From: The Fire People
When I reached the little Florida town Alan was there to meet me. He would
have none of my eager questions, but took me at once by launch to their
bungalow. No one was on the porch when we landed, and we went immediately
into the living room. There I found Beth and Professor Newland talking to
this extraordinary girl from another world, of whose existence, up to that
moment, I had been in complete ignorance. She was dressed especially for
my coming, they told me afterward, exactly as she had been that morning
when Alan found her. They wanted to confound me, and they succeeded.
I stood staring in amazement while Beth quietly introduced me. And Miela
spread her wings, curtsied, and replied in a quaint, soft little voice: "I
am honored, sir." Then she laughed prettily and, extending her hand,
added: "How do you do, Bob--my friend?"
When I had partially recovered from my astonishment Miela put on the big
blue-cloth cape she wore constantly to cover her wings. Then Alan and Beth
plunged into an excited explanation of how he had found Miela, and how all
this time she had remained in seclusion with them there studying their
"You never have seen such assiduous young people," Professor Newland put
in. "And certainly she has been a wonderful pupil."
He patted Miela's hand affectionately; but I noticed then that his eyes
were very sad, as though from some unvoiced trouble or apprehension.
They had decided, the professor said, to keep the girl's presence a secret
from the world until they had learned from her in detail what her mission
was. The vehicle in which she had come was still on the island up the
bayou. Alan had stationed there three young men of Bay Head whom he could
trust. They were living on the island, guarding it.
During these two months while Miela, with uncanny rapidity, was mastering
their language, the Newlands had of course learned from her all she had to
tell them. The situation in Wyoming did not necessitate haste on their
part, and so they had waited. And now, with a decision reached, they sent
That evening after supper we all went out on the bungalow porch, and Miela
told me her story. She spoke quietly, with her hands clasped nervously in
her lap. At times in her narrative her eyes shone with the eager, earnest
sincerity of her words; at others they grew big and troubled as she spoke
of the problems that were harassing her world and mine--the inevitable
self-struggles of humanity, whatever its environment, itself its own worst
"I am daughter of Lua," Miela began slowly, "of the Great City in the
Country of Light. My mother, Lua, is a teacher of the people. My father,
Thaal, died when still I was a child. I--I came to your earth--"
She paused and, turning to Beth, added appealingly: "Oh, there is so
much--to begin--how can I tell--"
"Tell him about Tao," Beth said.
"Tao!" I exclaimed.
"He leads those who came to your earth in the north," Miela went on. "He
was my"--she looked to Alan for the word--"my suitor there in the Great
City. He wished me for his wife--for the mother of his children. But
that--that was not what I wished."
"You'd better tell him about conditions in your world first, Miela," said
Alan. He spoke very gently, tenderly.
I had already seen, during supper, how he felt toward her; I could readily
understand it, too, for, next to Beth, she seemed the most adorable woman
I had ever met. There was nothing unusually strange about her, when her
wings were covered, except her quaint accent and sometimes curious
gestures; and no one could be with her long without feeling the sweet
gentleness of her nature and loving her for it.
"Tell him about your women," Beth added.
I noticed the affectionate regard she also seemed to have for Miela; and I
noticed, too, that there was in her face that vague look of sorrow that
was in her father's.
The habitable world of Mercury, Miela then went on to tell me, was divided
into three zones--light, twilight and darkness. There was no direct
sunlight in the Light Country--only a diffused daylight like the light on
our earth when the sky is clouded over. The people of the Light Country,
Miela's people, were the most civilized and the ruling race.
In the twilight zone around them, grading back to the Dark Country,
various other peoples dwelt, and occasionally warred with their neighbors
for possession of land in the light.
In the center of the Light Country, directly underneath the sun--that is,
where the sun, would always appear near the zenith--was the Fire Country.
Here, owing to violent storms, the atmospheric envelope of the planet was
frequently disturbed sufficiently to allow passage for the sun's direct
rays. Then would ensue in that locality, for a limited time, a heat so
intense as to destroy life. This Fire Country was practically uninhabited.
"You see, Bob," Alan interrupted, "the dark part of Mercury--that is the
side that continually faces away from the sun--is also practically
uninhabited. Only strange animals and savages live there. And the twilight
zones, and the ring of Light Country, with the exception of its center,
are too densely populated. This has caused an immense amount of trouble.
The Twilight People are an inferior race. They have tried to mix with
those of the Light Country. It doesn't work. There's been trouble for
generations; trouble over the women, for one thing. Anyhow, the Twilight
People have been kept out as much as possible. Now this fellow Tao--"
"Let Miela explain about the women first," Beth interjected.
Then Miela went on to tell me that only the females of Mercury had
wings--given them by the Creator as a protection against the pursuit of
the male. At marriage, to insure submission to the will of her husband, a
woman's wings were clipped. For more than a generation now there had been
a growing rebellion on the part of the women against this practice. In
this movement Miela's mother, Lua, was a leader. To overcome this
masculine desire for physical superiority and dominance which he had had
for centuries seemed practically impossible. Yet, Miela said, the leaders
of the women now felt that some progress was being made in changing public
sentiment, although so far not a single man had been found who would take
for mate a woman with wings unclipped.
This was partly from personal pride and partly because the laws of the
country made such a union illegal, its parties moral outlaws, its children
illegitimate, and thus not entitled to the government benefits bestowed
upon all offspring of legitimate parentage. It was this man-made law the
women were fighting, and of recent years fighting more and more
This was the situation when Tao suddenly projected himself into public
affairs as the leader of a new movement. Tao had paid court to Miela
without success. He was active in the fight against the woman movement--a
brilliant orator, crafty, unscrupulous, a good leader. Leadership was to
him purely a matter of personal gain. He felt no deep, sincere interest in
any public movement for any other reason.
Interplanetary communication had become of latter years a possibility;
science had invented and perfected the means. So far these vehicles had
only been used for short trips to the outer edge of the atmosphere of
Mercury--trips that were giving scientific men much valuable knowledge of
atmospheric conditions, and which it was thought would ultimately enable
them to counteract the storms and make the Fire Country habitable. No
trips into space had been made.
Tao now came forward with the proposition to undertake a new world
conquest--a conquest of Venus or the earth. These planets recently had
been observed from the vehicles. This, he said, would solve the land
question, which, after all, was more serious than the clipping of women's
He found many followers--adventurers, principally, to whom the
possibilities for untold personal gain in such a conquest appealed. Then
abruptly the women took part. Dropping for the time their own fight, they
opposed Tao vigorously. If Venus or the earth were inhabited, as it was
thought they were, such an expedition would be a war against humanity. It
would result in the needless destruction of human life.
In this controversy the government of the Light Country remained neutral.
But the women finally won, and Tao and his followers, a number of them men
of science, were all banished by the government, under pressure of popular
sentiment, into the Twilight Country.
Here Tao's project fell upon fertile soil. The Twilight People had every
reason to undertake such a conquest; and Tao became their leader in
preparing for it. These preparations were known in the Light Country. The
government made no effort to prevent them. It was, indeed, rather glad of
the possibility of being rid of its disturbing neighbors.
Only the women were concerned, but they alone could do nothing, since by
principle they were as much opposed to offensive warfare against the
Twilight People as against the possible inhabitants of the earth. Miela
paused at this point in her narrative. The thing was getting clearer to me
now, but I could not reconcile this feeble attempt to conquer the earth
which we were then fighting in Wyoming with the picture she drew. I said
"She hasn't come to that," Alan broke in. "You see, Bob, Tao, with about a
hundred followers, was banished to the Twilight Country a couple of years
ago. There was plenty of brains in the party, scientific men and such.
They had only one vehicle, but they have been at work ever since building
a lot of others.
"This expedition of Tao to Wyoming--with only about a hundred of the
Twilight People with him--is not intended to be an offensive operation at
all. He's only looking the situation over, finding out what they're up
against. They decided before they started that the light-ray would protect
them from anything on earth, and they have only come to look around.
"Right now up there"--Alan leaned forward earnestly, and in the moonlight
I could see the flush on his handsome face--"right now up there in the
Twilight Country of Mercury they're working their damnedest over all kinds
of preparations. This Wyoming business this summer does not mean a thing
Tao will quit it any minute. You'll see. Some morning we'll wake up and
find them gone. Probably they'll destroy their apparatus, and not bother
to take it back.
"And then, in a year or two, they'll be here again. Not one vehicle next
time, but a hundred. They'll land all over the earth at once, not on a
desert--Tao probably only picked that this time to avoid
complications--but in our big cities, New York, Paris, London, all of them
at once. That's what we've got to face.
"If Tao comes back as he plans, we have not got a chance. That's why Miela
stole this little vehicle and, without it being publicly known in Mercury,
came here to warn us. That's what she was after, to help us, risked her
life to warn us people of another world."
Alan stopped abruptly, and, dropping to the floor of the porch beside
Miela, laid his arm across her lap, looking up into her face as though she
were a goddess. She stroked his hair tenderly, and I could see her eyes
were wet with tears.
There was a moment's silence. I could not have known what Professor
Newland and Beth were thinking, but a moment later I understood.
Then I realized the sorrow that was oppressing them both.
"What can be done?" I asked finally.
Alan jumped to his feet. He began pacing up and down the porch before us;
evidently he was laboring under a great nervous excitement.
"There's nothing to be done," he said--"nothing at all--here on earth. We
have not got a chance. It's up there the thing has got to be fought
out--up there on Mercury--to keep them from returning."
Alan paused again. When he resumed his voice was pitched lower, but was
"I'm going there, Bob--with Miela."
I heard Professor Newland's sharply indrawn breath, and saw Beth's dear
face suddenly whiten.
"I'm going there to fight it out with them. I may come back; I may not.
But if I am successful, they never will--which is all that matters.
"Miela's mother gave her up to come down here and help us. It is a little
thing to go back there to help us, also. If I can help her people with
their own problems, so much the better."
He pulled Miela to her feet beside him and put his arm protectingly about
"And Miela is going back to her world as my wife--her body
unmutilated--the first married woman in Mercury with wings as God gave
them to her!"
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