Chapter 15

 

The wondering visitors from far-off Terra had hardly halted before the magnificent portal when a huge sheet of frosted glass rose silently from the ground. They passed through and it fell behind them. They found themselves in a great oval ante-chamber along each side of which stood triple rows of strangely shaped trees whose leaves gave off a subtle and most agreeable scent. The temperature here was several degrees higher, in fact about that of an English spring day, and Zaidie immediately threw open her big fur cloak, saying:

These good people seem to live in Winter Gardens, don’t they? I don’t think I shall want these things much while we’re inside. I wonder what dear old Andrew would have thought of this if we could have persuaded him to leave the ship.”

They followed their host through the ante-chamber towards a magnificent pointed arch raised on clusters of small pillars each of a differently coloured, highly polished stone, which shone brilliantly in a light which seemed to come from nowhere. Another door, this time of pale transparent blue glass, rose as they approached; they passed under it, and as it fell behind them half a dozen figures, considerably shorter and slighter than their host, came forward to meet them. He took off his gloves and cape and thick outer covering, and they were glad to follow his example for the atmosphere was now that of a warm June day.

The attendants, as they evidently were, took their wraps from them, looking at the furs and stroking them with evident wonder; but with nothing like the wonder which came into their big soft grey eyes when they looked at Zaidie, who, as usual when she arrived on a new world, was arrayed in one of her daintiest costumes.

Their host was now dressed in a tunic of a light blue material, which glistened with a lustre greater than that of the finest silk. It reached a little below his knees, and was confined at the waist by a sash of the same colour but of somewhat deeper hue. His feet and legs were covered with stockings of the same material and colour, and his feet, which were small for his stature and exquisitely shaped, were shod with thin sandals of a material which looked like soft felt, and which made no noise as he walked over the delicately coloured mosaic pavement of the street—for such it actually was—which ran past the gate.

When he removed his cape they expected to find that he was bald like the Martians, but they were mistaken. His well-shaped head was covered with long, thick hair of a colour something between bronze and grey. A broad band of metal looking like light gold passed round the upper part of his forehead, and from under this the hair fell in gentle waves to below his shoulders.

For a few moments Zaidie and Redgrave stared about them in frank and silent wonder. They were standing in a broad street running in a straight line to what seemed to be several miles along the edge of a city of crystal. It was lined with double rows of trees with beds of brilliantly coloured flowers between them. From this street others went off at right angles and at regular intervals. The roof of the city appeared to be composed of an infinity of domes of enormous extent, supported by tall clusters of slender pillars standing at the street corners. The general level of the roof seemed about three hundred feet above the ground, and the summits of the domes some fifty feet higher.

The houses, which were all square, were, as a rule, about forty feet high. The roofs were covered with gardens and shrubberies, from which creepers, bearing brillantly coloured leaves and flowers, hung down about the windows in carefully arranged festoons. The walls were composed of the opaque mica-like glass, relieved by pillars and arched doorways and windows. The windows, of French form, were of clear glass, and mostly stood open. A sweet, cool zephyr of hardly perceptible strength appeared to be blowing along the street and over the house-tops and in the vast airy space above the roofs.

Brightly plumaged birds were flitting about among the branches of giant trees, and keeping up a perpetual chorus of song.

Presently their host touched Redgrave on the shoulder and pointed to a four-wheeled car of light framework and exquisite design, containing seats for four besides the driver, or guide, who sat behind. He held out his hand to Zaidie, and handed her to one of the front seats just as an Earth-born gentleman might have done. Then he motioned to Redgrave to sit beside her, and mounted behind them.

The car immediately began to move silently, but with considerable speed, along the left-hand side of the outer street, which, like all the others, was divided by narrow strips of russet-coloured grass and flowering shrubs.

In a few minutes it swung round to the right, crossed the road, and entered a magnificent avenue, which, after a run of some four miles, ended in a vast, park-like square, measuring at least a mile each way.

The two sides of the avenue were busy with cars like their own, some carrying six people, and others only the driver. Those on each side of the road all went in the same direction. Those nearest to the broad side-walks between the houses and the first row of trees went at a moderate speed of five or six miles an hour, but along the inner sides, near the central line of trees, they seemed to be running as high as thirty miles an hour. Their occupants were nearly all dressed in clothes made of the same glistening, silky fabric as their host wore, but the colourings were of infinite variety.

It was quite easy to distinguish between the sexes, although in stature they were almost equal. The men were nearly all clothed as their host was. The colours of their garments were quieter, and there was little attempt at personal adornment, though many wore bands of an intensely bright, sky-blue metal round their arms above the elbow, and others wore belts and necklaces of links composed of this and two other metals resembling gold and aluminum, but of an exceedingly high lustre.

The women were dressed in flowing garments something after the Greek style, but they were of brighter hues and much more lavishly embroidered than the men’s tunics were. They also wore much more jewellery. Indeed, some of the younger ones glittered from head to foot with polished metal and gleaming stones. There was one more difference which they quickly noticed. The men’s hair, like their host’s, was nearly always wavy, but that of the women, especially the younger, was a mass of either natural or artificial curls, short and crisp about the head, and flowing down in glistening ringlets to their waists.

Could any one ever have dreamt of such a lovely place?” said Zaidie, after their wondering eyes had become accustomed to the marvels about them, “and yet—oh dear, now I know what it reminds me of! Flammarion’s book, ‘The End of the World,’ where he describes the remnants of the human race dying of cold and hunger on the Equator in places something like this. I suppose the life of poor Ganymede is giving out, and that’s why they’ve got to live in magnified exposition buildings, poor things!”

Poor things!” laughed Redgrave. “I’m afraid I can’t agree with you there, dear. I never saw a jollier-looking lot of people in my life. I daresay you’re quite right, but they certainly seem to view their approaching end with considerable equanimity.”

Don’t be horrid, Lenox! Fancy talking in that cold-blooded way about such delightful-looking people as these, why, they are even nicer than our dear bird-folk on Venus, and of course they are a great deal more like ourselves.”

Wherefore it stands to reason that they must be a great deal nicer!” he replied, with a glance which brought a brighter flush to her cheeks. Then he went on, “Ah, now I see the difference.”

What difference? Between what?”

Between the daughter of Earth and the daughters of Ganymede,” he replied. “You can blush, and I don’t think they can. Haven’t you noticed that, although they have the most exquisite skins and beautiful eyes and hair and all that sort of thing, not a man or woman of them has any colouring? I suppose that’s the result of living for generations in a hothouse.”

Very likely,” she said; “but has it struck you also that all the girls and women are either beautiful or handsome, and all the men, except the ones that seem to be servants or slaves, are something like Greek gods, or, at least, the sort of men you see on the Greek sculptures?”

Survival of the fittest, I presume. These are probably the descendants of the highest races of Ganymede; the people who conceived the idea of prolonging the life of their race and were able to carry it out. The inferior races would either perish of starvation or become their servants. That’s what will happen on Earth, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t have happened here.”

As he said this the car swung out round a broad curve into the centre of the great square, and a little cry of amazement broke from Zaidie’s lips as her glance roamed over the multiplying splendours about her.

In the centre of the square, in the midst of smooth lawns and flower-beds of every conceivable shape and colour, and groves of flowering trees, stood a great domed building, which they approached through an avenue of overarching trees interlaced with flowering creepers.

The car stopped at the foot of a triple flight of stairs of dazzling whiteness which led up to a broad arched doorway. Several groups of people were sprinkled about the avenue and steps and the wide terrace which ran along the front of the building. They looked with keen, but perfectly well-mannered surprise at their strange visitors, and seemed to be discussing their appearance; but not a step was taken towards them, nor was there the slightest sign of anything like vulgar curiosity.

What perfect manners these dear people have!” said Zaidie, as they dismounted at the foot of the staircase. “I wonder what would happen if a couple of them were to be landed from a motor-car in front of the Capitol at Washington. I suppose this is their Capitol, and we’ve been brought here to be put through our facings. What a pity we can’t talk to them! I wonder if they’d believe our story if we could tell it.”

I’ve no doubt they know something of it already,” replied Redgrave; “they’re evidently people of immense intelligence. Intellectually, I daresay, we’re mere children compared with them, and it’s quite possible that they have developed senses which we have no idea of.”

And perhaps,” added Zaidie, “all the time that we are talking to each other our friend here is quietly reading everything that is going on in our minds.”

Whether this was so or not their host gave no sign of comprehension. He led them up the steps and through the great doorway, where he was met by three splendidly dressed men even taller than himself.

I feel beastly shabby among all these gorgeously attired personages,” said Redgrave, looking down at his plain tweed suit, as they were conducted with every manifestation of politeness along the magnificent vestibule into which the door opened.

And I’m sure I am quite a dowdy in comparison with these lovely creatures,” added Zaidie, “although this dress was made in Paris. Lenox, if things are for sale here you’ll have to buy me one of those costumes, and we’ll take it back and get one made like it. I wonder what they’d think of me dressed in one of those costumes at a ball at the Waldorf-Astoria.”

Before he could make a suitable reply, a door at the end of the vestibule opened and they were ushered into a large hall which was evidently a council-chamber. At the further end of it were three semi-circular rows of seats made of a polished silvery metal, and in the centre and raised slightly above them another under a canopy of sky-blue silk. This seat and six others were occupied by men of most venerable aspect, in spite of the fact their hair was just as long and thick and glossy as their host’s or even as Zaidie’s own.

The ceremony of introduction was exceedingly simple. Though they could not, of course, understand a word he said, it was evident from his eloquent gestures that their host described the way in which they had come from Space and landed on the surface of the World of the Crystal Cities, as Zaidie subsequently re-christened Ganymede.

The President of the Senate or Council spoke a few sentences in a deep musical tone. Then their host, taking their hands, led them up to his seat, and the President rose and took them by both hands in turn. Then, with a grave smile of greeting, he bent his head and resumed his seat. They joined hands in turn with each of the six senators present, bowed their farewells in silence, and then went back with their host to the car.

They ran down the avenue, made a curving sweep round to the left—for all the paths in the great square were laid in curves, apparently to form a contrast to the straight streets—and presently stopped before the porch of one of the hundred palaces which surrounded it. This was their host’s house, and their home during the rest of their sojourn on Ganymede.