List Of Contents | Contents of The Land of the Changing Sun
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heaving and in Branasko's the quivering of the Alphian's huge
body and limbs.

"If we have happened upon the home of the sun, only the spirit of
the dead kings could tell what will become of us," said Branasko.

"Puh! you are blindly superstitious," said Johnston; "what if we
do come upon the sun? Let's go down there and look into the

Branasko fell into the rear and the American stoutly pushed ahead
toward the light which was every moment increasing. As they
advanced the cave got larger until it opened out into a larger
plain over which hung fathomless darkness, and out of the plain a
great dazzling globe of light was slowly rising.

"It is the sun itself," exclaimed Branasko, and he sank to the
earth and covered his face with his hands. "I have not thought
ever to see it out of the sky."

The American was deeply thrilled by the grand sight. He sat down
by Branasko and together they watched the vast ball of light
emerge from the black earth and gradually disappear in a great
hole in the roof of the cavern. It left a broad stream of light
behind it, and, now that the sun it- self was out of view, the
silent spectators could see the great square hole from which it
had risen.

As if by mutual consent, they rose and made their way over the
rocks to the verge of the hole, which seemed several thousand feet
square. At first, owing to the brightness of the sun overhead,
they could see nothing; but, as the great orb gradually
disappeared, they began to see lights and the figures of men
moving about below. Later they observed the polished parts of
stupendous machinery--machinery that moved almost noiselessly.

Johnston caught sight of a great net-work of moving cables
reaching from the machinery up through the hole above and
exclaimed enthusiastically:--"A mechanical sun! electric daylight!
What genius! A world in a great cave! Hundreds of square miles
and thousands of well organized people living under the light of
an artificial sun!"

The Alphian looked at him astonished. "Is it not so in your
country?" he asked.

Johnston smiled. "The great sun that lights the outer world is as
much greater than that ball of light as Alpha is greater than a
grain of sand. But this surely is the greatest achievement of man.
But while I now understand how your sun goes over the whole of
Alpha, I cannot see how it returns."

"Then you have not heard of the great tunnel of the Sun," replied
the Alphian.

"No,what is it?"

"It runs beneath Alpha and connects the rising and setting
points of the sun. There is a point beneath the king's palace
where, by a staircase, the king and his officers may go down and
inspect the sun as it is on its way back to the east during the


"And once a year a royal party goes in the sun over its entire
course. It is said that it is sumptuously furnished inside, and
not too warm, the lights being only innumerable small ones on the

The two men were silent for a moment then Johnston said:

"Perhaps we might be able to get into it unobserved and be thus
carried over to the other side, or reach the palace through the

Branasko started convulsively, and then, as he looked into the
earnest eyes of the American, he said despondently:

"We have got to die, anyway; it may be well for us to think of it;
but on the other side, in the Barrens, there is no more chance for
escape than here. But the adventure would at least give us
something to think about; let's try it."

"All right; but how can we get down there where the sun starts to
rise?" asked the American, peering cautiously over the edge of
the hole.

"There must be some way," answered Branasko. "Ah, see! further to
the left there are some ledges; let's see what can be done that

"I am with you."

The rays of the departing sun were almost gone, and the electric
lights down among the machinery seemed afar off like stars
reflected in deep water. With great difficulty the two men lowered
themselves from one sharp ledge to another till they had gone half
down to the bottom.

"It is no use," said Branasko, peering over the lowest ledge.
"There are no more ledges and this one juts out so far that even
if there were smaller ones beneath we could not get to them."

"That is true," agreed the American, "but look, is not that a lake
beneath? I think it must be, for the lights are reflected on its

"You are right," answered Branasko; "and I now see a chance for us
to get down safely."


"The workers are too far from the lake to see us; we can drop into
the water and swim ashore."

"Would they not hear the splashing of our bodies?"

"I think not; but first let's experiment with a big stone."

Suiting the action to the word, they secured a stone weighing
about seventy-five pounds and brought it to the ledge. Carefully
poising it in mid-air, they let it go. Down it went, cutting the
air with a sharp whizzing sound. They listened breathlessly, but
heard no sound as the rock struck the water, and the men among the
machinery seemed undisturbed. Only the widening circles of rings
on the lake's surface indicated where the stone had fallen.

"Good," ejaculated the Alphian; "are you equal to such a plunge?
The water must be deep, and we won't be hurt at all if only we can
keep our feet downward and hold our breath long enough. Our
clothing will soon dry down there, for feel the warmth that comes
from below."

The Alphian slowly crawled out on the sharpest projection of the
ledge. "Are you willing to try it?" he asked, over his shoulder.


"Well, wait till you see me swim ashore, and then follow."

Johnston shuddered as the strong fellow swung himself over the
ledge and hung downward.

"Adieu," said Branasko, and he let go. Down he fell, as straight
as an arrow, into the shadows below. For an instant Johnston heard
the fluttering of the fellow's clothing as he fell through the
darkness, and then there was no sound except the low whirr of the
cables and the monotonous hum of the great wheels beneath. Then
the smooth surface of the lake was broken in a white foaming spot,
and, later, he saw something small and dark slowly swimming
shoreward. It was Branasko, and the men to the right had not heard
or seen him.

Johnston saw him reach the shore, then he crawled out to the point
of the projecting rock and tremblingly lowered himself till he
hung downward as Branasko had done. He had just drawn a deep
breath preparatory to letting go his hold, when, chancing to look
down, he saw a long narrow barge slowly emerging from the cliff
directly under him. For an instant he was so much startled that he
almost lost his grip on the rock. He tried to climb back on the
ledge, but his strength was gone. He felt that he could not hold
out till the boat had passed. Death was before him, and a horrible
one. The boat seemed to crawl. Everything was a blur before his
eyes. His fingers began to relax, and with a low cry he fell.

Chapter X.

To Thorndyke the dark corridor seemed endless. The king's last
words had now a sinister meaning, and Bernardino's whispered
warning filled him with dread. "Keep your presence of mind," she
urged; was it then, some frightful mental ordeal he was about to
pass through?

Presently they came to a door. Thorn- dyke heard his guide feeling
for the bolt and key-hole. The rattling of the keys sounded like a
ghostly threat in the empty corridors. The air was as damp as a
fog, and the stones were cold and slimy. After a moment the guard
succeeded in unlocking the door and roughly pushed the Englishman
forward. The door closed with a little puff, and Thorndyke felt
about him for the guide; but he was alone. For a moment there was
no sound. With the closing of the door it seemed to him that he
was cut off from every living creature. In the awful silence he
could hear his own heart beating like a drum.

"Stand where you are!" came in a hissing whisper from the
darkness near by, and then the invisible whisperer moved away,
making a weird sound as he slid his hand along a wall, till
it died away in the distance.

A cold thrill ran over him. He was a brave man and feared no
living man or beast, but the superstitious fears of his childhood
now came upon him with redoubled force. For several minutes he did
not stir; presently he put out his hand to the door and his blood
ran cold. There was no knob, latch, or key-hole, and he could feel
the soft padding into which the door closed to keep out sound.
Then he remembered the warning of the princess, and strove with
all his might to fight down his apprehensions. "For your life keep
your presence of mind," he repeated over and over, but try as he
would his terror over-powered him. He laughed out loud, but in the
dreadful silence and darkness his laugh sounded unearthly.

A cold perspiration broke out on him. It seemed as if hours passed
before he again heard the sliding noise on the wall. Some one was
coming to him. The sound grew louder and nearer, till a firm hand
was laid on his arm; it felt as cold as ice through his clothing.

"Come," a voice whispered, and the Englishman was led forward.
Presently another door opened--a door that closed after them
without any sound. Here the silence was more intensified, the
darkness thicker as if compressed like air.

Hands were placed on the shoulders of Thorndyke and he was gently
forced into a chair. As soon as he was seated two metal clamps
grasped like a vise his arms between the elbows and the shoulders,
and two more fastened round his ankles.

There was a faint puff of air from the door and the prisoner felt
that he was alone. Terror held him in bondage. He tried to think
of Bernardino, but in vain. Did they intend to drive him to
madness? He began to suspect that the king had discovered his
natural superstition and had decided to put it to a test. What he
had undergone so far he felt was but the introduction to greater
terrors in store for him.

There was a sigh far away in the darkness--then a groan that
seemed to flit about in space, as if seeking to escape the dark,
and then died away in a low moan of despair. Before him the
blackness seemed to hang like a dark curtain about ten yards in
front of him, and in it shone a tiny speck of light no larger than
the head of a pin, and which was so bright that he could not look
at it steadily. It increased to the size of a pea, and then he
discovered that, at times, it would seem miles away in space and
then again to draw quite near to hand. Glancing down, he noticed
that it cast a bright round spot about an inch in diameter on the
floor, and that the spot was slowly revolving in a circle so
small that its motion was hardly observable. Surely the mind of a
superstitious man was never so punished! When Thorndyke looked
steadily at the spot, the black floor seemed to recede, and the
spot to sink far down into the empty darkness below like a
solitary star; So realistic was this that the Englishman could not
keep from fancying that this chair was poised in some way over
fathomless space. Presently he noticed that the spot had ceased
its circular movement and was slowly--almost as slowly as the
movement of the hand of a clock--advancing in a straight line
toward him.

No such terror had ever before possessed the stout heart of the
Englishman. As the uncanny spot, ever growing brighter, advanced
toward him, he thought his heart had stopped beating; his brain
was in a whirl. After a long while the spot reached his feet and
began to climb up his legs. With a shudder and a smothered cry, he
tried to draw his feet away, but they were too firmly manacled.

"It is searching for my heart," thought Thorndyke. "My God, when
it reaches it, I shall die!" As the strange spot, gleaming like a
burning diamond in whose heart leaped a thousand different colored
flames, and which seemed possessed of some strange hellish
purpose, crossed his thighs and began to climb up his body, the
brain of the prisoner seemed on fire. He tried to close his eyes,
but, horror of horrors! his eyelids were paralyzed. It was almost
over his heart, and Thorndyke was fainting through sheer mental
exhaustion when it stopped, began to descend slowly, and, then,
with a rapid, wavering motion, it fell to the floor, flashed about
in the darkness, and vanished.

An hour dragged slowly by. What would happen next? The Englishman
felt that his frightful ordeal was not over. To his surprise the
darkness began to lighten till he could see dimly the outlines of
the chamber. It was bare save for the chair he occupied against a
wall, and a couch on the opposite side of the room. The couch held
something which looked like a human body covered with a white
cloth. He could see where the sheet rounded over the head and rose
sharply at the feet.

Something told him that it was a corpse and a new terror possessed
him. For several minutes he gazed at the couch in dreadful
suspense, then his heart stopped pulsing as the figure on the
couch began to move. Slowly the sheet fell from the head and the
figure sat up stiffly. There was a faint hum of hidden machinery
at the couch, and a flashing blue and green line running from the
couch to the wall betrayed the presence of an electric wire.

Slowly the figure rose, and with creaking, rattling joints stood
erect. Pale lights shone in the orbits of the eyes and the sound
of harsh automatic breathing came from the mouth and nostrils.
Slowly and haltingly the figure advanced toward Thorndyke. The
poor fellow tried to wrench himself free from the chair, but he
could not stir an inch. On came the figure, its long arms
swinging mechanically, and its feet slurring over the stone

When within ten feet of the Englishman it stopped, nodded its head
three or four times, and slowly opened its mouth. There was a
sharp, whirring noise, such as comes from a phonograph, and a
voice spoke:

"My voice shall sound on earth for a million years after my spirit
has left my body; and I shall wander about my dark dungeon as a
warning to men not to do as I have done."

The voice ceased, but the whirring sound in the creature's breast
went on. The figure shambled nearer to Thorndyke and the voice
began again:

"I disobeyed the laws of great Alpha and her imperial king and am
to die. Beware of the temptation to search into the royal motives
or attempt to escape. The fate of all the inhabitants of Alpha,
the wonderful Land of the Changing Sun, is in the hands of its
ruler. Beware! My death-torture is to be lingering and horrible.
I sink into deepest dejection. I was eager to return to my native
land and tried to escape. Behold my punishment! Even my bones and
flesh will not be allowed to rest or decay. Beware, the king is
just and good, but he will be obeyed!"

Slowly the figure retreated toward the couch and lay down on it.
The whirring sound ceased, the light along the wire went out, and
the darkness thickened till the couch and the outlines of the
chamber were obscured. Then Thorndyke's chair was lift- ed, as if
by unseen hands, and he was borne backward. In a moment he felt

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