"If the worst comes, is there any chance for us to escape from here to the outer world?" the Englishman was asking the princess when Johnston turned back to them. "For a few hundred, yes,--by the sub-water ships, but for all, no; and, then, my father would not consent to rescue a part and not the whole of his subjects. He would not try to save himself or any of his family." The clouds still covered the sun; but on the eastern sky its rays were shining gloriously. Ever and anon there sounded from afar a low rumbling as if the earth were swelling with heat. Johnston left the two lovers together and went to the door of the Electric Auditorium, and over the heads of the breathless crowd he watched the great mirror. After a few moments Waldmeer appeared and spoke: "Prince Marentel is operating with great difficulty. A large quantity of his explosives has been injured by water, but he hopes there is enough left intact to serve his purpose. The final explosion will soon take place. The greatest peril hangs over Alpha." Waldmeer's reflection was becoming in-distinct, and sick at heart the American elbowed his way through the muttering crowd into the corridor. Here he met Branasko, and together they walked back to Thorndyke and the princess, who were mutely watching the signs in the east. Just then the sun slowly emerged from the cloud. "Look!" cried Bernardino in horror. "The cloud is not moving; the sun has not stopped! It is going down and we shall soon be in utter darkness. Oh, it is awful--to die in this way!" The king had just returned, and he over-heard her words. He came hastily to the edge of the balcony, and gazed at the sun. The others held their breath and waited. His face became more rigid; he swayed a little as he turned to her. "You are right, my daughter," he groaned; "it is going down; the cowardly dogs in the east have deserted their posts. It is going down! It will sink into a tunnel filled with water, and the light of Alpha will be extinguished forever. We are undone! Say your prayers, my child, your prayers, I tell you, for an Infinite God is angry at our pretensions!" "Don't despair, father," and Bernardino put her arms gently round the old man's neck. "You understand the solar machinery; could you not stop the sun?" The eyes of the old man flashed. He seemed electrified as he drew himself from her embrace and looked anxiously over the balustrade to a flying-machine in the street below. "I might reach the east in time," he cried; "yes, you are right, I was acting cowardly. The fastest air-ship in Alpha is ready, and Nanleon can drive it to its utmost speed. If the worst comes, I shall see you no more, good-bye!" He kissed her brow tenderly, and her eyes filled as he hastened away. Down below they saw him spring lightly into the gold-mounted car, and the next instant the graceful vessel rose above the palace roof and sped like an arrow across the sky toward the east. A faint cheer broke from the lips of the crowd which seemed suddenly to take new hope from the king's departure. Some of them waved their hats and scarfs, and many watched the air-ship till it had disappeared in the murky distance. "He may not get there in time!" cried the princess; "it seems to be going down faster than it ever did before, and he has a great distance to go." The little party on the balcony were silent for a long time. Presently Bernardino turned her tearful eyes to the face of Thorndyke. "The smoke and steam do not seem so voluminous, do you think all will go well?" The Englishman slowly shook his head. "I don't want to depress you more than you are; but I think at such a time we ought to realize the worst. It is true, the clouds are not so heavy, and the earth- quakes are less frequent, but, unfortunately, it is owing to the fact that the volume of water has been turned away from the pit into the tunnel. Be prepared for the worst. If your father cannot reach the machinery in the east soon enough, our light will go out; and, worse than that, if Prince Marentel should fail in his next venture with explosives, all hope will be gone." "I have never desired to live so much as now," she answered, inclining with an air of tenderness toward, him. "I never knew what it was to fear death till--till you came to us." He made no reply. There was a lump in his throat and he could not trust his voice to speech. Branasko and Johnston left them together to go into the Electric Auditorium. They returned in great haste. "The prince is ready for the explosion," panted Johnston. Thorndyke, old man, this is simply awful! It is not like standing up to be shot at, or being jerked through the clouds in a balloon. It seems to me that out there is the endless space of infinity, and that all the material world is coming to an end. My God! look at that hellish fire, the awful smoke and that black sky! Oh, the blasphemy of a such a paltry imitation of the handiwork of the Creator! We are damned! I say damned, and by a just and angry God!" "Don't be a fool," said Thorndyke, and he threw a warning glance at Bernardino, who, with staring, distended eyes was listening to Johnston. "No, he is right," she said in a low tone. "I have never seen your world, but I know my people must be woefully wrong. In your land they say men teach things about Infinity and an eternal life for the soul; and that one may prepare for that life by living pure, and in striving to attain a high spiritual state. Oh, why have you not told me about that? It is the one important thing. I have long wanted to know if my soul will be safe at death, but I can learn nothing of my people. They have always tried to rival God, and, in their mad pursuit of perfection in science, they have been reduced to--this. That black cloud is the frown of God, hose mad flames may burst forth at any moment and engulf us." She uttered a low groan and hung her head as if in prayer. Johnston and Thorndyke were awed to silence. Never had the Englishman loved her as at that moment. She was no longer simply a beautiful human creature, but a divinity, speaking truths from Heaven itself. He felt too unworthy to stand in her presence, and yet his heart was aching to comfort her. She raised her pallid face heavenward and extended her fair, fragile hands toward the lowering sky and began to pray. "My Creator," she said reverently, childishly, "I have never come to Thee, but they say that people far away from this dark land, under Thy own sun, moon and stars do ask aid of Thee, and I, too, want Thy help. Forgive me and my people. They have been sinful, and vain, and thoughtless, but let them not perish in utter gloom. Forgive them, O thou Maker of all that exists--thou Creator of pain that we may love joy, Creator of evil that we may know good, turn not from us! We are but thoughtless children--and Thy children--give us time to realize the awful error of our hollow pretensions! Give them all now, at once, if they are to die, that spirit which is awakened in me by the awful majesty of Thy anger! Hear me, O God!" And with a sob she sank on her knees, clasped her hands and raised them upward. Thorndyke tried to lift her up, but she shook her head and continued her prayer in silence. A marked change had come over Branasko. He looked at Johnston and Thorndyke in a strange, helpless way, and then, in a corner of the balcony the begrimed and tattered man fell on his knees. He knew not the meaning of prayer, but there was something in the reverent attitude of the princess that drew his untutored being toward his Maker. He covered his face with his hands and his shaggy head sank to his knees. Johnston hastened back into the Auditorium. Returning in a moment, he found the Englishman tenderly lifting Bernardino from her knees and Branasko still crouching in a corner. "What is the news?" asked Thorndyke. "Everything is ready for the explosion. The prince seems only waiting because he dreads failure. The people in there are so frightened that they cannot move from their seats." Just then Branasko raised a haggard face and looked appealingly at the princess. She caught his eye. "Fear nothing, good man," she said; "the God of the Christians will not harm us; we are safe in His hands. I felt it here in my heart when I prayed to Him. Oh, why has my father and the other kings of Alpha not taught us that grand simple truth! But before I die I want to leave this dark pit of sin, and look out once into endless, world- filled space." A joyous flush came into the face of the Alphian. His fear had vanished. She had promised him safety. He bowed worshipfully, but he spoke not, for Bernardino was eagerly pointing to the sun. "Look!" she cried gleefully, with the merry tremolo of a happy, surprised child. "The sun is not moving. Father has been successful! It is a good omen! God will save us!" It was true; the sun was standing still. A deep silence was on the city. The crowds in the street neither moved nor spoke. Without a murmur or complaint they stood facing the frowning west. Suddenly the silence was interrupted by a low volcanic rumble. The earth heaved, and rolled, and far away in the suburbs of the city the spire of a public building fell with a loud crash. A groan swept from mouth to mouth and then died away. "The cloud is increasing rapidly," said Thorndyke. "I can really see little hope. I shall return in a moment." While he was gone Bernardino knelt and prayed. Again overcome with fear Branasko crouched down in his corner. Another shudder and rumble from the earth, another long moan from the people. Thorndyke came back. He spoke to the princess: "The dam built by Prince Marentel has been swept away. The ocean is pouring into the internal fires. There is scarcely any hope now." Branasko groaned, but Bernardino's face was aglow with celestial faith. She shook her head. "They will not be destroyed in this way," she said;" they have had no chance to know God." "It all depends on the explosion which may take place at any moment," and Thorndyke took her into his arms and whispered into her ear, "I do not care for myself; but I cannot bear to think of your suffering pain." She answered only by pressing his hand. The clouds were now rolling upward in greater volume than ever. It was growing darker. The little group on the balcony could now scarcely see the people below them. The fall of damp ashes was resumed. The air had grown hot and close. Boom! Boom! Boom! the streets of the city rose nd fell with the undulating motion of a swelling sea. Blacker and blacker grew the sky; closer and closer the atmosphere; damper and damper became the fog; thicker and thicker fell the wet sand and ashes. "Perhaps we would be safer in the streets," suggested Thorndyke, drawing Bernardino closer into his arms, "the palace may fall on us." But the princess shook her head. "Father would not know where to find me, I shall await him here." Branasko had edged nearer to her. His eyes were glued on her face and he hung on her words as if his fate were in her hands. He had no regard for the opinions of the others. "The explosion will soon take place now unless something has happened contrary to the expectations of the prince," said the Englishman. Boom! Boom! kr-kr-kr-kr-boom! The noise seemed to shake the earth to its centre. Now the far-away pit was belching forth fire and molten lava rather than steam and smoke. The flames had spread out against the sloping roof of the cavern, and seemed to extend for a mile along the horizon. "They can do nothing in that heat," exclaimed Johnston; "they could not get near enough to the pit. Thorndyke, old fellow, I can't see a ghost of a chance. We might as well say good-bye." "Hush!" It was the voice of the princess. "I feel that we shall not be lost, I say." And as she spoke Branasko crept toward her and raised the hem of her gown to his white lips. Something dark came between them and the far-off glare. It was a flying-machine. "It is father," cried Bernardino, and she called out to him: "Father! father! Here we are, waiting for you!" In a moment he was with them. "All right in the east," he said gloomily. "Baryonay is there. They deserted him, but they returned when the flames went down. This is awful, daughter; it means death! It means annihilation!" She put her arms round his neck and drew his face close to hers. "No, no," she said earnestly; "I see with a new light--a new spiritual light. There is mercy in the divine heart of Him that made the walls of our little world and constructed countless other worlds. I have prayed for mercy, and into my heart has come a sweet peace I never knew before. We shall not be lost. He will give us time to give up our sinful life here and seek Him." The old man quivered as with ague; he searched her face eagerly, drew her spasmodically into his arms, and then sank to the floor, overcome with exhaustion. The roar in the west was increasing. Hot ashes, gravel and small stones were falling on the roofs and the people. Now and then a cry of pain was heard, but they would not seek the shelter of the buildings. If they had to die they wanted to fall facing the enemy. Suddenly the king rose. He looked to the west and groaned. Something told them that the explosion was coming. Expectation, horrible suspense was in the air. There was a mighty flare of light. The entire heavens were lighted from horizon to horizon, and then the light went out. "Oh, I thought it ----" but the princess did not finish her sentence. "The explosion," said Thorndyke, "the sound will follow in a moment." "My God, have mercy on us!" cried the king. But his prayer was drowned in a deafening sound. Bernardino had leaned into the arms of her lover. "Don't despair," he said tenderly, "the prince may have been successful." "I feel that he has," she replied. "But, oh, it is dreadful!" The crowds below seemed to understand that their fate depended on the news that would reach them in a few minutes. Boom! Boom! kr-kr-kr-kr-boom! There seemed to be no lessening of the volcanic disturbance, and the earth groaned and rocked and quivered as before. "It is impossible to tell yet," groaned the king. "Oh, God, save us; give us a chance to escape this awful doom!" Johnston bethought himself that he might learn something in the Electric Auditorium and he went into it. It was empty and dark; not a soul was there save himself. He was turning to leave when his eye was drawn to the great mirror by a faint pink glow appearing upon it. He stood still, a superstitious fear coming over him as he thought of being alone with a possible messenger from the far-away scene of disaster. The light went out tremblingly; then it flashed up again, and the American thought he saw the face of Waldmeer. The light grew steadier, stronger. It was Waldmeer, but he was submerged in smoke. Hark! he was speaking. "Marentel is successful! Entrance closed temporarily, and will be strengthened!" Johnston rushed out to the balcony. "I have been to the Auditorium," he announced. "I have seen Waldmeer. He says the experiment was successful. It is closed temporarily, and can be strengthened." The king grasped the hand of the American. "Thank God!" he ejaculated, "if I can only save my people I shall desire nothing more." The princess moved toward him affectionately, but he put her aside and retired into the palace. "He will at once communicate with the people," remarked Bernardino hopefully, and she turned her face again toward the west. The red glare was dying down, and the dense clouds in the sky were thinning. In an hour the face of the sun broke through the smoke, and the flying-machines of the protectors began to return. That night the king caused the pink light of the "Ideal Dawn" to flood the eastern sky, and, as before, he appeared in a circle of dazzling light and addressed his subjects: "All danger to life is over; but the ultimate fate of Alpha is sealed. Prince Marentel has effectually closed the entrance of the ocean, but the internal fires are gradually burning through the rocky bed of the ocean. In a couple of years Alpha will be demolished. All our wealth shall be equally distributed among you, and my ships shall transport you to whatever destination you desire. Let there be no haste. Order shall be preserved throughout." That was all. The king bowed and the picture faded from view. A deep silence was over everything. The only light came from the stars and from the moon. Then there was a sound like the wind passing over a vast forest of dry-leaved trees--the people were returning to their homes. "I should have thought they would greet the king's announcement with a cheer of joy," said Thorndyke to the princess, as they returned to the palace. "They don't know whether to weep or laugh," she replied. "They love Alpha, and the other world will be strange to most of them. As for myself, now that I am to leave, I feel a few misgivings." "I shall see that you are perfectly happy," he said tenderly. "You are to be my wife. I shall always love you and care for you; you need have no fears." And a moment later, with joyous tears and face aglow, she assured him she had none. THE END.
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