Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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"RONDAH; or, Thirty-three Years in a Star" by Florence Carpenter Dieudonné, is an exceedingly bright, clever and fascinating novel. It is cast in a peculiar mould, and holds the reader as much by its weird singularity as by its ingenious plot and striking incidents. The theme is mainly the strange adventures and experiences of four people, three men and one woman, who, in the midst of a storm, are cast from the Earth to a small star, which is as yet in a volcanic state and but partially cooled, Rondah, the heroine, being left behind. There they remain for over thirty-three years, during twenty of which, the winter season, they sleep, as is the habit of the inhabitants of the star, who are mostly bird people with wings. These bird people are vegetables and grow in enormous pods. The action never pauses and surprise is followed by surprise. Love and jealousy are mingled with mystery, forming a romance of decided interest and much power. The heroine is afterwards brought to the star and takes part in a number of startling episodes, notably the exploration of the wonderful Sun Island. "Rondah" is one of the best of the fanciful novels now so popular.
"Rondah; or, Thirty-three Years in a Star" is one of the brightest, most ingenious and most absorbing of the fanciful and mysterious class of navels recently made so popular by H. Rider Haggard, It is much better than "She" or "King Solomon's Mines," and will give greater satisfaction. The plot is strange and weird and the incidents surprising in the highest degree. The scene is laid chiefly in a little star with subterranean volcanic fires and boiling seas. To this small planet, not yet entirely fitted for human inhabitants, some of the characters are conveyed by extraordinary means from the Earth while a tempest is in progress. Their adventures during the luxuriant summer and the icy twenty years' winter are vividly and strikingly deputed, love, hate, jealousy and enthusiasm entering largely into their very peculiar and interesting experience. The heroine, who for a time remains on Earth, has also a strange career. She eventually reaches the star and plays a prominent part in the disclosure of the mysteries of the Sun Island, a wonderful region of marvels and magnificence. The romance is by Florence Carpenter Dieudonné, and is finely written. It will be widely read and greatly liked.
"MONARCH of Fate is man above all destiny. Man yet shall chain the stars; shall drive the harnessed worlds," said Regan Farmington.
It was winter midnight in the Adirondack Mountains. Regan had brought us to the desolate hut of a hermit; we had not realized that the circumstance might be the result of design; it seemed like an accident.
We had been lost in the snow storm; the horses had failed us; even Father Renaudin, who for twenty years had not missed his smallest appointment for any hindrance, was bewildered and could not say which way to go to save us all from death.
Like a spirit of the storm itself, Regan had led us through drifted ravines and across cloudy plains until we reached safety.
The warm light of the fire fell upon a company which had never before been united under one roof.
There was Father Renaudin, the fanatical, puritanic priest of a small new sect, one which he had gathered in this wilderness. His silver hair, pale, stern face, tall, powerful form and crimson robe were vividly illuminated. Beside him sat the beautiful Isabella, with bronze hair, starry eyes, perfect face; her purple velvet robes were heavy with rich furs; her arms and hands were sparkling with jewels. A very queen of beauty was Isabella.
On the other side of the hearth was Rondah, a dull, frightened child. Her face was tear-stained and her lips were yet quivering from her recent fright. Her brown eyes were too large; her red hair was tumbling loose from its braids. Still I must pity her—shabby, frail, in terror, but all alone among us.
Regan was there. I remember him yet as he looked then. I think I shall remember him so beyond the grave. His dark, patrician face was lighted with iniquitous triumph, which glowed beneath a mask of assumed quiet as fiery coals glow under ashes. His jet black hair clustered in rings about his brow; his wonderful, beautiful eyes scintillated scorn. It seemed to me that the life of his soul was demon-bred, but chained to certain customs of humanity, because weighted with the accident of a human body.
Regan's name was the town's disgrace; though so young he had no friends, accepted no truths, discarded all faiths. He talked of a Destiny, which, he claimed, blundered in ruling the universe—a creature blind and non-reasoning, of immensity itself a part; a monstrous something driven like the sun, but by some causeless motor, forever.
The storm raged on unabated. As I looked at Regan, some subtle influence seemed to stand beside me. Plain as a human friend's, I heard its whisper:
"Duped, duped again, Roy Lee! Do you recall that this is the thirteenth of November?"
The thought chilled me—the thirteenth!
I hated Regan. He had just saved my life, but still I hated him!
Why did he listen, listen? One need not listen to hear the storm!
"Did the old hermit die here alone?" asked Isabella.
The silent form lay in another room.
"I was here. I came at the last, almost too late," answered Regan.
As in a dream I saw that death-bed—the monomaniac lying in darkness, watched by the angel Fear, menaced by the monarch Death, waiting, waiting for such a friend of all the earth!
"When he had forgotten all else but his dream and my name, he gave me this. It is the secret of his life. Perhaps you would like to know it."
And Regan unrolled a large scroll. It was yellow with age, mapped and covered with long lines and singular hieroglyphics.
"What does it mean?" asked Rondah.
We spread the chart upon the table to view it better.
"It contains the discovery which is the result of the observation of three generations. A circle of meteoric worlds and fragments is whirling on an elongated orbit about our sun.
"Once in thirty-three and a third years it strikes the path of the Earth. Small planets mingled with masses of chaos are brought almost to the tops of our mountains.
"Years ago the hermit devised a spiral car, which, by means of subterranean cavities, walled with cement and filled with certain explosives of his own combination, should be shot into the coming meteor. All the machinery of the contrivance is hidden and connected with a secret clock. At the precise second when the worlds strike right the clock will explode the torpedoes and the car will be launched into space!
"Twice has Gregg Dempster seen the small star, or world, come close. But he mistook his measurements, as he did not calculate for the swerving of the ball from its true orbit as it passed the giant planets out in space.
"This time he would have been successful, but he shared the great hope, which had become the nerve of his life, with another man and from the lessened tension died."
"Right," said Father Renaudin. "If Gregg Dempster had kept his secret, he had seen his star once more. But only then to die of disappointment. For man to migrate from star to star is an impossibility!"
Then Regan replied:
"Monarch of Fate is man, above all destiny. Man yet shall chain the stars; shall drive the harnessed worlds!"
"It is simply impossible!" repeated the priest. From the darkness where lay the dead man came a voice:
"And I will give him the morning star!"
Then all was voiceless save the storm.
"The dead speak!" cried the pale Rondah clasping her hands.
Isabella had been brave in all the danger.
Now she rose and, with the girl as her companion, stood close to the door.
That mockery of mystery, a voice from the dead, was more terrible than anything which we were accustomed to account for by natural laws.
The rocks on which the hut stood seemed to shake and to reverberate.
"The people say the hermit spent his life in tunnelling the rocks and in watching the stars," said Father Renaudin. "It seems as if the tunnels, if such there be, had made musical pipes of themselves to-night."
Suddenly Regan crossed the room to where the two girls stood. Something was in his face which was terrible.
I hastily drew Isabella away from him. The other one, Rondah, looking at him, fell back from the door and cried:
"This is the day! Let us go, Regan, let us go!"
Before I could comprehend, I saw Father Renaudin move toward Regan, who, like a flash, opened the door and cast into the terrible, lurid night the girl Rondah, after which he bolted the door and steadied himself as if for a death-struggle with Father Renaudin.
Then I heard the jar of the steps of two powerful combatants, but everything was dark. There were no words until Regan cried:
"Too late! You must all go!"
A window crashed open above us. It gave us a view of a world, black with storm, ringed in by a halo of electric fire, dashing down at us—falling, falling!
The struggle ceased. We held our weak human hands above our heads to ward off the stroke of a world!
There was a smothering jar!
THIS was death! There really was a river for souls to cross! I felt its cold! I heard its roar! Its chill waves lapped on an invisible shore! This was the darkness of the grave! Earth had not such! Where was the phantom boatman? He should be—
Where was Isabella? Where were they all? The dead could remember all they loved on Earth!
"But then," I thought, "could the dead soul think in such an earthly fashion? Could dead hands reach out in damp, hot darkness and touch rough, jagged rocks? It seemed that spirits followed human modes!"
Then I touched a cold, still, human face, some one who moved and hoarsely whispered: "Rondah!"
"Regan, awake. We are not dead!"
I shrieked the words into a gloom so incomprehensible that I had believed it was the grave.
Regan answered in a riddle, but I thought he had not collected his senses:
"It is done! Triumph! Fate has been merciful!" He added instantly: "Don't move! There are chasms and waters! Don't you hear the sea surging?"
He did not think he was dead! He did not dream of a river! The meaning of his words startled me.
"Where is Isabella?" he asked.
"Pray God she may be dead!" I answered, as I realized what had probably happened.
"She is here, alive but senseless."
The voice was Father Renaudin's.
We found her. After a time she revived.
"Regan! Regan!" (Always his name first by everyone!) she called, in a subdued voice.
"Hush! The star is chained!" answered Regan.
Then they were both silent, both as strange to each other as if those words had had no deep meaning. But could I ever forget? —some secret they kept, something so great that a change of spheres did not affect it!
And I loved her! I, Roy Lee!
"Father Renaudin, if the cloud masses of two worlds are propitious, you can see the Holy Land soon, but you will never tread its paths! Roy Lee, look in that great moon, our lost home Earth!—and you can locate London, where your fortunes are still, let us hope, in the ascendant! Take a farewell look, friends, for you will soon be as far from all that revolving globe contains as Heaven is removed from Earth!"
"When day comes we shall see where we are!" I answered, but I had no hope.
"'Tis very strange! This heavy air is not on mountain top! Where is the snow? This is a vast body of water, which roars so loudly and falls so heavily! I can feel these rocks, some worn smooth, some perforated, by water!" said Father Renaudin.
Can you imagine how we waited for that dawn? We scarce admitted when we knew that the darkness was paling! What were we to see? A foreign world? We consoled ourselves with the thought that in all the ages such a thing was unchronicled, and we mentally decided that it was not for a contemptible villain like Regan Farmington to solve the mystery of a universe! No; we concluded in our consideration that there would be found some natural explanation.
Father Renaudin thought some tornado might have fallen. Time might have elapsed, which allowed rains to melt the snow. Still, even then—
Came ever dawn so suddenly!
We looked on peaked and lofty lava rocks, upon a clay-colored sea sweeping to a near horizon. Tall steepled, non-verdured isles broke the surface of the sea. The air was heavy, as if we were in a covered pit. Clouds sunk so low that we could almost touch them, dark brown and green-blue clouds, inexpressibly gloomy.
In silence we looked away from each other's faces; each waited for some one else to say the words:
"It is a star!"
With one bound the sun rose up. Across the shimmering clouds flamed a bewildering gorgeousness surpassing description. The colors of a thousand sunsets were moving in unparalleled radiance above our heads, covering the entire field of heaven. Far, far were we from being pleased to look upon this glory! Oh! dawn of doom! Never was such a daybreak upon our own green world!
The sun rose above the banks of clouds. It sent shafts through the breaks and silvered pinnacles of rock. It marked white circles on the troubled waters. Then the day became gloomy and a storm of rain fell.
Isabella first acknowledged our situation:
"It is certainly a star! Gregg Dempster was right!
"Poor child, I am sorry that you are here!"
It was Regan who said this, and his words were so softly spoken, so musical and gentle, that I wondered (and raged) when I heard them.
"My life's years and toils are wasted, my creeds useless, my people lost, my mission vain! What shall I preach to stones and uncooled stars? What little good I shall do where there are only four souls in a world!"
The words were a wail of utter despair, a cry from a broken heart. It was Father Renaudin who uttered them.
"Regan, it was fiendish to doom others to share this fate with you! Why have you selected the most pious and the most beautiful for this misery? This man's life was a holy ambition. A dull or ordinary man would have borne the change better. Isabella had all earth's pleasures and triumphs before her; there were others who would have lost but little."
"It takes a particularly selected company to insure a great success!" answered Regan. "I have selected my people with the most special care! I could not afford to pity! If I had allowed so maudlin a sentiment to enter my soul, it would have been for Isabella!"
He laughed triumphantly. It was a most exasperating sound for a dupe to hear—the knell of my hopes, for I had much to lose. My father's house was an honorable one, our wealth was phenomenal in the age, our ships were on all seas, our name known in the world's marts. I had all, on Earth. Here I was a useless, helpless dupe—I, Roy Lee!
"It is all too terrible to be true!" said I.
"You who claim such faith in an infinite Jehovah are easily depressed!" sneered Regan. "Possibly your Deity has forgotten you! I prefer to trust to blind, blundering Destiny, that soul of universes! She has neither lost nor forsaken this atom of the creation, this little star islanded in space!"
Father Renaudin rose and went slowly away into the gloomy ravines. He moved as if half a century had been added to his years, leaning heavily upon his staff. His face was drawn and dreadful to look upon.
"Follow him!" said Isabella, hurriedly. "He will destroy himself!"
"Oh! no," coolly replied Regan. "He is a fanatic. He believes that something almighty has great need of his human services. His narrow-fenced faith will hold him fast. His heart may break, but his soul will stand firm through every trial. These earthly superstitions are very comfortable possessions."
"I am very, very sorry for him!" whispered Isabella, turning to me; but she listened to Regan as if he had authority. I wondered why! What possible regard could that wealthy, beautiful girl of high caste have for that vagabond Regan?
Then I remembered that caste was gone. We were transferred to the Age of Stone. We could select a cave, build a hearth of rocks, fry a fish and sleep. Wake, fry more fish; after years enough had passed we could die! Horrible! I rose and walked about to wake myself. It might be all a dream. It must be all a dream!
In the sunlight above the clouds I saw Father Renaudin standing upon the summit of a peak. His white hair was blown on the wind; it looked like silver.
Isabella had not spoken one word of regret. There was no sorrow in her eyes, no apprehension in her manner. She was as composed as if the inevitable had occurred.
Father Renaudin and I blamed Regan, and we had expressed our blame in strong words. She said nothing. I went to her side and said to her:
"How can you be so quiet? Do you realize your fate, your loneliness?"
"It is worth loneliness to be the only woman in a world!" she replied.
The cold, hopeless acceptance of her tone shocked me immeasurably. Another thought! True, a world was in our possession!
The sun had passed the noon mark when Father Renaudin came down the hills. A wonderful peace was on his face; a strange delight was in his eyes.
"Earth has not all she needs. We can learn faster here!" he replied to our wondering comments.
"He thinks he has seen another vision, I believe!" whispered Isabella.
"No; he thinks nothing! Father Renaudin is of the mould of that humanity which does see visions if ever they are seen!" said Regan.
Just then we saw the great world rise up—a fiery globe, where dimly emerald and palely blue were lands and seas. The continents turned before our eyes. The light of this giant moon made it still day for us, though our sun had set.
Oh! grand, great world! I cast myself upon the rocks in agony that it was lost, lost! Something was whispering in my ear:
"Duped, duped, duped again, Roy Lee!"
"My son," and Father Renaudin laid his hand gently upon my shoulder, "do not let sorrow overcome you. It is nothing. Only a human life lost. A sort of death has come. It is a kind death—removal from temptation, from necessity to sin; a respite for glorious work; the chance for a higher place in eternity."
"A world unfinished; seas simmering over primeval fires. A baby world, devoid of great opportunity. It is as Regan says. God, if God there be, has forgotten us!"
"Not so, not so! Being here, God's work for us is here. Shall we not do it? Rise up! Shake off your grief, apply your wonderful ability, your great practical knowledge, to the improvement of the sphere!"
His voice was as a song of triumph, a chant of victory!
As I rose to my feet, Regan sprung lightly past me. He took his stand upon a huge square rock; from his cloak he drew a large silken banner wrought with a showy design in red and gold. He shook its folds to the wind.
"I claim this world, with all its contents, by right of discovery! It is my just possession! Its sovereign am I! Its seas are my ways, its lands my domains, its people my subjects!"
Turning to Father Renaudin, Regan held toward him a shining band of silver, set with gems.
"Here, Father Renaudin, put this on my brow! You are the highest religious dignitary of the world in which I am!"
"Not so!" cried I. "No man's subject am I! The people rule! Father Renaudin, you will not found a monarchy where no such absurd abomination has ever existed!"
"Have not the worlds themselves one sun supreme for ruler? Find in the universe one whirling, stupendous monarchy! Where is the denunciation in Holy Writ against a good king? God himself upholds thrones!"
"This man is a scoundrel, a fiendish monster! See how he toys with lives and souls."
"Think, with his superhuman strength and intelligence, how brilliant shall he stand; as an archangel at that last day, when, his work done he shall bring in his nations and their glory!"
Father Renaudin passed me by, and, in another moment, stood beside Regan. He placed the crown upon his brow. His flag fell like a radiant robe about him. His triumphant eyes were magnificent.
Close beside the rock where he stood was Isabella, gazing steadfastly. Her look was most devotional. My heart beat slower when I beheld her. Everything seemed falling. I realized with all the rest, "Duped, duped!" Regan a king—I standing mute, a subject, listening to the first prayer upon the star for blessings on his head—this man whose friendship I had despised, this vagabond whom I had at times patronized!
Dizzily I looked at him. I saw about him, over his lava throne, around his regal cloak, hovering a yellow, mysterious light, a visible, tremulous, bewildering baptism of his awful destiny, surrounding him as does the zodiac the sun!
I knew I could not stop his rise! I knew there was a greater power than that of man which cut his pathway!
My path was dark. Isabella looked away. I could not see her eyes.
I fell senseless to the ground.
WHEN next I realized events, the life of the Stone Age had begun. We dwelt in a cave; a fire of drift wood was burning; a bird was frying. My head was pillowed on coarse grass, and one of Isabella's purple wraps covered me. It was night, and rain was falling.
They had hoped for my return to health for many days. They told me that they had learned much concerning the little star. It was about three hundred miles in circumference. The lofty peaks were disproportioned to the size, according to all our standards of measurement; they served as observatories for overlooking the surface of one half the sphere. The ball seemed belted by a continuous continent, with deeply indented shores; this made a very long coast line.
"There are fine harbors and very good locations for great towns," said Isabella to me.
Towns! One person in a town! My brain was still dull from my illness. As a worrying remembrance, I thought of ships, people, tumult of business. Then I looked away at the great star which was our Earth. Home was there. All was there. This was a wilderness of uncooled lava!
"He must be told of our discovery," cheeringly remarked Father Renaudin.
Thereupon he brought and arranged upon a large flat stone a little circle of smoke-blackened stones, surrounding some charred sticks, and a couple of bones.
I looked at this collection and then wonderingly at their triumphant faces, astonished at their waiting, expectant manner. What did they mean me to see in that little circle?
"Father Renaudin found it on the top of the mountain," explained Isabella, joyfully.
"I appoint you to commence, continue and control manufactures and all the commerce of the star," said Regan.
Still I did not see. I had been very ill. I had not, as yet, become accustomed to the chances of the planet.
"Roy," said Isabella, "some man built this circle! Don't you know that neither beasts nor birds could build a hearth and light a fire?"
That was it! In the childish toy before me was the promise of a world! There was commerce, manufactures, wealth, hope, life—the old life! What did I care that Regan was monarch! The wealth would be the real power! That would be mine again, all mine! I should rule the sea, I, Roy Lee!
I had been weak, but I was strong now; my lethargy was gone. There was work to be done at once.
As the course of the star was toward the sun, the heat was becoming intense, and we removed from our station in the black ravine to the edge of the forest, where it was more pleasant, and near the sea, where it was cooler.
We traveled, in moving, over the roughest way, crossing mountains and going around deep arms of the sea. The air was much more dense than that which we had been accustomed to breathe. It seemed as if we were inhaling warm water. As we ascended into the heights we found it more comfortable, except when we struck one of the chilly clouds.
The small ball with its little gravitation caused us to be so light that we were not fatigued, and as the days were only six hours long we had but a short time to labor.
Having found a site which was remarkably pleasant, we built ourselves four stone houses, and proceeded to adorn the grounds.
We called the broad, rapid river which flowed past to the sea the Styx, because its waters were so dark and because the forest on the further side was so mysterious.
The tall trees about us were of corn-stalk consistency. They grew from a deep morass. The broad leaves formed so close a surface that they penned the heated air beneath them, and at noon-time we could see the atmosphere turn to a greenish hue, and vibrate as if over a heated stove.
Sometimes the roots became too heavy and, falling somewhere, pulled the tops to the ground. Sometimes the tops became too heavy and the tree toppled on one side, lodged, and, after awhile, fell with some of its fellows into a pile of green reeds and vines. These heaps of trunks and webs of vines made it possible for us to cross the river; from isle to isle there were vine bridges formed, and thus we were enabled to investigate the forest, where we were glad to find an abundance of fruit and berries.
Into this bewildering maze, a dreamland of bottomless swamps and foundationless jungle Regan and I went often. Always in the morning, as at noon its heat became unendurable. We found many birds, which we killed with no difficulty, several different fruits, and a few harmless serpents. There was a lack of animal life in the seething woodlands of the Star.
We gathered a bark, softer and lighter than that of the birch, and this we used for paper, upon which we chronicled every important event, fact and discovery of our Earth, as fast as we could remember them. We were making wooden type and printing- presses, but meantime wrote everything so as not to forget; forget and grow like the uncivilized nations of Earth before we could find those people who had built the fire.
We were late this day. The burdens of bark were heavy and hindered our progress through the vines and over the fallen trunks.
The hours, always too few, had gone before we knew it, and we were hastening to get into the cooler air, in momentary expectation of falling from the heat.
"Where does this intense heat come from?" asked Regan. "Is it all from the sun?"
"The Star itself is not cooled," replied I. "I imagine, if the heat were from the sun wholly, the seas would boil over their entire surface rather than in spots.
"'Tis a Planet in construction, not nearly finished," said Regan. "Now what possible reason can there be for such a thing as that?"
He pointed to a great black surface of lava, which rose in a mud lake or very deep slough. Around were trees veiled in vines, a reed-grown width of swamp and a waste of reddish mud.
I noticed that the great reeds were matted like crushed cornstalks in many places; they were also mud-spattered and generally draggled and disturbed.
It was necessary for us to spring from one of the matted foot- holds to the ball of lava and from there reach the overhanging vines on the other side; unless we did this we must make a long, uncertain tour around the steaming slough into the vibrating heat of the forest.
"Shall we cross, or go around?" I asked.
"Let us cross, leaving our burdens of bark in this tree; we will return for them to-morrow," said Regan.
We swung them onto the low bough and sprang upon the block, wondering again that it should be there, in the bottomless morass.
It began to move! It shook, commenced to sink! From the mud rose a pillar of black flesh, surmounted by a hideous, yellow- eyed, serpent-tongued head.
With a powerful stroke the shape reached after us, and, striking Regan, cast him like a ball into the vines of the bank.
Meantime, with the sinking bulk, I was slipping, sliding into the muddy depths, clutching at the shell and shrieking at the trees. I fell under the shade of a huge paw, with fingers like those on the human hand, but at least four feet in length. As I sank into the iron-like mire, that hand fell, splashing and clawing, after me in a surge of mud. I rolled between two fingers, over the paw again uplifted, and into a mass of crushed reeds.
Dashing the mud from my face, I saw Regan spring upon the huge back, now heaving and moving like a small mountain; dodging the head, he sprang into the morass beside me; missing the reeds, he sunk into the mud to his shoulders, but, clutching some vines and reeds as he fell, he drew himself partly up, and reaching a log stood upon it.
He stretched out his hand to me and I clambered to where he stood; together we climbed up the bank, not pausing for even a moment's rest. The sun burned down; the morass was steaming in white vapor, but the monster began to loosen its bulk from the slough bed and, partially turned, came toward us, swaying its hideous head, its tongue darting not far from us. It clawed the banks, but they fell under its feet, and it splashed into the slough. Recovering its lost ground, it clumsily climbed on. Trees crushed down like the grass as it moved. I could not breathe in the heat; even with that creature coming I did not think I could flee.
"Leave me, leave me! Escape! I cannot move!" I gasped to Regan.
"Man, have you nothing to live for?" cried Regan, with a look of rage in his face which even then I noticed. "It is a terrible death! Rouse up! There is the river! Run, Roy, run!"
I saw the blue water. I thought I might as well try. We ran a few steps and came where a bridge of vines, falling to the surface of the river, gave us the salvation of a little island.
We swung across and sank down in some shade to dash water on our hot faces and hands.
Then we glanced back. There came the awful shape, blindly and madly following us. We could see it plainly—a head like that of a hippopotamus on a huge trunk which looked like a tree bole, a great flattened body like a turtle's, a black shell which we had thought lava, long paws ending, as I had before observed, in human-shaped hands. Devoid of instinct, although in bulk as large as twenty full-grown elephants and in strength proportioned, it did not stop when it clawed vines instead of earth, but pushed itself over the river's edge of lava rocks and fell headlong, helpless, into the water.
"If it can swim, we are lost!" I said.
"Yes, or if the water is shallow it will crawl out!" said Regan.
"Swing back on the vines; a few farther up are left!" shouted I.
"It is gone!" said Regan. "Look! There was a mighty surge of the waves, a few tremendous tossings; then the water settled silently, and whatever became of the monster in the depths below we saw it no more.
"Like lead or like a leaf, all is the same in those swallowing waters!" said we, as we wearily sought a path home.
Then I could but think how brave he was, that Regan, to return from comparative safety upon the very block of his danger to drag from death one who claimed not even to be his friend!
I could not understand why so persistently Regan always befriended me to the utmost of his power when our natural hate was unconcealed from each other! I was forced to admire his courage. I could not comprehend why he should take so much unnecessary and thankless trouble, for I almost wished that I had died rather than that he had saved me.
Having learned the signs of the lairs of these beasts, we avoided them in our future visits. They were somnolent creatures and never woke but under provocation. With greater precautions we continued our investigations in the forests, for we must know the resources and productions of our world.
There was a long, long winter before us, far off, but inevitable.
We made collections of large plantain-shaped leaves, which we used for building triple platforms to serve for shades above the roofs of our houses.
SHORTLY the vines and flowers veiled our walls and hid us in temples of green, crimson and white-hued blossoms. A paradise was about us.
We turned water from the mountain springs and made silvery lakes and rippling streams through the shaded fragrance. We almost forgot that Gregg Dempster had predicted a twenty years winter!
There were trees with silver fringes, others with crimson leaves, and masses of shrubs whose leaves were the purple velvet of the pansy. The landscape became like a beautiful dream; its coloring was of a kind which paled the hues of Earth to insipidity.
Nature seemed to move by contraries; everything was a bewilderment. We were afraid the very trees would encroach upon us and wind us in their ever-extending arras.
The waters of the heavy, frothy sea scintillated with the brilliant hues of the rainbow, but not a leaf or a twig would float upon them; everything sank, even the feathers with which we experimented.
The low-hanging clouds had fantastic shapes and were constantly casting wonderful prismatic effects upon sea and rock. The shafts of light which broke through them made the star kaleidoscopic; but during storms we seemed to be in the volume of the bursting thunder-clouds.
Verdure began to bloom on those distant isles out at sea. I had given up hope of reaching them, but Regan ever looked restlessly away at those singular islands, those lonely peaks and mounds in that steaming, unbounded water. Through noon's heat, through starlit nights, he watched and considered how to reach them.
"To be king of the isles and unable to get to the isles!" he exclaimed to Isabella.
"Try a balloon!" suggested Father Renaudin.
"I have thought of that," said Regan. "We have no cloth, or the possibility of manufacturing any. Then the laws of atmospheric pressure, the lack of gravitation, the too hot air above volcanoes, or some other reason on this little ball, may cause the work of months to be a failure. I cannot afford to fail!"
"Not there, certainly; failure means death in the sea!" said I.
"I suppose so," reluctantly assented Regan.
"If by any means we could attach a rope to that central peak of rock!" said Isabella. She was always so intensely interested in anything that Regan wished to do!
In a few minutes Regan sprang to his feet.
"Isabella, I have thought how I can get there!" he said.
"How?" we asked in a breath.
"With ropes and kites!" he replied
Then for weeks we busied ourselves in making heavy vine cables and strong, light cords. We made, also, with the utmost pains to have them exactly alike, two huge bark kites.
How like child's play it seemed, I thought, as with diligence, day after day, we devoted our whole time to this petty work.
But why not play? What better were we than children in this land where we looked vainly for any sign of the existence of those people who had lighted the fire on the circle of stones?
I wondered if Regan had not kindled that fire to make us believe that he was king of something!
No; I could not think so. I would have been glad to doubt him, but I could not. One who lived daily where he was must believe in him whether he would or not.
All was prepared. The heavy cables wound the huge basket, strung to slide on them. The light cords were attached to the kites, the heavy ones to fly them were ready. When a strong wind blew directly toward the isle we started them. The idea was to sail them above and beyond the peak. Thus they would carry the unbroken cord around the lava column; by cutting the kite strings the kites would fall, dropping the cord where we could draw it so as to bring, instead of its lightness, the great vine cables about the peak, and then we could cross with the basket. Having once drawn ourselves to the isle we could make a permanent basket ferry.
If the cables broke, even if the little cord tangled, our work must be done over again.
"As if to please the king," Isabella said, the night breeze, strong and straight, blew to the isle.
I looked at that vine-veiled bunch of chaotic, volcanic collection; almost it seemed like some primeval mammoth of the lost ages. How mysterious a common thing becomes when we are hindered from reaching it! But for that fathomless, seething sea we had never desired to go to that particular point.
Something like horror was in my heart as we stood gazing at the flights of the kites. Father Renaudin and Isabella were to remain on shore. There were so few of us if anything should happen.
The kites flew in a gray evening twilight. A black storm slept on the near horizon; around us all things were darkening. How beautiful they were—the kites! Then I stopped my thoughts angrily. Had I, for lack of greater things to watch, reached a stage where I was interested in the flight of a kite, I who had managed great white-sailed fleets of Earth, I who had selected their silken wares, sold their immense cargoes, I, Roy Lee?
I could not shake it off—the feeling that it was of the vastest importance that the kites sail right.
They did sail right. "As if an angel guided them," Father Renaudin said. I hoped Isabella would not say anything about their sailing to please the king, and she did not; she only breathlessly watched them.
It was a perfect success. Regan's work again.
At the close of the following day the basket swung on the cables stretching from shore to the island.
Early the next morning we crossed to the island, which looked strange and more dangerous as we neared. We stood upon the shore and from the basket took the shovels, cords, hatchets and spears which we always carried now. There was a roll of blankets of straw cloth, which we had also brought to serve as shelter from heat.
We took each a couple, slung on our shoulders; took long, strong staves in our hands and climbed up the gashed sides of the cliffs.
Wondering more and more at every step at this strange rock, at the singular terror which we could but control with strong determination, we both felt like rushing even into the waters of the sea.
From the high cliffs we gazed into a round, deep cavity, half- dark even at noon with a haze of settling smoke.
"It looks like the throat of a beast," said Regan, as we hesitated on the brink.
Looking closely, we saw a volcanic crater such as was common all over the continent. It was only faintly alive. The smoke was reddish above the crater's mouth. Listening, like a giant's breath we could hear the roar of the surging flames far below.
"What can be those two huge yellow spots in that vale?" I asked.
"They look like two great plates of gold," answered Regan.
"Like little mirrors laid on the rock," said I.
"Shall we go down?
"Certainly, I came for that," responded Regan.
We began the descent. Once I paused. There was the tremor of a slight earthquake. The volcano's breath was heavier. Under the clouds of smoke we were shaded. Cautiously we stepped from stone to stone, so much terrified that neither of us spoke.
"What are these plates?" at last said I.
They were about twelve feet in diameter, of a round, yellow and wrinkled substance, but whether vegetable, mineral or animal we could not determine.
Without a word of his intention, Regan raised his hammer of stone and struck a powerful blow upon the yellow surface by which we were standing.
The earth shuddered, the cliffs burst and cracked; the island itself leaped from the sea, and about our heads tumbled stone and pillars of rock, dust of lava, deluges of vines. An awful call of rage, a voice from the rocks, the menacing roar from the living soil sounded like the trump of doom about us. Everywhere, from all the walls of stone at once, not like thunder and not like sea—more like the bellow of the most mighty convulsion of earthquake which humanity ever knew.
Trees fell; vines entangled us. We would have fled, but there was no place to flee. The land was raging. That voice—that maddening horrible voice!
"It's an eye!"
Like a demon orb, great, horrifying, fusing, flashing, that eye looked at us. Those wrinkled yellow covers were the lids.
The breath was a snort of vengeance now. It was a living island! Those eyes—those awful eyes!
I shrank from their glare. I fell into the crater's mouth. An instant I swung above a fiery depth. Regan caught my hand with mighty strength. I saw his face, defiant even then, looking up at those toppling peaks and quivering gashed sides.
"He has only to let go. I shall be out of his way forever then!"
Even in the supreme suspense of the moment I thought I could not die and leave Isabella more happy without me.
He was going to save me. I knew he would.
But the rocks moved from him and together we rolled into the fiery crater, among sulphur and hot stones. We clung to the sides, the voice bewildering us with its roar, the breath shaking the whole surface of the volcano and of the rock. The smoke rose into a pillar above the crater. The yellow glare of the fire showed us where we were, showed us the danger on all sides.
So strange an enemy stilled our hearts and palsied our faculties. We did nothing. Entombed in a volcano, hopelessly we sank upon the sand and waited, waited for death, until the daylight had gone. It was night.
By this time the voice was still; the angry island had ceased to groan. The yellow liquid fire seethed in the cauldron; the smothering flames and smoke were often puffed into our faces.
What would it do? A mad isle had its human hate! Was all the Star alive? Had the ball a huge heart to beat in the fiery centre? Had rocks a brain and nerve to think?
"Did you believe it possible for rock and flame to look and think?" said I.
I spoke to hear my own voice. The silence of voices was as bad as the danger.
"We are not surprised to see that a sponge is vegetable in fibre with animal life," replied Regan. "Roy, this is yellow gold; see here!"
Regan shook some cooled drops of the liquid of the volcano into my hand.
"Leave it on the ashes. Gold or dross it is all the same here. Let us cast ourselves down into this pit and end it all!" said I.
I could die well enough if Regan would die too!
Our blankets had fallen with us. Regan spread one above the flame. The hot air began to fill it. There was a hope. At once we were more cheerful. We broidered the ends of the blankets together, tied them into a balloon shape, expanding the mouths with our broken staves, leaving loops for our hands.
We held the bag inverted above the crater. It slowly inflated. It began to pull.
"That weak thing to swing above that lava! Never!" I exclaimed, and thoughtlessly, tortured by the heat, I let go the staves.
In a second's time Regan was swung into the air: the smoke hid him; he did not return.
Then I gave way to my bitter despair and wept as I cast myself on the stones. Forever he was gone! I was alone—entombed by the rage of an island, deserted by the hate of a man.
How long it was I do not know. Day whitened the crater smoke. I heard a voice call: "Roy! Roy!" It sounded in the rocks at my side:
"Here, at the right!"
A torch flared. There he was, with water and food; he had found another opening into the crater. After I had drunk the water and eaten the food we returned into the sunlight to life once more.
Looking about us at the strange rocks, we wondered at our unseeing blindness when we had walked on that half-animal surface of wrinkled, unnatural stone and had not thought it a mighty leviathan of unknown existence.
Still the cables were unbroken. We returned over the homeward way, a little apprehensive that the isle could remember as well as groan.
Once more we stood beside the waiting two, Father Renaudin and Isabella. They had seen. The island had half-reared from the sea. Its contour was changed; its rocks were broken. They had seen its peaks topple, had noted its awful voice.
For a time we feared the very soil on which we walked, but we discovered no signs of life in the continental cliffs.
After this we made no more investigations for some time, while the line of white at the far north became less and less. The mass of black and fire-streaked cloud at the south grew larger and redder.
The sun began to burn the whole day, instead of at noon only. When it rose it seemed as if a great furnace door opened on us. We stayed in the shelter of our vines and beside our lake of water.
One night we were sitting before our houses, watching the shimmer of the river where the firelight fell upon it. We heard the sound of wings; looking up at the moonless sky we saw floating black forms—huge birds, we thought. We saw their wings reflecting the light as they moved, saw their eyes shining like glass, saw faces looking wistfully down upon us!
What were those things, circling nearer, lower, slower?
"It is the people at last! Thank God!" cried Father Renaudin.
"It is the people!" hissed Regan. "Monsters with wings!" Then I heard him whisper: "But if there were a God he would do this! He would not people every world the same!"
I was glad that his subjects had wings, great, strong wings! Magnificent attributes! They came down and stood beside us, their wings hanging like folded cloaks, mottled and splotched with red, orange and silver. They looked like ambassadors in 'broidered mantles.
"If we could speak to them!" said Regan.
"We can understand all that you say!" they answered.
It was useless to try to find out where and of whom they had learned our language. They only could tell us that they had been taught from the Sun Island, a far-off land of the sea. Sometimes, they said, the tide was low and we could walk on dry rocks to the isle. Sometimes there was a "wall in the air." Then no one could get there.
Who is there? What is there? There was no answer. We could think of no way of accounting for this; we determined to visit the place at once, but other cares prevented us.
Another strange thing occurred.
WHEN daylight came our friends were still in existence and gathered about our houses. I had feared that they would vanish as a dream of night.
They led us to a vale, hidden between perpendicular walls of rock. Miles and miles the cleft extended, and the surface of the lowland was filled with a strange-looking growth. Tall pods, smooth and satiny, in color pale green, stood like soldiers in an army. The pods were as much as ten feet in height and shaped like the husks of an ear of corn.
Walking among these pods we heard confused murmurs and calls, as if the green things themselves had voices.
Then we came upon one of the pods burst open; from the husk crawled forth a winged man, blind and helpless, his huge wings useless and cumbersome.
I saw the truth. These people were a living vegetable—a product of the soil.
After we had somewhat recovered from our consternation, we began to consult. It was blossoming time; we must harvest our people.
Thousands of subjects for Regan; thousands of artisans for me! Sailors for air-ships, toilers at looms! A host of people for Father Renaudin to preach to and to teach. A crowd to fill a vast cathedral. A populace!
We remained among them for some weeks, until they were strong enough to fly away over wood and mountain isle. We taught them our language, engrafted our ideas upon them and instilled our desires into the minds and hearts of this new multitude.
We were earnest, politic workers; for once every one of us joined in the one great purpose —to civilize the people that we need not live in a world alone!
Our success was unlimited. There seemed to be no barriers to their understanding; they comprehended, became interested; in a few weeks they helped us plan. We had a great army of docile, winged servants.
There appeared to exist no envy, hate or anger among them. They were ambitious, but they were not treacherous. Their faith in us, in all we hoped and in all we did, was perfect.
Regan was delighted. He planned the most stupendous works.
We took possession of four great plains bordering on the sea, and each, with those who chose to assist, began improvements.
"I will build a cathedral which shall surpass St. Peter's!" said Father Renaudin. "I shall have a praise-offering congregation, for I can see no sin among these bird men! They are not a fallen race; their brain is not clogged by wickedness! That is why they learn so fast!"
We knew another thing, but we thought Father Renaudin did not see it, so we did not tell him. It was that this people, with all their brilliance of intellect, lacked something. They would never be a dominant race. They must have leaders, and I am compelled to acknowledge that in Regan they had found one. What a commander of hosts he would have been, had there been any occasion for the hosts! What a defender of the nations, had there only been need of a defence!
We even began to dislike our security!
As it was, Regan built walls and piers, planted great gardens to decorate his mountain sides, erected towns and surrounded them with terraces of earth and stone work, where the silver of fountains was contrasted with pale thread-like leaves, purple pansy color and deep cardinal red. The spires and domes and squares which he designed were always architecturally superior to any which the rest of us could conceive.
Isabella had a pretty little town. Every house seemed a home- like cottage of Earth. She had schools and soon printing presses, upon which Father Renaudin printed condensed remembrances of the most important subjects of earthly teachings. Isabella herself put into record music and poetry, "original and selected."
We found among the volcano's rocky depths many beds of sulphur.. We found also many minerals of Earth. Of iron, lead, silver and salt we had mines and worked them.
A heavy reed, growing in abundance, was easily pasted and pressed into sheets of paper. Among the grasses we found one rice-like seed which gave us a substance which, when crushed, made a not unwholesome floury food. We found some roots which were palatable when baked. We had varied and delicious fruits.
We made cloth from straw and from bark, and from a cotton-like growth we manufactured a fine, soft, gauze-like material, very beautiful.
Along the mountain's side was a flattened rock platform, upon which we built great rough-walled manufactories, and the smoke looked very earthly as it rose from the pipes and chimneys.
Of laborers we had a limitless supply, each hand as interested in our experiments as were we ourselves.
Of demand for our wares we had almost too much, for the whole Star wished to possess each article of convenience, dress or luxury. In a singularly perfect copy of Earth the furnishings and decorations of the rooms of the palaces of piled-up, smoothed stone thickened in the vales.
We taught these men the use of pen and ink; taught them correspondence, postal service and the value of the clinking silver coins.
We brought the study of music into light and they constructed, after our models, harps, cymbals, trumpets, guitars and drums. Anthems and chorals for the Cathedral service were chanted in the halls. Light and graceful melodies of Earth were trilled from the hills.
Art was represented by colossal statuary in glass, stone and lava, in painting and in metal work.
Oils and crude colors for painting were collected, the first from slain animals, the second from earths, crushed berries and ground minerals.
It was a busy, bustling little star, whirling in a furnace heat toward the sun. The only comfortable hours upon it were in the night when Venus was ablaze before us.
The years went by so fast! The clouds sank closer to the surface of the star. We began to be almost smothered in their noonday weight!
The growth of the verdure of the star had changed it from a black lava ball to one mass of green and gorgeousness. The tops of the peaks alone stood above the vines.
The trees were lost in their own green; moss clung to everything. The steaming sea, always boiling in spots above the lava of subterranean chasms and volcanoes, further moistened the noonday air, which, if it had been of Earth, had been utterly unendurable in its temperature.
We understood that the clouds cloaked our planet. The dense air was not like the world's atmosphere. We were close to the orbit of Venus; we feared that we should go on and burn in the flames of the sun!
We appointed a day to gather with our chief friends that we might report our achievements and our successes.
We were to meet at the town built by Father Renaudin, where we arranged for a grand festival to take place in his cathedral, now nearly completed.
After a long day's travel, I arrived, weary and dusty. Isabella and Father Renaudin came out to meet me. It was sunset; the last beam of sunlight had just left the scene. It was a still, sultry, purplish twilight.
As we walked beneath an avenue of bloom, we heard the most enchanting music.
Stepping through the bowers of green, we looked up into the sky. Above the surface, so far as to be still in the glow of the sun, which was below the horizon, we saw a multitude of white- robed people.
"Is it a stampede of angels?" asked Father Renaudin.
Their floating white robes and shining, flying hair were outlined on the blue sky. They were illuminated by a flood of golden sunshine. They were carrying something. We could hear their melodious song like the sound of a far-off bell. We could see wreaths of flowers, a mica-bright surface. The latter was a glistening car; therein, most gorgeous in apparel, like an Indian prince for brilliance of attire, was Regan, crowned and sceptered! He was followed at a distance, we now saw, by troops of his bird men.
It was a true misery to me. Whatever this villainous Regan did was always done with so much majesty that there was no use in trying to think it was ridiculous.
"He really is a monarch! It does not help me that he has made himself one!" I thought.
I raged at my own stupidity. There were my people; they would have borne me and have sung for me; they would have wrought fabrics and wreaths for me, but I came on foot; I arrived dusty and tired.
It was Regan first again!
We enjoyed our festival; that is, I suppose the rest did. We had torches by thousands at the feast, had music from sea shells, reeds and stringed instruments. We seemed to be in a magic land, the air was so soft, the star Venus so brilliant! The scene was bewildering! The sea was musical!
"The star is small, but it is all ours!" we said. There were no warlike races to conquer, no insubordinate people to subdue. There was nothing to hinder the grand march of progress.
I noticed that Isabella looked pale and very sad. I had never seen such an expression upon her face before.
The walls of the house, where we went after the fête was over, were glittering with glass set in panels. The doors were hung with fabrics of gold-colored straw and of brilliant cloth. The floors were of polished woods, overlaid with grass rugs. Flowers were banked in corners, and a fire was upon the hearth, for we could not pass the hours of night without great fires, on account of the exceeding dampness of the air.
When we had quietly settled ourselves for the few hours left till day, the rain began to fall heavily.
While Father Renaudin and Regan were at the table before the door, looking over maps, I sat beside Isabella and we were speaking of the change which we had made in the star.
"If these people could not fly, they would work slower. They are living machines; don't you think so?" said Isabella.
"Certainly their wings are a great advantage," replied I.
"Do you know what Regan has done about the wings?" asked Isabella
"Then he has not told you?"
"He calls them 'hideous deformities,' 'cumbersome appendages.'"
"Yes; I know he doesn't like the powerful wings of the people. But what is it, Isabella?
"He says they are only subject when they choose to be—temporarily.
"Yes. Isabella, have you seen Regan often in all these years?"
"Oh! yes, very often!" answered she, paying no heed to me or my question, absorbed, as ever, with some idea about Regan.
"Duped, duped!"—that hammer-like voice in my ears again
"I am so troubled, Roy; he has cut off their wings from ten—"
"Yes, he thought they would recover; but they—they—"
"No! I wish they had! They languished awhile, and then they fell upon the ground only to look more and more miserable! Finally, to end their misery, he—"
Isabella began to weep bitterly.
"How in the world did you learn all this? I exclaimed.
"I was there!" she answered, composedly as regarded my question, only in tears over Regan's iniquity. "Well, Roy, he killed them! They are vegetables you know!"
"Regan a murderer!"
She heard the triumph and pleasure in my voice.
"He is a king!" she began, vehemently.
"Nonsense! He is a criminal! He ought to be hanged!"
"Not for subjects, not by subjects!" I had never seen Isabella so beautiful: she looked like an enraged goddess. "He is a king! He has a right to kill!"
"Can you so forget right—"
"It is 'right' of another world! It has no place here!"
"Calling men vegetables does not change the crime!" insisted I. "These creatures have souls! They are the humanity of the sphere!"
"I shall tell you nothing more, Roy!" said Isabella. "You do not comfort me in my troubles! You only make me feel worse!"
She turned to go.
"Stay here, stay here!" I exclaimed. "It has been years since I have heard your voice till now! Stay here and talk with me!"
And she stopped, dried her tears and did not go away from my side until the party broke up for the night.
There were some good things about the star after all. One need not follow all the hypocrisies of Earth. If Isabella wished to remain and talk with me, she could do so!
When I was alone in my apartments, listening to the heavy rain, I thought it all over. It was a murderer who wore the silver crown, the 'broidered robes, who was so kingly in his manner! A murderer was ruler of the star! Must I be one of his minions, I, Roy Lee?
He was our law. Why not kill ten men? Now and then in some such disagreeable way he made us all realize his power.
I was madly in love with Isabella, but, if I should marry her, Regan would possibly kill her!
What would Father Renaudin think now of the monster whom he had crowned? He ought to take the crown from his head and give it to me! I was the more worthy. No blood stained my hands; my station, education and character were suited to the position. That name, or title, of king seemed very powerful with Isabella!
It was no use to gnash my teeth and roll on my bed. I dashed the long curtain away for air and thought the matter over. It was Regan who made the laws. If I spoke of a republic, he laughed at me and said:
"The discovery to the discoverer! A king is a fundamental law of the creation! The stars cannot whirl without a ruler!"
I wanted Regan dethroned, what of that? How was I to remedy the matter?
How wonderfully the rain was falling! Was that the river roaring? The tumult was so ceaseless and singular that I rose and dressed.
Scarcely had I done so when the sound of shrieks and bird voices came to me.
Hastening into the long hall where we had been in the evening, I saw the floor covered with water. Just then Isabella, Regan and Father Renaudin came into the same room.
"It is the sea! it is the sea!" they cried.
We ran out upon the foot-hills, from where we could see, in the light of the dawn, a waste of muddy water and a shroud of cloud.
We climbed into the peaks of the lava rocks and waited, drenched with storms.
We were above some of the clouds and could only dimly see the demolition of all we prized. Tower after tower fell. The water washed the stones from the foundations of the cathedral.
We saw the morass broken by the sea, saw masses of land as large as a farm sink from sight like lead.
When we could see so far we could note the flowing columns of fire in the cloud-dark south still increasing in size and redness.
We could hear the bursting of rocks in chasms where the water would not stay.
We found some sheltering ledges and waited.
WE had it all to repeat after we had endured the catastrophe. We thought that the star, having reached the end of its elongated orbit, turned with exceeding suddenness upon its course, so changing the temperature of north and south as to produce the excessive storm.
I will not tell you of our discouraged hearts, but will go on to that winter which was approaching from this time.
True that we were disheartened, but that we should desist from our labor was impossible. We must prepare for a frigid zone.
This time we selected a high tableland, broken through with narrow clefts where the sea penetrated the land. Some of these clefts we roofed over.
We built with reference to enormous weights of snow. We made coverings and corridors; we put windows and pipes and tubes all so that we could breathe and so that we could close them in case of necessity.
We sunk wells, collected oil and fire-wood.
At one spot in the rocks we found intense heat; here we built a vast low building to be warmed from the perpetual heat of the star's volcanic fire. Time passed on.
As we receded from the sun our fears became greater.
Again we came where we could see our Earth, almost a moon. Then we departed into colder, darker space.
Snow fell constantly until the forest disappeared under a white bank. The volcanoes were cloaked almost to their tops. The surface of the land was changed.
We had wood for fifty years in our cellars.
The smoke from the islands of the sea told us that the life of the star was still existing.
Day became twilight. On the snow it was inexpressibly gloomy. The sky grew black; we were entering a night of years.
About this time it became so cold that it was unsafe to go into the open air to look. We could only venture out in a hollow case of skins, with lamps about us for warmth.
We made all our investigations through triple plates of glass.
Then the bird people fell into a sleep from which it was impossible to wake them. We put them into a great hall by dozens, where they lay motionless, lifeless to all appearance.
Father Renaudin, Regan, Isabella and I were alone.
Day after day we watched our dear, far sun receding, and, as we gazed on the desolate, purpling waste, we wondered if we should find it possible to exist until the night was past!
Such an awful sky! The sun only as a taper in it!
The star was so small! Would it continue safely on or would it drop down upon some larger sphere?
Then we all became aware that another form or presence was among us! Like a black mist it entered and stood beside the fire, sometimes remaining for hours.
For a time each observer feared to mention the phantom, lest the others prove that it was an illusion of the mind. We were afraid of the delusions of darkness of twenty years. But when we all began to watch for it together, we spoke of it. All had seen it, had heard its step, had felt its touch.
Prisoned, we could venture out no more. It was dangerous even to go into the corridors.
Father Renaudin had been writing from remembrance the condensed books of the Bible. He had finished his work so far as to have reached the words which were spoken by the dead man on that night when we left Earth:
"And I will give him the morning star."
"I wonder what was meant when that was written?" said Father Renaudin.
He leaned his head upon his hand and seemed in deep study.
The shade had been for hours beside the fire. Now it crossed the floor and touched him upon the shoulder.
"Come!" it said.
"It is Gregg Dempster!" cried Regan. "It is his voice! There is no God! Oh! if there were He would do this!"
Father Renaudin rose, took his staff and his books and went after his guide. We followed along the corridors, through doors which we had not opened, out into the last corridor, where the cold stopped us.
We saw them go out into the dark cold, the two, side by side, like spirits moving across the snow, Father Renaudin in his crimson robe, his hair blown like silver, his books clasped in one hand, his staff in the other. The darkness hid them.
I would have married Isabella if I could have ever gained courage to so defy Regan. Now Father Renaudin was gone and there was no hope of his return.
"There are things in this star which were never on Earth!" said Isabella.
Then she threw herself down beside Regan and, leaning her head upon the arm of his chair, sobbed and wept in frightful passion. She looked only at Regan, Regan—never at me!
But Regan looked at me, with a face like a demon's, where was such horrid cruelty and rage that I shuddered. And still he touched the bowed head gently and said:
"Poor child, he will return!"
It was of no use to hope. Calamities and circumstances seemed to me to be in Regan's control! He would never give her up!
"There is no humanity in our wonderful endurance!" said Regan, at last.
"Why should we keep up this fraud of hypocrisy?" sobbed Isabella. "We are lost!—utterly, hopelessly, everlastingly most miserable! Oh! I wish I could see the sun! I wish could see a woman's face! I wish I could hear the little children laugh! I hate these yellow, churning seas, this volcanic world! I can never leave it, never, never!
Still the days went on. We wrote, composed music, painted, devised dramas and made plans for their presentation. We coined money, we made statuary in stone. We hated it all in our darkness and desolation.
As day after day we sat beside the fire, from hating fate, Regan and I grew to hate each other, hate as two who were dead and laid in two separate graves of black might hate each other if angelhood were to be won by only one of them!
Did not Isabella see and know, when she carefully removed every implement which might serve as a weapon?
Did she fear when we sat glowering sullenly at the fire and dangerously at each other? Did she not constantly talk, talk, sing, sing?
I think that human beings must all grow dangerous if they do not see the sun. One half this sentiment, which we call "gentleness," "humanity," "mercy," is only sunlight!
We were not much troubled when the star began to shake in its shroud. If the rocks should fall, what then? Possibly we should have no more of the terrible life to endure!
The shocks grew worse and worse. One night, as we sat hating beside the fire, a part of the wall fell down. We could see the cold, far stars shining into our house, that house which we had builded so strong! The dreadful breath of cold like steel struck upon our faces!
It was but for one instant. For once thought quickly. I caught Isabella in my arms and rushed into the tunnel where the rocks were warm. Where Regan went I did not see.
I DID not know what had happened. I did not see the walls fall down. It was very dark, and some one held my arm. Then I saw the flare of a torch.
I could hear no voice in the commotion, but it was upon Roy Lee's face that the light of the torch fell. I saw his steel-blue eyes in quick search for the cave look swiftly around.
Above our heads the tunnel walls were roofed with trees laid crosswise. These were coated with ice; long icicles depended like white swords, gleaming above our heads.
When the torch expired we should die in darkness!
Roy fastened it carefully among the frozen boughs. Then he came to my side and pushed away from my face the fur cloak.
"Come where I can look upon your face, Isabella, for I love you! I have loved you always! When the torch dies out we shall not see again until we see in Heaven!"
Then I sat beside him and we watched the torch and spoke of the drear years which had passed, in which we might have been so happy if we had known! And then I remember nothing!
WALLS of rock crashed beside Regan; he fell into a chasm where before his eyes flowed volcanoes' fire.
The air was sulphurous. The sea swept upon him through the cleft rocks.
Even he was appalled! Alone! Both dead!—Isabella and the man who would not marry her, who would not love her, his beautiful sister Isabella!
For Regan did not know that they were saved. He had no time to see what had happened.
"But still I live," he cried, "and we shall reach the planet sun of Jupiter after a time! I will take courage! It is only a custom of man to expect companionship! One can exist just as well without it! No human voice! No human love! No kiss! No help! No words! I will go on alone! I can go on alone!"
Then for awhile he was silent, looking about him. After a time he said:
"It will not do; there is no one to cheat save myself and my own soul! Shall I try to lie to it? Oh! tortured soul! If I only could believe!"
Regan cast himself beside the molten flood, waiting his doom.
"Rondah! Rondah! I shall never see you!" he moaned. "Did you die in the snow? Where are you? From what place do you see me? Oh! my love, my love!"
The air grew sulphurous with smoke. The rocks fell between him and the sea, and others fell between him and the lava.
He was too lethargic to look. The habit of the globe had seized upon him! He fell asleep for years! For people are a part of that globe which they inhabit. They do not realize it, but they breathe, move, think, exist, according to its spirit, as a portion of it!
If world still call to world, as they did when the morning stars sang together, the voices are of different attunement, but they blend in one grand chord of harmony.
Jupiter marched on, attended by his satellites. A little light fell upon the white ball; far off, the sun, as a day-star, gave a grayness to the darkness.
The winds were dead. They did not move the smoke above the craters. Asleep with the stars, asleep was Regan!
On, on came that burning planet, which has yet to cool from lava seas to the crust of continents, yet to jar and burst, and flame with deluges of the first ocean's fall, yet to pass through all the cataclysms of universal epoch, before there shall be upon its surface one pulpy, spongy thing that has the lowest form of life!
As one leaf among ten million has Nature's time to fall, so in Nature shall come the time for a globe to bloom, among myriads, as unnoticeable in the multitude sweeping before the vision of the Lord as is the one leaf on the tree!
Time shall come when it shall add a world's souls to the kingdom of the Redeemer!
When the small sun and red Jupiter shone at once upon the star it made strange daylight. The great planet sent red, burning beams ahead. Brilliant scarlet was his day.
What spirit would fall across space from such a fiery mass of convulsion as Jupiter? Nothing quieting, nothing holy, nothing merciful! A red light—only a red light!
Upon one spot in the star the cold touched not, the snow did not fall. The Sun Island, as the bird men named it, was as calm as Paradise through all these years!
Like a piece of the sun it slept in snow. What was beyond its blazing walls no one knew.
From this white brilliancy, when Jupiter had brought daylight, came forth Father Renaudin. Across the waste of snow he walked serenely, an unearthly rapture upon his face. Storms could not ruffle his crimson robe, nor was he touched by the chill breath of the wind which had wakened for Jupiter.
"By and by," he was saying, "I shall know all. I shall have passed beyond the reach of forgetfulness. I shall be troubled by no such paltry remnant as earthly remembrance. Somewhere and sometime I shall be freed from the clogs of this non- understandable machine, the human brain! This atom, borne apart from all the isles in the ocean of immensity, shall come one cycle nearer to the aeon's goal, the end of time!"
Father Renaudin was not dismayed at the approach of the star to the great planet. The crash of worlds could not shake the faith of a man come from the Sun Island!
And the days of Jupiter became more brilliant than ever with red light.
SNOWS and seas began to melt, as at the heat of a giant torch; loosened snow fell in avalanches; wind and waves piled masses of ice in walls. The frozen soil under all these powers was crushed and cracked. The sky, where clouds had been frozen out, again filled with moisture. Gold-red burned the snow; the black peaks of lava for their darkness melted deep pits around them.
The equatorial region swept clear of bonds; lava isles cooled upon snow, fell where the sea washed out their foundations and splashed into the depths, where the ice alone floated.
Among the ravines was a forest of stunted pods, which only bloomed for Jupiter. They had slept since the star met the planet at the same distance before. Now they crept out into the glare—imps, dwarfed and small-winged, an inferior creation, unshuddering in the cold, blinking their first gaze at a burning ball, more astounded at their own existence than at the strange theatre whereon they stood, unfrightened in the snow, homeless.
Regan awoke. It had been years since he slept, but he did not know it; he wandered out into the cold.
At the same time Roy Lee woke. He glanced up at the torch still burning, wondered when the icicles melted, looked for Isabella and found her gone.
Where was she? He went out to seek her with that same fear in his heart which had tortured him for months before he fell asleep—the dread that the unscrupulous Regan would rob him of the woman he loved. The fear had all the growth of months of desperation when he had hated and planned through a dark, horrible season, when he had thought and thought, and almost determined—
Roy Lee on Earth was a man of honor. It was a great mystery to him when he lived there how men became so depraved as to commit some of their terrible crimes. It was no mystery now. In those long, hating days he had come to know that it is the great power of all those other souls in the world which holds the man of Earth in check to civilization.
When there are three people in one world, how much better, sometimes, that there be only two, there being no law, no knowledge, no hindrance to the deed save one man's will to hold his hand, and the fear of a God away, oh! so very far away—somewhere!
It was years before, but not so to Roy Lee, as he stood again overlooking a gray sea, not knowing that his sleep had been of unusual duration, regarding his safety as one more of the mysteries, with Isabella lost, remembering his hate as yesterday's hate, his fear as present as the fear of last night, the fear that Regan meant to take his life.
"I don't wonder." he muttered to the cliffs, "that Cain killed Abel! I only wonder that Abel did not kill Cain before he had a chance to strike!"
A lurid glare, as if it were a trail of blood, fell across the snow. The red Jupiter rose before his astonished eyes. The rays scorched his cheek like a near fire. Then he heard a step; he turned; there beside him stood Regan, with dark, furious face, scorn in every lineament, the grand, fierce eyes raging at the uncontrollable in Nature, that expectant, defiant gaze, which to Roy Lee had become so dreadful.
But it would not have happened even then, if Regan had not spoken, or even if he had said any other words, for Roy Lee called back to remembrance his earthly teaching. This man had been his friend in trouble, had saved his life! It was a sin to bring death upon a soul! Somewhere there was a God!—and he took away his hand from the hilt of a dagger.
"Tell me at once where is Isabella!"
It was no friend speaking to friend, it was an insolent, imperious demand —sovereign to subject!
"She is saved from you forever!"
Low, hoarse, almost whispered were the words.
A dagger blazed crimson in the sun as it fell, fell twice.
Roy Lee looked away; he looked across the black, tossing, groaning sheet of water, where, like golden coffins, the huge blocks of fiery ice bobbed up and down in the black waves.
Far off in the inky sky swung a faint star. There were struggling nations scattered all over it. These nations held very serious beliefs. Generally speaking, they considered murder wrong, unless it were the murder of an army! They had grand laws—a great many of them!
But what could it matter to Roy Lee, the belief of those people who lived in that particular star?
Before him fire-red snow peaks rose against a violet sky; iced spires cast gleams of fire into his eyes from their shining tops. From ashen chasms of unsunned snow the hideous imps peeped, grinning at him.
Jupiter burned and blazed at Roy Lee. The little Earth shuddered. An island fell into the sea and set the ice coffins dancing. Winds howled requiems in the steeply crags above his head. At the north some breaking ice fields groaned a knell. Roy Lee did not hear them; he was listening for something else—to hear Regan fall!
Slowly, shielding his eyes from the full sight with his hand, he turned partly toward him to look. All the earthly horror of his crime came sweeping to his soul. There were no voices to cry "murder," unless he heralded himself! No newspaper would put his name under that awful combination of letters! If it were chronicled, his own hand must cut it into the rock! But some things were the same. Human love, human hate and human ferocity were just the same in the one sphere as in the other!
Oh! he was dead! Man of earth might be horrified! The heart of that one man of the star was triumphant above all horror!
Oh! he was dead!
Roy Lee looked out upon the shady north, where there was neither red Jupiter nor pale sun, pausing a moment yet before he could gaze upon his achieved triumph. Blue-black sky was cut across by a bank of unmelted white snow framed in by lava cliffs.
There, with face stern and awful, his silver hair flowing about his head, his crimson robe clear against the violet sky, his grand form upright, his shining staff uplifted as if to call down God's vengeance, stood Father Renaudin!
Beside him was Isabella, of the superb beauty of the moment seeming a part, with ashen face, parted lips, and steady eyes gazing past him, ever past Roy Lee, at something else!
"When the torch dies out we shall not see again until we see in Heaven!" He remembered he had told her that. Now, at what was she looking?
Roy turned to where Regan had stood.
He stood there still, and from the point of the withdrawn dagger he was shaking his own heart's blood!
"Father Renaudin, come here!" cried Roy Lee, in an awful voice. "Come here! Am I mad, or has the world gone mad? I've killed a man! I've killed him and he does not die!"
"There is no God!" whispered Regan, "there is no God! There can be none, but, if there were one, all-merciful and a rememberer of the agony of human hearts, He would permit this!"
"TRAITOR and murderer, Roy Lee!" said Regan.
Then Roy saw that close beside him stood Isabella. She clasped his cold hand.
"It was for Isabella," whispered Roy, "and I shall kill you again!"
Another island fell into the sea. The ice of the north waved and crashed. None of them heard it.
Father Renaudin came to draw Isabella from Roy's side.
"I will not leave him!" said she, clinging fast to the arm of a murderer.
For woman's love does hot change for spheres or stars, neither for murders!
"Can it be possible that it was for jealousy that you struck?" exclaimed Regan.
"How could you be so mistaken? Isabella is my sister! I supposed you were aware of the fact! There is another woman whom I love! Her name is Rondah!"
"Oh! why not have told me this? The misery of years has been so terrible! A word would have saved me! I need not have stood under the light of two suns a murderer—I, Roy Lee!"
Remorse, agony, shame! But nothing could undo the deed! It was committed! Not even a death to come, when it could be, at least, forgiven! No death upon the star! Always a murderer!
Isabella stood by him. If it were not for that, he would have lost himself in utter despair.
"The attempt is a failure, Roy! It is a wonder that you waited so many years before attempting my death! But let that pass. We are united once more. Father Renaudin is here. Seas and convulsions may part us at any time. If you love Isabella, marry her!" and, with the most ceremonious politeness, Regan returned to Roy Lee his dagger.
So it was Regan, Regan, Regan, who gave to Roy Lee his wife! It was Regan who ordered that the murder should never be referred to upon the star so long as it should whirl!
In the light of a burning world, their carpet the black lava of a cooling one, their witness a man who should be dead, the pastor a man who had passed beyond the bounds usually allotted to the understanding of mortals, who stood one step nearer angelhood, were they wedded.
Then Father Renaudin explained to them how long years had passed while they slumbered.
"Blessed sleep!" exclaimed Regan. "I am so much nearer—"
Then he stopped. "Rondah!" finished Isabella.
The bird people woke after a time. When the spring of years had come they had again created a paradise.
Great fields of fertile lands were cultivated, beautiful towns erected. Magnificent prodigality of color and foliage in Nature aided them in beautifying. If they planted a sapling, in a few months it flourished—a great tree! All their plans were ably seconded by the people. If they polished and cut a stone, a hundred pairs of willing hands made each another stone look just like it.
They cut through the narrow continent, and so moderated its temperature by allowing the warm waters of the volcanic and torrid south to come into the cold northern seas; they made several such canals.
Regan was restless and very unhappy.
He had been wandering in his gardens one evening, when the star was white with Earth-light. After awhile he turned away and sought Father Renaudin where he sat beside the fire.
Regan drew a low couch to the side of the table and watched him, silently. "Well?" asked Father Renaudin.
"Father Renaudin, it is all worth nothing, worse than nothing! It is endless repetition of misery with each day! It is a beautiful world, but it lasts forever! That is too long! It is a subject world, completely so! If I could see the face of that one woman whom I love on Earth, I would give all, all!"
"Now you speak the truth of years of sorrow!"
"Why not have brought her here instead of this one?"
"I meant to do so, I would have done so. I looked that night at her fair, girlish face, so frail, her divine eyes, which always smiled at me. I noted how frightened she was, how weak and like a spirit; too ethereal to be brought to such a winter, to a land not done with its own creation, where no sunlight should brighten to gold her red hair, where her face must be ever blanched with danger! I left her, Father Renaudin, where kind Destiny—"
"Say God, Regan!"
"Had placed her hand in mine! I put her out into that winter night of Earth—because I loved her! More dreadful than any other sound upon this star is that echo which no tumult can drown, which I ever hear—Rondah's cry when I left her! Soul reader that you are, I don't believe you know one tenth the torture of that remembrance! If she were here, oh! if she were here, the sea might swallow the towns, the volcanoes bury my people, but this black lava ball would be a paradise!"
Was that Regan, abandoned to such grief that Father Renaudin was alarmed? Men did not die, but they might go mad!
"Regan, be calmer! I have a hope for you," cried Father Renaudin, "really a hope for you and for Rondah! I pity you! Know that I, too, have loved, have loved and lost hopelessly! You need not be hopeless! I learned a secret of importance at the Sun Island! This will be the last revolution for you to reach Rondah! At the next the star will be captured by Jupiter and will whirl as one of the satellites about it until the end of time! You can gather your people, build and adorn! There will be little more destruction, no more such winter! The heat of Jupiter will transform the star into a world of most luxuriant vegetation! The geological changes are very rapid on such a small globe. These volcanoes will cool and die, those at the south acting as the safety-valve of the sphere!"
"But Rondah? What of her?"
"I tell you, hope! I can say no more! Gregg Dempster, moved only by man's curiosity, reached the star by powder mines and a detached hut of spiral springs. You are moved by a greater power. You ought to be able to reach the Earth and return once more!"
MORE like a gorgeous dream became the life of each day. The sea of gems was rippling in its blue. The glorious islands were purple and pink in mist and bloom. The air was laden with perfume from gold, silver and purple trees. Earth came to be a great moon. In the light of the night walked Regan, pondering ever the same subject. He noticed a shade upon the silver sheet of the fountain. He looked up. Huge black and beautiful wings flapped above his head about a great bronze body.
Then a bronze and shiny angel stood before him, grand and dark, but with no shade upon the radiant face, with benediction in the gaze of the great, calm eyes.
There was wondrous sweetness in the voice which said:
"Worshiper of Destiny, worship God!"
But at the sound of the voice Regan was cold with awe; it was but the voice, more beautiful, of his earthly friend, that feeble, maimed, disappointed, dying old man, who only of all the Earth had found Regan to be most kind, most true. That one who had died stood here now, a thing to reverence, not asking aid. But Regan remembered him still as a friend, forgot not those promises made on Earth, called on the man although he beheld the angel:
"Gregg Dempster, it is our star now! We both are here! You receive the reward of your long labor, the fruition of your abiding faith! I stood beside you until you came here! Let me go back to Earth!"
"Leave your star! It is your kingdom! It shall be yet more lovely and more pleasant!"
"The beauty torments me! Let me go to Earth! The woman I love is there! Her name is Rondah!
"Yes, her name was Rondah!" said the voice of his friend once more. "How do you hope to return, Regan?"
"There was a hermit, blind, feeble, dying. I was his friend. There is an angel, powerful, kind—he will be my friend!" answered Regan. "You, who are like a God, can create!"
"Oh! torturing mortal, cease! Man of earth, I cannot create! If only I could!"
"Yet a higher Power!" whispered Regan. "If there were a God, it would be like this! Is there then something still withheld that an angel longs for?" he asked.
"In this star, yes—not in the later heavens! On Earth I prayed for another life; now I am living it! I can only govern something already created!"
"Harness a satellite!" said Regan.
"What if I unbalance the poising of the universe, bring suns and stars clashing into chaos?"
"Still I must go! I can see her before they fall!"
"Regan, think! No more should Rondah be a fair young girl! Those earthly faces have changed! They are dead, some of those on Earth!"
"Rondah is not dead!"
"She may be old, bent, wrinkled, uncomely!"
"For all that I must go back! She is my love! Do you know what I know? She was never beautiful! Her brown eyes were heavy with fatigue, her pale face almost always dull, her hair coarse, her gnarled hands, even then, marred by toil from which she must not rest! Now, she is old, cheerless and broken-hearted! She thinks me dead! I doubt if she can smile! Poverty has followed her all her life! Care has weighed upon her! Loneliness has dwarfed her intellect! Ignorance has kept her very silent!
"Once, when I was a desperate, ragged vagabond, she came to my side and whispered: 'Do not be utterly discouraged, Regan! You are different from the others, greater than those who despise you!' Later, when all men shunned me, when they complained that my name disgraced their country, she said: 'Regan, so long as I live you have always a friend! I am poor, but I am one in the world!' Now, I want her here to share my throne! I want her here that I may give her a world!"
"Foolish man," said the angel, "I am very sorry for you! The whole star is yours; for this one woman will you leave it, lay down your mission for which, of the race of men, you were particularly born? For a woman a world! For love a kingdom! For a remembered sentiment of Earth the substantial honor of a gift from gods!"
"All for her!" answered Regan.
"Will you return, take up age, toil of Earth, die?—most horrible of all, to die!"
"Death is the most surpassing mercy of the life of man! Nothing is so dreadful as to live on forever!" answered Regan. "On Earth I can die! Remember Earth enough to pity human grief! Answer humanity with human gratitude! Let me go!"
"I will take you back to Rondah, Regan! If you do not understand, remember Rondah was also a friend to a desolate old hermit, who lived alone in a comfortless hut in the lonely hills! In ten days, be ready!"
He was gone like a vanished flash of light.
"It was my friend, that grand angel of superhuman power! Why is he here? It is the one great purpose and prayer of a life brought beyond the grave! He whom I thought a helpless, feeble old man, whom I pitied for his weakness, forgot between times, the same that I saw lying dead, cold and still upon his shabby bed, he came here before me! This star he has shared with me! If there is a heaven, his Sun Island is a piece of it; 'tis blest with the security of a heaven! Do these things chance? Can Destiny be blind, be driven, blunder on such successes? Can these rulings be a part of stupendous chaos? Can nothingness do all things? Am I, are these rocks, do I live? Oh! if I could believe in that God of Father Renaudin! Alas! there is no God! But if there were one, infinite, loving He would do this!"
IT was now more than twenty years since Regan had cast the bodies of the headless bird men into a deep chasm.
He looked up to see the sunrise after his angel friend had left him, and behold! those unfortunate victims of experiment were coming like ghastly shadows, falteringly, down the hill over which was the glory of dawn.
With their heads in their arms, they stumbled along.
Regan, for an instant, would have fled, but he stopped himself. Should a monarch run away from his own experiment? He defiantly waited the coming of the specimens of his mercilessness, with horror of their reproaches.
They came close to him. He saw that the heads were also living, separate from the bodies!
From the bodies, as they had lain upon the ground, had sprouted little heads, which had not grown, as they should, upon the neck. The many-headed creatures seemed all alive; they stood, complaining that they had not been able to find their own heads!
It was one thing to call them "vegetables." It was another thing to have vegetables with souls stand, asking a man to undo the wrong he had committed, but could never repair!
Regan looked at them, helplessly; they seemed a group of heads—heads, nothing but heads and eyes!
He fell down, insensible!
He did not open his eyes again until the noonday sun was blazing down. They were still standing, headless, waiting! Regan staggered to his feet. Through all his cruelty, through all their miserable years, they had yet faith, strong and perfect faith, that this man, their king, would and could restore them to their old life! And Regan knew he could do nothing!
All the land and sea and air began to burn in a transparent glory. The sun itself was lost in a greater splendor. Dim, golden forms in tremulous radiance moved ceaselessly. Vibrating chords of a transcendent song came thrilling all the space. Beyond this miracle of whitening glory, swept along in a chariot of purple and gold, was a great dim gate, rising as one dark cloud rises beyond a misty white one. Through these moving portals was a glimpse of a bewildering vision which made the star seem dark! So rise the God-lit heights of Heaven beyond the gates of pearl!
Yet Regan knew this was not Heaven. No; it was only a translation from the star to some greater glory. There were winged angels indistinctly flitting.
Regan saw hundreds of thousands of his bird subjects rise, until they seemed all to go. He feared there would be none left. Turning from him with songs of rapture, they rose into angels before his very eyes, as birds flying in flocks from a shady forest come into a sunshine of yellow light.
For hours the bewildering sight continued, engrossing his entire attention. Then the forms began to recede. First, he could not see the gate. Then the angels seamed only like stars. Then there was nothing but a cold blue sky after sunset.
Where he had seen flakes of brightness loosed from the throne, he looked at a dull, common sky, giving no hint of the sphere beyond.
He saw nothing. But they had been there.
Where had they gone?
He gazed about to see if any of his bird people were left.
He had forgotten. They stood there yet, waiting, those terrible headless men! The assembled multitudes had looked upon the result of his experiment!
"Go away! go away!" shrieked Regan.
The revulsion of feeling was awful. He had been looking at the glory astray from Heaven.
He looked on deepest human misery. He had not only spoiled more than twenty years of their existence—he had kept them back from translation!
"Go away!" he repeated, wildly. "What if Rondah should ever see these men!"
"We have waited over twenty years!" insisted the speaking heads.
Then Regan controlled himself and tried to imagine what he should do; he could think of nothing, nothing, unless he imprisoned them once more.
A footstep was heard beside him. It was Isabella.
"Oh! my sister, see them! They are here! I cannot save them! They will not go! What shall I do? The worst of all is they have the idea that I can save them!"
Regan was utterly confounded, hopeless.
"Thank God they live!" cried Isabella. "They are not dead!"
"I wish they were! Look at the heads!"
"All mixed up!" said Isabella, with a philosophical acceptance of the inevitable. "Regan, we will encase them in the pods and the heads will graft themselves to their proper places!"
So this was what they did. They corrected the misappropriation of heads, set them on the necks and sewed the ten bird men securely into ten empty pods.
"They will emerge at blossoming time with their troubles ended! I hope you will not experiment again!"
Regan said nothing. She had not seen the vision; she did not mention it. He left his sister and went to ponder upon his eventful day.
Isabella, as soon as she was alone, proceeded to experiment on her own account. Gathering the little heads which had been severed from the bodies she put each one into a pod.
"Whatever they may come to I do not know," She said to herself; "but I will not help to kill anything! I don't want deathless heads rolling about this bewitched planet after me!"
ROY and Isabella were watching the Earth rise, when Regan, having assured himself of his powerful friend's assistance, came to tell them of their leaving the star.
He pitied their homesickness. It was he who had robbed them of a life's happiness. There had been no particular gift to them from the star.
They could see the continents now upon the world.
"Would you like to go back, Roy?"
Roy did not answer. The whisper which never left him held him from replying; he only looked sharply at Regan and listened to the words, "Duped, duped!" in his own ear. Isabella answered:
"Would we return? Oh! gladly, yes! A world in possession does not make a woman happy! How tired I am of these rainbow seas! I wish I could look at still blue water! How tired I am of these flying people! I wish I could see Rondah's old grandmother hobble by with her crutch! I am disgusted with the possession of gold and silver and glass—of wealth and station where these things are worth nothing! I am smothered in these low clouds, in the hot breath of this uncooled planet! Regan, you do not jest? We can go back?"
"Yes; we shall go back to-morrow!"
Next morning a huge meteorite, a mile in circumference, hung, enveloped in a heavy cloud, above the surface of the star.
Father Renaudin would not return. He could not leave his people and his cathedrals. He gave orders for several sacred books, which Regan was to procure for him if he could do so.
"My place on the Earth is gone from me," he said. "God is most kind. He gave to me a small sphere and more time. I shall belt this star with one holy faith."
Isabella wondered that he was more pleased with his distracting congregations of elf-men without much understanding than with all the assemblages of grand, sinless bird men.
"He thinks he can improve the little sinful elves," said Roy. "It gives him something to preach to!"
The world was nearing. The meteorite must be launched. With tears, Isabella bade Father Renaudin an everlasting farewell.
"We shall not meet even in Heaven, for you will not get there for ages!" she sobbed.
But the angel folded them away and they whirled out into space.
"Father Renaudin must not return!" said the angel. "He has lived long past his allotted days. He is a dead man on the Earth!"
They flew much swifter than Earth or star. They swung into the clouds of a storm on Earth and, in a moment, were upon the height where they had been thirty-three years and four months before.
"Look!" cried Isabella.
The two looked at the angel. In the storm, dark on the Hermit's Hill, there stood no angel! A bent, feeble, blind old man was there!
"Two days to find Rondah!" he said to Regan. "Isabella, Roy, farewell! Be happy on Earth! Know the star was never for you! The star is for Rondah!"
WHERE was Rondah?
All these years she had remained in one place. Her grandmother died and Rondah fell heir to the home and the hidden stores of wealth which only she knew about. She had been so fortunate as to be left to enjoy these treasures in her own way. She cared for but few things in life. Her hope was in a star, lost to view somewhere on high. Flowers and sun were her treasures. Silver and gold were piled in her cabinets. Brocades and velvets and laces and jewels were hers, her possession of which no one knew. She had no friend save her hope. Around her, her girl acquaintances grew old and left her. Rondah saw that no change of age came upon her. As years rolled on she realized that some unnatural influence was keeping her face the face of a child. By the work of years she should be gray-haired and wrinkled.
"If it is so that the star comes back, Regan will come for me! I know he will come! I know he will come!"
As it came evening time in the last year, Rondah grew impatient with suspense and longing. Those who noticed her at all, said:
"Rondah watches for the Hermit's star. She does not know that it will not strike in the same place this time!"
But they were gentle people. No one cared to tell Rondah this.
One night, when storm-clouds had been darkening the sky, Rondah, waiting with a tumult of fear and hope which made her heart beat like a hammer, mused sadly by her fire. It was splendid about her, but it was lonely splendor.
"If he does not come," said Rondah, talking to the fire, "I shall die after this! I shall die the sad death of a child! No one will remember that I have lived a woman's life, suffered a woman's heart-break, earned a woman's honor! No hairs are gray upon my head to crown it; when I lay it down in a coffin the people will very soon forget me! Sometimes I seem a mysterious monster to myself! Why do I not grow old like other people, if it is not for the star?"
She thought and thought until she could remain quiet no longer. Looking out she saw that the storm clouds were piled in banks, aside, and that the sun was trying to break through them.
"In two days more, only two days, after all these years, and then I shall know! I cannot rest! What if it should not come? Regan! Regan! It is so many years!"
She threw a mantle of gold and crimson around her, wrapped a soft pink scarf about her head, and went out in the cool evening.
She took her usual route to the hill. She felt hurried and anxious. She thought she should see the star.
Now, her eyes took back their startled look, her face grew pale.
She saw a dark form in the path before her. She stopped; her heart beat swiftly. It was not time. She must not be deceived—a shock would lose her reason. It looked like Regan!
She went forward steadily, with dilating eyes.
She did not know that in the whole world there was no one else so beautiful as was she, as she hastened to meet the man in the path, standing under the very tree where she had so often seen Regan waiting for her.
Rondah scarcely breathed. She saw the man lean forward and gaze at her with a close scrutiny. The man's face was plainly seen in the glow of orange light which was after sunset.
That man was Regan!
The vales heard a wild cry—the town heard it—a cry of joy from this heart, loveless for all of a lifetime save for love from another world!
"Regan! Regan! you have come! I knew you would come! I knew you would come!"
Regan had made himself believe that he should find something so different! What could explain matters to him? He knew that it was Rondah, young, splendidly appareled, bewilderingly beautiful, but the same Rondah, the same Rondah! To mysteries he was accustomed.
"Rondah! My own Rondah!" he cried and clasped her in his arms once more. "There is a God, such a thinking, loving world-mover as Father Renaudin preaches! Nothing that blunders could bring such joy as this to the heart of man! There is a God who rules over all! Rondah, we are again united! He has done this!"
The darkness of the storm-cloud swept upon them. Their chariot of rock and their angel guide were there. It was time to go.
"Rondah, you are leaving the Earth forever! Look back, look back! Are there loved ones there to leave?
"No! My loves have been in a different sphere!" said Rondah, and she laughed the happy, careless laugh of a child. "Where is the star?" asked she.
Then they saw it, serenely sailing far off in the blue.
"It is our home, Regan!" said Rondah.
"It is a world, a little kingdom!" answered Regan.
"Our home! The long, long years! I thought they would never end! This time I thought it would never come!"
"How came you to be so gloriously beautiful, Rondah?"
"I do not know! It was hope in your coming I think!"
"It was the blessing of a hermit, who has become an angel!" said the angel-man. "Rondah on Earth was robbed of many blessings, could bless her life with one chief happiness, chose beauty. Regan, did I choose rightly?"
"Oh! marvelously right! The angels will stop to look upon her face when comes the next translation!"
"Are there people in the star?"
"Father Renaudin is there! He waits for us!"
"There are no other humankind?
"Only bird people with wings."
"I shall be as wise in my dullness as any in the star!" said Rondah, joyfully.
"Yes!" Regan knew the clog of her dullness had been a life- long torture to her. She would be no more humiliated and pained with her dullness there. Where the brilliant Isabella had been so utterly miserable, this woman in content would be a happy, happy wife!
"There is our star! Do you see the multitudes, hear their song of welcome? Do you see them rise in flocks?"
"A grand world! Our world, Regan!"
"What will you name it, Rondah? I have never named it! I waited for you to come!"
Wreathed in flowers, singing like silver bells, the crowds rose toward them. White the walls and domes glistened on the green plain by the seaside below.
"Our world forever! I will call it," said Rondah, "Parzelia!"
THE meteorite was stopped in the clouds of the sky. The angel- man, bronze, strong and glorious once more, flew down with Rondah and Regan, and they stood upon the raised steps of the great Cathedral, where all the assembled multitudes could see them.
For months previous to the departure Father Renaudin had been calculating and preparing for this return, for the ceremonial of the marriage and coronation of Rondah.
Sheets of yellow gold, spun fine and hanging heavy, glistened on the columns and were spread upon the floors, falling in rich masses to the foot of the long flight of steps.
As Rondah stood looking, a flock of bird-women flew from one of the spires above and draped her in a veil and trailing robe of gold.
With much state, Father Renaudin, accompanied by a troop of elf-men, alike in copying the red of his attire, and decked with glass and gold until they could scarcely trudge for their burden, came to meet her. Father Renaudin, no older than when he left Earth, with all the mark of earth-care gone, years gone from his face, came to speak blessing, in which he even faltered. He feared for an instant that Regan had again brought to the star the wrong woman.
For that Rondah whom he had known stood no more before him. This gold-draped woman had beauty more fair than Earth gave, had wondrous eyes, glowing like stars. In her perfect face there was the chiseled beauty of an angel's dream, not an earthly dream.
But still, like Regan, he knew it was Rondah, the same Rondah.
The lengthy marriage rite was first—stately, religious, slow. Even with its words Rondah kept thinking: "Am I here, or do I dream to waken to the old, lonely misery?"
With the benediction there swooped down her subjects by thousands to kiss her robe or her hand, or to caress her gold-red hair with one soft touch.
How kindly clear rang out their song of words, "Our queen! the Earth-woman, Rondah!"
"I could never dream all this," the queen was thinking to herself, "I could never dream all this! I don't know enough!"
There was a feast—flowers, fruit, shade and multitudes. Then there was the short hour's rest between noon and sunset. At sunset were to begin the magnificent entertainments which the bird people had arranged in accordance with Father Renaudin's design.
To a most lovely day was added the magnificence of a most perfect star sunset, of itself a wonder to the woman of Earth, the sea sweeping a phosphorescent sheet of reflection and the land bathed in brilliance which was blinding. The Earth moon rose and the bird people flew in hosts into the sky; there they flashed lamps and swung streamers of gorgeous colors, forming into groups of circles, stars, lines and crescents, to make moving, brilliant gems in the sky.
Last of all they swept in one mass, chaos of light and color, for a single moment. Then clear, motionless save for the slight shimmer of the many wings, in the sky was one mighty crown of flame.
They flew down on the shores of an artificial lake of large dimensions, where they lighted lamps of various colors. Upon an island in this lake they stood in statuesque groups, until from water to the white temple built on the summit it was a wall of beauty.
One ethereal bird woman just touched the spire of the temple with her foot; her white veiling robes made her like a goddess. She held in each hand a lamp, and she shook from the same hands two great, misty flags of softest golden web.
In a second's time the same flags, like fiery sheen, flew from, every hand upon the rock, a pyramid of golden glory and gorgeous light.
Then the lamps were replaced by crescents and stars of colored light, until there was nothing to be seen of the bird people; like a scintillating jewel the rock glowed.
A cloud of whiteness, they swept into the distant forest as a flame, bursting from the lower part of the isle, wrapped the whole in fire from water to temple top, a great torch from which the glow fell upon the white stone and glass-paneled palace which Regan had built for Rondah's home—Rondah's home like the remembered homes of Earth.
In all this it was only the fairy-like women who had sailed and shone. Now there came hundreds of men, dark-robed, copying Regan's taste in dress, aware that there was a splendor of color to lighten to glory any darkness in the splotches of radiance on their cloaking wings.
They bore a slight wicker car, cushioned with crimson and covered with pendants of glass. They carried Regan and Rondah, seated in this car, above the summit of the loftiest peak.
Over a vast surface Rondah looked upon moving black wings, hiding all else. She was awed with the exhibition of their immense strength, as she saw it thus exhibited in one huge, moving mass.
"I can see nothing but a carpet of wings," she whispered to Regan; "but, if they would rise, I could see the whole star."
In a few moments they did so. They swept in a canopy above the car, and like a little ball the star slept beneath them. In the midnight whiteness of the Earth moon and its satellite there lay its islanded seas, its banding continent, the fiery south, the arctic north, the gray moonlit forests, the white moonlit mountains, the mist-pale vales, silver streams, diamond lakes.
"Earth was not so fair," said Rondah. "Then Earth was ponderous; no man could own all Earth; it was beyond one man in its expanse of endless miles. This, our world, Regan, is within human comprehension, within the grasp of one man's mind, under the sway of one man's sceptre."
"You appreciate the kingdom," said Regan.
He had feared a little that Rondah, with her tastes moulded by custom of Earth's poverty, would not understand what an achievement was the successful reaching and the continued ruling of the star.
She knew it all.
Rondah's pleased laugh, like the joyous laugh of a careless child, rang out in her delight, as she contemplated it, and the murmur of the bird men's whisper of admiration sounded like the sudden wakening of a breeze in the trees, for the bird women did not laugh.
And Regan did not think that Isabella had ever laughed when the people heard her.
"What is that light like a star, that one bright spot in the sea?"
"That is the Sun Island. The angel-man lives there."
"Have you not been there?"
"No. Father Renaudin spent years of the last winter there, but he is silent about them."
"We will go there."
"There is a wall in the air."
"Not for us. All the star is ours!"
"Gregg Dempster and I shared the star."
"We can sail around the island."
"Not on these seas. Everything sinks."
"The bird people will carry us there."
"They dare not go; like Father Renaudin they are forbidden. There is a mystery on the island."
"I can go there, Regan."
"Of all the star why do you single out that island, Rondah? Is there no other place so interesting?" asked Regan.
They were descending. The island sank from view. Rondah little thought where and how she should see it next, as she slowly answered:
"No, it is not so much more interesting, but something seems to tell me that I must go there!"
"So has something whispered to me all the years," answered Regan, "and I have never found means to go!"
IN the centre of a wide expanse of tableland, walled at a distance by mountain chains, stood the great stone palace which Regan had built for their home.
It was founded on a rise of solid rock, which had been surrounded by three wide terraces, rising each twenty feet above the other. In width these terraces were one hundred feet.
At the foot of the terrace, on the south side, was a great lake, artificially formed, from whence the earth used in the terraces had been removed.
Upon the lower terrace was set a forest of the silver fringe- trees; these drooped over the stone sides and made graceful shades in the still lake. Along the edges of the terrace were set colossal glass vases, which were draped with veils of dark green satiny leaves and wealth of rose-hued blossoms. In the second terrace were only crimson leaved trees, and a row of giant white statues stood along the wall, thrown into brilliant relief by the color behind them.
The third terrace had only the deep purple velvet of the pansy-tree. Above this rose, pure white, the columns of the many- pillared palace, which, about its roof, was decorated with glass panels and numerous light-spired minarets. At one side rose a glass tower with a dome overlaid with solid gold.
Regan would have been glad to have built a vast golden-domed roof for it all, but he must remember the instability of his star; he must build for earthquake, cyclone, flood and snow.
Within this palace were suites of great cool rooms, some furnished and decorated, some left for Rondah to furnish as suited her best. Above all these, upon the walled, flat roof, was a lake of water, wherein was an artificial glass island, upon which was a golden temple; from this place Rondah could see the whole vale. At the north was the restless, smoky sea; at the east the rows of manufactories on the distant hills, their tall chimneys smoking ceaselessly; at the south the great silvery lake with its surrounding parks, and, beyond, the houses of the city; at the west the mountains and their forests, with the western sunsets.
How miraculous the change! From a small house in a hamlet in an earthly wilderness to the capitol of another world; from nothingness to supreme power; from loneliness to happiness!
"I wonder," whispered Rondah, "shall we be always so happy, Regan and I? These bird people are always so, but I doubt if men and women of our Earth leave, except by death, their misery inherited. Perhaps, perhaps," mused Rondah. "But it seems more reasonable to me that trouble will come to us here!"
Blindly she groped after the great law, of which she had one mental glimpse. She could not understand it, but with the unfailing intuition of a woman she felt its presence. People of Earth, wherever they live, must know sorrow.
All glorious and serene the star sailed now, aglow with endless radiance and sunny warmth. Its path was toward the sun.
Regan dreaded the winter and its dangers. Ahead was storm, cold, earthquake, Jupiter.
The elf-men, the new race, had begun to be insubordinate; they were as fond of demolishing as were the bird men of building. They often, from mere caprice, tore down magnificent structures when they were left unprotected.
"But nothing is too much trouble to endure now that you are here, Rondah!" Regan said. "Until you came the star was dark!"
"And Earth was dark! It is not the sun which lightens human hearts!" answered Rondah.
THE great storm when the star turned, the accompanying disaster, the horror of convulsion, the sunless years—these were troubles which Regan wished he could avert. With Rondah he often wondered whether they might not spend the winter in the Sun Island.
In dreamy luxury the months and years passed on. Rondah was happy and took no note of time; it was for cycles, no need to measure it by hours, no death ahead. Regan was busy with great schemes. With the ideas of his mammoth earth built upon the little star turned into realities, the planet became a paradise of beauty.
Deputations were sent around the length of the continent to found cities on the broad inland plains and have dwellings prepared for the time when there should be no more winter. These colonists knew that the winter sleep would separate them entirely from each other, but they cared nothing for that. It was no more than that two forests were miles apart. Their somnolence was with the whole star, a part of it. The bird people, now engrossed with and ambitious for Regan's plan of improvement and commerce, coined gold into beautiful, shiny, clinking money, and were sorry that they must leave the pleasant occupation and desist from their architectural amusements until Jupiter dawned. They had no other dread of their winter sleep.
Among other experiments, they set several thousand small and crowded pods into a new and fertile field. They saw that the withering or uprooting of one of these destroyed its vitality, and the backwardness meant a thirty-three years' sleep for its occupant.
One thought would not leave Rondah—to reach the Sun Island. The bird people refused to go there. According to her designs and instructions were constructed several various locomotives of a kind intended first to sail in the air and later to crawl in the sea. But none of them were successfully used. The channel at one point was almost bridged by a lava ledge, but not entirely so, and the water was boiling in the strait.
Summer passed. The star turned. Tumult of earthquake, flood and tornado was all over the land for days as before. But the surface was now much more stable; the houses were constructed with reference to these things; they were in the centre of the continental plains, not directly on the shore. There was no great damage done.
The planet receded from the sun into the colder distance; the autumn haze settled for years upon its peaked hills; the leaves changed hue for all that long time; the sea grew cold and steely the sun faded and diminished.
"How will you endure the long winter?" said Regan to Rondah.
"I do not mind the darkness.
"You do not know what it is yet!"
Ah, Regan, not from seas and their snows, not from darkness and its despair comes the danger which is so great that even now you feel the horror of it upon your heart! Look otherwhere than at the purpling sky; look away from the barren and desolate mountains. It is not there, it is not there!
Rondah was walking in the noonday light through the paths beside the lake. The wind soughed through the leafless boughs above her; the light had the color of a partial eclipse; the leaves rustled as she walked among them; they recalled the rustling leaves of that oak-shadowed path which was on Earth. Rondah wondered if it were there yet.
Lifting her eyes, she saw a dark form moving swiftly across the cliffs upon the very summit of a distant mountain.
She wondered at first who it was. Then she remembered it could be only Regan. How very fast he was moving over the difficult path. How he could have reached that distance and elevation in the short time since she left him Rondah could not think.
She turned in the path; when she came again where she could see the cliffs, he was not there.
When she entered the palace, Regan was reading in the library. A new supply of the works of the bird people had just been sent in from the printing establishment and Regan was delighted with some of the productions.
"Look at these books, Rondah. Here is one in particular which is remarkable."
He placed the book in Rondah's hand.
"How long," said Rondah, "have you been back?"
"I have not been out to-day!"
Rondah opened the book slowly, thinking, but, when she had thought, the red and gold volume fell from her nerveless hands; she sank upon a couch before the hearth and looked at the floor.
"Were not you on the cliff?"
"I? Certainly not!"
"Some one was there—a man! I thought it was you!"
"A man or a bird-man?"
"A man!" replied Rondah.
This was his danger; Regan knew now. There was everything to fear from another man—insurrection of the elf-men, helplessness of sleep, horror of war, confusion of conflicting power. An enemy! Powerful, else he would never be able to endure the star! Wily, else he had never been able to reach the star! He could see those hideous troops of traitorous elf-men, roused to any pitch of enthusiasm by a few human words, ranging in red lines over the cold snow like streaks of human blood! Oh! all misfortune he foresaw in that moment's realization, but he foresaw nothing like the true one!
No death, no death, no death on the star! If his enemy were there, he was there forever!
"Possibly it was Father Renaudin. I will see him."
Regan's voice sounded strangely.
"What can he do, Regan?—the man!"
"I cannot tell."
They found Father Renaudin, meditating in the blue, silver and crimson radiance of his own great rooms. He was in possession of a large wing, where the rooms had been given up entirely to his use.
When he looked up and saw them, he smiled with the pleasure of an indulgent and idolizing parent, who contemplates a couple of beautiful children.
Regan wore always the half-Greek costume, tunic and cloak, which he had adopted upon coming to the star. He had a suit of dark green, the sleeves gold-slashed, the belts and clasps of gold and gems. His shoes were yellow leather, tied with long, gold-decked strings wound about scarlet hose.
Rondah wore a long, loose robe of rose color, belted with a bow of gemmed stars. A wide collar of gems was on her shoulders, and a gemmed coronet held the braided bands of her shining hair.
Her arms were hidden under a network of jewels, which covered a close, long sleeve of rose color.
"How beautiful, young and strong they are," thought Father Renaudin.
He wondered that Rondah found never-ceasing delight in the lonely pomp and splendor of her position, wondered that the careless adoration of the bird people as well pleased her as if it were the thoughtful allegiance of humanity.
He noticed Regan's face, pallid and stern, that old fury in his eyes once more.
He sprang to his feet. Better than any other human being Father Renaudin knew the depths of slumbering, chained depravity in Regan's soul, knew his destructive power when his rage was kindled, his heartlessness unlimited when he chose to become a tyrant.
Always he was fearing that, for some aggravating cause, Regan would destroy the people, not the star, before the time of Jupiter's reign began.
"Father Renaudin—Father Renaudin!"
No more words than these could he speak; leaning against one of the pillars, he waited to control himself.
"Was it for the presence of the other man?" Rondah thought. "It must be, but why was he so disturbed?" Then she said aloud: "I saw a man walking on the cliffs; was it you, Father Renaudin? Oh, was it not you?"
With a cry, Father Renaudin started to his feet, speechless; he shook his head at them, looking with terrified gaze from an ashen, livid face. Then he clasped his hands to his eyes.
"Not this, oh, God, not this! Not Rondah, not Rondah, who has no strength!"
His utterance was slow and stifled; he fell senseless upon the floor.
Cold yet from horror, Regan raised him to the couch and, fearing the words of his return to consciousness, he sent Rondah into another apartment.
When, after some time, Father Renaudin recovered, he looked where she had stood, and, finding her gone, said to Regan:
"Never, never leave her! Watch! A doom is upon her! Oh, there are no prayers of mine, or deeds of yours which can avert it! Only do not leave her! To reveal more I am forbidden!"
If it had not been that it was impossible, Regan would have killed him for those last words; but he knew it could not be done. Smothering his futile anger, he turned his dreadful eyes away, with curses of mad rage in his heart because his teacher was so fanatically given to mysteries and silence; he asked quietly:
"Was it Gregg Dempster who stood on the cliff?"
"No! Gregg Dempster has been removed to another sphere, years removed! His influence, too, is gone! We must hope for no further help from him! As humanity fights, we must fight out our own fate! No! It was not Gregg Dempster who stood on the cliff!"
"IF there be safety for Rondah anywhere, it is on that island! I must find means to reach it!"
This was Regan's final decision, the only salvation which he could imagine.
Before the bird people slept he ordered the construction of a small, strong stone house, with two great cellars stored with fuel, food and oil. This was built as near the island as possible. The glow of brightness made continual day around it, but warmth hardly penetrated the impassable wall in the air.
It was months before this was done; a faint twilight was the only day on the star; the breezes were cold and dry; the sea was partly frozen, many of the ravines snow-leveled.
Hundreds of the bird people were already asleep.
The winter's fate might depend on a day's time. Regan went to the house by the Sun Island to see if it were ready. Father Renaudin remained to protect Rondah. The doors were fastened and the windows chained, and the shutters had been almost all permanently locked for the winter. A few windows of triple glass were left uncovered for light.
After Regan had gone, there came upon the terrace a stranger, the same one whom Rondah had seen upon the cliffs, a grand and majestic man; his golden hair fell in curls about his shoulders; his face was like tinted alabaster, his eyes superb in beauty and brilliancy; his powerful, tall form was wrapped in a singular cloak of emerald and gold sheen.
At the foot of the porch steps he stood in the snow, where the heavy winds swept rifts of white upon his mantle, and waited for the woman of Earth to ask him to enter. With the dignity of a monarch, the beauty of a god and the elegance of manner achieved only in the grandest of earthly courts, he stood waiting.
Rondah listened while he explained that he had come at Regan's command to carry her to the Sun Island.
"This day only the wall in the air is removed. The bird people are asleep. I can take you there quickly!"
"Come in," said Rondah, "come in and give me time to think! I ought not to go; I should stay where Regan left me."
"That is what he said you would say, and this note he sent."
Rondah read it—Regan's writing:
Do not delay; to-day only we can reach the island. This friend can bring you very swiftly in his car. I wait upon the shore until you come. I shall return if you are too late. It all depends upon you! Come instantly or all is lost!
"I will see Father Renaudin," said Rondah.
She returned a moment later, pale and troubled.
"Father Renaudin is asleep!"
"Then we must return for him. I am sorry to inconvenience you, but by sunset the wall will close! Then you will be shut outside!"
"We will leave him here for this trip. It is too late to take him."
Rondah could not think. "Come instantly!" "Come instantly!" "All is lost!"
What if Regan had sent for her? How angry he would be when her slowness had prevented the use of this one opportunity!
Wrapping heavy cloaks about her, Rondah left the palace, carefully closing its door. They were almost alone in its great rooms; almost all the bird people were asleep.
She took a seat in the singular sailed car beside the stranger. They flew like a cloud through the air. As they neared the Sun Island the glare of it made everything visible for miles around. Once Rondah thought she saw Regan and some bird-men returning through the snow, but the stranger threw the white- winged sails on that side the car and she was not sure; he told her that it was a rift in the snow where a volcano's heat kept the black rock visible.
"You will soon see Regan now!" he said. "Look beside the island at the edge of the continent!"
Still Rondah did not see him.
"It is the blinding glare," said her companion. "I know where he is. I can see him!"
The pale sun was blinking. The day was closing. Swift, very swift, the car sank.
"There is the house Regan built. There is a flying bird-man. They are not asleep. You have told me falsely! Regan is not here!" cried Rondah.
But it was too late. The car sank into the white brilliance. The dark surface of the star was lost to view. Rondah was upon the Sun Island, even in her suspense and apprehension to be astounded at its glory!
AS she stepped from the car, Rondah heard a chill, queer laugh. She glanced at the stranger. Was it he? He stood beside the car and was looking at her with a singular expression, half triumph, half intense apprehension.
As Rondah, looking at him, began to realize that he had brought her to the island and left Regan outside, the man touched the car. Its sails expanded. It flew away; striking the wall in the air, it fell a mass of cloth and fragments.
"It has returned—the wall," said the man, composedly.
"Where is Regan? He is not here!
"He waits outside the wall, I suppose! We were a little late!"
"Go after him!
"I cannot go!"
Rondah fled toward the sea, only to be stopped by the invisible barrier. She ran aimlessly and helplessly about, sobbing and shrieking until she was worn out. Then she sank upon a bank and looked about her. Tossing her red hair from her face, she struck her gemmed coronet and it fell upon the rocks, where it looked like a piece of brass on the jewel-like surface of the Sun Island.
The amazing splendor almost blinded Rondah's weeping eyes. The cliffs were of garnet and of yellow amber. They rose out of sight in the serene, changeless radiance. The canopy of clouds above the island was one sheen of rainbow hue.
The rock surface of the Sun Island was of the dazzling color and radiance of most brilliant polished sea shell. Spots of pink, blue, green and shades of emerald, gold, bronze, carmine and rose, chocolate-brown, dull yellow and purple all these hues were so mingled as to produce an exquisite harmony.
In the deep ravines of the great riven cliffs there were forests of silver-bodied trees, whose leaves seemed metallic. They shone like diamonds and tinkled like glass. The shadow of their foliage was a pinkish hue, and the grass of the valleys was like the white waxen petals of the tuberose.
Beds of roses and lilies were in large banks and on mountain sides; there were other jewel-like blooms everywhere. The rivulets of liquid pearl flowed 'neath banks shadowed by silken reeds, which swayed like stray moonlight lost in the fields.
In the air was a musical thrill, which made a continual chord of harmony around her.
The stranger seemed gone. At least, he was nowhere to be seen.
Under the shadow of the magnificent trees Rondah sat to rest, and there was nothing in the whole heavenly sight which could even calm her grief. The island was beautiful, but Regan was not there!
The music of air and trees was supremely ethereal, but she was miserable because she could not hear Regan's voice!
"Regan! Regan!" she called. "He laughed —that strange man—he laughed! I am certain! I do not believe he thought he could bring Regan here. I do not believe that Regan ever trusted him. I was so foolish as that!"
And along the paths where never woman had trod before, Rondah ran and searched, seeing nothing of the beauty, only searching for Regan.
She overlooked a valley which surpassed all dreams of beauty; beside the lakes was set a fairy-like palace built from the amber rocks, its decorations being only pillars of pale blue pearl.
Into this place she went, searching. No one was there. Upon the floors were draperies of soft gray and yellow of a queer, silky fabric. On the shelves were piled huge books, bound in the silver of the trees, written on leaves of pearl.
After turning the leaves a little, Rondah threw herself down upon the piles of gray cloth and sobbed herself to sleep, for she knew it was night outside and that Regan had returned to the fireless palace to find her gone. He was even then searching for her all through the winter snow.
She did not think that he could find her. She did not think that he would try to come to the island. A woman's fortitude Rondah had not. She had only a child's strength to endure her grief.
She woke to the same serene stillness, the same superb beauty, the same song in the air. She climbed to the tops of the garnet cliffs. Wild and terrible her voice rang over the island: "Regan! Regan! Regan! Regan!"
And in the day's hours, when even outside the island all troubles were easier to bear, Rondah sat beside the books, which were so carefully stored, and, considering her strange fate, she said more calmly:
"I have made a mistake, but there is no death! I shall return to Regan after a time. He will fall into the winter's sleep, but it will be spring soon!" and she turned the leaves of one of the books.
Glancing, she saw bewildering words; reading, she saw deep and awful meaning. Interested, she began to peruse the books, the books which Gregg Dempster had left for her. Nothing seemed omitted from their chronicles back into ages of a primeval chaos, which made "In the beginning" seem near by, back to, the great cause of all causes, on through the series of destinies of human souls from where they started to Earth, from Earth to the eternal seas of ages, from realm to realm, from plane to plane, from power to power! All clear! All perfect! Mystery which troubled her all gone! Rondah read on and on.
"Possibly I was sent here to learn," she said. "These books are wonderful!"
She laved her tear-stained face in the liquid pearl, braided her wind-blown hair into its smooth tresses, found her coronet and replaced it. Day and night passed outside the island; she consoled herself in the study of the strange, bewildering books, and read on, read on.
"It will be spring by and by," she said, "it will be spring by and by!" and the strong peace of the Sun Island calmed her grief; her tears were dried, her heartache charmed into quiet, her loneliness was forgotten. In the pinkish shades by pearly streams, under diamond trees and 'neath a rainbow sky, she almost forgot Regan!
REGAN returned to the palace as the darkness was deepening. The lamps in the great hall were unlit. Probably the bird-women were asleep, but he knew it was not that. Into the silent rooms he hastened.
Not there! No fire! No light! He ran to Father Renaudin's apartments. There lay Father Renaudin asleep!
With a groan of agony Regan called to him. With a curse of rage he shook him, shrieking at the senseless form:
"Awake! awake! you sleeping traitor, and tell me where is the wife whom I left with you!"
As well trouble the dead!
Gone, gone, gone!
Regan rushed through the corridor with a flaming torch, heedlessly stumbling on the sleepers lying wherever they had fallen, heedless of the fact that the cold was chilling the fireless palace.
"Rondah, come back! Rondah, come back!"
He repeated that call from the verandas; possibly she had not gone far; she might hear. He lighted a great lamp in the glass tower. She would perhaps see the lamp and return.
A white note lay on the floor. He seized it. "Good-bye" was written on it.
"Good-bye! Good-bye!" Not for him those words!
He held the letters far from him and looked at them. "Good- bye!"
Rondah's writing. Rondah's paper, with the crown in the corner. She had written on it "Good-bye!"
Staggering to a chair, Regan sat before the ash-covered hearth and crushed the white ghost of love in his powerful hand. The cold was creeping all around him; he noted it not; a worse chill was on his heart. He was fighting against human suspicion with the remembrance of human love!
There it was to condemn her. "Good-bye!"
In his heart was untold misery, but in his long life he had gained in many things more than human wisdom.
"It looks like treachery! It looks like desertion!" he admitted; "but in thirty-three hopeless years on Earth she did not forget me! Can she forget in a day here! A doom—that was what Father Renaudin called it. It could not be averted. It was to fall on Rondah; this has fallen on me!"
But where would she go? That other man, the one who walked on the cliffs! Regan had never seen him; but Father Renaudin had seen him and had reported to Regan his wonderful, God-like beauty.
"The Sun Island! Perhaps she is there!"
Regan rushed into the night; darkness was there; he could see nothing, but he cared for nothing. The winds cut like a keen knife, but a knife more cruel had cut his heart.
The winds howled those words. They would say nothing else.
"Rondah, Rondah," he whispered to the night, it would have been better not to have written it—Good-bye!
He saw the blaze of light of the Sun Island; he climbed the cliffs to his own stone house. The bird people looked like corpses in the gray light. He drank a stimulating liquid. He lighted the firewood which he had ordered so carefully piled to make a great, cheerful blaze for Rondah.
He sat beside this blaze and waited for the whitening of darkness, which was day.
If the sleep had not been almost death, they would have wakened to mourn with him, those tender-hearted, sympathetic bird people. As it was, they moved not while the awful sobs sounded in the drear house.
But why did Regan read, and again read, those cruel words, "Good-bye?"
When day came he strengthened himself with food and went out to see if there was not a frozen bridge to the isle. No; only a place where over the shallows of lava there were formed little, shifting, flake-like spots of ice.
Then Regan brought the great sledges and for three days he ceased not to throw cargoes of snow into the sea where the waves were so shallow. Not pausing for night, as if to save a lost soul, he worked for three terrible days, and he had almost bridged the short way.
One sledgeful fell. It struck on the invisible wall and rolled into the waves.
"I will not be stopped!" shrieked Regan.
With all his power he struck the wall; he threw himself against it, he cast ice at it.
He went back to the house, took another drink of the stimulant, returned with a heavy sledgehammer which three bird men could not swing. With this he struck the wall, that wall which could not be seen. The concussion knocked the hammer from his hand; the shock threw Regan into the snow.
The wall remained.
Like Rondah, he called the name of the one whom he loved. A new horror came upon him —he was going to sleep!
"My God, not this!" he cried when he saw it was sleep and not weariness. "My God, not this and Rondah still lost! Mercy! mercy!"
He dashed ice-cold water on his face. He deluged his head and hands with snow. He again roused himself with draughts of the powerful stimulant and rushed back to the wall. He was sure that she was there.
"Oh, death of years," he cried, "stand back until I find her, or come forever!"
Of all the star's promise Regan neither remembered nor thought. That with it they must live he had forgot. Only for time to find her!
Half-asleep, he struggled over the narrow, icy trails to that wall only to fall in the snow beside it.
Do you not hear it, Rondah? So near, can tinkle of diamond leaves and hum of musical air drown that horrid call, as Regan, beating the wall in despair, helplessly fighting off the sleep which comes with the force of the star itself, a force as resistless as that of tempest or earthquake, falls with that paper clutched in his hand, the paper with "Good-bye" written on it?
THE years passed changelessly in the Sun Island, an emotionless period of waiting, only serving to make her forget the past, forget everything which she ought to remember, Rondah thought.
She knew that in the continual perusal and study of the great books she was forgetting all else, knew that her very soul was changing character from them. When once in those books she had read words, it was impossible to forget them. The thoughts which were explained to her there were limitless, unpuzzled, perfectly finished. She never lost herself when trying to follow the mazes of her mind's flight.
But, when she tried to think back, it was a dim remembrance, as one remembers a far-away dream.
She could not sorrow deeply. Alone, she was never even lonely; there was the constant song humming in the air. It cheered her.
If the stranger were on the island, she never saw him. She concluded that he was asleep with the rest. She knew that the slumber came suddenly and irresistibly upon all.
The pink of Jupiter's kiss had shimmered in the brilliance of the isle for months when there came into it a faint green tinge.
"I wonder if it is almost spring?" thought Rondah, looking up at the amber cliffs half-covered with diamond-leaved forests. "I wonder if it is almost spring?" and she looked longingly away at the one rift in the burning garnet walls, where beyond them she could see the purple sea and reddish froth. No more was it cold, icy and dark.
For a moment, with its old, terrible intensity, her heart woke to its misery, but only to still heavily again.
A step sounded on the soft leaves beside her.
"Regan!" she cried, gladly, and sprang to her feet.
No, no; it was that stranger, emerald and glistening and of angelic countenance.
"Is it spring now?" asked Rondah, without preliminary. Perhaps he had come to take her home!
"It is winter, drear, dead, white winter. No one has awakened yet."
"Have you seen him?"
"No. I have searched the star and all the palace. I have not seen him."
But this was false, for as the stranger entered again the island, from which he had been walled all these years, he had passed where Regan was lying. Even as he spoke, and with so radiant a face, he remembered where he lay, his black hair frozen into the drifts, one hand, with Rondah's note crushed in its icy grasp, close to his heart, the other helplessly, frozen at the base of that wall.
He was certain that he should not be perplexed by his immediate presence. Still, he had admired his perseverance and pitied, almost, his human weakness when he had fallen.
Within these lovely vales once more with Rondah beside him, he cared little for the man of Earth, asleep in the snow outside the wall.
"We shall both be glad when spring is come, Rondah! I shall return to my own dear world. Will you remain forever in the Sun Island or go out into your little lava land again?"
"Oh, not here! I shall go home. How much longer must I wait?"
"Very long yet!"
"I have been here now almost thirty-three years. This star, with all that it contains, or will ever contain, is not to be compared with one of the lesser mountains of my world! I was sent from it to bring home a spirit which is so powerful that it can carry through my world and to all its satellites the truths of revelation! I was told who she was, and specially selected to come for her!"
The stranger paused.
"Where is she?" questioned Rondah; she was only thinking: "Very long yet before spring, and I am forgetting, all the time forgetting Regan!"
"She is fairer than earthly women, mightier than all earth's armies, than all its millions, for she can save nations, yes, worlds of men from Godless darkness. The fate of my sun and all its dependents is on her!
"It is a strange, grand mission," said Rondah, "greater than ours of humanity. Why do you waste these many years, while souls die, to find her?"
Then she forgot him in remembering the revelations of the books, what she had learned regarding some of the constellations, with their beginning, endurance and destinies. It was very likely. Revelations were to every world, but to none alike; they were taught by many differing agencies.
"She will surely go to my sun, for she is good and merciful. She is a wholly righteous spirit."
"You should find her at once. Souls perish while you wait!" said Rondah.
"I have found her!"
"Where is she?" again questioned Rondah.
"People do not know their brightest destinies. Is not this a bewildering opportunity for one to offer to man's ambition—a constellation, its ruling, its splendor and its salvation? Is not the bait tempting—the bait of worlds and souls?"
"I suppose so—to some," answered Rondah. "I presume that to Regan such an opportunity would be impossible of rejection. If only Regan had such a sun as that!"
Then upon the stranger's face there flashed a malignant lightning; his eyes shot phosphorescent, baleful gleams; but the expression fled in an instant, and Rondah saw it not.
"There the hills are diamonds, the rivers gold, the leaves of rose hue and fragrance. The great plains are of silver sheen.
"There merely human eyes would be blinded by the splendor. In the vast, jeweled cities there are the homes of men, the prosperity, excitement, learning, love and enjoyments of Earth. There are real people with noble hearts, perfect souls, intellects of powerful capacity, not baby bird-men! There are huge and beautiful beasts, which are harnessed for men's pleasure! The mighty and magnificent race are not of vegetable growth, who need this one spirit to save them!
"The sun is Jupiter! When it is so near that you can go back, it will be spring—time for Regan to wake. The sun is Jupiter! This star is lost among its satellites!"
Like bewitching music fell his words.
"Destiny is foreordained. The spirit whom I love will go. My measureless love for her is part of that ruling; her love for me must follow as fate!"
"Then you love this spirit? If so, I am sorry that you have sought her thirty-three years. You know how long have been these drear winter years for me, while Regan sleeps in the snow outside the wall!"
There was a shuddering cry; from the air or clouds it seemed. It was like a laugh, a wail, some moan of a lost soul. It frightened Rondah. She caught the momentary flash of hideous wrath on the man's face, but it was so quickly gone that she was not certain she saw it.
"Will you accept your mission, Rondah?"
"It is for you to save these souls!"
"I shall stay in Regan's star!"
"This dwarf realm is only a stepping-stone toward a higher throne. Not here is your sphere, with bird-men and -women. Up there they wait for you!"
He raised his hand and the clouds above them cleared away; beyond the gold they saw Jupiter; his fiery globe was splotched with great, glowing surfaces of yellow.
"Do you see them? Those are my golden lakes. The little, smooth, green moon near the star is one of the satellites which you can save. It is small, but three times the size of this star."
Rondah answered nothing.
"That beautiful world has perishing multitudes. They wait for you, Rondah! Will you lose them their salvation for one man of Earth? You are waiting for one merely human: I am of a race more powerful, as my world is greater. You alone can reveal the truths to these worlds. You must teach them, save them. Rondah, Rondah, why do you not look at me?"
His strong, white hands clutched the air beside her, but they could not touch the woman of Earth.
"Rondah, you are the spirit, you are my love!"
"Do you not know I do not love you?" said Rondah, quietly. "Does one so mighty know so little of human hearts?"
"All my worlds are yours. Surely, you must take them. From their creation the scheme of their existence was for you!"
Like a caress the light of ruby and of green fell upon Rondah's coronet and kissed her red-gold braids. Her pale, perfect face was pink with the light. Her lovely eyes burned with the glory of both colors.
"I will not go! I will stay in Regan's star!"
Slow, very slow, her answer, as if a sort of paralysis had touched her.
"He is a foe to Regan," whispered her wifely faith, "triumphant and gorgeous while Regan is asleep in winter helplessness. Thank Heaven is the last winter!"
"I hate you!" whispered her heart; almost her lips uttered the words.
"I love you!" cried the man, with an awful prayer in his voice. "I have waited years for a smile or a word. I will not return to my sun without you! Oh! come to your fate with me! You will come, Rondah, you will come?"
And now he caught her hands and turned her reluctant eyes to look at him.
It was not of duty—her strength—for duty with its care was forgotten in the dulling peace of the Sun Island. Love's might was asleep from the same influence. No strength came from the puny star on which she stood. Rondah felt the words of this man's speaking move her soul like Heaven. An ambition, which was the most powerful characteristic of her humanity, was wakened into quick, living unrest by his picture of the glorious world. His clinging hands seemed to hold her as a bond miraculous. Dead—faith, hope, trust, love—all dead with the Sun Island's peace and the star's cold!
Ah, it was from that Earth, that grand old Earth, away in space, remote, lost! It was the stern, narrow-fenced faith of her childhood which came now and stood in her heart and made her able to break all bonds of this unholy forging—that faith at which Regan had scoffed so often when it upheld Father Renaudin years before. It saved Rondah, his wife, when she had almost forgotten Regan.
"Never! I will not come!" she said, but she spoke so low, so hoarsely, that only the stranger heard it. "My God, my God, help me in this star! Come quickly, else I lose my soul!"
Ah, that was a cry which it seemed all the stars might hear. The brilliance lifted above the sky-like fog, and all the snowy wastes outside were visible. There were troops of awakened bird- people flinging themselves in flocks against the wall. There were ranks of elf-men raging and hammering at the wall. There was Regan awake, desperately trying to break down the barrier. There was Father Renaudin hastening to the spot from the far distant palace.
Rondah did not see that the clouds had lifted but all the Star saw her, saw her with cries of horror and despair, and with increase of futile rage.
"You will go, oh, Rondah! I cannot leave you forever! I love you!"
"Go, go!" cried Rondah. "I will never leave the star!"
There was again that shuddering wail. An agony was in its sound which woke all the other sleepers in the snow. It was the wail of lost souls!
The man turned away, dashing Rondah's hands from his hold. He flung shiny wings, which were hidden 'neath his robe, into the air, and in a second was in the clouds, his superb beauty changed to a loathsome darkness, his face grinning and horrid, as with his hands he clutched at her—the woman alone on the Sun Island. He howled at her and he shrieked at her.
The sky began to flicker with lights; these changed to seraphic faces. A thrilling, tremendous chorus of words sounded in the air around:
"Blessed art thou, woman of Earth! Millions of souls hast thou saved this day!"
Then it faded. The air was silent. The music of the Sun Island was dead forever.
Then came a crash as of icebergs breaking. The wall had fallen. Father Renaudin had rushed to it and struck it with his staff of glass. The staff fell shattered in a thousand pieces, but the wall fell too, for the time of angels and of spirits was past in the star. The days of its revelations were ended. It was Rondah's star, and other instruments were not needed for its progression.
Regan in despair had dropped down as the stranger had flown. The elf-men, bringing Regan, the bird-men and Father Renaudin all rushed across the lava path, which the winter convulsions had uplifted from the water. They, surrounded Rondah. They laid Regan at her feet. Jupiter's day ended. Night fell.
Rondah sank upon her knees and, lifting his head in her arms, pressed kisses on Regan's cold lips.
"He is dead! he is dead! Let time die, too, that I need not leave him!" she sobbed, and a moan of sympathy burst from the saddened hearts of the bird-women. The elf-men wept and wailed.
"No, not dead," said Father Renaudin, "only overcome by the helpless horror of looking. He thought you would go. I thought you would go—the Star and all the angels thought you would go. It is an old, old tempter in a new sphere. You have saved a world from falling, Rondah. Your mission is here only. Jupiter is a fiery ball, unfit for life except of demons."
Regan opened his eyes at last, slowly, wearily.
"Here," he cried, with a half-sob, "here—not gone, not left me for a world of diamond mountains with golden rivers!" And he clasped Rondah in his ice-cold arms.
With all the anguish of the years in her voice, Rondah replied:
"Not for a universe of worlds, not for Heaven, until I must!"
ONCE more in the palace, Rondah and Regan were happy. Father Renaudin sat beside the fire in the silver room, engrossed in his studies. The star—a satellite of Jupiter—in one soft, steady reign of a new sun, began to change.
From the elf-men's forest of pods a new and superior race, though still of a small-winged, dwarfish kind, bloomed out. From the transplanted pods in the new fields there blossomed wingless creatures, whose advent Regan hailed with delight, but the cause of this phenomenon— the absence of wings—was unsuspected until he informed the wonder-stricken bird-men that he had amputated all wings at the time of removal and transplanting.
These differing races were not so harmonious as were the previous classes. The bird-people were strangely restless and cared nothing at all for those great architectural achievements which they had formerly been so pleased to pursue.
The elf-men, always a trouble, were still more stubborn and destructive, so much so that Father Renaudin ordered their permanent removal from the continent to one great island of the sea, and with the help of the huge wings of the bird-people, having reasoned them into an enthusiastic acceptance of the gift of the great island, they were conveyed there, where their destructive propensities could not affect the work of the superior races.
To the pleased surprise of their scheming managers, as soon as they absolutely possessed the isle, instead of destroying they began to build and cultivate their vales and decorate their mountains. A grotesque and clumsy style of architecture was theirs, and a gaudy and clashing selection of hues adorned the walls, but they were proud and triumphant, and Father Renaudin, who visited the new land with each week to teach and to preach, began soon to boast of his colonists. He was a monarch without knowing it.
The interior cities were almost deserted by the bird-men. They would not even repair the damages of the winter drift. The wingless men, who took this labor in charge, were very slow, but had much more judgment than their brilliant brethren.
The cause of all this restlessness of these people seemed to be the continual rising of the beautiful emerald moon. When it came close to the star, the voices of the bird-men made a clamor on the vales and hills. They did not seem to fear, although the two orbs were often dangerously close to each other. They only seemed wild as a fetterless flock of unreasoning birds.
The star was transforming itself into a dreamland. The silver trees of diamond leaves were transplanted from the Sun Island, and these bloomed freely everywhere. There came to life new forms of vegetation, new orders of annuals.
The storms of intense violence gradually died in the air. The showers of rain became frequent and no longer frightful.
The southern lava seas so cooled that the snow of the polar regions settled in spots upon the islands. Earthquakes became of less power. There were many of the boiling spots in the sea which ceased to simmer, when one far-off island burst into a living volcano and closed these lesser outlets.
And as the softened years thus redly glided on, the children of man were born in the star, and Regan's sons and daughters played under the silver trees.
The slow improvements continued without any material aid from the bird-men. The wings which Regan had always so hated now gave them that supremacy which he had always foreseen. It was fully demonstrated that a winged race were only subject when they chose to be, "temporarily."
ONE sunset they were all upon the lake-cooled roof, where was the glass island with its golden temple; the sun was bathing the star in liquid ruby; the emerald moon, at a point seeming nearer than ever before, came glinting its green into their skies. There were other moons, too, but only a single green one.
The loud clamoring of the bird-men was even more emphatic than usual. It resolved itself into words. These words were: "Farewell! farewell!
"What does this mean?" exclaimed Regan, starting to hinder them; but he returned to his seat. They had their wings and they had spread them.
From all the vales, from all the hills they rose in black flocks, shadowing the palace, darkening the air. And with the thunder of many wings added to the music of their voices, they left the star, sailing till they changed into a black spot and that soon lost to view in the distance.
"A migration to that emerald moon," said Father Renaudin. "That explains their restlessness for the past years.
"Yes, and that accounts for my half-finished cities and my slowly-built temples of commerce and art," said Regan. "Do not grieve, Rondah," he added. "They are gone, but more will soon blossom."
"Not so," said Father Renaudin. "Yesterday I visited the plain and found that the southern sea had penetrated the chasm. All the bird-pods sleep beneath hundreds of feet of water."
"Alas! alas! My beautiful, true friends! I did not dream that they would leave us like this!" said Rondah.
"It is better so. The race of men has now possession of the star," said Regan. "I never liked those wings, those black and breathful sheets of power. The elf-men will improve into a humanity. The wingless race is almost, if not entirely, human. To us and to our children is the star, Rondah!"
OF so great importance was the learning in the books that Regan and Rondah decided to explore the Sun Island and try to regain them.
Father Renaudin ventured to accompany them, although until he had entirely crossed the lava bridge he was not certain that the prohibition concerning his return had been removed. True, he had once stepped upon that sacred soil, but that was in what always seemed to him like a flash of lightning-like desperation and most dangerous presumption. He found no voice nor influence commanding him to retrace his steps, and the three proceeded to make a thorough exploration.
The beautiful isle lay before them, glowing like a gem, as much their own, it seemed, as any patch of earthly stubble. They had not seen it for several busy years. It was more enchanting than of yore. It even appeared larger. The rainbow cloud still hung above it, but the radiance of white, veiling light had gone with the wall. The heights of amber and garnet were clearly defined against the purplish sky of Jupiter. The amber palace stood, but no books were there.
For some days they had climbed the cliffs and penetrated to the ravines, when they were astonished to find near the sea a huge garnet gate. That it had been cut by men's handicraft from a cliff near by they could see. It was hinged and bolted with silver.
It was open.
"We have found the secret of the isle!" exclaimed Father Renaudin.
"I doubt not we have found one of the secrets of the universe!" answered Regan.
"But," slowly said Rondah, "shall we go in?"
"Why not? No death in the star!"
"I may not see my little children for many years!"
"They are safe where there is no danger. Come!"
The two, Father Renaudin and Rondah, stood hesitating, looking at the strength of the gate.
"Of what are you two afraid?" asked Regan.
"That the gate will shut!" answered both together.
"Destiny is! Come!" said Regan.
They descended the hewn stairs; as they went into the depths of the star they heard the gate shut with a clang.
"What fate may unbar it?" said Rondah.
"Be sure something will unlock it for us," said Father Renaudin.
"It has been built by humanity," said Regan.
The ever-surging sea was silent. The roar of the many volcanoes was not heard.
They soon found that the air and lights in the underground realm existed independently of any outside atmosphere or illumination. At intervals hung above them meteors of large size, which whitely blazed.
For a long distance their uninterrupted progress was through great garnet halls. Then they came into a vast cavern of silver. Silver was everywhere, either frosted or shining. Among supporting columns and through branching tunnels they searched, until they came to a small, round door.
"The gate to Heaven!" whispered Regan, and now he paused and dare not enter upon the field before him.
Here Father Renaudin was brave. Notwithstanding his revelations, the sudden sight of these things made him believe that Gregg Dempster had prepared for them this miracle of brilliance and left it for their delight.
They crept through the door and stood gazing in bewilderment, unable, among the reflections of light, to see where to go. For far before them swept into distance a moving, whispering sea, which was of no water ever known before. It was a tossing sheet of emerald and fire; glittering gems sweeping in liquid flames rolled in long smooth swells to fall in music at their feet.
The shore around was like frost of winter. Many blazing meteors whitened all with brilliance. A palace built by hands stood beside the waters. It had doors made of the silver trees which grew outside on the island. When Regan saw this he began to recover his presence of mind, for never before on the star had he been so utterly confounded.
Then came toward them a giant man. His robes were of jewel- covered fabric. He was most noble, and looked at them with gentlest eyes from a strong, calm face. He held out his hand. As they approached, he said:
"For this hour the star has whirled. This is the measure of a cycle. Fear no further!"
Then he called, and from the palace came hundreds of people, yes, very people of Earth. They were strangely glorified, but men and women, who cried out, in glad acclaim, "The time is here at last!" and who looked with delighted countenances upon these three.
"The long years have passed," said one
"They speak as men," said Rondah.
"Yes," said the man who towered in majesty so superior to any that he could not be supposed to belong to the same race. "Listen while I tell you the secret of the Sun Island and how it came to be here."
He moved his hand and a number of boys came forward and scattered upon the white rocks baskets of blossoms, making banks of flowers on which the three seated themselves while the man told them as follows:
"In time primeval, before the sun with its attendant worlds was spoken into being, where now we whirl, on this tiny orb, there rolled two stupendous, peopled worlds more vast than Jupiter. On these dwelt such as I, men whose lives were prolonged for ages. We reasoned for cycles. We built for great periods. We had years granted until we learned too much and grew weary of our knowledge.
"But woe and sin and hate, intensified in evil according to the size of the field and the capacity of the race, existed with us. For centuries my life was only part of a splendid pageant. Then I became troubled at the misery around me. I devoted my time to the unfortunate. Oh, there were so many! Their relief became the only pleasure of my life. I heard the prophecies about me. I noted the signs of impending disaster. I even heard the creaking of the sinews of our old world, and saw the continents being deserted for life beyond; but I was so busy. I hastened to get to a few more nations, and before I was there, while I was saying, 'Some other time I will lay down my life,' the globes, like two bubbles in air, burst into millions of fragments and my existence was indefinitely prolonged.
"Previously we had been instructed by agencies of a supernatural character, but I was vouchsafed no explanation, neither granted any instruction. On this fragment—a patch of my world—I floated for some chaotic cycles—somewhere! anywhere!
"Then I saw your sun, with worlds, called into that place where before all had been dark. Ages, oh, ages ago, my island dashed into the mass of hot vapor wherein were floating in steam Earth's oceans, for then the gaseous ball was very large. Later, I saw the oceans fall upon lava, to be sent off in clouds. I saw continents form, like black ice in scarlet seas, and saw them dashed into pieces to leave no record.
"I saw such forests as these on the star, and saw them with their hot marshes sunken under temporary seas. I began to wonder why was all this. Time became a long sorrow to me. The Earth was a break in its monotony, and when it became the abode of man I could scarce endure my long exile. For each short visit I must away to Saturn's kingdom out in distance. With far-seeing eyes, such as we have, I could look through some years, and see the deeds and also read the hearts of men.
"The souls on earth were as a page to me. All schemes in lives or mysteries of nature I could understand. I could recite to you long histories of the pre-Adamites. I saw the glory of Atlantis before the oceans submerged it. Its wisdom was superior to that of the race now on Earth, its achievement beyond all later achievement. So like gods grew those men that the Earth trembled at their power, and the mandate went forth to destroy their wicked brilliance and unpeople almost all the Earth.
"As I looked at the burnish of its wealth and saw its miraculous prosperity, I bethought me to fly down and save a few souls from the doomed land. With a great air-ship, such as we used in my world, I gathered from the Earth a few, and these are their descendants. Then there was a removal of oceans, an uplifting of other areas. The learning of ages, the temples of nations slept under the sun as I neared the Earth, and slept under the water as I left.
"Then the fragment was too small for us and I bethought me to capture a half-cooled ball of lava not far away. By means of heavy chains and air ships I hitched my island to this star, and later grafted its roots into the soil. According to the law of my great sphere, the lesser plant began at once to absorb the greater, and then it was revealed to me that when the Sun Island had extended over the entire star, absorbing all the lava substance, transforming all the seas to emerald and flame, I might proceed to realms more fair.
"I still watched Earth, through the glory into which the history of Egypt dies, into the progress of moderns where hope of history lives.
"More than a thousand souls I influenced from time to time. At last, there was born in an English hamlet a boy, Gregg Dempster. His mother died with a mad prayer on her lips: 'Let him not worship gold! Oh, take him to another, easier world than this!' In all the years I had not heard so simple a prayer uttered with so awful power of death. From his cradle I watched the child through friendless youth, loveless manhood, monomaniac age, and saw him in abject poverty, yet ever shielded from the greatest grief of men. Often I urged him on, often I taught him secrets, often I gave him courage. I spoke when he lay upon his bier. It was not he. I stood here to meet him when he came first upon the star. I walled for him the Sun Island.
"Then, Regan, my eyes saw you forsaken in the forest, with your little sister in a wilderness. Your mother prayed not but cast herself to death. I thought, 'Where is some man to save these souls?' Father Renaudin had had no visions then. While you and Isabella sobbed in the forest, she freezing and you despairing, I lighted for Father Renaudin that vision of his duty which flashed into his eyes and burned into his soul. It made him shake off his habit of slothful luxury, and sent him to where you stood. That very night he found good homes for both of you. Do you remember that, Regan?"
"I shall remember that when the suns have grown cold!" answered Regan.
"I noted that, with all your heavy curse, the curse of the father and the curse of the mother also, you were yet strangely noble. You chose for yourself the humble home of poverty, and gave all the brightness of life to your sister. I wondered would you too forget. Through the imposed silence concerning the relationship I saw you always faithful, always in human love bound beyond power of separation to sever. I was near you when you fought your path through disgrace and poverty in life. In your deepest troubles, in your darkest disgrace, I was there, but I could not excuse your course. I could only pity your weakness and remember the curse of the father, the curse of the father!
"I did not note Rondah until she came, like a ministering spirit, to care for Gregg Dempster when he was near death. The prayer of Gregg Dempster's mother was answered from Heaven. Father Renaudin and yourself I watched and aided. Rondah was blessed by the kindness of the angel-man!
"You came to me," said Father Renaudin, "when I stood on the cliff and with despairing misery looked over the star. You whispered in the air: 'Man, you have dreamed a god's dream with human strength! You have been given a field where humanity can accomplish the godlike dream!' It was time for you to come. My soul fainted, my faith faltered!"
"Yes, it was time. Humanity has so little faith. It has so little revelation. But from this time on I may reveal much. Come!"
They walked along the shore of the emerald sea, the people of Earth about them, but like an angelhood. Wisdom of deathless years was in their eyes.
"From what a race are we degenerate!" said Father Renaudin.
"To what a height may we not rise!" answered Regan.
Rondah had not been so long from Earth as to feel so keenly the wonder as she mingled with a crowd of mankind.
Before them rose a white-walled city; into its streets they walked. The old song was in the air, the song of the Sun Island.
Beyond were fields of sapphire blue, each leaf with the slightest touch of gold upon it.
"These are our fields; these are our seas; here is our city; humanity is our people," said their guide. "See here!"
They looked to see where the roots of silver had crowded the lava above the branching stems. Seeing them entirely bewildered at the ideas so swiftly presented to them, the man of the old world said:
"Can you not understand? Do you know how a coral builds an island? Can you not believe that a world may be a plant, and a plant may have animal life? They almost, if not quite approach to it even in your Earth. The star belongs to your sun, but our world was the property of another sun and had a different order to follow. The great ball could think and move, and when we too deeply wrought its brilliant breast, groaned with an awful voice. We were not astonished at that, as were you, in horror, when the island cried aloud. Look here!"
They saw the ocean, drop by drop, falling through the silver rocks into the emerald sea.
"How long shall I be here?" mused the guide. "Until, drop by drop, the sea of the Sun Island has swallowed the seas of the star! How many drops are there in your seas, Regan? When they are all gone you will be sole monarch of the most lovely star whirling in this portion of the heavenly constellations!
"Let me tell you what you are destined to do here. Not to dwell with bird-people nor to wait for the development of elf- men. Here is your own race. You have now to select for your outside world twelve such as you choose, and of these will be the kingdoms of the future. Look never for a human soul to evolve from a vegetable nor to rise into the body of a goblin elf- man.
"As the star floats you shall teach it all things; make better laws than ever Earth dreamed of; create a paradise! Man should learn to lay each stone to stand for a thousand years. Your records should be on walls of amber, not in books of silver.
"Among the bird-people there is no sin, but the human race is still burdened with its taint. When the star is builded with colossal cities, the sea spanned with silver bridges, the hills scintillating with diamond forests, whether or not sin be eradicated remains with you, Regan. Rondah has saved all the bird-people; to save humanity is for the king of the star! Come yet further!"
Like a giant marble statue given a life he seemed as he moved in grandeur, the radiance of his robes blinding them. The crowd about were wrapped in cloud-mist of pink, and folds of rainbow were their draperies. The music of the many footfalls was like the tinkling of numberless silver bells.
"Would you see a remembrance of the pre-Adamites?"
There rose before them a vision of altars, robed priests and cloudy incense, flowers, gold, mystery of musical incantation.
"That is one of the old fair scenes of worship. So did primeval man worship a mystery above him."
Then the vision fled. Another rose.
"That is my world! Oh, blessed home!" said the man of might.
They looked on works of such magnitude that the surface of the star had not been able to uphold them—steeds of immense strength and majestic in motion, vehicles moving a thousand men at once. As this vision also vanished, Regan asked:
"Is then our Earth so inferior?"
"In size and in beauty, yes; in revelation from God blessed above many others."
Then rose their star as it was to look in the future.
"The dearest land of all!" exclaimed Rondah. "Parzelia!"
"What moving thing is that? What crosses in those swallowing waters?" cried Regan. "Is it a ship for my seas at last?"
"Why need a ship where silver bridges span all channels?" and the man laughed, which strangely shocked them all till they remembered he was not a god. He was even no angel. The island grew as a plant; the visions might be the product of any mind which had had so long to invent. A holier man of greater length of life. This only.
And still in the picture moved the immense vehicle safely through the sea. The sides were veiled in silver and diamond foliage. Sometimes the water surged on its sides, sometimes it was hidden behind smoke of volcano. It moved on. Then Regan saw stone paws stamping in the water heavily.
"It is the island—the island, which lives!" cried he, in triumph.
"Man of Earth, that is the last of this kind of revelation," said the man of might. "Remember well all I shall show you, for after the gate closes when you return to the outer star it will never be again unbarred! It will be a barrier as impassable as the gulf which separates the lost from happiness! I, under the star, you, upon it, will have our separate existences from now forever! When I depart, you will not know, you will never hear a whisper of our life again! Therefore learn now. The island shall take you to volcanic south or to north no longer arctic. It shall carry your colonists to every land where Jupiter shines.
"See the faint remembrances of my former life! I have made all the models very much smaller than they were of old!"
Then they entered a great building and looked on mysteries innumerable, and on devices for purposes unknown, superseding all earthly art. Machines were there which walked through mountains to tunnel them, others for lifting a continent, if the feat were necessary; machines for flying, contrivances for communicating with other spheres. These were a few among the many of which they could comprehend the use, but not the principle. There were walls of lace-work in gold, temples of lace-work in amber, masses of gem-sheened fabrics, piles of jewels, long lines of golden statuary, and marvels of wind-harps with pipes to make mystic music without hands.
When they were weary the man said: "Come float on the sea!"
A circular boat of silver and sailed with pink clouds came to meet them. Around the circular edge sat fifty red-robed oarsmen, wearing high white caps all glinting with gems; they moved the boat across the sea by means of paddles of circular sheets of hammered silver, fastened upon the ends of long staves of blue pearl. The craft was in two sections. The central part was a half-sphere of amber separate from the rest and merely floated by its encircling. On this was a silver canopy where they reposed to watch the scene.
They paused before a length of smooth rising shore, and there were assembled the shimmering multitudes, hailing in earthly voices the advent of the earth-king, Regan. Each one was in robes of jeweled cloth, for it was a gala day. Twelve were to be chosen to go outside the gates, and each one desired to be one of the twelve. They had been happy there for ages, in their constantly expanding kingdom, but they were human and they wanted change. And another thing, they wanted the glory of building a world, for they were of the Atlantean race. They moved like flashes of light.
A group of seers was admitted upon the craft to bring to Father Renaudin books of great importance, sealed bottles of amber, curious flasks of medicines and boxes of precious perfumes. These were laid most reverently at his feet, and, amid his thanks, the seers, with obeisance, moved away.
"I would there were more of these compounds and mixtures," said the man of the old world. "They are powerful and most necessary. I have not been able to remember a millionth part of the alchemy of old, there were so many things to do, there was so much which I did not prepare. If I had only had more time, it would have been better!"
"And were you," asked Rondah, "you, who lived for cycles, hurried in your lifetime?"
"Oh, yes! I could not do half. I left all my noblest dreams unrealized; my highest hopes proved fruitless!"
"Impossible!" sighed Father Renaudin.
"Shall we accomplish our mission? Shall we bring a finished life's work to a world's end?" asked Rondah.
"Never! never! Eternity is too short to finish the endless labor of a universe! I doubt if God Himself has ever ended his work! From time beginningless to time eternal the march of labor goes on, from little sphere to larger, from lesser soul to greater, from duller intellect to one more brilliant! It is the changeless law for men and for angels alike! Onward, ceaselessly move onward, is the united aim of all dissevered instruments!
"There can come no pause. No man has ever moved an iota back since chaotic universes were spoken into moveless black of horrified space. Nor demon, nor angel, nor God on high has stopped the course, from its accomplished lower task on the path to do its unfinished higher task, of atom or of sun since first the blistering balls of howling, hissing fire were whirled away upon their non-clashing cycles. There is no end to labor! Labor is the duty of suns! Labor is the delight of Heaven!"
"When shall I chain my star? When may I drive it like the isle? When may I say to adverse fate, 'Stand still?'" asked Regan.
"When you have eradicated sin from the hearts of all this humanity, now removed from the curse of Earth, when you shall have grown more aged and more wise than am I, for I cannot do that," answered their guide; "no, I cannot do that!"
"What is the limit of our power?" asked Father Renaudin.
"There is no bound to what knowledge humanity may attain, save the clog of sin! Time, strength and study will overcome all other barriers!
"Monarch of Fate is man! Man yet shall chain the stars; shall drive the harnessed worlds!" said Regan Farmington.
"Rondah: or, Thirty-three Years in a Star," a peculiarly fascinating and absorbing novel by Florence Carpenter Dieudonné, is written in the fruitful vein of fancy and mystery opened by H. Rider Haggard in "She" and "King Solomon's Mines" but in many points surpasses those weird and popular romances. It is exceedingly clever and brilliant. The plot is ingenuity itself, and the incidents are strange and inexplicable enough to satisfy the strongest craving for the marvellous. In fact, the entire book is but a progression from one marvel to another, each succeeding episode distancing its predecessors in the element of wonder until the climax is reached in the disclosure of the mysteries and dazzling magnificence of that truly astounding spot, the Sun Island. Gregg Dempster, a visionary hermit, has discovered a little star, an uncooled planet yet in process of formation, and a mysterious method of reaching it. His friend Regan gains possession of his secret and the hermit dies. Regan, Roy Lee, Isabella, Rondah and Father Renaudin, a venerable priest, are in Dempster's hut during a storm while the hermit's corpse is yet lying there. Regan watches for the critical moment. It comes. He puts Rondah out of doors and the four remaining personages re whirled away to the star, where they meet with numerous wonderful adventures and experiences. Rondah is subsequently conveyed to the star and participates in many intensely weird and dramatic scenes. To the supernatural phases of the novel the author has added mortal love, hate, jealousy and enthusiasm, employing them with rare art and effect. The star's luxuriant summer with its wealth of vegetation and its icy winter of twenty years are graphically pictured. The natives are mostly bird people, winged and of vegetable growth, and over them Regan reigns a king. "Rondah" is crisply and vigorously written, and its special charm is the realistic way in which Us wonders re depicted, an air of probability being maintained throughout all its marvellous incidents. That everybody will read and vastly relish it goes without saying.
Roy Glashan's Library
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