* A Project Gutenberg Canada Ebook *

This ebook is made available at no cost and with very few restrictions. These restrictions apply only if (1) you make a change in the ebook (other than alteration for different display devices), or (2) you are making commercial use of the ebook. If either of these conditions applies, please check gutenberg.ca/links/licence.html before proceeding.

This work is in the Canadian public domain, but may be under copyright in some countries. If you live outside Canada, check your country's copyright laws. If the book is under copyright in your country, do not download or redistribute this file.

Title: The Time Stream
Author: Taine, John [Bell, Eric Temple] (1883-1960)
Date of first publication [this version]: 1946
Date of first publication [original serialization]: December 1931 - March 1932 [Wonder Stories]
Edition used as base for this ebook: [Providence]: Buffalo Book Company and G. H. E., [1946]
Date first posted: 25 July 2015
Date last updated: 25 July 2015
Project Gutenberg Canada ebook #1263

This ebook was produced by Al Haines and Mark Akrigg

Publisher's Note: As part of the conversion of the book to its new digital format, we have made certain minor adjustments in its layout.

Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected.

In two cases we have restored the text using the 1971 Dover edition of the original 1931/32 serial version. The first of these cases is in Chapter II, at page 10 of the printed edition:
"Very good, gentlemen," said Savadan, evidently real experiment. I shall try to time it so that you will pleased. "You all got it exactly. Now the next is the call of 'Twenty.'
=>
"Very good, gentlemen," said Savadan, evidently pleased. "You all got it exactly. Now the next is the real experiment. I shall try to time it so that you will call off 'Twenty.'
The second of these cases is in Chapter XXIV, at page 194 of the printed edition:
the destruction of the mat- would not stop with the ball
=>
the destruction of the matter would not stop with the ball






THE
TIME STREAM

By

JOHN TAINE



Published by
BUFFALO BOOK COMPANY
and
G. H. E.




COPYRIGHT BY GERNSBACK PUB., INC.
1931
COPYRIGHTED IN 1946 BY E. T. BELL


THE SOUTHGATE PRESS, INC.




CONTENTS

I. Sent Back
II. In the Time Stream
III. The Desert of Death
IV. A Memory of Five Pillars
V. The Secret of the Suns
VI. The Whole is One
VII. Remember the Beast
VIII. They Must Not Marry
IX. Ducasse Explains
X. Shadows
XI. Worlds Within Worlds
XII. Freedom or Reason?
XIII. The Struggle for Survival
XIV. The Story of the Monuments
XV. The Race Against Time
XVI. Use the Secret
XVII. Explore the Future!
XVIII. Culman's Experiment
XIX. Colonel Dill Reveals
XX. The Sealed Cylinder
XXI. The Malady Strikes!
XXII. The First Stone
XXIII. Thunder of War
XXIV. The Thunder Breaks
XXV. A Race Against Time
XXVI. Eos is Saved!
XXVII. The Vision of the Unknown Sea
XXVIII. A Dream Fulfilled
XXIX. An Explanation
XXX. Sylvester's Message




THE TIME STREAM



CHAPTER I

SENT BACK

We have explored to its remotest wildernesses a region that all but a few hold to be inaccessible to the human mind. Yet, in looking back after twenty-five years at the colossal drama which unrolled with stunning rapidity before our bewildered consciousness, I can see in it all no incident more mysterious than the unquestioning faith with which we accepted our guide—the venerable Georges Savadan—at his own valuation. That granted, the rest followed with a magnificent inevitability. It was like the running down of Sylvester's watch when the mainspring snapped; a trivial accident precipitated events which time had been holding in suspension for ages.

We fell in with Savadan's suggestions as readily as if they had been the natural promptings of our own minds. Indeed, with the exception of Beckford, we seemed at every step of our progress into the unknown to anticipate the old man's will. The sudden transformation of the Savadan whom we had so often watched dreaming over his port at Holst's, into the resolute, energetic leader alert to every hint of danger, caused us no surprise. It was a change for which we were secretly prepared. We had known the old man subconsciously all our lives.

Surely there never was a company of explorers less likely than ours to penetrate the dim secrecies of the future; but so we did. It matters little what our occupations were when we set out, exactly a quarter of a century ago, on our explorations. Nevertheless, as our lives and all of our daily activities acquired a strange significance in the light of our adventures, I shall briefly state who and what we were, and how we started.

The place and date are extremely important. We first succeeded in entering the time stream in San Francisco, on the fourteenth of April, 1906. That was precisely four days before the city was destroyed by earthquake and fire.

The mere catalogue of our party follows, with their nationalities and places of birth, and their ages in 1906.

Colonel Dill, born in Tennessee, veteran of the Civil War, age 66. Habitually in need of money, and eager to imbibe any amount of whiskey at any other man's expense. Hobby, imaginary bloodshed.

Palgrave, born in San Francisco, age 26. Physician, specializing on morally and mentally unstable children. This man is now the well known child specialist of New York. Hobby, color analysis.

Beckford, also born in San Francisco, age 27. Attorney and orator. Lifelong friend of Palgrave and, with him, suitor of Cheryl Ainsworth. Hobby, oratory.

Ducasse, born in France, age 25. Psychologist and student of philosophy, with strong leaning toward practical mechanics. Hobby, prison reform.

Herron, born in Chicago, age 24. Newspaper reporter. Hobby, deciphering of code messages.

Culman, born in Germany, age 47. Mechanical engineer and inventor. In easy circumstances, owing to a simple, lucky device for measuring flow in oil wells. Hobbies, hatred of war and a desire to expose the trickeries of mediums and others in some kinds of psychic research.

Sylvester, born in England, naturalized U.S. citizen, age 23. Lived at Los Gatos (three hours by train from San Francisco), where he had a paying ranch. Highly educated in modern theoretical physics—as it was in 1906, with ample leisure to continue his studies.

Savadan, born in France, age unknown, probably 65. Political refugee. Had lived for many years in San Francisco in very straitened circumstances.

Myself (Smith), born in San Francisco, age 24. Analytical chemist.

To this strange assortment three others may be added, although they were not strictly in our party. First there was Cheryl Ainsworth, age 24, who must be noticed more in detail later. For the moment this mention of her is sufficient. Next there was Herr Holst, the genial proprietor of the inn where Dill, Palgrave, Beckford, Ducasse, Herron, Culman, Sylvester, Savadan, and I met once a fortnight to discuss everything in this world and the next. Last, there was John Petrie, prince of bartenders and quiet, unobtrusive host to our small crowd. Petrie's hobby was a very crude brand of astrology. He was one of us, although he never knew it and did not join us in our adventure.

All of these details, however, are of little importance. What I wish to bring out in citing them is merely that we were an apparently haphazard handful of acquaintances thrown together by chance. There were many such handfuls in the old San Francisco. We know now that ours was not governed by chance. Even before we somewhat rashly started, we had inklings of the truth.

What drew us together? What common interest could hold together a whiskey-sodden Civil War veteran, a brilliant young child specialist, a young lawyer, a student of philosophy, a newspaper reporter, an expert in modern theoretical physics, a mechanical engineer, a discredited French politician, and an analytical chemist, whose ages ranged from 23 to 66? What could possibly unite men of such a wide range of ages but a common interest in the nature of time? One "chance" remark or another had gradually attracted man after man to us, until in all eight of us stood on the threshold of reality without dreaming what door was presently to open. Chance, of course, played no part in drawing us together. We were already exploring, but we had lost our way.

I need not recall the long debates in which we indulged on the nature of time. Unaccountable at first, even to us, those puzzled arguments on the curiously unreal aspects of time as it appeared to us in our everyday lives, gradually assumed a deeper significance until at last, on the fourteenth of April, 1906, four minutes before midnight, events crystallized out of the waters of eternity, and we found ourselves. I pass on to these as rapidly as may be done clearly, and I shall state precisely how we ourselves, still dazed, began to learn the true meanings of our lives.

Our fortnightly reunion at Holst's was breaking up. Sylvester, anxious not to miss his train for Los Gatos, consulted his watch.

"Four minutes to twelve. I'll have to be running." He absent-mindedly began winding his watch. The mainspring snapped. The peculiar metallic click rocked my brain for a fraction of a second with an appalling vertigo. Recovering instantly, I heard Sylvester's awed voice: "I am beginning to remember. This is the time."

The aged Savadan was on his feet, listening intently.

"You will all remember presently," he said. "Not here. Come to my attic at once. I—we all—must perform an experiment immediately."

Even Colonel Dill followed Savadan into the starry night without a word of dissent. Already we were walking in a dream more vivid than this thin shadow of reality which we call life. The night was cool and penetratingly clear. The myriads of icy white and steel-blue stars seemed to descend and blaze not more than a hundred feet above our heads when we turned toward the East and walked, as Savadan said, to meet the sunrise. Savadan, it seems, had already remembered much. Sylvester, too, was far ahead of all but Savadan. As we turned the corner and came in sight of Savadan's lodging, Sylvester pointed up to a dark, almost starless region of the sky near the zenith.

"Look up there," he whispered, "and you will remember."

We looked where he pointed, but nobody answered. I had a haunting sensation of having watched that identical region of the sky in ages long dead and forgotten, waiting for the last rising of millions upon millions of dying suns.

We had reached our destination, still walking in a dream.

"I must ask you to go up quietly," Savadan requested, pausing with his hand on the door-knob. "The people here charge me only a nominal rent for my room, so I try to disturb them as little as possible. There are three flights before you reach my attic."

Savadan was about to enter, when Herron whispered "Wait!" He was standing with his back to us, intently regarding five shadowy eucalyptus trees in the parking strip. Their mysterious beauty against the cold blue stars of the Eastern heavens was a miracle to make any man pause. And the deep shadows in the fresh, sweet smelling grass of the narrow parking strip were a memory of illimitable spaces in an infinite sky unvisited by stars. Again that illusive half-memory of forgotten regions swept over me like the starlit billows of a cold sea. What sea I struggled to remember I learned only at the end of our explorations.

"Wait a second," Herron repeated hesitatingly in a low voice strangely unlike his usual assertiveness. "I almost had it then."

The ghost of a breeze stirred in the eucalyptus leaves. Herron gazed up at the trees, listening eagerly to every syllable of the faint, lisping rustle.

"Ah," he exclaimed softly, "it comes back."

He began quoting Rossetti's magical crystallization of the haunting mystery which all of us felt but could not express:

    "'I have been here before,
    But when or how I cannot tell,
I know the grass beyond the door,
    The sweet, keen smell,
The sighing sound.....'"


He did not finish the exquisite stanza. Sylvester quoted anther fragment,

"'————-I knew it all of yore;'"

and to my surprise Palgrave, who reads little verse, finished:

"'Has this been thus before?
    And shall not thus time's eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
    In death's despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?'"


We felt that it was a question and a prophecy.

"Come," said Savadan, "you are the men. I too have seen a sudden flash of light. Herron will read the monuments, and I shall learn why I have been sent back so often and so fruitlessly. I have waited and toiled thirty years for this moment."

"I wish I could remember," Culman muttered, with one last look at the mystery of the Eastern sky.

The door closed softly behind us, shutting out the magic of the stars.

"These are my quarters, gentlemen," said Savadan, turning up the gas. "I regret that I cannot offer you chairs. Our first experiment however can be performed standing."

We took in the bleak attic at a glance. It ran the whole length of the house and made up in airiness what it lacked in comfort. In one corner a pile of trunks and packing cases belonging to the people of the house formed a sort of alcove containing the sum of Savadan's earthly possessions; a narrow canvas cot, one straight-backed chair, a plain deal writing table and half a dozen well-used books. A few feet from the alcove stood an old fashioned cistern, whose continual trickling filled the attic with a faint, musical tinkling. To this day the sound of running water brings back every detail of our first plunge into the unfathomable stream of time.

"The experiment which I propose to try is a very simple one, Culman," Savadan continued. "Nevertheless I think it will whet your appetite for deeper researches. Will you please stand with your back to the light? Sylvester, you will face Culman. The rest of you, Colonel Dill, Beckford, Smith, Palgrave, and Ducasse, will arrange yourselves in a circle about Culman and Sylvester. There is nothing mysterious about the circular order, it is merely to enable us all to get the most of this miserable light."

While we arranged ourselves as he directed, Savadan turned up the jet to its fullest flare.

"That's better," he said, taking his place in the centre of the ring with Culman and Sylvester. "Now, if one of you will lend me his watch, we can go."

"One second," said Culman, handing over his timepiece to Savadan. "Will you first tell us why the running down of Sylvester's watch at Holst's had such a peculiar significance for you?"

"I could readily do so, but it would take too much time just now. Won't you allow me to defer all explanations to a less anxious moment? You see, the whole 'set' or complexion of events indicates the present as an extraordinarily favorable time for our experiment. If we let this slip we may have to wait years before we can break into the stream of events."

"Don't mind Culman," Palgrave advised. "He is just as much of a believer as the rest of us, only he hates to admit the fact. You're still in command, Mr. Savadan. Fire away, and shoot Culman's skepticism out of the back parts of his head."

"Taken by consent," Ducasse muttered. "Hurry up before my other foot goes to sleep."

"Very well," Savadan replied. "I can tell you only this much of what I propose to do. Time, with all of its events, is flowing past us like a mighty river. It has been sweeping through human and prehuman history for ages beyond the powers of man to number. If now one could hurl himself into that stream and swim steadily back against the current, he might see the history of our race speeding past his vision.

"You may compare history to the successive photographs on a moving picture film: the events of human or other history have left indelible records on what I may call the film of time; run that film backward from the present, and you will see the past restored with all its events in the reverse order. Or if you run it forward from any given epoch, the past will live once more before your eyes precisely as it was. For time is not a thing that once past it is forever perished; time is one and eternal. Past, present, and future are but different aspects—different folds, if you like—of one continuous, unchanging record of everlasting existence. Our memories hint at a shadow of the truth."




CHAPTER II

IN THE TIME STREAM

He paused for a moment, but no one offered any remarks. Little did we dream that only three years later (in 1909), Minkowski would seriously put forward similar views in the name of sober science, and that the 29th of May, 1919, would see the experimental confirmation of even stranger realities concerning the nature of time and space.

"Let us suppose," he went on, "that one has actually projected himself into the stream of time, and that he has made headway against the current into the remote past. To his eyes the goings and comings of the men and women upon the banks of the stream, the colorful reflections of stately cities on its unruffled surface, and the tramp of passing armies long since dissipated into dust by the unaging winds, will all be as vivid and real as what we call the present is to us.

"Yet those men and women on the banks would have been dead and their names, their very nations, forgotten for centuries, and the great cities with all their teeming life and trade, shapeless mounds of grass-grown rubbish for thousands of years.

"Now I have mastered, in ways which I but imperfectly comprehend, this secret of swimming back against the stream of events. It is like swimming in water. Once the knack has been learned it is never forgotten. But to learn it in the first place takes constant practice, and final success comes only in some involuntary twist of the mind or muscles. I am sure of this; nobody ever knows exactly how he first mastered swimming in water, and certainly not even the most expert seers can explain to others the secret of swimming back against the stream of time. In the same way I can not account reasonably for my intuition that all of you are in that delicately balanced mental state between past and future which a trivial accident may upset, plunging you all headlong into the ever moving waters of eternity..... Well, Sylvester, at what point shall we enter the stream?"

"Where we can, I suppose. Let us try for the desert of the monuments. Then we may learn who it is that keeps sending you and me back, and why."

"For the desert of the monuments, then. So be it."

He held out Culman's watch under the flaring gas jet so that we could plainly see the second hand busily ticking off its round.

"This watch is a mere detail. Any other object which would unite your minds for an instant would serve my purpose equally well. Do you all see the second hand clearly?"

"Yes."

"Then follow it closely. When I say 'Ready,' be prepared to call out the exact second which will be passed over next. When I say 'Go,' name the second being passed over. This is simply to concentrate all of your minds in a certain direction of time. Now, we will have a practice first. This counts for nothing. Ready!"

We craned forward, staring at the watch. It was fifteen minutes past two. The second hand was just starting on a new circuit of its small dial.

"Go!"

"ONE!"

"Very good, gentlemen," said Savadan, evidently pleased. "You all got it exactly. Now the next is the real experiment. I shall try to time it so that you will call off 'Twenty.' That will make the time fifteen minutes and twenty seconds past two. Ready!"

We bent toward the watch with a tense expectancy, not one of us doubting that we should indeed be rewarded for our open-mindedness. My last clear impression was the look on Ducasse's face. It was a gleam of quiet satisfaction as if he were enjoying secret knowledge newly acquired and not shared by any one in the circle, even by Savadan or Sylvester.

"Go!"

I seemed to strangle, fighting for the breath I could not get. Then the floor of the universe gave way and I pitched down into absolute nothing. My bones burst into an intolerable flame and I was utterly consumed. Not a vestige of my flesh or bones survived; not so much as a pinch of ash remained; I was destroyed. The very atoms that had made up the elements of my body perished. They were dissipated like wandering sparks into their primal electricities; these clashed together, positive and negative in a multitude of shocks, nullifying each other in a union of final nothingness. The last sparks of my material existence had been blown out; I was annihilated. My body had been blasted clean out of space and time. Where I had existed there was a void.

Yet something that was not matter remained unchanged. And that residue had an infinite capacity for pain and understanding.

Instantaneously the agonizing destruction was reversed: there was a stirring in the emptiness of space and time; the electrons and protons that were to become my elements were sown like seeds of fire through the black vastnesses of an embryonic universe; ages elapsed in stark flashes of blinding intelligence, and my atoms, recreated, had reunited. Then, with the flaming, instant rush of Šons and the creation of innumerable stars, my body was hurled back into existence.

Was I dead? For centuries, it seemed, I lay motionless, revolving that question in a stunned agony of doubt. The black, starless void of an unknown sky spanned the vastness overhead as with a vault of iron.

I became conscious of my groans. The sound echoing against the iron sky terrified me, and I felt my hold on existence slipping. A second more and I had let go; I was falling sheer down a bottomless abyss. My mind, my life, went out, and I perceived no more.....

"This place is dead."

It was Herron's mind communicating with my own. No word had been spoken, and I was not reading his mind. Yet I knew that he was beside me in that place, and that his knowledge was mine: the place was dead.

Then Culman's mind groped toward mine in a wandering bewilderment:

"We have been sent back."

"Too far."—Palgrave.

"No."—Sylvester.

"Too far," Palgrave's thought reiterated with a kind of numb fear. "They sent us back too far. Out of space and time. We do not exist. Annihilated. Never get back. Dead for ever."

"Not too far," Savadan's thought felt for our minds with the skill born of long practice. "I have been in this place before. We shall get out. Follow my will."

"What place it this?" I wondered.

"It has no name. Call it the Desert of the Dawn."

"Why? There is no light."

"It is dark now, but the dawn will not fail us. I begin to see. The darkness on my left is giving way. I remember. Before this desert in the region farther back where Dill was sent, all is perpetual night. After this desert, forward in time where the sender is, there is no darkness. We were sent back."

"From where?" several queried.

"From the light, to see its first dawn."

"Is this Desert of the Dawn in the same fold of space and time as the region whence we were sent back? Who remembers?"

It was Palgrave's mind groping for knowledge, and Sylvester answered.

"It is not. Neither in space nor time is it the same. We are in another universe. Why were we sent back? Who remembers?"

"I remember," Herron thought, "but not distinctly. I must read the incised legends on certain monuments. But I have been sent back too far in time; the monuments have not yet been built. I must come again. Feel what we are lying on."

"Dust and fragments of bone," several thought. "All the inhabitants of this place perished ages ago."

"Not all," Herron thought. "The one who sent us back tells me so. There is a remnant living. They are in the deepest subterranean chambers where there is still air—not here, but on the other side. And they will come to the surface and build the monuments before quitting this place forever. I must come back when they have finished their work and gone on, away from here, out into space in search of a living sphere. This one is dead. I know now why we were sent back."

"Why?"

"Let Palgrave think it. He knows."

"I know," Palgrave thought, "but not clearly. Over the universe that we were sent back from there hovers the shadow of a great fear. Our people in that universe descended from the last of the race on whose bones we have fallen. Our first ancestors were the builders of the monuments. This whole place is a wilderness of death. We were sent back to learn the history of our race—to find out whether there is truth in the dim legends which we have all but forgotten. The monuments will reveal what truth there is. But the legends have been so changed in the wearing down of innumerable ages that I doubt whether we shall recognize them for the same, or understand their meanings when we read them.

"There is one legend of a terrible fall, that sent us back to the beasts. There is another of a great slaughter when all but a handful of the whole race perished between the rising and the setting of the morning stars.

"We were hurled twice out of space and time to discover what catastrophe made this vast region a desolation of bones and ruin. For the same catastrophe, according to signs which the legends declare to be infallible, is visible in our own near future. Having knowledge, we may avert disaster, shaping the future to our own desires."

"Does knowledge ever deflect the stream of time?" Savadan doubted. "In this dead place I lose all faith."

"We must discover the means," Culman thought. "There is something we were sent back to prevent—some threatened breach of the one law of reason. What was it?"

"A marriage," came Palgrave's answering thought. "There are two people in the universe whence we came who must not marry. For their union will be the first spark of a consuming flame that will sweep us back to universal death. They must obey the law of reason or we shall all perish and our universe become, like this, a wilderness of desolation."

"Can we prevent their union?" Savadan doubted.

"We do not know. We can but tell them what the ancestors of our race were, and what we may again become. Thereafter the decision is theirs, and we must abide by it. For without freedom of the will for all men and women our place would be as dark as this. We can bind no man. No woman shall be coerced into reason. All are free; that is our tradition and our law. We shall take back sure knowledge; that is all."

We lay unthinking for centuries in the thick darkness of the desert. Then suddenly Savadan's mind leapt out to ours with a command:

"On your feet! The dawn is upon us. If it passes us unawakened we shall sleep here forever. Up!"




CHAPTER III

THE DESERT OF DEATH

We struggled to our feet. With dreamlike rapidity the darkness broke down, and the vast heavens quivered and shook with the coming day. We peered into each others' faces. Yes, we were the same men, but changed. There was the light of a new intelligence in our eyes and the wisdom of ages on our features. Then, with an uneasy quickening of the senses we took silent note that Dill, Beckford, and Ducasse were not with us. By some strange twist of the memory we guessed where they were. It was Ducasse, we realized wonderingly, who had sent us back. Dill, we knew, was ages further behind us in the stream of time. Beckford's absence was in some haunting way a mystery. Not until we had twice descended and ascended the stream of ages did we learn the sinister meaning of his absence.

The spot where we stood was some nine or ten thousand feet above the main floor of an all but illimitable desert. As the on-rushing light flung up the details of our surroundings with, an impartial, appalling distinctness, we realized the full significance of our first thought that this place was a wilderness of death. The mountain on which we stood was a colossal pile of shattered bones sculptured into craggy ravines, vast cliffs and dizzy precipices by the age-long action of the tempestuous winds which, no doubt, had swept it together in the first place, heaping it up from the yet vaster deposits of the desert.

With a rush the sun came up over the desert's rim at our left. We watched its leaping rise in a stunned awe. Where had we before seen that flaming giant of a star? It was strange, yet familiar. With astounding speed the vast flame cleared the horizon and blazed over a full quarter of the heavens. Then for the first time we perceived that the disc was not a perfect circle, but an irregular spiral rent and torn into streamers of what appeared to be compact, dazzling fire.

Under the pitiless intensity of that withering light every nakedness of the immeasurable desolation about us leapt into stark horror. We looked down on a perished world from which the last visible life had vanished. Nowhere was there a tree, a patch of grass, a bird or any other moving thing. The very winds had long since expired, for there was no air or other atmosphere in which they might stir. Nor was there a vestige of water; that too had been dissipated and lost in the brazen heavens above us. Only in the deepest abysses there might remain sufficient air and moisture to support a tenuous existence. But of this we saw nothing. The place was dead.

Then with a shock we realized that we too were but shadows of our true selves; our bodies, nay our very minds, were in another place. It was as if we were looking down through thick glass at our dimmed reflections in a mirror beneath the glass.

We stood on the ghastly mountain and watched the progress of the day. Gradually the convincing truth stole from mind to mind as we gazed out over that boundless desolation white with its parched bones in vast mounds and barrows or heaped high in wind-channelled mesas to the farthest limits of vision: it was no natural extinction that the inhabitants of this place had suffered. They had been overwhelmed suddenly in their countless millions, and their dead bodies or shattered bones swept together to moulder in this place.

There was no estimating the number of the slain; the mountain on which we stood alone represented thousands of millions. I stooped down and picked up one of the smaller bones. It crumbled to powder in my fingers. Culman did likewise, holding out the pinch of dust for us to examine in the glaring light.

"This is the record of one legend. No monument is necessary; the traditions are true. War," he thought, and again, "war. This is what we were sent back to see. Who would have believed it true? We have come up to the light from the sheer darkness of an incredible brutehood. The legends have not all lied. War."

"Why were we sent back to see this?" Palgrave queried. "Can the telling of this check the marriage we were sent back to prevent?"

"I don't know. But this is war—the beast state of the traditions that we never believed existed. Did we struggle up from this?"

"We must return at once," Savadan warned us. "Take one look at that sun. It will be your last in this universe, for not all of us may come here again to read the monuments that will be built. But we must come again to a place farther forward than this in time. There is one in the secret recesses of our past who knows the mystery of our own suns, which we have forgotten and which we must rediscover."

Gazing intently at the gigantic sun we at last deciphered the riddle of its unfamiliar aspect. It was not a single flaming star, but millions upon millions of them, all clustering thickly together like bees in a swarm. Their packed density made up the deceptive appearance of solid, impenetrable flame. It was, in fact, a vast spiral nebula of innumerable suns.

"We must go back," Savadan counselled; "but how far we must return, I do not know. I seem to remember many lives, two more clearly than the others. I cannot tell to which we shall return. One is immeasurably further down the stream than the other. It was from the first, the nearer life I think that we were sent back. The other, the more remote, is after the universal fall told of in our legends. But those legends must be a second growth. Come, let us go back where and when we can. We have seen the desolation."

"We must return," Palgrave agreed, "although we have learned little. What have we seen to prevent a like ruin overtaking us? We do not know what caused this wilderness."

"War," Culman reiterated. "Remember the legends."

"What caused the war?"

"Beasts. Our traditions bid us never forget the beast."

"But we are not beasts," Palgrave doubted. "That stage of our ascent is a myth. We never were as these bones must have been, when clothed with flesh and foul passions."

"That is why you were sent back," Culman responded. "You have never believed the legends. And the two who must not marry disbelieve all the traditions of our ascent. Unless we can take back, if not now then later, the truth of all our legends, the action of those two will hurl our universe back to this and worse. They shall not marry; they shall obey the law of reason. Herron, if we cannot convince them, you must endure the pangs of dissolution alone, and return to read the monuments. Rather than that the like of this shall blight our own place I will labor without ceasing till I find the forgotten secret of destruction, and I will destroy it all."

"TWENTY!"

As the word leapt from our lips we found ourselves straining forward the better to see the watch which Savadan was holding. The second hand was just moving over the twentieth division of its small circle. We had been out of what we call life less than a second.

The Colonel removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes with the back of his flabby, white hand.

"Well boys, that's the jolliest nightmare I ever had. Wouldn't have missed it for worlds." He licked his lips, and there was something bestially repulsive in the act For the instant he was not a human being but an unclean animal. "I fought a battle," he went on, "that would make Armageddon look like a back-alley row between two buck niggahs. The companies were millions and the regiments thousands of millions. And between the rising and the setting of the morning stars I annihilated them to a man. No shot, no shell, no noise—none of that Bull Run fluster and flurry. No, sah! I used a silent weapon, and a deadlier one."

"And you escaped?" Culman asked.

"I was the Commander-in-Chief," he answered proudly. "I was appointed, sah, by the leading citizens of that place to devise ways and means of checking the disastrous increase in population."

"We saw the effects of your fine work," Palgrave remarked drily.

"Too bad we can't hang you," said Herron. "But it would be against military etiquette, I suppose, to scrag a scoundrel for murder committed when this old earth of ours was still part of a white hot nebula. But frankly, Colonel, I wish you had been killed and pitched into Hell."

"How dare you use such language to me, sah? I did my patriotic duty!"

"Shut up, you two fools!" Palgrave shouted. "Perhaps the whole thing was only a dream any way. By the way, Ducasse, where did you hibernate?"

Ducasse grinned devilishly. "Here, of course. Right where you all were."

"You know better than that. Where were you?"

"What, Palgrave! You of all rational beings to suffer a rush of credulity to the brain—it's impossible. Why, man, where is your common sense?"

"I left it under the long table at Holst's—or on the top of a barren mountain of bones. I forget which. Now, no fooling, where were you? That was no dream. It was all as real as this room."

"Well," Ducasse answered with an unwonted touch of superiority, "since you approach the matter in a becoming spirit of reverence and humility, I don't mind telling you. I was where most of you will find yourselves next time."

"So it was you who sent us back?" Savadan asked.

"Guilty," Ducasse grinned. "You thought you were doing it. But I stuck half way up stream and gave the rest of you special and individual kicks which seem to have sent you considerably farther back. You will understand all these details perfectly the next trip you take. I'm an old hand at the business, but I never got so far back or had so much fun before. Smith grunted like a pig when I sent him off."

"Well, I don't mind so long as I got back. That first kick was excruciating."

"The first always is. You won't notice the next. In fact I shouldn't be surprised if we all walked straight out of this attic into another world."

"I saw nothing," Beckford broke in. He had been following our remarks with a puzzled frown. "Savadan said 'Ready!' and you all leaned forward. Then the instant he said 'Go!' you hit the twenty exactly. That was all there was to it."

"Perhaps you're right and the rest of us wrong," Ducasse answered. "But that won't stop us from going back to find out the first chance we get. Anyhow I'm glad you saw nothing because you'll have a clearer head for my Chinaman's case. Come on and I'll put you to bed."

The Chinaman was the particular bit of prison reform in which Ducasse was interested at the moment. Ducasse claimed that the unfortunate had been "framed" in a long murder. How inconsequential all this seems now....

The rest of us were yet stunned by the impact of our first plunge against the unknown. We rather hastily took leave of our host without making any appointment for a second experiment. But as events proved an appointment was unnecessary. We had willingly entered the time stream by an exercise of the free mind whose precise nature none of us understands even now, but no effort of the will power alone can ever lift us wholly clear of the current. Each of us is immersed at least partially for the rest of his thinking existence.

We walked down to Van Ness Avenue and separated in the direction of our several lodgings. Before parting, however, we made arrangements for Sunday. Ducasse exacted a promise from Beckford to go down with him to San JosÚ and look into the new evidence in his protÚgÚ's case; and Culman said he would go along too for the sake of the trip and the possible apricot blossoms. Culman was still rather subdued. He had not yet decided whether our experience was a dream or a reality. He soon learned.

Palgrave, Sylvester, Herron, and I agreed to catch the one o'clock ferry for Belvedere, planning to spend a lazy afternoon in Cheryl Ainsworth's garden. Sylvester relieved himself of the uncivilized hope that Miss Ainsworth would not be at home, so that we might enjoy the spring beauties of her rare garden undisturbed. Our first glimpse of reality was already fading. We slipped back into our trivial shadows as if they were ourselves.

Oar heartless neglect of his comforts deeply shocked and mortified the Colonel. He would have to buy all his own drinks or go without.

"I shall treat myself to a Hammam bath," he announced with dignity, boarding an owl car for his distant lodging.

"Don't do that, Colonel," Palgrave shouted after him, to the amazement and confusion of four belated couples of pre-honeymooners in the car. "You'll sweat out a thousand dollars worth of rye and give all the rubbers the D.T.'s."

As soon as Dill had left us, we again glimpsed the truth. So naturally had the Desert of the Dawn fitted in with our subconscious knowledge that we never once questioned the reality of its existence. Rather, as we parted for the night, we felt that this world is the shadow and the other the solid substance; this life the dimly perceived dream, and the other the vivid reality. We took it as a matter of course that we should again break through the brittle dream into the vaster universe of imperishables.




CHAPTER IV

A MEMORY OF FIVE PILLARS

Cheryl rose from a shady bench beneath a willow tree, now in its freshest spring green, and came down the sloping path toward us. We had been sauntering through that richest part of her garden which she calls the wilderness—a half acre abandoned to the native California shrubs and wild flowers. This April afternoon it was a blaze of golden poppies and tall, sky blue lupines. We were taken somewhat aback, having decided from the shuttered-up house that everybody was away from home.

"This is a rare pleasure, Mr. Sylvester," she said, offering him her hand. "It is not often that you come so far out of your shell as rustic Belvedere."

Sylvester rose nobly to the occasion.

"I had to stay up in the City on business, and the temptation was too much for me when the others said they were coming over. Isn't it a marvellous day?"

"It is indeed. Look at the turquoise of our little bay and the emerald of those hills!"

We stood for some seconds entranced at the ethereal beauty of the tiny bay lying like a jewel at the bottom of its many-colored cup of steep hills, aflame now with all the glory of California gardens at their brightest.

"The others are farther down the path?" Cheryl asked. There was a poorly dissembled hopefulness in her question.

"We're all, this time," Palgrave answered, without betraying how deeply her disappointment cut him. "Ducasse dragged Beckford and Culman off to San JosÚ on some wild goose chase or another. I can assure you they all left swearing—except Ducasse and Culman. It's their party."

Cheryl brightened. When she smiles her magnificent brown eyes light up and the dimple in her chin deepens. Then I can understand why such an exceptionally indifferent man as Palgrave should worship the ground she walks on,—to say nothing of the more susceptible Beckford. Palgrave always made a bad mistake in his dealings with Cheryl, I thought; he never betrayed his adoration.

His keen professional insight into human character should have taught him better; but like most physicians he was helpless in prescribing for his own ailments. Cheryl craved admiration just as does any normal girl in the honesty of her secret heart. And Palgrave seldom gratified her. He seemed to expect her to guess what was in his mind, and Cheryl, not being particularly good at conundrums, took his affectation of coldness at its face value. This was just the last thing that Palgrave intended. It served him right.

"Oh, I'm so disappointed that the others couldn't come," she said, with the fatal directness which is the disconcerting hall mark of a perfectly honest mind.

When she made such uncomplimentary speeches Cheryl had no intention of being rude. She was just straightforward and couldn't help herself. I believe it would have been impossible for her to write "yours sincerely" at the end of a letter unless she meant it. In fact I knew that she used to sign her weekly letters from college to her mother simply "Cheryl," without any of the conventional protestations of affection. For there never was any real bond between the two women after Cheryl grew up. Mrs. Ainsworth had always snubbed her daughter, thinking the girl lacked decisiveness. How utterly mistaken she was, she learned two years before her death.

Cheryl had only one serious defect of character so far as I could see. She was too diffident of her mental powers, which were actually far above the general level of good ability. In spite of her steady and brilliant successes at college, and her subsequent genius as a social organizer, she refused to believe that her mind was anything but mediocre. Her mother's early snubbings had left their lasting impress. Mrs. Ainsworth sneered at all intellectual triumphs, calling them "academic"—I believe she was the first woman in America to use that damnable word as a slur on things which lay thousands of miles beyond the reach of her feeble, commonplace mind.

Like so many of her rank and comfortable station who have never been forced to fight for the luxuries that are their bread and meat, she firmly believed that a good mind is a handicap in life, and that the greatest prizes are forced on well groomed cabbages in faultless collars. So Mrs. Ainsworth sniffed at all of her daughter's little triumphs as pretty baubles signifying nothing of value.

When Cheryl graduated from the university she had it out with her mother. She declared her intention of doing something to make department store clerks, men and women, realize their potential strength and get decent working conditions through organization. Mrs. Ainsworth dismissed the ambition with a contemptuous smile.

"You refuse me leave?" Cheryl demanded.

"Certainly I forbid you making a spectacle of yourself. Besides, what do you know of social work?"

It was one of Mrs. Ainsworth's pathetic delusions that her own inspiring paperlets before the Oakland Social Service Club materially advanced the well-being of the downtrodden shop girl. Perhaps they did; conditions were infinitely worse in her ancient day than they are now, and even the most inane vaporings may have dispelled some of the more noxious gases by a sort of spiritual displacement.

"You refuse," Cheryl replied. "A direct answer is something. Thank you. Mr. Close will call on you tomorrow to wind up the estate."

"What estate? Are you insane?"

"Father's estate. I am quite sane, and I am of age. I demand my share of the estate which was left to me in my father's will. There is no use mincing words. We never have got on together. I intend to leave you before both of our dispositions are ruined for life. There is plenty for both of us—even for you with your present extravagance. And to be frank, I see no reason why you should spend my income for me. Nor do I admit that any human being has a moral right to direct the life of another. What right you had was purely legal, and that ceased when I came of age. I intend to live my own life, and I will leave you to live yours. Mr. Close will call in the morning. Good bye."

But Cheryl did not escape immediately. Mrs. Ainsworth lost her temper and gained nothing by the indiscretion. Mr. Close called the next day. Within a week the property was divided, and Cheryl established as a cash girl at four dollars a week in San Francisco's largest department store. When Palgrave learned the details of the break he congratulated her sincerely.

"What experience I have had with children," he said, "shows me that you have done the rational thing. I am a thorough believer in what old Plato advocated: children should be brought up by scientifically trained professionals and see as little as possible—nothing, for preference—of their parents. You cannot discharge an incompetent, bad-tempered, or brutal parent under the present regime. But in Plato's republic any nurse could be fired the instant he or she gave signs that nervous exhaustion or general brainlessness was taking itself out on the kids and ruining their dispositions. Mother love, as you have just found out, is largely a pious myth. It was devised to keep women contented with their unnecessary drudgeries.

"I do not mean to say," he hastily qualified his assertion, seeing the shocked look in her face, "that the real mother love does not exist. It does, and—pardon me—that's the very hell of it. In my work I curse it fifty times a day. For what amount of blind affection can ever undo the deformities conceived in folly and born in ignorance? In the perfect state that Socrates and Plato dreamed of we shall tincture our love with a little reason.

"That is what I am slaving for, but the end is hundreds of generations ahead of me. Even the stupidest conservative admits nowadays that the proper rearing of children is as difficult a science as the training of race horses. And no owner of a stable that I ever heard of was confiding enough to leave the development of fast trotters to the parental affection of their dams and sires. You have entered the race late, Cheryl, and you must be your own trainer. Go on and win!"

What Cheryl accomplished in her social work may seem precious little in our own busy days when all conditions of employment are changing so rapidly. But she was one of the pioneers, and it is the pathfinders who count. Having first roused the dispirited workers to an uneasy discontent, she turned their awakened energies to constructive work. At first employers hated and feared her. But as they learned the elementary truth that contented employees mean bigger returns on capital invested, they not only tolerated her persistent interferences, but paid handsomely for her expert services.

Always before recommending a change that seemed radical at the time, she made sure of all her facts and figures on both the employers' and the workers' sides. Then she stuck to her point with a pertinacity that nothing under the high heavens could budge. When the delegates from one side or the other worked themselves into a frothy, profane rage at her obstinancy, she would quietly gather up her papers and leave, with the remark that the next meeting would be held when they had recovered their tempers.

There was lots of force in Cheryl. Her beauty, too, smoothed over many of the rougher places. For only a blind dyspeptic in the last stages of nonagenarian senility can be persistently boorish to a beautiful young woman in her early twenties.

So when Cheryl expressed her disappointment that Beckford had not come with us—for that was what she meant—we accepted the Dutch compliment with a resigned grace as just another evidence of Cheryl's uncomfortable honesty, and settled down to make the best of a rather chilly welcome.

She would thaw out presently, we knew from past experience. Then everything would be perfect, even for me. Cheryl never liked me very well, having a strange aversion to my trade of analytical chemist. The reason for this I learned only in the real life, of which this is the deceptive shadow. Cheryl's memory was better than mine, although she was never aware of the superiority.

"Are the yellow Japanese irises out yet?" Palgrave asked, as if yellow irises were his one desire on that serene April afternoon.

"Yes, and you must see them. Down by the five pillars they are a perfect dazzle. They have never been so brilliant as this spring."

"The five pillars!" What reminiscences of another world did Cheryl's words recall? Again I had a gleam of mystic knowledge, but it vanished in a flash. A strange filmy look passed over Herron's eyes, as if he were drowsy with trying to remember; and Sylvester gazed absently out at the tranquil sky over the shimmering bay.

"Come on, you fellows," Palgrave called back over his shoulder. "This is a free show."

We followed Cheryl and Palgrave down the path to the five white marble pillars at the foot of the wilderness. We had often been there before, but those were not the five pillars which I was striving to remember.

"I almost went back again just now when Cheryl spoke," Herron whispered. "Did either of you feel anything queer?"

I nodded. Sylvester stared hard at the back of Cheryl's head. She was wearing no hat or other covering.

"She has magnificent hair," he said irrelevantly. "The real, dry, wavy black. I have only once seen such a splendid head before. It was in—." He stopped, unable, apparently, to finish his sentence.

"Where?" Herron asked curiously.

"That is what I was trying to recall while she was speaking. It wasn't in this world."

Cheryl was confiding something to Palgrave in a low voice. Once or twice he laughed rather nervously and began speaking in an undertone of great earnestness. Presently a sharp turn in the path brought us out by the five marble pillars. Cheryl had not exaggerated; the yellow irises were a glory.

"I say, Sylvester," Palgrave began when we came up with them, "Cheryl has been telling me all sorts of disturbing things. She has been overworking I suppose. Anyhow she has been seeing spooks."

Cheryl reached up and put her fingers over his lips.

"Don't tell them," she begged. "They will only laugh at me."

"Oh no they won't. Even Chemical Smith is quite civilized when you get him away from his test tubes and scarlet messes. And as for Sylvester, spooks are his pet hobby. I'll back him to lay the grisliest of them with a mathematical formula. Herron, of course, is hopeless, but we always kick him when he doesn't behave. So you need not be afraid of being ignorantly jeered at. They all know better."

Sylvester looked so hard at her that she flushed slightly and averted her eyes.

"What did you see?" he asked.

"Well, since you know the disgraceful fact that I saw something that wasn't there, Mr. Sylvester, you may as well have the harrowing details. It wasn't a ghost or anything outlandish of that impossible sort. I prefer to think it was a perfectly natural mirage. In fact it did look something like a clear reflection on an unruffled lake or swiftly flowing but glassy river."

"The stream of time," Sylvester murmured.

"What did you say?"

"I beg your pardon, Miss Ainsworth. I was just thinking aloud. It was nothing. Please go on."

"You weren't laughing at me?"

"Far from it! This is serious."

"All right, then," she laughed. "Yesterday morning at about eleven o'clock I had to go out to Van Ness Avenue to look after some property. I own eight houses, you know, on the side toward the bay. One of my tenants had been complaining that the plumbing is out of order, and I went to inspect for myself. I wanted a walk, so I took a Market Street car and got off at the corner. My houses are on the bay side of the street, but I walked up along the other to see how my property looked—whether it needed repainting or anything.

"For two blocks or so I became interested in watching the people on my own side of the street, and forgot to look across. When at last I did I nearly fainted. The whole bay side of the street was a blackened waste of charred sticks. Not a single house was standing. There were a few brick chimneys still upright, but the most had fallen.

"Then I noticed that I could distinctly see the clock on the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street. Of course that was only another hallucination. Half San Francisco lay between me and the clock. But such trifles don't stop dreams. There were no buildings between me and the clock, only a few blackened and fire-gutted skeletons. So far as I could tell the entire business district of the City was burnt to the ground. Then I looked at the houses on the side of the street where I was walking. They were unharmed except for heat blisters all over the paint."

"What did you do?" Sylvester asked.

"Collapsed in a nice old gentleman's arms. When I came back—I was gone only for a moment—everything was natural again. But I swear the thing was no dream. It was real."

"It must have been a dream," Herron objected lamely. "We walked home that way this morning, and there was no sign of a fire. And as for the business district being wiped out, there has been no bad fire in the City since about two months ago, when that place next to the Winchester Hotel went up. Leave it to old Chief Sullivan—he could put out Hades itself if they'd give him two buckets of water."

Cheryl looked disconcerted but obstinate.

"I don't care how you explain it away. That was a real thing."

"Did you back your opinion financially?" Sylvester asked. He was perfectly grave.

"Yes," she admitted, after a defiant glance at Palgrave.

"Just like a woman," he murmured, and Cheryl flushed dangerously.

"How did you back your dream?" I hastily interposed to divert the threatened hurricane.

"By taking out all the extra fire insurance my eight houses would carry. I hailed a passing auto and made the man take me as fast as he could to Montgomery Street. There I called on Mr. Thompson, the manager of the London company that has been handling my business, and told him what I had seen. He laughed and asked me to go out to lunch with him. I gave him no peace until four hours later when I had what I wanted. He had to stretch all the rules to the breaking to put my business through in that time, but I kept at him."

"You are nothing if not persistent," Palgrave sighed, as if the knowledge pained him deeply. As a matter of fact he admired nothing so much as a woman with a mind of her own.

"Did you tell anyone else?" Herron asked. He also was quite grave now.

"I did. As Mr. Thompson and I made the rounds of my houses, I told all my tenants and urged them to take out insurance on their goods and put their valuables in some class A fireproof vault."

"How did they receive it?" I asked. She flushed, and hesitated before answering.

"Well, some of them thought it was a new scheme for advertising insurance. They congratulated Mr. Thompson on having roped me in as an agent, but said it was just a bit too raw to work. The rest stared, and kept a good six feet away from me. I did my best. If they lose all their treasures it won't be any fault of mine. One woman said she would move. She disliked having an insane landlady."

"Did you drop it after that?" I asked. She was evidently keeping something back from a sense of pride.

"I've told you so much I may as well give you the rest. I rang up the editorial offices of the Call, the Bulletin, the Chronicle, the Star and the Examiner. In a few words I gave each office the main points of the story and asked them to feature it."

"What did they say?"

"With one exception they agreed that it would make an interesting story of the dream sort, but declined to touch it because 'it might give the City a black eye in the East. We don't want to advertise that San Francisco is three quarters inflammable shacks.' I'll leave you to guess which office was the exception. It won't take much of an effort. Some drunken beast at the other end of the line—I almost smelt his boozy breath at my own—told me to 'run along, dearie, and try highballs instead of cocktails'."

"I shall make it a point to go round tomorrow and paste him on the jaw," Herron announced. "I know who it was. He always calls anything in a skirt 'dearie'."

"Thank you, Mr. Herron," said Cheryl. "I don't care if you give him a black eye as well."

"Cheryl, Cheryl," said Palgrave sadly. "You are becoming quite Roman in your bloodthirsty brutality. You should turn the other ear. Let me feel your pulse."

She offered a wrist. "It's as steady and normal as your own," she laughed.

"More so, more so," he admitted with a sigh of the blackest melancholy. "My own is going something over two hundred this instant."

She blushed, but Palgrave showed no disposition to relinquish her hand until he had completed a rigorous scientific examination.

"Smith," said Sylvester, "you know where the best magnolias are? I mean the white."

"I know," Herron volunteered. "They're up at the other end. Come on."

We turned to make our escape. I stepped on a dry twig. It snapped with a faint sharp click—the exact sound that Sylvester's watch had made when he broke the mainspring. Instantly I felt the solid ground give way beneath my feet. I was slipping back into the stream of ages. By the amazed pain on their faces I knew that Herron, Palgrave, and Sylvester were also losing their grip on this world. In an instant we had all four plunged, clear through and out of this universe.

I recognized my surroundings at a glance. There, in the lucid heavens, were the five pillars of my remembered existence. This universe was indeed the reality, the place I had quitted was the dream. Those five pillars of clear light in the sky were the infrangible supports of a firmament which I had always known to be unchanging and eternal.




CHAPTER V

THE SECRET OF THE SUNS

For the instant I remembered nothing of this life. My existence as a chemist in San Francisco was clean forgotten. But my recent experiences on the Desert of the Dawn were still distressingly vivid. That was but natural. For I had looked but recently into the still, white faces of my sleeping companions. They had not yet returned to life; all the sender's efforts to recall them from the Desert had so far been in vain. This had been the sender's greatest venture.

Many times had he tried to send Savadan back alone, and later Sylvester and Savadan together. But he had succeeded only in awakening in them hideous dreams of another existence which knew nothing of the legends and the monuments which they had been sent back to decipher.

Then seven of us had volunteered to go back together, incited to the venture by Savadan, who declared that his troubled memory of that false life seemed to predict that we—Herron in particular—were the men fitted by nature to swim against the stream of time and read the past on its banks. My own return from that perilous journey had been swift and safe. The others still slept.

Presently, however, a haunting uneasiness that I had been absent elsewhere, in what place or time I could not remember, made me scan the heavens anxiously to verify my bearings.

Yes, I thought, the five superb suns were indeed there as I had always known them: the clear green sun that our people call the star of hope; the bright red, the golden yellow, the cool amethyst star and the pure white were in their accustomed regions of the sky where we had known them all our lives, and by tradition for ages. And I remembered the immemorial legend which declared that the life of the five suns is coeval with the life of our race: Their rising was the earliest memory of our people in Eos; their departures from our sky will be the doom of our race. Their positions had not changed in my absence—if indeed I had ever been away.

"I wonder why they call this the Plain of the Five Pillars?"

It was Cheryl speaking, or the one that was Cheryl in that other place—the place of pain and forgotten immortality. She and I were sitting in the shade of a gigantic tree not far from the Council Chambers. From its lowest branches to its tapered spire the tree was one flame of scarlet blossoms. One had fallen on her head, and I thought how beautifully it enhanced the blackness of her hair.

"Look up," I replied. "There's the answer for all to read."

"Surely the name has nothing to do with those five streamers of light from the suns? They do look like pillars, I'll grant, the amethyst and green ones most of all. But they rest on the sky—see, yonder, where they end—not on this plain."

"Perhaps," I answered. "But there is a tradition that those five pillars of light begin somewhere on this plain and end up there at the suns."

"The traditions!" she exclaimed scornfully, tossing her splendid head. The scarlet flower fell from her hair to the grass, and she brushed it petulantly aside. "How tired I am of all our senseless traditions and meaningless legends."

"You are no wearier of them than I am. But are you sure they are all without meaning?"

"Yes," she answered decisively.

"What makes you so sure? The Council would gladly, to a man, go down to the everlasting sleep could it assure Eos that its traditions are lies and its legends dreams. How do you know so positively that there is no truth in them?"

"My love tells me so!"

"You may be right, and all the rest of us are wrong. But what you call your love is a new thing in Eos. Or perhaps it is a very ancient thing for which we have another name."

She flushed angrily. Our talk was to end as usual—in a violent quarrel. But I could not help it and I did not greatly care. The possible happiness of all our myriads was more to me than the pretty whims of this petulant girl, charming though she was.

"You mean?" she encouraged defiantly.

"Unreason. Madness. Burning, ruinous folly. That is what your love is. Crass, obstinate selfishness, if you like."

"Stop! You are blaspheming against the highest sacredness of life."

"The sacredness of life? What are you thinking of? The only sanctities of our race are the laws of reason and freedom. Have you stumbled upon another?"

"I have, and a greater than either. Love!"

"Mad selfishness—that is what you have found. You would stride over the one law of reason which our traditions warn us must never be transgressed."

"The traditions again. Are we always to live in the shadow of the past, never to advance into the free light beyond?"

"You may step beyond the shadow. None of us can forbid you. The second sanctity of our race as you well know makes us all free. None shall compel obedience from another. Service to the laws of reason must be offered freely or not at all. So you should for once be grateful to the traditions. You shall have what you want if you insist."

"Then why do you and all the rest of the Council persecute me? Why cannot you grant my lover and me the right of union instead of hounding us to steal it?"

"If you wish the right, take it. We shall not stop you."

She sprang to her feet, white with passion. I rose slowly and faced her.

"You will drive us to it and then hold us up to scorn. Is that your freedom?"

"It is not. Nor is your love our reason. We have no wish to persecute any living creature. We have measured every line, searched every record, analyzed every act of your lover's ancestors and of your own a thousand times, in the hope that we might find some combination of traits that does not, by every law of reason, absolutely forbid the marriage of you two. But science cannot lie, and the records persist in predicting inevitable disaster from your union."

"I do not believe in your analysis! What is science? Who knows whether its predictions in any one case will be verified? My love tells me that I have a truer guide than the surest science. I will be free and follow my love."

"You believe in nothing. So be it. We compel assent from none."

I turned to go back to the Council. My mission had been fruitless. She put out a hand appealingly on my arm.

"You will help me?"

"Of course. Nothing would please the Council better than to discover that all our fears are imaginary. Do you think we enjoy thwarting you? Or perhaps you fancy it is a pleasant thing for some of us to plunge into the stream of ages and risk the annihilation of our minds?"

"Is it then so dangerous?"

"It seems to be. Seven of us were sent back, and so far I am the only one that has returned. The others are still lying dead in the Chamber of the Serpent."

"What did you see?" she asked, morbidly curious.

"An illimitable wilderness of desolation."

"And that was all? If you saw no more than that I cannot see why the traditions should ban my love."

"It was not all. The wilderness was a waste of bones. All the inhabitants of that vast place had perished suddenly in some universal cataclysm. What we saw was the visible evidence of our darkest tradition. The red legend of merciless war is not a myth."

"But what has my love to do with war? Love is the gift and promise of peace!"

"I do not know. But if the others return safely they may be able to tell us. If they awake as ignorant as I am, then we must all be sent back again. For we must unravel the legends or perish. That we know."

"You will find no reason against my love. For reason and love go hand in hand, only I am the first of all our race to see the truth. Therefore I am persecuted."

"Will you promise me that if we do find the indisputable truth of the legends, you will be guided by what they teach?"

"Is that what the Council sent you out here to ask me?"

"Yes."

"You don't know what you ask."

"We do, or we should not ask it. Will you obey the legends if we discover their true meanings?"

Cheryl never answered that question. We heard a stealthy scuffling behind us, and turned around just in time to see a curly-headed youngster—not yet much beyond the talking age—scuttling away into the tall grasses. He evidently was doing something that violated his code of ethics.

"Come here," Cheryl called softly. "I won't take it away from you. Come and let us see what you've found."

He emerged obediently from his hiding place, his hands behind his back and a smile of utter joy trying not to show itself on his composed features.

"Let us see," Cheryl begged. "We won't rob you."

But he wasn't going to abandon all caution merely because a pretty woman entreated him in a soft, appealing voice. He walked past us with dignity at a safe distance. Just as he drew opposite, he thrust out one arm toward us with a magnificent gesture of pride. Tightly clutched in his small fist was a wriggling four-legged, scaly monster which he had dragged from its oozy bed. He was off with a chuckle as fast as his legs could carry him, hugging his precious reptile to his naked stomach.

"Will it hurt him?" Cheryl asked, looking longingly after his twinkling feet.

"No, that kind is quite harmless."

"I wish he was mine," she sighed.

"I wish he was yours too."

"What do you mean?"

"That small lover of reptiles will never bring ruin on Eos when he reaches manhood. His record is clean for a thousand generations."

With that I left her in a speechless passion and made my way back to the Council chambers.

As I entered the long Chamber of the Serpent I saw my companions of our desperate journey still lying white and rigid on their benches. The death of these men, I thought in a sudden flush of anger, would be on Cheryl's head. But for her selfishness they need never have been sent back. And the lives of at least three of these men were priceless.

My name, of course, and the names of all those whom I have met in our two lives were different in Eos from what they are in this shadow of a life where I am now writing. I remember them distinctly. But for simplicity I shall retain the names by which we are known here,—wherever "here" may be. Our physical appearances, too, were greatly altered. There each of us had a heightened vitality, sharply real to the minutest detail; here our bodies seem dulled, and all our movements mechanical and unintelligent. Here we are but dead automatons; here we knew the meaning of free will.

Ducasse was going from one sleeper to another trying vainly to bring them back. He glanced up and saw me.

"What did she say?" he asked.

"Nothing new. She will not promise to follow the truth we find."

"Well, she has our law on her side. We can't force her. I wonder what the man thinks about it all. Is he merely a compliant fool, or is he mad too?"

"He doesn't seem to count for much. Perhaps she is keeping him in reserve to use later in the final examination before the Council. What have you been doing?"

"Trying to bring these men back, and thinking."

"Rather unusual sport for you," I laughed. Ducasse professed never to think, modestly declaring that he reached all of his profound judgments on the Council by a sort of digestive reflex action.

"When I do think," he retorted, "something happens."

"Have you puzzled out what one of the legends means?"

"Almost. Our Tail Devourer is connected in some way with our five suns."




CHAPTER VI

"THE WHOLE IS ONE"

The Tail Devourer is the Council's name for the serpent which occurs in so many of our legends. I looked up at the frieze of the ancient chamber, and once more studied the design upon which I had expended so much of my labor in unavailing efforts to unravel its meaning. The pure form of the design, and that which was represented in this historical Chamber of the Serpent, was a snake bent round in the form of a perfect circle, the tail in the mouth, embracing the motto

THE WHOLE IS ONE.

This, repeated at regular intervals, made up the complete design in its purest form. Naturally I was greatly interested in Ducasse's assertion that he had some new light on this hardest of all our inherited riddles.

"Have you something different," I asked eagerly, "from the physical theory that makes the serpent represent the continual transformations of matter into energy and energy back into matter? That means something definite at least. Our very existence depends upon our knowledge of how to control the transformation. And I can easily imagine that when our ancestors first found the secret they celebrated by symbolizing it in a form that is not likely to be forgotten.

"Unless we had the secret of transformation our whole place in the universe would have ceased to exist ages ago. The very atoms of this Plain of the Five Pillars would Šons ago have been broken down into their elemental electricities and been dissipated into free space, perhaps utterly annihilated by subsequent unions of equal positives and negatives. But our knowledge enables us to keep the total amounts of matter and energy constant in our own part of the universe. Our place is eternal. Without power over the transformation we should now be as dead as the Desert of The Dawn.

"So our ancestors were certainly entitled to perpetuate their discovery in any way they chose. That they selected the highly appropriate design of the endless serpent is a testimonial to their fine sense of the artistic fitness of things. I'm for the physical explanation."

"It is reasonable," he admitted. "And therefore I suspect it. Whenever you find a perfectly reasonable explanation of anything in nature or human conduct, look for something else. Things in the real universe don't all fit together like the pieces of a child's puzzle.

"Now look at your nice, orderly theory of the Tail Devourer for instance," he continued. "The first builders of our present civilization were advanced enough to tap the inexhaustible sources of heat, electricity, and radiant energy of the ultimate particles in every handful of the most worthless rubbish. That much everyone admits. The very first intelligent beings in Eos had full possession of this knowledge. Every legend, every tradition confirms the fact.

"Now I maintain that if they were so far advanced when they arrived here, they probably looked upon the process of tapping the energy just as we do—an obvious commonplace of nature. It is a trick that once learned could never be forgotten.

"On the other hand, the secret of navigating space between the stars, and passing from one region of the universe to another, is a thing of a far higher order. We ourselves have not yet mastered the art, and most of the scientists doubt whether we ever shall. Yet, again by every tradition and legend, it was by such means and no other that the first intelligent life came to Eos. To beings possessed of this knowledge the transformation of matter into energy and back again would be a trivial commonplace. So why should they take any pains to commemorate it in an unforgettable design for their descendants?

"And another puzzle—to which I see no hint of a solution—why should they have striven so successfully to obliterate all traces of their knowledge of navigating inter-stellar space? The legends tell us that in twelve generations the secret was stamped out and completely, irrevocably forgotten. They meant their descendants to stay in this place forever. I feel that if we can discover why they intended us never to leave Eos, we shall at the same time unravel the whole tangled mass of all our legends and traditions."

"You are right," I agreed. "No intelligent people would ever take so much trouble to perpetuate a commonplace that a child might rediscover for himself. For it is clear, as you say, that whoever the founders of our civilization were, they reached Eos full grown in intelligence. All the legends insist upon that fact. There was no gradual ascent here through ages of blind groping. Our race arrived here in the first flush of its maturity. What is your theory of the Tail Devourer?"

"It is not all clear yet," he confessed, "but I see this much. First, our ancestors meant something infinitely more subtle than the unity of matter and energy when they wrote The Whole is One within the serpent-ring.

"Second, the serpent motto is always repeated, in every version of the legends, at the beginning and the end of the brief fragment which is all that remains of the Legend of the Five Suns. All that has been preserved of the sun legend is the bare statement: 'When ruin threatens Eos, discover the secret of the Five Suns which shine over the Plain of the Five Pillars. By that secret shall you avert the ruin which overwhelmed our people in the Dark Place. Use the secret; it is the better thing.' This, as you know, is always preceded and followed by the motto: 'Remember the Serpent; the Whole is One.'

"Perhaps that is all they meant us to know. The fragment of the Sun legend which we have may be all of it; for there obviously is a veiled warning that the secret is to be used only in the direst extremity. So they put difficulties in the way of complete knowledge.

"Now, in piecing all these things together, as the authors of our legends intended, I believe I have found a clue that will lead us to the cure for Cheryl's madness even if it runs the full course to ruin."

"What is your clue?" I asked doubtfully. To me it seemed a foregone conclusion that nothing, not even the destruction of all Eos, could shake Cheryl's obstinacy.

"First," he replied, "we must discover what our remote ancestors meant by the 'Secret of the Five Suns.' Second, I am convinced that the discovery turns upon the correct interpretation of the serpent with its inscribed motto The Whole is One, and this I believe I have found.

"The serpent does not typify matter being eternally transformed into energy and energy into matter. No, it is a symbol for the whole of time, past, present, and future; and the legend makers meant us to know their secret that time is one and closed. I feel certain they did not visualize the stream of time as we do—a river flowing through infinity without once retracing its course. They thought of time as flowing in a circle, so that if one were to project himself into the stream in the direction of the past, and swim back against the current, he must eventually come back to the present, having traversed in his course the future as well as the past.

"Third, we can only discover the secret of the suns by going back into the past and observing its reflections in the stream of time where it was first imagined. We have lost all other traces of its meaning; the permanent record of its beginning in time alone remains.

"Fourth, the closed, circular nature of the time stream is a danger we did not suspect when we undertook to send messengers back against the current into the past. For suppose it is but a comparatively, short distance in time from our present existence to the forgotten origin of the Sun secret. Then it will be a practically infinite distance from us round the circle in the other direction—through the future—to the place where the image of the secret is.

"What if I have made a mistake in the process, and have tried to bring these men back, not by the shortest way, but the longest? It was this danger, I am convinced, that the legend makers meant to warn us against with their motto that The Whole is One. For we are plainly told that our last hope of safety lies in discovering the secret of the Suns, and our only chance of doing so is to ascend the stream of time.

"Suppose that I actually have been trying to bring these men back to life by the longest way. The chances in that event are that they will never awaken. The process is very delicate. The slightest excess of effort might upset the balance at any point of the time stream, sending them backward into the past or forward into the future independently of my will.

"Perhaps that is the true explanation of my repeated failures with Sylvester and Savadan. I was unable to send them back to the right era in time because in spite of all my efforts they lost their balance in mid stream and drifted into the future instead of the past. That would account, for instance, for all of Savadan's wild stories of a sort of beast-existence that he has discovered, also for Sylvester's persistent confirmation of that impossible state.

"But we got one practical result out of all Savadan's theories: he stuck to it that some memory from that beast-existence pointed you out as the men most likely to succeed in swimming against the time current. If they wake up, we may be able to prove his theory. If they don't, well, it will not matter."

"It is an uncomfortable thought," I remarked. "You are always thinking of some wretched mental dried pea like that to plague us with. And now that you mention it, something of that sort must have happened in my own case. I have a very dim residual memory of some third life—not our actual life here in Eos, and certainly not my brief existence on the Desert of the Dawn—but of another much more varied experience. That life can only be in the future."

"Do you recall any details of it?" he asked, giving me a curious look. It flashed across my mind that Ducasse himself had been with me in the future life. I boldly taxed him with concealing his knowledge. He laughed, and shook his head, remarking that he was one of those individuals who disbelieve in telling others everything they know.

"Go ahead with your account," he urged. "Do you, as I asked before, remember any details of this shadow life of the future?"

"One, and that only in a blurred way. In the future life beyond Eos the people have an unshakable belief in some terrible downfall of their race that hurled them back to the most primitive state of nature. The legend, as I remember it, concerns an ideal existence in a garden from which the race was expelled at the fall. Or perhaps more accurately, I recall a singular feature of the legend: the expulsion did not affect a whole race, but only two people, a man and a woman.

"This may only be the legendary way of symbolizing the downfall of the entire race. Anyway, in the fall, they lost their former mastery over matter and energy, and became instead the most abject slaves of nature, having even to sweat their very lives out to force sufficient food from the soil for their barest existence.

"Now my theory is that this legend of those people in the future concerns Eos. The 'fall' of their traditions is the impending ruin which all our legends warn us against, and which by those same legends is now imminent.

"To account for the utter degradation of the future race, it is only necessary to assume that in some way our downfall dragged along with it the loss of our knowledge of the process for transformation of matter into energy. That alone would account for all their fierce struggle to feed and clothe their bodies. Without our knowledge life would be an intolerable burden. Who would carry it under the lashes of a supremely powerful and tyrannical brute nature? I wouldn't. Our subjugation of the forces of nature is the one thing that makes existence bearable."

"You're a cheerful prophet," he laughed. "According to you we are bound for ruin no matter what happens. You may as well go out now and give Cheryl the Council's good wishes for a happy and prolific marriage."

"Not at all. I am still dazed from the shock of being sent back. The whole future life which I imagine I dimly remember may be a myth. Most likely it is my disordered interpretation of something quite different which I actually did see but cannot yet recall undistorted. It seems incredible that such a state of bestial degradation could succeed us. And in any case we do not know enough about the time stream, or the process of ascending it, to base reliable predictions on these few experiments. The whole thing is too dangerous and uncertain for rational use. I wish we had let it alone."

"So do I," he admitted with a rueful glance at the white, sleeping forms. "Still, what could we do? By all the legends Cheryl's intended act is the first spark of the flame that threatens our universal destruction. We had no choice but to discover the exact truth of our traditions and the meaning of their symbolism. There was no other way. We had to send someone back into the past. All tangible records disintegrated ages ago."

"Well," I said, turning to go back to my laboratory, "you are not to blame whatever happens. They all volunteered when Savadan insisted that he had seen them elsewhere on his own journey, and that they were the right men for the venture."

"Yes, but they thought that I was more expert at sending than I appear to be. It isn't for lack of preparation that I have failed. No man could have studied the process more diligently than I have..... What are you up to?"

"I'm going into my laboratory to check over Cheryl's records and her lover's charts for the last three thousand generations to see if there isn't some path of escape that we have missed. I promised to help her in what she calls her love."

"You can't. Her total chart and the man's are absolutely exclusive. Too many of the best workers have checked them over. There is no possibility of an error solving our difficulties. We've got to decipher the legends and act by them."

"You're the pessimist now. We're a pair."

"Of truth-lovers," he called after me with a dry laugh. "Pessimist is only another name for one who sees things as they are."

He was always saying things he did not mean.




CHAPTER VII

"REMEMBER THE BEAST"

In sick helplessness I pushed away the records of Cheryl and her lover. Ducasse was right. Sheerly incompatible for three thousand generations, they were mutually exclusive and irreconcilable by any law of science. Further back than the three thousand generations it was unnecessary to go. Every known law made it certain that deeper search would reveal nothing contradictory to the later records. And our laws in this branch of science at least were complete and unassailable.

This last check but reconfirmed my own previous calculations and the minute analyses of a hundred more expert workers. For when Cheryl's madness first possessed her, we thought at once that there must have been some error in the customary verification of the ten preceding generations. It is seldom indeed that our work is more than a perfunctory matter of routine; long ages of rational selection have left their mark, and a woman's natural, unguided choice of her lover and future husband is almost invariably right and unobjectionable to the strictest demands of science.

But from the first Cheryl's case amazed us. Not one of her ten nearest generations gave a favorable reaction with her lover's, and we suspected an imperfection of the plates. Yet the further back we pushed our researches the more impossible her proposed union became; his life and character were sheerly incommensurable with hers.

I rose with a sigh; we must disentangle the legends and if possible convince Cheryl of their truth. After that her acts would be in her own hands. Our authority over any man or woman in Eos was purely advisory. Not one of our traditions sanctioned compulsion or restraint, no matter how reasonable it might appear on the surface. For every tradition that we respect holds freedom to be the supreme good, and the limitation of any individual's free will an intolerable evil. "Rather than admit the thin edge of tyranny," ran the saying, "invite swift ruin."

I called a passing assistant and handed him back the thin metal strips engraved with their thousands of close, sharp lines which were the impassable bars of reason separating Cheryl from her chosen lover. The assistant took the strips with a sullen frown to return them to their proper vaults.

"Well," he demanded, "have you found one line of hers that falls anywhere near one of his?"

He was an old man, severely scientific and harshly unsympathetic. The one passion of his long career had been a fierce devotion to the subtleties of the exact analysis of intelligent lives. The cold detachment of his lifelong pursuit had at last chilled out the faintest spark of a once kindly nature.

"No," I admitted. "It is the most exclusive pair of records I have ever examined. Each by itself is a full, rich, normal harmony. When superimposed they make an incredibly hideous discord. And the worst of it is that I can convince neither the man nor the woman that the analysis gives, by millions of chances to one, a true prediction of what their offspring will be.

"By himself the man might have listened to reason. At the beginning he could easily have been persuaded to take any one of a hundred women in his own rank of age and intelligence whose records harmonize perfectly with his. But since she has had her unleashed way with him he raves of 'untrammelled love' as insanely as she in her wildest moods. They are planning, I believe, as soon as their own union is publicly known, to start a campaign throughout the length and breadth of Eos for 'Love in Freedom and Freedom in Love'."

"Which means," said the old assistant bitterly, "I suppose, that hereafter the young men and women of Eos are to mate promiscuously without our certificate of a rational and harmonious union?"

"Undoubtedly it will mean just that. But I think Cheryl's passion for unreason will meet with a cold reception. Not yet are our people abandoned to a belief in selfish folly as a more reasonable guide than sane, gentle science. For who can deny that as things now are there is ample freedom within the law of reason? Our rare ban on an intended marriage may even more rarely cause some over-eager man or woman a passing discontent. But never yet have I heard of one falling sick under the temporary disappointment. Marriage after all is such a minor event in the lives of a healthy, well-born people whose minds are kept full, that a change of intended mates causes no lasting inconvenience.

"Only in this case, for the first time of which we have record, there seems to be something abnormal in both the man and the woman. Neither will listen to argument, both flout the law of reason, and each has an outspoken contempt for all the surest findings of our science. I am afraid we shall have to endure their campaign for 'Love in Freedom and Freedom in Love' to its foolish end."

"If we do," he sighed, "we shall probably remember the beast with a vengeance."

"How so?"

For answer he pointed to the deep-cut inscriptions in the solid metal of the walls, the brief summary of another of our legends, which ran,

"Remember the Beast."


"We are admonished to remember the beast. And why should those who knew the secrets of nature have been at such trouble to engrave the warning here, not once but hundreds of thousands of times, in this most refractory of all metals, unless they intended us to associate the fabled beast-state of the oldest traditions with our peculiar work in this laboratory of life analysis and character dissection?

"Must not all the laborious precautions of our analysis, which time has worn down to a perfunctory routine, be directed against a recurrence of the beast-state from which these legends declare our race evolved? 'Remember the Beast.' Well, this woman and her lover will be the first of all our happy race to forget. May they find a stranger happiness in their folly, and may I not live to taste the bitter fruit of their mad union!"

He peered at the metal strips lying in the hollow of his right hand—Cheryl's fateful record and her lover's. The younger workers in this vast laboratory joked that the old man had analyzed so many records that he could read one with his naked eyes. This of course was impossible. Nevertheless for the instant I fancied it might be true as I watched the fretful lines deepen on the poor old man's forehead. He was hurt as well as impatient; all his careful, disinterested work was being thrown contemptuously aside by a headstrong girl.

"Cheer up," I said. "When the sleepers return they will bring back the meanings of all our riddles, and we shall see what to do. If the truth of the legends sharply divides the happiness of all Eos from what this wilful girl calls her love, I feel sure she will choose the reasonable path and abandon her foolish lover. We cannot mend what isn't broken. Let us wait until the law is trampled in the mire before we abandon all hope."

"Yes," he said, turning to go about his business, "let us wait until the law is broken. Then I for one will tarry no longer. When the law of reason is mocked and set aside I will end my life."

I did not try to call him back. Despair as deep as his is not easily lightened, and an unselfish grief is inconsolable.

I was about to return to Ducasse to see if by chance I might help him with the sleepers, when the two metal strips in the old man's hand struck sharply together with a faint click. The slight sound impinging on my consciousness let in a sudden flood of light which as suddenly was swallowed up in total darkness. Where, I struggled to recall, had I heard that characteristic sound before? With haunting insistency the sound seemed to bring back some forgotten detail of my recent plunge into the unfathomable past.

I stood there perfectly still, staring unseeingly at the reiterated legend on the metal walls. "Remember the Beast, Remember the Beast," I read mechanically. But the dull exercise did not help me to recall where I had first heard that elusive, metallic click. Then by one of those inexplicable twists of the mind which seem to be independent of our wills, I remembered in a flash.

The sound had been like the sharp, explosive tick which a living spark emits as it is ejected from a glowing brand. That link completed the chain; and lucky that it did so, otherwise my sleeping companions might never have returned to life and Eos. I remembered: I had first heard that identical metallic click while watching the brilliant points of light thrown off from the great central ball of incandescent minerals which, by the incessant breaking down of its matter into energy, supplies Eos with its main fountains of heat, light, electricity, and hard radiations for the maintenance of life.

The recreation of my working time came welling back to my mind in a rush of memories. For often, when unable to make progress with some difficulty in my laborious analysis, I would steal away to watch the great central ball in the Chamber of Undying Fire. It was an amusement that never staled, and I fear that the Council was charged for much of my time before the ball which might have been more profitably employed.

However, as I shall relate, my stolen pleasure was not all a dead loss, for it undoubtedly was responsible for the cue which brought back the sleepers. Often had I watched the huge, scintillating ball in fascination, lost in wonder that this single source of energy was ample to supply the major needs of all our millions.

And as I had watched, listening in curious expectancy for the rare, faint clicks which signified that some transient imperfection of our controlling process had suddenly released a minute spark of the incandescent matter with explosive violence, I had often dreamed that nothing in life or death could obliterate the memory of that peculiar, distinctive sound. This, I had imagined, must be a sound heard only in Eos where all our life hangs on the perfect, steady operation of that incandescent globe. I should remember the quality of that sound in the deepest death.

Then an inspiration seized me. Surely if anything could recall the sleepers, it would be the faint, infinitely penetrating sharpness of that very sound.

Hastily summoning a dozen assistants on my way I hurried back to the Chamber of the Serpent.




CHAPTER VIII

"THEY MUST NOT MARRY"

"I don't put much confidence in your suggestion," Ducasse remarked pessimistically. "When the ball clicks we shall see whether your theory is good for anything. If these men wake, you're right; if they sleep through eternity, you're wrong. What gave you the idea?"

"It is hard to say," I admitted. "But I believe it was your suggestion that the endless serpent signifies a possible closed, circular stream of all time. That, acting on some very faint impression of my own plunge into the time stream, suggested that we bring the sleepers in here to the Chamber of Undying Fire, and expose them to the occasional peculiar clicking sound of the ball."

"What particular impression of your plunge do you mean?"

"The one I tried to tell you about in the Chamber of the Serpent. I am beginning to see into, and accept, your theory of the Serpent. The time stream is undoubtedly closed. And your guess that we may have drifted at least a little way into the future, instead of swimming straight back into the past as you intended, certainly seems more and more reasonable. In no other way can I account for the smoky confusion of two distinct memories in my mind at this moment. One is very sharp and clear, every detail of our comparatively short stay on the Desert of the Dawn stands out nakedly. And there is no doubt that the Desert was in the past not the future. Its least detail is minutely confirmed by our oldest legends.

"But the other memory, the one which I cannot recall, has nothing in common with any of our traditions. Of this I feel certain. My experiences in that part of my swim in the time stream must have been wholly in the future.

"The one incident that comes back at all clearly is mysterious enough, if you like, but it is by no means incapable of explanation. On our common theory that time is like a river flowing forever in one direction, nobody could account for my experience. But on your theory of the closed, circular stream, it becomes quite simple. Indeed it is obvious."

"Of course it yields to a natural explanation," Ducasse agreed, looking like a wise and sleepy bird. "Things always happen as they should when I put my wits to them. But what, exactly, is this unique incident of your swim into the future?"

"Simply this. During my sojourn in the future I lived a long and varied experience. I grew from infancy to manhood. So, I think, did the others whom you sent back; but on this I am not quite clear. Yet, through all that life I had occasional dulled flashes of memory relating to Eos. I was never wholly satisfied that my life was more than a vivid dream. Nor is this remarkable, for that is exactly what it was, or I should not now be sitting here by the great ball of undying fire talking to you.

"Now the peculiar incident that stands out fairly sharply is the memory of a certain sound. In some way that I cannot now remember, that sound started me back up the stream to the present, and I arrived finally in Eos whence I had started. It comes back to me that some or all of the others, and perhaps you too, although you won't admit it, were with me at the time, and that they also heard the same sound.

"But whether they too recovered their sense of direction in time, and started with me back to Eos, I am unable to recall. In fact I am almost sure that I heard that characteristic sharp click more than once. And I have a dim recollection of parting from the others on one of these occasions, and swimming back alone to Eos. Probably the others became confused in their sense of direction in time, and continued to live in the shadow-life of the future for a long stretch of the time stream, perhaps occasionally drifting out of it under your influence, and swimming back into the past of our legends."

"If so," he said, "we shall learn the truth we are after when they wake—if ever they do. And your theory is that the ticking of the ball will penetrate even this sleep?"

"Precisely. If a similar clicking sound was enough to turn me about in mid stream and head me safely for Eos, the real sharp tick itself should pierce through to whatever spark of consciousness these men still retain. For they obviously are not yet dead."

"Well," he agreed with a sigh, "it is our last hope. I have done everything I know to bring them back. Why doesn't the ball send off a spark? Surely it is time for one. But we probably would only hear those on our own side, and not very far away at that."

"You can't tell when a spark is going to flash off. Sometimes two or three break off almost together, and then again you may watch here till you go to sleep and not see or hear a single spark."

"Always when you want an accident to happen things go on with the most exasperating regularity. If the ball doesn't click soon, these men will be dead. Look at Culman."

Indeed the faces of the sleepers were ghastly in their transparent, waxlike pallor. Culman's was the most distressing in the fierce blue-white glare of the huge incandescent globe. Although his features never once quivered or gave any other sign of life, his whole face expressed the intensest mental suffering. Sylvester, apparently dead, lay serenely indifferent to the terrible light. He seemed almost to be at peace with eternity. Savadan, much older than all but Dill, lay quietly, blandly impassive. There was a look of strong confidence about his closed eyes and set lips, as if he were still leading my companions unscathed through the dangers of oblivion.

Only Palgrave's unemotional countenance retained any shadow of its living expression. A faint sneer lingered on the still, white lips, and a supercilious arch on the brows. I fancied that he might even now be seeing in another existence the actual unrolling of the dramas of all our legends whose truth he had been sent back to verify. For he would not believe their truth, I thought, even if he should behold them with his own naked mind. He had always doubted; and in this semi-death his doubt still hardened his cold, intellectual features.

Dill's expression puzzled me. He had a glutted look, as of one who has partaken to excess of a too-rich food. His dreams, I imagined, were wholly pleasing to him. But the uncompromising glare from the great ball gave his deathlike sleep an inexpressible aspect of low animalism. The light seemed to have died out of his mind, leaving only the rank darkness of a primitive sensuality. He had become a beast.

With an involuntary shudder I turned from studying the repulsiveness of his coarse, full features to Herron's troubled frown. Every frozen line of the younger face indicated the severest mental struggle. If Herron were indeed still living, and thinking in the time stream, his mind was grappling with some tremendous problem. I imagined as I watched his still face that for an instant the rigid tension of his mind relaxed. I at once called Ducasse's attention to the change, real or fancied. Ducasse bent over the stiff form and carefully rolled back one eyelid. He peered long into the dilated pupil.

"A mere twist would bring him back now," he sighed. "Why doesn't he follow my will and turn this way?"

"Perhaps his work is not yet finished," I suggested. "Or he may be searching for the others to bring them back too. Just now when his face seemed to change I fancied that he had found the key to the inscriptions on the monuments."

"He does have a look of satisfaction," Ducasse agreed, "as if he had just broken through some insuperable obstacle. Perhaps he is at this very instant deciphering what the legend makers wrote before they came to Eos. I feel more hopeful."

He sat down with a sigh of relief. "Let us wait in patience till the ball clicks," he said. "We can't hurry it, nor can I bring these men back against their wills."

We resigned ourselves to our vigil, he in philosophic calm, I in nervous eagerness for the faint, ticking sound which I felt sure would recall our sleeping companions to Eos and intelligence. I confess that for me the watch was not without its pleasant side. The great incandescent globe had always exercised a strange fascination over me, and now I abandoned myself to the luxury of following its dazzling scintillations to my heart's content.

The ball rested on a metal platform, flush with the floor, of the same refractory material as that of which the walls and roof in the main life-analysis laboratory were constructed. Although dazzlingly incandescent, the ball was colder than ice, its rays not being "stepped down"—as the engineers expressed it—to heat waves until actually required in that form of energy. In the same way neither were the original radiations at this main source transformed into light, electrical or hard energy immediately, but were transmitted unchanged to the several subcentral distributing stations throughout all Eos.

To safeguard the engineers and other attendants against the injurious waves which the ball emitted along with the beneficial, the entire globe had long since been enclosed in a high cylindrical wall, open at the top to the sky, of the transparent ray-filter material, so that the workers might watch and control the transforming process with impunity.

Once, out of curiosity, I had called together a full corps of assistants from the life-analysis laboratory to measure the circumference of the ball. It needed almost the full corps to perform the feat. The protective cylinder just grazed the ball at its closest approach high above the metal platform, so we got a very exact estimate by measuring the circumference of the cylinder. I asked the men to stand close against the cylinder and stretch out their arms to the fullest extent upon it, so that each man's finger tips just touched his neighbor's on both sides.

It took nine thousand, nine hundred and fifteen men to girdle the cylinder. For the sake of round numbers I called this ninety-nine hundred double arm spans; and I confess without shame that the mere thought of that number, and the mental contemplation of the vast, incandescent sphere which it measured, lightened for me many a dreary session of the Council. They all knew my hobby and tolerated my childish eccentricity with a good-humored forbearance.

"Well," Ducasse said in his dry way, breaking in on the luxury of my wonder, "at it again? You're just like a child with a new toy. Every time you come near this ball you have a worse attack than the time before. Your elaborate explanation of why you made me drag these poor fellows in here to get the next click won't stand. You did it because you wanted a feeble excuse to neglect your analysis and watch the undying fire."

"What if I did?" I retorted. "As you said in the Chamber of the Serpent, the whole thing is commonplace enough. But that doesn't make it any the less wonderful. For so is the life of plants and animals a common thing; yet not even you with all your superior boredom profess to see nothing marvelous in the secret of life. Now, for all your superiority, I'll wager that if you had not been taught the mystery of this ball, and how simply it transforms the rare handfuls of matter we add to it perpetually into energy and back again into new matter, you never could discover the secret for yourself.

"Suppose you had never been shown the infinite simplicity of how it is done. And on top of that imagine yourself to be suddenly set down in all the glory of your ignorance on some utterly barbarous planet out in space, where either there is no intelligent life or it is just starting on the long climb to reason. How far would you get with making another ball like this? Not far. I doubt if you would even reach the stage of being able to make a respectable mud pie. You would be reduced to grubbing roots and devouring raw vermin for a living, and that would take all your time.

"There would be no leisure in which you might begin to civilize your environment. No; your surroundings would barbarize you and absorb every shred of your mentality. You would have to live, man; you could not begin to think. In fact you would be just like those miserable wretches described in the 'Legend of the Fall' that I seemed to have discovered somewhere in the dim, depressing future of the time stream. You would shiver to death if you did not first starve."

He laughed at my earnestness. It was a favorite diversion with certain of the younger Councillors to start me off on what, to irritate me, they called "the marvel of the common-place, the mystery of the undying fire." But this time there was a new quality in his mirth, and I paused in my enthusiastic denunciation of his assumed boredom at the obvious.

"Have you been thinking again?" I asked anxiously.

"No, merely digesting as usual."

"Well, what have you assimilated? Anything new?"

"Marvels. I am growing positively obese with traditional wisdom. I've digested another of the legends. And this time it isn't a snake." He passed one long, lean hand gently over his mid region. "I believe I have swallowed our Five Suns," he announced with an air of pride.

"Are you sure? If you can unravel them we have everything."

"I'm not positive," he said judiciously, trying hard to look modest as he would have liked to have felt. "But from the peculiar sensation of intellectual warmth, I think it must be the Legend of the Five Suns that I've digested. And it has to do with your precious toy."

He nodded toward the huge incandescent globe with a well studied indifference.

"After all," he went on, "I'm coming round to your view. That great bubble of light may not be so innocently trivial as we imagined. Perhaps there is more in it than strikes the unaided eye. How many times have you sat here looking at it?"

"I don't know. Probably four or five thousand. Why?"

"It just shows the utter futility of staring, uncritical, child-like wonder."

I rose up to smite him, but he dodged and eluded justice.

"Sit at my feet," he counselled, "and learn wisdom. This is the first time that I have ever really looked at your marvellous globe of fire. Yet I can truthfully say that I have seen it, which is more than you can claim. All those times that you sat here wondering at the incandescent mystery of the thing, you saw absolutely nothing."




CHAPTER IX

DUCASSE EXPLAINS

His air of judicial superiority nettled me, the more so as I began to suspect that it might be founded on fact.

"What haven't I seen?" I demanded.

"Have you ever looked up toward the top of your ball?"

"Of course. Hundreds of times."

"And you noticed nothing remarkable?"

"Only what you are looking at now," I retorted. "There is not a thing to be seen except the complicated machinery of the selecting and condensing lenses, rather indistinctly, all of it, owing to its great height above us. There is nothing remarkable about any of that. The lenses I know from repeated inspections at close quarters are of the ordinary kind for gathering up the radiations from the ball into their proper foci. And the condensers too are quite ordinary. Nor is there anything unusual about all that tangle of coils up there for giving the proper curvature to the radiations so that they can be transmitted directly to the main distributing and transforming stations all over Eos. Now, you must admit that I have seen everything of importance, and that there is nothing out of the ordinary about it."

"Yes," he persisted, "but how is all that knotted and twisted mass of machinery arranged? That's the essential point."

"On the stone roof, around the top rim of the cylindrical ray-shields of course, as it should be. Where would you have put it?"

"Just where it is. The arrangement is excellently practical," he agreed. "It enables the engineers to climb all through the complicated machines if the parts need adjusting, without getting into the dangerous main stream of rays shooting straight up the cylinder from the surface of the globe. The selecting lenses alone project into the straight volley of rays, and they do all the dangerous work that is necessary."

"Then what else is there to see?"

"Look just a little higher. Do you notice nothing peculiar?"

"No, and neither do you." I was beginning to suspect him of an unkind hoax at the expense of my poor hobby.

"That is where you wonder-loving observers fail," he laughed. "You see all the pretty things and stop before you have really looked at anything. Now I'm just fastidious enough to care nothing about the marvels. The vast size of this eternally incandescent globe doesn't impress me in the least. Nor does the fact that it supports all of Eos in luxury without undue labor cause my heart to miss a single beat. But the astounding detail that our infinitely painstaking, legend-loving ancestors forgot to finish the roof of this imposing Chamber of the Undying Fire fills me with a new respect for the elaborate diversity of their ingenious methods."

"Why is not the roof finished? Only the circular section directly over the ball is left open to the sky as it should be."

"Ah, that's just it. Why should it be left open to the sky?"

"For several obvious reasons," I replied. "First, so that the transmitting coils can have the proper free range for sending out their various radiations. Second, because if the stone roof had been completed, and carried clear over the open circular skylight above the ball, the perpetual volley of 'hard' rays from the globe must in time have rotted the stone, causing the whole roof to collapse and wreck the all essential machinery. Do you wish any more reasons?"

"Two are enough. And as it happens they are too many, because both are immaterial. Why did not our legend-making ancestors cover up that huge, gaping hole with this same metal that they used for the platform of the ball? It does not decay under the incessant bombardment of the intensest radiations from the globe. They used it not only for the walls of your laboratory, but for the roof as well. Then why not here? It's a clue, I tell you, man! Suppose they had used this metal to roof over that circular hole. All the selective ray lenses could easily have been constructed so that only they were in the main stream of radiation; and the rest of the transmitting machines could then have been most conveniently assembled on the roof. It would have been an even more practical arrangement than the present.

"No," he continued, "that circular hole was not an oversight. It was planned deliberately, as one very essential detail of an elaborate, purposeful design."

"And what was the nature of their design, if you know so much about our legend-makers? You might have been one of them, the assured way you talk."

"Fortunately I wasn't. It is so much more interesting to tease out other men's secret motives than it is to manufacture riddles whose answers one knows in advance. Now, before making you a present of my latest germ of a theory, I must ask you to look once more at the top of your precious globe of fire. Take a good, far look this time, and see if you notice anything you never saw before."

I swallowed what was left of my pride and did as he directed. Yet I could discover nothing that I had not seen and admired hundreds of times before: The circular skylight above the globe let in a magnificent view of our five suns and their columnar streamers of colored light which we call the Five Pillars.

"Except that our five suns are directly over the incandescent globe," I reported at length, "I see nothing. And probably our ancestors chose this spot for the emplacement of the globe on purpose. For what, to a fully intelligent race laying the very cornerstone of all their future life and civilization, could have been a more appropriate location for that cornerstone than this central position directly beneath those five superb suns? Even you, unsentimental as you profess to be, must admit that the unique beauty of the spot would have had an irresistible attraction for their first great venture in Eos."

"You begin to see," he admitted with a dry laugh. Then his whole manner changed, and he spoke with a sure, rapid eagerness. "I have not, perhaps, grasped the secret of the Suns in its entirety. But I hold an infallible clue to that secret in the hollow of my mind; the mystery is potentially solved. What makes me so confident of this I cannot explain. Nevertheless I am certain that my guess will ultimately lead us to the whole truth, and perhaps, if Cheryl's madness proves incurable, save Eos from becoming a second and ghastlier Desert of the Dawn.

"Now, just listen again for a moment to the bare fragment which is all that has come down to us of the Legend of the Five Suns:

"'When ruin threatens Eos, discover the secret of the Five Suns which shine over the Plain of the Five Pillars. By that secret you shall avert the ruin which overwhelmed our people in the Dark Place. Use the secret; it is the better way.'

"Observe first, in this Legend, that the Five Suns are definitely associated with this central region of Eos which we have always called the Plain of the Five Pillars. And recall too that there has been a clear tradition from the dawn of our Eosian civilization that those five streamers of light which begin at the suns and rest their bases apparently on the sky, in reality have their origin somewhere on this Plain of the Five Pillars.

"Consider this next: what if those pillars of light actually do originate on this great central plain? They are known to be columns of some sort of radiation whose precise nature we have never been able to analyze. Might it not be that those five pillars of radiation are of such a nature that they are invisible in a gas as dense as our atmosphere, but reveal their hidden color the instant they pass out of our screening air and begin to traverse free, all but empty space? We have numerous instances of such rays—or similar ones—in every physical laboratory. Innumerable kinds of rays only reveal their presence to the unaided eye when they pass through the extremely attenuated atmosphere of a vacuum chamber.

"Again, glance for an instant at the commonest characteristic of almost any pencil of rays from radiant matter such as this huge incandescent globe. What would you say it is?"

"Why, that the radiation is never all of one kind. It can be split up, by many devices, into hundreds of different varieties distinguished among other things by their different wave-lengths and intensities. One of the most usual ways of separating out the several radiations is, of course, by subjecting the whole original radiation to the action of an intense but constantly varying magnetic field."

"Just so," he assented. "And that commonplace of our everyday scientific technique has given me the long sought clue to the secret of our five suns. Those five pillars of light are nothing else than the five broken pencils of rays into which some one thicker pencil has been split up by the selective action of the different magnetic fields which we know are created by the individual suns. In fact, as every scientific engineer will tell you, the same thing would happen for any living star, for each of them is nothing less than a huge natural magnet surrounded by an intense field of magnetic force.

"So it seems obvious that those five so-called pillars are the visible pencils of radiation into which some vastly intenser stream of radiation has been selectively divided by the differing magnetic actions of our five suns.

"The next and last link in the chain of evidence is the discovery of the most probable pencil of radiation that has been split up. Where does it originate? Putting all things together—the intelligently designed location of this ball exactly beneath the suns, the purposely incompleted roof with its open circular skylight, and the fact that we have never been able to analyze fully either the rays which make up these five pillars or the main pencil of radiations which shoot up from this ball, straight through the skylight toward the magnetic field surrounding the five suns—combining all these details, we cannot escape their obvious consequence.

"Those five pillars are the subsidiary pencils of rays into which the main, analyzed radiation of this incandescent globe is split by the differing magnetic fields created by our five suns. And to unravel the 'Secret of the Suns', and possibly thereby save Eos from ruin, we must analyze to its last ray this physical connection between our suns and this central ball of undying fire.

"There is one other singular detail about our suns that now strikes me like a blow on the head. It has always puzzled me; in the light of my theory it becomes of transcendant importance. To the unthinking, casual observer our suns are wholly ornamental, serving no useful purpose whatever. Eos has no need for either their heat or their light. Since the beginning of our life in Eos we have always created all the heat and light which we need for the maintenance of all animal and vegetable life. So far as necessity goes, those suns could vanish from our sky this instant, and we should never miss them—except for their lost beauty.

"But were the legend-makers who founded our civilization so trivially minded that they would have been to all this trouble of correctly planning the ball so that its main radiation should reach the suns directly, if they had no ulterior design behind all their labor?"

"Obviously not," I replied. "If we can trust the legends, the founders of our Eosian civilization were further advanced intellectually than we ourselves."

"That settles it. The suns are being kept there in our sky for some long-forgotten purpose of the first importance to the future of Eos. They control its destiny—or rather they shall. Of that I feel certain."

"But how 'kept there'?"

"They and we revolve as one, do we not? The five suns do not rise and set, but remain stationary in the heavens, always exactly above this globe of fire, where they have been since the beginning of our Eosian civilization.

"Now," he went on eagerly, "our full knowledge of other systems of stars and their attendant planets shows us that in this respect we are unique. The suns of other planets rise and set; our system swings round in space as one rigid whole. It is as if Eos were connected with its five suns by an unyielding rod of some perfectly inelastic material. This surely is no accident of blind nature. Again I suspect intelligent design. And if we can penetrate the secret of the connection between Eos and its five suns, I feel sure we shall at the same time unravel all our legends in one quick twist."

"How?" I demanded.

"Because, as I maintain, all our legends are tied up with the unaccountable truth that our ancestors deliberately stamped out their secret knowledge of the method of navigating interstellar space and passing freely from one system of suns and planets to another. They meant us, their descendants, to stay in Eos to the end of eternity, or, failing that, to perish here."

"Well, we may fool them yet," I interposed hopefully.

"That is exactly what I am driving at," he exclaimed. "For the secret of freely traversing interstellar space must clearly depend on a complete knowledge of the nature of gravitation and all its properties. And what is the mysterious connection between Eos and its five suns but a controlled gravitational effect of some unknown kind? It can be nothing else. Only an intelligently directed force of attraction—a completely subjugated gravity, in short—could hold those suns immovable above this plain for all these ages.

"By unravelling the mystery of our suns, therefore, we shall undoubtedly blunder onto the long sought, elusive secret of what gravitation is and how to control it for our own uses. And if we do thus discover the grand secret, we shall be as our ancestors were. All space will be ours to explore at pleasure. Then we shall escape whatever ruin it is that the legends hint is about to overtake us.

"For by the time the ruin arrives we shall have migrated to a more stable planet. I for one," he concluded with a wry smile, "shall not be sorry to go. I have seen all that Eos has to offer in the way of marvels—even this precious ball of yours—and I long for something new and sensational. And," he laughed, "we shall leave Cheryl and her lover behind when we move, so that they may enjoy each other's society undisturbed by our pestiferous Council. That, I think, will cure both of them."

"Ducasse," I said, unable to contain my sincere admiration, "you should think oftener. If this brilliant theory is the result of simple reflex digestion—as you claim—you should be able to get the secret of gravitation at a single thought. Try it now!"

"No," he answered modestly. "My head is philosophical, not physical. I can only think of things that other people should do." He nodded toward the white, sleeping forms of Culman and Sylvester. "If anyone can solve this all important puzzle, those two are the men. Culman's mechanical genius has never been equaled in the history of Eos; and Sylvester's physical imagination is a marvel that we have never seen the like of. If the riddle is to be answered at all, those men will find its true meaning. I merely sit and digest, thinking a new thought now and then for others to shape into being. And the tragedy of it all is that neither of those men may ever return to Eos. What fools we were to send them back."

"Listen!" I cried, springing to my feet. "The ball clicked!"

"I heard nothing," he said doubtfully. "Are you sure? It must have been on the other side, if at all."

We stood facing the scintillating sphere of undying fire, our hair almost touching the protective ray screen, listening intently. Then suddenly, without any warning, a splendid eruption of dazzling sparks burst from that part of the incandescent surface of the ball which was directly before our eyes. The rapid volley of faint, metallic clicks accompanying the miniature explosion was of a strangely penetrating quality, and for the instant I reeled in a sudden faintness. An agonized groan behind us steadied my brain and I turned round.

Culman was sitting up on his bench, ghastly as one risen from the dead, his face on his arms. He groaned again.

"The legends are true," he whispered. "War. We have seen the truth. Horror, beasts, war, truth."

Ducasse bent over him. "Lie down again till you get your senses back fully," he ordered. "Don't try to tell us anything yet."

Sylvester stirred. Then he too sat up, but said nothing. He bowed his head on his knees and seemed to sleep.

Savadan rose suddenly from his bench and walked toward the ball, staring wide-eyed at its glowing surface with a new knowledge. He seemed to be weighing the consequences of two equally terrible alternatives in a horror-stricken doubt. Evidently he was not yet free of the time stream. We left him in peace with his doubt to recover by himself.

Then Herron rolled over, sighed, opened his eyes, and smiled at Ducasse. He was quite normal.

"I have deciphered the monuments," he said.

"Good. But don't talk yet."

Palgrave awoke next. He also recovered almost immediately.

"I believe now," he said. That was all.

Dill was the last to emerge from the time stream. He sat up, and turned unaided on his bench, resting his bare feet on the cold metal platform. He said nothing. His look was still glutted. His eyes were drowsy and lethal, as if he had seen much death.

Culman again sat up. He began speaking rationally but in a voice of utter despair.

"Call in the mad woman and her man," he said. "Call them in. Let them hear. We have brought back all the truth. Our legends have not lied. Let the woman and her man see what we have seen. They must not marry."

"They must not marry," Sylvester repeated.

"They must not marry," Palgrave echoed.

"Bring them in," Culman ordered. "Now. Do not delay."

"You had better go and fetch them," Ducasse advised, turning to me. "I must stay with these men to see that they don't slip back again. Order the Council assembled as you go. We will meet in your laboratory. It is best to get this thing over and done with."

I turned to go in search of Cheryl and her lover. Just as my eyes left the glowing ball I saw a single, dazzling spark ejected, and heard the sharp click. I staggered. The metal beneath my feet gave way, and I flung my arms about Ducasse to save myself.

"Hold me back," I gasped. "I'm slipping into the stream. Hold fast, hold—"

I had plunged.




CHAPTER X

SHADOWS

"What makes you look so strange? I have spoken to you twice, and you did not answer."

Cheryl was gazing into Palgrave's filmed eyes with a piqued wonder. Suddenly his eyes became bright and startled. She rather brusquely withdrew her wrist from his fingers.

"Did you see something?" she persisted. "A mirage like mine?"

"Yes—no!" he replied hesitatingly. "I am very sorry Cheryl," he went on contritely. "Pardon my rudeness in not answering when you spoke. But I thought—"

"What?" she prompted.

"Really it is nothing," he said evasively.

"Are you ill?" she asked anxiously.

"No, no. Just a touch of vertigo. It doesn't amount to anything. I'm quite over it now."

Sylvester, Herron, and I remembered that we were going to look for white magnolias. We recovered just enough common sense to make our escape unobserved, before Cheryl's curiosity might cause her to look from Palgrave's expression to ours. How utterly unreal it all was in this breezy April garden with its massed blue lupines and yellow poppies. And there were white magnolias, we remembered, at the far upper end of Cheryl's dreamlike garden ... We were going to see them.... Surely it was all part of some absurd but not unpleasant dream.... We stumbled away up the path without a word.

Far below us the little bay of Belvedere shimmered like an opal in its jade setting. But it was all unreal, like the dimmed reflection of some distant scene on a window pane. This place did not exist. It was a dream; and like the brilliant images of those trees, and the bright transparencies of that swiftly moving water, we too were but shadows.

We flung ourselves down on the gently sloping lawn under the white magnolias. We slept, I think, for a few moments. Then Sylvester rose to his feet, and reaching up, drew down one of the lower branches heavy with its large white blossoms. He smelt the flowers, touched them, and released the branch.

"They are 'such stuff as dreams are made of'," he said. Then with a puzzled frown he regarded Herron's still drowsy head. "Whose words were those I used just now?" he asked. "They described the truth of those flowers. But the words were not mine, nor do they belong to our real life. They are like the blossoms they describe—unreal too. They must be part of this dream. Whose were they?"

"The words were written by a man called Shakespeare. He is part of the dream. All the shadows in this fold of time know and quote his works. He is a poet."

"I knew the words were part of the dream," Sylvester answered; "but these unreal blossoms made me think of them, and I could not help what I said. Where is Palgrave?"

"With Cheryl," I told him.

"That can't be. Palgrave is here with us in this dream. We just left him somewhere. Cheryl is in Eos."

"No," I corrected him. "Cheryl is in this dream too. And she has slept here longer than we, so long in fact that she has lost all memory of Eos. We have been back many times, but she has never returned. She has lost her sense of direction."

"And we were sent into the time stream to learn something about her future," Herron added. "What was it?"

"To prevent her marriage," Sylvester answered. "That is all I remember now. This dream is fast becoming vivider, and I am losing all recollection of Eos."

"And I too," Herron said.

"We must get back to the Council chambers before we forget the way forever," I advised. "Eos is becoming as shadowy as a cloud."

"Let us get Palgrave and return at once," Sylvester suggested.

"He does not know the way any better than we do," I objected. "We must find Savadan. He is our best guide."

"Where is he?" Sylvester asked.

"We lost him," Herron answered doubtfully, "on the Desert of the Dawn. No.... We have been with him since we stood watching the rise of that spiral swarm of dying suns. I begin to remember seeing him somewhere after the Desert. It must have been in the life of this dream. Then we all seemed to go back again together, further into the past of the legends. Smith, you were not with us."

"I was in Eos. You and the others were still dead. Only I had returned."

"Did you see Savadan?"

"Yes, but he was asleep. I think he awoke just before I plunged back into the time stream. But I am not sure. It is all getting cloudy again. This life is becoming too sharp. Let us find Palgrave at once. Perhaps he knows where Savadan is."

Again we dozed for a few moments. We all three woke together with a start. Palgrave was standing in the shade of a magnolia branch, looking down at us. On his face was the saddest expression I have ever seen, even in this shadow existence where half the people are miserable all their lives.

"I have asked Cheryl to marry me," he said, "and she has refused."

"Why?" Sylvester asked.

"Because I love her."

"I did not mean that. Why did she refuse?"

"God knows," he answered.

"Poor Cheryl," said Herron. "She can't see her own happiness."

"You and she were made for one another, if ever a man and woman were," Sylvester went on; "and she has rejected you. Love is blind."

"That is another of their cruel sayings in this place of evil dreams," Herron remarked dispassionately. "It appears to be true. But Cheryl is blind in the other place, so it is but natural. Perhaps our natures are unchangeable throughout eternity.... Let us find Savadan and go back before we forget everything but this mockery of a life."

We started down the long, steep path to the little pier. Far out in the sunlit bay the white ferry boat was rapidly approaching Belvedere, a long streak of greenish foam in its wake.

"That is the way back," said Herron. "Not to Eos, but to the place in this shadow life where we left Savadan."

"Yes," Palgrave agreed, and fell silent for several moments. None of us spoke until Palgrave again referred to Cheryl.

"Without conceit, but in the fuller knowledge of all our lives which we have gained today at such risk, I say now that she has trampled on her happiness. I know the man she thinks she loves. He is decent all through and gentle with women. And I know that she will be happy, after the common fashion, if she marries him.

"But though they live together and are kind to each other all their lives, she will never learn from him what love is. For he does not know. And she, like all who mistake the fragrance for the fruit, will never dream of the sweetness she has missed. So after all she will have a shadow of happiness. And that perhaps is all that any woman ever gains in this cold shadow of a life."

"What will she do with her happiness in the real life?" Sylvester asked.

"What she thinks best," Palgrave answered. "She is honest. She deceives nobody, not even herself. For she is too candid to look through the husk of things to see what they are. She sees life as it tries to be seen, not as we ought to force it to be for our own happiness. Whatever she does, it will be the open, obvious thing."

"And that will mean our ruin," Herron exclaimed bitterly.

"Not necessarily," Palgrave answered. "I often wonder whether all our tampering with human nature as we find it ever makes anyone happier. Perhaps Cheryl's decision in the real life, to which we must return, will make that life appear a better thing than we have known it. There we are over-anxious for what we call the truths of science, neglecting perhaps even greater truths of the human heart. It may be that we shall learn the better way through the loss of all we cherish; and her decision may be our first step toward happiness. Only time will show us. We must follow the stream, drifting back as best we can to light and understanding. Here I am tired of things."

No more was said until we reached the pier and sat down to wait for the ferry.

"Let us take a short nap," Sylvester suggested, "until we have to go aboard. We may as well clear our minds for this existence, since we shall certainly have to endure it for a while. The bump of the boat against the piles will waken us."

We dozed off, to awake clear headed and refreshed, just as the ferry came to rest. Palgrave rose, stretched his arms, and yawned.

"That's better," he said. "I'm feeling disgustingly human again."

"Symptoms alarming?" Herron asked with a grin.

"Very. I lust for a long, cool stein of Culmbacher and a good thick steak, done rare, with French fried potatoes on the side."

"Let us find the others," I proposed, "and go to an Italian restaurant for a real dinner with all the trimmings. We have one coming to us after what we've been through—you especially."

"It's a go!" he cried joyously. "I shall drink one regulation pint of Dago red to my deceased love. By all the traditions I should pour two quarts of grape brandy and a gallon of steam beer down my gullet to extinguish my flaming sorrow. But I'm hanged if I'll make a complete fool of myself to flatter any girl on this green earth. Don't impute undue virtue to me," he went on with a wry smile. "Rather give the glory to my delicately balanced digestive apparatus.

"The fact is," he laughed, "I detest the taste of alcohol in any shape or form. It has to be well disguised before I can look it in the face. A glass of beer with dry bread and ripe cheese is a gift of the immortal gods; but a raw douche of crude whiskey like that the Colonel guzzles, is an emetic. I endure our occasional bouts at Holst's only because his Limburger is unique and Herron's conversation almost as strong. Pardon my confessing in this nude way in public," he concluded with his natural smile once more; "but I have unburdened my system of so much today that it seemed only decent to complete the exhibition and parade before the eyes of all men my naked skeleton."

That this was the plain truth we all knew. Neither Palgrave nor any of the other younger fellows thought enough of what we imbibed ever to miss it. But Holst's had a rich, smoky atmosphere about it that would have brought an oyster's sociability to the surface.

"I wonder where we shall find the rest of the crowd?" said Herron.

"We might telephone from here," I suggested, "and ask them to meet us at Sanguinetti's. There's time before the boat goes."

"I'll try Holst's for the Colonel," Palgrave cried back over his shoulder, hurrying into the waiting room, "and Savadan's lodgings for him. If Ducasse has come back with Culman and Beckford they'll most likely be up at Beckford's."

He rejoined us just as the last gong sounded, and made the deck in a flying jump.

"The Colonel's gone ahead to Sanguinetti's to hold down a table for the crowd," he puffed. "John's coming too. It's his night off."

"Fine!" said Herron. "What would Cheryl say if she knew?"

"Knew what?" Palgrave asked in surprise.

"That you were dining with a bartender."

"I don't give a—pardon me! I really am not interested in what Miss Ainsworth would think. John Petrie is whiter than most of the men she runs with—if she only knew it. But she wouldn't say 'how do you do' to him if she met him on the golden streets of Heaven. Forget her. I'm done with her in this life."

"That's the sensible, cold blooded way to look at it," I said encouragingly.

"Smith," he favoured me with his most acid professional smile, "if you must make an ass of yourself I shall be forced to kick you off the rear end of this cattle transport."

After that the conversation languished. We found seats on the sunny side, and watched the skyline of the City take sharper detail.

"Great old City, isn't it?" said Sylvester affectionately. "I love every mile of its fragrant streets and every athletic flea within its gates."

"Same here," Herron agreed cordially. "Except in summer when it is hot. Then the heavier perfume makes me drowsy, and the fleas wakeful, and between the two I toss my nights away in a fevered trance."

"Never mind, Bill," Palgrave laughed. "If Cheryl's vision comes true, and she collects her canny insurance, the City will be purified with a vengeance. Then there shall be no more fleas and no more smells. So many expert reformers have done their darndest to clean us up that perhaps fire is the one regenerator left. I mean the real thing, not the hell brand the enthusiastic reformers are so fond of."

"I hope it singes that scab of shanties off Telegraph Hill," said Herron gazing at the unsightly landmark.

"You lack the esthetic nerve," Palgrave replied, following his gaze. "Those shacks are an artist's dream of beauty compared to our imposing nightmare of a City Hall, with its obscene marriage of the ancient Roman temple and the modern Turkish bath. Or is its waistline good old British Queen Anne? Anyhow it is ugly enough to be. I always feel bilious when I have to go out that way. It makes me think of a badly spoiled wedding cake."

"Cheryl's fire would never touch that masterpiece," I objected. "The thing's fireproof—or rather it was paid for on that assumption. Nothing short of a week's earthquaking would do what must be done to our noblest confection to make it artistically digestible."

"Then let us pray for an earthquake a month long," he ejaculated with mock fervor.

"Amen," said Sylvester as the boat docked. We hurried ashore.

"I don't see why you fellows jump on the City Hall," Herron complained in an aggrieved voice. "It cost six million dollars."

"That signifies nothing," Palgrave retorted. "If they had grafted away sixty million instead of a trifling six they couldn't have made a more hideous mess of it."

"Well," I said, "whatever may be the matter with the outside of the City, you must admit that it's all right inside. San Francisco certainly knows how to feed herself properly. And that's the main thing at present. Come on, or the Colonel will make us pay for two dinners. I'll bet he's gluttonizing now."

"You're right," Palgrave assented. "My spleen got the better of my stomach. Come on, as you say. I'll never carp again. San Francisco whatever her faults—and they are invisible to anyone just after dinner—is still the queen of my heart. She has no rival. And she is a kind mistress. But," and his eyes grew dark and troubled, "this is all the shadow of a dream that shall vanish into nothing when we awake. We are merely dreaming that we are walking along these streets to find our friends in a place that does not exist."

"I know, I know," Herron replied. "Nevertheless here we are at Sanguinetti's. The sawdust on the floor is real enough; also the embryo orchestra at its everlasting sextette from 'Lucia'. And the aroma of the raviolis and grated cheese, though richly delicate, is no illusion. My inner man tells me so. Ah—there are the others. Culman looks as washed out as you, Palgrave. We need a twelve course dinner to set us right and solid with this world."




CHAPTER XI

WORLDS WITHIN WORLDS

"It must be your legal training, Beckford, that makes you such a chronic disbeliever."

Palgrave, having delivered himself of this judgment, leaned back and lit his cigar. Under the Colonel's epicurean tutelage we had dined minutely and well. The toy orchestra was just rasping into a medley from "Rigoletto," but the shrill squeaks did not greatly distress us. Sylvester had insisted on standing treat, saying it was his turn as he so seldom spent a Sunday away from his ranch. He had just now tipped the head waiter with reckless generosity, so the table was ours, if we wished it, for the remainder of the evening.

Beckford was inclined to resent Palgrave's cool summary of what he himself considered his fair openmindedness.

"I accept nothing without first weighing all the evidence pro and con," he retorted.

"Especially con," Ducasse murmured, with some deep subtlety of meaning which only he appreciated.

"Do you honestly mean to say," Culman demanded incredulously, "that you have seen nothing whatever of all these things that the rest of us have been going through? Or aren't you just bluffing?"

"I most certainly do," Beckford maintained stoutly.

"Then I give up." Culman addressed himself to his KŘmmel with an air of obstinate resignation. "When Ducasse's ring struck with a click against the window of the smoker, he and I plunged clean out of this universe into another. We lived ages in that other place, wherever it was, in time. Yet we were gone from this world only the briefest fraction of a second. For just when Ducasse put up his hand to brush off a fly, I happened to be looking out of the car window at a particular apricot tree in full blossom. We were nearing Palo Alto at the instant. The train was going about forty miles an hour. And when we came back to this universe I was still looking at that same tree. As I noticed the fulness of its blossom, it flashed past the window and out of my sight."

"If you were 'gone,' as you expressed it, only a fraction of a second, how could you have lived all those ages in another existence?" Beckford demanded.

"That is easily enough explained," Sylvester broke in. "Or rather it is not difficult to give a fair analogy."

"Go ahead, then," Beckford laughed. "I'm open to conviction, even if I am a lawyer."

"It is like this. Suppose you are watching a moving picture story. Say it takes fifteen minutes to run the whole film on the screen. For those fifteen minutes the film is being turned—unwound, if you like—at a steady rate, and its pictures are being thrown on the screen just as fast as you can take them in and follow the story. But suppose the operator speeds up the film so that the whole story flashes on the screen, not in fifteen minutes, but in the hundredth part of a second. What would you see? Nothing but a quick blur, if you saw even that much. Most likely your eye would record no impression whatever, although the whole story would have been moving on the screen before you. To your mind the screen would just remain a white blank all the time."

"I get the point," Beckford interrupted. "If my sight, or mind, or whatever it is that takes in the story, were speeded up in the same way that the film was, I should see the pictures exactly as before."

"Yes, and you would notice nothing unusual. You couldn't tell, without some outside check, that you had spent only the hundredth part of a second in seeing the whole picture, instead of the fifteen minutes necessary in your normal state."

"And it is like that, I imagine, in the time stream," Savadan remarked. "It flows at vastly greater rates in some stretches of its course than in others. And when we enter it our minds adjust themselves automatically to the new time scale. What seems a second here may very well be actually an age in Eos. And I have sometimes thought," he continued, exhaling a cloud of cigar smoke, "that the rate of flow is not always the same in a given part of the stream. What I mean is," he explained, "that the early history of Eos, for instance, may have flowed at an enormously greater speed than that at which our own life is now streaming past and through us, while its later history may be transpiring at an infinitely faster or slower rate than our own. And this fluctuating change of speeds may be happening from instant to instant forever, all down the past and future of the time stream."

"Ingenious, if true," Beckford commented drily. "I am driven to the conclusion that my fat, legal brain is too slow a fish for the kind of swimming you fellows seem to be such whales at."

"And you make a mental reservation," Palgrave finished for him, "that we're all crazy except yourself."

"Perhaps," Beckford admitted.

"What is it they call a man who believes everybody but himself off?" Ducasse inquired softly.

"A lunatic, sah," the Colonel promptly informed him, eyeing Beckford with disfavor. "When I dropped my silver pencil case on the floor of the dressing room at the baths, sah, I had an experience exactly like what Ducasse and Culman have been telling us about."

"Are you all back yet, Colonel?" Herron asked innocently.

"I'm here, sah, am I not?"

"And what did you see?" Beckford inquired with a faint sneer.

"I saw no puppies, sah!"

"Any smooth pink dogs, Colonel?"

"Are you insulting me, sah? This is a scientific investigation!"

"No doubt," Beckford replied with an evil touch of sarcasm. "That's precisely why I'm so interested in the natural history of the purple insects you discovered, Colonel."

"Look here, you two idiots," Palgrave cut in evenly, "if you're going to start a brawl, I shall ask the dishwashers to chuck you into the street. This is a serious business, and we're in it to the end. Have another benedictine, Colonel? Beckford, try one of these new Arabian cigarettes. They're the latest out, and not half bad."

When peace had been restored with the coming of the Colonel's dainty drink, Savadan resumed.

"You inexperienced swimmers need such mechanical aids—noises, accidental sights, and so on—to send you back into the stream. For years I was the same way. In time you will master the simple, inexplicable trick of entering the endless flow by an involuntary exercise of the mind. Not even yet am I perfect in the art myself. But I am sufficiently skilful to accomplish the feat within any twenty-four hours that I may wish to make the trial. So after you left my lodging last night I made an intense effort to project myself into the time stream, expecting that you, not having recovered from your first shock, would soon find yourselves back again in the past. I succeeded this afternoon about one o'clock."

"That must have been about when we entered," Culman said. He drew out and consulted a Southern Pacific time-table. "Yes, the train reaches Palo Alto at one-ten."

"And fortunately we met in the stream almost immediately," Savadan resumed. "I think we shall have to enter only twice more to learn the whole history of the other world. Events there are sweeping toward their climax at a bewildering speed—compared to our time-scale in this part of the stream."

"What makes you think so?" I asked. As I spoke I struck a match to relight my pipe.

"It is hard to say," he began, "beyond a blind intuition I can give no very satisfactory reason for my feeling. One sign, however, in which I place much confidence is the usual clearness of my memory as to what happened on our last plunge. As a rule I can recall only a few meager fragments of what I have seen. This time the whole picture is developing like a photograph, with extraordinary rapidity, on the back of my consciousness."

My match went out, and I struck another.

"That is how we feel," I said. "At first we had a fairly clear memory of what we had seen. Then this life rolled up like smoke and rapidly obscured everything but a few broad outlines. Now, as the others have been saying, it is all coming back again. And it is more vivid than ever."

My second match went out, and I sat idly watching the charred stick as it twisted over into a blunt hook. Suddenly the tip snapped off with a sharp click. In a flash I noted the spasm of amazement which for an instant lit all faces but Beckford's. Then the table, the musicians, and the room vanished.

We had plunged once more into the time stream....

"Steady, steady," I heard Ducasse's voice in my ear. "I'm holding you. Look at your precious fire ball, man! It's still here, as big as ever. You haven't lost your toy. It's the full ninety-nine hundred arm spans in circumference. And it hasn't shrunk the breadth of your little finger since you measured it. Are you all right now?"

"Yes," I groaned. "How are the others?"

"They felt it too. I did myself. But I kept a grip, and managed to bring us all back before we had drifted through the future clear back to the beginning of everything. It was a close call. I thought we had gone for good. That was the worst slip yet."

Culman rose from his bench and staggered toward the main door of the life analysis laboratory.

"Fetch the mad woman and her lover," he said, still gasping for breath. "We must finish our work before we die. I slipped into the stream just then. The next time may be the last. Eos must be saved from ruin, if it is to be saved, while we live."

"Hurry," Ducasse said, pushing me toward the main door. "Culman is right. There is no time to lose."

I stumbled from the Chamber of the Undying Fire to seek Cheryl and her lover. I knew well where they would be found: under the scarlet tree, waiting the summons of the Council. For they were no less anxious than we, but for another reason.

A hush fell upon the throng of Councillors. We were seated in the spacious rotunda of the life analysis laboratory. The last attendants, all of whom had been released from duty while we went into advisory session, hurried from the echoing chamber. As the last of them vanished through the far doors, all eyes except those of Cheryl and her lover sought with a questioning gaze the reiterated legend deeply cut into the metal of the walls:

Remember the Beast.


Were we about to trample all our ancient traditions in the dust, or should we rise stronger for the conflict from this decisive trial of strength, reason more firmly established than ever as the supreme law in Eos? The faces of the Councillors for the most part expressed doubt and great weariness. Only a few of the younger men read the admonition to remember the beast with any light of hopefulness in their eyes. On all faces, perhaps, there was a faint shadow of hostility. These men, I felt, would be just but not sympathetic with the man and woman before us for examination. Too much hung on the issue for any softness to show itself.

Seated comfortably before us on the easiest sediles were Cheryl and her lover. The man I dimly recognized with a shock of surprise in a new and strange light. Surely, I thought, he was the substance behind that unreal shadow whom we had met in the dream life beyond Eos under the name of Beckford. I glanced rapidly from Palgrave to Culman, Sylvester, and the others of our exploring party. In their eyes flickered the same instant amazement. Then it died out. How had we met him in the time stream? He had not been sent back. For a moment this disturbing vision seemed but another proof of the real existence of that shadowy future life beyond Eos. But on a second thought I dismissed this as an hallucination. Not till the end of the session did we learn the truth.

Both Beckford's faintly sneering lips and Cheryl's composed face expressed indifference and disbelief. The disbelief no doubt was honest; the other was assumed. Else why should these rebellious lovers, of their free wills, have come to this last examination before the Council? By our law of freedom they had the option of ignoring that summons. Allegiance to the law of reason is voluntary.

But, had they refused to come when we called, theirs would have been the first disobedience in the recorded history of Eos. They came, perhaps, from idle curiosity to learn the secret of the time stream, or possibly from bravado.

Palgrave sat directly opposite them in his customary seat as leader of the Council. Speaking gently, in his natural, kind voice, he opened the proceedings with the formula usual in examinations of this sort.

"Man and woman," he said softly, "stand up, that we may see the soundness of your bodies."

They arose dutifully in obedience to the ancient formula, as handsome and physically well matched a couple as could be found in all Eos. This part of the ceremony was a mere formality; time had long since robbed it of its value, the physicians and biologists reporting privately their findings to the Council. While standing, Cheryl haughtily scanned the legend on the walls; Beckford sullenly kept his eyes down.

"Be seated," Palgrave ordered quietly. "We see that you are sound. Does any Councillor know of physical reasons, or of conditions of bodily health forbidding the marriage of this man and woman? If so, state the same now, or forever after keep silence."

No Councillor offering any objection, Palgrave put the second formal question.

"Man and woman, do you wish to marry each other?"

"We do," they answered together, without raising their eyes.

Palgrave put the third and last question.

"Does any Councillor know any reason why this man and woman should not marry?"

It was the fatal question, and it fell upon me to answer it. Hating myself, why, I could not tell, unless it were the ungracious thought of spoiling what this physically perfect couple considered their truest happiness, I arose.

"I know a reason," I declared in a firm voice.

"What reason do you know?"

"As revealed by the exact analysis of their ancestors for the preceding three thousand generations in each case, the life records of this man and woman are sheerly incompatible."

"Does any Councillor confirm this objection?" Palgrave asked when I had resumed my seat.

The first and second chief life and character analysts rose together.

"We do," they said.

"Produce your evidence for the Council to inspect."

They wheeled one of the largest strip-projectors into place, and flashed a summary of Cheryl's ancestral record on the analyzing screen against the wall. Then, immediately beneath it, they projected the similarly magnified spectrum of Beckford's inheritance from his nearest three thousand generations. To the expert eyes of the Councillors one cursory glance at the hideous discord was enough. Palgrave motioned to the chief analysts to withdraw their exhibit.

"It is sufficient," he said. "Those Councillors who give their advisory sanction to the marriage of this man and woman will rise."

Not one Councillor rising, Palgrave continued.

"Those Councillors who withhold their assent to the marriage of this man and woman will rise."

Palgrave rose. To a man we followed his example. He sat down, signifying that the vote had been counted. We also sat.

"It is unanimous," he announced. "Man and woman, stand up."




CHAPTER XII

FREEDOM OR REASON?

Beckford leaped angrily to his feet. Cheryl did not rise.

"We overlook your discourtesy, woman, in not rising," Palgrave said without a trace of anger. "We are the servants of science, and you insult not us but that which we serve. Receive now the judgment of the Council: we bar your marriage, woman, to this man."

"We demand our right!" Beckford shouted.

"Take your right." Palgrave's cold words cut like knives. "What is this right you demand?"

"The right of free decision in all matters pertaining to the conduct of our lives," Beckford blustered. "No man or woman of Eos has the authority to direct, check, or in any way influence the free decision and impulses of another without that other's full and intelligent consent. We demand the right to follow the natural inclinations of our characters. We demand the right to marry."

"What talk is this?" Palgrave's tones were bitterly cold and contemptuous. "Who taught you to demand what no man or woman may deny you? The Council seeks to deprive none of their immemorial rights. You are free. Our body cannot forbid the union of you and this woman. Our function is purely advisory. We advise against your marriage. That is all."

"Then give us our rights!"

"What rights? Are you madder than we thought? You can pass out of this laboratory and immediately consummate your unreasonable marriage if you still are so minded. No man or woman will interfere with your false happiness. For our first law is reason; our second, freedom absolute and untrammeled. You would transgress our first law, and our second forbids any man or woman to chide you for the insanity of that step. You need demand no right. What you would have is yours by our law. Take it."

Cheryl sprang to her feet, white and breathless with blazing passion.

"Take our right!" she choked. "Take it. Yes, and be held up to the laughter and ignorant scorn of all Eos! That is your freedom—the words, but not their spirit. It is you—you, leader of the Council, and you"—she swept an accusing arm around on the grim Councillors—"who break our law. You have thrown down the ancient law of freedom and trampled it in the mire. And you justify your madness at our expense. We are two against all Eos. Therefore are you brave."

"Sit down, woman," Palgrave said kindly. "This thing cannot be settled by temper. We have the courage to thwart you in what you think is your life's happiness because we must consider a happiness greater even than yours: that of the unborn myriads who shall be the jealous guardians of our civilization when Eos has forgotten our very names. There is a tradition—"

"A tradition!" she flashed scornfully. "What are your cold traditions to the throbbing warmth and passion of a living love like ours? We have the breathing truth; you, the shadow of a dead science."

"Our science may be dead, for all we know. Nevertheless the dead sometimes speak, and our science has not yet lied to us. What would you do with your new truth?"

"Live it, and teach it to all Eos!"

"Before you begin to live and teach your strange new way of love to others, will you listen to us?"

"No!"

"Then so be it. You may go."

She turned impetuously to leave the laboratory, and Beckford followed. Then her spirit, inflamed beyond cool endurance by Palgrave's cold dismissal, blazed up again. Turning as if she had been stung, she faced him.

"We may go. Yes; and be taunted by all Eos for a pair of headstrong children. Is this the freedom of our fathers? Which is the more honest, to break one law for the sheer joy that is in love, or to break neither and despise both? ... What have you to say if we listen?"

"Will you hear it?"

"Yes," Beckford answered sullenly for both. "Better that," he added with a sneer at the impassive faces of the Councillors, "than the mischievous slanders of petty slaves who break one law under cover of another."

Cheryl and her lover resumed their seats, defiant and openly contemptuous of us whom they looked upon as blind, spiritless servants of a tyrannical past.

"You will forgive me," Palgrave began with a faint smile, "if I speak again of our traditions. But it is necessary, I fear. Read, if you will, the deeply cut legend on the obstinate metal of these walls. It tells us to remember the beast. And it warns us not once, but thousands upon uncounted thousands of times, to remember the beast. Does either of you know, or even dream, what that beast is which we must not forget?"

Neither Cheryl nor Beckford deigning to reply, Palgrave continued.

"You apparently do not. Or you would not hasten to this mad union with such unseemly joy. Nor, until very recently, did I myself know the full meaning of that reiterated warning, although I suspected a shadow of its truth. The whole truth which my companions in the living death and I have learned is blacker even than the shadow which I saw."

"What did you see?" Cheryl demanded, her curiosity for the moment overcoming her pride.

"Patience; we propose to show you all that truth in due course. It is a rather long story, but an interesting one, as you, I think, will admit when you have heard it all. Then, if you still choose what you call your love instead of the gentle, proved reason of our fathers, we can do no more. The decision shall rest with you."

"'Rather than admit the thin edge of tyranny,'" Savadan quoted, "'invite swift ruin.' So runs our tradition."

"That is our law," Palgrave resumed. "For, to repeat, and make all clear before we act, I recall that Eos has but two laws: the Law of Reason which commands us to order all our lives in accordance with the proved findings of our beneficial science; and the Law of Freedom, which forbids any man or woman to tamper with the life of another against that other's free will. That these kindly laws may be incompatible, you, the first of our people to dissent from either, have shown us.

"There is a tradition which declares that when we forget the beast we shall overthrow the law of reason and broadcast the seeds of universal ruin for all Eos. So ancient are our records that no man living can discern from the records alone what is the truth behind their shadowy symbols. To discover that truth the Council decided to question the dead past of our remotest ancestry. This had never before been attempted in our recorded history; for the difficulties in the way are as great as the dangers.

"Nevertheless we have at last succeeded, after numerous brave but fruitless trials by our Councillors Savadan and Sylvester. We have explored to their darkest recesses the beginnings of our history and the origins of our happy life in Eos. We ascended the stream of ages and found on its distant waters the shadow of what our race once was. And in contemplating the vivid reflections on those moving waters of our past, we saw the truth of all our legends take solid shape and live before our vision. The truth revealed forbids your marriage."

He paused for a moment, and then turned to the one of us who had been sent the farthest back.

"Dill," he said, "you having ascended the stream of ages farther than any of us, may properly give your testimony first. Be brief, but spare nothing that is essential to the enlightenment of this man and woman from a sense of shame at our forgotten brutehood."

Dill, looking strangely fresh and young for his age, rose and addressed the Council. While speaking he steadily regarded Beckford. Cheryl he never so much as glanced at. Between the two men there appeared to be a new and unaccountable bond of sympathetic understanding. Dill seemed to be deliberately trying to seduce Beckford to a forgotten way of thinking. It was unexpected and singularly disturbing.

Palgrave and Culman evidently had the same impression, for more than once they exchanged a troubled glance.

"Ascending the time stream," Dill began with pompous self-importance, "I reached the beginning of our civilization which is recorded in our legends. As Herron and the other will relate, the place from which our race sprang is so distant from Eos in time that Šons ago its last vestiges perished. It has ceased to exist. Is not that true, Savadan?"

"True to the letter," Savadan answered. "So inconceivably remote in time is the place where our ancestors laid the first foundations of our life and customs that its very atoms have long since disintegrated and passed into everlasting nothingness. Not a trace of it remains save its moving, indestructible reflection on those waters of eternity which we call the time stream."

"And was this the place where Eos now is?" Cheryl asked curiously.

"It was not," Sylvester said. "It lay in a region of space far beyond the dimmest stars which our astronomers can detect with the utmost refinements of their penetrating skill."

"How do you know all this?" Beckford demanded with a scornful incredulity which he made no attempt to conceal.

"That," Culman answered him with some severity, "is part of my testimony. At this time you will do well to follow Dill's evidence. He saw and lived with the beast which you would provoke into life again. Disbelief of unheard evidence is no sign of an open mind. Listen."

"Dill," Palgrave ordered, "continue with your witness. Only such comments by members of the Council are in order as will clarify the testimony for this man and woman. Give only the essential details of what you saw. Spare us the recital of wrongs which might unduly move us, but be clear."

"I must state first," Dill resumed, "that the inhabitants of that place were in some ways giants in scientific intelligence. Compared to them in these respects we are but pygmies. In particular I refer to the perfection of medical skill. The bearing of this is of so great importance for the clear understanding of all the stirring drama in which I was a humble actor, that I must ask you to keep it constantly before your minds while I deliver my testimony."

"Do you imply that you actually lived with these disintegrated ancestors of ours?" Beckford sneered.

Dill rubbed the back of his hand over his eyes, and for a moment seemed dazed.

"Incredible as it may sound, I did. I entered, or seemed to enter, into the body and mind of one of those extinct beings. And that body and mind were my own. Or thus it seemed, so vivid was my experience in that past life. But, to return. The medical knowledge of that race had developed out of all proportion to their other scientific attainments. True, they had an extensive practical acquaintance with the major phenomena of heat, light and electricity and their uses in maintaining life and lessening labor; but they lacked the one essential discovery which links all these sciences together and makes life possible as we know it in Eos. In brief, their scientific acquirements, in all directions save one, were primitive and barbarous when judged by our own standards.

"The one exception was in their care and preservation of bodily health. To them disease would have been simply incomprehensible."

"Then were they immortal?" Cheryl asked, interested in spite of herself.

"In the strict meaning of the word, no," he answered without looking at her. "Yet they were immune to all disease in the ordinary sense. We ourselves have conquered all but a few of the minute forms of life which prey upon us and multiply at the expense of our lives; they had vanquished absolutely all. Life-destroying bacteria were extinct upon that vast planet where our race lived out its early morning.

"Moreover, organic defects of the body were rare to the point of nonexistence. A highly perfected surgery and expert body-manipulation had eliminated the last and most fatal of them."

"Then how did these mortals ever die?" Beckford asked.

A glazed, lethargic look crept over Dill's eyes when he answered. His speech was slow and thick.

"By the mechanical destruction of their bodies," he said.

Cheryl recoiled in horror. It was an idea which revolted every instinct of a normal Eosian, man or woman; for in Eos no being has ever met death by violence.

"The circumstances of their extinction," he continued, "are the cornerstone of my evidence. First, however, let me say that I drifted back so easily into that dead life that all memory of Eos faded like a dream. I was one of those people. I was born on that forgotten planet; I grew to manhood among its inhabitants, and I became a leader in their central assembly. Yet, for all its hard reality, my life in that dead place seemed always a reminiscence, a thing which had been, which I was in, yet which I was viewing from the outside. In short, I seemed to act and to watch myself acting; to walk before the mirror and to be the image behind it.

"One detail of my environment there always troubled me. There should be, I thought, but five suns in the sky of that planet, vast beyond all measure though it was. Yet there were not five suns, but uncounted millions of them, all packed together into one huge, dense spiral that shone over a full quarter of the heavens as a single sun. This rose and set; again a strangely unfamiliar vision to my dulled, forgetful eyes.

"Again, the enormous size of the planet on which I was living was to me the constant source of a numb wonder which I could not analyze. A million spheres the size of our Eos might have been scattered at random over the vast Central Desert of that planet, and they would have lain there as inconspicuous as a handful of pebbles."




CHAPTER XIII

THE STRUGGLE FOR SURVIVAL

"I have just alluded to what we called the Central Desert. In that life we also had our recorded history and our gray traditions. One detail only of these need I relate, for it was constantly being verified during my long, unaging manhood in that place. The Central Desert, according to legendary history, had once been a fruitful and populous region, traversed by many great rivers, and green with the abundance of inexhaustible fields. Gradually, the traditions ran, the soil had become barren beyond hope of restoration, worn out by innumerable harvests, and the desert had begun. The rivers sought new channels, or, wandering undirected over the thirsty sands, disappeared completely in an ever lessening volume of water.

"The Desert spread like a disease, slowly eating up the face of the planet. And the prophecy was that the ravages would cease only when they had laid waste the whole surface of the planet. It was dying by finger-breadths, almost imperceptibly, but none the less was it bound for a death universal and supreme."

"That brands your testimony as a childish fabrication," Beckford interrupted. "Who ever heard of a race being overmastered by hunger? For that, I take it, is how the inhabitants in that place ultimately perished—at least in your account of them?"

"It was not," Dill replied heavily. Again the dulled, lethal film stole over his eyes. "How could they perish of hunger? Easily, had they but had the courage to face the desert as it advanced upon them. But they turned their backs and fled before it." He moistened his lips. "They fled, and the creeping Desert pursued, always a generation's march behind them."

"Then it never overtook them," Beckford exclaimed triumphantly. "For a generation there, according to your own testimony, was just as long as they chose to make it. I've trapped you in your own snare!"

"No. I spoke, for a particular reason which you shall see presently, in terms of our own generations here in Eos."

"I admit that I quibbled," Beckford acknowledged. "Still I do not understand. There is a serious flaw in your testimony. Why did not they drive back the desert?"

"Because their science was medical lore. Because medical knowledge was all their science that was advanced beyond what to us is primitive barbarism. Because their surgery allowed no man to die, no child to escape vigorous, hungry manhood or womanhood."

"Do you mean to assert seriously that the race was at the mercy of the bare soil for its food and drink? Why did not they restore the desert to fertility, as we should have done in their case?"

"Because it was exhausted, dead, barren forever. Because they depended upon huge, cumbersome machines and slow human hands for their labor. Because, in a word, they did not know how to extract living, creative energy from dead matter."

"Impossible! A child can learn how to unlock the all but infinite power and energy stored up in every pebble. And these people, you say, were intelligent. If so, why didn't they tap the fountains of life and drive back the desert? They could have made it fruitful again in half a generation."

"A child knows the secret of nature's inextinguishable life, you say. Their children did not. They died, but not of hunger." He paused, and rubbed the back of his fat hand over his eyes. "The commonplace of Eos was unknown to that people. In their assembly halls was no Chamber of Undying Fire. For they were not as we; nature was master, they the servants."

"I don't believe it!" Beckford shouted, leaping to his feet. "The process is part of our minds as thinking beings. A rational mind without that instinctive knowledge of the simplest change in all nature which is necessary for the preservation of our species, is inconceivable! This is but another of your lies to deprive us of our right."

"Sit down," Palgrave ordered. "Could you, Beckford, rediscover the secret, were it lost? Or, knowing the process, as every Eosian must, could you by yourself, without the scientific aid of trained engineers, reconstruct it for yourself?"

"Yes!"

"May you never be called upon to make good your boast. Go on, Dill."

"It was during my life in that place that the encroachment of the desert reached its crisis. Although still regulated—as it always had been since the beginning of the desert—by the Central Assembly, the increase of population continued at its normal rate. And none died. The desert advanced as steadily as it had always crept on, and none knew how to halt its progress. That was the one disease for which they found no cure.

"There came a time when for long—perhaps a thousand of our Eosian generations—the supply of food seemed to remain stationary. Each inhabitant had enough for the sustenance of his body, and no more. Then it was reported that the desert was advancing. It was decreed that no more children should be born. From that time on no new life saw the hard light of those clustering suns above the creeping desert. The supply for a very short time after the decree seemed to stand still. We dared to hope.

"Then those men and women in the most vigorous prime of their maturity began to feel the strange, unaccustomed pangs of hunger. The food was rationed by command of the Assembly, but the hunger spread. It attacked next the young. For the desert, having grown like a fungus from a spot the size of Eos to half the area of the planet, was sweeping on at an ever greater speed, like a fierce fire fanned by the wind over a plain of dry grass. A red blight attacked the fields nearest the rim of the onrushing desert, killing the harvests.

"Within the hundredth part of one of our Eosian generations the hunger became unendurable. Yet none died. The men and women shrunk to shadows, too enfeebled to work the unwieldy machines with their crude electricity which tilled their stubborn soil and gathered their ever diminishing harvests. And the younger withered like cut flowers.

"The Assembly went into secret session. In that great central council men and women were equally represented. Thus was justice secured to all. In my turn I was called upon to suggest a means of saving our race from slow starvation. My plan was rejected. We rose without having reached a decision.

"Again the Assembly was called together. And we noted that to a man and woman the scientists had deserted us. They numbered in all about eight hundred men and six hundred women. These, whose sworn duty it was to discover and uphold the truth, deserted us in our greatest need. We cursed the name of science.

"I shall testify why the men and women of science quitted that infamous Assembly," Savadan coldly interrupted, "when I give my evidence."

"If time lacks for you to give all your testimony," Herron said, "I will corroborate what you have in mind from my reading of the monuments. For those fourteen hundred men and women of science left a record of their desertion, as well as of many other things. Go on, Dill. Were you the author of the plan which the Assembly adopted? Did they finally accept your suggestion?"

"No," he answered thickly. "It was another who proposed the remedy."

But we who had seen the Desert of the Dawn knew that he lied.

"The Assembly," he resumed, "was not like our Council. We have merely an advisory function. The Assembly had absolute authority over the lives of all the inhabitants of that planet of the innumerable suns. So when the Assembly learned the treason of the scientists, it ordered that they be taken and their bodies destroyed. The order was futile. Our quarry had fled beyond reach of our justice. Before we could capture the traitors they had entrenched themselves, with much of their apparatus and all of their destructive machines which only they could operate safely, in the deepest caves of the mountains, sealing the entrances after them.

"We dared not pursue farther. Within their vast caves they were beyond justice. For they sent us word that their refuges were fortified impregnably with all of their fiendish devices, and that they would protect their bodies to the extreme limits of violence. We, who in the simplicity of our hearts were unprepared for war, had no means of coming near them. We abandoned the pursuit, deciding to save the race without their aid, and trusting that they might perish of hunger. For before long the food within reach of their caves would be exhausted and further forays meant war upon us. We at once set about preparing ourselves against the chance of their hostile egression. But these preparations were superfluous, as I shall relate."

"And how did your courageous Assembly preserve their starving race?" Palgrave asked with biting irony. "By creating the Desert of the Dawn?"

"What was to be done? The people were starving. They had been driven by the desert onto the last green island of fertility. There, like flies over the scanty food, they swarmed together in a huddling mass, almost treading out the last harvests in the madness of their hunger.

"We decided. Not all could live. And it was a merciful decision. For it was better to meet death by the painless destruction of the body than by its lingering extinction through weakness.

"Who should be called upon to offer themselves to preserve their race? A secret vote was taken. The honor fell upon the young. For these, not yet having tasted to the full the sweet joy of life, would part with it the less regretfully."

"You condemned the ungrown young men and women?" Cheryl asked. Her voice trembled with utter scorn and fierce anger.

"I did not. The Assembly decreed it. They were all mature men and women, wise in judgment. The decree went forth. Then the beast that had been sleeping in the hearts of the people awoke. None would willingly offer himself or his son or his daughter as a sacrifice for the well-being of his race. Those who should have died gladly for their fathers seized sticks and stones. But so enfeebled were they by hunger that their blows for the most part fell harmlessly.

"Then strife unrestrained burst upon us. Each demanded with blows and curses that his neighbor die to save him. Sons rose against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, crying that they, the young, should not be destroyed, but rather the old who had tasted the good of life. Our race became beasts given over to war.

"Heavy of heart, the Assembly adopted a modification of a plan which it had once rejected. It was impossible now, without the aid of the treacherous scientists, to carry out the original plan. For some kinds of knowledge the Assembly lacked—although they all were mature men and women of sound judgment, and skilled in government."

"Was the modified plan yours?" Culman asked in a voice which stung like a whip.

"No, it was another's."

Again we knew that he lied. He moistened his thick lips, and resumed his bitter history. Hitherto he had spoken haltingly, as if ashamed. Now a note of exultation stole into his voice, and when he finished he was shouting.

"We put the plan into execution. It was simple. For long the people had made use of electric brush discharges above their fields to stimulate the growth of their crops. These discharges were feeble, since too much electricity in the air would have killed the grains. This work had always been carried out under the direction of the scientists; the growers themselves understood nothing of the simple physics underlying the practical process. To them a high tension discharge would have seemed as beneficial as a low.

"Saying that we had discovered a new system of crop stimulation, we ordered high towers erected about the last island of green harvests—a little plot of life no bigger than our Eos in an illimitable wilderness of barren, drifting sands where nothing might live.

"The enfeebled people toiled long to equip those towers. For a time it seemed that their strength would not suffice to complete the gigantic task, and the Assembly despaired. But with the repeated promise that those towers when finished would make the food supply sufficient for all, we filled their hearts with the hope of despair, and sent the last strong tide of life throbbing through their veins. Our promise was the truth: had all gone as we planned, none need have perished of hunger. For there would have been abundance for all living.

"At last the towers stood complete, a girdle of strength to preserve the life of our race. The last equipment was installed, and the exhausted workers cast themselves upon the ground to sleep. The Assembly ordered that they be given a double ration of food upon their awakening, and manned the towers.

"The Assembly—without its traitor scientists—numbered some twenty thousand all told—men and women of mature judgment who could be trusted with the operation of the towers. There were approximately twenty thousand towers in the girdle. To each tower one member of the Assembly was assigned as operator. My own tower stood on the highest mountain, far above the others. Although it was a long journey from one tower to the next, we had manned them all between one rising of our suns and their setting, so perfect was our machinery of transportation; and we sat through the darkness in our towers waiting for the dawn.

"The swarm of suns rose in their vast spiral over the green island girdled by the towers. It was the last dawn. For so the Assembly had decreed, but not for all. We sat motionless in our towers, I in the highest of all, waiting until the swarming ball of fire had toiled up the long, steep arch of the heavens.

"At last the great flame paused for an instant directly overhead, before beginning the slow descent to darkness. There it blazed, a broad face white with wrath, flaming its hot anger down on our last greenery. It was the instant decreed. We—"

"Stop!" Palgrave thundered. "Keep your foul secret. Some knowledge is best dead, and this is such. Tell us the end, and sit down."




CHAPTER XIV

THE STORY OF THE MONUMENTS

Dill shot him a swift glance of unutterable evil. "I shall remember this," he said, "when Eos has need of my counsel. You ask the end. You already know it; for you have seen the Desert of the Dawn which once was that last island of greenery. Before that swarm of suns had sunk, all upon the island were dead. Without mercy they had been gently slain."

"And the Assembly," Culman asked in deadly calm. "Did they really earn the reward of their unselfish labor?"

"No," Dill responded in a saddened voice. "Those great spirits had underestimated their strength. They too perished."

"Beasts," said Cheryl. "There was justice even in that dark place. Think of the wisdom of the Assembly. Then think of the young, and say if in all that travesty of humanity there was not at the end some justice."

"Did not one escape?" Beckford asked incredulously.

"One," Dill replied, lowering his eyes. "The accident that my tower was higher than the others lifted me above what fell like an icy clutch upon all the rest."

"And did you, like a worn-out worker, enjoy a double ration of food when darkness came?" Herron asked.

"I dared not descend at once," he replied, "for the dew being heavy yet lingered in the valleys."

"But when the suns had risen again and dispelled the dew?"

"I descended."

"And ate?"

"Yes."

"Did you choke?"

"No."

"That is all I wished to learn," Herron said. "I was verifying a statement on one of the monuments; that was all. It declared that our ancestors in the Dark Place ordered their lives according to some mystery which I could not understand. I think I get the meaning of that inscription now. But it doesn't matter for Eos, whose only laws are those of reason and freedom."

"How did you die?" Culman asked.

"The scientists unsealed their caves when the suns rose for the third time, and came forth for food. They found me—"

"And became like beasts?"

"They struck no blow. I was led to the rim of the desert and commanded to walk toward the place of the sunset. The great spiral was just starting on its downward path in the heavens when I set out across the desert. Darkness came, and with it thirst. The suns rose again, but I saw no greenery. I was lost. After that I remember little, except that somehow, somewhere, I entered the stream of ages, and awoke in the Chamber of the Undying Fire."

Dill sat down and once more a hush fell upon the assembled Councillors. It was broken by the low sound of Cheryl's voice.

"Prove to me," she said, "that my marriage will cause the death of one child in Eos, and I will forever renounce my love."

"In due course," Palgrave replied, "we shall prove more than you ask. Savadan, Sylvester, and Herron, give your evidence."

Savadan rose and faced the Council.

"Our joint testimony being summed up in Herron's reading of the monuments," he began, "may well be given by him. It will be sufficient for my part if I condense my own experience into a short statement, at the same time correcting some unimportant errors in my previous reports to the Council.

"As you know, Sylvester and I repeatedly attempted to reach the monuments which are mentioned in our legends, and which our ancestors erected in the Dark Place—the vast planet of Dill's experience in the beaststate—before leaving it forever. We sought to rediscover the imperishable images of those monuments by ascending the time stream. All our attempts were baffled; and more than once we lost each other in mid stream, to meet again in strange places and in stranger times.

"Once I feared that I had lost Sylvester forever. But happily, as I shall relate, I found him by accident in a shadow life beyond Eos. He was so changed, and I too, that we saw each other frequently in that life without a gleam of recognition, until chance unsealed our eyes, and we remembered. Possibly the process which Ducasse used to send us back into the past was defective; or perhaps we ourselves were too inexperienced in the ascent of time to reach our destination.

"For it is a fact, and in this Ducasse has confirmed me, that he too lived with us in the shadow life to which I referred, showing that he himself slipped into the stream against his conscious will.

"Whatever the true explanation of these irregularities, they but emphasized our failure to reach the monuments, not once, but hundreds of times. We failed, but not completely. In our legends you will recall many obscure hints whose meanings we have never fully understood. Remembering these in the midst of the time stream, Sylvester and I recognized them as guide posts, deliberately planted by our ancestors, to direct us safely back to their epoch in the history of our race.

"These half-familiar time-marks, shining with ever greater clarity through the mists of antiquity as we receded in the stream, enabled us to get our bearings and to understand more clearly our surroundings. Starting from them, we sought again and again to reach the monuments which were our destination.

"In the great majority of trials, however, we either shot far ahead of our mark in time, or ages behind it. Indeed, as I have intimated, I am convinced that on several occasions both of us drifted into the unknown future which lies ages beyond our life here in Eos, and we, like Dill in his remote past, lived out equally full lives, at least in part, in an equally distant future. It is of this shadow life that I wish principally to speak to the Council, and to you, man and woman.

"In that future life all memories of Eos save one, so far as I can now recall, have perished. And the one is so dim and blurred that only with difficulty can it be recognized, even by an Eosian, as a reminiscence of our happy life in this place. To others who have never experienced the joy of living and thinking here this shadowy legend must appear improbable and childish indeed.

"The legend of the future to which I refer is called by our remote descendants 'The Story of the Golden Age.' It describes, but very faintly and imperfectly, some of the minor happiness of our own flawless life here in Eos. To my mind there is little doubt that this legend is all that the future will remember of Eos, of us, and of our supreme happiness. For in that dim place the people set great store by gold, which to us is but a base metal. To them it is the source of all good and the symbol of their minds' contentment. So to call an age of human history golden is, therefore, for those people, to praise it beyond all measure.

"And though the thin shadow of our happiness which survives in their legend of the Golden Age is dim and disappointing indeed, yet it is infinitely more desirable than the gross substance of any joy which their own life has to offer. As I recall that unborn people, they are half of them wretched all their lives; and their happiness would be to us an intolerable burden, not to be carried by any man. Were we as they, we should seek the lasting solace of unending sleep. And we should lie down to slumber without one regret for the life we were quitting forever.

"It is for you, woman," he continued, addressing Cheryl directly, "to make that wretched future which we have seen dimly as through thick glass, nothing more than the waking reflection of a baseless dream. It is for you to perpetuate the true Golden Age—our present life in Eos—of which those starved wretches remember nothing. It is you who will decide whether all that we cherish shall become a dream that none remember, or whether it shall be preserved for our descendants whole and unsullied, a joy forever.

"It is for you, man," he said, wheeling sharply on Beckford, "to say whether or no Eos is to return to the beast state of the legends. You have seen that state with your own eyes; it lived again before you here in Dill's testimony. Yes; and I seem to remember that you have looked on it yourself elsewhere, if not in the flesh, then in the shadow. It is for you to decide. Eos is in your hands. I too have seen the dim reflection of such a state, and it is not in our past. No, it lies in the future toward which Eos at this moment is rushing on the ever moving waters of eternity. What will you send down the stream for our children to inherit: our happiness as it is, or the hunger, the wretchedness, the darkness of mind, the selfish hatred, the blows and the killing that made our past a hideous nightmare to be forgotten?

"You do not speak. Well, your act when you have heard all our testimony will be a truer answer than any words now.

"Palgrave, I have but little more to say before calling upon Herron. As you know, it was in that future life reflected on the time stream that I saw the shadow of the truth which enabled us successfully to ascend the stream and reach the monuments. For in that shadow of a life I met the dimmed reflections of yourself, Herron, Dill and the others who have at last ascended the stream and deciphered our legends. And," he said, suddenly facing Beckford, "I saw your shadow there too. You were not one of us, but an onlooker and, as now, a disbeliever."

Beckford flushed and stirred uneasily in his seat, but said nothing. Palgrave leaned forward, scanning Cheryl's face with a searching, eager gaze.

"Do you remember nothing?" he asked. "For now I recall that you also were in that shadow life with me."

She shook her head. "I have dreams that I cannot understand," she answered doubtfully. "But you, leader of the Council, never come to meet me in sleep."

Palgrave sat back. A shade of disappointment flitted over his eyes, and he said quietly to Cheryl:

"This love has made you blind."

For a moment he regarded her speculatively; then, turning to Sylvester, asked:

"Did we meet this woman in the shadow life beyond Eos?"

"Yes," Sylvester replied. "We all saw her shadow—except perhaps Savadan and Dill. But the memory is dim. She was not one of us."

Palgrave sighed. "I wish I knew," he said to himself. His eyes darkened, and absent-mindedly he fixed them on Cheryl. I think he did not see her; his vision was wholly introspective. For her those wide, dark eyes seemed to have a curious fascination. She bent forward, staring into their depths.

"Leader of the Council," she said in a low voice, so that only those of us nearest Palgrave heard her, "why do you persecute my lover and me? You too know what love is."

With a violent start Palgrave came to himself; He had heard Cheryl's question, and his face grew stern for an instant. Then it softened, and a look of great weariness stole over his eyes.

"I was dreaming," he said in a voice as low as hers. "For a moment I thought that here I am tired of things, why, I cannot tell. I ask your pardon, Councillors," he continued, raising his voice. "These lapses into forgetfulness, as Ducasse will tell you, are frequent after immersion in the time stream."

"Perhaps you had better lie down and rest a little," Ducasse suggested.

"No, I'm all right. It was a mere drowsiness, signifying nothing. Savadan, continue, if you will. How did you lead us out of that false life?"

"For long I tried in vain to turn your minds back toward Eos and what was then, in the future life, our forgotten existence as more than thin shadows. At last the accident of a peculiar sound, singularly like that which we in Eos associate with the faint clicking of the great central ball of Undying Fire, gave me the clue which I lacked; and together we quitted that unreal life, not however, without relapses into unreality, and began our sure and swift ascent to the legendary origins of our civilization.

"There is one impression brought back by the first of us to return," he nodded in my direction, "which fuller knowledge corrects. As we stood on the mountain of bones looking out over the illimitable Desert of the Dawn, we believed for the moment that all life was extinct upon the whole vast planet of the innumerable suns. True, Herron believed that life still survived in the deepest caves on the farther side of the planet But the rest of us doubted.

"Herron was right: those caves were inhabited by the descendants of the fourteen hundred men and women of science who, as Dill related, abandoned the Assembly to its inhuman infamy. We stood upon the mountain in a certain age of its dying history. Long before that age all natural plant life had vanished from the face of the planet. For food the surviving scientists were compelled to resort to chemical substances of their own creation.

"Before calling upon Herron there is one point that I should like to make clear. On another ascent of the time stream by myself—starting from the shadow life of the future—I succeeded in reaching that part of the stream which bore the reflection of the later cave life of those scientists. As in Dill's case I seemed to become one of them, inhabiting his mind and body. And in that remembered existence I, as did Dill in his experience, relived an act of the past drama of our race. My life in the caves coincided with the final stages of our civilization in that epoch. We were about to migrate from the dead planet.

"For nearly eighteen thousand of our Eosian generations the men and women of science had toiled incessantly to discover two secrets of nature which they knew would place them forever beyond the reach of hunger and of the beasts that once slumbered in all men. It was during my cave life that the long search came to its triumphant end. We found what we sought. It was a key to unlock the future to us and make man the undisputed master of the universe. It was the golden key that unlocked for mankind the gates to his true Golden Age—his happy life in Eos. We prepared to quit the Dark Place forever.

"But before going we determined to leave a record of all our struggles toward knowledge and the light. We took this resolve for a simple reason. The invisible seeds of life are strewn like an impalpable dust between all the stars of the heavens and throughout all space. The drifting motes from living planets bear on them the lowly organisms from which all life—even the highest, of which we are the type—ascends through the age-long workings of evolution. Now, we thought, the Dark Place may again, by such means as these, become a living sphere once more in the slow course of Šons, and again teem with intelligent beings. The barren soil too, in the slow, secular changes of its atoms, would break down into new elements capable of again supporting the complexity of intelligent life.

"It was for our successors in the Dark Place that we graved our records on monuments of the most durable metal of which we had knowledge—the same as that of which these walls, unchanged and uncorroded since their erection by our first ancestors in Eos, are constructed. For our successors, we reasoned, must sometime attain sufficient intelligence to recover our dead speech and, deciphering our records, escape the misery that slew our race. We left a record of all our discoveries for them to enjoy without the slow, heart-breaking labor of independent search. Having built the monuments we set out on our age long voyage of discovery.

"In conclusion, I wish to amplify the testimony of Dill in one essential detail. The men and women of science quitted that infamous Assembly because they had been commanded to misuse their knowledge. This I learned from them directly. The Assembly ordered them to destroy all the race except the twenty thousand members of the Assembly. Am I right, Dill?"

"I forget," he replied thickly. "My memory of the time stream is fading."

"My reading of the monuments confirms you," Herron said.

"Then that is all I have to say." Savadan, before taking his seat, faced Cheryl and Beckford, and addressed them in a low voice.

"Man and woman," he said, "you will decide whether our descendants shall inherit the Beast State of the past or the Golden Age of the present. Think, woman, of the unborn children.

"From his reading of the monuments," Palgrave said, "Herron will give you the essential details bearing on the present and future of our race."




CHAPTER XV

THE RACE AGAINST TIME

"Savadan has told you of his life with the cave-dwellers who became our first ancestors in Eos," Herron began. "Culman will relate how they came to Eos, and how they hid the secret of their greatest discovery on this Plain of the Five Pillars. I shall merely tell the story which our ancestors graved on their monuments in the Dark Place. The records they left were extensive and complete. As it would take too long to give you an account of all, I shall select only those details that may influence this man and woman in their decision, and perhaps change the whole flow of our future history.

"Before beginning, however, let me supplement Savadan's modest statement in one particular. He has told you how we finally succeeded in reaching the monuments. What he has omitted is his own leading part in that important discovery. Without his able, fearless guidance through the black spaces of oblivion, not one of us should have returned with a living mind to Eos.

"Again and again he braved the darkest wildernesses of the past to recover one or more of us who had been lost, and brought us safely back to light and understanding. It was he who kept us together. Meeting with him we compared progress, so that each, at every stage of the journey, knew what his fellow explorer had accomplished, and set out again with a keener intelligence toward the unknown.

"He only, of all our party, never wholly lost his direction in time. It was he who discovered in mid stream that the flow of time is closed; and therefore was he enabled to turn back to Eos at the critical moment, instead of plunging deeper and deeper into the unplumbed future. So to him belongs whatever credit is due our venture. If Eos is to be saved from ruin by the outcome of our testimony, it will have Savadan alone to thank for the deliverance.

"Passing now to my own experience among the monuments, I may state that I did not see their erection, but only the completed works. A bad slip into the time stream just as the scientists emerged from their caves to begin the work of building, deprived me of the chance for which I had hoped. I returned to the Desert ages long after the monuments had been set up and inscribed, and ages after the departure of our ancestors from the Dark Place.

"I was alone. The others somehow had lost me in the time stream. At first I failed to recognize the Desert as the same place as that which Palgrave, Savadan and we others had visited together. The vast deposits of bones had completely disintegrated and crumbled to less than dust. No longer were there shadowy mesas and steep hills of ruin visible; all had sunk down, leveled in fine dust; and the very dust had evaporated, atom by atom, to lose itself forever in the brazen heavens above the Desert.

"With a sense of awe at the vastness of time, I raised my eyes from the Desert to the unfamiliar sky. A dull crimson glow suffused a full three-quarters of the heavens, shedding over all the desolation a dead light like blood. Then I remembered the huge, compact spiral of dazzling suns which once, with an intolerable glare of fierce white light, had etched every bone on the Desert. This vast blotch of dulled red fire in the heavens was that same seething swarm of suns which we had seen rising above the wilderness of bones. Ages upon unnumbered ages had elapsed between my two visits.

"Those millions of suns were far toward their dissolution. Dying fast, their swarm had loosed its bonds, and sun by redder sun went wandering aimlessly away from the clustered hive to die alone in the cold blackness of outer space. Even as I watched my sense of time quickened, and I perceived the slow creeping motion of the individual suns, as star by redder star dissolved from the dying swarm and sought the void beyond. And ever the sullen light on the Desert deepened; and what had been a blood red glow on the barren sands took on the black hue of death.

"Alarmed then lest the light should expire before I had completed my appointed task, I stumbled over the Desert in search of the monuments. I moved as in a dream. It was as though I were peering down through darkened glass at the slow struggles of another explorer. And that other, I knew by some intangible bond between us, was myself.

"Where, in all that boundless desolation, were the monuments? To my ever quickening sense of time the darkness deepened visibly from above, like the swift gathering of clouds pregnant with thunder. But no flash cleft that black path, lightened only by the dull crimson glow of the last dying suns.

"For ages I wandered thus over the Desert, groping for the cold metal of the monuments. My sense of time, ever acuter and quicker, summed up and revealed the changes of Šons in the glancing of an eye. The creeping dispersion of the last faintly glowing suns—a motion so gradual that not a thousand of our generations spent in ceaseless watching might detect its traces—this infinitely slow dissolution flashed across my vision like a streak of red fire. The last dulled crimson suns ran from the heavens and rushed bleakly out to the void and cold of limitless space.

"The rush of those last suns from the dwindled swarm was like something, I imagined, that I had seen in another existence. With a shudder of repulsion I remembered how, once when I was a child, I had torn apart one of the globular nests which certain spiders spin about their young. And in watching now the outward rush of the suns, I recalled with the same shock my childish loathing at the innumerable swarm of small red spiders which had darted in all directions from their ruined nest.

"With a sharper shock I realized that the last light had expired, and that I was reeling over the Desert in utter darkness. At the same instant my outstretched hands touched the cold metal of a monument.

"Running my fingers over the surface of the metal I felt that it was covered with deeply cut signs in some unfamiliar character. There was no light; the last red sun had rushed from the heavens. How should I ever decipher the writings? Fingering the inscriptions, I felt my way round the monument. It was a low, very broad pillar, about a hundred double arm spans in circumference, and a little higher than my head. A deep, vertical groove from top to bottom evidently separated the beginning of the inscription from the end.

"I started at the groove and fingered my way around the highest line of the inscription, first in one direction, then in the other. The incised symbols were all strange, and their angular outlines gave me no clue to their meanings. Line after line from top to base I tried with no success. Once I found a clue, but in the dark I lost it. Certain of the symbols evidently represented the smaller numbers. If only I might see the whole inscription, I thought, surely I could wrest out its secret. And while I groped I became conscious of a keen, and even keener, sharpening of my time-sense. The pent up ages, suddenly released from the iron barriers of past eternity, rushed through my mind like a strong wind. At length, worn out with blind groping, I sank down on the sands, resting my head against the cold metal, and passed into a profound sleep.

"How long I slept I had no means of judging. On awakening my first sensation was an amazed wonder at the superhuman rapidity and keenness of my time-sense. Changes so slow that a million of our generations would scarcely detect them, flashed before my eyes like the changing play of swift flames. Then, in a new amazement, I perceived that the whole desert was alive with the faint, flickering glow of some phosphorescent decay.

"My quickened senses told me that this interpretation of the pale, greenish light was indeed correct: the desert, the monuments, nay, the whole planet, were passing through their dissolution to an everlasting nothingness. For the phosphorescent flickerings were the evidence that the atoms of the metals and the sands of the Desert were disintegrating into their primordial electricities. The incessant ejections of those minute particles of electricity rendered visible the dying matter—the metals of the monuments and the sands of the Desert—of which they were the natural, inevitable decay."

Herron paused, glancing for a moment at the metal walls of the laboratory, with their deep-cut legend admonishing Eos to remember the beast.

"The metal of these walls," he resumed, "in any other place than Eos would glow with a similar phosphorescent light to the eyes of one whose time-sense was quickened as was mine. Here we have arrested the natural decay forever; for we dominate nature. We check or hasten at will the disintegration of matter into energy. But on that dead planet nature still ruled supreme; and the decay to utter nothing of all things material, though long in reaching its void end, could not be indefinitely delayed.

"To picture what I perceived with my quickened mind, imagine that we had left the metal of these walls to the mercy of nature; and think, if you will, that we are watching them with our present slow time-sense. Should we see the same phosphorescent glow that I saw? Clearly not; for so infinitely gradual is the disintegration of the atoms into their ultimate particles of electricity, that we might watch here a million generations and detect no change in the texture of the metals. Nor would a single letter in the carving of that reiterated inscription lose the cutting sharpness of its edges; not one spot of shining metal would become perceptibly duller throughout our age-long vigil.

"From this picture you may visualize some faint idea of the superhuman quickening of my time-sense in the Desert of the monuments. For I saw the infinitely slow natural breaking down of matter into energy as one continuous stream of flickering light. And simultaneously my perceptions were quickened, so that the prodigious labors of an age were compassed in one throb of my pulse. In the twinkling of an eye my mind performed the task of an Šon. Thus I read the monuments.

"On rising to my feet, and peering across the green glow of the Desert, I perceived that the monument against which I had slept was but one of thousands. Before me stretched long parallel avenues, clear to the far horizon, of similar broad, low pillars. About each clung a flickering veil of the cold, greenish flame, the shroud and visible evidence of its decay. By the light of those clinging flames I read the inscriptions.

"It was the beautiful rhythmic regularity of the symbols for numbers that gave me my first clue. Having deciphered the system of numeration, it was but a short leap thence for my quickened mind to the symbols for the elements of matter. From these in their several combinations I saw in a flash the structure of that dead language in which the inscriptions were written; and in the beat of a pulse the secret of all lay naked to my mind.

"From monument to monument I hastened in the ardor of my quest. One circuit of each was sufficient to reveal me all its mysteries. I doubled my speed; for the steady brightening of the green flames told me that the decay quickened, and that the obliteration of the inscriptions was at hand. It became a race between my mind and the disintegration of the metals: should I succeed in deciphering all the monuments before the green flames, rotting deep into the metal, had burned away the last trace of the incised characters?

"For a time I hoped. I had read all but twelve of the pillars. From the great number—many thousand—which I had deciphered, I had learned all the history which I shall summarize very briefly in a moment. My skill had increased beyond all measure, and I anticipated an easy conquest of the remaining twelve monuments.

"Approaching the first of them, I began at the vertical groove, and started to read the inscription. At first I experienced no difficulty. The characters gave a clear, concise account of the circumstances attending the greatest discovery which the cave-dwelling scientists had made. It was the discovery which enabled them to quit their dead planet and seek another in the unexplored depths of outer space. This part of the inscription was merely historical. I took in its meaning at a glance. It related in minute detail the innumerable failures which preceded the first hint of success. Then followed this strange declaration:

"'At last we have uncovered the supreme secret. To our minds has been revealed the true and simple nature of gravitation. Once seen, by one skilled in the mysteries of numbers and geometries of space, it is unforgettable. But few would ever look for this truth where it is to be found. Even to us the wonder of its simplicity is still fresh. We sought to find the secret of gravitation. In contemplating now the outcome of the search, we have but three thoughts: wonder that the mind of man should ever so greatly dare as to approach the supreme mystery/wonder that any man should ever have imagined his mind capable of resolving the mystery; wonder that the impossible of impossibles has been accomplished. Few indeed would ever seek this truth where it dwells.

"'It binds together into one individual whole all the laws of nature. Gravitation, as we have seen it, is the one all-pervading reality; present everywhere and in all times, it makes nature as it actually exists possible; for without this gravitation, nothing could exist. There would be neither space nor time; it is the union and essence of both. Without gravitation there could be no matter, no light, no heat, no electricity: no shadow of matter or energy in any form. For it is the framework of space and time about which all things, from the atom to the star, are built and have their substantial being. Let this hint suffice.

"'We have found the secret, and we shall preserve it. Nay, more: we have discovered how gravitation can be controlled by our wills, and become our drudge; as of old we subjugated heat, electricity and light to the slavery of operating our cumbersome machines. More yet: in making gravitation our servant we may pass freely, and in these heavy bodies of ours, out of this dead place into the living, boundless universe.

"'All the planets of all the stars are ours to visit. It is in our power to explore the illimitable heavens, as our ancestors of old explored all this place of death. And although our mastery over matter and all energy puts it in our power now to make this desert bloom once more as a garden, we shall quit this place of evil memories forever, and seek a clean planet, there to establish a new life untormented by the beasts in men.

"'Now before quitting this Desert we shall leave the record of two resolutions, and all they imply, on the twelve monuments remaining, of which this is the first. Let him who can decipher the last eleven. On them is all the secret of gravitation, and all the lore whereby man may bend the secret to his will.

"'Now, our first resolution is this: Knowledge once attained shall not be concealed beyond all hope of rediscovery. Therefore, on the last eleven monuments the secret is engraved, but in a different tongue, and one which we ourselves have all but forgotten. It is the symbolic language in which the oldest of our traditions were first handed down to us; and only after the labor of unnumbered generations did our men of science succeed in finding the key to it. Let him who has the wit to retrace their footsteps decipher the secret and follow us through the voids of space to the uttermost stars. For this planet is black with the memory of war.

"'Our second resolution is this: We ourselves shall not again migrate from one planet to another. If in that place to which we are going the beast again bares its fangs, we shall stay there and perish utterly in a universal slaughter. For in that case it were better that we and all our kind be blotted forever from the universe than that our accursed seed be cast upon another planet.

"'If in the place to which we are going the spirit of war rises from the dead to rend us, we shall not flee before it. We shall hasten to meet it, and in the clash of that meeting annihilate ourselves, our place in the universe, and all memory of both to the last atom. For war is an evil not to be endured. If by all our labor in the caves we have not exterminated the beast from our natures, then the life to which we are going is worth no man's living. And if we have thus failed, we shall not again blight another planet. For between a place given over to hatred and killing, and one devoid of all life, there are not two choices. Better the utter sterility of this Desert than the fruitful greenery of teeming plains where the beast crouches in every heart.

"'So this is our resolution: We shall live free from hatred and war in the place to which we go, or we shall perish there. And lest our descendants there should reverse this judgment, we shall stamp out the secret of gravitation; so that they, should they rouse the beast, shall likewise perish before they defile the universe.

"'The secret is on the remaining monuments. Read it, who can.'"




CHAPTER XVI

"USE THE SECRET"

"Did you read the last eleven monuments?" Culman asked eagerly, leaning forward.

"No. The dead characters baffled me, and the phosphorescent decay outstripped my intellect. The monuments, the illimitable Desert, the whole vast planet itself, had disintegrated in the cold green flame ages before I grasped a few unfamiliar meanings of the symbols I had seen. For now and then through the quickening green flames I caught glimpses of the meaning; but they were fragmentary, and to me unintelligible. Before I had grasped the clue, all vanished into the void of ever-lasting nothingness.

"Perhaps one trained in the physical sciences might have succeeded where I failed. All that I gleaned was that the control of gravitation depends in some way upon the other capital discovery of the cave scientists: it is bound up inextricably with the process for transmuting matter into energy and back into matter."

"Ah," Culman sighed, leaning back. "I suspected so much from my reading of our legend of the Five Suns. And when with my own eyes I saw the secret in full operation, my guess was confirmed."

"And I too," Ducasse murmured modestly, passing one lean hand over his stomach. "But I have not yet had visible evidence that my theory is rational."

"And is this all that the monuments told you?" Cheryl asked with a faint scorn.

"It was not. Were I to report all the histories which I deciphered, I should speak without ceasing for ten generations," he answered with a smile. "But as your love makes you impatient of truth, I shall be brief. I need summarize the inscriptions of but two monuments of all those thousands.

"The first recorded the battle of the cave scientists to overcome hunger and forever vanquish it as man's insatiable enemy. The body must be fed before the spirit can grow; and to feed the body there must be fertility assured the fields against all accidents and secular decay. And before the mind can take its own, the body must be freed from brute labor. In seeking to conquer hunger, the cave scientists also overcame toil. They put in our hands ease and plenty: therefore are we what we are. The tangible evidence of their victory is our great ball of undying fire. For with the absolute control over the physical forces of nature which the double transmutation of energy into matter and of matter back into energy gives us, we need no longer dread the dry beginnings of a desert and the ultimate starvation of our race. We command, nature obeys.

"But the process which to us is so childishly simple cost them untold labor and many lives to discover. Time and again the first part of the process, which breaks down the atoms into the two electricities, burst from their control in whirlwinds of seething destruction, and all their labor went for nothing. But in the end they conquered, and we are their inheritors of their victory. Hunger, unceasing labor, and the base servitude to untamed brute nature are for us incredible traditions.

"On another monument I read the record of a greater victory. In minute detail those grim pioneers to happiness described their struggle to subdue the beast in man. I need not weary you with the history of their innumerable failures and slow successes. Clue after clue was followed to its disappointing end, until almost of itself the truth was revealed. You, woman, know that truth, although you deny it, and you, man. It is summed up in our marriage sanctions. For it was those remote ancestors of ours in the Dark Place who devised and perfected the intricate technique of that life and character analysis which is the dull routine of this vast laboratory. 'Remember the Beast.' That is the message of the monuments to you, man and woman."

"And if we forget, or ignore the message?" Cheryl asked.

"This is the prophecy of those who built the monuments:

"'The law of reason is the law of science. When men and women violate the law of reason, and mate in defiance of scientific truth, then shall the beast be born again. For there is one way, and but one, to eradicate our inherited lust toward hatred and killing; and that is to breed it out of our minds and bodies. Follow to its least detail the law of reason and the teachings of sane science, and your race will be clean and happy. Defy that law in one particular, and the beast will destroy your race as it slew ours. We have put into your hands the key to unending happiness. It is for you to unlock the gates to a future of light and reasonable joy, or to throw away the key and perish miserably. And if perish you must, let your ruin be swift. We who have known war advise you thus in the counsel of despair.

"'And lest a second Assembly as selfish as was our own destroy the helpless, we command you to be free. Let no man or woman interfere with the life of another against that other's full and intelligent consent. To the future we commit you. Remember the Beast.' That is all."

Herron sat down. Neither Cheryl nor Beckford sought to detain him, or to ask him a further message from the dead.

"Is not there one of our legends," Cheryl asked, looking Palgrave squarely in the eyes, "which says: 'When ruin threatens Eos discover the secret of the Five Suns which shine above the Plain of the Five Pillars'?"

"There is," Palgrave answered.

"Then perhaps one of you explorers of our past discovered that secret?"

"Perhaps. Why do you ask?"

"Because you and all the Council," she flashed a defiant glance over the set faces before her, "insist that my marriage will unleash the beast. Now, if our allwise ancestors knew so much about my marriage, doubtless they knew also how to avert the ruin which it threatens. And they secreted the knowledge," she concluded with a mocking smile, "in the legend of the Five Suns."

"You do not yet believe, woman," Palgrave answered calmly. "Well, we cannot now enlighten the darkness which you have inherited. Either you are accessible to reason, or you are not. Nothing we may do will change your nature."

"You might tell me what you discovered about our Five Suns," she begged, with a winning smile.

It was impossible to resist this girl when she strove to conquer. Palgrave averted his eyes from her face.

"Culman," he said, "if you think it wise, you may tell this woman what you and Sylvester witnessed."

"I think it inadvisable to reveal everything at this time," Culman replied slowly. He rose, and faced Cheryl.

"Why?" she demanded prettily. She was still smiling, but her open beauty had no snare for Culman, the hard man of physical laws and mechanical sciences.

"Because," he answered, "our first ancestors in Eos disliked idle curiosity." Disregarding the anger in her eyes, he continued evenly. "They walled their knowledge about with difficulties all but impenetrable. For though the secret of the suns is a remedy for all our threatened evils, yet so drastic is it, that we should be justified in applying it only in the direst extremity. It is a knowledge not to be exposed lightly."

"Did you unravel the secret?" Beckford sneered.

"Not wholly. But I saw that which will enable me to master it all before your son—should you and this woman have a son—reaches manhood. That will be time enough."

"But can you tell us nothing of what you saw?" Cheryl pleaded. "Even a hint might win us from our love," she added, insincerely, I thought.

"The little that I may safely tell you now will not change your decision," Culman answered gloomily. "If the picture of the beast state which Dill showed us leaves you unmoved, no revelations of mine can shake your obstinacy. You disbelieve the prophecy of the monument builders. To your mind it is absurd that a single rash marriage in defiance of the law of reason should send our race back to war and brutehood. But to us who have looked upon the past with the living eyes of the dead, the prophecy is but the simplest statement of an inevitable fact. Defy the law of reason, and Eos shall be ruined."

"'Shall be'? You speak as if you had authority," Cheryl interrupted sharply. "Who are you to say how Eos shall be rewarded for the love that we shall bring it?"

"It is not for me to decide," Culman answered gravely. "The founders of our civilizations have advised us: 'When ruin threatens Eos, discover the secret of the Five Suns which shine above the Plain of the Five Pillars. By that secret you shall avert the ruin which overwhelmed our people in the Dark Place. Use the secret, it is the better thing.' Believing that our ancestors were wiser in life than we, I shall carry out their injunction to its last letter."

"And use the secret?"

"Yes."

"I wish I knew what it meant for Eos," she sighed. "Tell me what you saw."

"With my eyes, yes; with my mind, no," he replied firmly. Her wiles were wasted on him. "See through my vision, if you will, what I saw on this Plain of the Five Pillars before these laboratories were built, and before the kindling of the Undying Fire. Then, if you mean to renounce your love and cleave to reason, your mind will see the truth beyond the vision without help of mine. But if still you persist in your folly, love will blind you to all truth, so that in perceiving it with your own mind you will dismiss it for a baseless dream. This, then, is the outward evidence of what Sylvester and I saw."

Pausing, he regarded her for a moment with saddened eyes which, for the instant, grew strangely old and kind. Then, speaking directly to her, he resumed.

"Twice on the glassy waters of the time stream I saw the shadow of our earliest life in Eos. Twice I entered the busy life of those moving reflections, and became one of those who toiled like giants to lay the corner stones of an imperishable happiness. Once I entered that forgotten life alone, and once with Sylvester.

"On my first visit to our past in Eos I was alone. I saw the landing of our ancestors on this happy planet, then a rank waste of tangled forests and fetid jungles. Softly and lightly as snow they sifted down through the steaming atmosphere. With a sense of wonder that any material thing should fall so gently, I watched that gradual descent which defied the pull and tug of gravity. For those things that fell so slowly upon the reeds were no feathers, but material bodies, heavy and rigid, and still harder than stones from their rush like light across the absolute cold of void space between the stars."

"Did they come in machines, or did each arrive alone in his naked body?" Beckford asked.

"That I cannot see again," Culman replied, rubbing a hand across his eyes. "For I lived and worked with them; and one of their first tasks was to erase the secret of gravitation from every living mind. Within twelve generations they had succeeded. The knowledge was lost, but not forever. What once the mind has known and forgotten may be rediscovered."

"By you?" Cheryl asked.

"Perhaps; should there be need. By Sylvester and myself."

"Was the landing of our ancestors all that you saw?"

"No. I saw much more. But I will tell you little. In Eos our ancestors met again an ancient enemy which their race had long vanquished and forgotten. Disease attacked them from the rotting jungles and sweating forests with poisonous insects and the bacteria of decay. For all their physical and mechanical sciences they could not again drive back their relentless enemy. It was a form of warfare which the race had outgrown. They fell sick, and three-quarters of them died not a hundred paces from the spots where they landed. The more resistant conquered their weakness and turned upon their ancient foe, fighting valiantly with all their knowledge.

"Trained as they were in the minute observation of nature, and bred for thousands of generations to the task of subduing its brute forces, they soon rallied and drove back death, at least for a season. But they could not in one generation, no, nor in tens of thousands, cleanse this planet of all its natural evil. They lost the immortality of the body; and we, their descendants, have not yet recovered it."

"And may they never!" Savadan exclaimed. "Sleep after work is grateful, and sleep after pleasure more grateful still."

"That is the saying of an old man," Cheryl broke in spiritedly. "Who that is young, and in the vigorous happiness of a perfect body and a strong mind, looks forward to death? When we vanquish disease we shall gain perpetual youth. I, with my strong, sweet love pulsing through my veins, would live forever!"

"And without your love?" Culman asked.

"I would die. For I should become old, and tired of things."

Palgrave started. "I remember one—a man, I think it was—who said he was tired of things. But it was in the shadow life beyond Eos.... It was in a garden ... and he was speaking by a tree with large, white blossoms.... There is no fragrance in Eos like the sweetness of those flowers. Nor is there any sorrow so great as was that man's."




CHAPTER XVII

"EXPLORE THE FUTURE!"

Cheryl looked curiously at him. "I too have dreams of a garden," she said softly, "with strange trees and stranger flowers ... blue, like our sky, and glorious yellow, like our fourth sun, and white, like the fifth. But," she murmured, lowering her voice, "it is only a thing of sleep.... Did that man know what love is?"

"I forget; but somehow I think he felt what you feel, and knew what you know.... Culman, continue, if you will."

"There is but one other detail of my first ascent to the beginnings of our life in Eos which I care to relate. In that remote past our five suns rose and set; light succeeded darkness, and from this plain I watched the fiery magic of many dawns and sunsets. And each sun was a pure, dazzling white. When the suns went down we slept in darkness beneath the stars; for the light that shines now everywhere in Eos had not yet been created."

"It is a lie!" Beckford blustered. "This plain has always been light. The five suns never moved across the heavens!"

"You may have the truth. Who shall say? With our own eyes we watched the risings and the settings. Sylvester, you tell him what you saw when we visited this plain together."

"A barren mountain of precipitous rock where these Council Chambers now stand," Sylvester began, "was our first distinct vision. And it was a reality.

"Once, as the five white suns swung up above the distant forests, we stood far out on the plain, watching the mountain. By some strange forward reach of the memory we knew what we should see. And as the first rays of the risen suns turned all the mountain to shining gold, we saw what we anticipated.

"Down the steep causeways of the mountain, men no bigger than motes trickled like fine black sands to the plain below. All through the long darkness they had been toiling on the summit. Reaching the base, they scattered and ran in all directions far out onto the plain. Steadily, swiftly the five white suns mounted the heavens, their intense rays beating ever more fiercely down on the vast plain; but those fleeing dots never paused. A racing group of the swiftest sped toward us, and we saw them assume the familiar likenesses of men we had once known and loved, but forgotten. They joined us, gasping out their exultation at their great work done in the darkness.

"'We have kindled the undying fire,' they panted. 'Watch the mountain! Hunger and brute labor are forever banished from this place!"

"Even as they stumbled toward us and sank in utter exhaustion, the whole mountain burst into an intolerable glory of white flame. And as it took fire, straight up from its blazing crest shot one broad shaft of blinding violet light, piercing the blue of the heavens like a sharp spear, and ringing on unseen and invisible into the void infinities of space. Then came the first strong blast of the wind full in our faces from the burning mountain, a sharp, stinging breath, colder than ice; for those flames were cold.

"'The suns, the suns!' they panted, too exhausted to raise their heads from the grass where they had fallen. 'Watch the suns and tell us what you see.'

"Again by that forward reach of the memory we anticipated what we should see. With a sudden rush the five white suns leaped up the sky toward the spot where the shaft of fierce violet light seemed to penetrate the firmament. And as they swung from their accustomed paths, wheeling in wide spirals around the violet shaft, the blazing mountain took fiercer flame, dwindling rapidly from a lofty peak to a molten hill of incandescent rock. Circling the shaft in ever narrower spirals, the five suns, still dazzling while, approached the zenith with a rush. One of the five broke from its mad orbit and soared directly for the spot where the motionless pillar of rays pierced the heavens. Another followed, and another, until all five were leaping like young giants to their destiny. Would they crash together in one shock of transcendent white fire, or would they graze each other at the meeting place, and surge beyond?

"We held our breath: our great experiment and the future happiness of all Eos hung in the balance. The first white sun shot through the violet rays—or rather, through their invisible shaft in the cold void of outer space—and the light of that sun was changed. Instantaneously it became red, and a vertical pillar of red light moved with it across the firmament, resting, it seemed, on the hard blue of our sky.

"Sun followed white sun through the same invisible shaft, until in all four pillars of mellow light—a red, a green, a golden and an amethyst—oscillated back and forth in stately rhythm about the violet pillar from the dwindling mountain.

"Four of our suns had become as Eos knows them. The last approached the violet shaft, hesitated, then rushed directly for the centre of the rays. Its short, swift journey ended, this sun too shot down its column of light. And in that instant the violet pillar from the mountain vanished; and with the suddenness of death, all five suns came to rest. They were as Eos sees them, and in the identical configuration: a sun of gold, a sun of amethyst, a red sun, a sun of the purest white, and the green sun which our people call the star of hope. And their five pillars of light rested on the heavens above this plain.

"We lowered our eyes to the flaming mountain, knowing well what we should see. The huge mass of it had shrunk to a low hill of blinding light. Gradually, as we watched, the light took shape. It drew together, its ridges and ravines coalescing, like a drop of molten metal in a furnace, into a perfect sphere compact of dazzling fire colder than ice.

"'We have kindled the undying fire,' I heard one of the exhausted toilers saying. 'Hunger and brute labor are forever banished from this place.'

"With his triumphant joy still ringing in my ears, I awoke in our Chamber of Undying Fire, the visible work of his mind before my eyes."

"And is this all the truth of our legends?" Cheryl asked with a smile as Sylvester took his seat.

"No; but it is enough," Palgrave replied. "Shall Dill tell you more of the beast state? Would you hear more intimately what war is from one who has seen it? Or perhaps you long to know by what perversion of science those high towers in the Dark Place destroyed the famished and the helpless, the young men and old, the girls and the women?"

"No, no!" She put her hands over her ears. "It is enough."

"Then do you believe now the truth of our legends?"

"I cannot."

"Why?"

"They contradict my love. Oh, love is the living truth, and all your sciences dead shadows of unprofitable lies!"

"The dead have spoken, and you have heard. Woman, will you renounce your love?"

"Do not think me stubborn," she said rising. Her face was troubled and unhappy. "I too seek truth, but by another path. If only I knew where either leads I should not stand here doubting. Councillor Savadan tells of a shadow life far beyond us in the future, where of all our Eos but one dim legend of it is unknown. And that life, for half the wretches who support it, is a misery. Is my love to bring this upon the race? Oh, I think not! Still, if only I knew that it must, I should follow your path and obey science. Rather, I should die; for without love my life would lose all meaning. Do not think me selfish. I am not that. You, who have not known love as I know it, cannot understand. It is for my lover that I plead, not for myself."

"I believe you, woman," Palgrave said. His eyes for an instant filmed over, and he seemed to sleep. Then, recovering, he continued. "Science has not all the truth. For all the truth is not known, and never will be. Even though there be limits to space, and the stars are numbered, yet is the universe infinite. For that is the paradox and essence of life, which sets no bounds to the creations of the mind or to their number. And one of these may be a new truth that you call love. And perhaps the way of love may after all be but a gentler science than the law of our fathers; and Eos in the end may be the happier for it. Only the future knows. Woman, you are free. What is your decision?"

"Only the future knows," she replied dreamily. "The words are your own." Then, with a sudden flash of rebellion she shot a question at Savadan.

"You, Councillor, explored the past?"

"Yes," he answered calmly.

"And saw the truth of all our legends?"

"The others and I have told you what we saw. It was the truth."

"Then," she cried triumphantly, "explore also the future, and bring me back the ripe fruits of my love!"

"We have done so, woman."

"How? What fruits have you shown me?"

"The shadow life of pain and wretchedness. The misery beyond Eos where the only living memory of us is a dim legend called the story of the Golden Age."

"It is a lie. Such wretchedness can never be where love is."

"If that is the truth," Savadan answered with a smile, "then the love those wretches speak of in the shadow life is a bitter myth."

"It is not a lie." The unexpected words which Beckford uttered brought us to our feet. "It is the truth," he went on. "I too visited that shadow life of which the explorers told us. Of the past I saw nothing; but this other thing I saw clearly, shining like a dimmed reflection on swiftly moving water."

"You?" Cheryl gasped in amazement. "But you were not sent into the time stream. How then did you see this vision of the future?"

"In sleep," Beckford answered. "And I dreamed that in the shadow life beyond Eos you still loved me, and I, you."

"It is enough!" she cried joyously. "I have decided. I will be free and follow my love. And my lover and I will teach our new truth to all Eos. Then, in the shadow life beyond, the miserable shall have always within their reach an unfailing and eternal happiness. Our way is truth, come ruin, come oblivion of us all, come what may!"

"So be it," Palgrave said. "The Council will rise. It is ended."

"Wait," I said. "Woman, will you answer me one question?"

"What is it?" she asked. Her face again grew troubled, and she glanced uneasily at Beckford. Her right hand sought his; and they stood there facing me, their hands clasped together as if for friendship and protection.

"Would you," I asked, deliberately brutal, "for the sake of your love, willingly see that small lover of reptiles slain? You remember how he ran from us with his treasure, out there by the scarlet tree not far from these Council Chambers?"

"Stop! Not that, not that—"

"Would you see all the children in Eos sleeping their long sleep under the ghastly dew of which Dill told us? Would you, for this untried love of yours, deliver them up to war?"

"No—never!"

"Then renounce your love. Our testimonies predict that ruin shall issue from your marriage. All may be false: our traditions lies and our legends meaningless. So too the law of reason may be an outworn superstition, and your love the everlasting truth. Yet on the chance that somewhere in all the dark traditions of our race there may shine one ray of truth, your renunciation is not too great a sacrifice for us to ask you. Give up your passing love for this man, and win instead the unchanging love of Eos and all its children."

Her hand slipped from her lover's, and she bowed her head.

"You have convinced my heart, but not my reason," she sighed, turning sadly away. "I renounce my love."

In silence we watched her walk toward the far gates of the laboratory. Beckford stood alone, bewildered. She was some ten paces from him before he spoke.

"It is over," he said, passing a hand that shook across his eyes. "It never was more than a dream. I have slept too long."

Hearing his despair, she turned. For an instant she hesitated. Then she was in his arms.

"I cannot," she sobbed. "Love is too strong."

"So be it," Palgrave said, and his eyes filmed. "Councillors, though we ban their marriage, let us wish them happiness according to our immemorial custom."

"Happiness in their marriage to this man and woman," came the age-old, sonorous response.

We filed from the laboratory, leaving them alone with their love. As he and I passed through the gates into the Chamber of the Undying Fire, Culman spoke.

"We too," he said, "have kindled an unextinguishable fire."




CHAPTER XVIII

CULMAN'S EXPERIMENT

Culman and I walked over toward the great ball of undying fire, and now stood moodily regarding its dazzling surface. Speaking more to himself than to me, Culman remarked on the efficiency of the transparent ray screen.

"It would be impossible to change the intensities of the radiations, I suppose," he muttered, "without first breaking down and removing that screen. And that would be dangerous."

"Yes," I agreed. "It is said that the rays which that screen filters out and stops will destroy flesh almost at the first impact."

"Then I must think of some other way," he said.

"But why should anyone wish to modify the radiations?" I objected. "The ball is operating as efficiently as it ever did—which means perfectly."

He did not reply at once. "One can never tell," he said evasively, "when it may be just and reasonable to change the present order of things. So it is well to be prepared for all contingencies."

Evidently he wished to conceal his motive for examining the ball so minutely, and I respected his unusual reticence. Always before, he, just as did the other Councillors, had regarded the Undying Fire as commonplace. Now it seemed to fascinate him. His eyes followed every scintillation of the cold, incandescent surface nearest us with a hungry curiosity.

"So this is what they made in their flaming mountain," he said. "The original rock was thousands of times bigger and more massive than this ball. I must get at my tools again, and find out how our ingenious ancestors created that hard pillar of violet rays, also what caused it to change color and become invisible when our five suns finally came to rest. If I can't dislocate the whole puzzle after two hints like those, I'm not much of a mechanic."

His eyes shifted to the circular opening in the roof above the ball. For long he scanned every detail of the arrangement of the complicated tangle of transmitting machinery and selective lenses clustered around the top of the protective ray screen. Then his gaze traveled up to the glorious constellation of our five suns, resting on them in awed wonder.

"Have you discovered something new?" I asked at length.

"Yes," he said with a laugh, "a stiff neck."

I could have kicked him, but forebore, anxious to learn what he had seen. But he chose not to gratify my inquisitiveness.

"It will be easy enough to change the radiations if we ever have to," he said. "From any one of the principal machine stations up there we can get at the main pencil of radiation without exposing ourselves to any danger. Curious thing, isn't it, that we've never been able to analyze those rays that shoot straight up to the five suns?"

"In a way, yes. But still there are so many other things in our physical sciences of which we know nothing certainly, that perhaps it isn't so remarkable after all."

"What, for instance?"

"Gravitation. Our ignorance about that is dense enough to satisfy even the philosophers."

"Yes," he admitted grudgingly; "and how they do love to twit us with our lack of knowledge. Well, we scientists live and learn; the philosophers merely live."

Our discussion was interrupted by a soft voice behind us. Turning with a start we faced Cheryl. She was alone, and wasted no words in coming to the purpose of her mission.

"Councillor Culman," she said, "will you perform an experiment for me?"

"Gladly, Cheryl, if I can," he answered. Away from the formalities of the Council we all liked Cheryl and were her best friends—except when she and I had one of our numerous tiffs. Culman had always felt a warm, fatherly affection for her. He had no children, and looked upon her as a favorite daughter by adoption.

"What would you like me to try?" he asked, seeing her hesitate.

"Will you enter the time stream once more and look for something that I wish to know?"

He looked surprised, but expressed his willingness to try. Ducasse, Savadan, and Sylvester, seeing us engaged with Cheryl, joined us.

"Is it something we may share?" Ducasse asked.

"Of course," Culman nodded. "Ducasse, will you send me into the time stream again?"

"If you insist. But I won't guarantee to fish you out once you're in. Why this sudden enthusiasm for the disagreeable? It is quite unphilosophic of you, Culman."

"To oblige Cheryl," he replied. "Now," he continued, addressing her, "what is it that you wish me to look out for?"

"First," she said, searching Ducasse's face with her serious eyes, "can you send him into the shadow life beyond Eos?"

"I'm not sure. But after the practice I've had lately, I can make a fair attempt. He must find his own way, though, after I start him. How is your sense of time-direction, Culman? Any steadier for your recent plunge?"

"Better than it was," he answered. "And Savadan's discovery that the time stream is circular, or what amounts to the same thing, closed, is a great help in orienting oneself. I'm not afraid to try it alone."

"Then, Councillor," Cheryl went on, "can you find out whether the people of the shadow life follow the law of reason in their marriages, or whether they mate according to the promptings of their own love, as have my lover and I?"

"No doubt I can ascertain that much if I once succeed in reaching the shadow life of the future," he answered with a bewildered look. "But why do you wish to know?"

"Because nothing in the universe matters but love as we two have discovered it. If we can be sure that we shall send that unchanged down the stream of time for our descendants to cherish, we care not what goes with it. But if that love be lost on the waters of eternity, then is our marriage an idle pleasure and our new truth a mockery. We would know, to pacify our hearts."

"Very well," Culman answered. "Though I deny the truth of your theory, I will do my best to find for it what you consider proof. Ducasse, are you ready?"

Ducasse was ready. In fact the word had barely passed Culman's lips when he sank unconscious to the cold metal platform of the ball. His face rapidly assumed the lifeless texture of translucent white wax, and he ceased to breathe. Cheryl gazed down on the rigid form with pity and terror struggling in her eyes.

"Oh," she cried, "if I had known it was so painful, I should never have asked him. Bring him back! Can't you see he is suffering hideously?"

But he was not to be brought back to life and intelligence at a word. Ducasse and Savadan worked over him till the sweat poured from their hands and faces; but still he slept the grim sleep of agony. Sylvester brushed them aside, and himself toiled with no greater success to lift the sleeper out of death. Palgrave and Dill joined us, and stood helplessly by.

"If only the ball would click," I hazarded, "he might return. We must wait. There is nothing further to be done."

But they did not abandon their struggle, and I helped them as best I could to end that ghastly trance. Suddenly I reeled, and knew that the ball had clicked although I had not consciously heard the sharp, metallic sound. For an instant I slipped into the stream; but it was only for an instant, and almost immediately I was back in Eos, a confusion of bestial yells and shouts of mad hatred in my ears, and a glare of innumerable blood-red and white fires on my retina. It was a glimpse of the most terrible reflection, I knew, on all the waters of the time stream that I had seen. By the living horror of that fragmentary vision of lust and hatred and killing, the Desert of the Dawn was a tranquil dream of peace. I found myself staring into the wide eyes of Culman.

"Did you see it too?" he groaned.

"Only one flash of it."

"I lived through it all from beginning to end."

"Where was it?"

"In the future. Less than one of their short generations farther down the stream from the time where you and I, with Dill and Palgrave, met Sylvester and Herron, and where we saw Beckford's shadow. Our shadows in that life will see it all before they die; Sylvester, you, Herron, Ducasse, Palgrave, long before you are old men. One of us—"

He stopped, biting his lips, with his eyes on Sylvester.

"What did you see clinging about my shadow?" Sylvester asked. "Was it a thin, greenish mist? Once I saw it myself, but I have kept my secret." His voice sounded numb.

"I forget," Culman muttered, and we did not press him. He bowed his head on his arms and groaned again. Recovering by the sheer exercise of his will, he staggered to his feet and faced Cheryl. She had watched the scene, unintelligible to her who knew nothing of the time stream and the shadow life beyond Eos, with a sort of frozen pain in her eyes.

"Those shadows mate according to your love," Culman said. "In the dim future beyond Eos they have clean forgotten the law of reason. I have brought back what you wished."

Her face brightened with happiness.

"Then my lover and I shall devote our lives to the proclaiming of the new truth—the truth of love!—to all Eos, so that those who come after us may inherit a new and everlasting happiness!"

She turned, to hasten back to her lover, radiant as the bright aura of her own joy. Then she saw my face.

"You," she said, "you ... always the cloud upon your face. You do not like me."

"Why lie? I do not, just now."

"What have I ever done to hurt you?"

"To hurt me, nothing. To harm the future of Eos—well, let the future be its own judge."

"The future! Always the future. A little while ago it was the past, the past until I sickened of it. You are dead between two lives! Why don't you wake and live?"

"Because I would rather dream of love than live it," I laughed, "if it sweetens the temper as it seems to have honied yours."

The angry retort died upon her lips. She had seen something in Culman's eyes.

"Tell me what you saw," she demanded piteously.

"No. You have decided; and it was happiness in your marriage that we wished you. Enjoy your love while you may."

"Oh, what have you seen?"

"Only a dream. Perhaps it was a false reflection from our past that I saw, not a shadow of our future. Be happy, and forget that you ever saw my face after I had looked upon the stream of ages."

Still she did not move. She was thinking desperately.

"Is it too late," she asked, "to change my decision?"

"How do I know? All that is between you and your lover."

She flushed, then turned deathly pale. Again she lost herself in a maze of doubt.

"Councillor Savadan," she said at length, looking up, "you are old and wise. Tell me this. If these men saw the future of our race so clearly on the time stream, how is it possible for my lover and me, by any act of ours, to change that future? For if the future is there, already existing in time, must not we so live, do what we can to avoid it, that the future shall be verified? And what is this but to say that my lover and I are not free, that all our actions are known and their consequences inevitable before our minds conceive them? We are but dead leaves fallen on an ever moving stream, helplessly swept on toward what place the waters will. Is the freedom of our lives in Eos an illusion?"

Savadan thought long before speaking.

"You have asked me many hard questions," he replied, "but they are not unanswerable. Co back to your lover, and take what joy your life offers."

"You will not answer me?"

"Another time. Now we have much to prepare."

"For what?" she asked, a shadow of fear in her eyes.

"The future."

"Again the future ... Well, I have made my choice, and it is too late now to unmake it.... Councillor Culman, will you tell me nothing of this other thing that you saw?"

"I'll tell you this much," he smiled. "I saw that I must sharpen my old tools, make new ones, and labor without ceasing all the rest of my life in Eos."

"For what?"

"The future."

"Again ... You also. Well, we too will toil for the time to come."

"And now go back to your lover," Palgrave advised her, "or he will think you have grown cold. Perhaps he has fallen asleep, waiting for you. Rouse him from his dreams to the living, substantial life of the present."

Without a word she left us.

"That last plunge was decisive," Culman said when she was out of hearing. He gazed up silently at the five suns for a few moments. "Come, Sylvester," he continued abruptly, "we must get to work."

"Will you use the secret when you find it?" Savadan asked.

"I will use it at the first hint of anything like what I just saw in the shadow life. Eos shall never suffer that. Our ancestors were right; the secret, and all that it implies, is the better thing."

"Then let us begin at once," Sylvester said.

As he spoke he turned from the ball and started to walk rapidly away. The next instant I saw him stagger and pitch forward. With Ducasse's warning shout still ringing in my ears, I was struggling for breath and reason in the darkened swirls of the time stream.

The incandescent ball had emitted a multitude of sparks.




CHAPTER XIX

COLONEL DILL REVEALS

A faint, musical tinkling, audible above the sharp operatic raspings of the toy orchestra, caused me to look idly down at the table cloth. The charred match head had just struck the rim of the Colonel's liqueur glass, and was now ricocheting over the edge of the table. Measured by the swifter time of this shadow life we had been in Eos but a small fraction of a second.

"What's the matter with you fellows, any way?" Beckford demanded irritably. "You all look as if you had seen a walking corpse."

Palgrave sighed, and his glance traveled from the perspiring musicians furiously sawing away at the grand finale of their hotch-potch from "Rigoletto" to the sawdust on the floor, and thence to the white faces and startled eyes about our table.

"We're in it again," he groaned. "This is an eating house called Sanguinetti's in a place—what's its name?"

"San Francisco," Beckford informed him drily. "If you had taken anything beyond the one sour pint of Dago red, I should say you were drunk."

He eyed Palgrave with a certain hostility. It was the first time that I had ever seen a hint of anything but the most cordial friendship between the two men. Palgrave still looked dazed. The rest of us were not yet sufficiently sure of ourselves to speak before Beckford. Clearly he had clean forgotten his life in Eos. For him, Cheryl's pledged lover throughout eternity, the future life was so vivid that he was totally unaware of ever having left Cheryl to enter it.

It gave me a cold shock to reflect that the man's real mind and body were now probably fast asleep in the main laboratory of life and character analysis. Perhaps, at this very instant in the real time which we had quitted involuntarily, Cheryl was bending over her lover's sleeping head, trying vainly to recall him with soft words of love to Eos and life.

It puzzled me to think that he should attain complete oblivion so easily through the medium of sleep; while we, for all our struggles in the time stream could not erase from our minds this image of the false shadow life. He, the novice, achieved absolute forgetfulness of real time without even an effort of the will; we, the tried explorers, were powerless to dispel the illusion of this imaginary time of the future. Nevertheless we remembered Eos more distinctly than on any previous lapse into the stream of ages, and had little doubt that we should soon again find our swift way back to reality. For the present, in the midst of the time stream, we moved as shadows.

This literally is how we felt and acted. All our thoughts and movements went on independently of our wills. The real beings that were ourselves in Eos thought and moved; and like the long shadows of men marching toward the setting sun, our distorted thoughts and jerky motions caricatured the truth with a mad consistency. But to Beckford all this was arcana.

"And if you still don't know where you are," he snapped, "I may tell you that this is Sunday night, April the fifteenth, 1906."

"Sunday night? Ha, ha! How insanely ridiculous—Sunday!" Palgrave burst into a roar of laughter. "How sublimely idiotic. Sunday? Why not Suns' day? There are five of them, aren't there?"

"Five what?" Beckford queried. His voice betrayed alarm. Evidently he suspected Palgrave of temporary insanity.

"My mistake, old fellow," Palgrave apologized, instantly seizing the truth of Beckford's temporary aberration. "I was thinking of the five full working days in the week. And that reminds me," he went on, "that I have a lot of work to get through tomorrow. What do you say if we adjourn? Or, if you fellows would like to stay longer, I can find my way home all right."

"Beckford and I still have some papers to go through before Court opens tomorrow morning," Ducasse said, "so we'll come along part of the way."

"Oh, yes ... How did you get on in San JosÚ?"

"First rate. My Chinaman isn't even a member of the tong that did the shooting."

"It will be a clear acquittal," Beckford added. "But there's a lot of red tape to be untied before we can move. Well, Palgrave, we're with you. Step lively."

"We might as well go too," Culman said, rising. "I have a lot to do."

"You?" Beckford laughed. "Why, you're a gentleman of leisure."

"And a mechanical engineer," Culman added. "I have a sudden longing to tackle my old profession for a day or two."

"Another invention?"

"Yes. And it will be something better than a new churn drill."

"Perpetual motion?" Beckford mocked. He did not believe in Culman's sudden access of kinetic energy.

"Perpetual motion? Bah, perpetual bosh-wheels; I get my invention and nobody ever works any more except just to keep his appetite sharper than crab legs."

"You're all crazy," Beckford remarked dispassionately, as we bowed ourselves past the headwaiter. Thanks to Sylvester's tip he seemed heartbroken at our leaving so early.

"What's yours?" Beckford asked Sylvester when at last we found ourselves on the sidewalk.

"My what?"

"Pet brand of lunacy. All the others except good old John Petrie here seem to have eaten milkweed with their salad, look at Colonel Dill—glum as the devil, and he usually so jovial after dinner. And here's Chemical Smith looking as if he had just come from his best girl's funeral. Now, Sylvester, what's your insanity?"

"Mine is in the same class as Culman's," he replied good-humoredly. "And by the way, you can help me to cure it. You know everybody in San Francisco. Could you get me into the library at the Mechanics' Institute tonight?"

Beckford stared. "Are you serious?" he asked.

"Perfectly. This is no joke. I've just had a fine idea for an investigation in atomic physics, and would like to look up a recent paper of Rutherford's on the same general subject. It's in the 'Phil. Mag.' or the Transactions of the Royal Society, and both of these are taken at the Institute Library. Of course, if there's no way of getting in on a Sunday night, I can go over to Berkeley tomorrow, and find what I want at the University. But I would give a good deal to strike the idea hard while it's hottest."

With a shrug of the shoulders Beckford accepted the situation.

"If it's as urgent as all that I can get you in. I know the librarian very well. Wait; I'll call him from here."

He dived into a saloon. We waited outside until he reappeared, ignoring the Colonel's pointed glances at the gorgeous cut glass panels of the swinging doors.

John, seeming to feel himself in the way, although he was not, invented a polite fiction that he had to visit a sick brother 'Eagle,' and left us. All through the dinner he had spoken but once, and that was to remark that there might be more in astrology than even he had imagined. We tried to detain him, but he was courteously obdurate, and departed about his own unobstrusive business.

"It's all right," Beckford said, rejoining us. "He has telephoned the night watchman to let you in. You can stay till morning if you will please turn out the lights before leaving."

Falling into couples we made our way toward Market Street. In the choosing of partners for the walk there was one singular exception to the general haphazardness of the choice. Palgrave found himself at first with Dill. After a step or two, he lengthened his stride and walked along with Beckford. Savadan fell into Palgrave's vacant place, but quickly changed it to walk with Sylvester. Herron, Ducasse and Culman, after similar false steps, walked on together. I was stranded with the Colonel; and for very humanity's sake had to keep step, as if he had been civilized, with the crafty general whose tower had accidentally stood higher than all of the others.

I am not more of a Pharisee than the average man, I trust, yet to save my life I could not have spoken a decent word to the old warrior beside me. He relieved me of the humane duty.

"Smith," he puffed, "you're a chemist. I'm not. The sciences were neglected at Harvard in my day. There was one notorious chemist there before my time. They discharged him for burning up his mortgagor's bones in the laboratory furnace. So chemistry was rather unpopular while I was a student."

Obliged to make some reply, I asked whether he regretted not having studied the science.

"Greatly, sah, greatly. A little of that dangerous knowledge now might make me the first military genius of the age."

"But there are no wars of any importance now. What were you thinking of? A new explosive?"

"You are right, sah. There are no wars in these soft times like the one in which I had the honah of serving my flag. We have grown flabby, sah, flabby. But watch Europe! Before you are past the military age there will be a show worth the seeing."

His thick, gloating words nauseated me. I knew him for a physical and moral coward clear through to his yellow backbone. Yet, for the sake of the proprieties, I swallowed my disgust and asked him what improvement he had in mind for the "art" of war. He countered with another question.

"What happens," he asked, "when a strong electric discharge takes place in ordinary air?"

"Why, some of the oxygen molecules break down, and the loose atoms reunite to form ozone."

"The gas which they find in the air at seaside resorts, and which is always advertised as such a fine, bracing tonic?"

"Yes. Only the fellows who concoct the 'ads' would make a better job of it if they left out the ozone. For ozone is a deadly poison—a very low per cent of the stuff mixed with air is absolutely fatal to human life."

Suddenly a thought flashed across my mind. I seized him roughly by the arm. For the moment I lost control of myself. Only his age saved him from a beating that would have sent him to the hospital for a year.

"You old devil," I said, "were those infernal towers of yours fitted up with some sort of super-dynamo for generating artificial lightning?"

"Our present electrical devices," he answered thickly, "are primitive and barbarous by those which that people had on the Desert—before it became a desert. They could send a sheet of electric flame clear across the last green island of fertility, from one tower to its opposite."

He spoke as if he were in some pleasant dream. I shook him loose. After all, our electrical science is a thousand years from that high pitch of perfection; and Dill would be rotten centuries before his hellish improvement could be made practicable. So what did it matter? He began muttering again.

"Ozone is not the only poisonous gas. There are others. Why not use one of them?"

"Because," I shouted, hot with anger, "it would be a trick fit only for swine. We are still human beings, even if we do herd together in packs and tear each other to pieces like wild beasts. When we get to your kind of warfare, it will be time to wipe out the race and begin again."

"They nearly got to it once," he muttered, regarding me with dulled eyes.

"When?"

"At the siege of Sebastopol. It was at the most critical stage of the Crimean war. You won't find it in the histories. But I know. I have had exceptional opportunities for historical research—recently. The British War Office suppressed it. The scheme is still lying buried somewhere in their archives. They were soft, like you. Not a real soldier in the whole lot of them."

"What did they suppress?"

"Dundonald's secret. He guaranteed to reduce the strongest fortification on earth within ten hours. And he proposed to use chemical gases to wipe out the defenders."

"The British suppressed it, you say?"

"Yes. They were squeamish about what you would call its inhumanity."

"Then there still is some hope left for us. Even all professional soldiers are not like you. Do you plan to suggest this weapon again?"

"Why not? The object of all military operations is to destroy the enemy. So why not do it as quickly as possible?"

"If ever you make this suggestion of yours public, or communicate it to another living being, I shall kill you."

He saw that I meant what I said. His face grew yellow and flabby with fear. This contemptible old coward who talked so glibly of annihilating thousands, shook like a jelly at the thought of his own death.

"Come and have a drink, Smith," he blabbered, laying one soft, white hand on my arm.

"Go to Hell!"

With that I left him. Beckford and Ducasse, anxious to get to work, had just caught a Powell Street car for the former's lodgings. The rest of the party evidently were waiting for me.

"What's happened to the Colonel?" Culman asked with a satisfied grin.

"He went to buy himself a drink."

Culman shot me a glance of complete understanding. "It's a good thing you shook him before some of us started a public row. Does he remember?"

"Yes, everything. Damn him!"

"Then somebody should do to him as they do to rabid dogs."

"That is precisely why he is taking a drink—to brace himself for the ordeal."

"So you had it out with him?"

"Clear to the end. He will keep what he knows under his own hat."

"Then that's one job out of the way. I have another. Will you all come up to my place for a few moments? Sylvester, you have all night for your studies at the library, and I'll not need more than an hour of your time. I would have asked you before," he went on apologetically, "only I did not care to have Beckford overhearing our plans."

Rather mystified—although we had an inkling of Culman's intention—we boarded a California Street car. Getting off at Stockton Street, we walked the half block up the hill to Culman's rooms.

"You live in a good neighborhood, Culman," Herron remarked ironically, nodding backward toward the once infamous Dupont Street.

"Very," Culman responded unsuspiciously. "Two churches—Episcopal and Catholic—in one block."

"Vice and virtue rubbing shoulders," Palgrave murmured. "I often wonder which it is that first attracts the other."

"The cribs were there first," Culman remarked innocently. He opened the door and we made our way up to his roomy apartment, with its magic night view of the moving lights on the Bay and Mount Tamalpais a crag of shadowy azure in the starlight. Again the unreality of it all surged over me, and my remembrance of Eos sharpened. Culman lit the gas.

"Make yourself at home," he said, "while I get things ready. There are cigars on the mantelpiece."




CHAPTER XX

THE SEALED CYLINDER

It was always a treat to explore Culman's quarters. From floor to ceiling bookshelves lined the walls, bulging with their rich store of journals and rare pamphlets on psychic research. Under the broad, low windows roomy glass-doored cabinets held the disused implements of his old profession and a small working model of his money making patent. Culman referred to this part of his domain as "the museum." Its shining nickel triangles and T-squares, although they made a brave show, hardly balanced the vast array of psychic literature; and it needed no Sherlock Holmes to deduce that Culman's mind had always turned to the freedom of another existence rather than to the dead, mechanical facts of this shadow life. Nevertheless he still claimed on occasion to be a mechanical engineer, asserting that only his profitable invention kept him from astonishing the world with something much more ingenious.

While we examined his books, he seated himself at his work table and wrote rapidly for an hour. Finishing, he carefully rolled up his manuscript, drew a key from his pocket, and walked over to his "museum" under the windows. Having unlocked it, he selected a plain brass cylinder, fitted with screw caps at both ends through each of which had been drilled a small air hole. It was an ideal receptacle for a document of value.

"You probably guess what this is," he said, holding up his manuscript. "I propose to put it in this cylinder and seal it in the presence of you all."

There was an unusual solemnity in his voice and manner. For some seconds he gazed silently out of the window at the fairyland of the Bay and the dim, ghostly San Marino hills beyond. Then for a moment his eyes rested on the tower of Grace Church, just appearing, from its lower station down the hill, above the intervening roofs.

"Is it the record," I asked, "of what you saw on the time stream when Cheryl asked you to make your experiment?"

"Only the broad outlines. It would take a year to put down all that I saw. But this will be sufficient."

"Is it your will, Culman?" Herron asked with a rather sorry attempt at levity.

Culman's eyes again dwelt lovingly on the beauty of the perfect night, resting once more for an instant on the tower of Grace Church.

"It is not mine," he said, with unexpected solemnity. "No; the shadows in this fold of time some day will call it God's will."

There was an uncomfortable silence. Few young men relish intimacies of this sort, even with their elders; and somehow we felt that our sane mentor, Culman, had been guilty of bad taste, or at least of a slight indelicacy. He scarcely lessened our discomfort by adding in low tones:

"For He only knows the future; it is in His hands."

"What is your idea?" Palgrave asked, hastily changing the subject.

"It is hard to say exactly. I have a feeling that before long we shall be exiled from Eos, and again be forced to spend almost a generation—of their reckoning here—in this shadow existence. We may have to remain in this dream life so long that we shall finally come to doubt the existence of Eos. That, of course, would be almost fatal to our chances of finding our way back in the time stream."

"Undoubtedly," Savadan agreed.

"So I have written on this roll the main points of what I saw when I made my experiment. That vision was an accurate, detailed picture of the near future of this region of the shadow life where we in this part of the stream now are. Within ten years at the very most the events recorded on this roll will come to pass. They may begin tomorrow, or next week, or a year from now; my sense of time was rather numbed by what I saw, so I cannot set a definite date for the beginning. But I am reasonably confident that ten years will be a sufficient period for the transpiration of at least part of what I have recorded—or prophesied, as the shadows here would put it in their ignorance of the nature of time.

"Now, as these things which I have described vitally concern all of us, I thought that perhaps their strict verification in the near future would serve to convince us again that Eos is the real life and this the shadow. For it was from Eos that I plunged into the time stream and foresaw everything recorded on this paper."

"I see," Sylvester nodded. "Once we recover our conviction—if we should ever lose it—that this life is like an unreal vapor, it will impel us to return to Eos. It sounds reasonable enough. It certainly is amazing how completely most of us forgot Eos on the first of our plunges. When Ducasse sent us back from the Chamber of the Serpent, we lost ourselves hopelessly for almost half of one of their short generations in this life of shadows. Dill, I am sure, remembered nothing of Eos until yesterday. He seems to have passed directly from his war in the Beast State to another in the shadow life, vivider even than the Beast war, which for long obliterated all impressions of his real inhumanity."

"That is exactly my idea," Culman assented. He unscrewed one cap of the cylinder and inserted the roll. "Now to seal it beyond all danger of fraud."

He regarded the brass cylinder with an air of whimsical affection. "This was to have been the lung of a cold air engine destined to revolutionize the automobile industry. But my darling died abornin'. It never drew a breath."

He rummaged among his tools, finally producing a piece of fine steel wire, a small lump of lead, a pair of pliers and a die-stamp. Threading the wire through the hole in the bottom cap, he passed it up through the cylinder and through the hole in the free cap, which he screwed home, leaving the wire projecting from both ends of the cylinder. With the pliers he twisted the free ends of the wire together; and after heating the lump of lead in the gas flame, sealed it over the junction in the usual way.

"Will somebody make a distinctive mark on that seal?" he asked; "one that could not be mistaken?"

Sylvester opened his penknife and cut two queer mathematical symbols deeply into the soft lead.

"That ought to fix it," he remarked. "And I'll cut the date, 15 April, 1906, on the other side."

"Now, where shall we keep it?"

"Let me put it in my safe-deposit drawer at the Crocker Woolworth," Palgrave suggested. "It's class A fireproof."

"The first thing tomorrow morning?"

"Yes. Say at nine o'clock sharp. Then Smith can stop there as a witness on his way to his laboratory."

"We had better agree now on a date for unsealing it," Herron suggested.

"Of course," Culman agreed. "What do you say if we make it the fourteenth of April, since it was on that date that we first got our bearings here and found our way back to Eos?"

"What year?" Savadan asked.

"That's a question. This record, if right, should be verified, at least partially, within ten years. If my guess is correct that will make it 1916. What do you say?"

"To put it beyond all doubt, let us give it a little longer."

"How much, then?"

"Say till 1931. That is easy to remember, exactly a quarter of a century."

"All right," Culman agreed. "If nobody objects we pledge ourselves to meet in twenty-five years lacking one day, from now, to unseal this cylinder."

"On the fourteenth of April, 1931, then?" Herron asked.

"Yes. Don't forget. And if any of us are dead—in this life, that is to say—by that time, the others promise to read the manuscript."

We nodded, and prepared to depart.

"I can guess what you're up to, tonight, Sylvester," Culman laughed. "You are planning to bring these hungry, labor-ridden wretches the secret of the undying fire. Well, I'm with you. That is exactly what I mean to try. I shall play seriously with these old tools again for the first time in fifteen years."

"Do you recall any details of how they work the transformation in Eos?" Herron asked.

"Not one," they answered together.

"I wonder if Beckford could make good his brag before the Council," Savadan said with a smile. "He denied the possibility of an intelligent mind existing without this 'intuitive' knowledge of nature's 'simplest' secret."

"Perhaps Beckford's legal training has obscured his intellect," Herron suggested maliciously. Being forced by his profession to listen to their impassioned oratory, Bill had rather a distaste for lawyers.

"But I have a clue," Sylvester continued. "The starting point of the transmutation of matter into energy is in the recent work—in this shadow life—on radioactivity. That is all I remember, and it is an age from the ultimate solution."

"And I not much more," Culman added forlornly. "The long swim down all the ages between us and Eos seems to have washed our minds clean of our inherited natural knowledge. We are different beings from what we are in Eos. What wouldn't I give for one look this instant at the great central ball of the Undying Fire! I shall have to begin with the first gropings toward science of the primitive ignorance of this existence."

"If only we might bring them a shadow of our own Golden Age," Sylvester sighed, "I should not regret my exile. Poor wretches! They slave all their lives to keep life in their crooked, toil-racked bodies, while all about them seethe the inexhaustible fountains of plenty and happiness."

"Yes," Culman agreed, "they have grown so inured to hunger and brute labor that they look upon these evils as a just curse richly earned by their poor sins. But the science we shall leave them will change all that."

At nine o'clock I met Palgrave at the Bank, and we deposited the brass cylinder in his drawer. Both having much to do, we separated at the Bank, he to keep an early appointment at his office, and I to go to my laboratory.

My work for the week, I remember, was the analysis of several samples of tomato catsup, supposed adulterated, sent me by the Pacific Groceries Company. How absurd and trivial it all seemed! Here was I, wasting my time and energy in the detection of a petty fraud, while Eos, for all I knew, was even now hastening to its ruin. All my attempts during the night to find my way back in the time stream had proved futile.

My efforts to reproduce the clicking sound of the ball had failed signally. It was not a sound to be imitated by design. With a sharp sense of irritation at my helplessness I realized now that in the snapping of the dry twig down by the five pillars in Cheryl's garden, and in the clicking of the charred match, there had been some illusive, accidental quality of sound which I could not recover.

By eleven o'clock I was engrossed in the technique of my chemical analysis to the exclusion of all else. A few minutes before twelve, Herron burst in upon me, excitedly waving a copy of the Star. His clothes were torn, and one blacked eye was almost closed.

"Where did you get it, Bill?" I laughed. The idea of Bill Herron with a black eye was an amusing novelty. Our crowd believed him invincible against anything within ten pounds of his own weight.

"Never mind me just yet," he said, shoving the Star in front of me. I glanced up and saw that he was deadly serious.

"Beckford and Sylvester have gone back without us. Read that."

I glanced over the sensational headline and down the half column of display type. A well-dressed young man, later identified by a reporter on the Examiner as Joseph J. Sylvester of Los Gatos, had been found unconscious by the janitor in the reading room at the Mechanics' Institute. It was apparently a case of suspended animation. Later, Edward C. Beckford, the prominent young attorney, had been discovered in a similar condition in his bed. On Beckford's failure to keep an important engagement with his friend Mr. Ducasse, the latter had gone at once to his rooms to investigate.

Both men were now lying at the Emergency Hospital. Their condition baffled the attendant physicians, it clearly not being an ordinary trance or coma. But for the temperature of their bodies both men might have passed for dead.

"We had better get them to a more suitable place than the hospital," Herron suggested.

I flung off my rubber apron and reached for my coat and hat.




CHAPTER XXI

THE MALADY STRIKES!

"Get Palgrave on the telephone, will you, while I put things straight?"

Herron made the connection almost at once.

"Dr. Palgrave?" he asked, and stood listening, his expression rapidly changing to one of alarm. Over the wire I heard a girl's scared voice begging him to come at once to Palgrave's office and to bring a doctor.

"All right," he said, hanging up. "It's his office girl. Palgrave has gone back too. Fell down unconscious less than a minute ago. Come on."

"Wait. Find out first what has happened to the others. Palgrave is in no danger."

The landlord reporting that Culman's door was locked, I asked him to use his pass-key, and held the wire. In half a minute he was back with the message that Culman was sitting unconscious, but still alive, at his work-table. I asked him to lay Culman flat on his back on the floor, put a blanket over him, and do nothing further until one of us came with a physician.

"Why didn't Ducasse telephone one of us?" Herron asked.

"That's what is puzzling me. Do you suppose he has gone back too?"

"No," he replied. "Otherwise the papers would surely have got hold of his trance. For his movements would certainly be followed by any live reporter."

Just then the telephone rang. Taking down the receiver, I heard Ducasse speaking.

"Keep cool, Smith," he said. "There is nothing to be panicky about. Dill has gone back too. Savadan is still here. I telephoned over to Belvedere, and found out that Cheryl passed a very restless night. On getting up this morning she told the maid that she had been troubled by bad dreams, which she could not recall. After breakfast she felt unwell, and lay down. At present she is sleeping soundly. This means that she, Dill, and Beckford have gone back to Eos. We are stranded."

"Sylvester went back too, so also have Culman and Palgrave—the last not more than five minutes ago. So perhaps our side is in no immediate danger." I told him briefly the results of our inquiries, and asked his plans.

"Beckford's father is coming over from San Rafael to take care of him. So he's off our hands. Dill is being looked after by his landlady and a good doctor who knows nothing of the case. The rest of us must all get together and go back in a body, so that we can stop whatever Dill and Beckford are doing. For I feel sure they are up to no good.

"Do you realize that they have been in Eos almost a quarter of a generation if our relative time scales are still the same as they were yesterday? Culman and Sylvester are in Eos now; so perhaps, as you say, the need for us is not urgent. But it may be before long; and we must lose no chance of getting back before the crisis. I'm afraid Culman will do something rash without Savadan to restrain him."

"What do you plan?"

"Leave Dill and Beckford where they are, to be taken care of by their friends. They are safe, and we want neither with us in the time stream. Take Palgrave and Sylvester to Culman's rooms. Savadan and I will meet you there with Herron, and we shall try to find our way back together. Keep everything further out of the papers if possible. I have an auto ready to take Sylvester. The hospital people understand that they can do nothing, and are willing to turn him over to me under a physician's care. We can easily shunt the physician—I'll do it on the way to Culman's. You get Palgrave."

"All right." I rang up Palgrave's negro chauffeur and told him to be at his master's office with the car inside of ten minutes. Then Herron and I hurried away to get there first.

"How did you achieve your black eye?"

"Doing the Sir Galahad, knightly rescue act to a damsel in distress."

"Why, what and how?"

"Trying to punch the jaw of that fresh sub-editor who called Cheryl a 'cocktail-drinking dearie' or something of the sort. The fellow looks like a dead codfish, but he knows how to use his mitts. Just the same I handed him a good one."

The incongruity of it all appealed to my sense of humor. Here we were, hurrying to what perhaps was the last act of a cosmic drama in which Cheryl was the heroine, and one of us had earned a black eye for resenting an insult to Cheryl's shadow in the unreal reflection of a future existence. I laughed till the tears came.

"Shut up!" Bill growled, as we turned into Palgrave's office building; "or I'll paste you one on the jaw. You're easy meat any way, even if the other fellow wasn't."

"It isn't that," I said. We were in the elevator. "To think of two irate shadows brawling over a dream within a dream—for that accurately describes Cheryl's vision of San Francisco in ruins—while the real world may be going to pieces ages behind us, is certainly enough to make anyone laugh. Sorry for your poor eye, Bill, but I can't help it."

We found Palgrave stretched out on the lounge in his inner office. His eyes were wide open, but he was in a trance. The office girl withdrew, closing the door after her.

"Sometimes a man in that state can walk automatically," Herron said. "Let us try him."

We got him to his feet, put his arms upon our shoulders, and started to walk slowly. He stumbled along between us.

"It works. Let us take him down at once. His car must have come by now."

Disregarding the protests of the scared office girl, we walked him to the elevator and got him safely into the car. Within ten minutes he was in Culman's sitting room. Ducasse and Savadan were already there. Sylvester lay beside Culman, the same warm blanket covering both. We laid Palgrave alongside of them, and put an extra blanket over all three. Then we four sat down to watch.

Nightfall came, and still the sleepers did not stir. Herron went out to get his dinner; and when he returned Savadan, Ducasse and I did likewise. At nine o'clock we resumed our vigil together. Presently the landlord knocked at the door and asked if there was anything that he could do. We thanked him and said there was nothing dangerous in the condition of the men. They would probably awake quite normal some time tomorrow. The landlord was a quiet, uninquisitive man, with a positive genius for minding his own business.

"If we should go the same way," I added, "will you just cover us up here with the others and leave us quiet? You can use your pass-key and look in on us whenever you have time. Don't call a doctor or make any fuss until Wednesday night at six o'clock. If Mr. Beckford should recover, and come to look for any of us, I suppose it will be all right to let him in. But if Colonel Dill turns up, send him away. If we are still asleep at six o'clock Wednesday evening, you had better notify Dr. Hahn, and have us taken to his Sanitarium."

He agreed, saying he would look in about eight o'clock the next morning.

"Accidents of sight or sound gave them their direction in time," Savadan suggested, "and they followed their clues up stream and home."

"If the relative time rates between this life and Eos are still as they were recently," Ducasse remarked, "we must have missed nearly half a generation of Eos."

"Easily," Herron agreed. "And if the mad lovers have been blessed with a son, he will be full grown by now."

"Well," I said, guessing the thought behind Herron's neutral remark, "Culman has been back long enough to have done something important with the secret of the Five Suns. If he has completely unraveled it, Eos will have little to fear from the mad lovers' offspring, even if he should prove to be the long prophesied 'beast'."

"You can't tell," said Ducasse. "Cheryl and her lover were planning to teach their new 'truth' to all Eos. So, if half a generation has elapsed, as seems only probable, we may be greeted on our return by a whole menagerie of strange new 'beasts.' From what I have seen of Cheryl's discovery as reflected in this shadow life, I imagine it will have an irresistible attraction for the very young and the very unwise." He smiled his dry, philosophic smile.

"Cheryl's malady seldom attacks men or women past middle age. So we may expect to find Eos divided into two stubborn factions: the young and enthusiastic who are ripe for love; and the old who either never had it, or who have recovered. You see, the middle-aged people whom we knew when we left Eos will now be getting along toward old age; while the babies and the very young will just have reached their maturity.

"This, of course, is assuming that the time scale of Eos is as we believe it to be, compared to that here. And I see no reason to doubt this. On our previous absences from this shadow life, we were gone for at most a second of their time here; while actually, during that 'second,' we were in Eos for a very considerable span of real time. I am beginning to doubt whether we shall ever get back again. We are high and dry on the bank of the stream, and none of us knows his way down to the water."

"You have forgotten one thing, Ducasse," Savadan broke in. "The mad lovers may have made converts shortly after we left. If they did, we shall find a plentiful crop of tares waiting for the scythe of time."

"I did not forget the wild oats of love, as they say here," Ducasse grinned. "Only in Eos our legends use a different metaphor. They say, instead of 'sowing oats,' much more expressively, 'unleashing the beast.'"

"It would be worth a lot to know what the old devil Dill is doing now," I remarked. "He remembered every detail of his infernal scheme on the Desert."

"Don't worry about him," Herron said, laughing. "Culman will take care of any undue courage that Dill may show. It is a good thing Culman is back. The two are hereditary and natural enemies if ever there were such in this muddy, blood-stained stream of time."

We got up, and stood looking out of the low windows at the moving lights of the Bay and the dim, starlit hills beyond. Far below we could see the electric cars crawling across California Street like bright glow-worms. We became idly interested in watching them pass through our field of vision, and began to keep count.

"There's another due on Third, in a second," Herron announced. "There hasn't been one for almost five minutes."

"I'll bet you the breakfast for the crowd," Ducasse said, "that another doesn't cross within the next two minutes."

"It's a go." Herron took out his watch. "Now keep your eyes on the corner down there by the cigar store. I feel a car coming."

As he spoke, the headlight of a car flashed into view. The car stopped at the corner.

"I win," said Herron.

"No, you don't," Ducasse objected anxiously. "You can't, because I have only thirty-five cents in my pocket. The car has to cross California Street within the two minutes."

"Then I have thirty seconds left in which to earn four large, expensive breakfasts. Smith will lend you ten dollars." Herron laughed the glad laugh of the victor. "Ah, there she goes!"

The headlight began to move, and we saw the first window flash into sight. Then the trolley wheel struck a splice in the overhead wire, and a dazzling spark glittered for an instant against the darkness.

"Fall backward!" Savadan cried.

That was all I heard. But I had a confused memory of seizing Herron around the waist just as he was about to pitch through the low window, and bringing him heavily down with me to the floor.

I opened my eyes in drowsy wonder. Before me, high up, blazed the great ball of the Undying Fire. I was lying flat on my back, heavily covered. Turning my head languidly, I saw Ducasse and Savadan lying together on my right, and Herron alone on my left. All were smothered beneath piles of warm coverings. On gazing up to see whether the five suns were still as I have always known them, I became conscious that Culman was staring down into my eyes. At first I did not comprehend the nature of his changed appearance. Then with a shock I realized that his hair and beard were as white as snow.

We had returned to Eos.




CHAPTER XXII

THE FIRST STONE

Attempting to sit up, I immediately fell back exhausted upon my bench. The other sleepers stirred, but made no effort to rise.

"Lie still a while," Culman advised. "Your strength will soon return. We have fed you."

His voice sounded older and kinder than I remembered. Again I glanced at this aged man bending over me, and lay back wondering. When last I had seen him, he was in the full vigor of his prime. Now he was near the end of his life. Another, somewhat younger man, joined Culman, and with him stood looking silently down on us.

"Have they returned?" the newcomer asked at length.

"Just now," Culman answered. "They are still dazed. Let them watch the Undying Fire for a while."

"Half a generation in the time stream," the other went on reflectively, "perhaps even in the shadow life beyond Eos, and still they live. But we ourselves returned with whole minds to Eos after an absence of almost a fifth of a generation. We have preserved their bodies, but their minds were beyond our reach. Well, we shall soon know."

He bent over me, and looked long and searchingly into my eyes. Studying his grave, calm features, I had an elusive feeling that somewhere I had known this quiet, reserved looking man as my best friend. This man's face was the living record of a great sorrow. But the man I had known was young and vigorous, fond of a good jest; this white-haired sage was long past his prime, and sad with an impersonal grief. Then the knowledge came to me in a flash.

"Sylvester!" I groaned, for the sorrow in his face wrenched my heart as with a physical pain, "Sylvester.... What has aged you so?"

"Lie quiet," he said. "You shall know all soon enough. You are still young; I am old. Your journeyings back and forth in the stream of time have not worn down your youth. For you have returned to the real time which for half a generation you have forgotten. Look up at your great ball of fire. You used to marvel at the undying wonder of it."

Leaving me, he passed on to minister to Ducasse. My eyes, resting on the incandescent ball, drew strength and comfort from my old plaything. Looking farther up beyond the top of the ball to the five suns, I was puzzled by some unfamiliarity of their aspect which had escaped my first glance, and which now I tried vainly to analyze.

Were they slightly dimmer than I remembered them? The green sun, the Star of Hope, at any rate was as bright as ever. And all were in the same relative positions as when I left Eos. Yet their appearance seemed other than I remembered. Exhausted by the unaccustomed exercise of thinking, I fell into an uneasy doze.

On awakening I analyzed the change at a glance. The suns were indeed as they had always been. It was the roof of the Chamber of the Undying Fire which was altered. The great circular skylight, formerly open to the heavens, was now traversed by a delicate weblike structure and all but completely covered by a transparent roof, which I guessed to be of the same material as the cylindrical ray-screen still intact before my eyes. On this new roof the selective ray lenses and all the complex machinery of transmission had been reassembled directly above the incandescent sphere, the lenses alone projecting through the new roof screen into the path of the dangerous radiations.

This roof was not yet completed. One circular opening still remained unscreened. At the great height above me which it was, this last window on the heavens looked no bigger than the disc of that green sun which, from immemorial ages, our people have called the Star of Hope. With a drowsy wonder I reflected that the last unfiltered rays of the great ball must stream up through the small circular skylight directly to the green sun. Then a second thought showed me that this apparent design was merely a coincidence. For the divergent rays issuing from so small an opening, must ultimately impinge on all five suns, owing to the inevitable broadening spread of the pencil in its traversing of free space.

Why, I wondered, had that last window been left? Was it merely because the workers had not yet had time to finish their vast task of completely roofing over the Undying Fire; or was there a purpose in the omission?

It must have taken prodigious labor to build that massive horizontal screen, to say nothing of the painstaking readjustment of all the heavy transmitting machinery and selective lenses. For the roof, it was evident, must be many times as thick as the cylindrical ray filter: the machines which it had to support in perfect immobility were massive and heavy. When would the workers return and close the last opening?

Even as I asked myself the question, I saw a few minute black dots, no bigger than grains of sand, moving toward the small circular skylight. I realized that those black grains were men. After them moved larger black grains, which I rightly imagined must be lifting machines.

The smaller grains crawled around the last opening, arranging themselves in a circle about its edge, and their lifting machines crawled after them, coming to rest finally in a wider circle. Then the larger grains very slowly sent out fine, long threadlike rods. These I guessed to be massive girders of the same resistant metal as that of which the platform of the Undying Fire and the walls of my laboratory were constructed.

The thin rods laced themselves over the opening in a fine, weblike network; and the smaller dots around the circle drew back. The larger also retreated, forming a crescent about one side of the opening. Then once more they advanced, all but imperceptibly, so slow was their motion, as if laboring to push something massive before them. I watched the Star of Hope. As the lifting machines advanced, a crescent of the green sun dimmed. The decrease in brilliance was so slight that only a trained eye could detect it; nevertheless it was real. The dimmed crescent grew, until all the disc of the last sun had lost one faint glory of its accustomed light. The black grains, small and large, crept away, disappearing at last among the shadowy towers of the transmitting machinery. Their task was accomplished: the five suns were cut off from all radiations of the Undying Fire.

"Do you think you can walk yet?" Culman asked, bending over me. "I would not hurry you to rise; but time presses, and Eos must soon meet its destiny."

Something in his voice awed me. "How soon?" I asked, struggling to my feet.

"Before any man in Eos sleeps again." He pointed up to the newly completed roof. "My work is finished. Sylvester too is ready for the end. He has done the work of ten generations in half of one man's lifetime. Come, and I will show you why."

The others were standing up, still dazed after their long sleep. But we felt no physical weakness or vertigo, for we had been well nourished and regularly exercised all through our semi-death. Only our minds were yet numb and unaccustomed to the thoughts of Eos.

"Have the mad lovers a son?" Savadan asked Sylvester.

"No," he answered. "That fear of the Council's was not verified."

"Then why this tampering with the Undying Fire?" Savadan sternly demanded. "Culman, have you acted in haste? It comes back to me that you once made a terrible threat. It was while we stood looking down from the mountain of bones above the Desert of the Dawn. Has hatred of the beast made you rash?"

"You shall see with your own eyes in a moment, and hear with your own ears," Culman replied sadly. "I have done what our ancestors counseled. For I have discovered and used the secret of the suns. Remember, Savadan, you saw only the lair of the beast after it was dead. I once performed an experiment—for Cheryl. Then it was that I saw the living beast. What I have done is the better thing for Eos."

"But," Herron objected, "if the mad lovers have no son, surely our former interpretations of the legends must be revised? For did not the Council assent, after hearing our testimonies, that 'the beast' of the legends is a symbol for the offspring of unscientific marriages consummated in defiance of the law of reason?"

"The mad lovers have no son. A daughter was born to them. The disciples of love call her the Singing Flame."

The unexpectedness of the revelation gave us a cold shock. We, with the rest of the Council, had always tacitly anticipated a son from the union of Cheryl and her lover. A daughter necessitated a complete readjustment of our mental program. To oppose a man was the work of men; to fight a woman seemed a task for cowards.

"And she?"—Ducasse began.

"Is her mother a thousand times intensified. She is a young woman now in all the radiant vigor and beauty of her first full maturity. And she has roused to fury the beast that her parents awoke. Where the Council and the law of reason have one follower, she and her unleashed passion have hundreds. She is a white fire, and the young rush to her to be destroyed."

"Cheryl is dead, then?" I asked.

"She still lives," Culman replied. "We are on our way to speak with her. She is in your laboratory—with another, who will not speak."

"And her lover?"

"He too is living. Dill and he are out by the great tree, plotting. They talk in whispers, but their words travel far."

"What is their plot?" Savadan asked anxiously.

"To overthrow the Council and set an Assembly with absolute power over the lives of those who still adhere to the law of reason."

"Eos is divided then?"

"Into two factions. One would abolish the law of reason and destroy science and all its teachings. They strive to replace the sane marriage of science by free and lascivious mating as sung by the Singing Flame. It is Cheryl's unsung lovesong made manifest. The other faction would impose the law of our fathers upon all. Each seeks to force its will and its creed upon the other. The ancient law of freedom that was the glory and happiness of Eos is become a tradition which none reverence. It is forgotten. Every man would set himself up a tyrant over his neighbor, and every woman a despot over her sister."

"In half a generation we have fallen so low as this," Savadan mused. "Our Golden Age is rust. Culman, you have done the right thing. To use the secret and all that it implies is better than to let Eos fester in tyranny and breed wars upon itself from its own corruption."

"Wait," Culman answered. "You have not yet seen the thing which impelled me to issue my last instruction—that to complete the roof, and forever screen our five suns from the sustaining radiations of the Undying Fire. For a quarter of a generation I have hoped against hoping, and left one small window open to the suns. Now it is closed, and the story all but ended."

"When did you decide?" Ducasse asked.

"Just before you sleepers awoke. I think you must have looked back unconsciously in the stream of ages, and read from afar my decision on the darkening waters. Homesickness for Eos drew you here again, even to the end of all our happiness. Soon all the waters will be black."

"Is this the end, then?"

"What we have done cannot be undone. I trust it may end before Dill's work begins."

"Have the maddened people built towers under his direction?" I asked.

"No. There is no need for them here. Our knowledge of electricity is so far advanced beyond what Dill could command on the Desert that towers are unnecessary."

"I shall kill him," I said.

"And make a beast of yourself?" Culman replied sadly. "No, you will not do that. You are not yet the savage that he is. Let two or three of us keep the law of freedom to the end, leaving all in peace or misery to work out their own natures."

"But have not you already broken the law," Savadan doubted, "in using the secret of the suns?"

"It is a question," Culman admitted. "I have not trusted to my own judgment. I have followed the directions of our ancestors, being guided by them to a justice which is beyond my reason. To keep the law and to break it seem equally terrible. Perhaps there is no right in this, and we may merely be living the inevitable consequences of laws beyond us.

"Nature after all may be the beast, and we her helpless prey. In following the dictates of our traditions I have but acted as a trustee for the civilization of our ancestors. It was they who devised all our happiness, and it is for them to say how we shall guard their labor."

"There is no freedom," Savadan exclaimed bitterly. "This happiness which we have called our own is the gift of the dead, who now stretch out cruel hands to withdraw it."

"Slaves of the past, or of future—which you will. It is all one. We are what time has made us."

We had now passed from the Chamber of the Undying Fire and into the main laboratory of life and character analysis which we four sleepers had left half a generation ago. It seemed but a moment since Cheryl had joined us by the great ball, and asked Culman to perform an experiment for her. I could not realize that she, the brown-eyed, black-haired girl must now be approaching old age. But so she must.

"We left her alone with it in the rotunda," Sylvester said to Culman. "Let us see if she is still there."

Not a worker was to be seen anywhere. The vast laboratory, once abustle with busy men and women, was deserted. Eos had forgotten the beast. Only the immemorial legend in the metal of the walls still reiterated its admonitions to remember. I found myself wondering what had happened to the old assistant who had railed so bitterly in the long ago when I told him of Cheryl's impetuous wooing. Where was he now? Dead, probably; and whether by the kind gentleness of old age, or by the rash violence of his own hand, now mattered little. He was beyond it all, and therefore happy.

Presently we entered the rotunda where so often we had sat in advisory session with the Council. A straight, white-haired woman was standing by a long table, looking fixedly down at something covered with scarlet blossoms. Although our footfalls echoed noisily through the emptiness, she gave no sign that she noticed our approach. Culman and Sylvester held back, motioning us to go on alone.

At last she turned her head and looked straight into my eyes. Her own were deep brown, and strangely familiar.

"You..." she said. "Still the cloud upon your face. Well, you have reason. You were right. How young you are. Oh, that I too had slept through it all!"

"Cheryl!" Ducasse exclaimed. "Cheryl... What has changed you so?"

"Love," she said bitterly, "and this." She pointed to the long mound of scarlet blossoms on the table.

"Is love then so cruel?" Herron asked.

"Not love! No, love is gentle. It is the mad hatefulness of those who hate love and despise it that makes it seem cruel."

"Love is still kind, you say. What then has made you white, and old and bitter?" I asked. "Surely those scarlet flowers have not poisoned your sweetness? Once, I remember, one lay upon the blackness of your hair. Is it for this that you grieve? It was under the great tree."

"I remember," she said. A look of pain contracted her brow for a moment, but it passed. "And when the blossom fell to the ground, I swept it aside. Oh, if I had swept my love away instead!"

"Your lover has been faithless to you?" Herron asked.

"Faithless? You do not know what love is!" Her eyes flashed on him in scorn. "How can love lose faith? It is for ever; it is eternal."

"Why then," I said, "do these scarlet flowers make you sad?"

"It is not they. It is what lies under them—all the red hatefulness of those who hate love."

Tenderly she brushed aside the blossoms in the center of the mound, disclosing the fair white body of a young man rigid in death. The flowers covered his face, and she did not lift them. Culman and Sylvester joined us. Sylvester went to the table, and one by one lifted the small heap of scarlet blossoms from the still, white face. A great bruise, broken by the red lightning of an angry gash, disfigured the fairness of the forehead.

"The first stone," Culman said, pointing to the gosh. "And the first death by violence in all Eos. Who hurled the stone that killed him we do not know. Some of the Councillors suspect it was the act of one of our enemies to inflame the people against us."

"Some fanatic of reason threw it!" Cheryl flashed.

"Or of love," Culman replied. "What does it matter? The young man has been killed by the beast which was unleashed half a generation ago."

"It was this that decided you to use the secret?" Savadan asked.

"Yes. There shall not be a second stone."

"You are right. The remedy of our ancestors is the better thing."

"What do you mean?" Cheryl cried, her face white with fear.

"What I say. Before nature has taken all her glut of this fair body the secret of the suns will be revealed."

"Then Eos is to be saved from ruin?"

"From brutehood, yes."

"And we shall have the law of love?"

"For all I know."

"Then," she cried, "our legends have told the truth. At last I believe."

"Who was this young man?" I asked.

The quick tears started to the eyes of this proud, white-haired woman who once had been Cheryl, young, and scornful of all tears.

"The preserver of my daughter's life," she said. "A little while ago she was singing to the people out there by the great tree."

"Ah, yes," Ducasse said. "She is called the Singing Flame, is she not?"

"The Singing Flame, my daughter," Cheryl assented proudly. "A white flame of love, and a voice to fire the coldest into passion. And this young man," she went on softly, the tears again welling to her eyes, "gave his life for her. Could any man show greater love than this?"

"Was he her lover?" Ducasse asked.

"No. He did not know her. And if he had, my daughter would never have loved him. For he was a slave to what you slaves," she flashed her scornful eyes over the toil-bowed frame of Culman and Sylvester, "you slaves would call reason."

"And who killed him?"

"Another slave of reason. While my daughter was singing her flaming songs of love out there by the scarlet tree, the followers of reason stood apart with their black looks. Then some fanatic among them hurled a jagged stone at my daughter where she sang. This young man saw the act, and leapt up to cover my daughter's body with his own. He was barely in time. The stone struck him full in the forehead, and he was killed."

"Still you have not told me who he was," I insisted. "That he saved your daughter seems to be all for which you care. Was his own young life worth nothing more than this violent end?"

"We of the Council knew him well, and honored him," Culman said. He mentioned the young man's name. "He too had a great love in his life. But it was for flowers and all humble, creeping things. They and he understood one another's fancies. Though young when he died he was a great naturalist. And he was true to Eos and all its laws."

I stood turning the young man's name over and over in my mind. Somehow it was dimly familiar, and presently I remembered; for I myself had analyzed the premarriage records of his parents.

"Cheryl," I said, "do not you know who this young man was?"

She shook her head.

"Cast your mind back to the time when you were yet a maid, and longed for a young son of your own. This dead man is the son you wished was yours. He is that small lover of reptiles who ran from us out there by the great tree. And this is his end."

As we left her she started to put back the scarlet blossoms over his face and ruined forehead.




CHAPTER XXIII

THUNDER OF WAR

We were about to return to the Chamber of the Undying Fire where Culman and Sylvester said they had much to show us, when a far shouting surged through the Council Chambers, like the distant thundering of surf upon a sandy beach.

"Ah, she is going to sing again," Sylvester said. "Would you care to hear her song?"

"The Singing Flame?" we asked.

"Yes, Cheryl's daughter in love," Culman answered. "You have plenty of time to hear her sing if you care to listen. Sylvester's work is finished, all but the last touch. The Suns will give us warning when to act. Will you go out? She usually sings in the shadow of the great tree when she is in Upper Eos."

Expressing our curiosity to hear the song that had completed the work of the mad lovers and fanned the first spark of their unreason to a flame beyond control, we passed out of the Council Chambers on to the Plain of the Five Pillars. As we emerged the shouting surged up again, and we saw that the Plain was black, as far as the eye could reach, with a dense multitude of men and women. For a few moments we stood by the main gate of the Chambers, looking down on the crowds swarming over the plain, and out toward the scarlet tree where presently the Flame would sing.

"Wherever she goes it is like this," Culman said. "All classes, slaves of love and believers in reason alike, swarm to hear her sing. And always the listeners are divided into two factions which neither mingle nor speak to one another, except to hurl back and forth hot epithets of scorn. Half a generation ago the parents of this woman sowed the seeds of dissension broadcast throughout all Eos. For with their message of a new love went strife. They taught their truth, Cheryl and her lover, to all who would receive it.

"At first the glowing pioneers of untrammeled love were received everywhere with jests and laughter. The law of reason was not overthrown at a word of passion. But presently one young man or woman began to listen seriously, then another, and the seed took root. Forgotten instincts were dimly remembered, sleeping lusts aroused, and the new liberty seemed a pleasant and desirable thing. Why appeal to the Council for the sanction to sate nature's clamant hunger? Why not, like the elemental electricities, rush to a union with the nearest, and, for the moment, the most attractive? The seed sprouted. Soon Eos was green with a new crop of tares which now, with its harvest of red hatreds, is ripe for the scythe.

"Cast your eyes over the multitude. There is not one great body of men and women met there to listen to a song. There are two. That broad avenue between the multitude of lovers and the lesser mass of reasoners will be crossed by neither, unless it be, at this last song, to fall upon each other with blows. Neither is less to blame than the other. Each is a horde of tyrants seeking to bind its way of life upon others who will have none of it. Thus passes the glory of Eos."

We made no reply, stunned by the rapidity of the degradation. Half a generation had transformed our happy, equable race into a horde of passion ridden fanatics.

"Will her voice carry this far?" Ducasse asked. "Hadn't we better go nearer? We can get quite close to the tree if we walk down the avenue between the two crowds."

"Her song will reach us," Culman replied. "It is clear, and full and penetrating. Later, if you wish, and if there is time, we can go nearer."

Once more the multitude shouted, and this time there was a snarl beneath the thunder.

"She is going to sing," Sylvester said. "Listen."

A deathlike hush fell upon the people, and we strained our ears to catch the first note of the song. But no sound reached us. Still the multitude kept an intense silence, broken only by occasional whispers from one man to his neighbor. Some message seemed to be diffusing slowly through the crowd; but where its source was, we could not guess. The silence grew strangely ominous.

"What is this?" Culman muttered apprehensively. "Has Dill begun his work? Sylvester, can you hasten your process should there be need?"

"No," he replied, as we left the Chamber steps and hurried down the broad avenue between the silent factions. "I can only utilize the energy which will be released by the suns when your work takes effect."

Culman glanced anxiously at the suns. "No sign of change yet," he muttered. "What if we have miscalculated the time, and the end comes too late?"

"If Dill succeeds before we do, it will not be for long," Sylvester reassured him. "Nothing can now stop our work from rounding out its cycle. It must sweep on to the appointed end."

"Yes," Culman groaned, "but the young men and women and the children? If Dill—"

"If Dill starts his war," I said, "I shall certainly put an end to him. I do not know what you and Sylvester have prepared, nor do I guess the secret of the suns. But this I swear: not one helpless being in Eos shall become a victim to Dill's cowardice."

We were fast approaching the great tree, and yet we heard no sound. On either side of the broad avenue the hostile multitudes stood grimly silent, as if waiting for some prearranged signal to leap into action. Presently Ducasse gave an exclamation of surprise.

"Where are all the children? And the youths and young girls? And the old? All these people waiting here are in their prime."

"With Palgrave in Lower Eos," Culman replied. "The last of the children were hurried there for safety—and for another reason—when the young man was killed. The rest—the younger men and women and the old—went voluntarily at our suggestion. You may learn why when you have heard the song of the Flame. But as it is, all these men and women whom you see are here of their own choice. And so everywhere in Upper Eos where multitudes like this are met in sullen strife. Palgrave should be back presently."

Lower Eos, I may state, was the name commonly used to designate that part of Eos which lay diametrically beneath Upper Eos, the latter being the region from which the five suns were visible. It was quite possible, of course, by our perfect system of travel, to journey from Upper Eos to Lower, and return, within the normal interval between two sleeps. The entire population might easily have been transported the vast distance in one ordinary working period.

"Palgrave should be back by now," Sylvester said anxiously.

"He will return at the earliest possible moment," Culman assured him. "Palgrave is a Councillor of Eos, not a member of the Assembly in the Dark Place."

"I did not mean that," Sylvester said hastily. "Palgrave's courage has always been open for any one to see. I feared our enemies might have trapped him."

"Unlikely," Culman asserted with conviction. "He is too shrewd for a slow-witted, war-sodden savage like Dill. But you forget that it takes time to teach the very young the secret of the Undying Fire which they must carry with them. There were a full two thousand additional of the children whom the Council decided at the last moment to instruct."

We were now within easy hearing distance of the tree. A thin voice quavered on the air, shrilling over the heads of the scowling listeners. It was the voice of a very old man. Evidently the speaker was drawing his oration to a close.

"And so, people of Eos," he was saying, "you must decide, and do it now. This is the appointed time. Freedom is ripe, and yours for the gathering. To pluck and enjoy your deserved liberties you have but to stretch forth a hand. At this moment throughout all Upper Eos, assemblies similar to this are considering the identical questions which I have just laid before you. Shall we longer submit to the tyrannical meddlings of the Council and its followers?"

His feeble old voice rose almost to a scream. "Too long have those who miscall themselves the servants of science and reason scoffed at our freedom! Too long, I say, have they fettered your lives and shackled your love. Shall we, assembled here before the very stronghold of those that hate us, lack courage? What will the fearless men and women who at this moment are forever rejecting the teachings and leadership of the Council say of us if we fail in our obvious duty? Have not we all, for half a generation, wearied of the Council? How long shall we endure its persecutions? We are sick of the Council and all its absolute sciences.

"In the name of our fathers, and in the spirit of their freedom, I say strike! and strike now! Resistance on the part of our oppressors will but hasten their death. So great is our strength that their utmost against us is but the feeble blow of a sick child. With this old hand of mine, shaken by the years and gnarled by labor though it be"—he held up one white hand, still as fat and innocent of toil as ever—"with this trembling hand alone I can sweep all of our haters into everlasting oblivion! Strike, I say, strike while the time is ours!"

Not a single voice responded to the challenge. Both factions seemed stricken dumb by the aged speaker's audacious brutality. It was an extreme of violence for which they were not yet prepared; and the speaker, quick to realize his blunder, retracted the urgency of his appeal.

"But let the man whom nature has elected to be your first leader in the new freedom speak. Let the fire of his unequaled eloquence kindle my dead words to glowing deeds; and when he has spoken, the Flame, his daughter, will sing to you of liberty!"

At this announcement one faction sent up a shout of joy, the other a snarl of rage. Edging nearer to the tree we saw the ancient protagonist of war and brutality yielding his place to a younger man. The aged speaker, having made way for his successor, passed in front of us and disappeared into the crowd, but not before he had included Sylvester and Culman in one swift, sneering glance of contempt and evil cunning.

"Eos has need of my counsel," he quavered, and vanished among his sycophants.

"Who is that old man?" I asked Culman. "His face looks familiar."

"Dill. His hatred of reason and the hope of war have kept him alive and strong. He should have been dead a quarter of a generation ago. And this new man is the one whom you knew as Cheryl's lover. He speaks well, for he is cursed with the fluent eloquence of a loose reasoner."

It was indeed Beckford. He had aged more than had Cheryl; in fact he might have been mistaken anywhere for an old man. But he was still erect and physically as handsome as ever.

In a voice that carried to the Council Chambers he at once began haranguing the crowd. He spoke long and well—if that can be called good oratory which appeals to the basest of our emotions, inflames our passions, and makes cold, sure reason seem an idle mockery. His own adherents frequently punctuated his specious harangue with vociferous applause, which his more reasonable opponents tried in vain to shout down.

He had not been speaking long before Cheryl joined him and stood quietly at his side, hanging breathlessly on his illogical periods and flamboyant gestures. They still were a personable couple, erect, beautiful, and not without dignity even in their last madness. Their heads might still have lured a painter, although the hair of both was white, and passion had seared their faces with many scars.

The speaker reviewed the history of Eos and its two chief glories—the law of reason and the law of freedom. By adroit misuse of reason he convinced his partisans that reason was the red spirit of madness and freedom the breath of tyranny. Then, in a peroration of magnificent power and brilliance, appealing to the two laws of their forefathers, he urged his hearers to perpetuate these twin glories of their ancestors by overthrowing both.

"Abolish the Council!" he shouted. "Away with the cramping restraints of a despotic, impotent and outworn science! Choose from among yourselves an Assembly with power to compel assent to the new truth which is the only freedom, and I will lead you into fair meadows of love and perpetual happiness. And now my daughter, the first living pledge of the new liberty to be born in Eos, will sing to you in colors of fire what I have but haltingly stammered in cold words."

At this announcement his faction roared like hungry beasts. The song was the food for which they famished. Beckford and Cheryl made way for a young woman whose face, for the moment, was hidden from me. I heard Ducasse and Herron exclaim in astonishment, and Savadan sharply draw in his breath. Then I saw, and stood amazed.

This woman was Cheryl as she had shone in all the wonder and brilliance of her beauty half a generation ago, but with a something ethereal of her own that Cheryl had lacked. This woman was the incarnation of clean, beautiful desire. Flesh and blood, mind and spirit, could not resist her. There was nothing of the animal in that passionate face. Yet it filled me with an indefinable dread. I glanced at the adherents of the Council. Their faces were abashed and their eyes sought the ground. Whatever this woman might sing, whatever might be the madness of her love song, she herself was pure and undeniable as fire. There was strength in the sweetness of her face.

Gazing, in the hush which fell upon the multitude, at her firm, kind mouth, I suffered all the pangs of death. For I felt that we, the Council, had erred in our decision. The message that such lips as those might deliver could never rob Eos of its true Golden Age and hurl our happy people back to brutehood. There must be truth in Cheryl's love greater than all the truths of science. And this supreme truth, unless Culman were not mistaken, we were about to blot from the universe.

He stepped quickly to her side and whispered to her. With a graceful movement she raised her hand to still the murmurs of the people, and then, in a voice of ineffable sweetness, spoke.

"Councillor Culman would speak briefly to you before I sing. Listen; I ask it."

The multitude obeyed patiently.

"People of Eos," Culman began, "I have but little to say. Not long since a young man died by violence on this very spot. His death is evidence that the legendary beast of our traditions is aroused, and among us. By those same dim histories of our race, ruin now threatens Eos. But the traditions also tell us how the imminent ruin may be averted:

"'When ruin threatens Eos, discover the secret of the Five Suns which shine above the Plain of the Five Pillars. Use the secret; it is the better thing.'

"This is the Plain of the Five Pillars: look up; they yet rest upon our heavens, and our Five Suns, like globes of the undying fire, rest upon the pillars. Look up, and once more remark the mysterious beauty of our suns: the green Star of Hope, the golden sun, and the pure white, the amethyst and the red, still shine upon the summits of those pillars of light as for ages they have shone. This, I repeat, is the Plain of the Five Pillars to which our legends refer; and those beautiful streamers of soft light are the pillars.

"Now answer me, men and women of both factions. Are you assembled in this place by your own free wills?"

The impatience of their answering roar left no doubt of their freedom.

"And answer me this: Did not the Council, a little while ago, again warn all who would have no part in strife and the shedding of blood, to leave Upper Eos and remain in Lower Eos until all our differences be settled? And did not you freely consent that all your children and the very old should go with those lovers of peace to Lower Eos?"

Again the shout confirmed his words.

"Then I have but one thing more to say. Dill, I would speak with you before these free people. Dill! Come forward."

Cries for Dill rippled down the avenue between the opposing factions, but he was not forthcoming. Then, from the outskirts of the multitude, a message traveled from mouth to mouth down to the scarlet tree.

"He entered the Council Chambers while our leader was speaking," the message ran.

"So be it," Culman replied. "He has gone, I have no doubt, to prepare our destruction. It is in his power to slay our Council and all its adherents in swift and sudden war. This is the ruin against which our legends warn us. War: that is the life of the Beast. But this ruin shall be averted. For I have discovered the secret of the Five Suns, and I have used it. Dill's preparations are vain. Before any man again sleeps in Eos, the secret of the Suns will be revealed."




CHAPTER XXIV

THE THUNDER BREAKS

The silence that deepened through the multitude was as the stillness of death. None at once knew whether Culman's revelation was a threat or a promise. Then the opponents of the Council suddenly burst into a shout of joy: to them it was the clear news of victory, the longed-for message that the prophecies of the traditions were baseless dreams, and the happy assurance that henceforth love should walk where it willed, free and untrammeled.

The Singing Flame again raised her hand, and the clamor died instantly. A scarlet blossom fluttered down from the tree, lit for a moment on her hair, and fell at her feet. With a smile she bent over and picked up the flower, kissed it, and gave it to her mother.

"I will sing our song of triumph," she said, and for a moment paused, gathering her fire.

"Come," said Culman. "We must gain the Council Chambers before the song ends. There is no time to lose."

We hurried down the long avenue away from the scarlet tree. In an instant the first full notes of that flaming song overtook and transfixed us like shafts of keen light. Involuntarily we who had just returned to Eos, stopped. Then Culman and Sylvester, each seizing two of us by the arms, hurried us along toward the Council Chambers. "If we listen we shall be slain before our work is done," Sylvester said; "and on our hands will be the blood of all the innocents in Eos. Faster!"

We would have stayed, but our companions urged us forward against our inclinations. The song played upon our bodies like a sweet fire; it entered our minds and lulled them, and it rekindled in the dark recesses of our natures white flames which ages ago we fondly imagined we had quenched forever. The words went beyond reason, beyond all things of the mind; and the melody soared on beyond the words. We had no names for the longings which that mad music fired into new life, nor for the forgotten pangs which it recalled. Only we knew that the thing whereof the music told was the one happiness which gives life all its meaning, the one infinitely desirable end of all living.

Then suddenly the song leaped after us in a fiercer, more exultant flame: it was a withering blast consuming the hatred of all those who hate love.

Writhing in the torments of that blast I became mad with a hate of all those who slur love in the name of reason; and my eyes hungrily searched the ground before our hurrying feet. For what was I seeking? I saw it! I stooped to reach the jagged stone in my path: I would dash out the life of any who sought to restrain love. My hand closed upon the missile, but I was jerked erect, and it fell from my grasp. In that instant the raging torment ceased. The song was ended; we stood upon the steps of the Council Chambers.

"It maddened you," Culman said, without reproach. "Look back. Do you wonder that they have forsaken reason to fall upon each other like beasts?"

The opposing factions, not stopping to pick up stones, met in the first shock and clash of primitive battle. They had but one weapon—their hands; and the thudding of flesh and bone upon flesh and bone rose with a sickening rhythm above the tumult of yells and hatred.

Then, as we watched in horror this ending of our happiness, a change passed over the mellow light upon the plain. It did not darken; rather its quality was altered. A shriek pierced the clamor, and it died.

"The Suns!"

That shrill fear was the last song of the Singing Flame. A white desert of faces stared up at the five Suns. The five pillars of light which Eos for ages had watched from this plain, no longer rested upon the heavens. Their severed bases were rushing toward the suns, each pillar of colored light seeming to snap like a stretched band back to its sun. In the twinkling of an eye all five pillars had been reabsorbed in their respective suns, and in the instant of their vanishing, four of the suns changed color. The amethyst sun, the red, the green and the golden were instantaneously transformed into dazzling white discs of intolerable brilliance; and the luminosity of the fifth sun, which always had been white, increased a thousand-fold.

An inarticulate sound of despair went up from the multitude, and expired in a sudden, ominous hush. All were waiting, for what they did not know. The issue between the factions was obliterated. No longer were there friends and enemies; fear had made them one.

"The suns are separating!" cried one whose eyes were keener than his fellows'. The crowd took up the cry: "They are spreading, they are spreading!"

The apparent separation of half a finger breadth between neighboring suns was real. The suns were indeed spreading; but I doubt whether the untrained eyes of the multitude actually detected the small spread.

"The energy should be released in a moment," Culman said. "If it is not, I have failed."

Before he had ceased speaking a clamor of dismay rose from the people.

"The suns have burst!" they shouted, and started to flee in all directions. Then, helpless in their packed masses, they resigned themselves to silent endurance.

Overhead the spectacle was one to inspire any man with awe and apprehension. Each of the five suns had ejected a solid ring of intense light. These rings now moved independently of their suns, being completely severed, and all appeared to recede in space. The spread of the suns now became noticeable even to untrained eyes. Each was fully a hand's breadth farther away from its neighbor than when the light first changed. The cry went up again:

"The suns are spreading! They are setting!"

Then some man in the crowd grasped the true meaning of the apparent separation. The suns seemed to diverge; in reality their apparent distances apart were increasing, not their actual distances.

"The suns are falling toward us," he shouted: "they left the rings behind them when they started to fall. The suns are rushing toward this plain!"

No sound from the multitude responded. They were dazed into apathy. Even the sudden union of the five rings into a single, dazzling vortex-ring of light wrung no cry from them.

"I have succeeded," Culman sighed. "That ring of light shall save Eos from ruin. Sylvester, your work begins where mine ends. There is the ring of free energy to complete your purpose. Use it."

"Let us to our work, then," Sylvester answered. "Will you come with me to my laboratory? It is on the new ray screen, directly over the center of the great ball of the Undying Fire. My apparatus is there. We have ample time for what must be done before the suns approach too near and swing us into a new orbit."

We signified our assent, and hastened after him, through the laboratory of life analysis to the Chamber of the Undying Fire.

"That ring of light is the salvation of Eos," Culman repeated; and we, who had slept for half a generation in the shadow life of the future, could only speculate on his meaning. We never questioned the wisdom of his decision; we were content to trust ourselves to his will. For there was no anger in his voice, only sorrow and disappointment at the ripened, bitter fruit of all our civilization.

On entering the Chamber of the Undying Fire, the full significance of the change that had come over Eos in the last few moments struck us like a blow. We realized that the secret of the suns was about to be revealed, and for an instant our confidence in the wisdom of Culman and Sylvester deserted us. Had they acted in haste? That was the uneasy thought that caused me, at any rate, to wish myself back in the shadows of the time stream.

It was not cowardice that made me face the immediate future with dread. Rather was it the ineradicable instinct of the living mind to cling to its body to the last possible instant, that quickened my heart beats and shortened my breath. However, the unworthy fear passed quickly, and I hastened forward with my companions toward the great central ball of the Undying Fire.

Outside, watching the gradual separation of the suns and the subsequent startling formation of the single vortex-ring of light, we had been merely dazed by the rapid succession of phenomena which seemed to violate every known physical law of nature. But the quick walk through the main life-analysis laboratory had reawakened our perceptions to their sharpest; and when we entered the Chamber of the Undying Fire we were half prepared for the ominous change which greeted our eyes.

When last we had left it—to speak with Cheryl—the great ball had been white and dazzlingly incandescent. Now it was a sullen red. Too evidently it was dying.

The perfect balance of our process for transforming the matter of the ball into energy and the energy back into matter, was upset; and the life of Eos was expiring before our eyes. At this moment all mechanical motion, all travel, all lighting, heating and chemical industries upon which our life depended, must be at an absolute standstill throughout Eos. For all of these, and a thousand no less important enterprises essential to the continued existence of our civilization, drew the motive energy which was their life from this central source. And now the heart of it was dying.

In a little while, I mused, vast areas of the planet would be plunged into total darkness for the first time in our recorded history. The light upon which we depended for the maintenance of animal and vegetable life was generated from the radiant energy of this prime fountain; and presently the last faint vitality must go out. That the fire was dying fast was evident. Even as we hurried toward it, to ascend the escalator to the new ray screen above, the angry red of the ball grew perceptibly duller and the last slow scintillations flickered out in sullen crimson. Our supremacy over nature was at an end.

Henceforth, when the Undying Fire had blackened and become lifeless from shell to core, nature would be master, and we, serfs. Or so I thought, musing on the wonder of our downfall. Then a more urgent dread clamored to be heard.

Our engineers had been accustomed to gauge the degree of their control over the transformation process by measuring the precise color of the ball. A faint violet tinge over the incandescent surface signified that all was normal and the control perfect; a pure white meant that the radiations were being emitted too fast. The first, faint suspicion of red was the danger signal. It meant that the atoms of matter in the ball were breaking down and being annihilated faster than the controlling process could again build them up.

If unchecked, this destruction of the matter must soon reach a critical stage, and the whole, with terrific violence, disintegrate into absolute void. More: the destruction of the matter would not stop with the ball, our physicists taught us; it would most probably spread out in a spherical wave of ruin annihilating all matter in its onrushing destruction. So the instant the reddish tinge appeared, the full staff of scientific attendants on the ball would be summoned, and each man of the thirty-five hundred sent at once to his station, there to shorten or lengthen the particular ray pulses of the total control in which he was expert.

"Have the engineers taken their stations?" I panted, as we hurried toward the escalators.

"Yes," Culman replied. "They are in Lower Eos."

"But why?" Herron expostulated. "Look at the ball! Another shade of red and it must explode. Eos will be annihilated in a tempest of destruction."

"The engineers are in Lower Eos," Culman said, "because they all are lovers of reason and friends of peace. They left Upper Eos of their own free wills."

"Abandoned their posts to let all our myriads perish in a whirlwind of fire?"

"Not all shall perish," Sylvester said. "For I have discovered sufficient concerning the nature of gravitation and its control by scientific agencies to enable me to preserve the innocent. The children and the old, the young men and women, and all the lovers of peace who quitted Upper Eos when the beast claimed its first sacrifice, shall be saved.

"Only those who deliberately, and of their own free wills, remained in Upper Eos to foster hatred, strife and bestial killing, shall see all the secret of the suns revealed. The peace lovers, the children, the aged and the uncontaminated young will presently leave this place forever, to plant what is good in our civilization upon some undented planet. For Eos is become as the Desert. The beast is aroused, and we have resolved to slay it before it exterminates our race."

"Eos is to be destroyed?" Ducasse asked, aghast.

"Upper Eos only," Culman answered. "It is the better thing."

"Is that what our ancestors meant when they advised us to use the secret of the suns?"

"It is not. They counseled a more drastic remedy. Had we followed their advice we should now be on our way to annihilate all, not merely those who have declared their allegiance to the beast. But we, who had not seen the actual beginnings of war which you have just witnessed, could not in mercy obliterate all. Our forefathers willed that not one seed of our accursed race be cast upon another planet. All, they declared, must of necessity be deeply tainted with the lust of killing if war should again break forth even between a few. For our race is one, not many individuals, they declared; and the decay of one member forecasts the corruption of the whole body. Therefore did they advise the destruction of all.

"But the Council could not bring themselves to destroy the sound and innocent of war lust along with the corrupt. It may be, after what we have seen out there by the scarlet tree, that our ancestors were wiser than we. Perhaps the beast, never in reality rooted out of our natures, still sleeps in each one of us; and it may be that the descendants of the gentlest of our offspring shall sow the seeds of war and hatred broadcast over the universe. This it is precisely which the builders of the monuments foresaw and dreaded.

"In stamping out the secret of gravitation they sought to prevent this infection of all time and space forever. Nevertheless, for humanity's sake, we have disobeyed the strict letter of their injunction, acting only up to the broad spirit. Had not Sylvester partially resolved the mysteries of gravitation, we should have been forced to adhere to the letter of their command—for so it is—and annihilate all."




CHAPTER XXV

A RACE AGAINST TIME

We hurried on in silence until we reached the escalators, when Culman spoke again.

"Come, time presses. Soon the darkness will be down on us like a pall. We shall have to climb—the first ascent by foot that any of us has ever made. The driving machinery of the escalators is stopped with all the rest. Its motive energy has been cut off with that of all Eos. Our planet is all but dead. When this ball of fire gives out its last light, all will expire."

We were about to begin the long, exhausting ascent to the new ray screen above the ball, when we paused for a moment, listening to a faint, rapid pattering of footsteps far in the rear. Someone was hastening through my old laboratory to overtake us.

"It is Palgrave," Culman announced. "I knew he would be in time for the end."

"There is someone following him," said Ducasse. "Hark—the double footfall."

We listened, and heard presently, not two distinct beats, but four. It was evidently one fast runner pacing three others who lagged but a short distance behind him.

"Palgrave will overtake us," Culman said. "We can wait no longer."

We began the endless ascent, toiling laboriously up the spiral in the swiftly thickening darkness. Only the last red glow of the ball remained to lighten our way: the light which streamed from the white suns down through the ray screen, was scattered far aloft in a feeble twilight which but made the gathering gloom the deeper. And we, who had never even slept away from the pure, health-giving light of our own creation, stumbled wearily up through the depressing darkness like shadows in a dream.

In that long, fatiguing ascent it never entered our thoughts that this ending of all our happiness was other than a just and inevitable retribution. Lifting one foot after the other in utter weariness and dazed into somnolence by the dull, blood-red glow from the dying fire of the ball, I held up a hand in front of my eyes as I mounted to my doom, and thought, "Truly this ending is the better thing.

"Better that this hand which grasped the jagged stone be annihilated, with the brain and body behind it, than that I become a beast given over to warring upon my kind. And better that the millions who have sunk to the depths of a brutehood as low as mine be swept with me from the universe forever. For they too have fallen upon each other with hatred in their hearts and killing in their hands."

Nearer and nearer the footfalls of our pursuers pattered up behind us as we entered the thin, upper twilight. At last one toiled up abreast of us. Ducasse was the first to recognize this white-bearded, grim-visaged old sage as the Palgrave whom we had known in all the pride and vigor of his young manhood.

"Palgrave!" he exclaimed. "You have aged a lifetime."

His long pursuit had all but exhausted him, and he did not immediately reply. He slackened his pace to ours, and presently recovered his breath.

"Yes," he said. "I have aged. And you four slept through all the betrayals and degenerations of our once perfect race. Therefore you have kept what I have lost. You are young to die. Yet, like true Councillors, you have returned to Eos to share our just end. We knew you would."

Nothing further was said until Culman asked who our pursuers were. He seemed to guess, but to be indifferent whether they overtook us or succumbed to the exhaustion of the ascent.

"The mad lovers and their flaming daughter. They are sane at last," Palgrave said with a bitter laugh. "All down the laboratory of the beast they clung to me, beseeching me to save them from they dream not what, only that it is not love. Already the whitened suns are separating visibly, and the great ring is beginning to approach Eos.

"They dread; but what they fear they cannot express. They asked me the truth of that blinding vortex-ring of light. I told them. But they disbelieved that this impalpable whirl of light which fills them with a nameless terror shall avert our ruin. They cried that Eos must crash into one of the suns and be consumed. For they have realized that we are falling toward them with an ever gathering speed.

"Already their imaginations heat their bodies. They feel the flame before it is kindled. As ever they reject all reason. They accused me of deceit when I told them what Sylvester has proved, and all our mathematicians confirmed. They would not believe that the fall must be checked of itself in the mutual balance of a new and stable orbit long before we suffer from the increased heat."

"They scoffed when we warned them of the beast that their marriage must arouse," Culman said bitterly; "so what more natural than their disbelief now in our predictions of nature's infallible regularities?"

"To them," Palgrave replied, "the deceits of the eye are still the foundations of all belief. Truth to them is something that can be weighed, and seen, and handled. So they are coming up with the solid, physical evidence of their own truth—their daughter in love—to see our tangible verities with their own eyes. Well, in one instantaneous flash of knowledge more truth shall be revealed to them than ever they believe existed."

We toiled up the last steps through the increasing light, and emerged on the white stone roof above the Chamber of the Undying Fire. At first the intolerable glare of the five suns blinded us; but presently, growing accustomed to the fierce light, we saw with an unnatural distinctness of vision. Far below us lay the Plain of the Five Pillars, now lit only by the naked blaze of the whitened suns and the blinding effulgence of the vortex-ring of energy which they had ejected. Small black dots, either singly or in dense masses, crawled aimlessly back and forth over the plain in the hard, pitiless glare.

Here at our great height above the plain with its seething multitudes, we heard nothing of the tumult and shouting. The drama beneath our eyes was mute. Perhaps, for all we knew, those multitudes of actors were awaiting their destiny in silence.

"This way," Sylvester directed, leading us over the dazzling white stone of the roof toward the vast expanse of the new ray screen. "My laboratory is in the center of that area."

In the white brilliance of the swiftly approaching suns the level, circular disc of the screen alone shone like a sheet of distant water; and the gigantic machinery of transmission towered steeply up from its glassy surface like precipitous islands of craggy rock. Toward these we hastened.

Just as our feet ventured the transparent ray screen, an appealing cry rang in our ears. Involuntarily we turned. The two lovers and their daughter in love, all but exhausted, were stumbling toward us over the glistening stone.

"We cannot wait," Sylvester said. "If they wish any truth from us they must follow. Faster! Look at the ball and hasten. When the Undying Fire goes black it will be the end."

Lake a young runner who wins his race, he gathered up all his vitality into one supreme effort, and shot ahead of us.

We redoubled our speed. A dull, faintly red glow beating up into our faces warned us that the Undying Fire was about to die for ever. Past the titanic machines we staggered, striving vainly to lessen Sylvester's lead. Apparently immune to fatigue he raced on far ahead of us over the glassy surface, toward a low metal building directly in the center of the screen. We saw him reach the narrow rectangle of the door; and for an age, it seemed, as we toiled toward it, we struggled with him to unfasten its hundreds of intricate locks and bars. We saw the last of them yield to his frantic patience; and with a far, thin shout to us, he entered. Still we could not cover the last distance between us and that door. It was as if our steps grew shorter with each stride. I felt that time itself was changing beneath our feet, and that we never should reach Sylvester. What was he doing? And was his time sense also changing, so that strive as he would, the end must overtake him before his task was finished?

Presently he emerged again, and stood for a moment gazing up at the onrushing suns and the blinding vortex of light which appeared to recede ever farther and farther away from them into the blue depths of space. This recession, we realized, in spite of our exhaustion, was illusory. The ring was approaching Eos; but the five suns so immeasurably outraced it, that it seemed to fall back into the void.

Then, while we followed him with reeling minds in an agony of doubt, Sylvester suddenly turned and shot into the building again. His time sense was yet true to the rate of nature, and he would finish his work. Once more, by a forward leap of the memory, I anticipated the instant result of his labors. For in a flash the aspect of the heavens was changed. The vortex of light grew all but imperceptibly wider: it was rushing down through space to overtake the suns.

"It obeys his will," Culman panted. "The innocent are saved."

We were less than a hundred paces from the door when Culman gasped out his triumph. No sooner were the words past his lips than we saw a bent figure appear at one corner of the building, slink along the front wall, and vanish into the open doorway. A great cry of despair burst from Culman's straining throat.

"Dill!" he groaned, and pitched forward on his face.

"The ring," Palgrave shouted. "We are too late!"

The vortex of light had instantaneously canted over in its downward course; and now, instead of approaching us full on, was coming down edgewise toward us like a knife. We others did not yet know the full meaning of that terrible accident, but we guessed, and the half certainty all but slew us where we were. Savadan and Palgrave each seized an arm of the fallen man and dragged his unconscious body on between them. The rest of us, by a supreme effort of the sheer will, redoubled our speed and hurled ourselves into the building. Were we too late? That, perhaps, we shall never know. Our hope and our belief is that we were not.




CHAPTER XXVI

"EOS IS SAVED!"

It was a seething whirl of cold, intense fire into which we had hurled our bodies. Like tormented serpents, intricate knots of the blinding violet light writhed and twisted over each other on the floor of Sylvester's laboratory, or darted through the clear spaces in swift flashes of lightning, colliding with one another or with the metal walls and rebounding instantly.

Through this mad confusion of solid, living flames we peered for Dill and Sylvester. At last, against the farther wall we made out two gigantic shadows locked in a desperate struggle. Dimly above them rose a broad crystal cylinder in which a single trefoil vortex of blinding white light spun slowly about its vertical axis. Instinctively we knew for what the shadows were battling to the death. One sought to destroy the cylinder, and release its triple vortex of sheer energy; the other as desperately strove to prevent him from shattering the crystal.

Through the whirling mazes of the violet fires we reeled to Sylvester's aid. The cold flames opposing our forward motion were rigid, but shouldering them aside, we began to win our way through to the fighting shadows. Half way across the laboratory my feet struck one of the writhing, serpentlike knots of the violet light. The impact was elastic, like the rebound of a hammer when it strikes a jet of water issuing at high velocity from a narrow orifice under enormous pressure. And that momentary contact shocked every nerve in my body in an excruciating, jarring agony. The next instant I had stumbled foul of the writhing knot. Like a maddened snake it darted over my limbs and body in a clinging, vibrating coil. I was bound immovably by this living thing. A sudden unnatural lightness of body and limb rendered me powerless to disengage the flickering coils and so free myself.

I was constrained to immobility. Ducasse, springing aside from another of the violet coils to avoid a like entanglement, struck heavily against my shoulders. Instantly my weightless body, no longer subject to gravity, shot forward like a stone from a catapult, straight for the battling shadows. Colliding full on with one of them, my body hurled his solid mass with terrific violence against the crystal cylinder. It rocked, and in the rebound I heard Sylvester's cry of despair, and caught a flash of his frantic struggle to right the tottering crystal.

I must have lost consciousness then for a few moments. All I remember is a blurred confusion of innumerable collisions with great fragments of shattered crystal and solid flames which my impacts set into more violent motion, and one final shock against Culman's body as it was dragged in by Palgrave and Savadan.

Opening my eyes I looked straight into the red glare of some intense radiation being reflected from a converging mirror. Under the steady beat of those red rays the violet coils about my body were dwindling to thin threads. Presently the last faint wisps of the clinging light vanished, and I was free. Immediately my weight returned.

Staggering to my feet, I found that I could not yet walk, and stood idly watching the scene before me. All through the laboratory similar cones of red rays were sweeping back and forth over the floor and through the air. Wherever the rays cut through a coil or knot of the fierce violet light, it was dissolved and ceased to exist. Presently all that remained of the mad sea into which we plunged was a single vibrating mass of knotted light, heaving tumultuously, in one far corner where the red rays could not reach it.

For a moment I was minded to shift one of the converging mirrors, and play its destructive radiations upon this last tangle of the violet fire. Had I done so, the subsequent course of the time stream might have been deflected, and all the shadow life of the future a different existence from what it must be.

But I was dazed, and did not yet fully understand the nature of those cold violet flames which seemed intangible and solid, and which appeared to be endowed with an ophidian semblance of life. And a dread curiosity to know the immediate future of Eos numbed all less urgent desires into impotence. I would know, and yet I feared to learn. So I stood irresolutely waiting for some chance word or gesture from the others to give me the knowledge which I was afraid to ask.

A terrible calm pervaded the laboratory. The struggle of the shadows and our battle with the violet flames had been an evil dream; this dead hush was the cold reality of terror. All, pursuers and pursued, having reached their goal, stood helpless and silent, contemplating the mad work of an impersonal and callous chance. Culman, now recovered, but with a red gash across his forehead, stood with Sylvester, staring in fascination at the triple vortex of sheer light revolving within its crystal cylinder.

The base of a similar apparatus stood vacant, its crystal shattered on the floor. I realized that the violet flames through which we had fought our way to the shadows were the wreckage of a second triple vortex of energy which had burst and multiplied in its ruin. And Dill, I knew, had caused the destruction. He lay stunned by his impact against the still whole crystal. His eyes were open and fixed in a dazed stare upon the revolving vortex. No one, not even his dupe and ally Beckford, paid the least attention to him.

Apart from the rest stood Cheryl with her daughter, the Singing Flame. Both were stiff and speechless with apprehension.

Herron began idly turning over fragments of crystal with his foot. Now and then he stopped to glance with aversion at Dill, the wrecker of our hope. Once he picked up one of the heavy fragments and stood irresolutely weighing it in his hand, measuring the distance between the missile and Dill's head. Then, with a sigh, he tossed the massive lump away.

Palgrave, calm and thoughtful, scientist to the last, was busily adjusting the mirror at the base of a broad metal tube. He was the first to break the awful silence.

"Tip your mirror, Sylvester, so that the rays from the vortex strike mine at the normal incidence."

Sylvester reached up quickly and swung the mirror of burnished metal into position over the crystal cylinder, so that the rays of the revolving vortex impinged directly upon its shining surface. The cylinder, I now noted, was open at the top. By means of a large, graduated handscrew he slowly tipped the mirror to the desired angle. As the mirror slowly canted, the triple vortex began to spin more rapidly about its vertical axis, until finally, when the mirror reached perfect adjustment, it was spinning so fast that it appeared as a solid, pear-shaped body of intense and stationary white light.

Palgrave now once more adjusted his receiving mirror beneath the metal tube, so that the reflected rays from the spinning vortex, impinging directly upon it, were reflected straight up the inclined barrel of the tube. Having completed his adjustments, he stood erect.

"Draw back the shutter, Culman," he said, "and let us try."

Culman depressed the lever, and a great segment of the metal roof slid back, disclosing a view of the heavens that wrung a groan from the watchers. Since we had last seen them the five suns had separated to thrice their mutual distances, and the blinding single vortex-ring of light, cleaving down through space like a knife, was still rushing edgewise toward us. It had overtaken the suns, passed them, and now appeared as a long, narrow slit of sheer light stretching half way across the heavens.

Carefully sighting along a small directing telescope on the side of his metal tube, Palgrave very accurately adjusted one screw after another until he had obtained the inclination of the tube and mirror which he desired.

"It is no use," Sylvester remarked, watching him with idle indifference. "You cannot pull the ring over again into the horizontal plane with a single pencil of rays, no matter what you do. Before Dill smashed the other generator it would have been sufficiently difficult. Now it is impossible. You can do nothing."

"I can try," Palgrave replied. "You forget that I have just returned from Lower Eos. The memory of the children's faces is fresher in my mind than it is in yours. If only I could strike that vortex up there at a glancing angle, I could tip it back into the horizontal plane."

"How?" Culman demanded, beginning to take an interest in this experiment upon which hung the lives of all the innocent.

"It is obvious. At a glancing angle my rays will hit the top and the bottom of the vortex at different inclinations, and therefore with unequal intensities. The stronger push on the lower part of the vortex will heel it over out of the vertical plane. Then, when it begins to rock, I can cut off the repulsive rays on the lower half, and use only the attractive on the upper. Now what is the exact spread of the rays from this tube? Will their cone take in the whole vortex where it is now, or must part of the vortex miss the divergence of the rays entirely?"

Sylvester gave him the data. "Until it gets to within about half its present distance from us, the whole vortex must lie completely in the cone of rays. After that, part of the vortex must fall outside the path of the rays, and we can do nothing to increase the spread."

"Very well," Palgrave replied. "I must turn that ring over, and bring it down upon our planet full on before the distance decreases to half. Will you take its altitude, Savadan, and keep me informed of the decreases by twelfths of the present distance? The instruments are over there."

Savadan nodded, and went to get his apparatus.

"Now, Sylvester, double the revolutions of your trefoil."

"It cannot be done."

"Try. Remember what our failure will mean."

"One-twelfth decrease," Savadan reported.

Without another word, Sylvester bent over his complicated apparatus of crystal bars and shining metal keys, and gave himself up to his problem. As he worked, quietly intent, Cheryl and her daughter crept nearer.

"Forget my love," the white-haired woman whispered in my ear, "and save my daughter's life. She is not to blame."

"Two-twelfths," Savadan announced. "The speed of approach is increasing in geometrical progression."

Cheryl's aged, beautiful face, pained me with its unselfish sorrow. "I would gladly save your daughter if I knew how," I answered aloud. "But I have been in the shadow life for a full half of one of our generations, and I know nothing of what Science now is in Eos. Scientific knowledge seems to have more than doubled in my absence. I am as ignorant as a child."

"Three-twelfths," Savadan's voice rang out sharply.

"What is the meaning of that terrible ring of light rushing down toward us like a sharp knife," the Singing Flame asked in a firm voice, although there was fear in her wide, brown eyes.

"Four-twelfths," Savadan reported.

"I do not know," I replied to this strange young woman whose very fear seemed a beautiful thing; "except that in some way it is to save Lower Eos from our fate."

"And what is to be our fate?" she insisted.

"You must ask one of the others—one of the older men," I replied, averting my eyes from the sheer, young beauty of her face.

"You will not tell me?"

"I do not know."

"You lie."

"Five-twelfths, one-twelfth more to go before the vortex cuts the cone," Savadan announced. "The rate toward us is increasing yet faster."

The Singing Flame turned from me, and with her mother walked slowly away. They joined Beckford. The last few minutes had stripped the thin remnants of his youth from him; and he stood bent and haggard, revealed for what he was, an old, disillusioned man. I wondered if his love still burned, or if that too had been extinguished with his ambition to tyrannize over the happy people of Eos. Presently the silent three spoke together in low voices, and seemed to draw life and sympathy from some bond between them. Their eyes brightened and they followed our nervous movements with an open, scornful contempt.

Then, after a whispered consultation, they walked over to where Dill lay, now evidently recovered from his fall, but too panic-stricken or too cowardly to rise. The three stood gazing silently down on his cowering form. Then the arms of the white-haired lovers stole about each other, and they stood there content and unafraid, forgetful of all except their life-long love. At the last it proved faithful to them and drove out fear. I envied them their love. Their daughter, stealing a tender glance at them, glided softly away, toward the last tangle of the violet light heaving in the far corner. In a few moments she stole back again, and sitting down by Dill, bowed her face in her hands and seemed to sleep.

"One twenty-fourth to go," Savadan cried.

"More speed, Sylvester," Palgrave groaned; "more speed. The rays are still too soft."

Again Sylvester bent over his apparatus, and the triple vortex revolving within the crystal gradually flattened, until it became a thin, whirling disc of the sheerest light. Palgrave left his tube and reached for a heavy mallet. Coming back he took up a position directly opposite the middle of the stream of invisible rays passing from the converging mirror above the cylinder to the reflector under his tube. Then, raising the mallet high above his head, he brought it down with all his strength on the invisible rays. As if it had struck a bar of solid metal the mallet rebounded and flew out of Palgrave's hands.

"How much to go, Savadan?"

"Less than a forty-eighth."

"We shall succeed," he said, leaping to his station by the tube. Seizing one of the longer levers, he rocked the whole apparatus slowly back and forth through a small arc.

"Look up!" he cried. "The innocent are saved!"

The long, narrow bar of light rushing down upon us seemed to vibrate. Then it became a long, very thin ellipse, and again narrowed to a solid bar of dazzling light. Almost instantly it opened again, this time into a slightly broader ellipse.

"It is turning over," Sylvester shouted in triumph. "You have saved Eos!"

As Palgrave swung his tube and mirror in an ever wider arc, the vortex of light above us oscillated through narrow ellipses to broader, until finally it canted from side to side of the vertical in almost perfect circles. Then, with a last, slow turning motion, it heeled over into stable equilibrium, and came rushing down toward us in a swiftly broadening true circular ring of fierce white fire.

Its circumference now embraced a full nine-tenths of the celestial dome, and far behind it blazed the outdistanced suns, now widely separated and many times larger than Eos remembered them. They too were sweeping down toward Eos, but the ring must envelop our planet long before they crashed into us or, as Sylvester predicted, sunk harmlessly down below the far horizon.

"Outside to see the last!" Palgrave shouted. "The secret of the suns is ours."

Culman and Sylvester followed him out, and we, who but dimly guessed what the end must be, silently joined them in the glaring light. In a moment the white-haired lovers emerged, hand in hand, and came toward us.

"Is not your daughter coming?" Palgrave asked.

"She is with her old friend, who loved her as a child and taught her the first songs of the flame. He is very aged, and needs the comforts of the young."

"He shall find them before long," Culman assured her. "Look out on the plain, man and woman who scorned our laws," he said, "and say whether the thing that we have done is better or worse than bestial war between those black multitudes."

"What have you done?" Beckford asked. His tone was stern. "Fanatic of a cruel science, what have you done? Is that terrible ring of light a fire to destroy us all?"

"It is not," Culman answered. "The fire that will destroy us is a cold flame. Now it is asleep, but it will awake when the ring sets. Look down, if you will, at this transparent screen on which we are standing. That faint red glow, now almost black, is the end of our Undying Fire. It is all but quenched. Yet the fire still sleeps, perhaps, in its cold heart."

"And you fanatics of reason extinguished our fire and with it the life of all Eos?" Cheryl asked. The faint scorn in her voice was a strangely haunting reminiscence of her old contempt before the Council while she was yet a maid.

"Say it is we who have destroyed Eos, if it pleases you," Culman answered. "We extinguished the fire. But we acted for the donors of our civilization whose trustees we are. When this screen cut off the escape of the hard radiations the fire was doomed, and the gravitational balance of the suns destroyed."

"I knew it," Ducasse remarked, ruefully rubbing a lean hand across his stomach. "And now I am about to have a violent attack of indigestion. I'll never assimilate another idea as long as I live." Even in this supreme moment his whimsical mind was true to its crochet.

"But how?" Savadan demanded. "I see that these things are as you say, but I understand nothing."

"I will tell you in the time stream, if ever we meet again," Sylvester answered with a smile. "Little time now remains to elaborate the slow theories of a scientific lifetime. Yet, when all is said, it is as simple as nature itself is when rightly seen."

"And you discovered the secret of gravitation and its control?" I asked.

"Only a part of its secret. If we knew it all we might rise from this roof at will and pass out into the depths of space."

"I think you have discovered far more than you are aware of," I said. "That serpent of violet light which coiled and clung about me in your laboratory there absolutely nullified my weight."

He looked startled. "What shape were those coils? Could you bend them? How were they wound about you? Could you, by twisting the coils, control your loss of weight in any way? Quick answer!"

"The shape was a tangle of knots too intricate for me to recall now. The coils of light were constantly vibrating and knotting themselves into new, solid shapes. I tried to bend them but could not. Once I fancied that as my arms moved one knot slid over another, and my weight returned for an instant. But I cannot say for certain. Where did the violet light come from in the first place?"

"From the other crystal cylinder which Dill destroyed. When the triple vortex within it struck the floor it burst and multiplied upon itself into the mad fury of light which you fought."

"There is still one tangle of it heaving and twisting in the far corner of the laboratory," I said. "Had not we better go and dissipate it, as you did the rest? Clearly it conceals a great deal more about gravitation than you know or dream of. When that coil bound me, I was absolutely without weight. What if Dill—"

In the terrible glare of the suns and the swiftly setting ring his face went ghastly dead white. He started for the door of the laboratory but never reached it. Through the open doorway shot a whirling ball of seething violet flames. It bounded in great leaps toward us. Then suddenly changing its direction it veered and shot vertically upward with terrific speed, vanishing almost instantly in a last blue spark into the white blaze overhead.

Culman darted into the door of the laboratory. In an instant he dashed out again, raving like a madman.

"They have escaped, they have escaped!"

Cheryl shrieked. "My daughter?"

"Yes, with that beast of war."

"Where?"

"How do I know? Into the depths of space! War and your mad love that caused it all will curse another planet. All our labor is a jest. Oh, if only I could stop that ring.... Why destroy those black multitudes and the millions in Upper Eos like them when the accursed seeds are sown? The ring, the ring, the ring! See, see—it sets, it sets!"

"Remove the screen," Sylvester shouted; "break it—anything to free the hard rays. Quick! It is our only chance."

Culman dashed toward one of the colossal lifting engines, and then, with a groan realized the futility of his purpose. It would be impossible to move the cumbersome machine. Its motive power had been cut off with the life of the Undying Fire. We had blocked our avenue of escape behind us.

"Can you do nothing?" Cheryl asked quietly.

"Nothing," he groaned. "We played with fate, and it has beaten us at every turn."

"Is the end near?" Beckford whispered.

"It is upon us," Sylvester replied. "Close your eyes."

Beckford drew his aged figure proudly up. "I will meet my future with open eyes," he said.

I set my teeth and watched the ring. Its light was a terrible fire eating into the fibres of my brain. As Sylvester had warned us it actually was setting. For an instant that lasted an age it seemed to envelop the entire horizon in a white-hot band of incandescent metal. Then with incredible rapidity it shot down and vanished.

"When it girdles our equator," Culman said, "it will contract, and sever our sphere in two. Lower Eos shall be cut from Upper in a flash. Then—" he paused.

"The end?" Cheryl asked.

"Yes."

She flung her arms about her lover as if to shield him; and for a moment their white heads touched in a boy and girl caress.

"Mine," she whispered, "mine."

"For ever," he said, and pressed his lips to hers.

The sullen red beneath our feet grew steadily and swiftly brighter. Distinctly I heard the clicking of the innumerable sparks of incandescence as the life of the Undying Fire began to rise. Reeling, I saw the others stagger. We all were plunging down, down into the everlasting stream of ages. With a thunder of fiery whirlwinds the screen beneath our feet heaved up in a tumult of flames, and subsided; the whole vast structure was collapsing. A great sheet of cold white flame flashed out over the plain to the far horizon and up to the five suns, enveloping them in one transcendent blaze of annihilation.

Then the sheer void of utter darkness and absolute oblivion blotted out our habitation for ever.




CHAPTER XXVII

THE VISION OF THE UNKNOWN SEA

We were adrift in the stream of Šons, mere shadows borne swiftly along to an unknown future. Faster than light we sped down the ages, hurled out of material existence into the moving image of an ever fleeting life. Our bodies had been blasted out of the universe, annihilated. And yet those swiftly moving semblances of ourselves in the flux and whirl of time were real and substantial, for we outstripped the slow stream in its unending sweep into the shadowy future.

When time must at last overtake us our destruction will be complete. Our very memories, our vivid consciousness of what we are, will be blown out in one brief gust of eternal forgetting. For the ruin of Eos will have surged over us, and we shall become blacknesses in its everlasting dark. We are living the image of a life, and we are behind the mirror of events.

The realities are in front, ever approaching the bright surface which separates us from life. In that instant when the impetuous forward surge of life, shattering the mirror, passes through and beyond it, we images shall vanish, and the memory of the time stream fade forever from our consciousness.

Of Eos only memories in our minds remained, and these too were passing into oblivion. The waters of the time stream were fast washing us clean of all knowledge. We became as stones, falling down, down through a bottomless ocean that seemed dead and black, yet was instinct and alive with moving color.

"We must return to Eos."

This thought stole through the darkness to our minds. It was the ineradicable desire of the mind to live and clothe itself with substance that urged Savadan's thought to grope through the void to us.

"Eos is annihilated," one of us doubted in response. "How can we return? Where our planet was, and where our suns stood above its central fire, there is a void."

"Follow me."

Obedient to his will we turned about in the time stream and followed Savadan back whence we had come. For ages we battled against the oncoming flood, but the darkness never lightened. It was absolute and unalterable. No gleam of knowledge lifted the impenetrable oblivion over our past. Yet we felt that we were moving steadily back through time to the Golden Age of Eos.

Neither Cheryl nor her lover was with us; ages ago we had lost them in the time stream. At last our motion through time ceased, and we came to rest in the void where Eos had existed. Our drift down the stream and our long swim back against its eddying currents had restored us to our initial position in time.

Yet it was long before I could believe that we were indeed gazing down into a sheer well of darkness where, but a moment before, our vast planet with its five suns and the whirling ring of fire had flamed up and gone out forever in one instant glory of blinding light. Peering down the blackness of the well, I at last made out a faint shimmer in the unplumbed void, and knew that I was gazing through the vastnesses of a universe to the infinitely distant stars.

Then I became aware of a strange colloquy passing between the minds of Culman and Sylvester. Their thoughts played about our minds like pale flames; and in their dim light we perceived a shadow of the truth that had blotted us and our place in time from the universe. The concern of these two blindly groping minds was purely scientific and impersonal. They sought to recall the natural laws by which they had achieved the annihilation of our planet. Their own destruction and ours seemed to interest them not at all.

"It comes back to me," Culman thought, "that it was while you and I stood watching the flaming mountain which our first ancestors in Eos kindled, that I first grasped the secret of our suns. There was a violet shaft of light from the blazing summit to the heavens. And the five suns rushed toward that shaft, coming to rest and sending down their pillars of light the instant they passed through the shaft and changed color.

"Then the violet shaft became invisible. But my old knowledge fades, and no longer can I recall the simple law which drew our five suns into the hard light of the violet pillar, and bound them immovably there through all the ages of our history. Sylvester, you once had skill in reading nature. What was the secret which I have forgotten? Perhaps, should we again become shadows in the future life, that knowledge might again serve us."

"What I recall of it is simple," Sylvester's thought answered. "But like yours my old knowledge is fading. I am not the mind that I was. The annihilation of our place in time seems to have destroyed the vital parts of my memory. It is as if an aura of our existence permeates the whole place in which our minds have their being. And in the destruction of our place a part of me also has ceased to exist."

He continued, thinking rapidly, but in the terms of a newer science. To this we, who had slumbered half a generation in the time stream, were strangers. He and Culman, it appeared, in a swift succession of basic discoveries, had created this new knowledge. Or rather they had reconstructed the science of our remote ancestors from the few hints which they had gleaned in their explorations of the past. Sylvester himself had irretrievably lost several essential clues; and his doubt coupled with my own ignorance begot but a feeble shadow of the truth. Nevertheless, that it was at least a semblance of the ultimate reality, I am convinced.

Presently Culman and he ceased thinking, and we felt our minds numbing like those of the newly dead.

"We must recover our way down the stream to the far shadow life of the future," Savadan's mind counseled. "There, perhaps, our minds will remember something of our happy past. And memory now is all that remains to us. The rest is a dream."

"Let us first find Dill and the Singing Flame," Palgrave suggested. "They cannot be far down the stream."

"And those whom we cut off from us in Lower Eos," Ducasse added. "We must learn their fate, or we shall be miserable all our lives in the place of shadows."

Again we drifted down the stream of time. For ages back and forth we sought the lost. Innumerable planets upon whose reflections we gazed bore life in many forms, but never one which we recognized as a possible evolution or descent from our own civilization. The fate of Lower Eos was a riddle to which we found no clue.

Possibly the uncontaminated half of our once happy planet had traveled, in its course down the time stream, into another space infinitely remote from our region of the firmament, and the breadth of many universes beyond our knowledge. And the seeds of love and kindness, of knowledge and perhaps of war, may have swung through their cycle of life in many times and many places, clothing unnumbered planets with verdure and light or with the strange garment of love and hatred which shrouds the shadow life. But to these questions we found no answer.

Nor, until the very last, were we more successful in our search for Dill and Cheryl's daughter. Then, having by an accident reascended the time stream almost to the annihilation of Eos, we saw reflected upon its glassy surface the image of a sandy beach white with the pulsing foam of some vast ocean.

That water was the sea of a planet of which we had no knowledge; our Eosian astronomy, as we remembered it, recorded no planet with nine rising and setting suns. Yet, when the nine suns sank below the ocean and the stars came out the planet seemed strangely familiar. For the heavens were as a grander pattern of those which dimly shine above the shadow life. If indeed that planet was this place of shadows Šons ago, the nine suns which made its heavens a glory have dwindled to one. The others have passed on into the depths of space. Indeed, of the nine, one greatly outshone the others. It may be that even then the eight smaller suns were receding from the planet. Or again, the eight may have been sweeping on past the planet in their vaster orbit into the unknown; and we merely chanced to see their cluster at its closest approach to the ninth sun which still remains.

We seemed to be regarding the waste of blue waters through thick glass. It was a true reflection on the time stream. Behind us lay a forest; before us, the tumultuous sea.

For long we watched the nine white discs creeping slowly across the heavens, and high above the wilderness of foam-whitened sands. The suns were on their downward course. At length, as the foam reddened with the setting of four suns, we saw an old man emerge from among the trees. He tottered down to the edge of the foam. There he stood, staring wistfully out over the heaving waters at the last five suns, which still hung low above the horizon. It was Dill.

Presently a crowd of young men and women trooped from the forest and stood gazing with Dill at the swiftly sinking suns. They all had various fruits in their hands, which they ate as they watched the sunsets. In the failing light we scanned their faces. Then we understood Dill's wistfulness for Eos. For all those faces, though kind and gentle, were unintelligent. The sparks of reason were not yet kindled in the minds of this primitive people. Their age-long ascent toward the light was still in the future. Yet they were happy.

As we watched, a slow-moving sea animal lurched down through the crowd toward the foam. They made way for it with smiles and gestures of playful affection. Dill saw their happiness, and his blood lust rose. Their simple contentment maddened him whose happiness was a shadow of the past. He picked up a heavy stone and, dropping it, crushed the harmless creature's head.

The half-eaten fruits fell to the sands. Those hapless children of time gazed in wondering horror at the white haired slayer. Then they turned and fled to the shelter of the forest, leaving Dill alone with his murder. And as the last of the five suns sank beneath the sea, we remembered the first stone which had been hurled in Eos, and wondered what marks the second, and the third, and all the millions to come after them would find in this place of simple, unreasoning happiness.

Twilight swiftly fell; and Dill, turning from the sea, crept into the forest.

The darkness came down. Long after the stars rushed out, we saw in their dim light a lonely woman steal from the shelter of the trees and walk slowly along the beach. Her thick black hair hung loosely about her body, brushing against her knees as she walked. It was Cheryl's daughter, the Singing Flame.

She appeared to be searching intently for something which she had lost among the pebbles. Presently she bent over and picked up a small pebble. In the starlight I could not clearly see its color, but imagined it was a pale golden. She rubbed the pebble on her hair.

"Oh, if I could but help her," Sylvester thought, "I might yet undo the terrible wrong I have done her.... Not that way, girl, not that way! See—hold the pebble thus—Now pick up the green pebble at your feet—Not that one; the duller, just beyond it. Press the yellow pebble against your hair.... Now, quickly with the green one break it!"

She pressed the yellow pebble against her hair. The other she held before her at arm's length, and stood motionless, lost in doubt. She had forgotten.... One spark of the undying fire and she might have kindled all the sands of the shore into instant life. But the simple secret eluded her memory and nature mocked her.

The green stone fell from her hand. She did not pick it up. Listlessly she rubbed the other against her hair. It sparked, and she started in glad wonder, dreaming that she had remembered. And the sudden blue spark gave me my direction in the time stream which I had lost.

"Watch the stone in her hand," was the message of my mind to my companions. "Follow me if it sparks again. We shall find our way into the shadow life."

Again the Singing Flame rubbed the yellow stone against her hair. Holding it before her eyes she slowly brought a finger near it. The bright, eager flash of false knowledge in her brown, eyes is the last memory which I retain of any child of Eos. She vanished with the spark. For in the instant we recovered our direction in time, she sank into the black past of unfathomable ages.




CHAPTER XXVIII

A DREAM FULFILLED

For some seconds I lay staring up at the ceiling. How had I come to this place, and where had I been? A sharp sense of impending disaster caused me to throw off the heavy coverings and leap to my feet.

"Better lie down again for a few moments." It was Beckford's voice.

"How did I get here? What has happened?"

"You are in Culman's rooms. I don't know how you and the others got here. They are still lying unconscious, as you can see for yourself. Evidently you all have had what I had. As soon as I recovered I came to look after you. It is now ten minutes past five in the morning."

Then I began to remember. We must again be lost in the shadow life. We had slipped from this room into the time stream on Monday evening. Culman, Palgrave, Herron, Savadan, Sylvester and Ducasse were still in the stream, but apparently about to emerge. Their coverings stirred uneasily.

"What day is it?" I asked Beckford.

"Wednesday, April the eighteenth, 1906. I found you all in this state yesterday afternoon when the landlord let me in. Palgrave's office girl told me about him, and I guessed where to look. I made a very quick recovery. So did Cheryl."

"Do you remember anything?"

"What do you mean?"

"Of what you saw when you were away?"

"Away where?" he asked, alarm beginning to show in his eyes.

"In Eos."

"Look here, Smith, you lie down again until you get over it. Take another nap till the doctor comes."

Convinced that he remembered nothing, I lay down to pacify him. As he bent over me to rearrange the blankets, I noted with a shock of surprise that his hair was not white, but brown. Also he was a young man again. Then, on reflecting, I realized that this was but natural. His journeyings in the time stream had erased not only his mind, but the very marks of his age and sufferings.... Again the sense of imminent peril set all my nerves on edge. And then it happened.

A harsh, grinding thunder rumbled up through the floor, and there was a sudden nauseating jar. Instantly my companions and I were on our feet.

"Outside!" Beckford shouted, bolting for the door.

But before we reached it we were hurled back on our blankets. The San Francisco earthquake was upon us. The books shot from their shelves, the window panes burst in with a crash of shattered glass; and as we got to our feet again, a cascade of bricks from the falling chimney thundered down on the blankets where three seconds before we had been helplessly rolling. Then the angry shaking ceased as suddenly as it had begun.

We looked into each other's faces but said nothing. We felt that it was not over. With tenfold fury it began again. Fixing my eyes on the corner of the ceiling I swore that I would die without a yell. Again we were thrown down and rolled helplessly on the floor. But somehow I managed to keep my eyes on that corner of the ceiling. It squeezed in from a right angle to an acute. Then it suddenly opened wide to an obtuse angle. But the house was well built, and the walls held.

Not one of us made a sound. We were too scared. With curious distinctness I remembered a passage in one of Livingstone's narratives in which he asserts that fear so paralyzes victims of beasts of prey that after the first shock they feel no pain. The whole house might have fallen on me and I should have felt nothing and cared less.

Gradually the horrible jarring noise died down. A few seconds of gentle, oily motion, and it all ceased abruptly. It was over.

"Well?" Ducasse remarked.

"Well?" Palgrave countered.

"We're alive," Culman announced.

"How do you know?"

"Because I feel seasick."

"We had better clear out before the next," Beckford advised, kicking the lower panels out of the jammed door. "Come on, crawl through."

Before following, I glanced out of the window. The clock on the tower of St. Mary's church had stopped at thirteen minutes past five.

"Hullo!" I cried, "there's a fire. It must be down on the waterfront."

Culman turned back a moment. "Yes," he said. "And I'll bet there are others. Cheerful sort of life we've drifted into. I wish we had stayed on that beach."

In our scramble down stairs I remembered the last time we had descended those stairs just after witnessing the sealing of the brass cylinder.

"Is this earthquake what you saw when you made your experiment?"

"What experiment?" he asked. He was still dazed.

"The one Cheryl asked you to make."

He remembered when we reached the sidewalk.

"Thank God, no!" he ejaculated.

"Why so fervent about it?"

"Because the consequences of this quake will certainly be deep enough to leave some reflection on the time stream. You may bet we haven't seen all of it. And I saw not the slightest shadow of anything even faintly resembling this on the time stream. There may be a great flare up before this thing ends. I shouldn't wonder if the water mains are snapped. Hullo—there are two more fires—and there's another."

In the still, greyish morning air we counted six fires in the business district between us and the waterfront. And it was then less than five minutes after the earthquake. The clang of firebells and the clatter of the engines suddenly broke the unearthly stillness. Silent groups in their night clothes hastily reentered their houses. In that part of the City at least there were no illusions. Already the people were collecting their valuables.

"But why," I persisted, as we hastened down California Street toward the Bay, "why are you so glad that you saw nothing of this on your journey into the future?"

"Because," he replied thoughtfully, "it is now a little better than an even chance that what I did see was a false reflection. I began to have hopes that it was all an illusion. It is one chance in two, now, or perhaps even a little better, that the world is to be spared what I saw."

An ambulance dashed along Dupont Street, and then another, Palgrave turned back.

"I say, fellows," he said, "if it's as bad as all this I had better be reporting at the Emergency Hospital. I'm not much on surgery, but they may need me for the shock cases. Here, Smith," he threw me his keys, "clean out my record files at the office and cache the stuff somewhere. There's about a thousand dollars in bills in the safe." He gave me the combination and continued rapidly. "See that Miss Blake (the office girl) gets three hundred to tide her over."

"Hold on," Ducasse cried, as Palgrave started on a run down Third. "When and where shall we meet?"

"Next Sunday, on the Berkeley Campus, under the Le Conte Oak," he flung back over his shoulder. "We're going to be cleaned out. So long."

"I must go and see if Cheryl's safe," Beckford said. "She came over to look after us. She's at the Grand." He ran after Palgrave.

On turning into Montgomery Street we saw a fire engine panting and fuming over a corner hydrant. The fire captain was in the middle of the street cursing or crying—I could not make out which. His men were smashing into a fierce red blaze in a fire insurance office across the way.

"What's up?" Culman called to the Captain.

"General alarm, no water. The Chief's killed."

"Chief Sullivan?"

"Who in hell else? Come out of that you —— —— fools!" he bawled at his men. "What are you trying to do? Spit on it?"

We left him to his troubles and hurried about our business. My laboratory was a messy wreck, but by some freak the spilled chemicals had started no fuss. We gathered together all the papers of value and ran on to Palgrave's.

"Somebody's beaten us," Herron said. "The door's open. If it's a looter, I'll plug him."

He drew his revolver—which he always carried on his professional visits to the underworld, and which seldom left his hip pocket—and entered, we closely following.

"Oh!" cried a startled voice.

Miss Blake sprang to her feet from her chair in front of the open files. All about her the floor was a litter of papers. On one side a neat little pile stood by itself. Her hair was in a loose knot on the back of her neck, her shoes were unbuttoned, and evidently she had on no stockings.

"Oh," she said again, but more confidently. "It's you. Help me sort these. Keep the case records—like this one—and throw away the bills and receipts. There are too many of them to sort out now. How is Dr. Palgrave?"

"Better," Herron answered. "He's gone to the Emergency Hospital. Good girl." He patted her shoulder. "How did you get here so soon?"

"Ran. I'm going over to my aunt's at Berkeley. Do you smell anything?"

"Scorching paint. We'd better hurry. Clear out the safe, Smith. You've got everything? Then we'd better run for it. The flames will be up the elevator shaft in a moment and we shall be cut off."

Safely on the sidewalk we had a hurried consultation over our next move. Herron said he would have to report at once to his paper, not that he expected any assignment on such a day, but as a matter of principle.

"Mr. Savadan," he said, "will you escort Miss Blake over to Berkeley, and wait there until next Sunday for us? If nothing happens to prevent us, we shall meet you under the Le Conte oak about noon. Here's twenty dollars—no, take it as a loan—for expenses. Smith, give Miss Blake her advance salary as Palgrave wished."

I peeled off six fifties and handed them over to her. She insisted upon giving me a receipt. Altogether she was a remarkably cool-headed young woman. Taking charge of Savadan, she immediately rushed him off to catch the ferry.

"Suppose we agree to meet in half an hour at Holst's if your paper doesn't need you," Sylvester suggested.

It was agreed, and we parted. On reaching Holst's we found John outside locking up.

"Well, boys," he said in his quiet way, "this is the end of San Francisco. They may build another city here, but it won't be San Francisco. Come in and have one on the house?"

He unlocked the doors and we followed him into the wreckage. After a prolonged search he found an unbroken magnum of champagne and four glasses. He filled up the large glasses brimming full.

"To the best city on earth," he said, raising his glass. He drank, and smashed his glass against the ruined back bar. We too added our mites to the litter of broken glass and wrecked bottles.

"I suppose you know the Colonel was killed?" John remarked as he locked up again. "His lodgings tumbled together like a house of cards."

"Are you sure he's dead?" Culman asked.

"Sure. I saw the firemen digging out his body. It was pretty badly smashed."

We said nothing, and John dropped the subject. Herron rejoined us with the news that the three leading papers were getting out a joint edition, and that he would not be needed. Also he reported the rapid spread of the fire in the Mission and South of Market. There was no water, he said, beyond what was left in a few out-of-the-way cisterns—not enough to extinguish a smoking chicken coop.

"Let us go up on Nob Hill and watch the fire," John suggested. "We may as well enjoy the show. It will cost us nothing," he added with a laugh.

As a matter of fact it had already cost him the savings of twenty years, although he said nothing about it. We learned long after the fire was cold that John's modest investment—three laborers' cottages—had gone up early, and that he knew he was ruined when he invited us to drink with him. His property was insured; but he never collected one cent of his insurance. The company in which he was insured produced an obscure earthquake clause which nobody had ever paid any attention to, because it was supposed to have reference only to Central America.

John's spirit of good sportsmanship in the teeth of disaster was characteristic of all the San Francisco people. Not once in the four days of fire, hunger, ashes and thirst did we hear a whine.

From the grinning negro gentleman whom we encountered carrying his pet tomcat and green parrot in the latter's gilded cage, to the scholarly rector of Grace Church who stood with us about nine o'clock of the first night watching the flames creep steadily nearer his church and finally overpower it, all sorts and conditions of men were ruined, generous and light-hearted. There was not a long face in the lot. What food the more provident had carried away with them was freely shared among all. Without exception the people were worthy of their City and of its great end.

"How infinitely better that it should go up in flames like this," Sylvester said, "than that all the good and delightfully bad things in it should be slowly smothered to death by earnest, high souled, stupid reformers."

All through the glare and din we slept but little during the four days. On the night of the second day we shared the Octavia Street Park with a few hundreds as footsore as ourselves, but we hardly dozed. Besides, we had no desire for sleep. The one crumpled roseleaf was the continual crashing of the dynamite explosions which told of the plucky but hopeless fight which the firemen were putting up as they retreated before the marching flames. After two days of it the constant racket began to get on our nerves, and we longed for a quiet nook on Robinson Crusoe's island. Nevertheless we, like thousands of others, decided to see it through to the end. In fact nothing short of a machine gun could have chased us out.

We shared the last stand of the firefighters at Van Ness Avenue. If they could not stop the flames there, with all the advantage of a straightaway a hundred feet broad from Market to the Bay, they might as well give up and acknowledge themselves beaten. But they did stop the flames; and Cheryl's vivid dream was fulfilled to its least detail.

"Now for a cool spot with grass on it under the trees somewhere," Herron said, as we turned down Market Street and gingerly picked our way through the hot bricks.

John, unable to tear himself away from his love in her time of trouble, decided not to accompany us. He turned toward Twin Peaks and walked slowly off by himself. Passing the bank where our precious brass cylinder was deposited, we noted with concern the great flakes of stone which had fallen from the entrance to the vaults, and the clean sweep which the flames had made of everything above the street level, leaving only a charred skeleton. But, as we learned afterwards, the vaults although done to a turn, still held their contents intact.

On reaching the Ferry Building we found another token of the general thoughtfulness of people in time of distress. Everywhere large water barrels invited the thirsty to drink.

"I revise my judgment of this shadow life," Culman said, when at last he had a skinful. "It's a pretty decent sort of existence after all."

"I second that," said Ducasse. He had just returned from a visit to the ticket office. "Free transportation to all points is the order. So I still have my thirty-five cents and no end of philosophy with which to begin a new life."

We boarded a Key Route boat. For perhaps the first time in our lives we estimated comfortable upholstery at its true value. There were very few aboard. The great exodus had taken place much earlier. Consequently each of us had all the cushions he could possibly sprawl over.

"What shall I do with my life?" Herron inquired of the white ceiling. He seemed to have been converted—in the technical sense.

"Live it," Ducasse tersely suggested.

"So long as it is a life," Herron retorted, "I must. So your advice is tautological. But it isn't a life in that way. It is only the shadow of an existence."

"Then you believe in your adventure?" Ducasse asked.

"Absolutely. So do you. And so does Culman. Every last one of us knows beyond all argument that our experiences in Eos were the truth. This life for us at least is only a vivid dream. Nevertheless we have to live it until we awake—or sink to the bottom of the flood."




CHAPTER XXIX

AN EXPLANATION

None of us challenged his statement. Presently Culman spoke.

"My mind is made up," he announced. "The one hope of this world is science. I shall devote what brains I have to the advancement of subatomic physics, on the chance of adding my mite to the solution of the great problem."

"Which is?" I asked.

"The subjugation of brute nature. Poets and other dreamers in this shadow life look upon nature as man's kindly friend. She is the archdevil. And until mankind clubs her brutal forces into abject submission he will be tormented all his days by wars and untamed lusts, by hunger and hatred and disease."

"And you soberly assert that science has made people happier than they were?" Ducasse mocked. Like all who have leaned heavily upon the humanities he had a distrust of science. "What about sweatshops? And child labor? And battleships, and your efficient, scientific machine guns? All these things came in with science. What about them?"

"Well, what about them? If I force you to swallow strychnine, who is guilty of murder? I suppose you would say they ought to hang the strychnine, or at least smash the bottle. And so in the case of misapplied science. Would you take a hundred dollar watch to a drunken idiot to be repaired? And would you entrust the care of high explosives to a paranoiac moron whose righteous contempt for all science is equalled only by his perverted skill in the mediaeval technique of legal hairsplitting? Don't blame the dynamite for making a noise when some humanitarian statesman pounds it with the sledge hammers of his eloquence. It really cannot help itself."

Perceiving that Culman was mounted on his fiercest war-horse, Ducasse diplomatically stepped aside.

"But what do you personally mean to do to hasten the world's golden age?"

"I shall go to Berlin as soon as I can convert all my assets into bonds. My patent is worth a small fortune to some enterprising business man. After finishing up there I shall go on to England."

"Cambridge, of course?" Sylvester asked.

"Of course. The Cavendish Laboratory is my aim. If only I can learn enough to be admitted there as a research student, I may be able to do something not utterly futile."

"Then you may find me waiting for you," Sylvester said. "I shall sell my ranch and live on my income. Then I shall take up my studies in physics where I left them three years ago at Cambridge."

It was the first time we had ever heard him mention his university career. He continued rapidly outlining his plans.

"Probably neither Culman nor I will discover the process for transforming matter directly into usable energy. But his mechanical ingenuity and my theoretical training might crystallize into ideas of value. I do not look for a solution of this problem within threequarters of a century. Yet, the tremendous rate at which scientific knowledge is increasing nowadays ought, within a century, to bring the end within our reach.

"Then this world will see the last of incessant labor to beat back poverty and keep body and soul together in a life which, to a majority, is not worth the living. That will be the first step toward civilizing our race. After that the rest will be easier. What are you going to do, Smith?"

"Give up chemistry as my main line," I replied, "and take a course in the Gallon Laboratories in London. Then I shall turn what brains I have to the scientific study of eugenics."

"Where will you get the money?" Herron demanded.

"From my parents."

"What, have you parents too? Lord, I wish I knew something else besides slum reporting. Where did you steal your patents?"

"Out of nature's vest pocket. I was keeping my good luck to spring on you as a surprise at our next meeting at Holst's," I confessed. "But as Herr Holst's cafe is now a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas somewhere in the infinite blue, I may as well drop my bomb now. The Baden people gave me fifty thousand dollars for all my rights in some new black dyes which I invented about a year ago. At five per cent that will net me five hundred pounds in England. For a strict bachelor with scientific tastes that income is wealth."

"Why didn't you sell your stuff here, instead of peddling it to Germany?"

"Because there were no buyers. I couldn't give my formulas away either here or in England. Now, Bill, what's your ambition?"

He laughed, and then grew serious.

"The first chance that offers I shall take a job as a war correspondent. My father has a pull with one of the big New York dailies, and he can get me a fair trial. After that it will be up to me. As a war correspondent I shall be unique. For I intend to tell the truth about war, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help me God."

"Will you marry?" Culman asked quietly.

"Yes. I intend to marry Miss Blake."

"Rather sudden, isn't it?" Culman asked doubtfully.

"Very. But there was something so attractive about her bare feet the other morning that I must have them."

We had reached Berkeley, and were walking toward the Campos.

"Bare feet nothing," Sylvester exclaimed. "She had on boots."

"'Shoes', we say in America," Herron corrected him. "You wouldn't see Venus if she stood before you for an hour. So of course you did not notice that Miss Blake's 'boots' were unbuttoned."

"I suspect that it was her nerviness which bowled you over," Culman remarked. "She is as cool-headed a girl as I have ever seen."

"Possibly her nerve had something to do with it," Herron admitted. "But it was her bare feet, and nothing else, that knocked me out."

"Does she know of her good fortune?" Ducasse asked, with an ironical smile.

"Not yet. She doesn't even know that my middle name is Xenophon. But before the month's out she shall know everything."

"Lucky girl," Ducasse murmured.

"You bet she's lucky," Herron agreed. "Ducasse, what are you going to do with your spare time? All the rest of us have confessed and made asses of ourselves. Now it's your turn to flop your ears."

"You have the advantage of me," Ducasse began modestly; "because nature has denied me the great and good gift of making an ass of myself. I intend to mind my own business."

"Which means prison reform in your case," Herron retorted. "Well, I hope you continue being able to get out of jails as easily as you get in. Hullo! here's Savadan."

"And Miss Blake," I reported. "Yes, and Palgrave. And there is Cheryl, farther down the road with Beckford. They see us."

We waved and hastened to join them in the shadow of the great oak.

"Have some of these?" Palgrave said, offering an enormous bag of oranges. "Nothing like them for a genuine thirst."

He was right. Before resuming the conversation we ate six apiece.

"Well," Cheryl began, "do you admit that my dream of San Francisco in ruins is true?"

"I never doubted its truth," Sylvester answered quickly. "And you were lucky to have your insurance with a sound company. Some of the shadier concerns will repudiate under cover of their earthquake clauses."

"I know," she replied. "Mr. Thompson passed a little while ago with his wife, and he told me. But all this talk about money seems so trivial at a time like this. Mr. Sylvester, will you answer me a question? I asked Mr. Savadan, and he referred me to you."

"If I can, Miss Ainsworth," Sylvester replied.

"It is very hard to state clearly," she went on; "and you must be patient. My waking dreary, or vision, of San Francisco in ruins was a true forecast of the future, was it not?"

We nodded, and she continued.

"And no human being could have prevented the earthquake?"

We agreed with reluctance, guessing the object of her questions.

"Very well. No human being, then, could have prevented the fire. For after the earthquake snapped off the water mains the firemen could do nothing."

"There I disagree with you, Miss Ainsworth," Sylvester broke in quickly. "We met scores of business men in San Francisco who declared that Chief Sullivan had a whole plan of campaign mapped out for just such an emergency as this. He had marked exactly the blocks to dynamite when the fire should reach a given place. And if he had not been killed, these men asserted, the City might have been saved."

"But he was killed, wasn't he?" she insisted. Sylvester nodded. "Now then," she resumed, "I can state my question. If the future exists independently of us, and if certain events must happen in spite of everything we can do to prevent them, what right have we to say that we have freedom of the will? More definitely, is not Henley's courageous boast,

'I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul,'

sheer nonsense?"

Sylvester went white. "Did not you, in other words, perhaps, ask one of us a question like that once before?" he asked.

"Not that I remember. But you haven't answered me."

"Your question is a hard one. Nevertheless it can be answered. I shall give you a very short way out of your difficulty," he laughed, "and restore the freedom of your will. Please," he went on with a sudden earnestness, "remember this and think about it the rest of your life. Briefly it is this: the reflections that we see on the future reaches of the time stream are true images. But they are not unalterable."

"That is casuistical sophistry," she said with a faint scorn.

"It is not Have patience. Listen, and I will explain. Events are of two kinds: those which result from uncontrolled operations of nature, and those which are the outcome of intelligence acting upon and directing the raw materials of nature. It is the next thing which you must think over before you appreciate its true meaning.

"The uncontrolled events happen, we who are trained in science believe, in such a way that one state in passing into a future state always passes through the shortest distance in space and time. This is a sort of 'principle of economy in nature' which we believe to be a true account of undirected natural events. In physics it is called the 'principle of least action,' and was first introduced, not on scientific grounds, but theological. From it all the known laws of physical science can be deduced by simple mathematical reasoning.

"Now consider the other kind of events—those resulting from the intelligent control, human or otherwise, of natural laws. By such intelligent control it is possible so to vary the path in time and space that we can change what undirected nature would make our destiny.

"The rest is obvious. The reflections of the uncontrolled passage of events are the images which we see upon the time stream. If we are scientific we shall so lengthen our paths in time and space as to circumvent the traps which nature sets for us. This, in fact, is the business of science: to foresee the predictable future and reshape our paths so that the greatest happiness shall come to the greatest number. Without science we are the beasts that brute nature would have us; with science we may in time drive out the beast and become as human as we would wish to be."

"I will think about it," she said. "Even a scientific superstition may be more workable and comforting than crude fatalism. Now, Mr. Sylvester, you have been so good about this—although I don't understand three words of what you have said—that perhaps you will answer me another question. You studied Greek at your English school, I presume?"

"Yes; but I remember very little of it beyond the Odyssey."

"Then can you tell me what is the Greek for 'dawn'?"

Sylvester started violently. "Why do you ask?"

"Because since you and the others left my garden last Sunday afternoon—just a week ago—I have been tormented by a mad desire to know the Greek word for dawn."

"Why didn't you run up to the library here and consult a lexicon? Or ask someone else? There must be a hundred men within a stone's throw of us who could tell you in a second."

"Because," she smiled, "I had an unaccountable impulse to hear the word from you alone. I have even dreamed about asking you. Now, won't you please tell me?"

"Eos," he said.

"Oh, thank you. Now I remember."

"What do you remember?"

"Why, the Greek for dawn is Eos."

"And nothing more?"

"Of course not. Why should I?"

"Why should you? ... I do not know. Love has made you blind."

She laughed, and blushed prettily. "Say happy, instead of blind. You are very mysterious today, Mr. Sylvester. Won't you tell me what you were thinking of?"

"I was thinking of a beast, just then," he replied.

"You had all better go and take a long nap under the trees," she said with a short laugh. "Too much playing with fire isn't good for little boys."

Palgrave's face while she was speaking was ghastly. She now turned suddenly toward him with her most winning smile.

"We have a confession to make," she said, taking Beckford's willing hand in her own, and standing prettily humble before Palgrave. "While you were asleep up yonder under the eucalyptus trees, we became engaged to each other. Won't you give us your blessing? Please: it will make our happiness complete."

Palgrave's eyes filmed. "Man and woman," he began mechanically, "standup, that we may see—"

"But we are standing," she interrupted with an uneasy laugh. "You talk like a judge about to condemn us to be hanged."

"Pardon me," he murmured, "I was dreaming." He turned to us. "Let us," he went on softly, "according to our immemorial custom, wish this man and woman happiness in their marriage."

"Happiness in their marriage to this man and woman," we repeated involuntarily.

"Thank you so much for your kindness," Cheryl replied warmly. "But how strangely you all act. It is time you took a long nap. Now, we will wake you at sunset, and you must all come with me and have something really good to eat. I have discovered a dandy private boarding house on Dwight Way. Miss Blake, you and Mr. Savadan will join us?"

"Delighted," Miss Blake replied with rather an acid smile. She did not seem to like Cheryl very well. "But Mr. Savadan and I will go to look at the Creek theatre while these men get some rest." And with a curt nod to the lovers, she marched the hapless Savadan off to inspect a modern abomination of mud-colored concrete which he had no desire to see.

As Cheryl and Beckford turned and walked rapidly away from us, lost in the haze of their golden happiness, Herron sighed. "We have done this before," he said. "I wonder if John Davidson knew what he meant in that great Last Ballad of his?—

'Heel and toe from dawn to dusk,
Round the world and home again.'"




CHAPTER XXX

SYLVESTER'S MESSAGE

A few weeks more than twenty-five years have passed since we stood in the shade of the Le Conte oak watching Cheryl and her lover marching joyously away, arm in arm, into their new happiness. Each of us has had his full share of good and bad, which we have accepted with more or less indifference. For hour by hour and day by day the conviction has strengthened that our own lives here are but shadows. We appear always to be standing on the threshold between a dim cave of dreams and a vivid plain of reality, unable either to go forward into the light or to withdraw back into the darkness.

Whether the men and women around us are aware of a similar indecision, we cannot say, but we think not. Some years ago Sylvester proposed a simple theory which accounts for both the hard reality of the life and people about us and our own thin, mechanical existences.

Briefly, he believed that our reflections must have drifted for ages down the time stream, starting immediately after the annihilation of Eos. In all those blind ages of our involuntary drift, life on this planet was slowly evolving up to the level at which we now know it. Not until entering this life did our indestructible memories begin to return to us, and then only in disjointed and fragmentary intimations of our vanished existence. At last a chance sound precipitated our suspended minds, and we shadows found our way back in the time stream to the epoch of Eos before its annihilation.

Having in this way regained our all but infinitely remote past, we, as shadows, relived our forgotten lives by merely drifting down the stream. Finally, Sylvester believed, we must again slip into the stream, either to be borne into the undreamed future or to swim back once more to the vivid image of our perished habitation.

He even speculated on the possibility of our drifting clear through the future and back thus to the past, reliving innumerable times the entire drama of our race. For that the time stream is indeed circular and closed, he held to be indisputable. I recall that he once expressed it by referring to the space-time geometry imagined by d'Alembert and Lagrange, declaring that the time direction of space was curved as in the famous geometrical system of Riemann. But this matter was a little too technical for my comprehension; so I do not wish to impute the statement I have just made to him.

It may, for all I know, be sheer nonsense; and Sylvester was not addicted to nonsense. Ducasse informs me that Nietzsche held a similar belief, but was unable to offer any scientific basis for his dogma. It will be recalled that Nietzsche was a philosopher, utterly blameless of even the most elementary science, and that he died as he had lived, insane. Sylvester was nothing if not sane.

However all that may be, my own experiences during the past twenty-five years, and those of Culman, Herron, Ducasse, and Palgrave, lend this speculation a strange support. For each of us, on his involuntary excursions into time, has lived many lives not one of which leaves an intelligible residue upon reentering this shadow life. All that remains of these distressful explorations is a vivid panorama of sheerly untranslatable images and sense impressions bound together by a tantalizing, inexplicable reasonableness.

I can describe this better, perhaps, by a comparison. Suppose a savage from the Stone Age were suddenly transported into all the bewildering complexity of our Twentieth Century life. He would see and hear but understand not one sight or a single sound. Now suppose him to be instantly sent back to his fellow savages to report upon our civilization. He would lack not only words but ideas to express his recollections. So far as his voyage in time was concerned he would be dumb.

And so with us. What we have seen is, as I have emphasized, consistent. But to us it is unintelligible. Hence we must conclude that all of our journeys in time during the last quarter century have been into the remote future, and that we are striving subconsciously to find our way back to Eos by the longest route. Whether we shall proceed before forgetfulness overtakes us—if that indeed is to be our fate—we cannot guess. Sometimes we long for the finality of failure and an end to all our doubts and futile questionings.

So when, about a month ago, we gathered in Palgrave's New York office to unseal the brass cylinder, it was not with any great eagerness that Culman's manuscript should redirect us back to Eos. When sealing the cylinder it had been Culman's intention to store up convincing evidence of the reality of our backward swim in time, and thereby refresh our faith in our true existence. But much journeying to and fro in the swirls of eternity has chilled our ardor, and we are now resigned to drift with this life whithersoever it takes us.

Culman presided at our reunion.

"It is the fourteenth day of April, 1931," he began. "According to our agreement made on the fifteenth day of April, 1906, we who survive are to unseal this cylinder and read its contents. Of the parties to that agreement two are dead, Savadan and Sylvester. Savadan died three months and two days after the San Francisco earthquake, that is, on July twentieth, 1906. His last days, thanks to Herron and Ducasse, were happy."

He paused for a moment, and then continued in an even voice.

"Sylvester, as you know, perished on April 22, 1915, at Ypres in the first gas attack of the World War. I have here a letter from him, written six months before his death, which I will read. It is the last word which I had from him."

"'Dear Culman:

"'When you left me a month ago to return to the United States, I had already made up my mind to take the step of which this letter is the record. You know me well enough to make apologies superfluous. You know that I hate war with a hatred as bitter as your own. My five brothers also hated it. Yet they have all been killed. I can stay out no longer.

"'I shall not bear arms. The idea of taking human life is to me repugnant and in any circumstances whatever inexcusable. You perceive that I am still a rabid, fanatical pacifist. Also I am still an American citizen. Therefore I cannot be forced into the service against my free will. I shall join that branch which alone is not a blasphemy against our race—the Red Cross.

"'Tomorrow I sail for France as a stretcher bearer. Where they will send me I do not know. But this I do know: if ever I am ordered to kill, I shall disobey, and stand up before a firing squad.

"'Did you see that Henry Moseley was shot dead in the trenches at Gallipoli? By the stupidity of his death the world has lost a century. And did you read Mr. Churchill's great speech the other day? According to gossip, we have his genius to thank for the brilliant Dardanelles campaign. Who killed Moseley? A Turk, no doubt.

"'Well, old fellow, keep out of this rotten mess. There is neither reason nor common sense in a single minute of it. And yet the fearless orators of all nations are urging the men in the mud to carry it on for ten years.

"'So long for the present. Good luck in your new experiment. Try a palladium screen if the platinum won't work. I have always suspected both of these, as we know them, of being mixtures, not true elements. Carry on!—J.J.S.'"

Culman folded up the letter and returned it to his pocket. Taking up the brass cylinder, he held it out for our inspection.

"The seals are intact," he said, "as you can see for yourselves. These marks you recognize as the mathematical symbols which Sylvester cut into the lead with his penknife. If you are satisfied that nothing has been tampered with, I will break the seals and read the manuscript in the cylinder."

None of us objecting, he cut the wire and unscrewed the cap of the cylinder. Having unrolled his manuscript, he began reading, as follows:

"'April 15, 1906. San Francisco. This writing is a true account in its major details of an image which I saw reflected on the surface of the time stream relating to the future of this shadow life. I saw this image while in the time stream, having entered the stream at the request of Cheryl, then in Eos, to see whether her new way of love was to survive the vicissitudes of time and persist beyond Eos into its remote future. My vision, as I reported in the Chamber of the Undying Fire, confirmed Cheryl's love. It is to last. The law of reason in human mating is to be forgotten.

"'In addition to this discovery I made many others of equal importance in the course of my experiment. All of these concern this shadow life beyond Eos where I am now writing. The most important of these discoveries I shall now briefly transcribe.'"

Culman then proceeded rapidly with the main body of the manuscript. It was a vivid forecast, curiously accurate except in one respect, of the major operations of the World War. The exception was this: although the several chief battles were predicted in minute detail, their order in time was hopelessly confused. Thus, in Culman's prophecy, the Battle of Verdun preceded the Battle of the Marne. Each great operation of the war was treated as a separate event in the order of its visualization upon the time stream; and no attempt had been made to coordinate the outcomes of the several battles.

In each case the numbers of killed, wounded and missing were stated with a show of great precision. Many of the figures so given differ materially from the published statistics. It will be interesting to compare the predicted losses with the actual, should the truth about the latter ever be made public.

Passing from the forecasts of the war in general, Culman's prophecy then went on to treat in detail the actions of our group in relation to the conflict. Palgrave's service with the Red Cross in Russia was accurately described. So also was that of Ducasse in the English prison camps. Culman's flight from Berlin on the eve of the declaration against France was set down in detail. His work in connection with respirators for gas masks was also elaborated, although, of course, details of his inventions were not given.

Herron's career in the Balkans was outlined, and the fact that his reports would be suppressed by the British Censor, duly emphasized. My own work was briefly and correctly noted. Last, the death of Sylvester by chlorine asphyxiation in the first gas attack of the war was accurately set forth, with the comment that Sylvester himself was aware of the general manner in which he should meet his end, having seen its reflection on the time stream.

Culman rolled up his manuscript and returned it to the cylinder.

"In 1914 I notified the proper authorities that Germany would probably introduce chlorine gas as a military weapon," he said. "It was due entirely to the good offices of Sylvester and Ducasse that I was released from the asylum. My experience convinced me that a knowledge of the future is an undesirable asset. In this I was strengthened by subsequent events. I have learned that less than sixty hours before the first gas attack three German deserters came into the British lines with full details of the proposed infamy. The officers discredited the information, believing it impossible for any civilized nation to resort to such warfare."

"It is like belief in a future existence," Herron remarked. "Some are so constituted that they would continue to disbelieve in a life beyond the grave even if their own dead returned to them with the lilies of Paradise in their hands."

"You used to be that way yourself," Ducasse laughed. "What changed you? Marriage?"

"Call it marriage if you like," Herron replied. "I prefer the word love."

"Which reminds me of Cheryl," Palgrave remarked in the awkward silence which followed Herron's revelation. "She and Beckford are still foolishly happy. She thinks he is the greatest man in America, and he thinks—well, I don't know what. Anyway he's going in tooth and nail for the highest politics on the strength of his war record."

"War record?" Culman echoed incredulously. "Beckford? What did he do?"

"Why, haven't you heard? I thought everybody from the Gulf to Baffin Bay and from Maine to California had read Beckford's tremendous speeches."

"Oh—that. Yes; I daresay he will be elected to whatever office he fancies. His typewriter too, they say, was never silent."

"Something like mine, then, at present," Herron laughed. "My wife is pounding away at it six hours a day."

"Good for her," Ducasse exclaimed. "When will your book be out?"

"Next month. My backers want to get it on the market—at nominal cost—before the Russian fiasco turns into a tragedy. The Soviets may have remembered the Law of Reason, but they have obviously overlooked the other. That book of mine is unique."

"Then it must be truthful," Ducasse remarked with a return of his old cynicism. "By the way, Palgrave, why did you rush off to California last month? One of your associates, with tears in his eyes, was telling me today how perilously near your practice came to going to pot in your absence."

Palgrave reddened with embarrassment.

"Since you ask me a plain question, I will give you a plain answer. Cheryl telegraphed for me."

"Why?" Culman asked. "If it is anything private you need not tell us."

"It is nothing that need be kept from anyone here, for all of you will understand its true significance. I went to examine Edward."

"Their boy?" Ducasse asked.

"Yes. He is now fifteen, and a fine, healthy youngster. There is nothing whatever the matter with him, physically, mentally or morally. All in all he is as perfect a specimen as I have ever examined. And he shows unmistakable signs of genius. He writes poetry—poetry, mind, not mere verse—of a high order of beauty. In quality it is a mystical compound of light and fire—just what Blake might have written had he been gifted with Shelley's sense of form and his clear headed logic. In short I am convinced that the boy remembers."

"Remembers what?" we asked.

"Eos."

"Is that why Cheryl sent for you?" Culman demanded.

"It is. Only she is unaware of her motive. The boy has been having intensely vivid dreams, and she fears brain disease or degeneracy. Some young jackass of a practitioner filled her up with a lot of Jewish psychology which he has half assimilated from the effusions of Freud, Jung, Brill, and the rest of that enthusiastic crowd. Then he proceeded to analyze her boy's dreams and his harmless playthings in a singularly irrelevant hotch potch of pseudo-scientific bosh. The fact that the boy is always dreaming of scarlet blossoms had an obscure sexual significance for this up to date psychoanalyst. I asked the boy to describe the blossoms. He did so in detail. I will leave you to guess what they were."

"Those on the great tree by the Council Chambers?" Herron asked.

"Exactly. He even had the elliptical arrangement of the forty-seven yellow stamens precisely right."

"Did you pacify Cheryl?"

"After some fuss. I think she will have commonsense enough to let her son develop his genius in his own way. At any rate I got her to promise to take him to no more amateur Freudians."

"What about his playthings?" I asked. "You implied that there was something unusual there too."

"Oh, yes. Before I saw the boy's collection—all neatly housed in little coops with grass runways fenced off in front—I had no idea so many different kinds of lizards existed. Or if I did know, I never dreamed that there were such ugly ones. He must have nearly a hundred. The horned toads seem to be his special pets."

"What on earth was the matter with his farming reptiles if he wanted to?" Ducasse asked. "Of course all of them were non-poisonous?"

"Of course. The harm was in my jackass friend's mind. He had just been reading a curious book on Mona Lisa, in which poor old Leonardo da Vinci is liberally smeared with the new Hebrew psychology. In that the gifted author—Freud, or one of his followers—acutely remarks that a love of animals in early childhood is strong evidence of sadistic traits. The remark stuck in my friend's mind, and he applied it to that poor kid's unfortunate love of ugly lizards. Cheryl used a very complete dictionary and found out exactly what 'sadistic' means. Naturally she was shocked. Then she telegraphed for me."

"There is another explanation of the boy's love of reptiles," I said. "I will tell you about it some day. Now it will be enough to remark that Cheryl seems to have got the son she always longed for."

"So their young son is sound in every way?" Herron asked.

"Absolutely. And on top of it all he is a genius."

"Then," Herron remarked, "the law of reason seems to be unnecessary in this life. Cheryl's substitute may be just as good after all."

"Possibly," Palgrave admitted. "Having forgotten what love feels like, I cannot say."

We lapsed into moody silence, and sat staring at the polished surface of the table.

"We are drifting into the time stream again," Ducasse murmured drowsily. "Watch the reflections on the table top."

He was right. The walls of the room receded, and a new radiance quivered on the ampler air of this vast chamber into which we had drifted. It was a physical laboratory of the not far distant future. That this image was indeed not probably farther than a century down the stream, we recognized from the few familiar measuring instruments here and there among the strange apparatus of a future science.

As so often before we appeared to be regarding the reflection of the time stream through thick glass. A will exterior to our own impelled us to look toward a long metal table against the farther wall of the laboratory. From the centre of this table streamed a steady light which at first all but blinded us. Then our vision, becoming reaccustomed to an old habit, pierced the blaze to the small incandescent sphere from which it issued in sheaves of dazzling rays. With a shock of glad wonder we recognized once more the peculiar faint violet tinge of the undying fire. It had been rediscovered!

Then we became aware of a familiar figure standing motionless by the table, gazing steadily down at the incandescent ball. He too was but a reflection and, like us, appeared to be watching the fire from behind a screen of thick glass. He did not perceive our presence in the time stream. Evidently he was absorbed in thought.

Presently his image turned from the ball and moved toward a work desk at the far end of the laboratory. We followed, and stood with him looking over the litter of open books and closely written papers on the desk. All the books but one were opened at pages covered with the intricacies of some future mathematics, or with the clear cut diagrams of physical apparatus as yet undesigned in this shadow life.

The one exception was a book of poems. On looking for the title, I saw the single word "Hellas" across the top of the page, and thought at once of Shelley's sublime prophecy which bears that name.

Still Sylvester did not perceive our near presence beside him in the time stream. His eyes travelled over the intricate pages of his beloved mathematics, and then, as if by accident, rested for an instant upon the poem. His face lit up with a glad recognition: it had always been a favorite of his.

The owner of the book, who, no doubt was also the rediscoverer of the undying fire, had marked a passage of the verse. Sylvester's finger followed this mark down the page as he read, and we with him, the lines of that superb chorus which closes Shelley's vision:

"The world's great age begins anew,
    The golden years return,
    The earth doth like a snake renew
    Her winter weeds outworn ...

"Saturn and Love their long repose
    Shall burst, more bright and good
Than all who fell, than One who rose,
    Than many unsubdued:
Not gold, not blood their altar dowers
But votive tears and symbol flowers.

"Oh cease! must hate and death return?
    Cease! must men kill and die?
Cease! drain not to its dregs the urn
    Of bitter prophecy:
The world is weary of the past,
Oh, might it die or rest at last!"







[End of The Time Stream, by John Taine]