Open main menu

CHAPTER XV. THE SPLENDID THEORYEdit

IT is not only to-day, when I am relating that tragic scene, that it appears to me in the light of a subsidiary episode to my story. I already had that impression at the time when it was being enacted. My reason for laying no greater stress on my alarm and on the horror of certain facts is that all this was to me only an interlude. Massignac's sufferings and his disappearance and Velmot's inexplicable behaviour, in abandoning for some minutes the conduct of a matter to which he had until then applied himself with such diabolical eagerness, were just so many details which became blotted out by the tremendous events represented by Benjamin Prevotelle's discovery.

And to such an extent was this event the central point of all my preoccupations that the idea had occurred to me, as I rushed to Massignac's assistance, of snatching from the chair the newspaper in which I had read the first half of the essay! To be free meant above all things —even above saving Massignac and, through Mm, the formula — the opportunity of reading the rest of the essay and of learning what the whole world must already have learnt!

I made the circuit of the island in my boat and, shaping my course by certain lights, ran her ashore on the main bank. A tram went by. Some of the shops were open. I was between Bougival and Port-Marly.

At ten o'clock in the evening I was sitting in a bedroom in a Paris hotel and unfolding a newspaper. But I had not had the patience to wait so long. On the way, by the feeble lights of the tram-car, I glanced at a few lines of the article. One word told me everything. I too was acquainted with Benjamin Prevotelle's marvellous theory. I knew and, knowing, I believed.

The reader will recall the place which I had reached in my uncomfortable perusal of the report. Benjamin Prevotelle's studies and experiments had led him to conclude, first, that the Meudon pictures were real cinematographic projections and, next, that these projections, since they came from no part of the amphitheatre, must come from some point more remote. Now the last picture, that representing the revolutionary doings of the 21st January, was hampered by some obstacle. What obstacle? His mental condition being what it was, what could Benjamin Prevotelle do other than raise his eyes to the sky?

The sky was clear. Was it also clear beyond the part that could be observed from the lower benches of the amphitheatre? Benjamin Prevotelle climbed to the top and looked at the horizon.

Yonder, towards the west, clouds were floating.

And Benjamin Prevotelle continued, repeating his phrase:


“Clouds were floating! And, because of the fact that clouds were floating on the horizon, the pictures on the screen grew less distinct or even vanished altogether. It may be said that this was a coincidence. On three separate occasions, when the film lost its brilliancy, I turned towards the horizon: on each occasion clouds were passing. Could three coincidences of this kind be due to chance? Can any scientific mind fail to see herein a relation of cause and effect or to admit that, in this instance, as in that of many visions previously observed, which were disturbed by an unknown cause, the interposition of the clouds acted as a veil by intercepting the projection on its way? I was not able to make a fourth test. But that did not matter. I had now advanced so far that I was able to work and reflect without being stopped by any obstacle. There is no such thing as being checked mid-way in our pursuit of certain truths. Once we catch a glimpse of them, they become revealed in their entirety.

“At first, to be sure, scientific logic, instead of referring the explanation which I was so eagerly seeking to the data of human science, flung me, almost despite myself, into an ever more mysterious region. And, when, after this second display, I returned home — this was three hours ago at most — I asked myself whether it would not be better to confess my ignorance than to go rushing after theories which suddenly seemed to me to lie beyond the confines of science. But how could I have done so? Despite myself I continued to work at the problem, to imagine. Induction fitted into deduction. Proofs were accumulating. Even as I was hesitating to enter upon a path whose direction confounded me, I reached the goal and found myself sitting down to a table, pen in hand, to write a report which was dictated by my reason as much as by my imagination.

“Thus the first step was taken: in obedience to the imperious summons of reality, I admitted the theory of extra-terrestrial communications, or at least of communications coming from beyond the clouds. Was I to think that they emanated from some airship hovering in the sky, beyond that cloud-belt? Leaving aside the fact that such airship was ever observed, we must remark that luminous projections powerful enough to light the screen at Meudon from a distance of several miles would leave in the air a trail of diffused light which could not escape notice. Lastly, in the present condition of science, we are at liberty to declare positively that such projections would be quite incapable of realization.

“What then? Were we to cast our eyes farther, traverse space at one bound and assume that the projections have an origin which is not only extraterrestrial but extrahuman?

“Now the great word is written. The idea is no longer my property. How will it be received by those to whom this report will reveal it tomorrow? Will they welcome it with the same fervour and the same awe-struck emotion that thrilled me, with the distrust at the beginning and the same final enthusiasm?

“Let us, if you will, recover our composure. The examination of the phenomena has led us to a very definite conclusion. However startling this conclusion be, let us examine it also, with perfect detachment, and try to subject it to all the tests which we are able to impose upon it.

“Extrahuman projections: what does that mean? The expression seems vague; and our thoughts wander at random. Let us look into the matter more closely. Let us first of all establish as an impassable boundary the frontiers of our solar system and, in this immense circle, concentrate our gaze upon the more accessible and consequently the nearer points. For, when all is said, if there be really projections, they must necessarily, whether extrahuman or human, emanate from fixed points, situated in space. They must therefore emanate from those luminaries within sight of the earth to which, in the last report, we have some right to attribute the origin of those projections. I consider that there are five such fixed points: the moon, the sun, Jupiter, Mars and Venus.

“If, furthermore, we suppose as the more likely theory that the projections follow a rectilinear direction, then the unknown luminary from which the apparitions emanate will have to satisfy two conditions: first, it must be in such a position that photographs can be taken from it; secondly, it must be in such a position that the images obtained can be transmitted to us. Let us take as an instance a case in which it is possible to fix the place and date. The first Montgolfier balloon, filled with hot air, was sent up from Annonay at four o'clock in the afternoon on the 5th of June, 1783. It is easy, by referring to the contemporary calendars, to learn which celestial bodies were at that moment above the horizon and at what height. We thus find that Mars, Jupiter and the moon were invisible, whereas the sun and Venus were at 50 and 23 degrees respectfully above the horizon of Annonay and, of course, towards the west. These two luminaries alone then were in a position to witness the experiment of the brothers Montgolfier. But they did not witness it from the same altitude: a view taken from the sun would have shown things as seen from above, whereas, at the same hour, Venus would have shown then from an angle very nearly approaching the horizontal.

“This is a first clue. Are we able to check it? Yes, by turning up the date on which the projections of the view then secured as observed by Victorien Beaugrand and by determining whether, on that date, the projecting luminary was able to light up the screen at Meudon. Well, on that day, at the hour which Victorien Beaugrand has given us, Mars and the moon were invisible, Jupiter was in the east, the sun close to the horizon and Venus a little way above it. Projections emanating from the last-named planet could therefore have fallen upon the screen, which as we know faced westwards.

“This example shows us that, however frail my theory may appear, we are now able and shall be even better able in the future to subject it to a strict control. I did not fail to resort to this method in respect of the other pictures, and I will give in a special table, appended to this essay, a list of the data which I have verified, a list necessarily drawn up, in some haste. Well, in all the cases which I examined, the views were they can logically be referred to the planet Venus taken and projected under such conditions that and to that planet alone.

“Yet again, two of these views, that which revealed to Victorien Beaugrand and his uncle the execution of Miss Cavell and that which enabled us to witness the bombardment of Rheims, seem to have been taken, the first in the morning, because Miss Cavell was executed in the morning, and the second from the east, because it showed a shell fired at a statue which stood on the east front of the cathedral. This proves that the views could be taken indifferently in the morning or the evening, from the west or the east; and it is surely a powerful argument in favour of my theory, because Venus, which is both the Evening and the Morning Star, faces the earth at daybreak from the east and at sunset from the west and because Noel Dorgeroux (as M. Victorien Beaugrand has just confirmed to me by telephone), because Noel Dorgeroux, that magnificent visionary, had had his wall constructed with two surfaces having an identical inclination towards the sky, one facing west, the other east and each in turn exposed to the rays of Venus the Evening Star and Venus the Morning Star!

“These are the proofs which I am able to furnish for the time being. There are others. There is for instance the time of the apparitions. Venus is sinking towards the horizon; on the earth twilight reigns; and the pictures can be formed regardless of the sunlight. Remark also that Noel Dorgeroux, deferring all his experiments, last winter altered the whole arrangement of the Yard and demolished the old garden. Now this break coincides exactly with a period during which the position of Venus on the farther side of the sun prevented it from communicating with the earth. All these proofs will be reinforced by a more exhaustive essay and by an analytical examination of the pictures that have been or will be shown to us.

“But though I have written this report without stopping to answer the objections and difficulties which arise at every line, though I have been contented myself with setting forth the logical and almost inevitable sequence of the deductions which led up to my theory. I should be failing in respect to the academy and to the public if I allowed it to be believed that I am not fully conscious of the weight of those objections and difficulties. I did not, however, consider this a reason for abandoning my task. Though it be our duty to bow when science utters a formal veto, on the other hand duty orders us to persist when science is content merely to confess its ignorance. This is the twofold principle which I observed in seeking no longer the source of the projections, but rather the manner in which they were able to appear, for that is where the whole problem lies. It is easy to declare that they emanate from Venus; it is not easy to explain how they travel through space and how they exercise their action, at a distance of many millions of miles, on an imperceptible screen with a surface of three or four hundred square feet. I am confronted with physical laws which I am not entitled to transgress. I am entitled at most to advance where science is obliged to be mute.

“Therefore and without any sort of discussion I admit that we are debarred from supposing that light can be the agent of the transmissions which have been observed. The laws of diffraction indeed are absolutely opposed to the strictly rectilinear propagation of luminous rays and hence to the formation and reception of pictures at the exceptional distances actually under consideration. Not only are the laws of geometrical optics merely a somewhat rough approximation, but the complicated refractions which would inevitably occur in the atmospheres of the earth and Venus would disturb the optical images. The veto of science therefore is peremptory in so far as the possibility of these optical transmissions is concerned.

“For that matter, I should be quite willing to believe that the inhabitants of Venus have already tried to correspond with us through the intermediary of luminous signals and that, if they abandoned their endeavours, this was precisely because the imperfection of our human science made them useless. We know in fact that Lowell and Schiaparelli saw on the face of Venus brilliant specks and a transient gleam which they themselves attributed either to volcanic eruptions or, as is more probable, to the attempts at communication of which I have spoken.

“But science does not prevent us from asking ourselves whether, after the failure of these attempts, the inhabitants of Venus did not resort to another method of correspondence. How can we avoid thinking, for instance, of the X-rays, whose strictly rectilinear path would allow of the formation of pictures so clear that one could wish for nothing better? In fact it is not impossible that these rays are employed for the emission received on the Meudon screen, though the quality of the light when analyzed in the spectroscope makes the supposition highly improbable. But how are we to explain by means of X-rays the taking of the terrestrial views of which we saw the moving outline on the screen? We know, of course, if we go back to the concrete example to which I referred just now, we know that neither the brothers Montgolfier nor the surrounding landscape emitted X-rays. It is not therefore through the medium of these rays that the Venusians can have secured the instantaneous photographs which they afterwards transmitted to us.

“Well, this exhausts all the possibilities of an explanation which can be referred to the present data of science. I declare positively that to-day, in this essay, I should not have dared to venture into the domain of theory and to suggest a solution in which my own labours are involved, if Noel Dorgeroux had not in a manner authorized me to do so. The fact is that, twelve months ago, I issued a pamphlet, entitled An Essay on Universal Gravitation, which fell flat on publication, but which must have attracted Noel Dorgeroux's particular attention, because his nephew, Victorien Beaugrand, found my name written among his papers and because Noel Dorgeroux cannot have known my name except through this pamphlet. Nor would he have taken the trouble to write it down, if the theory of the rays of gravitation which I developed in my pamphlet had not appeared to him to be exactly adapted to the problem raised by his discovery?

“I will therefore ask the reader to refer to my pamphlet. He will there find the results, vague but by no means negligible, which I was able to explain by my experiments with this radiation. He will see that it is propagated in a strictly rectilinear direction and with a speed which is thrice that of light, so that it would not take more than 46 seconds to reach Venus at the time when she is nearest to the earth. He will see lastly that, though the existence of these rays, thanks to which universal attraction is exercised according to the Newtonian laws, is not yet admitted and though I have not yet succeeded in making them visible by means of suitable receivers, I nevertheless give proofs of their existence which must be taken into consideration. And Noel Dorgeroux's approval also is a proof that they must not be neglected.

“On the other hand, we have the right to believe that, while our poor rudimentary science may, after centuries and centuries of efforts, have remained ignorant of the essential factor of the equilibrium of the planets, the Venusian scientists long since passed this inferior stage of knowledge and that they possess photographic receivers which allow films to be taken by means of the rays of gravitation and this by methods of truly wonderful perfection. They were therefore waiting. Looking down upon our planet, knowing all that happened here, witnessing our helplessness, they were waiting to communicate with us by the only means that appeared to them possible. They were waiting, patiently and persistently, formidably equipped, sweeping our soil with the invisible sheaves of rays assembled in their projectors and receivers, searching and prying into every nook and corner.

“And one day the wonderful thing happened. One day the shaft of rays struck the layer of substance on the screen where and where alone the spontaneous work of chemical decomposition and immediate reconstitution could be performed. On that day, thanks to Noel Dorgeroux and thanks to luck, as we must confess, for Noel Dorgeroux was pursuing an entirely different series of experiments on that particular day, the Venusians established the connection between the two planets. The greatest fact in the history of the world was accomplished.

“There is evidence even that the Venusians knew of Noel Dorgeroux's earlier experiments, that they realized their importance, that they interested themselves in his labours and that they followed the events of his life, for it is now many years since they took the pictures showing how his son Dominique was killed in the war. But I will not recapitulate in detail each of the films displayed at Meudon. This is a work which anybody can now perform in the light of the theory which I am setting forth. But we must consider attentively the process by which the Venusians tried to give those films a sort of uniformity. It has been rightly said that the sign of the Three Eyes is a trade-mark, like the mark of any of our great cinematograph-producers, a trade-mark also very strikingly proves the superhuman resources possessed by the Venusians, since they succeed in giving to those Three Eyes, which have no relation to our human eyes, not only the expression of our eyes but something much more impressive, the expression of the eyes of the person destined to be the principal character in the film.

“But why was this particular mark chosen? Why eyes and why three? At the stage which we have now reached, need we answer this question? The Venusians themselves have furnished the reply by showing us that apparently absurd film in which Shapes assuredly lived and moved in our sight in accordance with the lines and principle of Venusian life. Were we not the breathless spectators of a picture taken among them and from them? Did we not behold, to make a companion picture to the death of Louis XVI, an incident representing the martyrdom of some great personage whom the executioners tore to pieces with their three hands, severing from his body a sort of shapeless head provided with three eyes?

“Three Hands! Three Eyes! Dare I, on the strength of this fragile basis, go beyond what we saw and declare that the Venusian possesses the complete symmetry of the triangle, just as man, with his two eyes, his two ears and his two arms, possesses bilateral symmetry? Shall I try to explain his method of progressing by successive distentions and of moving vertically along vertical streets, in towns built perpendicularly? Shall I have the courage to state, as I believe, that he is provided with organs which give him a magnetic sense, a sense of space, an electric sense and so on, organs numbered by threes? No. These are details with which the Venusian scientists will supply us on the day when it pleases them to enter into correspondence with us.

“And, believe me, they will not fail to do so. 'All their efforts for centuries past have been directed towards this object. 'Let us talk,' they will say to us soon as they must have said to Noel Dorgeroux and as they no doubt succeeded In doing with him. It must have been a stirring conversation, from which the great seer derived such power and certainty that it is to him that I will refer, before concluding, in order to add to the discussion the two positive proofs which he himself tried to write at the foot of the screen during the few seconds of his death-struggle, a twofold declaration made by the man, who in departing this life, knew:

“'Bray.... B E R G E...'

“When thus expressing his supreme belief in the B-rays, Noel Dorgeroux no longer indicated that unknown radiation which he had once imagined to explain the phenomena of the screen and which would have consisted of the materialization of pictures born within and projected by ourselves. More far-seeing, better-informed as the result of his experiments, abandoning moreover his attempt to connect the new facts with the action of the solar heat which he had so often utilized, he plainly indicated those rays of gravitation of whose existence he had learnt through my pamphlet and also perhaps through his communications with the Venusians, those rays which are habitually employed by them in the same manner as that in which the light-rays are employed by the humblest photographer.

“And the five letters B E R G E are not the first two syllables of the word Bergeronnette. That was the fatal error of which Berangere Massignac was the victim. They form the word Berger, complete all but the last letter. At the moment of his death, in his already overshadowed brain, Noel Dorgeroux, in order to name Venus, could find no other expression than l'Etoile du Berger, the Shepherd's Star; and his enfeebled hand was able to write only the first few letters. The proof therefore is absolute. The man who knew had time to tell the essential part of what he knew: by means of the rays of gravitation, the Shepherd's Star sends its living messages to the earth.

“If we accept the successive deductions stated in this preliminary essay, which I trust will one day prove to be in a manner a replica of the report stolen from Noel Dorgeroux, there still remain any number of points concerning which we possess not a single element of truth. What is the form of the recording- and projecting-apparatus employed by the Venusians? By what prodigious machinery do they obtain a perfect fixity in the projections between two stars each animated with such complicated movements in space (at present we know of seventeen in the earth alone)? And, to consider only what is close at hand, what is the nature of the screen employed for the Meudon projections? What is that dark-grey substance with which it is coated? How is that substance composed? How is it able to reconstruct the pictures? These are so many questions which our scientific attainments are incapable of solving. But at least we have no right to pronounce them insoluble; and I will go farther and declare that it is our duty to study them by all the means which the public authorities are bound to place at our disposal. This M. Massignac is said to have disappeared from sight. Let the opportunity be seized, let the Meudon Amphitheatre be declared national property! It is out of the question that an individual should, to the detriment of all mankind, remain the sole possessor of such tremendous secrets and have it in his power, if he please and in obedience to a mere whim, to destroy them for all time. The thing cannot be allowed. Before many days have elapsed we must enter into unbroken relations with the inhabitants of Venus. They will tell us the age-old history of our past, reveal to us the great problems which they have elucidated and assist us to benefit by the conquests of a civilization beside which our own as yet seems nothing but confusion, ignorance, the lisping of babes and the stammering of savages....”