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Title: A Visit to the Moon
Author: George Griffith
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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Date first posted: June 2006
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A VISIT TO THE MOON.
George Griffith



INTRODUCTORY NOTE.

The adventures of Rollo Lenox Smeaton Aubrey, Earl of Redgrave, and
his bride Lilla Zaidie, daughter of the late Professor Hartley
Rennick, Demonstrator in Physical Science in the Smith-Oliver
University in New York, were first made possible by that distinguished
scientist's now famous separation of the Forces of Nature into their
positive and negative elements. Starting from the axiom that
everything in Nature has its opposite, he not only divided the
Universal Force of Gravitation into its elements of attraction and
repulsion, but also constructed a machine which enabled him to develop
either or both of these elements at will. From this triumph of
mechanical genius it was but a step to the magnificent conception
which was subsequently realised by Lord Redgrave in the Astronef. Lord
Redgrave had met Professor Rennick, about a year before his lamented
death, when he was on a holiday excursion in the Canadian Rockies with
his daughter. The young millionaire nobleman was equally fascinated by
the daring theories of the Professor, and by the mental and physical
charms of Miss Zaidie. And thus the chance acquaintance resulted in a
partnership, in which the Professor was to find the knowledge and Lord
Redgrave the capital for translating the theory of the "R. Force"
(Repulsive or Antigravitational Force) into practice, and constructing
a vessel which would be capable, not only of rising from the earth,
but of passing the limits of the terrestrial atmosphere, and
navigating with precision and safety the limitless ocean of Space.

Unhappily, before the Astronef, or star-navigator, was completed at
the works which Lord Redgrave had built for her construction on his
estate at Smeaton, in Yorkshire, her inventor succumbed to pulmonary
complications following an attack of influenza. This left Lord
Redgrave the sole possessor of the secret of the "R. Force." A year
after the Professor's death he completed the Astronef, and took her
across the Atlantic by rising into Space until the attraction of the
earth was so far weakened that in a couple of hours' time he was able
to descend in the vicinity of New York. On this trial trip he was
accompanied by Andrew Murgatroyd, an old engineer who had
superintended the building of the Astronef. This man's family had been
attached to his Lordship's for generations and for this reason he was
selected as engineer and steersman of the Navigator of the Stars.

The excitement which was caused, not only in America but over the
whole civilised world, by the arrival of the Astronef from the distant
regions of space to which she had soared; the marriage of her creator
to the daughter of her inventor in the main saloon while she hung
motionless in a cloudless sky a mile above the Empire City; their
return to earth; the wedding banquet; and their departure to the moon,
which they had selected as the first stopping-place on their bridal
trip--these are now matters of common knowledge. The present series of
narratives begins as the earth sinks away from under them, and their
Honeymoon in Space has actually begun.

* * *

WHEN the Astronef rose from the ground to commence her marvellous
voyage through the hitherto untraversed realms of Space, Lord Redgrave
and his bride were standing at the forward-end of a raised deck which
ran along about two-thirds of the length of the cylindrical body of
the vessel. The walls of this compartment, which was about fifty feet
long by twenty broad, were formed of thick, but perfectly transparent,
toughened glass, over which, in cases of necessity, curtains of ribbed
steel could be drawn from the floor, which was of teak and slightly
convex. A light steel rail ran round it and two stairways ran up from
the other deck of the vessel to two hatches, one fore and one aft,
destined to be hermetically closed when the Astronef had soared beyond
breathable atmosphere and was crossing the airless, heatless wastes of
interplanetary space.

Lord and Lady Redgrave and Andrew Murgatroyd were the only members of
the crew of the Star-navigator. No more were needed, for on board this
marvellous craft nearly everything was done by machinery; warming,
lighting, cooking, distillation and re-distillation of water, constant
and automatic purification of the air, everything, in fact, but the
regulation of the mysterious "R. Force" could be done with a minimum
of human attention. This, however, had to be minutely and carefully
regulated, and her commander usually performed this duty himself.

The developing engines were in the lowest part of the vessel
amidships. Their minimum power just sufficed to make the Astronef a
little lighter than her own bulk of air, so that when she visited a
planet possessing an atmosphere sufficiently dense, the two propellers
at her stern would be capable of driving her through the air at the
rate of about a hundred miles an hour. The maximum power would have
sufficed to hurl the vessel beyond the limits of the earth's
atmosphere in a few minutes.

When they had risen to the height of about a mile above New York, her
ladyship, who had been gazing in silent wonder and admiration at the
strange and marvellous scene, pointed suddenly towards the East and
said: "Look, there's the moon! Just fancy---our first stopping-place!
Well, it doesn't look so very far off at present."

Redgrave turned and saw the pale yellow crescent of the new moon just
rising above the eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

"It almost looks as if we could steer straight to it right over the
water, only, of course, it wouldn't wait there for us," she went on.

"Oh, it'll be there when we want it, never fear," laughed his
lordship, "and, after all, it's only a mere matter of about two
hundred and forty thousand miles away, and what's that in a trip that
will cover hundreds of millions? It will just be a sort of jumping-off
place into Space for us."

"Still I shouldn't like to miss seeing it," she said. "I want to know
what there is on that other side which nobody has ever seen yet, and
settle that question about air and water. Won't it just be heavenly to
be able to come back and tell them all about it at home? But fancy me
talking stuff like this when we are going, perhaps, to solve some of
the hidden mysteries of Creation and, maybe, to look upon things that
human eyes were never meant to see," she went on, with a sudden change
in her voice.

He felt a little shiver in the arm that was resting upon his, and his
hand went down and caught hers.

"Well, we shall see a good many marvels, and, perhaps, miracles,
before we come back, but I hardly think we shall see anything that is
forbidden. Still, there's one thing we shall do, I hope. We shall
solve once and for all the great problem of the worlds--whether they
are inhabited or not. By the way," he went on, "I may remind your
ladyship that you are just now drawing the last breaths of earthly air
which you will taste for some time, in fact until we get back! You may
as well take your last look at earth as earth, for the next time you
see it, it will be a planet."

She went to the rail and looked over into the enormous void beneath,
for all this time the Astronef had been mounting towards the zenith.
She could see, by the growing moonlight, vast, vague shapes of land
and sea. The myriad lights of New York and Brooklyn were mingled in a
tiny patch of dimly luminous haze. The air about her had suddenly
grown bitterly cold, and she saw that the stars and planets were
shining with a brilliancy she had never seen before. Her husband came
to her side, and, laying his arm across her shoulder, said:

"Well, have you said goodbye to your native world? It is a hit solemn,
isn't it, saying goodbye to a world that you have been born on; which
contains everything that has made up your life, everything that is
dear to you?"

"Not quite everything!" she said, looking up at him. "At least, I
don't think so."

He immediately made the only reply which was appropriate under the
circumstances; and then he said, drawing her towards the staircase:
"Well, for the present this is our world; a world travelling among
worlds, and as I have been able to bring the most delightful of the
Daughters of Terra with me, I, at any rate, am perfectly happy. Now, I
think it's getting on to supper time, so if your ladyship will go to
your household duties, I'll have a look at my engines and make
everything snug for the voyage."

The first thing he did when he got on to the main deck, was to
hermetically close the two companion-ways; then he went and carefully
inspected the apparatus for purifying the air and supplying it with
fresh oxygen from the tanks in which it was stored in liquid form.
Lastly he descended into the lower hold of the ship and turned on the
energy of repulsion to its full extent, at the same time stopping the
engines which had been working the propellers.

It was now no longer necessary or even possible to steer the Astronef.
She was directed solely by the repulsive force which would carry her
with ever-increasing swiftness, as the attraction of the earth became
diminished, towards that neutral point some two hundred thousand miles
away, at which the attraction of the earth is exactly balanced by the
moon. Her momentum would carry her past this point, and then the "R.
Force" would be gradually brought into play in order to avert the
unpleasant consequences of a fall of some forty odd thousand miles.

Andrew Murgatroyd, relieved from his duties in the wheelhouse, made a
careful inspection of the auxiliary machinery, which was under his
special charge, and then retired to his quarters forward to prepare
his own evening meal. Meanwhile her ladyship, with the help of the
ingenious contrivances with which the kitchen of the Astronef was
stocked, and with the use of which she had already made herself quite
familiar, had prepared a dainty little souper a deux. Her husband
opened a bottle of the finest champagne that the cellars of New York
could supply, to drink at once to the prosperity of the voyage, and
the health of his beautiful fellow-voyager.

When supper was over and the coffee made he carried the apparatus up
the stairs on to the glass-domed upper deck. Then he came back and
said:

"You'd better wrap yourself up as warmly as you can, dear, for it's a
good deal chillier up there than it is here."

When she reached the deck and took her first glance about her, Zaidie
seemed suddenly to lapse into a state of somnambulism. The whole
heavens above and around were strewn with thick clusters of stars
which she had never seen before. The stars she remembered seeing from
the earth were only little pinpoints in the darkness compared with the
myriads of blazing orbs which were now shooting their rays across the
silent void of Space. So many millions of new ones had come into view
that she looked in vain for the familiar constellations. She saw only
vast clusters of living gems of all colours crowding the heavens on
every side of her. She walked slowly round the deck, looking to right
and left and above, incapable for the moment either of thought or
speech, but only of dumb wonder, mingled with a dim sense of
overwhelming awe. Presently she craned her neck backwards and looked
straight up to the zenith. A huge silver crescent, supporting, as it
were, a dim, greenish coloured body in its arms stretched overhead
across nearly a sixth of the heavens.

Her husband came to her side, took her in his arms, lifted her as if
she had been a little child, so feeble had the earth's attraction now
become, and laid her in a long, low deck-chair, so that she could look
at it without inconvenience. The splendid crescent grew swiftly larger
and more distinct, and as she lay there in a trance of wonder and
admiration she saw point after point of dazzlingly white light flash
out on to the dark portions, and then begin to send out rays as though
they were gigantic volcanoes in full eruption, and were pouring
torrents of living fire from their blazing craters.

"Sunrise on the moon!" said Redgrave, who had stretched himself on
another chair beside her. "A glorious sight, isn't it! But nothing to
what we shall see tomorrow morning--only there doesn't happen to be
any morning just about here."

"Yes," she said dreamily, "glorious, isn't it? That and all the
stars--but I can't think of anything yet, Lenox! It's all too mighty
and too marvellous. It doesn't seem as though human eyes were meant to
look upon things like this. But where's the earth? We must be able to
see that still."

"Not from here," he said, "because it's underneath us. Come below, and
you shall see Mother Earth as you have never seen her yet."

They went down into the lower part of the vessel, and to the after-end
behind the engine-room. Redgrave switched on a couple of electric
lights, and then pulled a lever attached to one of the side-walls. A
part of the flooring, about 6ft. square, slid noiselessly away; then
he pulled another lever on the opposite side and a similar piece
disappeared, leaving a large space covered only by absolutely
transparent glass. He switched off the lights again and led her to the
edge of it, and said:

"There is your native world, dear; that is the earth!"

Wonderful as the moon had seemed, the gorgeous spectacle, which lay
seemingly at her feet, was infinitely more magnificent. A vast disc of
silver grey, streaked and dotted with lines and points of dazzling
light, and more than half covered with vast, glittering, greyish-green
expanses, seemed to form, as it were the floor of the great gulf of
space beneath them. They were not yet too far away to make out the
general features of the continents and oceans, and fortunately the
hemisphere presented to them happened to be singularly free from
clouds.

Zaidie stood gazing for nearly an hour at this marvellous vision of
the home-world which she had left so far behind her before she could
tear herself away and allow her husband to shut the slides again. The
greatly diminished weight of her body almost entirely destroyed the
fatigue of standing. In fact, at present on board the Astronef it was
almost as easy to stand as it was to lie down.

There was of course very little sleep for any of the travellers on
this first night of their adventurous voyage, but towards the sixth
hour after leaving the earth her ladyship, overcome as much by the
emotions which had been awakened within her as by physical fatigue,
went to bed, after making her husband promise that he would wake her
in good time to see the descent upon the moon. Two hours later she was
awake and drinking the coffee which Redgrave had prepared for her.
Then she went on to the upper deck.

To her astonishment she found on one hand, day more brilliant than she
had ever seen it before, and on the other hand, darkness blacker than
the blackest earthly night. On the right hand was an intensely
brilliant orb, about half as large again as the full moon seen from
earth, shining with inconceivable brightness out of a sky black as
midnight and thronged with stars. It was the sun, the sun shining in
the midst of airless space.

The tiny atmosphere inclosed in the glass-domed space was lighted
brilliantly, but it was not perceptibly warmer, though Redgrave warned
her ladyship not to touch anything upon which the sun's rays fell
directly as she would find it uncomfortably hot. On the other side was
the same black immensity of space which she had seen the night before,
an ocean of darkness clustered with islands of light. High above in
the zenith floated the great silver-grey disc of earth, a good deal
smaller now, and there was another object beneath which was at present
of far more interest to her. Looking down to the left she saw a vast
semi-luminous area in which not a star was to be seen. It was the
earth-lit portion of the long familiar and yet mysterious orb which
was to be their resting-place for the next few hours.

"The sun hasn't risen over there yet," said Redgrave, as she was
peering down into the void. "It's earth-light still. Now look at the
other side."

She crossed the deck and saw the strangest scene she had yet beheld.
Apparently only a few miles below her was a huge crescent-shaped plain
arching away for hundreds of miles on either side. The outer edge had
a ragged look, and little excrescences, which soon took the shape of
flat-topped mountains projected from it and stood out bright and sharp
against the black void beneath, out of which the stars shone up, as it
seemed, sharp and bright above the edge of the disc.

The plain itself was a scene of the most awful and utter desolation
that even the sombre fancy of a Dante could imagine. Huge mountain
walls, towering to immense heights and inclosing great circular and
oval plains, one side of them blazing with intolerable light, and the
other side black with impenetrable obscurity; enormous valleys
reaching down from brilliant day into rayless night--perhaps down into
the empty bowels of the dead world itself; vast, grey-white plains
lying round the mountains, crossed by little ridges and by long, black
lines which could only be immense fissures with perpendicular sides--
but all hard grey-white and black, all intolerable brightness or
repulsive darkness; not a sign of life anywhere, no shady forests, no
green fields, no broad, glittering oceans; only a ghastly wilderness
of dead mountains and dead plains.

"What an awful place!" said Zaidie, in a slowly spoken whisper.
"Surely we can't land there. How far are we from it?"

"About fifteen hundred miles," replied Redgrave, who was sweeping the
scene below him with one of the two powerful telescopes which stood on the
deck. "No, it doesn't look very cheerful, does it; but it's a marvellous
sight for all that, and one that a good many people on earth would give
their ears to see from here. I'm letting her drop pretty fast, and we
shall probably land in a couple of hours or so. Meanwhile, you may as
well get out your moon atlas and your Jules Verne and Flammarion, and
study your lunography. I'm going to turn the power a bit astern so
that we shall go down obliquely and see more of the lighted disc. We
started at new moon so that you should have a look at the full earth,
and also so that we could get round to the invisible side while it is
lighted up."

They both went below, he to deflect the repulsive force so that one
set of engines should give them a somewhat oblique direction, while
the other, acting directly on the surface of the moon, simply retarded
their fall; and she to get her maps and the ever-fascinating works of
Jules Verne and Flammarion. When they got back, the Astronef had
changed her apparent position, and, instead of falling directly on to
the moon, was descending towards it in a slanting direction. The
result of this was that the sunlit crescent rapidly grew in breadth,
whilst peak after peak and range after range rose up swiftly out of
the black gulf beyond. The sun climbed quickly up through the star-strewn,
mid-day heavens, and the full earth sank more swiftly still
behind them.

Another hour of silent, entranced wonder and admiration followed, and
then Lenox remarked to Zaidie: "Don't you think it's about time we
were beginning to think of breakfast, dear, or do you think you can
wait till we land?"

"Breakfast on the moon!" she exclaimed. "That would be just too lovely
for words! Of course we'll wait."

"Very well," he said, "you see that big, black ring nearly below us,
that, as I suppose you know, is the celebrated Mount Tycho. I'll try
and find a convenient spot on the top of the ring to drop on, and then
you will be able to survey the scenery from seventeen or eighteen
thousand feet above the plains."

About two hours later a slight jarring tremor ran through the frame of
the vessel, and the first stage of the voyage was ended. After a
passage of less than twelve hours the Astronef had crossed a gulf of
nearly two hundred and fifty thousand miles and rested quietly on the
untrodden surface of the lunar world.

"We certainly shan't find any atmosphere here," said Redgrave, when
they had finished breakfast, "although we may in the deeper parts, so
if your ladyship would like a walk we'd better go and put on our
breathing dresses."

These were not unlike diving dresses, save that they were much
lighter. The helmets were smaller, and made of aluminium covered with
asbestos. A sort of knapsack fitted on to the back, and below this was
a cylinder of liquefied air which, when passed through the expanding
apparatus, would furnish pure air for a practically indefinite period,
as the respired air passed into another portion of the upper chamber,
where it was forced through a chemical solution which deprived it of
its poisonous gases and made it fit to breathe again.

The pressure of air inside the helmet automatically regulated the
supply, which was not permitted to circulate into the dress, as the
absence of air-pressure on the moon would cause it to instantly expand
and probably tear the material, which was a cloth woven chiefly of
asbestos fibre. The two helmets could be connected for talking
purposes by a light wire communicating with a little telephonic
apparatus inside the helmet.

They passed out of the Astronef through an air-tight chamber in the
wall of her lowest compartment, Murgatroyd closing the first door
behind them. Redgrave opened the next one and dropped a short ladder
on to the grey, loose, sand-strewn rock of the little plain on which
they had stopped. Then he stood aside and motioned for Zaidie to go
down first.

She understood him, and, taking his hand, descended the four easy
steps. And so hers was the first human foot which, in all the ages
since its creation, had rested on the surface of the World that Had
Been. Redgrave followed her with a little spring which landed him
gently beside her, then he took both her hands and pressed them hard
in his. He would have kissed her if he could; but that of course was
out of the question.

Then he connected the telephone wire, and hand in hand they crossed
the little plateau towards the edge of the tremendous gulf, fifty-four
miles across, and nearly twenty thousand feet deep. In the middle of
it rose a conical mountain about five thousand feet high, the summit
of which was just beginning to catch the solar rays. Half of the vast
plain was already brilliantly illuminated, but round the central cone
was a vast semi-circle of shadow impenetrable in its blackness.

"Day and night in this same valley, actually side by side!" said
Zaidie. Then she stopped, and pointed down into the brightly lit
distance, and went on hurriedly: "Look, Lenox, look at the foot of the
mountain there! Doesn't that seem like the ruins of a city?"

"It does," he said, "and there's no reason why it shouldn't be. I've
always thought that, as the air and water disappeared from the upper
parts of the moon, the inhabitants, whoever they were, must have been
driven down into the deeper parts. Shall we go down and see?"

"But how?" she said. He pointed towards the Astronef. She nodded her
helmeted head, and they went back to the vessel. A few minutes later
the Astronef had risen from her resting-place with a spring which
rapidly carried her over half of the vast crater, and then she began
to drop slowly into the depths. She grounded as gently as before, and
presently they were standing on the lunar surface about a mile from
the central cone. This time, however, Redgrave had taken the
precaution to bring a magazine rifle and a couple of revolvers with
him in case any strange monsters, relics of the vanished fauna of the
moon, might still be taking refuge in these mysterious depths. Zaidie,
although like a good many American girls, she could shoot excellently
well, carried no weapon more offensive than a whole-plate camera and a
tripod, which here, of course, only weighed a sixth of their earthly
weight.

The first thing that Redgrave did when they stepped out on to the
sandy surface of the plain was to stoop down and strike a wax match;
there was a tiny glimmer of light which was immediately extinguished.

"No air here," he said, "so we shall find no living beings--at any
rate, none like ourselves."

They found the walking exceedingly easy although their boots were
purposely weighted in order to counteract to some extent the great
difference in gravity. A few minutes' sharp walking brought them to
the outskirts of the city. It had no walls, and in fact exhibited no
signs of preparations for defence. Its streets were broad and well-
paved; and the houses, built of great blocks of grey stone joined
together with white cement, looked as fresh and unworn as though they
had only been built a few months, whereas they had probably stood for
hundreds of thousands of years. They were flat roofed, all of one
storey and practically of one type.

There were very few public buildings, and absolutely no attempt at
ornamentation was visible. Round some of the houses were spaces which
might once have been gardens. In the midst of the city, which appeared
to cover an area of about four square miles, was an enormous square
paved with flag stones, which were covered to the depth of a couple of
inches with a light grey dust, and, as they walked across it, this
remained perfectly still save for the disturbance caused by their
footsteps. There was no air to support it, otherwise it might have
risen in clouds about them.

From the centre of this square rose a huge Pyramid nearly a thousand
feet in height, the sole building in the great, silent city which
appeared to have been raised as a monument, or, possibly, a temple by
the hands of its vanished inhabitants. As they approached this they
saw a curious white fringe lying round the steps by which it was
approached. When they got nearer they found that this fringe was
composed of millions of white-bleached bones and skulls, shaped very
much like those of terrestrial men except that the ribs were out of
all proportion to the rest of the bones.

They stopped awe-stricken before this strange spectacle. Redgrave
stooped down and took hold of one of the bones, a huge thigh bone. It
broke in two as he tried to lift it, and the piece which remained in
his hand crumbled instantly to white powder.

"Whoever they were," said Redgrave, "they were giants. When air and
water failed above they came down here by some means and built this
city. You see what enormous chests they must have had. That would be
Nature's last struggle to enable them to breathe the diminishing
atmosphere. These, of course, will be the last descendants of the
fittest to breathe it; this was their temple, I suppose, and here they
came to die--I wonder how many thousand years ago--perishing of heat,
and cold, and hunger, and thirst, the last tragedy of a race, which,
after all, must have been something like our own."

"It is just too awful for words," said Zaidie. "Shall we go into the
temple? That seems one of the entrances up there, only I don't like
walking over all those bones."

Her voice sounded very strange over the wire which connected their
helmets.

"I don't suppose they'll mind if we do," replied Redgrave, "only we
mustn't go far in. It may be full of cross passages and mazes, and we
might never get out. Our lamps won't be much use in there, you know,
for there's no air. They'll just be points of light, and we shan't see
anything but them. It's very aggravating, but I'm afraid there's no
help for it. Come along!"

They ascended the steps, crushing the bones and skulls to powder
beneath their feet, and entered the huge, square doorway, which looked
like a rectangle of blackness against the grey-white of the wall. Even
through their asbestos-woven clothing they felt a sudden shock of icy
cold. In those few steps they had passed from a temperature of tenfold
summer heat into one far below that of the coldest spots on earth.
They turned on the electric lamps which were fitted to the breast-
plates of their dresses, but they could see nothing save the glow of
the lamps. All about them was darkness impenetrable, and so they
reluctantly turned back to the doorway, leaving all the mysteries
which the vast temple might contain to remain mysteries to the end of
time. They passed down the steps again and crossed the square, and for
the next half hour Zaidie, who was photographer to the expedition, was
busy taking photographs of the Pyramid with its ghastly surroundings,
and a few general views of this strange City of the dead.

Then they went back to the Astronef. They found Murgatroyd pacing up
and down under the dome looking about him with serious eyes, but yet
betraying no particular curiosity. The wonderful vessel was at once
his home and his idol, and nothing but the direct orders of his master
would have induced him to leave her even in a world in which there was
probably not a living human being to dispute possession of her.

When they had resumed their ordinary clothing, she rose rapidly from
the surface of the plain, crossed the encircling wall at the height of
a few hundred feet, and made her way at a speed of about fifty miles
an hour towards the regions of the South Pole. Behind them to the
north-west they could see from their elevation of nearly thirty
thousand feet the vast expanse of the Sea of Clouds. Dotted here and
there were the shining points and ridges of light, marking the peaks
and crater walls which the rays of the rising sun had already touched.
Before them and to right and left of them rose a vast maze of crater-
rings and huge ramparts of mountain-walls inclosing plains so far
below their summits that the light of neither sun nor earth ever
reached them.

By directing the force exerted by what might now be called the
propelling part of the engines against the mountain masses, which they
crossed to right and left and behind, Redgrave was able to take a
zigzag course which carried him over many of the walled plains which
were wholly or partially lit up by the sun, and in nearly all of the
deepest their telescopes revealed what they had found within the
crater of Tycho. At length, pointing to a gigantic circle of white
light fringing an abyss of utter darkness, he said:

"There is Newton, the greatest mystery of the moon. Those inner walls
are twenty-four thousand feet high; that means that the bottom, which
has never been seen by human eyes, is about five thousand feet below
the surface of the moon. What do you say, dear--shall we go down and
see if the searchlight will show us anything? There may be air
there."

"Certainly!" replied Zaidie decisively, "haven't we come to see things
that nobody else has ever seen?"

Redgrave signalled to the engine-room, and presently the Astronef
changed her course, and in a few minutes was hanging, bathed in
sunlight, like a star suspended over the unfathomable gulf of darkness
below.

As they sank beyond the sunlight, Murgatroyd turned on both the head
and stern searchlights. They dropped down ever slowly and more slowly
until gradually the two long, thin streams of light began to spread
themselves out, and by the time the Astronef came gently to a rest
they were swinging round her in broad fans of diffused light over a
dark, marshy surface, with scattered patches of moss and reeds which
showed dull gleams of stagnant water between them.

"Air and water at last!" said Redgrave, as he rejoined his wife on the
upper deck, "air and water and eternal darkness! Well, we shall find
life on the moon here if anywhere. Shall we go?"

"Of course," replied her ladyship, "what else have we come for? Must
we put on the breathing-dresses?"

"Certainly," he replied, "because, although there's air we don't know
yet whether it is breathable. It may be half carbon-dioxide for all we
know; but a few matches will soon tell us that."

Within a quarter of an hour they were again standing on the surface.
Murgatroyd had orders to follow them as far as possible with the head
searchlight, which, in the comparatively rarefied atmosphere, appeared
to have a range of several miles. Redgrave struck a match, and held it
up level with his head. It burnt with a clear, steady, yellow flame.

"Where a match will burn a man can breathe," he said. "I'm going to
see what lunar air is like."

"For Heaven's sake be careful, dear," came the reply in pleading tones
across the wire.

"All right, but don't open your helmet till I tell you."

He then raised the hermetically-closed slide of glass, which formed
the front of the helmets half an inch or so. Instantly he felt a
sensation like the drawing of a red-hot iron across his skin. He
snapped the visor down and clasped it in its place. For a moment or
two he gasped for breath and then he said rather faintly:

"It's no good, it's too cold, it would freeze the blood in our veins.
I think we'd better go back and explore this valley under cover. We
can't do anything in the dark, and we can see just as well from the
upper deck with the searchlights. Besides, as there's air and water
here, there's no telling but there may be inhabitants of sorts such as
we shouldn't care to meet."

He took her hand, and, to Murgatroyd's intense relief, they went back
to the vessel.

Redgrave then raised the Astronef a couple of hundred feet and, by
directing the repulsive force against the mountain walls, developed
just sufficient energy to keep them moving at about twelve miles an
hour.

They began to cross the plain with their searchlights flashing out in
all directions. They had scarcely gone a mile before the headlight
fell upon a moving form half walking, half crawling among some stunted
brown-leaved bushes by the side of a broad, stagnant stream.

"Look!" said Zaidie, clasping her husband's arm, "is that a gorilla,
or--no, it can't be a man."

The light was turned full upon the object. If it had been covered with
hair it might have passed for some strange type of the ape tribe, but
its skin was smooth and of a livid grey. Its lower limbs were
evidently more powerful than its upper; its chest was enormously
developed, but the stomach was small. The head was big and round and
smooth. As they came nearer they saw that in place of finger-nails it
had long white feelers which it kept extended and constantly waving
about as it groped its way towards the water. As the intense light
flashed full on it, it turned its head towards them. It had a nose and
a mouth. The nose was long and thick, with huge mobile nostrils, and
the mouth formed an angle something like a fish's lips, and of teeth
there seemed none. At either side of the upper part of the nose there
were two little sunken holes, in which this thing's ancestors of
countless thousand years ago had possessed eyes.

As she looked upon this awful parody of what had once perhaps been a
human face, Zaidie covered hers with her hands and uttered a little
moan of horror.

"Horrible, isn't it?" said Redgrave. "I suppose that's what the last
remnants of the lunarians have come to, evidently once men and women
something like ourselves. I daresay the ancestors of that thing have
lived here in coldness and darkness for hundreds of generations. It
shows how tremendously tenacious nature is of life.

"Ages ago that awful thing's ancestors lived up yonder when there were
seas and rivers, fields and forests just as we have them on earth; men
and women who could see and breathe and enjoy everything in life and
had built up civilisations like ours. Look, it's going to fish or
something. Now we shall see what it feeds on. I wonder why that water
isn't frozen. I suppose there must be some internal heat left still,
split up into patches, I daresay, and lakes of lava. Perhaps this
valley is just over one of them, and that's why these creatures have
managed to survive. Ah, there's another of them, smaller not so
strongly formed. That thing's mate, I suppose, female of the species.
Ugh, I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of years it will take for
our descendants to come to that."

"I hope our dear old earth will hit something else and be smashed to
atoms before that happens!" exclaimed Zaidie, whose curiosity had now
partly overcome her horror. "Look, it's trying to catch something."

The larger of the two creatures had groped its way to the edge of the
sluggish, foetid water and dropped or rather rolled quietly into it.
It was evidently cold-blooded or nearly so, for no warm-blooded animal
could have withstood that more than glacial cold. Presently the other
dropped in, too, and both disappeared for some minutes. Then suddenly
there was a violent commotion in the water a few yards away; and the
two creatures rose to the surface of the water, one with a wriggling
eel-like fish between its jaws.

They both groped their way towards the edge, and had just reached it
and were pulling themselves out when a hideous shape rose out of the
water behind them. It was like the head of an octopus joined to the
body of a boa-constrictor, but head and neck were both of the same
ghastly, livid grey as the other two bodies. It was evidently blind,
too, for it took no notice of the brilliant glare of the searchlight.
Still it moved rapidly towards the two scrambling forms, its long
white feelers trembling out in all directions. Then one of them
touched the smaller of the two creatures. Instantly the rest shot out
and closed round it, and with scarcely a struggle it was dragged
beneath the water and vanished.

Zaidie uttered a little low scream and covered her face again, and
Redgrave said: "The same old brutal law again. Life preying upon life
even on a dying world, a world that is more than half dead itself.
Well, I think we've seen enough of this place. I suppose those are
about the only types of life we should meet anywhere, and one
acquaintance with them satisfies me completely. I vote we go and see
what the invisible hemisphere is like."

"I have had all I want of this side," said Zaidie, looking away from
the scene of the hideous conflict, "so the sooner the better."

A few minutes later the Astronef was again rising towards the stars
with her searchlights still flashing down into the Valley of Expiring
Life, which seemed worse than the Valley of Death. As he followed the
rays with a pair of powerful field glasses, Redgrave fancied that he
saw huge, dim shapes moving about the stunted shrubbery and through
the slimy pools of the stagnant rivers, and once or twice he got a
glimpse of what might well have been the ruins of towns and cities;
but the gloom soon became too deep and dense for the searchlights to
pierce and he was glad when the Astronef soared up into the brilliant
sunlight once more. Even the ghastly wilderness of the lunar landscape
was welcome after the nameless horrors of that hideous abyss.

After a couple of hours rapid travelling, Redgrave pointed down to a
comparatively small, deep crater, and said:

"There, that is Malapert. It is almost exactly at the south pole of
the moon, and there," he went on pointing ahead, "is the horizon of
the hemisphere which no earthborn eyes but ours and Murgatroyd's have
ever seen."

Contrary to certain ingenious speculations which have been indulged
in, they found that the hemisphere, which for countless ages has never
been turned towards the earth, was almost an exact replica of the
visible one. Fully three-fourths of it was brilliantly illuminated by
the sun, and the scene which presented itself to their eyes was
practically the same which they had beheld on the earthward side; huge
groups of enormous craters and ringed mountains, long, irregular
chains crowned with sharp, splintery peaks, and between these vast,
deeply depressed areas, ranging in colour from dazzling white to grey-
brown, marking the beds of the vanished lunar seas.

As they crossed one of these, Redgrave allowed the Astronef to sink to
within a few thousand feet of the surface, and then he and Zaidie
swept it with their telescopes. Their chance search was rewarded by
what they had not seen in the sea-beds of the other hemisphere. These
depressions were far deeper than the others, evidently many thousands
of feet deep, but the sun's rays were blazing full into this one, and,
dotted round its slopes at varying elevations, they made out little
patches which seemed to differ from the general surface.

"I wonder if those are the remains of cities," said Zaidie. "Isn't it
possible that the populations might have built their cities along the
seas, and that their descendants may have followed the waters as they
retreated, I mean as they either dried up or disappeared into the
centre?"

"Very probable indeed, dear," he said, "we'll go down and see."

He diminished the vertically repulsive force a little, and the
Astronef dropped slantingly towards the bed of what might once have
been the Pacific of the Moon. When they were within about a couple of
thousand feet of the surface it became quite plain that Zaidie was
correct in her hypothesis. The vast sea-floor was literally strewn
with the ruins of countless cities and towns, which had been inhabited
by an equally countless series of generations of men and women, who
had, perhaps, lived in the days when our own world was a glowing mass
of molten rock, surrounded by the envelope of vapours which has since
condensed to form its oceans.

The nearer they approached to the central and deepest depression the
more perfect the buildings became until, down in the lowest depth,
they found a collection of low-built square edifices, scarcely better
than huts which had clustered round the little lake into which ages
before the ocean had dwindled. But where the lake had been there was
now only a depression covered with grey sand and brown rock.

Into this they descended and touched the lunar soil for the last time.
A couple of hours' excursion among the houses proved that they had
been the last refuge of the last descendants of a dying race, a race
which had steadily degenerated just as the successions of cities had
done, as the bitter fight for mere existence had become keener and
keener until the two last essentials air and water, had failed and
then the end had come.

The streets, like the square of the great temple of Tycho, were strewn
with myriads and myriads of bones, and there were myriads more
scattered round what had once been the shores of the dwindling lake.
Here, as elsewhere, there was not a sign or a record of any kind--
carving or sculpture.

Inside the great Pyramid of the City of Tycho they might, perhaps,
have found something--some stone or tablet which bore the mark of the
artist's hand; elsewhere, perhaps, they might have found cities reared
by older races, which might have rivalled the creations of Egypt and
Babylon, but there was no time to look for these. All that they had
seen of the dead World had only sickened and saddened them. The
untravelled regions of Space peopled by living worlds more akin to
their own were before them, and the red disc of Mars was glowing in
the zenith among the diamond-white clusters which gemmed the black sky
behind him.

More than a hundred millions of miles had to be traversed before they
would he able to set foot on his surface, and so, after one last look
round the Valley of Death about them Redgrave turned on the full
energy of the repulsive force in a vertical direction, and the
Astronef leapt upwards in a straight line for her new destination. The
unknown hemisphere spread out in a vast plain beneath them, the
blazing sun rose on their left, and the brilliant silver orb of the
Earth on their right, and so, full of wonder, and yet without regret,
they bade farewell to the World that Was The Moon.



THE END



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