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Saturn






Part of: SATURN
From: A Journey In Other Worlds

Landing on a place about ten degrees north of the equator, so
that they might obtain a good view of the great rings--since ON
the line only the thin edge would be visible--they opened a
port-hole with the same caution they had exercised on Jupiter.
Again there was a rush of air, showing that the pressure without
was greater than that within; but on this occasion the barometer
stopped at thirty-eight, from which they calculated that the
pressure was nineteen pounds to the square inch on their bodies,
instead of fifteen as at sea-level on earth. This difference was
so slight that they scarcely felt it. They also discarded the
apergetic outfits that had been so useful on Jupiter, as
unnecessary here. The air was an icy blast, and though they
quickly closed the opening, the interior of the Callisto was
considerably chilled.

"We shall want our winter clothes," said Bearwarden; "it might be
more comfortable for us exactly on the equator, though the scene
at night will be far finer here, if we can stand the climate.
Doubtless it will also be warmer soon, for the sun has but just
risen."

"I suspect this is merely one of the cold waves that rush towards
the equator at this season, which corresponds to about the 10th
of our September," replied Cortlandt. "The poles of Saturn must
be intensely cold during its long winter of fourteen and three
quarter years, for, the axis being inclined twenty-seven degrees
from the perpendicular of its orbit, the pole turned from the sun
is more shut off from its heat than ours, and in addition to this
the mean distance--more than eight hundred and eighty million
miles--is very great. Since the chemical composition of the air
we have inhaled has not troubled our lungs, it is fair to suppose
we shall have no difficulty in breathing."

Having dressed themselves more warmly, and seen by a thermometer
they had placed outside that the temperature was thirty-eight
degrees Fahrenheit, which had seemed very cold compared with the
warmth inside the Callisto, they again opened the port-hole, this
time leaving it open longer. What they had felt before was
evidently merely a sudden gust, for the air was now comparatively
calm.

Finding that the doctor's prediction as to the suitability of the
air to their lungs was correct, they ventured out, closing the
door as they went.

Expecting, as on Jupiter, to find principally vertebrates of the
reptile and bird order, they carried guns and cartridges loaded
with buckshot and No. 1, trusting for solid-ball projectiles to
their revolvers, which they shoved into their belts. They also
took test- tubes for experiments on the Saturnian bacilli.
Hanging a bucket under the pipe leading from the roof, to catch
any rain that might fall--for they remembered the scarcity of
drinking-water on Jupiter--they set out in a southwesterly
direction.

Walking along, they noticed on all sides tall lilies immaculately
pure in their whiteness, and mushrooms and toadstools nearly a
foot high, the former having a delicious flavour and extreme
freshness, as though only an hour old. They had seen no animal
life, or even sign of it, and were wondering at its dearth, when
suddenly two large white birds rose directly in front of them.
Like thought, Bearwarden and Ayrault had their guns up, snapping
the thumb-pieces over "safe" and pulling the triggers almost
simultaneously. Bearwarden, having double buckshot, killed his
bird at the first fire; but Ayrault, having only No. 1, had to
give his the second barrel, almost all damage in both cases being
in the head. On coming close to their victims they found them to
measure twelve feet from tip to tip, and to have a tremendous
thickness of feathers and down.

"From the looks of these beauties," said Bearwarden, "I should
say they probably inhabited a pretty cold place."

"They are doubtless northern birds," said Cortlandt, "that have
just come south. It is easy to believe that the depth to which
the temperature may fall in the upper air of this planet must be
something startling."

As they turned from the cranes, to which species the birds seemed
to belong, they became mute with astonishment. Every mushroom
had disappeared, but the toadstools still remained.

"Is it possible we did not see them?" gasped Ayrault.

"We must inadvertently have walked some distance since we saw
them," said Cortlandt.

"They were what I looked forward to for lunch," exclaimed
Bearwarden.

They were greatly perplexed. The mushrooms were all about them
when they shot the birds, which still lay where they had fallen.

"We must be very absent-minded," said the doctor, "or perchance
our brains are affected by the air. We must analyze it to see if
it contains our own proportion of oxygen and nitrogen. There was
a good deal of carbonic-acid gas on Jupiter, but that would
hardly confuse our senses. The strange thing is, that we all
seem to have been impressed the same way."

Concluding that they must have been mistaken, they continued on
their journey.

All about they heard a curious humming, as that of bees, or like
the murmuring of prayers in a resonant cathedral. Thinking it
was the wind in the great trees that grew singly around them,
they paid no attention to it until, emerging on an open plain and
finding that the sound continued, they stopped.

"Now," said Bearwarden, "this is more curious than anything we
found on Jupiter. Here we have an incessant and rather pleasant
sound, with no visible cause."

"It may possibly be some peculiarity of the grass," replied
Cortlandt, "though, should it continue when we reach sandy or
bare soil, I shall believe we need a dose of quinine."

"I FEEL perfectly well," said Ayrault; "how is it with you?"

Each finding that he was in a normal state, they proceeded,
determined, if possible, to discover the source from which the
sounds came. Suddenly Bearwarden raised his gun to bring down a
long-beaked hawk; but the bird flew off, and he did not shoot.
"Plague the luck!" said he; "I went blind just as I was about to
pull. A haze seemed to cover both barrels, and completely
screened the bird."

"The Callisto will soon be hidden by those trees," said
Cortlandt. "I think we had better take our bearings, for, if our
crack shot is going to miss like that, we may want canned
provisions."

Accordingly, he got out his sextant, took the altitude of the
sun, got cross-bearings and a few angles, and began to make a
rough calculation. For several minutes he worked industriously,
used the rubber at the end of his pencil, tried again, and then
scratched out. "That humming confuses me so that I cannot work
correctly," said he, "while the most irrelevant things enter my
mind in spite of me, and mix up my figures."

"I found the same thing," said Bearwarden, "but said nothing, for
fear I should not be believed. In addition to going blind, for a
moment I almost forgot what I was trying to do."

Changing their course slightly, they went towards a range of
hills, in the hope of finding rocky or sandy soil, in order to
test the sounds, and ascertain if they would cease or vary.

Having ascended a few hundred feet, they sat down near some trees
to rest, the musical hum continuing meanwhile unchanged. The
ground was strewn with large coloured crystals, apparently
rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, about the size of hens' eggs,
and also large sheets of isinglass. Picking up one of the
latter, Ayrault examined it. Points of light and shade kept
forming on its surface, from which rings radiated like the
circles spreading in all directions from a place in still water
at which a pebble is thrown. He called his companions, and the
three examined it. The isinglass was about ten inches long by
eight across, and contained but few impurities. In addition to
the spreading rings, curious forms were continually taking shape
and dissolving.

"This is more interesting," said Bearwarden, "than sounding
shells at the sea-shore. We must make a note of it as another
thing to study."

They then spread their handkerchiefs on a mound of earth, so as
to make a table, and began examining the gems.

"Does it not seem to you," asked Ayrault, a few minutes later,
addressing his companions, "as though we were not alone? I have
thought many times there was some one--or perhaps several
persons--here besides ourselves."

"The same idea has occurred to me," replied Cortlandt. "I was
convinced, a moment ago, that a shadow crossed the page on which
I was taking notes. Can it be there are objects about us we
cannot see? We know there are vibrations of both light and sound
that do not affect our senses. I wish we had brought the
magnetic eye; perchance that might tell us."

"Anything sufficiently dense to cast a shadow," said Ayrault,
"should be seen, since it would also be able to make an image on
our retinas. I believe any impressions we are receiving are
produced through our minds, as if some one were thinking very
intently about us, and that neither the magnetic eye nor a
sensitive plate could reveal anything."

They then returned to the study of the isinglass, which they were
able to split into extremely thin sheets. Suddenly a cloud
passed over the table, and almost immediately disappeared, and
then a sharpened pencil with which Ayrault had been writing began
to trace on a sheet of paper, in an even hand, and with a slight
frictional sound.

"Stop!" said Bearwarden; "let us each for himself describe in
writing what he has seen."

In a moment they had done this, and then compared notes. In each
case the vision was the same. Then they looked at the writing
made by the invisible hand. "Absorpta est mors in Victoria," it
ran.

"Gentlemen, began Bearwarden, as if addressing a meeting, "this
cannot be coincidence; we are undoubtedly and unquestionably in
the presence of a spirit or of several spirits. That they
understand Latin, we see; and, from what they say, they may have
known death. Time may show whether they have been terrestrials
like ourselves. Though the conditions of life here might make us
delirious, it is scarcely possible that different temperaments
like ours should be affected in so precisely the same way;
besides, in this writing we have tangible proof."

"It is perfectly reasonable," said Ayrault, "to conclude it was a
spirit, if we may assume that spirits have the power to move the
pencil, which is a material object. Nobody doubts nowadays that
after death we live again; that being the case, we must admit
that we live somewhere. Space, as I take it, can be no obstacle
to a spirit; therefore, why suppose they remain on earth?"

"This is a wonderful place," said Cortlandt. "We have already
seen enough to convince us of the existence of many unknown laws.
I wish the spirit would reveal itself in some other way."

As he finished speaking, the rays of the distant and cold-looking
sun were split, and the colours of the spectrum danced upon the
linen cloth, as if obtained by a prism. In astonishment, they
rose and looked closely at the table, when suddenly a shadow that
no one recognized as his own appeared upon the cover. Tracing it
to its source, their eyes met those of an old man with a white
robe and beard and a look of great intelligence on his calm face.
They knew he had not been in the little grove thirty seconds
before, and as this was surrounded by open country there was no
place from which he could have come.





Next: The Spirit's First Visit

Previous: The Scene Shifts



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