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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Land of the Changing Sun By Will N. Harben Characters: 11393

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


In a few minutes the captain returned and found his prisoners ready to go with him. Thorndyke looked exceedingly handsome in his glossy tights, close-fitting sack-coat, tinsel belt and low shoes with buckles of gold. The natural color had come back into his cheeks, and he was exhilarated over the prospect of further adventure.

It was not so, however, with poor Johnston; his spirits had been so dampened by the physician's words that he could not rally from his despondency. His suit fitted his figure as well as that of the Englishman, but he could not wear it with the same hopeful grace.

"Cheer up!" whispered Thorndyke, as they followed the captain through a long corridor, "if we are on our way to the stake or block we are at least going dressed like gentlemen."

Outside they found the streets lined with spectators eagerly waiting to see them pass. The men all had suits like those which had been given the captives, and the women wore flowing gowns like those of ancient Greece.

"These are the common people," whispered Thorndyke to Johnston, "but did you ever dream of such perfect features and physiques? Every face is full of merriment and good cheer. I am curious to see the royalty."

Johnston made no reply, for Captain Tradmos turned suddenly and faced them.

"Stand here till I return," he said, and he went back into the house.

"Where in the deuce do you think we are?" pursued Thorndyke with a grim smile.

"Haven't the slightest idea," sighed Johnston, and he shuddered as he looked down the long white street with its borders of human faces.

Thorndyke was observant.

"There is not a breath of air stirring," he said; "and yet the atmosphere is like impalpable delicacies to a hungry man's stomach. Look at that big tree, not a leaf is moving, and yet every breath I draw is as fresh as if it came from a mountain-top. Did you ever see such flowers as those? Look at that ocean of orchids."

"They think we are a regular monkey-show," grumbled the American. "Look how the crowd is gaping and shoving and fighting for places to see us."

"It's your legs they want to behold, old fellow. Do you know I never knew you had such knotty knee-joints; did you ever have rheumatism? I wish I had 'em; they wouldn't put me to death-they would make me the chief attraction in the royal museum." Thorndyke concluded his jest with a laugh, but the face of his friend did not brighten.

"You bet that medical examination meant something serious," he said.

"Pooh!" and the Englishman slapped his friend playfully on the shoulder.

"Since I have seen that vast crowd of well-developed people, and remember what that medicine man said, I have made up my mind that we are going to be separated." Poor Johnston's lip was quivering.

"Rubbish! but there comes the captain; put on a bold front; talk up New York; tell 'em about Chicago and the Fair, and ask to be allowed to ride in their Ferris Wheel-if they ain't got no wheel, ask 'em when the first train leaves town."

"This is no time for jokes," growled Johnston, as Tradmos returned. Tradmos motioned to something that in the distance looked like a carriage, but which turned out to be a flying machine. It rose gracefully and glided over the ground and settled at their feet. It was large enough to seat a dozen people, and there was a little glass-windowed compartment at the end in which they could see "the driver," as he was termed by Tradmos. The mysterious machinery was hidden in the woodwork overhead and beneath.

"Get in," said the captain, and the door flew open as if of its own accord. Thorndyke went in first and was followed by the moody American. "Let up on the ague," jested Thorndyke, nudging his friend with his elbow; "if you keep on quivering like that you may shake the thing loose from its moorings and we'd never know what became of us."

Johnston scowled, and the officer, who had overheard the remark, smiled as he leaned toward the window and gave some directions to the man in the other compartment.

"You both take it rather coolly," he remarked to Thorndyke. "I took a man and a woman over this route several years ago and both of them were in a dead faint; but, in fact, you have nothing to fear. We never have accidents."

"It is as safe as a balloon, I suppose, and we are at home in them," said the Englishman, with just the hint of a swagger in his tone.

"But your balloons are poor, primitive things at best," returned Tradmos in his soft voice. "They can't be compared to this mode of travel, though, of course, our machines would not operate in your atmosphere."

"Why not?" impulsively asked the Englishman. "I thought--"

But he did not conclude his remark, for they were rising, and both he and Johnston leaned apprehensively forward and looked out of one of the windows. Down below the long lines of people were silently waving their hats, scarfs and handkerchiefs as the machine swept along over their heads. As they rose higher the scene below widened like a great circular fan, and in the delicate roselight, the whole so appealed to Thorndyke's artistic sense that he ejaculated:

"Glorious! Superb! Transcendent!" and he directed Johnston's attention to the wonderful pinkish haze which lay over the view toward the west like a vast diaphanous web of rosy sunbeams.

"You ask why our air-ships would not operate in your atmosphere," said the captain, showing pleasure at Thorndyke's enthusiasm. "It is simple enough when you have studied the climatic differences between the two countries. You have much to contend with-the winds, for instance, the heat and cold, etc.; this is the only known country where the winds are subjugat

ed. I have never been in your world, but from what I have heard of it I am not anxious to see it. Your atmosphere and climate are so changeable and so diverse in different localities that I have heard your people spend much of their time in seeking congenial climes. I think it was a man who came from London that claimed he once had a cold-'a bad cold,' I think he called it. It was a standing joke in the royal family for a long time, and he heard so much about it that he tried to deny what he had said!"

Johnston glanced at the speaker non-plussed, but the captain was looking at Thorndyke.

"Your climate is delightful here now," said the Englishman; "is it so long at a time?"

"Perpetually; it is regulated every moment, and every year we perfect it in some way."

"Perfect it?"

"Yes, of course, why not? If it ever fails to be up to the usual high standard, it is owing to neglect of those in charge, and neglect is punished severely."

Thorndyke's eyes sought those of the American incredulously. Seeing which Tradmos looked amused.

"You doubt it," he smiled. "Well, wait till you have been here longer. The fact is, any one born in our climate could not live in yours. The king experimented on a man who claimed to have only one lung, but who had two sound ones when he was cut open. Well, the king sent him to China, or America, or some such place, and he wheezed himself to death in a week by your clocks. The weather was too fickle for him. Our system has been perfected to such an extent that we live four lives to your one, and our fruits and vegetables are a hundred per cent. better than those in other countries."

"What is the name of your country?" asked Thorndyke, feeling that he was not losing anything by his boldness.

"Alpha."

"Where is it located?"

"I don't know." Tradmos looked out at the window for a moment as if to ascertain that they were going in the right direction, then he fixed his dark eyes on Thorndyke and asked hesitatingly:-

"I never thought-I-but do you know where your country is located?"

"Why, certainly."

"Well, I don't know where this one is. We are taught everything, I think, except geography." Nothing more was said for several minutes, then an exclamation of admiration broke from the Englishman. The color of the sunlight was changing. From east to west within the entire arc of their observation rolled an endless billow of lavender light leaving a placid sea of the same color behind it. On it swept, slowly driving back the pink glow that had been over everything.

"I see you like our sunlight?" said Tradmos, half interrogatively.

"Never saw anything like it before."

"Yours is, I think, the same color all day long."

"Except on rainy days."

"Must be a great bore, monotonous-too much sameness. It is white, is it not?"

"Yes, rather-between white and yellow, I call it."

"Something like our sixth hour, I suppose; this is the fourth hour of morning. Then come blue, yellow, green, and at noon red. The afternoon is divided up in the same way. The first hour is green, then follow yellow, blue, lavender, rose, gray and purple. Yes, I should think you would find yours somewhat tiresome."

"We can rely on it," said Johnston speaking for the first time and in a wavering voice, "it is always there."

"Doing business at the old stand," laughed Thorndyke, attempting an Americanism.

"Well, that is a comfort, anyway," said the captain seriously. "In my time they have had no solar trouble, but some of the old people tell horrible tales of a period when our sun for several days did not shine at all."

"Can it be possible?" said the Englishman dubiously.

"Oh, yes; and the early settlers had a great deal of trouble in different ways; but I am not at liberty to give you information on that head. It is the king's special pleasure to have new-comers form their own impressions, and he is particularly fond of noting their surprise, and, above all, their approval. People usually come here of their own accord through the influence of our secret force of agents all over the earth, but you were brought because you happened to drop on our island and would have found out too much for our good, and that red light you kept burning night and day might have given us trouble. There is no telling how long you could have kept alive on those clams."

"We meant no offence," apologized Thorndyke; "we--"

"Oh, I know it, I was only explaining the situation," interrupted the officer.

"What is that bright spot to the right?" asked Thorndyke, to change the subject.

"The king's palace; that is the dome. We shall soon be there. Now, I must not talk to you any longer. Somebody may be watching us with glasses. I have taken a liking to you, and some time, when I get the opportunity, I shall give you some useful advice, but I must treat you very formally, at least till you have had audience with the king."

"Thank you," said the Englishman, and Tradmos stood up in the car to watch their progress through the circular glass of a little cupola on top. Thorndyke smiled at Johnston, but the American was in no pleasant mood. The indifference with which Tradmos had treated him had nettled him.

The machine was now slowly descending. A vast pile of white marble, with many golden domes and spires, rose between them and the earth below.

"To the balcony on the central dome," ordered Tradmos through the window of the driver's compartment; and the adventurers felt the car sweep round in a curve that threw them against each other, and the next moment they had landed on a wide iron balcony encircling a great golden cone that towered hundreds of feet above them.

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