"Oh yes, sir," replied he, again smiling; "you are anxious to know whether we really possess an elaborate system of canalisation upon Mars, and I can soon set your mind at rest upon that point. Indeed, it was in order to make arrangements for conducting you to inspect some of the canals that I left you yesterday after parting with the Chief.
"Our seas and other large bodies of water have long ceased to exist, and we are therefore dependent upon the water arising from the dissolving snow of our polar snow-caps for a supply of that prime necessary of life. Our canal system is, therefore, the most supremely important work which we have to maintain and develop, so that every part of the planet may be supplied with water, and also kept in touch with the rest of the planet. You must clearly understand that upon the adequacy and perfect working of the canals all life here is dependent; so every other matter is regarded as of lesser importance."
I may here say that we afterwards learnt that the positions of the higher officials connected with the administration of the canal system are regarded as amongst the highest and most honourable offices that a Martian can aspire to; and, moreover, that Merna himself held a very responsible position in the engineering department connected with the canals.
Merna then went on to say: "You will see for yourselves, presently, what our canals are like; for I am about to take you across to a point where you will have a good view over the country.
"As our canals are such conspicuous features upon our planet, especially where they cross the deserts, our experts have long been endeavouring, by various means, to transmit influences to the earth, in order to direct your people's attention to the regular lines they form, and thus convince them that Mars is inhabited by intelligent beings. Probably it is the case that very few of your scientific men are endowed with intelligences both sufficiently advanced, and sufficiently adaptable and receptive of new ideas, to enable them to assimilate and make use of the influences thus transmitted; but still we know that some must have grasped the situation."
"Merna," I answered, "that is quite true; but, of course, I cannot say whether it has been the result of Martian influences. Thirty years ago one of our great observers saw and mapped many of the canal lines; and years before that, others had seen them imperfectly, and drawn portions of them on their maps. Our first and greatest exponent of the idea that they were really canals was, however, Professor Lowell, an American astronomer, whose fame has spread all over our world. He has not only been a constant observer of Mars for many years, but has mapped out your canal systems from observations made by himself and his colleagues. He has also formulated a reasonable and, as it now appears, true explanation of their object and purpose; as well as demonstrating their existence to be a prime necessity for the well-being of your people.
"It is true he has met with much opposition; not only from those who have but limited knowledge, and refuse to believe anything they cannot see themselves, but from the older school of astronomers, who are not very receptive of new ideas; and who are, perhaps, naturally reluctant to admit the inadequacy or inaccuracy of their early theories. This is a very common failing with experts of all kinds, and we have had many instances of it in connection with astronomy all through our history; but we have amongst us many intelligent persons who are open to conviction, being unfettered in regard to particular theories. They are, therefore, not only willing, but eager to examine the evidence which has been collected, and to form their own opinions on the subject."
"I am very glad to hear you say so, sir," replied Merna; "and now I would like to ask you whether, during the last thirty-five years or so, there has not been an extraordinary advance in knowledge amongst your people in connection with such sciences as electricity, telegraphy, light and engineering, as well as in astronomy?
"I ask because our experts have been most earnestly endeavouring during that time to transmit some of their knowledge on these subjects to your scientific people on the earth, and we have some reason to believe that their efforts have been, at least, partially successful."
I assured him that our advance in regard to these subjects had really been phenomenal during the period he mentioned. Probably during no previous period in the history of our world had so many useful, important, and even amazing discoveries been made during such a short space of time.
I gave particulars of the great discoveries and rapid developments in connection with electricity, wireless telegraphy, the telephone, Hertzian waves, X and N rays, spectroscopy, colour-photography, and telectrography. I also mentioned the discovery of radium, helium, and argon; the medical use of light and bacteriology; together with the invention of the turbine engine, motor cars, flying machines; also phonographs and other kinds of talking machines.
Merna expressed himself as very gratified at this information; and remarked that our progress would be still more rapid in the future, as it was quite evident that there were terrestrial intelligences which were readily receptive, and capable of high development. He promised that what I had told him should be made known in the proper quarters; and added that the Martians would be encouraged to persevere in their efforts to impart such knowledge as would aid in the general advancement of science in our world.
He then asked me, "Whether, in connection with new discoveries, it had been found that more than one person had developed the new ideas about the same time?"
"Yes, Merna," I replied; "it has often been observed that similar inventions have been made by several people at the same time: although they have worked quite independently, and were totally unaware of what was being done by each other."
"That," said Merna, "is a natural consequence of these influences; for they are in the air, so to speak, and have only to be brought into connection with the appropriate intellects to be assimilated and carried into effect."
I then asked him if he could explain how the influences acted; and he replied that in most cases they formed a sort of mental picture, which would be mentally seen and understood by a person sufficiently endowed with the necessary knowledge; but if he were not so endowed, or not receptive of new ideas, then he would learn nothing from the influences.
Thus a mental picture of some new and unknown piece of machinery would mean nothing to an unmechanical mind, or even to a mechanical mind which was not endowed also with the inventive faculty. In other cases only thoughts in the abstract could be sent, and these were more likely to remain unassimilated than the mental pictures, as a very high order of intellect was required to receive such thoughts.
I then informed him that our greatest and most daring electrician, Nicola Tesla, was firmly convinced that he had discovered planetary disturbances of an electrical nature which had reached our world. This occurred as far back as the year 1899; and, in the course of later scientific investigations, he found that the disturbances could not have come from the sun, the moon, or Venus. Further study has, he says, quite satisfied him that they must have emanated from Mars.
I added that Tesla was at work perfecting an apparatus which he was convinced would be the means of putting him into communication with other planets, by means of a wireless transmitter. This, he states, will produce vibrations of enormous power, and he has devised a means of producing oscillations of the most tremendous intensity. He states that he has actually passed a current round the earth which attained many millions of horse-power, and feels assured that he has already succeeded in producing electrical disturbances on Mars by the aid of this current. "Those disturbances," he adds, "are much more powerful than anything which could be obtained by means of light reflectors, no matter how large such reflectors might be, or how wide an area they might be made to cover."
At the same time I pointed out that these are Tesla's own statements, and not mere second-hand reports or newspaper inventions!
Merna said that this information was really very gratifying, and gave him the greatest satisfaction; for it showed that the Martians' endeavours to communicate with us would ultimately be successful, because there was at least one man upon the earth capable of devising the necessary apparatus for receiving and transmitting such communications. He further remarked that it was quite true that electrical disturbances had reached Mars from another planet, but added that no effective communication was possible by means of light rays, as the two planets were never so situated in regard to each other as to render such a mode of signalling practicable.
I was just about to speak when Merna held up his hand to enjoin silence, and stood as though he were listening attentively to some communication.
After a minute or so he told us he had just received a mental communication from Soranho, stating that he had despatched a messenger to us with an urgent letter. Then he added, "We had better wait here until the messenger arrives."
"So," I said, "your wireless telegraphy is evidently much in advance of ours, for you seem to dispense with apparatus altogether!"
"Yes, sir," he replied; "you see this is one of the senses I told you we Martians possessed; but some of our people who are somewhat deficient in this sense still use the small pocket receivers and transmitters which have long become obsolete amongst the generality of our population.
"I have already given you two illustrations of the truth of my statement, that we are able to divine what is in each other's mind without it being necessary to speak. Still, I wish you to understand that we never allow this power to spoil conversation. You might, perhaps, think that because we know what each was about to say, the words would remain unsaid, and we would, therefore, be a rather taciturn people. That is not so. The faculty is a very useful one to us on many occasions; but, as I remarked, we never allow it to spoil conversation."
"That seems to me a very sensible and practical arrangement," remarked John.
"Well," replied Merna, "I hope, and I think, you will find us a very sensible and practical nation."
At this moment an official came up to us, and after saluting, handed Merna a packet. Having opened and read the communication it contained, he turned to us and gave each a document which had been enclosed; at the same time saying that it was a formal invitation for our attendance at a banquet in the evening, for the purpose of meeting the Chief of the Council and other high personages, and for social intercourse.
We all expressed our thanks, and, of course, accepted the invitation. The official, having received the requisite reply from Merna, again saluted, and then retired.
WE VISIT THE CANALS AND DISCOVER THEIR SECRET--MARTIAN VIEWS OF LIFE AND DEATH.
On Merna's suggestion we walked through the town with the object of inspecting the canals on the outskirts; and we needed no pressing, as we were all eager to see what the canals were like.
We again noted how every house, and almost every building, was isolated from its neighbours. Many of them were very large and exceedingly handsome specimens of architecture, and the streets were wide, straight, and remarkably clean and well kept. The official and administrative buildings were near the centre of the town; their general arrangement and design appearing most excellently adapted to the special requirements of their respective purposes.
Most of them were built of white stone, resembling our marble, which was very hard, and appeared clean and unaffected by weather, although some of the buildings were of considerable age. Others were built of stones of various colours, which added a pleasing variety to the general effect; whilst many were adorned with noble and beautiful domes, towers, and airy-looking minarets.
As we did not propose to inspect these in detail now, we passed on to the outskirts of the town, soon reaching the air-ship station, where we found a vessel in readiness for our trip. We all entered; the ship was at once started, and we proceeded swiftly on our journey.
Merna then told us that all public means of transit, over the whole area of the planet, were provided and maintained by the State, for the free use of all who needed to travel. The passengers neither paid fares nor received tickets; they simply stepped into the proper conveyance and went wherever they desired to go. A record was kept of the number of passengers carried; for, as each passenger entered, a number was automatically registered by a small machine under the footboard, the exit being by another door.
Small air-ships, motors, and boats could be engaged by single persons or small parties who did not wish to travel in the larger public conveyances; and any person was at liberty to provide a private conveyance for his own use, but the public ones were so numerous and convenient that very few people kept their own.
"Hey, mon!" said M'Allister, "the Martians can teach us something. I would like to see such a system at work in our own country!"
"I am afraid you are not likely to see that," said John, "while we have to spend so much upon warlike preparations. If war could be abolished, all the millions of money thus expended could be made available for purposes which would be of real and permanent benefit to the people."
We travelled a distance of some miles, and then the vessel was brought to a standstill.
What a splendid view we then had over the country all around us! the air being so thin and clear that there was very little dimming of the objects in the far distance. Across the country, in line after line, were the canals which we had been so anxious to see, extending as far as the eye could reach! With our glasses we made a detailed examination of several.
Our sensational newspapers have had paragraphs about Martian canals a hundred miles, or even hundreds of miles, wide! Scientific men have also similarly exaggerated, and made remarks about the absurdity of the supposition that such canals really existed.
There is very little excuse for such statements, because Professor Lowell has always been careful to point out that the lines represented broad bands of vegetation, and not the width of the canals.
Now the secret was out! What we actually saw was this: not a single wide canal but a series of comparatively narrow canals, running parallel to each other, with a very wide strip of vegetation between each. Usually the canals were linked together in pairs by smaller cross canals running diagonally from one canal to the other in alternate order. These were the irrigation trenches. Thus from one of a pair of canals an irrigation trench would branch out at an angle of about fifty degrees, and enter the second canal. Higher up, on the same side, another trench would run from the second canal at a similar angle, and enter the first canal, and so on--ad infinitum. In the case of single canals curved loops branched out and re-entered higher up, these loops being made on either side, and similar loops were made on the outsides of paired canals.
As a result of this arrangement it did not matter whether the water passed up the canal at one season of the year or down it at another season, it could always move straight ahead; the irrigation trenches were thus constantly flushed by one or other of the pairs, and there could be no stagnation anywhere. Merna also told us that some canals are provided with a network of trenches, whilst others are embanked so that the water can be let out through sluices when necessary, and thus flood the surrounding land. Thus every requirement can be met.
So far from being a hundred miles wide, it was exceptional for the canals to have a width of more than two hundred yards. Most of those we were looking at were only about sixty feet wide! and only the wider ones are used for navigation purposes. Merna explained why this was so, saying that as the main use of the canals was for irrigation purposes very wide ones were not required; for not only would they be wasteful, but as it was necessary to force the water along by artificial means, it could more conveniently be accomplished in the case of narrow canals, as the wider the canal the more difficult it became to force the water along.
We also observed many splendid wide motor-roads running between the single canals, as well as others running straight across the system, being carried over the canals by the most beautiful and fairy-like bridges that we had ever seen. They were all constructed of a metal identical with our "martalium," which we had used in the construction of the Areonal; so that was undoubtedly another invention which we owed to Martian influences transmitted to us across space!
Nothing more beautiful or graceful than these bridges could be imagined, so light were they in construction, so elegant and varied in design, and every part shining in the sun like burnished silver; they looked like structures composed of rays of light rather than substantial metal! They were a perfect dream of beauty, and we stood a long time examining their elegant construction through our glasses.
"Well," remarked John, "some of our millionaires would give half their fortunes to have such lovely bridges as these in their private parks!"
"Heh, mon!" replied M'Allister, "it's very clear the Martians could teach our engineers something about bridge-building, if nothing else!"
"Wait and see our water-lifting and water-propelling machinery," said Merna; "I think that will be something which will suit you as an engineer!"
I noticed that many of the lines were apparently groves of trees, and asked Merna whether they were canals or not.
"Yes," he replied, "they are canals. You will understand that in the hotter parts of our world it is necessary to protect the water from too rapid evaporation, or else the canals would be almost run dry long before the need for their use ceased at the end of the season. Some are arched over entirely, but in most cases it is sufficient to plant trees along each side. Would you like to examine one?" he asked; "we can do so very soon, if you wish?"
I said I should be glad to do so, and our course was accordingly directed to one of the groves, which appeared to be about two miles distant. It, however, proved to be more than six miles away, for we had not yet become accustomed to the effect of the clear Martian air in making distant objects appear much closer than they really were. However, it did not take long for our air-ship to reach it; and we descended in the space between the canals and then walked over into the grove. When we turned into it, we were greatly surprised at the charming effect of the trees over the canal.
The trees were something like our willows, but taller than elms, and had a multitude of very long, thin, and supple branches, with very little bare trunk. They were planted rather close together, all along each side of the canal, with their trunks sloping slightly towards the water. The long branches thus met at the sides and high overhead, intertwining together, and forming a high leafy archway extending all along the canal in both directions as far as the eye could see. The thick, soft Martian grass along each side of the canal was like a velvet-pile carpet to walk upon; the sunlight filtering between the green leaves of the trees cast bright flecks of light on the clear shimmering water which ran beneath them; whilst water-fowl swimming here and there gave a bright touch of colour and the animation of life which so adds to the general charm of such scenery. Some of the water-fowl were very large birds, with brilliant coloured plumage.
"What a delightful place for a quiet walk on a hot day like this," I exclaimed; "plenty of air and no excess of heat!"
"Yes," Merna replied; "these embowered canals are very popular with the Martians, as they furnish such cool and pleasant walks in the summer time. I must also tell you," he added, "that those water-fowl are looked after with extreme care, because most of our aquatic birds have become nearly extinct since our natural areas of water failed us, and unless they were preserved would die out entirely.
"You will understand that these canals are not liable to excessive evaporation; but, at the same time, it would not do to prevent evaporation altogether, because we should then fail to obtain a sufficient and fresh supply next spring."
"I quite see that, Merna," I said; "but one of our scientific men has said that it would be madness to construct canals on Mars, because the water would all quickly evaporate, especially in the warmer regions, and thus be wasted."
"Well, as you see, sir, we manage to prevent evaporation to any extent we may desire," replied Merna with a smile; "and even scientific men seem liable to omit some important matters from their theories and calculations."
"How do you manage the irrigation?" I inquired; "the trenches seem rather wide apart to supply such a large area!"
"The upper layer of soil is very porous, and the water soaks along it," he answered; adding that "where necessary it was assisted by porous pipes laid beneath the surface.
"Besides," he proceeded, "we have small portable electric engines, with which water from the trenches can be distributed in the form of spray over wide areas. Our vegetation, too, has adapted itself to the conditions of the planet in the course of the changes which have taken place during past ages, and now requires very little water or moisture to maintain it in vigorous and healthy growth."
One more question was put to him by John, who asked, "Do these canals constitute your whole supply of water for drinking, as well as for all other purposes?"
"Oh no, John!" exclaimed Merna. "We draw all our pure water from deep wells. The soil of Mars, being much more lightly compacted than that of the earth, has absorbed an immense proportion of the water which was formerly upon its surface. Instead of having lost it by evaporation and radiation into space, we still have it below the surface, stored up ready for use in our time of need.
"For this reason, and also in consequence of the small amount of our planet's internal heat, the water has not undergone chemical change, and mostly lies at great depths; but, of course, well-boring is much easier work than on your world, and I expect our methods are rather in advance of yours.
"Your scientists seem to have overlooked some of these points altogether. You need not pity us for lack of water, as I have heard you doing, for we have an ample supply for many centuries to come; especially as we can purify water which has been used for general purposes, and store it up for use, over and over again. Our canals are only drawn upon for purposes connected with irrigation, or when absolutely pure water is not needed."
"Well," M'Allister exclaimed, "it doesn't seem that the Martians are so badly off for water as some of our clever people imagine! Why, I've read that the need of water here must be so great that the people, driven to desperation, must be fighting each other to extermination in order to get it."
"That is an entirely erroneous idea, sir," replied Merna; "and you may be quite sure that such a state of affairs will never be witnessed upon this planet. We know the time must come when our water supply will cease to be, but your people are needlessly pessimistic, and imagine terrors where we see none.
"In actual time, the end of Mars is still far distant; but, as compared with that of your world, it is very near. It will be possible, later on, to forecast, by means of our records of the rate of decrease, the time when our water supply will come to an end; but even now it is well understood how the crisis will be met. As the final period draws nearer, families will become smaller and smaller, and in the last Martian century no children will be born; so the diminishing water supply will suffice for the needs of the dwindling population. Thus the race will gradually die out naturally, and become extinct long before the conditions of our world can make life a terror. There will, therefore, be no self-slaughter, nor murderous extermination, amongst ourselves--we shall simply die out naturally.
"The planet will roll on, devoid of all life, so the loss of water and air will then be of no consequence. It will be a dead world; until, perhaps aeons hence, a collision with some other large body may transform both into a nebula; and thus once more start them on the way to develop into a world capable of sustaining life. Thus nothing in the Universe really dies; the apparent death is only the preparation for a newer and higher life.
"We Martians have no fear or dread of death, such as I have heard you say is so prevalent in your world even amongst religious people. With us death, in the ordinary way, is merely like going to sleep; and it is only the portal through which we pass to another life on another planet. Why, then, should we dread it? It is simply a removal to another dwelling-place!"
"I quite agree with that view, Merna," said John; "and our religion teaches us a somewhat similar idea; yet few of its professors look forward with anything but dread to the time when they must pass from their present life."
"Yes, John," said Merna. "What your people really only profess to believe we Martians accept as an actual certainty, for we know it is so; and, as you are aware, sir, I am a living witness of the truth of what I say.
"You know I once lived upon the earth. I died; or, as I prefer to say, I 'passed' from thence, and was born again upon Mars. Some day I must also pass from here; whither I know not, but to another life in some other world; and the Great Father of All will provide for me!
"There are many other planets which are worlds capable of sustaining life at the present time, or which will develop into such worlds. Some of them, which we can see, are planets belonging to our own solar system, but doubtless there are myriads of planets which revolve round those millions of distant suns which we call fixed stars. If we have made good use of our talents and opportunities for development we shall no doubt pass to a world where that development may be continued on a higher plane. If, however, we have made bad use of them, it is possible that we may have to purge ourselves by a life on a planet where the conditions are the reverse of pleasant; and so on through eternity, each rising to a higher and higher plane according to the manner in which he has worked out his own salvation.
"Amongst those myriads of planets, probably there is not one which is identical in all respects with any other, and there must be an infinity of variety; some excelling to an incalculable extent the conditions of our present world, and others where the conditions are very much worse!"
"Yes, Merna," I replied. "There are some upon our world who hold very similar ideas, notably a great French astronomer named Flammarion; but in his view only those who have developed their intelligence in the proper direction will pass to other worlds and enjoy what he terms the Uranian life.
"I may also say," I proceeded, "with reference to your remarks respecting the infinite variety of planetary worlds and of their conditions, that one of our great poets has stated the matter very logically, for he says: 'This truth within thy mind rehearse, That, in a boundless universe, Is boundless better, boundless worse.'"
"Sir," said Merna, "that is really very much as a Martian would state the case; and what I have told you is our faith, our hope, and our certainty."
As we passed along on the area outside the grove we noticed that the vegetation bordering the outermost canal did not show a mathematically straight edge as the canal lines do when seen by us through our telescopes. The edges, as a rule, were very irregular: in some places there were large areas of fallow land, and others were very sparsely covered with vegetation.
John remarked that if any of these bare or sparsely-covered places were large enough to be detected by our telescopes, in moments of extremely good seeing, we should no doubt be told that they afforded absolute proof that the canal lines are only disconnected markings, and the canals a myth.
"Very probably," I replied; "yet it should be obvious that vegetation would be sparse, or altogether absent, perhaps, for miles, in many places along the thousands of miles over which the canals extend, and also that it is quite likely, if we could use higher powers so as to get a better view of the lines, the edges would appear irregular. Nature is rarely symmetrical in her work, there is nearly always irregularity of growth; and in artificial cultivation it is neither possible nor desirable to fill up every acre of land simultaneously."
Merna then told us that, owing to extensions of their irrigation system, laterally, and the consequent growth of vegetation, the width of many of the canal lines would be seen to increase.
"Yes," said John, "and when that phenomenon is seen by our observers we shall be informed that such increase in width is still another proof that there are no canals upon Mars."
"Well, John," replied Merna, "it seems to me very strange that your people should so misinterpret the meaning of such indications. Do you really think such a contention would be put forward?"
"I'm quite sure of it," said John; "and we should be told that canals could not increase in width! Don't you agree with me, Professor?"
"Yes, John," I answered; "I have seen and heard so many contentions and arguments of a like nature that I cannot say your supposition is not justified.
"I may, however, point out that it is only when the most ideal conditions of seeing exist that we can ever hope to secure a view of the canal lines showing the apparent breaks in their continuity. I have on a previous occasion alluded to the drawbacks connected with the use of very large telescopes, and it may be well to sound a note of warning, for it would be very easy for an observer to be deceived by an illusory appearance of the breaking up of the canal lines into a series of scattered markings. This effect would undoubtedly occur in using a very large telescope in any but ideally favourable atmospheric conditions, for the high powers used with such large instruments would so exaggerate the most minute atmospheric tremors that any lines on the Martian surface would inevitably appear broken up, and an erroneous deduction might be drawn by the unwary observer. If well seen, the canal vegetation would appear as separate markings in alignment, but no telescope is ever likely to define well enough to show the actual canals, because they are so narrow."
We now returned to our air-ship, and went back to Sirapion; where, after making the necessary changes and preparations, we accompanied Merna to the City Hall, for the purpose of attending the banquet to which we had been invited by Soranho.
[Illustration: From a Globe made by M. Wicks Plate XI MARS. MAP IV.
An intricate network of canals is here seen, especially in the neighbourhood of Elysium, where many connect with the "Trivium Charontis."]