A Journey in Other Worlds by J. J. Astor - HTML preview
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Resuming their march, the travellers proceeded along the circumference of a circle having a radius of about three miles, with the Callisto in the centre. In crossing soft places they observed foot-prints forming in the earth all around them. The impressions were of all sizes, and ceased when they reached rising or hard ground, only to reappear in the swamps, regulating their speed by that of the travellers. The three men were greatly surprised at this.
"You may observe," said Cortlandt, "that the surface of the impression is depressed as you watch it, as though by a weight, and you can see, and even hear, the water being squeezed out, though whatever is doing it is entirely invisible. They must be made by spirits sufficiently advanced to have weight, but not advanced enough to make themselves visible."
Moved by a species of vandalism, Bearwarden raised his twelve-bore, and fired an ordinary cartridge that he had not prepared for the dragons, at the space directly over the nearest forming prints. There was a brilliant display of prismatic colours, as in a rainbow, and though the impressions already made remained, no new ones were formed.
"Now you have done it!" said Cortlandt. "I hoped to be able to investigate this further."
"We shall doubtless see other and perhaps more wonderful things," replied Bearwarden. "I must say this gives me an uncanny feeling."
When they had completed a little over half their circle, they came upon another of the groves with which Saturn seemed to abound, at the edge of which, in a side-hill, was a cave, the entrance of which was composed of rocky masses that had apparently fallen together, the floor being but little higher than the surface outside. The arched roof of the vestibule was rendered watertight by the soil that had formed upon it, which again was overgrown by vines and bushes.
"This," said Bearwarden, "will be a good place to camp, for the cave will protect us from dragons, unless they should take a notion to breathe at us from the outside, and it will keep us dry in case of rain. To-morrow we can start with this as a centre, and make another circuit."
"We can explore Saturn on foot," said Cortlandt, "and far more thoroughly than Jupiter, on account of its comparative freedom from monsters. Not even the dragons can trouble us, unless we meet them in large numbers."
Thereupon they set about getting fuel for their fire. Besides collecting some of the dead wood that was lying all about, they split up a number of resinous pine and fir trees with explosive bullets from their revolvers, so that soon they not only had a roaring fire, but filled the back part of the cave with logs to dry, in case they should camp there again at some later day. Neither Cortlandt nor Bearwarden felt much like sleeping, and so, after finishing the birds the president had brought down that morning, they persuaded Ayrault to sit up and smoke with them. Wrapping themselves in their blankets--for there was a chill in the air--they sat about the camp-fire they had built in the mouth of the cave. Two moons that were at the full rose rapidly in the clear, cold sky. On account of their distance from the sun, they were less bright than the terrestrial moon, but they shone with a marvellously pure pale light. The larger contained the exact features of a man. There was the somewhat aquiline nose, a clear-cut and expressive mouth, and large, handsome eyes, which were shaded by well- marked eyebrows. The whole face was very striking, but was a personification of the most intense grief. The expression was indeed sadder than that of any face they had ever seen. The other contained the profile of a surpassingly beautiful young woman. The handsome eyes, shaded by lashes, looked straight ahead. The nose was perfect, and the ear small, while the hair was artistically arranged at the top and back of the head. This moon also reflected a pure white ray. The former appeared about once and a quarter, the latter but three quarters, the size of the terrestrial moon, and the travellers immediately recognized them by their sizes and relative positions as Tethys and Dione, discovered by J. D. Cassini in March, 1684. The sad face was turned slightly towards that of its companion, and it looked as if some tale of the human heart, some romance, had been engraved and preserved for all time on the features of these dead bodies, as they silently swung in their orbits forever and anon were side by side.
"In all the ages," said Cortlandt, "that these moons have wandered with Saturn about the sun, and with the solar system in its journey through space, they can never have gazed upon the scene they now behold, for we may be convinced that no mortal man has been here before."
"We may say," said Ayrault, "that they see in our bodies a type of the source from which come all the spiritual beings that are here."
"If, as the writers of mythology supposed," replied Cortlandt, "inanimate objects were endowed with senses, these moons would doubtless be unable to perceive the spiritual beings here; for the satellites, being material, should, to be consistent, have only those senses possessed by ourselves, so that to them this planet would ordinarily appear deserted."
"I shall be glad," said Bearwarden, gloomily, "when those moons wane and are succeeded by their fellows, for one would give me an attack of the blues, while the other would subject me to the inconvenience of falling in love."
As he spoke, the upper branches of the trees in the grove began to sway as a cold gust from the north sighed among them. "Lose no more opportunities," it seemed to cry, "for life is short and uncertain. Soon you will all be colder than I, and your future, still as easily moulded as clay, will be set as Marpesian marble, more fixed than the hardest rock."
"Paradise," said Cortlandt, "contains sights and sounds that might, I should think, arouse sad reminiscences without the aid of the waters of Lethe, unless the joy of its souls in their new resources and the sense of forgiveness outweigh all else."
With a parting look at the refined, silvery moon, and its sorrow-laden companion, they retired to the sheltering cave, piled up the fire, and talked on for an hour.
"I do not see how it is," said Bearwarden, "that these moons, considering their distance from the sun, and the consequently small amount of light they receive, are so bright."
"A body's brightness in reflecting light," replied Cortlandt, "depends as much on the colour and composition of its own surface as on the amount it receives. It is conceivable that these moons, if placed at the earth's distance from the sun, would be far brighter than our moon, and that our familiar satellite, if removed to Saturn, would seem very dim. We know how much more brilliant a mountain in the sunlight is when clad in snow than when its sides are bare. These moons evidently reflect a large proportion of the light they receive."
When they came out shortly after midnight the girl's-face moon had already set, leaving a dark and dreary void in the part of the sky it had so ideally filled. The inexpressibly sad satellite (on account of its shorter distance and more rapid rate of revolution) was still above the horizon, and, being slightly tilted, had a more melancholy, heart-broken look than before. While they gazed sadly at the emptiness left by Dione, Cortlandt saw Ayrault's expression change, and, not clearly perceiving its cause, said, wishing to cheer him: "Never mind, Dick; to-morrow night we shall see it again."
"Ah, prosaic reasoner," retorted Bearwarden, who saw that this, like so many other things, had reminded Ayrault of Sylvia, "that is but small consolation for having lost it now, though I suppose our lot is not so hard as if we were never to see it again. In that moon's face I find the realization of my fancied ideal woman; while that sad one yonder seems as though some celestial lover, in search of his fate, had become enamoured of her, and tried in vain to win her, and the grief in his mind had impressed itself on the then molten face of a satellite to be the monument throughout eternity of love and a broken heart. If the spirits and souls of the departed have any command of matter, why may not their intensest thoughts engrave themselves on a moon that, when dead and frozen, may reflect and shine as they did, while immersed in the depths of space? At first Dione bored me; now I should greatly like to see her again."
"History repeats itself," replied Cortlandt, "and the same phases of life recur. It is we that are in a changed receptive mood. The change that seems to be in them is in reality in us. Remain as you are now, and Dione will give you the same pleasure tomorrow that she gave to-day."
To Ayrault this meant more than the mere setting to rise again of a heavenly body. The perfume of a flower, the sighing of the wind, suggesting some harmony or song, a full or crescent moon, recalled thoughts and associations of Sylvia. Everything seemed to bring out memory, and he realized the utter inability of absence to cure the heart of love. "If Sylvia should pass from my life as that moon has left my vision," his thoughts continued, "existence would be but sadness and memory would be its cause, for the most beautiful sounds entail sorrow; the most beautiful sights, intense pain. "Ah," he went on with a trace of bitterness, while his friends fell asleep in the cave, "I might better have remained in love with science; for whose studies Nature, which is but a form of God, in the right spirit, is not dependent for his joy or despair on the whims of a girl. She, of course, sees many others, and, being only twenty, may forget me. Must I content myself with philosophical rules and mathematical formulae, when she, whose changefulness I may find greater than the winds that sigh over me, now loves me no longer? O love, which makes us miserable when we feel it, and more miserable still when it is gone!"
He strung a number of copper wires at different degrees of tension between two trees, and listened to the wind as it ranged up and down on this improvised AEolian harp. It gradually ran into a regular refrain, which became more and more like words. Ayrault was puzzled, and then amazed. There could be no doubt about it. "You should be happy," it kept repeating--"you should be happy," in soft musical tones.
"I know I should," replied Ayrault, finally recognizing the voice of Violet Slade in the song of the wind, "and I cannot understand why I am not. Tell me, is this paradise, Violet, or is it not rather purgatory?"
The notes ranged up and down again, and he perceived that she was causing the wind to blow as she desired--in other words, she was making it play upon his harp.
"That depends on the individual," she replied. "It is rather sheol, the place of departed spirits. Those whose consciences made them happy on earth are in paradise here; while those good enough to reach heaven at last, but in whom some dross remains, are further refined in spirit, and to them it is purgatory. Those who are in love can be happy in but one way while their love lasts. What IS happiness, anyway?"
"It is the state in which desires are satisfied, my fair Violet," answered Ayrault.
"Say, rather, the state in which desire coincides with duty," replied the song. "Selfsacrifice for others gives the truest joy; being with the object of one's love, the next. You never believed that I loved you. I dissembled well; but you will see for yourself some day, as clearly as I see your love for another now."
"Yes," replied Ayrault, sadly, "I am in love. I have no reason to believe there is cause for my unrest, and, considering every thing, I should be happy as man can be; yet, mirabile dictu, I am in--hades, in the very depths!"
"Your beloved is beyond my vision; your heart is all I can see. Yet I am convinced she will not forget you. I am sure she loves you still."
"I have always believed in homoeopathy to the extent of the similia similibus curantur, Violet, and it is certain that where nothing else will cure a man of love for one woman, his love for another will. You can see how I love Sylvia, but you have never seemed so sweet to me as to-day."
"It is a sacrilege, my friend, to speak so to me now. You are done with me forever. I am but a disembodied spirit, and escaped hades by the grace of the Omnipotent, rather than by virtue of any good I did on earth. So far as any elasticity is left in my opportunities, I am dead as yon moon. You have still the gift that but one can give. Within your animal body you hold an immortal soul. It is pliable as wax; you can mould it by your will. As you shape that soul, so will your future be. It is the ark that can traverse the flood. Raise it, and it will raise you. It is all there is in yourself. Preserve that gift, and when you die you will, I hope, start on a plane many thousands of years in advance of me. There should be no more comparison between us than between a person with all his senses and one that is deaf and blind. Though you are a layman, you should, with your faith and frame of mind, soon be but little behind our spiritual bishop."
"I supposed after death a man had rest. Is he, then, a bishop still?"
"The progress, as he told you, is largely on the old lines. As he stirred men's hearts on earth, he will stir their souls in heaven; and this is no irksome or unwelcome work."
"You say he WILL do this in heaven. Is he, then, not there yet?"
"He was not far from heaven on earth, yet technically none of us can be in heaven till after the general resurrection. Then, as we knew on earth, we shall receive bodies, though, as yet, concerning their exact nature we know but little more than then. We are all in sheol--the just in purgatory and paradise, the unjust in hell."
"Since you are still in purgatory, are you unhappy?"
"No, our state is very happy. All physical pain is past, and can never be felt again. We know that our evil desires are overcome, and that their imprints are being gradually erased. I occasionally shed an intangible tear, yet for most of those who strove to obey their consciences, purgatory, when essential, though occasionally giving us a bitter twinge, is a joy-producing state. Not all the glories imaginable or unimaginable could make us happy, were our consciences ill at ease. I have advanced slowly, yet some things are given us at once. After I realized I had irrevocably lost your love, though for a time I had hoped to regain it, I became very restless; earth seemed a prison, and I looked forward to death as my deliverer. I bore you no malice; you had never especially tried to win me; the infatuation--that of a girl of eighteen--had been all on my side. I lived five sad and lonely years, although, as you know, I had much attention. People thought me cold and heartless. How could I have a heart, having failed to win yours, and mine being broken? Having lost the only man I loved, I knew no one else could replace him, and I was not the kind to marry for pique. People thought me handsome, but I felt myself aged when you ceased to call. Perhaps when you and she who holds all your love come to sheol, she may spare you to me a little, for as a spirit my every thought is known; or perhaps after the resurrection, when I, too, can leave this planet, we shall all soar through space together, and we can study the stars as of old."
"Your voice is a symphony, sweetest Violet, and I love to hear your words. Ah, would you could once more return to earth, or that I were an ethereal spirit, that we might commune face to face! I would follow you from one end of Shadowland to the other. Of what use is life to me, with distractions that draw my thoughts to earth as gravitation drew my body? I wish I were a shade."
"You are talking for effect, Dick--which is useless here, for I see how utterly you are in love."
"I AM in love, Violet; and though, as I said, I have no reason to doubt Sylvia's steadfastness and constancy, I am very unhappy. I have always heard that time is a balsam that cures all ills, yet I become more wretched every day."
"Do all you can to preserve that love, and it will bring you joy all your life. Your happiness is my happiness. What distresses you, distresses me."
The tones here grew fainter and seemed about to cease.
"Before you leave me," cried Ayrault, "tell me how and when I may see or hear you again."
"While you remain on this planet, I shall be near; but beyond Saturn I cannot go."
"Yet tell me, Violet, how I may see you? My love unattained, you perceive, makes me wretched, while you always gave me calm and peace. If I may not kiss the hand I almost asked might be mine, let me have but a glance from your sweet eyes, which will comfort me so much now."
"If you break the ice in the pool behind you, you shall see me till the frame melts."
After this the silence was broken only by the sighing of the wind in the trees. The pool had suddenly become covered with ice several inches thick. Taking an axe, Ayrault hewed out a parallelogram about three feet by four and set it on end against the bank. The cold grey of morning was already colouring the east, and in the growing light Ayrault beheld a vision of Violet within the ice. The face was at about three fourths, and had a contemplative air. The hair was arranged as he had formerly seen it, and the thoughtful look was strongest in the beautiful grey eyes, which were more serious than of yore. Ayrault stood riveted to the spot and gazed. "I could have been happy with her," he mused, and to think she is no more!"
As drops fell from the ice, tears rose to his eyes. . . . . . . .
"What a pretty girl!" said Bearwarden to Cortlandt, as they came upon it later in the day. "The face seems etched or imprinted by some peculiar form of freezing far within the ice."
The next morning they again set out, and so tramped, hunted, and investigated with varying success for ten Saturnian days. They found that in the animal and plant forms of life Nature had often, by some seeming accident, struck out in a course very different from any on the earth. Many of the animals were bipeds and tripeds, the latter arranged in tandem, the last leg being evidently an enormously developed tail, by which the creature propelled itself as with a spring. The quadrupeds had also sometimes wings, and their bones were hollow, like those of birds. Whether this great motive and lifting power was the result of the planet's size and the power of gravitation, or whether some creatures had in addition the power of developing a degree of apergetic repulsion to offset it, as they suspected in the case of the boa-constrictor that fell upon Cortlandt on Jupiter, they could not absolutely ascertain. Life was far less prolific on Saturn than on Jupiter, doubtless as a result of its greater distance from the sun, and of its extremes of climate, almost all organic life being driven to the latitudes near the equator. There were, as on Jupiter, many variations from the forms of life to which they were accustomed, and adaptations to the conditions in which they found themselves; but, with the exception of the strange manifestations of spirit life, they found the workings of the fundamental laws the same. Often when they woke at night the air was luminous, and they were convinced that if they remained there long enough it would be easy to devise some telegraphic code of lightflashes by which they could communicate with the spirit world, and so get ideas from the host of spirits that had already solved the problem of life and death, but who were not as yet sufficiently developed to be able to return to the earth. One day they stopped to investigate what they had supposed to be an optical illusion. They observed that leaves and other light substances floated several inches above the surface of the water in the pools. On coming to the edge and making tests, they found a light liquid, as invisible as air, superimposed upon the water, with sufficient buoyancy to sustain dry wood and also some forms of life. They also observed that insects coming close to the surface and apparently inhaling it, rapidly increased in size and weight, from which they concluded it must throw off nitrogen, carbon, or some other nourishment in the form of gas. The depth upon the water was unaffected by rain, which passed through it, but depended rather on the condition of the atmosphere, from which it was evidently condensed. There seemed also to be a relation between the amount of this liquid and the activity of the spirits. Finally, when their ammunition showed signs of running low, they decided to return to the Callisto, go in it to the other side of the planet, and resume their investigations there. Accordingly, they set out to retrace their steps, returning by a course a few miles to one side of the way they had come, and making the cave their objective point. Arriving there one evening about sunset, they pitched their camp. The cave was sheltered and comfortable, and they made preparation for passing the night.
"I shall be sorry," said Ayrault, as they sat near their fire, "to leave this place without again seeing the bishop. He said we could impress him anywhere, but it may be more difficult to do that at the antipodes than here."
"It does seem," said Bearwarden, "as though we should be missing it in not seeing him again, if that is possible. Nothing but a poison-storm brought him the first time, and it is not certain that even in such an emergency would he come again uncalled."
"I think," said Ayrault, "as none of the spirits here are malevolent, they would warn us of danger if they could. The bishop's spirit seems to have been the only one with sufficiently developed power to reappear as a man. I therefore suggest that to-morrow we try to make him feel our thought and bring him to us."