Chapter 12 ON THE RIVER

The next morning saw our journey commenced. Eveena’s wardrobe, with my own and my books, portfolios, models, and specimens of Terrestrial art and mechanism, were packed in light metallic cases adapted to the larger form of carriage whereof I have made mention. I was fortunate in escaping the actual parting scene between Eveena and her family, and my own leave-taking was hurried. Esmo and his son accompanied us, leading the way in one carriage, while Eveena and myself occupied that which we had used on our memorable trip to the Astronaut. Half an hour brought us to the road beside the river, and a few minutes more to the point at which a boat awaited us. The road being some eight or ten feet above the level of the water, a light ladder not three feet long was ready to assist our descent to the deck. The difference of size between the Martial race and my own was forcibly impressed upon me, in seeing that Esmo and his son found this assistance needful, or at least convenient, while I simply stepped rather than jumped to the deck, and lifted Eveena straight from her carriage to her seat under the canopy that covered the stern of the vessel. Intended only for river navigation, propelled by a small screw like two fishtails set at right angles, working horizontally; the vessel had but two cabins, one on either side of the central part occupied by the machinery. The stern apartment was appropriated to myself and my bride, the forecastle, if I may so call it, to our companions, the boatmen having berths in the corners of the machine-room. The vessel was flat-bottomed, drawing about eighteen inches of water and rising about five feet from the surface, leaving an interior height which obliged me to be cautious in order not to strike my head against every projection or support of the cabin roof. We spent the whole of the day, however, on deck, and purposely slackened the speed of the boat, which usually travels some thirty miles an hour, in order to enjoy the effect and observe the details of the landscape. For the first few miles our voyage lay through the open plain. Then we passed, on the left as we ascended the stream, the mountain on whose summit I tried with my binocular to discern the Astronaut, but unsuccessfully, the trees on the lower slopes intercepting the view. Eveena, seeing my eyes fixed on that point, extended her hand and gently drew the glass out of mine.

Not yet,” she said; which elicited from me the excuse—

That mountain has for me remembrances more interesting than those of my voyage, or even than the hopes of return.”

Presently, as we followed the course of the stream, we lost sight altogether of the rapidly dwindling patches of colour representing the enclosures of Ecasfe. On our left, at a distance varying from three to five miles, but constantly increasing as the stream bent to the northward, was the mountain range I had scanned in my descent. On our right the plain dipped below the horizon while still but a few feet above the level of the river; but in the distant sky we discerned some objects like white clouds, which from their immobility and fixedness of outline I soon discovered to be snow-crowned hills, lower, however, than those to the northward, and perhaps some forty miles distant. The valley is one of the richest and most fertile portions of this continent, and was consequently thoroughly cultivated and more densely peopled than most parts even of the Equatorial zone. An immediate river frontage being as convenient as agreeable, the enclosures on either bank were continuous, and narrow in proportion to their depth; the largest occupying no more than from one hundred and fifty to two hundred yards of the bank, the smaller from half to one quarter of that length. Most had a tunnel pierced under the road bordering the river, through which the water was admitted to their grounds and carried in a minute stream around and even through the house; for ornament rather than for use, since every house in a district so populous has a regular artificial water supply, and irrigation, as I have explained, is not required. The river itself was embellished with masses of water-flowers; and water-birds, the smallest scarcely larger than a wagtail, the largest somewhat exceeding the size of a swan, of a different form and dark grey plumage, but hardly less graceful, seemed to be aware of the stringent protection they enjoyed from the law. They came up to our boat and fed out of Eveena’s hand with perfect fearlessness. I could not induce any of them to be equally familiar with myself, my size probably surprising them as much as their masters, and leading them to the same doubt whether I were really and wholly human. The lower slopes of the hills were covered with orchards of every kind, each species occupying the level best suited to it, from the reed-supported orange-like alva of the lowlands to the tall astyra, above which stretched the timber forests extending as high as trees could grow, while between these and the permanent snow-line lay the yellowish herbage of extensive pastures. A similar mountain range on earth would have presented a greater variety of colouring and scenery, the total absence of glaciers, even in the highest valleys, creating a notable difference. The truth is that the snows of Mars are nowhere deep, and melt in the summer to such an extent that that constant increase whose downward tendency feeds Terrestrial glaciers cannot take place. Probably the thin atmosphere above the snow-line can hold but little watery vapour. Esmo was of opinion that the snow on the highest steeps, even on a level plateau, was never more than two feet in depth; and in more than one case a wind-swept peak or pinnacle was kept almost clear, and presented in its grey, green, or vermilion rocks a striking contrast to the masses of creamy white around it. This may explain the very rapid diminution of the polar ice-caps in the summer of either, but especially of the Southern hemisphere; and also the occasional appearance of large dark spots in their midst, where the shallow snow has probably been swept away by the rare storms of this planet from an extensive land surface. It is supposed that no inconsiderable part of the ice and snow immediately surrounding the poles covers land; but, though balloon parties have of late occasionally reached the poles, they have never ventured to remain there long enough to disembark and ascertain the fact.

Towards evening the stream turned more decidedly to the north, and at this point Esmo brought out an instrument constructed somewhat on the principle of a sextant or quadrant, but without the mirror, by which we were enabled to take reliable measures of the angles. By a process which at that time I did not accurately follow, and which I had not subsequently the means of verifying, the distance as well as the angle subtended by the height was obtained. Kevimâ, after working out his father’s figures, informed me that the highest peak in view—the highest in Mars—was not less than 44,000 feet. No Martial balloonist, much less any Martial mountain-climber, has ever, save once, reached a greater height than 16,000 feet—the air at the sea-level being scarcely more dense than ours at 10,000 feet. Kevimâ indicated one spot in the southern range of remarkable interest, associated with an incident which forms an epoch in the records of Martial geography. A sloping plateau, some 19,000 feet above the sea-level, is defined with remarkable clearness in the direction from which we viewed it. The forests appeared to hide, though they do not of course actually approach, its lower edge. On one side and to the rear it is shut in by precipices so abrupt that the snow fails to cling to them, while on the remaining side it is separated by a deep, wide cleft from the western portion of the range. Here for centuries were visible the relics of an exploring party, which reached this plateau and never returned. Attempts have, since the steering of balloons has become an accomplished fact, been made to reach the point, but without success, and those who have approached nearest have failed to find any of the long-visible remains of an expedition which perished four or five thousand years ago. Kevimâ thought it probable that the metallic poles even then employed for tents and for climbing purposes might still be intact; but if so, they were certainly buried in the snow, and Esmo believed it more likely that even these had perished.

As the mists of evening fell we retreated to our cabin, which was warmed by a current of heated air from the electric machinery. Here our evening meal was served, at which Esmo and his son joined us, Eveena resuming, even in their presence, the veil she had worn on deck but had laid aside the moment we were alone. An hour or two after sunset, the night (an unusual occurrence in Mars) was clear and fine, and I took this opportunity of observing from a new standpoint the familiar constellations. The scintillation so characteristic of the fixed stars, especially in the temperate climates of the Earth, was scarcely perceptible. Scattered once more over the surface of a defined sky, it was much easier than in space to recognise the several constellations; but their new and strange situations were not a little surprising at first sight, some of those which, as seen on Earth revolved slowly in the neighbourhood of the poles, being now not far from the tropics, and some, which had their place within the tropics, now lying far to north or south. Around the northern pole the Swan swings by its tail, as in our skies the Lesser Bear; Arided being a Pole-Star which needs no Pointers to indicate its position. Vega is the only other brilliant star in the immediate neighbourhood; and, save for the presence of the Milky Way directly crossing it, the arctic circle is distinctly less bright than our own. The south pole lies in one of the dullest regions of the heavens, near the chief star of the Peacock. Arcturus, the Great Bear, the Twins, the Lion, the Scorpion, and Fomalhaut are among the ornaments of the Equatorial zone: the Cross, the Centaur, and the Ship of our antarctic constellations, are visible far into the northern hemisphere. On the present occasion the two Moons were both visible in the west, the horns of both crescents pointing in the same direction, though the one was in her last, the other in her first phase.

As we were watching them, Eveena, wrapped in a cloak of fur not a little resembling that of the silver fox, but far softer, stole her hand into mine and whispered a request that I would lend her the instrument I was using. With some instruction and help she contrived to adjust it, her sight requiring a decided alteration of the focus and an approach of the two eye-pieces; the eyes of her race being set somewhat nearer than in an average Aryan countenance. She expressed no little surprise at the clearness of definition, and the marked enlargement of the discs of the two satellites, and would have used the instrument to scan the stars and visible planets had I not insisted on her retirement; the light atmosphere, as is always the case on clear nights, when no cloud-veil prevents rapid radiation from the surface, being bitterly cold, and her life not having accustomed her to the night air even in the most genial season.

As we could, of course, see nothing of the country through which we passed during the night, and as Esmo informed me that little or nothing of special interest would occur during this part of our voyage, our vessel went at full speed, her pilot being thoroughly acquainted with the river, and an electric light in the bow enabling him to steer with perfect confidence and safety. When, therefore, we came on deck after the dissipation of the morning mist, we found ourselves in a scene very different from that which we had left. Our course was north by west. On either bank lay a country cultivated indeed, but chiefly pastoral, producing a rich herbage, grazed by innumerable herds, among which I observed with interest several flocks of large birds, kept, as Esmo informed me, partly for their plumage. This presented remarkable combinations of colour, far surpassing in brilliancy and in variety of pattern the tail of the peacock, and often rivalling in length and delicacy, while exceeding in beauty of colouring, the splendid feathers which must have embarrassed the Bird of Paradise, even before they rendered him an object of pursuit by those who have learnt the vices and are eager to purchase the wares of civilised man. Immediately across our course, at a distance of some thirty miles, stretched a range of mountains. I inquired of Esmo how the river turned in order to avoid them, since no opening was visible even through my glass.

The proper course of the river,” he said, “lies at the foot of those hills. But this would take us out of our road, and, moreover, the stream is not navigable for many stoloi above the turning-point. We shall hold on nearly in the same direction as the present till we land at their foot.”

And how,” I said, “are we to cross them?”

At your choice, either by carriage or by balloon,” he said. “There is at our landing-place a town in which we shall easily procure either.”

But,” said I, “though our luggage is far less heavy than would be that of a bride on Earth, and Eveena’s forms the smallest portion of it, I should fancy that it must be inconveniently heavy for a balloon.”

Certainly,” he replied; “but we could send it by carriage even over the mountain roads. The boat, however, will go on, and will meet us some thirty miles beyond the point where we leave it.”

And how is the boat to pass over the hills?”

Not over, but under,” he said, smiling. “There is no natural passage entirely through the range, but there is within it a valley the bottom of which is not much higher than this plain. Of the thirty miles to be traversed, about one-half lies in the course of this valley, along which an artificial canal has been made. Through the hills at either end a tunnel has been cut, the one of six, the other of about nine miles in length, affording a perfectly safe and easy course for the boat; and it is through these that nearly all the heavy traffic passing in this direction is conveyed.”

I should like,” I said, “if it be possible, to pass through one at least of these tunnels, unless there be on the mountains themselves something especially worth seeing.”

Nothing,” he replied. “They are low, none much exceeding the height of that from which you descended.”

Eveena now joined us on deck, and we amused ourselves for the next two hours in observing the different animals, of which such numbers were to be seen at every turn, domesticated and trained for one or other of the many methods in which the brutes can serve the convenience, the sustenance, or the luxury of man. Animal food is eaten on Mars; but the flesh of birds and fish is much more largely employed than that of quadrupeds, and eggs and milk enter into the cuisine far more extensively than either. In fact, flesh and fish are used much as they seem to have been in the earlier period of Greek civilisation, as relish and supplement to fruits, vegetables, and farinaceous dishes, rather than as the principal element of food. As their training and their extreme tameness indicate, domestic creatures, even those destined only to serve as food or to furnish clothing, are treated not indeed with tenderness, but with gentleness, and without either the neglect or the cruelty which so revolt humane men in witnessing the treatment of Terrestrial animals by those who have personal charge of them. To describe any considerable number of the hundred forms I saw during this short period would be impossible. I have drawings, or rather pictures, of most, taken by the light-painting process, which I hope herewith to remit to Earth, and which at least serve to give a general idea of the points in which the Martial chiefly differs from the Terrestrial fauna. Those animals whose coats furnish a textile fibre more resemble reindeer and goats than sheep; their wool is softer, longer, and less curly, free also from the greasiness of the sheep.

It seemed to me that an extreme quaintness characterised the domestic creatures kept for special purposes. This was not the effect of mere novelty, for animals like the ambâ and birds like the esve, trained to the performance of services congenial to their natural habits, however dissimilar to Terrestrial species, had not the same air of singularity, or rather of monstrosity. But in the creatures bred to furnish wool, feathers, or the like, some single feature was always exaggerated into disproportionate dimensions. Thus the elnerve is loaded with long plumes, sometimes twice the length of the body, and curled upward at the extremity, so that it can neither fly nor run; and though its plumage is exquisitely beautiful, the creature itself is simply ludicrous. It bears the same popular repute for sagacity as the goose of European farmyards. The angasto has hair or wool so long that its limbs are almost hidden, just before shearing-time, in the tresses that hang from the body half way to the ground. The calperze, a bird no larger than a Norfolk turkey, has the hinder part developed to an enormous size, so that the graceful peacock-like neck and shoulders appear as if lost in the huge proportions of the body, and the little wings are totally unfit to raise it in the air; while it lays almost daily eggs as large as those of the ostrich and of peculiar richness and flavour. Nearly all the domestic birds kept for the sake of eggs or feathers have wings that look as if they had been clipped, and are incapable of flight. Creatures valued for their flesh, such as the quorno (somewhat like the eland, but with the single horn so common among its congeners in Mars, and with a soft white hide), and the viste, a bird about the size of the peacock, with the form of the partridge and the flavour of grouse or black game, preserve more natural proportions. The wing-quills of the latter, however, having been systematically plucked for hundreds of generations, are now dwarfed and useless. These animals are not encouraged to make fat on the one hand, or to develop powerful muscles and sinews on the other. They are fed for part of the year on the higher and thinner pastures of the mountains. When brought down to the meadows of the plain, they are allowed to graze only for a few hours before sunset and after sunrise. They thus preserve much of the flavour of game or mountain sheep and cattle, which the oxen and poultry of Europe have lost; flavour, not quantity, being the chief object of care with Martial graziers. Sometimes, however, some peculiarity perfectly useless, or even inconvenient, appears to be naturally associated with that which is artificially developed. Thus the beak of the elnerve is weak and often splits, so as to render its rearing troublesome and entail considerable losses; while the horns of the wool-bearing animals are long and strong enough to be formidable, but so rough and coarsely grained that they are turned to no account for use or ornament.

We were rapidly approaching the foot of the hills, where the river made another and abrupt turn. At this point the produce of the whole upper valley is generally embarked, and supplies from all other quarters are here received and distributed. In consequence, a town large and important for this planet, where no one who can help it prefers the crowded street to the freedom and expanse of the country, had grown up, with about a hundred and fifty houses, and perhaps a thousand inhabitants. It was so much matter of course that voyagers should disembark to cross the hills or to pursue their journey along the upper part of the river by road, that half-a-dozen different partnerships made it their business to assist in the transfer of passengers and light wares. Ahead of us was a somewhat steep hill-slope, in the lower part of which a wall absolutely perpendicular had been cut by those who pierced the tunnel, the mouth of which was now clearly visible immediately before us. It was about twelve feet in height, and perhaps twenty feet in width. The stream, which, like nearly all Martial rivers, is wide and shallow, had during the last fifty miles of our course grown narrower, with a depth at the same time constantly lessening, so that some care was required on the part of the pilot to avoid running aground. A stream of twenty inches in depth, affording room for two boats to pass abreast, is considered navigable for vessels only carrying passengers; thirty inches are required to afford a course which for heavy freight is preferable to the road. Eveena had taken it for granted that we should disembark here, and it was not till we had come within a hundred yards of the landing-place—where the bank was perpendicular and levelled to a height above the water, which enabled passengers to step directly from the deck of the boat—without slackening our speed, that the possibility of our intending to accompany the boat on its subterrene course occurred to her. As she did not speak, but merely drew closer to me, and held fast my hand, I had no idea of her real distress till we were actually at the mouth of the black and very frightful-looking passage, and the pilot had lighted the electric lamp. As the boat shot under the arch she could not repress a cry of terror. Naturally putting my arm round her at this sign of alarm, I felt that she was trembling violently, and a single look, despite her veil, convinced me that she was crying, though in silence and doing her utmost to conceal her tears.

Are you so frightened, child?” I asked. “I have been through many subterranean passages, though none so long and dark as this. But you see our lamp lights up not only the boat but the whole vault around and before us, and there can be no danger whatever.”

I am frightened, though,” she said, “I cannot help it. I never saw anything of the kind before; and the darkness behind and before us, and the black water on either side, do make me shiver.”

Stop!” I called to the boatman.

Now, Eveena,” I said, “I do not care to persist in this journey if it really distresses you. I wished to see so wonderful a work of engineering; but, after all, I have been in a much uglier and more wonderful place, and I can see nothing here stranger than when I was rowed for three-quarters of a mile on the river in the Mammoth Cave. In any case I shall see little but a continuation of what I see already; so if you cannot bear it, we will go back.”

By this time Esmo, who had been in the bows, had joined us, wishing to know why I had stopped the boat.

This child,” I said, “is not used to travelling, and the tunnel frightens her; so that I think, after all, we had better take the usual course across the mountains.”

Nonsense!” he answered. “There is no danger here; less probably than in an ordinary drive, certainly less than in a balloon. Don’t spoil her, my friend. If you begin by yielding to so silly a caprice as this, you will end by breaking her heart before the two years are out.”

Do go on,” whispered Eveena. “I was very silly; I am not so frightened now, and if you will hold me fast, I will not misbehave again.”

Esmo had taken the matter out of my hands, desiring the boatman to proceed; and though I sympathised with my bride’s feminine terror much more than her father appeared to do, I was selfishly anxious, in spite of my declaration that there could be no novelty in this tunnel, to see one thing certainly original—the means by which so narrow and so long a passage could be efficiently ventilated. The least I could do, however, was to appease Eveena’s fear before turning my attention to the objects of my own curiosity. The presence of physical strength, which seemed to her superhuman, produced upon her nerves the quieting effect which, however irrationally, great bodily force always exercises over women; partly, perhaps, from the awe it seems to inspire, partly from a yet more unreasonable but instinctive reliance on its protection even in dangers against which it is obviously unavailing.

Presently a current of air, distinctly warmer than that of the tunnel, which had been gradually increasing in force for some minutes, became so powerful that I could no longer suppose it accidental. Kevimâ being near us, I asked him what it meant.

Ventilation,” he answered. “The air in these tunnels would be foul and stagnant, perhaps unbreathable, if we did not drive a constant current of air through them. You did not notice, a few yards from the entrance, a wheel which drives a large fan. One of these is placed at every half mile, and drives on the air from one end of the tunnel to the other. They are reversed twice in a zyda, so that they may create no constant counter-current outside.”

But is not the power exerted to drive so great a body of air exceedingly costly?”

No,” he answered. “As you are aware, electricity is almost our only motive power, and we calculate that the labour of two men, even without the help of machines, could in their working zydau [eight hours] collect and reduce a sufficient amount of the elements by which the current is created to do the work of four hundred men during a whole day and night.”

And how long,” I inquired, “has electricity had so complete a monopoly of mechanical work?”

It was first brought into general use,” he replied, “about eight thousand years ago. Before that, heated air supplied our principal locomotive force, as well as the power of stationary machines wherever no waterfall of sufficient energy was at hand. For several centuries the old powers were still employed under conditions favourable to their use. But we have found electricity so much cheaper than the cheapest of other artificial forces, so much more powerful than any supplied by Nature, that we have long discontinued the employment of any other. Even when we obtain electricity by means of heat, we find that the gain in application more than compensates the loss in the transmutation of one force into another.”

In the course of little more than half an hour we emerged from the tunnel, whose gloom, when once the attraction of novelty was gone, was certainly unpleasant to myself, if not by any means so frightful as Eveena still found it. There was nothing specially attractive or noticeable in the valley through which our course now ran, except the extreme height of its mountain walls, which, though not by any means perpendicular, rose to a height of some 3000 feet so suddenly that to climb their sides would have been absolutely impossible. Only during about two hours in the middle of the day is the sun seen from the level of the stream; and it is dark in the bottom of this valley long before the mist has fallen on the plain outside. We had presently, however, to ascend a slope of some twenty-five feet in the mile, and I was much interested in the peculiar method by which the ascent was made. A mere ascent, not greater than that of some rapids up which American boatmen have managed to carry their barques by manual force, presented no great difficulty; but some skill is required at particular points to avoid being overturned by the rush of the water, and our vessel so careened as to afford much more excuse for Eveena’s outbreak of terror than the tunnel had done. Had I not held her fast she must certainly have been thrown overboard, the pilot, used to the danger, having forgotten to warn us. For the rest, in the absence of rocks, the vessel ascended more easily than a powerful steamer, if she could find sufficient depth, could make her way up the rapids of the St. Lawrence or similar streams. We entered the second tunnel without any sign of alarm from Eveena perceptible to others; only her clinging to my hand expressed the fear of which she was ashamed but could not rid herself. Emerging from its mouth, we found ourselves within sight of the sea and of the town and harbour of Serocasfe, where we were next day to embark. Landing from the boat, we were met by the friend whose hospitality Esmo had requested. At his house, half a mile outside the town, for the first time since our marriage I had to part for a short period with Eveena, who was led away by the veiled mistress of the house, while we remained in the entrance chamber or hall. The evening meal was anticipated by two hours, in order that we might attend the meeting at which my bride and I were to receive our formal admission into the Zinta.