has already reached the internal fires." Bernardino was very pale when she turned to him. "My father must know this at once; come with me." Into the palace, through the vast rotunda, past the throne, and into the very apartment of the king himself she led him hastily. A royal attendant met them and held up his hands warningly. "The king is asleep," he said in an undertone. "Wake him -- wake him at once!" commanded the excited girl. "I cannot, it would offend him," was the reply. She did not pause an instant, but darting past the man and running to the king's couch, she drew the curtain aside and touched the sleeper. He waked in anger, but her first word disarmed him. "Alpha is in danger." "What!" he growled, half awake. "The sea is breaking through in the west, and running into the internal fires." "How do you know that?" "A dense cloud is rising in the west, and:----" "Impossible!" the word came from far down in his throat, and he was ghastly pale. He ran to the table and touched a button and, to the astonishment of Thorndyke, the walls on the western side of the room silently parted, showing a little balcony overlooking the street below. The king went hastily out and looked toward the west. The others followed him. The princess stifled a cry of alarm when she glanced at the sky. Great black, rolling clouds were rapidly spreading along the horizon. The king looked at them as helplessly as a frightened child. "The air!" he groaned. "It is hot!" and then he held out his hand to the princess, and showed her a flake of soot on it, and he dumbly pointed to others that were falling about them. "How did you discover it?" he asked, and Thorndyke saw that he was trying to appear calm. "Mr.--this gentleman's friend has returned from banishment, and----" "Returned! has the wall been destroyed?" "No; he accidentally discovered the danger, and came in a flying- machine to warn you." "Where is he? bring him to me, quick!" "But you will not ----" He waved his hand impatiently. "Go; if Alpha is saved he shall be at liberty--if it is not, what does it matter?" Thorndyke hastened away after Johnston, who, when he was told of the king's words, readily accompanied his friend to the presence of the ruler. They found him with his daughter still on the balcony. "How did you discover this?" asked the king, turning to the American. As quickly as possible, Johnston related his adventures, and particularly the story of the shooting fountain and the fall of salt water. The king did not wait for him to conclude. He ran back into his chamber, touched another button, and the next instant alarm-bells were ringing all over the city. "A signal to the protectors," explained the princess to Thorndyke; "by this time they are ringing all over Alpha. Oh, what will become of us?" as she spoke she leaned over the balustrade and looked down into the street. Vast crowds had gathered and were motionless, except at points where the purple-clad "protectors" rushed from public buildings to assemble in squads on the street corner. Chapter XVII. Bernardino turned to look after her father as he was leaving the room. "He is going to the observatory," she said to Thorndyke and Johnston. "Let us go also." And they followed the king into the room with the glass roof and walls covered with mirrors which he had shown the strangers several days before. A white-headed old man stood at the stand, his fingers trembling over the half circle of electric buttons. In a mirror before him he was studying the reflection of a town of perhaps a hundred houses. The streets were filled with excited citizens, and a squad of protectors stood ready for action near a row of flying-machines. "Ornethelo," said the king, and at the sound of his voice the old man turned and bowed humbly. "All right," went on the king, "I will take your place a moment." He went to the stand and touched a button. Instantly the scene changed; fields, forests, streams and hills ran by in a murky blur, and then a larger town flashed on the mirror. Here the same stir and alertness characterized the scene. The gaze of every inhabitant was fixed on the threatening horizon. Rapidly the scenes shifted at the king's will, till a hundred cities, towns and villages had been reviewed. "Enough! They are all ready--all faithful," groaned the king, "and, Ornethelo, they may all have to perish to-day, and all for our ambition. Poor mortals!" Ornethelo's face was half submerged in the beard on his breast, but he looked up suddenly and spoke: "For their sakes, then, we ought not to delay; there may yet be hope." "You are right, Ornethelo." There was a ring of hope in the voice of the king. "Quick! show me my capitol, that I may see if all the protectors are ready." Ornethelo touched another button, and, as if seen from a great height, the fair and wondrous city dawned before the eyes of the spectators. In every street policemen and protectors and flying- machines stood in orderly readiness. The housetops were colored with the variegated costumes of men, women and children. Over all lay the wondrous sunlight, through the green splendor of which the flakes of soot were falling like black snow. The king touched the old man's arm. "I must see beyond the walls; are the connections made?" "Ready, sir." "Try them; they must not fail me now!" The old man tremblingly unlocked a cabinet on the table, and another row of electric buttons was displayed. Ornethelo touched one. Immediately there was a sharp clicking sound under the stand, and the view was swept from the mirror. Nothing could be seen but a dark suggestion of towering cliffs and yawning caverns. "Not the east, Ornethelo," cried the king impatiently. "Go on! the west! the west!" The black landscape flashed by like a glimpse of night from a flying train, and then a blur of redly illuminated smoke in rolling billows seemed to swell out from the surface of the mirror into the room. "There, slow!" cried the king, and then a frightful scene burst upon their sight. They beheld a great belching pit of fire and flames. The sky from the earth to the zenith was a vast expanse of illuminated smoke, and the black landscape round about was cut by rivulets of molten lava rolling on and on like restless streams of quicksilver. The king leaned against the stand as if faint with despair. "Call Prince Arthur!" he ordered, and almost at that instant the young man appeared. "Father!" The king pointed a quivering finger at the mirror, and said huskily: "Let not the sun go down! Let its light be white as at noon." "But, father, it has never been done before; it----" "Alpha has never faced such danger. All our dream is about to end. Go!" Without a word the young man hastened away, and it seemed scarcely a moment before the sunlight streaming in at the oval glass roof changed from green to white. The king pushed Ornethelo impatiently aside; his eyes held a dull gleam of despair, and he seemed to have grown ten years older. He touched a button, and the awful scene at the pit gave place to a bright view of the capitol, which was plainly seen from its crowded centre to its scattering suburbs. The squads of "protectors" stood like armies ready for battle, their rigid faces still toward the awful west. "They are ready--the signal!" yelled the king, waving his hand, "the signal!" Ornethelo caught his breath suddenly and tottered as he went across the room, and touched a button on the wall. The king's eyes were glued on the mirrored view of the capitol, his trembling hands held out, as if commanding silence. Then a deafening trumpet blast broke on the ear. The masses of citizens pressed near the edges of the roofs and close against the walls along the streets, as the protectors rushed into the flying- machines. Another trumpet-blast, and away they flew, a long black line, every instant growing smaller as it receded in the murky distance. The princess, white and silent, led Thorndyke and Johnston back to the balcony. The line of machines was now a mere thread in the sky, but the ominous cloud in the west had increased, and fine sand and ashes were added to the fall of soot. "What was that?" gasped the princess. It was a low rumble like distant thunder, and the balcony shook violently. "An earthquake," said Thorndyke. "I am really afraid there is not a ghost of a chance for us; the water running into the fire is sure to cause an eruption of some sort, and even a slight one would be likely to enlarge the opening to the ocean." Johnston nodded knowingly as he looked into his friend's face, but, considering the presence of the princess, he said nothing. "My brother, Prince Marentel, is the greatest man in our kingdom," she re marked. "He has taken enough explosives to remove a mountain." "How will he use them?" asked Thorndyke. "I don't know, but I fancy he will try to close the opening in some way." The latter slowly shook his head. "I fear he will fail. The fall must be as voluminous as Niagara by this time." "My father must have lost hope, or he would not have stopped the sun," sighed the princess, and she cast a sad glance towards the west. The rolling clouds had become more dense, and the rumbling and booming in the distance was growing more frequent. A thin gray cloud passed before the sun, and a dim shadow fell over the city. "That is a natural cloud," said Thorndyke; "it comes from the steam that rises from the pit." "It is exactly like our rain clouds," returned the princess; "but it comes from the steam, as you say. But let us go into the Electric Auditorium and hear the news. As soon as anything is done we will hear of it there." The others had no time to question her, for she was hastening into the corridor outside. She piloted them down a flight of stairs into a large circular room beneath the surface of the ground. It was filled with seats like a modern theatre, and in the place where the stage would have been, stood a mighty mirror over an hundred feet square. She led them to a private box in front of the mirror. The room was filled from the first row of chairs to the rear with a silent, anxious crowd. In the massive frame of the mirror were numerous bell-shaped trumpets like those on the ordinary phonograph, though much larger. "Watch the mirror," whispered Bernardino as she sat down. And at that instant the surface of the great glass began to glow like the sky at dawn, and all the lights in the room went out. Then from the trumpets in the frame came the loud ringing of musical bells. "They are ready," whispered Bernardino; "now watch and listen." The pink light on the mirror faded, and a life-like reflection appeared--the reflection of a young man standing on a rock in bold relief against a dark background of rugged, slabbering cliffs and the forbidding mouths of caves. "Waldmeer!" ejaculated the princess, and she relapsed into silence. The young man held in his hand a cup-shaped instrument from which extended a wire to the ground. He raised it to his lips, and instantly a calm, deliberate voice came from the mirror, soft and low and yet loud, enough to reach the most remote parts of the great room. "The ocean," began he, "is pouring into the 'Volcano of the Dead' in a gradually increasing torrent. Prince Marentel hopes temporarily to delay the crisis by partially turning the torrent away from the pit into the lowlands of the country. For that purpose a portion of the endless wall is being torn down, and Marentel's forces are placing their explosives. After this is done an attempt will be made to stop the original break. There is, however, little hope. The prince has warned the king to be prepared for the worst." At this point, the speaker turned as if startled toward the red glare at his right. He quickly picked up another instrument attached to a wire and put it to his ear. A look of horror changed his face as he turned to the audience and began to speak:--"The opening in the wall is not progressing rapidly. Workmen are drowning and the tunnel of the sun is filling with water. It will be impossible for the sun to go through to the east." Just then there was a far-away crash, and instantly the mirror was void. There was now no sound except the low groans of women in the audience and the subdued curses of maddened men. The silence was profound. Then the mirror began to glow, and the image of another man took Waldmeer's place. "It is the Mayor of Telmantio," whispered the princess, "a place near the western limits of Alpha." He held a like instrument to the one used by Waldmeer, and through it spoke:--"Venus, one of the great stars, has been shaken from the firmament. It fell in the suburbs of Telmantio, and many lives were lost." That was all, and the figure vanished. Presently Waldmeer reappeared. He seemed to be standing nearer the pit, for the entire background was aflame; volumes of black smoke now and then hid him from view, and a thick shower of ashes and small stones were falling round him. He spoke, but his voice was drowned in a deafening explosion, and the whole landscape about him seemed afire. In the semi-darkness hundreds of protectors could be seen struggling in the rushing water, moving stones and building a dam. Waldmeer again faced his far-off audience and spoke:--"Prince Marentel has turned the course of the stream. All now depends on the success or failure of his final test with explosives, which will take place in about half an hour." "We ought to go outside again," suggested Bernardino, as Waldmeer's image disappeared; "my father might want us." Seeing no one in the king's apartment, they passed through it to the balcony. Half the sky was now covered with mingled fog and smoke, and the sun could be seen only now and then. A drizzling rain was falling--a rain that brought down clots of ashes and soot. But this made no difference to the throngs in the now muddy and slippery streets. They stood shivering in damp and soiled clothing, their blearing eyes fixed hopelessly on the lowering signs in the west. Johnston noticed a bent figure crouched against a wall beneath them. It was Branasko. "Who is it?" inquired the princess. "Branasko, the companion of my adventures," he replied. "Call him to us," she said eagerly, and the American went down to the Alphian. As they entered together, Branasko uncovered his dishevelled head and bowed most humbly. "You look tired and sick and hungry; have you eaten anything today?" she asked. "Not in two days," he replied. The princess called to a frightened maid who was wringing her hands in a corridor. "Give this man food and drink at once," she ordered, and Branasko, with a grateful bow and glance, withdrew. Johnston followed him to the door. "Fear nothing," he said. "If the danger passes we are safe; the king has promised to pardon me, and he will do the same for you." "There is no hope for any of us," replied Branasko grimly; "but I do not want to die with this gnawing in my stomach; adieu."
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