What I saw was this: a platform of rock extending before me a mile or nearly so, and about double the width of a very wide road. This platform ended in the cliff, which there bent suddenly into a line almost at right angles with the line of the platform. That was not straight but followed the slighter bends of the cliff. There were three flights of stone steps descending towards the valley, one of them at least, the broadest, reaching the whole way down. The valley itself seemed to be filled with houses and rows of trees, and certain enclosures that looked like gardens. The houses were odd-looking but unpretentious. One saw at a glance that their oddity was in the main owing to their lack of size, and to the absence of chimneys. One could not suppose them to be of much use for living in, and yet the whole appearance of the scene quite forbade one from accounting for their size by the poverty of the builders or from any other lack of resource.
But the scene closer at hand arrested my attention so forcibly that the more distant view left but a faint and general impression on my mind. On one side of the platform, the side next the valley, there were a number of men engaged at work of some sort, but their backs were just then turned to me: and I cannot tell you why, but the sight of men, probably civilised men, by no means gave me such hope or pleasure as our desolate condition would have justified.
On the other side of the platform, the side next the cliff, there were a number of objects which I must try to describe even at the risk of being tedious, as they proved to have a very decisive effect upon the progress and sequel of our adventures. They presented a most uncouth and bizarre appearance, and although they were all of one kind, almost identical in every detail, it was not until after several minutes' view of them that the fact of their likeness became apparent. Then I perceived that they were all some sort of conveyance consisting of an upper and lower framework. Here I saw a very odd-looking car resting on nothing at a distance of a few feet from the ground, and there I saw an elaborately constructed support which supported nothing. I saw, further, that the height of the supports was about as great as the distance of the cars from the ground, and I thought for a moment that by some unaccountable distortion of sight, the supports got the appearance of being separated from the things which were supported. But almost immediately I saw that this could not be the case, for in some instances it seemed as if the body of the car were cut into two parts, part only remaining and resting upon a complete frame; and then again, the body of the car was all there, and rested, for about half of its mass, on a supporting frame, half of which appeared to have been removed, while the other half of the body of the car appeared to be resting on nothing. A longer look at the scene offered an explanation, but it was an explanation which most urgently needed to be itself explained. At each of these objects a man stood, as it would seem, painting them, and he seemed to dip what I thought to be a brush in a bucket beside him. And at first I thought that he was painting the whole object, car and supporting framework, but presently I perceived that the brush which he was using and which showed a very irregular and jagged edge, never touched, or never at least was seen to touch anything at all, but that what it passed over disappeared. I watched the operation with breathless attention, and I saw the body of the car which had seemed to hang in the air gradually disappear as the brush passed over it, until nothing was left either above or below. I watched another which was complete in all parts until nearly the whole of the supporting framework disappeared beneath the brush. It looked for all the world as if some sort of invisible paint were being smeared over the conveyances. That they were conveyances of some sort I felt no doubt, but whether they were meant to travel on land or water I doubted. I saw no wheels, but these might be hidden by the framework, and there were things attached to each which might be said to have a remote resemblance to the screw of a steamboat. I may as well say at once that they proved to be carriages for travelling through the air.
Just then, some of the men who were working on the other side of the platform turned their faces towards me, and one of them, who seemed to be a sort of director or superintendent, came from behind them moving in the same direction. All kept moving towards where I stood until they were so near that I could clearly distinguish their features and their dress. The costume of all was exactly the same but unlike anything that I had ever seen. Each wore a low hat of a light colour and a broadish brim, a coat or smock reaching to the knee and fastened with a girdle, and some kind of shoe or sandal for the feet. That was all. As I noticed these points, the leader took a half-turn to the left and the men to the right, so that they and he stood facing one another with their side faces towards me. All the men were about as unlike one another as the same number of men picked up anywhere at random, excepting for one point. They had all an expression of malignity which was horrible to look upon, and which was worse, if possible, in the side face than in the full face. Not that there was anything deformed about their countenances; quite the contrary. Every feature considered by itself, whether from the front or side-view, was remarkably well formed. Eyes, mouth, nose, teeth, and hair, were of just the size, shape, and colour that you would say they ought to be. In fact, the symmetry of their faces was ideally perfect, and attracted more notice than anything else in their appearance except one thing, and that one thing was the malignity of their expression. That was utterly inhuman; it was diabolical. I declare that as I stood there behind the forest scrub and watched them, my very heart sank. I felt that I would rather see a dozen man-eating tigers or a herd of hungry wolves. I am not constitutionally timid and yet I repressed with difficulty a cry of despair.
As I looked in sheer horror and terror I thought I caught sight among the faces of a face that I knew. But surely I had never seen anything so frightful in my waking moments. Could I have dreamt of such a face, or could it be that amongst one's acquaintance an expression like that was to be found, only in an undeveloped stage? I can remember quite distinctly how that last thought flashed across my mind as I stood hesitating whether to run for bare life, or to wait for some further development of the situation. I think that nothing but the shame of manhood kept me from running away. Just then I suddenly perceived that the men were under some strange and very comprehensive system of drill. The man who seemed to be their leader held them, to all appearance, under very close control. And yet it seemed also as if their submission to his control were voluntary. It was like the way of a very perfect chorus with its conductor. Every glance of the leader's eye, every motion of his hand seemed to affect and direct them. But it did not seem as if there were anything absolutely compulsory about their obedience. They seemed not only to follow his eye and his hand but to look for the guidance of each. The very expression of their faces was moulded upon his, and I could well believe that the malignity which kindled it was kept alive by his.
As I looked more steadily I could see waves of expression, so to speak, going out from his face to them. What particulars these might be conveying I could not guess, but that there were particulars I could not doubt. Their variety, regularity, and distinctive character were as remarkable as if they were spoken words. His hands also moved in harmony with this change of expression, and the bodies of the men swayed with a slight rhythmic movement, which seemed to rise and fall as they watched his changing face. For several seconds I verily thought that I was dreaming, and I even had the feeling that a dreaming man has when he knows that he is about to waken.
Suddenly the leader turned away and the men fell to work as before. I saw then that in his passage along the platform he was encountering group after group of men, and that he was holding with each group, so far as I could guess at the distance, the same sort of silent interview which I have just now described. Then I suddenly remembered my promise to Jack, and I stole away from where I was and ran down the dark passage with breathless haste. Fortunately I received no hurt beyond several scratches in the face from some thorny bushes, which I had not encountered on my way up.
I found Jack very near where I had left him, sleeping under the shadow of a rock. I shook him, and he got up at once, quite broad awake. "Come," I said, "come; I have found men, if they are men." "White men?" he queried, briefly. "God knows," I said, my voice, I believe, quivering with agitation. Jack said no more for the moment, but he gave me a drink of water which I drank very greedily, and he was proceeding leisurely to light his pipe. The water had steadied me a bit, and I said, "No, never mind the pipe now, Jack; I'll tell you as we go along."
So we both went back together over my track, and when we got into the covered way I told him all that I have now told you. Then, when we had got nearly as far as the upper opening of the cave, we sat down and held a short and hurried consultation.
"Let them be what they will," Jack whispered, "we must go straight up and speak to them: if we don't get help soon we shall perish miserably."
"Agreed," I said; "but let us watch them for a little and wait for a favourable moment." And so we both crawled on to the opening of which I have already told you, and looked through.
Everything was just as before, except that the leader was now engaged with a group of men further away. After a brief survey of the surroundings, Jack pulled out his little telescope and looked steadily at the leader and the group of men he was engaged with, and then he handed the glass to me. I could see them with the glass about as plainly as I had seen the near group with the naked eye. Everything was the same, except that the malignant expression of the men and their leader was much less easily recognisable. I handed back the glass, and we both by one impulse drew back from the opening.
We drew further back still into a dark and retired corner, quite out of the rough pathway, and held a brief conference.
"It's a queer start," Jack said, "but we must go on with it; it is our only chance."
"It's queerer than you think," said I; "you haven't seen the fellows' faces as I saw them at first."
"No, no, I am taking account of that," said he. "I saw what you mean, although I might not have taken much notice of it if you had not mentioned it. I am afraid they are a very bad lot, or I should say rather he is a bad lot, for they are mere puppets in his hands."
"Not quite that," said I. "I don't suppose they would be much without him, but they are following him with a will."
"That may be," he replied; "but now tell me, how shall we work it? We have no time to lose, for he knows we are coming."
"I don't see how he could know it," said I, "unless he is the devil himself."
Jack gave a short but unpleasant chuckle; then he said,
"Well, perhaps he is; he is bad enough to be, or else I am much mistaken. Anyway, he knows we are coming; that is why the malignant look is partly hidden; he is getting ready for us."
I wished for the light that I might see Jack's face, for his voice began to have an odd ring about it. Then I said, "What can he want with us, Jack?"
"I don't know," he said, "but I made a study of his face just now. I'm not much on—what do you call it?—physiognomy? but that beggar's face told me a story."
"What was the story?"
"Well, that he knows we are coming, and that he wants us, and that he is going to make use of us. What are we going to do?"
"We will go straight up to him and ask him to help us."
"Very well," Jack said. "Rest, and a guide, and food, and fire. And what story shall we tell him of ourselves?"
"We will tell him the truth," said I.
"And shame the devil," said he, with another uncomfortable chuckle.
"What language shall I try him with?" said I.
"Bet you a pound he knows English," said Jack.
"Oh, that's the sort of devil you think he is; very well, I'll take your bet, though I dare say you are right enough." I declare, although I knew very well what ruffians outlawed Englishmen are apt to be, I felt quite light-hearted as I thought that perhaps after the men we were going to meet might be no worse than such. "Come on," I said, and we walked straight to the light. I pulled aside the rustic frame, which came with my hand quite easily; then I walked straight through, Jack following me closely.
The strange leader saw us at once, stood still, and looked at us. We walked forward and saluted him. I felt at the moment that Jack was right, that he knew that we were coming, although he wore an air of surprise, interested and self-possessed. I thought at the very first, "After all, he looks noble." But almost immediately I changed the word "noble" for "very strong."
He spoke to us in English. I looked at Jack, who smiled grimly and whispered, "Lost, old man." The strange leader said,
"Who are you, and whence do you come?" He spoke perfectly, quite perfectly, and in a commanding and confident tone. But there was a something, I know not what, about his accent, which told me that he was speaking a language foreign to him, and then and afterwards I noticed also that he did not use the conversational idiomatic English of any of those who speak English as their mother tongue.
"We are Englishmen," I said, "and we come from the eastward. We went among the blacks and they left us, and we do not know our way. Can you give us food and clothes, and guide us to the nearest English settlement?"
"I can give you both food and clothes," he said; "about guidance we shall speak further when you have made up your mind whither your purpose is to go."
I was about to thank him when I suddenly noticed the aspect of his men. They were looking at us eagerly, and it seemed as if they were waiting for some expected word of command. I could not help thinking that they were about to spring upon us, and I put my hand instinctively to the pocket where I kept my pistol.
The leader said shortly, "never mind that." Then he turned to his men. I could not see his face, but I saw that he lifted his hand. Presently the men were working away at their previous work, and were taking no more note at all of us.
"Come with me," said the leader, and he walked down the broad stone stairway. It was a very broad stairway, with stone balustrades on each side, light in appearance, but immensely strong. Every step, as well as the whole of the balustrade, was diversified with a variety of pictures and devices wrought upon stone by some method which rendered them proof against the weather. On this occasion I noticed little but the colours, but I observed them very closely afterwards. They appeared not only here, but everywhere in the valley, whether under cover or in the open air, where-ever there was any space to receive them, on walls, floors, ceilings, pillars, and doors.
All these pictures and devices presented one pervading idea; and as one passed backward and forward over steps and through doors, past pillars and balustrades, and walls, this idea gradually wrought its way into one's mind, until it seemed to dominate, or at least to claim to dominate everywhere. The idea so presented was that of an unequal but very determined conflict. Sometimes there was a simple device, a heavy drawn sword, for one, falling sheer, a cloud hiding the arm that sped it, and a gauntleted hand raised in resistance. This hand was but small and slight as compared with the sword, but there was expression in every sinew of it and in its very poise.
Again, you would see a hand coming out of a cloud and wielding a flash of lightning, and underneath two smaller hands lifted up as if trying to catch the extremities of the zigzag line of light. But the eeriest of all the devices was that of the two eyes: the larger eye was above and the lesser beneath, and how such expression could be given to an eye by itself I do not understand, but certainly there it was. Either eye was looking steadfastly into the other, and in the upper eye you saw conscious power, harsh, stern, and unrelenting; and in the lower and lesser one you saw, quite as plainly, the spirit of hopeless but unquelled resistance. The same idea was repeated in many pictures. In one of them you saw a great host bearing down upon a few antagonists of determined if despairing aspect. And in the background a dark mass of cloud, forest, and rock hid all but the forefront of the mightier combatants and gave you the notion of unseen and inscrutable power. Still, the simpler devices, I think, suggested with more awful certainty the actual presence of desperate and deadly struggle.
As I have said, however, I was conscious of but little of all this as I walked down the broad stone stair. I was weary, and hungry, and thirsty, and utterly taken by surprise, and I was quite ready to attribute to these feelings the sense of eeriness and fear which was creeping over me.
Our host conducted us down the stair with stately courtesy, and he gave us briefly to understand that he was about to ask us to refresh ourselves with food and rest and change of raiment. At the foot of the stair a very broad roadway led straight on toward the other end of the valley, but our host beckoned us to the right by a shorter and narrower way. We entered one of the low buildings which I had seen from above. These were not very large, but they proved to be considerably larger than I had supposed. We passed through a little porch into a fair-sized room, the floor of which was covered with a stuff of curious texture. It looked like some sort of metal; it felt beneath the feet like the softest pile. The walls on one side of the room exhibited a number of drawers with handles. Both drawers and handles were of strange and irregular shapes, exhibiting, nevertheless, a sort of regular recurrence in their very irregularities. In the centre of each of the remaining walls was a picture wrought upon the surface of the wall and occupying about a third of the whole wall, and over the rest of the wall there was inscribed a variety of devices. Both picture and devices were of the sort which I have already indicated.There was an elliptical table in the middle of the room, and here and there on the floor were several chairs and a few couches, all of a very bizarre pattern, and all—tables, couches, chairs, drawers, and floorcloth—were covered with devices, some similar in form and all similar in spirit to those upon the wall. In the wall opposite the drawers there was a door, and our host, opening this, showed us into a room of lesser size where there were all sorts of appliances for bathing and for dressing. Clothes also, like those worn by himself and his men, hung round on racks. The walls and furniture, here as well as elsewhere, presented repetitions under various forms of the same pictured idea.
Before taking us into the bath-room, our host pulled out three drawers, calling our attention to the numbers marked upon them. Out of each he took a number of little round cakes or lozenges, each of a little less than the circumference of a two-shilling piece, but rather thicker. These he placed on several dishes, a different sort on each dish, and two spoons, or like spoons, on each dish also. He told us to take each, after the bath, a few of these, and he told us in what order we were to take them. Then, with a salutation, he left us to ourselves.
We bathed quickly, and after our bath we availed ourselves gladly of the change of raiment which our host had placed at our disposal. We exchanged a very few words, and those few did not attempt to deal with the mystery which was thickening about us. Jack's face expressed a mixture of surprise and mistrust, each in an extreme degree. My own face, as Jack told me later on, expressed sheer bewilderment. Certainly that was my feeling until far into the middle of the next day. I did not really believe that I was awake and in my senses, and I kept going back and back in my thoughts trying to find out when and where I fell asleep or was stunned.
After our bath we returned into the larger room. We were then very hungry, and we lay down each upon a couch, expecting to be soon summoned to the evening meal, for by this time the afternoon was well advanced. The weather was pleasantly warm, and we would have dropped asleep if we had not been kept awake by hunger. We both remembered at the same moment the plates of confections which our host had offered us. We took first one and then another of each kind in the order which he had indicated, letting them slowly melt in our mouths. The taste of them, although pleasant, was rather strange, but yet not altogether unfamiliar. The taste of the first sort faintly resembled the taste of roast beef; of the second, of pine-apple; of the third, of sweet wine, specially of muscatel. The effect of them was extraordinary; we felt that we had partaken of an agreeable and substantial meal; our hunger and thirst were gone, and we were quite refreshed. And then, as will happen when one dines well after a laborious and exciting day, we both fell sound asleep. We slept all through the night and on until a little after sunrise, and, not to go into details, we rose immediately and breakfasted as we had dined. We had scarce finished our meal when we became aware of the tramp of many men at no great distance from us, and we hurried to the door. We saw then, what neither of us had noticed the evening before, that the broad road, out of which we had turned in order to reach our present resting-place, opened out at the distance of about two hundred yards from the flight of steps into a large square, formed as the road itself was formed, and planted around the borders with trees, under the shade of which were several benches.
In the square were some two or three hundred men, undergoing some sort of review by the leader, with whom we had already become acquainted. Whatever degree of mistrust either of us felt we thought it as well not to show it, so we came forward leisurely until we were within a few score paces of the men, and then we stood and looked. We were not at once perceived, as neither the leader nor his men were looking straight in our direction, and we were partly shaded by a tree. The men were evidently of a much higher stamp intellectually than those whom we had seen the day before, excepting the leader. The men, yesterday, seemed to differ from automatic machines in one single point, namely, that they seemed to have a will of their own, although they had surrendered it to their leader. They seemed, you would say, quite incapable of action except as prompted by him, although they gave themselves up to his prompting, no doubt, because of sympathy and unity of purpose with him. The men to-day seemed, on the contrary, to be men of considerable intelligence. You would suppose them to be quite capable of being leaders themselves, and able to carry out in full detail instructions which they might receive in the merest outline. It was evident that they were now receiving instructions. These were being given, partly by expressions and signs, and partly by some spoken language. The language, which I heard several times in the next two days, bore no resemblance at all to any language that I knew. It seemed to be very artificial and elliptical. The former quality was suggested by the regular recurrence and gradation of certain sounds, and the latter quality was suggested by its great brevity. A word or two seemed to suffice where we should require one or more sentences.
When the leader had given his instructions, one and another, and then another, of the men stood out from the ranks and spoke to him, and in each case he replied. The men who spoke I judged to be in some subordinate command. All the men stood in files now, one man behind another, facing the leader, and in each case the man who spoke stood in front of his file. These files formed themselves quite suddenly and with great precision after the leader had given his first orders and before the other men spoke. It seemed as if the subordinate leaders were making suggestions or inquiries respecting the details of the work about which they had just received instructions in outline.
Then followed what seemed like a numbering of the men, and it soon became apparent that one file had two men missing, that is to say, supposing all the files to have been at first equal in number. As the deficiency became apparent a flash of baffled but furious malignity passed across the leader's face. Then I knew that when I had seen the like expression yesterday I was not dreaming. Jack and I exchanged a momentary glance. Some words, as I judged of inquiry and satisfactory reply, passed between the leader and one of his subordinates, and then, in the progress of the drill, the men made a partial turn by which they brought us into full view. In a moment they saw us, and in a moment the same eager and threatening look came over their faces which we had seen in the other men's faces yesterday. Jack and I both believed for that moment that our last hour was come.
But the leader withheld them with a word and sign. What he said or signified of course I did not really know, but I felt sure, nevertheless, that it was to this effect, that we should supply the places of their comrades who had disappeared. The same thought occurred to Jack. His word was received with a sound like a laugh, but it was a very horrible and ghastly laugh. One sometimes hears of the horror of a maniac's laugh; but the maniac's laugh is horrible by reason of its vacancy. This laugh was by no means vacant, it was full of expression, but it was the expression of relentless malignity.
Then the leader dismissed the men and they moved away towards the further end of the valley. Then he turned and moved slowly towards us and we moved slowly to meet him. He met us with the same stately courtesy as before and we exchanged salutations. He led us to the square where the men had been and he invited us to sit down. Then he inquired briefly concerning our personal comfort and we both expressed briefly our thanks and satisfaction. Then I went on to say,
"My name, sir, is Easterley, and my friend is Mr. Wilbraham, and we have only now to ask you by what name we are to know our host, and to ask that he will add to the obligation under which he has placed us, by giving us a guide to the nearest station or settlement of English colonists."
"I have more names than one," he replied, "among your people, but when I was last in Italy, which is a country that I know better than most, I was known as Niccolo Davelli. I was an analytical chemist and something of an engineer, and I did, well, a little political work among the country folk." He said all this with a very easy manner but with a very unpleasant smile. "Signor Davelli," I replied, speaking in Italian, "I am proud to thank you by name on behalf of myself and my friend, and I trust you will find no difficulty in giving the guidance we ask." "Surely not," he answered in the same language, "but you will stay here for a little, will you not? I have some curious things to show you, and you may perhaps meet some old friends among my people, and my work is so interesting and important that I have some hope that you will see your way to cast in your lot with us altogether. But," said he, "you need not use Italian, for I am not any more skilful in that than in your own equally famous tongue." Here again was the unpleasant smile, and I noticed that although he spoke Italian, as far as I could judge quite perfectly, he used this language as well as English with the deliberate and measured enunciation of a foreigner.
"As you will," I replied, returning to English, "we shall be glad to see what you have to show us."
Signor Davelli rose up at the word and invited us to follow him. He went up the stair by which we had come down the day before, and led us to the platform on which we had first seen him. He told us briefly that his sojourn here was in fulfilment of a purpose to which he and certain others of his fellowship were pledged. That they were all acting in concert and that certain of them were leaders, and that each leader had command of a station such as this, of which there were several in different parts of the world. That it was essential to the work that it should be carried on from regions far removed from the haunts of men, at least of civilised men, for they could repel the interference of savage races without endangering the fulfilment of their purpose. He went on to tell us that in this station of his he had two classes of work to do, one class consisting of intellectual work of a high order, and affecting more directly the fulfilment of the common purpose, the other class consisting of merely mechanical work, affecting the routine of life and its conditions here. "The men," he went on to say, "who carry out the former are of high and independent mental faculties and rank accordingly; these men you have seen to-day. The men who carry out the latter are of a very acute capacity to receive and execute instructions, but have no originating power of conception or design. These are they whom you saw yesterday. Their work is mainly the making of our food and clothes, and the construction of our means of locomotion, and of the machinery by which the work is done. That machinery is designed and executed in model at the other end of the valley by the other men in the intervals of their more important work. That work, however, you cannot understand until you become better acquainted with us."
We had now reached the platform, and we saw the men at work just as we had seen them the day before. Signor Davelli uttered a single word which I did not understand, and on hearing it the men turned, and then followed for a very few minutes the same sort of pantomimic action which I had already seen and have described. Then they resumed work.
Signor Davelli then took us to the works and invited us to observe the construction of the various machines in use.
I must not, however, run the risk of tiring you by any minute account of them here. Let it suffice to say that there was a much higher degree of mechanical skill exhibited in their construction than I have ever seen anywhere before or since, and that besides there was much that suggested the application of chemical and electrical science in a manner greatly in advance of anything that is commonly known; and further that there were certain complicated arrangements of prisms and mirrors which indicated as I thought some use of the agency of light which was quite new to me and which I did not understand. One set of machines proved to be used for the manufacture of the compressed food which we had already found so effective. Another set of much simpler construction carried it away and stored it when made. Yet another set was used for the manufacture of that invisible paint, the use of which had so astonished me. These last were the machines which attracted my curiosity most of all, and which implied not only a use which I did not comprehend of agencies which I recognised, but the existence of other agencies of which I knew nothing at all. I observed, however, as carefully as possible and I made, later on, very full notes of what I did observe, and I shall be happy to communicate these to our men of science in whose hands they can hardly fail to become of much practical value. I need hardly say that I asked a good many questions about this last set of machines, but somehow I got very little information. Whether Signor Davelli was unwilling to explain, or whether there was something in the process which I was incapable of understanding, I am not quite sure. All I could get from him was that there are some rays at either end of the spectrum which are not visible, and that it is possible to treat some substances so as to cause them to reflect these rays only, just as other substances reflect only the yellow or only the red. But from a word or two which he spoke, I suspect inadvertently, I gathered that the rays he spoke of, which are invisible to us, were visible to him, and differed as much from yellow, red, or blue, as these from one another.
We now crossed the platform to the place where the cars were being painted. I perceived as soon as I came upon the spot that the cars were built at one level, and then raised by machinery to another level at which they were painted, and that when painted they were raised to a third level. Along each of these levels they were moved by rollers of quite simple construction. Yesterday I had only seen those on the second level; those on the first were too low to come within the field of my view, and those on the third were invisible.
On this third level, however, one was to-day visible. As I afterwards learned, Signor Davelli had caused it to be left unpainted. It was otherwise finished. He caused it now to be rolled along to the extremity of the platform, which ended to the southward in a sheer precipice of some hundreds of feet. There was a ledge to keep it from rolling over. Signor Davelli led us to this car and invited us to enter it.
There was plenty of accommodation for two or three people. There were easy benches and couches, and there were three boxes with distinctive marks like numbers on the lids. At the end of the car which was furthest from the ledge, the inside end, there was a great deal of machinery, but not of such a size as I should have expected considering the size of the car. This machinery consisted of two batteries resembling galvanic batteries in many ways, but the stuff used up in work was not fluid but solid; it consisted of large squares of matter, which I think was wholly or mainly metallic. The batteries were connected with a strong round bar, made, as I thought, of some sort of metal running through the car and supporting a pair of huge paddles, or wings, one on each side of the car. At each end of the bar were certain little wheels and cranks, devised not so as to cause the paddles to revolve, but so as to give them a wing-like motion. At the forward part of the car were several vessels of a form which suggested a chemical apparatus for generating gas. And on each side of the car, constructed and placed with an evident view to balance or trim it, were two balloons, which seemed absurdly small in view of the size of the car. These were connected with the chemical apparatus just mentioned, and were filled by it, when occasion required, with a gas vastly lighter than hydrogen.
Signor Davelli, Jack, and I entered the car, and the Signor took a bottle of liquid out of one of the numbered boxes and poured it into one of the vessels. Then in all the vessels there seemed to be a sound like boiling, and presently the balloons became inflated and raised the car very gently and quite evenly. When we had been thus lifted to a height of about a hundred feet from the platform, he put on a dark-looking pair of gloves and laid hold of a strong thick wire, which I had not seen before, which was fastened to the bar which I had supposed to be of metal on the side further from where I sat. This wire he connected with the batteries of either end, and immediately took off the gloves. Presently the paddles began to move with a wing-like action, driving the car straight forward through the air. All this time we were still rising slowly, but when we had attained a high degree of speed Signor Davelli turned the key of a valve which communicated with both balloons and they presently collapsed, the action of the paddles being now sufficient both to sustain us and to urge us forward. The motion was easier than that of any conveyance that I had ever yet travelled in. The seat on which Signor Davelli sat was placed so that with one hand he could turn the key of the valve, and with the other grasp either of two handles, by one of which he managed the batteries, and by the other of which he changed at need the direction of the paddles. I perceived, upon looking more closely, that the key of the valve was fixed at the intersection of two tubes shaped like a T, one at right angles to the other, the horizontal tube joining the balloons and the perpendicular tube connected with the vessels from which the sound of boiling still proceeded.
After we had gone, as I thought, a few miles, Signor Davelli changed the direction of the paddles and swept round in a longish curve, until the forward part of the car was turned to our starting point. When we had travelled about half way back he turned the valve again and refilled the balloons, and then he stopped the paddles and we lay floating in the air, rising very slowly and gently. Then he bade me look to the west and say if I saw anything. I could see nothing at all, the day was quite cloudless. Then he bade me look downward, but still to the west. Then I saw a shadow, as I thought, of a great bird, but I could see no bird to cast the shadow. The sun was now declining a little, and he bade me turn and look downward again, but now to the east. Then I saw the shadow of our own car, and although the point of view was not the same, there was no room to doubt but that the other shadow was cast by a car like ours. The moment I saw the likeness my old Welsh experience came with a flash to my mind. These were just the same queer sort of shadows that I had seen long ago at Penruddock the day James Redpath had disappeared; yes, and surely the evening before the day we reached the valley, the evening of the day that we lost poor Gioro I had seen just the same sort of shadow. And—— Could it be? Yes, it surely was—the dreadful face that I recognised yesterday was no other than James Redpath's own! How it was that I did not identify him before I do not know, but now I knew very surely that I had seen himself indeed. Such was the tumult of mixed feelings that now took possession of me that although we moved rapidly forward again until we had passed quite over the valley and then wheeled round once more, I took no notice of our movements until I found that we were descending to the spot where we had started, the front of the car facing southward as before. I looked at Signor Davelli, and I read in his face an expression of gratified pride and a strong sense of power. There was nothing repulsive in his aspect now, at least nothing repulsive to me. I felt also that I was being somehow dominated by his will, and that I was not altogether unwilling that it should be so. I felt certainly some remnant of the horror with which I had looked yesterday on his face and the faces of his men, but I was conscious that my horror was rapidly merging into simple wonder. I felt something of the sort of awe which the suspected presence of the supernatural produces in most minds; but the feeling which dominated for the present all other feelings in me was a devouring curiosity. Just then the sacred allegory of the Fall passed before my mind rather as if presented than recalled. In my mind's eye I saw the very Tree itself which was to be desired to make one wise, and the legend written under it—
"Eritis sicut Deus scientes bonum et malum;"
but neither device nor motto seemed to have any other effect upon me than to stimulate my curiosity.
Just then we touched ground, and I started, as if coming to my senses, and looked over at Jack. His face was partly turned away, and I could see little more than his side face. He wore an abstracted air, such as I had never seen him wear before. There was also a sweetness and earnestness of expression about him which were certainly not foreign to his face, but which I had never before seen there in such intense degree. Strange to say, there came upon me for the moment a sort of contempt for his understanding which seemed strongly to repel me from him. This, I have now no doubt, was produced by some evil influence acting I know not how, for assuredly there was nothing in my knowledge of him that it could build upon, and all that happened after justified it, if possible, even less. Just then he turned and looked upon me, and there was in his eyes so much care and kindness, kindness to me and care on my account, that my heart was touched and awakened at once. I cannot analyze or account for the effect which this look produced on me; I can only say that as I stepped from the car the tumult of mixed feelings, which so disturbed me, seemed to pass away like a bad dream that might or might not return.
After a few words of courteous inquiry as to our necessities and comforts, Signor Davelli made an appointment to meet us next day on the square where we had met this morning; and then we parted from him for the night, and Jack and I slowly returned to our place.
"Jack," said I, as we were going down, "what do you think of it all?"
"We won't talk of it now," he replied, "we are too tired, and perhaps excited; we had better sleep over it. To-morrow we must rise early, look out a quiet place, and talk the matter all round."
Nothing more but some words of course passed between us until the morning.
- I discovered afterwards that it was not metallic.