The Door in the Wall and Other Stories HTML version

The Star
It was on the first day of the New Year that the announcement was made, almost
simultaneously from three observatories, that the motion of the planet Neptune, the
outermost of all the planets that wheel about the sun, had become very erratic. Ogilvy had
already called attention to a suspected retardation in its velocity in December. Such a
piece of news was scarcely calculated to interest a world the greater portion of whose
inhabitants were unaware of the existence of the planet Neptune, nor outside the
astronomical profession did the subsequent discovery of a faint remote speck of light in
the region of the perturbed planet cause any very great excitement. Scientific people,
however, found the intelligence remarkable enough, even before it became known that
the new body was rapidly growing larger and brighter, that its motion was quite different
from the orderly progress of the planets, and that the deflection of Neptune and its
satellite was becoming now of an unprecedented kind.
Few people without a training in science can realise the huge isolation of the solar
system. The sun with its specks of planets, its dust of planetoids, and its impalpable
comets, swims in a vacant immensity that almost defeats the imagination. Beyond the
orbit of Neptune there is space, vacant so far as human observation has penetrated,
without warmth or light or sound, blank emptiness, for twenty million times a million
miles. That is the smallest estimate of the distance to be traversed before the very nearest
of the stars is attained. And, saving a few comets more unsubstantial than the thinnest
flame, no matter had ever to human knowledge crossed this gulf of space, until early in
the twentieth century this strange wanderer appeared. A vast mass of matter it was, bulky,
heavy, rushing without warning out of the black mystery of the sky into the radiance of
the sun. By the second day it was clearly visible to any decent instrument, as a speck with
a barely sensible diameter, in the constellation Leo near Regulus. In a little while an
opera glass could attain it.
On the third day of the new year the newspaper readers of two hemispheres were made
aware for the first time of the real importance of this unusual apparition in the heavens.
"A Planetary Collision," one London paper headed the news, and proclaimed Duchaine's
opinion that this strange new planet would probably collide with Neptune. The leader
writers enlarged upon the topic; so that in most of the capitals of the world, on January
3rd, there was an expectation, however vague of some imminent phenomenon in the sky;
and as the night followed the sunset round the globe, thousands of men turned their eyes
skyward to see--the old familiar stars just as they had always been.
Until it was dawn in London and Pollux setting and the stars overhead grown pale. The
Winter's dawn it was, a sickly filtering accumulation of daylight, and the light of gas and
candles shone yellow in the windows to show where people were astir. But the yawning
policeman saw the thing, the busy crowds in the markets stopped agape, workmen going
to their work betimes, milkmen, the drivers of news-carts, dissipation going home jaded
and pale, homeless wanderers, sentinels on their beats, and in the country, labourers
trudging afield, poachers slinking home, all over the dusky quickening country it could