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   Chapter 12 No.12

The Land of the Changing Sun By Will N. Harben Characters: 17684

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The sunlight was fading into gray when the princess turned to leave Thorndyke. Night was drawing near.

"Have they assigned you a chamber yet?" she paused to ask.

"No."

"Then they have overlooked it; I shall remind the king."

Her beautiful, lithe form was clearly outlined against the red glow of the massive swinging lamp as she moved gracefully away, and Thorndyke's heart bounded with admiration and hope as he thought of her growing regard for him. He resumed his seat among the flowers, listening, as if in a delightful dream, to the seductive music from bands in different parts of the palace and the never-ceasing sound in the air which seemed to him to be the concentrated echo of all the sounds in the strange country rebounding from the vast cavern roof.

It grew darker. The gray outside had changed to purple. In the palace the brilliant electric lights in prismatic globes refused to allow the day to die. He was thinking of returning to the throne-room when a page in silken attire approached from the direction of the king's quarters.

"To your chambers, master," he announced, bowing respectfully.

Thorndyke arose and followed him to an elevator near by. They ascended to the highest balcony of the great rotunda. Here they alighted and turned to the right, the page leading the way, a key in his hand. Presently the page stopped at a door and unlocked it and preceded the Englishman into the room. As they entered an electric light in a chandelier flashed up automatically.

It was a sumptuous apartment, and adjoining it were several connecting rooms all elegantly furnished. The page crossed the room and opened a door to a little stairway.

"It leads to the roof," he said. "The princess told me to call your attention to it, that you might go out and view the starlight."

When the page had retired, Thorndyke, feeling lonely, ascended the stairs to the roof. It was perfectly flat save for the great dome which stood in the centre and the numerous pinnacles and cupolas on every hand, and was very spacious. The Englishman's loneliness increased, for no matter in what direction he looked, there was not a living soul in sight. Far in front of him he saw a stone parapet. He went to this and looked down on the city. The electric lights were vari-colored, and arranged so that when seen from a distance or from a great height they assumed artistic designs that were beautiful to behold.

The regular streets and rows of buildings stretched away till the light in the farthest distance seemed an ocean of blending colors. Overhead the vault was black, and only here and there shone a star; but as he looked upward they began to flash into being, and so rapidly that the sky seemed a vast battlefield of electricity.

"Wonderful! Wonderful!" he ejaculated enthusiastically, when the black dome was filled with twinkling stars. He leaned for a long time against the parapet, listening to the music from the streets below, and watching the flying-machines with their vari-colored lights rise from the little parks at the intersection of the streets and dart away over the roofs like big fireflies. Then he began to feel sleepy, and, going back to his chambers, he retired.

When he awoke the next morning, the rosy glow of the sun was shining in at his windows. On rising he was surprised to find a delectable breakfast spread on a table in his sitting-room.

"Treating me like a lord, any way," he said drily. "I can't say I dislike the thing as a whole." When he had satisfied his sharp hunger he went out into a corridor and seeing an elevator he entered it and went down to the throne-room. The king was just leaving his throne, but seeing Thorndyke he turned to him with a smile.

"How did you sleep?" he asked.

"Well, indeed," replied Thorndyke, with a low bow.

"I cannot talk to you now. I intended to, but I have promised my people a 'War of the Elements' to-day and am busy. You will enjoy it, I trust."

"I am sure of it, your Majesty."

"Well, be about the palace, for it is a good point from which to view the display."

With these words he turned away and the Englishman, as if drawn there by the memory of his last conversation with Bernardino, sought the retreat where he had bidden her good-night. He sat down on the seat they had occupied, and gave himself over to delightful reveries about her beauty and loveliness of nature. Looking up suddenly he saw a pair of white hands part the palm leaves in front of him and the subject of his thoughts emerged into view.

She wore a regal gown and beautiful silken head-dress set with fine gems, and gave him a warm glance of friendly greeting.

"I half hoped to find you here," she said, blushing modestly under his ardent gaze; "that is, I knew you would not know where to go--" She paused, her face suffused with blushes.

"I did not hope to find you here," he said, coming to her aid gallantly, "but it was a delight to sit here where I last saw you."

She blushed even deeper, and a pleased look flashed into her eyes. "It was important that I should see you this morning," she continued, with a womanly desire to disguise her own feeling. "I wanted to tell you where to meet me when the storm begins."

"Where?" he asked.

"On the roof of the palace, near the stairs leading down to your chambers. At first it will be very dark, and it is then that we must get out of sight of the palace. No other flying-machines will be in the air, and Captain Tradmos thinks, if we are very careful, we can get away safely before the display of lightning."

"If we find my friend what can we do with him?"

She hesitated a moment, a look of perplexity on her face, then she said: "We can bring him back and keep him hidden in your chambers till some better arrangement can be made. We shall think of some expedient before long, but at present he must be saved from starvation."

Thorndyke attempted to draw her to a seat beside him, but she held back. "No," she said resolutely, "it would never do for us to be seen together. If my father should suspect anything now, all hope would be lost."

Thorndyke reluctantly released her hand.

"You are right, I beg your pardon," he said humbly. "I shall meet you promptly. Of course I want to save poor Johnston, but the delight of being with you again, even for a moment, so intoxicates me that I forget even my duty to him."

After she left him he wandered out in the streets along the busy thoroughfares, and into the beautiful parks, the flowers and foliage changing color as each new hour dawned. The fragrance of the flowers delighted his sense of smell, and the luscious fruits hung from vine and tree in great abundance.

He was impatient for the time to arrive at which he was to meet the princess. After awhile he noticed the people closing the shops and booths, and in holiday dress going to the parks and public squares. He hastened to the palace. The great rotunda and the throne-room were energetically astir. Everybody wore rich apparel and was talking of the coming fete. The king was on his throne surrounded by his men of science. In a cluster of ladies in court dress, the Englishman recognized Bernardino. Catching his eye, she looked startled for an instant, and, then, with a furtive glance at the king, she swept her eyes back to Thorndyke and raised them significantly toward his chambers. He understood, and his quick movement was his reply. He turned immediately to an elevator that was going up, and entered it. Again he was alone on the palace roof. The color of the sunlight looked so natural that he studied it closely to see if he could not detect something artificial in its appearance, but in vain. He found that it did not pain his eyes to look at the sun steadily. He took from his pocket a small sunglass, and focussed the rays on his hand, but the heat was not intensified sufficiently to burn him.

Just then he heard a loud blast of a trumpet in a tall tower to the left of the palace. It seemed a momentous signal. The jostling crowds in the streets below suddenly stood motionless. Every eye was raised to the sky. Not a sound broke the stillness. Following the glances of the crowd a few minutes later, Thorndyke noticed a dark cloud rising in the west, and spreading along the horizon. A feeling of awe came over him as it gradually increased in volume, and, in vast black billows, began to roll up toward the sun.

Suddenly out of the stillness came a faraway rumble like a fusillade of cannon, now dying down low, again reaching such a height that it pained the ears. Belated flying-machines darted across the sky here and there, like storm-frightened birds, but they soon settled to earth. Every eye was on the cloud which was now gashed with dazzling, vivid, electric flashes. Thorndyke looked over the va

st roof. He was alone. He walked to the western parapet to get a broader view.

The clouds had increased till almost a third of the heavens were obscured by the madly whirling blackness. There was a rumble in the cloud, or beyond it, like thunder, and yet it was not, unless thunder can be attuned, for the sound was like the music of a great orchestra magnified a thousand-fold. The grand harmony died down. There was a blinding flash of electricity in the clouds, and the Englishman involuntarily covered his eyes with his hands. When he looked again the blackness was covering the sun. For a moment its disk showed blood-red through the fringe of the cloud and then disappeared. Total darkness fell on everything.

The silence was profound. The very air seemed stagnant.

Then the wind overhead, by some unseen force, was lashed into fury, and all the sky was filled with whirlpools of deeper blackness. Suddenly there was a flash of soft golden light; this was followed by streams of pink, of blue and of purple till the whole heavens were hung with banners, flags, and rain-bows of flame. Again darkness fell, and it seemed all the deeper after the gorgeous scene which had preceded it. Thorndyke strained his sight to detect something moving below, but nothing could be seen, and no sound came up from the motionless crowds.

Behind him he heard a soft footstep on the stone tiling. It drew nearer. A hand was being carefully slid along the parapet. The hand reached him and touched his arm.

It was the princess. "Ah, I have at last found you," she whispered, "I saw you in the lightning, but lost you again."

He put his arm round her and drew her into his embrace. He tried to speak, but uttered only an inarticulate sound.

"I could not possibly come earlier," she apologized, nestling against him so closely that he could feel the quick and excited beating of her heart. "My father kept me with him till only a moment ago. Captain Tradmos will be here soon."

"When do we start?" he asked.

"That is the trouble," she replied. "We had counted on getting away in the darkness, before the display of lightning, but there is more danger now. If our flying-machine were noticed the search-lights would be turned on us and we would be discovered at once."

"But even if we get safely away in the darkness when could we return?"

"Oh, that would be easy," she replied. "As soon as the fete is over, commerce will be resumed and the air will be filled with air-ships that have been delayed in their regular business, and, in the disguises which I have for us both, we could come back without rousing suspicion. We could alight in Winter Park and return home later."

"What is Winter Park?"

"You have not seen it? You must do so; it is one of the wonders of Alpha. It is a vast park enclosed with high walls and covered with a roof of glass. Inside the snow falls, and we have sleighing and coasting and lakes of ice for skating. It was an invention of the king. The snowstorms there are beautiful."

Thorndyke's reply was drowned in a harmonious explosion like that of tuned cannon; this was followed by the chimes of great bells which seemed to swing back and forth miles overhead.

"Listen!" whispered Bernardino, "father calls it 'musical thunder,' and he declares that it is produced in no other country but this."

"It is not; he is right." And the heart of the Englishman was stirred by deep emotion. He had never dreamed that anything could so completely chain his fancy and elevate his imagination as what he heard. The musical clangor died down. The strange harmony grew more entrancing as it softened. Then the whole eastern sky began to flush with rosy, shimmering light.

"My father calls this the 'Ideal Dawn of Day,'" whispered Bernardino. "See the faint golden halo near the horizon; that is where the sun is supposed to be."

"How is it done?" asked the Englishman.

"Few of our people know. It is a secret held only by the king and half a dozen scientists. The whole thing, however, is operated by two men in a room in the dome of the palace. The musician is a young German who was becoming the wonder of the musical world when father induced him to come to us. I have met him. He says he has been thoroughly happy here. He lives on music. He showed me the instrument he used to play, a little thing he called a violin, and its tones could not reach beyond the limits of a small room. He laughs at it now and says the instrument that father gave him to play on has strings drawn from the centre of the earth to the stars of heaven."

The rose-light had spread over the horizon and climbed almost to the zenith, and with the dying booming and gentle clangor it began to fade till all was dark again.

"Captain Tradmos ought to be here now," continued the princess, glancing uneasily toward the stairway. "We may not have so good an opportunity as this."

Ten minutes went by.

"Surely, something has gone wrong," whispered Bernardino. "I have never seen the darkness last so long as this; besides, can't you hear the muttering of the people?"

Thorndyke acknowledged that he did. He was about to add something else, but was prevented by a loud blast from the trumpet in the tower.

Bernardino shrank from him and fell to trembling.

"What is the matter?" he asked. "The trumpet!" she gasped, "something awful has happened!"

A moment of profound silence, then the murmuring of the crowd rose sullenly like the moaning of a rising storm; a search-light flashed up in the gloom and swept its uncertain stream from point to point, but it died out. Another and another shone for an instant in different parts of the city, but they all failed.

"Something awful has happened," repeated Bernardino, as if to herself; "the lights will not burn!"

"Had we not better go down?" asked Thorndyke anxiously, excited by her unusual perturbation.

For answer she mutely drew him to the eastern parapet. Far away in the east there still lingered a faint hint of pink, but all over the whole landscape darkness rested.

"See!" she exclaimed, pointing upward, "the clouds are thinning over the sun, and yet there is no light. What can be the matter?"

At that juncture they heard soft steps on the roof and a voice calling:

"Bernardino! Princess Bernardino!"

"It is Tradmos," she ejaculated gladly, then she called out softly:

"Tradmos! Tradmos!"

"Here!" the voice said, and a figure loomed up before them. It was the captain. He was panting violently, as if he had been running.

"What is it?" she asked, clasping his arm.

"The sun has gone out," he announced.

A groan escaped her lips and she swayed into Thorndyke's arms.

"The clouds are thinning over the sun, yet there is no light. The king is excited; he fears a panic!"

"Has such a thing never happened?" asked Thorndyke.

"An hundred years ago; then thousands lost their lives. As soon as the people suspect the cause of the delay they will go mad with fear."

"What can we do?" asked the princess, recovering her self-possession.

"Nothing, wait!" replied Tradmos. "This is as safe a place as you could find. Perhaps the trouble may be averted. Look!"

The disk of the veiled sun was aglow with a faintly trembling light; but it went out. The silence was profound. The populace seemed unable to grasp the situation, but when the light had flickered over the black face of the sun once more and again expired, a sullen murmur rose and grew as it passed from lip to lip.

It became a threatening roar, broken by an occasional cry of pain and a dismal groan of terror. There was a crash as if a mountain had been burst by explosives.

"The swinging bridge has been thrown down!" said Tradmos.

Light after light flashed up in different parts of the city, but they were so small and so far apart that they seemed to add to the darkness rather than to lessen it.

"The moon, it will rise!" cried the princess.

"It cannot," said Tradmos in his beard, "at least not for several hours."

"They will kill my father," she said despondently, "they always hold him responsible for any accident."

"They cannot reach him," consoled Tradmos. "He is safe for the present at least."

"Is it possible to make the repairs needed?"

"I don't know. When the accident happened long ago the sun was just rising."

"Has it stopped?"

"I think not; it has simply gone out; the electric connection has, in some way, been cut off."

The tumult seemed to have extended to the very limits of the city, and was constantly increasing. The smashing of timber and the falling of heavy stones were heard near by.

Tradmos leaned far over the parapet. "They are coming toward us!" he said; "they intend to destroy the palace; we must try to get down, but we shall meet danger even there."

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