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Exploration And Excitement






Part of: LAST OF EARTH
From: A Journey In Other Worlds

When they awoke, the flowers were singing with the volume of a
cathedral organ, the chant rising from all around them, and the
sun was already above the horizon. Finding a deep natural
spring, in which the water was at about blood-heat, they prepared
for breakfast by taking a bath, and then found they had brought
nothing to eat.

"It was stupid of us not to think of it," said Bearwarden, "yet
it will be too much out of our way to return to the Callisto."

"We have two rifles and a gun," said Ayrault, "and have also
plenty of water, and wood for a fire. All we need is game."

"The old excuse, that it has been already shot out, cannot hold
here," said Cortlandt.

"Seeing that we have neither wings nor pneumatic legs, and not
knowing the advantage given us by our rifles," added Bearwarden,
"it should not be shy either. So far," he continued, "we have
seen nothing edible, though just now we should not be too
particular; but near a spring like this that kind must exist."

"The question is," said the professor, "whether the game like
warm water. If we can follow this stream till it has been on the
surface for some time, or till it spreads out, we shall doubtless
find a huntsman's paradise."

"A bright idea," said Bearwarden. "Let's have our guns ready,
and, as old Deepwaters would say, keep our weather eye open."

The stream flowed off in a southeasterly direction, so that by
following it they went towards the volcanoes.

"It is hard to realize," said the professor, "that those
mountains must be several hundred miles away, for the reason that
they are almost entirely above the horizon. This apparent
flatness and wide range of vision is of course the result of
Jupiter's vast size. With sufficiently keen sight, or aided by a
good glass, there is no reason why one should not see at least
five hundred miles, with but a slight elevation."

"It is surprising," said Ayrault, "that in what is evidently
Jupiter's Carboniferous period the atmosphere should be so clear.
Our idea has been that at that time on earth the air was heavy
and dense."

"So it was, and doubtless is here," replied Cortlandt; "but you
must remember that both those qualities would be given it by
carbonic-acid gas, which is entirely invisible and transparent.
No gas that would be likely to remain in the air would interfere
with sight; water vapour is the only thing that could; and though
the crust of this planet, even near the surface, is still hot,
the sun being so distant, the vapour would not be, raised much.
By avoiding low places near hot springs, we shall doubtless have
very nearly as clear an atmosphere as on earth. What does
surprise me is the ease with which we breathe. I can account for
it only by supposing that, the Carboniferous period being already
well advanced, most of the carbonic acid is already locked up in
the forests or in Jupiter's coal-beds."

"How, asked Bearwarden, "do you account for the 'great red spot'
that appeared here in 1878, lasted several years, and then
gradually faded? It was taken as unmistakable evidence that
Jupiter's atmosphere was filled with impenetrable banks of cloud.
In fact, you remember many of the old books said we had probably
never seen the surface."

"That has puzzled me very much," replied Cortlandt, "but I never
believed the explanation then given was correct. The
Carboniferous period is essentially one of great forest growth;
so there would be nothing out of the way in supposing the spot,
notwithstanding its length of twenty-seven thousand miles and its
breadth of eight thousand miles, to have been forest. It
occurred in what would correspond to the temperate region on
earth. Now, though the axis of this planet is practically
straight, the winds of course change their direction, and so the
temperature does vary from day to day. What is more probable
than that, owing perhaps to a prolonged norther or cold spell, a
long strip of forest lying near the frost line was brought a few
degrees below it, so that the leaves changed their colours as
they do on earth? It would, it seems to me, be enough to give
the surface a distinct colour; and the fact that the spot's
greatest length was east and west, or along the lines of
latitude, so that the whole of that region might have been
exposed to the same conditions of temperature, strengthens this
hypothesis. The strongest objection is, that the spot is said to
have moved; but the motion--five seconds--was so slight that it
might easily have been an error in observation, or the first area
affected by the cold may have been enlarged on one side. It
seems to me that the stability the spot DID have would make the
cloud theory impossible on earth, and much more so here, with the
far more rapid rotation and more violent winds. It may also have
been a cloud of smoke from a volcano in eruption, such as we saw
on our arrival, though it is doubtful whether in that case it
would have remained nearly stationary while going through its
greatest intensity and fading, which would look as though the
turned leaves had fallen off and been gradually replaced by new
ones; and, in addition to this, the spot since it was first
noticed has never entirely disappeared, which might mean a
volcanic region constantly emitting smoke, or that the surface,
doubtless from some covering whose colour can change, is normally
of a different shade from the surrounding region. In any case,
we have as yet seen nothing that would indicate a permanently
clouded atmosphere."

Though they had walked a considerable distance, the water was not
much cooled; and though the stream's descent was so slight that
on earth its current would have been very slow, here it rushed
along like a mountain torrent, the reason, of course, being that
a given amount of water on Jupiter would depress a spring balance
2.55 times as much as on the earth.

"It is strange," said Ayrault, "that, notwithstanding its great
speed, the water remains so hot; you would think its motion would
cool it."

"So it does," answered the professor. "It of course cools
considerably more in a given period--as, for instance, one
minute--than if it were moving more slowly, but on account of its
speed it has been exposed to the air but a very short time since
leaving the spring."

Just before them the stream now widened into a narrow lake, which
they could see was straight for some distance.

"The fact is," said Bearwarden, "this water seems in such haste
to reach the ocean that it turns neither to right nor to left,
and does not even seem to wish to widen out."

As the huge ferns and palms grew to the water's edge, they
concluded the best way to traverse the lake would be on a raft.
Accordingly, choosing a large overhanging palm, Bearwarden and
Ayrault fired each an explosive ball into its trunk, about
eighteen inches from the ground. One round was enough to put it
in the water, each explosion removing several cubic feet of wood.
By repeating this process on other trees they soon had enough
large timber for buoyancy, so that they had but to superimpose
lighter cross-logs and bind the whole together with pliable
branches and creepers to form a substantial raft. The doctor
climbed on, after which Bearwarden and Ayrault cast off, having
prepared long poles for navigating. With a little care they kept
their bark from catching on projecting roots, and as the stream
continued to widen till it was about one hundred yards across,
their work became easy. Carried along at a speed of two or three
miles an hour, they now saw that the water and the banks they
passed were literally alive with reptiles and all sorts of
amphibious creatures, while winged lizards sailed from every
overhanging branch into the water as they approached. They
noticed also many birds similar to storks and cranes, about the
size of ostriches, standing on logs in the water, whose bills
were provided with teeth.

"We might almost think we were on earth," said Ayrault, "from the
looks of those storks standing on one leg, with the other drawn
up, were it not for their size."

"How do you suppose they defend themselves," asked Bearwarden,
"from the snakes with which the water is filled?"

"I suspect they can give a pretty good account of themselves,"
replied Cortlandt, "with those teeth. Besides, with only one leg
exposed, there is but a very small object for a snake to strike
at. For their number and size, I should say their struggle for
existence was comparatively mild. Doubtless non-poisonous, or,
for that matter, poisonous snakes, form a great part of their
diet."

On passing the bend in the lake they noticed that the banks were
slightly higher, while palms, pine-trees, and rubber plants
succeeded the ferns. In the distance they now heard a tremendous
crashing, which grew louder as the seconds passed. It finally
sounded like an earthquake. Involuntarily they held their breath
and grasped their weapons. Finally, at some distance in the
woods they saw a dark mass moving rapidly and approaching the
river obliquely. Palms and pine-trees went down before it like
straws, while its head was continually among the upper branches.
As the monster neared the lake, the water at the edges quivered,
showing how its weight shook the banks at each stride, while
stumps and tree-trunks on which it stepped were pressed out of
sight in the ground. A general exodus of the other inhabitants
from his line of march began; the moccasins slid into the water
with a low splash, while the boa-constrictors and the tree-snakes
moved off along the ground when they felt it tremble, and a
number of night birds retreated into the denser woods with loud
cries at being so rudely disturbed. The huge beast did not stop
till he reached the bank, where lie switched his tail, raised his
proboscis, and sniffed the air uneasily, his height being fully
thirty feet and his length about fifty. On seeing the raft and
its occupants, he looked at them stupidly and threw back his
head.

"He seems to be turning up his nose at us," said Bearwarden.
"All the same, he will do well for breakfast."

As the creature moved, his chest struck a huge overhanging palm,
tearing it off as though it had been a reed. Brushing it aside
with his trunk, he was about to continue his march, when two
rifle reports rang out together, rousing the echoes and a number
of birds that screeched loudly.





Next: Mastodon And Will-o'-the Wisps

Previous: Preparing To Alight



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