The Land of the Changing Sun
William N. Harben
Part 2 out of 3
"Oh, yes; when we get used to it, it is invigorating. I perspire
in streams, but I feel better afterward. Come on."
Branasko's head only was above the ground. "I am standing on a
ledge," he said. "Get down beside me. Fear nothing. It is solid;
besides, what does it matter? You can die but once, and it would
really be better to fall down there into the internal fires than
to starve slowly."
Johnston shuddered convulsively as he let himself down beside
Branasko. His foot dislodged a stone. With a crash it fell upon a
lower ledge and bounded off and went whizzing down into the
depths. Both men listened. They heard the stone bounding from
ledge to ledge till the sound was lost in the internal roaring.
"It is mighty deep," said Johnston.
"Yes, but follow me; we cannot stop here; we must go along this
ledge till we get to the point where the chasm is narrow enough
to jump across. I have done it."
"The American held to his companion with one hand and the rock
with the other, and they slowly made their way along the narrow
ledge, pausing every now and then to rest. At every step the path
grew more perilous and narrower, and the cliff on their left rose
higher and higher, till the reflected light of the sun had
entirely disappeared. At certain points the hot wind dashed
upon them as furiously as the whirling mist in "The Cave of
Winds" at Niagara Falls. Once Johnston's foot slipped and he
fell, but was drawn back to safety by the strong arm of the
"Be careful; hold to the cliff's face," warned Branasko
indifferently, and he moved onward as if nothing unusual had
occurred. Presently they reached a point where a narrow boulder
jutted out over the chasm toward the opposite side, and
Branasko cautiously crawled out upon it. When he had got to its
end, Johnston could not see him in the gloom, but his voice came
to him out of the roaring of the chasm.
"I can see the other side, and am going to jump." An instant
later, the American heard the clatter of the Alphian's shoes
on the rock, and his grunt of satisfaction. Then Branasko called
out: "Come on; crawl out till you feel the end of the rock, and
then you can see me."
In great trepidation the American slowly crawled out on the
narrow rock. Below him yawned the hot darkness, above hung
that black ominous canopy of nothingness. Slowly he advanced on
hands and knees, every moment feeling the sharp rock growing
narrower, till finally he reached the end. He looked ahead. He
could but faintly see the ledge and Branasko's tall form
silhouetted upon it.
"See, this is where you have to alight," cried the Alphian.
"Jump, I will catch you!"
"I am afraid I shall topple over when I stand up," replied the
American. "The rock is narrow and my head is already swimming. I
fear I cannot reach you. It is no use."
"Tut, tut!" exclaimed Branasko. "Stand up quickly, and jump at
once. Don't stop to think about it."
Johnston obeyed. He felt his feet firmly braced on the rock and
he sprang toward the opposite ledge with all his might. Branasko
"Good," he grunted. "There is another place, we must jump again.
It is further on." Along this ledge they went for some distance,
Branasko leading the way and holding the arm of the American.
"Now here we are, the chasm is a little wider, but the ledge on
the other side is broader." As he spoke he released Johnston's
arm and prepared to jump. He filled his lungs two or three
times. But he seemed to hesitate. "Pshaw, watching you back there
has made me nervous. I never cared before. If I should happen to
fall, go back to where we met, it is safer there without a guide
Without another word Branasko hurled himself forward. Johnston
held his breath in horror, for Branasko's foot had slipped as he
jumped. The Alphian had struck the opposite ledge, but not with
his feet, as he intended. He clutched it with his hands and hung
there for a moment, struggling to get a foothold in the emptiness
"It's no use, I am falling; I can hold no longer!" And Johnston,-
-too terrified to reply,--heard the poor fellow's hands
slipping from the rock, causing a quantity of loose stones to go
rattling down below. With a low cry Branasko fell. An instant
later Johnston heard him strike the ledge beneath, and heard him
cry out in pain. Then all was still except the echoes of
Branasko's cry, which bounded and rebounded from side to side of
the chasm, and grew fainter and fainter, till it was submerged in
the roaring below. Then there was a rattle of stones, and
Branasko's voice sounded: "A narrow escape!" he said faintly. "I
am on another ledge"--then after a slight pause, "it is much
wider, I don't know how wide. Are you listening?"
"Yes, but are you hurt?"
"Not at all. Simply knocked the breath out of me for a moment.
There is a cave behind me, and (for a moment there was silence) I
can see a light ahead in the cave. I think it must be the
reflection of the internal fire. Come down to me and we will
explore the cavern, and see where the light comes from."
"I can't get down there!" shouted Johnston, to make himself
heard above a sudden increase in the roaring in the chasm,
"there is no way."
"Wait a moment!" came from the Alphian. "This ledge seems to
Johnston stood perfectly motionless, afraid to move from the
ledge either to right or to left, and heard Branasko's footsteps
along the rock beneath. "All right so far," he called up, and his
voice showed that he had gone to a considerable distance to the
left, "the ledge seems to be still leading gradually upward. I
think I can reach you."
Fifteen minutes passed. The lone American could no longer hear
Branasko's footsteps. Johnston was becoming uneasy and the hot
air was causing his head to swim. He was thinking of trying to
retrace his footsteps to a place of more security when he heard
footsteps, and then the cheery voice of Branasko nearly opposite
him across the chasm:
"Are you there?"
"It is well; I have discovered a good pathway down to the cave,
and a pool of fish besides. I have saved some for you. I was so
hungry I had to eat. Now, you must jump over to me."
"I cannot," declared the American. "I cannot jump so far;
besides, you failed."
Branasko laughed. "I did not leap in the right direction. It is
this point on which I am now standing that I should have tried to
reach. Come, I will catch you."
Johnston could not bear to be considered cowardly, so he stepped
to the verge of the chasm and prepared to jump. His head felt
more dizzy as he thought of the fathomless depths beneath, and
the rush of hot air up the side of the cliff took his breath away,
but he braced himself and said calmly: "All right, I am coming."
The next instant he sprang forward. Branasko caught him into his
arms and they both rolled back on the level stone.
"Good," cried the Alphian, trying to catch his breath, which
Johnston had knocked out of him by the fall. "You did better
than I; you are lighter."
"Where shall we go now?" asked Johnston, regaining his feet and
feeling of his legs and arms to see if he had broken any bones.
"Down this winding path to the place where I saw that light. I
want to understand it. But you must first eat this fish. It is
delicious. They are swarming in the pools below."
"And water?" said Johnston.
"An abundance of it, and as cold as ice."
As Branasko preceded him down the tortuous path, Johnston ate the
raw fish eagerly. Presently they came to a deep pool of water,
and both men threw themselves down on their stomachs and drank
freely. After this they proceeded slowly for several hundred
yards, and finally reached the entrance to the cave in which
Branasko had seen the light. At that distance it looked like the
light of some great conflagration reflected from the face of a
They entered the cave and made good progress toward the light,
for it showed them the dangerous fissures, sharp boulders and
stalactites. They had walked along in silence for several minutes
when the Alphian stopped abruptly and turned to his companion.
What is the matter?" asked Johnston.
"It cannot come from the internal fires," replied Branasko,"for
the atmosphere grows cooler as we get nearer the light and
away from the chasm."
Johnston was too much puzzled to formulate a reply, and he
simply waited for the Alphian to continue.
"Let's go on," said Branasko; and in his tone and hesitating
manner Johnston detected the first appearance of
superstitious fear that he had seen in the brawny Alphian.
As Thorndyke watched the flying machine that was bearing his
friend away a genuine feeling of pity went over him. Poor
Johnston! He had been haunted all day with the belief that he was
to meet with some misfortune from which Thorndyke was to be
spared, and Thorndyke had ridiculed his fears. When the air-ship
had become a mere speck in the sky, the Englishman turned back
into the palace and strolled about in the vast crowd.
A handsome young man in uniform approached and touched his hat:
"Are you the comrade of the fellow they are just sending away?" he
"Yes. Where are they taking him?"
"To the 'Barrens,' of course; where do you suppose they would take
such a man? He couldn't pass his examination. You are not a great
physical success yourself, but they say you pleased the king with
"To the Barrens," repeated Thorndyke, too much concerned over the
fate of his comrade to notice the speaker's tone of contempt;
"what are they, where are they?"
The Alphian officer changed countenance, as he looked him over
with widening eyes.
"Your accent is strange; are you from the other world?"
"I suppose so,--this is a new one to me at any rate."
"The world of endless oceans?"
"And the unchanging sun--forever white and ----?"
"Yes; but where the devil is the Barrens?"
"Behind the sun, beyond the great endless wall."
"Do they intend to put him to death?"
"No, that would be--what do you call it? murder; they will simply
leave him there to die of his own accord. And the king is right. I
never saw such a weakling. He would taint our whole race with his
Without a word Thorndyke abruptly turned from the officer and
hastened toward the apartment of the king. He would demand the
return of poor Johnston or kill the king if his demand was not
granted. In his haste and perturbation, however, he lost his way
and wandered into a part of the palace he had not seen. At every
step he was more and more impressed with the magnificent
proportions of the structure and the grandeur of everything about
Passing hurriedly through a large hall he saw an assemblage of
beautiful women and handsome men dancing to the music of a great
orchestra. Further on--in a great court--a regiment of soldiers
were drilling, their rapid evolutions making no more sound than if
they were moving in mid-air. In another room he saw a great body
of men, women and children in vari-colored suits bathing in a
pool of rose-colored, perfumed water.
He was passing on when a woman, closely veiled and simply dressed,
touched his arm.
"Be watchful and follow me," she said, in a low, guarded tone.
The heart of the Englishman bounded and his blood rushed to his
face, for the speaker was the Princess Bernardino. She did not
pause, but glided on into the shade of a great palm tree, and,
behind a row of thick-growing ferns of great height and thickness,
she waited for him.
She lowered her veil as he approached and looked at him from
her deep brown eyes in great concern. He stood spell-bound
under the witchery of her beauty.
"I came to warn you, Prince," she said, and her soft musical voice
set every nerve in Thorndyke's body to tingling with delight.
"My father has banished the faithful slave that you love, but you
must not show the anger that you feel, else he will kill you. You
must be exceedingly cautious if you would save him. My father
would punish me severely if he knew that I had sought you in this
way. I was obliged to come in disguise; this dress belongs to my
most trusted maid."
"And you came for my sake?" blurted out the Englishman, much
embarrassed; "I am not worthy of such a high honor."
She smiled and tears rose in her eyes.
"Oh, Prince, don't speak to me so! You are far above me. I am
weak. I know nothing. I never cared for other men than the king
and my brothers till I saw you today, but now I would willingly be
"I am yours forever, and an humble one," bowed the courteous
Englishman. "The moment I saw you at the throne of your father my
heart went out to you. You wound it up in your music and trampled
it under your dancing feet. I have been over the whole world, and
you are the loveliest creature in it. It is because I saw you,
because you are here, that I do not want to leave your country.
They may do as they will with me if they only will let me see you
now and then."
The princess was deeply moved. The blood rushed to her face and
beautified it. Her eyes fell beneath his admiring glance.
Thorndyke could not restrain himself. He caught her slender hand
and pressed it passionately to his lips, and she made only a
slight effort to prevent it.
"I am your obedient slave; what shall I do?" he asked.
"Do not try to rescue him now," she said softly. "I shall come to
you again when we are not watched--you can know me by this dress.
There is no need for great haste, he could live in the Barrens
several days; I shall try to think of some way to save him, though
such a thing has never been done--never."
Footsteps were heard on the other side of the row of ferns. A man
was passing and others soon followed him. The bathers were leaving
the great pool.
"I must leave you now," she whispered. "If the king honors you
again by talking of his kingdom, continue to act as you did; your
fearlessness and good humor have pleased him greatly."
"Could I not persuade him to bring Johnston back?"
"No; that would be impossible; those who are pronounced physically
unfit are obliged to die. It has been a law for a long time; you
must not count on that. I have, however, another plan, but I
cannot tell you of it now, for they may miss me and wonder where I
am, and then, too, my father may be looking for you. He will
naturally desire to see you soon again."
Bowing, she turned away and passed on toward the apartments of the
king, which the Englishman now recognized in the distance.
Thorndyke went into the bathing-room to watch those remaining in
the great pool of rose-colored water. The sight was beautiful. The
waves which lapped against the shelving shores of white marble
were pink and white, and the deeper water was as red as coral.
The Englishman was at once troubled over the fate of Johnston and
elated over having won Bernardino's regard. Thoughtfully he
strolled away from the bathers into a great picture-gallery. Here
hung on the walls and stood on pedestals some of the rarest works
of art he had ever seen. He passed through this room and was
entering a shady retreat where plants, flowers and umbrageous
trees grew thickly, when he heard a step behind him and the
rustling of a silken skirt against the plants.
It was Bernardino.
"We can be unobserved here," she said, taking off her thick veil
and arranging her luxuriant hair. "I hasten back. The king thinks,
so my maid tells me, that I am asleep in my chamber. He is busy
with an audience of police from a neighboring town and will not
think of us."
She sat down on a sofa upholstered in leather, and he took a seat
beside her. "I am glad that we can talk alone," he said, "for I
have much to ask you. First, tell me where we are,--where this
strange country is on the map of the world."
"It is a long story," she replied, "and it would greatly incense
the king if he should find out that I had told you, for one of his
chief pleasures is to note the surprise and admiration of new-
comers over what they see here. But if you will promise to gratify
his vanity in this particular I will try to explain it all."
"I promise, and you can depend on my not getting you into
trouble," replied Thorndyke. "I never was so puzzled in my life,
with that sullen sky overhead, the wonderful changing sunlight,
and the remarkable atmosphere. I am both bewildered and entranced.
Every moment I see something new and startling. Where are we?"
"Far beneath the ocean and the surface of the earth. I only know
what the king has let fall in my hearing in his conferences with
his men of science and inventors; but I shall try to make you
understand how it all came about."
"It was a long time ago, two hundred years back, I suppose, that
one of my ancestors discovered a little isolated island in the
Atlantic Ocean. He was forced in a storm to land there with his
ship and crew to make some repairs in his vessel. In wandering
about over the island he discovered a narrow entrance to a cave,
and, with two or three of his men, he began to explore it. When
they had gone for a mile or two down into the interior of the
cavern, which seemed to lead straight down toward the centre of
the earth, they began to find small pieces of gold. The further
they went the more they found, till at last the very cavern walls
seemed lined with it.
"They were at first wildly excited over their sudden good fortune
and were about to load their ship with it and return to Europe at
once, but the better judgment of my ancestor prevailed. He
explained that, if the world were informed of the discovery of
such an inexhaustible mine of gold, that the value of the precious
metal would decline till it would be worth little more than some
grosser metal, and that if they would only keep their secret to
themselves they could in time control the finances of the world.
So, acting on this suggestion, they only dug out a few thousand
pounds and took part of it to Europe and part of it to America
and turned it into money.
"Then, to curtail my story, they elected my ancestor as ruler,
and, with ships loaded with every available convenience that
inexhaustible wealth could procure and a colony of carefully
chosen men, they returned to the island.
"After the men and their families had settled in the great roomy
mouth of the cavern my ancestor supplied himself with several
strong men and food and lights, and sought to explore the entire
"To their astonishment they found that it was practically endless.
When they had gone down about sixty or seventy miles below the sea
level they found themselves on a vast, undulating plain, the soil
of which was dark and rich, with the black roof of the cavern
arching overhead like the bottom of a great inverted bowl. And
when they had travelled about ten days and reached the other side
my ancestor calculated that the cave must be over one hundred
miles in diameter and almost circular in shape. But what elated
and surprised them most was the remarkable salubrity of the
atmosphere. In all parts of the cave it was exactly the same
temperature, and they found that they scarcely felt any fatigue
from their journey, and that they had little desire to eat the
provisions with which they were supplied. Indeed, the very air
seemed permeated with a subtle quality that gave them strength and
energy of mind and body.
"Finally, when, after a month had passed, and they returned to
their anxious friends, these people overwhelmed them with
exclamations of surprise over their appearance. And in the light
of day the explorers looked at one another in astonishment, for,
in the dim light of the lanterns they had carried, they had not
noticed the great change that had come over them. They had all
become the finest specimens of physical health that could be
imagined. Their bodies had filled out; they were remarkably
strong; their skins shone with healthful color and their eyes
sparkled with intellectual energy, and their minds, even to the
humblest burden-carrier, were astonishingly acute and active.
"My ancestor was a remarkable man, and he had hitherto shown much
inventive ability; but in that month in the cave he had developed
into an intellectual giant. After mature deliberation, he proposed
a prodigious scheme to his followers. He explained that, while
they might, by using the utmost discretion, hold the financial
world in their power by means of their inexhaustible wealth, that
the laws and restrictions of different countries prevented men of
vast wealth from really enjoying more privileges than men of
moderate means. He grew eloquent in speaking of the underground
atmosphere, and proposed that they light the great cavern from end
to end and make it an ideal place where they could live as it
"I see that you guess the end. My ancestor was a great student of
the sciences and had already thought of putting electricity to
practical use. You are surprised? Yes, it has been applied to our
purposes for two hundred years, while your people have understood
its use such a short time."
"Great heavens!" exclaimed the Englishman. "I see it all; the sun
is an electric one!"
"And it runs mechanically over its great course as regularly as
"More accurately, I assure you, but there probably never was a
greater mathematical problem than they solved in deciding on the
size the sun should be and amount of light necessary to fill up
all the recesses of the great vacancy. It was all very crude at
the start; for years a great electric light was simply suspended
in the centre of the cavern's roof and the light did not vary in
color. A son of the first king suggested the plan of giving the
sun diurnal movement and the changing light. The moon and stars
were a later development. They found, too, that the light could
not be made to reach certain recesses in the cavern where the roof
approached the earth, so they finally built a great wall to keep
the inhabitants within proscribed boundaries, and to prevent them
from understanding the machinery of the heavens."
"Wonderful!" exclaimed Thorndyke. "But the temperature of the
atmosphere, how does that happen to be so delightful and
"I believe they do not themselves thoroughly comprehend that. The
heat comes from the internal fires, and the fresh air from without
in some mysterious way. At first, in a few places, the heat was
too severe, but the scientific men among the first settlers
obviated this difficulty by closing up the hottest of the fissures
and opening others in the cooler parts of the cavern."
"And the people, where did they come from?"
"From all parts of the earth. We had agents outside who selected
such men and women that were willing to come, and who filled all
the requirements, mentally and physically."
"But why do they desire to live here instead of out in the world,
when they have all the wealth that they need to assure every
"They dread death, and it is undoubtedly true that life is
prolonged here; our medical men declare that the longevity of
every generation is improved."
"Is it possible? But tell me about the sun, when it sets, what
becomes of it?"
"It goes back to its place of rising through a great tunnel
Thorndyke sat in deep thought for a moment; then he looked so
steadily and so admiringly into Bernardino's eyes that she grew
red with confusion. "But you, yourself, are you thoroughly
"I know nothing else," she continued. "I have heard little about
your world except that your people are discontented, weak and
insane, and that your changeable weather and your careless laws
regarding marriage and heredity produce perpetual and innumerable
diseases; that your people are not well developed and beautiful;
that you war with one another, and that one tears down what
another builds. I have, too, always been happy, and since you came
I am happier still. I don't know what it means. I have never been
so much interested in any one before."
"It is love on the part of both of us," replied the Englishman
impulsively, taking her hand. "I never was content before. I went
roving over the earth trying to end my life at sea or in balloon
voyages, but now I only want to be with you. I have never dreamed
that I could be so happy or that I would meet any one so beautiful
as you are."
Bernardino's delight showed itself in blushes on her face, and
Thorndyke, unable to restrain himself, put his arm around her and
drew her to his breast and kissed her.
She sprang up quickly and he saw that she was trembling and that
all the color had fled from her face.
"What is the matter?" he asked, in alarm.
At first she did not answer, but only looked at him half-
frightened, and then covered her face with her hands. He drew them
from her face and compelled her to look at him.
"What is the matter?" he repeated, a strange fear at his heart.
"You have broken one of the most sacred laws of our country," she
faltered, in great embarrassment; "my father would punish me very
severely if he knew of it, and he would banish you; for, to treat
me in that manner, as his daughter, is regarded as an insult to
"I beg your pardon most humbly," said the contrite Englishman. "It
was all on account of my ignorance of your customs and my
impulsiveness. It shall never happen again, I promise you."
Her face brightened a little and the color came back slowly. She
sat down again, but not so near Thorndyke, and seemed desirous of
changing the subject.
"And do you love the man my father has transported?" she
"Yes, he is a good, faithful fellow, and it is hard to die so far
away from friends."
"We must try to save him, but I cannot now think of a safe plan.
The police are very vigilant."
"Where was he taken?"
"Into the darkness behind the sun--beyond the wall of which I
A flush of shame came into Thorndyke's face over the remembrance
that he had made no effort to aid poor Johnston, and was sitting
listening with delight to the conversation of Bernardino. He rose
"I must be doing something to aid him," he said. "I cannot sit
here inactive while he is in danger."
"Be patient," she advised, looking at him admiringly; "it is near
night; see, it is the gray light of dusk; the sun is out of sight.
To-night, if possible, I shall come to you. Perhaps I shall
approach you without disguise if you are in the throne-room and
my father does not object to my entertaining you, but for the
present we must separate. Adieu."
He bowed low as she turned away, and joined the throng that was
passing along outside. An officer approached him. It was Captain
Tradmos, who bowed and smiled pleasantly.
"I congratulate you," he said, with suave pleasantness.
"Upon what?" Thorndyke was on his guard at once.
"Upon having pleased the king so thoroughly. No stranger, in my
memory, has ever been treated so courteously. Every other new-
comer is put under surveillance, but you are left unwatched."
"He is easily pleased," said the Englishman, "for I have done
nothing to gratify him."
"I thought he would like you; and I felt that your friend would
have to suffer, but I could not help him."
"He shall not suffer if I can prevent it."
"Sh--be cautious. Those words, implying an inclination to treason,
if spoken to any other officer would place you under immediate
arrest. I like you, therefore I want to warn you against such
folly. You are wholly in the king's power. Another thing I would
specially warn you against----"
"And that is?"
"Not to allow the king to suspect your admiration for the Princess
Bernardino. It would displease the king. She is much taken with
you; I saw it in her eyes when she danced for your entertainment."
Thorndyke made no reply, but gazed searchingly into the eyes of
the officer. Tradmos laughed.
"You are afraid of me."
"No, I am not, I trust you wholly; I know that you are honorable;
I never make a mistake along that line."
Tradmos bowed, pleased by the compliment.
"I shall aid you all I can with my advice, for I know you will not
betray me; but at present I am powerless to give you material aid.
Every subject of this realm is bound to the autocratic will of the
king. It is impossible for any one to get from under his power."
"The only outlet to the upper world is carefully guarded by men
who would not be bribed."
"Is there any chance for my friend?"
"None that I can see, but I must walk on; there comes one of the
"The king has asked to speak to you," announced the attendant to
"I will go with you," was his reply, and he followed the man
through the crowded corridors into the throne-room of the king.
Thorndyke forced a smile as he saw the king smiling at him as he
approached the throne.
"What do you think of my palace?" asked the king, after Thorndyke
had knelt before him.
"It is superb," answered the Englishman, recalling the advice of
Bernardino. "I am dazed by its splendor, its architecture, and its
art. I have seen nothing to equal it on earth."
The king rose and stood beside him. His manner was both pleasing
and sympathetic. "I am persuaded," said he, "that you will make a
good subject, and have the interest of Alpha always at heart, but
I have often been mistaken in the character of men and think it
best to give you a timely warning. An attendant will conduct you
to a chamber beneath the palace where it will be your privilege to
converse with a man who once planned to get up a rebellion among
There had come suddenly a stern harshness into the king's tone
that roused the fears of Thorndyke. He was about to reply, but the
king held up his hand. "Wait till you have visited the dungeon of
Nordeskyne, then I am sure that you will be convinced that strict
obedience in thought as well as deed is best for an inhabitant of
Alpha." Speaking thus, he signed to an attendant who came forward
"Conduct him to the dungeon of Nordeskyne, and return to me,"
ordered the king.
Thorndyke's heart was heavy, and he was filled with strange
forebodings, but he simply smiled and bowed, as the attendant led
him away. The attendant opened a door at the back of the throne-
room and they were confronted by darkness. They went along a
narrow corridor for some distance, the dark- ness thickening at
every step. There was no sound except the sound of the guide's
shoes on the smooth stone pavement. Presently the man released
Thorndyke's arm, saying:
"It is narrow here, follow close behind, and do not attempt to go
"I shall certainly stick to you," replied the Englishman drily.
They turned a sharp corner suddenly, and were going in another
direction when Thorndyke felt a soft warm hand steal into his from
behind, and knew intuitively that it was Bernardino. The guide was
a few feet in advance of them and she drew Thorndyke's head down
and whispered into his ear.
"Be brave--by all that you love--for your life, keep your presence
of mind, and----"
"What was that?" asked the guide, turning suddenly and catching
the Englishman's arm, "I thought I heard whispering."
"I was saying my prayers, that is all," and the Englishman pressed
the hand of the princess, who, pressed close against the wall, was
gliding cautiously away.
"Prayers, humph--you'll need them later,come on!" and he caught
the Englishman's arm and hastily drew him onward. Thorndyke's
spirits sank lower. The air of the narrow under-ground corridor
was cold and damp, and he quivered from head to foot.
Branasko paused again in his walk towards the mysterious light.
"It cannot be from the internal fires," said he, "for this light
is white, and the glow of the fires is red."
"Let's turn back," suggested Johnston, "it can do us no good to go
down there; it is only taking us further from the wall."
"I should like to understand it," returned the Alphian
thoughtfully; "and, besides, there can be no more danger there
than back among the hot crevices. We have got to perish anyway,
and we might as well spice the remainder of our lives with
whatever adventure we can. Who knows what we may not discover?
There are many things about the land of Alpha that the inhabitants
do not understand."
"I'll follow you anywhere," acquiesced Johnston; "you are right."
They stumbled on over the rocky surface in silence. At times, the
roof of the cavern sank so low that they had to stoop to pass
under it, and again it rose sharply like the roof of a cathedral,
and the rays of the far-away, but ever-increasing light, shone
upon glistening stalactites that hung from the darkness above them
like daggers of diamonds set in ebony.
"It is not so near as I supposed," said the Alphian wearily. "And
the light seemed to me to be shining on a cliff over which water
is pouring in places. Yes, you can see that it is water by the
ripples in the light."
"Yes, but where can the light itself be?"
"I cannot yet tell; wait till we get nearer."
In about an hour they came to a wide chasm on the other side of
which towered a vast cliff of white crystal. It was on this that
the trembling light was playing.
"Not a waterfall after all," said Branasko; "see, there is the
source of the reflection," and he pointed to the left through a
series of dark chambers of the cavern to a dazzling light. "Come,
let's go nearer it." He moved a few steps forward and then
happening to look over his shoulder he stopped abruptly, and
uttered an exclamation of surprise.
"What is it?" And Johnston followed the eyes of the Alphian.
"Our shadows on the crystal cliff," said Branasko in an awed
tone; "only the light from the changing sun could make them so."
Johnston shuddered superstitiously at the tone of Branasko's
quivering voice, and their giant shadows which stood out on
the smooth crystal like silhouettes. So clear-cut were they,
that, in his own shadow, the American could see his breast
heaving and in Branasko's the quivering of the Alphian's huge
body and limbs.
"If we have happened upon the home of the sun, only the spirit of
the dead kings could tell what will become of us," said Branasko.
"Puh! you are blindly superstitious," said Johnston; "what if we
do come upon the sun? Let's go down there and look into the
Branasko fell into the rear and the American stoutly pushed ahead
toward the light which was every moment increasing. As they
advanced the cave got larger until it opened out into a larger
plain over which hung fathomless darkness, and out of the plain a
great dazzling globe of light was slowly rising.
"It is the sun itself," exclaimed Branasko, and he sank to the
earth and covered his face with his hands. "I have not thought
ever to see it out of the sky."
The American was deeply thrilled by the grand sight. He sat down
by Branasko and together they watched the vast ball of light
emerge from the black earth and gradually disappear in a great
hole in the roof of the cavern. It left a broad stream of light
behind it, and, now that the sun it- self was out of view, the
silent spectators could see the great square hole from which it
As if by mutual consent, they rose and made their way over the
rocks to the verge of the hole, which seemed several thousand feet
square. At first, owing to the brightness of the sun overhead,
they could see nothing; but, as the great orb gradually
disappeared, they began to see lights and the figures of men
moving about below. Later they observed the polished parts of
stupendous machinery--machinery that moved almost noiselessly.
Johnston caught sight of a great net-work of moving cables
reaching from the machinery up through the hole above and
exclaimed enthusiastically:--"A mechanical sun! electric daylight!
What genius! A world in a great cave! Hundreds of square miles
and thousands of well organized people living under the light of
an artificial sun!"
The Alphian looked at him astonished. "Is it not so in your
country?" he asked.
Johnston smiled. "The great sun that lights the outer world is as
much greater than that ball of light as Alpha is greater than a
grain of sand. But this surely is the greatest achievement of man.
But while I now understand how your sun goes over the whole of
Alpha, I cannot see how it returns."
"Then you have not heard of the great tunnel of the Sun," replied
"No,what is it?"
"It runs beneath Alpha and connects the rising and setting
points of the sun. There is a point beneath the king's palace
where, by a staircase, the king and his officers may go down and
inspect the sun as it is on its way back to the east during the
"And once a year a royal party goes in the sun over its entire
course. It is said that it is sumptuously furnished inside, and
not too warm, the lights being only innumerable small ones on the
The two men were silent for a moment then Johnston said:
"Perhaps we might be able to get into it unobserved and be thus
carried over to the other side, or reach the palace through the
Branasko started convulsively, and then, as he looked into the
earnest eyes of the American, he said despondently:
"We have got to die, anyway; it may be well for us to think of it;
but on the other side, in the Barrens, there is no more chance for
escape than here. But the adventure would at least give us
something to think about; let's try it."
"All right; but how can we get down there where the sun starts to
rise?" asked the American, peering cautiously over the edge of
"There must be some way," answered Branasko. "Ah, see! further to
the left there are some ledges; let's see what can be done that
"I am with you."
The rays of the departing sun were almost gone, and the electric
lights down among the machinery seemed afar off like stars
reflected in deep water. With great difficulty the two men lowered
themselves from one sharp ledge to another till they had gone half
down to the bottom.
"It is no use," said Branasko, peering over the lowest ledge.
"There are no more ledges and this one juts out so far that even
if there were smaller ones beneath we could not get to them."
"That is true," agreed the American, "but look, is not that a lake
beneath? I think it must be, for the lights are reflected on its
"You are right," answered Branasko; "and I now see a chance for us
to get down safely."
"The workers are too far from the lake to see us; we can drop into
the water and swim ashore."
"Would they not hear the splashing of our bodies?"
"I think not; but first let's experiment with a big stone."
Suiting the action to the word, they secured a stone weighing
about seventy-five pounds and brought it to the ledge. Carefully
poising it in mid-air, they let it go. Down it went, cutting the
air with a sharp whizzing sound. They listened breathlessly, but
heard no sound as the rock struck the water, and the men among the
machinery seemed undisturbed. Only the widening circles of rings
on the lake's surface indicated where the stone had fallen.
"Good," ejaculated the Alphian; "are you equal to such a plunge?
The water must be deep, and we won't be hurt at all if only we can
keep our feet downward and hold our breath long enough. Our
clothing will soon dry down there, for feel the warmth that comes
The Alphian slowly crawled out on the sharpest projection of the
ledge. "Are you willing to try it?" he asked, over his shoulder.
"Well, wait till you see me swim ashore, and then follow."
Johnston shuddered as the strong fellow swung himself over the
ledge and hung downward.
"Adieu," said Branasko, and he let go. Down he fell, as straight
as an arrow, into the shadows below. For an instant Johnston heard
the fluttering of the fellow's clothing as he fell through the
darkness, and then there was no sound except the low whirr of the
cables and the monotonous hum of the great wheels beneath. Then
the smooth surface of the lake was broken in a white foaming spot,
and, later, he saw something small and dark slowly swimming
shoreward. It was Branasko, and the men to the right had not heard
or seen him.
Johnston saw him reach the shore, then he crawled out to the point
of the projecting rock and tremblingly lowered himself till he
hung downward as Branasko had done. He had just drawn a deep
breath preparatory to letting go his hold, when, chancing to look
down, he saw a long narrow barge slowly emerging from the cliff
directly under him. For an instant he was so much startled that he
almost lost his grip on the rock. He tried to climb back on the
ledge, but his strength was gone. He felt that he could not hold
out till the boat had passed. Death was before him, and a horrible
one. The boat seemed to crawl. Everything was a blur before his
eyes. His fingers began to relax, and with a low cry he fell.
To Thorndyke the dark corridor seemed endless. The king's last
words had now a sinister meaning, and Bernardino's whispered
warning filled him with dread. "Keep your presence of mind," she
urged; was it then, some frightful mental ordeal he was about to
Presently they came to a door. Thorn- dyke heard his guide feeling
for the bolt and key-hole. The rattling of the keys sounded like a
ghostly threat in the empty corridors. The air was as damp as a
fog, and the stones were cold and slimy. After a moment the guard
succeeded in unlocking the door and roughly pushed the Englishman
forward. The door closed with a little puff, and Thorndyke felt
about him for the guide; but he was alone. For a moment there was
no sound. With the closing of the door it seemed to him that he
was cut off from every living creature. In the awful silence he
could hear his own heart beating like a drum.
"Stand where you are!" came in a hissing whisper from the
darkness near by, and then the invisible whisperer moved away,
making a weird sound as he slid his hand along a wall, till
it died away in the distance.
A cold thrill ran over him. He was a brave man and feared no
living man or beast, but the superstitious fears of his childhood
now came upon him with redoubled force. For several minutes he did
not stir; presently he put out his hand to the door and his blood
ran cold. There was no knob, latch, or key-hole, and he could feel
the soft padding into which the door closed to keep out sound.
Then he remembered the warning of the princess, and strove with
all his might to fight down his apprehensions. "For your life keep
your presence of mind," he repeated over and over, but try as he
would his terror over-powered him. He laughed out loud, but in the
dreadful silence and darkness his laugh sounded unearthly.
A cold perspiration broke out on him. It seemed as if hours passed
before he again heard the sliding noise on the wall. Some one was
coming to him. The sound grew louder and nearer, till a firm hand
was laid on his arm; it felt as cold as ice through his clothing.
"Come," a voice whispered, and the Englishman was led forward.
Presently another door opened--a door that closed after them
without any sound. Here the silence was more intensified, the
darkness thicker as if compressed like air.
Hands were placed on the shoulders of Thorndyke and he was gently
forced into a chair. As soon as he was seated two metal clamps
grasped like a vise his arms between the elbows and the shoulders,
and two more fastened round his ankles.
There was a faint puff of air from the door and the prisoner felt
that he was alone. Terror held him in bondage. He tried to think
of Bernardino, but in vain. Did they intend to drive him to
madness? He began to suspect that the king had discovered his
natural superstition and had decided to put it to a test. What he
had undergone so far he felt was but the introduction to greater
terrors in store for him.
There was a sigh far away in the darkness--then a groan that
seemed to flit about in space, as if seeking to escape the dark,
and then died away in a low moan of despair. Before him the
blackness seemed to hang like a dark curtain about ten yards in
front of him, and in it shone a tiny speck of light no larger than
the head of a pin, and which was so bright that he could not look
at it steadily. It increased to the size of a pea, and then he
discovered that, at times, it would seem miles away in space and
then again to draw quite near to hand. Glancing down, he noticed
that it cast a bright round spot about an inch in diameter on the
floor, and that the spot was slowly revolving in a circle so
small that its motion was hardly observable. Surely the mind of a
superstitious man was never so punished! When Thorndyke looked
steadily at the spot, the black floor seemed to recede, and the
spot to sink far down into the empty darkness below like a
solitary star; So realistic was this that the Englishman could not
keep from fancying that this chair was poised in some way over
fathomless space. Presently he noticed that the spot had ceased
its circular movement and was slowly--almost as slowly as the
movement of the hand of a clock--advancing in a straight line
No such terror had ever before possessed the stout heart of the
Englishman. As the uncanny spot, ever growing brighter, advanced
toward him, he thought his heart had stopped beating; his brain
was in a whirl. After a long while the spot reached his feet and
began to climb up his legs. With a shudder and a smothered cry, he
tried to draw his feet away, but they were too firmly manacled.
"It is searching for my heart," thought Thorndyke. "My God, when
it reaches it, I shall die!" As the strange spot, gleaming like a
burning diamond in whose heart leaped a thousand different colored
flames, and which seemed possessed of some strange hellish
purpose, crossed his thighs and began to climb up his body, the
brain of the prisoner seemed on fire. He tried to close his eyes,
but, horror of horrors! his eyelids were paralyzed. It was almost
over his heart, and Thorndyke was fainting through sheer mental
exhaustion when it stopped, began to descend slowly, and, then,
with a rapid, wavering motion, it fell to the floor, flashed about
in the darkness, and vanished.
An hour dragged slowly by. What would happen next? The Englishman
felt that his frightful ordeal was not over. To his surprise the
darkness began to lighten till he could see dimly the outlines of
the chamber. It was bare save for the chair he occupied against a
wall, and a couch on the opposite side of the room. The couch held
something which looked like a human body covered with a white
cloth. He could see where the sheet rounded over the head and rose
sharply at the feet.
Something told him that it was a corpse and a new terror possessed
him. For several minutes he gazed at the couch in dreadful
suspense, then his heart stopped pulsing as the figure on the
couch began to move. Slowly the sheet fell from the head and the
figure sat up stiffly. There was a faint hum of hidden machinery
at the couch, and a flashing blue and green line running from the
couch to the wall betrayed the presence of an electric wire.
Slowly the figure rose, and with creaking, rattling joints stood
erect. Pale lights shone in the orbits of the eyes and the sound
of harsh automatic breathing came from the mouth and nostrils.
Slowly and haltingly the figure advanced toward Thorndyke. The
poor fellow tried to wrench himself free from the chair, but he
could not stir an inch. On came the figure, its long arms
swinging mechanically, and its feet slurring over the stone
When within ten feet of the Englishman it stopped, nodded its head
three or four times, and slowly opened its mouth. There was a
sharp, whirring noise, such as comes from a phonograph, and a
"My voice shall sound on earth for a million years after my spirit
has left my body; and I shall wander about my dark dungeon as a
warning to men not to do as I have done."
The voice ceased, but the whirring sound in the creature's breast
went on. The figure shambled nearer to Thorndyke and the voice
"I disobeyed the laws of great Alpha and her imperial king and am
to die. Beware of the temptation to search into the royal motives
or attempt to escape. The fate of all the inhabitants of Alpha,
the wonderful Land of the Changing Sun, is in the hands of its
ruler. Beware! My death-torture is to be lingering and horrible.
I sink into deepest dejection. I was eager to return to my native
land and tried to escape. Behold my punishment! Even my bones and
flesh will not be allowed to rest or decay. Beware, the king is
just and good, but he will be obeyed!"
Slowly the figure retreated toward the couch and lay down on it.
The whirring sound ceased, the light along the wire went out, and
the darkness thickened till the couch and the outlines of the
chamber were obscured. Then Thorndyke's chair was lift- ed, as if
by unseen hands, and he was borne backward. In a moment he felt
the cool, damp air of the corridor, and some one raised him to his
feet and led him back to the throne-room.
In the bright light which burst on him as the door opened, the
beautiful women and handsome men moving about the throne were to
him like a glimpse of Paradise. The attendant left him at the door
and he walked in, so dazed and weak that he hardly knew what to
do. No one seemed to notice him and the king was engaged in an
animated conversation with several ladies who were sitting at his
In a bevy of women Thorndyke noticed Bernardino. She gave him a
quick, sympathetic glance of recognition and then looked down
discreetly. Presently she left the others and moved on till she
had disappeared behind a great carved wine-cistern which stood on
the backs of four crouching golden leopards in a retired part of
the room. Something in her sudden movement made the Englishman
think she wanted to speak to him, and he went to her. He was not
mistaken, for she smiled as he approached.
"I am glad," she whispered, touching his arm impulsively, and then
quickly removing her hand as if afraid of detection.
"Glad of what?" he asked.
"Glad that you stood that--that torture so well; several men have
died in that chair and some went mad."
"I remembered your advice; that saved me."
"I have a plan for us to try to rescue your friend."
"Ah, I had forgotten him! what is it?"
"Captain Tradmos likes you and has consented to aid us. We shall
need an air-ship and he has one at his disposal which is used only
for governmental purposes."
"What do you want with the air-ship?"
"To go beyond and over the great wall."
"But can we get away from here without being seen?"
"Under ordinary circumstances, neither by day nor night, but
tomorrow the king has planned to let his people witness a 'War of
"A War of the Elements?"
"Yes, the grandest fete of Alpha. There will be a frightful storm
in the sky; no light for hours; the thunder will be musical and
the lightning will seem to set the world on fire. That will be our
chance. When it is darkest we shall try to get away unseen. We may
fail. Such a daring thing has never been attempted by any one. If
we are detected we shall suffer death as the penalty, the king
could never pardon such a bold violation of law."
Johnston clung tenaciously to the rock. He tried to look down to
see if the barge had passed beneath him, but the intense strain on
his arm now drew his head back, so that he could not do so. Once
more he made an effort to regain his position on the rock, but he
was not able to raise himself an inch.
He felt certain that the fall would kill him, and he groaned in
agony. His fingers were benumbed and beginning to slip. Then he
fell. The air whizzed in his ears. He tried to keep his feet
downward, but it was no use. He was whirled heels over head many
times, and his senses were leaving him when he was restored by a
plunge into the cold water.
Down he sank. It seemed to him that he never would lose his
momentum and that he would strangle before he could rise to the
surface. Finally, however, he came up more dead than alive. He had
narrowly missed the flat-boat, for he saw it receding from him
only a few yards away. On the shore stood Branasko motioning to
him; and, slowly, for his strength was almost gone, Johnston swam
The latter waded out into the shallow water and drew him ashore.
"You had a narrow escape," he said, with a dry laugh. "I saw the
boat come from under the cliff just as you hung down from the
ledge. At first I hoped that you would get back on the rock, but
when I saw you try and do it and fail I thought that you were
The American could not speak for exhaustion; but, as he looked at
the departing craft with concern, Branasko laughed again: "Oh, you
thought it had a crew; so did I at first, but it has no one
aboard. It is drawn by a cable, and seems to be laden with coal."
"Did they notice our fall up there?" panted Johnston, nodding
toward the lights in the distance.
"No, they are farther away than I thought."
"Well, what ought we to do?"
"Hide here among the rocks till our clothing dries and then look
about us. We have nearly twenty-four hours to wait for the sun to
return through the tunnel."
"Where is the tunnel?"
"Over on the other side of that black hill. There, you can see the
mouth of the tunnel through which the sun comes."
"We need sleep," said the Alphian, when their clothing was dry,
"and it may be a long time before we get a chance to get it. Let
us lie down in the shadow of that rock and rest."
Johnston consented, and, lying down together, they soon dropped
asleep. They slept soundly.
Johnston was the first to awake. He felt so refreshed that he knew
he must have been unconscious several hours. He touched Branasko
and the latter sat up and rubbed his eyes and looked about him
"I had a horrible dream," he said shuddering. "I thought that we
were in the sun and over the capital city when it fell down. I
thought the fall was awful, and that all Alpha was aflame. Then
the fires went out. Everything was black, and the whole world rang
with cries of terrified people. Ugh! I don't want to dream so
again; I'd rather not sleep at all. But hush! what is that?"
Far away, as if in the centre of the earth, they heard a low
monotonous rumbling. They listened breathlessly. Every moment the
sound increased. They could feel the ground trembling as if shaken
by an earthquake.
"It is the coming sun," said Branasko. "We must get nearer the
tunnel and see what can be done. It would be useless to try to go
Stealing along in the shadow of the cliffs to keep from being
seen by the workmen on the plateau above, they climbed over a
rocky incline and saw in the side of a towering cliff, a great
black hole. It was the mouth of the tunnel. Into it ran eight
wide tracks of railway and six mammoth cables each twenty or
thirty feet in diameter.
"The sun cannot be far away now," remarked the Alphian.
"Is it not lighted?"
"I presume not; I think it comes through in darkness. The light is
saved for its passage over Alpha."
"Would it not be as safe for us to attempt to walk through the
tunnel to the palace of the king?"
"Never; it would be over fifty miles in utter darkness. There may
be a thousand trestles and bridges over frightful chasms: for the
most part, I have heard the tunnel is a natural channel or a
succession of caverns united by tunnels. The other is the safer
way, though it certainly is risky enough."
Louder and nearer grew the rumbling noise, and a faint light began
to shine from the tunnel and flash on the cliff opposite.
"It is the sun's headlight," explained Branasko.
Johnston was thrilled to the centre of his being as he saw the
light playing over the polished tracks and cables and illuminating
the walls of the great tunnel.
Suddenly there was a deep, mellow-toned stroke of a bell in the
sun, and, as the two men shrank involuntarily into the deeper
shade of the cliff, the great globe, a stupendous ball of crystal,
five hundred feet in height, slowly emerged from the mouth of the
tunnel and came to a stop under the opening in the rock which led
to the space above.
"What had we better do now?" said Johnston.
"Wait," cautioned Branasko, and he drew the American to a great
boulder nearer the sun, from behind which they could, without
being seen, watch the action of the crowd of workmen that was
hurriedly approaching. They placed ladders of steel against the
sides of the sun and swarmed over it like bees.
"They are cleaning the glass and adjusting the lights," said the
Alphian; "wait till they go round to the other side. Don't you see
that square opening near the ground?"
The American nodded.
"It is the door," said Branasko, "and we must try to enter it
while they are on the other side. Let us slip nearer; there is
another rock ahead that we can hide behind." Suiting the action to
the word, Branasko led the way, stooping near to the ground until
both were safely ensconced behind the boulder in question. They
were now so near that they could hear the electricians rubbing the
One who seemed to be superintending the work opened the door and
went into the sun and lighted a bright light. From where they
were crouched Johnston and Branasko caught a view of a little
hall, a flight of stairs, and some pictures on the walls.
Presently the man extinguished the light and came out.
"They are removing their ladders from this side," said Branasko in
a whisper. "Be ready; we must act quickly and without a particle
of sound. Run straight for that door and climb up the steps
The men had all gone round to the other side, and no one was in
"Quick! Follow me," and bending low to the earth the Alphian
darted across the intervening space and into the doorway. Johnston
was quite as successful. As he entered the door he saw Branasko
crawling up the carpeted stairs ahead of him, and, on his all-
fours, he followed. The first landing was large, and there in the
wall they found a closet. It would have been dark but for a dim
light that streamed down from above. Branasko opened the closet
door. "We must hide here for the present," he whispered.
They had barely got seated on the floor and closed the door when a
bright light broke round them and they heard somebody ascending
the stairs. The person passed by and went on further up. The two
adventurers dared not exchange a word. They could hear the
footsteps above and the sound of the electricians outside as
they polished the lights and moved their ladders from place to
"If he should stay, what could we do?" asked Johnston, after a
long pause, and when the footsteps sounded farther away.
"There are two of us and one of him," grimly replied the brawny
Johnston shuddered. "Let's not commit murder in any emergency," he
"It would not be murder; every man has a right to save his own
Nothing more was said just then, for the footsteps were growing
nearer. The man was descending. He crossed the landing they were
on and went down the last flight of stairs and out of the door.
Branasko rubbed his rough hands together. "We are going alone," he
said with satisfaction.
There was a sound of sliding ladders on the walls outside. The
workmen had finished their task. A moment later a great bell
overhead rang mellowly; the colossal sphere trembled and rocked
and then rose and swung easily forward like the car of a balloon.
"We are rising," said the Alphian, in a tone of superstitious awe.
Johnston said nothing. There was a cool, sinking sensation in
his stomach and his head was swimming. Branasko, however, was in
possession of all his faculties.
"We shall soon be through the shaft we first discovered and throw
our light over Alpha." As he spoke the space about them broke into
blinding brightness and for a few moments they could only open
their eyes for an instant at a time. After a while Branasko opened
the closet door and they went up the stairs.
The first apartment they entered was most luxuriously
furnished. Sofas, couches and reclining-chairs were scattered
here and there over the elegant carpet, and statues of gold and
marble stood in alcoves and niches and strange stereopticon
lanterns, hanging from the ceiling threw ever-changing and
life-like pictures on the walls. The light streamed in from
without through small circular windows. After they had walked
about the room for some minutes, the Alphian pointed to a half-
open door and a staircase at one side of the room.
"I think it leads to some sort of observatory on top," he said. "I
have heard that when the royal family makes this voyage they are
fond of looking out from it. Suppose we see."
Johnston acquiesced, and Branasko opened the door. From the
increased brightness that came in they were assured that the
stairs led outward.
Ascending many flights of stairs and traversing a narrow winding
gallery which seemed to be gradually sloping upward, they finally
reached the outside, and found themselves on a platform about
forty feet square surrounded by iron balustrades. Above hung
impenetrable blackness, below curved a majestic sphere of white
The sunlight was fading into gray when the princess turned to
leave Thorndyke. Night was drawing near.
"Have they assigned you a chamber yet?" she paused to ask.
"Then they have overlooked it; I shall remind the king."
Her beautiful, lithe form was clearly outlined against the red
glow of the massive swinging lamp as she moved gracefully away,
and Thorndyke's heart bounded with admiration and hope as he
thought of her growing regard for him. He resumed his seat among
the flowers, listening, as if in a delightful dream, to the
seductive music from bands in different parts of the palace and
the never-ceasing sound in the air which seemed to him to be the
concentrated echo of all the sounds in the strange country
rebounding from the vast cavern roof.
It grew darker. The gray outside had changed to purple. In the
palace the brilliant electric lights in prismatic globes refused
to allow the day to die. He was thinking of returning to the
throne-room when a page in silken attire approached from the
direction of the king's quarters.
"To your chambers, master," he announced, bowing respectfully.
Thorndyke arose and followed him to an elevator near by. They
ascended to the highest balcony of the great rotunda. Here they
alighted and turned to the right, the page leading the way, a key
in his hand. Presently the page stopped at a door and unlocked it
and preceded the Englishman into the room. As they entered an
electric light in a chandelier flashed up automatically.
It was a sumptuous apartment, and adjoining it were several
connecting rooms all elegantly furnished. The page crossed
the room and opened a door to a little stairway.
"It leads to the roof," he said. "The princess told me to call
your attention to it, that you might go out and view the
When the page had retired, Thorndyke, feeling lonely, ascended the
stairs to the roof. It was perfectly flat save for the great dome
which stood in the centre and the numerous pinnacles and cupolas
on every hand, and was very spacious. The Englishman's loneliness
increased, for no matter in what direction he looked, there was
not a living soul in sight. Far in front of him he saw a stone
parapet. He went to this and looked down on the city. The electric
lights were vari-colored, and arranged so that when seen from a
distance or from a great height they assumed artistic designs that
were beautiful to behold.
The regular streets and rows of buildings stretched away till the
light in the farthest distance seemed an ocean of blending
colors. Overhead the vault was black, and only here and there
shone a star; but as he looked upward they began to flash into
being, and so rapidly that the sky seemed a vast battlefield of
"Wonderful! Wonderful!" he ejaculated enthusiastically, when the
black dome was filled with twinkling stars. He leaned for a long
time against the parapet, listening to the music from the streets
below, and watching the flying-machines with their vari-colored
lights rise from the little parks at the intersection of the
streets and dart away over the roofs like big fireflies. Then
he began to feel sleepy, and, going back to his chambers, he
When he awoke the next morning, the rosy glow of the sun was
shining in at his windows. On rising he was surprised to find a
delectable breakfast spread on a table in his sitting-room.
"Treating me like a lord, any way," he said drily. "I can't say I
dislike the thing as a whole." When he had satisfied his sharp
hunger he went out into a corridor and seeing an elevator he
entered it and went down to the throne-room. The king was just
leaving his throne, but seeing Thorndyke he turned to him with a
"How did you sleep?" he asked.
"Well, indeed," replied Thorndyke, with a low bow.
"I cannot talk to you now. I intended to, but I have promised my
people a 'War of the Elements' to-day and am busy. You will enjoy
it, I trust."
"I am sure of it, your Majesty."
"Well, be about the palace, for it is a good point from which to
view the display."
With these words he turned away and the Englishman, as if drawn
there by the memory of his last conversation with Bernardino,
sought the retreat where he had bidden her good-night. He sat down
on the seat they had occupied, and gave himself over to delightful
reveries about her beauty and loveliness of nature. Looking up
suddenly he saw a pair of white hands part the palm leaves in
front of him and the subject of his thoughts emerged into view.
She wore a regal gown and beautiful silken head-dress set with
fine gems, and gave him a warm glance of friendly greeting.
"I half hoped to find you here," she said, blushing modestly under
his ardent gaze; "that is, I knew you would not know where to go -
---" She paused, her face suffused with blushes.
"I did not hope to find you here," he said, coming to her aid
gallantly, "but it was a delight to sit here where I last saw
She blushed even deeper, and a pleased look flashed into her eyes.
"It was important that I should see you this morning," she
continued, with a womanly desire to disguise her own feeling. "I
wanted to tell you where to meet me when the storm begins."
"Where?" he asked.
"On the roof of the palace, near the stairs leading down to your
chambers. At first it will be very dark, and it is then that we
must get out of sight of the palace. No other flying-machines will
be in the air, and Captain Tradmos thinks, if we are very careful,
we can get away safely before the display of lightning."
"If we find my friend what can we do with him?"
She hesitated a moment, a look of perplexity on her face, then she
said: "We can bring him back and keep him hidden in your chambers
till some better arrangement can be made. We shall think of some
expedient before long, but at present he must be saved from
Thorndyke attempted to draw her to a seat beside him, but she
held back. "No," she said resolutely, "it would never do for us
to be seen together. If my father should suspect anything now,
all hope would be lost."
Thorndyke reluctantly released her hand.
"You are right, I beg your pardon," he said humbly. "I shall meet
you promptly. Of course I want to save poor Johnston, but the
delight of being with you again, even for a moment, so
intoxicates me that I forget even my duty to him."
After she left him he wandered out in the streets along the busy
thoroughfares, and into the beautiful parks, the flowers and
foliage changing color as each new hour dawned. The fragrance of
the flowers delighted his sense of smell, and the luscious fruits
hung from vine and tree in great abundance.
He was impatient for the time to arrive at which he was to meet
the princess. After awhile he noticed the people closing the shops
and booths, and in holiday dress going to the parks and public
squares. He hastened to the palace. The great rotunda and the
throne-room were energetically astir. Everybody wore rich apparel
and was talking of the coming fete. The king was on his throne
surrounded by his men of science. In a cluster of ladies in court
dress, the Englishman recognized Bernardino. Catching his eye, she
looked startled for an instant, and, then, with a furtive glance
at the king, she swept her eyes back to Thorndyke and raised them
significantly toward his chambers. He understood, and his quick
movement was his reply. He turned immediately to an elevator that
was going up, and entered it. Again he was alone on the palace
roof. The color of the sunlight looked so natural that he studied
it closely to see if he could not detect something artificial in
its appearance, but in vain. He found that it did not pain his
eyes to look at the sun steadily. He took from his pocket a small
sunglass, and focussed the rays on his hand, but the heat was not
intensified sufficiently to burn him.
Just then he heard a loud blast of a trumpet in a tall tower to
the left of the palace. It seemed a momentous signal. The jostling
crowds in the streets below suddenly stood motionless. Every eye
was raised to the sky. Not a sound broke the stillness. Following
the glances of the crowd a few minutes later, Thorndyke noticed a
dark cloud rising in the west, and spreading along the horizon. A
feeling of awe came over him as it gradually increased in volume,
and, in vast black billows, began to roll up toward the sun.
Suddenly out of the stillness came a faraway rumble like a
fusillade of cannon, now dying down low, again reaching such a
height that it pained the ears. Belated flying- machines darted
across the sky here and there, like storm-frightened birds, but
they soon settled to earth. Every eye was on the cloud which was
now gashed with dazzling, vivid, electric flashes. Thorndyke
looked over the vast roof. He was alone. He walked to the western
parapet to get a broader view.
The clouds had increased till almost a third of the heavens were
obscured by the madly whirling blackness. There was a rumble in
the cloud, or beyond it, like thunder, and yet it was not, unless
thunder can be attuned, for the sound was like the music of a
great orchestra magnified a thousand-fold. The grand harmony died
down. There was a blinding flash of electricity in the clouds, and
the Englishman involuntarily covered his eyes with his hands. When
he looked again the blackness was covering the sun. For a moment
its disk showed blood-red through the fringe of the cloud and
then disappeared. Total darkness fell on everything.
The silence was profound. The very air seemed stagnant.
Then the wind overhead, by some unseen force, was lashed into
fury, and all the sky was filled with whirlpools of deeper
blackness. Suddenly there was a flash of soft golden light; this
was followed by streams of pink, of blue and of purple till the
whole heavens were hung with banners, flags, and rain-bows of
flame. Again darkness fell, and it seemed all the deeper after the
gorgeous scene which had preceded it. Thorndyke strained his sight
to detect something moving below, but nothing could be seen, and
no sound came up from the motionless crowds.
Behind him he heard a soft footstep on the stone tiling. It drew
nearer. A hand was being carefully slid along the parapet. The
hand reached him and touched his arm.
It was the princess. "Ah, I have at last found you," she
whispered, "I saw you in the lightning, but lost you again."
He put his arm round her and drew her into his embrace. He tried
to speak, but uttered only an inarticulate sound.
"I could not possibly come earlier," she apologized, nestling
against him so closely that he could feel the quick and excited
beating of her heart. "My father kept me with him till only a
moment ago. Captain Tradmos will be here soon."
"When do we start?" he asked.
"That is the trouble," she replied. "We had counted on getting
away in the darkness, before the display of lightning, but there
is more danger now. If our flying-machine were noticed the search-
lights would be turned on us and we would be discovered at once."
"But even if we get safely away in the darkness when could we
"Oh, that would be easy," she replied. "As soon as the fete is
over, commerce will be resumed and the air will be filled with
air-ships that have been delayed in their regular business, and,
in the disguises which I have for us both, we could come back
without rousing suspicion. We could alight in Winter Park and
return home later."
"What is Winter Park?"
"You have not seen it? You must do so; it is one of the wonders of
Alpha. It is a vast park enclosed with high walls and covered with
a roof of glass. Inside the snow falls, and we have sleighing and
coasting and lakes of ice for skating. It was an invention of the
king. The snowstorms there are beautiful."
Thorndyke's reply was drowned in a harmonious explosion like that
of tuned cannon; this was followed by the chimes of great bells
which seemed to swing back and forth miles overhead.
"Listen!" whispered Bernardino, "father calls it 'musical
thunder,' and he declares that it is produced in no other country
"It is not; he is right." And the heart of the Englishman was
stirred by deep emotion. He had never dreamed that anything could
so completely chain his fancy and elevate his imagination as what
he heard. The musical clangor died down. The strange harmony grew
more entrancing as it softened. Then the whole eastern sky began
to flush with rosy, shimmering light.
"My father calls this the 'Ideal Dawn of Day,'" whispered
Bernardino. "See the faint golden halo near the horizon; that is
where the sun is supposed to be."
"How is it done?" asked the Englishman.
"Few of our people know. It is a secret held only by the king and
half a dozen scientists. The whole thing, however, is operated by
two men in a room in the dome of the palace. The musician is a
young German who was becoming the wonder of the musical world
when father induced him to come to us. I have met him. He says he
has been thoroughly happy here. He lives on music. He showed me
the instrument he used to play, a little thing he called a violin,
and its tones could not reach beyond the limits of a small room.
He laughs at it now and says the instrument that father gave him
to play on has strings drawn from the centre of the earth to the
stars of heaven."
The rose-light had spread over the horizon and climbed almost to
the zenith, and with the dying booming and gentle clangor it began
to fade till all was dark again.
"Captain Tradmos ought to be here now," continued the princess,
glancing uneasily toward the stairway. "We may not have so good an
opportunity as this."
Ten minutes went by.
"Surely, something has gone wrong," whispered Bernardino. "I have
never seen the darkness last so long as this; besides, can't you
hear the muttering of the people?"
Thorndyke acknowledged that he did. He was about to add something
else, but was prevented by a loud blast from the trumpet in the
Bernardino shrank from him and fell to trembling.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"The trumpet!" she gasped, "something awful has happened!"
A moment of profound silence, then the murmuring of the crowd rose
sullenly like the moaning of a rising storm; a search-light
flashed up in the gloom and swept its uncertain stream from point
to point, but it died out. Another and another shone for an
instant in different parts of the city, but they all failed.
"Something awful has happened," repeated Bernardino, as if to
herself; "the lights will not burn!"
"Had we not better go down?" asked Thorndyke anxiously, excited by
her unusual perturbation.
For answer she mutely drew him to the eastern parapet. Far away in
the east there still lingered a faint hint of pink, but all over
the whole landscape darkness rested.
"See!" she exclaimed, pointing upward, "the clouds are thinning
over the sun, and yet there is no light. What can be the matter?"
At that juncture they heard soft steps on the roof and a voice
"Bernardino! Princess Bernardino!"
"It is Tradmos," she ejaculated gladly, then she called out
"Here!" the voice said, and a figure loomed up before them. It was
the captain. He was panting violently, as if he had been running.
"What is it?" she asked, clasping his arm.
"The sun has gone out," he announced.
A groan escaped her lips and she swayed into Thorndyke's arms.
"The clouds are thinning over the sun, yet there is no light. The
king is excited; he fears a panic!"
"Has such a thing never happened?" asked Thorndyke.
"An hundred years ago; then thousands lost their lives. As soon as
the people suspect the cause of the delay they will go mad with
"What can we do?" asked the princess, recovering her self-
"Nothing, wait!" replied Tradmos. "This is as safe a place as you
could find. Perhaps the trouble may be averted. Look!"
The disk of the veiled sun was aglow with a faintly trembling
light; but it went out. The silence was profound. The populace
seemed unable to grasp the situation, but when the light had
flickered over the black face of the sun once more and again
expired, a sullen murmur rose and grew as it passed from
lip to lip.
It became a threatening roar, broken by an occasional cry of
pain and a dismal groan of terror. There was a crash as if a
mountain had been burst by explosives.
"The swinging bridge has been thrown down!" said Tradmos.
Light after light flashed up in different parts of the city, but
they were so small and so far apart that they seemed to add to the
darkness rather than to lessen it.
"The moon, it will rise!" cried the princess.
"It cannot," said Tradmos in his beard, "at least not for several
"They will kill my father," she said despondently, "they always
hold him responsible for any accident."
"They cannot reach him," consoled Tradmos. "He is safe for the
present at least."
"Is it possible to make the repairs needed?"
"I don't know. When the accident happened long ago the sun was
"Has it stopped?"
"I think not; it has simply gone out; the electric connection has,
in some way, been cut off."
The tumult seemed to have extended to the very limits of the city,
and was constantly increasing. The smashing of timber and the
falling of heavy stones were heard near by.
Tradmos leaned far over the parapet. "They are coming toward us!"
he said; "they intend to destroy the palace; we must try to get
down, but we shall meet danger even there."
Johnston and Branasko looked down at the great ball of light
below them in silent wonder. Johnston was the first to speak. He
pointed to the four massive cables which supported the sun at
each corner of the platform and extended upward till they were
enveloped in the darkness.
"They hold us up," he said, "where do they go to?"
"To the big trucks which run on the tracks near the roof of the
cavern; the endless cables are up there, too, but we can not see
them with this glare about us."
"We can see nothing of Alpha from here," remarked Johnston
disappointedly, "we can see nothing beyond our circle of light."
"I should like to look down from this height at night," said the
Alphian. "It would be a great view."
"What is this?" Johnston went to one side of the platform and laid
his hand on the spokes of a polished metal wheel shaped like the
pilot-wheel of a steamboat. Branasko hastened to him.
"Don't touch it," he warned. "It looks as if it were to turn the
electric connection off and on. If the sun should go out, the
consequences would be awful. The people of Alpha would go mad
The American withdrew his hand, and he and Branasko walked back to
the centre of the platform. Johnston uttered an exclamation of
surprise. "The light is changing."
And it was, for it was gradually fading into a purple that was
delightfully soothing to the eye after the painful brightness of a
"I understand," said the Alphian, "we are running very
slow and are only now about to approach the great wall, for
purple is the color of the first morning hour."
"But how is the light changed?" asked Johnston curiously.
"By some shifting of glasses through which the rays shine, I
presume," returned the Alphian; "but the mechanism seems to be
concealed in the walls of the globe."
Not a word was spoken for an hour. They had lain down on the
platform near the iron railing which encompassed it, and Branasko
was dozing intermittently. Again the light began to change
gradually. This time it was gray. Johnston put out his hand to
touch Branasko, but the Alphian was awake. He sat up and nodded
smiling. "Wait till the next hour," he said; "it will be rose-
color; that is the most beautiful."
Slowly the hours dragged by till the yellow light showed that it
was the sixth hour. Branasko had been exploring the vast interior
below and came back to Johnston who was asleep on the floor of
"I have just thought of something," said Branasko. "This is the
day appointed by the king to entertain his subjects with a grand
display of the elements."
"I do not understand," said Johnston.
"The king," explained the Alphian, "darkens the sun with clouds so
that all Alpha is blacker than night, and then he produces great
storms in the sky, and lightning and musical thunder. We may,
perhaps, hear the music, but we cannot witness the storm and
electric display on account of the light about us. It usually
begins at this hour; so be silent and listen."
After a few minutes there was a rumble from below like the roar of
a volcano and an answering echo from the black dome overhead. This
died away and was succeeded by a crash of musical thunder that
thrilled Johnston's being to its very core. Branasko's face was
aglow with enthusiasm.
"Grand, glorious!" he ejaculated, "but if only you could see the
lightning and the dawn in the east you would remember it all your
life. The sunlight is cut off from Alpha by the clouds, and there
is no light except the wonderful effects in the sky."
Johnston had gone back to the wheel and was examining it
"I have a mind to turn off the current for a moment anyway," he
said doggedly; "if the sun is hidden they would not discover it."
Branasko came to him, a weird look of interest in his eyes.
"That is true," he said; "besides, what matters it? We may not
live to see another day."
Johnston acted on a sudden impulse. He intended only to frighten
Branasko by moving the wheel slightly, and he had turned it barely
an eighth of an inch, when, as if controlled by some powerful
spring, it whirled round at a great rate, making a loud rattling
noise. To their dismay the light went out.
"My God! what have I done?" gasped the American in alarm.
"Settled our fate, I have no doubt," muttered the Alphian from the
Johnston had recoiled from the whirling wheel, and now cautiously
groped back to it, and attempted to turn it. It would not move.
"It has caught some way," he groaned under his breath.
"And we have no light to find the cause of the trouble," added the
Alphian, who had knelt down and was feeling about the wheel.
Presently he rose.
"I give it up," he sighed, "I cannot understand it. The machinery
is somewhere inside."
"It has grown colder," shuddered Johnston.
"We were warmed by the light, of course," remarked Branasko, "and
now we feel the dampness more. We are going at a frightful speed."
Just then there was a jar, and the sun swung so violently from
side to side that the two men were prostrated on the floor. The
speed seemed to slacken.
"I wonder if we are going to stop," groaned the American, and he
sat up and held to Branasko. "Perhaps they will draw us back to
rectify the mistake, and then----"
"It cannot be done," interrupted the Alphian. "The machinery runs
only one way. We shall simply have to finish our journey in
"They may catch us on the other side before the sun starts back
through the tunnel," suggested the American.
"Not unlikely," returned Branasko. "There, we are going ahead
again. One thing in our favor is that we can more easily escape
capture in darkness than if the sun were shining."
"Does the sun stop before entering the tunnel?"
"I do not know," replied Branasko; "perhaps somebody will be there
to see what is wrong with the light. We must have our wits about
us when we land."
Johnston was looking over the edge of the platform. "If the
king's display is taking place down there I can see no sign of
"How stupid of us!" ejaculated Branasko. "Of course, clouds
sufficiently dense to hide the sun from Alpha would also prevent
us from seeing the display below. I ought to----"
He was interrupted by a grand outburst of harmony. The whole
earth seemed to vibrate with sublime melody. "Our blunder has not
been discovered yet," finished Branasko, after a pause, "else
the fete down below would have been over. I am cold; shall we go
Johnston's answer was taken out of his mouth by a loud rattling
beneath the floor, near the wheel he had just turned; the sun
shook spasmodically for an instant, and its entire surface was
faintly illuminated, but the light failed signally.
"It must have been an extra current of electricity sent to relight
the lamps," remarked Johnston; and, as he concluded, the sun
trembled again, and another flash and failure occurred. "Look,"
cried the American, "the clouds are thinning; see the lights
below! They have discovered the accident!"
They both leaned over the railing and looked below. As far as the
eye could reach, within the arc of their vision, they could see
fitful lights flashing up, here and there, and going out again.
And then they heard faint sounds of crashing masonry and the
condensed roar of human voices, which seemed to come from above
rather than from below. The Alphian turned. "I cannot stand the
cold," he said.
Johnston followed him. The rapid motion of the swinging sphere
made him dizzy, and he caught Branasko's arm to keep from falling.
"How can we tell when we go over the wall?" he asked anxiously.
"We shall have to guess at it," was the answer. "At any rate we
must be near the lower door so as to get out quickly if it is
necessary to do so to escape detection."
In the darkness they slowly made their way down the stairs to the
"There ought to be some way of making a light," said the Alphian,
and his voice sounded loud and hollow in the empty chamber. After
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