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   Chapter 3 No.3

The Land of the Changing Sun By Will N. Harben Characters: 11759

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"What is it, Thorndyke? What are you looking at?" And the American slowly left the bed and approached his friend.

Thorndyke only held the curtain further back and watched Johnston's face as he looked through the wide plate-glass window.

"My gracious!" ejaculated the latter as he drew nearer. It was a wondrous scene. The building in which they were imprisoned stood on a gentle hill clad in luxuriant, smoothly-cut grass and ornamented with beautiful flowers and plants; and below lay a splendid city-a city built on undulating ground with innumerable grand structures of white marble, with turrets, domes and pinnacles of gold. Wide streets paved in polished stone and bordered with lush-green grass interspersed with statues and beds and mounds of strange plants and flowers stretched away in front of them till they were lost in the dim, misty distance. Parks filled with pavilions, pleasure-lakes, fountains and tortuous drives and walks, dotted the landscape in all directions.

Thorndyke's breath had clouded the glass of the window, and he rubbed it with his handkerchief. As he did so the sash slowly, and without a particle of sound, slid to one side, disclosing a narrow balcony outside. It had a graceful balustrade, made of carved red-and-white mottled marble, and on the end of the balcony facing the city sat a great gold and silver jug, ten feet high, of rare design. The spout was formed by the body of a dragon with wings extended; the handle was a serpent with the extremity of its tail coiled around the neck of the jug.

The air that came in at the window was fresh and dewy, and laden with the most entrancing odors. Thorndyke led the way out, treading very gently at first. Johnston followed him, too much surprised to make any comment. From this position, their view to the left round the corner of the building was widened, and new wonders appeared on every hand.

Over the polished stone pavements strange vehicles ran noiselessly, as if the wheels had cushioned tires, and the streets were crowded with an active, strangely-clad populace.

"Look at that!" exclaimed the American, and from a street corner they saw a queer-looking machine, carrying half-a-dozen passengers, rise like a bird with wings outspread and fly away toward the east. They watched it till it disappeared in the distance.

"We are indeed in wonderland," said the Englishman; "I can't make head nor tail of it. We were on an isolated island, the Lord only knows where, and have suddenly been transported to a new world!"

"I can't feel at all as if we were in the world we were born in," returned Johnston. "I feel strange."

"The wine," suggested the Englishman, "you know it did wonders for us in that subwater thing."

"No; the wine has nothing to do with it. My head never was clearer. The very atmosphere is peculiar. The air is invigorating, and I can't get enough of it."

"That is exactly the way I feel," was Thorndyke's answer.

"Look at the sunlight," went on Johnston; "it is gray like our dawn, but see how transparent it is. You can look through it for miles and miles. It is becoming pink in the east, the sun will soon be up, and I am curious to see it."

"It must be up now, but we cannot see it for the hills and buildings. My goodness, see that!" and the Englishman pointed to the east. A flood of delicate pink light was now pouring into the vast body of gray and was slowly driving the more sombre color toward the west. The line of separation was marked-so marked, indeed, that it seemed a vast, rose-colored billow rolling, widening and sweeping onward like a swell of the ocean shoreward. On it came rapidly, till the whole landscape was magically changed. The flowers, the trees, the grass, the waters of the lakes, the white buildings, the costumes of the people in the streets, even the sky, changed in aspect. The white clouds looked like fire-lit smoke, and far toward the west rolled the long line of pink still struggling with the gray and driving it back.

The sun now came into sight, a great bleeding ball of fire slowly rising above the gilded roofs in the distance.

"By Jove, look at our shadows!" exclaimed Johnston, and both men gazed at the balcony floor in amazement; their shadows were as clearly defined and black as silhouettes. "How do you account for that?" continued the American, "I am firmly convinced that this sun is not the orb that shines over my native land."

Thorndyke laughed, but his laugh was forced. "How absurd! and yet-" He extended his hand over the balustrade into the rosy glow, and without concluding his remark held it back into the shadow of the window-casement. "By Jove!" he exclaimed; "there is not a particle of warmth in it. It is exactly the same temperature in the shade as in the light." He moved back against the wall. "No; there is no difference; the blamed thing doesn't give out any warmth."

Johnston's hands were extended in the light. "I believe you are right," he declared in awe, "something is wrong."

At that moment appeared from the room behind them a handsome youth, attired in a suit of scarlet silk that fitted his athletic figure perfectly. He rapped softly on the window-casement and bowed when they turned.

"Your breakfast is waiting for you," he announced. They followed him into a room adjoining the one they had occupied, and found a table holding a sumptuous repast. The boy gave them seats and handed them golden plates to eat upon. The fruits, wine and meats were very appetizing, and they ate with relish.

"I believe we are to be conducted to the palace of your king to-morrow," ventured the Englishman to the boy.

The boy shook his head, but made no reply, and busied himself with removing the dishes. As they were rising from the table, they heard footsteps in the hall outside. The door opened. It was Captain Tradmos, and he was a

ccompanied by a tall, bearded man with a leather case under his arm.

"You must undergo a medical examination," the captain said smilingly. "It is our invariable custom, but this is by a special order from the king."

Johnston shuddered as he looked at the odd-looking instruments the medical man was taking from the case, but Thorndyke watched his movements with phlegmatic indifference. He stood erect; threw back his shoulders; expanded his massive chest and struck it with his clenched fist in pantomimic boastfulness.

Tradmos smiled genially; but there was something curt and official in his tone when he next spoke that took the Englishman slightly aback. "You must bare your breast over your heart and lungs," he said; and while Thorndyke was unbuttoning his shirt, he and the medical man went to the door and brought into the room a great golden bell hanging in a metallic frame.

The bell was so thin and sensitive to the slightest jar or movement that, although it had been handled with extreme care, the captives could see that it was vibrating considerably, and the room was filled with a low metallic sound that not only affected the ear of the hearer but set every nerve to tingling. The medical man stopped the sound by laying his hand upon the bell. To a tube in the top of the bell he fastened one end of a rubber pipe; the other end was finished with a silver device shaped like the mouth-piece of a speaking tube. This he firmly pressed over the Englishman's heart. Thorndyke winced and bit his lip, for the strange thing took hold of his flesh with the tenacity of a powerful suction-pump.

"Ouch!" he exclaimed playfully, but Johnston saw that he had turned pale, and that his face was drawn as if from pain.

"Hold still!" ordered the medical man; "it will be over in a minute; now, be perfectly quiet and listen to the bell!"

The Englishman stood motionless, the sinews of his neck drawn and knotted, his eyes starting from their sockets. Thorndyke felt the rubber tube quiver suddenly and writhe with the slow energy of a dying snake, and then from the quivering bell came a low, gurgling sound like a stream of water being forced backward and forward.

Tradmos and the medical man stepped to the bell and inspected a small dial on its top.

"What was that?" gasped the Englishman, purple in the face.

"The sound of your blood," answered Tradmos, as he removed the instrument from Thorndyke's flesh; "it is as regular as mine; you are very lucky; you are slightly fatigued, but you will be sound in a day or two."

"Thank you," replied the Englishman, but he sank into a chair, overcome with weakness.

"Now, I'll take you, please," said the medical man, motioning Johnston to rise.

"I am slightly nervous," apologized the latter, as he stood up and awkwardly fumbled the buttons of his coat.

"Nervousness is a mental disease," said the man, with professional brusqueness; "it has nothing to do with the body except to dominate it at times. If you pass your examination you may live to overcome it."

The American looked furtively at Thorndyke, but the head of the Englishman had sunk on his breast and he seemed to be asleep. Johnston had never felt so lonely and forsaken in his life. From his childhood he had entertained a secret fear that he had inherited heart disease, and like Maupassant's "Coward," who committed suicide rather than meet a man in a duel, he had tried in vain to get away from the horrible, ever-present thought by plunging into perilous adventures.

At that moment he felt that he would rather die than know the worst from the uncanny instrument that had just tortured his strong comrade till he was overcome with exhaustion.

"I never felt better in my life," he said falteringly, but it seemed to him that every nerve and muscle in his frame was withering through fear. His tongue felt clumsy and thick and his knees were quivering as with ague.

"Stand still," ordered the physician sternly, and Johnston was further humiliated by having Tradmos sympathetically catch hold of his arm to steady him.

"Your people are far advanced in the sciences," went on the physician coldly, "but there are only a few out of their number who know that the mind governs the body and that fear is its prime enemy. Five minutes ago you were eating heartily and had your share of physical strength, and yet the mere thought that you are now to know the actual condition of your most vital organ has made you as weak as an infant. If you kept up this state of mind for a month it would kill you.

"Now listen," he went on, as the instrument gripped Johnston's flesh and the rubber tube began to twist and move as if charged with electricity. The American held his breath. A sound as of water being forced through channels that were choked, mingled with a wheezing sound like wind escaping from a broken bellows came from the bell.

"Your frame is all right," said the medical man, as he released the trembling American, "but you have long believed in the weakness of your heart and it has, on that account, become so. You must banish all fear from your thoughts. You perhaps know that we have a place specially prepared for those who are not physically sound. I am sorry that you do not stand a better examination."

Tradmos regarded the American with a look of sympathy as he gave him a chair and then rang a bell on the table. Thorndyke looked up sleepily, as an attendant entered with a couple of parcels, and glanced wonderingly at his friend's white face and bloodshot eyes.

"What's the matter?" he asked; but Johnston made no reply, for the captain had opened the parcels and taken out two suits of silken clothing.

"Put them on," he said, giving a suit of gray to Johnston and one of light blue to Thorndyke. "We shall leave you to change your attire, and I shall soon come for you."

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