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   Chapter 13 HOME AGAIN.

A Trip to Venus: A Novel By John Munro Characters: 12626

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

We owed our salvation to Mr. Carmichael. The firing of our magazine rifles, followed by the news of our perilous situation, had roused him from his lethargy. Although still unable to speak, he had contrived by means of his eyes to make his daughter understand that he wished another dose of oxygen. When she was about to administer it, he called her attention to the fact that in expanding as it issued from the cylinder, the gas became very cold. She caught his meaning instantly, and on applying the gas to the sensitive parts of the machinery had succeeded in cooling and releasing them.

It seems that Carmichael, in order to save time, had been working the engines at an unusually high speed, which, together with the heat of the sun, had caused them to jam. Their enforced rest had of itself allowed them to cool somewhat, and by reducing the speed until we reached a cooler region, they did not stick again.

Carmichael recovered from his illness, and the journey to the earth was accomplished without accident. We landed safely on some undiscovered islands in the Arctic Circle, and after a flying visit to the North Pole in the vicinity, we bore away for England, keeping as high over the sea as possible to escape notice. Going southward we passed through all sorts of weather, thick snow, hurricanes of wind and rain, dry or wet fogs, and so forth; but it made no difference to us. Crossing Spitzbergen, the car was frosted over with ice needles, which, however, were soon thawed by a warmer current of air. Between Iceland and the coast of Norway we glided through a magnificent aurora borealis that covered the whole sky with a luminous curtain, and made us fancy we had floated unawares into the fabulous Niffleheim of the old Scandinavian gods. Near the Faroe Islands we dashed into a violent thunderstorm, and were almost deafened by the terrific explosions, or blinded by the flashes of lightning. Otherwise we could enjoy both of these electrical displays without fear, as the metallic shell of the car was a good protective screen. Certainly our flying machine would be an excellent means of making observations in meteorology, from the sampling of cirrus cloud to the chasing of a tornado.

The first sign of man we saw was a ship rolling in a storm off the Hebrides; but apparently she was not in distress, else we should have gone to her succour. How easy with such a car to rescue lives and property from sinking ships, and even patrol the seas in search of them!

The sun was setting in purple and gold as we approached the English coast, and although at our elevation we were still in sunshine, the twilight had begun to gather over the distant land. The first sound we heard was the moaning of the tide along the shore, and the mournful sighing of the wind among the trees. Hills, fields, and woods lay beneath us like a garden in miniature. The lamps and fires of lonely villages and farmhouses twinkled like glow-worms in the dusk. A railway train, with its white puff of smoke and lighted carriages, seemed to be crawling like a fiery caterpillar along the ground; but in a few moments we had left it far behind. As it grew darker and darker we descended nearer to the surface. A herd of sheep stood huddled on the grass, and stared at us; a flock of geese ran cackling into a farmyard; the watch-dog barked and tugged furiously at his chain; a little boy screamed with fright.

"That sounds homely," said the professor to Miss Carmichael and myself, who were standing with him on the gallery outside the car. "It's the sweetest music I've heard for many a day. Certainly Venus was a charming place, but I for one am jolly glad to get home again."

Yes, I must confess that I too felt a deep and tranquil pleasure in returning to the familiar scenes and the beloved soil of my infancy.

"You don't seem to care much for Venus," said Miss Carmichael to Gazen. "Probably if you had been born there you would have liked it better."

"That may be. If you would like a place, it is well to be born in it."

"Perhaps if you are a good boy you will go to Venus when you die."

"I'm afraid it won't suit my mental constitution. They don't care for science there, and I don't care for anything else. Mars would fit me better, I imagine."

"Venus is my favourite," said Miss Carmichael.

"Well, then, it's good enough for me," responded Gazen.

Their talk set me thinking of Alumion, and my strange fancy that I had known her in another world. Suddenly it occurred to me that in many of her ways and looks she bore a singular resemblance to my first love, who had died in childhood. That was nearly seventeen years ago. Seventeen-it was just the age of Alumion. Could it be possible that she and Alumion were one and the same soul?

"I should like to go back to Venus," said Miss Carmichael. "We can go there now at any time."

"Of course we can," replied Gazen; "and to Mars as well. Your father's invention opens up a bewildering prospect of complications in the universe. So long as each planet was isolated, and left to manage its own affairs, the politics of the solar system were comparatively simple; but what will they be when one globe interferes with another? Think of a German fleet of ether-ships on the prowl for a cosmical empire, bombarding Womla, and turning it into a Prussian fortress, or an emporium for cheap goods."

"Father was talking of that very matter the other night," said Miss Carmichael, "and he declared that rather than see any harm come to Womla he would keep his invention a secret-at all events for a thousand years longer."

We had glided rapidly across the Black Country, with its furnaces and forges blazing in the darkness, and now the dull red glow of the metropolis was visible on the horizon. Half-an-hour later we descended in the garden of Carmichael's cottage, and found everything as snug as when we had left it.

Leaving my fellow-travellers there, I took the train for London, and was driven to my club, where I intended to sleep. It was a raw wet evening, and in spite of a certain joy at being home again, I could not help feeling that my heart was no longer here, but in another planet. After the sublime deserts of space, and the delightful paradise of Womla, the busy streets, the blinding glare of the la

mps, the splashing vehicles, the blatant newspaper men, the swarms of people crossing each other's paths, and occasionally kicking each other's heels, everyone intent on his own affairs of business or pleasure, were disenchanting, to say the least. I seemed to have awakened from a beautiful dream, and fallen into a dismal nightmare.

In the smoking-room of the club the first person I saw was my friend the Viscount, who was sitting just where I had left him on the night we started for Venus, with his glass of toddy before him, and a cigar between his lips.

"Hallo!" he exclaimed on seeing me. "Haven't seen you for some time-must be nearly two months. Been abroad? You look brown."


"Well, suppose we finish our game of chess."

"With pleasure."

"You remember the wager-a thousand to a hundred sovereigns that I win."

He was the better player, and although I had a slight advantage in the game as it stood, I was by no means certain of winning, especially as I was tired and sleepy; but ever since my sojourn in Venus, my intellect had been unusually clear and active. I played as I had never played before, and in three moves had won the wager.

"That will pay my travelling expenses," said I, pocketing his cheque.

* * *

I ought perhaps to mention that Professor Gazen carried out his intention of reading a paper to the Royal Astronomical Society on his alleged discovery of a diurnal nutation or "wobbling" of the planet Venus; but I regret to say that owing to preconceived opinions and personal prejudices, his ingenious theory met with a reception far below its merits. By the terms of our agreement he was forbidden to divulge the secret of our expedition until my own account appeared, but some telescopic observations he had made since coming home had provided him with independent proofs.

"Do you think Professor Possil will be present?" said I to him, as we dined together before we went to the meeting.

"Sure to be," replied Gazen. "He never misses an opportunity of attacking me. 'Tis the nature of the animal. But I flatter myself I shall get the laugh on him this time."

The hall was full. The hearty welcome of the Fellows showed their high appreciation of Professor Gazen, and made me feel quite proud of his acquaintance. They listened to his discourse on the movements of Venus, and his new hypothesis, with all the solemnity of a Roman senate deliberating on the destiny of a nation. When he had finished in a salvo of applause, the president, a man of grave and dignified demeanour, as became his office, complimented the author on his communication, which from the startling novelty of the subject would, he believed, give rise to an interesting discussion, and after calling on Professor Possil, he resumed his chair. That illustrious man, whose insignificant appearance belied his fame, responded to the invitation with a show of reluctance, from a conspicuous place in the front row of the audience, and immediately assailed the new hypothesis in his most uncompromising fashion.

"Never in his experience of the Society," he said, "and never perhaps in the history of astronomy, had an alleged discovery of such magnitude and consequence been promulgated on the strength of such flimsy evidence;" and after traversing in detail all the arguments of his opponent, he declared it his firm conviction that the effects which Professor Gazen had thought fit to advance as a "discovery," were neither more nor less than an optical illusion, not to say a mental hallucination.

Judging from the applause which greeted his remarks, the majority of his hearers were evidently of the same opinion.

A grim smile settled on my companion's face, and I could see that he maintained his temper with increasing difficulty, as one speaker after another delivered his mind in much the same sarcastic style of criticism.

At length his turn came to make a reply.

"Mr. President and gentlemen," said he with an air of smiling confidence, "at this late hour I do not propose to occupy the meeting with a refutation of all the various comments of the distinguished Fellows who have spoken; but as my learned friend, Professor Possil, has thought fit to charge me with bringing my discovery before the Society on insufficient grounds, I think it right to say that I possess much more conclusive evidence, which for the present, circumstances have prevented me from laying before you."

"Mr. President," exclaimed the celebrated Possil, starting to his feet, "I should like to ask whether it is altogether in good faith for a Fellow of this Society to bring forward what he calls a discovery, and keep back the most important part of the proof. Might I enquire of the author of the paper what is the nature of this suppressed evidence?"

"Simply that I have been there," answered Gazen, forgetting his promise to me in the excitement of the combat.

"Where?" demanded the astonished Possil.


There was a loud burst of sceptical laughter.

"I think, sir," said Professor Possil to the Chair, with exasperating coolness, "I think, sir, that after the astounding revelation of the learned professor, we shall be perfectly justified in concluding on sufficient evidence that the professor's head, and not the planet Venus, has been 'wobbling' of late."

"What I say is true," cried Gazen, nettled at this rude insinuation.

Cries of "Order, order," "withdraw," "apologise," resounded on every side.

"I cannot apologise for the truth," retorted Gazen hotly.

"Mr. President," continued the pugnacious and imperturbable Fossil, "I venture to submit that the preposterous assertions we have just heard are better adapted to a meeting of the Fellows of Colney Hatch than of this Society, and I beg to move that our unfortunate friend be called upon to leave the meeting in charge of some responsible person, who will conduct him safely to his home, and deliver him into the custody of his friends."

"Come on! They're a pack of fools!" cried Gazen to me hoarsely, as, followed by the jeers of his companions, he arose and left the room.

* * *

I have only to add that Professor Gazen and Miss Carmichael are about to be married. For myself, as soon as the ceremony is over I shall return to Venus and Alumion.


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