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Title: A Glimpse of the Sinless Star
Author: George Griffith
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Language: English
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A GLIMPSE OF THE SINLESS STAR
George Griffith



INTRODUCTION:

--For their honeymoon Rollo Lenox Smeaton Aubrey, Earl of Redgrave,
and his bride, Lilla Zaidie, leave the earth on a visit to the moon
and the principal planets, their sole companion being Andrew
Murgatroyd, an old engineer who had superintended the building of the
Astronef, in which the journey is made. By means of the "R.Force," or
Anti-Gravitational Force, of the secret of which Lord Redgrave is the
sole possessor, they are able to navigate with precision and safety
the limitless ocean of space. Their adventures on the moon and on Mars
have been described in the first two stories of the series.



"How very different Venus looks now to what it does from the earth,"
said Zaidie as she took her eye away from the telescope, through which
she had been examining the enormous crescent, almost approaching to
what would be called upon earth a half-moon, which spanned the dark
vault of space ahead of the Astronef.

"I wonder what she'll be like. All the authorities are agreed that on
Venus, having her axis of revolution very much inclined to the plane
of her orbit, the seasons are so severe that for half the year its
temperate zone and its tropics have a summer about twice as hot as our
tropics and the other half they have a winter twice as cold as our
coldest. I'm afraid, after all, we shall find the Love-Star a world of
salamanders and seals; things that can live in a furnace and bask on
an iceberg; and when we get back home it will be our painful duty, as
the first explorers of the fields of space, to dispel another dearly-
cherished popular delusion."

"I'm not so very sure about that," said Lenox, glancing from the
rapidly growing crescent, which was still so far away, to the sweet
smiling face that was so near to his. "Don't you see something very
different there to what we saw either on the moon or Mars? Now just go
back to your telescope and let us take an observation."

"Well," said Zaidie, "as our trip is partly, at least, in the interest
of science, I will." and then, when she had got her own telescope into
focus again--for the distance between the Astronef and the new world
they were about to visit was rapidly lessening--she took a long look
through it, and said:

"Yes, I think I see what you mean. The outer edge of the crescent is
bright, but it gets greyer and dimmer towards the inside of the curve.
Of course Venus has an atmosphere. So had Mars; but this must be very
dense. There's a sort of halo all round it. Just fancy that splendid
thing being the little black spot we saw going across the face of the
Sun a few days ago! It makes one feel rather small, doesn't it?"

"That is one of the things which a woman says when she doesn't want to
be answered; but, apart from that, your ladyship was saying?"

"What a very unpleasant person you can be when you like! I was going
to say that on the moon we saw nothing but black and white, light and
darkness. There was no atmosphere, except in those awful places I
don't want to think about. Then, as we got near Mars, we saw a pinky
atmosphere, but not very dense; but this, you see, is a sort of pearl-
grey white shading from silver to black. But look--what are those tiny
bright spots? There are hundreds of them."

"Do you remember, as we were leaving the earth, how bright the
mountain ranges looked; how plainly we could see the Rockies and the
Andes?"

"Oh, yes, I see; they're mountains; thirty-seven miles high some of
them, they say; and the rest of the silver-grey will be clouds, I
suppose. Fancy living under clouds like those."

"Only another case of the adaptation of life to natural conditions, I
expect. When we get there, I daresay we shall find that these clouds
are just what make it possible for the inhabitants of Venus to stand
the extremes of heat and cold. Given elevations, three or four times
as high as the Himalayas, it would be quite possible for them to
choose their temperature by shifting their altitude.

"But I think it's about time to drop theory and see to the practice,"
he continued, getting up from his chair and going to the signal board
in the conning-tower. "Whatever the planet Venus may be like, we don't
want to charge it at the rate of sixty miles a second. That's about
the speed now, considering how fast she's travelling towards us."

"And considering that, whether it is a nice world or not, it's about
as big as the earth, and so we should get rather the worst of the
charge," laughed Zaidie, as she went back to her telescope.

Redgrave sent a signal down to Murgatroyd to reverse engines, as it
were, or, in other words, to direct the "R. Force" against the planet,
from which they were now only a couple of hundred thousand miles
distant. The next moment the sun and stars seemed to halt in their
courses. The great silver-grey crescent which had been increasing in
size every moment appeared to remain stationary, and then when Lenox
was satisfied that the engines were developing the force properly, he
sent another signal down, and the Astronef began to descend.

The half-disc of Venus seemed to fall below them, and in a few minutes
they could see it from the upper deck spreading out like a huge semi-
circular plain of silver grey light ahead, and on both sides, of them.
The Astronef was falling upon it at the rate of about a thousand miles
a minute towards the centre of the half crescent, and every moment the
brilliant spots above the cloud-surface grew in size and brightness.

"I believe the theory about the enormous height of the mountains of
Venus must be correct after all," said Redgrave, tearing himself with
an evident wrench away from his telescope. "Those white patches can't
be anything else but the summits of snow-capped mountains. You know
how brilliantly white a snow-peak looks on earth against even the
whitest of clouds."

"Oh, yes," said her ladyship, "I've often seen that in the Rockies.
But it's lunch time, and I must go down and see how my things in the
kitchen are getting on. I suppose you'll try and land somewhere where
it's morning, so that we can have a good day before us. Really it's
very convenient to be able to make your own morning or night as you
like, isn't it? I hope it won't make us too conceited when we get back,
being able to choose our mornings and our evenings; in fact, our
sunrises and sunsets on any world we like to visit in a casual way
like this."

"Well," laughed Redgrave, as she moved away towards the companion
stairs, "after all, if you find the United States, or even the planet
Terra, too small for you, we've always got the fields of Space open to
us. We might take a trip across the zodiac or down the Milky Way."

"And meanwhile," she replied, stopping at the top of the stairs and
looking round, "I'll go down and get lunch. You and I may be king and
queen of the realms of Space, and all that sort of thing; but we've
got to eat and drink after all."

"And that reminds me," said Redgrave, getting up and following her,
"we must celebrate our arrival on a new world as usual. I'll go down
and get out the champagne. I shouldn't be surprised if we found the
people of the Love-World living on nectar and ambrosia, and as fizz is
our nearest approach to nectar--"

"I suppose," said Zaidie, as she gathered up her skirts and stepped
daintily down the companion stairs, "if you find anything human or at
least human enough to eat and drink, you'll have a party and give them
champagne. I wonder what those wretches on Mars would have thought of
it if we'd only made friends with them?"

Lunch on board the Astronef was about the pleasantest meal of the day.
Of course there was neither day nor night, in the ordinary sense of
the word, except as the hours were measured off by the chronometers.
Whichever side or end of the vessel received the direct rays of the
sun, there then was blazing heat and dazzling light. Elsewhere there
was black darkness, and the more than icy cold of space; but lunch was
a convenient division of the waking hours, which began with a stroll
on the upper deck and a view of the ever-varying splendours about them
and ended after dinner in the same place with coffee and cigarettes
and speculations as to the next day's happenings.

This lunch hour passed even more pleasantly and rapidly than others
had done, for the discussion as to the possibilities of Venus was
continued in a quite delightful mixture of scientific disquisition and
that converse which is common to most human beings on their honeymoon.

As there was nothing more to be done or seen for an hour or two, the
afternoon was spent in a pleasant siesta in the luxurious saloon of
the star-navigator; because evening to them would be morning on that
portion of Venus to which they were directing their course, and, as
Zaidie said, when she subsided into her hammock: "It will be breakfast
time before we shall be able to get dinner."

As the Astronef fell with ever-increasing velocity towards the cloud-
covered surface of Venus, the remainder of her disc, lit up by the
radiance of her sister-worlds, Mercury, Mars, and the earth, and also
by the pale radiance of an enormous comet, which had suddenly shot
into view from behind its southern limb, became more or less visible.

Towards six o'clock, according to earth, or rather Astronef, time, it
became necessary to exert the full strength of her engines to check
the velocity of her fall. By eight she had entered the atmosphere of
Venus, and was dropping slowly towards a vast sea of sunlit cloud, out
of which, on all sides, towered thousands of snow-clad peaks, with
wide-spread stretches of upland above which the clouds swept and
surged like the silent billows of some vast ocean in ghost-land.

"I thought so!" said Redgrave, when the propellers had begun to
revolve and Murgatroyd had taken his place in the conning-tower. "A
very dense atmosphere loaded with clouds. There's the sun just rising,
so your ladyship's wishes are duly obeyed."

"And doesn't it seem nice and homelike to see him rising through an
atmosphere above the clouds again? It doesn't look a bit like the same
sort of dear old sun just blazing like a red-hot moon among a lot of
white hot stars and planets. Look, aren't those peaks lovely, and that
cloud-sea? Why, for all the world we might be in a balloon above the
Rockies or the Alps, And see," she continued, pointing to one of the
thermometers fixed outside the glass dome which covered the upper
deck, "it's only sixty-five even here. I wonder if we could breathe
this air, and oh, I do wonder what we shall see on the other side of
those clouds."

"You shall have both questions answered in a few minutes," replied
Redgrave, going towards the conning-tower. "To begin with, I think
we'll land on that big snow-dome yonder, and do a little exploring.
Where there are snow and clouds there is moisture, and where there is
moisture a man ought to be able to breathe."

The Astronef, still falling, but now easily under the command of the
helmsman, shot forwards and downwards towards a vast dome of snow
which, rising some two thousand feet above the cloud-sea, shone with
dazzling brilliance in the light of the rising sun. She landed just
above the edge of the clouds. Meanwhile they had put on their
breathing suits, and Redgrave had seen that the air chamber, through
which they had to pass from their own little world into the new ones
that they visited, was in working order. When the outer door was
opened and the ladder lowered he stood aside, as he had done on the
moon, and her ladyship's was the first human foot which made an
imprint on the virgin snows of Venus.

The first thing Lenox did was to raise the visor of his helmet and
taste the air of the new world. It was cool, and fresh, and sweet, and
the first draught of it sent the blood tingling and dancing through
his veins. Perfect as the arrangements of the Astronef were in this
respect, the air of Venus tasted like clear running spring water would
have done to a man who had been drinking filtered water for several
days. He threw the visor right up and motioned to Zaidie to do the
same. She obeyed, and, after drawing a long breath, she said:

"That's glorious! It's like wine after water, and rather stagnant
water too. But what a world, snow-peaks and cloud-sea, islands of ice
and snow in an ocean of mist! Just look at them! Did you ever see
anything so lovely and unearthly in your life? I wonder how high this
mountain is, and what there is on the other side of the clouds. Isn't
the air delicious! Not a bit too cold after all--but, still, I think
we may as well go back and put on something more becoming. I shouldn't
quite like the ladies of Venus to see me dressed like a diver."

"Come along then," laughed Lenox, as he turned back towards the
vessel. "That's just like a woman. You're about a hundred and fifty
million miles away from Broadway or Regent Street. You are standing on
the top of a snow mountain above the clouds of Venus, and the moment
that you find the air is fit to breathe you begin thinking about
dress. How do you know that the inhabitants of Venus, if there are
any, dress at all?"

"What nonsense! Of course they do--at least, if they are anything
like us."

As soon as they got back on board the Astronef and had taken their
breathing-dresses off, Redgrave and the old engineer, who appeared to
take no visible interest in their new surroundings, threw open all the
sliding doors on the upper and lower decks so that the vessel might be
thoroughly ventilated by the fresh sweet air. Then a gentle repulsion
was applied to the huge snow mass on which the Astronef rested. She
rose a couple of hundred feet, her propellers began to whirl round,
and Redgrave steered her out towards the centre of the vast cloud-sea
which was almost surrounded by a thousand glittering peaks of ice and
domes of snow.

"I think we may as well put off dinner, or breakfast as it will be
now, until we see what the world below is like," he said to Zaidie,
who was standing beside him on the conning-tower.

"Oh, never mind about eating just now; this is altogether too
wonderful to be missed for the sake of ordinary meat and drink. Let's
go down and see what there is on the other side."

He sent a message down the speaking tube to Murgatroyd, who was below
among his beloved engines, and the next moment sun and clouds and ice-
peaks had disappeared and nothing was visible save the all-enveloping
silver-grey mist.

For several minutes they remained silent, watching and wondering what
they would find beneath the veil which hid the surface of Venus from
their view. Then the mist thinned out and broke up into patches which
drifted past them as they descended on their downward-slanting course.

Below them they saw vast, ghostly shapes of mountains and valleys,
lakes and rivers, continents, islands, and seas. Every moment these
became more and more distinct, and soon they were in full view of the
most marvellous landscape that human eyes had ever beheld.

The distances were tremendous. Mountains, compared with which the Alps
or even the Andes would have seemed mere hillocks, towered up out of
the vast depths beneath them. Up to the lower edge of the all-covering
cloud-sea they were clad with a golden-yellow vegetation, fields and
forests, open, smiling valleys, and deep, dark ravines through which a
thousand torrents thundered down from the eternal snows beyond, to
spread themselves out in rivers and lakes in the valleys and plains
which lay many thousands of feet below.

"What a lovely world!" said Zaidie, as she at last found her voice
after what was almost a stupor of speechless wonder and admiration.
"And the light! Did you ever see anything like it? It's neither
moonlight nor sunlight. See, there are no shadows down there; it's
just all lovely silvery twilight. Lenox, if Venus is as nice as she
looks from here I don't think I shall want to go back. It reminds me
of Tennyson's Lotus Eaters, 'The land where it is always afternoon.'"

"I think you are right after all. We are thirty million miles nearer
to the sun than we were on the earth, and the light and heat have to
filter through those clouds. They are not at all like earth-clouds
from this side. It's the other way about. The silver lining is on this
side. Look, there isn't a black or a brown one, or even a grey one
within sight. They are just like a thin mist, lighted by millions of
electric lamps. It's a delicious world, and if it isn't inhabited by
angels it ought to be."

While they were talking, the Astronef was still sweeping swiftly down
towards the surface through scenery of whose almost inconceivable
magnificence no human words could convey any adequate idea. Underneath
the cloud-veil the air was absolutely clear and transparent; clearer,
indeed, than terrestrial air at the highest elevations, and, moreover,
it seemed to be endowed with a strange luminous quality, which made
objects, no matter how distant, stand out with almost startling
distinctness.

The rivers and lakes and seas, which spread out beneath them, seemed
never to have been ruffled by the blast of a storm or wind, and shone
with a soft silvery grey light, which seemed to come from below rather
than from above. The atmosphere, which had now penetrated to every
part of the Astronef, was not only exquisitely soft but also conveyed
a faint but delicious sense of languorous intoxication to the nerves.

"If this isn't Heaven it must be the half-way house," said Redgrave,
with what was, perhaps, under the circumstances, a pardonable
irreverence. "Still, after all, we don't know what the inhabitants may
be like, so I think we'd better close the doors, and drop on the top
of that mountain spur running out between the two rivers into the bay.
Do you notice how curious the water looks after the earth-seas; bright
silver, instead of blue and green?"

"Oh, it's just lovely," said Zaidie. "Let's go down and have a walk.
There's nothing to be afraid of. You'll never make me believe that a
world like this can be inhabited by anything dangerous."

"Perhaps, but we mustn't forget what happened on Mars; still, there's
one thing, we haven't been tackled by any aerial fleets yet."

"I don't think the people here want air-ships. They can fly
themselves. Look! there are a lot of them coming to meet us. That was
a rather wicked remark of yours about the half-way house to Heaven;
but those certainly look something like angels."

As Zaidie said this, after a somewhat lengthy pause, during which the
Astronef had descended to within a few hundred feet of the mountain-
spur, she handed a pair of field-glasses to her husband and pointed
downward towards an island which lay a couple of miles or so off the
end of the spur.

Redgrave put the glasses to his eyes, and, as he took a long look
through them, moving them slowly up and down, and from side to side,
he saw hundreds of winged figures rising from the island and soaring
towards them.

"You were right, dear," he said, without taking the glass from his
eyes, "and so was I. If those aren't angels, they're certainly
something like men, and, I suppose, women too, who can fly. We may as
well stop here and wait for them. I wonder what sort of an animal they
take the Astronef for."

He sent a message down the tube to Murgatroyd, and gave a turn and a
half to the steering-wheel. The propellers slowed down and the
Astronef landed with a hardly perceptible shock in the midst of a
little plateau covered with a thick soft moss of a pale yellowish
green, and fringed by a belt of trees which seemed to be over three
hundred feet high, and whose foliage was a deep golden bronze.

They had scarcely landed before the flying figures reappeared over the
tree-tops and swept downwards in long spiral curves towards the
Astronef.

"If they're not angels, they're very like them," said Zaidie, putting
down her glasses.

"There's one thing," replied her husband; "they fly a lot better than
the old masters' angels or Dore's could have done, because they have
tails--or at least something that seems to serve the same purpose, and
yet they haven't got feathers."

"Yes, they have, at least round the edges of their wings or whatever
they are, and they've got clothes, too, silk tunics or something of
that sort--and there are men and women."

"You're quite right. Those fringes down their legs are feathers, and
that's how they fly."

The flying figures which came hovering near to the Astronef, without
evincing any apparent sign of fear, were certainly the strangest that
human eyes had looked upon. In some respects they had a sufficient
resemblance to human form for them to be taken for winged men and
women, while in another they bore a decided resemblance to birds.
Their bodies and limbs were almost human in shape, but of slenderer
and lighter build; and from the shoulder-blades and muscles of the
back there sprang a pair of wings arching up above their heads.

The body was covered in front and down the back between the wings with
a sort of tunic of a light, silken-looking material, which must have
been clothing, since there were many different colours.

In stature these inhabitants of the Love-Star varied from about five
feet six to five feet, but both the taller and the shorter of them
were all of nearly the same size, from which it was easy to conclude
that this difference in stature was on Venus, as well as on the Earth,
one of the broad distinctions between the sexes.

They flew once or twice completely round the Astronef with an
exquisite ease and grace which made Zaidie exclaim: "Now, why weren't
we made like that on earth!"

To which Redgrave, after a look at the barometer, replied:

"Partly, I suppose, because we weren't built that way, and partly
because we don't live in an atmosphere about two and a half times as
dense as ours."

Then several of the winged figures alighted on the mossy covering of
the plain and walked towards the vessel.

"Why, they walk just like us, only much more prettily!" said Zaidie.
"And look what funny little faces they've got! Half bird, half human,
and soft, downy feathers instead of hair. I wonder whether they talk
or sing. I wish you'd open the doors again, Lenox. I'm sure they can't
possibly mean us any harm; they are far too innocent for that. What
soft eyes they have, and what a thousand pities it is we shan't be
able to understand them."

They had left the conning-tower and both his lordship and Murgatroyd
were throwing open the sliding doors and, to Zaidie's considerable
displeasure, getting the deck Maxims ready for action in case they
should be needed. As soon as the doors were open Zaidie's judgement of
the inhabitants of Venus was entirely justified.

Without the slightest sign of fear, but with very evident astonishment
in their round golden-yellow eyes, they came walking close up to the
sides of the Astronef. Some of them stroked her smooth, shining sides
with their little hands, which Zaidie now found had only three fingers
and a thumb. Many ages before they might have been bird's claws, but
now they were soft and pink and plump, utterly strange to work as
manual work is understood upon earth.

"Just fancy getting Maxim guns ready to shoot those delightful
things," said Zaidie, almost indignantly, as she went towards the
doorway from which the gangway ladder ran down to the soft, mossy
turf. "Why, not one of them has got a weapon of any sort; and just
listen," she went on, stopping in the opening of the doorway, "have
you ever heard music like that on earth? I haven't. I suppose it's the
way they talk. I'd give a good deal to be able to understand them. But
still, it's very lovely, isn't it?"

"Ay, like the voices of syrens enticing honest folk to destruction,"
said Murgatroyd, speaking for the first time since the Astronef had
landed; for this big, grizzled, taciturn Yorkshireman, who looked upon
the whole cruise through Space as a mad and almost impious adventure,
which nothing but his hereditary loyalty to his master's name and
family could have persuaded him to share in, had grown more and more
silent as the millions of miles between the Astronef and his native
Yorkshire village had multiplied day by day.

"Syrens--and why not?" laughed Redgrave. "Yes, Zaidie, I never heard
anything like that before. Unearthly, of course it is; but then we're
not on earth. Now, Zaidie, they seem to talk in song-language. You did
pretty well on Mars with your sign-language, suppose we go out and
show them that you can speak the song-language, too."

"What do you mean?" she said; "sing them something?"

"Yes," he replied, "they'll try to talk to you in song, and you won't
be able to understand them; at least, not as far as words and
sentences go. But music is the universal language on earth, and
there's no reason why it shouldn't be the same through the Solar
System. Come along, tune up, little woman!"

They went together down the gangway stairs, he dressed in an ordinary
English tweed grey suit, with a golf cap on the back of his head, and
she in the last and daintiest of costumes which had combined the art
of Paris and London and New York before the Astronef soared up from
Central Park.

The moment that she set foot on the golden-yellow sward she was
surrounded by a swarm of the winged, and yet strangely human
creatures. Those nearest to her came and touched her hands and face,
and stroked the folds of her dress. Others looked into her violet-blue
eyes, and others put out their queer little hands and touched her
hair.

This and her clothing seemed to be the most wonderful experience for
them, saving always the fact that she had no wings.

Redgrave kept close beside her until he was satisfied that these
strange half-human, and yet wholly interesting creatures were innocent
of any intention of harm, and when he saw two of the winged daughters
of the Love-Star put up their hands and touch the thick coils of her
hair, he said:

"Take those pins and things out and let it down. They seem to think
that your hair's part of your head. It's the first chance you've had
to work a miracle, so you may as well do it. Show them the most
beautiful thing they've ever seen."

"What babies you men can be when you get sentimental!" laughed Zaidie,
as she put her hands up to her head. "How do you know that this may
not be ugly in their eyes?"

"Quite impossible!" he replied. "They're a great deal too pretty
themselves to think you ugly."

While he was speaking Zaidie had taken off a Spanish mantilla which
she had thrown over her head as she came out, and which the ladies of
Venus seemed to think was part of her hair. Then she took out the comb
and one or two hairpins which kept the coils in position, deftly
caught the ends, and then, after a few rapid movements of her fingers,
she shook her head, and the wondering crowd about her saw, what seemed
to them a shimmering veil, half gold, half silver, in the strange,
reflected light from the cloud-veil, fall down from her head over her
shoulders.

They crowded still more closely round her, but so quietly and so
gently that she felt nothing more than the touch of wondering hands on
her arms, and dress, and hair. Her husband, as he said afterwards, was
"absolutely out of it." They seemed to imagine him to be a kind of
uncouth monster, possibly the slave of this radiant being which had
come so strangely from somewhere beyond the cloud-veil. They looked at
him with their golden-yellow eyes wide open, and some of them came up
rather timidly and touched his clothes, which they seemed to think
were his skin.

Then one or two, more daring, put their little hands up to his face
and touched his moustache, and all of them, while both examinations
were going on, kept up a running conversation of cooing and singing
which evidently conveyed their ideas from one to the other on the
subject of this most marvellous visit of these two strange beings with
neither wings nor feathers, but who, most undoubtedly, had other means
of flying, since it was quite certain that they had come from another
world.

There was a low cooing note, something like the language in which
doves converse, and which formed a sort of undertone. But every moment
this rose here and there into higher notes, evidently expressing
wonder or admiration, or both.

"You were right about the universal language," said Redgrave, when he
had submitted to the stroking process for a few moments. "These people
talk in music, and, as far as I can see or hear, their opinion of us,
or, at least, of you, is distinctly flattering. I don't know what they
take me for, and I don't care, but, as we'd better make friends with
them, suppose you sing them 'Home, Sweet Home,' or 'The Swanee River.'
I shouldn't wonder if they consider our talking voices most horrible
discords, so you might as well give them something different."

While he was speaking the sounds about them suddenly hushed, and, as
Redgrave said afterwards, it was something like the silence that
follows a cannon shot. Then, in the midst of the hush, Zaidie put her
hands behind her, looked up towards the luminous silver surface which
formed the only visible sky of Venus, and began to sing "The Swanee
River."

The clear, sweet notes rang up through the midst of a sudden silence.
The sons and daughters of the Love-Star ceased the low, half-humming,
half-cooing tones in which they seemed to be whispering to each other,
and Zaidie sang the old plantation song through for the first time
that a human voice had sung it to ears other than human.

As the last note thrilled sweetly from her lips she looked round at
the crowd of strange half-human figures about her, and something in
their unlikeness to her own kind brought back to her mind the familiar
scenes which lay so far away, so many millions of miles across the
dark and silent Ocean of Space.

Other winged figures, attracted by the sound of her singing had
crossed the trees, and these, during the silence which came after the
singing of the song, were swiftly followed by others, until there were
nearly a thousand of them gathered about the side of the Astronef.

There was no crowding or jostling among them. Each one treated every
other with the most perfect gentleness and courtesy. No such thing as
enmity or ill-feeling seemed to exist among them, and, in perfect
silence, they waited for Zaidie to continue what they thought was her
first speech of greeting. The temper of the throng somehow coincided
exactly with the mood which her own memories had brought to her, and
the next moment she sent the first line of "Home Sweet Home" soaring
up to the cloud-veiled sky.

As the notes rang up into the still, soft air a deeper hush fell on
the listening throng. Heads were bowed with a gesture almost of
adoration, and many of those standing nearest to her bent their bodies
forward, and expanded their wings, bringing them together over their
breasts with a motion which, as they afterwards learnt, was intended
to convey the idea of wonder and admiration, mingled with something
like a sentiment of worship.

Zaidie sang the sweet old song through from end to end, forgetting for
the time being everything but the home she had left behind her on the
banks of the Hudson. As the last notes left her lips, she turned round
to Redgrave and looked at him with eyes dim with the first tears that
had filled them since her father's death, and said, as he caught hold
of her outstretched hand:

"I believe they've understood every word of it."

"Or, at any rate, every note. You may be quite certain of that," he
replied. "If you had done that on Mars it might have been even more
effective than the Maxims."

"For goodness sake don't talk about things like that in a heaven like
this! Oh, listen! They've got the tune already!" It was true! The
dwellers of the Love-Star, whose speech was song, had instantly
recognised the sweetness of the sweetest of all earthly songs. They
had, of course, no idea of the meaning of the words; but the music
spoke to them and told them that this fair visitant from another world
could speak the same speech as theirs. Every note and cadence was
repeated with absolute fidelity, and so the speech, common to the two
far-distant worlds, became a link connecting, this wandering son and
daughter of the earth with the sons and daughters of the Love-Star.

The throng fell back a little and two figures; apparently male and
female, came to Zaidie and held out their right hands and began
addressing her in perfectly harmonised song, which, though utterly
unintelligible to her in the sense of speech, expressed sentiments
which could not possibly be mistaken, as there was a faint suggestion
of the old English song running through the little song-speech that
they made, and both Zaidie and her husband rightly concluded that it
was intended to convey a welcome to the strangers from beyond the
cloud-veil.

And then the strangest of all possible conversations began. Redgrave,
who had no more notion of music than a walrus, perforce kept silence.
In fact, he noticed with a certain displeasure which vanished speedily
with a musical, and half-malicious little laugh from Zaidie, that when
he spoke the bird-folk drew back a little and looked in something like
astonishment at him, but Zaidie was already in touch with them, and
half by song and half by signs she very soon gave them an idea of what
they were and where they had come from. Her husband afterwards told
her that it was the best piece of operatic acting he had ever seen,
and, considering all the circumstances, this was very possibly true.

In the end the two, who had come to give her what seemed to be the
formal greeting, were invited into the Astronef. They went on board
without the slightest sign of mistrust, and with only an expression of
mild wonder on their beautiful and almost childlike faces.

Then, while the other doors were being closed, Zaidie stood at the
open one above the gangway and made signs showing that they were going
up beyond the clouds and then down into the valley, and as she made
the signs she sang through the scale, her voice rising and falling in
harmony with her gestures. The bird-folk understood her instantly, and
as the door closed and the Astronef rose from the ground, a thousand
wings were outspread and presently hundreds of beautiful soaring forms
were circling about the Navigator of the Stars.

"Don't they look lovely," said Zaidie. "I wonder what they would think
if they could see us flying above New York or London or Paris with an
escort like this. I suppose they're going to show us the way. Perhaps
they have a city down there. Suppose you were to go and get a bottle
of champagne and see if Master Cupid and Miss Venus would like a
drink. We'll see then if our nectar is anything like theirs."

Redgrave went below. Meanwhile, for lack of other possible
conversation, Zaidie began to sing the last verse of "Never Again."
The melody almost exactly described the upward motion of the Astronef,
and she could see that it was instantly understood, for when she had
finished, their two voices joined in an almost exact imitation of it.

When Redgrave brought up the wine and the glasses they looked at them
without any sign of surprise. The pop of the cork did not even make
them look round.

"Evidently a semi-angelic people, living on nectar and ambrosia, with
nectar very like our own," he said, as he filled the glasses. "Perhaps
you'd better give it to them. They seem to understand you better than
they do me--you being, of course, a good bit nearer to the angels than
I am."

"Thanks!" she said, as she took a couple of glasses up, wondering a
little what their visitors would do with them. Somewhat to her
surprise, they took them with a little bow and a smile and sipped at
the wine, first with a little glint of wonder in their eyes, and then
with smiles which are unmistakable evidence of perfect appreciation.

"I thought so," said Redgrave, as he raised his own glass, and bowed
gravely towards them. "This is our nearest approach to nectar, and
they seem to recognise it."

"And don't they just look like the sort of people who live on it, and,
of course, other things," added Zaidie, as she too lifted her glass,
and looked with laughing eyes across the brim at her two guests.

But meanwhile Murgatroyd had been applying the repulsive force a
little too strongly. The Astronef shot up with a rapidity which soon
left her winged escort far below. She entered the cloud-veil and
passed beyond it. The instant that the unclouded sun-rays struck the
glass-roofing of the upper deck, their two guests, who had been moving
about examining everything with a childlike curiosity, closed their
eyes and clasped their hands over them, uttering little cries, tuneful
and musical, but still with a note of strange discord in them.

"Lenox, we must go down again," exclaimed Zaidie. "Don't you see they
can't stand the light; it hurts them. Perhaps, poor dears, it's the
first time they've ever been hurt in their lives. I don't believe they
have any of our ideas of pain or sorrow or anything of that sort. Take
us back under the clouds, quick, or we may blind them."

Before she had finished speaking, Redgrave had sent a signal down to
Murgatroyd, and the Astronef began to drop back again towards the
surface of the cloud-sea. Zaidie had, meanwhile, gone to her lady
guest and dropped the black lace mantilla over her head, and, as she
did so, she caught herself saying:

"There, dear, we shall soon be back in your own light. I hope it
hasn't hurt you. It was very stupid of us to do a thing like that."

The answer came in a little cooing murmur, which said: "Thank you!"
quite as effectively as any earthly words could have done, and then
the Astronef dropped through the cloud-sea. The soaring forms of her
lost escort came into view again and clustered about her; and,
surrounded by them, she dropped, in obedience to their signs, down
between the tremendous mountains and towards the island, thick with
golden foliage, which lay two or three earth-miles out in a bay, where
four converging rivers spread out into the sea.

It would take the best part of a volume rather than a few lines to
give even an imperfect conception of the purely Arcadian delights with
which the hours of the next ten days and nights were filled; but some
idea of what the Space-voyagers experienced may be gathered from this
extract of a conversation which took place in the saloon of the
Astronef on the eleventh evening.

"But look here, Zaidie," said his lordship, "as we've found a world
which is certainly much more delightful than our own, why shouldn't we
stop here a bit? The air suits us and the people are simply
enchanting. I think they like us, and I'm sure you're in love with
every one of them, male and female. Of course, it's rather a pity that
we can't fly unless we do it in the Astronef. But that's only a
detail. You're enjoying yourself thoroughly, and I never saw you
looking better or, if possible, more beautiful; and why on earth--or
Venus--do you want to go?"

She looked at him steadily for a few moments, and with an expression
which he had never seen on her face or in her eyes before, and then
she said slowly and very sweetly, although there was something like a
note of solemnity running through her tone:--

"I altogether agree with you, dear; but there is something which you
don't seem to have noticed. As you say, we have had a perfectly
delightful time. It's a delicious world, and just everything that one
would think it to be, either Aurora or Hesperus looked at from the
earth; but if we were to stop here we should be committing one of the
greatest crimes, perhaps the greatest, that ever was committed within
the limits of the Solar System."

"My dear Zaidie, what in the name of what we used to call morals on
the earth, do you mean?"

"Just this," she replied, leaning a little towards him in her deck
chair. "These people, half angels, and half men and women, welcomed us
after we dropped through their cloud-veil, as friends; a bit strange
to them, certainly, but still they welcomed us as friends. They've
taken us into their palaces, they've given us, as one might say, the
whole planet. Everything was ours that we liked to take."

"We've been living with them ten days now, and neither you nor I, nor
even Murgatroyd, who, like the old Puritan that he is, seems to see
sin or wrong in everything that looks nice, has seen a single sign
among them that they know anything about what we call sin or wrong on
earth."

"I think I understand what you're driving at," said Redgrave. "You
mean, I suppose, that this world is something like Eden before the
fall, and that you and I--oh--but that's all rubbish you know."

She got up out of her chair and, leaning over his, put her arm round
his shoulder. Then she said very softly: "I see you understand what I
mean, Lenox. It doesn't matter how good you think me or I think you,
but we have our original sin. You're an earthly man and I'm an earthly
woman, and, as I'm your wife, I can say it plainly. We may think a
good bit of each other, but that's no reason why we shouldn't be a
couple of plague-spots in a sinless world like this."

Their eyes met, and he understood. Then he got up and went down to the
engine-room.

A couple of minutes later the Astronef sprang upwards from the midst
of the delightful valley in which she was resting. In five minutes she
had passed through the cloud-veil, and the next morning when their new
friends came to visit them and found that they had vanished back into
Space, there was sorrow for the first time among the sons and
daughters of the Love-Star.



THE END




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