Chapter 14

 

Five hundred million miles from the Earth, and forty-seven million miles from Jupiter,” said Redgrave as he came into breakfast on the morning of the twenty-eighth day after leaving Venus.

During this brief period the Astronef had recrossed the orbits of the Earth and Mars and had passed through that marvellous region of the Solar System, the Belt of the Asteroides. Nearly a hundred million miles of their journey had lain through this zone in which hundreds and possibly thousands of tiny planets revolve in vast orbits round the Sun.

Then had come a world less void of over three hundred million miles, through which they voyaged alone, surrounded by the ever-constant splendours of the heavens, and visited only now and then by one of those Spectres of Space, which we call comets.

Astern the disc of the Sun steadily diminished and ahead the grey-blue shape of Jupiter, the Giant of the Solar System, had grown larger and larger until now they could see it as it had never been seen before—a gigantic three-quarter moon filling up the whole heavens in front of them almost from zenith to nadir. Three of its satellites, Europa, Ganymede, and Calisto, were distinctly visible even to the naked eye, and Europa and Ganymede, happened to be in such a position in regard to the Astronef that her crew could see not only the bright sides turned towards the Sun, but also the black shadow-spots which they cast on the cloud-veiled face of the huge planet. Calisto was above the horizon hanging like a tiny flicker of yellowish-red light above the rounded edge of Jupiter, and Io was invisible behind the planet.

Five hundred million miles!” said Zaidie, with a little shiver; “that seems an awful long way from home—I mean America—doesn’t it? I often wonder what they are thinking about us on the dear old Earth. I don’t suppose any one ever expects to see us again. However, it’s no good getting homesick in the middle of a journey when you’re outward bound. And now what is the programme as regards His Majesty King Jove? We shall visit the satellites of course?”

Certainly,” replied Redgrave; “in fact, I shouldn’t be surprised if our visit was confined to them.”

What! do you mean to say we shan’t land on Jupiter after coming nearly six hundred million miles to see him? That would be disappointing. But why not? don’t you think he’s ready to be visited yet?”

I can’t say that, but you must remember that no one has the remotest notion of what there is behind the clouds or whatever they are which form those bands. All we really know about Jupiter is that he is of enormous size, for instance, he’s over twelve hundred times bigger than the Earth and that his density isn’t much greater than that of water—and my humble opinion is that if we’re able to go through the clouds without getting the Astronef red-hot we shall find that Jupiter is in the same state as the Earth was a good many million years ago.”

I see,” said Zaidie, “you mean just a mass of blazing, boiling rock and metal which will make islands and continents some day; and that what we call the cloud-bands are the vapours which will one day make its seas. Well, if we can get through these clouds we ought to see something worth seeing. Just fancy a whole world as big as that all ablaze like molten iron! Do you think we shall be able to see it, Lenox?”

I’m not so sure about that, little woman. We shall have to go to work rather cautiously. You see Jupiter is far bigger than any world we’ve visited yet, and if we got too close to him the Astronef’s engines might not be powerful enough to drive us away again. Then we should either stop there till the R. Force was exhausted or be drawn towards him and perhaps drop into an ocean of molten rock and metal.”

Thanks!” said Zaidie, with a shrug of her shapely shoulders. “That would be an ignominious end to a journey like this, to say nothing of the boiling oil part of it; so I suppose you’ll make stopping-places of the satellites and use their attraction to help you to resist His Majesty’s.”

Your Ladyship’s reasoning is perfect. I propose to visit them in turn, beginning with Calisto. I shouldn’t be at all surprised if we found something interesting on them. You know they’re quite little worlds of themselves. They’re all bigger than our moon, except Europa. Ganymede, in fact, is two-thirds bigger than Mercury, and if old Jupiter is still in a state of fiery incandescence there’s no reason why we shouldn’t find on Ganymede or one of the others the same state of things that existed on our moon when the Earth was blazing hot.”

I shouldn’t wonder,” said Zaidie; “I’ve often heard my father say that that was probably what happened. It’s all very marvellous, isn’t it? death in one place, life in another, all beginnings and endings, and yet no actual beginning or end of anything anywhere. That’s eternity, I suppose.”

It’s just about as near as the finite intellect can get to it, I should say,” replied Redgrave. “But I don’t think metaphysics are much in our line. If you’ve finished we may as well go and have a look at the realities.”

Which the metaphysicians,” laughed Zaidie as she rose, “would tell you are not realities at all, or only realities so far as you can think about them. ‘Thinks,’ in short, instead of real things. But meanwhile I’ve got the breakfast things to put away, so you can go up on deck and put the telescopes in order.”

When she joined him a few minutes later in the deck-chamber the three-quarter disc of Jupiter was rapidly approaching the full.

Its phases are invisible from the Earth owing to the enormous distance; but from the deck of the Astronef they had been plainly visible for some days, and, since the huge planet turns on its axis in less than ten hours, or with more than twice the speed of the Earth’s rotation, the phases followed each other very rapidly.

Thus at twelve o’clock noon by Astronef time they might have seen a gigantic rim of silver-blue overarching the whole vault of heaven in front of them. By five o’clock it would be a hemisphere, and by five minutes to ten the vast sphere would be once more shining full-orbed upon them. By eight o’clock next morning they would find Jupiter “new” again.

They were now falling very rapidly towards the huge planet, and, since there is no up or down in Space, the nearer they got to it the more it appeared to sink below them and become, as it were, the floor of the Celestial Sphere. As the crescent approached the full they were able to examine the mysterious bands as human observers had never examined them before. For hours they sat almost silent at their telescopes, trying to probe the mystery which has baffled human science since the days of Galileo, and gradually it became plain that Redgrave was correct in the hypothesis which he had derived from Flammarion and one or two others of the more advanced astronomers.

I believe I was right, or, in other words, those that I got the idea from are,” he said, as they approached the orbit of Calisto, which revolves at a distance of about eleven hundred thousand miles from the surface of Jupiter.

Those belts are made of clouds or vapour in some stage or other. The highest—the ones along the Equator and what we should call the Temperate Zones—are the highest, and therefore coolest and whitest. The dark ones are the lowest and hottest. I daresay they are more like what we should call volcanic clouds. Do you see how they keep changing? That’s what’s bothered our astronomers. Look at that big one yonder a bit to the north, going from brown to red. I suppose that’s something like the famous red spot which they have been puzzling about. What do you make of it?”

Well,” said Zaidie, looking up from her telescope, “it’s quite certain that the glare must come from underneath. It can’t be sunlight, because the poor old Sun doesn’t seem to have strength enough to make a decent sunset or sunrise here, and look how it’s running along to the westward! What does that mean, do you think?”

I should say it means that some half-formed Jovian Continent has been flung sky high by a big burst-up underneath, and that’s the blaze of the incandescent stuff running along. Just fancy a continent, say ten times the size of Asia, being split up and sent flying in a few moments like that. Look! there’s another one to the north! On the whole, dear, I don’t think we should find the climate on the other side of those clouds very salubrious. Still, as they say the atmosphere of Jupiter is about ten thousand miles thick, we may be able to get near enough to see something of what’s going on.

Meanwhile, here comes Calisto. Look at his shadow flying across the clouds. And there’s Ganymede coming up after him, and Europa behind him. Talk about eclipses! they must be about as common here as thunderstorms are with us.”

We don’t have a thunderstorm every day—at least not at home,” corrected Zaidie, “but on Jupiter they must have two or three eclipses every day. Meanwhile, there goes Jupiter himself. What a difference distance makes! This little thing is only a trifle larger than our Moon, and it’s hiding everything else.”

As she was speaking the full-orbed disc of Calisto, measuring nearly three thousand miles across, swept between them and the planet. It shone with a clear, somewhat reddish light like that of Mars. The Astronef was feeling his attraction strongly, and Redgrave went to the levers and turned on about a fifth of the R. Force to avoid too sudden contact with it.

Another dead world!” said Redgrave, as the surface of Calisto revolved swiftly beneath them, “or at any rate a dying one. There must be an atmosphere of some sort, or else that snow and ice wouldn’t be there, and everything would be either black or white as it was on the Moon. We may as well land, however, and get a specimen of the rocks and soil to add to the museum, though I don’t expect there will be very much to see in the way of life.”

In another hour or so the Astronef had dropped gently on to the surface of Calisto at the foot of a range of mountains crowded with jagged and splintery peaks, and a mile or two from the edge of a sea of snow and ice which stretched away in a vast expanse of rugged frozen billows beyond the horizon. Redgrave, as usual, went into the air-chamber and tried the atmosphere. A second’s experience of it was enough for him. It was unbreathably thin and unbearably cold, although, when mixed with the air of the Astronef, it distinctly freshened it up. This proved that its composition was, or had been, fit for human respiration.

There’s only one fault about it,” he said, when he rejoined Zaidie in the sitting-room. “You know what the schoolboy said when he started kissing his first sweetheart, ‘It takes too long to get enough of it.’”

You seem to be very fond of referring to that particular subject, Lenox.”

Well, yes; to tell you the truth I am,” and then he referred to it again in another form.

After this they went and put on their breathing-dresses and went for a welcome stroll along the arid shores of the frozen sea after their lengthy confinement to the decks of the Astronef. The Sun was still powerful enough to keep them comfortably warm in their dresses, and there was enough atmosphere to make this warmth diffused instead of direct. So they were able to step out briskly, and every now and then open their visors a little and take in a breath or two of the thin, sharp air, which they found quite exhilarating when mixed with the air supplied by their own oxygen apparatus.

The attraction of the satellite being only a little more than that of the Moon—or, say, about a fifth of that of the Earth—they were able to get along with a series of hops, skips, and jumps which might have looked rather ridiculous to terrestrial eyes, but which they found a very pleasant mode of locomotion. They were also able to climb the steepest mountainsides with no more trouble than they would have had in walking along a terrestrial plain.

On the heights they found no sign either of animal or vegetable life—only rocks and gravel and sand of a brownish red, apparently uniform in composition. They took a few lumps of rock and a canvas bag full of sand back with them from the mountain-side. In the valley sloping towards the ice-sea they found what had once been watercourses opening out into rivers towards the sea; and in the lowest parts there was a kind of lichen-growth clinging to the rocks under the snow. On the surface of the snow they saw traces of what might have been the tracks of animals, but, as there was no breath of wind in the attenuated atmosphere, it was quite possible that these might have been frozen into permanent shape hundreds or thousands of years before. It was also possible that if they had explored long enough they might have found some low forms of animal life, but as they had landed almost on the equator of the satellite, under the full rays of the Sun, and seen nothing, this was hardly likely.

I don’t think it is worth while stopping here any longer,” said Zaidie, who was getting a little bit blasé with her interplanetary experiences. “We’ve got lots to see further on, so if you don’t mind I think I’ll just take two or three photographs, then we can get back to the ship and have dinner and go on and see what Ganymede is like. He’s bigger than Mercury, and nearly as big as Mars, so we ought to find something interesting there. This is only a sort of combination of the Moon and the polar regions and I don’t think very much of it. Suppose we go back.”

Just as your Ladyship pleases,” laughed Redgrave over the wire which connected their helmets, as, with joined hands, they turned back and danced along the snow-covered ocean shore towards the Astronef.

Zaidie took a couple of photographs of the mountain range and the ice-sea and another one of the general landscape of Calisto as they rose from the surface. Then, while she went to get lunch ready, Redgrave took the pieces of rock and the bag of dust into the laboratory which opened out of the main engine-room and analysed them. When he came out about an hour later he saw Murgatroyd going through his beloved engines with an oil-can and a piece of common cotton-waste which had come from a faraway Yorkshire mill.

Andrew,” he said, “should you be surprised if I told you that that moon we’ve just left seems to be mostly made of a spongy sort of alloy of gold and silver?”

My lord,” said the old engineer, straightening himself up and looking at him with eyes in which this announcement had not seemed to kindle a spark of interest, “after what I have seen so far there’s nothing that’ll surprise me unless it be that the grace of God allows us to get back safely.”

Amen, Andrew, that’s well said,” replied Redgrave, and then he went back to the saloon and Murgatroyd went on with his oiling.

When he told her ladyship of his discovery she just looked up from the table she was laying and said:

Oh, indeed! Well, I’m very glad that it’s five or six hundred million miles from the Earth. A dead world bigger than the Moon, and made of gold and silver sponge, wouldn’t be a nice thing to have too near the Earth. There’s trouble enough about that sort of thing at home as it is. Still, it’ll be a nice addition to the museum, and if you’ll put it away and go and wash your hands lunch will be ready.”

When they got back to the deck-chamber Calisto was already a half moon in the upper sky nearly five hundred thousand miles away, and the full orb of Ganymede, shining with a pale golden light, lay outspread beneath them. A thin, bluish-grey arc of the giant planet overarched its western edge.

I think we shall find something like a world here,” said her ladyship, when she had taken her first look through her telescope; “there’s an atmosphere and what look like thin clouds. Continents and oceans too, or something like them, and what is that light shining up between the breaks? Isn’t it something like our Aurora?”

It might be,” replied Redgrave, turning his own telescope towards the northern pole of Ganymede, “though I never heard of a satellite having an aurora. Perhaps it’s the Sun shining on the ice.”

As the Astronef fell towards the surface of Ganymede she crossed his northern pole, and the nearer they got the plainer it became that a light very like the terrestrial Aurora was playing about it, illuminating the thin, yellow clouds with a bluish-violet light, which made magnificent contrasts of colouring amongst them.

Let us go down there and see what it’s like,” said Zaidie. “There must be something nice under all those lovely colours.”

Redgrave checked the R. Force and the Astronef fell obliquely across the pole towards the equator. As they approached the luminous clouds Redgrave turned it on again, and they sank slowly through a glowing mist of innumerable colours, until the surface of Ganymede came into plain view about ten miles below them.

What they saw then was the strangest sight they had beheld since they had left the Earth. As far as their eyes could reach the surface of the Ganymede was covered with vast orderly patches, mostly rectangular, of what they at first took for ice, but which they soon found to be a something that was self-illuminating.

Glorified hot-houses, as I’m alive,” exclaimed Redgrave. “Whole cities under glass, fields, too, and lit by electricity or something very like it. Zaidie, we shall find human beings down there.”

Well, if we do I hope they won’t be like the half-human things we found on Mars! But isn’t it all just lovely! Only there doesn’t seem to be anything outside the cities, at least nothing but bare, flat ground with a few rugged mountains here and there. See, there’s a nice level plain there near the big glass city, or whatever it is. Suppose we go down there.”

Redgrave checked the after engine which was driving them obliquely over the surface of the satellite, and the Astronef fell vertically towards a bare, flat plain of what looked like deep yellow sand, which spread for miles alongside one of the glittering cities of glass.

Oh, look, they’ve seen us!” exclaimed Zaidie. “I do hope they’re going to be as friendly as those dear people on Venus were.”

I hope so,” replied Redgrave, “but if they’re not we’ve got the guns ready.”

As he said this about twenty streams of an intense bluish light suddenly shot up all round them, concentrating themselves upon the hull of the Astronef, which was now about a mile and a half from the surface. The light was so intense that the rays of the Sun were lost in it. They looked at each other, and found that their faces looked almost perfectly white in it. The plain and the city below had vanished.

To look downwards was like staring straight into the focus of a ten thousand candle-power electric arc lamp. It was so intolerable that Redgrave closed the lower shutters, and meanwhile he found that the Astronef had ceased to descend. He shut off more of the R. Force, but it produced no effect. The Astronef remained stationary. Then he ordered Murgatroyd to set the propellers in motion. The engineer pulled the starting-levers, and then came up out of the engine-room and said to him:

It’s no good, my Lord; I don’t know what devil’s world we’ve got into now, but they won’t work. If I thought that engines could be bewitched——”

Oh, nonsense, Andrew!” said his lordship rather testily. “It’s perfectly simple: those people down there, whoever they are, have got some way of demagnetising us, or else they’ve got the R. Force too, and they’re applying it against us to stop us going down. Apparently they don’t want us. No, that’s just to show us that they can stop us if they want to. The light’s going down. Begin dropping a bit. Don’t start the propellers, but just go and see that the guns are all right in case of accidents.”

The old engineer nodded and went back to his engines, looking considerably scared. As he spoke the brilliancy of the light faded rapidly, and the Astronef began to sink slowly towards the surface.

As a precaution against their being allowed to drop with force enough to cause a disaster, Redgrave turned the R. Force on again and they fell slowly towards the plain, through what seemed like a halo of perfectly white light. When she was within a couple of hundred yards of the ground a winged car of exquisitely graceful shape rose from the roof of one of the huge glass buildings nearest to them, flew swiftly towards them, and after circling once round the dome of the upper deck, ran close alongside.

The car was occupied by two figures of distinctly human form but rather more than human stature. Both were dressed in long, close-fitting garments of what seemed like a golden brown fleece. Their heads were covered with a close hood and their hands with gloves.

What an exceedingly handsome man!” said Zaidie, as one of them stood up. “I never saw such a noble-looking face in my life; it’s half philosopher, half saint. Of course, you won’t be jealous?”

Oh, nonsense!” he laughed. “It would be quite impossible to imagine you in love with either. But he is handsome, and evidently friendly—there’s no mistaking that. Answer him, Zaidie; you can do it better than I can.”

The car had now come close alongside. The standing figure stretched its hands out, palms upward, smiled a smile which Zaidie thought was very sweetly solemn, next the head was bowed, and the gloved hands brought back and crossed over his breast. Zaidie imitated the movements exactly. Then, as the figure raised its head she raised hers, and she found herself looking into a pair of large, luminous eyes such as she could have imagined under the brows of an angel. As they met hers a look of unmistakable wonder and admiration came into them. Redgrave was standing just behind her; she took him by the hand and drew him beside her, saying, with a little laugh:

Now, please look as pleasant as you can; I am sure they are very friendly. A man with a face like that couldn’t mean any harm.”

The figure repeated the motions to Redgrave, who returned them, perhaps a trifle awkwardly.

Then the car began to descend, and the figure beckoned to them to follow.

You’d better go and wrap up, dear. From the gentleman’s dress it seems pretty cold outside; though the air is evidently quite breathable,” said Redgrave, as the Astronef began to drop in company with the car. “At any rate, I’ll try it first, and if it isn’t we can put on our breathing-dresses.”

When Zaidie had made her winter toilet, and Redgrave had found the air to be quite respirable, but of Arctic cold, they went down the gangway ladder about twenty minutes later. The figure had got out of the car, which was laying a few yards from them on the sandy plain, and came forward to meet them with both hands outstretched.

Zaidie unhesitatingly held out hers, and a strange thrill ran through her as she felt them for the first time clasped gently by other than earthly hands, for the Venus folk had only been able to pat and stroke with their gentle little paws, somewhat as a kitten might do. The figure bowed its head again and said something in a low, melodious voice, which was, of course, quite unintelligible save for the evident friendliness of its tone. Then, releasing her hands, he took Redgrave’s in the same fashion, and then led the way towards a vast, domed building of semi-opaque glass, or rather a substance that seemed to be something like a mixture of glass and mica, which appeared to be one of the entrance gates of the city.