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ROBERT DUNCAN MILNE

THE WORLD'S LAST CATACLYSM

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A SEQUEL TO "TEN THOUSAND YEARS IN ICE"


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First published in
The Argonaut, San Francisco, California, 25 February 1889
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-10-29
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Illustration

Robert Duncan Milne (1844-1899)


THE Scottish-born author Robert Duncan Milne, who lived and worked in San Fransisco, may be considered as one of the founding-fathers of modern science-fiction. He wrote 60-odd stories in this genre before his untimely death in a street accident in 1899, publishing them, for the most part, in The Argonaut and San Francisco Examiner.

In its report on Milne's demise (he was struck by a cable-car while in a state of inebriation) The San Fransico Call of 17 December 1899 summarised his life as follows:


"Mr. Milne was the son of the late Rev. George Gordon Milne, M.A., F.R.S.A., for forty years incumbent of St. James Episcopal Church, Cupar-Fife. and nephew of Duncan James Kay, Esq., of Drumpark, J.P. and D.L. of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, through which side of the house, and by maternal ancestry (through the Breadalbane family), he was lineally descended from King Robert the Bruce.

"He received his primary education at Trinity College, Glenalmond, where he distinguished himself by gaining first the Skinner scholarship, which he held for a period of three years; second, the Knox prize for Latin verse, the competition for which is open to a number of public echools in England and Ireland, and thirdly, the Buccleuch gold medal as senior and captain of the school, of the eleven of which he was also captain.

"From Glenalmond Mr. Milne proceeded to Oxford, where he further distinguished himself by taking honors, also rowing in his college eight and playing in its eleven.

"After leaving the university he decided to visit California, a country then beginning to be more talked about than ever, and he afterward made the Pacific Coast his residence. In 1874 Mr. Milne invented and exhibited in the Mechanics' Fair at San Francisco a working model of a new type of rotary steam engine, which was pronounced to be the wonder of the fair.

"While in California Mr. Milne for a long time gained distinction as a writer of short stories and verse which appeared in current periodicals. The character of his work was well defined by Mrs. Gertrude Atherton, who said:

"'He has an extravagant imagination, but under it is a reassuring and scientific mind. He takes such a premise as a comet falling into the sun, and works out a terribly realistic series of results: or he will invent a drama for Saturn which might well have grown out of that planet's conditions. His style is so good and so convincing that one is apt to lay down such a story as the former, with an anticipation of nightmare, if comets are hanging about. His sense of humor and literary taste will always stop him the right side of the grotesque.'"


Illustration

A caricature showing Robert Duncan Milne and a San Francisco cable-car.


THE WORLD'S LAST CATACLYSM

ABOUT a week ago I received a message from my friend Burnham, inviting me to call at his house as soon as possible, as something very important was on hand in connection with his protégé, who had been resuscitated in so remarkable a manner by Dr. Dunne and himself some four months previous, in September last. Though I had been absent from the city since that time, I had received an occasional letter from my friend dilating upon the remarkable progress that had meanwhile been made by his resuscitated guest, and the intelligence and aptness he displayed in mastering not only our language in the matter of talking, reading, and writing, but in the appreciation and appropriation of our modern methods of thought through studying abstruse historical and scientific works.

"I have had far less difficulty," the letter concluded, "in teaching Mr. Kourban Balanok than I conceive I should have had in the case of an intelligent and well-educated foreigner introduced to me under similar circumstances. Come up this evening and judge for yourself. While, of course, we have talked matters over before this in a disconnected and cursory manner, I propose to ask our friend to-night to give a detailed and connected account of himself and his foreign surroundings in that ancient world before he became one of us, and I wish you to be present in the capacity of historian as well as guest. We dine, as you know, at six."

A quarter before that hour found me in the drawing-room of the Burnham mansion, where, after being welcomed by the family, consisting of my friend, his father, and a maiden aunt, I was introduced to a distinguished-looking stranger—Mr. Kourban Balanok—in whom I had no difficulty in recognizing the gentleman whom some four months before we had rescued so wonderfully from a living tomb. Though faultlessly attired in evening-dress, I at once recognized the regular, clean-cut, aristocratic features, crisp, curling, and rather close-cropped black beard, and bright black eye of our whilom patient. His clear, olive complexion struck me then as bearing a marked resemblance to that of the high-caste Hindoo of our day, though the features were more pronounced and Grecian in type than is consistent with pure Orientalism. A quick glance of recognition passed across his face as he shook me cordially by the hand, saying at the same time to Burnham in excellent English, though with a slight foreign accent:

"I think I have had the pleasure of meeting this gentleman before—once—in your laboratory, was it not?"

"A Hungarian friend of my son's," whispered old Mr. Burnham to me, confidentially, as at that moment Dr. Dunne entered the room and engaged the others in conversation: "a count," he added, impressively, "whom he met abroad some years ago. Has been staying with us quite a time. Very pleasant fellow, Balanok. Funny name, isn't it?"

We adjourned to the dining-room, where our little sextet- dinner passed off very pleasantly, as old Burnham's little dinners always do, as his wines are excellent and the cuisine faultless; Mr. Kourban Balanok making himself especially agreeable by apt allusion and piquant illustration, which were sufficiently indicative of a very foreign origin and a civilization far different from ours.

Dinner over, as old Mr. Burnham and his sister both had engagements that evening, one of a financial, the other of a charitable character, Burnham proposed that we adjourn to his studio below, where we could smoke and talk at leisure.

"Suppose, Balanok," said Burnham, after we had arranged our easy-chairs comfortably in a semi-circle round the fire and lighted our Regalias, "suppose you give us some account of your past history, and what the world was like when you lived on it before, how you came to be imbedded in the ice where I found you, and such other matters as you think might interest us. We are all of us here now—all who took part in your resuscitation, and, although you have already told me much in a disconnected manner, I should like to know still more, and I am sure my friends here join me in the desire."

Burnham's strange guest grew grave and relapsed into meditation.

"It is all so strange, so inexplicable," he said, at length, "to find one's self transplanted, as it were, from one civilization to another without notice and in a moment of time; to lose consciousness in a death-struggle with water, and to wake up shortly after, as it seemed to me, upon yonder lounge, surrounded by strange people, wearing strange clothes, and speaking a strange language. I remembered the irresistible onslaught of the waves, I remembered my drowning struggles, and recalled what I thought my death gasps, and had I waked among friends, or even among people whose costume or language was familiar to me, I should not have been surprised. But—what could I think at first? Nothing in my experience or education had prepared me for this!

"My first impressions were that I had been carried by the current to some country of whose existence I knew nothing, and this was the more surprising to me, as I had at that time traversed every portion of the globe. Our facilities for travel in these days were infinitely superior to those you possess now, air-navigation, indeed, was our ordinary mode of locomotion. It was not for many days after when I was able to converse somewhat intelligibly with my friend Burnham here and had gained some slight smattering of your language, that I began to realize the true state of the case. By degrees I comprehended that I had not been revived from a drowning, or semi-drowned, condition only, but that my body had actually been discovered imbedded in a vast field of ice in the region of what is now the North Pole. Still, even this did not surprise me as it might have done, as in the ancient world, as I have now learned to call it, the method of ice-conservation of animal life was not unknown to our scientific men. It was not until lately, however—not till a few weeks ago, indeed—that I began to entertain the stupendous and almost inconceivable idea that I must have lain in a comatose condition for centuries, with the necessary conclusion that these centuries must far antedate and outnumber your eras of recorded time.

"This conclusion, I repeat, I have only arrived at very recently, as it is only within the past few weeks that I have felt myself sufficiently master of your language to permit of my dipping into your profounder scientific works. This has indeed opened up a new and most interesting field to me. It has proved, in the first instance, how utterly ignorant is the human race at the present moment of all that relates to its past history, and how deplorably it is misled by those who profess to be its teachers. I see that while the researches of your geologists and other scientific men have done much to eradicate the popular idea that the world is but six thousand years old, there still lingers, even among these, the idea that the existence of the human race upon this planet does not date very much farther back than the period of recorded history, and that your progenitors were debased and brutal savages, possessing only the rudest conceptions of mechanics or the useful arts, and none whatever of the sublime truths of science. While this is certainly true of your immediate progenitors, it is utterly erroneous as regards the race in the abstract.

"I have been reading with the deepest interest your histories of what you call the ancient world. I find that the records of these histories go back to the Egyptian and Assyrian nations, but that back of these you possess no records at all. Did the colossal pillars of Carnac, the stupendous moles of the Pyramids, the peristyles of Tadmor and Baalbec, the friezes of Persepolis, the winged lions and monstrous halls of Nineveh, spring into existence before some magician's wand, or were they the work of men as we are? And if the work of men as we are, how is it that the men who possessed knowledge of mechanics and arts sufficient to raise such memorable piles, and intelligent enough to devise such a beautiful and regularly written language, as the Assyrian cuneiform characters represent, should have been able to write down nothing of their past, but merely the bare facts of their contemporary history? Does it seem reasonable that the immediate forefathers of these intelligent and energetic peoples were ignorant and debased barbarians? If they were so, whence came this sudden accession to knowledge and power? If they were not so, how and why was the secret of their antecedents lost? How is it that there is a point, in the not very remote past, where history breaks abruptly off, and beyond which even tradition is silent?"

"There is scarcely a people on earth," interpolated Burnham, as his guest paused in his argument, "which does not possess some tradition, more or less vague, of a flood. The Mosaic, or Hebraic, records go still further and furnish a history and even a chronology of the antediluvian epoch. The Chinese and Hindoos, on their part, claim a much more remote antiquity for the origin of their respective races, their alleged records stretching back twenty thousand years or more into the dim past."

"You will comprehend," resumed Mr. Balanok, "when I give you an account of the awful cataclysm, of which I was in part a witness, how there should exist traditions of it such as you mention. You will also comprehend why—if my theory is correct—there should be only traditions and no authentic history of the times precedent to the cataclysm. I have studied the matter over in the light of my own experience, what I see before me, and the books I have read, and have come to a satisfactory conclusion on this point I will now, if you like, give you some brief account of my previous existence upon this world, prior to the last cataclysm, and of the cataclysm itself, begging that you will not fail to interrupt and question me when occasion demands, just as I shall appeal to you upon all points where my knowledge of your history or scientific methods is deficient.

"To begin then, I was born in a prosperous commercial city, Entarima by name, upon the shores of an inland sea—by far the most important sea in the world of that period. It was roughly circular in shape, and corresponded to what is now known, I see by your maps, as the North Polar Sea—a sea as yet unpenetrated by navigators of your day, but which was, at the time I speak of, the great commercial highway of the world. Wait a moment, gentlemen, till I get yonder globes, and I think I can, by demonstration, make myself more intelligible."

So saying, Mr. Balanok went over to a corner of the room where stood two large globes, one geographical the other astronomical, and proceeded to wheel them over to where we were sitting.

"Now," said our instructor, after he had got his globes in position and stationed himself between them, something after the manner of a schoolmaster addressing his class, "I perceive from this globe"—tapping the geographical one with his finger—"that the axis of our planet is nearly coincident with the centre of the sea, on the southern shore of which I was born. You tell me, Mr. Burnham, that my body was discovered in the ice near what you now call the hundred-and-sixty-fifth meridian of west longitude, and in what is now latitude seventy- six north, in other words, at a point about one sixth of the entire distance between the pole and the equator. I hope you will understand, gentlemen," remarked Mr. Balanok parenthetically, "that though I am not yet thoroughly conversant with your modern methods of computing angular distances, we arrived at the same, and even more exact, results by simpler methods, employing a decimal system of notation, which has been transmitted to you now through the Arabians. I have been studying your globes, and I find that my ancient home, Entarima, was situated in a latitude corresponding to twenty-six north. Now let us depress the pole of this globe so as to bring Prince Edward's Island to the meridian in latitude twenty-six north, and in the ninetieth degree of latitude on that same meridian, reckoning from the horizon circle, we shall find that spot upon the earth's surface which was the north pole of my younger day."

Mr. Balanok proceeded to manipulate the globe, and presently announced that the north pole, thus located, would fall upon a point in the Mediterranean between Sicily and Africa.

"I have been studying your geographies, maps, and globes," resumed our friend, "with intense interest for the past few weeks and drawing inferences therefrom, and I have now arrived at conclusions so peculiar and stupendous in their character, connected as they are with phenomena of which I was a personal eye-witness, that they can not fail to utterly derange all your present conceptions regarding the history of the world we live in and of the human race. Neither is anything left to guesswork, for I am able to verify, by comparatively simple astronomical calculations, the dates at which the various events I am about to relate transpired.

"My home was situated, as I have said, in a commercial city of considerable importance upon the southern shore of what is now the North Polar Sea, near what is now the twenty-sixth degree of north latitude, or just outside the tropic zone. You must understand that the human race, in these days, was much more highly and generally civilized than now; our scientific knowledge was far superior to that which you now possess; our ideas of the aims and ends of life were infinitely higher and nobler than yours—that is so far as, in my as yet brief sojourn among you, these have come beneath my notice; we had a history dating back about thirteen thousand years, till it, like your own, was lost in mythology and tradition. We, too, had dim, legendary records of a vast convulsion that overtook the planet and nearly blotted out the human race.

"Our scientific methods, as I say, were similar to yours in kind, though differing widely in degree. Your knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, and mensuration is founded upon the relics that were saved from the last cataclysm, of which I am apparently the only survivor. We, too, had globes, and maps, and instruments, far transcending yours in nicety and efficacy. Our schools and universities did not confine themselves to abstract science and philosophy, as it seems to me yours mainly do, but investigated the inner meaning of all natural phenomena, reducing all the teachings of chemistry, physiology, and mechanics to direct practice in their minutest details. The consequence was that we attained as great a measure of happiness as it seems possible for a race situated as ours is to attain. You still have traditions, in your most ancient classical histories, of a Saturnian, or golden age; these traditions are but the dim remembrance of human life as it was before the last convulsion.

"With such perfect control as we then possessed over all natural forces, the vast, unceasing, and wearing effort to sustain life, which is now the lot of the majority of mankind, was unknown. The force which it has taken you thousands of years to discover, and at the real powers of which you as yet but faintly guess—the force which you term electricity—was the tool, the instrument of our daily life. It was the slave of the lamp and the ring, which one of your story-books tells about, reduced to as complete subjection as that genii and accomplishing results equally marvelous, for so they would now appear to you. As a consequence of the ease with which all results in the field of action—the term labor would be misapplied in the absence of effort—were accomplished, money, in the sense you now understand it, was reduced to a mere medium of exchange. Where there was no necessity for labor, there could, of course, be none for capital, which is only valuable as the purchaser of labor. The precious metals, as you term gold and silver, had not been used as currency for some thousands of years before my time, and had been replaced by verbal contractor-written memoranda of transactions. As gold and silver no longer represented values, the accumulation of these metals or their equivalents became valueless; and as their possession conferred no benefit upon the possessor, the great incentive to all the frauds, villainies, and crimes, which now afflict and debase human life, was absent. Agriculture, industrial pursuits, manufactures of all kinds were carried on in tenfold measure, but to such a pitch of excellence had our machines and mechanical knowledge been brought, that the production of the necessities of life was a pleasure instead of a toil.

"Art flourished in an extraordinary degree, painting and statuary adorned every dwelling. As there could be no poverty where every necessary or luxury could be so easily supplied, so there were no hovels, no wretchedness or squalor. Two thousand years before the time I speak of, the various nations and races had, with the cessation of wars, adopted a common language. The continents now known as Africa and South America, with the now submerged continent of Kandafu, as large as Africa, situated then in the centre of the Pacific Ocean, where now the Polynesian islands are and what is now the region lying about the south pole, called upon your maps the Antarctic Continent, were then the most favored and cultured regions of the globe. The Mediterranean was then the frozen Polar Sea, and Europe and Northern Africa were one sheet of ice. Greenland and Spitzbergen were then in the tropic or subtropic zones, as well as portions of Siberia, as both the vegetable and animal remains discovered there—as I learn from some of your scientific works—conclusively prove. In no other way can we account for the presence of the carcasses of elephants, of the remains of magnolia-trees, vines, bananas, and other tropical vegetation in that inhospitable climate, or for the presence of the reindeer in Central France.

"We possessed the same domestic animals as you do now, and even a greater variety of the wild species, though these latterly had been nearly exterminated, and were driven to such remote fastnesses and jungles as here and there yet remained free from the encroachments of man. Our knowledge of chemistry, physiology, hygiene, together with our perfect control over the mechanical arts, enabled us to prolong human life to a term undreamed of in the present time, but which is vaguely shadowed by the traditions of antediluvian life in your Mosaic Scriptures. Yet even with the possession of this ability, the population of the world, though more than five times as great as it is now, did not exceed its resources, so admirably did our scientific knowledge enable us to husband and conserve them; nor was death regarded with the dread and horror which it seems now universally to inspire. It was looked upon as the performance of a natural function, one neither to be unduly sought after nor averted. Assured as our race then was of the existence of a future state, to which our present life stood but in the relation of a preparatory course, and communing, as it did, with the spirits of the departed in a manner so free and unrestricted, as would astound the most advanced of your modern theosophists, death could not be regarded as aught but a transit from one condition of being to another.

"But it would be impossible for me to give you, in such brief remarks as I must necessarily restrict myself to at present, any adequate idea of the character or scope of the ancient civilization of which I formed a part. From the bare outline, however, which I have given you, you can, in a manner, judge of its inner nature. I shall now go on to tell you what I know of the terrible catastrophe which befell that happy and smiling world and at one fell stroke relegated it to the misery, the degradation, the ignorance, and the barbarism in which I see it now.

"My friend, Mr. Burnham, here—to whom I owe an incalculable debt as having been the means of restoring me to the privileges of life, as otherwise I might have remained for untold eons in a state of coma, neither man nor spirit—Mr. Burnham has told me that when he discovered my body in the ice, he saw, or thought he saw, at a considerable depth beneath, what looked like the streets, squares, and gardens of a city. From the necessarily imperfect description that he could give, I still gleaned enough to convince me that what he saw was really the remnant of my ancient home, Entarima, in which it seems only yesterday that I lived. This city being situated, as I have said, about what you now term the twenty-sixth degree of north latitude, and my supposed dead body having been found about the seventy-sixth degree, it follows that this change of location from a tropical to a frozen zone must have been brought about either by a change in the angular relations of the axis of this planet to the plane of its orbit, or by a change in the relations of the surface of the planet to its axis. The investigation of this matter was one of the earliest to which my curiosity prompted me, and I became at once assured that the latter of these alterations was the factor at work. The inclination of the earth's axis to the plane of its orbit—about twenty-three and a half degrees—is the same now as it was ten thousand, or, to speak more accurately, nine thousand eight hundred and seventy-six years ago, at which time the catastrophe I am going to tell you about happened—"

"Pardon me," interrupted Burnham, "I do not see how you can fix your dates so confidently and with such a degree of accuracy. How can you possibly tell how long you were lying imbedded in the ice? Since between the ancient world you are speaking about and our own there is unquestionably a period of time, regarding which history is silent, how is it possible to estimate the duration of that period at all, far less to estimate it so exactly as to compute the chronology of the past in terms of the present to a year?"

"By the simplest and most unerring of observations, in the taking of which the earth is its own chronometer," returned Mr. Balanok, smiling; "one of the first astronomical features which I remarked, after my resuscitation, was that the pole star of the present was also the pole star of the past, and that consequently the relations of the equator and the ecliptic were still unchanged. I recalled that, at the time of the cataclysm, the vernal equinox, that point at which the equator is intersected by the ecliptic, called by your astronomers the first degree of the sign Aries, but which now falls in the beginning of the constellation Pisces, then fell in the constellation Leo. Finding from your astronomical works that the precession of the equinoxes is still fifty and one-fifth seconds of angular arc annually, as it was then, it was simply an ordinary arithmetical computation to reduce the distance in degrees between the equinoctial point of the present and that of the past to years. I found this distance to be one hundred and thirty-seven degrees forty-two minutes fifty-five seconds, which, at the rate of fifty-two seconds annually, gives the period of years I have stated.

"But to resume my narrative. In the early summer of that most eventful year, a comet suddenly appeared in the southern heavens. Comets were no strangers to us in these days any more than they are now, and our astronomers had accurately computed the periods of such as recurred at regular intervals. The visitant in question, however, was one which had not previously been observed, and measures were at once instituted to calculate the curvature of its orbit, the time of its perihelion, and such other elements as might be of interest to people in general. Public interest did not, however, centre very strongly upon the wanderer, till it was announced in the journals—our method of printing, by the way, did not involve the labor of composition yours does and was much more expeditious—that its nucleus would cut the plane of our orbit at a point extremely close to that which our planet would occupy at the moment. As the days went on, the comet grew in size and became a most magnificent object in the nocturnal heavens. Larger and larger grew its tail, until it filled more than one-quarter of the sky, and before the day set for its nearest approach, its tail only was visible in the sky at midnight, its nucleus being below the southern horizon. This alone sufficed to show the proximity and rapidity of its approach. It was now asserted by astronomers that its present course must bring its nucleus within a very short distance—a few hundred miles at most—of our earth, and though the supposition that it would do any damage was pooh- poohed by the wiseacres, still the common run of people could not help regarding the ominous phenomenon with feelings of alarm.

"The time of nearest approach had been set down for an hour after midnight, and, on the evening in question, when the sun went down, the streets of Entarima were thronged with people gazing at the weird spectacle. The tail of the comet which had, the night before, been seen stretching from the southern horizon to the zenith, had now disappeared, and in place thereof a bright, yellowish radiance filled the sky. The air was most sultry and oppressive, and I was quite prepared for the statement of one of our professors, who passed me on the street, that we were now enveloped in the substance, or nimbus, of the comet's tail. He also remarked that the speed of the comet, when rounding the sun at perihelion, would be equivalent to a million of your miles an hour—he, however, called it two diameters of our earth, or about sixteen thousand miles a minute.

"As the hours wore on toward midnight the air grew more dense and sultry. So deadly was the calm that a leaf or a feather would have fallen to the ground like lead; yet a perceptible tremor seemed to affect every object in nature. An indefinable dread now settled upon the people. None went within their homes, but all, as by mutual consent, remained out of doors upon streets, or terraces, or upon the house-tops. The domestic animals, too, evinced the liveliest symptoms of uneasiness. Fowls neglected to roost, and dogs ran yelping and whining piteously about the streets. After midnight, the nebulous light in the south grew more condensed and brighter. Brighter and still brighter it grew as the minutes passed, the tremor of the earth becoming all the time more and more perceptible. Meanwhile, a moaning sound, like the murmur of a distant storm, was momentarily increasing in distinctness and volume. Suddenly the southern horizon was crowned with a blood-red flush, in shape and outline like an aurora borealis, and a few seconds afterward an angry orb of fire, subtending some thirty degrees of arc, rose majestically toward the zenith, accompanied with a rushing noise as of a mighty but distant whirlwind. I stood rooted to the spot, overawed by the magnificence of the spectacle, and incapable of thought or action. Utterly oblivious of my surroundings, all I could do was to stand still and gaze at the frightful phenomenon. As the seconds passed, the tremor increased in violence till it assumed the character of an earthquake. My eyes now turned instinctively north, in the direction of the sea. Could I believe my senses? Where a minute before there had been fathoms deep of water, there was nothing but a shining, oozy bottom, upon which scores of ships, that had been riding at anchor, now lay stranded upon their sides. The waters had evidently retired swiftly and noiselessly from the shore, but how and whither? Strain my eyes as I would there was nothing in sight but an oozy, slimy plain, hundreds of feet beneath me, stretching away into the dim distance and gleaming in the light of the weird radiance above.

"But as I gazed, the northern horizon became crowned with the same borealis-like flush that had suffused the south not ten seconds before—for all that I am telling took place more speedily than I can tell it—and from it rose an orb which I at once recognized as the sun. In an instant the scene was lit up with the full glare of day, instead of the baleful light shed by what I intuitively comprehended must be the nucleus of the comet in the south. The sun rose swiftly and perpendicularly from the northern horizon, till it reached a point some sixteen degrees high, and then I could detect no further motion. But while I looked, spell-bound and paralyzed by a chain of phenomena which seemed to set all the laws of nature at defiance, I became aware that something was transpiring far out across the waterless sea- bottom which stretched leagues away before me to the north. I strained my eyes across the expanse and saw approaching a wall of water as lofty as a mountain and as regular as a line of battle. It grew before my gaze. I found myself calculating in a breath, from some headlands that I knew, that it could not be less than twenty miles away, nor less than a mile high, nor moving at a speed less than half a mile a second.

"And at that moment, as if moved by a common impulse, the vast throng of life about me found a tongue. It seemed as though the appearance of the approaching wall of water had unlocked the spell that had held them bound since the appearance of the nucleus of the comet, scarce more than a minute before. They now seemed to realize their impending and inevitable doom. Oh! the awful horror of that despairing wail. From tens of thousands of voices it rose with a sonorous force which swelled higher than even the roar of the rushing waters that towered thousands of feet above us and engulfed us the moment after. It sounds in my ears yet. Then I knew no more—till I opened my eyes in yonder corner of this room."

WHEN Mr. Balanok concluded his remarkable narrative, nobody seemed inclined at first to hazard any remarks upon the astounding events he had described. At length Burnham spoke.

"Your story, Mr. Balanok, involves so many phenomena that are without precedent or parallel, and so many apparent contraventions of what we are taught to consider invariable natural laws, that it seems to me difficult or impossible to account for them on any substantial scientific hypothesis. A minute after the nucleus of the comet rose from the southern horizon, the sun, you say, rose in like manner from the northern one. We, of course, know that the sun has no proper motion of its own relative to the earth, and that its apparent motion of rising in the east and setting in the west is due to the diurnal rotation of the globe. The only way, therefore, in which it is conceivable that the sun rose suddenly in the north is to suppose that the earth changed its axis of rotation and moved for a short time from south to north. But you assert that the axis of the earth's rotation has not changed in relation to the plane of its orbit. How then do you reconcile these apparently contradictory conditions?"

"You must remember," replied Mr. Balanok, "that all that I have described was the work of little more than a minute, that I had no time to theorize then, and that, so far as my opportunities to explain satisfactorily the phenomena go, I am on the same footing as you are. I have, however, given the matter some study, and have reconciled the apparently incompatible conditions in a way satisfactory, at any rate, to myself. While we of the ancient world understood the principle of the mariner's compass, it was not of the same benefit to us as it is to you. The earth's magnetic pole is not even coincident with the true pole, but in the ancient days it was situated many degrees—some three thousand miles, in fact—further south. I have, therefore, come to the following conclusions. The nucleus of the comet was probably composed of iron, and as it swept past our planet, from south to north, in close proximity and at such terrific speed, it exerted such an attracting force upon the vast body of iron ore of which the earth's crust is composed at the magnetic pole, as to cause that portion of the crust to follow its northerly course. We will know that the crust of our planet is merely an envelope or shell of extreme tenuity, floating on and encasing a fluid sphere of molten metal. It was an easy matter, therefore, for a comet, possessed of magnetic properties for a certain portion of this shell, to cause the shell to revolve, so long as the attraction lasted, upon the frictionless fluid body within, without disturbing its original direction of rotation. The comet, having a proper motion of its own, rose from the south dragging the envelope of the earth with it, and the waters even more forcibly than the land, causing the sea to seem to retire, as I have described, and the sun to rise in the north, till it was sixteen degrees above the northern horizon, as it is now at midnight in the latitude where I was found. The abrupt stoppage of the northerly rotation of the crust, when the comet ceased to exert its force, caused the waters of the seas and oceans upon the meridian of greatest motion to be carried over the lands in a vast tidal wave of thousands of feet high, as I have described. This motion would naturally diminish to zero as the extremities of the imaginary axis on which the crust revolved was reached, and accordingly the effect of the cataclysm would be less felt at these portions of the globe. It was sufficient, however, as I can now see, to swamp all the level portions of the continents, to destroy all traces of the civilization which then existed, to root up and overwhelm vast forests, to leave marine shells, as I have read, on your Rocky Mountains, and to leave few of the human race but the mountaineers to begin again the battle of life under the most toilsome and disheartening auspices.

"As for myself, the city of Entarima then lay in a sheltered nook backed by hills of considerable height, so that the waters soon became still, and congelation, at that latitude, at once set it And now you know the main circumstances connected with the last cataclysm which overtook the world we live in."


THE END


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