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Doubts And Philosophy






Part of: SATURN
From: A Journey In Other Worlds

On reaching it, they climbed the ladder leading to the
second-story opening, and entering through this, they closed the
door, screwing it tightly in place.

"Now," said Cortlandt, "we can see what changes, if any, this
wonderful gust will effect."

"He made no strictures on our senses, such as they are," said
Bearwarden, "but implied that evolution would be carried much
further in us, from which I suppose we may infer that it has not
yet gone far. I wish we had recorked those brandy peaches, for
now they will be filled with poisonous germs. I wonder if our
shady friend could not tell us of an antiseptic with which they
might be treated?"

"Those fellows," thought Ayrault, who had climbed to the dome,
from which he had an extended view, "would jeer at an angel,
while the deference they showed the spirit seems, as usual, to
have been merely superficial."

"Let us note," said Cortlandt, "that the spirit thermometer
outside has fallen several degrees since we entered, though, from
the time taken, I should not say that the sudden change would be
one of temperature."

Just then they saw a number of birds, which had been resting in a
clump of trees, take flight suddenly; but they fell to the ground
before they had risen far, and were dashed to pieces. In another
moment the trees began to bend and sway before the storm; and as
they gazed, the colour of the leaves turned from green and purple
to orange and red. The wind blew off many of these, and they
were carried along by the gusts, or fluttered to the ground,
which was soon strewed with them. It was a typical autumnal
scene. Presently the wind shifted, and this was followed by a
cold shower of rain.

"I think the worst is over," said Bearwarden. "The Sailor's
Guide says:

'When the rain's before the wind,
Halliards, sheets, and braces mind;
When the wind's before the rain,
Soon you can make sail again.'

Doubtless that will hold good here."

This proved to be correct; and, after a repetition of the
precautions they had taken on their arrival on the planet in
regard to the inhalability of the air, they again sallied forth.
They left their magazine shot-guns, taking instead the
double-barrelled kind, on account of the rapidity with which this
enabled them to fire the second barrel after the first, and threw
away the water that had collected in the bucket, out of respect
to the spirit's warning. They noticed a pungent odour, and
decided to remain on high ground, since they had observed that
the birds, in their effort to escape, had flown almost vertically
into the air. On reaching the grove in which they had seen the
storm, they found their table and everything on it exactly as
they had left it. Bearwarden threw out the brandy peaches on the
ground, exclaiming that it was a shame to lose such good
preserves, and they proceeded on their walk. They passed
hundreds of dead birds, and on reaching the edge of the toadstool
valley were not a little surprised to find that every toadstool
had disappeared.

"I wonder," said the doctor, "if there can be any connection
between the phenomenon of the disappearance of those toadstools
and the death of the birds? We could easily discover it if they
had eaten them, or if in any other way the plants could have
entered their bodies; but I see no way in which that can have
happened."

Resolving to investigate carefully any other fungi they might
see, they resumed their march. The cold, distant-looking sun,
apparently about the size of an orange, was near the horizon.
Saturn's rotation on its axis occupying only ten hours and
fourteen minutes, being but a few minutes longer than Jupiter's,
they knew it would soon be night. Finding a place on a range of
hills sheltered by rocks and a clump of trees of the evergreen
species, they arranged themselves as comfortably as possible, ate
some of the sandwiches they had brought, lighted their pipes, and
watched the dying day. Here were no fire-flies to light the
darkening minutes, nor singing flowers to lull them to sleep with
their song but six of the eight moons, each at a different phase,
and with varied brightness, bathed the landscape in their pale,
cold rays; while far above them, like a huge rainbow, stretched
the great rings in effulgent sheets, reaching thousands of miles
into space, and flooded everything with their silvery light.

"How poor a place compared with this," they thought to
themselves, "is our world!" and Ayrault wished that his soul was
already free; while the dead leaves rustling in the gentle
breeze, and the nightwinds, sighing among the trees, seemed to
echo his thought. Far above their heads, and in the vastness of
space, the well-known stars and constellations, notwithstanding
the enormous distance they had now come, looked absolutely
unchanged, and seemed to them emblematic of tranquillity and
eternal repose. The days were changed by their shortness, and by
the apparent loss of power in the sun; and the nights, as if in
compensation, were magnificently illuminated by the numerous
moons and splendid rings, though neither rings nor satellites
shone with as strong a light as the terrestrial moon. But in
nothing outside of the solar system was there any change; and
could AEneas's Palinurus, or one of Philip of Macedon's
shepherds, be brought to life here, he would see exactly the same
stars in the same positions; and, did he not know of his own
death or of the lapse of time, he might suppose, so far as the
heavens were affected, that he had but fallen asleep, or had just
closed his eyes.

"I have always regretted," said Cortlandt, "that I was not born a
thousand years later."

"Were it not," added Ayrault, "that our earth is the vestibule to
space, and for the opportunities it opens, I should rather never
have lived, for life in itself is unsatisfying."

"You fellows are too indefinite and abstract for me," said
Bearwarden. "I like something tangible and concrete. The
utilitarianism of the twentieth century, by which I live,
paradoxical though it may seem, would be out of place in space,
unless we can colonize the other planets, and improve their
arrangements and axes."

Mixed with Ayrault's philosophical and metaphysical thoughts were
the memories of his sweetheart at Vassar, and he longed, more
than his companions, for the spirit's return, that he might ask
him if perchance he could tell him aught of her, and whether her
thoughts were then of him.

Finally, worn out by the fatigue and excitement of the day, they
set the protection-wires, more from force of habit than because
they feared molestation and, rolling themselves in their
blankets--for the night was cold--were soon fast asleep;
Ayrault's last thought having been of his fiancee, Cortlandt's of
the question he wished to ask the spirit, and Bearwarden's of the
progress of his Company in the work of straightening the
terrestrial axis. Thus they slept seven hundred and ninety
million miles beyond their earth's orbit, and more than eight
hundred million from the place where the earth was then. While
they lay unconscious, the clouds above them froze, and before
morning there was a fall of snow that covered the ground and them
as they lay upon it. Soon three white mounds were all that
marked their presence, and the cranes and eagles, rising from
their roosts in response to the coming day, looked unconcernedly
at all that was human that they had ever seen. Finally, wakened
by the resounding cries of these birds, Bearwarden and Cortlandt
arose, and meeting Ayrault, who had already risen, mistook the
snowy form before them for the spirit, and thinking the dead
bishop had revisited them, they were preparing to welcome him,
and to propound the questions they had formulated, when Ayrault's
familiar voice showed them their mistake.

"Seeing your white figures," said he, "rise apparently in
response to those loud calls, reminded me of what the spirit told
us of the last day, and of the awakening and resurrection of the
dead."

The scene was indeed weird. The east, already streaked with the
rays of the rising far-away sun, and the pale moons nearing the
horizon in the west, seemed connected by the huge bow of light.
The snow on the dark evergreens produced a contrast of colour,
while the other trees raised their almost bare and whitened
branches against the sky, as though in supplication to the
mysterious rings, which cast their light upon them and on the
ground. As they gazed, however, the rings became grey, the moons
disappeared, and another day began. Feeling sure the snow must
have cleared the air of any deleterious substances it contained
the day before, they descended into the neighbouring valley,
which, having a southerly exposure, was warm in comparison with
the hills. As they walked they disturbed a number of small
rodents, which quickly ran away and disappeared in their holes.

"Though we have seen none of the huge creatures here," said
Cortlandt, "that were so plentiful on Jupiter, these burrowers
belong to a distinctly higher scale than those we found there,
from which I take it we may infer that the evolution of the
animal kingdom has advanced further on this planet than on
Jupiter, which is just what we have a right to expect; for
Saturn, in addition to being the smaller and therefore more
matured of the two, has doubtless had a longer individual
existence, being the farther from the sun."

Notwithstanding the cold of the night, the flowers, especially
the lilies, were as beautiful as ever, which surprised them not a
little, until, on examining them closely, they found that the
stems and veins in the leaves were fluted, and therefore elastic,
so that, should the sap freeze, it could expand without bursting
the cells, thereby enabling the flowers to withstand a short
frost. They noticed that many of the curiously shaped birds they
saw at a distance from time to time were able to move with great
rapidity along the ground, and had about concluded that they must
have four legs, being similar to winged squirrels, when a long,
low quadruped, about twenty-five feet from nostrils to tail,
which they were endeavouring to stalk, suddenly spread two pairs
of wings, flapping the four at once, and then soared off at great
speed.

"I hope we can get one of those, or at least his photograph,"
said Cortlandt.

"If they go in pairs," said Bearwarden, "we may find the
companion near."

At that moment another great winged lizard, considerably larger
than the first, rose with a snort, not twenty yards on their
left. Cortlandt, who was a good shot with a gun at short range,
immediately raised his twelve-bore and fired both barrels at the
monster; but the double-B shots had no more disabling effect than
if they had been number eights. They, however, excited the
creature's ire; for, sweeping around quickly, it made straight
for Cortlandt, breathing at him when near, and almost
overpowering the three men with the malodorous, poisonous cloud
it exhaled. Instantly Bearwarden fired several revolver bullets
down its throat, while Ayrault pulled both barrels almost
simultaneously, with the muzzles but a few inches from its side.
In this case the initial velocity of the heavy buckshot was so
great, and they were still so close together, that they
penetrated the leathery hide, tearing a large hole. With a roar
the wounded monster beat a retreat, first almost prostrating them
with another blast of its awful breath.

"It would take a stronger light than we get here," said
Bearwarden, "to impress a negative through that haze. I think,"
he continued, "I know a trick that will do the business, if we
see any more of these dragons." Saying which, he withdrew the
cartridges from his gun, and with his hunting-knife cut the tough
paper shell nearly through between the wads separating the powder
from the shot, drawing his knife entirely around.

"Now," said he, "when I fire those, the entire forward end of the
cartridge will go out, keeping the fifteen buckshot together like
a slug, and with such penetration that it will go through a
two-inch plank. It is a trick I learned from hunters, and,
unless your guns are choke-bore, in which case it might burst the
barrel, I advise you to follow suit."

Finding they had brought straight-bored guns, they arranged their
cartridges similarly, and set out in the direction in which the
winged lizards or dragons had gone.





Next: A Providential Intervention

Previous: The Spirit's First Visit



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