Of the causes of the high civilization of Hesperos - Of the relations of the sexes - Of private personal property - Of property in Land; and of the methods of Eviction - Of the Jacks and Masters of all Trades.
When we bear in mind these essential differences of Hesperian life, the rapid development of civilization which took place in the northern hemisphere after the sudden introduction of the rational creation will not appear surprising. So far as I have been able to form an estimate, from the information that has been very freely afforded me, the newly created Hesperians were, both intellectually and morally, much on a par with the average of human beings. But the conditions under which they were placed rendered their advance in civilization incomparably more rapid than anything which a similar species, circumstanced as we are on the earth, could hope to attain.
Their total exemption from the chronic paralysis of the human race which is involved in the incessant passage of the latter through the stages of infancy and childhood, would, by itself, be enough to give the Hesperians such a start in the race as to render competition useless. With us the intelligent man of matured wisdom departs, carrying with him to the grave the greater part of his accumulated stores of knowledge, and all his skill; leaving his successor, the child, to recover them as well as he can. The Hesperian is crossed by no such check; his course is one uninterrupted advance. Thus it came to pass that, after the lapse of a few thousand years, the condition of the northern hemisphere was, as regards every form of advanced civilization, a very long way ahead of anything even dreamed of, much less realized on earth.
It is quite necessary that I should here say a few words on the relations between the sexes in this strange planet. On this difficult subject I have taken abundance of notes from the information I received; information which, I am bound to say, was given me without the slightest reserve. [I suppress all details in these notes, as public opinion, very rightly, does not permit the discussion of such matters.] It is obvious of itself that the permanence of individual life renders the establishment of such a life-contract as marriage an impossibility. Accordingly, the Hesperian relation which most nearly corresponds with the matrimonial institution on earth usually lasts for one of the cyclical periods already described as one of the distinctive peculiarities of Hesperian life. This is, I say, the customary procedure; but the relation is terminable at any time, and at the will of either party concerned. It should, of course, be remembered that, as there are no children, the disastrous consequences which would be the inevitable result of such a state of things on earth do not take place.
As for the institution of private property, the same permanence of individual life gives it quite a different form from that which it assumes under the conditions of death and succession. Personal property, indeed, in our strict sense of the term, can hardly be said to exist at all. There being no real family life - for the mere dwelling together of a childless man and woman can scarcely be called by such a name - a different social unit has been adopted. Three or four persons of each sex usually reside together, thus forming a household numbering six or eight, and 'property' has commonly reference to the household so constituted. The reader will see further on that this account of property is only correct for the ancient history of the planet.
With respect to property in land, very great troubles took place in the primitive times; and many ages elapsed before a satisfactory settlement was arrived at. Hesperos is, in comparison with the earth, very sparsely populated. One hundred millions of inhabitants to forty millions of square miles of land, give but an average of two and a-half to each square mile. Now, if we assume that the area of England is about 50,900 square miles - an estimate which does not much differ from the fact - and that the population (A.D. 1730) is somewhere about seven millions, we have above one hundred and thirty-seven to each square mile. In an island of like dimensions in Hesperos - and one such really exists not far from the mainland - there are only 127,250 inhabitants.
Hence it would seem that the land supply is greatly in excess of the needs of the population. But there are such extraordinary differences in the eligibility of particular sites as places for residence, that great competition invariably arose for those spots which are specially favoured by nature. These disputes were much aggravated by the conviction that the successful candidate had acquired a real, bona fide, and by no means fictitious perpetuity in the coveted abode. Thus these bitter feuds only too frequently resulted in the eviction of the occupier by one or other of the well-known processes by which evanescence was brought about; either that of mortal lesion, which was commonly effected by somebody lying in wait for the envied tenant in some lonely place; or by the slow method of the metronomic balance, carried out by imposing on the victim a sort of social ostracism, refusing to hold any intercourse with him, or indeed supply him with the necessaries of life.
Matters at length proceeded to such extremities, that the governing bodies, in alarm at the depopulating process, passed a very stringent land law, limiting the tenure of any holding to the period of the Life Cycle, which, as we have already seen, averages one hundred years. At the end of that period the estate was disposed of by lot, but there was no rule to prevent the incoming tenant from coming to terms with the outgoer. It must be distinctly understood, however, that, as the extent in area of each holding was strictly limited by law, there was abundance of land for everyone, and the dispossessed occupiers were merely transferred to another part of the country.
Permanence of individual life again is the cause of a marked difference in Hesperos from anything we experience on Earth, with respect to the tenures of the various occupations, trades, or professions, by the persons who exercise them. With us life is so short, and art so long, that when a man has once acquired the skill which is needful for his calling, he has but small opportunity, after having exercised it for a time, of ever learning another. But eternal tailoring or shoemaking, or even eternal writing of poetry, or painting, or playing on the fiddle, could not be thought of. Any attempt to carry out such a permanence of occupation would quickly terminate in the evanescence of the patient by the operation of the metronomic law.
So here again the life cycle is usually adhered to; and on its completion the subject almost invariably adopts a new calling. Hence a strange state of affairs now in Hesperos - every man, and woman also, is not only Jack, but master, or mistress, of all trades. A friend told me that, during the last seven centuries of the ancient period, he had successively occupied the positions of miner, lamp-maker, cathedral-organist, confectioner, marine engineer, barrister-at-law, and maker of sun-pictures.
Of the Universal Language - Of the Universal Empire and first measures of the World-Parliament - Of the great progress of the Hesperians in all Physical Science; and of their fruitless craving after the Unknown God.
It has been already mentioned that the land surface of Hesperos consists of an immense polar continent, bordered with a very considerable number of islands, which vary greatly both in magnitude and configuration. The island populations naturally lived for a long period in complete separation from each other, and the hesperographical peculiarities of the continent, such as extensive chains of impassable mountains, produced a similar effect on the mainland. Hence, just as on earth, different nationalities came into existence; and also, as on earth, each of these different nationalities had its own special language. But, as time went on, ships were invented, and communication between the islands and the continent became frequent. Commerce soon assumed extensive proportions; for in Hesperos, as in the earth, different regions abound in different products. Engineering operations also had been organized on a large scale, and these required much transportation of minerals and other materials of construction.
In the sixth millenary period, counting from the rational creation, a most important improvement was originated by the Hesperians; an improvement which brought still more notable changes in its wake. This was the adoption of one universal language for the globe, in room of the many which had sprung up in the different states. By this time they had fully realized their positions as permanent denizens of the planet, and the advantages of a universal medium of communication were too obvious to need discussion. For this reason all the independent governments united in an international convention, and appointed a large committee of the most eminent philologists to consider the whole question. Pursuant to the report of this committee, a universal language was adopted; and the whole Hesperian world set to work, resolutely, at its study. In a very short time the polyglot system came to an end, and the language still spoken over the whole planet was an established fact.
The adoption of this universal language prepared the way for the union of all the separate states. into one vast empire. Thanks to the reckless use of the two methods of evanescence, the original population of one hundred millions had, in the lapse of ages, dwindled down to little more than eighty millions, and eighty millions were not considered to be too large a number for a single administration. It is true they were scattered over an exceedingly wide area; but, even at the time I speak of, an admirable system of communication had been organized. The sciences of mechanics and chemistry had made astonishing progress, and natural forces had been discovered and utilised for the purpose of locomotion. Of these, however, a fuller account will be given further on.
Here it will suffice to mention that, in the year 5784, the whole northern hemisphere was finally united under one central administration, chosen by the suffrage of the whole Hesperian population, male and female alike. For it should be noticed that, as a consequence of the female sex being exempt from the cares of maternity, they take a much larger share in the pursuits of the other sex than would be at all desirable, or even possible, with us.
Two highly important measures were at once agreed to by the world-parliament - first, the limitation of tenure of land to the cyclical period of life, which had been already adopted by most nationalities, was made a universal law; and, secondly, very stringent penalties were annexed to the crime of procuring the evanescence of any one. Whether it was effected directly or indirectly no difference was made in the penalty, which was evanescence of the perpetrator by the ten-million-unit process applied by a cat-o'-nine tails.
Some years later another resolution was passed to the effect that it is inexpedient that any city should be allowed to exceed the limit of one hundred thousand inhabitants. This was issued rather as a recommendation than as a binding statute; but its expediency was so plain that it was almost universally adopted. The legislature were induced to pass it, in consequence of the congestion of the population at Lasondre, which had been unanimously selected as the metropolis and seat of government. The natural advantages of its situation, at the head of a vast indentation of the continent by a bay of the central ocean, its magnificent scenery and delightful climate, rendered it so desirable a residence, that, at the time when this resolution was passed, the population had already reached the incredible number of two millions; it was still on the increase, and the resulting inconveniences were so manifold and severe, that it was further resolved to emigrate the superabundant citizens gradually, by the help of the cyclical law.
It must not be supposed that, during all the ages which had elapsed before the establishment of the world-parliament, speculation had not been rife among the Hesperians as to the nature and significance of the sudden and mysterious wakening into life which they had all simultaneously experienced. Quite the reverse was the fact. From the very earliest period, even from the time when small groups of them had invented the first rude forms of speech, the questions how they had been formed, how summoned into life, whence had they come, and whither were they going, had been started, discussed, solved, the solutions rejected, abandoned for a time as hopeless, again resumed, and as zealously as ever re-discussed, with the same results as before. All were agreed that Something had made them, and had made them for some purpose. But that the Something either could not or would not speak to them, or hold any sort of communication with them was a patent fact, and this caused unutterable sorrow to the Hesperian mind.
In the earlier ages all persons were so much engrossed with the cares unavoidable for the supply of the necessaries of life; and, besides, were so deeply interested in investigating the physical laws of the world in which they were placed, that this increasing source of grief and anxiety did not produce as much effect upon them as it did in later times. But even then there was hardly a small town to be found which had not, among its public buildings, some sort of a temple, with the inscription 'To the Unknown God,' whom they ignorantly worshipped and longed after, but in vain.
And, not only were they in this state of darkness respecting their Maker in consequence of the absence of any form of a direct revelation, but, being absolutely cut off from all knowledge of the remainder of the universe, by the physical structure of their atmosphere, they were also debarred from reaching Him through the medium of His works. The cloud-screen which shelters them from the fierce solar rays is impenetrable to vision, and thus, so far as any knowledge of the sun, and planets, and stars is concerned, they might as well have been a race of blind men. How it was that the canopy over their heads passed regularly in the course of about twenty-three hours and a-half through the two phases of brightness and darkness, was to them an inexplicable phenomenon. All sorts of conjectures, hypotheses, theories, were hazarded, but none were accepted. The phenomenon was not even universal. At one place, near the centre of the continent, and for a considerable distance around it, the alternation of light and darkness followed quite a different law. For, instead of the change taking place at intervals of a few hours, light shone steadily for more than a hundred and twenty days, and was followed by nearly as long a period of darkness. It was an inscrutable puzzle. Some said that on one or two occasions a round and shining body had been dimly seen for a few moments through the mist, and that this might possibly have something to do with the illumination. But the fact was discredited, and the alleged appearance ascribed either to an optical illusion or deliberate mendacity. The observers, accordingly, being invariably treated with either contempt or personal violence, the theory disappeared.
Meanwhile great progress continued to be made in all departments of physical science. The various branches of mathematics were extensively and successfully studied, and the Hesperians became most expert geometers. The art of ship-building was soon carried to a high pitch of excellence, and various methods of propelling the vessels through the water were devised by the mechanical engineers. Some such artificial propulsion was almost indispensable, as the prevailing calms rendered the use of sails unavailable. One of the earliest motive powers extensively employed was the expansive force of the vapour of water, raised at a high temperature; and for many hundred years these curious ships were in actual use. I have seen several of them which are still kept in a vast marine museum at Lasondre. The vapour-engines propelled the ships either by means of great wheels furnished with boards which turned in the water, or by the action of one or more screws at the stern, which worked much as the tail of a fish does in shoving the animal along. But the use of the vapour of water as a motor was found to involve a terrible waste of power, and it has been long since abandoned.
The progress of chemical science led to the discovery of an inexhaustible supply of force, which combines all the advantages of small cost, extreme portability, resistless strength, immunity from risk, and universal applicability. All this was obtained by the steady work and indomitable perseverance of three chemists who, contrary to usage, devoted themselves to this one branch of science for several consecutive cyclical periods of their career. Not being skilled in chemical learning, I was unable to comprehend the nature of their discovery; but I was told that it consisted in the application of certain laws of combination among various gases, each of which is easy to manufacture and store up.
Of the first attempt to pass the Equatorial Tornado; and its tragical issue - Of the attempt to pass the Cloud-Screen.
These improvements in ship-building and ship-propelling were naturally followed by a great development of the science of navigation, to which the mathematical powers of the Hesperians formed an invaluable auxiliary. And thus all that was possible for them to ascertain concerning the physical universe was soon learned. The circumnavigation of the globe was easily effected, for the shape of the continent was such that it could be made without going out of sight of land. Other and more adventurous ships were sent on voyages of discovery in a southerly direction, and these made the discovery of the frightful tempest, mentioned before, which rages everlastingly in the equatorial zone. Not one of these ships succeeded in getting within two hundred miles of the equator itself. The crews reported unanimously that, even at that distance, the seas were simply terrific, and appeared to increase rapidly in violence towards the south. Some of them escaped from the vortex with extreme difficulty.
Whereupon two ships were specially constructed for the purpose of carrying out this exploration. They were of extraordinary strength, fitted with immensely powerful gas-engines, and provided with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of the necessary chemical agents. A crew of one hundred volunteers embarked in each, and they started together on their perilous expedition. After eighty-five days one of these ships returned, but only twenty-five of her crew were with her; the rest had vanished either by mortal lesion or metronomic misery. The survivors reported the existence of an absolute pandemonium. The crew had succeeded in forcing the ship about fifty miles further into the zone of tempests than any of the former explorers. But further progress was hopeless. The man who before described to me one of the waves as a wandering cataract was among those who escaped, and his escape was a very narrow one indeed. He told me himself that when he got back into port his negative metronomic balance wanted but a few units of the point which would have terminated his career. And though they succeeded in forcing their way out of the tornado, this was only accomplished by putting on such power as threatened to tear the sides out of the ship. One of the Niagara-like waves fell on the sister-ship, and she was never seen again.
After this tragedy an act was passed forbidding all attempts to enter the South Sea. Though many volunteers were ready to risk their lives, the legislature refused to sanction such peril.
So now the Hesperian knowledge of the Universe, at the period I speak of, may be shortly summed up as follows: - They knew that their place of abode was a spherical cap. Some had at first maintained that it was a circular plain; but this theory was soon exploded. The uniformly circular horizon visible at sea, and on every large plain, and the results obtained from a general survey of the continent by triangulation, combined to discredit the planar and establish the spherical theory. They knew, also, from pendulum and other experiments, that, at a spot coincident with the centre of the presumed sphere on which they lived, an unknown centre of force existed to which all bodies on the surface tended. And beyond this knowledge there was a great blank. What lay outside the cloud-screen or beyond the equatorial ocean had not entered into the Hesperian mind to conceive.
The attempt to pass the ocean, and the hopes of thereby being enabled to gain some further knowledge of the works of the Unknown Maker, having been completely baffled, the attention of the Hesperians was at once concentrated on their only remaining resource - the possibility of penetrating quite through the cloud-screen. Could this be passed, it was possible that something might be found beyond it which would throw some light on the dark problem of their origin. But difficulties, seemingly insuperable, lay directly in the way of any such attempt. I have already mentioned that a chain of gigantic mountains extends in a south-easterly direction for several thousands of miles from the vicinity of the North Pole, and that several of the peaks of this chain attain an altitude of not less than twenty miles. But, to the ancient Hesperians, the real height of these peaks was quite unknown. No man had ever seen their summits, for they were lost in the cloud-screen.
It might certainly be supposed that here was an obvious way of entering, and possibly penetrating through the screen. But a very short description of the physical features of the mountains will suffice to dispel any such notions.
All the engineers who had made a minute survey of the great mountain chain seem to have agreed that the particular peak which afforded the most favourable opportunity for ascent is one which is situated at about three thousand miles from the pole. It should be remembered that the level of the cloud-screen crosses these peaks at an altitude of about twenty miles, or, in round numbers, one hundred and five thousand feet.
At the place referred to, the several stages of the ascent would be as follows: - First, about twenty thousand feet of easy slopes lead to a wide table-land, a resort much frequented by Hesperian households on account of its delightfully cool, and bracing climate. Then follow ten thousand feet of steep ascent to the glacier region. This region, which is commonly regarded as the most formidable obstacle to success, extends, at an average inclination of forty-five degrees, to a vertical height of twenty thousand feet more. The strata of rain-clouds, which are as different in formation from the cloud-screen as water is from smoke, never attain a greater elevation than ten miles; so here we have the limit above which neither rain nor snow can be deposited, and where, consequently, the glacier region ends.
This brings us to an altitude of fifty thousand feet above the level of the ocean, and next comes the region of precipices which stretch up to the cloud-screen. This final ascent is divided into three gigantic steps; the first, and smallest of them, about ten thousand feet high, leads to a wide plateau; next comes the most awful of the three, not less than thirty thousand feet, terminating in a much narrower terrace, from which starts the last of the steps. This is not exactly a precipice, but a slope of seventy-five degrees; about fifteen thousand feet of this are visible; it then enters the cloud and is lost to view.
The above description has, I trust, made it manifest that an attempt to reach the screen by the mountain route would prove a very arduous undertaking. Vast labour and cost would be essential, and here the advantages of the great world-parliament became exceedingly conspicuous. The enterprise was cheerfully voted to be a world-work. There was no fear that it would come to an untimely end through lack of any material supplies. A committee of the ablest engineers was appointed to examine and report on the most favourable spot for commencing operations. They were not long in coming to an unanimous decision, and the works began.
It was resolved to drive a tunnel the whole way from the table-land under the glacier as far as its upper edge. This formidable work was found to be quite indispensable, in consequence of the incessant avalanches and ice-falls which, issuing from the glacier, fell down the steep slope to the table-land. Indeed, they were obliged to start the tunnel at a distance of fully five miles from the foot of the slope, as a security against the blocking of the entrance. Running nearly horizontally for these five miles, it then bent upwards at an angle of forty-five degrees, and, after a total rise of thirty thousand feet, issued at the top of the glacier, close to the foot of the first step in the series of precipices. The excavation of this tunnel, which was nearly thirteen miles long, was an exceedingly formidable task. But it was undertaken with such zeal and energy, and carried on with such perseverance, that the seemingly insuperable obstacles were at last overcome. Gangs of experienced miners, superintended by skilful engineers, relieved each other, night and day, at the work. Every material required was supplied in profusion. The new dynamical agent which had supplanted the vapour of water as a motor force, had been rendered available for instantaneous percussive action, after the manner of gunpowder, but with incomparably greater energy; and this was extensively utilised for the removal of the rocks. Still, as it was not possible to work at the tunnel except on one face, several years elapsed before the miners emerged into daylight at the top of the glacier.
Here, before beginning the assault on the region of precipices, an immense depot was established. The tunnel was laid down with double lines of the same sort of parallel steel rods as those which I had noticed on the road at Lucetta. On these ran a series of small trucks, driven by an endless chain which was moved by the gas engine before-mentioned; and by means of these all the stores required were easily brought up.
At the height of fifty thousand feet, which had now been reached, little or no difficulty in breathing was encountered. This was probably owing to the extreme density of the Hesperian atmosphere, which, as was noticed before, is so great that the mercury in the tube of Torricelli, at the sea level, stands at an average height of more than fifty-nine inches. Moreover, the slow rate at which it was observed to fall, during the ascent of the last few thousand feet, gave the engineers good hope that, even at the summit, a sufficiency of air to support life would be found.
The ascent of all the three stages of the precipice region was effected by the process of cutting open galleries, inclined at an angle of thirty degrees, in the face of the vertical cliff. The region of ice and snow having been passed, tunnelling was no longer necessary. Four zigzags, each a mile long, sufficed to reach the first terrace, where another depot was constructed; and a few years' more labour, and about a dozen similar zigzags, accomplished the ascent of the tremendous middle precipice, thus bringing them within fifteen thousand feet of the cloud-screen.
As the great work neared its completion, the anxiety and excitement, not only of those actually engaged in it, but of the entire population of the planet, rose to a scarcely conceivable intensity. It was now plain that the cloud level would be reached; but no light had as yet been thrown on the question whether the mountain top did or did not pass through the cloudy stratum. If it did not, all their labour of years had been merely thrown away, and they were left as before in absolute ignorance of the external universe. And the fact that the ascent which still remained to be scaled, was not absolutely vertical, but, sloping a little, even at its foot on the last terrace, appeared to diminish its inclination as it approached the cloud, gave reason to suspect that the actual summit of the mountain was not very far off. It may be added that the cloud itself, as they came nearer, presented an unpromising appearance of great density.
So, the final depot having been constructed, the work on the last series of galleries was begun and carried on with greatly increased vigour, till an altitude only a few yards lower than the under surface of the cloud was gained. At this place the angle of inclination of the cliff had eased off to sixty-three degrees, and it was thought advisable, in view of the unknown possibilities of the mountain inside this thick screen, to establish, by blasting away the rock, a level surface of sufficient extent to enable them to build yet another store-house, before venturing to proceed with the sloping gallery.
Of the great courage of three engineers - How they passed the Screen and saw the Host of Heaven - How they further discovered a Disk of Unknown Fire - Of the reception of the news throughout the world - Of the construction of a mountain Observatory; and of the rapid growth of Astronomical knowledge.
The levelling of the rock was necessarily a work which required a good deal of time; and, while it was proceeding, three of the engineers formed the daring project of scrambling up the cliff, into the cloud, and endeavouring to penetrate through it by themselves. All the three were in the stationary period of life, and, consequently, in the possession of full bodily strength and activity. The cliff was in most places rough enough to give good hold for both hands and feet. Still, to venture on a climb through a dense mist, on the face of a nearly precipitous and wholly unknown mountain, where a single slip would be certainly followed by immediate destruction, was regarded by their comrades as too hazardous to be thought of.
But the three were not to be dissuaded - I ought, perhaps, to mention that it is to one of these daring men I am indebted for the account of the whole expedition. Their preparations were soon complete, for their equipment was very simple; each of them took about one pound weight of some sort of food in a highly concentrated form, and a flask containing a pint of water. Water, it may be observed, was valuable at this elevation, for every drop had to be carried up from the glacier region. Each man also carried a coil of about five hundred yards of fine, but very strong twine. This was intended to be used as a clue to guide them back to the camp. Fixing an end of one of these coils to the wall of their store, they started on their perilous journey at two o'clock in the afternoon. Without very much difficulty they scrambled up to the edge of the cloud, and there disappeared from the sight of their friends, most of whom believed that they had gone mad.
As a proof of the great care and skill with which the works had been carried on, I may here remark that, up to this time, but one fatal accident had occurred. This was during the construction of the galleries on the face of the thirty-thousand-feet precipice. The top had been nearly reached, when a man, who was heaving a fragment of rock over the edge, lost his balance, and fell with the fragment. His horrified comrades watched his terrible fall, unbroken for about twenty thousand feet; there he touched a projecting spur of the rock, and evanesced instantly, mortal lesion having been made.
As soon as the three adventurers had entered the cloud they had the satisfaction of finding that, at all events, one possible obstacle, an obstacle which might have proved fatal to the success of the whole undertaking, had no existence. It had been feared that the atmosphere of the cloud-screen might turn out to be unfit for the support of animal life. But they found no difficulty in breathing. The extreme tenuity of the air, of course, rendered active exertion very laborious and exhausting, and thus, though the rock was not unfavourable for climbing, their upward progress was exceedingly slow. They often encountered difficulties which were quite insuperable, and which compelled them, retracing their steps, and recoiling their clue, to seek another line of ascent.
As they slowly attained a higher altitude, it became quite plain that the angle of inclination was steadily becoming less. Before long it reached fifty degrees, and this change of slope, though it eased their climb, caused great apprehension to the climbers, for it seemed to indicate an approach to the top, and certainly no signs of any abatement in the density of the mist had yet become visible. To reach the summit while still wrapped in the cloud would be the death-blow to all their hopes.
This angle of fifty degrees continued unaltered for a considerable distance. At about six o'clock, after four hours' hard work, they came to the end of their second coil of string. Night was evidently coming on; they sat down on a small ledge of rock, and after taking some refreshment, they fastened their last coil to the string already paid out, resolved to proceed till it also came to an end.
A few hundred feet further on the slope suddenly grew much steeper, and this, requiring additional exertion in the very thin air, soon produced such exhaustion in two of the party, that they were obliged to stop again and rest
By this time it had become quite dark, and the third engineer, who was still in as vigorous a condition as when he started from the camp, imagined that he perceived overhead through the mist what seemed to be small twinkling lights. Immediately he resumed the ascent, and still holding the clue, climbed a few yards higher up the mountain. And then he stopped and held on to the steep rock with both his hands, while he looked at the great Host of Heaven shining in the black depths of space. The cloud terminated above as abruptly as it began below. He had reached the edge, and the vision came upon him suddenly.
When he recovered his speech he called softly to his companions to follow up the clue, for the cloud was passed. They struggled up with difficulty, and then all three stood together in silent wonder at the spectacle before them. They had not the slightest conception of its meaning; what the lights were; whether connected or not with their own abode; what were their distances; were they living beings - for a falling star, which suddenly flashed across the sky, suggested this question. Seen through that exceeding thin air, the splendour of the stars and planets was greater than what we, who have only seen them through a much denser medium, are able to conceive. Conspicuous above them all in beauty and brightness was the earth itself, which, being then in opposition, was at its least distance from the observers. When in that position, the earth presents to the Hesperians a much more brilliant object than their planet does to us. For, though not receiving as great a supply of light from the sun as Hesperos does, this deficiency is far more than balanced by the fact that, when in opposition, the whole of the illuminated face of the earth is visible at Hesperos, while only an exceedingly thin crescent of Hesperos is visible at the earth.
Notwithstanding the intense coldness of the air, they stood for a long time contemplating the wondrous illumination. At last they became conscious of a change in the scene. The small lights began to grow dim, while the light diffused around them increased. The upper surface of the sea of cloud which lay stretched out on all sides, a few feet below them, gradually manifested itself as a smooth greyish-coloured plain. Behind them, towards the east, the mountain still sloped steeply up; but, at no great height above their heads, the top was distinctly visible. They resolved to continue the ascent, having first fastened the end of their clue, which was now unnecessary, to a conspicuous projection of rock about a hundred feet above the upper cloud surface.
The remainder of the climb, which was hardly a thousand feet more, was easily accomplished by the three engineers, now rested and reinvigorated by success. And, on reaching the summit, which proved to be a small and nearly level platform of rock, they were rewarded with another spectacle totally different in kind, but fully as astonishing as that which met their eyes when they emerged from the cloud.