|Back||1 2 3 4||Next|
Resuming their march, the travellers proceeded along the circumference of a circle having a radius of about three miles, with the Callisto in the centre. In crossing soft places they observed foot-prints forming in the earth all around them. The impressions were of all sizes, and ceased when they reached rising or hard ground, only to reappear in the swamps, regulating their speed by that of the travellers. The three men were greatly surprised at this.
"You may observe," said Cortlandt, "that the surface of the impression is depressed as you watch it, as though by a weight, and you can see, and even hear, the water being squeezed out, though whatever is doing it is entirely invisible. They must be made by spirits sufficiently advanced to have weight, but not advanced enough to make themselves visible."
Moved by a species of vandalism, Bearwarden raised his twelve-bore, and fired an ordinary cartridge that he had not prepared for the dragons, at the space directly over the nearest forming prints. There was a brilliant display of prismatic colours, as in a rainbow, and though the impressions already made remained, no new ones were formed.
"Now you have done it!" said Cortlandt. "I hoped to be able to investigate this further."
"We shall doubtless see other and perhaps more wonderful things," replied Bearwarden. "I must say this gives me an uncanny feeling."
When they had completed a little over half their circle, they came upon another of the groves with which Saturn seemed to abound, at the edge of which, in a side-hill, was a cave, the entrance of which was composed of rocky masses that had apparently fallen together, the floor being but little higher than the surface outside. The arched roof of the vestibule was rendered watertight by the soil that had formed upon it, which again was overgrown by vines and bushes.
"This," said Bearwarden, "will be a good place to camp, for the cave will protect us from dragons, unless they should take a notion to breathe at us from the outside, and it will keep us dry in case of rain. To-morrow we can start with this as a centre, and make another circuit."
"We can explore Saturn on foot," said Cortlandt, "and far more thoroughly than Jupiter, on account of its comparative freedom from monsters. Not even the dragons can trouble us, unless we meet them in large numbers."
Thereupon they set about getting fuel for their fire. Besides collecting some of the dead wood that was lying all about, they split up a number of resinous pine and fir trees with explosive bullets from their revolvers, so that soon they not only had a roaring fire, but filled the back part of the cave with logs to dry, in case they should camp there again at some later day. Neither Cortlandt nor Bearwarden felt much like sleeping, and so, after finishing the birds the president had brought down that morning, they persuaded Ayrault to sit up and smoke with them. Wrapping themselves in their blankets--for there was a chill in the air--they sat about the camp-fire they had built in the mouth of the cave. Two moons that were at the full rose rapidly in the clear, cold sky. On account of their distance from the sun, they were less bright than the terrestrial moon, but they shone with a marvellously pure pale light. The larger contained the exact features of a man. There was the somewhat aquiline nose, a clear-cut and expressive mouth, and large, handsome eyes, which were shaded by well- marked eyebrows. The whole face was very striking, but was a personification of the most intense grief. The expression was indeed sadder than that of any face they had ever seen. The other contained the profile of a surpassingly beautiful young woman. The handsome eyes, shaded by lashes, looked straight ahead. The nose was perfect, and the ear small, while the hair was artistically arranged at the top and back of the head. This moon also reflected a pure white ray. The former appeared about once and a quarter, the latter but three quarters, the size of the terrestrial moon, and the travellers immediately recognized them by their sizes and relative positions as Tethys and Dione, discovered by J. D. Cassini in March, 1684. The sad face was turned slightly towards that of its companion, and it looked as if some tale of the human heart, some romance, had been engraved and preserved for all time on the features of these dead bodies, as they silently swung in their orbits forever and anon were side by side.
"In all the ages," said Cortlandt, "that these moons have wandered with Saturn about the sun, and with the solar system in its journey through space, they can never have gazed upon the scene they now behold, for we may be convinced that no mortal man has been here before."
"We may say," said Ayrault, "that they see in our bodies a type of the source from which come all the spiritual beings that are here."
"If, as the writers of mythology supposed," replied Cortlandt, "inanimate objects were endowed with senses, these moons would doubtless be unable to perceive the spiritual beings here; for the satellites, being material, should, to be consistent, have only those senses possessed by ourselves, so that to them this planet would ordinarily appear deserted."
"I shall be glad," said Bearwarden, gloomily, "when those moons wane and are succeeded by their fellows, for one would give me an attack of the blues, while the other would subject me to the inconvenience of falling in love."
As he spoke, the upper branches of the trees in the grove began to sway as a cold gust from the north sighed among them. "Lose no more opportunities," it seemed to cry, "for life is short and uncertain. Soon you will all be colder than I, and your future, still as easily moulded as clay, will be set as Marpesian marble, more fixed than the hardest rock."
|Back||1 2 3 4||Next|
A Journey in Other Worlds -by- J. J. Astor