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   Chapter 11 THE FLYING APE.

A Trip to Venus: A Novel By John Munro Characters: 19197

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


It was broad day when I awoke, and oppressively warm in the little cabin. My first thoughts were of Alumion, the consecration of our loves, and my resolution to abide in Venus. In getting up I felt so light and buoyant that for a moment I fancied I must be giddy, but on reflection I ascribed the sensation to the intoxication of passion, and the exhilarating atmosphere of the planet. I looked out of a window towards the blessed island of my dreams, and to my blank amazement found that it was gone! I could neither see anything of the lake, the square, nor the town, but only a bare and rugged platform of weathered rocks, and the cloudy sky above it.

What was the matter? Had Gazen and Carmichael taken it into their heads to make an excursion, such as we had often planned, in order to observe something more of the country? Yes, that was it, no doubt.

Under the circumstances I was far from pleased with them for having carried me off without asking my leave, knowing as they should have done, that I would be eager to rejoin Alumion; but experience of travel had taught me that a man must not expect to have it all his own way, and should know when to let his companions have theirs, and above all things to keep his temper. I, therefore, decided to take their behaviour in good part, more especially as we could always return to the capital as quickly as we had come from it.

Apparently there was nobody in the car but myself. Wondering, and perhaps a trifle uneasy at the dead stillness, I dressed rapidly and went outside.

The welkin was wholly overcast with dense, murky vapours, which totally hid the sun, and the air was excessively hot, moist, and sultry as before a thunderstorm-an unusual phenomenon in Womla. Black boulders and crags, speckled with lichens, and carpeted with coarse herbage, shut out the prospect on every side but one, where the edge of the platform on which the car was resting ran along the sky. I saw it all now. Gazen and Carmichael had made a journey to the extreme verge of the country; to the very summit of the precipice which surrounded the Crater Land.

Picking my steps over the rough rocks like one who treads on air, I hastened to the brink of the platform. If the car were on the further side of the summit I should be able to see the wide ocean, but if, as I fondly hoped, it were on the hither side, I should enjoy a far-off glimpse of the city and its holy island, which had become a heaven to me. How different was the scene which met my view!

I was looking away over a vast plain towards a distant range of volcanic mountains. A broad river wound through the midst between isolated volcanoes, curling with smoke, and thick forests of a sable hue, or expanded into marshy lakes half lost in brakes of grisly reeds, on the margin of which living monsters were plashing in the mud, or soaring into the air on dusky pinions.

My first shock of surprise passed into a fearful admiration for the savage and gloomy grandeur of the primeval landscape; but as that feeling wore away the old irritation against my fellow-travellers came back. From all I had heard or seen there was no such place as this in Womla, and as it dawned upon me that they had migrated to some other island, or perhaps continent in Venus, I forgot my good resolution, and shouted indignantly,

"Gazen, Gazen! Hallo there! Hallo!"

There was no response, and the dead silence that swallowed up my voice was awful. Had anything happened to my companions, and was I left alone in this appalling solitude? Was I in my right senses, or was I not? I shouted again at the very pitch of my voice, and this time an answering cry came to my relief. On turning in the direction from which it proceeded, I observed Professor Gazen coming slowly towards me, round a mass of turretted rocks.

"What is the meaning of all this?" I demanded petulantly, as he came near, gingerly stepping from stone to stone.

He made no reply, but seemed to be meditating what he would say.

"A nice trick you've played me! Wherever have we got to?"

"Mercury," replied Gazen coolly.

"Mercury!" I exclaimed, fairly astounded. "Impossible!"

"Not at all."

"Oh, come!" said I sarcastically, "that won't do. A joke is a joke; but I'm not in a merry mood this morning."

"So I see. A laugh would do you good."

"Well, where are we?"

"In Mercury."

"What nonsense!" I ejaculated. "Last night I went to bed in Venus, and you want me to believe that I've woke up on Mercury. Tell that to the marines."

"Last night you say; but do you know how long you have slept? And have you forgotten that we are now so near the sun-that the attraction of the sun on the car has assisted the machines to propel us through the intermediate space?"

I had not thought of that.

"Then it is true."

"Of course."

"And why have you come here-what authority-what right-had you to carry me off in this manner without my consent?" I burst out angrily. "You knew I had made up my mind to stay in Venus. I took you into my confidence and told you about my love affair. Why have you betrayed that confidence, and kidnapped me like a slave or a lunatic?"

"Hear me, old friend," said Gazen softly. "We have all noticed a decided change in you of late-ever since the day of the ceremony on the island. You have been like a different person-absent in your mind-incoherent in your speech-abrupt in your manner. You have forsaken your old friends completely, and apparently lost all interest in their doings, all desire for their company. In short, you have behaved like a man beside himself, distraught. We could not make it out, and we had many anxious consultations about the matter. I wondered whether you had had a sunstroke. Carmichael suggested that the stimulating air of Venus had affected your brain. Miss Carmichael alone suspected that you were in love; but I would not believe her. I had been so much in your society without having seen anything to justify her suspicion, and you yourself had never breathed a word to lend it colour. Carmichael and I sought to question you about your health, and the influence of the sun and air upon you, while Miss Carmichael tried to draw you on the subject of the ladies. All in vain. We could not solve the mystery, and as your condition was evidently growing worse and worse, we resolved to leave the planet. Although it was not in the original programme, we had sometimes talked of extending our journey to Mercury, so as to visit all the inferior planets, and give me an opportunity of getting as near the sun as possible for my observations, and this project was made the pretext for hastening our departure.

"We submitted the plan to you, and you know the rest. After you had given us your word of honour that you would break with the lady and return home with us for the sake of your friends, after we had made all our preparations to start, you came back at the eleventh hour, and declared that you had made up your mind to stay behind. If anything had been wanted to prove to us that you were hopelessly infatuated-hypnotised-mad-it would have been that; and as we were morally bound to fetch you back with us, we took the bull by the horns, and carried you off in spite of yourself."

"You had no business to do anything of the kind," I replied hotly. "I am chiefly responsible for this expedition."

"True; but you forget that Carmichael is the nominal leader, by your own agreement, and we are all to some extent under his orders. I, too, was bound in honour to bring you safe home if I could."

"Bound in honour to take care of me! You treat me like a baby."

"People don't come away on such an adventure as ours without a tacit if not a formal understanding to protect each other to the best of their ability, and besides, I had given my word to your friends that I would do my best to help you through. When you come to your senses you will acknowledge that we did right."

Despite my excusable anger and vexation, the calm and friendly explanation of the professor was not without its effect on me. It was true that I had broken my promise to my fellow-travellers; true that Carmichael was commander of the expedition. I was myself at fault. And yet what a disappointment! What would Alumion think of me! After all my vows of eternal fidelity, uttered as they had been in that sacred spot, I had sneaked away like a thief in the night.

"I shall go back to Venus," said I, in a determined manner.

"Tut, tut," said Gazen, with a good-natured smile; "you had better give up that idea. You are clearly the victim of hypnotic influence-of suggestion. By-and-by it will lose its hold on you, and you will regain your freedom of action."

"Never!" I exclaimed, with all the energy of my soul. "My dear Gazen, you are quite mistaken in supposing anything of the kind. I was never saner in my life. Nay, it is only now that I know what it is to be sane; what life was meant to be. Hypnotic suggestion! Pshaw! I know what I am doing as well as you do. I am not a fool. I am only seeking my own happiness-and hers-I tell you that a single moment in her society is worth a whole lifetime on the earth. What do I say? A lifetime? An eternity. Heaven itself were nothing to me without her. I would not take it as a gift. I shall go back. I must go back. I cannot live without her."

"Take time to consider at all events," said Gazen, somewhat impressed by my vehemence. "In the meantime let us join Miss Carmichael. She is beyond the rocks there sketching the valley."

We walked in that direction.

"You

may return to the earth," said I; "but on the way you must drop me at Venus."

Gazen had no opportunity of answering, for just at that moment we were startled by a piercing shriek from behind the crags, and rushing, or rather bounding forward, saw a sight that made our very blood run cold.

A flying monster, with enormous bat-like wings and hanging legs, was evidently swooping down on Miss Carmichael, as she stood beside her easel on the brow of the cliff.

"Run for your life!" roared Gazen, dashing towards her with frantic speed.

Alas! she did not hear him, or else she was fascinated by the approaching horror, and rooted to the spot. He was still several hundred yards from her, but owing to the feebleness of gravity on the planet he was so preternaturally light and nimble that he might have covered the distance in a minute or so, had he been more accustomed to control his limbs, and the ground been smoother. As it was he leaped high into the air, and rebounded from the stones like an india-rubber ball, at the risk of spraining his ankles or breaking his neck, while brandishing his arms, and firing his pistol, and hooting with all his force of lung to frighten away the monster.

Too late. The huge leathery wings of the dragon overshadowed the shrinking form of the girl, and the talons of its drooping feet caught in her dress. She made one desperate, but futile effort to free herself from its terrible clutch, and, screaming loudly for help, was borne away over the abyss of the valley as easily as a lamb is carried by an eagle.

"Oh, Heaven!" cried Gazen, stopping with a gesture of despair.

He was deeply moved, and pale as death; but he did not altogether lose his head.

What was to be done?

"The car-the car!" he exclaimed. "We must follow her in the car. Keep your eye on the beast while I go for it."

Carmichael was fast asleep in his cabin, after his long weary vigil during the passage from Venus, but the car was quickly put in motion, and I jumped on board just as it cleared the brink of the precipice.

The dragon, which had the start of us by a mile or more, was apparently steering for the mountains on the other side of the valley. Notwithstanding its enormous bulk, and the dead weight hanging from its claws, it flew with surprising speed, owing to the weakness of gravity and the vast spread of its wings.

I shall never forget that singular chase, which is probably unparalleled in the history of the universe. A prey to anxiety and the most distressing emotions, we did not properly observe the marvellous, the Titanic, I had almost said the diabolical aspect of the country beneath us, and still we could not altogether blind ourselves to it. Colossal jungles, resembling brakes of moss and canes five hundred or a thousand feet in height-creeks as black as porter, gliding under their dank and rotting aisles-mountainous quadrupeds or lizards crashing and tearing through their branches-one of them at least six hundred feet in length, with a ridgy back and long spiky tail, dragging on the ground, a baleful green eye, and a crooked mouth full of horrid fangs, which made it look the very incarnation of cruelty and brute strength-black lakes and grisly reeds as high as bamboo-prodigious black serpents troubling the water, and rearing their long spiry necks above the surface-gigantic alligators and crocodiles resting motionless in the shallows, with their snouts high in the air-hideous toads or such-like forbidding reptiles, many with tusks like the walrus, and some with glorious eyes, crouching on the banks or waddling in the reeds, and so enormous as to give variety to the landscape-volcanic craters, with red-hot lava simmering in their depths, and emitting fumes of sulphur, which might have choked us had we not closed the scuttles-while over all great dragons and other bat-like animals were flitting through the dusky atmosphere like demons in a nightmare.

Little by little we gained upon our quarry, but being afraid to run him too close for fear that he might drop his victim, we kept at a safe distance behind him, yet within rifle range, and near enough to make a prompt attack when he should settle on the ground.

At length we reached the other side of the valley, and found to our intense satisfaction that the monster was making for a rocky ledge on the shoulder of an extinct volcano, where we could see the yawning mouth of what appeared an immense cavern.

"That is probably his den," said Gazen, who was now as collected as I have ever seen him. Nevertheless all his faculties were on the stretch. His keen grey eye was everywhere, and his active mind was calculating every chance. I felt then as I had often felt before that in action as well as in thought the professor was a man of no common mark.

The event showed that his surmise was correct, for soon after he had spoken the dragon uttered a startling cry-a kind of squawk like that of a drake, but much louder, hoarser, shriller-and alighted on the ground.

"There is not a moment to lose," said Gazen. "We must attack him before he enters the cave."

Certainly the darkness inside the cavern would give the beast a great advantage, and although we might succeed in killing him, we could scarcely hope to find Miss Carmichael alive. Was she alive now? I had my doubts, but I kept them to myself. Since she had been carried away she had not given the smallest sign of life, not even when the dragon settled. Perhaps, however, she had merely lost her senses through fright, and was still in a dead faint.

We might have fought the creature from the air, but we had decided to assail him on the solid ground, because we should thus be able to scatter and take him in the flank, if not in the rear.

While Carmichael landed his car the astronomer and I kept a sharp watch on the beast, all ready to fire at the first movement which seemed to threaten the safety of the young girl, who was lying motionless at the bottom of a slope or talus which led up to the mouth of the cavern. Freed from his burden the dragon now stood erect, and a more awful monster it would be difficult to conceive. He must have been at least forty feet in stature, yet he gave us an impression of squat and sturdy strength.

I have called him a dragon, but he was not at all like the dragons of our imagination. With his great bullet head and prick ears, his beetling brows and deep sunken eyes, his ferocious mouth and protruding tusks, his short thick neck and massive shoulders, his large, gawky, and misshapen trunk, coated with dingy brown fur, shading into dirty yellow on the stomach, his stout, bandy legs armed with curving talons, and his huge leathern wings hanging in loose folds about him, he looked more like an imp of Satan than a dragon.

Hitherto he had not appeared to notice his pursuers; but now that he was freer to observe, the grating of the car upon the rocks caught his attention. He turned quickly, and stared at the apparition of the vessel, which must have been a strange object to him; but he did not seem to take alarm. It was the gaze of a jaguar or a tiger who sees something curious in the jungle-vigilant and deadly if you like, but neither scared nor fierce.

We lost no time in sallying forth, all three of us, armed with magazine rifle, cutlass, and revolver. Mr. Carmichael in the middle, I on the lower, and Gazen on the upper side, or that nearest to Miss Carmichael. The rocks around were slippery with ordure, and the sickening stench of rotting skeletons made our very gorge rise. Suddenly a loud squeaking in the direction of the cave arrested us, and before we had recovered from our surprise, nearly a dozen young dragons, each about the size of a man, tumbled hastily down the slope, and rushed upon the lifeless form of Miss Carmichael.

"Great Scott, there's the whole family," muttered Gazen between his teeth, at the same time bringing his rifle to the shoulder, and firing in quick succession.

The foremost of the crew, which had already flung itself upon the prey, was seen to spring head over heels into the air, and fall back dead; another lay writhing in agony upon the ground, and uttering strangely human shrieks; whilst the others, terrified by the noise, turned and fled back helter-skelter to the cave.

The old one, roused to anger by the injury done to his offspring, snarled ferociously at his enemies and, drawing himself to his full height, made a furious dash for Gazen.

Our rifles cracked again and again; the monster started as he felt the shots, and halted, glaring from one to another of us like a man irresolute. Purple streams were gushing from his head and sides; he attempted to fly, and ran towards the brink of the ledge; but ere he could gain sufficient impetus to launch himself into the air, he staggered and fell heavily to the ground, with his broken wings beneath him.

Gazen, quicker than her father, flew towards Miss Carmichael, and bent over her.

"Is she alive?" enquired Carmichael, in breathless and trembling accents.

"Yes, thank God," responded Gazen fervently; as he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it.

There were tears of joy in his eyes, and I knew then what I had long suspected, that he loved her.

Suddenly a loud croak in the distance caused us to look up, and we beheld another dragon on the wing, coining rapidly towards us from a pass among the mountains. There was not a moment to be lost, and Gazen, taking Miss Carmichael in his arms, we all hurried on board the car, eager to escape from this revolting spot.

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