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Through Space Into The Carboniferous







From: The Skylark Of Space

Seaton opened his eyes and gazed about him wonderingly. Only half
conscious, bruised and sore in every part of his body, he could not at
first realize what had happened. Instinctively drawing a deep breath, he
coughed and choked as the undiluted oxygen filled his lungs, bringing
with it a complete understanding of the situation. Knowing from the lack
of any apparent motion that the power had been sufficient to pull the
car away from that fatal globe, his first thought was for Dorothy, and
he tore off his helmet and turned toward her. The force of even that
slight movement, wafted him gently into the air where he hung suspended
several minutes before his struggles enabled him to clutch a post and
draw himself down to the floor. A quick glance around informed him that
Dorothy, as well as the others, was still unconscious. Making his way
rapidly to her, he placed her face downward upon the floor and began
artificial respiration. Very soon he was rewarded by the coughing he had
longed to hear. He tore off her helmet and clasped her to his breast in
an agony of relief, while she sobbed convulsively upon his shoulder. The
first ecstasy of their greeting over, Dorothy started guiltily.

"Oh, Dick!" she exclaimed. "How about Peggy? You must see how she is!"

"Never mind," answered Crane's voice cheerily. "She is coming to
nicely."

Glancing around quickly, they saw that Crane had already revived the
stranger, and that DuQuesne was not in sight. Dorothy blushed, the vivid
wave of color rising to her glorious hair, and hastily disengaged her
arms from around her lover's neck, drawing away from him. Seaton, also
blushing, dropped his arms, and Dorothy floated away from him,
frantically clutching at a brace just beyond reach.

"Pull me down, Dick!" she called, laughing gaily.

Seaton, seizing her instinctively, neglected his own anchorage and they
hung in the air together, while Crane and Margaret, each holding a
strap, laughed with unrestrained merriment.

"Tweet, tweet--I'm a canary!" chuckled Seaton. "Throw us a rope!"

"A Dicky-bird, you mean," interposed Dorothy.

"I knew that you were a sleight-of-hand expert, Dick, but I did not know
that levitation was one of your specialties," remarked Crane with mock
gravity. "That is a peculiar pose you are holding now. What are you
doing--sitting on an imaginary pedestal?"

"I'll be sitting on your neck if you don't get a wiggle on with that
rope!" retorted Seaton, but before Crane had time to obey the command
the floating couple had approached close enough to the ceiling so that
Seaton, with a slight pressure of his hand against the leather, sent
them floating back to the floor, within reach of one of the handrails.

Seaton made his way to the power-plant, lifted in one of the remaining
bars, and applied a little power. The Skylark seemed to jump under them,
then it seemed as though they were back on Earth--everything had its
normal weight once more, as the amount of power applied was just enough
to equal the acceleration of gravity. After this fact had been
explained, Dorothy turned to Margaret.

"Now that we are able to act intelligently, the party should be
introduced to each other. Peggy, this is Dr. Dick Seaton, and this is
Mr. Martin Crane. Boys, this is Miss Margaret Spencer, a dear friend of
mine. These are the boys I have told you so much about, Peggy. Dick
knows all about atoms and things; he found out how to make the Skylark
go. Martin, who is quite a wonderful inventor, made the engines and
things for it."

"I may have heard of Mr. Crane," replied Margaret eagerly. "My father
was an inventor, and I have heard him speak of a man named Crane who
invented a lot of instruments for airplanes. He used to say that the
Crane instruments revolutionized flying. I wonder if you are that Mr.
Crane?"

"That is rather unjustifiably high praise, Miss Spencer," replied Crane,
"but as I have been guilty of one or two things along that line, I may
be the man he meant."

"Pardon me if I seem to change the subject," put in Seaton, "but where's
DuQuesne?"

"We came to at the same time, and he went into the galley to fix up
something to eat."

"Good for him!" exclaimed Dorothy. "I'm simply starved to death. I would
have been demanding food long ago, but I have so many aches and pains
that I didn't realize how hungry I was until you mentioned it. Come on,
Peggy, I know where our room is. Let's go powder our noses while these
bewhiskered gentlemen reap their beards. Did you bring along any of my
clothes, Dick, or did you forget them in the excitement?"

"I didn't think anything about clothes, but Martin did. You'll find your
whole wardrobe in your room. I'm with you, Dot, on that eating
proposition--I'm hungry enough to eat the jamb off the door!"

* * * * *

After the girls had gone, Seaton and Crane went to their rooms, where
they exercised vigorously to restore the circulation to their numbed
bodies, shaved, bathed, and returned to the saloon feeling like new men.
They found the girls already there, seated at one of the windows.

"Hail and greeting!" cried Dorothy at sight of them. "I hardly
recognized you without your whiskers. Do hurry over here and look out
this perfectly wonderful window. Did you ever in your born days see
anything like this sight? Now that I'm not scared pea-green, I can enjoy
it thoroughly!"

The two men joined the girls and peered out into space through the
window, which was completely invisible, so clear was the glass. As the
four heads bent, so close together, an awed silence fell upon the little
group. For the blackness of the interstellar void was not the dark of an
earthly night, but the absolute black of the absence of all light,
beside which the black of platinum dust is pale and gray; and laid upon
this velvet were the jewel stars. They were not the twinkling,
scintillating beauties of the earthly sky, but minute points, so small
as to seem dimensionless, yet of dazzling brilliance. Without the
interference of the air, their rays met the eye steadily and much of the
effect of comparative distance was lost. All seemed nearer and there was
no hint of familiarity in their arrangement. Like gems thrown upon
darkness they shone in multi-colored beauty upon the daring wanderers,
who stood in their car as easily as though they were upon their parent
Earth, and gazed upon a sight never before seen by eye of man nor
pictured in his imaginings.

Through the daze of their wonder, a thought smote Seaton like a blow
from a fist. His eyes leaped to the instrument board and he exclaimed:

"Look there, Mart! We're heading almost directly away from the Earth,
and we must be making billions of miles per second. After we lost
consciousness, the attraction of that big dud back there would swing us
around, of course, but the bar should have stayed pointed somewhere near
the Earth, as I left it. Do you suppose it could have shifted the
gyroscopes?"

"It not only could have, it did," replied Crane, turning the bar until
it again pointed parallel with the object-compass which bore upon the
Earth. "Look at the board. The angle has been changed through nearly
half a circumference. We couldn't carry gyroscopes heavy enough to
counteract that force."

"But they were heavier there--Oh, sure, you're right. It's mass, not
weight, that counts. But we sure are in one fine, large jam now. Instead
of being half-way back to the Earth we're--where are we, anyway?"

They made a reading on an object-compass focused upon the Earth.
Seaton's face lengthened as seconds passed. When it had come to rest,
both men calculated the distance.

"What d'you make it, Mart? I'm afraid to tell you my result."

"Forty-six point twenty-seven light-centuries," replied Crane, calmly.
"Right?"

"Right, and the time was 11:32 P. M. of Thursday, by the chronometer
there. We'll time it again after a while and see how fast we're
traveling. It's a good thing you built the ship's chronometers to stand
any kind of stress. My watch is a total loss. Yours is, too?"

"All of our watches must be broken. We will have to repair them as soon
as we get time."

"Well, let's eat next! No human being can stand my aching void much
longer. How about you, Dot?"

"Yes, for Cat's sake, let's get busy!" she mimicked him gaily. "Doctor
DuQuesne's had dinner ready for ages, and we're all dying by inches of
hunger."

* * * * *

The wanderers, battered, bruised, and sore, seated themselves at a
folding table, Seaton keeping a watchful eye upon the bar and upon the
course, while enjoying Dorothy's presence to the full. Crane and
Margaret talked easily, but at intervals. Save when directly addressed.
DuQuesne maintained silence--not the silence of one who knows himself to
be an intruder, but the silence of perfect self-sufficiency. The meal
over, the girls washed the dishes and busied themselves in the galley.
Seaton and Crane made another observation upon the Earth, requesting
DuQuesne to stay out of the "engine room" as they called the
partially-enclosed space surrounding the main instrument board, where
were located the object-compasses and the mechanism controlling the
attractor, about which DuQuesne knew nothing. As they rejoined DuQuesne
in the main compartment, Seaton said:

"DuQuesne, we're nearly five thousand light-years away from the Earth,
and are getting farther at the rate of about one light-year per minute."

"I suppose that it would be poor technique to ask how you know?"

"It would--very poor. Our figures are right. The difficulty is that we
have only four bars left--enough to stop us and a little to spare, but
not nearly enough to get back with, even if we could take a chance on
drifting straight that far without being swung off--which, of course, is
impossible."

"That means that we must land somewhere and dig some copper, then."

"Exactly.

"The first thing to do is to find a place to land."

Seaton picked out a distant star in their course and observed it through
the spectroscope. Since it was found to contain copper in notable
amounts, all agreed that its planets probably also contained copper.

"Don't know whether we can stop that soon or not," remarked Seaton as he
set the levers, "but we may as well have something to shoot at. We'd
better take our regular twelve-hour tricks, hadn't we, Mart? It's a
wonder we got as far as this without striking another snag. I'll take
the first trick at the board--beat it to bed."

"Not so fast, Dick," argued Crane, as Seaton turned toward the
engine-room: "It's my turn."

"Flip a nickel," suggested Seaton. "Heads I get it."

Crane flipped a coin. Heads it was, and the worn-out party went to their
rooms, all save Dorothy, who lingered after the others to bid her lover
a more intimate good-night.

Seated beside him, his arm around her and her head upon his shoulder,
Dorothy exclaimed:

"Oh, Dicky, Dicky, it is wonderful to be with you again! I've lived as
many years in the last week as we have covered miles!"

Seaton kissed her with ardor, then turned her fair face up to his and
gazed hungrily at every feature.

"It sure was awful until we found you, sweetheart girl. Those two days
at Wilson's were the worst and longest I ever put in. I could have wrung
Martin's cautious old neck!

"But isn't he a wiz at preparing for trouble? We sure owe him a lot,
little dimpled lady."

Dorothy was silent for a moment, then a smile quirked at one corner of
her mouth and a dimple appeared. Seaton promptly kissed it, whereupon it
deepened audaciously.

"What are you thinking about--mischief?" he asked.

"Only of how Martin is going to be paid what we owe him," she answered
teasingly. "Don't let the debt worry you any."

"Spill the news, Reddy," he commanded, as his arm tightened about her.

She stuck out a tiny tip of red tongue at him.

"Don't let Peggy find out he's a millionaire."

"Why not?" he asked wonderingly, then he saw her point and laughed:

"You little matchmaker!"

"I don't care, laugh if you want to. Martin's as nice a man as I know,
and Peggy's a real darling. Don't you let slip a word about Martin's
money, that's all!"

"She wouldn't think any less of him, would she?"

"Dick, sometimes you are absolutely dumb. It would spoil everything. If
she knew he was a millionaire she would be scared to death--not of him,
of course, but because she would think that he would think that she was
chasing him, and then of course he would think that she was, see? As it
is, she acts perfectly natural, and so does he. Didn't you notice that
while we were eating they talked together for at least fifteen minutes
about her father's invention and the way they stole the plans and one
thing and another? I don't believe he has talked that much to any girl
except me the last five years--and he wouldn't talk to me until he knew
that I couldn't see any man except you. Much as we like Martin, we've
got to admit that about him. He's been chased so much that he's wild. If
any other girl he knows had talked to him that long, he would have been
off to the North Pole or somewhere the next morning, and the best part
of it is that he didn't think anything of it."

* * * * *

"You think she is domesticating the wild man?"

"Now, Dick, don't be foolish. You know what I mean. Martin is a perfect
dear, but if she knew that he is the M. Reynolds Crane, everything
would be ruined. You know yourself how horribly hard it is to get
through his shell to the real Martin underneath. He is lonely and
miserable inside, I know, and the right kind of girl, one that would
treat him right, would make life Heaven for him, and herself too."

"Yes, and the wrong kind would make it...."

"She would," interrupted Dorothy hastily, "but Peggy's the right kind.
Wouldn't it be fine to have Martin and Peggy as happy, almost, as you
and I are?"

"All right, girlie, I'm with you," he answered, embracing her as though
he intended never to let her go, "but you'd better go get some
sleep--you're all in."

Considerably later, when Dorothy had finally gone, Seaton settled
himself for the long vigil. Promptly at the end of the twelve hours
Crane appeared, alert of eye and of bearing.

"You look fresh as a daisy, Mart. Feeling fit?"

"Fit as the proverbial fiddle. I could not have slept any better or
longer if I had had a week off. Seven hours and a half is a luxury, you
know."

"All wrong, old top. I need eight every night, and I'm going to take
about ten this time."

"Go to it, twelve if you like. You have earned it."

Seaton stumbled to his room and slept as though in a trance for ten
hours. Rising, he took his regular morning exercises and went into the
saloon. All save Martin were there, but he had eyes only for his
sweetheart, who was radiantly beautiful in a dress of deep bronze-brown.

"Good morning, Dick," she hailed him joyously. "You woke up just in
time--we are all starving again, and were just going to eat without
you!"

"Good morning, everybody. I would like to eat with you, Dottie, but I've
got to relieve Martin. How'd it be for you to bring breakfast into the
engine room and cheer my solitude, and let Crane eat with the others?"

"Fine--that's once you had a good idea, if you never have another!"

After the meal DuQuesne, who abhorred idleness with all his vigorous
nature, took the watches of the party and went upstairs to the "shop,"
which was a completely-equipped mechanical laboratory, to repair them.
Seaton stayed at the board, where Dorothy joined him as a matter of
course. Crane and Margaret sat down at one of the windows.

She told him her story, frankly and fully, shuddering with horror as she
recalled the awful, helpless fall, during which Perkins had met his end.

"Dick and I have a heavy score to settle with that Steel crowd and with
DuQuesne," Crane said slowly. "We have no evidence that will hold in
law, but some day DuQuesne will over-reach himself. We could convict him
of abduction now, but the penalty for that is too mild for what he has
done. Perkins' death was not murder, then?"

"Oh, no, it was purely self-defense. Perkins would have killed him if he
could. And he really deserved it--Perkins was a perfect fiend. The
Doctor, as they call him, is no better, although entirely different. He
is so utterly heartless and ruthless, so cold and scientific. Do you
know him very well?"

"We know all that about him, and more. And yet Dorothy said he saved her
life?"

"He did, from Perkins, but I still think it was because he didn't want
Perkins meddling in his affairs. He seems to me to be the very
incarnation of a fixed purpose--to advance himself in the world."

"That expresses my thoughts exactly. But he slips occasionally, as in
this instance, and he will again. He will have to walk very carefully
while he is with us. Nothing would please Dick better than an excuse for
killing him, and I must admit that I feel very much the same way."

"Yes, all of us do, and the way he acts proves what a machine he is. He
knows just exactly how far to go, and never goes beyond it."

They felt the Skylark lurch slightly.

"Oh, Mart!" called Seaton. "Going to pass that star we were headed
for--too fast to stop. I'm giving it a wide berth and picking out
another one. There's a big planet a few million miles off in line with
the main door, and another one almost dead ahead--that is, straight
down. We sure are traveling. Look at that sun flit by!"

* * * * *

They saw the two planets, one like a small moon, the other like a large
star, and saw the strange sun increase rapidly in size as the Skylark
flew on at such a pace that any earthly distance would have been covered
as soon as it was begun. So appalling was their velocity that their ship
was bathed in the light of that sun for only a short time, then was
again surrounded by the indescribable darkness. Their seventy-two-hour
flight without a pilot had seemed a miracle, now it seemed entirely
possible that they might fly in a straight line for weeks without
encountering any obstacle, so vast was the emptiness in comparison with
the points of light that punctuated it. Now and then they passed so
close to a star that it apparently moved rapidly, but for the most part
the silent sentinels stood, like distant mountain peaks to the travelers
in an express train, in the same position for many minutes.

Awed by the immensity of the universe, the two at the window were
silent, not with the silence of embarrassment, but with that of two
friends in the presence of something beyond the reach of words. As they
stared out into the infinity each felt as never before the pitiful
smallness of even our whole solar system and the utter insignificance of
human beings and their works. Silently their minds reached out to each
other in mutual understanding.

Unconsciously Margaret half shuddered and moved closer to her
companion, the movement attracting his attention but not her own. A
tender expression came into Crane's steady blue eyes as he looked down
at the beautiful young woman by his side. For beautiful she undoubtedly
was. Untroubled rest and plentiful food had erased the marks of her
imprisonment; Dorothy's deep, manifestly unassumed faith in the ability
of Seaton and Crane to bring them safely back to Earth had quieted her
fears; and a complete costume of Dorothy's simple but well-cut clothes,
which fitted her perfectly, and in which she looked her best and knew
it, had completely restored her self-possession. He quickly glanced away
and again gazed at the stars, but now, in addition to the wonders of
space, he saw masses of wavy black hair, high-piled upon a queenly head;
deep down brown eyes half veiled by long, black lashes; sweet, sensitive
lips; a firmly rounded but dimpled chin; and a perfectly-formed young
body.

After a time she drew a deep, tremulous breath. As he turned, her eyes
met his. In their shadowy depths, still troubled by the mystery of the
unknowable, he read her very soul--the soul of a real woman.

"I had hoped," said Margaret slowly, "to take a long flight above the
clouds, but anything like this never entered my mind. How unbelievably
great it is! So much vaster than any perception we could get upon earth!
It seems strange that we were ever awed by the sea or the mountains ...
and yet...."

She paused, with her lip caught under two white teeth, then went on
hesitatingly:

"Doesn't it seem to you, Mr. Crane, that there is something in man as
great as all this? Otherwise, Dorothy and I could not be sailing here in
a wonder like the Lark, which you and Dick Seaton have made."

* * * * *

Since from the first, Dorothy had timed her waking hours with those of
Seaton--waiting upon him, preparing his meals, and lightening the long
hours of his vigils at the board--Margaret took it upon herself to do
the same thing for Crane. But often they assembled in the engine-room,
and there was much fun and laughter, as well as serious talk, among the
four. Margaret was quickly accepted as a friend, and proved a delightful
companion. Her wavy, jet-black hair, the only color in the world that
could hold its own with Dorothy's auburn glory, framed features
self-reliant and strong, yet of womanly softness; and in this genial
atmosphere her quick tongue had a delicate wit and a facility of
expression that delighted all three. Dorothy, after the manner of
Southern women, became the hostess of this odd "party," as she styled
it, and unconsciously adopted the attitude of a lady in her own home.

Early in their flight, Crane suggested that they should take notes upon
the systems of stars through which were passing.

"I know very little of astronomy," he said to Seaton, "but with our
telescope, spectroscope, and other instruments, we should be able to
take some data that will be of interest to astronomers. Possibly Miss
Spencer would be willing to help us?"

"Sure," Seaton returned readily. "We'd be idiots to let a chance like
this slide. Go to it!"

Margaret was delighted at the opportunity to help.

"Taking notes is the best thing I do!" she cried, and called for a pad
and pencil.


Stationed at the window, they fell to work in earnest. For several hours
Crane took observations, calculated distances, and dictated notes to
Margaret.

"The stars are wonderfully different!" she exclaimed to him once. "That
planet, I'm sure, has strange and lovely life upon it. See how its color
differs from most of the others we have seen so near? It is rosy and
soft like a home fire. I'm sure its people are happy."

They fell into a long discussion, laughing a little at their fancies.
Were these multitudes of worlds peopled as the Earth? Could it be that
only upon Earth had occurred the right combination for the generation of
life, so that the rest of the Universe was unpeopled?

"It is unthinkable that they are all uninhabited," mused Crane. "There
must be life. The beings may not exist in any form with which we are
familiar--they may well be fulfilling some purpose in ways so different
from ours that we should be unable to understand them at all."

Margaret's eyes widened in startled apprehension, but in a moment she
shook herself and laughed.

"But there's no reason to suppose they would be awful," she remarked,
and turned with renewed interest to the window.

Thus days went by and the Skylark passed one solar system after another,
with a velocity so great that it was impossible to land upon any planet.
Margaret's association with Crane, begun as a duty, soon became an
intense pleasure for them both. Taking notes or seated at the board in
companionable conversation or sympathetic silence, they compressed into
a few days more real companionship than is ordinarily enjoyed in months.
Oftener and oftener, as time went on, Crane found the vision of his
dream home floating in his mind as he steered the Skylark in her
meteoric flight or as he strapped himself into his narrow bed. Now,
however, the central figure of the vision, instead of being an
indistinct blur, was clear and sharply defined. And for her part, more
and more was Margaret drawn to the quiet and unassuming, but utterly
dependable and steadfast young inventor, with his wide knowledge and his
keen, incisive mind.

* * * * *

Sometimes, when far from any star, the pilot would desert his post and
join the others at meals. Upon one such occasion Seaton asked:

"How's the book on astronomy, oh, learned ones?"

"It will be as interesting as Egyptian hieroglyphics," Margaret replied,
as she opened her notebook and showed him pages of figures and symbols.

"May I see it, Miss Spencer?" asked DuQuesne from across the small
table, extending his hand.

She looked at him, hot hostility in her brown eyes, and he dropped his
hand.

"I beg your pardon," he said, with amused irony.

After the meal Seaton and Crane held a short consultation, and the
former called to the girls, asking them to join in the "council of war."
There was a moment's silence before Crane said diffidently:

"We have been talking about DuQuesne, Miss Spencer, trying to decide a
very important problem."

Seaton smiled in spite of himself as the color again deepened in
Margaret's face, and Dorothy laughed outright.

"Talk about a red-headed temper! Your hair must be dyed, Peggy!"

"I know I acted like a naughty child," Margaret said ruefully, "but he
makes me perfectly furious and scares me at the same time. A few more
remarks like that 'I beg your pardon' of his and I wouldn't have a
thought left in my head!"

Seaton, who had opened his mouth, shut it again ludicrously, without
saying a word, and Margaret gave him a startled glance.

"Now I have said it!" she exclaimed. "I'm not afraid of him, boys,
really. What do you want me to do?"

Seaton plunged in.

"What we were trying to get up nerve enough to say is that he'd be a
good man on the astronomy job," and Crane added quickly:

"He undoubtedly knows more about it than I do, and it would be a pity to
lose the chance of using him. Besides, Dick and I think it rather
dangerous to leave him so much time to himself, in which to work up a
plan against us."

"He's cooking one right now, I'll bet a hat," Seaton put in, and Crane
added:

"If you are sure that you have no objections, Miss Spencer, we might go
below, where we can have it dark, and all three of us see what we can
make of the stargazing. We are really losing an unusual opportunity."

Margaret hid gallantly any reluctance she might have felt.

"I wouldn't deserve to be here if I can't work with the Doctor and hate
him at the same time."

"Good for you, Peg, you're a regular fellow!" Seaton exclaimed. "You're
a trump!"

* * * * *

Finally, the enormous velocity of the cruiser was sufficiently reduced
to effect a landing, a copper-bearing sun was located, and a course was
laid toward its nearest planet.

As the vessel approached its goal a deep undercurrent of excitement kept
all the passengers feverishly occupied. They watched the distant globe
grow larger, glowing through its atmosphere more and more clearly as a
great disk of white light, its outline softened by the air about it. Two
satellites were close beside it. Its sun, a great, blazing orb, a little
nearer than the planet, looked so great and so hot that Margaret became
uneasy.

"Isn't it dangerous to get so close, Dick? We might burn up, mightn't
we?"

"Not without an atmosphere," he laughed.

"Oh," murmured the girl apologetically, "I might have known that."

Dropping rapidly into the atmosphere of the planet, they measured its
density and analyzed it in apparatus installed for that purpose, finding
that its composition was very similar to the Earth's air and that its
pressure was not enough greater to be uncomfortable. When within one
thousand feet of the surface, Seaton weighed a five-pound weight upon a
spring-balance, finding that it weighed five and a half pounds, thus
ascertaining that the planet was either somewhat larger than the Earth
or more dense. The ground was almost hidden by a rank growth of
vegetation, but here and there appeared glade-like openings.

Seaton glanced at the faces about him. Tense interest marked them all.
Dorothy's cheeks were flushed, her eyes shone. She looked at him with
awe and pride.

"A strange world, Dorothy," he said gravely. "You are not afraid?"

"Not with you," she answered. "I am only thrilled with wonder."

"Columbus at San Salvador," said Margaret, her dark eyes paying their
tribute of admiration.

A dark flush mounted swiftly into Seaton's brown face and he sought to
throw most of the burden upon Crane, but catching upon his face also a
look of praise, almost of tenderness, he quickly turned to the controls.

"Man the boats!" he ordered an imaginary crew, and the Skylark descended
rapidly.

Landing upon one of the open spaces, they found the ground solid and
stepped out. What had appeared to be a glade was in reality a rock, or
rather, a ledge of apparently solid metal, with scarcely a loose
fragment to be seen. At one end of the ledge rose a giant tree
wonderfully symmetrical, but of a peculiar form. Its branches were
longer at the top than at the bottom, and it possessed broad, dark-green
leaves, long thorns, and odd, flexible, shoot-like tendrils. It stood as
an outpost of the dense vegetation beyond. Totally unlike the forests of
Earth were those fern-like trees, towering two hundred feet into the
air. They were of an intensely vivid green and stood motionless in the
still, hot air of noonday. Not a sign of animal life was to be seen; the
whole landscape seemed asleep.

The five strangers stood near their vessel, conversing in low tones and
enjoying the sensation of solid ground beneath their feet. After a few
minutes DuQuesne remarked:

"This is undoubtedly a newer planet than ours. I should say that it was
in the Carboniferous age. Aren't those trees like those in the
coal-measures, Seaton?"

"True as time, Blackie--there probably won't be a human race here for
ages, unless we bring out some colonists."

Seaton kicked at one of the loose lumps of metal questioningly with his
heavy shoe, finding that it was as immovable as though it were part of
the ledge. Bending over, he found that it required all his great
strength to lift it and he stared at it with an expression of surprise,
which turned to amazement as he peered closer.

"DuQuesne! Look at this!"

* * * * *

DuQuesne studied the metal, and was shaken out of his habitual
taciturnity.

"Platinum, by all the little gods!"

"We'll grab some of this while the grabbing's good," announced Seaton,
and the few visible lumps were rolled into the car. "If we had a pickaxe
we could chop some more off one of those sharp ledges down there."

"There's an axe in the shop," replied DuQuesne. "I'll go get it. Go
ahead, I'll soon be with you."

"Keep close together," warned Crane as the four moved slowly down the
slope. "This is none too safe, Dick."

"No, it isn't, Mart. But we've got to see whether we can't find some
copper, and I would like to get some more of this stuff, too. I don't
think it's platinum, I believe that it's X."

As they reached the broken projections, Margaret glanced back over her
shoulder and screamed. The others saw that her face was white and her
eyes wide with horror, and Seaton instinctively drew his pistol as he
whirled about, only to check his finger on the trigger and lower his
hand.

"Nothing but X-plosive bullets," he growled in disgust, and in helpless
silence the four watched an unspeakably hideous monster slowly appear
from behind the Skylark. Its four huge, squat legs supported a body at
least a hundred feet long, pursy and ungainly; at the extremity of a
long and sinuous neck a comparatively small head seemed composed
entirely of a cavernous mouth armed with row upon row of carnivorous
teeth. Dorothy gasped with terror and both girls shrank closer to the
two men, who maintained a baffled silence as the huge beast passed his
revolting head along the hull of the vessel.

"I dare not shoot, Martin," Seaton whispered, "it would wreck the bus.
Have you got any solid bullets?"

"No. We must hide behind these small ledges until it goes away,"
answered Crane, his eyes upon Margaret's colorless face. "You two hide
behind that one, we will take this one."

"Oh, well, it's nothing to worry about, anyway. We can kill him as soon
as he gets far enough away from the boat," said Seaton as, with Dorothy
clinging to him, he dropped behind one of the ledges. Margaret, her
staring eyes fixed upon the monster, remained standing until Crane
touched her gently and drew her down beside him.

"He will go away soon," his even voice assured her. "We are in no
danger."

In spite of their predicament, a feeling of happiness flowed through
Crane's whole being as he crouched beside the wall of metal with one arm
protectingly around Margaret, and he longed to protect her through life
as he was protecting her then. Accustomed as he was to dangerous
situations, he felt no fear. He felt only a great tenderness for the
girl by his side, who had ceased trembling but was still staring
wide-eyed at the monster through a crevice.

"Scared, Peggy?" he whispered.

"Not now, Martin, but if you weren't here I would die of fright."

At this reply his arm tightened involuntarily, but he forced it to
relax.

"It will not be long," he promised himself silently, "until she is back
at home among her friends, and then...."

There came the crack of a rifle from the Skylark. There was an awful
roar from the dinosaur, which was quickly silenced by a stream of
machine-gun bullets.

"Blackie's on the job--let's go!" cried Seaton, and they raced up the
slope. Making a detour to avoid the writhing and mutilated mass they
plunged through the opening door. DuQuesne shut it behind them and in
overwhelming relief, the adventurers huddled together as from the
wilderness without there arose an appalling tumult.

* * * * *

The scene, so quiet a few moments before, was instantly changed. The
trees, the swamp, and the air seemed filled with monsters so hideous as
to stagger the imagination. Winged lizards of prodigious size hurtled
through the air, plunging to death against the armored hull.
Indescribable flying monsters, with feathers like birds, but with the
fangs of tigers, attacked viciously. Dorothy screamed and started back
as a scorpion-like thing with a body ten feet in length leaped at the
window in front of her, its terrible sting spraying the glass with
venom. As it fell to the ground, a huge spider--if an eight-legged
creature with spines instead of hair, many-faceted eyes, and a bloated,
globular body weighing hundreds of pounds, may be called a
spider--leaped upon it and, mighty mandibles against poisonous sting,
the furious battle raged. Several twelve-foot cockroaches climbed nimbly
across the fallen timber of the morass and began feeding voraciously
upon the body of the dead dinosaur, only to be driven away by another
animal, which all three men recognized instantly as that king of all
prehistoric creatures, the saber-toothed tiger. This newcomer, a tawny
beast towering fifteen feet high at the shoulder, had a mouth
disproportionate even to his great size--a mouth armed with four great
tiger-teeth more than three feet in length. He had barely begun his
meal, however, when he was challenged by another nightmare, a something
apparently half-way between a dinosaur and a crocodile. At the first
note the tiger charged. Clawing, striking, rending each other with their
terrible teeth, a veritable avalanche of bloodthirsty rage, the
combatants stormed up and down the little island. But the fighters were
rudely interrupted, and the earthly visitors discovered that in this
primitive world it was not only animal life that was dangerous.


suddenly bent over, lashing out like a snake and grasping both. It
transfixed them with the terrible thorns, which were now seen to be
armed with needlepoints and to possess barbs like fish-hooks.]

The great tree standing on the farther edge of the island suddenly bent
over, lashing out like a snake and grasping both. It transfixed them
with the terrible thorns, which were now seen to be armed with
needlepoints and to possess barbs like fish-hooks. It ripped at them
with the long branches, which were veritable spears. The broad leaves,
armed with revolting sucking disks, closed about the two animals, while
the long, slender twigs, each of which was now seen to have an eye at
its extremity, waved about, watching each movement of the captives from
a safe distance.

If the struggle between the two animals had been awful, this was
Titanic. The air was torn by the roars of the reptile, the screams of
the great cat, and the shrieks of the tree. The very ground rocked with
the ferocity of the conflict. There could be but one result--soon the
tree, having absorbed the two gladiators, resumed its upright position
in all its beauty.

The members of the little group stared at each other, sick at heart.

"This is NO place to start a copper-mine. I think we'd better beat it,"
remarked Seaton presently, wiping drops of perspiration from his
forehead.

"I think so," acquiesced Crane. "We found air and Earth-like conditions
here; we probably will elsewhere."

"Are you all right, Dottie?" asked Seaton.

"All right, Dicky," she replied, the color flowing back into her cheeks.
"It scared me stiff, and I think I have a lot of white hairs right now,
but I wouldn't have missed it for anything."

She paused an instant, and continued:

"Dick, there must be a queer streak of brutality in me, but would you
mind blowing up that frightful tree? I wouldn't mind its nature if it
were ugly--but look at it! It's so deceptively beautiful! You wouldn't
think it had the disposition of a fiend, would you?"

* * * * *

A general laugh relieved the nervous tension, and Seaton stepped
impulsively toward DuQuesne with his hand outstretched.

"You've squared your account, Blackie. Say the word and the war's all
off."

DuQuesne ignored the hand and glanced coldly at the group of eager,
friendly faces.

"Don't be sentimental," he remarked evenly as he turned away to his
room. "Emotional scenes pain me. I gave my word to act as one of the
party."

"Well, may I be kicked to death by little red spiders!" exclaimed
Seaton, dumbfounded, as the other disappeared. "He ain't a man, he's a
fish!"

"He's a machine. I always thought so, and now I know it," stated
Margaret, and the others nodded agreement.

"Well, we'll sure pull his cork as soon as we get back!" snapped Seaton.
"He asked for it, and we'll give him both barrels!"

"I know I acted the fool out there," Margaret apologized, flushing hotly
and looking at Crane. "I don't know what made me act so stupid. I used
to have a little nerve."

"You were a regular little brick, Peg," Seaton returned instantly. "Both
you girls are all to the good--the right kind to have along in ticklish
places."

Crane held out his steady hand and took Margaret's in a warm clasp.

"For a girl in your weakened condition you were wonderful. You have no
reason to reproach yourself."

Tears filled the dark eyes, but were held back bravely as she held her
head erect and returned the pressure of his hand.

"Just so you don't leave me behind next time," she returned lightly, and
the last word concerning the incident had been said.

Seaton applied the power and soon they were approaching another planet,
which was surrounded by a dense fog. Descending slowly, they found it to
be a mass of boiling-hot steam and rank vapors, under enormous pressure.

The next planet they found to have a clear atmosphere, but the ground
had a peculiar, barren look; and analysis of the gaseous envelope proved
it to be composed almost entirely of chlorin. No life of an earthly type
could be possible upon such a world, and a search for copper, even with
the suits and helmets, would probably be fruitless if not impossible.

"Well," remarked Seaton as they were again in space, "we've got enough
copper to visit several more worlds--several more solar systems, if
necessary. But there's a nice, hopeful-looking planet right in front of
us. It may be the one we're looking for."

Arrived in the belt of atmosphere, they tested it as before, and found
it satisfactory.





Next: The Mastery Of Mind Over Matter

Previous: The Rescue



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