"I was therefore much amused in reading an effusion by one critic who, in discussing the question of the canal lines, remarked that he could not accept 'these one-man discoveries,' oblivious of the fact that they are the discoveries of many observers. He then very naively gives the illuminating information that his astronomical experience is confined to the 'observation' of the moon for about six months, by the aid of a 1-1/4-inch hand-telescope! Surely, when confronted with a critic of such vast experience and so wonderfully equipped, Professor Lowell must retire discomfited from the field!"
At the conclusion of my remarks both John and M'Allister expressed their thanks, saying that "Now they were informed as to the points on which our scientists were not agreed, they would look forward with still greater interest to our arrival at our destination, for they were as anxious as I was to solve the mysteries of the red planet."
WE ARE MYSTERIOUSLY PREVENTED FROM APPROACHING MARS.
The days then passed uneventfully until at last the long-looked-for day arrived, and on the 24th September we were so close to Mars that we hoped to be able to land on the planet by two o'clock in the afternoon. We made ourselves a little sprucer than usual, as we wished to do credit to our own world; and M'Allister wore his overalls to protect his clothes, although our machinery was not nearly so messy to handle as steam-engines usually are.
We had already examined our three machine-guns so that they might be in readiness for any emergency, if some of the ideas of which we had read as to the probable ferocity of the Martians should prove correct. It had, however, been definitely agreed between us that the guns were only to be used as a last resort to defend our lives against a wanton attack, and were to be kept out of sight until they were really required. My own conception of the Martians was, however, a very different one, though I thought it quite right to be prepared for anything which might happen.
As Mars was only about twenty-five miles distant, its surface details could be fairly well seen through the clear thin atmosphere; and, with the aid of a glass, one question at least was definitely settled--the numerous lines of vegetation were fairly continuous; but there were no large canals to be seen, though we thought we could trace some narrow ones.
We could also see several rapidly moving specks in the sky, which, we suggested, might be air-ships of some kind; but they were so far off and indistinct, that we were unable to arrive at a definite conclusion.
Our speed having been gradually reduced, we were now only moving at the rate of twenty-five miles an hour, and it was therefore time to decide on a landing-place. John and M'Allister pointed out a conspicuous spot not very far from the centre of the visible surface of the planet, John remarking that we should be about right if we landed there, because several canals converged to it, and it must, therefore, be a place of some importance. On looking at the map we found that it was marked as the Nodus Gordii, or "Gordian Knot"; so, really, it seemed an appropriate landing-place for travellers who were desirous of solving mysteries.
"Very well, then," I said, "we'll land there if you like, but I had rather a fancy for a different spot, which is on the Sinus Titanum. It is that place over there, near the point where the vegetation curves down in both directions," I remarked, as I pointed out the spot.
"Your place is rather nearer to the equator, and is probably pretty warm; but really it does not matter where we land so long as we arrive on the planet. Your votes are two to my one; so, as you have a thumping majority, go ahead, M'Allister, for the place you have chosen! We will see whether we can cut the Gordian Knot, if we cannot undo it!"
[Illustration: From a Globe made by M. Wicks Plate X MARS. MAP III.
"Sirapion," the landing-place of the "Areonal," is shown just above the point of the shaded portion near the top. The "Nodus Gordii," where John wished to land, is seen between the double canal just above the Equator, on the left-hand side of the map.]
He accordingly directed his course towards the chosen spot; but we had not proceeded very far before everything below us suddenly disappeared, being quite blotted out by something of an ochre tint, which entirely obscured our view of the country.
"Professor," exclaimed M'Allister, "what is the matter? I cannot see where we are going!"
"I can guess what it is," I replied; "we have run into one of those sand-clouds I told you of the other evening, and until we get through, or it passes away, we shall see nothing else. Perhaps we had better go on very slowly."
We went on accordingly, but instead of our getting through it, the cloud seemed to become denser and denser. However, we still pressed on, and, after what seemed quite a long time, we emerged into somewhat clearer air, although there was still a thin yellow cloud below us. Our course had been well maintained, for we seemed to be within ten miles of our destination, which we could just make out through the thin dust-cloud.
Presently M'Allister called out to me, "Professor, I don't know what is wrong, but the machinery is slowing down so much that I am afraid we shall soon come to a dead stop! I have switched on more power, but it does not seem to make any difference!"
"Well, try a little stronger current," I suggested; "but be careful not to overdo it, or we may land upon Mars more suddenly than we shall like."
He tried this, but we had not moved more than a hundred yards when he found that farther progress was impossible. So here we were, only a few miles from our destination, yet prevented by an impalpable and unknown obstacle from reaching it!
We consulted together, but could find no solution of the mystery of this invisible barrier to our progress. Then John suggested that, as we could not go straight on, we should try a different course. So M'Allister altered our course a few points, and once more put on the speed power, only to be brought to a standstill again after a very short spurt.
"My word!" he exclaimed, "I'll not be beaten like this. I've driven an old iron tramp-steamer through scores of miles of thick seaweed out in the tropics, although the machinery was almost worn out and the engines leaking at every joint. Here goes for full speed ahead!" he cried; and, so saying, he switched on full power, quite heedless of my shout of "Do be careful, M'Allister, or we shall all be smashed to pieces!"
"She's got to go!" he replied grimly, "smash or no smash! I never was beaten yet when pushing my way through obstacles, and I'm too old a hand to be beaten now!"
However, he found he was beaten this time, for although he switched on the utmost power, it refused to give any evidence of its existence, and we had to rely on our neutral power in order to maintain our position in the air; though, as events proved, we could not have fallen.
The excitement and tension of the work had thrown M'Allister into a profuse perspiration; and, as he stood moodily mopping his brow with his handkerchief, I heard him muttering and swearing softly to himself. His blood was evidently up, for he made another desperate attempt to get the Areonal to move forward, wrenching his switches with angry jerks, but it all proved labour in vain.
"Well, what is to be done now, John?" I asked; "we have tried two courses without any effect!"
"I would suggest, Professor, that we should go up higher," he replied, "so as to enable us to try again from another altitude, then, perhaps, we may pass above the obstacle."
"A good thought that, John!" I cried. So up we went, the machinery working all right now, and our spirits rose as we soared higher; but, alas! after rising a few hundred yards, the machines began to slow down, and soon stopped altogether.
"The de'il himself must be taking a hand in this business!" exclaimed M'Allister, "for this beats the worst experience I ever had! We can't go up, we can't go down, and we can't go forward! Whatever can we do, Professor? You're a scientific man; can't you suggest something which might help?"
"It's a profound mystery to me, M'Allister," I replied, "but we certainly do not want to remain hung up in space, so I suggest you should try several different courses. Surely, in some direction we shall find a way out of this, and get to our destination."
This plan was tried, M'Allister doggedly setting his course first in one direction, then in another, and trying to put on enough power to force the vessel along; but time after time we came to a standstill after moving very slowly for a short distance.
"It looks as though we were to be hung up here indefinitely," said John. "We do not seem able to get through this mysterious obstacle, whatever it may be, or whatever course we may try."
"Oh, we've not tried all points yet," I said. "We must not give up now we have got so close to the object of our trip. Take a fresh course, M'Allister."
He took a fresh course, and another after that, but with exactly the same result.
I had never seen M'Allister in such a perturbed state before; he actually trembled all over with the intensity of his feelings, and his face had an expression of grim determination such as I should imagine might be seen on the face of a soldier at bay with his back to a wall, and fighting for his life against overwhelming numbers of assailants.
"My word!" he exclaimed, "yon's Mars, and here's us, but it doesn't seem as if we should ever come together. Losh mon, bonnie Scotland for ever! Here goes for another try!" and he switched on the current again with a vicious pull.
We watched the machines with intense anxiety, wondering whether this new course would be any better than the others we had tried--whether the machines would keep moving, or slow down and stop as before.
No, we kept moving; and soon it was evident we were gaining speed rapidly.
"Hurrah, hurrah!" I cried in exultation. "We are doing it this time. Slow down, M'Allister, we are going too fast now!"
"Scotland for ever!" he shrieked. "That did it, Professor!"
Strangely enough, John, usually the most excitable member of our party, was the calmest of the three, and simply remarked quietly, "We've done it this time."
Yes, we had indeed done it this time, but our attention had been so taken up with our anxious watching of the machines that none of us had noticed the direction we were taking.
We had passed entirely through the last remnant of the sand clouds, and it was now beautifully clear, the thin air enabling us to see over a very large area of country. For the first time since leaving the earth I now opened one of the doors very slightly indeed, and tested the effect of the real Martian atmosphere.
It seemed to us rather sharp, with a taste something like that of a tonic medicine, but we were all able to breathe it without any serious inconvenience, though at first it made us gasp.
Being assured there was no danger, I stepped out on to the platform and looked down, then started back in utter astonishment, exclaiming to the others, "Why, look! look! See where we are!"
WE ARRIVE ON MARS AND MEET WITH A STARTLING SURPRISE.
On hearing my excited exclamation, John and M'Allister at once stepped on to the platform and, having looked down, were as much surprised as I was, for lo! we were heading direct for the very spot which I had previously told them it was my fancy to land upon, and we were not three miles away from it. We also saw a large town or city close by our proposed landing-place.
"One would almost imagine you were a magician, Professor," said John, "and that this affair was all your work, and intended to secure a landing only where you thought proper."
"No, John," I answered, "I had nothing to do with our coming to this spot, and it is still a mystery to me how it was we were not able to continue on our original course. The Gordian Knot was too much for us after all."
"Well," John said, "it does not matter so long as we succeed in landing somewhere.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed suddenly, "look through the glass over there," pointing forwards as he spoke. "I can see enormous crowds of people evidently watching our vessel."
It really was so, for, as we drew nearer and nearer, we could plainly see an enormous multitude of people who seemed to be drawn up along the four sides of an immense square open space, and they were all looking upwards towards the Areonal.
"Go and have a wash," I said to M'Allister, who had become quite grimy from the perspiration occasioned by his exciting work just previously. "We will see to the machines, if necessary. You must not descend amongst such an assembly of the natives with dirty hands and face."
"No," he replied, "Kenneth M'Allister will not disgrace old Scotland by doing such a thing as that."
"Look sharp, then, M'Allister," John called after him; then, peeping down again, he pointed to the farther side of the square, saying, "Look, Professor, I can see some pavilions over there, and a large dais affair, with a canopy over it! Look at the flags and banners too!" he cried; "and there seems to be a large number of officials round the dais. Perhaps that's the Emperor of Mars sitting there!"
"I doubt that, John," I replied; "but probably he is some very important personage. How singular," I added, "that this spot which I selected should be the only one toward which we were able to steer our vessel!"
"Well, we shall soon know something about that, I expect," replied John.
"Heh, mon!" exclaimed M'Allister, who had now rejoined us, looking spick and span, and with his face shining from the fresh application of soap and water, "I believe they are all down there watching for our arrival."
"It really looks like it," I said; "but how could they have known we were coming? So many scores of thousands could not have been gathered together at a few minutes' notice. Well, you can see to the machines, and take us gently down into that square."
"Professor," remarked John, "those people are not the big, ugly giants, nor the strange animals which some of our folks have imagined the inhabitants of Mars to be. They appear a bit tall; but, so far as I can see from here with the glass, they are a fairly good-looking lot. They seem quite friendly too," he added, "and we shall not require those guns after all."
"No, certainly not," I replied, for now we were close enough to see that the people were waving their hands towards us, and that children were waving bright-coloured flags. Just then a welcoming shout came up to us from below, and we made friendly signs to the people in response. Then they cheered us again and again, so we knew we could safely descend amongst them.
With skilful manoeuvring M'Allister soon brought our vessel down near the centre of the square, and we were all ready to step out. John judiciously, but rather reluctantly, ceased smoking and put away his pipe, not knowing what kind of reception he might have if he appeared amongst these strangers with a pipe in his mouth.
A line of officials was arranged in a curve on each side of the dais, and three of them came towards us from either side, making signs of friendliness and welcome.
Seeing that we had nothing to fear, we at once stepped on to the ground and advanced to meet them. In spite of weighted boots, which we had taken the precaution to wear, we had some difficulty in walking properly; the gravitation being so much less than on the earth we had an irresistible tendency to lift our feet much too high at every step we took.
As we met, each official made a very graceful and courteous inclination of his body, and we all bowed in response. The first couple of officials then conducted me towards the dais, and I could now see that they were very much taller than myself, being quite seven feet nine inches in height. They were, however, so splendidly proportioned that at first their stature had not impressed me as being much above our ordinary standard; whilst their features were most beautifully formed and regular, their complexions being very clear and fresh-looking.
One great peculiarity I noticed in all around us, and that was a peculiar soft and liquid glow in their eyes, which seemed to light up the whole of their features, adding greatly to their beauty and nobility of appearance.
As we approached the dais, its occupant rose and came down the steps to meet us on the level ground. Whatever his rank, he was a most magnificent figure, his whole bearing being serenely dignified, majestic and impressive; whilst the expression upon his radiantly glowing countenance was benign and intelligent beyond anything I had imagined or anticipated, though I had expected much.
What followed, however, was surprising beyond measure, and it was startling and electrifying in the suddenness with which it came upon me; for, as this splendid being moved towards me with stately steps, and both hands outstretched in greeting, he said to me in English, "Welcome to Mars! welcome to my country, oh stranger from a far-off world! In the name of the whole people, I bid you welcome to our world, which we call 'Tetarta,' and to this city of Sirapion!"
I MAKE A MOST AMAZING DISCOVERY.
I was so utterly taken aback at this most unexpected greeting in my own native language by one who was apparently the chief inhabitant of this other world that I found it very difficult to collect my thoughts and make a suitable reply.
I know I stammered out something; but, really, the more I tried to speak coherently the more confused I became. This was indeed a very bad beginning for a visitor from a distant world who wished to show to the best advantage in such an august presence, and before such a great assemblage of the people; but it is useless to attempt to conceal the truth, however humiliating it may be. Observing my embarrassment, however, the high personage smiled upon me pleasantly and, after saying a few reassuring words, he gave a signal to the two officials, so we moved aside for John and M'Allister to approach him.
The people, who had remained perfectly silent during this interview--if it can be dignified by that term--now burst out into a volume of acclamation; but I must say that never upon our earth had I seen a multitude so orderly. Everything seemed to be arranged and carried out with military precision, yet I saw no one with arms or weapons nor anything indicating the presence of either military or police. A few individuals, indeed, seemed to be giving some directions; but whatever movements were made by the people were accomplished without crowding, pushing, or jostling.
The Martians, too, evidently possessed fine artistic tastes and ideas, as well as excellent judgment for colour effects. Colour was apparent in great variety in the dresses of both sexes, yet nothing looked tawdry or overdone; for the whole mass presented a perfect and harmonious blending of tints; while the designs on the banners were most artistic and effective, many of the devices being of an astronomical character.
Whilst I was thus engaged in observing the people, one of the officials respectfully saluted me and made a sign that I was to accompany him. I bowed and turned in the direction he indicated, when he conducted me to one of the pavilions near the dais, motioned me to pass through the doorway, then, gravely saluting again, turned and went away.
On entering I found the pavilion fairly large and chastely decorated, but it had only one occupant, who rose and saluted as I entered. He was a splendidly built young man, with a radiant countenance, and when he advanced towards me with both hands outstretched, as the other high personage had done, I noticed the same peculiar soft and luminous glow in his eyes that I had observed in the other Martians.
As he took my hands within his, the young man looked straight into my eyes, his own beaming with pleasure: then said in English, "Welcome, sir, most welcome to Mars!"
As he stood gazing at me and I at him, something in his features struck me as being familiar. Where had I seen a face like that before? Then suddenly my thoughts flew back to a long-buried past. Gracious heavens! I must be dreaming--it can never be! Still he gazed intently into my eyes, seeming to penetrate my very soul; then I saw his expression change into one of ineffable tenderness, and a beautiful smile rippled over his face.
All doubt was now at an end; this was indeed no dream, no hallucination. I had seen that face before--seen those features in a less glowing and glorified form than that in which they now shone upon me, and I knew where I had seen them!
Something, which I had vaguely imagined might just be within the bounds of possibility, was now proved to be not only possible, but an accomplished fact.
Memories of the past rushed over me like swelling waves, and I seemed swept away by their surging billows. I gazed and gazed, in almost incredulous wonder, at that glorious being who stood there regarding me with an expression of ineffable affection; and my heart seemed to melt within me as the re-awakened love for a long-lost form stirred every fibre of my body and thrilled me through and through. Then, overwhelmed by the intensity of my emotions, I threw myself into his arms, crying aloud, "Oh, Mark! my boy! my boy!"
WHAT IS IN A NAME!--THE STORY OF MERNA.
Yes, this glorious being was indeed the son whom I had lost on the earth! It would be utterly impossible for me to describe the pathos and affection of that meeting with one whom I thought had passed for ever out of my present life, or the intensity of my emotions and the overflowing gratitude with which I gazed once more upon the face of my lost loved one, now so unexpectedly and wonderfully restored to me. Such emotions as I then experienced are beyond description by any pen or any tongue.
Whilst I was thus overwhelmed with emotion, my son exhibited the most dignified calm; yet his words and sympathy were as tender as those of a mother soothing a suffering child. Having at last brought me into a calmer state of mind, he said: "Yes, I, who am now called Merna, am indeed he who was once your son upon the earth; and I am indeed he who in heart and soul is at this moment as truly and affectionately your son, though living in another world, possessing another body, and called by another name!
"Oh, how I have yearned for this meeting, and through what long years have I studied and striven to bring it about!"
"You have brought it about, my boy!" I cried in amazement. "Why, how was that?"