List Of Contents | Contents of The Land of the Changing Sun
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where the lava turned to molten spray, hung countless stalactites
of every color known to the artistic eye. And from the foot of the
fountain ran a tortuous rivulet that lighted the walls and roof
of a narrow chamber that extended for miles down toward the bowels
of the earth.

Branasko was delighted.

"The king does not know of this," he declared, "else he would make
it accessible to his people, and call it one of the wonders of
Alpha. By accidentally sinking into the pit we have discovered it.
But," he concluded, "we must at once try to find some way out
other than that by which we came."

They turned from the beautiful fountain, and, holding to each
other's hands, and aided by the light behind them, they stumbled
laboriously through the semi-darkness. Branasko's ears were very
acute. He paused to listen.

"Hark ye!" he cautioned.

The combined roar of the pit and the fountain of lava had sunk to
a low murmur, but ahead of them they now heard a rushing sound
like a distant tornado.

"Come on," said the Alphian, and he drew his companion after him
with an eagerness the American was slow to understand. The light
in the cavern gradually grew brighter. By a circuitous route they
were again approaching the pit of fire, though it was still hidden
from sight.

Finally they reached a point where the wind was blowing stiffly,
and further on a volume of cold spray suddenly dashed upon them
and wet them to the skin. And when their eyes had become
accustomed to the rolling mist, they saw a great lake, and pouring
into it from high above was a mighty waterfall.

"Mercy!" ejaculated the Alphian, in great alarm. "If this is salt
water we are lost. All Alpha will come to an end!"

"What do you mean?" And Johnston wondered if Branasko's trials and
struggle could have turned his brain.

"If it be salt water, then it has broken in from the ocean above
Alpha," he explained. "The king has often said that not a drop
of the ocean has ever entered the great cavern."

Branasko stooped and wet his hand in a little pool at his feet. "I
am almost afraid to taste it," said he, holding his hand near
his mouth. "It would settle all our fates." He waited a moment
and then touched his fingers to his tongue.

"Salt!" That was all he said for several moments. He folded his
arms and looked mutely toward the boiling lake. Presently he
raised his eyes to the great hole in the roof, and groaned: "The
break is gradually widening. These stones are freshly broken, and
the great bowl is filling."

"It will fill all Alpha with water and drown every soul in it,"
added the terrified American.

"That, however, is not the most immediate danger," said Branasko
wisely. "They would first suffocate, and later their bodies would
be swallowed up in the stomach of the earth."

"What do you mean?"

Branasko shrugged his shoulders. "As soon as this bowl is filled
with water, which would not take many hours, it would run over
into the lake of fire and produce an explosion that would rend
Alpha from end to end."

"Who knows, it might turn the whole Atlantic into the centre of
the earth, and destroy the entire earth."
But Branasko was unable to grasp the full magnitude of the remark,
for to him the world was simply a vast cavern lighted by human
ingenuity. He fastened a narrow splinter of stone upright in the
shallow water at his eet, and, lying down on his stomach with his
eyes close to it, he studied it for several minutes. When he got
up, a desperate gleam was in his dark eyes.

"It is rising fast," he said. "We must attempt to get to the
capitol and warn the king. It is possible that he may be able
to stop the opening. The only thing left to us is to try our
machine again."

Johnston found it hard to keep pace with him as he bounded out of
the mist and on toward the faint glow ahead. Reaching the flying
machine Branasko entered it and turned on a small electric light.

"Ah," he grunted with satisfaction, "I have found a light. I can
now see what is the matter with it."

Johnston stood outside and heard him hammering on the metal parts
in the car, and became so absorbed in thinking of the peril of
their position that he was startled when Branasko cried out to
him:--"All right. I think we can make it do; a pin has lost out,
but perhaps I can hold the piece in place with my foot. If only we
can stand the heat of the pit long enough to rise above it, we may

Johnston followed him into the car. Branasko seated himself firmly
and gave the wheel a little turn. Slowly the machine rose. "See!"
cried Branasko, "it is under control. "We must not be too hasty.
Now for the pit!"

The heart of the American was in his mouth as the long black
wings waved up and down and the air-ship, like some live thing,
shuddered and swept gracefully out of the mouth of the cave into
the glare and heat of the pit.

"Hold your breath!" yelled Branasko, and he bent lower into the
car to escape the shower of hot ashes that was falling about them.
Far out over the lake in a straight line they glided, and there
came to a sudden halt. Johnston's eyes were glued on his
companion's face. Branasko sat doubled up, every muscle drawn, his
eyes bulging from their sockets. Would he be strong enough? To
Johnston everything seemed in a whirl. The walls of the pit were
rising around them.

Chapter XVI.

Thorndyke went down into his chambers to make his toilet and was
ready to leave when there was a soft rap on his door. He opened
it, and to his surprise saw Bernardino modestly draw herself back
into the shadow of the hall.

"Pardon me, but I must speak to you," she stammered in confusion.

"What is it?" he asked, going out to her.

"I want to advise you to avoid my father to-day. He is greatly
disappointed with the accident of yesterday, and he is never
courteous to strangers when he is displeased. He was particularly
anxious to have you entertained by the fete."

"Thank you; I shall keep out of his way," promised the Englishman.
"Where had I better stay--here in my rooms?"

"No, he might send for you. If you would care to see Winter Park,
I can go with you as your guide."

"I should be delighted; nothing could please me more."

"But," (as a servant passed in the room with a tray) "that is your
breakfast. Meet me at the fountain at the north entrance of the
palace in half an hour." And, drawing her veil over her face, she
vanished in the darkness of the corridor.

After he had breakfasted and sent the man away, he hastened below
to the place designated by the princess. She was waiting for him
under the palm trees, and was so disguised that he would not have
known her but for her low amused laugh as he was about to pass

"It would not do for any one to suspect me," she explained; "my
father would never forgive me for doing this." She pointed to a
flying-machine near by. "We must take the air; I have made all the
arrangements. Winter Park is beyond the limits of the city."

He followed her across the grass to the machine and into the car.
They could see the driver behind the glass of the narrow
compartment in which he sat, and when he turned the polished metal
wheel the machine rose like a liberated balloon.

Thorndyke looked out of the window. The blue haze of the fifth
hour of the morning was breaking over everything, and as the
domes, pinnacles, and vari-colored roofs fell away in the
beautiful light, the breast of the Englishman heaved with
delightful emotions. Bernardino was watching his face with a
gratified smile.

"You like Alpha," she said, half anxiously, half inquiringly.

"Very much," he replied; "but I want to show you the great world I
came from;--and some day perhaps I can."

The blood ran into her cheeks suddenly, and then as quickly
receded, leaving a wistful expression in her eyes. She sighed. "It
has been my dream for a long time. I have always imagined that it
is more wonderful than Alpha; but you know there is no chance for
you to return now."

"I shall manage to escape some way and you shall go with me as my

Her blushes came again. "I did not know that you cared that much
for me," she said. Then, as if to change the subject, she
pointed through the window. "See, we are approaching the Park,
and shall descend in a moment."

He looked out of the window and then drew his head in quickly.

"We are coming down into a big lake!" he cried out.
"Oh, no, it is only the glass roof of the park," she laughed;
"true, it does look like water in the sunlight."

The machine sank lower and finally rested on a plot of grass in a
little square ornamented with beds of flowers and white statues.
Thorndyke saw a seemingly endless wall, so high that he could not
calculate its height. Bernardino preceded him in at a great
arching door in the wall, and they found themselves in a stone-
paved vestibule several hundred feet square.

A maid servant came forward at once and brought heavy fur clothing
for them and invited them into separate toilet rooms. When he came
out Bernardino was waiting for him. He could hardly breathe, so
thick were the furs he had put on.

"It is warm here, but it will be colder in a moment," said the
princess. And she led him to a door across the room. When the door
was opened, Thorndyke uttered an exclamation of astonishment.
Before their eyes lay a wide expanse of snow-covered roads,
woodlands and frozen lakes and streams. The air was as crisp and
invigorating as a Canadian winter.

Bernardino led him to a pavilion where a number of pleasure-
seekers were gathered and selected a sleigh and two mettlesome
horses. She took the reins from the man, and sprang lightly into
the graceful cutter. Thorndyke followed her and wrapped the thick
robes about her feet. Away they sped like the wind down the smooth
road, through a leafless forest. Overhead the glass roof could not
be seen, but a lowering gray cloud hung over them and a light snow
was falling.

"Winter Park is a great resort," the princess explained; "we get
tired of the unchanging climate, and it is pleasant to visit such
a place as this. There is a winter park in every town of any size
in Alpha."

They drove along the shore of a beautiful lake, on the
frozen surface of which hundreds of skaters were darting here
and there, and passed hillsides on which crowds of young people
were coasting in sleds. When they had driven about ten miles in a
circuitous route she turned the horses round.

"We had better return," she said; "you have not seen all of the
Park, but we can visit it some other time."

Outside they found their flying-machine awaiting them, and were
soon on the way back to the city. They parted at the fountain in
the park, she hastening to the palace, and he turning to stroll
through the little wood behind him.

He was passing a thick bunch of trees when he was startled by
hearing his name called. He turned round, but at first saw no one.

"Thorndyke!" There it was again, and then he saw a hand beckoning
to him from a hedge of ferns at his right. He stepped back a few
paces; a man came out of the wood.

It was Johnston, his face was white and haggard, his clothing rent
and soiled.

"My God, can it be you?" gasped the Englishman.

"Nobody else," groaned Johnston, cautiously advancing and laying a
trembling hand on the arm of Thorndyke; "but don't talk loud, they
will find me."

"Where did you come from?"

Johnston pointed first to the east, and then swept his hand over
the sky to the west.

"Over the wall," he said despondently. "From the dead lands behind
the sun."

"How did you get back here?"

For reply Johnston parted the fern leaves and pointed to the lank
figure of the tall Alphian, who lay curled up on the grass as if
asleep. "He brought me in that flying- machine there; but he has
spent all his strength in trying to manage the thing, which was
out of order, and now he is helpless. Twice we came within an inch
of sinking down into the internal fires. The last time we escaped
only by the breadth of a hair; if he had not had the endurance of
a man of iron he would have succumbed to the heat and we would
have been lost. We sank so far down that I became insensible and
never knew a thing till the fresh air revived me. See, my beard
and hair are singed, and look how he is blistered. Poor fellow! He
is a hero." Johnston stepped back and shook the Alphian, but the
poor fellow's head only rolled to one side, showing his bloodshot
eyes. He was in- sensible.

"He is in a bad fix," said Thorndyke; "where did he come from?"

"Banished like myself; we met over there in the dark and roamed
about together."

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know; I was following his lead. We will both be put to
death if we are discovered."

"Did he not tell you his plan?"

Johnston started visibly. "Oh, I forgot," he exclaimed. "He
declares that all this vast cavern is in danger. Over in the west
we discovered a hole in the roof through which the ocean is
streaming in a torrent. He calculated that before many hours the
water would overflow into the internal fires and produce a
volcanic eruption that will swallow up all of Alpha."

"Merciful Heaven! and you are hiding here at such a moment? The
king must be informed at once."

Johnston had grown suddenly paler. "It may not be as bad as
Branasko feared, and the king would have no mercy on me and him."

"Leave that to me," said Thorndyke; "I have made a good friend of
the Princess Bernardino. She will tell me what is best to do.
Remain here."

In breathless haste, Thorndyke went into the audience chamber.
Fortunately the king was not on his throne, and he caught sight of
the confidential maid of the princess.

She saw him approaching, and withdrew behind a cluster of tall
white jars of porcelain containing rare plants.

"I must see your mistress," he said; "tell her to come to me at
once; we are in great peril!"

The girl swept her eyes over the balconies and the throne and
said: "She is in her apartments, sir; I shall bring her."

"Tell her to meet me at the fountain where we last met," and he
hastened back to the spot mentioned.

She soon came. "What is it?" she asked excitedly.

"Johnston is back," he replied. "He is in the wood there with a
fellow who escaped with him in a disabled flying-machine. He
says the sea has broken through over in the west and is streaming
into Alpha in a torrent."

"Surely there is some mistake," she said; "such a thing has never

"It may have been caused by the explosives during the storm," went
on Thorndyke. "Branasko, the Alphian who was with Johnston, says
we are in imminent peril."

"There must be some mistake," she repeated incredulously, as she
looked to westward. The green glow of the second hour of the
afternoon lay over everything. She stood mute and motionless for a
long time,

looking steadily at the horizon; then she started suddenly,
changed her position, and shaded her eyes from the sunlight.

"It really does seem to me that there is a cloud rising, and it
is unlike any cloud I ever saw."

"I see it too!" cried the Englishman; "it must be that the water

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