The Honey Of Death


At first nothing seemed to have been disturbed, when they

suddenly perceived that both forelegs were missing. On further

examination they found that the ponderous tail, seven feet in

diameter, was cut through in two places, the thicker portion

having disappeared, and that the heavy bones in this extremity of

the vertebral column had been severed like straws. The cut

surfaces were but little cooler than the interior o
the body,

showing how recently the mutilation had been effected.

"By all the gods!" exclaimed Bearwarden, "it is easy to see the

method in this; the hunters have again cut off only those parts

that could be easily rolled. These Jovian fellows must have

weapons compared with which the old scythe chariots would be but

toys, with which they amputate the legs of their victims. We

must see to it that their scimitars do not come too near to us,

and I venture to hope that in our bullets they will find their

match. What say you, doctor?"

"I see no depression such as such heavy bodies would necessarily

have made had they been rolled along the ground, neither does it

seem to me that these curious tracks in the sand are those of


The loose earth looked as if the cross-ties of some railroad had

been removed, the space formerly occupied having been but partly

filled, and these depressions were across the probable direction

of motion.

"Whatever was capable of chasing mastodons and carrying such

weights," said Ayrault, "will, I suspect, have little to fear

from us. Probably nothing short of light artillery would leave

much effect."

"I dare say," replied Bearwarden, "we had better give the unknown

quantity a wide berth, though I would give a year's salary to see

what it is like. The absence of other tracks shows that his

confreres leave 'Scissor- jaw' alone."

Keeping a sharp lookout in all directions, they resumed their

march along the third side of the square which was to bring them

back to the Callisto. Their course was parallel to the stream,

and on comparatively high ground. Cortlandt's gun did good

service, bringing down between fifty and sixty birds that usually

allowed them to get as near as they pleased, and often seemed

unwilling to leave their branches. By the time they were ready

for luncheon they saw it would be dark in an hour. As the

rapidity of the planet's rotation did not give them a chance to

become tired, they concluded not to pitch their camp, but to

resume the march by moonlight, which would be easy in the high,

open country they were traversing.

While in quest of fire-wood, they came upon great heaps of bones,

mostly those of birds, and were attracted by the tall,

bell-shaped flowers growing luxuriantly in their midst. These

exhaled a most delicious perfume, and at the centre of each

flower was a viscous liquid, the colour of honey.

"If this tastes as well as it looks," said Bearwarden, "it will

come in well for dessert"; saying which he thrust his finger into

the recesses of the flower, intending to taste the essence.

Quietly, but like a flash, the flower closed, his hand being

nearly caught and badly scratched by the long, sharp thorns that

now appeared at the edges.

"Ha!" he exclaimed, "a sensitive and you may almost say a

man-eating plant. This doubtless has been the fate of these

birds, whose bones now lie bleaching at its feet after they have

nourished its lips with their lives. No doubt the plant has use

for them still, since their skeletons may serve to fertilize its


Wishing to investigate further, Bearwarden placed one of the

birds they had shot within the bell of another flower, which

immediately contracted with such force that they saw drops of

blood squeezed out. After some minutes the flower opened, as

beautiful as ever, and discharged an oblong ball compressed to

about the size of a hen's egg, though the bird that was placed

within it had been as large as a small duck. Towards evening

these flowers sent up their most beautiful song, to hear which

flocks of birds came from far and near, alighting on the trees,

and many were lured to death by the siren strains and the honey.

Before resuming their journey, the travellers paid a parting

visit to the bell-shaped lilies on their pyramids of bones. The

flowers were closed for the night, and the travellers saw by the

moonlight that the white mounds were simply alive with

diamond-headed snakes. These coiled themselves, flattened their

heads, and set up such a hissing on the explorers' approach that

they were glad to retire, and leave this curious contrast of

hideousness and beauty to the fire-flies and the moons. Marching

along in Indian file, the better to avoid treading on the

writhing serpents that strewed the ground, they kept on for about

two hours. They frequently passed huge heaps or mounds of bones,

evidently the remains of bears or other large animals. The

carnivorous plants growing at their centre were often like hollow

trees, and might easily have received the three travellers in one

embrace. But as before, the mounds were alive with serpents that

evidently made them their homes, and raised an angry hiss

whenever the men approached.

"The wonder to me," said Bearwarden, "is, that these snakes do

not protect the game, by keeping it from the life-devouring

plants. It may be that they do not show themselves by day or

when the victims are near, or that the quadrupeds on which these

plants live take a pleasure, like deer, in killing them by

jumping with all four feet upon their backs or in some other way,

and after that are entrapped by the flowers."

Shortly after midnight they rested for a half hour, but the dawn

found them trudging along steadily, though somewhat wearily, and

having about completed the third side of their square.

Accordingly, they soon made a right-angle turn to the left, and

had been picking their way over the rough ground for nearly two

hours, with the sun already high in the sky, when they noticed a

diminution of light. Glancing up, they saw that one of the moons

was passing across the sun, and that they were on the eve of a

total eclipse.

"Since all but the fifth moon," said Cortlandt, "revolve exactly

in the plane of Jupiter's equator, any inhabitants that settle

there will become accustomed to eclipses, for there must be one

of the sun, and also of the moons, at each revolution, or about

forty-five hundred in every Jovian year. The reason we have seen

none before is, because we are not exactly on the equator."

They had a glimpse of the coronal streamers as the last portion

of the sun was covered, and all the other phenomena that attend

an eclipse on earth. For a few minutes there was a total return

to night. The twinkling stars and other moons shone tranquilly

in the sky, and even the noise of the insects ceased. Presently

the edge of the sun that had been first obscured reappeared, and

then Nature went through the phenomenon of an accelerated dawn.

Without awaiting a full return of light, the travellers proceeded

on their way, and had gone something over a hundred yards when

Ayrault, who was marching second, suddenly grasped Bearwarden,

who was in front, and pointed to a jet-black mass straight ahead,

and about thirty yards from a pool of warm water, from which a

cloud of vapour arose. The top of the head was about seven feet

high, and the length of the body exceeded thirty feet. The six

legs looked as strong as steel cables, and were about a foot

through, while a huge, bony proboscis nine feet in length

preceded the body. This was carried horizontally between two and

three feet from the ground. Presently a large ground sloth came

to the pool to drink, lapping up the water at the sides that had

partly cooled. In an instant the black armored monster rushed

down the slope with the speed of a nineteenth-century locomotive,

and seemed about as formidable. The sloth turned in the

direction of the sound, and for a moment seemed paralyzed with

fear; it then started to run, but it was too late, for the next

second the enormously exaggerated ant--for such it was--overtook

it. The huge mandible shears that when closed had formed the

proboscis, snapped viciously, taking off the sloth's legs and

then cutting its body to slivers. The execution was finished in

a few seconds, and the ponderous insect carried back about half

the sloth to its hiding-place, where it leisurely devoured it.

"This reminds me," said Bearwarden, "of the old lady who never

completed her preparations for turning in without searching for

burglars under the bed. Finally she found one, and exclaimed in

delight, 'I've been looking for you fifty years, and at last you

are here!' The question is, now that we have found our burglar,

what shall we do with him?"

"I constantly regret not having a rifle," replied Cortlandt,

"though it is doubtful if even that would help us here."

"Let us sit down and wait," said Ayrault; "there may be an

opening soon."

Anon a woolly rhinoceros, resembling the Rhinoceros tichorhinus

that existed contemporaneously on earth with the mammoth, came to

drink the water that had partly cooled. It was itself a

formidable-looking beast, but in an instant the monster again

rushed from concealment with the same tremendous speed. The

rhinoceros turned in the direction of the sound, and, lowering

its head, faced the foe. The ant's shears, however, passed

beneath the horn, and, fastening upon the left foreleg, cut it

off with a loud snap.

"Now is our chance," exclaimed Cortlandt; "we may kill the brute

before he is through with the rhinoceros."

"Stop a bit, doctor," said Bearwarden. "We have a good record so

far; let us keep up our reputation for being sports. Wait till

he can attend to us."

The encounter was over in less than a minute, three of the

rhinoceros's legs being taken off, and the head almost severed

from the body. Taking up the legs in its mandibles, the

murderous creature was returning to its lair, when, with the cry

of "Now for the fray!" Bearwarden aimed beneath the body and

blew off one of the farther armoured legs, from the inside.

"Shoot off the legs on the same side," he counselled Ayrault,

while he himself kept up a rapid fire. Cortlandt tried to

disconcert the enemy by raining duck-shot on its scale- protected

eyes, while the two rifles tore off great masses of the horn that

covered the enormously powerful legs. The men separated as they

retreated, knowing that one slash of the great shears would cut

their three bodies in halves if they were caught together. The

monster had dropped the remains of the rhinoceros when attacked,

and made for the hunters at its top speed, which was somewhat

reduced by the loss of one leg. Before it came within cutting

distance, however, another on the same side was gone, Ayrault

having landed a bullet on a spot already stripped of armour.

After this the men had no difficulty in keeping out of its way,

though it still moved with some speed, snipping off young trees

in its path like grass. Finally, having blown the scales from

one eye, the travellers sent in a bullet that exploded in the

brain and ended its career.

"This has been by all odds the most exciting hunt we have had,"

said Ayrault, "both on account of the determined nature and great

speed of the attack, and the almost impossibility of finding a

vulnerable spot."

"Anything short of explosive bullets," added Bearwarden, "would

have been powerless against this beast, for the armour in many

places is nearly a foot thick."

"This is also the most extraordinary as well as most dangerous

creature with which we have, had to deal," said Cortlandt,

"because it is an enormously enlarged insect, with all the

inherent ferocity and strength. It is almost the exact

counterpart of an African soldier-ant magnified many hundred

thousand times. I wonder," he continued thoughtfully, "if our

latter-day insects may not be the deteriorated (in point of size)

descendants of the monsters of mythology and geology, for nothing

could be a more terrible or ferocious antagonist than many of our

well-known insects, if sufficiently enlarged. No animal now

alive has more than a small fraction of the strength, in

proportion to its size, of the minutest spider or flea. It may

be that through lack of food, difficulties imposed by changing

climate, and the necessity of burrowing in winter, or through

some other conditions changed from what they were accustomed to,

their size has been reduced, and that the fire-flies, huge as

they seemed, are a step in advance of this specimen in the march

of deterioration or involution, which will end by making them as

insignificant as those on earth. These ants have probably come

into the woods to lay their eggs, for, from the behaviour of the

animals we watched from the turtle, there must have been several;

or perhaps a war is in progress between those of a different

colour, as on earth, in which case the woods may be full of them.

Doubtless the reason the turtle seemed so unconcerned at the

general uneasiness of the animals was because he knew he could

make himself invulnerable to the marauder by simply closing his

shell, and we were unmolested because it did not occur to the ant

that any soft-shelled creatures could be on the turtle's back."

"I think," said Bearwarden, "it will be the part of wisdom to

return to the Callisto, and do the rest of our exploring on

Jupiter from a safe height; for, though we succeeded in disabling

this beauty, it was largely through luck, and had we not done so

we should probably have provided a bon bouche for our deceased

friend, instead of standing at his grave."

Accordingly they proceeded, and were delighted, a few minutes

later, to see the sunlight reflected from the projectile's

polished roof.