Authors: George Griffith
Here, too, they found mountains for the first time on Saturn; mountains steep-sided, and many Earth-miles high.
was skirting the side of one of these ranges Redgrave allowed it to approach more closely than he had so far done to the surface of Saturn.
“I shouldn't wonder if we found some of the higher forms of life up here,” he said. “If there is any kind of being that is going to develop some day into the human race of Saturn it would naturally get up here.”
“I should hope so,” said Zaidie, “and just as far as possible out of the reach of those unutterable horrors on the equator. That would be one of the first signs they would show of superior intelligence. Look! I believe there are some of them. Do you see those holes in the mountain-side there? And there they are, something like gorillas, only twice as big, and up the trees, tooâand what trees! They must be seven or eight hundred feet high.”
“Tree-men and cave-dwellers, and ancestors of the future royal race of Saturn, I suppose!” said Redgrave. “They don't look very nice, do they? Still, there's no doubt about their being far superior in intelligence to those other brutes we saw. Evidently this atmosphere is too thin for the two-headed jelly-fishes and the saurians to breathe. These creatures have found that out in a few hundreds of generations, and so they have come to live up here out of the way. Vegetarians, I suppose, or perhaps they live on smaller monkeys and other animals, just as our ancestors did.”
“Really, Lenox,” said Zaidie, turning round and facing him, “I must say that you have a most unpleasant way of alluding to one's ancestors. They couldn't help what they were.”
“Well, dear,” he said, going towards her, “marvellous as the miracle seems, I'm heretic enough to believe it possible that your ancestors even, millions of years ago, perhaps, may have been something like those; but then, of course, you know I'm a hopeless Darwinian.”
“And, therefore, entirely horrid, as I've often said before, when you get on subjects like these. Not, of course, that I'm ashamed of my poor relations; and then, after all, your Darwin was quite wrong when he talked about the descent of manâand woman. Weâespecially the womenâhave ascended
from that sort of thing, if there's any truth in the story at all; though, personally, I must say I prefer dear old Mother Eve.”
“Who never had a sweeter daughter thanâ!” he replied, drawing her towards him.
“Very prettily put, my Lord,” she laughed, releasing herself with a gentle twirl; “and now I'll go and get dinner ready. After all, it doesn't matter what world one's in, one gets hungry all the same.”
The dinner, which was eaten somewhere in the middle of the fifteen-year-long day of Saturn, was a more than usually pleasant one, because they were now nearing the turning-point of their trip into the depths of Space, and thoughts of home and friends were already beginning to fly back across the thousand-million-mile gulf which lay between them and the Earth which they had left only a little more than two months ago.
While they were at dinner the
rose above the mountains and resumed her southward course. Zaidie brought the coffee up on deck as usual after dinner, and, while Redgrave smoked his cigar and Zaidie her cigarette, they luxuriated in the magnificent spectacle of the sunlit side of the Rings towering up, rainbow built on rainbow, to the zenith of their visible heavens.
“What a pity there aren't any words to describe it!” said Zaidie. “I wonder if the descendants of the ancestors of the future human race on Saturn will invent anything like a suitable language. I wonder how they'll talk about those Rings millions of years hence.”
“By that time there may not be any Rings,” Lenox replied, blowing one of blue smoke from his own lips. “Look at thatâmade in a moment and gone in a momentâand yet on exactly the same principle, it gives one a dim idea of the difference between time and eternity. After all it's only another example of Kelvin's theory of vortices. NebulÃ¦, and asteroids, and planet-rings, and smoke-rings are really all made on the same principle.”
“My dear Lenox, if you're going to get as philosophical and as commonplace as that, I'm going to bed. Now that I come to think of it, I've been up about fifteen Earth-hours, so it's about time I went and had a sleep. It's your turn to make the coffee in the morningâour morning, I meanâand you'll wake me in time to see the South Pole of Saturn, won't you? You're not coming yet, I suppose?”
“Not just yet, dear. I want to see a bit more of this, and then I must go through the engines and see that they're all right and ready for that thousand million mile homeward voyage you're talking about. You can have a good ten hours' sleep without missing much, I think, for there doesn't seem to be anything more interesting than our own Arctic life down there. So good-night, little woman, and don't have too many nightmares.”
“Good-night!” she said; “if you hear me shout you'll know that you're to come and protect me from monsters. Weren't those two-headed brutes just too horrid for words? Good-night, dear!”
A LITTLE BEFORE SIX (Earth time) on the fourth morning after they had cleared the confines of the Saturnian System, Redgrave went as usual into the conning-tower to examine the instruments, and to see that everything was in order. To his intense surprise he found, on looking at the gravitational compass, which was to the
what the ordinary compass is to a ship at sea, that the vessel was a long way out of her course.
Such a thing had never yet occurred. Up to now the
had obeyed the laws of gravitation and repulsion with absolute exactness. He made another examination of the instruments; but no, all were in perfect order.
“I wonder what the deuce is the matter,” he said, after he had looked for a few moments with frowning eyes at the multitude of orbs ahead. “By Jove, we're swinging more. This is getting serious.”
He went back to the compass. The long, slender needle was slowly swinging farther and farther out of the middle line of the vessel.
“There can only be two explanations of that,” he went on, thrusting his hands deep into his trousers pockets; “either the engines are not working properly, or some enormous and invisible body is pulling us towards it out of our course. Let's have a look at the engines first.”
When he reached the engine-room he said to Murgatroyd, who was indulging in his usual pastime of cleaning and polishing his beloved charges:
“Have you noticed anything wrong during the last hour or so, Murgatroyd?”
“No, my Lord; at least not so far as concerns the engines. They're all right. Hark, now, they're not making more noise than a lady's sewing machine,” replied the old Yorkshireman, with a note of resentment in his voice. The suspicion that anything could be wrong with his shining darlings was almost a personal offence to him. “But is anything the matter, my Lord, if I might ask?”
“We're a long way off our course, and for the life of me I can't understand it,” replied Redgrave. “There's nothing about here to pull us out of our line. Of course the starsâgood Lord, I never thought of that! Look here, Murgatroyd, not a word about this to her ladyship, and stand by to raise the power by degrees, as I signal to you.”
“Ay, my lord. I hope it's nothing bad!”
Redgrave went back to the conning-tower without replying. The only possible solution of the mystery of the deviation had suddenly dawned upon him, and a very serious solution it was. He remembered there were such things as dead sunsâthe derelicts of the Ocean of Spaceâvast, invisible orbs, lightless and lifeless, too distant from any living sun to be illumined by its rays, and yet exercising the only force left to themâthe force of attraction. Might not one of these have wandered near enough to the confines of the Solar System to exert this force, a force of absolutely unknown magnitude, upon the
He went to the desk beside the instrument-table and plunged into a maze of mathematics, of masses and weights, angles and distances. Half an hour later he stood looking at the last symbol on the last sheet of paper with something like fear. It was the fatal
which remained to satisfy the last equation, the unknown quantity which represented the unseen force that was dragging them into the outer wilderness of insterstellar space, into far-off regions from which, with the remaining force at his disposal, no return would be possible.
He signalled to Murgatroyd to increase the development of the R. Force from a tenth to a fifth. Then he went to the lower saloon, where Zaidie was busy with her usual morning tidy-up. Now that the mystery was explained there was no reason to keep her in the dark. Indeed, he had given her his word that he would conceal from her no danger, however great, that might threaten them when he had once assured himself of its existence.
She listened to him in silence and without a sign of fear beyond a little lifting of the eyelids and a little fading of the colour in her cheeks.
“And if we can't resist this force,” she said, when he had finished, “it will drag us millionsâperhaps millions of millionsâof miles away from our own system into outer space, and we shall either fall on the surface of this dead sun and be reduced to a puff of lighted gas in an instant, or some other body will pull us away from it, and then another away from that, and so on, and we shall wander among the stars for ever and ever until the end of time!”
“If the first happens, darling, we shall dieâtogetherâwithout knowing it. It's the second that I'm most afraid of. The
may go on wandering among the stars for everâbut we have only water enough for three weeks more. Now come into the conning-tower and we'll see how things are going.”
As they bent their heads over the instrument-table Redgrave saw that the remorseless needle had moved two degrees more to the right. The keel of the
, under the impulse of the R. Force, was continually turning. The pull of the invisible orb was dragging her slowly but irresistibly out of her line.
“There's nothing for it but this,” said Redgrave, putting out his hand to the signal-board, and signalling to Murgatroyd to put the engines to their highest capacity. “You see, dear, our greatest danger is this: we had to exert such a tremendous lot of power getting away from Jupiter and Saturn, that we haven't any too much to spare, and if we have to spend it in counteracting the pull of this dead sun, or whatever it is, we may not have enough of what I call the R. fluid left to get home with.”
“I see,” she said, staring with wide-open eyes at the needle. “You mean that we may not have enough to keep us from falling into one of the planets or perhaps into the Sun itself. Well, supposing the dangers are equal, this one is the nearest, and so I guess we've got to fight it first.”
“Spoken like a good American!” he said, putting his arm across her shoulders and looking at once with infinite pride and infinite regret at the calm, proud face which the glory of resignation had adorned with a new beauty.
She bowed her head and then looked away again so that he should not see that there were tears in her eyes. He took his hand from her shoulder and stared in silence down at the needle. It was stationary again.
“We've stopped!” he said, after a pause of several moments. “Now, if the body that's taken us out of our course is moving away from us we win, if it's coming towards us we lose. At any rate, we've done all we can. Come along, Zaidie, let's go and have a walk on deck.”
They had scarcely reached the upper deck when something happened which dwarfed all the other experiences of their marvellous voyage into utter insignificance.
Above and around them the constellations blazed with a splendour inconceivable to an observer on Earth, but ahead of them gaped the vast, black void which sailors call “the Coal Hole,” and in which the most powerful telescopes have only discovered a few faintly luminous bodies. Suddenly, out of the midst of this infinity of darkness, there blazed a glare of almost intolerably brilliant radiance. Instantly the forward end of the
was bathed in light and heatâthe light and heat of a re-created sun, whose elements had been dark and cold for uncounted ages.
Hundreds of tiny points of light, unknown worlds which had been dark for myriads of years, twinkled out of the blackness. Then the fierce glare grew dimmer. A vast mantle of luminous mist spread out with inconceivable rapidity, and in the midst of this blazed the central nucleusâthe sun which in far-off ages to come would be the giver of light and heat, of life and beauty to worlds unborn, to planets which were now only little eddies of atoms whirling in that ocean of nebulous flame.
For more than an hour the two wanderers from the far-off Earth stood motionless and silent, gazing on the indescribable splendours of the fearfully magnificent spectacle before them. Every mundane thought seemed burnt out of their souls by the glory and the wonder of it. It was almost as though they were standing in the very presence of God. Indeed, were they not witnessing the supreme act of Omnipotence, a new creation? Their peril, a peril such as had never threatened mortals before, was utterly forgotten. They had even forgotten each other's presence. For the time being they existed only to look and to wonder.
They were called at length out of their trance by the matter-of-fact voice of Murgatroyd sayingâ
“My Lord, she's back to her course. Will I keep the power on full?”
“Eh! What's that?” exclaimed Redgrave, as they both turned quickly round. “Oh, it's you, Murgatroyd. The power? Yes, keep it on full till I have taken the bearings.”
“Ay, my Lord, very good,” replied the engineer.
As he left the deck Redgrave put his arm round Zaidie and drew her gently towards him and said, “Zaidie, truly you are favoured among women! You have seen the beginning of a new creation. You will certainly be saved somehow after that.”
“Yes, and you too, dear,” she murmured, as though still half-dreaming. “It is very glorious and wonderful; but what is it allâI mean, what is the explanation of it?”
“The merely scientific explanation, dear, is very simple. I see it all now. The force that was dragging us out of our course was the united pull of two dead stars approaching each other in the same orbit. They may have been doing that for millions of years. The shock of their meeting has transformed their motion into light and heat. They have united to form a single sun and a nebula, which will some day condense into a system of planets like ours. To-night the astronomers on Earth will discover a new starâa variable star as they'll call itâfor it will grow dimmer as it moves away from our system. It has often happened before.”
Then they turned back to the conning-tower.
The needle had swung to its old position. The new star, henceforth to be known in the annals of astronomy as Lilla-Zaidie, had already set for them to the right of the
and risen on the left, and, at a distance of more than nine hundred million miles from the Earth, the corner was turned, and the homeward voyage began.