List Of Contents | Contents of The Land of the Changing Sun
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

enveloped in the darkness.

"They hold us up," he said, "where do they go to?"

"To the big trucks which run on the tracks near the roof of the
cavern; the endless cables are up there, too, but we can not see
them with this glare about us."

"We can see nothing of Alpha from here," remarked Johnston
disappointedly, "we can see nothing beyond our circle of light."

"I should like to look down from this height at night," said the
Alphian. "It would be a great view."

"What is this?" Johnston went to one side of the platform and laid
his hand on the spokes of a polished metal wheel shaped like the
pilot-wheel of a steamboat. Branasko hastened to him.

"Don't touch it," he warned. "It looks as if it were to turn the
electric connection off and on. If the sun should go out, the
consequences would be awful. The people of Alpha would go mad
with fear."

The American withdrew his hand, and he and Branasko walked back to
the centre of the platform. Johnston uttered an exclamation of
surprise. "The light is changing."

And it was, for it was gradually fading into a purple that was
delightfully soothing to the eye after the painful brightness of a
moment before.

"I understand," said the Alphian, "we are running very
slow and are only now about to approach the great wall, for
purple is the color of the first morning hour."

"But how is the light changed?" asked Johnston curiously.

"By some shifting of glasses through which the rays shine, I
presume," returned the Alphian; "but the mechanism seems to be
concealed in the walls of the globe."

Not a word was spoken for an hour. They had lain down on the
platform near the iron railing which encompassed it, and Branasko
was dozing intermittently. Again the light began to change
gradually. This time it was gray. Johnston put out his hand to
touch Branasko, but the Alphian was awake. He sat up and nodded
smiling. "Wait till the next hour," he said; "it will be rose-
color; that is the most beautiful."

Slowly the hours dragged by till the yellow light showed that it
was the sixth hour. Branasko had been exploring the vast interior
below and came back to Johnston who was asleep on the floor of
the platform.

"I have just thought of something," said Branasko. "This is the
day appointed by the king to entertain his subjects with a grand
display of the elements."

"I do not understand," said Johnston.

"The king," explained the Alphian, "darkens the sun with clouds so
that all Alpha is blacker than night, and then he produces great
storms in the sky, and lightning and musical thunder. We may,
perhaps, hear the music, but we cannot witness the storm and
electric display on account of the light about us. It usually
begins at this hour; so be silent and listen."

After a few minutes there was a rumble from below like the roar of
a volcano and an answering echo from the black dome overhead. This
died away and was succeeded by a crash of musical thunder that
thrilled Johnston's being to its very core. Branasko's face was
aglow with enthusiasm.

"Grand, glorious!" he ejaculated, "but if only you could see the
lightning and the dawn in the east you would remember it all your
life. The sunlight is cut off from Alpha by the clouds, and there
is no light except the wonderful effects in the sky."

Johnston had gone back to the wheel and was examining it

"I have a mind to turn off the current for a moment anyway," he
said doggedly; "if the sun is hidden they would not discover it."

Branasko came to him, a weird look of interest in his eyes.
"That is true," he said; "besides, what matters it? We may not
live to see another day."

Johnston acted on a sudden impulse. He intended only to frighten
Branasko by moving the wheel slightly, and he had turned it barely
an eighth of an inch, when, as if controlled by some powerful
spring, it whirled round at a great rate, making a loud rattling
noise. To their dismay the light went out.

"My God! what have I done?" gasped the American in alarm.

"Settled our fate, I have no doubt," muttered the Alphian from the

Johnston had recoiled from the whirling wheel, and now cautiously
groped back to it, and attempted to turn it. It would not move.

"It has caught some way," he groaned under his breath.

"And we have no light to find the cause of the trouble," added the
Alphian, who had knelt down and was feeling about the wheel.
Presently he rose.

"I give it up," he sighed, "I cannot understand it. The machinery
is somewhere inside."

"It has grown colder," shuddered Johnston.

"We were warmed by the light, of course," remarked Branasko, "and
now we feel the dampness more. We are going at a frightful speed."

Just then there was a jar, and the sun swung so violently from
side to side that the two men were prostrated on the floor. The
speed seemed to slacken.

"I wonder if we are going to stop," groaned the American, and he
sat up and held to Branasko. "Perhaps they will draw us back to
rectify the mistake, and then----"

"It cannot be done," interrupted the Alphian. "The machinery runs
only one way. We shall simply have to finish our journey in

"They may catch us on the other side before the sun starts back
through the tunnel," suggested the American.

"Not unlikely," returned Branasko. "There, we are going ahead
again. One thing in our favor is that we can more easily escape
capture in darkness than if the sun were shining."

"Does the sun stop before entering the tunnel?"

"I do not know," replied Branasko; "perhaps somebody will be there
to see what is wrong with the light. We must have our wits about
us when we land."

Johnston was looking over the edge of the platform. "If the
king's display is taking place down there I can see no sign of

"How stupid of us!" ejaculated Branasko. "Of course, clouds
sufficiently dense to hide the sun from Alpha would also prevent
us from seeing the display below. I ought to----"

He was interrupted by a grand outburst of harmony. The whole
earth seemed to vibrate with sublime melody. "Our blunder has not
been discovered yet," finished Branasko, after a pause, "else
the fete down below would have been over. I am cold; shall we go

Johnston's answer was taken out of his mouth by a loud rattling
beneath the floor, near the wheel he had just turned; the sun
shook spasmodically for an instant, and its entire surface was
faintly illuminated, but the light failed signally.

"It must have been an extra current of electricity sent to relight
the lamps," remarked Johnston; and, as he concluded, the sun
trembled again, and another flash and failure occurred. "Look,"
cried the American, "the clouds are thinning; see the lights
below! They have discovered the accident!"

They both leaned over the railing and looked below. As far as the
eye could reach, within the arc of their vision, they could see
fitful lights flashing up, here and there, and going out again.
And then they heard faint sounds of crashing masonry and the
condensed roar of human voices, which seemed to come from above
rather than from below. The Alphian turned. "I cannot stand the
cold," he said.

Johnston followed him. The rapid motion of the swinging sphere
made him dizzy, and he caught Branasko's arm to keep from falling.

"How can we tell when we go over the wall?" he asked anxiously.

"We shall have to guess at it," was the answer. "At any rate we
must be near the lower door so as to get out quickly if it is
necessary to do so to escape detection."

In the darkness they slowly made their way down the stairs to the
great room.

"There ought to be some way of making a light," said the Alphian,
and his voice sounded loud and hollow in the empty chamber. After
several failures to find the stairs they descended to the door
they had entered. Branasko opened it a little, and a breeze came
in. They sat down on the stone, and after a while, in sheer
fatigue, they fell asleep. Hours passed. Branasko rose with a
start, and shook Johnston.

"Our speed is lessening," he exclaimed. "We must be going down. Be
ready to jump out the instant we stop. There, let me open the door

Chapter XIV.

When Tradmos spoke the words of warning, Thorndyke put his arm
round the princess and drew her after Tradmos, who was hastening
away in the gloom.

"Wait," she said, drawing back. "Let us not get excited. We are
really as safe here as there; for in their madness they will kill
one another and trample them under foot." She led him to a parapet
overlooking the great court below. "Hear them," she said, in pity,
"listen to their blows and cries. That was a woman's voice, and
some man must have struck her."

"Tell me what is best to do," said the Englishman. "I want to
protect you, but I am helpless; I don't know which way to turn."

"Wait," she said simply, and the Englishman thought she drew
closer to him, as if touched by his words.

There was a crash of timbers--a massive door had fallen--a
scrambling of feet on the stone pavement, and they could see the
dark human mass surging into the court through the corridors
leading from the streets.

"What are they doing?" asked Thorn dyke.

She shrank from the parapet as if she had been struck.

"Tearing the pillars down," she replied aghast; "this part of the
palace will fall. Oh, what can be done!"

There was a grinding of stone upon stone, a mad yell from an
hundred throats, the crash of glass, and, with a thunderous sound,
a colossal pillar fell to the earth. The roof beneath the feet of
the princess and Thorndyke trembled and sagged, and the tiling
split and showered about them.

Raising Bernardino in his arms, as if she were an infant,
Thorndyke sprang toward the stairway leading to his chambers, but
the roof had sunken till it was steep and slippery. One instant he
was toppling over backward, the next, by a mighty effort, he had
recovered his equilibrium, and finally managed to reach a safer
place. As he hurried on another pillar went down. The roof sagged
lower, and an avalanche of mortar and tiling slid into the court
below. Yells, groans, and cries of fury rent the air.

Bernardino had fainted. Thorndyke tried to restore her to
consciousness, but dared not put her from him for an instant. On
he ran, and presently reached a flight of stairs which he thought
led to his chambers. He descended them, and was hastening along
a narrow corridor on the floor beneath when Bernardino opened her
eyes. She asked to be released from his arms. He put her down,
but supported her along the corridor.

"We have lost our way," he said, as he discovered that the
corridor, instead of leading to his chambers, turned off obliquely
in another direction.

"Let's go on anyway," she suggested; "it may lead us out. I have
never been here before. I--" A great crash drowned her words.
The floor quivered and swayed, but it did not fall. On they ran
through the darkness, till Thorndyke felt a heavy curtain before.
He paused abruptly, not knowing what to do. Bernardino felt of
its texture, perplexed for an instant.

"Draw it aside, it seems to hang across the corridor," she said.
He obeyed her, and only a few yards further on they saw another
curtain with bars of light above and below it. They drew this
aside, and found themselves on the threshold of a most beautiful

In the mosaic floor were pictures cut in colored stones, and the
ceiling was a silken canopy as filmy and as delicately blue as the
sky on a summer's night. The floor was strewn with richly
embroidered pillows, couches, rugs and ottomans; and here and
there were palm trees and beds of flowers and grottoes. A solitary
light, representing the moon, showed through the silken canopy in
whose folds little lights sparkled like far-off stars.

Thorndyke looked at the princess inquiringly. She was bewildered.

"I have no idea where we are," she murmured. "I am sure I have
never been here before; but there is another apartment beyond.
Listen! I hear cries."

"Some one in distress," he answered, and he drew her across the
room and through a door into another room more beautiful than the
one they had just left. Here, huddled together at a window
overlooking the court, were six or eight beautiful young
women. They were staring out into the darkness, and moaning and
muttering low cries of despair.

"It is my father's ladies," ejaculated the princess aghast. "He
would be angry if he knew we had come here. No one but himself
enters these apartments."

Just then one of the women turned a lovely and despairing face
toward them, and came forward and knelt at the feet of Bernardino.

"Oh, save us, Princess," she cried.

"Be calm," said the princess, touching the white brow of the
woman. "The danger may soon pass; this portion of the palace is
too strongly built for them to injure it." Then she turned to
Thorndyke: "We must hasten on and find our way down; it would
never do for us to be seen here." Then she turned to the kneeling
woman and said gently: "I hope you will say nothing to the king of
this; we lost our way in trying to get down from the roof."

"I will not," gladly promised the woman, and seeing that
Bernardino knew not which way to turn, she guided them to a door
opening into a dimly-lighted corridor. "It will take you out to
the balconies and down to the audience-chamber," she said.
The princess thanked her, and she and the Englishman descended
several flights of stairs. Reaching one of the balconies they met
the denser darkness of the outside and the deafening clang and
clamor of the multitude. There was no light of any kind, and
Thorndyke and his charge had to press close against the balustrade
of the balcony to keep from being crushed by the mad torrent of

Now and then a strident voice would rise above the din:--

"Down with the palace! Death to the king!"

The trumpet in the tower sounded again and again.

"It is my father trying to attract their attention," explained the
princess. "Something very serious has happened for once. In
speaking of the time the sun went out before, he told me that he
had made an invention which, in such a crisis, would instantly
restore confidence to the people. I cannot understand why he does
not use it. Oh, I am afraid they will kill him!"

Thorndyke tried to console her, for he saw that she was weeping,
but just then there was a strange lull in the general tumult. What
could have happened?

"The dawn! the ideal dawn!" cried Bernardino, pointing to the
eastern sky. Thorndyke looked in wonder. A purple light had spread
along the horizon, and as it gradually softened into gray and
slowly turned to pink, the noise of the populace died down. No
sound could now be heard save the low groans of wounded men and
women. What a sight met the view as the rose-light shimmered over
the city! The dead and dying lay under the feet of the crowd.
Almost every creature bore some mark of violence. Eyes were blood-
shot, clothing torn, limbs were bleeding, and mingled fury and
sudden hope struggled in each ashen face. The young trees and
shrubbery had been trampled under foot, and walls, arcades and

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: