A Journey in Other Worlds by J. J. Astor - HTML preview

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Exploration And Excitement


When they awoke, the flowers were singing with the volume of a cathedral organ, the chant rising from all around them, and the sun was already above the horizon. Finding a deep natural spring, in which the water was at about blood-heat, they prepared for breakfast by taking a bath, and then found they had brought nothing to eat.

 "It was stupid of us not to think of it," said Bearwarden, "yet it will be too much out of our way to return to the Callisto."

 "We have two rifles and a gun," said Ayrault, "and have also plenty of water, and wood for a fire. All we need is game."

 "The old excuse, that it has been already shot out, cannot hold here," said Cortlandt.

"Seeing that we have neither wings nor pneumatic legs, and not knowing the advantage given us by our rifles," added Bearwarden, "it should not be shy either. So far," he continued, "we have seen nothing edible, though just now we should not be too particular; but near a spring like this that kind must exist."

"The question is," said the professor, "whether the game like warm water. If we can follow this stream till it has been on the surface for some time, or till it spreads out, we shall doubtless find a huntsman's paradise."

 "A bright idea," said Bearwarden. "Let's have our guns ready, and, as old Deepwaters would say, keep our weather eye open."

 The stream flowed off in a southeasterly direction, so that by following it they went towards the volcanoes.

"It is hard to realize," said the professor, "that those mountains must be several hundred miles away, for the reason that they are almost entirely above the horizon. This apparent flatness and wide range of vision is of course the result of Jupiter's vast size. With sufficiently keen sight, or aided by a good glass, there is no reason why one should not see at least five hundred miles, with but a slight elevation."

"It is surprising," said Ayrault, "that in what is evidently Jupiter's Carboniferous period the atmosphere should be so clear. Our idea has been that at that time on earth the air was heavy and dense."

"So it was, and doubtless is here," replied Cortlandt; "but you must remember that both those qualities would be given it by carbonic-acid gas, which is entirely invisible and transparent. No gas that would be likely to remain in the air would interfere with sight; water vapour is the only thing that could; and though the crust of this planet, even near the surface, is still hot, the sun being so distant, the vapour would not be, raised much. By avoiding low places near hot springs, we shall doubtless have very nearly as clear an atmosphere as on earth. What does surprise me is the ease with which we breathe. I can account for it only by supposing that, the Carboniferous period being already well advanced, most of the carbonic acid is already locked up in the forests or in Jupiter's coalbeds."

"How, asked Bearwarden, "do you account for the 'great red spot' that appeared here in 1878, lasted several years, and then gradually faded? It was taken as unmistakable evidence that Jupiter's atmosphere was filled with impenetrable banks of cloud. In fact, you remember many of the old books said we had probably never seen the surface."

"That has puzzled me very much," replied Cortlandt, "but I never believed the explanation then given was correct. The Carboniferous period is essentially one of great forest growth; so there would be nothing out of the way in supposing the spot, notwithstanding its length of twenty-seven thousand miles and its breadth of eight thousand miles, to have been forest. It occurred in what would correspond to the temperate region on earth. Now, though the axis of this planet is practically straight, the winds of course change their direction, and so the temperature does vary from day to day. What is more probable than that, owing perhaps to a prolonged norther or cold spell, a long strip of forest lying near the frost line was brought a few degrees below it, so that the leaves changed their colours as they do on earth? It would, it seems to me, be enough to give the surface a distinct colour; and the fact that the spot's greatest length was east and west, or along the lines of latitude, so that the whole of that region might have been exposed to the same conditions of temperature, strengthens this hypothesis. The strongest objection is, that the spot is said to have moved; but the motion--five seconds--was so slight that it might easily have been an error in observation, or the first area affected by the cold may have been enlarged on one side. It seems to me that the stability the spot DID have would make the cloud theory impossible on earth, and much more so here, with the far more rapid rotation and more violent winds. It may also have been a cloud of smoke from a volcano in eruption, such as we saw on our arrival, though it is doubtful whether in that case it would have remained nearly stationary while going through its greatest intensity and fading, which would look as though the turned leaves had fallen off and been gradually replaced by new ones; and, in addition to this, the spot since it was first noticed has never entirely disappeared, which might mean a volcanic region constantly emitting smoke, or that the surface, doubtless from some covering whose colour can change, is normally of a different shade from the surrounding region. In any case, we have as yet seen nothing that would indicate a permanently clouded atmosphere."

Though they had walked a considerable distance, the water was not much cooled; and though the stream's descent was so slight that on earth its current would have been very slow, here it rushed along like a mountain torrent, the reason, of course, being that a given amount of water on Jupiter would depress a spring balance 2.55 times as much as on the earth.

 "It is strange," said Ayrault, "that, notwithstanding its great speed, the water remains so hot; you would think its motion would cool it."

"So it does," answered the professor. "It of course cools considerably more in a given period--as, for instance, one minute--than if it were moving more slowly, but on account of its speed it has been exposed to the air but a very short time since leaving the spring."

 Just before them the stream now widened into a narrow lake, which they could see was straight for some distance.

 "The fact is," said Bearwarden, "this water seems in such haste to reach the ocean that it turns neither to right nor to left, and does not even seem to wish to widen out."

As the huge ferns and palms grew to the water's edge, they concluded the best way to traverse the lake would be on a raft. Accordingly, choosing a large overhanging palm, Bearwarden and Ayrault fired each an explosive ball into its trunk, about eighteen inches from the ground. One round was enough to put it in the water, each explosion removing several cubic feet of wood. By repeating this process on other trees they soon had enough large timber for buoyancy, so that they had but to superimpose lighter cross-logs and bind the whole together with pliable branches and creepers to form a substantial raft. The doctor climbed on, after which Bearwarden and Ayrault cast off, having prepared long poles for navigating. With a little care they kept their bark from catching on projecting roots, and as the stream continued to widen till it was about one hundred yards across, their work became easy. Carried along at a speed of two or three miles an hour, they now saw that the water and the banks they passed were literally alive with reptiles and all sorts of amphibious creatures, while winged lizards sailed from every overhanging branch into the water as they approached. They noticed also many birds similar to storks and cranes, about the size of ostriches, standing on logs in the water, whose bills were provided with teeth.

 "We might almost think we were on earth," said Ayrault, "from the looks of those storks standing on one leg, with the other drawn up, were it not for their size."

 "How do you suppose they defend themselves," asked Bearwarden, "from the snakes with which the water is filled?"

"I suspect they can give a pretty good account of themselves," replied Cortlandt, "with those teeth. Besides, with only one leg exposed, there is but a very small object for a snake to strike at. For their number and size, I should say their struggle for existence was comparatively mild. Doubtless non-poisonous, or, for that matter, poisonous snakes, form a great part of their diet."

On passing the bend in the lake they noticed that the banks were slightly higher, while palms, pine-trees, and rubber plants succeeded the ferns. In the distance they now heard a tremendous crashing, which grew louder as the seconds passed. It finally sounded like an earthquake. Involuntarily they held their breath and grasped their weapons. Finally, at some distance in the woods they saw a dark mass moving rapidly and approaching the river obliquely. Palms and pine-trees went down before it like straws, while its head was continually among the upper branches. As the monster neared the lake, the water at the edges quivered, showing how its weight shook the banks at each stride, while stumps and tree-trunks on which it stepped were pressed out of sight in the ground. A general exodus of the other inhabitants from his line of march began; the moccasins slid into the water with a low splash, while the boa-constrictors and the tree-snakes moved off along the ground when they felt it tremble, and a number of night birds retreated into the denser woods with loud cries at being so rudely disturbed. The huge beast did not stop till he reached the bank, where lie switched his tail, raised his proboscis, and sniffed the air uneasily, his height being fully thirty feet and his length about fifty. On seeing the raft and its occupants, he looked at them stupidly and threw back his head.

 "He seems to be turning up his nose at us," said Bearwarden. "All the same, he will do well for breakfast."

As the creature moved, his chest struck a huge overhanging palm, tearing it off as though it had been a reed. Brushing it aside with his trunk, he was about to continue his march, when two rifle reports rang out together, rousing the echoes and a number of birds that screeched loudly.