see what there is on the other side.”

He sent a message down the speaking tube to Murgatroyd, who was below among his beloved engines, and the next moment sun and clouds and ice-peaks had disappeared, and nothing was visible save the all-enveloping silver-grey mist.

For several minutes they remained silent, watching and wondering what they would find beneath the veil which hid the surface of Venus from their view. Then the mist thinned out and broke up into patches which drifted past them as they descended on their downward slanting course.

Below them they saw vast, ghostly shapes of mountains and valleys, lakes and rivers, continents, islands, and seas. Every moment these became more and more distinct, and soon they were in full view of the most marvellous landscape that human eyes had ever beheld. The distances were tremendous. Mountains, compared with which the Alps or even the Andes would have seemed mere hillocks, towered up out of the vast depths beneath them.

Up to the lower edge of the all-covering cloud-sea they were clad with a golden-yellow vegetation, fields and forests, open, smiling valleys, and deep, dark ravines through which a thousand torrents thundered down from the eternal snows beyond, to spread themselves out in rivers and lakes in the valleys and plains which lay many thousands of feet below.

“What a lovely world!” said Zaidie, as she at last found her voice after what was almost a stupor of speechless wonder and admiration. “And the light! Did you ever see anything like it? It's neither moonlight nor sunlight. See, there are no shadows down there, it's just all lovely silvery twilight. Lenox, if Venus is as nice as she looks from here I don't think I shall want to go back. It reminds me of Tennyson's Lotus Eaters, 'The land where it is always afternoon.'

“I think you are right after all. We are thirty million miles nearer to the sun than we were on the earth, and the light and heat have to filter through those clouds. They are not at all like earth-clouds from this side. It's the other way about. The silver lining is on this side. Look, there isn't a black or a brown one, or even a grey one, within sight. They are just like a thin mist, lighted by millions of electric lamps. It's a delicious world, and if it isn't inhabited by angels it ought to be.”

Chapter XIII


While they were talking, the Astronef was sweeping swiftly down towards the surface of Venus, through scenery of whose almost inconceivable magnificence no human words could convey any adequate idea. Underneath the cloud-veil the air was absolutely clear and transparent; clearer, indeed, than terrestrial air at the highest elevations, and, moreover, it seemed to be endowed with a strange luminous quality, which made objects, no matter how distant, stand out with almost startling distinctness.

The rivers and lakes and seas which spread out beneath them, seemed never to have been ruffled by the blast of a storm or breath of wind, and their surfaces shone with a soft silvery light, which seemed to come from below rather than from above.

“If this isn't heaven it must be the half-way house,” said Redgrave, with what was, perhaps, under the circumstances, a pardonable irreverence. “Still, after all, we don't know what the inhabitants may be like, so I think we'd better close the doors, and drop on the top of that mountain spur running out between the two rivers into the bay. Do you notice how curious the water looks after the earth-seas; bright silver, instead of blue and green?”

“Oh, it's just lovely,” said Zaidie. “Let's go down and have a walk. There's nothing to be afraid of. You'll never make me believe that a world like this can be inhabited by anything dangerous.

“Perhaps, but we mustn't forget what happened on Mars, Madonna Mia. still, there's one thing, we haven't been tackled by any aerial fleets yet.”

“I don't think the people here want air-ships. They can fly themselves. Look! there are a lot of them coming to meet us. That was a rather wicked remark of yours about the half-way house to Heaven; but those certainly look something like angels.”

As Zaidie said this, after a somewhat lengthy pause, during which the Astronef had descended to within a few hundred feet of the mountain-spur, she handed a pair of field-glasses to her husband, and pointed downward towards an island which lay a couple of miles or so off the end of the spur.

Redgrave put the glasses to his eyes, and took a long look through them. Moving them slowly up and down, and from side to side, he saw hundreds of winged figures rising from the island and soaring towards them.

“You were right, dear,” he said, without taking the glass from his eyes, “and so was I. If those aren't angels, they're certainly something like men, and, I suppose, women too who can fly. We may as well stop here and wait for them. I wonder what sort of an animal they take the Astronef for.”

He sent a message down the tube to Murgatroyd, and gave a turn and a half to the steering wheel. The propellers slowed down and the Astronef dropped with a hardly perceptible shock in the midst of a little plateau covered with a thick, soft moss of a pale yellowish green, and fringed by a belt of trees which seemed to be over three hundred feet high, and whose foliage was a deep golden bronze.

They had scarcely landed before the flying figures reappeared over the tree-tops and swept downwards in long spiral curves towards the Astronef.

“If they're not angels, they're very like them,” said Zaidie, putting down her glasses.

“There's one thing,” replied her husband; “they fly a lot better than the old masters' angels or Dore's could have done, because they have tails—or at least something that seems to serve the same purpose, and yet they haven't got feathers.”

“Yes, they have, at least round the edges of their wings or whatever they are, and they've got clothes, too, silk tunics or something of that sort—and there are men and women.”

“You're quite right. Those fringes down their legs are feathers, and that's how they fly. They seem to have four arms.”

The flying figures which came hovering near to the Astronef, without evincing any apparent sign of fear, were certainly the strangest that human eyes had looked upon. In some respects they had a sufficient resemblance to human form for them to be taken for winged men and women, while in another they bore a decided resemblance to birds. Their bodies and limbs were almost human in shape, but of slenderer and lighter build; and from the shoulder-blades and muscles of the back there sprang a pair of wings arching up above their heads. Between these and the lower arms, and continued from them down the sides to the ankles, there appeared to be a flexible membrane covered with a light feathery down, pure white on the inside, but on the back a brilliant golden yellow, deepening to bronze towards the edges, round which ran a deep feathery fringe.

The body was covered in front and down the back between the wings with a sort of divided tunic of a light, silken-looking material, which must have been clothing, since there were many different colours all more or less of different hue among them. Below this and attached to the inner sides of the leg from the knee downward, was another membrane which reached down to the heels, and it was this which Redgrave somewhat flippantly alluded to as a tail. Its obvious purpose was to maintain the longitudinal balance when flying.

In stature these inhabitants of the Love-Star varied from about five feet six to five feet, but both the taller and the shorter of them were all of nearly the same size, from which it was easy to conclude that this difference in stature was on Venus, as well as on the Earth, one of the broad distinctions between the sexes.

They flew once or twice completely round the Astronef with an exquisite ease and grace which made Zaidie exclaim:

“Now, why weren't we made like that on Earth!”

To which Redgrave, after a look at the barometer, replied:

“Partly, I suppose, because we weren't built that way, and partly because we don't live in an atmosphere about two and a half times as dense as ours.”

Then several of the winged figures alighted on the mossy covering of the plain and walked towards the vessel.

“Why, they walk just like us, only much more prettily!” said Zaidie. “And look what funny little faces they've got! Half bird, half human, and soft, downy feathers instead of hair. I wonder whether they talk or sing. I wish you'd open the doors again, Lenox. I'm sure they can't possibly mean us any harm; they are far too pretty for that. What lovely soft eyes they have, and what a thousand pities it is we shan't be able to understand them.”

They had left the conning-tower and both his lordship and Murgatroyd were throwing open the sliding doors and, to Zaidie's considerable displeasure, getting the deck Maxims ready for action in case they should be required. As soon as the doors were open Zaidie's judgement of the inhabitants of Venus was entirely justified.

Without the slightest sign of fear, but with very evident astonishment in their round golden-yellow eyes, they came walking close up to the sides of the Astronef. Some of them stroked her smooth, shining sides with their little hands, which Zaidie now found had only three fingers and a thumb. Many ages before they might have been bird's claws, but now they were soft and pink and plump, utterly strange to work as manual work is understood upon Earth.

“Just fancy getting Maxim guns ready to shoot those delightful things,” said Zaidie, almost indignantly, as she went towards the doorway from which the gangway ladder ran down to the soft, mossy turf. “Why, not one of them has got a weapon of any sort; and just listen,” she went on, stopping in the opening of the doorway, “have you ever heard music like that on earth? I haven't. I suppose it's the way they talk. I'd give a good deal to be able to understand them. But still, it's very lovely, isn't it?”

“Ay, like the voices of syrens,” said Murgatroyd, speaking for the first time since the Astronef had landed; for this big, grizzled, taciturn Yorkshireman, who looked upon the whole cruise through Space as a mad and almost impious adventure, which nothing but his hereditary loyalty to his master's name and family could have persuaded him to share in, had grown more and more silent as the millions of miles between the Astronef and his native Yorkshire village had multiplied day by day.

“Syrens—and why not, Andrew?” laughed Redgrave. “At any rate, I don't think they look likely to lure us and the Astronef to destruction.” Then he went on. “Yes, Zaidie, I never heard anything like that before. Unearthly, of course it is; but then we're not on Earth. Now, Zaidie, they seem to talk in song-language. You did pretty well on Mars with your sign-language, suppose we go out and show them that you can speak the song-language, too.”

“What do you mean?” she said; “sing them something?”

“Yes,” he replied, “they'll try to talk to you in song, and you won't be able to understand them; at least, not as far as words and sentences go. But music is the universal language on Earth, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be the same through the solar system. Come along, tune up, little woman!”

They went together down the gangway stairs, he dressed in an ordinary suit of grey English tweed, with a golf cap on the back of his head, and she in the last and daintiest of costumes which the art of Paris and London and New York had produced before the Astronef soared up from far-off Washington.

The moment that she set foot on the golden-yellow sward she was surrounded by a swarm of the winged, and yet strangely human creatures. Those nearest to her came and touched her hands and face, and stroked the folds of her dress. Others looked into her violet-blue eyes, and others put out their queer little hands and stroked her hair.

This and her clothing seemed to be the most wonderful experience for them, saving always the fact that she had two arms and no wings. Redgrave kept close beside her until he was satisfied that these exquisite inhabitants of the new-found fairyland were innocent of any intention of harm, and when he saw two of the winged daughters of the Love-Star put up their hands and touch the thick coils of her hair, he said:

“Take those pins and things out and let it down. They seem to think that your hair's part of your head. It's the first chance you've had to work a miracle, so you may as well do it. Show them the most beautiful thing they've ever seen.”

“What babies you men can be when you get sentimental!” laughed Zaidie, as she put her hands up to her head. “How do you know that this may not be ugly in their eyes?”

“Quite impossible!” He replied. “They're a great deal too pretty themselves to think you ugly. Let it down!”

While he was speaking Zaidie had taken off a Spanish mantilla which she had thrown over her head as she came out, and which the ladies of Venus seemed to think was part of her hair. Then she took out the comb and one or two hairpins which kept the coils in position, deftly caught the ends, and then, after a few rapid movements of her fingers, she shook her head, and the wondering crowd about her saw, what seemed to them a shimmering veil, half gold, half silver, in the strange, reflected light from the cloud-veil, fall down from her head over her shoulders.

They crowded still more closely round her, but so quietly and so gently that she felt nothing more than the touch of wondering hands on her arms, and dress, and hair. As Redgrave said afterwards, he was “absolutely out of it.” They seemed to imagine him to be a kind of uncouth monster, possibly the slave of this radiant being which had come so strangely from somewhere beyond the cloud-veil. They looked at him with their golden-yellow eyes wide open, and some of them came up rather timidly and touched his clothes, which they seemed to think were his skin.

Then one or two, more daring, put their little hands up to his face and touched his moustache, and all of them, while both examinations were going on, kept up a running conversation of cooing and singing which evidently conveyed their ideas from one to the other on the subject of this most marvellous visit of these two strange beings with neither wings nor feathers, but who, most undoubtedly, had other means of flying, since it was quite certain that they had come from another world.

Their ordinary speech was a low crooning note, like the language in which doves converse, mingled with a twittering current of undertone. But every moment it rose into higher notes, evidently expressing wonder or admiration, or both.

“You were right about the universal language,” said Redgrave, when he had submitted to the stroking process for a few moments. “These people talk in music, and, as far as I can see or hear, their opinion of us, or, at least, of you, is distinctly flattering. I don't know what they take me for, and I don't care, but, as we'd better make friends with them, suppose you sing them 'Home, Sweet Home,' or 'The Swanee River.' I shouldn't wonder if they consider our talking voices most horrible discords, so you might as well give them something different.”

While he was speaking the sounds about them suddenly hushed, and, as Redgrave said afterwards, it was something like the silence that follows a cannon shot. Then, in the midst of the hush, Zaidie put her hands behind her, looked up towards the luminous silver surface which formed the only visible sky of Venus, and began to sing “The Swanee River.”

The clear, sweet notes rang up through the midst of a sudden silence. The sons and daughters of the Love-Star instantly ceased their own soft musical conversation, and Zaidie sang the old plantation song through for the first time that a human voice had sung it to ears other than human.

As the last note thrilled sweetly from her lips she looked round at the crowd of queer half-human figures about her, and something in their unlikeness to her own kind brought back to her mind the familiar scenes which lay so far away, so many millions of miles across the dark and silent Ocean of Space.

Other winged figures, attracted by the sound of her singing, had crossed the trees, and these, during the silence which came after the singing of the song, were swiftly followed by others, until there were nearly a thousand of them gathered about the side of the Astronef.

There was no crowding or jostling among them. Each one treated every other with the most perfect gentleness and courtesy. No such thing as enmity or ill-feeling seemed to exist among them, and, in perfect silence, they waited for Zaidie to continue what they thought was her long speech of greeting. The temper of the throng somehow coincided exactly with the mood which her own memories had brought to her, and the next moment she sent the first line of “Home Sweet Home” soaring up to the cloud-veiled sky.

As the notes rang up into the still, soft air a deeper hush fell on the listening throng. Heads were bowed with a gesture almost of adoration, and many of those standing nearest to her bent their bodies forward, and expanded their wings, bringing them together over their breasts with a motion which, as they afterwards learnt, was intended to convey the idea of wonder and admiration, mingled with something like a sentiment of worship.

Zaidie sang the sweet old song through from end to end, forgetting for the time being everything but the home she had left behind her on the banks of the Hudson. As the last notes left her lips, she turned round to Redgrave and looked at him with eyes dim with the first tears that had filled them since her father's death, and said, as he caught hold of her outstretched hand:

“I believe they've understood every word of it.”

“Or, at any rate, every note. You may be quite certain of that,” he replied. “If you had done that on Mars it might have been even more effective than the Maxims.”

“For goodness sake don't talk about things like that in a heaven like this! Oh, listen! They've got the tune already!”

It was true! The dwellers of the Love-Star, whose speech was song, had instantly recognised the sweetness of the sweetest of all earthly songs. They had, of course, no idea of the meaning of the words; but the music spoke to them and told them that this fair visitant from another world could speak the same speech as theirs. Every note and cadence was repeated with absolute fidelity, and so the speech, common to the two far-distant worlds, became a link connecting this wandering son and daughter of the Earth with the sons and daughters of the Love-Star.

The throng fell back a little and two figures; apparently male and female, came to Zaidie and held out their right hands and began addressing her in perfectly harmonised song, which, though utterly unintelligible to her in the sense of speech, expressed sentiments which could not possibly be mistaken, as there was a faint suggestion of the old English song running through the little song-speech that they made, and both Zaidie and her husband rightly concluded that it was intended to convey a welcome to the strangers from beyond the cloud-veil.

And then the strangest of all possible conversations began. Redgrave, who had no more notion of music than a walrus, perforce kept silence. In fact, he noticed with a certain displeasure which vanished speedily with a musical and half-malicious little laugh from Zaidie, that when he spoke the Bird-Folk drew back a little and looked in something like astonishment at him; but Zaidie was already in touch with them, and half by song and half by signs she very soon gave them an idea of what they were and where they had come from. Her husband afterwards told her that it was the best piece of operatic acting he had ever seen, and, considering all the circumstances, this was very possibly true.

In the end the two, who had come to give her what seemed to be the formal greeting, were invited into the Astronef. They went on board without the slightest sign of mistrust, and with only an expression of mild wonder on their beautiful and strangely childlike faces.

Then, while the other doors were being closed, Zaidie stood at the open one above the gangway and made signs showing that they were going up beyond the clouds and then down into the valley, and as she made the signs she sang through the scale, her voice rising and falling in harmony with her gestures. The Bird-Folk understood her instantly, and as the door closed and the Astronef rose from the ground, a thousand wings were outspread and presently hundreds of beautiful soaring forms were circling about the Navigator of the Stars.

“Don't they look lovely!” said Zaidie. “I wonder what they would think if they could see us flying above New York or London or Paris with an escort like this. I suppose they're going to show us the way. Perhaps they have a city down there. Suppose you were to go and get a bottle of champagne and see if Master Cupid and Miss Venus would like a drink. We'll see then if our nectar is anything like theirs.”

Redgrave went below. Meanwhile, for lack of other possible conversation, Zaidie began to sing the last verse of “Never Again.” The melody almost exactly described the upward motion of the Astronef, and she could see that it was instantly understood, for when she had finished, their two voices joined in an almost exact imitation of it.

When Redgrave brought up the wine and the glasses they looked at them without any sign of surprise. The pop of the cork did not even make them look round.

“Evidently a semi-angelic people, living on nectar and ambrosia, with nectar very like our own,” he said, as he filled the glasses. “Perhaps you'd better give it to them. They seem to understand you better than they do me—you being, of course, a good bit nearer to the angels than I am.”

“Thanks!” she said, as she took a couple of glasses up, wondering a little what their visitors would do with them. Somewhat to her surprise, they took them with a little bow and a smile and sipped at the wine, first with a swift glint of wonder in their eyes, and then with smiles which are unmistakable evidence of perfect appreciation.

“I thought so,” said Redgrave, as he raised his own glass, and bowed gravely towards them. “This is our nearest approach to nectar, and they seem to recognise it.”

“And don't they just look like the sort of people who live on it, and, of course, other things?” Added Zaidie, as she too lifted her glass, and looked with laughing eyes across the brim at her two guests.

But meanwhile Murgatroyd had been applying the repulsive force a little too strongly. The Astronef shot up with a rapidity which soon left her winged escort far below. She entered the cloud-veil and passed beyond it. The instant that the unclouded sun-rays struck the glass-roofing of the upper deck, their two guests, who had been moving about examining everything with a childlike curiosity, closed their eyes and clasped their hands over them, uttering little cries, tuneful and musical, but still with a note of strange discord in them.

“Lenox, we must go down again,” exclaimed Zaidie. “Don't you see they can't stand the light; it hurts them. Perhaps, poor dears, it's the first time they've ever been hurt in their lives. I don't believe they have any of our ideas of pain or sorrow or anything of that sort. Take us back under the clouds—quick, or we may blind them.”

Before she had finished speaking, Redgrave had sent a signal down to Murgatroyd, and the Astronef began to drop back again towards the surface of the cloud-sea. Zaidie had, meanwhile, gone to her lady guest and dropped the black lace mantilla over her head, and, as she did so, she caught herself saying:

“There, dear, we shall soon be back in your own light. I hope it hasn't hurt you. It was very stupid of us to do a thing like that.”

The answer came in a little cooing murmur, which said, “Thank you!” quite as effectively as any earthly words could have done, and then the Astronef dropped through the cloud-sea. The soaring forms of her lost escort came into view again and clustered about her; and, surrounded by them, she dropped, in obedience to their signs, down between the tremendous mountains and towards the island, thick with golden foliage, which lay two or three earth-miles out in a bay, where four converging rivers spread out into the sea.

As Lady Redgrave said afterwards to Mrs. Van Stuyler, she could have filled a whole volume with a description of the purely Arcadian delights with which the hours of the next ten days and nights were filled. Possibly if she had been able to do justice to them, even her account might have been received with qualified credence; but still some idea of them may be gathered from this extract of a conversation which took place in the saloon of the Astronef on the eleventh evening.

“But look here, Zaidie,” said his lordship, “as we've found a world which is certainly much more delightful than our own, why shouldn't we stop here a bit? The air suits us and the people are simply enchanting. I think they like us, and I'm sure you're in love with every one of them, male and female. Of course, it's rather a pity that we can't fly unless we do it in the Astronef. But that's only a detail. You're enjoying yourself thoroughly, and I never saw you looking better or, if possible, more beautiful; and why on earth—-or Venus—do you want to go?”

She looked at him steadily for a few moments, and with an expression which he had never seen on her face or in her eyes before, and then she said slowly and very sweetly, although there was something like a note of solemnity running through her tone:

“I altogether agree with you, dear; but there is something which you don't seem to have noticed. As you say, we have had a perfectly delightful time. It's a delicious world, and just everything that one would think it to be; but if we were to stop here we should be committing one of the greatest crimes, perhaps the greatest, that ever was committed within the limits of the Solar System.”

“My dear Zaidie, what in the name of what we used to call morals on the earth, do you mean?”

“Just this,” she replied, leaning a little towards him in her deck-chair. “These people, half angels, and half men and women, welcomed us after we dropped through their cloud-veil, as friends; we were a little strange to them, certainly, but still they welcomed us as friends. They had no suspicions of us; they didn't try to poison us or blow us up as those wretches on Mars did. They're just like a lot of grown-up children with wings on. In fact they're about as nearly angels as anything we can think of. They've taken us into their palaces, they've given us, as one might say, the whole planet. Everything was ours that we liked to take. You know we have two or three hundredweight of precious stones on board now, which they would make me take just because they saw my rings.

“We've been living with them ten days now, and neither you nor I, nor even Murgatroyd, who, like the old Puritan that he is, seems to see sin or wrong in everything that looks nice, has seen a single sign among them that they know anything about what we call sin or wrong on Earth. There's no jealousy, no selfishness. In short, no envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness; no vice, or meanness, or cheating, or any of the abominations of the planet Terra, and we come from that planet. Do you see what I mean now?”

“I think I understand what you're driving at,” said Redgrave. “You mean, I suppose, that this world is something like Eden before the fall, and that you and I—oh—but that's all rubbish you know. I've got my own share of original sin, of course, but here it doesn't seem to come in; and as for you, the very idea of you imagining yourself a feminine edition of the Serpent in Eden. Nonsense!”

She got up out of her chair and, leaning over his, put her arm round his shoulder. Then she said very softly:

“I see you understand what I mean, Lenox. That's just it—original sin. It doesn't matter how good you think me or I think you, but we have it. You're an Earth-born man and I'm an earth-born woman, and, as I'm your wife, I can say it plainly. We may think a good bit of each other, but that's no reason why we shouldn't be a couple of plague-spots in a sinless world like this. Surely you see what I mean, I needn't put it plainer, need I?”

Their eyes met, and he read her meaning in hers. He put his arm up over her shoulder and drew her down towards him. Their lips met, and then he got up and went down to the engine-room.

A couple of minutes later the Astronef sprang upwards from the midst of the delightful valley in which she was resting. No lights were shown. In five minutes she had passed through the cloud-veil, and the next morning when their new friends came to visit them and found that they had vanished back into Space, there was sorrow for the first time among the sons and daughters of the Love-Star.

Chapter XIV


“FIVE HUNDRED MILLION miles from the earth and forty-seven million miles from Jupiter,” said his lordship, as he came into breakfast on the morning of the twenty-eighth day after leaving Venus.

During this brief period the Astronef had recrossed the orbits of the Earth and Mars and passed through that marvellous region of the Solar System, the Belt of the Asteroides. Nearly a hundred million miles of their journey had lain through this zone in which hundreds and possibly thousands of tiny planets revolve in vast orbits round the Sun.

Then had come a worldless void of over three hundred million miles, through which the Astronef voyaged alone, surrounded by the ever-constant splendours of the Heavens, but visited only now and then by one of those Spectres of Space, which we call comets.

Astern, the disc of the Sun steadily diminished, and ahead the grey-blue shape of Jupiter, the Giant of the Solar System, had grown larger and larger until now they could see it as it had never been seen before—a gigantic three-quarter moon filling up the whole Heavens in front of them almost from Zenith to Nadir. Three of its four satellites, Europa, Ganymede, and Calisto were distinctly visible to the naked eye, and Europa and Ganymede, happened to be in such a position with regard to the Astronef that her crew could see not only the bright sides turned towards the sun, but also the black shadow-spots which they cast on the cloud-veiled face of the huge planet. Calisto was above the horizon hanging like a tiny flicker of yellowish-red light above the rounded edge of Jupiter, and Io was invisible behind the planet.

“Five hundred million miles!” said Zaidie, with a little shiver, “that seems an awful long way from home—I mean America—doesn't it? I often wonder what they are thinking about us on the dear old Earth. I don't suppose anyone ever expects to see us again. However, it's no good getting homesick in the middle of a journey when you're outward bound. And now what is the program as regards His Majesty King Jove? We shall visit the satellites of course?”

“Certainly,” replied Redgrave; “in fact, I shouldn't be surprised if our visit was confined to them.”

“What! Do you mean to say we shan't land on Jupiter after coming nearly six hundred million miles to see him? That would be disappointing. But why not? don't you think he's ready to be visited yet?”

“I can't say that, but you must remember that no one has the remotest notion of what there is behind the clouds or whatever they are which form those bands. All we really know about Jupiter is his enormous size, for instance, he's over twelve hundred times bigger than the Earth and that his density isn't much greater than that of water—and my humble opinion is that if we're able to go through the clouds without getting the Astronef red-hot we shall find that Jupiter is in the same state as the Earth was a good many million years ago.”

“I see,” said Zaidie, “you mean just a mass of blazing, boiling rock and metal which will make islands and continents some day; and that what we call the cloud bands are the vapours which will one day make its seas. Well, if we can get through these clouds we ought to see something worth seeing. Just fancy a whole world as big as that all ablaze like molten iron! Do you think we shall be able to see it, Lenox?”

“I'm not so sure about that, little woman. We shall have to go to work rather cautiously. You see Jupiter is far bigger than any world we've visited yet, and if we get too close to him the Astronef's engines might not be powerful enough to drive us away again. Then we should either stop there till the R. Force was exhausted or be drawn towards him and perhaps drop into an ocean of molten rock and metal.”

“Thanks!” said Zaidie, with a shrug of her shapely shoulders. “That would be an ignominious end to a journey like this, to say nothing of the boiling oil part of it; so I suppose you'll make stopping-places of the satellites and use their attraction to help you resist His Majesty's.”

“Your Ladyship's reasoning is perfect. I propose to visit them in turn, beginning with Calisto. I shouldn't be at all surprised if we found something interesting on them. You know they're quite little worlds of themselves. They're all bigger than our moon, except Europa. Ganymede, in fact, is two-thirds bigger than Mercury, and if old Jupiter is still in a state of fiery incandescence there's no reason why we shouldn't find on Ganymede or one of the others the same state of things that existed on our moon when the Earth was blazing hot.”

“I shouldn't wonder,” said Zaidie; “I've often heard my father say that that was probably what happened. It's all very marvellous, isn't it? death in one place, life in another, all beginnings and endings, and yet no actual beginning or end of anything anywhere. That's eternity, I suppose.”

“It's just about as near as the finite intellect can get to it, I should say,” replied Redgrave. “But I don't think metaphysics are much in our line. If you've finished we may as well go and have a look at the realities.”

“Which the metaphysicians,” laughed Zaidie as she rose, “would tell you are not realities at all, or only realities so far as you can think about them. 'Thinks,' in short, instead of real things. But meanwhile I've got the breakfast things to put away, so you can go up on deck and put the telescopes in order.”

When she joined him a few minutes later in the deck-chamber the three-quarter disc of Jupiter was rapidly approaching the full.

Its phases are invisible from the Earth owing to the enormous distance; but from the deck of the Astronef they had been plainly visible for some days, and, since the huge planet turns on its axis in less than ten hours, or with more than twice the speed of the Earth's rotation, the phases followed each other very rapidly.

Thus at twelve o'clock noon by Astronef time they might have seen a gigantic rim of silver-blue over-arching the whole vault of heaven in front of them. By five o'clock it would be a hemisphere, and by five minutes to ten the vast sphere would be once more shining full-orbed upon them. By eight o'clock next morning they would find Jupiter “new” again.

They were now falling very rapidly towards the huge planet, and, since there is no up or down in Space, the nearer they got to it the more it appeared to sink below them and become, as it were, the floor of the Celestial Sphere. As the crescent approached the full they were able to examine the mysterious bands as human observers had never examined them before. For hours they sat almost silent at their telescopes, trying to probe the mystery which has baffled human science since the days of Galileo, and gradually it became plain that Redgrave was correct in the hypothesis which he had derived from Flammarion and one or two others of the more advanced astronomers.

“I believe I was right, or, in other words, those that I got the idea from are,” he said, as they approached the orbit of Calisto, which revolves at a distance of about eleven hundred thousand miles from the surface of Jupiter.

“Those belts are made of clouds or vapour in some stage or other. The highest—the ones along the Equator and what we should call the Temperate Zones—are the highest, and therefore coolest and whitest. The dark ones are the lowest and hottest. I daresay they are more like what we should call volcanic clouds. Do you see how they keep changing? That's what's bothered our astronomers. Look at that big one yonder a bit to the north, going from brown to red. I suppose that's something like the famous red spot which they have been puzzling about. What do you make of it?”

“Well,” said Zaidie, looking up from her telescope, “it's quite certain that the glare must come from underneath. It can't be sunlight, because the poor old Sun doesn't seem to have strength enough to make a decent sunset or sunrise here, and look how it's running along to the westward! What does that mean, do you think?”

“I should say it means that some half-formed Jovian Continent has been flung sky high by a big burst-up underneath, and that's the blaze of the incandescent stuff running along. Just fancy a continent, say ten times the size of Asia, being split up and sent flying in a few moments like that! Look! there's another one to the north! On the whole, dear, I don't think we should find the climate on the other side of those clouds very salubrious. Still, as they say the atmosphere of Jupiter is about ten thousand miles thick, we may be able to get near enough to see something of what's going on.

“Meanwhile, here comes Calisto. Look at his shadow flying across the clouds. And there's Ganymede coming up after him, and Europa behind him. Talk about eclipses! they must be about as common here as thunderstorms are with us.”

“We don't have a thunderstorm every day—at least not at home,” corrected Zaidie, “but on Jupiter they must have two or three eclipses every day Meanwhile, there goes Jupiter himself. What a difference distance makes! This little thing is only a trifle larger than our Moon, and it's hiding everything else.”

As she was speaking the full-orbed disc of Calisto, measuring nearly three thousand miles across, swept between them and the planet. It shone with a clear, somewhat reddish light like that of Mars. The Astronef was feeling his attraction strongly, and Redgrave went to the levers and turned on about a fifth of the R. Force to avoid too sudden contact with it.

“Another dead world!” said Redgrave, as the surface of Calisto revolved swiftly beneath them, “or at any rate a dying one. There must be an atmosphere of some sort, or else that snow and ice wouldn't be there, and everything would be either black or white as it was on the Moon. We may as well land, however, and get a specimen of the rocks and soil to add to the museum, though I don't expect there will be very much to see in the way of life.”

In another hour or so the Astronef had dropped gently on to the surface of Calisto at the foot of a range of mountains crowded with jagged and splintery peaks, and a mile or two from the edge of a sea of snow and ice which stretched away in a vast expanse of rugged frozen billows beyond the horizon. Redgrave, as usual, went into the air-chamber and tried the atmosphere. A second's experience of it was enough for him. It was unbreathably thin and unbearably cold, although, when mixed with the air of the Astronef, it distinctly freshened it up. This proved that its composition was, or had been, fit for human respiration.

“There's only one fault about it,” he said, when he rejoined Zaidie in the sitting-room. “You know what the schoolboy said when he started kissing his first sweetheart, 'It takes too long to get enough of it.'”

“You seem to be very fond of referring to that particular subject, Lenox.”

“Well, yes; to tell you the truth I am,” and then he referred to it again in another form.

After this they went and put on their breathing-dresses and went for a welcome stroll along the arid shores of the frozen sea after their lengthy confinement to the decks of the Astronef. The Sun was still powerful enough to keep them comfortably warm in their dresses, and there was enough atmosphere to make this warmth diffused instead of direct. So they were able to step out briskly, and every now and then open their visors a little and take in a breath or two of the thin, sharp air, which they found quite exhilarating when mixed with the air supplied by their own oxygen apparatus.

The attraction of the satellite being only a little more than that of the Moon—or, say, about a fifth of that of the Earth—they were able to get along with a series of hops, skips, and jumps which might have looked rather ridiculous to terrestrial eyes, but which they found a very pleasant mode of locomotion. They were also able to climb the steepest mountainsides with no more trouble than they would have had in walking along a terrestrial plain.

On the heights they found no sign either of animal or vegetable life—only rocks and gravel and sand of a brownish red, apparently uniform in composition. They took a few lumps of rock and a canvas bag full of sand back with them from the mountain-side. In the valley sloping towards the ice sea they found what had once been watercourses opening out into rivers towards the sea; and in the lowest parts there was a kind of lichen-growth clinging to the rocks under the snow. On the surface of the snow they saw traces of what might have been the tracks of animals, but, as there was no breath of wind in the attenuated atmosphere, it was quite possible that these might have been frozen into permanent shape hundreds or thousands of years before. It was also possible that if they had explored long enough they might have found some low forms of animal life, but as they had landed almost on the equator of the satellite, under the full rays of the Sun, and seen nothing, this was hardly likely.

“I don't think it is worth while stopping here any longer,” said Zaidie, who was getting a little bit blase with her interplanetary experiences. “We've got lots to see further on, so if you don't mind I think I'll just take two or three photographs, then we can get back to the ship and have dinner and go on and see what Ganymede is like. He's bigger than Mercury, and nearly as big as Mars, so we ought to find something interesting there. This is only a sort of combination of the Moon and the polar regions and I don't think very much of it. Suppose we go back.”

“Just as your Ladyship pleases,” laughed Redgrave over the wire which connected their helmets, as, with joined hands, they turned back and danced along the snow-covered ocean shore towards the Astronef.

Zaidie took a couple of photographs of the mountain range and the ice-sea and another one of the general landscape of Calisto as they rose from the surface. Then, while she went to get lunch ready, Redgrave took the pieces of rock and the bag of dust into the laboratory which opened out of the main engine-room and analysed them. When he came out about an hour later he saw Murgatroyd going through his beloved engines with an oil-can and a piece of common cotton-waste which had come from a far away Yorkshire mill.

“Andrew,” he said, “should you be surprised if I told you that that moon we've just left seems to be mostly made of a spongy sort of alloy of gold and silver?”

“My lord,” said the old engineer, straightening himself up and looking at him with eyes in which this announcement had not seemed to kindle a spark of interest, “after what I have seen so far there's nothing that'll surprise me unless it be that the grace of God allows us to get back safely.”

“Amen, Andrew, that's well said,” replied Redgrave, and then he went back to the saloon and Murgatroyd went on with his oiling.

When he told her ladyship of his discovery she just looked up from the table she was laying and said:

“Oh, indeed! Well, I'm very glad that it's five or six hundred million miles from the Earth. A dead world bigger than the Moon, and made of gold and silver sponge, wouldn't be a nice thing to have too near the Earth. There's trouble enough about that sort of thing at home as it is. Still, it'll be a nice addition to the museum, and if you'll put it away and go and wash your hands lunch will be ready.”

When they got back to the deck-chamber Calisto was already a half moon in the upper sky nearly five hundred thousand miles away, and the full orb of Ganymede, shining with a pale golden light, lay outspread beneath them. A thin, bluish-grey arc of the giant planet overarched its western edge.

“I think we shall find something like a world here,” said her ladyship, when she had taken her first look through her telescope; “there's an atmosphere and what look like thin clouds. Continents and oceans too, or something like them, and what is that light shining up between the breaks? Isn't it something like our Aurora?”

“It might be,” replied Redgrave, turning his own telescope towards the northern pole of Ganymede, “though I never heard of a satellite having an aurora. Perhaps it's the Sun shining on the ice.”

As the Astronef fell towards the surface of Ganymede she crossed his northern pole, and the nearer they got the plainer it became that a light very like the terrestrial Aurora was playing about it, illuminating the thin, yellow clouds with a bluish-violet light, which made magnificent contrasts of colouring amongst them.

“Let us go down there and see what it's like,” said Zaidie. “There must be something nice under all those lovely colours.”

Redgrave checked the R. Force and the Astronef fell obliquely across the pole towards the equator. As they approached the luminous clouds Redgrave turned it on again, and they sank slowly through a glowing mist of innumerable colours, until the surface of Ganymede came into plain view about ten miles below them.

What they saw then was the strangest sight they had beheld since they had left the Earth. As far as their eyes could reach the surface of the Ganymede was covered with vast orderly patches, mostly rectangular, of what they at first took for ice, but which they soon found to be a something that was self-illuminating.

“Glorified hot-houses, as I'm alive,” exclaimed Redgrave. “Whole cities under glass, fields, too, and lit by electricity or something very like it. Zaidie, we shall find human beings down there.”

“Well, if we do I hope they won't be like the half-human things we found on Mars! But isn't it all just lovely! Only there doesn't seem to be anything outside the cities, at least nothing but bare, flat ground with a few rugged mountains here and there. See, there's a nice level plain near the big glass city, or whatever it is. Suppose we go down there.”

Redgrave checked the after-engine which was driving them obliquely over the surface of the satellite, and the Astronef fell vertically towards a bare flat plain of what looked like deep yellow sand, which spread for miles alongside one of the glittering cities of glass.

“Oh, look, they've seen us!” exclaimed Zaidie. “I do hope they're going to be as friendly as those dear people on Venus were.”

“I hope so,” replied Redgrave, “but if they're not we've got the guns ready.”

As he said this about twenty streams of an intense bluish light suddenly shot up all round them, concentrating themselves upon the hull of the Astronef, which was now about a mile and a half from the surface. The light was so intense that the rays of the Sun were lost in it. They looked at each other, and found that their faces were almost perfectly white in it. The plain and the city below had vanished.

To look downwards was like staring straight into the focus of a ten thousand candlepower electric arc lamp. It was so intolerable that Redgrave closed the lower shutters, and meanwhile he found that the Astronef had ceased to descend. He shut off more of the R. force, but it produced no effect. The Astronef remained stationary. Then he ordered Murgatroyd to set the propellers in motion. The engineer pulled the starting levers, and then came up out of the engine-room and said to him:

“It's no good my lord; I don't know what devil's world we've got into now, but they won't work. If I thought that engines could be bewitched—”

“Oh, nonsense, Andrew!” said his lordship rather testily. “It's perfectly simple; those people down there, whoever they are, have got some way of demagnetising us, or else they've got the R. Force too, and they're applying it against us to stop us going down. Apparently they don't want us. No, that's just to show us that they can stop us if they want to. The light's going down. Begin dropping a bit. Don't start the propellers, but just go and see that the guns are all right in case of accidents.”

The old engineer nodded and went back to his engines, looking considerably scared. As he spoke the brilliancy of the light faded rapidly and the Astronef began to sink slowly towards the surface.

As a precaution against their being allowed to drop with force enough to cause a disaster, Redgrave turned the R. Force on again and they dropped slowly towards the plain, through what seemed like a halo of perfectly white light. When she was within a couple of hundred yards of the ground a winged car of exquisitely graceful shape rose from the roof of one of the huge glass buildings nearest to them, flew swiftly towards them, and after circling once round the dome of the upper deck, ran close alongside.

The car was occupied by two figures of distinctly human form but rather more than human stature. Both were dressed in long, close-fitting garments of what seemed like a golden brown fleece. Their heads were covered with a close hood and their hands with thin, close-fitting gloves.

“What an exceedingly handsome man!” said Zaidie, as one of them stood up. “I never saw such a noble-looking face in my life; it's half philosopher, half saint. Of course, you won't be jealous.”

“Oh, nonsense!” He laughed. “It would be quite impossible to imagine you in love with either. But he is handsome, and evidently friendly—there's no mistaking that. Answer him, Zaidie; you can do it better than I can.”

The car had now come close alongside. The standing figure stretched its hands out, palms upward, smiled a smile which Zaidie thought was very sweetly solemn, next the head was bowed, and the gloved hands brought back and crossed over his breast. Zaidie imitated the movements exactly. Then, as the figure raised its head, she raised hers, and she found herself looking into a pair of large luminous eyes, such as she could have imagined under the brows of an angel. As they met hers, a look of unmistakable wonder and admiration came into them. Redgrave was standing just behind her; she took him by the hand and drew him beside her, saying with a little laugh:

“Now, please look as pleasant as you can; I am sure they are very friendly. A man with a face like that couldn't mean any harm.”

The figure repeated the motions to Redgrave, who returned them, perhaps a trifle awkwardly. Then the car began to descend, and the figure beckoned to them to follow.

“You'd better go and wrap up, dear. From the gentleman's dress it seems pretty cold outside, though the air is evidently quite breathable,” said Redgrave, as the Astronef began to drop in company with the car. “At any rate, I'll try it first, and, if it isn't, we can put on our breathing-dresses.”

When Zaidie had made her winter toilet, and Redgrave had found the air to be quite respirable, but of Arctic cold, they went down the gangway ladder about twenty minutes later.

The figure had got out of the car which was lying a few yards from them on the sandy plain, and came forward to meet them with both hands outstretched.

Zaidie unhesitatingly held out hers, and a strange thrill ran through her as she felt them for the first time clasped gently by other than earthly hands, for the Venus folk had only been able to pat and stroke with their gentle little paws, somewhat as a kitten might do. The figure bowed its head again and said something in a low, melodious voice, which was, of course, quite unintelligible save for the evident friendliness of its tone. Then, releasing her hands, he took Redgrave's in the same fashion, and then led the way towards a vast, domed building of semi-opaque glass, or rather a substance which seemed to be something like a mixture of glass and mica, which appeared to be one of the entrance gates of the city.

Chapter XV


The wondering visitors from far-off Terra had hardly halted before the magnificent portal when a huge sheet of frosted glass rose silently from the ground. They passed through, and it fell behind them. They found themselves in a great oval antechamber along each side of which stood triple rows of strangely shaped trees whose leaves gave off a subtle and most agreeable scent. The temperature here was several degrees higher, in fact about that of an English spring day, and Zaidie immediately threw open her big fur cloak saying:

“These good people seem to live in Winter Gardens, don't they? I don't think I shall want these things much while we're inside. I wonder what dear old Andrew would have thought of this if we could have persuaded him to leave the ship.”

They followed their host through the antechamber towards a magnificent pointed arch raised on clusters of small pillars each of a different coloured, highly polished stone, which shone brilliantly in a light which seemed to come from nowhere. Another door, this time of pale, transparent, blue glass, rose as they approached; they passed under it and, as it fell behind them, half-a-dozen figures, considerably shorter and slighter than their host, came forward to meet them. He took off his gloves and cape and thick outer covering, and they were glad to follow his example for the atmosphere was now that of a warm June day.

The attendants, as they evidently were, took their wraps from them, looking at the furs and stroking them with evident wonder; but with nothing like the wonder which came into their wild, soft grey eyes when they looked at Zaidie, who, as usual when she arrived on a new world, was arrayed in one of her daintiest costumes.

Their host was now dressed in a tunic of a light blue material, which glistened with a lustre greater than that of the finest silk. It reached a little below his knees, and was confined at the waist by a sash of the same colour hut of somewhat deeper hue. His feet and legs were covered with stockings of the same material and colour, and his feet, which were small for his stature and exquisitely shaped, were shod with thin sandals of a material which looked like soft felt, and which made no noise as he walked over the delicately coloured mosaic pavement of the street—for such it actually was—which ran past the gate.

When he removed his cap they expected to find that he was bald like the Martians, but they were mistaken. His well-shaped head was covered with long, thick hair of a colour something between bronze and grey. A broad band of metal looking like light gold passed round the upper part of his forehead, and from under this the hair fell in gentle waves to below his shoulders.

For a few moments Zaidie and Redgrave stared about them in frank and silent wonder. They were standing in a broad street running in a straight line to what seemed to be several miles along the edge of a city of crystal. It was lined with double rows of trees with beds of brilliantly coloured flowers between them. From this street others went off at right angles and at regular intervals. The roof of the city appeared to be composed of an infinity of domes of enormous extent, supported by tall clusters of slender pillars standing at the street corners. The general level of the roof seemed to be about three hundred feet above the ground, and the summits of the domes some fifty feet higher.

The houses, which were all square, were as a rule about forty feet high. The roofs were covered with gardens and shrubberies, from which creepers, bearing brilliantly coloured leaves and flowers, hung down about the windows in carefully arranged festoons. The walls were composed of the opaque mica-like glass, relieved by pillars and arched doorways and windows. The windows, of French form, were of clear glass and mostly stood open. A sweet cool zephyr of hardly perceptible strength appeared to be blowing along the street and over the house-tops and in the vast airy space above the roof.

Brightly plumaged birds were flitting about among the branches of giant trees, and keeping up a perpetual chorus of song.

Presently their host touched Redgrave on the shoulder and pointed to a four-wheeled car of light framework and exquisite design, containing seats for four besides the driver, or guide, who sat behind. He held out his hand to Zaidie, and handed her to one of the front seats just as an earth-born gentleman might have done. Then he motioned to Redgrave to sit beside her, and mounted behind them.

The car immediately began to move silently, but with considerable speed, along the left-hand side of the outer street, which, like all the others, was divided by narrow strips of russet-coloured grass and flowering shrubs.

In a few minutes it swung round to the right, crossed the road, and entered a magnificent avenue, which, after a run of some four miles, ended in a vast, park-like square, measuring at least a mile each way.

The two sides of the avenue were busy with cars like their own, some carrying six people, and others only the driver. Those on each side of the road all went in the same direction. Those nearest to the broad side-walks between the houses and the first row of trees went at a moderate speed of five or six miles an hour, but along the inner sides, near the central line of trees, they seemed to be running as high as thirty miles an hour. Their occupants were nearly all dressed in clothes made of the same glistening, silky fabric as their host wore, but the colourings were of infinite variety.

It was quite easy to distinguish between the sexes, although in stature they were almost equal. The men were nearly all clothed as their host was. The colours of their garments were quieter, and there was little attempt at personal adornment, though many wore bands of an intensely bright, sky-blue metal round their arms above the elbow, and others wore belts and necklaces of links composed of this and two other metals resembling gold and aluminium, but of an exceedingly high lustre.

The women were dressed in flowing garments something after the Greek style, but they were of brighter hues, and much more lavishly embroidered than the men's tunics were. They also wore much more jewellery. Indeed, some of the younger ones glittered from head to foot with polished metal and gleaming stones. There was one more difference which they quickly noticed. The men's hair, like their host's, was nearly always wavy, but that of the women, especially the younger, was a mass of either natural or artificial curls, short and crisp about the head, and flowing down in glistening ringlets to their waists.

“Could anyone ever have dreamt of such a lovely place?” said Zaidie, after their wondering eyes had become accustomed to the marvels about them, “and yet—oh dear, now I know what it reminds me of! Flammarion's book, 'The End Of The World,' where he describes the remnants of the human race dying of cold and hunger on the Equator in places something like this. I suppose the life of poor Ganymede is giving out, and that's why they've got to live in glorified Crystal Palaces like this, poor things.”

“Poor things!” laughed Redgrave, “I'm afraid I can't agree with you there, dear. I never saw a jollier looking lot of people in my life. I daresay you're quite right, but they certainly seem to view their approaching end with considerable equanimity.”

“Don't be horrid, Lenox! Fancy talking in that cold-blooded way about such delightful-looking people as these, why, they are even nicer than our dear bird-folk on Venus, and, of course, they are a great deal more like ourselves.”

“Wherefore it stands to reason that they must be a great deal nicer!” He replied, with a glance which brought a brighter flush to her cheeks. Then he went on: “Ah, now I see the difference.”

“What difference? Between what?”

“Between the daughter of Earth and the daughters of Ganymede,” he replied. “You can blush, and I don't think they can. Haven't you noticed that, although they have the most exquisite skins and beautiful eyes and hair and all that sort of thing, not a man or woman of them has any colouring. I suppose that's the result of living for generations in a hothouse.”

“Very likely,” she said; “but has it struck you also that all the girls and women are either beautiful or handsome, and all the men, except the ones who seem to be servants or slaves, are something like Greek gods, or, at least, the sort of men you see on the Greek sculptures?”

“Survival of the fittest, I presume. These will be the descendants of the highest races of Ganymede; the people who conceived the idea of prolonging the life of their race and were able to carry it out. The inferior races would either perish of starvation or become their servants. That's what will happen on Earth, and there is no reason why it shouldn't have happened here.”

As he said this the car swung out round a broad curve into the centre of the great square, and a little cry of amazement broke from Zaidie's lips as her glance roamed over the multiplying splendours about her.

In the centre of the square, in the midst of smooth lawns and flower beds of every conceivable shape and colour, and groves of flowering trees, stood a great, domed building, which they approached through an avenue of overarching trees interlaced with flowering creepers.

The car stopped at the foot of a triple flight of stairs of dazzling whiteness which led up to a broad, arched doorway. Several groups of people were sprinkled about the avenue and steps and the wide terrace which ran along the front of the building. They looked with keen, but perfectly well-mannered surprise at their strange visitors, and seemed to be discussing their appearance; but not a step was taken towards them nor was there the slightest sign of anything like vulgar curiosity.

“What perfect manners these dear people have!” said Zaidie, as they dismounted at the foot of the staircase. “I wonder what would happen if a couple of them were to be landed from a motor car in front of the Capitol at Washington. I suppose this is their Capitol, and we've been brought here to be put through our facings. What a pity we can't talk to them. I wonder if they'd believe our story if we could tell it.”

“I've no doubt they know something of it already,” replied Redgrave; “they're evidently people of immense intelligence. Intellectually, I daresay, we're mere children compared with them, and it's quite possible that they have developed senses which we have no idea of.”

“And perhaps,” added Zaidie, “all the time that we are talking to each other our friend here is quietly reading everything that is going on in our minds.”

Whether this was so or not their host gave no sign of comprehension. He led them up the steps and through the great doorway, where he was met by three splendidly dressed men even taller than himself.

“I feel beastly shabby among all these gorgeously attired personages,” said Redgrave, looking down at his plain tweed suit, as they were conducted with every manifestation of politeness along the magnificent vestibule into which the door opened.

“And I'm sure that I am quite a dowdy in comparison with these lovely creatures,” added Zaidie, “although this dress was made in Paris. Lenox, if things are for sale here you'll have to buy me one of those costumes, and we'll take it back and get one made like it. I wonder what they'd think of me dressed in one of those costumes at a ball at the Wardolf-Astoria.”

Before he could make a suitable reply, a door at the end of the vestibule opened and they were ushered into a large hall which was evidently a council-chamber. At the further end of it were three semicircular rows of seats made of the polished silvery metal, and in the centre and raised slightly above them another under a canopy of sky-blue silk. This seat and six others were occupied by men of most venerable aspect, in spite of the fact that their hair was just as long and thick and glossy as their host's or even as Zaidie's own.

The ceremony of introduction was exceedingly simple. Though they could not, of course, understand a word he said, it was evident from his eloquent gestures that their host described the way in which they had come from Space, and landed on the surface of the World of the Crystal Cities, as Zaidie subsequently rechristened Ganymede.

The President of the Senate or Council spoke a few sentences in a deep musical tone. Then their host, taking their hands, led them up to his seat, and the the President rose and took them by both hands in turn. Then, with a grave smile of greeting, he bent his head and resumed his seat. They joined hands in turn with each of the six senators present, bowed their farewells in silence, and then went back with their host to the car.

They ran down the avenue, made a curving sweep round to the left—for all the paths in the great square were laid in curves, apparently to form a contrast to the straight streets—and presently stopped before the porch of one of the hundred palaces which surrounded it. This was their host's house, and their home during the rest of their sojourn on Ganymede.

Chapter XVI


The period of Ganymede's revolution round its gigantic primary is seven days, three hours, and forty-three minutes, practically a terrestrial week, and on their return to their native world both the daring navigators of Space describe this as the most interesting and delightful week in their lives, excepting always the period which they spent in the Eden of the Morning Star. Yet in one sense it was even more interesting.

There the inhabitants had never learnt to sin; here they had learnt the lesson that sin is mere foolishness, and that no really sensible or properly educated man or woman thinks crime worth committing.

The life of the Crystal Cities, of which they visited four in different parts of the satellite, using the Astronef as their vehicle, was one of peaceful industry and calm innocent enjoyment. It was quite plain that their first impressions of this aged world were correct. Outside the cities spread a universal desert on which life was impossible. There was hardly any moisture in the thin atmosphere. The rivers had dwindled into rivulets and the seas into vast, shallow marshes. The heat received from the Sun was only about a twenty-fifth of that which falls on the surface of the Earth, and this was drawn to the cities and collected and preserved under their glass domes by a number of devices which displayed superhuman intelligence.

The dwindling supplies of water were hoarded in vast subterranean reservoirs and, by means of a perfect system of redistillation, the priceless fluid was used over and over again both for human purposes and for irrigating the land within the cities. Still the total quantity was steadily diminishing, for it was not only evaporating from the surface, but, as the orb cooled more and more rapidly towards its centre, it descended deeper and deeper below the surface, and could now only be reached by means of marvellously constructed borings and pumping machinery which extended down several miles into the ground.

The fast-failing store of heat in the centre of the little world, which had now cooled through more than half its bulk, was utilised for warming the air of the cities, and to drive the machinery which propelled it through the streets and squares. All work was done by electric energy developed directly from this source, which also actuated the repulsive engines which had prevented the Astronef from descending.

In short, the inhabitants of Ganymede were engaged in a steady, ceaseless struggle to utilise the expiring natural forces of their world to prolong their own lives and the exquisitely refined civilisation to which they had attained to the latest possible date. They were, indeed, in exactly the same position in which the distant descendants of the human race may one day be expected to find themselves.

Their domestic life, as Zaidie and Lenox saw it while they were the guests of their host, was the perfection of simplicity and comfort, and their public life was characterised by a quiet but intense intellectuality which, as Zaidie had said, made them feel very much like children who had only just learnt to speak.

As they possessed magnificent telescopes, far surpassing any on earth, the wanderers were able to survey, not only the Solar System, but the other systems far beyond its limits as no other of their kind had ever been able to do before. They did not look through or into the telescopes. The lens was turned upon the object, which was thrown, enormously magnified, upon screens of what looked something like ground glass some fifty feet square. It was thus that they saw, not only the whole visible surface of Jupiter as he revolved above them and they about him, but also their native Earth, sometimes a pale silver disc or crescent close to the edge of the Sun, visible only in the morning and the evening of Jupiter, and at other times like a little black spot crossing the glowing surface.

But there was another development of the science of the Crystal Cities which interested them far more than this—for after all they could not only see the Worlds of Space for themselves, but circumnavigate them if they chose.

During their stay they were shown on these same screens the pictorial history of the world whose guests they were. These pictures, which they recognised as an immeasurable development of what is called the cinematographic process on Earth, extended through the whole gamut of the satellite's life. They formed, in fact, the means by which the children of Ganymede were taught the history of their world.

It was, of course, inevitable that the Astronef should prove an object of intense interest to their hosts. They had solved the problem of the Resolution of Forces, as Professor Rennick had done, and, as they were shown pictorially, a vessel had been made which embodied the principles of attraction and repulsion. It had risen from the surface of Ganymede, and then, possibly because its engines could not develop sufficient repulsive force, the tremendous pull of the giant planet had dragged it away. It had vanished through the cloud-belts towards the flaming surface beneath—and the experiment had never been repeated.

Here, however, was a vessel which had actually, as Redgrave had convinced his hosts by means of celestial maps and drawings of his own, left a planet close to the Sun, and safely crossed the tremendous gulf of six hundred and fifty million miles which separated Jupiter from the centre of the system. Moreover he had twice proved her powers by taking his host and two of his newly-made friends, the chief astronomers of Ganymede, on a short trip across Space to Calisto and Europa, the second satellite of Jupiter, which, to their very grave interest, they found had already passed the stage in which Ganymede was, and had lapsed into the icy silence of death.

It was these two journeys which led to the last adventure of the Astronef in the Jovian System. Both Redgrave and Zaidie had determined, at whatever risk, to pass through the cloud-belts of Jupiter, and catch a glimpse, if only a glimpse, of a world in the making. Their host and the two astronomers, after a certain amount of quiet discussion, accepted their invitation to accompany them, and on the morning of the eighth day after their landing on Ganymede, the Astronef rose from the plain outside the Crystal City, and directed her course towards the centre of the vast disc of Jupiter.

She was followed by the telescopes of all the observatories until she vanished through the brilliant cloud-band, eighty-five thousand miles long and some five thousand miles broad, which stretched from east to west of the planet. At the same moment the voyagers lost sight of Ganymede and his sister satellites.

The temperature of the interior of the Astronef began to rise as soon as the upper cloud-belt was passed. Under this, spread out a vast field of brown-red cloud, rent here and there into holes and gaps like those storm-cavities in the atmosphere of the Sun, which are commonly known as sun-spots. This lower stratum of cloud appeared to be the scene of terrific storms, compared with which the fiercest earthly tempests were mere zephyrs.

After falling some five hundred miles further they found themselves surrounded by what seemed an ocean of fire, but still the internal temperature had only risen from seventy to ninety-five. The engines were well under control. Only about a fourth of the total R. Force was being developed, and the Astronef was dropping swiftly, but steadily.

Redgrave, who was in the conning-tower controlling the engines, beckoned to Zaidie and said:

“Shall we go on?”

“Yes,” she said. “Now we've got as far as this I want to see what Jupiter is like, and where you are not afraid to go, I'll go.”

“If I'm afraid at all it's only because you are with me, Zaidie,” he replied, “but I've only got a fourth of the power turned on yet, so there's plenty of margin.”

The Astronef, therefore, continued to sink through what seemed to be a fathomless ocean of whirling, blazing clouds, and the internal temperature went on rising slowly but steadily. Their guests, without showing the slightest sign of any emotion, walked about the upper deck now singly and now together, apparently absorbed by the strange scene about them.

At length, after they had been dropping for some five hours by Astronef time, one of them, uttering a sharp exclamation, pointed to an enormous rift about fifty miles away. A dull, red glare was streaming up out of it. The next moment the brown cloud-floor beneath them seemed to split up into enormous wreaths of vapour, which whirled up on all sides of them, and a few minutes later they caught their first glimpse of the true surface of Jupiter.

It lay as nearly as they could judge, some two thousand miles beneath them, a distance which the telescopes reduced to less than twenty; and they saw for a few moments the world that was in the making. Through floating seas of misty steam they beheld what seemed to them to be vast continents shape themselves and melt away into oceans of flames. Whole mountain ranges of glowing lava were hurled up miles high to take shape for an instant and then fall away again, leaving fathomless gulfs of fiery mist in their place.

Then waves of molten matter rose up again out of the gulfs, tens of miles high and hundreds of miles long, surged forward, and met with a concussion like that of millions of earthly thunder-clouds. Minute after minute they remained writhing and struggling with each other, flinging up spurts of flaming matter far above their crests. Other waves followed them, climbing up their bases as a sea-surge runs up the side of a smooth, slanting rock. Then from the midst of them a jet of living fire leapt up hundreds of miles into the lurid atmosphere above, and then, with a crash and a roar which shook the vast Jovian firmament, the battling lava-waves would split apart and sink down into the all-surrounding fire-ocean, like two grappling giants who had strangled each other in their final struggle.

“It's just Hell let loose!” said Murgatroyd to himself as he looked down upon the terrific scene through one of the portholes of the engine-room; “and, with all respect to my lord and her ladyship, those that come this near almost deserve to stop in it.”

Meanwhile, Redgrave and Zaidie and their three guests were so absorbed in the tremendous spectacle, that for a few moments no one noticed that they were dropping faster and faster towards the world which Murgatroyd, according to his lights, had not inaptly described. As for Zaidie, all her fears were for the time being lost in wonder, until she saw her husband take a swift glance round upwards and downwards, and then go up into the conning-tower. She followed him quickly, and said:

“What is the matter, Lenox, are we falling too quickly?”

“Much faster than we should,” he replied, sending a signal to Murgatroyd to increase the force by three-tenths.

The answering signal came back, but still the Astronef continued to fall with terrific rapidity, and the awful landscape beneath them—a landscape of fire and chaos—broadened out and became more and more distinct.

He sent two more signals down in quick succession. Three-fourths of the whole repulsive power of the engines was now being exerted—a force which would have been sufficient to hurl the Astronef up from the surface of the Earth like a feather in a whirlwind. Her downward course became a little slower, but still she did not stop. Zaidie, white to the lips, looked down upon the hideous scene beneath and slipped her hand through Redgrave's arm. He looked at her for an instant and then turned his head away with a jerk, and sent down the last signal.

The whole energy of the engines was now directing the maximum of the R. Force against the surface of Jupiter, but still, as every moment passed in a speechless agony of apprehension, it grew nearer and nearer. The fire-waves mounted higher and higher, the roar of the fiery surges grew louder and louder. Then in a momentary lull, he put his arm round her, drew her close up to him, and kissed her and said:

“That's all we can do, dear. We've come too close and he's too strong for us.”

She returned his kiss and said quite steadily:

“Well, at any rate, I'm with you, and it won't last long, will it?”

“Not very long now, I'm afraid,” he said between his clenched teeth. And then he pulled her close to him again, and together they looked down into the storm-tossed hell towards which they were falling at the rate of nearly a hundred miles a minute.

Almost the next moment they felt a little jerk beneath their feet—a jerk upwards; and Redgrave shook himself out of the half stupor into which he was falling and said:

“Hallo, what's that! I believe we're stopping—yes, we are—and we're beginning to rise, too. Look, dear, the clouds are coming down upon us—fast too! I wonder what sort of miracle that is. Ay, what's the matter, little woman?”

Zaidie's head had dropped heavily on his shoulder. A glance showed him that she had fainted. He could do nothing more in the conning-tower, so he picked her up and carried her towards the companion-way, past his three guests, who were standing in the middle of the upper deck round a table on which lay a large sheet of paper.

He took her below and laid her on her bed, and in a few minutes he had brought her to and told her that it was all right. Then he gave her a drink of brandy-and-water, and went back on to the upper deck. As he reached the top of the stairway one of the astronomers came towards him with the sheet of paper in his hand, smiling gravely, and pointing to a sketch upon it.

He took the paper under one of the electric lights and looked at it. The sketch was a plan of the Jovian System. There were some signs written along one side, which he did not understand, but he divined that they were calculations. Still, there was no mistaking the diagram. There was a circle representing the huge bulk of Jupiter; there were four smaller circles at varying distances in a nearly straight line from it, and between the nearest of these and the planet was the figure of the Astronef, with an arrow pointing upwards.

“Ah, I see!” He said, forgetting for a moment that the other did not understand him, “That was the miracle! The four satellites came into line with us just as the pull of Jupiter was getting too much for our engines, and their combined pull just turned the scale. Well, thank God for that, sir, for in a few minutes more we should have been cinders!”

The astronomer smiled again as he took the paper back. Meanwhile the Astronef was rushing upward like a meteor through the clouds. In ten minutes the limits of the Jovian atmosphere were passed. Stars and suns and planets blazed out of the black vault of Space, and the great disc of the World that Is to Be once more covered the floor of Space beneath them—an ocean of cloud, covering continents of lava and seas of flame.

They passed Io and Europa, which changed from new to full moons as they sped by towards the Sun, and then the golden yellow crescent of Ganymede also began to fill out to the half and full disc, and by the tenth hour of earth-time after they had risen from its surface, the Astronef was once more lying beside the gate of the Crystal City.

At midnight on the second night after their return, the ringed shape of Saturn, attended by his eight satellites, hung in the zenith magnificently inviting. The Astronef's engines had been replenished after the exhaustion of their struggle with the might of Jupiter. They said farewell to their friends of the dying world. The doors of the air chamber closed. The signal tinkled in the engine-room, and a few moments later a blur of white lights on the brown background of the surrounding desert was all they could distinguish of the Crystal City under whose domes they had seen and learnt so much.

Chapter XVII


THE relative position of the two giants of the Solar System at the moment when the Astronef left the surface of Ganymede, was such that she had to make a journey of rather more than 340,000,000 miles before she passed within the confines of the Saturnine System.

At first her speed, as shown by the observations which Redgrave took by means of instruments designed for such a voyage by Professor Rennick, was comparatively slow. This was due to the tremendous pull of Jupiter and its four moons on the fabric of the vessel. The backward drag rapidly decreased as the pull of Saturn and his System began to overmaster that of Jupiter.

It so happened, too, that Uranus, the next outer planet of the Solar System, 1,700,000,000 miles away from the Sun, was approaching its conjunction with Saturn, and so assisted in producing a constant acceleration of speed.

Jupiter and his satellites dropped behind, sinking, as it seemed to the wanderers, down into the bottomless gulf of Space, but still forming by far the most brilliant and splendid object in the skies. The far-distant Sun which, seen from the Saturnian System, has only about a ninetieth of the superficial extent which he presents to the Earth, dwindled away rapidly until it began to look like a huge planet, with the Earth, Venus, Mars, and Mercury as satellites. Beyond the orbit of Saturn, Uranus, with his eight moons, was shining with the lustre of a star of the first magnitude, and far above and beyond him again hung the pale disc of Neptune, the Outer Guard of the Solar System, separated from the Sun by a gulf of more than 2,750,000,000 miles.

When two-thirds of the distance between Jupiter and Saturn had been traversed, Ringed Orb lay beneath them like a vast globe surrounded by an enormous circular ocean of many-coloured fire, divided, as it were, by circular shores of shade and darkness. On the side opposite to them a gigantic conical shadow extended beyond the confines of the ocean of light. It was the shadow of half the globe of Saturn cast by the Sun across his rings. Three little dark spots were also travelling across the surface of the rings. They were the shadows of Mimas, Encealadus, and Tethys, the three inner satellites. Japetus, the most distant, which revolves at a distance ten times greater than that of the Moon from the Earth, was rising to their left above the edge of the rings, a pale, yellow, little disc shining feebly against the black background of Space. The rest of the eight satellites were hidden behind the enormous bulk of the planet, and the infinitely vaster area of the rings.

Day after day Zaidie and her husband had been exhausting the possibilities of the English language in attempting to describe to each other the multiplying marvels of the wondrous scene which they were approaching at a speed of more than a hundred miles a second, and at length Zaidie, after nearly an hour's absolute silence, during which they sat with eyes fastened to their telescopes, looked up and said:

“It's no use, Lenox, all the fine words that we've been trying to think of have just been wasted. The angels may have a language that you could describe that in, but we haven't. If it wouldn't be something like blasphemy I should drop down to the commonplace, and call Saturn a celestial spinning-top, with bands of light and shadow instead of colours all round it.”

“Not at all a bad simile either,” laughed Redgrave, as he got up from his chair with a yawn and a stretch of his athletic limbs, “still, it's as well that you said celestial, for, after all, that's about the best word we've found yet. Certainly the ringed world is the most nearly heavenly thing we've seen so far.”

“But,” he went on, “I think it's about time we were stopping this headlong fall of ours. Do you see how the landscape is spreading out round us? That means that we're dropping pretty fast. Whereabouts would you like to land? At present we're heading straight for Saturn's north pole.”

“I think I'd rather see what the rings are like first,” said Zaidie; “couldn't we go across them?”

“Certainly we can,” he replied, “only we'll have to be a bit careful.”

“Careful, what of—collisions? I suppose you're thinking of Proctor's explanation that the rings are formed of multitudes of tiny satellites?”

“Yes, but I should go a little farther than that, I should say that his rings and his eight satellites are to Saturn what the planets generally and the ring of the Asteroides are to the Sun, and if that is the case—I mean if we find the rings made up of myriads of tiny bodies flying round with Saturn—it might get a bit risky.

“You see the outside ring is a bit over 160,000 miles across, and it revolves in less than eleven hours. In other words we might find the ring a sort of celestial maelstrom, and if we once got into the whirl, and Saturn exerted his full pull on us, we might become a satellite, too, and go on swinging round with the rest for a good bit of eternity.”

“Very well, then,” she said, “of course we don't want to do anything of that sort, but there's something else I think we could do,” she went on, taking up a copy of Proctor's “Saturn and its System,” which she had been reading just after breakfast. “You see those rings are, all together, about 10,000 miles broad; there's a gap of about 1700 miles between the big dark one and the middle bright one, and it's nearly 10,000 miles from the edge of the bright ring to the surface of Saturn. Now why shouldn't we get in between the inner ring and the planet? If Proctor was right and the rings are made of tiny satellites and there are myriads of them, of course they'll pull up while Saturn pulls down. In fact Flammarion says somewhere, that along Saturn's equator there is no weight at all.”

“Quite possible,” said Redgrave, “and, if you like, we'll go and prove it. Of course, if the Astronef weighs absolutely nothing between Saturn and the rings, we can easily get away. The only thing that I object to is getting into this 170,000 mile vortex, being whizzed round with Saturn every ten and a half hours, and sauntering round the Sun at 21,000 miles an hour.”

“Don't!” she said, “really it isn't good to think about these things, situated as we are. Fancy, in a single year of Saturn there are nearly 25,000 days. Why, we should each of us be about thirty years older when we got round, even if we lived, which, of course, we shouldn't. By the way, how long could we live for, if the worst came to the worst?”

“Given water, about one earth-year at the outside,” he replied, “but, of course, we shall be home long before that.”

“If we don't become one of the satellites of Saturn,” she replied, “or get dragged away by something into the outer depths of Space.”

Meanwhile the downward speed of the Astronef had been considerably checked. The vast circle of the rings seemed to suddenly expand, and soon it covered the whole floor of the vault of Space.

As the Astronef dropped towards what might be called the limit of the northern tropic of Saturn, the spectacle presented by the rings became every minute more and more marvellous—purple and silver, black and gold, dotted with myriads of brilliant points of many-coloured lights, they stretched upwards like vast rainbows into the Saturnian sky as the Astronef's position changed with regard to the horizon of the planet. The nearer they approached the surface, the nearer the gigantic arch of the many coloured rings approached the zenith. Sun and stars sank down behind it, for now they were dropping through the fifteen-year-long twilight that reigns over that portion of the globe of Saturn which, during half of his year of thirty terrestrial years, is turned away from the Sun.

The further they dropped towards the rings the more certain it became that the theory of the great English astronomer was the correct one. Seen through the telescopes at a distance of only thirty or forty thousand miles, it became perfectly plain that the outer or darker ring as seen from the Earth was composed of myriads of tiny bodies so far separated from each other that the rayless blackness of Space could be seen through them.

“It's quite evident,” said Redgrave, “that those are rings of what we should call meteorites on earth, atoms of matter which Saturn threw off into Space after the satellites were formed.”

“And I shouldn't wonder, if you will excuse my interrupting you,” said Zaidie, “if the moons themselves have been made up of a lot of these things going together when they were only gas, or nebula, or something of that sort. In fact, when Saturn was a good deal younger than he is now, he may have had a lot more rings and no moons, and now these aerolites, or whatever they are, can't come together and make moons, because they've got too solid.”

Meanwhile the Astronef was rapidly approaching that portion of Saturn's surface which was illuminated by the rays of the Sun, streaming under the lower arch of the inner ring.

As they passed under it the whole scene suddenly changed. The rings vanished. Overhead was an arch of brilliant light a hundred miles thick, spanning the whole of the visible heavens. Below lay the sunlit surface of Saturn divided into light and dark bands of enormous breadth.

The band immediately below them was of a brilliant silver-grey, very much like the central zone of Jupiter. North of this on the one side stretched the long shadow of the rings, and southward other bands of alternating white and gold and deep purple succeeded each other till they were lost in the curvature of the vast planet. The poles were of course invisible since the Astronef was now too near to the surface; but on their approach they had seen unmistakable evidence of snow and ice.

As soon as they were exactly under the Ring-arch, Redgrave shut off the R. Force, and, somewhat to their astonishment, the Astronef began to revolve slowly on its axis, giving them the idea that the Saturnian System was revolving round them. The arch seemed to sink beneath their feet while the belts of the planet rose above them.

“What on earth is the matter?” said Zaidie. “Everything has gone upside down.”

“Which shows.” replied Redgrave, “that as soon as the Astronef became neutral the rings pulled harder than the planet, I suppose because we're so near to them, and, instead of falling on to Saturn, we shall have to push up at him.”

“Oh yes, I see that,” said Zaidie, “but after all it does look a little bit bewildering, doesn't it, to be on your feet one minute and on your head the next?”

“It is, rather; but you ought to be getting accustomed to that sort of thing now. In a few minutes neither you, nor I, nor anything else will have any weight. We shall be just between the attraction of the Rings and Saturn, so you'd better go and sit down, for if you were to give a bit of an extra spring in walking you might be knocking that pretty head of yours against the roof,” said Redgrave, as he went to turn the R. Force on to the edge of the Rings.

A vast sea of silver cloud seemed now to descend upon them. Then they entered it, and for nearly half-an-hour the Astronef was totally enveloped in a sea of pearl-grey luminous mist.

“Atmosphere!” said Redgrave, as he went to the conning-tower and signalled to Murgatroyd to start the propellers. They continued to rise and the mist began to drift past them in patches, showing that the propellers were driving them ahead.

They now rose swiftly towards the surface of the planet. The cloud wrack got thinner and thinner, and presently they found themselves floating in a clear atmosphere between two seas of cloud, the one above them being much less dense than the one below.

“I believe we shall see Saturn on the other side of that,” said Zaidie, looking up at it. “Oh dear, there we are going round again.”

“Reaching the point of neutral attraction,” said Redgrave; “once more you'd better sit down in case of accidents.”

Instead of dropping into her deck chair as she would have done on Earth, she took hold of the arms and pulled herself into it, saying:

“Really it seems rather absurd to have to do this sort of thing. Fancy having to hold yourself into a chair. I suppose I hardly weigh anything at all now.”

“Not much,” said Redgrave, stooping down and taking hold of the end of the chair with both hands. Without any apparent effort he raised her about five feet from the floor, and held her there while the Astronef made another revolution. For a moment he let go, and she and the chair floated between the roof and the floor of the deck-chamber. Then he pulled the chair away from under her, and as the floor of the vessel once more turned towards Saturn, he took hold of her hands and brought her to her feet on deck again.

“I ought to have had a photograph of you like that!” He laughed. “I wonder what they'd think of it at home?”

“If you had taken one I should certainly have broken the negative. The very idea—a photograph of me standing on nothing! Besides, they'd never believe it on Earth.”

“We might have got old Andrew to make an affidavit to that effect,” he began.

“Don't talk nonsense, Lenox! Look! There's something much more interesting. There's Saturn at last. Now I wonder if we shall find any sort of life there—and shall we be able to breathe the air?”

“I hardly think so,” he said, as the Astronef dropped slowly through the thin cloud-veil. “You know spectrum analysis has proved that there is a gas in Saturn's atmosphere which we know nothing about, and, however good it may be for the Saturnians, it's not very likely that it would agree with us, so I think we'd better be content with our own. Besides, the atmosphere is so enormously dense that even if we could breathe it it might squash us up. You see we're only accustomed to fifteen pounds on the square inch, and it may be hundreds of pounds here.”

“Well,” said Zaidie, “I haven't got any particular desire to be flattened out like that, or squeezed dry like an orange. It's not at all a nice idea, is it? But, look, Lenox,” she went on, pointing downwards, “surely this isn't air at all, or at least it's something between air and water. Aren't these things swimming about in it—something like fish in the sea? They can't be clouds, and they aren't either fish or birds. They don't fly or float. Well, this is certainly more wonderful than anything else we've seen, though it doesn't look very pleasant. They're not nice looking, are they? I wonder if they are at all dangerous!”

While she was saying this Zaidie had gone to her telescope, and was sweeping the surface of Saturn, which was now about a hundred miles distant. Her husband was doing the same. In fact, for the time being they were all eyes, for they were looking on a stranger sight than man or woman had ever seen before.

Underneath the inner cloud-veil the atmosphere of Saturn appeared to them somewhat as the lower depths of the ocean would appear to a diver, granted that he was able to see for hundreds of miles about him. Its colour was a pale greenish yellow. The outside thermometers showed that the temperature was a hundred and seventy-five. In fact, the interior of the Astronef was getting uncomfortably like a Turkish bath, and Redgrave took the opportunity of at once freshening and cooling the air by releasing a little oxygen from the cylinders.

From what they could see of the surface of Saturn it seemed to be a dead level, greyish-brown in colour, and not divided into oceans and continents. In fact there were no signs whatever of water within range of their telescopes. There was nothing that looked like cities, or any human habitations, but the ground, as they got nearer to it, seemed to be covered with a very dense vegetable growth, not unlike gigantic forms of seaweed, and of somewhat the same colour. In fact, as Zaidie remarked, the surface of Saturn was not at all unlike what the floors of the ocean of the Earth might be if they were laid bare.

It was evident that the life of this portion of Saturn was not what, for want of a more exact word, might be called terrestrial. Its inhabitants, however they were constituted, floated about in the depths of this semi-gaseous ocean as the denizens of earthly seas did in the terrestrial oceans. Already their telescopes enabled them to make out enormous moving shapes, black and grey-brown and pale red, swimming about, evidently by their own volition, rising and falling and often sinking down on to the gigantic vegetation which covered the surface, possibly for the purpose of feeding. But it was also evident that they resembled the inhabitants of earthly oceans in another respect, since it was easy to see that they preyed upon each other.

“I don't like the look of those creatures at all,” said Zaidie, when the Astronef had come to a stop and was floating about five miles above the surface. “They're altogether too uncanny. They look to me something like jelly-fish about the size of whales, only they have eyes and mouths. Did you ever see such awful looking eyes, bigger than soup-plates and as bright as a cat's. I suppose that's because of the dim light. And the nasty wormy sort of way they swim, or fly, or whatever it is. Lenox, I don't know what the rest of Saturn may be like, but I certainly don't like this part. It's quite too creepy and unearthly for my taste. Look at the horrors fighting and eating each other. That's the only bit of earthly character they've got about them; the big ones eating the little ones. I hope they won't take the Astronef for something nice to eat.”

“They'd find her a pretty tough morsel if they did,” laughed Redgrave, “but still we may as well get some steering way on her in case of accident.”

Chapter XVIII


A FEW moments later he sent a signal to Murgatroyd in the engine-room. The propellers began to revolve slowly, beating the dense air and driving the Star Navigator at a speed of about twenty miles an hour through the depths of this strangely-peopled ocean.

They approached nearer and nearer to the surface, and as they did so the strange creatures about them grew more and more numerous. They were certainly the most extraordinary living things that human eyes had ever looked upon. Zaidie's comparison to the whale and the jelly-fish was by no means incorrect; only when they got near enough to them they found, to their astonishment, that they were double-headed—that is to say, they had a head furnished with mouth, nostrils, ear-holes, and eyes at each end of their bodies.

The larger of the creatures appeared to have a certain amount of respect for each other. Now and then they witnessed a battle-royal between two of the monsters who were pursuing the same prey. Their method of attack was as follows: The assailant would rise above his opponent or prey, and then, dropping on to its back, envelop it and begin tearing at its sides and under parts with huge beak-like jaws, somewhat resembling those of the largest kind of the earthly octopus, only infinitely more formidable. The substance composing their bodies appeared to be not unlike that of a terrestrial jelly-fish, but much denser. It seemed from their motions to have the tenacity of soft India rubber save at the headed ends, where it was much harder. The necks were protected for about fifty feet by huge scales of a dull, greenish hue.

When one of them had overpowered an enemy or a victim the two sank down into the vegetation, and the victor began to eat the vanquished. Their means of locomotion consisted of huge fins, or rather half fins, half wings, of which they had three laterally arranged behind each head, and four much longer and narrower, above and below, which seemed to be used mainly for steering purposes.

They moved with equal ease in either direction, and they appeared to rise or fall by inflating or deflating the middle portions of their bodies, somewhat as fish do with their swimming bladders.

The light in the lower regions of this strange ocean was dimmer than earthly twilight, although the Astronef was steadily making her way beneath the arch of the rings towards the sunlit hemisphere.

“I wonder what the effect of the searchlight would be on these fellows!” said Redgrave. “Those huge eyes of theirs are evidently only suited to dim light. Let's try and dazzle some of them.”

“I hope it won't be a case of the moths and the candle!” said Zaidie. “They don't seem to have taken much interest in us so far. Perhaps they haven't been able to see properly, but suppose they were attracted by the light and began crowding round us and fastening on to us, as the horrible things do with each other. What should we do then? They might drag us down and perhaps keep us there; but there's one thing, they'd never eat us, because we could keep closed up and die respectably together.”

“Not much fear of that, little woman,” he said, “we're too strong for them. Hardened steel and toughened glass ought to be more than a match for a lot of exaggerated jelly-fish like these,” said Redgrave, as he switched on the head search-light. “We've come here to see strange things and we may as well see them. Ah, would you, my friend. No, this is not one of your sort, and it isn't meant to eat.”

An enormous double-headed monster, apparently some four hundred feet long, came floating towards them as the search-light flashed out, and others began instantly to crowd about them, just as Zaidie had feared.

“Lenox, for Heaven's sake be careful!” cried Zaidie, shrinking up beside him as the huge, hideous head, with its saucer eyes and enormous beak-like jaws wide open, came towards them. “And look, there are more coming. Can't we go up and get away from them?”

“Wait a minute, little woman,” replied Redgrave, who was beginning to feel the passion of adventure thrilling in his nerves “If we fought the Martian air fleet and licked it I think we can manage these things. Let's see how he likes the light.”

As he spoke he flashed the full glare of the five thousand candle-power lamp full on to the creature's great cat-like eyes. Instantly it bent itself up into an arc. The two heads, each the exact image of the other, came together. The four eyes glared half dazzled into the conning-tower and the four huge jaws snapped viciously together.

“Lenox, Lenox, for goodness sake let us go up!” cried Zaidie shrinking still closer to him. “That thing's too horrible to look at.”

“It is a beast, isn't it?” He said, “but I think we can cut him in two without much trouble.”

He signalled for full speed. The Astronef ought to have sprung forward and driven her ram through the huge, brick-red body of the hideous creature which was now only a couple of hundred yards from them; but instead of that a slow, jarring, grinding thrill seemed to run through her, and she stopped. The next moment Murgatroyd put his head up through the companion-way which led from the upper deck to the conning-tower, and said in a tone whose calm indicated, as usual, resignation to the worst that could happen:

“My lord, two of those beasts, fishes or live balloons, or whatever they are, have come across the propellers. They're cut up a good bit, but I've had to stop the engines, and they're clinging all round the after part. We're going down, too. Shall I disconnect the propellers and turn on the repulsion?”

“Yes, certainly, Andrew!” cried Zaidie, “and all of it, too. Look, Lenox, that horrible thing is coming. Suppose it broke the glass, and we couldn't breathe this atmosphere!”

As she spoke the enormous, double-headed body advanced until it completely enveloped the forward part of the Astronef. The two hideous heads came close to the sides of the conning-tower; the huge, palely luminous eyes looked in upon them. Zaidie, in her terror, even thought that she saw something like human curiosity in them.

Then, as Murgatroyd disappeared to obey the orders which Redgrave had sanctioned with a quick nod, the heads approached still closer, and she heard the ends of the pointed jaws, which she now saw were armed with shark-like teeth, striking against the thick glass walls of the conning-tower.

“Don't be frightened, dear!” He said, putting his arm round her, just as he had done when they thought they were falling into the fiery seas of Jupiter. “You'll see something happen to this gentleman soon. Big and all as he is there won't be much left of him in a few minutes. They are like those monsters they found in the lowest depths of our own seas. They can only live under tremendous pressure. That's why we didn't find any of them up above. This chap'll burst like a bubble presently. Meanwhile, there's no use in stopping here. Suppose you go below and brew some coffee and bring it up on deck, while I go and see how things are looking aft. It doesn't do you any good, you know, to be looking at monsters of this sort. You can see what's left of them later on. You might bring the cognac decanter up too.”

Zaidie was not at all sorry to obey him, for the horrible sight had almost sickened her.

They were still under the arch of the rings, and so, when the full strength of the R. Force was directed against the body of Saturn, the vessel sprang upwards like a projectile fired from a cannon.

Redgrave went back into the conning-tower to see what happened to their assailant. It was already trying vainly to detach itself and sink back into a more congenial element. As the pressure of the atmosphere decreased its huge body swelled up into still huger proportions. The skin on the two heads puffed up as though air was being pumped in under it. The great eyes protruded out of their sockets; the jaws opened widely as though the creature were gasping for breath.

Meanwhile Murgatroyd was seeing something very similar at the after end, and wondering what was going to happen to his propellers, the blades of which were deeply imbedded in the jelly-like flesh of the monsters.

The Astronef leaped higher and higher, and the hideous bodies which were clinging to her swelled out huger and huger, and Redgrave even fancied that he heard something like cries of pain from both heads on either side of the conning-tower. They passed through the inner cloud-veil, and then the Astronef began to turn on her axis, and, just as the outer envelope came into view the enormously distended bulk of the monsters collapsed, and their fragments, seeming now more like the tatters of a burst balloon than portions of a once-living creature, dropped from the body of the Astronef and floated away down into what had once been their native element.

“Difference of environment means a lot, after all,” said Redgrave to himself. “I should have called that either a lie or a miracle if I hadn't seen it, and I'm jolly glad I sent Zaidie down below.”

“Here's your coffee, Lenox,” said her voice from the upper deck the next moment, “only it doesn't seem to want to stop in the cups, and the cups keep getting off the saucers. I suppose we're turning upside down again.”

Redgrave stepped somewhat gingerly on to the deck, for his body had so little weight under the double attraction of Saturn and the Rings that a very slight effort would have sent him flying up to the roof of the deck-chamber.

“That's exactly as you please,” he said, “just hold that table steady a minute. We shall have our centre of gravity back soon. And now, as to the main question, suppose we take a trip across the sunlit hemisphere of Saturn to, what I suppose we should call, on Earth, the South Pole. We can get resistance from the Rings, and as we are here we may as well see what the rest of Saturn is like. You see, if our theory is correct as to the Rings gathering up most of the atmosphere of Saturn about its equator, we shall get to higher altitudes where the air is thinner and more like our own, and therefore it is quite possible that we shall find different forms of life in it too—or if you've had enough of Saturn and would prefer a trip to Uranus—-?”

“No, thanks,” said Zaidie quickly. “To tell you the truth, Lenox, I've had almost enough star-wandering for one honeymoon, and though we've seen nice things as well as horrible things—especially those ghastly, slimy creatures down there—I'm beginning to feel a bit homesick for good old mother Earth. You see, we're nearly a thousand million miles from home, and, even with you, it makes one feel a bit lonely. I vote we explore the rest of this hemisphere up to the pole, and then, as they say at sea—I mean our sea—'bout ship, and see if we can find our own old world again. After all, it's more homelike than any of these, isn't it?”

“Just take your telescope and look at it,” said Redgrave, pointing towards the Sun, with its little cluster of attendant planets. “It looks something like one of Jupiter's little moons down there, doesn't it, only not quite as big?”

“Yes, it does, but that doesn't matter. The fact is that it's there, and we know what it's like, and it's home, if it is a thousand million miles away, and that's everything.”

By this time they had passed through the outer band of clouds. The vast, sunlit arch of the Rings towered up to the zenith, apparently spanning the whole visible heavens. Below and in front of them lay the enormous semi-circle of the hemisphere which was turned towards the Sun, shrouded by its many coloured bands of clouds. The R. Force was directed strongly against the lower Ring, and the Asfronef dropped rapidly in a slanting direction through the cloud-bands towards the southern temperate zone of the planet.

They passed through the second, or dark, cloud-band at the rate of about three thousand miles an hour, aided by the Repulsion against the Rings and the attraction of the planet, and soon after lunch, the materials of which now consented to remain on the table, they passed through the clouds and found themselves in a new world of wonders.

On a far vaster scale, it was the Earth during that period of its development which is called the Reptilian Age. The atmosphere was still dense and loaded with aqueous vapour, but the waters had already been divided from the land.

They passed over vast, marshy continents and islands, and warm seas, above which thin clouds of steam still hung, and as they swept southward with the propellers working at their utmost speed, they caught glimpses of giant forms rising out of the steamy waters near the land; of others crawling slowly over it, dragging their huge bulk through a tremendous vegetation, which they crushed down as they passed, as a sheep on earth might push its way through a field of standing corn.

Other and even stranger shapes, broad-winged and ungainly, fluttered with a slow, bat-like motion through the lower strata of the atmosphere.

Every now and then during the voyage across the temperate zone the propellers were slowed down to enable them to witness some Titanic conflict between the gigantic denizens of land and sea and air. But Zaidie had had enough of horrors on the Saturnian equator, and so she was quite content to watch this phase of evolution working itself out (as it had happened on the Earth many thousands of ages ago) from a convenient distance. Wherefore the Astronef sped on southward without approaching the surface nearer than a couple of miles.

“It'll be all very nice to see and remember and dream about afterwards,” she said, “but really I don't think I can stand any more monsters just now, at least not at close quarters, and I'm quite sure if those things can live there we couldn't, any more than we could have lived on Earth a million years or so ago. No, really I don't want to land, Lenox; let's go on.”

They went on at a speed of about a hundred miles an hour, and, as they progressed southward, both the atmosphere and the landscape rapidly changed. The air grew clearer and the clouds lighter. Lands and seas were more sharply divided, and both teeming with life. The seas still swarmed with serpentine monsters of the saurian type, and the firmer lands were peopled by huge animals, mastodons, bears, giant tapirs, myledons, deinotheriums, and a score of other species too strange for them to recognise by any earthly likeness, which roamed in great herds through the vast twilit forests and over boundless plains covered with grey-blue vegetation.

Here, too, they found mountains for the first time on Saturn; mountains steep-sided, and many earth-miles high.

As the Astronef was skirting the side of one of these ranges Redgrave allowed it to approach more closely than he had so far done to the surface of Saturn.

“I shouldn't wonder if we found some of the higher forms of life up here,” he said. “If there is anything here that's going to develop some clay into the human race of Saturn it would naturally get up here.”

“I should hope so,” said Zaidie, “and just as far as possible out of the reach of those unutterable horrors on the equator. That would be one of the first signs they would show of superior intelligence. Look, I believe there are some of them. Do you see those holes in the mountain side there? And there they are, something like gorillas, only twice as big, and up the trees, too—and what trees! They must be seven or eight hundred feet high.”

“Tree and cave-dwellers, and ancestors of the future royal race of Saturn, I suppose!” said Redgrave. “They don't look very nice, do they? Still, there's no doubt about their being far superior in intelligence to what we left behind us. Evidently this atmosphere is too thin for the two-headed jelly-fishes and the saurians to breathe. These creatures have found that out in a few hundreds of generations, and so they have come to live up here out of the way. Vegetarians, I suppose, or perhaps they live on smaller monkeys and other animals, just as our ancestors did.”

“Really, Lenox,” said Zaidie, turning round and facing him, “I must say that you have a most unpleasant way of alluding to one's ancestors. They couldn't help what they were.”

“Well, dear,” he said, going towards her, “marvellous as the miracle seems, I'm heretic enough to believe it possible that your ancestors even, millions of years ago, perhaps, may have been something like those; but then, of course, you know I'm a hopeless Darwinian.”

“And, therefore, entirely horrid, as I've often said before when you get on subjects like these. Not, of course, that I'm ashamed of my poor relations; and then, after all, your Darwin was quite wrong when he talked about the descent of man—and woman. We—especially the women—have ascended from that sort of thing, if there's any truth in the story at all; though, personally, I must say I prefer dear old Mother Eve.”

“Who never had a sweeter daughter than—!” He replied, drawing her towards him.

“Very prettily put, my Lord,” she laughed, releasing herself with a gentle twirl; “and now I'll go and get dinner ready,” she said. “After all, it doesn't matter what world one's in, one gets hungry all the same.”

The dinner, which was eaten somewhere in the middle of the fifteen-year-long day of Saturn, was a very pleasant one, because they were now nearing the turning-point of their trip into the depths of Space, and thoughts of home and friends were already beginning to fly back across the thousand-million-mile gulf which lay between them and the Earth which they had left only a little more than two months ago.

While they were at dinner the Astronef rose above the mountains and resumed her southward course. Zaidie brought the coffee up on deck as usual after dinner, and, while Redgrave smoked his cigar and Zaidie her cigarette, they luxuriated in the magnificent spectacle of the sunlit side of Rings towering up, rainbow built on rainbow, to the zenith of their visible heavens.

“What a pity there aren't any words to describe it!” said Zaidie. “I wonder if the descendants of the ancestors of the future human race on Saturn will invent anything like a suitable language. I wonder how they'll talk about those Rings millions of years hence.”

“By that time there may not be any Rings,” Lenox replied, blowing a ring of smoke from his own lips. “Look at that—made in a moment and gone in a moment—and yet on exactly the same principle, it gives one a dim idea of the difference between time and eternity. After all it's only another example of Kelvin's theory of vortices. Nebulae, and asteroids, and planet-rings, and smoke-rings are really all made on the same principle.”

“My dear Lenox, if you're going to get as philosophical and as commonplace as that I'm going to bed. Now that I come to think of it, I've been about fifteen earth-hours out of bed, so it's about time I went. It's your turn to make the coffee in the morning—our morning I mean—and you'll wake me in time to see the South Pole of Saturn, won't you? You're not coming yet, I suppose?”

“Not just yet, dear. I want to see a bit more of this, and then I must go through the engines and see that they're all right and ready for that thousand million mile homeward voyage you're talking about. You can have a good ten hours' sleep without missing much, I think, for there doesn't seem to be anything more interesting than our own Arctic life down there. So good-night, little woman, don't have too many nightmares.”

“Good-night!” she said, “if you hear me shout you'll know that you've to come and protect me from monsters. Weren't those two-headed brutes just too horrid for words? Good-night, dear!”

Chapter XIX


A LITTLE before six (Earth time) on the fourth morning after they had cleared the confines of the Saturnian System, Redgrave went as usual into the conning-tower to examine the instruments and to see that everything was in order. To his intense surprise he found, on looking at the gravitational compass, which was to the Astronef what the ordinary compass is to a ship at sea, that the vessel was a long way out of her course.

Such a thing had never yet occurred. Up to now the Astronef had obeyed the laws of gravitation and repulsion with absolute exactness. He made another examination of the instruments; but no, all were in perfect order.

“I wonder what the deuce is the matter,” he said, after he had looked for a few moments with frowning eyes at the Heavens before him. “By Jove, we're swinging more. This is getting serious.”

He went back to the compass. The long, slender needle was slowly swinging farther and farther out of the middle line of the vessel.

“There can only be two explanations of that,” he went on, thrusting his hands deep into his trouser pockets; “either the engines are not working properly, or some enormous and invisible body is pulling us towards it out of our course. Let's have a look at the engines first.”

When he reached the engine-room he said to Murgatroyd, who was indulging in his usual pastime of cleaning and polishing his beloved charges:

“Have you noticed anything wrong during the last hour or so, Murgatroyd?”

“No, my lord; at least not so far as concerns the engines. They're all right. Hark now, they're not making more noise than a lady's sewing machine,” replied the old Yorkshireman with a note of resentment in his voice. The suspicion that anything could be wrong with his shining darlings was almost a personal offence to him. “But is anything the matter, my Lord, if I might ask?”

“We're a long way off our course, and for the life of me I can't understand it,” replied Redgrave. “There's nothing about here to pull us out of our line. Of course the stars—good Lord, I never thought of that! Look here, Murgatroyd, not a word about this to her ladyship. and stand by to raise the power by degrees, as I signal to you.”

“Ay, my lord. I hope it's nothing bad.”

Redgrave went back to the conning-tower without replying. The only possible solution of the mystery of the deviation had suddenly dawned upon him, and a very serious solution it was. He remembered that there were such things as dead suns—-the derelicts of the Ocean of Space—-vast, invisible orbs, lightless and lifeless, too distant from any living sun to be illumined by its rays, and yet exercising the only force left to them—-the force of attraction. Might not one of these have wandered near enough to the confines of the Solar system to exert this force, a force of absolutely unknown magnitude, upon the Astronef?

He went to a little desk beside the instrument-table and plunged into a maze of mathematics, of masses and weights, angles and distances. Half-an-hour later he stood looking at the last symbol on the last sheet of paper with something like fear. It was the fatal x which remained to satisfy the last equation, the unknown quantity which represented the unseen force that was dragging the Astronef into the outer wilderness of interstellar space, into far-off regions from which, with the remaining force at his disposal, no return would be possible.

He signalled to Murgatroyd to increase the development of the R. Force from a tenth to a half. Then he went to the lower saloon, where Zaidie was busy with her usual morning tidy-up. Now that the mystery was explained there was no reason to keep her in the dark. Indeed, he had given her his word that he would conceal from her no danger, however great, that might threaten them when he had once assured himself of its existence.

She listened to him in silence and without a sign of fear beyond a little lifting of the eyelids and a little fading of the colour in her cheeks.

“And if we can't resist this force,” she said, when he had finished, “it will drag us millions—perhaps millions of millions—of miles away from our own system into outer space, and we shall either fall on the surface of this dead sun and be reduced to a puff of lighted gas in an instant, or some other body will pull us away from it, and then another away from that, and so on, and we shall wander among the stars for ever and ever until the end of time!”

“If the first happens, darling, we shall die—together—without knowing it. It's the second that I'm most afraid of. The Astronef may go on wandering among the stars for ever—but we have only water enough for three weeks more. Now come into the conning-tower and we'll sec how things are going.”

As they bent their heads over the instrument-table Redgrave saw that the remorseless needle had moved two degrees more to the right. The keel of the Astronef, under the impulse of the R. Force, was continually turning. The pull of the invisible orb was dragging the vessel slowly but irresistibly out of her line.

“There's nothing for it but this,” said Redgrave, putting out his hand to the signal-board, and signalling to Murgatroyd to put the engines to their highest power. “You see, dear, our greatest danger is this; we have had to exert such a tremendous lot of power that we haven't any too much to spare, and if we have to spend it in counteracting the pull of this dead sun, or whatever it is, we may not have enough of what I call the R. fluid left to get home with.”

“I see,” she said, staring with wide-open eyes at the needle. “You mean that we may not have enough to keep us from falling into one of the planets or perhaps into the sun itself. Well, supposing the dangers are equal, this one is the nearest, and so I guess we've got to fight it first.”

“Spoken like a good American!” He said, putting his arm across her shoulders and looking at once with infinite pride and infinite regret at the calm, proud face which the glory of resignation had adorned with a new beauty.

She bowed her head and then looked away again so that he should not see that there were tears in her eyes. He took his hand from her shoulder and stared in silence down at the needle. It was stationary again.

“We've stopped!” He said, after a pause of several moments. “Now, if the body that's taken us out of our course is moving away from us we win, if it's coming towards us we lose. At any rate, we've done all we can. Come along, Zaidie, let's go and have a walk on deck.”

They had scarcely reached the upper deck when something happened which dwarfed all the other experiences of their marvellous voyage into utter insignificance.

Above and around them the constellations blazed with a splendour inconceivable to an observer on earth, but ahead of them gaped the vast, black void which sailors call “the coal-hole,” and in which the most powerful telescopes have only discovered a few faintly luminous bodies. Suddenly, out of the midst of this infinity of darkness, there blazed a glare of almost intolerably brilliant radiance. Instantly the forward end of the Astronef was bathed in light and heat—the light and heat of a re-created sun, whose elements had been dark and cold for uncounted ages.

Hundreds of tiny points of light, unknown worlds which had been dark for myriads of years, twinkled out of the blackness. Then the fierce glare grew dimmer. A vast mantle of luminous mist spread out with inconceivable rapidity, and in the midst of this blazed the central nucleus—the sun which in far-off ages to come would be the giver of light and heat, of life and beauty to worlds unborn, to planets which were now only little eddies of atoms whirling in that ocean of nebulous flame.

For more than an hour the two voyagers stood motionless and silent, gazing on the indescribable splendours of a spectacle such as no human eyes but theirs had ever beheld. Every earthly thought seemed burnt out of their souls by the glory and the wonder of it. It was almost as though they were standing in the very presence of God, for were they not witnessing the supreme act of omnipotence, a new creation? Their peril, a peril such as had never threatened mortals before, was utterly forgotten. They had even forgotten each other's presence. For the time being they existed only to look and to wonder.

They were called at length out of their trance by the matter-of-fact voice of Murgatroyd saying: “My lord, she's back to her course. Will I keep the power on full?”

“My lord, she's back to her course. Will I keep the power on full?”

“Eh! What's that?” exclaimed Redgrave, as they both turned quickly round. “Oh, it's you, Murgatroyd. The power? Yes, keep it on full till I have taken the bearings.”

“Ay, my lord, very good.” replied the engineer.

As he left the deck Redgrave put his arm round Zaidie and drew her gently towards him and said: “Zaidie, truly you are favoured among women! You have seen the beginning of a new creation. You will certainly be saved somehow after that.”

“Yes, and you too, dear,” she murmured, as though still half-dreaming. “It is very glorious and wonderful; but what is it all—I mean, what is the explanation of it?”

“The merely scientific explanation, dear, is very simple. I see it all now. The force that was dragging us out of our course was the united pull of two dead stars approaching each other in the same orbit. They may have been doing that for millions of years. The shock of their meeting has transformed their motion into light and heat. They have united to form a single sun and a nebula, which will some day condense into a system of planets like ours. To-night the astronomers on earth will discover a new star—a variable star as they'll call it—for it will grow dimmer as it moves away from our system. It has often happened before.”

Then they turned back to the conning-tower. The needle had swung to its old position. The new star, henceforth to be known in the annals of astronomy as Lilla-Zaidie, had already set for them to the right of the Astronef and risen on the left, and, at a distance of over nine hundred million miles from the earth, the corner was turned, and the homeward voyage began.

Chapter XX


A week later they crossed the path of Jupiter, but the giant was invisible, far away on the other side of the sun. Redgrave laid his course so as to avail himself to the utmost of the “pull” of the planets without going near enough to them to be compelled to exert too much of the priceless R. Force, which the indicators showed to be running perilously low.

Between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars they made a decided economy by landing on Ceres, one of the largest of the asteroids, and travelling about fifty million miles on her towards the orbit of the earth without any expenditure of force whatever. They found the tiny world possessed of a breathable atmosphere and a fluid resembling water but nearly as dense as mercury. A couple of flasks of it form the greatest treasures of the British Museum and the National Museum at Washington. The vegetable world was represented by coarse grass, lichens, and dwarf shrubs, and the animal by different species of worms, lizards and flies, and small burrowing animals of the rodent type.

As the orbit of Ceres, like that of the other asteroids, is considerably inclined to that of the earth, the Astronef rose from its surface when the plane of the earth's revolution was reached, and the glittering swarm of miniature planets plunged away into space beneath them.

“Where to now?” said Zaidie, as her husband came down on deck from the conning-tower.

“I am going to try to steer a middle course between the orbits of Mercury and Venus,” he replied. “They just happen to be so placed now that we ought to be able to get the advantage of the pull of both of them as we pass, and that will save us a lot of power. The only thing I'm afraid of is the pull of the sun, equal to goodness knows how many times the attraction of all the planets put together. You see, little woman, it's like this,” he went on, taking out a pencil and going down on one knee on the deck: “Here's the Astronef; there's Venus; there's Mercury; there's the sun; and there, away on the other side of him, is Mother Earth: If we can turn that corner safely and without expending too much power we should be all right.”

“And if we can't, what will happen?”

“It will be a choice between morphine and cremation in the atmosphere of the sun, dear, or rather gradually roasting as we fall towards it.”

“Then, of course, it will be morphine,” she said quite quietly, as she turned away from his diagram and looked at the now fast increasing disc of the sun. A well-balanced mind speedily becomes accustomed even to the most terrible perils, and Zaidie had now looked this one so long and so steadily in the face that for her it had already become merely the choice between two forms of death with just a chance of escape hidden in the closed hand of Fate.

Thirty-six earth-hours later the glorious golden disc of Venus lay broad and bright beneath them. Above was the blazing orb of the Sun, nearly half as big again as it appears from the earth, with Mercury, a round black spot, travelling slowly across it.

“My dear Bird-Folk!” said Zaidie, looking down at the lovely world below them. “If home wasn't home-”

“We can be back among them in a few hours with absolute safety,” interrupted her husband, catching at the suggestion. “I've told you the truth about getting back to the earth. It's only a chance at best, and even if we pass the sun we may not have force enough left to prevent the Astronef from being smashed to dust or burnt up in the atmosphere. After all we might do worse—”

“What would you do if you were alone, Lenox?” she said, interrupting him in turn.

“I should take my chance and go on. After all home's home and worth a struggle. But you, dear—”

“I'm you, and so I take the same chances as you do. Besides, we're not perfect enough for a world where there isn't any sin. We should probably get quite miserable there. No, home's home, as you say.”

“Then home it is, dear!” He replied.

The vast, resplendent hemisphere of the Love-Star sunk swiftly down into the vault of space, growing swiftly smaller and dimmer as the Astronef sped towards the little black spot on the face of the sun, which to them was like a buoy marking a place of utter and hopeless shipwreck in the ocean of immensity.

The chronometer, still set to Earth time, had now begun to mark the last hours of the Astronef's voyage. She was not only travelling at a speed of which figures could give no comprehensible idea, but the Sun, Mercury, and the Earth were rushing towards her with a compound velocity, composed of the movement of the Solar System through space and of the movement of the two planets round the sun.

Murgatroyd was at his post in the engine-room. Redgrave and Zaidie had gone into the conning-tower, perhaps for the last time. For good fortune or evil, for life or death, they would see the end of the voyage together.

“How far yet, dear?” she said, as Venus began to slip away behind them, rising like a splendid moon in their wake.

“Only sixty million miles or so, a matter of a few hours, more or less—-it all depends,” he replied, without taking his eyes off the compass.

“Sixty millions! Why I feel almost at home again.”

“But we have to turn the corner of the street yet, dear, and after that there's a fall of more than twenty-five million miles on to the more or less kindly breast of Mother Earth.”

“A fall! It does sound rather awful when you put it that way; but I am not going to let you frighten me. I believe Mother Earth will receive her wandering children quite as kindly as they deserve.”

The moon-like disc of Venus grew swiftly smaller, and the black spot on the face of the sun larger and larger as the Astronef rushed silently and imperceptibly, and yet with almost inconceivable velocity, towards doom or fortune. Neither Zaidie nor Redgrave spoke again for nearly three hours—hours which to them seemed to pass like so many minutes. Their eyes were fixed on the black disc of Mercury, which, as they approached it, expanded with magical rapidity till it completely eclipsed the blazing orb behind it. Their thoughts were far away on the still invisible Earth and all the splendid possibilities that it held for two young lives like theirs.

As the sunlight vanished they looked at each other in the golden moonlight of Venus, and Zaidie let her head rest for a moment on her husband's shoulder. Then a swiftly broadening gleam of light shot out from behind the black circle of Mercury. The first crisis had come. Redgrave put out his hand to the signal-board and rang for full power. The planet seemed to swing round as the Astronef rushed into the blaze. In a few minutes it passed through the phases from “new” to “full.” Venus became eclipsed in turn as they swung between Mercury and the Sun, and then Redgrave, after a rapid glance to either side, said:

“If we can only keep the two pulls balanced we shall do it. That will keep us in a straight line, and our own momentum ought to carry us into the Earth's attraction.”

Zaidie did not reply. She was shading her eyes with her hand from the almost intolerable brilliance of the sun's rays, and looking straight ahead to catch the first glimpse of the silver-grey orb. Her husband read her thoughts and respected them. But a few minutes later he startled her out of her dream of home by exclaiming:

“Good God, we're turning!”

“What do you say, dear? Turning what?”

“On our own centre. Look! I'm afraid only a miracle can save us now, darling.”

She looked to the left-hand side where he was pointing. The sun, no longer now a sun, but a vast ocean of flame filling, nearly a third of the vault of space, was sinking beneath them, on the right Mercury was rising. Zaidie knew only too well what this meant. It meant that the keel of the Astronef was being dragged out of the straight line which would cut the earth's orbit some forty million miles away. It meant that, in spite of the exertion of the full power that the engines could develop, they had begun to fall into the sun.

Redgrave laid his hand on his wife's, and their eyes met. There was no need for words. Perhaps speech just then would have been impossible. In that mute glance each looked into the other's soul and was content. Then he left the conning-tower, and Zaidie dropped on to her knees before the instrument-table and laid her forehead upon her clasped hands.

Her husband went to the saloon, unlocked a little cupboard in the wall and took out a blue bottle of corrugated glass labeled “Morphine, Poison.” He took another empty bottle of white glass and measured fifty drops into it. Then he went to the engine-room and said abruptly:

“Murgatroyd, I'm afraid it's all up with us. We're falling into the sun, and you know what that means. In a few hours the Astronef will be red-hot. So it's roasting alive—or this. I recommend this.”

“And what might that be, my lord?” said the old engineer, looking at the bottle which his master held out towards him.

“That's morphine—-poison. Fill that up with water, drink it, and in half-an-hour you'll be dead without knowing it. Of course, you won't take it until there's absolutely no hope; but, granted that, you'll find this a better death than roasting or baking alive.” Then his voice changed suddenly as he went on: “Of course, I need not say, Murgatroyd, how deeply I regret now that I asked you to come in the Astronef.”

“My lord, my people have served yours for seven hundred years, and, whether on earth or among the stars, where you go it is my duty to go also. But don't ask me to take the poison. It is not for me to say that a journey like this is tempting Providence, but, by my lights, if I am to die it will be the death that Providence in its wisdom sends.”

“I daresay you're right in one way, Murgatroyd, but it's no time to argue about beliefs now. There's the bottle. Do as you think right. And now, in case the miracle doesn't happen, good-bye.”

“Good-bye, my lord, if it be so,” replied the old Yorkshireman, taking the hand which Redgrave held out to him. “I'll keep the power on to the last, I suppose?”

“Yes, you may as well. If it doesn't keep us away from the Sun it won't be much use to us in two or three hours.”

He left the engine-room and went back to the conning-tower. Zaidie was still on her knees. Beneath and around them the awful gulf of flame was broadening and deepening. Mercury was rising higher and growing smaller. He put the bottle down on the table and waited. Then Zaidie looked up. Her eyes were clear, and her face was perfectly calm. She rose and put her arm through his, and said:

“Well, is there any hope, dear? There can't be now, can there? Is that the morphine?”

“Yes,” he replied, slipping his arm beneath hers and round her waist. “I'm afraid there's not much hope now, little woman. We're using up the last of the power, and you see—”

As he said this he looked at the thermometer. The mercury had risen from 65 degrees Fahrenheit, the normal temperature of the interior of the Astronef, to 93 degrees, and during the half-minute that he watched it rose another degree. There was no mistaking such a warning as that. He had brought two little liqueur glasses in his pocket from the saloon. He divided the morphine between them, and filled them up with water.

“Not until the last moment, dear,” said Zaidie, as he set one of them before her. “We have no right to do it until then.”

“Very well. When the mercury reaches a hundred and fifty. After that it will go up ten and fifteen degrees at a jump, and we—”

“Yes, at a hundred and fifty,” she replied, cutting short a speech she dared not hear the end of. “I understand. It will be impossible to hope any more.”

Now, side by side, they stood and watched the thermometer.

Ninety-five—ninety-eight—a hundred and three—a hundred and ten—eighteen—twenty-four—thirty-two—forty-one.

The silent minutes passed, and with each the silver thread—for them the thread of life—grew, with strange contradiction, longer and longer, and with every minute it grew more quickly.

A hundred and forty-six.

With his right arm Redgrave drew Zaidie still closer to him. He put out his left hand and took up the little glass. She did the same.

“Good-bye, dear, till we have slept and wake again!”

“Good-bye, darling, God grant that we may!” But the agony of that last farewell was more than Zaidie could hear. She looked away at the little glass in her hand, a hand which even now did not tremble. Then she raised her eyes again to take one last look at the glory of the stars, and at the Fate incarnate in flame which lay beneath them.

“The Earth, the Earth—thank God, the Earth!”

With the hand that held the draught of Lethe—which in another moment would have passed her lips—she caught at her husband's hand, pulled the glass out of it, and then with a little sigh she dropped senseless on the floor of the conning-tower. Redgrave looked for a moment in the direction that her eyes had taken. A pale, silver-grey crescent, with a little white spot near it, was rising out of the blackness beyond the edge of the solar ocean of flame. Home was in sight at last, but would they reach it—and how?

He picked her up and carried her to their room and laid her on the bed. Then he went to the medicine chest again, this time for a very different purpose.

An hour later, they were on the upper deck with their telescopes turned on to the rapidly-growing crescent of the home-world, which, in its eternal march through space, had come into the line of direct attraction just in time to turn the scale in which the lives of the star-voyagers were trembling. The higher it rose, the bigger and broader and brighter it grew, and, at last, Zaidie—forgetting in her transport of joy all the perils that were yet to come—sprang to her feet and clapped her hands, and cried:

“There's America!”

Then she dropped back into her long deck-chair and began a good, hearty, healthy cry.

Epilogue


THERE is little now to be told that all the world does not already know as well as it knows the circumstances of Lord and Lady Redgrave's departure from the Earth, at the beginning of that marvellous voyage, that desperate plunge into the unknown immensities of Space which began so happily, and yet with so many grave misgivings in the hearts of their friends, and which, after passing many perils, the adventurous voyagers finished even more happily than they had begun.

As I said at the beginning of this narrative the sole purpose of writing it has been to place before the reading public an account of the adventures experienced by Lord Redgrave and his beautiful Countess from the time of their departure from the Earth to the hour of their return to it. Therefore there is no need to re-tell a tale already told, and one that has been read and re-read a thousand times. Every one who has read his or her newspaper from Chamskatska to Cape Horn, and from Alaska to South Australia, knows how the Commander of the Astronef so nursed the remains which were left to him of the R. Force after overcoming the attraction of the Sun, that he was able to steer an oblique course between the Moon and the Earth, and to counteract what Zaidie called the all too-loving attraction of the Mother Planet, and, after sixty hours of agonising suspense, at last re-entered their native atmosphere.

The expenditure of the last few units of the R. Force enabled them to just clear the summits of the Bolivian Andes, to cross the foothills and western slopes of Peru, and finally to let the Astronef drop quietly on to the bosom of the broad Pacific about twenty miles westward of the Port of Mollendo.

All this time thousands of anxious eyes had been peering through telescopes every night in quest of the wanderers who must now be returning if ever they were to return, and a reward of ten thousand dollars, offered conjointly by the British and United States Governments for the first authentic tidings of the Astronef, was won by a smart young Californian, who was Assistant Astronomer at the Harvard University Observatory at Arequipa.

One night when he was on duty watching a lunar occultation, he saw something sweep across the disc of the full moon just as the captain and officers of the St. Louis had seen that same something sweep across the disc of the rising sun. What else could it be if not the Astronef. He rang for another assistant to go on with the occultation, and wired down to the coast requesting the British Consul at Mollendo to look out for an arrival from the skies.

Three hours later the gleam of an electric searchlight flickered down over the huge black cone of the Misti, and by dawn the next morning one of Her Majesty's cruisers—most appropriately named Astroea—attached to the Pacific Squadron then en route from Lima to Valparaiso, steamed out westward from Mollendo and found the long, shining hull of the Astronef waiting quietly on the unrippled rollers of the Pacific, and Lord and Lady Redgrave having breakfast in the deck-chamber.

Compliments and congratulations having been duly exchanged, she was taken in tow by the cruiser, and so reached Valparaiso. Here she lay for a few days while the wires of the world were being kept hot with telegraphic accounts of her return to Earth, and while her Commander, with the assistance of the officers of the National Laboratory, was replenishing his stock of the R. Fluid from the chemicals which they had placed at his disposal.

It would, of course, have been quite possible for him and Zaidie to have taken steamer northward to Panama, crossed the Isthmus, and returned to New York and Washington via Jamaica. The British Admiral even offered to place his fastest cruiser at their disposal for a run to San Francisco, whence the Overland Limited would have landed them in New York in four days and a half, but Zaidie vetoed this as quickly as she had done the other proposition. If she had her way the Astronef should go back to Washington as she had left it, by means of her own motive force, and so, of course, it came to pass.

Even Murgatroyd's grim and homely features seemed irradiated by a glow of what he afterwards thought unholy pride when he once more stood by his levers and heard the familiar signal coming from the conning-tower.

“A tenth.”

And then—“Stand by steering-gear.”

The next moment there was another tinkle in the engine-room.

Redgrave, standing with Zaidie in the conning-tower, moved the power-wheel through ten degrees, and then to the amazement of tens of thousands of spectators, the hull of the Astronef rose perpendicularly from the waters of the Bay. The British Squadron and a detachment of the Chilian fleet thundered out a salute which was answered a few moments later by the shore batteries, Redgrave went down into the deck-chamber and fired twenty-one shots from one of the Maxim-Nordenfelts—the same with which he had mown down the crowds of Martians in the square of their great city a hundred and thirty million miles away, and while he was doing this Zaidie in the conning-tower ran the White Ensign up to the top of the flagstaff.

Then the glass doors were closed again, the propellers began to revolve at their utmost speed, and the Space-Navigator with one tremendous leap cleared the double chain of the Andes and vanished to the north-eastward.

To describe the reception of Lord and Lady Redgrave when the Astronef dropped a few hours later, on to the very spot in front of the steps of the Capitol at Washington from which she had risen just four months before, would only be to repeat what has already been told in the Press of the world, and especially of the United States, with a far more luxuriant wealth of detail than could possibly be emulated here. Suffice it to say that the first human form that Zaidie embraced after her long wanderings was that of Mrs. Van Stuyler, whom the President of the United States had escorted to the gangway.

The most marvellous of human adventures become commonplace by repetition, and Mrs. Van Stuyler had already spent nearly a fortnight devouring every item, whether of fact or fancy, with which the American Press had embroidered the adventures of the Astronef and her crew. And so when the first embracings and emotions were over, all she could find to say was:

“Well, Zaidie dear, and how did you enjoy it, after all?”

“It was just gorgeous, Mrs. Van, and if there was a more gorgeous word than that in the American language I'd use it,” replied Zaidie, with another hug, “Why didn't you come? You'd have been—well no, perhaps I'd better not say what you would have been. But just think of it, or try to—A honeymoon trip of over two thousand million miles, and back—safe—thank God!”

As she said this, Zaidie threw her arm over Mrs. Van Stuyler's shoulder, and drew her away towards the forward end of the deck-chamber. At the same moment the President's hand met Lord Redgrave's in a long, strong grip. They didn't say anything just then. Men seldom do under such circumstances.



THE END

The World Peril Of 1910



Prologue — A Race For A Woman





IN Clifden, the chief coast town of Connemara, there is a house at the end of a triangle which the two streets of the town form, the front windows of which look straight down the beautiful harbour and bay, whose waters stretch out beyond the islands which are scattered along the coast and, with the many submerged reefs, make the entrance so difficult.

In the first-floor double-windowed room of this house, furnished as a bed-sitting room, there was a man sitting at a writing-table—not an ordinary writing-table, but one the dimensions of which were more suited to the needs of an architect or an engineer than to those of a writer. In the middle of the table was a large drawing-desk, and on it was pinned a sheet of cartridge paper, which was almost covered with portions of designs.

In one corner there was what might be the conception of an engine designed for a destroyer or a submarine. In another corner there was a sketch of something that looked like a lighthouse, and over against this the design of what might have been a lantern. The top left-hand corner of the sheet was merely a blur of curved lines and shadings and cross-lines, running at a hundred different angles which no one, save the man who had drawn them, could understand the meaning of.

In the middle of the sheet there was a very carefully-outlined drawing in hard pencil of a craft which was different from anything that had ever sailed upon the waters or below them, or, for the matter of that, above them.

To the right hand there was a rough, but absolutely accurate, copy of this same craft leaving the water and flying into the air, and just underneath this a tiny sketch of a flying fish doing the same thing.

The man sitting before the drawing-board was an Irishman. He was one of those men with the strong, crisp hair, black brows and deep brown eyes, straight, strong nose almost in a line with his forehead, thin, nervous lips and pointed jaw, strong at the angles but weak at the point, which come only from one descent.

Nearly four hundred years before, one of the ships of the great Armada had been wrecked on Achill Island, about twenty miles from where he sat. Half a dozen or so of the crew had been saved, and one of these was a Spanish gentleman, captain of Arquebusiers who, drenched and bedraggled as he was when the half-wild Irish fishermen got him out of the water, still looked what he was, a Hidalgo of Spain. He had been nursed back to health and strength in a miserable mud and turf-walled cottage, and, broken in fortune—for he was one of the many gentlemen of Spain who had risked their all on the fortunes of King Philip and the Great Armada, and lost—he refused to go back to his own country a beaten man.

And meanwhile he had fallen in love with the daughter of his nurse, the wife of the fisherman who had taken him more than half dead out of the raging Atlantic surf.

No man ever knew who he was, save that he was a gentleman, a Spaniard, and a Catholic. But when he returned to the perfection of physical and mental health, and had married the grey-eyed, dark-browed girl, who had seemed to him during his long hours of sickness the guardian angel who had brought him back across the line which marks the frontier between life and death, he developed an extraordinary talent in boat-building, which was the real origin of the wonderful sea-worthiness of small craft which to this day brave, almost with impunity, the terrible seas which, after an unbroken run of almost two thousand miles, burst upon the rockbound, island-fenced coast of Connemara.

The man at the table was the descendant in the sixth generation of the unknown Spanish Hidalgo, who nearly four hundred years before had said in reply to a question as to what his name was:

“Juan de Castillano.”

As the generations had passed, the name, as usual, had got modified, and this man's name was John Castellan.

“I think that will about do for the present,” he said, getting up from the table and throwing his pencil down. “I've got it almost perfect now;” and then as he bent down again over the table, and looked over every line of his drawings, “Yes, it's about all there. I wonder what my Lords of the British Admiralty would give to know what that means. Well, God save Ireland, they shall some day!”

He unpinned the paper from the board, rolled it up, and put it into the top drawer of an old oak cabinet, which one would hardly have expected to find in such a room as that, and locked the drawer with a key on his key-chain. Then he took his cap from a peg on the door, and his gun from the corner beside it, and went out.

There are three ways out of Clifden to the west, one to the southward takes you over the old bridge, which arches the narrow rock-walled gorge, which gathers up the waters of the river after they have had their frolic over the rocks above. The other is a continuation of the main street, and this, as it approaches the harbour, where you may now see boats built on the pattern which John Castellan's ancestor had designed, divides into two roads, one leading along the shore of the bay, and the other, rough, stony, and ill-kept, takes you above the coast-guard station, and leads to nowhere but the Atlantic Ocean.

Between these two roads lies in what was once a park, but which is now a wilderness, Clifden Castle. Castle in Irish means country house, and all over the south and west of Ireland you may find such houses as this with doors screwed up, windows covered with planks, roofs and eaves stripped of the lead and slates which once protected them from the storms which rise up from the Atlantic, and burst in wind and rain, snow and sleet over Connemara, long ago taken away to sell by the bankrupt heirs of those who ruined themselves, mortgaged and sold every acre of ground and every stick and stone they owned to maintain what they called the dignity of their families at the Vice-Regal Court in Dublin.

John Castellan took the lower road, looking for duck. The old house had been the home of his grandfather, but he had never lived in it. The ruin had come in his father's time, before he had learned to walk. He looked at it as he passed, and his teeth clenched and his brows came together in a straight line.

Almost at the same moment that he left his house an Englishman came out of the Railway Hotel. He also had a gun over his shoulder, and he took the upper road. These two men, who were to meet for the first time that day, were destined to decide the fate of the world between them.

As John Castellan walked past the ruined distillery, which overlooks the beach on which the fishing boats are drawn up, he saw a couple of duck flying seaward. He quickened his pace, and walked on until he turned the bend of the road, at which on the right-hand side a path leads up to a gate in the old wall, which still guards the ragged domains of Clifden Castle. A few hundred yards away there is a little peninsula, on which stands a house built somewhat in bungalow fashion. The curve of the peninsula turns to the eastward, and makes a tiny bay of almost crescent shape. In this the pair of duck settled.

John Castellan picked up a stone from the road, and threw it into the water. As the birds rose his gun went up. His right barrel banged and the duck fell. The drake flew landward: he fired his left barrel and missed.

Then came a bang from the upper road, and the drake dropped. The Englishman had killed it with a wire cartridge in his choked left barrel.

“I wonder who the devil did that!” said Castellan, as he saw the bird fall. “It was eighty yards if it was an inch, and that's a good gun with a good man behind it.”

The Englishman left the road to pick up the bird and then went down the steep, stony hillside towards the shore of the silver-mouthed bay in the hope of getting another shot farther on, for the birds were now beginning to come over; and so it came about that he and the Irishman met within a few yards of each other, one on either side of a low spit of sand and shingle.

“That was a fine shot you killed the drake with,” said the Irishman, looking at the bird he was carrying by the legs in his left hand.

“A good gun, and a wire cartridge, I fancy, were mainly responsible for his death,” laughed the Englishman. “See you've got the other.”

“Yes, and missed yours,” said the Irishman.

The other recognised the tone as that of a man to whom failure, even in the most insignificant matter, was hateful, and he saw a quick gleam in his eyes which he remembered afterwards under very different circumstances.

But it so happened that the rivalry between them which was hereafter to have such momentous consequences was to be manifested there and then in a fashion much more serious than the hitting or missing of a brace of wild fowl.

Out on the smooth waters of the bay, about a quarter of a mile from the spit on which they stood, there were two boats. One was a light skiff, in which a girl, clad in white jersey and white flannel skirt, with a white Tam O'Shanter pinned on her head, was sculling leisurely towards the town. From the swing of her body, the poise of her head and shoulders, and the smoothness with which her sculls dropped in the water and left it, it was plain that she was a perfect mistress of the art; wherefore the two men looked at her, and admired.

The other craft was an ordinary rowing boat, manned by three lads out for a spree. There was no one steering and the oars were going in and out of the water with a total disregard of time. The result was that her course was anything but a straight line. The girl's sculls made no noise, and the youths were talking and laughing loudly.

Suddenly the boat veered sharply towards the skiff. The Englishman put his hands to his mouth, and yelled with all the strength of his lungs.

“Look out, you idiots, keep off shore!”

But it was too late. The long, steady strokes were sending the skiff pretty fast through the smooth water. The boat swerved again, hit the skiff about midway between the stem and the rowlocks, and the next moment the sculler was in the water. In the same moment two guns and two ducks were flung to the ground, two jackets were torn off, two pairs of shoes kicked away, and two men splashed into the water. Meanwhile the sculler had dropped quietly out of the sinking skiff, and after a glance at the two heads, one fair and the other dark, ploughing towards her, turned on her side and began to swim slowly in their direction so as to lessen the distance as much as possible.

The boys, horrified at what they had done, made such a frantic effort to go to the rescue, that one of them caught a very bad crab; so bad indeed that the consequent roll of the boat sent him headlong into the water; and so the two others one of whom was his elder brother, perhaps naturally left the girl to her fate, and devoted their energies to saving their companion.

Both John Castellan and the Englishman were good swimmers, and the race was a very close thing. Still, four hundred yards with most of your clothes on is a task calculated to try the strongest swimmer, and, although the student had swum almost since he could walk, his muscles were not quite in such good form as those of the ex-athlete of Cambridge who, six months before, had won the Thames Swimming Club Half-mile Handicap from scratch.

Using side stroke and breast-stroke alternately they went at it almost stroke for stroke about half a dozen yards apart, and until they were within thirty yards or so of the third swimmer, they were practically neck and neck, though Castellan had the advantage of what might be called the inside track. In other words he was a little nearer to the girl than the Englishman.

When circumstances permitted they looked at each other, but, of course, neither of them was fool enough to waste his breath in speech. Still, each clearly understood that the other was going to get the girl first if he could.

So the tenth yard from the prize was reached, and then the Englishman shook his head up an inch, filled his lungs, rolled on to his side, and made a spurt with the reserve of strength which he had kept for the purpose. Inch by inch he drew ahead obliquely across Castellan's course and, less than a yard in front of him, he put his right hand under the girl's right side.

A lovely face, beautiful even though it was splashed all over with wet strands of dark chestnut hair, turned towards him; a pair of big blue eyes which shone in spite of the salt water which made them blink, looked at him; and, after a cough, a very sweet voice with just a suspicion of Boston accent in it, said:

“Thank you so much! It was real good of you! I can swim, but I don't think I could have got there with all these things on, and so I reckon I owe you two gentlemen my life.”

Castellan had swum round, and they took her under the arms to give her a rest. The two boys left in the boat had managed to get an oar out to their comrade just in time, and then haul him into the boat, which was now about fifty yards away; so as soon as the girl had got her breath they swam with her to the boat, and lifted her hands on to the gunwale.

“If you wouldn't mind, sir, picking up those oars,” said the Englishman, “I will get the young lady into the boat, and then we can row back.”

Castellan gave him another look which said as plainly as words: “Well, I suppose she's your prize for the present,” and swam off for the oars. With the eager help of the boys, who were now very frightened and very penitent, the Englishman soon had the girl in the boat; and so it came about that an adventure which might well have deprived America of one of her most beautiful and brilliant heiresses, resulted in nothing more than a ducking for two men and one girl, a wet, but somehow not altogether unpleasant walk, and a slight chill from which she had quite recovered the next morning.

The after consequences of that race for the rescue were of course, quite another matter. Poke then, all unconsciously. But in the days to come they were fulfilled in such fashion that only one man in all the world had ever dreamed of, and that was the man who had beaten John Castellan by a yard in the swimming race for the rescue of that American girl from drowning.

Chapter II — Norah's Good-Bye


THE scene had shifted back from the royal city of Potsdam to the little coast town in Connemara. John Castellan was sitting on a corner of his big writing-table swinging his legs to and fro, and looking a little uncomfortable. Leaning against the wall opposite the windows, with her hands folded behind her back, was a girl of about nineteen, an almost perfect incarnation of the Irish girl at her best. Tall, black-haired, black-browed, grey-eyed, perfectly-shaped, and with that indescribable charm of feature which neither the pen nor the camera can do justice to—Norah Castellan was facing him, her eyes gleaming and almost black with anger, and her whole body instinct with intense vitality.

“And so Ireland hasn't troubles enough of her own, John, that you must bring new ones upon her, and what for? To realise a dream that was never anything else but a dream, and to satisfy a revenge that is three hundred years old! If that theory of yours about reincarnation is true, you may have been a Spaniard once, but remember that you're an Irishman now; and you're no good Irishman if you sell yourself to these foreigners to do a thing like that, and it's your sister that's telling you.”

“And it's your brother, Norah,” he replied, his black brows meeting almost in a straight line across his forehead, “who tells you that Ireland is going to have her independence; that the shackles of the Saxon shall be shaken off once and for ever, even if all Europe blazes up with war in the doing of it. I have the power and I will use it. Spaniard or Irishman, what does it matter? I hate England and everything English.”

“Hate England, John!” said the girl. “Are you quite sure that it isn't an Englishman that you hate?”

“Well, and what if I do? I hate all Englishmen, and I'm the first Irishman who has ever had the power to put his hatred into acts instead of words—and you, an Irish girl, with six generations of Irish blood in your veins, you, to talk to me like this. What are you thinking about, Norah? Is that what you call patriotism?”

“Patriotism!” she echoed, unclasping her hands, and holding her right hand out towards him. “I'm as Irish as you are, and as Spanish, too, for the matter of that, for the same blood is to the veins of both of us. You're a scholar and a genius, and all the rest of it, I grant you; but haven't you learned history enough to know that Ireland never was independent, and never could be? What brought the English here first? Four miserable provinces that called themselves kingdoms, and all fighting against each other, and the king of one of them stole the wife of the king of another of them, and that's how the English came.

“I love Ireland as well as you do, John, but Ireland is not worth setting the world swimming in blood for. You're lighting a match-box to set the world ablaze with. It isn't Ireland only, remember. There are Irish all over the world, millions of them, and remember how the Irish fought in the African War. I don't mean Lynch and his traitors, but the Dublin boys. Who were the first in and the last out—Irishmen, but they had the sense to know that they were British first and Irish afterwards. I tell you, you shall be shot for what you've done, and if I wasn't the daughter of your father and mother, I'd inform against you now.”

“And if you did, Norah, you would do very little good to the Saxon cause,” replied her brother, pointing with his thumb out of one of the windows. “You see that yacht in the bay there. Everything is on board of her. If you went out into the street now, gave me in charge of the constabulary, to those two men in front of the hotel there, it would make no difference. There's nothing to be proved, no, not even if my own sister tried to swear my life and liberty away. It would only be that the Germans and the Russians, and the Austrians, and the rest of them would work out my ideas instead of me working them out, and it might be that they would make a worse use of them. You've half an hour to give me up, if you like.”

And then he began to collect the papers that were scattered about the big drawing-table, sorting them out and folding them up and then taking other papers and plans from the drawers and packing them into a little black dispatch box.

“But, John, John,” she said, crossing the room, and putting her hand on his shoulder. “Don't tell me that you're going to plunge the world in war just for this. Think of what it means—the tens of thousands of lives that will be lost, the thousands of homes that will be made desolate, the women who will be crying for their husbands, and the children for their fathers, the dead men buried in graves that will never have a name on them, and the wounded, broken men coming back to their homes that they will never be able to keep up again, not only here and in England, but all over Europe and perhaps in America as well! Genius you may be; but what are you that you should bring calamity like this upon humanity?”

“I'm an Irishman, and I hate England, and that's enough,” he replied sullenly, as he went on packing his papers.

“You hate that Englishman worse than you hate England, John.”

“And I wouldn't wonder if you loved that Englishman more than you loved Ireland, Norah,” he replied, with a snarl in his voice.

“And if I did,” she said, with blazing eyes and flaming checks, “isn't England nearer to Ireland than America?”

“Geographically, perhaps, but in sentiment—”

“Sentiment! Yes, when you have finished with this bloody business of yours that you have begun on, go you through Ireland and England and Europe, and ask the widows and the fatherless, and the girls who kissed their lovers 'good-bye,' and never saw them again, what they think of that sentiment! But it's no use arguing with you now; there's your German yacht. You're no brother of mine. You've made me sorry that we had the same father and mother.”

As she spoke, she went to the door, opened it and, before he could reply, slammed it behind her, and went to her room to seek and find a woman's usual relief from extreme mental tension.

John Castellan went on packing his papers, his face grey, and his features hard-set. He loved his beautiful sister, but he thought that he loved his country more. When he had finished he went and knocked at her door, and said “Norah, I'm going. Won't you say 'good-bye?'”

The door was swung open, and she faced him, her face wet with tears, her eyes glistening, and her lips twitching.

“Yes, good-bye, John,” she said. “Go to your German friends; but, when all the horrors that you are going to bring upon this country through their help come to pass, remember you have no sister left in Ireland. You've sold yourself, and I have no brother who is a traitor. Good-bye!”

The door swung to and she locked it. John Castellan hesitated for a moment or two, and then with a slow shake of his head he went away down the stairs out into the street, and along to the little jetty where the German yacht's boat was waiting to take him on board.

Norah had thrown herself on her bed in her locked room shedding the first but not the last tear that John Castellan's decision was destined to draw from women's eyes.

About half an hour later the encircling hills of the bay echoed the shriek of a siren. She got up, looked out of the window, and saw the white shape of the German yacht moving out towards the fringe of islands which guard the outward bay.

“And there he goes!” she said in a voice that was almost choked with sobs, “there he goes, my own brother, it may be taking the fate of the world with him—yes, and on a German ship, too. He that knows every island and creek and cove and harbour from Cape Wrath to Cape Clear—he that's got all those inventions in his head, too, and the son of my own father and mother, sold his country to the foreigner, thinking those dirty Germans will keep their word with him.

“Not they, John, not they. The saints forgive me for thinking it, but for Ireland's sake I hope that ship will never reach Germany. If it does, we'll see the German Eagle floating over Dublin Castle before you'll be able to haul up the Green Flag. Well, well, there it is; it's done now, I suppose, and there's no help for it. God forgive you, John, I don't think man ever will!”

As she said this the white yacht turned the southern point of the inner bay, and disappeared to the southward. Norah bathed her face, brushed out her hair, and coiled it up again; then she put on her hat and jacket, and went out to do a little shopping.

It is perhaps a merciful provision of Providence that in this human life of ours the course of the greatest events shall be interrupted by the most trivial necessities of existence. Were it not for that the inevitable might become the unendurable.

The plain fact was that Norah Castellan had some friends and acquaintances coming to supper that evening. Her brother had left at a few hours' notice from his foreign masters, as she called them, and there would have to be some explanation of his absence, especially as a friend of his, Arthur Lismore, the owner of the finest salmon streams for twenty miles round, and a man who was quite hopelessly in love with herself, was coming to brew the punch after the fashion of his ancestors, and so, of course, it was necessary that there should be nothing wanting.

Moreover, she was beginning to feel the want of some hard physical exercise, and an hour or so in that lovely air of Connemara, which, as those who know, say, is as soft as silk and as bright as champagne. So she went out, and as she turned the corner round the head of the harbour to the left towards the waterfall, almost the first person she met was Arthur Lismore himself—a brown-faced, chestnut-haired, blue-eyed, young giant of twenty-eight or so; as goodly a man as God ever put His own seal upon.

His cap came off, his head bowed with that peculiar grace of deference which no one has ever yet been able to copy from an Irishman, and he said in the strong, and yet curiously mellow tone which you only hear in the west of Ireland:

“Good afternoon, Miss Norah. I've heard that you're to be left alone for a time, and that we won't see John to-night.”

“Yes,” she said, her eyes meeting his, “that is true. He went away in that German yacht that left the bay less than an hour ago.”

“A German yacht!” he echoed. “Well now, how stupid of me, I've been trying to think all the afternoon what that flag was she carried when she came in.”

“The German Imperial Yacht Club,” she said, “that was the ensign she was flying, and John has gone to Germany in her.”

“To Germany! John gone to Germany! But what for? Surely now—”

“Yes, to Germany, to help the Emperor to set the world on fire.”

“You're not saying that, Miss Norah?”

“I am,” she said, more gravely than he had ever heard her speak. “Mr Lismore, it's a sick and sorry girl I am this afternoon. You were the first Irishman on the top of Waggon Hill, and you'll understand what I mean. If you have nothing better to do, perhaps you'll walk down to the Fall with me, and I'll tell you.”

“I could have nothing better to do, Norah, and it's yourself that knows that as well as I do,” he replied.

“I only wish the road was longer. And it's yourself that's sick and sorry, is it? If it wasn't John, I'd like to get the reason out of any other man. That's Irish, but it's true.”

He turned, and they walked down the steeply sloping street for several minutes in silence.

Chapter III — Seen Under The Moon


IT was a few minutes after four bells on a grey morning in November 1909 that Lieutenant-Commander Francis Erskine, in command of his Majesty's Fishery Cruiser, the Cormorant, got up on to the navigating bridge, and, as usual, took a general squint about him, and buttoned the top button of his oil-skin coat.

The Cormorant was just a few yards inside the three-mile limit off Flamborough Head, and, officially, she was looking for trespassers, who either did not fly the British flag, or flew it fraudulently. There were plenty of foreign poachers on the rich fishing grounds to the north and east away to the Dogger, and there were also plenty of floating grog shops from Bremen and Hamburg, and Rotterdam and Flushing, and a good many other places, loaded up to their decks with liquor, whose mission was not only to sell their poison at about four hundred per cent. profit to the British fishers on the Dogger, but also to persuade them, at a price, to smuggle more of the said poison into the British Islands to be made into Scotch and Irish whisky, brandy, Hollands, gin, rum, and even green and yellow Chartreuse, or any other alcoholic potion which simply wanted the help of the chemist to transform potato and beet spirit into anything that would taste like what it was called.

“Beast of a morning, Castellan,” he said to his first officer, whom he was relieving, “dirty sea, dirty sky, and not a thing to be seen. You don't have worse weather than this even off Connemara, do you?”

“No,” said Castellan, “and I've seen better; but look you, there's the sky clearing to the east; yes, and there's Venus, herald of the sun: and faith, she's bright, too, like a little moon, now isn't she? I suppose it'll be a bit too early for Norah to be looking at her, won't it?”

“Don't talk rot, man,” replied the Lieutenant-Commander. “I hope your sister hasn't finished her beauty sleep by this time.”

The clouds parted still wider, making a great gap of blue-grey sky to the eastward, as the westward bank drifted downward. The moon sent a sudden flood of white light over their heads, which silvered the edges of the clouds, and then turned the leaden waters into silver as it had done to the grey of the cloud.

“She'd wake fast enough if she had a nightmare or a morning mare, or something of that sort, and could see a thing like that,” exclaimed Castellan, gripping the Lieutenant-Commander by the shoulder with his right hand, and pointing to the east with his left. “Look, man, look! By all the Holy Powers, what is it? See there! Thanks for the blessed moonlight that has shown it to us, for I'm thinking it doesn't mean any good to old England or Ireland.”

Erskine was an Englishman, and a naval officer at that, and therefore his reply consisted of only a few words hardly fitted for publication. The last words were, “What is it?”

“What is it?” said Castellan with a stamp of his feet on the bridge, “what is it? Now wouldn't I like to know just as well as you would, and don't you think the Lords of the British Admiralty would like to know a lot better? But there's one thing I think I can tell you, it's one of those new inventions that the British Admiralty never buy, and let go to other countries, and what's more, as you've seen with your eyes, as I have with mine, it came out of the water on the edge of that moonlit piece, it flew across it, it sighted us, I suppose, it found it had made a mistake, and it went down again. Now what do you make of that?”

“Combination of submarine and air-ship it looks like,” said Erskine, seriously, “and if that doesn't belong to us, it's going to be fairly dangerous. Good Lord! a thing like that might do anything with a fleet, and whatever Power owns it may just as well have a hundred as one. Look here, Castellan, I'm going straight into Scarborough. This is a lot more important than the Dogger Fleet. There's the Seagull at Hull. She can relieve us, and Franklin can take this old coffee-grinder round. You and I are going to London as soon as we can get there. Take the latitude, longitude, and exact time, and also the evidence of the watch if any one of them saw it.”

“You think it's as serious as that?”

“Certainly. It's one of two things. Either that thing belongs to us or it belongs to a possible enemy. The Fleet, even to a humble fishery cruiser, means the eyes and ears of the British Empire. If that belongs to the Admiralty, well and good; we shall get censured for leaving the ship; that's the risk we take. If it doesn't, the Naval Board may possibly have the civility to thank us for telling them about it; but in either case we are going to do our duty. Send Franklin up to the bridge, make the course for Scarborough, get the evidence of any of the watch who saw what we have seen, and I'll go and make the report. Then you can countersign it, and the men can make theirs. I think that's the best we can do.”

“I think so, sir,” said the Lieutenant, saluting.

The Lieutenant-Commander walked from port to starboard and starboard to port thinking pretty hard until the navigating lieutenant came to take charge of the bridge. Of submarines he knew a good deal. He knew that the British navy possessed the very best type of this craft which navigated the under-waters. He had also, of course, read the aerial experiments which had been made by inventors of what the newspapers called air-ships, and which he, with his hard naval common-sense, called gasbags with motor engines slung under them. He knew the deadly possibilities of the submarine; the flying gasbag he looked upon as gas and not much more. The real flying machine he had considered up till a few moments ago as a dream of the future; but a combination of submarine and flying ship such as he and Castellan, if they had not both been drunk or dreaming, had seen a few moments ago, was quite another matter. The possibilities of a thing like that were absolutely limitless, limitless for good or evil, and if it did belong to a possible enemy of Britain, there was only one conclusion to be arrived at—The Isle Inviolate would be inviolate no more.

Lieutenant Franklin came on to the bridge and saluted; he returned the salute, gave the orders for changing the course, and went down to his cabin, muttering:

“Good Lord, if that's only so. Why, half a dozen things like that could fight a fleet, then go on gaily to tackle the forts. I wonder whether my Lords of the Naval Council will see me to-morrow, and believe me if they do see me.”

By great good luck it happened that the Commander of the North-eastern District had come up from Hull to Scarborough for a few days' holiday. When he saw the Cormorant steam into the bay, he very naturally wanted to know what was the matter, and so he went down to the pier-head, and met the Cormorant's cutter. As Erskine came up the steps he recognised him and saluted.

“Good-morning, sir.”

“Good-morning, Erskine. What's the matter? You're a little off your ground, aren't you? Of course, there must be a reason for it. Anything serious?” replied the District Commander, as he held out his hand. “Ah, good morning, Castellan. So you've both come ashore. Well, now, what is it?”

Erskine took a rapid glance round at the promenaders who were coming down to have a look at the cruiser, and said in a low tone:

“Yes, sir. I am afraid it is rather serious; but it is hardly the sort of thing one could discuss here. In fact, I was taking the responsibility of going straight to London with Castellan, to present a report which we have drawn up to the Board of Admiralty.”

The District Commander's iron-grey eyebrows lifted for the fraction of a minute, and he said:

“H'm. Well, Erskine, I know you're not the sort of man to do that sort of thing without pretty good reason. Come up to the hotel, both of you, and let us go into it.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied Erskine. “It is really quite fortunate that we met you here, because I think when you've seen the report you will feel justified in giving us formal leave instead of French leave.”

“I hope so,” he replied, somewhat grimly, for a rule of the Service had been broken all to pieces, and his own sense of discipline was sorely outraged by the knowledge that two responsible officers had left their ship with the intention of going to London without leave.

But when he had locked the door of his sitting-room at the hotel, and heard the amazing story which Erskine and Castellan had to tell, and had read their report, and the evidence of the men who had also seen the strange apparition which had leapt from the sea into the air, and then returned to the waters, he put in a few moments of silent thinking, and then he looked up, and said gravely:

“Well, gentlemen, I know that British naval officers and British seamen don't see things that are not there, as the Russians did a few years ago on the Dogger Bank. I am of course bound to believe you, and I think they will do the same in London. You have taken a very irregular course; but a man who is not prepared to do that at a pinch seldom does anything else. I have seen and heard enough to convince me for the present; and so I shall have great pleasure, in fact I shall only be doing my duty, in giving you both leave for a week.

“I will order the Seagull up from Hull, she's about ready, and I think I can put an Acting-Commander on board the Cormorant for the present. Now, you will just have time for an early lunch with me, and catch the 1.17, which will get you to town at 5.15, and you will probably find somebody at the Admiralty then, because I know they're working overtime. Anyhow, if you don't find Sir John Fisher there, I should go straight to his house, if I were you; and even if you don't see him, you'll be able to get an early appointment for to-morrow.”

“That was a pretty good slice of luck meeting the noble Crocker, wasn't it?” said Castellan, as the train began to move out of the station, about three hours later. They had reserved a compartment in the corridor express, and were able to talk State secrets at their ease.

“We're inside the law now, at any rate.”

“Law or no law, it was good enough to risk a court-martial for,” said Erskine, biting off the end of a cigar. “There's no doubt about the existence of the thing, and if it doesn't belong to us, which is a fact that only my Lords of the Naval Council can know, it simply means, as you must see for yourself, that the invasion of England, which has been a naval and military impossibility for the last seven hundred years or so, will not only become possible but comparatively easy. There's nothing upon the waters or under them that could stand against a thing like that.”

“Oh, you're right enough there,” said Castellan, speaking with his soft West of Ireland brogue. “There's no doubt of that, and it's the very devil. A dozen of those things would play havoc with a whole fleet, and when the fleet's gone, or even badly hurt, what's to stop our good friends over yonder landing two or three million men just anywhere they choose, and doing pretty well what they like afterwards? By the Saints, that would be a horrible thing. We've nothing on land that could stand against them, though, of course, the boys would stand till they fell down; but fall they would.”

“Yes,” said Erskine, seriously. “It wouldn't exactly be a walk over for them, but I'm afraid there couldn't be very much doubt at the end, if the fleet once went.”

“I'm afraid not,” replied Castellan, “and we can only hope that our Lords of the Council will be of the same opinion, or, better still, that the infernal thing we saw belongs to us.”

“I hope so,” said Erskine, gravely. “If it doesn't—well, I wouldn't give half-a-crown for the biggest battleship in the British Navy.”

Chapter IV — The Shadow Of The Terror


BY a curious coincidence which, as events proved, was to have some serious consequences, almost at the same moment that Commander Erskine began to write his report on the strange vision which he and his Lieutenant had seen, Gilbert Lennard came out of the Observatory which Mr Ratliffe Parmenter had built on the south of the Whernside Hills in Yorkshire.

Mr Ratliffe Parmenter had two ambitions in life, one of which he had fulfilled. This was to pile millions upon millions by any possible means. As he used to say to his associates in his poorer days, “You've got to get there somehow, so get there ”—and he had “got there.” It is not necessary for the purpose of the present narrative to say how he did it. He had done it, and that is why he bought the Hill of Whernside and about a thousand acres around it and built an Observatory on the top with which, to use his own words, he meant to lick Creation by seeing further into Creation than anyone else had done, and that is just what his great reflector had enabled his astronomer to do.

When he had locked the door Lennard looked up to the eastward where the morning star hung flashing like a huge diamond in splendid solitude against the brightening background of the sky. His face was the face of a man who had seen something that he would not like to describe to any other man. His features were hard set, and there were lines in his face which time might have drawn twenty or thirty years later. His lips made a straight line, and his eyes, although he had hardly slept three hours a night for as many nights, had a look in them that was not to be accounted for by ordinary insomnia.

His work was over for the night, and, if he chose, he could go down to the house three-quarters of a mile away and sleep for the rest of the day, or, at any rate, until lunch time; and yet he looked another long look at the morning star, thrust his hands down into his trousers pockets and turned up a side path that led through the heather, and spent the rest of the morning walking and thinking—walking slowly, and thinking very quickly.

When he came in to breakfast at nine the next morning after he had had a shave and a bath, Mr Parmenter said to him:

“Look here, young man, I'm old enough to be your father, and so you'll excuse me putting it that way; if you're going along like this I reckon I'll have to shut that Observatory down for the time being and take you on a trip to the States to see how they're getting on with their telescopes in the Alleghanies and the Rockies, and maybe down South too in Peru, to that Harvard Observatory above Arequipa on the Misti, as a sort of holiday. I asked you to come here to work, not to wear yourself out. As I've told you before, we've got plenty of men in the States who can sign their cheques for millions of dollars and can't eat a dinner, to say nothing of a breakfast, and you're too young for that.

“What's the matter? More trouble about that new comet of yours. You've been up all night looking at it, haven't you? Of course it's all right that you got hold of it before anybody else, but all the same I don't want you to be worrying yourself for nothing and get laid up before the time comes to take the glory of the discovery.”

While he was speaking the door of the breakfast-room opened and Auriole came in. She looked with a just perceptible admiration at the man who, as it seemed to her, was beginning to show a slight stoop in the broad shoulders and a little falling forward of the head which she had first seen driving through the water to her rescue in the Bay of Connemara. Her eyelids lifted a shade as she looked at him, and she said with a half smile:

“Good morning, Mr Lennard; I am afraid you've been sacrificing yourself a little bit too much to science. You don't seem to have had a sleep for the last two or three nights. You've been blinding your eyes over those tangles of figures and equations, parallaxes and cube roots and that sort of thing. I know something about them because I had some struggles with them myself at Vassar.”

“That's about it, Auriole,” said her father. “Just what I've been saying; and I hope our friend is not going on with this kind of business too long. Now, really, Mr Lennard, you know you must not, and that's all there is to it.”

“Oh, no, I don't think you need be frightened of anything of that sort,” said Lennard, who had considerably brightened up as Auriole entered the room; “perhaps I may have been going a little too long without sleep; but, you see, a man who has the great luck to discover a new comet is something like one of the old navigators who discovered new islands and continents. Of course you remember the story of Columbus. When he thought he was going to find what is now the country which has had the honour—”

“I know you're going to say something nice, Mr Lennard,” interrupted Auriole, “but breakfast is ready; here it comes. If you take my advice you will have your coffee and something to eat and tell us the rest of it while you're getting something that will do you good. What do you think, Poppa?”

“Hard sense, Auriole, hard sense. Your mother used to talk just like that, and I reckon you've got it from her. Well now, here's the food, let's begin. I've got a hunger on me that I'd have wanted five dollars to stop at the time when I couldn't buy a breakfast.”

They sat down, Miss Auriole at the head of the table and her father and Lennard facing each other, and for the next few minutes there was a semi-silence which was very well employed in the commencement of one of the most important functions of the human day.

When Mr Parmenter had got through his first cup of coffee, his two poached eggs on toast, and was beginning on the fish, he looked across the table and said:

“Well now, Mr Lennard, I guess you're feeling a bit better, as I do, and so, maybe, you can tell us something new about comets.”

“I certainly am feeling better,” said Lennard with a glance at Auriole, “but, you see, I've got into a state of mind which is not unlike the physical state of the Red Indian who starves for a few days and then takes his meals, I mean the arrears of meals, all at once. When I have had a good long sleep, as I am going to have until to-night, I might—in fact, I hope I shall be able to tell you something definite about the question of the comet.”

“What—the question?” echoed Mr Parmenter. “About the comet? I didn't understand that there was any question. You have discovered it, haven't you?”

“I have made a certain discovery, Mr Parmenter,” said Lennard, with a gravity which made Auriole raise her eyelids quickly, “but whether I have found a comet so far unknown to astronomy or not, is quite another matter. Thanks to that splendid instrument of yours, I have found a something in a part of the heavens where no comet, not even a star, has even been seen yet, and, speaking in all seriousness, I may say that this discovery contradicts all calculations as to the orbits and velocities of any known comet. That is what I have been thinking about all night.”

“What?” said Auriole, looking up again. “Really something quite unknown?”

“Unknown except to the three people sitting at this table, unless another miracle has happened—I mean such a one as happened in the case of the discovery of Neptune which, as of course you know, Adams at Cambridge and Le Verrier at Paris—”

“Yes, yes,” said Auriole, “two men who didn't know each other; both looked for something that couldn't be seen, and found it. If you've done anything like that, Mr Lennard, I reckon Poppa will have good cause to be proud of his reflector—”

“And of the man behind it,” added her father. “A telescope's like a gun; no use without a good man behind it. Well, if that's so, Mr Lennard, this discovery of yours ought to shake the world up a bit.”

“From what I have seen so far,” replied Lennard, “I have not the slightest doubt that it will.”

“And when may I see this wonderful discovery of yours, Mr Lennard,” said Auriole, “this something which is going to be so important, this something that no one else's eyes have seen except yours. Really, you know, you've made me quite longing to get a sight of this stranger from the outer wilderness of space.”

“If the night is clear enough, I may hope to be able to introduce you to the new celestial visitor about a quarter-past eleven to-night, or to be quite accurate eleven hours, sixteen minutes and thirty-nine seconds p.m.”

“I think that's good enough, Auriole,” said her father. “If the heavens are only kind enough, we'll go up to the observatory and, as Mr Lennard says, see something that no one else has ever seen.”

“And then,” laughed Auriole, “I suppose you will have achieved the second ambition of your life. You have already piled up a bigger heap of dollars than anybody else in the world, and by midnight you will have seen farther into Creation than anybody else. But you will let me have the first look, won't you?”

“Why, certainly,” he replied. “As soon as Mr Lennard has got the telescope fixed, you go first, and I reckon that won't take very long.”

“No,” replied Lennard, “I've worked out the position for to-night, and it's only a matter of winding up the clockwork and setting the telescope. And now,” he continued, rising, “if you will allow me, I will say—well, I was going to say good-night, but of course it's good morning—I'm going to bed.”

“Will you come down to lunch, or shall I have some sent up to you?” said Auriole.

“No, thanks. I don't think there will be any need to trouble you about that. When I once get to sleep, I hope I shall forget all things earthly, and heavenly too for the matter of that, until about six o'clock, and if you will have me called then, I will be ready for dinner.”

“Certainly,” replied Auriole, “and I hope you will sleep as well as you deserve to do, after all these nights of watching.”

He did sleep. He slept the sleep of a man physically and mentally tired, in spite of the load of unspeakable anxiety which was weighing upon his mind. For during his last night's work, he had learnt what no other man in the world knew. He had learnt that, unless a miracle happened, or some almost superhuman feat of ingenuity and daring was accomplished, that day thirteen months hence would see the annihilation of every living thing on earth, and the planet Terra converted into a dark and lifeless orb, a wilderness drifting through space, the blackened and desolated sepulchre of the countless millions of living beings which now inhabited it.

Chapter V — A Glimpse Of The Moon


AFTER dinner Lennard excused himself, saying that he wanted to make a few more calculations; and then he got outside and lit his pipe, and walked up the winding path towards the observatory.

“What am I to do?” he said between his teeth. “It's a ghastly position for a man to be placed in. Fancy—just a poor, ordinary, human being like myself having the power of losing or saving the world in his hands! And then, of course, there's a woman in the question—the Eternal Feminine—even in such a colossal problem as this!

“It's mean, and I know it; but, after all, I saved her life—though, if I hadn't reached her first, that other chap might have got her. I love her and he loves her; there's no doubt about that, and Papa Parmenter wants to marry her to a coronet. There's one thing certain, Castellan shall not have her, and I love her a lot too much to see her made My Lady This, or the Marchioness of So-and-so, just because she's beautiful and has millions, and the other fellow, whoever he may be, may have a coronet that probably wants re-gilding; and yet, after all, it's only the same old story in a rather more serious form—a woman against the world. I suppose Papa Parmenter would show me the door to-morrow morning if I, a poor explorer of the realm of Space, dared to tell him that I want to marry his daughter.

“And yet how miserable and trivial all these wretched distinctions of wealth and position look now; or would look if the world only knew and believed what I could tell it—and that reminds me—shall I tell her, or them? Of course, I must before long; simply because in a month or so those American fellows will be on it, and they won't have any scruples when it comes to a matter of scare head-lines. Yes, I think it may as well be to-night as any other time. Still, it's a pretty awful thing for a humble individual like myself to say, especially to a girl one happens to be very much in love with—nothing less than the death-sentence of Humanity. Ah, well, she's got to hear it some time and from some one, and why shouldn't she hear it now and from me?”

When he got back to the house, there was a carriage at the door, and Mr Parmenter was just coming down the avenue, followed by a man with a small portmanteau in his hand.

“Sorry, Mr Lennard,” he said, holding out his hand, “I've just had a wire about a company tangle in London that I've got to go and shake out at once, so I'll have to see what you have to show me later on. Still, that needn't trouble anyone. It looks as if it were going to be a splendid night for star-gazing, and I don't want Auriole disappointed, so she can go up to the observatory with you at the proper time and see what there is to be seen. See you later, I have only just about time to get the connection for London.”

Lennard was not altogether sorry that this accident had happened. Naturally, the prospect of an hour or so with Auriole alone in his temple of Science was very pleasant, and moreover, he felt that, as the momentous tidings had to be told, he would prefer to tell them to her first. And so it came about.

A little after half-past eleven that night Miss Auriole was looking wonderingly into the eye-piece of the great Reflector, watching a tiny little patch of mist, somewhat brighter towards one end than the other; like a little wisp of white smoke rising from a very faint spark that was apparently floating across an unfathomable sea of darkness.

She seemed to see this through black darkness, and behind it a swarm of stars of all sizes and colours. They appeared very much more wonderful and glorious and important than the little spray of white smoke, because she hadn't yet the faintest conception of its true import to her and every other human being on earth: but she was very soon to know now.

While she was watching it in breathless silence, in which the clicking of the mechanism which kept the great telescope moving so as to exactly counteract the motion of the machinery of the Universe, sounded like the blows of a sledge-hammer on an anvil, Gilbert Lennard stood beside her, wondering if he should begin to tell her, and what he should say.

At last she turned away from the eye-piece, and looked at him with something like a scared expression in her eyes, and said:

“It's very wonderful, isn't it, that one should be able to see all that just by looking into a little bit of a hole in a telescope? And you tell me that all those great big bright stars around your comet are so far away—that if you look at them just with your own eyes you don't even see them—and there they look almost as if you could put out your hand and touch them. It's just a little bit awful, too!” she added, with a little shiver.

“Yes,” he said, speaking slowly and even more gravely that she thought the subject warranted, “yes, it is both wonderful and, in a way, awful. Do you know that some of those stars you have seen in there are so far away that the light which you see them by may have left them when Solomon was king in Jerusalem? They may be quite dead and dark now, or reduced into fire-mist by collision with some other star. And then, perhaps, there are others behind them again so far away that their light has not even reached us yet, and may never do while there are human eyes on earth to see it.”

“Yes, I know,” she said, smiling. “You don't forget that I have been to college—and light travels about a hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second, doesn't it? But come, Mr Lennard, aren't you what they call stretching the probabilities a little when you say that the light of some of them will never get here, as far as we're concerned? I always thought we had a few million years of life to look forward to before this old world of ours gets worn out.”

“There are other ends possible for this world besides wearing out, Miss Parmenter,” he answered, this time almost solemnly. “Other worlds have, as I say, been reduced to fire-mist. Some have been shattered to tiny fragments to make asteroids and meteorites—stars and worlds, in comparison with which this bit of a planet of ours is nothing more than a speck of sand, a mere atom of matter drifting over the wilderness of immensity. In fact, such a trifle is it in the organism of the Universe, that if some celestial body collided with it—say a comet with a sufficiently solid nucleus—and the heat developed by the impact turned it into a mass of blazing gas; an astronomer on Neptune, one of our own planets, wouldn't even notice the accident, unless he happened to be watching the earth through a powerful telescope at the time.”

“And is such an accident, as you call it, possible, Mr Lennard?” she asked, jumping womanlike, by a sort of unconscious intuition, to the very point to which he was so clumsily trying to lead up.

“I thought you spoke rather queerly about this comet of yours at breakfast this morning. I hope there isn't any chance of its getting on to the same track as this terrestrial locomotive of ours. That would be just awful, wouldn't it? Why, what's the matter? You are going to be ill, I know. You had better get down to the house, and go to bed. It's want of sleep, isn't it? You'll be driving yourself mad that way.”

A sudden and terrible change had come over him while she was speaking. It was only for the moment, and yet to him it was an eternity. It might, as she said, have been the want of sleep, for insomnia plays strange tricks sometimes with the strongest of intellects.

More probably, it might have been the horror of his secret working on the great love that he had for this girl who was sitting there alone with him in the silence of that dim room and in the midst of the glories and the mysteries of the Universe.

His eyes had grown fixed and staring, and looked sightlessly at her, and his face shone ghastly pale in the dim light of the solitary shaded lamp. Certainly, one of those mysterious crises which are among the unsolved secrets of psychology had come upon him like some swift access of delirium.

He no longer saw her sitting there by the telescope, calm, gracious, and beautiful. He saw her as, by his pitiless calculations, he must do that day thirteen months to come—with her soft grey eyes, starting, horror-driven from their orbits, staring blank and wide and hideous at the overwhelming hell that would be falling down from heaven upon the devoted earth. He saw her fresh young face withered and horror-lined and old, and the bright brown hair grown grey with the years that would pass in those few final moments. He saw the sweet red lips which had tempted him so often to wild thoughts parched and black, wide open and gasping vainly for the breath of life in a hot, burnt-out atmosphere.

Then he saw—no, it was only a glimpse; and with that the strange trance-vision ended. What must have come after that would in all certainty have driven him mad there and then, before his work had even begun; but at that moment, swiftly severing the darkness that was falling over his soul, there came to him an idea, bright, luminous, and lovely as an inspiration from Heaven itself, and with it came back the calm sanity of the sternly-disciplined intellect, prepared to contemplate, not only the destruction of the world he lived in, but even the loss of the woman he loved—the only human being who could make the world beautiful or even tolerable for him.

The vision was blotted out from the sight of his soul; the darkness cleared away from his eyes, and he saw her again as she still was. It had all passed in a few moments and yet in them he had been down into hell—and he had come back to earth, and into her presence.

Almost by the time she had uttered her last word, he had regained command of his voice, and he began clearly and quietly to answer the question which was still echoing through the chambers of his brain.

“It was only a little passing faintness, thank you; and something else which you will understand when I have done, if you have patience to hear me to the end,” he said, looking straight at her for a moment, and then beginning to walk slowly up and down the room past her chair.

“I am going to surprise you, perhaps to frighten you, and very probably to offend you deeply,” he began again in a quiet, dry sort of tone, which somehow impressed her against all her convictions that he didn't much care whether or not he did any or all of these things: but there was something else in his tone and manner which held her to her seat, silent and attentive, although she was conscious of a distinct desire to get up and run away.

“Your guess about the comet, or whatever it may prove to be, is quite correct. I don't think it is a new one. From what I have seen of it so far, I have every reason to believe that it is Gambert's comet, which was discovered in 1826, and became visible to the naked eye in the autumn of 1833. It then crossed the orbit of the earth one month after the earth had passed the point of intersection. After that, some force divided it, and in '46 and '52 it reappeared as twin comets constantly separating; Now it would seem that the two masses have come together again: and as they are both larger in bulk and greater in density it would appear that, somewhere in the distant fields of Space, they have united with some other and denser body. The result is, that what is practically a new comet, with a much denser nucleus than any so far seen, is approaching our system. Unless a miracle happens, or there is a practically impossible error in my calculations, it will cross the orbit of the earth thirteen months from to-day, at the moment that the earth itself arrives at the point of intersection.”

So far Auriole had listened to the stiff scientific phraseology with more interest than alarm; but now she took advantage of a little pause, and said:

“And the consequences, Mr Lennard? I mean the consequences to us as living beings. You may as well tell me everything now that you've gone so far.”

“I am going to,” he said, stopping for a moment in his walk, “and I am going to tell you something more than that. Granted that what I have said happens, one of two things must follow. If the nucleus of the comet is solid enough to pass through our atmosphere without being dissipated, it will strike the surface with so much force that both it and the earth will probably be transformed into fiery vapour by the conversion of the motion of the two bodies into heat. If not, its contact with the oxygen of the earth's atmosphere will produce an aerial conflagration which, if it does not roast alive every living thing on earth, will convert the oxygen, by combustion, into an irrespirable and poisonous gas, and so kill us by a slower, but no less fatal, process.”

“Horrible!” she said, shivering this time. “You speak like a judge pronouncing sentence of death on the whole human race! I suppose there is no possibility of reprieve? Well, go on!”

“Yes,” he said, “there is something else. Those are the scientific facts, as far as they go. I am going to tell you the chances now—and something more. There is just one chance—one possible way of averting universal ruin from the earth, and substituting for it nothing more serious than an unparalleled display of celestial fireworks. All that will be necessary is perfect calculation and illimitable expenditure of money.”

“Well,” she said, “can't you do the calculations, Mr Lennard, and hasn't dad got millions enough? How could he spend them better than in saving the human race from being burnt alive? There isn't anything else, is there?”

“There was something else,” he said, stopping in front of her again. She had risen to her feet as she said the last words, and the two stood facing each other in the dim light, while the mechanism of the telescope kept on clicking away in its heedless, mechanical fashion.

“Yes, there was something else, and I may as well tell you after all; for, even if you never see or speak to me again, it won't stop the work being done now. I could have kept this discovery to myself till it would have been too late to do anything: for no other telescope without my help would even find the comet for four months to come, and even now there is hardly a day to be lost if the work is to be done in time. And then—well, I suppose I must have gone mad for the time being, for I thought you will hardly believe me, I suppose—that I could make you the price of the world's safety.

“From that, you will see how much I have loved you, however mad I may have been. Losing you, I would have lost the world with you. If my love lives, I thought, the world shall live: if not, if you die, the world shall die. But just now, when you thought I was taken ill, I had a sort of vision, and I saw you,—yes, you, Aurioie as, if my one chance fails, you must infallibly be this night thirteen months hence. I didn't see any of the other millions who would be choking and gasping for breath and writhing in the torture of the universal fire—I only saw you and my own baseness in thinking, even for a moment, that such a bargain would be possible.

“And then,” he went on, more slowly, and with a different ring in his voice, “there are the other men.”

“Which other men?” she asked, looking up at him with a flush on her cheeks and a gleam in her eyes.

“To be quite frank, and in such a situation as this, I don't see that anything but complete candour is of any use,” he replied slowly. “I need hardly tell you that they are John Castellan and the Marquis of Westerham. Castellan, I know, has loved you just as I have done, from the moment we had the good luck to pick you out of the bay at Clifden. Lord Westerham also wants you, so do I. That, put plainly, brutally, if you like, is the situation. Of your own feelings, of course, I do not pretend to have the remotest idea; but I confess that when this knowledge came to me, the first thought that crossed my mind was the thought of you as another man's wife—and then came the vision of the world in flames. At first I chose the world in flames. I see that I was wrong. That is all.”

She had not interrupted even by a gesture, but as she listened, a thousand signs and trifles which alone had meant nothing to her, now seemed to come together and make one clear and definite revelation. This strong, reserved, silent man had all the time loved her so desperately that he was going mad about her—so mad that, as he had said, he had even dreamed of weighing the possession of her single, insignificant self against the safety of the whole world, with all its innumerable millions of people—mostly as good in their way as she was.

Well it might be that the love of such a man was a thing worth to weigh even against a coronet not in her eyes, for there was no question of that now, but in her father's. But that was a matter for future consideration. She drew herself up a little stiffly, and said, in just such a tone as she might have used if what he had just been saying had had no personal interest for her—had, in fact, been about some other girl:

“I think it's about time to be going down to the house, Mr Lennard, isn't it? I am quite sure a night's rest won't do you any harm. No, I'm not offended, and I don't think I'm even frightened yet. It somehow seems too big and too awful a thing to be only frightened at—too much like the Day of Judgment, you know. I am glad you've told me—yes, everything—and I'm glad that what you call your madness is over. You will be able to do your work in saving the world all the better. Only don't tell dad anything except—well—just the scientific and necessary part of it. You know, saving a world is a very much greater matter than winning a woman—at least it is in one particular woman's eyes—and I've learnt somewhere in mathematics something about the greater including the less. And now, don't you think we had better be going down into the house? It's getting quite late.”

Chapter VI — The Note Of War


THE Official Gazette, published November the 25th, 1909, contained the following announcement:—

“Naval Promotions. Lieutenant-Commander Francis Erskine, of H.M. Fishery Cruiser Cormorant, to be Captain of H.M. Cruiser Ithuriel. Lieutenant Denis Castellan, also of the Cormorant, to be First Lieutenant of the Ithuriel.”

On the evening of the same day, Mr Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, rose amidst the tense silence of a crowded House to make another announcement, which was not altogether unconnected with the notice in the Gazette.

“Sir,” he said in a low, but vibrant and penetrating voice, which many years before had helped to make his fame as an orator, “it is my painful duty to inform this honourable House that a state of war exists between His Majesty and a Confederation of European countries, including Germany, Russia, France, Spain, Holland and Belgium.”

He paused for a moment, and looked round at the hundreds of faces, most of them pale and fixed, that were turned toward the front Treasury Bench. Since Mr Balfour, now Lord Whittinghame, and Leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords, had made his memorable speech on the 12th of October 1899, informing the House of Commons and the world that the Ultimatum of the South African Republic had been rejected, and that the struggle for the mastery of South Africa was inevitable, no such momentous announcement had been made in the House of Commons.

Mr Chamberlain referred to that bygone crisis in the following terms:

“It will be within the memory of many Members of this House that, almost exactly ten years ago to-day, the British Empire was challenged to fight for the supremacy of South Africa. That challenge was accepted not because there was any desire on the part of the Government or the people of this country to destroy the self-government of what were then the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, but because the Government of her late Majesty, Queen Victoria, knew that the fate of an empire, however great, depends upon its supremacy throughout its dominions.

“To lose one of these, however small and apparently insignificant, is to take a stone out of an arch with the result of inevitable collapse of the whole structure. It is not necessary for me, sir, to make any further allusion to that struggle, save than to say that the policy of Her Majesty's Ministers has been completely justified by the consequences which have followed from it.

“The Transvaal and Orange River Colonies have taken their place among the other self-governing Colonies of the Empire. They are prosperous, contented and loyal, and they will not be the last, I think, to come to the help of the Mother Country in such a crisis as this. But, sir, I do not think that I should be fulfilling the duties of the responsible position which I have the honour to occupy if I did not remind this House, and through this House the citizens of the British Empire, that the present crisis is infinitely more serious than that with which we were faced in 1899. Then we were waging a war in another hemisphere, six thousand miles away. Our unconquered, and, as I hope it will prove, unconquerable Navy, kept the peace of the world, and policed the ocean highways along which it was necessary for our ships to travel. It is true that there were menaces and threats heard in many quarters, but they never passed beyond the region of insult and calumny.

“Our possible enemies then, our actual enemies now, were in those days willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike. To-day, they have lost their fear in the confidence of combination. To-day the war cloud is not six thousand miles away in the southern hemisphere; it is here, in Europe, and a strip of water, twenty-one miles broad, separates us from the enemy, which, even as I am speaking, may already be knocking at our gates. Even now, the thunder of the guns may be echoing along the shores of the English Channel.

“This, sir, is a war in which I might venture to say the most ardent member of the Peace Society would not hesitate to engage. For it involves the most sacred duty of humanity, the defence of our country, and our homes.

“We remember, sir, the words which Francis Drake wrote, and which have remained true from his day until now: 'The frontiers of an island country are the coasts of its possible enemies.' We remember also that when the great Napoleon had massed nearly half a million men on the heights above Boulogne, and more than a thousand pontoons were waiting to carry that force to the Kentish shore, there was only one old English frigate cruising up and down the Straits of Dover.

“Sir, there is on the heights of Boulogne a monument, built to commemorate the assembly of the Grand Army, and collectors of coins still cherish those productions of the Paris Mint, which bear the legend, 'Napoleon, Emperor, London, 1804.' But, sir, the statue of Napoleon which stands on the summit of that monument faces not westward but eastward. The Grand Army could have crossed that narrow strip of water. It could, no doubt, have made a landing on British soil, but Napoleon, possibly the greatest military genius the world has ever seen, anticipated Field-Marshal von Moltke, who said that he had found eight ways of getting into England, but he had not found one of getting out again, unless it were possible to pump the North Sea dry, and march the men over. In other words, sir, the British Navy was then, as now, paramount on seas; the oceans were our territories, and the coasts of Europe our frontiers.

“Again, sir, we must not forget that those were the days of sails, and that these are the days of steam. What was then a matter of days is now only a matter of hours. It is two hundred and forty-two years since the sound of hostile guns was heard in the city of London. Tomorrow morning their thunder may awaken us.

“It has been said, sir, that Great Britain plays the game of Diplomacy with her cards face upwards on the table. That, in a sense, is true, and His Majesty's Government propose to play the same game now. The demands which have been presented by the Federation of European Powers, at the head of which stands the German Emperor—demands which, it is hardly necessary for me to say, were instantly rejected—are these: That Gibraltar shall be given back to Spain; that Malta shall be dismantled, and cease to be a British naval base; that the British occupation of Egypt and the Soudan shall cease, and that the Suez Canal and the Trans-Continental Railway from Cairo to the Cape shall be handed over to the control of an International Board, upon which the British Empire will be graciously allowed one representative.

“It is further demanded that Singapore, the Gate of the East, shall be placed under the control of the same International Board, and that the fortifications of Hong Kong shall be demolished. That, sir, would amount to the surrender of the British Empire, an empire which can only exist as long as the ocean paths between its various portions are kept inviolate.

“Those proposals, sir, in plain English are threats, and His Majesty's Government has returned the only possible answer to them, and that answer is war—war, let us remember, which may within a few weeks, or even days, be brought to our own doors. Whatever our enemies may have said of us it is still true that Britain stands for peace, security, and prosperity. We have used the force of arms to conquer the forces of barbarism and semi-civilisation, but the most hostile of our critics may be safely challenged to point to any country or province upon which we have imposed the Pax Britannica, which is not now the better for it. It is no idle boast, sir, to say that all the world over, the rule of His Majesty means the rule of peace and prosperity. There are only two causes in which a nation or an empire may justly go to war. One, is to make peace where strife was before, and the other is to defend that which has been won, and made secure by patient toil and endeavour, no less than by blood and suffering. It is that which the challenge of Europe calls upon us now to defend. Our answer to the leagued nations is this: What we have fought for and worked for and won is ours. Take it from us if you can.

“And, sir, I believe that I can say with perfect confidence, that what His Majesty's Government has done His Majesty's subjects will enforce to a man, and, if necessary, countersign the declaration of war in their own blood.

“Let us remember, too, those weighty words of warning which the Laureate of the Empire wrote nearly twenty years ago, of this Imperial inheritance of ours:”

“'It is not made with the mountains, it is not one with the deep.

Men, not gods, devised it, men, not gods, must keep.

Men not children, servants, or kinsfolk called from afar.

But each man born in the island broke to the matter of war.

So ye shall bide, sure-guarded, when the restless lightnings wake.

In the boom of the blotting war-cloud, and the pallid nations quake.

So, at the haggard trumpets, instant your soul shall leap.

Forthright, accoutred, accepting—alert from the wails of sleep.

So at the threat ye shall summon—so at the need ye shall send

Men, not children, or servants, tempered and taught to the end.'”

“Sir, it has been said that poets are prophets. The hour of the fulfilment of that prophecy has now come, and I shall be much mistaken in my estimate of the temper of my countrymen and fellow-subjects of His Majesty here in Britain, and in the greater Britains over sea, if, granted the possibility of an armed invasion of the Motherland, every man, soldier or civilian, who is able to use a rifle, will not, if necessary, use it in the defence of his country and his home.”

The Prime Minister sat down amid absolute silence. The tremendous possibilities which he had summed up in his brief speech seemed to have stunned his hearers for the time being. Some members said afterwards that they could hear their own watches ticking. Then Mr John Redmond, the Leader of the Irish Nationalist Party, rose and said, in a slow, and deliberate voice, which contrasted strikingly with his usual style of oratory:

“Sir, this is not a time for what has been with a certain amount of double-meaning described as Parliamentary speeches. Still less is it a time for party or for racial differences. The silence in which this House has received the speech of the Prime Minister is the most eloquent tribute that could be paid to the solemnity of his utterances. But, sir, I have a reason for calling attention to one omission in that speech, an omission which may have been made purposely. The last time that a foeman's foot trod British soil was not eight hundred years ago. It was in December 1796 that French soldiers and sailors landed on the shores of Bantry Bay. Sir, the Ireland of those days was discontented, and, if you please to call it so, disloyal. There are those who say she is so now, but, sir, whatever our domestic difficulties and quarrels may be, and however much I and the party which I have the honour to lead may differ from the home policy of the Right Honourable gentleman who has made this momentous pronouncement, it shall not be said that any of those difficulties or differences will be taken advantage of by any man who is worth the name of Irishman.

“As the Prime Minister has told us, the thunder of the enemy's guns may even now be echoing along our southern coasts. We have, I hope, learnt a little wisdom on both sides of the Irish Sea during the last twenty years, and this time, sir, I think I can promise that, while the guns are talking, there shall be no sound of dispute on party matters in this House as far as we are concerned. From this moment, the Irish Nationalist Party, as such, ceases to exist, at any rate until the war's over.

“In 1796, the French fleet carrying the invading force was scattered over the seas by one of the worst storms that ever was known on the west coast of Ireland. As Queen Elizabeth's medal said of the Spanish Armada, 'God blew, and they were scattered.' With God's help, sir, we will scatter these new enemies who threaten us with invasion and conquest. Henceforth, there must be no more Englishmen, Irishmen, Scotchmen, or Welshmen. We are just subjects of the King, and inhabitants of the British Islands; and the man who does not believe that, and act upon his belief, should get out of these islands as soon as he can, for he isn't fit to live in them.

“I remember, sir, a car-driver in Galway, who was taking an English tourist—and he was a politician as well—around the country about that half-ruined city. The English tourist was inquiring into the troubles of Ireland, and he asked him what was the greatest affliction that Ireland suffered from, and when he answered him he described just the sort of Irishman who won't be wanted in Ireland now. He said, 'It's the absentee landlords, your honour. This unfortunate country is absolutely swarming with them.'”

It was an anti-climax such as only an Irishman could have achieved. The tension which had held every nerve of every member on the stretch while the Prime Minister was speaking was broken. The Irish members, almost to a man, jumped to their feet, as Mr Redmond picked up his hat, waved it round his head, and said, in a tone which rang clear and true through the crowded Chamber:

“God save the King!”

And then for the first time in its history, the House of Commons rose and sang the National Anthem.

There was no division that night. The Prime Minister formally put the motion for the voting of such credit as might be necessary to meet the expenses of the war, and when the Speaker put the question, Ay or Nay, every member stood up bareheaded, and a deep-voiced, thunderous “Ay” told the leagued nations of Europe that Britain had accepted their challenge.

Chapter VII — Caught!


THE events of that memorable night formed a most emphatic contradiction to the prophecy in Macaulay's “Armada”

“Such night in England ne'er had been, nor e'er again shall be.”

The speeches in the House of Commons and in the House of Peers were being printed even as they were spoken; hundreds of printing-presses were grinding out millions of copies of newspapers. Thousands of newsboys were running along the pavements, or with great bags of new editions slung on their shoulders tearing through the traffic on bicycles; but all the speeches in the two Houses of Parliament, all the reports and hurriedly-written leaders in the papers just represented to the popular mind one word, and that word was war.

It was true that for over a hundred years no year had passed in which the British Empire had not been engaged in a war of some kind, but they were wars waged somewhere in the outlands of the earth. To the stop-at-home man in the street they were rather more matters of latitude and longitude than battle, murder, and sudden death. The South African War, and even the terrible struggle between Russia and Japan, were already memories drifting out of sight in the rush of the headlong current of twentieth-century life.

But this was quite another matter; here was war—not war that was being waged thousands of miles away in another hemisphere or on another side of the globe—but war within twenty-one miles of English land—within two or three hours, as it were, of every Englishman's front door.

This went home to every man who had a home, or who possessed anything worth living for. It was not now a case of sending soldiers, militia and yeomanry away in transports, and cheering them as they went. Not now, as Kipling too truly had said of the fight for South Africa:

“When your strong men cheered in their millions, while your striplings went to the war.”

Now it was the turn of the strong men; the turn of every man who had the strength and courage to fight in defence of all that was nearest and dearest to him.

As yet there was no excitement. At every theatre and every music-hall in London and the great provincial cities and towns, the performances were stopped as soon as the news was received by telegraph. The managers read the news from the stage, the orchestras played the first bar of the National Anthem, the audiences rose to their feet, and all over the British Islands millions of voices sang “God save the King,” and then, obeying some impulse, which seemed to have inspired the whole land, burst into the triumphant psalm of “Rule Britannia.”

And when the theatres and music-halls closed, men and women went on their way home quietly discussing the tremendous tidings which had been officially announced. There was no attempt at demonstration, there was very little cheering. It was too serious a matter for that. The men and women of Britain were thinking, not about what they should say, but about what they should do. There was no time for shouting, for to-morrow, perhaps even to-night, the guns would be talking—“The drumming guns which have no doubts.”

The House rose at half-past eleven, and at ten minutes to twelve Lieutenant Denis Castellan, came into the smoking-room of the Keppel's Head Hotel, Portsmouth, with a copy of the last edition of the Southern Evening News in his hand, and said to Captain Erskine:

“It's all right, my boy. It's war, and you've got the Ithuriel. Your own ship, too. Designer, creator, captain; and I'm your First Luff.”

“I think that's about good enough for a bottle of the best, Castellan,” said Erskine, in the quiet tone in which the officer of the finest Service in the world always speaks. “Touch the button, will you?”

As Denis Castellan put his finger on the button of the electric bell, a man got up from an armchair on the opposite side of the room, and said, as he came towards the table at which Erskine was sitting:

“You will pardon me, I hope, if I introduce myself without the usual formalities. My name is Gilbert Lennard.”

“Then, I take it, you're the man who swam that race with my brother John, in Clifden Bay, when Miss Parmenter was thrown out of her skiff. But he's no brother of mine now. He's sold himself to the Germans, and,” he continued, suddenly lowering his voice almost to a whisper, “come up to my room, we'll have the bottle there, and Mr Lennard will join us. Yes, waiter, you can take it up to No. 24, we can't talk here,” he went on in a louder tone. “There's a German spy in the room, and by the piper that was supposed to play before Moses, if he's here when I come back, I'll throw him out.”

Everyone in the smoking-room looked up. Castellan walked out, looking at a fair-haired, clean-shaven little man, sitting at a table in the right-hand corner of the room from the door. He also looked up, and glanced vacantly about the room; then as the three went out, he took a sip of the whisky and soda beside him, and looked back on to the paper that he was reading.

“Who's that chap?” asked Erskine, as they went upstairs.

“I'll tell you when we're a bit more to ourselves,” replied Castellan; and when they had got into his sitting-room, and the waiter had brought the wine, he locked the door, and said:

“That is Staff-Captain Count Karl von Eckstein, of the German Imperial Navy, and also of His Majesty, the Kaiser's, Secret Service. He knows a little more than we do about every dockyard and fort on the South Coast, to say nothing of the ships. That's his district, and thanks to the most obliging kindness of the British authorities he has made very good use of it.”

“But, surely,” exclaimed Lennard, “now that there is a state of war, such a man as that could be arrested.”

“Faith,” said Denis Castellan, as he filled the glasses. “Law or no law, he will be arrested to-night if he stops here long enough for me to lay hands upon him. Now then, what's the news, Mr Lennard? I'm told that you've just come back from the United States, what's the opinion of things over there?”

Such news that Lennard had was, of course, even more terrible than the news of war and invasion, which was now thrilling through England like an electric shock, and he kept it to himself, thinking quite rightly that the people of England had quite enough to occupy their attention for the immediate present, and so he replied as he raised the glass which Denis had filled for him:

“I am afraid that I have no news except this: that from all I have heard in the States, if it does come to death-grips, the States will be with us. But you see, of course, that I have only just got back, and this thing has been sprung on us so suddenly. In fact, it was only this morning that we got an aerogram from the Lizard as we came up Channel to say that war was almost a certainty, and advising us to get into Southampton as soon as we could.”

“Well,” said Erskine, taking up his glass, “that's all right, as far as it goes. I've always believed that it's all rot saying that blood isn't thicker than water. It is. Of course, relations quarrel more than other people do, but it's only over domestic matters. Let an outsider start a row, and he very soon sees what happens, and that's what I believe our friends on the other side of the Channel are going to find out if it comes to extremities. Well, Mr Lennard, I am very pleased that you have introduced yourself to us to-night. Of course, we have both known you publicly, and therefore we have all the more pleasure in knowing you privately.”

“Thanks,” replied Lennard, putting his hand into the inside pocket of his coat and taking out an envelope. “But to be quite candid with you, although of course I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, I did not introduce myself to you and Mr Castellan only for personal reasons. I have devoted some attention to the higher chemistry as well as the higher mathematics and astronomy, and I have also had the pleasure of going through the designs of the cruiser which you have invented, and which you are now to command. I have been greatly interested in them, and for that reason I think that this may interest you. I brought it here in the hope of meeting you, as I knew that your ship was lying here.”

Erskine opened the envelope, and took out a sheet of notepaper, on which were written just a few chemical formulae and about forty words.

Castellan, who was watching him keenly, for the first time since they had sailed together through stress and storm under the White Ensign, saw him start. The pupils of his eyes suddenly dilated; his eyelids and eyebrows went up for an instant and came down again, and the rigid calm of the British Naval Officer came back. He put the letter into his hip pocket, buttoned it up, and said, very quietly:

“Thank you, Mr Lennard. You have done me a very great personal service, and your country a greater one still. I shall, of course, make use of this. I am afraid if you had sent it to the Ordnance Department you wouldn't have heard anything about it for the next three months or more; perhaps not till the war was over.”

“And that is just why I brought it to you,” laughed Lennard. “Well, here's good luck to you and the Ithuriel, and all honour, and God save the King!”

“God save the King!” repeated Erskine and Castellan, with that note of seriousness in their tone which you can hear in the voice of no man who has not fought, or is not going to fight; in short, to put his words into action.

They emptied their glasses, and as they put them down on the table again there came a knock at the door, sharp, almost imperative.

“Come in,” said Erskine.

The head waiter threw the door open, and a Naval messenger walked in, saluted, handed Erskine an official envelope, and said:

“Immediately, sir. The steam pinnace is down at the end of the Railway Quay.”

Erskine tore open the envelope and read the brief order that it contained, and said:

“Very good. We shall be on board in ten minutes.”

The messenger, who was a very useful-looking specimen of the handy man, saluted and left the room. Castellan ran out after him, and they went downstairs together. At the door of the hotel the messenger put two fingers into his mouth, and gave three soft whistles, not unlike the sounds of a boatswain's pipe. In two minutes a dozen bluejackets had appeared from nowhere, and just as a matter of formality were asked to have a drink at the bar. Meanwhile Denis Castellan had gone into the smoking-room, where he found the sandy-haired, blue-eyed man still sitting at his table in the corner, smoking his cigar, and looking over the paper. He touched him on the shoulder and whispered, in perfectly idiomatic German:

“I thought you were a cleverer man than that, Count. Didn't I give you a warning? God's thunder, man. You ought to have been miles away by this time; haven't you a motor that would take you to Southampton in an hour, and put you on the last of the German liners that's leaving? You know it will be a shooting or a hanging matter if you're caught here. Come on now. My name's Castellan, and that should be good enough for you. Come on, now, and I'll see you safe.”

The name of Castellan was already well known to every German confidential agent, though it was not known that John Castellan had a brother who was a Lieutenant in the British Navy.

Captain Count Karl von Eckstein got up, and took his hat down from the pegs, pulled on his gloves, and said deliberately:

“I am very much obliged to you, Mr Castellan, for your warning, which I ought to have taken at first, but I hope there is still time. I will go and telephone for my motor at once.”

“Yes, come along and do it,” said Castellan, catching him by the arm. “You haven't much time to lose, I can tell you.”

They went out of the smoking-room, turned to the left, and went into the hall. Then Castellan snatched his hand away from Eckstein's arm, took him by the shoulders, and pitched him forward into the middle of the semicircle of bluejackets, who were waiting for him, saying:

“That's your man, boys. Take him down to the pinnace, and put him on board. I'll take the consequences, and I think the owners will, too, when they know the facts.”

Von Eckstein tried to shout, but a hand about half the size, of a shoulder of mutton came down hard over his mouth and nose. Other hands, with grips like vices, picked him off his feet, and out he went, half stifled, along the yard, and up to the Railway Pier.

“Rather summary proceedings, weren't they, Castellan?”

Denis drew himself up, formally saluted his superior officer, and said, with a curious mixture of fun and seriousness in his voice:

“That man's the most dangerous German spy in the South of England, sir, and all's fair in war and the other thing. We've got him. In half an hour he'd have been aboard a fast yacht he's got here in the harbour, and across to Dieppe, with a portmanteau full of plans and photographs of our forts that would be worth millions in men and money to the people we've got to fight. I can't say it here, but you know why I know.”

Captain Erskine nodded, and did his best to conceal an unofficial smile.

“That's right, Castellan,” he said. “I'll take your word for it. Get that chap on board, lads, as quick as you can. We'll follow at once.”

Ship's Corporal Sandy M'Grath, the huge Scotsman, whose great fist had stifled Count von Eckstein's attempt to cry out, touched his cap and said: “Awa' wi' him, boys,” and out they went at a run. Then Erskine turned to Lennard, and said:

“We can do all this that you've given me on board the Ithuriel. It isn't quite regular, but in consideration of this, if you like to take a cruise, and see your own work done, I'll take the responsibility of inviting you, only mind, there will probably be some fighting.”

Even as he spoke two deep dull bangs shook the atmosphere and the windows of the hotel shivered in their frames.

“I'll come,” said Lennard. “They seem to have begun already.”

“Begorra they have,” said Denis Castellan, making a dash to the door. “Come on. If that's so, there'll be blood for supper to-night, and the sooner we're aboard the better.”

The next moment the three were outside, and sprinting for the end of the Railway Pier for all they were worth.

Chapter VIII — First Blood


WHEN they got to the end of the Railway Pier where the pinnace was lying panting and puffing, a Flag-Lieutenant touched his cap to Erskine, took him by the arm and led him aside. He took an envelope out of his pocket and said, in a low tone:

“Here are your instructions, Erskine. They've jumped on us a bit more quickly than we thought they would, but the Commander-in-Chief trusts to you and your ship to do the needful. The position is this: one division of the Russian, German and Dutch fleets is making a combined attack on Hull and Newcastle. Two other divisions are going for the mouth of the Thames, and the North Sea Squadron is going to look after them. The French North Sea Squadron is making a rush on Dover, and will get very considerably pounded in the process. Two French fleets from Cherbourg and Brest are coming up Channel, and each of them has a screen of torpedo boats and destroyers. The Southern Fleet Reserve is concentrated here and at Portland. The Channel Fleet is outside, and we hope to get it in their rear, so that we'll have them between the ships and the forts. If we do, they'll have just about as hot a time of it as anybody wants.

“As far as we've been able to learn, the French are going to try Togo's tactics at Port Arthur, and rush Portsmouth with the small craft. You'll find that it's your business to look after them. Sink, smash and generally destroy. Go for everything you see. There isn't a craft of ours within twenty miles outside. Goodbye, and good luck to you!”

“Good-bye!” said Erskine, as they shook hands, “and if we don't come back, give my love to the Lords of the Admiralty and thank them for giving me the chance with the Ithuriel. Bye-bye!”

Their hands gripped again and the captain of the Ithuriel ran down the steps like a boy going to a picnic.

The pinnace gave a little squeak from its siren and sped away down the harbour between the two forts, in which the gunners were standing by the new fourteen-inch wire-wound guns, whose long chases were prevented from drooping after continuous discharge by an ingenious application of the principle of the cantilever bridge, invented by the creator of the Ithuriel. In the breech-chamber of each of them was a thousand-pound shell, carrying a bursting charge of five hundred pounds of an explosive which was an improvement on blasting gelatine, and the guns were capable of throwing these to a distance of twelve miles with precision. They were the most formidable weapons either ashore or afloat.

Just outside the harbour the pinnace swung round to the westward and in a few minutes stopped alongside the Ithuriel.

As far as Lennard could see she was neither cruiser nor destroyer nor submarine, but a sort of compound of all three. She did not appear to be a steamer because she had no funnels. She was not exactly a submarine because she had a signal-mast forward and carried five long, ugly-looking guns, three ahead and two astern, of a type that he had never seen before. Forward of the mast there was a conning-tower of oval shape, with the lesser curves fore and aft. The breech-ends of the guns were covered by a long hood of steel, apparently of great thickness, and that was all.

As soon as they got on board Erskine said to Lennard:

“Come into the conning-tower with me. I believe we can make use of this invention of yours at once. I've got a pretty well-fitted laboratory down below and we might have a try. But you must excuse me a moment, I will just run through this.”

He opened the envelope containing his instructions, put them down on the little desk in front of him and then read a note that was enclosed with them.

“By Jove,” he said, “they're pretty quick up at headquarters. You'll have to excuse me a minute or two, Mr Lennard. Just stand on that side, will you, please? Close up, we haven't too much room here. Good-bye for the present.”

In front of the desk and above the little steering-wheel there was a mahogany board studded with two sets of ivory buttons, disposed in two lines of six each. He touched one of these, and Lennard saw him disappear through the floor of the conning-tower. Within a few moments the portion of the floor upon which he had stood returned to its place, and Lennard said to himself:

“If the rest of her works like that, she ought to be a lovely study in engineering.”

While Captain Erskine is communicating his instructions to his second in command, and arranging the details of the coming fight, there will be time to give a brief description of the craft on board of which Lennard so unexpectedly found himself, and which an invention of his own was destined to make even more formidable than it was.

To put it as briefly as possible, the Ithuriel was a combination of destroyer, cruiser, submarine and ram, and she had cost Erskine three years of hard work to think out. She was three hundred feet long, fifty feet broad, and thirty feet from her upper keel to her deck. This was of course an abnormal depth for a vessel of her length, but then the Ithuriel was quite an abnormal warship. One-third of her depth consisted of a sinking-chamber, protected by twelve-inch armour, and this chamber could be filled in a few minutes with four thousand tons of water. This is of course the same thing as saying she had two waterlines. The normal cruising line gave her a freeboard of ten feet. Above the sinking-tanks her vitals were protected by ten-inch armour. In short, as regards armour, she was an entire reversal of the ordinary type of warship, and she had the advantage of being impervious to torpedo attack. Loaded torpedoes had been fired at her and had burst like eggs against a wall, with no more effect than to make her heel over a few degrees to the other side. Submarines had attacked her and got their noses badly bruised in the process. It was, indeed, admitted by the experts of the Admiralty that under water she was impregnable.

Her propelling power consisted of four sets of engines, all well below the waterline. Three of these drove three propellers astern: the fourth drove a suction screw which revolved just underneath the ram. This was a mass of steel weighing fifty tons and curved upwards like the inverted beak of an eagle. Erskine had taken this idea from the Russian ice-breakers which had been designed by the Russian Admiral Makaroff and built at Elswick. The screw was protected by a steel grating of which the forward protecting girder completed the curve of the stem. Aft there was a similar ram, weighing thirty tons and a like protection to the after-screws.

The driving power was derived from a combination of petrol and pulverised smokeless coal, treated with liquid oxygen, which made combustion practically perfect. There was no boilers or furnaces, only combustion chambers, and this fact made the carrying of the great weight of armour under the waterline possible. The speed of the Ithuriel was forty-five knots ahead when all four screws were driving and pulling, and thirty knots astern when they were reversed. Her total capacity was five thousand two hundred tons.

Behind the three forward guns was a dome-shaped conning-tower of nine-inch steel, hardened like the rest of the armour by an improvement on the Harvey process. Above the conning-tower were two searchlight projectors, both capable of throwing a clear ray to a distance of four miles and controlled from within the conning-tower.

“Well, I am afraid I have kept you waiting, Mr Lennard,” said Erskine, as the platform brought him up again into the conning-tower, in much shorter time than was necessary to make this needful description of what was probably the most formidable craft in the British Navy. “We're off now. I've fitted up half a dozen shells with that diabolical invention of yours. If we run across a battleship or a cruiser, we'll try them. I think our friends the enemy will find them somewhat of a paralyser, and there's nothing like beginning pretty strong.”

“Nothing like hitting them hard at first, and I hope that those things of mine will be what I think they are, and unless all my theories are quite wrong, I fancy you'll find them all right.”

“They would be the first theories of yours that have gone wrong, Mr Lennard,” replied Erskine, “but anyhow, we shall soon see. I have put three of your shells in the forward guns. We'll try them there first, and if they're all right we'll use the other three. I've got the after guns loaded with my own shell, so if we come across anything big, we shall be able to try them against each other. At present, my instructions are to deal with the lighter craft only: destroyers and that sort of thing, you know.”

“But don't you fire on them?” said Lennard. “What would happen if they got a torpedo under you?”

“Well,” said Erskine, “as a matter of fact I don't think destroyers are worth shooting at. Our guns are meant for bigger game. But it's no good trying to explain things now. You'll see, pretty soon, and you'll learn more in half an hour than I could tell you in four hours.”

They were clear of the harbour by this time and running out at about ten knots between the two old North and South Spithead forts on the top of each of which one of the new fourteen-inch thousand-pounders had been mounted on disappearing carriages.

“Now,” he continued, “if we're going to find them anywhere, we shall find them here, or hereabouts. My orders are to smash everything that I can get at.”

“Fairly comprehensive,” said Lennard.

“Yes, Lennard, and it's an order that I'm going to fill. We may as well quicken up a bit now. You understand, Castellan is looking after the guns, and his sub. Mackenzie is communicating orders to my Chief Engineer, who looks after the speed.”

“And the speed?” asked Lennard.

“I'll leave you to judge that when we get to business,” said Erskine, putting his forefinger on one of the buttons on the left-hand side of the board as he spoke.

The next moment Lennard felt the rubber-covered floor of the conning-tower jump under his feet. All the coast lights were extinguished but there was a half-moon and he saw the outlines of the shore slip away faster behind them. The eastern heights of the Isle of Wight loomed up like a cloud and dropped away astern.

“Pretty fast, that,” he said.

“Only twenty-five knots,” replied Erskine, as he gave the steering-wheel a very gentle movement and swung the Ithuriel's head round to the eastward. “If these chaps are going to make a rush in the way Togo did at Port Arthur, they've got to do it between Selsey Bill and Nettlestone Point. If they're mad enough to try the other way between Round Tower Point and Hurst Castle, they'll get blown out of the water in very small pieces, so we needn't worry about them there. Our business is to keep them out of this side. Ah, look now, there are two or three of them there. See, ahead of the port bow. We'll tackle these gentlemen first.”

Lennard looked out through the narrow semicircular window of six-inch crystal glass running across the front of the conning-tower, which was almost as strong as steel, and saw three little dark, moving spots on the half-moonlit water, about two miles ahead, stealing up in line abreast.

“Those chaps are trying to get in between the Spithead forts,” said Erskine. “They're slowed down to almost nothing, waiting for the clouds to come over the moon, and then they'll make a dash for it. At least, they think they will. I don't.”

As he spoke he gave another turn to the steering-wheel and touched another button. The Ithuriel leapt forward again and swung about three points to the eastward. In three minutes she was off Black Point, and this movement brought her into a straight line with the three destroyers. He gave the steering-wheel another half turn and her head swung round in a short quarter circle. He put his finger on to the bottom button on the right-hand side of the signal board and said to Lennard:

“Hold tight now, she's going.”

Lennard held tight, for he felt the floor jump harder under him this time.

In the dim light he saw the nearest of the destroyers, as it seemed to him, rush towards them sideways. Erskine touched another button. A shudder ran through the fabric of the Ithuriel and her bow rose above five feet from the water. A couple of minutes later it hit the destroyer amidships, rolled her over, broke her in two like a log of wood, amidst a roar of crackling guns and a scream of escaping steam, went over her and headed for the next one.

Lennard clenched his teeth and said nothing. He was thinking too hard to say anything just then.

The second destroyer opened fire with her twelve—and six-pounders and dropped a couple of torpedoes as the Ithuriel rushed at her. The Ithuriel was now travelling at forty knots an hour. The torpedoes at thirty. The combined speed was therefore nearly a hundred statute miles an hour. Erskine saw the two white shapes drop into the water, their courses converging towards him. A half turn of the wheel to port swung the Ithuriel out and just cleared them. It was a fairly narrow shave, for one of them grated along her side, but the Ithuriel had no angles. The actual result was that one of the torpedoes deflected from its course, hit the other one and both exploded. A mountain of foam-crowned water rose up and the commander of the French destroyer congratulated himself on the annihilation of at least one of the English warships, but the next moment the grey-blue, almost invisible shape of the Ithuriel leapt up out of the semi-darkness, and her long pointed ram struck amidships, cut him down to the waterline, and almost before the two halves of his vessel had sunk the same fate had befallen the third destroyer.

“Well, what do you think of that?” said Erskine, as he touched a couple more buttons and the Ithuriel swung round to the eastward again.

“Well,” said Lennard, slowly, “of course it's war, and those fellows were coming in to do all the damage they could. But it is just a bit terrible, for all that. It's just seven minutes since you rammed the first boat: you haven't fired a shot and there are three big destroyers and I suppose three hundred and fifty men at the bottom of the sea. Pretty awful, you know.”

“My dear sir,” replied Erskine, without looking round, “all war is awful and entirely horrible, and naval war is of course the most horrible of all. There is no chance for the defeated: my orders do not even allow me to pick up a man from one of those vessels. On the other hand, one must remember that if one of those destroyers had got in, they could have let go half a dozen torpedoes apiece among the ships of the Fleet Reserve, and perhaps half a dozen ships and five or six thousand men might have been at the bottom of the Solent by this time, and those torpedoes wouldn't have had any sentiment in them. Hallo, there's another!”

A long, black shape surmounted by a signal-mast and four funnels slid up and out of the darkness into a patch of moonlight lying on the water. Erskine gave a quarter turn to the wheel and touched the two buttons again. The Ithuriel swung round and ran down on her prey. The two fifteen—and the six twelve-pounder guns ahead and astern and on the broadside of the destroyer crackled out and a hail of shells came whistling across the water. A few of them struck the Ithuriel, glanced off and exploded.

“There,” said Erskine, “they've knocked some of our nice new paint off. Now they're going to pay for it.”

“Couldn't you give them a shot back?” said Lennard. “Not worth it, my dear sir,” said Erskine. “We keep our guns for bigger game. We haven't an angle that a shell would hit. You might just as well fire boiled peas at a hippopotamus as those little things at us. Of course a big shell square amidships would hurt us, but then she's so handy that I think I could stop it hitting her straight.”

While he was speaking the Ithuriel got up to full speed again. Lennard shut his eyes. He felt a slight shock, and then a dull grinding. A crash of guns and a roar of escaping steam, and when he looked out again, the destroyer had disappeared. The next moment a blinding glare of light streamed across the water from the direction of Selsey.

“A big cruiser, or battleship,” said Erskine. “French or German. Now we'll see what those shells of yours are made of.”

Chapter IX — The “Flying Fish”

Appears


A HUGE, black shape loomed up into the moonlight. As she came nearer, Lennard could see that the vessel carried a big mast forward with a fighting-top, two funnels a little aft of it, and two other funnels a few feet forward of the after mast.

Erskine put his glasses up to his eyes and said:

“That's the Dupleix, one of the improved Desaix class. Steams twenty-four knots. I suppose she's been shepherding those destroyers that we've just finished with. I hope she hasn't seen what happened. If she thinks that they've got in all right, we've got her. She has a heavy fore and aft and broadside gunfire, two 6.4 guns ahead and astern and amidships, in pairs, and as I suppose they'll be using melinite shells, we shall get fits unless we take them unawares.”

“And what does that mean?” asked Lennard.

“Show you in a minute,” answered Erskine, touching three or four of the buttons on the right-hand side as he spoke.

Another shudder ran through the frame of the Ithuriel and Lennard felt the deck sink under his feet. If he hadn't had as good a head on him as he had, he would have said something, for the Ithuriel sank until her decks were almost awash. She jumped forward again now almost invisible, and circled round to the south eastward. A big cloud drifted across the moon and Erskine said:

“Thank God for that! We shall get her now.”

Another quarter turn of the wheel brought the Ithuriel's head at right angles to the French cruiser's broadside. He took the transmitter of the telephone down from the hooks and said:

“Are you there, Castellan?”

“Yes. What's that big thing ahead there?”

“It's the Dupleix. Ready with your forward guns. I'm going to fire first, then ram. Stand by, centre first, then starboard and port, and keep your eye on them. These are Mr Lennard's shells and we want to see what they'll do. Are you ready?”

“Yes. When you like.”

“Half speed, then, and tell Mackenzie to stand by and order full speed when I give the word. We shall want it in a jump.”

“Very good, sir. Is that all?”

“Yes, that's all.”

Erskine put the receiver back on the hooks.

“That's it. Now we'll try your shells. If they're what I think they are, we'll smash that fellow's top works into scrap-iron, and then we'll go for him.”

“I think I see,” said Lennard, “that's why you've half submerged her.”

“Yes. The Ithuriel is designed to deal with both light and heavy craft. With the light ones, as you have seen, she just walked over them. Now, we've got something bigger to tackle, and if everything goes right that ship will be at the bottom of the sea in five minutes.”

“Horrible,” replied Lennard, “but I suppose it's necessary.”

“Absolutely,” said Erskine, taking the receiver down from the hooks. “If we didn't do it with them, they'd do it with us. That's war.”

Lennard made no reply. He was looking hard at the now rapidly approaching shape of the big French cruiser, and when men are thinking hard, they don't usually say much.

The Ithuriel completed her quarter-circle and dead head on to the Dupleix, Erskine said, “Centre gun ready, forward-fire. Port and starboard concentrate fire.”

There was no report—only a low, hissing sound—and then Lennard saw three flashes of bluish-green blaze out over the French cruiser.

“Hit her! I think those shells of yours got home,” said Erskine between his clenched teeth. And then he added through the telephone, “Well aimed, Castellan! They all got there. Load up again—three more shots and I'm going to ram—quick now, and full speed ahead when you've fired.”

“All ready!” came back over the telephone, “I've told Mackenzie that you'll want it.”

“Good man,” replied Erskine. “When I touch the button, you do the rest. Now-are you ready?”

“Yes.”

“Let her have it—then full speed. Ah,” Erskine continued, turning to Lennard, “he's shooting back.”

The cruiser burst into a thunderstorm of smoke and flame and shell, but there was nothing to shoot at. Only three feet of freeboard would have been visible even in broad daylight. The signal mast had been telescoped. There was nothing but the deck, the guns and the conning-tower to be seen. The shells screamed through the air a good ten feet over her and incidentally wrecked the Marine Hotel on Selsey Bill.

Erskine pressed the top button on the right-hand side three times. The smokeless, flameless guns spoke again, and again the three flashes of blue-green flame broke out on the Frenchman's decks.

“Good enough,” said Erskine, taking the transmitter down from the hooks again. “Now, Mr Lennard, just come for'ard and watch.”

Lennard crept up beside him and took the glasses.

“Down guns—full speed ahead—going to ram,” said Erskine, quietly, into the telephone.

To his utter astonishment, Lennard saw the three big guns sink down under the deck and the steel hoods move forward and cover the emplacements. The floor of the conning-tower jumped under his feet again and the huge shape of the French cruiser seemed to rush towards him. There was a roar of artillery, a thunder of 6.4 guns, a crash of bursting shells, a shudder and a shock, and the fifty-ton ram of the Ithuriel hit her forward of the conning-tower and went through the two-inch armour belt as a knife would go through a piece of paper. The big cruiser stopped as an animal on land does, struck by a bullet in its vitals, or a whale when the lance is driven home. Half her officers and men were lying about the decks asphyxiated by Lennard's shells. The after barbette swung round, and at the same moment, or perhaps half a minute before, Erskine touched two other buttons in rapid succession. The Dupleix lurched down on the starboard side, the two big guns went off and hit the water. Erskine touched another button, and the Ithuriel ran back from her victim. A minute later the French cruiser heeled over and sank.

“Good God, how did you do that?” said Lennard, looking round at him with eyes rather more wide open than usual.

“That's the effect of the suction screw,” replied Erskine. “I got the idea from the Russian ice-breaker, the Yermack. The old idea was just main strength and stupidity, charge the ice and break through if you could. The better idea was to suck the water away from under the ice and go over it-that's what we've done. I rammed that chap, pulled the water away from under him, and, of course, he's gone down.”

He gave the wheel a quarter-turn to starboard, tools down the transmitter and said: “Full speed again-in two minutes, three quarters and then half.”

“But surely,” exclaimed Lennard, “you can do something to help those poor fellows. Are you going to leave them all to drown?”

“I have no orders, except to sink and destroy,” replied Erskine between his teeth. “You must remember that this is a war of one country against a continent, and of one fleet against four. Ah, there's another! A third-class cruiser—I think I know her, she's the old Leger—they must have thought they had an easy job of it if they sent her here. Low free board, not worth shooting at. We'll go over her. No armour—what idiots they are to put a thing like that into the fighting line!”

He took the transmitter down and said:

“Stand by there, Castellan! Get your pumps to work, and I shall want full speed ahead—I'm going to run that old croak down—hurry up.”

He put the transmitter back on the hooks and presently Lennard saw the bows of the Ithuriel rise quickly out of the water. The doomed vessel in front of them was a long, low-lying French torpedo-catcher, with one big funnel between two signal—masts, hopelessly out of date, and evidently intended only to go in and take her share of the spoils. Erskine switched off the searchlight, called for full speed ahead and then with clenched teeth and set eyes, he sent the Ithuriel flying at her victim.

Within five minutes it was all over. The fifty-ton ram rose over the Leger's side, crushed it down into the water, ground its way through her, cut her in half and went on.

“That ship ought to have been on the scrap-heap ten years ago,” said Erskine as he signalled for half-speed and swung the Ithuriel round to the westward.

“She's got a scrap-heap all to herself now, I suppose,” said Lennard, with a bit of a check in his voice. “I've no doubt, as you say, this sort of thing may be necessary, but my personal opinion of it is that it's damnable.”

“Exactly my opinion too,” said Erskine, “but it has to be done.”

The next instant, Lennard heard a sound such as he had never heard before. It was a smothered rumble which seemed to come out of the depths, then there came a shock which flung him off his feet, and shot him against the opposite wall of the conning-tower. The Ithuriel heeled over to port, a huge volume of water rose on her starboard side and burst into a torrent over her decks, then she righted.

Erskine, holding on hard to the iron table to which the signalling board was bolted, saved himself from a fall.

“I hope you're not hurt, Mr Lennard,” said he, looking round, “that was a submarine. Let a torpedo go at us, I suppose, and didn't know they were hitting twelve-inch armour.”

“It's all right,” said Lennard, picking himself up. “Only a bruise or two; nothing broken. It seems to me that this new naval warfare of yours is going to get a bit exciting.”

“Yes,” said Erskine, “I think it is. Halloa, Great Caesar! That must be that infernal invention of Castellan's brother's; the thing he sold to the Germans—the sweep!”

As he spoke a grey shape leapt up out of the water and began to circle over the Ithuriel. He snatched the transmitter from the hooks, and said, in quick, clear tones

“Castellan—sink—quick, quick as you can.”

The pumps of the Ithuriel worked furiously the next moment. Lennard held his breath as he saw the waves rise up over the decks.

“Full speed ahead again, and dive,” said Erskine into the transmitter. “Hold tight, Lennard.”

The floor of the conning-tower took an angle of about sixty degrees, and Lennard gripped the holdfasts, of which there were two on each wall of the tower. He heard a rush of overwhelming waters—then came darkness. The Ithuriel rushed forward at her highest speed. Then something hit the sea, and a quick succession of shocks sent a shudder through the vessel.

“I thought so,” said Erskine. “That's John Castellan's combined airship and submarine right enough, and that was an aerial torpedo. If it had hit us when we were above water, we should have been where those French chaps are now. You're quite right, this sort of naval warfare is getting rather exciting.”

Chapter X — First Blows From The Air


THE Flying Fish, the prototype of the extraordinary craft which played such a terrible part in the invasion of England, was a magnified reproduction, with improvements which suggested themselves during construction, of the model whose performances had so astonished the Kaiser at Potsdam. She was shaped exactly like her namesake of the deep, upon which, indeed, her inventor had modelled her. She was one hundred and fifty feet long and twenty feet broad by twenty-five feet deep in her widest part, which, as she was fish-shaped, was considerably forward of her centre.

She was built of a newly-discovered compound, something like papier-maché, as hard and rigid as steel, with only about one-tenth the weight. Her engines were of the simplest description in spite of the fact that they developed enormous power. They consisted merely of cylinders into which, by an automatic mechanism, two drops of liquid were brought every second. These liquids when joined produced a gas of enormously expansive power, more than a hundred times that of steam, which actuated the pistons. There were sixteen of these cylinders, and the pistons all connected with a small engine invented by Castellan, which he called an accelerator. By means of this device he could regulate the speed of the propellers which drove the vessel under water and in the air from sixty up to two thousand revolutions a minute.

The Flying Fish was driven by nine propellers, three of these, four-bladed and six feet diameter, revolved a little forward amidships on either side under what might be called the fins. These fins collapsed close against the sides of the vessel when under water and expanded to a spread of twenty feet when she took the air. They worked on a pivot and could be inclined either way from the horizontal to an angle of thirty degrees. Midway between the end of these and the stern was a smaller pair with one driving screw. The eighth screw was an ordinary propeller at the stern, but the outside portion of the shaft worked on a ball and socket joint so that it could be used for both steering and driving purposes. It was in fact the tail of the Flying Fish. Steering in the air was effected by means of a vertical fin placed right aft.

She was submerged as the Ithuriel was, by pumping water into the lower part of her hull. When these chambers were empty she floated like a cork. The difference between swimming and flying was merely the difference between the revolutions of the screws and the inclination of the fins. A thousand raised her from the water: twelve hundred gave her twenty-five or thirty miles an hour through the air: fifteen hundred gave her fifty, and two thousand gave her eighty to a hundred, according to the state of the atmosphere.

Her armament consisted of four torpedo tubes which swung at any angle from the horizontal to the vertical and so were capable of use both under water and in the air. They discharged a small, insignificant-looking torpedo containing twenty pounds of an explosive, discovered almost accidentally by Castellan and known only to himself, the German Emperor, the Chancellor, and the Commander-in-Chief. It was this which he had used in tiny quantities in the experiment at Potsdam. Its action was so terrific that it did not rend or crack metal or stone which it struck. It overcame the chemical forces by which the substance was held together and reduced them to gas and powder.

And now, after this somewhat formal but necessary description of the most destructive fighting-machine ever created we can proceed with the story.

There were twenty Flying Fishes attached to the Allied Forces, all of them under the command of German engineers, with the exception of the original Flying Fish. Two of these were attached to the three squadrons which were attacking Hull, Newcastle and Dover: three had been detailed for the attack on Portsmouth: two more to Plymouth, two to Bristol and Liverpool respectively, on which combined cruiser and torpedo attacks were to be made, and two supported by a small swift cruiser and torpedo flotilla for an assault on Cardiff, in order if possible to terrorise that city into submission and so obtain what may be called the life-blood of a modern navy. The rest, in case of accidents to any of these, were reserved for the final attack on London.

When the Ithuriel disappeared and his torpedo struck a piece of floating wreckage and exploded with a terrific shock, John Castellan, standing in the conning-tower directing the movements of the Flying Fish, naturally concluded that he had destroyed a British submarine scout. He knew of the existence, but nothing of the real powers of the Ithuriel. The only foreigner who knew that was Captain Count Karl von Eckstein, and he was locked safely in a cabin on board her.

He had been searching the underwaters between Nettlestone Point and Hayling Island for hours on the look-out for British submarines and torpedo scouts, and had found nothing, therefore he was ignorant of the destruction which the Ithuriel had already wrought, and as, of course, he had heard no firing under the water, he believed that the three destroyers supported by the Dupleix and Leger had succeeded in slipping through the entrance to Spithead.

He knew that a second flotilla of six destroyers with three swift second-class cruisers were following in to complete the work, which by this time should have begun, and that after them came the main French squadron, consisting of six first-class battleships with a screen of ten first and five second-class cruisers, the work of which would be to maintain a blockade against any relieving force, after the submarines-and destroyers had sunk and crippled the ships of the Fleet Reserve and cut the connections of the contact mines.

He knew also that the See Adler, which was Flying Fish II, was waiting about the Needles to attack Hurst Castle and the forts on the Isle of Wight side, preparatory to a rush of two battleships and three cruisers through the narrows, while another was lurking under Hayling Island ready to take the air and rain destruction on the forts of Portsmouth before the fight became general.

What thoroughly surprised him, however, was the absolute silence and inaction of the British. True, two shots had been fired, but, whether from fort or warship, and with what intent, he hadn't the remotest notion. The hour arranged upon for the general assault was fast approaching. The British must be aware that an attack would be made, and yet there was not so much as a second-class torpedo boat to be seen outside Spithead. This puzzled him, so he decided to go and investigate for himself. He took up a speaking-tube and said to his Lieutenant, M'Carthy—one of too many renegade Irishmen who in the terrible times that were to come joined their country's enemies as Lynch and his traitors had done in the Boer War:

“I don't quite make it out, M'Carthy. We'll go down and get under—it's about time the fun began—and I haven't heard a shot fired or seen an English ship except that submarine we smashed. My orders are for twelve o'clock, and I'm going to obey them.”

There was one more device on board the Flying Fish which should be described in order that her wonderful manoeuvring under water may be understood. Just in front of the steering-wheel in the conning-tower was a square glass box measuring a foot in the side, and in the centre of this, attached to top and bottom by slender films of asbestos, was a needle ten inches long, so hung that it could turn and dip in any direction. The forward half of this needle was made of highly magnetised steel, and the other of aluminium which exactly counterbalanced it. The glass case was completely insulated and therefore the extremely sensitive needle was unaffected by any of the steel parts used in the construction of the vessel. But let any other vessel, save of course a wooden ship, come within a thousand yards, the needle began to tremble and sway, and the nearer the Flying Fish approached it, the steadier it became and the more directly it pointed towards the object. If the vessel was on the surface, it of course pointed upward: if it was a submarine, it pointed either level or downwards with unerring precision. This needle was, in fact, the eyes of the Flying Fish when she was under water.

Castellan swung her head round to the north-west and dropped gently on to the water about midway between Selsey Bill and the Isle of Wight. Then the Flying Fish folded her wings and sank to a depth of twenty feet. Then, at a speed of ten knots, she worked her way in a zigzag course back and forth across the narrowing waters, up the channel towards Portsmouth.

To his surprise, the needle remained steady, showing that there was neither submarine nor torpedo boat near. This meant, as far as he could see, that the main approach to the greatest naval fortress in England had been left unguarded, a fact so extraordinary as to be exceedingly suspicious. His water-ray apparatus, a recent development of the X-rays which enabled him to see under water for a distance of fifty yards, had detected no contact mines, and yet Spithead ought to be enstrewn with them, just as it ought to have been swarming with submarines and destroyers. There must be some deep meaning to such apparently incomprehensible neglect, but what was it?

If his brother Denis had not happened to recognise Captain Count Karl von Eckstein and haled him so unceremoniously on board the Ithuriel, and if his portmanteau full of papers had been got on board a French warship, instead of being left for the inspection of the British Admiralty, that reason would have been made very plain to him.

Completely mystified, and fearing that either he was going into some trap or that some unforeseen disaster had happened, he swung round, ran out past the forts and rose into the air again. When he had reached the height of about a thousand feet, three rockets rose into the air and burst into three showers of stars, one red, one white, and the other blue. It was the Tricolour in the air, and the signal from the French Admiral to commence the attack. Castellan's orders were to cripple or sink the battleships of the Reserve Fleet which was moored in two divisions in Spithead and the Solent.

The Spithead Division lay in column of line abreast between Gilkicker Point and Ryde Pier. It consisted of the Formidable, Irresistible, Implacable, Majestic and Magnificent, and the cruisers Hogue, Sutlej, Ariadne, Argonaut, Diadem and Hawke. The western Division consisted of the battleships Prince George, Victoria, Jupiter, Mars and Hannibal, and the cruisers Amphitrite, Spartiate, Andromeda, Europa, Niobe, Blenheim and Blake.

It had of course been perfectly easy for Castellan to mark the position of the two squadrons from the air, and he knew that though they were comparatively old vessels they were quite powerful enough, with the assistance of the shore batteries, to hold even Admiral Durenne's splendid fleet until the Channel Fleet, which for the time being seemed to have vanished from the face of the waters, came up and took the French in the rear.

In such a case, the finest fleet of France would be like a nut in a vice, and that was the reason for the remorseless orders which had been given to him, orders which he was prepared to carry out to the letter, in spite of the appalling loss of life which they entailed; for, as the Flying Fish sank down into the water, he thought of that swimming race in Clifden Bay and of the girl whose marriage with himself, willing or unwilling, was to be one of the terms of peace when the British Navy lay shattered round her shores, and the millions of the Leagued Nations had trampled the land forces of Britain into submission.

Just as she touched the water a brilliant flash of pink flame leapt up from the eastern fort on the Hillsea Lines, followed by a sharp crash which shook the atmosphere. A thin ray of light fell from the clouds, then came a quick succession of flashes moving in the direction of the great fort on Portsdown, until two rose in quick succession from Portsdown itself, and almost at the same moment another from Hurst Castle, and yet another from the direction of Fort Victoria.

“God bless my soul, what's that?” exclaimed the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir Compton Domville, who had just completed his final inspection of the defences of Portsmouth Harbour, and was standing on the roof of Southsea Castle, taking a general look round before going back to headquarters. “Here, Markham,” he said, turning to the Commander of the Fort, “just telephone up to Portsdown at once and ask them what they're up to.”

An orderly instantly dived below to the telephone room. The Fort Commander took Sir Compton aside and said in a low voice:

“I am afraid, sir, that the forts are being attacked from the air.”

“What's that?” replied Sir Compton, with a start. “Do you mean that infernal thing that Erskine and Castellan and the watch of the Cormorant saw in the North Sea?”

“Yes, sir,” was the reply. “There is no reason why the enemy should not possess a whole fleet of these craft by this time, and naturally they would act in concert with the attack of the French Fleet. I've heard rumours of a terrible new explosive they've got, too, which shatters steel into splinters and poisons everyone within a dozen yards of it. If that's true and they're dropping it on the forts, they'll probably smash the guns as well. For heaven's sake, sir, let me beg of you to go back at once to headquarters! It will probably be our turn next. You will be safe there, for they're not likely to waste their shells on Government buildings.”

“Well, I suppose I shall be of more use there,” growled Sir Compton.

At this moment the orderly returned, looking rather scared. He saluted and said:

“If you please, sir, they've tried Portsdown and all the Hillsea forts and can't get an answer.”

“Good heavens!” said the Commander-in-Chief, “that looks almost as if you were right, Markham. Signal to Squadron A to up-anchor at once and telephone to Squadron B to do the same. Telephone Gilkicker to turn all searchlights on. Now I must be off and have a talk with General Hamilton.”

He ran down to his pinnace and went away full speed for the harbour, but before he reached the pier another flash burst out from the direction of Fort Gilkicker, followed by a terrific roar. To those standing on the top of Southsea Castle the fort seemed turned into a volcano, spouting flame and clouds of smoke, in the midst of which they could see for an instant whirling shapes, most of which would probably be the remains of the gallant defenders, hurled into eternity before they had a chance of firing a shot at the invaders. The huge guns roared for the first and last time in the war, and the great projectiles plunged aimlessly among the ships of the squadron, carrying wreck and ruin along the line.

“Our turn now, I suppose,” said the Fort Commander, quietly, as he looked up and by a chance gleam of moonlight through the breaking clouds saw a dim grey, winged shape drift across the harbour entrance.

They were the last words he ever spoke, for the next moment the roof crumbled under his feet, and his body was scattered in fragments through the air, and in that moment Portsmouth had ceased to be a fortified stronghold.

Chapter XI — The Tragedy Of The Two Squadrons


IT takes a good deal to shake the nerves of British naval officer or seaman, but those on board the ships of the Spithead Squadron would have been something more than human if they could have viewed the appalling happenings of the last few terrible minutes with their accustomed coolness. They were ready to fight anything on the face of the waters or under them, but an enemy in the air who could rain down shells, a couple of which were sufficient to destroy the most powerful forts in the world, and who could not be hit back, was another matter. It was a bitter truth, but there was no denying it. The events of the last ten years had clearly proved that a day must come when the flying machine would be used as an engine of war, and now that day had come and the fighting flying machine was in the hands of the enemy.

The anchors were torn from the ground, signals were flashed from the flag-ship, the Prince George, and within four minutes the squadron was under way to the southeastward. After what had happened the Admiral in command promptly and rightly decided that to keep his ships cramped up in the narrow waters was only to court further disaster. His place was now the open sea, and a general fleet action offered the only means of preventing an occupation of almost defenceless Portsmouth, and the landing of hostile troops in the very heart of England's southern defences.

Fifteen first-class torpedo boats and ten destroyers ran out from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight coasts, ran through the ships, and spread themselves out in a wide curve ahead, and at the same time twenty submarines crept out from the harbour and set to work laying contact mines in the appointed fields across the harbour mouth and from shore to shore behind the Spithead forts.

But the squadron had not steamed a mile beyond the forts before a series of frightful disasters overtook them. First, a huge column of water rose under the stern of the Jupiter. The great ship stopped and shuddered like a stricken animal, and began to settle down stern first. Instantly the Mars and Victorious which were on either side of her slowed down, their boats splashed into the water and set to work to rescue those who managed to get clear of the sinking ship.

But even while this was being done, the Banshee, the Flying Fish which had destroyed the forts, had taken up her position a thousand feet above the doomed squadron. A shell dropped upon the deck of the Spartiate, almost amidships. The pink flash blazed out between her two midship funnels. They crumpled up as if they had been made of brown paper. The six-inch armoured casemates on either side seemed to crumble away. The four-inch steel deck gaped and split as though it had been made of matchboard. Then the Banshee dropped to within five hundred feet and let go another shell almost in the same place. A terrific explosion burst out in the very vitals of the stricken ship, and the great cruiser seemed to split asunder. A vast volume of mingled smoke and flame and steam rose up, and when it rolled away, the Spartiate had almost vanished.

But that was the last act of destruction that the Banshee was destined to accomplish. That moment the moon sailed out into a patch of clear sky. Every eye in the squadron was turned upward. There was the airship plainly visible. Her captain instantly saw his danger and quickened up his engines, but it was too late. He was followed by a hurricane of shells from the three-pound quick-firers in the upper tops of the battleships. Then came an explosion in mid-air which seemed to shake the very firmament itself. She had fifty or sixty of the terrible shells which had wrought so much havoc on board, and as a dozen shells pierced her hull and burst, they too exploded with the shock. A vast blaze of pink flame shone out.

“Talk about going to glory in a blue flame,” said Seaman Gunner Tompkins, who had aimed one of the guns in the fore-top of the Hannibal, and of course, like everybody else, piously believed that his was one of the shells that got there. “That chap's gone to t'other place in a red 'un. War's war, but I don't hold with that sort of fighting; it doesn't give a man a chance. Torpedoes is bad enough, Gawd knows—”

The words were hardly out of his mouth when a shock and a shudder ran through the mighty fabric of the battleship. The water rose in a foam-clad mountain under her starboard quarter. She heeled over to port, and then rolled back to starboard and began to settle.

“Torpedoed, by George! What did I tell you?” gasped Gunner Tompkins. The next moment a lurch of the ship hurled him and his mates far out into the water.

Even as his ship went down, Captain Barclay managed to signal to the other ships, “Don't wait—get out.” And when her shattered hull rested on the bottom, the gallant signal was still flying from the upper yard.

It was obvious that the one chance of escaping their terrible unseen foe was to obey the signal. By this time crowds of small craft of every description had come off from both shores to the rescue of those who had gone down with the ships, so the Admiral did what was the most practical thing to do under the circumstances—he dropped his own boats, each with a crew, and ordered the Victorious and Mars to do the same, and then gave the signal for full speed ahead. The great engines panted and throbbed, and the squadron moved forward with ever-increasing speed, the cruisers and destroyers, according to signal, running ahead of the battleships; but before full speed was reached, the Mars was struck under the stern, stopped, shuddered, and went down with a mighty lurch.

This last misfortune convinced the Admiral that the destruction of his battleships could not be the work of any ordinary submarine, for at the time the Mars was struck she was steaming fifteen knots and the underwater speed of the best submarine was only twelve, saving only the Ithuriel, and she did not use torpedoes. The two remaining battleships had now reached seventeen knots, which was their best speed. The cruisers and their consorts were already disappearing round Foreland.

There was some hope that they might escape the assaults of the mysterious and invisible enemy now that the airship had been destroyed, but unless the submarine had exhausted her torpedoes, or some accident had happened to her, there was very little for the Prince George and the Victorious, and so it turned out. Castellan's strict orders had been to confine his attentions to the battleships, and he obeyed his pitiless instructions to the letter. First the Victorious and then the flagship, smitten by an unseen and irresistible bolt in their weakest parts, succumbed to the great gaping wounds torn in the thin under-plating, reeled once or twice to and fro like leviathans struggling for life, and went down. And so for the time being, at least, ended the awful work of the Flying Fish.

Leaving the cruisers and smaller craft to continue their dash for the open Channel, we must now look westward.

When Vice-Admiral Codrington, who was flying his flag on the Irresistible, saw the flashes along the Hillsea ridge and Portsdown height and heard the roar of the explosions, he at once up-anchor and got his squadron under way. Then came the appallingly swift destruction of Hurst Castle and Fort Victoria. Like all good sailors, he was a man of instant decision. His orders were to guard the entrance to the Solent, and the destruction of the forts made it impossible for him to do this inside. How that destruction had been wrought, he had of course no idea, beyond a guess that the destroying agent must have come from the air, since it could not have come from sea or land without provoking a very vigorous reply from the forts. Instead of that they had simply blown up without firing a shot.

He therefore decided to steam out through the narrow channel between Hurst Castle and the Isle of Wight as quickly as possible.

It was a risky thing to do at night and at full speed, for the Channel and the entrance to it was strewn with contact mines, but one of the principal businesses of the British Navy is to take risks where necessary, so he put his own ship at the head of the long line, and with a mine chart in front of him went ahead at eighteen knots.

When Captain Adolph Frenkel, who was in command of the See Adler, saw the column of warships twining and wriggling its way out through the Channel, each ship handled with consummate skill and keeping its position exactly, he could not repress an admiring “Ach!” Still it was not his business to admire, but destroy.

He rose to a thousand feet, swung round to the northeastward until the whole line had passed beneath him, and then quickened up and dropped to seven hundred feet, swung round again and crept up over the Hogue, which was bringing up the rear. When he was just over her fore part, he let go a shell, which dropped between the conning-tower and the forward barbette.

The navigating bridge vanished; the twelve-inch armoured conning-tower cracked like an eggshell; the barbette collapsed like the crust of a loaf, and the big 9.2 gun lurched backwards and lay with its muzzle staring helplessly at the clouds. The deck crumpled up as though it had been burnt parchment, and the ammunition for the 9.2 and the forward six-inch guns which had been placed ready for action exploded, blowing the whole of the upper forepart of the vessel into scrap-iron.

But an even worse disaster than this was to befall the great twelve-thousand-ton cruiser. Her steering gear was, of course, shattered. Uncontrolled and uncontrollable, she swung swiftly round to starboard, struck a mine, and inside three minutes she was lying on the mud.

Almost at the moment of the first explosion, the beams of twenty searchlights leapt up into the air, and in the midst of the broad white glare hundreds of keen angry eyes saw a winged shape darting up into the air, heading southward as though it would cross the Isle of Wight over Yarmouth. Almost simultaneously, every gun from the tops of the battleships spoke, and a storm of shells rent the air.

But Captain Frenkel had already seen his mistake. The See Adler's wings were inclined at an angle of twenty degrees, her propellers were revolving at their utmost velocity, and at a speed of nearly a hundred miles an hour, she took the Isle of Wight in a leap. She slowed down rapidly over Freshwater Bay. Captain Frenkel took a careful observation of the position and course of the squadron, dropped into the water, folded his wings and crept round the Needles with his conning-tower just awash, and lay in wait for his prey about two miles off the Needles.

The huge black hull of the Irresistible was only a couple of hundred yards away. He instantly sank and turned on his water-ray. As the flagship passed within forty yards he let go his first torpedo. It hit her sternpost, smashed her rudder and propellers, and tore a great hole in her run. The steel monster stopped, shuddered, and slid sternward with her mighty ram high in the air into the depths of the smooth grey sea.

There is no need to repeat the ghastly story which has already been told—the story of the swift and pitiless destruction of these miracles of human skill, huge in size and mighty in armament and manned by the bravest men on land or sea, by a foe puny in size but of awful potentiality. It was a fight, if fight it could be called, between the visible and the invisible, and it could only have one end. Battleship after battleship received her death-wound, and went down without being able to fire a shot in defence, until the Magnificent, smitten in the side under her boilers, blew up and sank amidst a cloud of steam and foam, and the Western Squadron had met the fate of the Eastern.

While this tragedy was being enacted, the cruisers scattered in all directions and headed for the open at their highest speed. It was a bitter necessity, and it was bitterly felt by every man and boy on board them; but the captains knew that to stop and attempt the rescue of even some of their comrades meant losing the ships which it was their duty at all costs to preserve, and so they took the only possible chance to escape from this terrible unseen foe which struck out of the silence and the darkness with such awful effect.

But despite the tremendous disaster which had befallen the Reserve Fleet, the work of death and destruction was by no means all on one side. When he sank the Leger, Erskine had done a great deal more damage to the enemy than he knew, for she had been sent not for fighting purposes, but as a dépôt ship for the Flying Fishes, from which they could renew their torpedoes and the gas cylinders which furnished their driving power. Being a light craft, she was to take up an agreed position off Bracklesham Bay three miles to the north-west of Selsey Bill, the loneliest and shallowest part of the coast, with all lights out, ready to supply all that was wanted or to make any repairs that might be necessary. Her sinking, therefore, deprived John Castellan's craft of their base.

After the Dupleix had gone down, the Ithuriel rose again, and Erskine said to Lennard:

“There must be more of them outside, they wouldn't be such fools as to rush Portsmouth with three destroyers and a couple of cruisers. We'd better go on and reconnoitre.”

The Ithuriel ran out south-eastward at twenty knots in a series of broad curves, and she was just beginning to make the fourth of these when six black shapes crowned with wreaths of smoke loomed up out of the semidarkness.

“Thought so—destroyers,” said Erskine. “Yes, and look there, behind them—cruiser supports, three of them—these are for the second rush. Coming up pretty fast, too; they'll be there in half an hour. We shall have something to say about that. Hold on, Lennard.”

“Same tactics, I suppose,” said Lennard.

“Yes,” replied Erskine, taking down the receiver. “Are you there, Castellan? All right. We've six more destroyers to get rid of. Full speed ahead, as soon as you like—guns all ready, I suppose? Good—go ahead.” The Ithuriel was now about two miles to the westward and about a mile in front of the line of destroyers, which just gave her room to get up full speed. As she gathered way, Lennard saw the nose of the great ram rise slowly out of the water. The destroyer's guns crackled, but it is not easy to hit a low-lying object moving at fifty miles an hour, end on, when you are yourself moving nearly twenty-five. Just the same thing happened as before. The point of the ram passed over the destroyer's bows, crumpled them up and crushed them down, and the Ithuriel rushed on over the sinking wreck, swerved a quarter turn, and bore down on her next victim. It was over in ten minutes. The Ithuriel rushed hither and thither among the destroyers like some leviathan of the deep. A crash, a swift grinding scrape, and a mass of crumpled steel was dropping to the bottom of the Channel.

While the attack on the destroyers was taking place, the cruisers were only half a mile away. Their captains had found themselves in curiously difficult positions. The destroyers were so close together, and the movements of this strange monster which was running them down so rapidly, that if they opened fire they were more likely to hit their own vessels than it, but when the last had gone down, every available gun spoke, and a hurricane of shells, large and small, ploughed up the sea where the Ithuriel had been. After the first volley, the captains looked at their officers and the officers looked at the captains, and said things which strained the capabilities of the French language to the utmost. The monster had vanished.

The fact was that Erskine had foreseen that storm of shell, and the pumps had been working hard while the ramming was going on. The result was that the Ithuriel sank almost as soon as her last victim, and in thirty seconds there was nothing to shoot at.

“I shall ram those chaps from underneath,” he said. “They've too many guns for a shooting match.”

He reduced the speed to thirty knots, rose for a moment till the conning-tower was just above the water, took his bearings, sank, called for full speed, and in four minutes the ram crashed into the Alger's stern, carried away her sternpost and rudder, and smashed her propellers. The Ithuriel passed on as if she had hit a log of wood and knocked it aside. A slight turn of the steering-wheel, and within four minutes the ram was buried in the vitals of the Suchet. Then the Ithuriel reversed engines, the fore screw sucked the water away, and the cruiser slid off the ram as she might have done off a rock. As she went down, the Ithuriel rose to the surface. The third cruiser, the Davout, was half a mile away. She had changed her course and was evidently making frantic efforts to get back to sea.

“Going to warn the fleet, are you, my friend?” said Erskine, between his teeth. “Not if I know it!”

He asked for full speed again and the terror-stricken Frenchmen saw the monster, just visible on the surface of the water, flying towards them in the midst of a cloud of spray. A sheep might as well have tried to escape from a tiger. Many of the crew flung themselves overboard in the madness of despair. There was a shock and a grinding crash, and the ram bored its way twenty feet into the unarmoured quarter. Then the Ithuriel's screws dragged her free, and the Davout followed her sisters to the bottom of the Channel.

Chapter XII — How London Took The News


THE awaking of England on the morning of the twenty-sixth of November was like the awaking of a man from a nightmare. Everyone who slept had gone to sleep with one word humming in his brain—war—and war at home, that was the terrible thought which robbed so many millions of eyes of sleep. But even those who slept did not do so for long.

At a quarter to one a sub-editor ran into the room of the chief News Editor of the Daily Telegraph, without even the ceremony of a knock.

“What on earth's the matter, Johnson?” exclaimed the editor. “Seen a ghost?”

“Worse than that, sir. Read this!” said the sub-editor, in a shaking voice, throwing the slip down on the desk.

“My God, what's this?” said the editor, as he ran his eye along the slip. “'Portsmouth bombarded from the air. Hillsea, Portsmouth, Gilkicker and Southsea Castle destroyed. Practically defenceless. Fleet Reserve Squadrons sailing.'”

The words were hardly out of his mouth before another man came running in with a slip. “'Jupiter and Hannibal torpedoed by submarine. Spartiate blown up by aerial torpedo.'“ Then there came a gap, as though the men at the other end had heard of more news, then followed—“'Mars, Prince George, Victorious, all torpedoed. Cruisers escaped to sea. No news of Ithuriel, no torpedo attack up to present.'”

“Oh, that's awful,” gasped the editor, and then the professional instinct reasserted itself, for he continued, handing the slip back: “Rush out an edition straight away, Johnson. Anything, if it's only a half-sheet—get it on the streets as quick as you can—there'll be plenty of people about still. If anything else comes bring it up.”

In less than a quarter of an hour a crowd of newsboys were fighting in the passage for copies of the single sheet which contained the momentous news, just as it had come over the wire. The Daily Telegraph was just five minutes ahead, but within half an hour every London paper, morning and evening, and all the great provincial journals had rushed out their midnight specials, and from end to end of England and Scotland, and away to South Wales, and over the narrow seas to Dublin and Cork, the shrill screams of the newsboys, and the hoarse, raucous howls of the newsmen were spreading the terrible tidings over the land. What the beacon fires were in the days of the Armada, these humble heralds of Fate were in the twentieth century.

“War begun—Portsmouth destroyed—Fleet sunk.”

The six terrible words were not quite exact, of course, but they were near enough to the truth to sound like the voice of Fate in the ears of the millions whose fathers and fathers' fathers back through six generations had never had their midnight rest so rudely broken.

Lights gleamed out of darkened windows, and front doors were flung open in street after street, as the war-cry echoed down it. Any coin that came first to hand, from a penny to a sovereign, was eagerly offered for the single hurriedly-printed sheets, but the business instincts of the newsboys rose superior to the crisis, and nothing less than a shilling was accepted. Streams of men and boys on bicycles with great bags of specials slung on their backs went tearing away, head down and pedals whirling, north, south, east and west into the suburbs. Newsagents flung their shops open, and in a few minutes were besieged by eager, anxious crowds, fighting for the first copies. There was no more sleep for man or woman in London that night, though the children slept on in happy unconsciousness of what the morrow was to bring forth.

What happened in London was happening almost simultaneously all over the kingdom. For more than a hundred years the British people had worked and played and slept in serene security, first behind its wooden walls, and then behind the mighty iron ramparts of its invincible Fleets, and now, like a thunderbolt from a summer sky, came the paralysing tidings that the first line of defence had been pierced by a single blow, and the greatest sea stronghold of England rendered defenceless and all this between sunset and midnight of a November day.

Was it any wonder that men looked blankly into each other's eyes, and asked themselves and each other how such an unheard-of catastrophe had come about, and what was going to happen next? The first and universal feeling was one of amazement, which amounted almost to mental paralysis, and then came a sickening sense of insecurity. For two generations the Fleet had been trusted implicitly, and invasion had been looked upon merely as the fad of alarmists, and the theme of sensational story-writers. No intelligent person really trusted the army, although its ranks, such as they were, were filled with as gallant soldiers as ever carried a rifle, but it had been afflicted ever since men could remember with the bane and blight of politics and social influence. It had never been really a serious profession, and its upper ranks had been little better than the playground of the sons of the wealthy and well-born.

Politician after politician on both sides had tried his hand at scheme after scheme to improve the army. What one had done, the next had undone, and the permanent War Office Officials had given more attention to buttons and braids and caps than to business-like organisations of fighting efficiency. The administration was, as it always had been, a chaos of muddle. The higher ranks were rotten with inefficiency, and the lower, aggravated and bewildered by change after change, had come to look upon soldiering as a sort of game, the rules of which were being constantly altered.

The Militia, the Yeomanry, and the Volunteers had been constantly snubbed and worried by the authorities of Pall Mall. Private citizens, willing to give time and money in order to learn the use of the rifle, even if they could not join the Yeomanry or Volunteers, had been just ignored. The War Office could see no use for a million able-bodied men who had learned to shoot straight, besides they were only “damned civilians,” whose proper place was in their offices and shops. What right had they with rifles? If they wanted exercise, let them go and play golf, or cricket, or football. What had they to do with the defence of their country and their homes?

But that million of irregular sharpshooters were badly wanted now. They could have turned every hedgerow into a trench and cover against the foe which would soon be marching over the fields and orchards and hop-gardens of southern England. They would have known every yard of the ground and the turn of every path and road, and while the regular army was doing its work they could have prevented many a turning movement of the superior forces, shot down the horses of convoys and ammunition trains, and made themselves generally objectionable to the enemy.

Now the men were there, full of fight and enthusiasm, but they had neither ammunition nor rifles, and if they had had them, ninety per cent. would not have known how to use them. Wherefore, those who were responsible for the land defences of the country found themselves with less than three hundred thousand trained and half-trained men of all arms, to face invading forces which would certainly not number less than a million, every man of which had served his apprenticeship to the grim trade of war, commanded by officers who had taken that same trade seriously, studied it as a science, thinking it of considerably more importance than golf or cricket or football.

It had been said that the British Nation would never tolerate conscription, which might or might not have been true; but now, when the next hour or so might hear the foreign drums thrumming and the foreign bugles blaring, conscription looked a very different thing. There wasn't a loyal man in the kingdom who didn't bitterly regret that he had not been taken in the prime of his young manhood, and taught how to defend the hearth and home which were his, and the wife and children which were so dear to him.

But it was too late now. Neither soldiers nor sharpshooters are made in a few hours or days, and within a week the first battles that had been fought on English ground for nearly eight hundred years would have been lost and won, and nine-tenths of the male population of England would be looking on in helpless fury.

There had been plenty of theorists, who had said that the British Islands needed no army of home defence, simply because if she once lost command of the sea it would not be necessary for an enemy to invade her, since a blockade of her ports would starve her into submission in a month—which, thanks to the decay of agriculture and the depopulation of the country districts, was true enough. But it was not all the truth. Those who preached these theories left out one very important factor, and that was human nature.

For over a century the Continental nations had envied and hated Britain, the land-grabber; Britain who had founded nations while they had failed to make colonies; Britain, who had made the Seven Seas her territories, and the coasts of other lands her frontiers. Surely the leaders of the leagued nations would have been more or less than human had they resisted, even if their people had allowed them to do it, the temptation of trampling these proud Islanders into the mud and mire of their own fields and highways, and dictating terms of peace in the ancient halls of Windsor.

These were the bitter thoughts which were rankling in the breast of every loyal British man during the remainder of that night of horrible suspense. Many still had reason to remember the ghastly blunders and the muddling which had cost so many gallant lives and so many millions of treasure during the Boer War, when it took three hundred thousand British troops to reduce eighty thousand undrilled farmers to submission. What if the same blundering and muddling happened now? And it was just as likely now as then.

Men ground their teeth, and looked at their strong, useless hands, and cursed theorist and politician alike. Anal meanwhile the Cabinet was sitting, deliberating, as best it might, over the tidings of disaster. The House of Commons, after voting full powers to the Cabinet and the Council of Defence, had been united at last by the common and immediate danger, and members of all parties were hurrying away to their constituencies to do what they could to help in organising the defence of their homeland.

There was one fact which stood out before all others, as clearly as an electric light among a lot of candles, and, now that it was too late, no one recognised it with more bitter conviction than those who had made it the consistent policy of both Conservative and Liberal Governments, and of the Executive Departments, to discourage invention outside the charmed circle of the Services, and to drive the civilian inventor abroad.

Again and again, designs of practical airships—not gas-bags which could only be dragged slowly against a moderate wind, but flying machines which conquered the wind and used it as a bird does—had been submitted to the War Office during the last six or seven years, and had been pooh-poohed or pigeon-holed by some sapient permanent official—and now the penalty of stupidity and neglect had to be paid.

The complete descriptions of the tragedy that had been and was being enacted at Portsmouth that were constantly arriving in Downing Street left no possibility of doubt that the forts had been destroyed and the Spartiate blown up by torpedoes from the air—from which fact it was necessary to draw the terrible inference that the enemy had possessed themselves of the command of the air.

What was the command of the sea worth after that? What was the fighting value of the mightiest battleship that floated when pitted against a practically unassailable enemy, which had nothing to do but drop torpedoes, loaded with high explosives, on her decks and down her funnels until her very vitals were torn to pieces, her ammunition exploded, and her crew stunned by concussion or suffocated by poisonous gas?

It was horrible, but it was true. Inside an hour the strongest fortifications in England had been destroyed, and ten first-class battleships and a cruiser had been sent to the bottom of the sea, and so at last her ancient sceptre was falling from the hand of the Sea Queen, and her long inviolate domain was threatened by the armed legions of those whose forefathers she had vanquished on many a stricken field by land and sea.

“Well, gentlemen,” said the Prime Minister to the other members of the Cabinet Council, who were sitting round that historic oval table in the Council Chamber in Downing Street, “we may as well confess that this is a great deal more serious than we expected it to be, and that is to my mind all the better reason why we should strain every nerve to hold intact the splendid heritage which our fathers have left to us—”

Boom! A shudder ran through the atmosphere as he spoke the last words, and the double windows in Downing Street shook with the vibration. The members of the Cabinet started in their seats and looked at each other.

Was this the fulfilment of the half prophecy which the Prime Minister had spoken so slowly and so clearly in the silent, crowded House of Commons?

Almost at the same moment the electric bell at the outer of the double doors rang. The doors were opened, and a messenger came in with a telegram which he handed to the Prime Minister, and then retired. He opened the envelope, and for nearly five minutes of intense suspense he mentally translated the familiar cypher, and then he said, as he handed the telegram to the Secretary for War:

“Gentlemen, I deeply regret to say that the possible prospect which I outlined in the House to-night has become an accomplished fact. Two hundred and forty-three years ago London heard the sound of hostile guns. We have heard them to-night. This telegram is from Sheerness, and it tells, I most deeply regret to say, the same story, or something like it, as the messages from Portsmouth. A Russo-German-French fleet of battleships, cruisers and destroyers, assisted by four airships and an unknown number of submarines, has defeated the Southern portion of the North Sea Squadron, and is now proceeding in two divisions, one up the Medway towards Chatham, and the other up the Thames towards Tilbury. Garrison Fort is now being bombarded from the Sea and the air, and will probably be in ruins within an hour.”

Chapter XIII — A Crime And A Mistake


WHEN the destruction of the forts and the sinking of the battleships at Portsmouth had been accomplished, John Castellan made about the greatest mistake in his life, a mistake which had very serious consequences for those to whom he had sold himself and his terrible invention.

He and his brother Denis formed a very curious contrast, which is nevertheless not uncommon in Irish families. The British army and navy can boast no finer soldiers or sailors, and the Empire no more devoted servants than those who claim Ireland as the land of their birth, and Denis Castellan was one of these. As the reader may have guessed already, he and Erskine had only been on the Cormorant because it was the policy of the Naval Council to keep two of the ablest men in the service out of sight for a while. Denis, who had a remarkable gift of tongues, was really one of the most skilful naval attachés in service, and what he didn't know about the naval affairs of Europe was hardly worth learning. Erskine had been recognised by the Naval Council which, under Sir John Fisher, had raised the British Navy to a pitch of efficiency that was the envy of every nation in the world, except Japan, as an engineer and inventor of quite extraordinary ability, and while the Ithuriel was building, they had given him the command of the Cormorant, chiefly because there was hardly anything to do, and therefore he had ample leisure to do his thinking.

On the other hand John Castellan was an unhappily brilliant example of that type of Keltic intellect which is incapable of believing the world-wide truism that the day of small states is passed. He had two articles of political faith. One was an unshakable belief in the possibility of Irish independence, and the other, which naturally followed from the first, was implacable hatred of the Saxon oppressor whose power and wealth had saved Ireland from invasion for centuries. He was utterly unable to grasp the Imperial idea, while his brother was as enthusiastic an Imperialist as ever sailed the seas.

Had it not been for this blind hatred, the disaster which had befallen the Reserve Fleet would have been repeated at sea on a much vaster scale; but he allowed his passions to overcome his judgment, and so saved the Channel Fleet. There lay beneath him defenceless the greatest naval port of England, with its docks and dockyards, its barracks and arsenals, its garrisons of soldiers and sailors, and its crowds of workmen. The temptation was too strong for him, and he yielded to it.

When the Prince George had gone down he rose into the air, and ran over the Isle of Wight, signalling to the See Adler. The signals were answered, and the two airships met about two miles south-west of the Needles, and Castellan informed Captain Frenkel of his intention to destroy Portsmouth and Gosport. The German demurred strongly. He had no personal hatred to satisfy, and he suggested that it would be much better to go out to sea and discover the whereabouts of the Channel Fleet; but Castellan was Commander-in-Chief of the Aerial Squadrons of the Allies, and so his word was law, and within the next two hours one of the greatest crimes in the history of civilised warfare was committed.

The two airships circled slowly over Gosport and Portsmouth, dropping their torpedoes wherever a worthy mark presented itself. The first one discharged from the Flying Fish fell on the deck of the old Victory. The deck burst up, as though all the powder she had carried at Trafalgar had exploded beneath it, and the next moment she broke out in inextinguishable flames. The old Resolution met the same fate from the See Adler, and then the pitiless hail of destruction fell on the docks and jetties. In a few minutes the harbour was ringed with flame. Portsmouth Station, built almost entirely of wood, blazed up like matchwood; then came the turn of the dockyards at Portsea, which were soon ablaze from end to end.

Then the two airships spread their wings like destroying angels over Portsmouth town. Half a dozen torpedoes wrecked the Town Hall and set the ruins on fire. This was the work of the See Adler. The Flying Fish devoted her attention to the naval and military barracks, the Naval College and the Gunnery School on Whale Island. As soon as these were reduced to burning ruins, the two airships scattered their torpedoes indiscriminately over churches, shops and houses, and in the streets crowded by terrified mobs of soldiers, sailors and civilians.

The effect of the torpedoes in the streets was too appalling for description. Everyone within ten or a dozen yards of the focus of the explosion was literally blown to atoms, and for fifty yards round every living creature dropped dead, killed either by the force of the concussion or the poisonous gases which were liberated by the explosion. Hundreds fell thus without the mark of a wound, and when some of their bodies were examined afterwards, it was found that their hearts were split open as cleanly as though they had been divided with a razor, just as are the hearts of fishes which have been killed with dynamite.

John Castellan and his lieutenant, M'Carthy, for the time being gloried in the work of destruction. Captain Frenkel was a soldier and a gentleman, and he saw nothing in it save wanton killing of defenceless people and a wicked waste of ammunition; but the terrible War Lord of Germany had given Castellan supreme command, and to disobey meant degradation, and possibly death, and so the See Adler perforce took her share in the tragedy.

In a couple of hours Portsmouth, Gosport and Portsea had ceased to be towns. They were only areas of flaming ruins; but at last the ammunition gave out, and Castellan was compelled to signal the See Adler to shape her course for Bracklesham Bay in order to replenish the magazines. They reached the bay, and descended at the spot where the Leger ought to have been at anchor. She was not there, for the sufficient reason that the Ithuriel's ram had sent her to the bottom of the Channel.

For half an hour the Flying Fish and the See Adler hunted over the narrow waters, but neither was the Leger nor any other craft to be seen between the Selsey coast and the Isle of Wight. When they came together again in Bracklesham Bay, John Castellan's rage against the hated Saxon had very considerably cooled. Evidently something serious had happened, and something that he knew nothing about, and now that the excitement of destruction had died away, he remembered more than one thing which he ought to have thought of before.

The two rushes of the torpedo boats, supported by the swift cruisers, had not taken place. Not a hostile vessel had entered either Spithead or the Solent, and the British cruisers, which he had been ordered to spare, had got away untouched. It was perfectly evident that some disaster had befallen the expedition, and that the Leger had been involved in it. In spite of the terrible destruction that the Flying Fish, the See Adler and the Banshee had wrought on sea and land, it was plain that the first part of the invader's programme had been brought to nothing by some unknown agency.

He was, of course, aware of the general plan of attack. He had destroyed the battleships of the Fleet Reserve. While he was doing that the destroyers should have been busy among the cruisers, and then the main force, under Admiral Durenne, would follow, and take possession of Southampton, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. A detachment of cruisers and destroyers was then to be despatched to Littlehampton, and land a sufficient force to seize and hold the railway at Ford and Arundel, so that the coast line of the L.B.S.C.R., as well as the main line to Horsham and London, should be at the command of the invaders.

Littlehampton was also particularly valuable on account of its tidal river and harbour, which would give shelter and protection to a couple of hundred torpedo boats and destroyers, and its wharves from which transports could easily coal. It is hardly worth while to add that it had been left entirely undefended. It had been proposed to mount a couple of 9.2 guns on the old fort on the west side of the river mouth, with half a dozen twelve-pound quick-firers at the Coast-Guard station on the east side to repel torpedo attack, but the War Office had laughed at the idea of an enemy getting within gunshot of the inviolate English shore, and so one of the most vulnerable points on the south coast had been left undefended.

What would Castellan have given now for the torpedoes which the two ships had wasted in the wanton destruction of Portsmouth, and the murder of its helpless citizens. The main French Fleet by this time could not be very far off. Behind it, somewhere, was the British Channel Fleet, the most powerful sea force that had ever ridden the subject waves, and here he was without a torpedo on either of his ships, and no supplies nearer than Kiel. The Leger had carried two thousand torpedoes and five hundred cylinders of the gases which supplied the motive power. She was gone, and for all offensive purposes the Flying Fish and See Adler were as harmless as a couple of balloons.

When it was too late, John Castellan remembered in the bitterness of his soul that the torpedoes which had destroyed Portsmouth would have been sufficient to have wrecked the Channel Fleet, and now there was nothing for it but to leave Admiral Durenne to fight his own battle against the most powerful fleet in the world, and to use what was left of the motive power to get back to Kiel, and replenish their magazines.

Horrible as had been the fate which had fallen on the great arsenal of southern England, it had not been sacrificed in vain, and very sick at heart was John Castellan when he gave the order for the two vessels, which a few hours ago had been such terrible engines of destruction, to rise into the air and wing their harmless flight towards Kiel.

When the Flying Fish and the See Adler took the air, and shipped their course eastward, the position of the opposing fleets was somewhat as follows: The cruisers of the A Squadron, Amphitrite, Andromeda, Europa, Niobe, Blenheim and Blake, with fifteen first-class torpedo boats and ten destroyers, had got out to sea from Spithead unharmed. All these cruisers were good for twenty knots, the torpedo boats for twenty-five, and the destroyers for thirty. The Sutlej, Ariadne, Argonaut and Diadem had got clear away from the Solent, with ten first-class torpedo boats and five destroyers. They met about four miles south-east of St Catherine's Point. Commodore Hoskins of the Diadem was the senior officer in command, and so he signalled for Captain Pennell, of the Andromeda, to come on board, and talk matters over with him, but before the conversation was half-way through, a black shape, with four funnels crowned with smoke and flame, came tearing up from the westward, made the private signal, and ran alongside the Diadem.

The news that her commander brought was this—Admiral Lord Beresford had succeeded in eluding the notice of the French Channel Fleet, and was on his way up the south-west with the intention of getting behind Admiral Durenne's fleet, and crushing it between his own force to seaward and the batteries and Reserve Fleet on the landward side. The Commander of the destroyer was, of course, quite ignorant of the disaster which had befallen the battleships of the Reserve Fleet and Portsmouth, and when the captain of the cruiser told him the tidings, though he received the news with the almost fatalistic sang froid of the British naval officer, turned a shade or two paler under the bronze of his skin.

“That is terrible news, sir,” he said, “and it will probably alter the Admiral's plans considerably. I must be off as soon as possible, and let him know: meanwhile, of course, you will use your own judgment.”

“Yes,” replied the Commodore, “but I think you had better take one of our destroyers, say the Greyhound, back with you. She's got her bunkers full, and she can manage thirty-two knots in a sea like this.”

At this moment the sentry knocked at the door of the Commodore's room.

“Come in,” said Commodore Hoskins. The door opened, a sentry came in and saluted, and said:

“The Ithuriel's alongside, sir, and Captain Erskine will be glad to speak to you.”

“Ah!” exclaimed the Commodore, “the very thing. I wonder what that young devil has been up to. Send him in at once, sentry.”

The sentry retired, and presently Erskine entered the room, saluted, and said:

“I've come to report, sir, I have sunk everything that tried to get in through Spithead. First division of three destroyers, the old Leger, the Dupleix cruiser, six destroyers of the second division, and three cruisers, the Alger Suchet and Davout. They're all at the bottom.”

The Commodore stared for a moment or two at the man who so quietly described the terrific destruction that he had wrought with a single ship, and then he said:

“Well, Erskine, we expected a good deal from that infernal craft of yours, but this is rather more than we could have hoped for. You've done splendidly. Now, what's your best speed?”

“Forty-five knots, sir.”

“Good Lord!” exclaimed the Commander of the Greyhound. “You don't say so.”

“Oh, yes,” said Erskine with a smile. “You ought to have seen us walk over those destroyers. I hit them at full speed, and they crumpled up like paper boats.”

By this time the Commodore had sat down, and was writing his report as fast as he could get his pencil over the paper. It was a short, terse, but quite comprehensive account of the happenings of the last three hours, and a clear statement of the strength and position of the torpedo and cruiser squadron under his command. When he had finished, he put the paper into an envelope, and said to the Commander of the Greyhound:

“I am afraid you are no good here, Hawkins. I shall have to give the message to Captain Erskine, he'll be there and back before you're there. Just give him the bearings of the Fleet and he'll be off at once. There you are, Erskine, give that to the Admiral, and bring me instructions back as soon as you can. You've just time for a whisky-and-soda, and then you must be off.”

Erskine took the letter, and they drank their whisky-and-soda. Then they went on deck. The Ithuriel was lying outside the Greyhound, half submerged—that is to say, with three feet of freeboard showing. Commander Hawkins looked at her with envious eyes. It is an article of faith with all good commanders of destroyers that their own craft is the fastest and most efficient of her class. At a pinch he could get thirty-two knots out of the Greyhound, and here was this quiet, determined-looking young man, who had created a vessel of his own, and had reached the rank of captain by sheer genius over the heads of men ten years older than himself, talking calmly of forty-five knots, and of the sinking of destroyers and cruisers, as though it was a mere matter of cracking egg-shells. Wherefore there was wrath in his soul when he went on board and gave the order to cast loose. Erskine went with him. They shook hands on the deck of the Greyhound, and Erskine went aboard of the Ithuriel, saying:

“Well, Hawkins, I expect I shall meet you coming back.”

“I'm damned if I believe in your forty-five knots,” replied Captain Hawkins, shortly.

“Cast off, and come with me then,” laughed Erskine, “you soon will.”

Inside three minutes the two craft were clear of the Diadem. Erskine gave the Greyhound right of way until they had cleared the squadron. The sea was smooth, and there was scarcely any wind, for it had been a wonderfully fine November. The Greyhound got on her thirty-two knots as soon as there was no danger of hitting anything.

“That chap thinks he can race us,” said Erskine to Lennard, as he got into the conning-tower, “and I'm just going to make him the maddest man in the British navy. He's doing thirty-two—we're doing twenty-five. Now that we're clear I'll wake him up.” He took down the receiver and said:

“Pump her out, Castellan, and give her full speed as soon as you can.”

The Ithuriel rose in the water, and began to shudder from stem to stern with the vibrations of the engines, as they gradually worked up to their highest capacity. Commander Hawkins saw something coming up astern, half hidden by a cloud of spray and foam. It went past him as though he had been standing still instead of steaming at thirty-two knots. A few moments more and it was lost in the darkness.

Chapter XIV — The Eve Of Battle


IN twenty minutes the Ithuriel ran alongside the Britain, which was one of the five most formidable battleships in existence. For five years past a new policy had been pursued with regard to the navy. The flagships, which of course contained the controlling brains of the fleets, were the most powerful afloat. By the time war broke out five of them had been launched and armed, and the Britain was the newest and most powerful of them.

Her displacement was twenty-two thousand tons, and her speed twenty-four knots. She was armoured from end to end with twelve-inch plates against which ordinary projectiles smashed as harmlessly as egg-shells. Twelve fourteen-inch thousand-pounder guns composed her primary battery; her secondary consisted of ten 9.2 guns, and her tertiary of twelve-pounder Maxim-Nordenfeldts in the fighting tops.

It was the first time that Erskine had seen one of these giants of the ocean, and when they got alongside he said to Denis Castellan:

“There's a fighting machine for you, Denis. Great Scott what wouldn't I give to see her at work in the middle of a lot of Frenchmen and Germans, as the Revenge was among the Spaniards in Grenville's time. Just look at those guns.”

“Yes,” replied Castellan, “she's a splendid ship, and those guns look as though they could talk French to the Frenchies and German to the Dutchmen and plain English to the lot in a way that wouldn't want much translating. And what's more, they have the right men behind them, and the best gun in the world isn't much good without that.”

At this moment they heard a shrill voice from the forecastle of the nearest destroyer.

“Hulloa there, what's the matter?” came from the deck of the Britain.

“Four French destroyers coming up pretty fast from the south'ard, sir. Seem to be making for the flagship,” was the reply.

“That's a job for us,” said Erskine, who was standing on the narrow deck of the Ithuriel, waiting to go on board the Britain. “Commander, will you be good enough to deliver this to the Admiral? I must be off and settle those fellows before they do any mischief.”

The commander of the destroyer took the letter, Erskine dived below, a steel plate slid over the opening to the companion-way, and when he got into the conning-tower he ordered full speed.

Four long black shapes were stealing slowly towards the British centre, and no one knew better than he did that a single torpedo well under waterline would send Admiral Beresford's floating fortress to the bottom inside ten minutes, and that was the last thing he wanted to see.

A quartermaster ran down the ladder and caught the letter from the commander just as the Ithuriel moved off.

“Tell the Admiral, with Captain Erskine's compliments, that he'll be back in a few minutes, when he's settled those fellows.”

The quartermaster took the letter, and by the time he got to the top of the ladder, the Ithuriel was flying through a cloud of foam and spray towards the first of the destroyers. He heard a rattle of guns, and then the destroyer vanished. The Ithuriel swung round, hit the next one in the bows, ground her under the water, turned almost at right angles, smashed the stern of the third one into scrap iron, hit the fourth one abreast of the conning-tower, crushed her down and rolled her over, and then slowed down and ran back to the flagship at twenty knots.

“Well!” said Quartermaster Maginniss, who for the last few minutes had been held spellbound at the top of the ladder, in spite of the claims of discipline, “of all the sea-devils of crafts that I've ever heard of, I should say that was the worst. Four destroyers gone in five minutes, and here he is coming back before I've delivered the letter. If we only have a good square fight now, I'll be sorry for the Frenchies.”

The next moment he stiffened up and saluted. “A letter for you, Admiral, left by Captain Erskine before he went away to destroy those destroyers.”

“And you've been watching the destruction instead of delivering the letter,” laughed Lord Beresford, as he took it from him. “Well, I'll let you off this time. When Captain Erskine comes alongside, ask him to see me in my room at once.”

The Ithuriel ran alongside even as he was speaking. The gangway was manned, and when he reached the deck, Admiral Beresford held out his hand, and said with a laugh:

“Well, Captain Erskine, I understood that you were bringing me a message from Commodore Hoskins, but you seem to have had better game to fly for.”

“My fault, sir,” said Erskine, “but I hope you won't court-martial me for it. You see, there were four French destroyers creeping round, and mine was the only ship that could tackle them, so I thought I'd better go and do it before they did any mischief. Anyhow, they're all at the bottom now.”

“I don't think I should have much case if I court-martialled you for that, Captain Erskine,” laughed the Admiral, “especially after what you've done already, according to Commodore Hoskins' note. That must be a perfect devil of a craft of yours. Can you sink anything with her?”

“Anything, sir,” replied Erskine. “This is the most powerful fighting ship in the world, but I could put you at the bottom of the Channel in ten minutes.”

“The Lord save us! It's a good job you're on our side.”

“And it's a very great pity,” said Erskine, “that the airships are not with us too. I had a very narrow squeak in Spithead about three hours ago from one of their aerial torpedoes. It struck part of a destroyer that I'd just sunk, and although it was nearly fifty yards away, it shook me up considerably.”

“Have you any idea of the whereabouts and formation of the French Fleet? I must confess that I haven't. These infernal airships have upset all the plans for catching Durenne between the Channel Fleet and the Reserve, backed up by the Portsmouth guns, so that we could jump out and catch him between the fleet and the forts. Now I suppose it will have to be a Fleet action at sea.”

“If you care to leave your ship for an hour, sir,” replied Erskine, “I will take you round the French fleet and you shall see everything for yourself. We may have to knock a few holes in something, if it gets in our way, but I think I can guarantee that you shall be back on the Britain by the time you want to begin the action.”

“Absolutely irregular,” said Lord Beresford, stroking his chin, and trying to look serious, while his eyes were dancing with anticipation. “An admiral to leave his flagship on the eve of an engagement! Well, never mind, Courtney's a very good fellow, and knows just as much about the ship as I do, and he's got all sailing orders. I'll come. He's on the bridge now, I'll go and tell him.”

The Admiral ran up on to the bridge, gave Captain Courtney Commodore Hoskins' letter, added a few directions, one of which was to keep on a full head of steam on all the ships, and look out for signals, and five minutes later he had been introduced to Lennard, and was standing beside him in the conning-tower of the Ithuriel listening to Erskine, as he said into the telephone receiver:

“Sink her to three feet, Castellan, and then ahead full speed.”

The pumps worked furiously for a few minutes, and the Ithuriel sank until only three feet of her bulk appeared above the water. Then the Admiral felt the floor of the conning-tower shudder and tremble under his feet. He looked out of the side porthole on the starboard bow, and saw his own fleet dropping away into the distance and the darkness of the November night. The water ahead curled up into two huge swathes, which broke into foam and spray, which lashed hissing along the almost submerged decks.

“You have a pretty turn of speed on her, I must say, Captain Erskine,” said the Admiral, after he had taken a long squint through the semicircular window. “I'm sorry we haven't got a score of craft like this.”

“And we should have had, your lordship,” replied Erskine, “if the Council had only taken the opinion that you gave after you saw the plans.”

“I'd have a hundred like her,” laughed the Admiral, “only you see there's the Treasury, and behind that the most noble House of Commons, elected mostly by the least educated and most short-sighted people in the nation, who scarcely know a torpedo from a common shell, and we should never have got them. We had hard enough work to get this one as an experiment.”

“I quite agree with you, sir,” said Erskine, “and I think Lennard will too. There has never been an instance in history in which democracy did not spell degeneration. It's a pity, but I suppose it's inevitable. As far as my reading has taken me, it seems to be the dry-rot of nations. Halloa, what's that? Torpedo gun-boat, I think! Ah, there's the moon. Now, sir, if you'll just come and stand to the right here, for'ard of the wheel, I'll put the Ithuriel through her paces, and show you what she can do.”

A long grey shape, with two masts and three funnels between them, loomed up out of the darkness into a bright patch of moonlight. Erskine took the receiver from the hooks and said:

“Stand by there, Castellan. Forward guns fire when I give the word—then I shall ram.”

The Admiral saw the three strangely shaped guns rise from the deck, their muzzles converging on the gunboat. He expected a report, but none came; only a gentle hiss, scarcely audible in the conning-tower. Then three brilliant flashes of flame burst out just under the Frenchman's top-works. Erskine, with one hand on the steering-wheel, and the other holding the receiver, said:

“Well aimed—now full speed. I'm going over him.”

“Over him!” echoed the Admiral. “Don't you ram under the waterline?”

“If it's the case of a big ship, sir,” replied Erskine, “we sink and hit him where it hurts most, but it isn't worth while with these small craft. You will see what I mean in a minute.”

As he spoke a shudder ran through the Ithuriel. The deck began to quiver under the Admiral's feet; the ram rose six feet out of the water. The shape of the gunboat seemed to rush towards them; the ram hit it squarely amidships; then came a shock, a grinding scrape, screams of fear from the terrified sailors, a final crunch, and the gunboat was sinking fifty yards astern.

“That's awful,” said the Admiral, with a perceptible shake in his voice. “What speed did you hit her at?”

“Forty-five knots,” replied Erskine, giving a quarter turn to the wheel, and almost immediately bringing a long line of battleships, armoured cruisers, protected cruisers and destroyers into view.

The French Channel Fleet was composed of the most powerful ships in the navy of the Republic. The two portions from Brest and Cherbourg had now united their forces. The French authorities had at last learned the supreme value of homogeneity. The centre was composed of six ships of the Republique class, all identical in size, armour and armament, as well as speed. They were the Republique, Patrie flagship, Justice, Democratie, Liberte and Verite. They were all of fifteen thousand tons and eighteen knots. To these was added the Suffren, also of eighteen knots, but only twelve thousand seven hundred tons: she had come from Brest with a flotilla of torpedo boats.

There were six armoured cruisers, Jules Ferry, Leon Gambetta, Victor Hugo, Jeanne d'Arc, Aube and Marseillaise. These were all heavily armed and armoured vessels, all of them capable of manoeuvring at a speed of over twenty knots. A dozen smaller protected and unprotected cruisers hung on each flank, and a score of destroyers and torpedo boats lurked in between the big ships.

The Ithuriel ran quietly along the curving line of battleships and cruisers, turned and came back again without exciting the slightest suspicion.

Erskine would have dearly loved to sink a battleship or one or two cruisers, just to show his lordship how it was done, but the Admiral forbade this, as he wanted to get the Frenchmen, who still thought they were going to easy victory, entangled in the shallows of the narrow waters, and therefore with the exception of rolling over and sinking three submarines which happened to get in the way, no damage was done.

The British Channel Fleet, even not counting the assistance of the terrible Ithuriel, was the most powerful squadron that had ever put to sea under a single command. The main line of battle consisted of the flagship Britain, and seven ships of the King Edward class, King Edward the Seventh, Dominion, Commonwealth, Hindustan, New Zealand, Canada and Newfoundland; all over sixteen thousand tons, and of nineteen knots speed. With the exception of the giant flagships, of which there were five in existence—the Britain, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales—and two nineteen thousand ton monsters which had just been completed for Japan, these were the fastest and most heavily-armed battleships afloat.

The second line was composed of the armoured cruisers, Duke of Edinburgh, Black Prince, Henry the Fourth, Warwick, Edward the Third, Cromwell, all of over thirteen thousand tons, and twenty-two knots speed; the Drake, King Alfred, Leviathan and Good Hope, of over fourteen thousand tons and twenty-four knots speed; and the reconstructed Powerful, and Terrible, of fourteen thousand tons and twenty-two knots. There was, of course, the usual swarm of destroyers and torpedo boats; and in addition must be counted the ten cruisers, ten destroyers, and fifteen torpedo boats, which had escaped from Spithead and the Solent. These had already formed a junction with the left wing of the British force.

For nearly two hours the two great fleets slowly approached each other almost at a right angle. As the grey dawn of the November morning began to steal over the calm blue-grey water, they came in plain sight of each other, and at once the signal flew from the foreyard of the Britain, “Prepare for action—battleships will cross front column of line ahead—cruisers will engage cruisers individually at discretion of Commanders—destroyers will do their worst.”

Chapter XV — The Strife Of Giants


AS it happened, it was a fine, cold wintry day that dawned as the two great fleets drew towards each other. As Denis Castellan said, “It was a perfect jewel of a day for a holy fight,” and so it was. The French fleet was advancing at twelve knots. Admiral Beresford made his fifteen, and led the line in the Britain. Erskine had been ordered to go to the rear of the French line and sink any destroyer or torpedo boat that he could get hold of, but to let the battleships and cruisers alone, unless he saw a British warship hard pressed, in which case he was to ram and sink the enemy if he could.

One division of cruisers, consisting of the fastest and most powerful armoured vessels, was to make a half-circle two miles in the rear of the French Fleet. The ships selected for this service were the Duke of Edinburgh, Warwick, Edward III., Cromwell and King Alfred. Outside them, two miles again to the rear, the Leviathan, Good Hope, Powerful and Terrible, the fastest ships in the Fleet, were to take their station to keep off stragglers.

For the benefit of the non-nautical reader, it will be as well to explain here the two principal formations in which modern fleets go into action. As a matter of fact, they are identical with the tactics employed by the French and Spanish on the one side and Nelson on the other, during the Napoleonic wars. Before Nelson's time, it was the custom for two hostile fleets to engage each other in column of line abreast, which means that both fleets formed a double line which approached each other within gunshot, and then opened fire.

At Trafalgar, Nelson altered these tactics completely, with results that everybody knows. The allied French and Spanish fleets came up in a crescent, just in the same formation as Admiral Durenne was advancing on Portsmouth. Nelson took his ships into action in column of line ahead, in other words, in single file, the head of the column aiming for the centre of the enemy's battle line.

The main advantage of this was, first, that it upset the enemy's combination, and, secondly, that each ship could engage two, since she could work both broadsides at once, whereas the enemy could only work one broadside against one ship. These were the tactics which, with certain modifications made necessary by the increased mobility on both sides, Lord Beresford adopted.

With one exception, no foreigner had ever seen the new class of British flagship, and that exception, as we know, was safely locked up on board the Ithuriel, and his reports were even now being carefully considered by the Naval Council.

There are no braver men on land and sea than the officers and crews of the French Navy, but when the giant bulk of the Britain loomed up out of the westward in the growing light, gradually gathering way with her stately train of nineteen-knot battleships behind her, and swept down in front of the French line, many a heart stood still for the moment, and many a man asked himself what the possibilities of such a Colossus of the ocean might be.

They had not long to wait. As the British battleships came on from the left with ever-increasing speed, the whole French line burst into a tornado of thunder and flame, but not a shot was fired from the English lines. Shells hurtled and screamed through the air, topworks were smashed into scrap-iron, funnels riddled, and military masts demolished; but until the Britain reached the centre of the French line not a British gun spoke.

Then the giant swung suddenly to starboard, and headed for the space between the Patrie and the Republique. The Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand and Hindustan put on speed, passed under her stern, and headed in between the Sufren, Liberte, Verite and Patrie, while the Edward VII, Dominion and Commonwealth turned between the Justice, Democratie, the Aube and Marseillaise.

Within a thousand yards the British battleships opened fire. The first gun from the Britain was a signal which turned them all into so many floating volcanoes. The Britain herself ran between the Patrie and the Republique, vomiting storms of shell, first ahead, then on the broadside and then astern. Her topworks were of course crumpled out of all shape—that was expected; for the range was now only about five hundred yards—but the incessant storm of thousand-pound shells from the fourteen-inch guns, followed by an unceasing hail of three hundred and fifty pound projectiles from the 9.2 quickfirers, reduced the two French battleships to little better than wrecks. The Britain steamed through and turned, and again the awful hurricane burst out from her sides and bow and stern. She swung round again, but now only a few dropping shots greeted her from the crippled Frenchmen.

“I don't think those chaps have much more fight left in them,” said the Admiral to the Captain as they passed through the line for the third time. “We'll just give them one more dose, and then see how the other fellows are getting on.”

Once more the monster swept in between the doomed ships; once more her terrible artillery roared. Two torpedo boats, five hundred yards ahead were rushing towards her. A grey shape rose out of the water, flinging up clouds of spray and foam, and in a moment they were ground down into the water and sunk. The hastily-fired torpedoes diverged and struck the two French battleships instead of the Britain. Two mountains of foam rose up under their sterns, their bows went down and rose again, and with a sternward lurch they slid down into the depths.

The Britain swung round to port, and poured a broadside into the Liberte, which had just crippled the Hindustan, and sunk her with a torpedo. The New Zealand was evidently in difficulties between the Liberte and the Verite. Her upper works were a mass of ruins, but she was still blazing away merrily with her primary battery. The Admiral slowed down to ten knots, and got between the two French battleships; then her big guns began to vomit destruction again, and in five minutes the two French battleships, caught in the triangular fire and terribly mauled, hauled their flags down, and so Lord Beresford's scheme was accomplished. The Dominion and Edward VII. had got between their ships at the expense of a severe handling, and were giving a very good account of them, and the Canada had sunk the Suffren with a lucky shell which exploded in her forward torpedo room and blew her side out.

It was broad daylight by this time, and it was perfectly plain, both to friend and foe, that the French centre could no longer be counted upon as a fighting force. One of the circumstances which came home hardest afterwards to the survivors of the French force was the fact that, as far as they knew, not a single British battleship or cruiser had been struck by a French destroyer or torpedo boat. The reason for this was the very simple fact that Erskine had taken these craft under his charge, and, while the big ships had been thundering away at each other, he had devoted himself to the congenial sport of smashing up the smaller fry. He sent the Ithuriel flying hither and thither at full speed, tearing them into scrap-iron and sending them to the bottom, as if they had been so many penny steamers. He could have sent the battleships to the bottom with equal ease, but orders were orders, and he respected them until his chance came.

The Verite was now the least injured of the French battleships. To look at she was merely a floating mass of ruins, but her engines were intact, and her primary battery as good as ever. Her captain, like the hero that he was, determined to risk his ship and everything in her in the hope of destroying the monster which had wrought such frightful havoc along the line. She carried two twelve-inch guns ahead, a 6.4 on each side of the barbette, and four pairs of 6.4 guns behind these, and the fire of all of them was concentrated ahead.

As the Britain came round for the third time every one of the guns was laid upon her. He called to the engine-room for the utmost speed he could have, and at nineteen knots he bore down upon the leviathan. The huge guns on the Britain swung round, and a tempest of shells swept the Verite from end to end. Her armour was gashed and torn as though it had been cardboard instead of six—and eleven-inch steel; but still she held on her course. At five hundred yards her guns spoke, and the splinters began to fly on board the Britain. The Captain of the Verite signalled for the last ounce of steam he could have—he was going to appeal to the last resort in naval warfare—the ram. If he could once get that steel spur of his into the Britain's hull under her armour, she would go down as certainly as though she had been a first-class cruiser.

When the approaching vessels were a little more than five hundred yards apart, the Ithuriel, who had settled up with all the destroyers and torpedo boats she could find, rose to the north of the now broken French line. Erskine took in the situation at a glance. He snatched the receiver from the hooks, shouted into it:

“Sink—full speed—ram!”

The Ithuriel dived and sprang forward, and when the ram of the Verite was within a hundred yards of the side of the Britain his own ram smashed through her stern, cracked both the propeller shafts, and tore away her rudder as if it had been a piece of paper. She stopped and yawed, broadside on to the Britain. The chases of the great guns swung round in ominous threatening silence, but before they could be fired the Tricolor fluttered down from the flagstaff, and the Verite, helpless for all fighting purposes, had surrendered.

It was now the turn of the big armoured cruisers. They were practically untouched, for the heaviest of the fighting had fallen on the battleships. A green rocket went up from the deck of the Britain, and was followed in about ten seconds by a blue one. The inner line of cruisers made a quarter turn to port, and began hammering into the crippled battleships and cruisers indiscriminately, while the Leviathan, Good Hope, Powerful and Terrible took stations between the Isle of Wight and the Sussex coast.

The Ithuriel rose to her three-foot freeboard, and put in some very pretty practice with her pneumatic guns on the topworks of the cruisers. The six-funnelled Jeanne d'Arc got tired of this, and made a rush at her at her full speed of twenty-three knots, with the result that the Ithuriel disappeared, and three minutes afterwards there came a shock under the great cruiser's stern which sent a shudder through her whole fabric. The engines whirled furiously until they stopped, and a couple of minutes later her captain recognised that she could neither steam nor steer. Meanwhile, the tide was setting strongly in towards Spithead, and the disabled ships were drifting with it, either to capture or destruction.

The French centre had now, to all intents and purposes, ceased to exist. Four out of six battleships were sunk, and one had surrendered, and the Jeanne d'Arc had gone down.

On the British side the Hindustan had been sunk, and the Dominion, Commonwealth and Newfoundland very badly mauled, so badly indeed that it was a matter of dry dock as quickly as possible for them. All the other battleships, including even the Britain herself, were little better than wrecks to look at, so terrible had been the firestorms through which they had passed.

But for the presence of the Ithuriel, the British loss would of course have been much greater. It is not too much to say that her achievements spread terror and panic among the French torpedo flotilla. Under ordinary circumstances they would have taken advantage of the confusion of the battleship action to attack the line of armoured cruisers behind, but between the two lines there was the ever-present destroying angel, as they came to call her, with her silent deadly guns, her unparalleled speed, and her terrible ram. No sooner did a destroyer or torpedo boat attempt to make for a cruiser, than a shell came hissing along the water, and blew the middle out of her, or the ram crashed through her sides, and sent her in two pieces to the bottom.

The result was that when the last French cruiser had hauled down her flag, Admiral Beresford found himself in command of a fleet which was still in being. Of the French battleships the Justice and the Democratie were still serviceable, and of the cruisers, the Jules Ferry, Leon Gambetta, Victor Hugo, Aube and Marseillaise were still in excellent fighting trim, although of course they were in no position to continue the struggle against the now overwhelming force of British battleships and armoured cruisers. This was what Admiral Beresford had fought for: to break the centre and put as many battleships as possible out of action. His orders had been to spare the cruisers as much as possible, because, he said, with a somewhat grim laugh, they might be useful later on.

The idea of their escaping to sea through the double line of British cruisers, to say nothing of the Ithuriel, with her speed of over fifty miles an hour, and her ability to ram them in detail before they were halfway across the Channel, was entirely out of the question. To have attempted such a thing would have been simply a form of collective suicide, so the flags were hauled down, and all that was left of the fleet surrendered.

Another circumstance which had placed the French fleet at a tremendous disadvantage was the absence of the three Flying Fishes, which were to have co-operated with the invading fleet, but of course neither Admiral Durenne, who had gone down with his ship, nor any other of his officers knew that the Banshee had been blown up in mid-air, or that the Ithuriel had destroyed the dépôt ship, and so forced Castellan, after his mad waste of ammunition in the destruction of Portsmouth, to wing his way to Kiel, with the See Adler, in order to replenish his magazines. Had those two amphibious craft been present at the battle, the issue might have been something very different.

The whole fight had only taken a couple of hours from the firing of the first shot to the hauling down of the last flag. Admiral Beresford made direct for Portsmouth to get his lame ducks into dock if possible, and to discover the amount of damage done. As they steamed in through the Spithead Forts, flags went up all along the northern shore of the Isle of Wight, and the guns on the Spithead Forts and Fort Monckton, which the Banshee had been commissioned to destroy, roared out a salute of welcome.

The signal masts of the sunk battleships showed where their shattered hulls were lying, and as the Britain led the way in between them, Lord Beresford rubbed his hands across his eyes, and said to his Commodore, who was standing on what was left of the navigating bridge.

“Poor fellows, it was hardly fair fighting. We might have had something very like those infernal craft if we'd had men of decent brains at the War Office. Same old story—anything new must be wrong in Pall Mall. Still we've got something of our own back this morning. I hope we shall be able to use some of the docks; if I'm not afraid our lame ducks will have to crawl round to Devonport as best they can. The man in command of those airships must have been a perfect devil to destroy a defenceless town in this fashion. The worst of it is that if they can do this sort of thing here they can do it just as easily to London or Liverpool, or Manchester or any other city. I hope there won't be any more bad news when we get ashore.”

Chapter XVI — How The French Landed At Portsmouth


ALL the ships able to take their place in the fighting-line were left outside. The French prisoners were disembarked and their places taken by drafts from the British warships, who at once set about making such repairs as were possible at sea. Admiral Beresford boarded the Ithuriel, which, until the next fight, he proposed to use as a despatch-boat, and ran up the harbour.

He found every jetty, including the North and South Railway piers, mere masses of smoking ruins: but the Ordnance Depot on Priddy's Hard had somehow escaped, probably through the ignorance of the assailants. He landed at Sheer jetty opposite Coaling Point, and before he was half-way up the steps a short, rather stout man, in the undress uniform of a General of Division, ran down and caught him by the hand. After him came a taller, slimmer man with eyes like gimlets and a skin wrinkled and tanned like Russian leather.

The first of the two men was Ge