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   Chapter 16 No.16

The Land of the Changing Sun By Will N. Harben Characters: 12916

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Thorndyke went down into his chambers to make his toilet and was ready to leave when there was a soft rap on his door. He opened it, and to his surprise saw Bernardino modestly draw herself back into the shadow of the hall.

"Pardon me, but I must speak to you," she stammered in confusion.

"What is it?" he asked, going out to her.

"I want to advise you to avoid my father to-day. He is greatly disappointed with the accident of yesterday, and he is never courteous to strangers when he is displeased. He was particularly anxious to have you entertained by the fete."

"Thank you; I shall keep out of his way," promised the Englishman. "Where had I better stay-here in my rooms?"

"No, he might send for you. If you would care to see Winter Park, I can go with you as your guide."

"I should be delighted; nothing could please me more."

"But," (as a servant passed in the room with a tray) "that is your breakfast. Meet me at the fountain at the north entrance of the palace in half an hour." And, drawing her veil over her face, she vanished in the darkness of the corridor.

After he had breakfasted and sent the man away, he hastened below to the place designated by the princess. She was waiting for him under the palm trees, and was so disguised that he would not have known her but for her low amused laugh as he was about to pass her.

"It would not do for any one to suspect me," she explained; "my father would never forgive me for doing this." She pointed to a flying-machine near by. "We must take the air; I have made all the arrangements. Winter Park is beyond the limits of the city."

He followed her across the grass to the machine and into the car. They could see the driver behind the glass of the narrow compartment in which he sat, and when he turned the polished metal wheel the machine rose like a liberated balloon.

Thorndyke looked out of the window. The blue haze of the fifth hour of the morning was breaking over everything, and as the domes, pinnacles, and vari-colored roofs fell away in the beautiful light, the breast of the Englishman heaved with delightful emotions. Bernardino was watching his face with a gratified smile.

"You like Alpha," she said, half anxiously, half inquiringly.

"Very much," he replied; "but I want to show you the great world I came from;-and some day perhaps I can."

The blood ran into her cheeks suddenly, and then as quickly receded, leaving a wistful expression in her eyes. She sighed. "It has been my dream for a long time. I have always imagined that it is more wonderful than Alpha; but you know there is no chance for you to return now."

"I shall manage to escape some way and you shall go with me as my wife."

Her blushes came again. "I did not know that you cared that much for me," she said. Then, as if to change the subject, she pointed through the window. "See, we are approaching the Park, and shall descend in a moment."

He looked out of the window and then drew his head in quickly.

"We are coming down into a big lake!" he cried out. "Oh, no, it is only the glass roof of the park," she laughed; "true, it does look like water in the sunlight."

The machine sank lower and finally rested on a plot of grass in a little square ornamented with beds of flowers and white statues. Thorndyke saw a seemingly endless wall, so high that he could not calculate its height. Bernardino preceded him in at a great arching door in the wall, and they found themselves in a stone-paved vestibule several hundred feet square.

A maid servant came forward at once and brought heavy fur clothing for them and invited them into separate toilet rooms. When he came out Bernardino was waiting for him. He could hardly breathe, so thick were the furs he had put on.

"It is warm here, but it will be colder in a moment," said the princess. And she led him to a door across the room. When the door was opened, Thorndyke uttered an exclamation of astonishment. Before their eyes lay a wide expanse of snow-covered roads, woodlands and frozen lakes and streams. The air was as crisp and invigorating as a Canadian winter.

Bernardino led him to a pavilion where a number of pleasure-seekers were gathered and selected a sleigh and two mettlesome horses. She took the reins from the man, and sprang lightly into the graceful cutter. Thorndyke followed her and wrapped the thick robes about her feet. Away they sped like the wind down the smooth road, through a leafless forest. Overhead the glass roof could not be seen, but a lowering gray cloud hung over them and a light snow was falling.

"Winter Park is a great resort," the princess explained; "we get tired of the unchanging climate, and it is pleasant to visit such a place as this. There is a winter park in every town of any size in Alpha."

They drove along the shore of a beautiful lake, on the frozen surface of which hundreds of skaters were darting here and there, and passed hillsides on which crowds of young people were coasting in sleds. When they had driven about ten miles in a circuitous route she turned the horses round.

"We had better return," she said; "you have not seen all of the Park, but we can visit it some other time."

Outside they found their flying-machine awaiting them, and were soon on the way back to the city. They parted at the fountain in the park, she hastening to the palace, and he turning to stroll through the little wood behind him.

He was passing a thick bunch of trees when he was startled by hearing his name called. He turned round, but at first saw no one.

"Thorndyke!" There it was again, and then he saw a hand beckoning to him from a hedge of ferns at his right. He stepped back a few paces; a man came out of the wood.

It was Johnston, his face was white and haggard, his clothing rent and soiled.

"My God, can it be you?" gasped the Englishman.

"Nobody else," groaned Johnston, cautiously advancing and laying a trembling hand on the arm of Thorndyke; "but don't talk loud, they will find me."

"Where did you come from?"

Johnston pointed first to the east, and then swept his hand over the sky to the west.

"Over the wall," he said despondently. "From the dead lands behind the sun."

"How did you get back here?"

For reply Johnston parted the fern leaves and pointed to the lank figure of the tall Alphian, who lay curled up on the grass as if asleep. "He brought me in that flying-machine there; but

he has spent all his strength in trying to manage the thing, which was out of order, and now he is helpless. Twice we came within an inch of sinking down into the internal fires. The last time we escaped only by the breadth of a hair; if he had not had the endurance of a man of iron he would have succumbed to the heat and we would have been lost. We sank so far down that I became insensible and never knew a thing till the fresh air revived me. See, my beard and hair are singed, and look how he is blistered. Poor fellow! He is a hero." Johnston stepped back and shook the Alphian, but the poor fellow's head only rolled to one side, showing his bloodshot eyes. He was insensible.

"He is in a bad fix," said Thorndyke; "where did he come from?"

"Banished like myself; we met over there in the dark and roamed about together."

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know; I was following his lead. We will both be put to death if we are discovered."

"Did he not tell you his plan?"

Johnston started visibly. "Oh, I forgot," he exclaimed. "He declares that all this vast cavern is in danger. Over in the west we discovered a hole in the roof through which the ocean is streaming in a torrent. He calculated that before many hours the water would overflow into the internal fires and produce a volcanic eruption that will swallow up all of Alpha."

"Merciful Heaven! and you are hiding here at such a moment? The king must be informed at once."

Johnston had grown suddenly paler. "It may not be as bad as Branasko feared, and the king would have no mercy on me and him."

"Leave that to me," said Thorndyke; "I have made a good friend of the Princess Bernardino. She will tell me what is best to do. Remain here."

In breathless haste, Thorndyke went into the audience chamber. Fortunately the king was not on his throne, and he caught sight of the confidential maid of the princess.

She saw him approaching, and withdrew behind a cluster of tall white jars of porcelain containing rare plants.

"I must see your mistress," he said; "tell her to come to me at once; we are in great peril!"

The girl swept her eyes over the balconies and the throne and said: "She is in her apartments, sir; I shall bring her."

"Tell her to meet me at the fountain where we last met," and he hastened back to the spot mentioned.

She soon came. "What is it?" she asked excitedly.

"Johnston is back," he replied. "He is in the wood there with a fellow who escaped with him in a disabled flying-machine. He says the sea has broken through over in the west and is streaming into Alpha in a torrent."

"Surely there is some mistake," she said; "such a thing has never happened."

"It may have been caused by the explosives during the storm," went on Thorndyke. "Branasko, the Alphian who was with Johnston, says we are in imminent peril."

"There must be some mistake," she repeated incredulously, as she looked to westward. The green glow of the second hour of the afternoon lay over everything. She stood mute and motionless for a long time, looking steadily at the horizon; then she started suddenly, changed her position, and shaded her eyes from the sunlight.

"It really does seem to me that there is a cloud rising, and it is unlike any cloud I ever saw."

"I see it too!" cried the Englishman; "it must be that the water has already reached the internal fires."

Bernardino was very pale when she turned to him.

"My father must know this at once; come with me."

Into the palace, through the vast rotunda, past the throne, and into the very apartment of the king himself she led him hastily. A royal attendant met them and held up his hands warningly. "The king is asleep," he said in an undertone.

"Wake him-wake him at once!" commanded the excited girl.

"I cannot, it would offend him," was the reply.

She did not pause an instant, but darting past the man and running to the king's couch, she drew the curtain aside and touched the sleeper. He waked in anger, but her first word disarmed him.

"Alpha is in danger."

"What!" he growled, half awake. "The sea is breaking through in the west, and running into the internal fires."

"How do you know that?"

"A dense cloud is rising in the west, and:--"

"Impossible!" the word came from far down in his throat, and he was ghastly pale. He ran to the table and touched a button and, to the astonishment of Thorndyke, the walls on the western side of the room silently parted, showing a little balcony overlooking the street below. The king went hastily out and looked toward the west. The others followed him. The princess stifled a cry of alarm when she glanced at the sky.

Great black, rolling clouds were rapidly spreading along the horizon.

The king looked at them as helplessly as a frightened child. "The air!" he groaned. "It is hot!" and then he held out his hand to the princess, and showed her a flake of soot on it, and he dumbly pointed to others that were falling about them.

"How did you discover it?" he asked, and Thorndyke saw that he was trying to appear calm.

"Mr.-this gentleman's friend has returned from banishment, and--"

"Returned! has the wall been destroyed?"

"No; he accidentally discovered the danger, and came in a flying-machine to warn you."

"Where is he? bring him to me, quick!"

"But you will not --"

He waved his hand impatiently. "Go; if Alpha is saved he shall be at liberty-if it is not, what does it matter?"

Thorndyke hastened away after Johnston, who, when he was told of the king's words, readily accompanied his friend to the presence of the ruler. They found him with his daughter still on the balcony.

"How did you discover this?" asked the king, turning to the American.

As quickly as possible, Johnston related his adventures, and particularly the story of the shooting fountain and the fall of salt water. The king did not wait for him to conclude. He ran back into his chamber, touched another button, and the next instant alarm-bells were ringing all over the city.

"A signal to the protectors," explained the princess to Thorndyke; "by this time they are ringing all over Alpha. Oh, what will become of us?" as she spoke she leaned over the balustrade and looked down into the street. Vast crowds had gathered and were motionless, except at points where the purple-clad "protectors" rushed from public buildings to assemble in squads on the street corner.

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