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Title: A Trip to Mars
Author: Ash, Fenton
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Trip to Mars" ***

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[Illustration: They returned his greeting as heartily as it was
given.—_Front_.  PAGE 91.]



                             A TRIP TO MARS


                                   By

                               FENTON ASH

                     Author of "The Radium Seekers"



                    WITH SIX COLOURED ILLUSTRATIONS

                                   by

                            W. H. C. Groome



                       LONDON: 38 Soho Square, W.
                       W. & R. CHAMBERS, LIMITED
                       EDINBURGH: 339 High Street
                 Philadelphia: J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
                                  1909



                               Edinburgh:
                 Printed by W. & R. Chambers, Limited.



                               *PREFACE.*


In the case of my former book—my first written for young readers—I
inserted a preface stating at some length my reasons for taking up the
writing of stories of the kind. In it I pointed out that I had
endeavoured to combine amusement with a little wholesome instruction;
and that what might at first sight appear to be mere irresponsible
flights of fanciful imagination had, in reality, in all cases some
quasi-scientific foundation.

Doubtless such a preface is unusual in a work of fiction, and even more
so in one intended chiefly for boys; but the result proved that its
intention was understood and appreciated.  I should show myself
ungrateful indeed if I omitted, at the first opportunity, to record my
deep sense of the kindly sympathy and approval with which that preface
and the whole book were received by those reviewers—and they were
many—who favoured my work with a notice.

In this, my second attempt in the same direction, I am conscious that I
have set myself a difficult task, for it is not an easy matter to give
verisimilitude to a story of a visit to another planet about which we
necessarily know so little. Yet astronomy as a study is so fascinating,
its mysteries and possibilities are so wonderful, so boundless, its
influences so elevating and ennobling, that little apology is needed for
any effort to attract the attention of youthful readers to it by making
it the subject of a romance.

Amongst other difficulties the story-writer here meets with, by no means
the least confronts him when he is called upon to decide which of
various theories put forward by different scientists he shall adopt as a
starting-point. Mars, for instance, may have an atmosphere which is like
ours, or one that is either thinner or denser, or it may have no
atmosphere at all.  As to this nothing is known with certainty, and the
most learned authorities differ one from another.  In these
circumstances, I have adopted the supposition which seems best suited to
my story—namely, that the air there may be denser than it is on the
surface of our globe; but I do not wish to be understood as asserting it
as a fact.  The same remark applies to the assumption that diamonds or
other precious stones do not exist naturally in Mars.  In regard to
these two points, I have felt it may be allowable, as children say, to
’make believe’ a little in forming a groundwork upon which to build up a
story. As to the rest, I have refrained, in deference to the known
prejudices of young people, from interjecting constant scientific
explanations in the course of the narrative. Only sufficient has been
introduced here and there to justify the hope that none will sit down to
its perusal without getting up a little the wiser.

We are all of us, as Sir Isaac Newton so aptly yet reverently expressed
it, ’only as children picking up pebbles on the seashore while the great
ocean of knowledge lies stretched out before us.’

I shall be well satisfied if, in addition to affording pleasure to
youthful readers, I enable them to pick up incidentally even so much as
a few grains of the sand which lies beside the pebbles upon that
wondrous, glorious shore.

THE AUTHOR.



                              *CONTENTS.*


CHAPTER

      I. THE FALL OF THE GREAT METEORITE
     II. WHAT GERALD SAW
    III. STRANGE VISITORS
     IV. GERALD CARRIED OFF
      V. KING IVANTA
     VI. THE KING’S OFFER
    VII. OFF ON A TRIP TO MARS
   VIII. A NARROW ESCAPE
     IX. ARMEATH’S SECRET
      X. CAPTURED BY A COMET
     XI. ’WELCOME TO MARS!’
    XII. PRINCE ALONDRA
   XIII. THE PALACE IN THE CLOUDS
    XIV. TOM CLINCH’S STATEMENT
     XV. HUNTING THE GREAT MARS EAGLE
    XVI. IN DIRE PERIL
   XVII. LESSONS IN FLYING
  XVIII. A ROYAL PROGRESS
    XIX. A DARING PLOT
     XX. THE DEATH POOL
    XXI. A SECRET TREASURE-HOUSE
   XXII. MALTO
  XXIII. A FOUL DEN
   XXIV. AT THE PAVILION
    XXV. AGRANDO THROWS OFF THE MASK
   XXVI. THE WIRELESS MESSAGE
  XXVII. A DESPERATE VENTURE
 XXVIII. SAILING ON THE STORM-WIND
   XXIX. ATTACKED IN THE DARK
    XXX. CAPTURED
   XXXI. AT HOME IN A VOLCANO
  XXXII. IVANTA A FUGITIVE
 XXXIII. A QUEER HUNT
  XXXIV. A NIGHT EXPEDITION
   XXXV. HOW IVANTA GAINED A FLEET
  XXXVI. THE OLD WELL
 XXXVII. THE FIGHT FOR THE STRONGHOLD
XXXVIII. A GREAT AERIAL BATTLE
  XXXIX. THE END OF THE STRUGGLE
     XL. CONCLUSION



                        *LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.*


[Transcriber’s note: In the source book (a reprint), the illustrations
were printed in black and white, not in colour as indicated on the title
page.]


They returned his greeting as heartily as it was given . . .
_Frontispiece_.

He fell backwards upon the floor

There was a flash of light, and a sharp, crackling sound

The wing drooped, and the flier fell heavily to the ground (missing from
source book)

They were then blindfolded, and the march resumed

The assailant was lifted high in the air and flung down with terrible
force



                           *A TRIP TO MARS.*



                              *CHAPTER I.*

                   *THE FALL OF THE GREAT METEORITE.*


’What a magnificent night!  What a scene! Jack, old man, I think you
will have to go in to supper without me and leave me to myself.  It
seems a sort of sacrilege to go indoors—to exchange the moon’s beautiful
light for the miserable glimmer of a little oil-lamp, and this
invigorating air off the sea for the smell of paraffin oil.  Ugh!’

’You’re a queer chap, Gerald; as dreamy, at times, as any girl, I
declare!  You amuse me vastly when you take on these sudden sentimental
fits.  When you are in this mood no stranger would ever imagine you were
the same go-ahead, muscular young Christian you can prove yourself to be
at other times.’

’Yes, I suppose I’m a bit of a dreamer, Jack. I ’ve been told it so many
times that I fancy there must be something in it.  Yet "While you sleep,
then am I awake"——you know the quotation.’

’Faith!  I believe you there, Gerald.  I believe you were cut out for a
night-bird!’

’No, no; now you ’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick.  It isn’t
that I prefer the night to the day; it is simply that by day one cannot
see the stars, and one loses touch with the marvellous thoughts they
inspire.  Look at the sky overhead now!  Look at those little shining
points of light, and think how that they are all worlds such as ours is,
or was, or will be!  Imagine what it would be like if we could sail up
amongst them from this old earth of ours—if we could roam at will
through space, stopping here and calling there upon those which are
inhabited—as I feel assured some must be.  What sights we should see!
What wonders we should encounter! Ah, think of it!’

’I’d rather think just now of having a bit of supper,’ remarked the
practical-minded Jack, with a yawn.  ’And I’m going in to get it too;
so, are you coming with me, or are you not?’

This talk took place upon a headland of a lonely island in the Southern
Seas.  A tropical moon cast its wondrous radiance over everything
around, shimmering upon the water, and causing the whole island to
appear as though floating in an ocean of molten silver.  There was just
wind enough now and then to start the graceful palms waving—cool,
refreshing zephyrs that set millions of sparkling ripples in motion on
the sea, and sent them dancing merrily shorewards to plash at last upon
the golden sands at the foot of the cliff.

Gerald Wilton and Jack Lawford were two youths, orphans both, who, after
having been brought up and educated in England, found themselves,
through a curious series of chances, passing their time upon this island
under the guardianship of a former friend of Gerald’s father, named
Armeath.  The latter was a scientist who had chosen to make this
out-of-the-way spot—absolutely uninhabited save for himself and his
establishment—his home for a year or two, in order the better to pursue
certain abstruse studies to which he was ardently devoted.

They were stalwart, well-grown, clean-limbed British youths, these two,
with good-looking faces and well-knit frames, fond of hunting, shooting,
fishing, and all outdoor sports.  At first, therefore, it is needless to
say, they had enjoyed the change to this far-off island home, and
entered with zest into its free, open life.  If limited as to space,
there were larger islands near, amongst which they could take an
occasional cruise, and where they could go ashore for hunting
expeditions.

But after nearly a year, even this pleasant life had begun to grow a
little monotonous.  The two high-spirited youngsters were getting
somewhat tired of it, and beginning to long—almost unconsciously—for
other and more exciting adventures.

Of the two, however, Gerald perhaps was more troubled by these vague,
restless feelings than his chum.  As his friend had said, Gerald was
given at times to fits of dreaming.  In appearance he was fairer and a
little taller than his companion, with gray eyes which often had in them
an abstracted, far-away look.  Jack, on the other hand, was almost
swarthy of skin, with dark hair, firm lips, and keen, alert eyes, which
indicated an active, determined character, and a practical,
matter-of-fact temperament.

That, in effect, constituted the essential difference between these two
firm friends.  Gerald was fond of indulging in speculations concerning
all kinds of scientific research.  The mysteries of the unknown, and the
as yet ’undiscovered;’ the limitless possibilities lying in the worlds
surrounding our globe—speculations concerning such themes as these had
for him an irresistible fascination.  Jack, on the other hand, kept his
thoughts and interest fixed upon the practical side of everything about
him. He was a skilful mechanic and a trained mathematician, and had
developed clever engineering abilities; he might possibly some day
become an inventor.  But speculative, dreamy fancies had little
attraction for him.

’Jack,’ said Gerald impressively, ’I can’t come in just now—I really
cannot!  I can’t exactly say why, but to-night I seem to be unusually
restless. I could not sit down indoors, nor could I rest if I went to
bed.  I don’t know what it is; but I have a feeling’——

’It’s the electricity in the air.  I suppose there must be more lying
about loose to-night than suits your constitution,’ remarked Jack
prosaically.  ’I said a minute or two since that you were as dreamy at
times as any girl.  I begin now to think you are developing "nerves" as
well. However, do as you please!  Stop here and enjoy yourself with your
"nervy," dreamy fancies if you choose.  For my part, I ’m going in to
supper, and’——

’What are you lads talking about?’

This question, which came from some one behind them, caused the two
friends to start suddenly, and then glance at one another with wondering
looks.

It was not that they had not recognised the voice.  They knew it at once
to be that of Mr Armeath, their guardian; the wonder was that he should
have come out to them.  Usually he spent the whole night shut up in his
own rooms, immersed in his studies, or gazing through his telescope at
the heavens above; for, amongst other things, he was an enthusiastic
astronomer.

’Faith!’ exclaimed Jack, in an aside to Gerald, ’I begin to think you
’re right after all.  There must be something unusual in the air to
account for this new move!’

The new-comer was a tall, fine-looking old man, with an ascetic face and
a kindly voice and manner.  His hair and beard were white, but his
deep-set eyes glowed with the liveliness and fire of a vigorous young
man.

With the self-absorbed, thoughtful air that so often marks the devoted
scientist or profound student, Armeath, without waiting for any reply to
the question he had asked, stepped past the two youngsters and walked
almost to the edge of the bluff.  There he gazed first at the sandy
shore fifty feet or more below, then out over the glistening sea to the
distant horizon, and finally at the deep-blue, star-spangled sky
overhead.

Behind the three, at a distance of a few hundred yards, was the
building—or rather group of buildings—which formed their home.  These
were built bungalow-fashion, save as to one part—the observatory—which
rose above the rest, with detached dwelling-places for their attendants
close by.

Inland, the ground fell away, and there was on one side a winding road
down to the shore.  On the other side, the ground rose again towards
higher ridges in the centre of the island.

The old man remained for some minutes gazing fixedly upwards; the two
young fellows, very much surprised, and—if the truth be told—a little
awed by his demeanour, remained also motionless, gazing alternately at
him and at each other.

Suddenly the sage uttered a sort of cry—an exclamation so strange, so
thrilling, that his companions were startled, and stared anxiously
about, seeking for an explanation.

Then they saw him raise an arm and point to the sky, and, following the
direction thus indicated, they both started and stood and gazed fixedly
as though spell-bound.

’Look!’ exclaimed Jack.  ’It is a meteor!’

And that was all that was said—all, indeed, there was time for.  There
was no time for questions, for comments, for anything, in fact, save a
great gasp of astonishment, and scarcely even for that.

Careering towards them through the upper air, at what seemed lightning
speed, was something which left a long, luminous trail behind it.  Rays
and flashes of light of different colours burst from it in its course,
darting out in all directions.  A low, rushing sound became audible,
which quickly increased in volume until it became a terrific, deafening,
overwhelming roar.

There was a sudden disturbance in the air, as of the approach of a
whirlwind, and a crackling noise as of the discharge of fireworks.

Then something seemed to shoot past them into the sea, the ’wind’ from
it almost brushing them aside like that caused by a shell fired from
some colossal cannon.

From the sea came a mighty crash as of a loud explosion, while columns
of water and clouds of vapour rose into the air.  The water came right
over the top of the cliff, drenching the amazed spectators, and almost
sweeping one—it was Jack—off his feet.

Hardly had the spray cleared away when there was another commotion in
the water.  The sea, boiling and chafing, seemed to rise up into a
pyramid, and from it a huge dark mass shot up into the air, dropping
back into the sea again with a plunge only a little less violent than
that which had accompanied its first fall.

For a brief space it was lost to view, and then it reappeared, shooting
again high into the air, as might a gigantic whale throwing itself out
of the sea in sport or an endeavour to escape some terrible marine foe.

These mad leaps and plunges were repeated again and again, becoming each
time less in height and violence, until at last they ceased.

It was some time, however, before the agitation in the water came to an
end.  Great waves rushed booming along the shore, dashing wildly up the
face of the cliffs, sending clouds of spray flying over their summits
far inland.

But after a while the commotion subsided, the sea became smooth on the
surface, and there remained only a gentle heaving, as from a ground
swell.

And there, at a little distance from the shore, the cause of all this
disturbance was plainly to be seen—an immense, egg-shaped mass many
hundreds of feet in length, floating as lightly and buoyantly upon the
still-heaving water as if it had been an immense football.



                             *CHAPTER II.*

                           *WHAT GERALD SAW.*


Seldom, perhaps, have there been seen three people more puzzled and
amazed than the little group who had witnessed the tremendous advent of
the wondrous ’meteorite’—for such it appeared to be—and now stood gazing
at it in helpless astonishment as it floated quietly in the sea only a
short distance from the shore.

It was some time before either Jack or Gerald spoke, and when they at
last found speech, they had little to say beyond vague, incoherent
exclamations.

Presently an impulse came upon them to run down the path which led to
the shore, thinking that they might get a better view from there of this
extraordinary new arrival from the realms above.  Perhaps a closer look
might yield some clue as to the nature of the strange visitor.

But a nearer view did not help them much. All that they could see, when
they arrived on the sandy margin, was what they had already seen from
above—and that was a huge mass composed of some material not heavy
enough to sink, and—as a natural consequence—light enough to float.

What could it be?  It was, presumably, a meteorite—so Armeath
pronounced—but of what kind?  Who had ever heard of a meteorite of such
a size, and above all, of a material light enough to float in water?

’Don’t you wish you had gone in to your supper, Jack?’ Gerald asked
mischievously.  ’Had you done so you would not have witnessed this
wonder.’

’It’s all very well to pretend to joke about it,’ returned Jack,
affecting to grumble; ’but it’s rather serious, you know.  The giddy
thing might have hit one of us a nasty crack on the head, or something
worse.  This all comes of your busying yourself about what doesn’t
concern you, Gerald. You’ve bothered about the stars above us so long
that, as you can’t get up to them, one of ’em’s come down to pay a visit
to you.’

’Well, it’s likely to prove a grand find, anyhow. It must be made of
some substance unknown to science, and its discovery may bring us all
name and fame; so its arrival is bound to be a gain to us.’

’It’s been nearer bringing us pain than gain, I guess,’ was Jack’s
retort.  ’But what on earth are we going to do with the thing?  How can
we hope to get a great, round affair like that ashore?’

’Well, Tom, you seem to be pondering something very weighty in your
mind.  Have you thought of a likely plan for getting this pretty
plaything ashore in the morning?’

Gerald addressed these words to one of their attendants, Tom Clinch by
name, a grizzled, rough, but worthy old sailor, who had known Gerald all
his days.  He had been indoors when the meteorite fell, and had not
therefore witnessed its arrival.  As the sound of its fall reached his
ears he had rushed out, with others of the attendants—chiefly
natives—most of whom had gone off shrieking and panic-stricken towards
the interior of the island.  Only Tom and another sailor had stood their
ground.

’Humph!  It’s a rum sort o’ visitin’ star, this ’ere, Mr Gerald,’ said
the old mariner, with a wise shake of the head.  ’Got out of its coorse,
I reckon, the channel not being buoyed; onless,’ he added, a sudden
thought striking him as he noted how lightly the mass floated, ’onless
this be one of the buoys which ’as got loose from its moorin’s above,
an’ toppled over down ’ere, d’ye see?’

With comments and talk such as this, the islanders passed the time while
waiting for the morning.  They felt too restless and excited to ’turn
in,’ with the exception of Mr Armeath. He, after a while, deeming that
there was nothing to be gained by waiting outside, went back to his own
rooms, leaving instructions that he was to be called at once if anything
fresh occurred.

His wards remained on the watch, however, and with them their two sailor
hands, Tom Clinch and Bob Reid; and in due course the moon went down and
it became quite dark.  Then, behold! there was another wonder to be
added to the rest—the whole great mass became luminous!  Not only that,
but queer shadows came and went upon it, as though something were in
motion upon the surface or just beneath it.

The news of this being conveyed to Armeath brought him out again; but he
could not account to his own satisfaction for this new phase.

’It may be that it is composed of some highly phosphorescent mineral,’
was the only explanation he could suggest.

At last the morning dawned, and, immediately it was light, Armeath and
his two young companions, without waiting for breakfast, put off in a
boat, with the two sailors, to examine the meteorite more closely.

It was still there, but the slight wind had drifted it up to a sandy
ledge close inshore, and it appeared to be now resting on the sand.

They rowed up to it and were not a little surprised to find that the
whole mass was perfectly smooth like glass.  Still more mystifying was
it to see that there were bands at regular intervals extending ’from
stem to starn,’ as Tom expressed it, ’jest for all the world like the
hull of a great boat.’

They rowed all round it, their wonderment and astonishment growing all
the time.  They computed that it must be considerably over a thousand
feet in length, by, perhaps, a hundred feet in diameter.

Suddenly Gerald uttered a loud exclamation. Jack, glancing at him, saw
that he was pointing to a place in the side of the mass and staring at
it as though his eyes were about to start out of his head.

’What on earth’s up, old man?’ he asked in alarm.  ’Have you got an
attack of nerves again, or’——

’Jack!’ cried Gerald, seizing his chum’s arm, ’d-didn’t you see—didn’t
you see them?’

’Them—what—who?’ asked Jack, bewildered.

’People—men—moving about!  I declare that I saw some men moving about
inside the—the—thing!’

’You ’re barmy, my good Gerald!  This little astronomical raree-show has
been too much for those imaginative nerves of yours.  I see nothing.
Perhaps you saw shadows thrown by some birds flying overhead.’

’No, oh no!  A thousand times no!  I tell you I saw people—two or
three—moving about inside that smooth, slippery surface.  They were very
dim and shadowy, it is true, but they were there. I saw them just as one
might see anything through very thick, semi-opaque glass.  What does it
mean? I tell you it’s uncanny!  There’s some strange mystery about it
all.  This thing is not what it seems to be.  What, in the name of all
that is wonderful, does it mean?’

Jack looked at the smooth, shining sides which rose from the water and
towered up high in the air.  But he could see nothing to account for
Gerald’s wild words; and he then glanced inquiringly, with real alarm
and trouble in his eyes, at Armeath.

’I am afraid,’ said the scientist, with a grave smile, ’that Gerald is
letting his exuberant imagination run away with him this morning. I
confess I see nothing of the kind he described. It must have been some
strange effect of the rays of the sun, which is not very high yet,
striking at an angle upon these remarkable, shining sides.’

Gerald shook his head impatiently, but made no verbal reply; and they
rowed round and round the phenomenon, without finding anything to
satisfy their curiosity.  Armeath examined the smooth sides closely,
sometimes through a magnifying glass. He even tried to chip off a piece
with a hammer and a chisel; but it was so hard that he could make no
impression upon it, and so slippery that his chisel glanced off and flew
from his hand into the sea.

After a good deal of rowing to and fro, and a considerable amount of
critical examination, which threw not the slightest light upon the
puzzling lump of mystery, it was decided to return to shore for their
breakfast.

Even over their meal, however, their talk continued to run upon the
all-engrossing subject. Jack rallied his chum unmercifully upon the
extraordinary statement he had made; but Gerald refused to admit that he
might have been mistaken.

’I saw what I told you!’ he persisted doggedly. ’I may be a bit of a
dreamer at times, but I don’t "see visions" to that extent.  No, there
is some awful, inscrutable, incredible mystery about it all!  Well, we
’ll wait and see.  We shall find out, I suppose, in good time.’

With such discussions and speculations the day passed, without bringing
anything fresh in the way of enlightenment.

When evening came, Jack declared his fixed resolution not to allow the
puzzle to deprive him of another night’s sleep.  After supper,
therefore, he went off incontinently to bed; and as Armeath shut himself
up as usual, Gerald was left to himself.

Still restless and perplexed, dissatisfied with the explanations and
theories which had been propounded, Gerald felt no inclination to ’turn
in.’  Something within him—some vague impulse he could not analyse,
above all, the recollection of the mysterious, shadowy figures he
believed he had seen through the semi-transparent ’shell,’ as Jack now
called it—urged him to remain on the watch.

’As Mr Armeath says,’ he thought to himself, ’if a wind were to spring
up it might be gone by to-morrow.  We may as well, therefore, keep an
eye on it while it is here, and watch its departure when it goes.’

In order to carry out his idea, he required a reliable assistant, and
this he found in Tom Clinch.  Not only had Tom known Gerald all his
life, as already stated, but he had served his father before him, and he
had now transferred his devotion to the son.  When, therefore, the young
fellow sought him out and told him what he required, Tom was ready
enough to lend his aid.

’We ’ll keep a watch, Mr Gerald,’ he responded, ’turn and turn about,
all night, an’ have the boat ready in case we wants it.  Fur my part, I
think ye’re only actin’ cautious-like.  Nobody can tell what’s goin’ to
happen next when things like this once begin fallin’ from the skies.
I’ve ’eerd it said as ’ow theer’s supposed to be a great bear, an’
scorpions, an’ crabs in the sky.  An’ after this, who can say but they
might come a-rainin’ down on us an’ eat us all up in our sleep?’

Honest Tom had heard vaguely of the constellations of stars called by
those names, and had very loose notions as to what they meant.

’Well, I hope it won’t be as bad as that,’ Gerald answered with a smile.
’But I shall be very glad of your company on my night-watch, all the
same.’

So it was arranged; and the two betook themselves to a part of the shore
where there was a cave which had been utilised as a boathouse, and here
they began their watch.

The night turned out as fine as the previous one, except that there were
a few drifting clouds which now and again obscured the light of the
moon.  There was scarcely any breeze, however, and the sea was, as Tom
put it, ’as calm and still as a pint of stale beer.’

For a long time nothing occurred, though they kept up their watch till
the moon had set, and it had become quite dark.  Then they saw again the
luminous appearance which they had noticed before.

’Now this is what I want to investigate, Tom,’ said Gerald.  ’Get out
the boat quickly, and let us pull close up as silently as we can.’

The boat, which had been placed ready for launching, was slipped into
the water, Gerald putting in the stern a dark lantern, which he had
lighted.

Like a gliding shadow, the boat and her two occupants—the sailor rowing
and Gerald steering—approached the huge ’meteorite,’ now all aglow with
a strange, dim light.  The oars, well greased, made no sound, and they
passed silently along the side nearest the shore, rounded the end, and
were making their way back upon the outer side, when Gerald put a hand
upon his companion as a signal to stop rowing.

They were then about the centre of the great mass, on the side which was
away from the shore and faced the sea.  There the boat remained
stationary, Gerald staring intently at the curious shimmering wall which
towered up at a distance of twenty or thirty feet.

’See, Tom!  Look!’ he suddenly whispered excitedly.  ’See!  There are
the shadows—the forms of people!  There!  Now, who was right?’

’Heaven defend us!’ breathed Tom fervently. ’Whatever do it mean?  Be
the thing bewitched?’

’Hush!  Whatever you see, do not utter a word—not a sound—on your life!
I believe they’re coming out!’

Decidedly it was no trick of the imagination this time, at any rate.
There were actually figures, as of men, moving about inside.  They could
be dimly seen through the semi-opaque outer wall or shell.  What they
were, how they were dressed, or what they were doing, was not clear; but
actual, moving, living beings they certainly were.

Something now seemed to be shifted inside, as though a screen had been
removed, and at once the figures could be distinguished more plainly.
But ere Gerald could fix his attention upon one or another among them, a
sort of door had opened in the smooth, shining side, a platform had been
run out, and now remained extended in a horizontal position.

Then a tall, noble-looking man appeared in the doorway, stepped on to
the platform, and remained there, gazing out over the darkling waters.



                             *CHAPTER III.*

                          *STRANGE VISITORS.*


Gerald, resting almost spell-bound upon his seat in the boat, with
difficulty repressed a gasp of astonished admiration as his gaze fell
upon the stranger, whom he could see very clearly, even down to the
smallest detail of his dress, in the soft but intense light which issued
from the opening behind him.

Gerald saw before him a man, tall and commanding in stature, yet so
exactly proportioned as scarcely to look his real height—muscular
without being stout, light and graceful in carriage without being thin.
His refined, clear-cut features, which were free from any trace of beard
or moustache, were those of a man in the very prime of life.  The skin
was smooth and clear, and as light in hue as in the average English
type.  The mouth was delicately chiselled, and very expressive; and the
high, massive brow had a character all its own, conveying an idea of
lofty serenity.  Beneath, as it were, were traces of an irresistible
will and a certain sense of latent power, which were somehow felt by the
spectator rather than openly declared.  The eyes were large, dark, and
luminous, and their gaze searching and penetrating, appearing to be
capable either of winning gentleness or the most terrible sternness.

Altogether, Gerald decided, a man to be loved and trusted, or hated and
dreaded, according to whether he were a friend or an enemy; a born
leader of men, a being of indescribable majesty and dignity in general
appearance, yet possessed of a singular simplicity and charm of manner.

As to the dress of this attractive stranger, it is more difficult to
describe, for the reason that Gerald perceived at once that the material
was unlike anything he had ever seen before.  There was a long tunic,
with a belt of gold, and a very picturesque head-dress not unlike that
in vogue in England in the days of Henry the Eighth; while the arms and
legs were encased in garments which fitted closely, showing the figure
clearly.  That much was plainly to be seen.  But what the dress
consisted of was a puzzle, for it seemed to have a sheen of its own, a
sort of shimmer which did not appear to be altogether reflected light.
There were several little ornaments here and there, such as buckles on
the shoes and another on the shoulder; but the chief embellishment was a
large star upon the breast, which flashed and sparkled and seemed to be
worked in diamonds.

Behind this regal figure were three or four others, who stood
respectfully in the background, evidently in attendance upon him.
Suddenly, while Gerald still gazed in ever-increasing wonder upon the
unexpected scene, the stranger reeled as though suffering from an attack
of faintness.  He put his hand to his breast, and appeared to be panting
for breath.  Blood showed upon his face and ran off on to his dress, and
the next moment he staggered and fell off the platform into the sea.

Gerald did not hesitate.  He guessed that the man must have fainted; he
knew that the spot where he had fallen in was outside the ledge on which
the supposed ’meteorite’ was resting; that it was of unfathomable depth,
and that, therefore, his danger was imminent and deadly.  Throwing off
his jacket, therefore, Gerald dived into the water, and that with such
promptitude that the second splash followed closely upon the first.

But the stranger had fallen from a height, and the impetus carried him
down faster than that gained by Gerald’s dive from the boat, so that he
failed to grasp the fainting stranger, and was compelled to swim
downwards in the hope of finding him.

Down, down, ever down, he went, clawing at the water with fierce energy,
and battling his way with feverish determination, knowing that, with
those awful depths beneath him, the stranger’s one and only chance of
life lay in his—Gerald’s—overtaking and gripping him.

It was a long and terrible struggle—long, that is, comparatively—and the
pressure of the water became oppressive, when, at last, just as the
plucky diver felt he must give up and return to the surface, his hand
touched something.  His fingers closed at once upon it, and he felt that
he had secured his prize.

A few seconds later he had regained the surface, and found himself,
panting, and all but exhausted, close to the boat, from which Clinch was
watching for him.  The sailor was aiding his search upon the waters
around by throwing on them the rays from the dark lantern, which had
been lighted and placed ready to hand in the stern.

A stroke or two brought the boat close enough for Gerald to get a hold
upon it with one arm, while with the other he supported in the water the
stranger’s insensible form.

’Wait, sir; wait an’ get yer breath!’ counselled the old sailor.  ’Take
it easy, Mr Gerald!  I ’ll hold on to t’ other chap, never fear!  You
let go on ’im, an’ get yer breath!’

So Gerald loosed his hold upon the one he had rescued, and a little
later had recovered sufficiently to be able to scramble into the boat.
Then he gave his aid to Clinch, and between them they lifted the
stranger in also.

’Where to now, Mr Gerald?’ asked Tom, a little dazedly.  All these
sudden happenings, as he afterwards phrased it, had been ’a little
trying to the works of the upper story, an’ had set ’em spinnin’.’  In
other words, his brain was in a whirl.

Gerald looked round, and saw that a ladder had been lowered from the
platform; and seizing the oars, he rowed the boat to the place.  Two
strangers were waiting on the lower part of the ladder.  To Gerald’s
surprise they wore masks upon their faces, and he noted that all the
other strangers were now masked also.

As the boat came alongside, and Tom raised the inanimate form in his
arms, the two on the ladder seized it, and carried it up the ladder,
across the platform, and out of sight.  A moment or two later the ladder
was drawn up in very sudden fashion, the platform was run in, and then
the doorway closed up completely, leaving nothing to mark the place
where it had been.

The great mass lost its luminous appearance, and the two in the boat
found themselves in complete darkness.

’Well, I ’m sugared!’ exclaimed Tom, or words to that effect.  ’If that
don’t take the cake! Never so much as a "good-bye," or "thank yer
kindly," or——  Well!’  He gave a great gasp, words altogether failing to
explain his feelings.

’You forget, Tom, that they probably don’t know our language, and we
shouldn’t understand theirs,’ said Gerald.  ’You must remember that they
are foreigners—er—that is—h’m!—strangers, you know, from another’——

He hesitated, and broke off.  For what could he say?  Strangers these
people certainly were; but foreigners?  Well, that depended upon the
point of view—travellers from where?  Another world? The suggestion
seemed monstrous—preposterous! Yet where else could they have come from?
If it seemed impossible—incredible—to think of them as travellers from
another sphere, it was certainly no less impossible to regard them as
inhabitants of the Earth.  No mortal upon our globe had yet succeeded in
manufacturing an affair like this ’meteorite,’ and travelling about in
it; that much was certain.  To conceive it possible was to imagine a
miracle quite as wonderful as to suppose that this extraordinary
flying-machine—for something of that sort Gerald now felt certain it
must be—had come from another planet.

However, Gerald realised that he was not in a state of mind to be able
to think clearly or logically about the matter at all.  His brain, like
honest Tom’s, was in a whirl; and he tried in vain to collect and
marshal his thoughts.  The whole affair was too puzzling, too
extraordinary for sober thought.

’Tom, row me ashore,’ he said abruptly.  ’This is too much for me.  I’m
going to bed.’

’Ay, ay, sir; I can unnerstan’,’ said Clinch, wagging his head
helplessly.  ’I feels jest the same, Mr Gerald.  Lawks!  To think as I
should ever ’a lived to see this day!’

Gerald went ashore, but was far too excited in mind to really go to bed.
He passed the remaining two or three hours of darkness in restless
pacing up and down between the dwelling-house and the bluff, whence he
could keep observation upon the cause of his wonderment, as it lay
placidly in the water below.

Great was the astonishment of his friends when, in the morning, he
related to them the adventures of the night.  It is scarcely to be
wondered at that they were—Jack certainly was—disposed at first to
regard it all as an extraordinary hallucination which had seized upon
the relater.  But there was Clinch’s confirmation; and in the end they
saw that there was no room left for doubt.

’Then it comes to this,’ said Jack, ’we have to face the fact that we
have here, close by us, some people who are paying us a visit from
another planet!  Phew!  What a wake-up for our scientists! What a snub
for those wiseacres who have declared that the planets could not
possibly be inhabited! But why have our visitors shut themselves up
again?  It’s rather churlish after your saving that johnny from
drowning!  What do they mean by it?  And what was the matter with him?’

’I read it this way,’ said Armeath thoughtfully. And it may as well be
here stated that after-events fully proved the correctness of his
deductions. ’These people from another world either came
involuntarily—that is to say, by accident—or they made some mistake
which resulted in their being landed upon the Earth in a fashion
different from that which they had intended.  They narrowly escaped
destruction, which would certainly have come to them had they struck the
ground—this island for instance, instead of the sea—or if they had
fallen in the sea at a place where it was shallow.

’Even as it was, I imagine, their method of arrival came very near to
being a disaster.  In all probability something has gone wrong with
their engines or machinery—whatever they may be—and also, probably, some
of the voyagers were injured by the shock, and required time to recover
from it.  This would explain how it is that they have not shown
themselves outside sooner.’

’It’s a far-reaching sort of guess, sir,’ said Jack reflectively; ’but
it seems to fit the situation.  It scarcely explains, however, why the
beggars should have gone off without signifying their thanks in some
way.  It appears pretty certain that Gerald saved that chap’s life.’

’Yes,’ said Armeath slowly; ’Gerald certainly saved his life.  Let us
hope that the circumstance is of good augury; that it may lead to their
being friendly when the sufferer has thoroughly recovered, and they
venture out again.’



                             *CHAPTER IV.*

                         *GERALD CARRIED OFF.*


Several days went by after the adventure recorded in the last chapter
without anything further being seen of the strangers.  The friends kept
a watch upon their curious-looking abode from the shore, and sometimes
from the water; but the voyagers gave no sign.  At times a muffled
hammering and clanging could be heard from inside, ’which,’ as Tom
Clinch expressed it, ’confirmed Mr Armeath’s ’pinion as there’s summat
wrong with the works.’

To the impatient youngsters the time seemed to drag by slowly, and even
Mr Armeath himself did not conceal the curiosity he felt.

’I confess,’ said he, ’that I am waiting with the most intense interest
to see what developments are in store for us.  Before these people could
have constructed such a machine, they must have made many wonderful
discoveries in the sciences. What marvels they will be able to show us!’

But Gerald’s feelings in the matter went beyond mere scientific
curiosity.  He had been most strangely attracted by the face and general
appearance of the man whose life he had saved.  The recollection of his
countenance, the expression of lofty nobility, and wondrous, indefinable
graciousness which he had read there, had fascinated him, and now seemed
to haunt him.  He looked forward with eager expectation to meeting this
wonderful being again, and longed for an opportunity of becoming
friendly with him.

Under the influence of these feelings, Gerald became more restless from
day to day.  He could not sleep at night, and took to staying out upon
the beach instead.  There he passed the time marching to and fro
opposite to the great dark mass which, sphinx-like, remained silent and
inscrutable, and refused to divulge any more of its mysterious secrets.

One night, as he thus paced up and down in the darkness, he suddenly saw
one part of the structure light up as though screens inside had been
removed.  He heard voices, and dimly saw a gangway open, after which
something which looked like a boat was pushed out quietly and smoothly
on to the water.  Then shadowy figures stepped into her, and began to
row or paddle towards the shore.

’At last!  At last!’ thought Gerald, highly pleased.  ’They are coming
ashore at last!  I will go forward to greet them!’

Had he not been so taken up with the expectation of meeting again the
one who had so attracted his interest, he would probably have felt some
distrust at the fact that these strangers should be coming ashore thus
stealthily in the darkness instead of in the daylight.  No suspicion,
however, entered his mind, and he ran forward to welcome them just as
the boat grounded on the sand.  From her stepped out three figures, who
came towards him.

What happened next he was never able to say with certainty.  He was
conscious of a quick movement on the part of one of the three, and he
felt a slight pricking sensation in one of his hands, somewhat as though
he had been touched by a very sharp needle.

Then a giddiness seized him, his legs seemed to give way under him, and
he sank, rather than fell, to the ground, and rolled over.  When he
tried to rise he found that he had no sort of control over his muscles;
they refused to act, and he was unable to move so much as a finger.
Even his voice refused to obey his will, for he vainly tried to cry out;
no sound issued from his lips.

Two of the dark figures who had just landed came forward, picked him up,
and carried him to the waiting boat.  There he was thrown down very much
as if he had been a deer which had been captured.  He next felt the
craft moving through the water, he heard the _lap, lap_ of the ripple
against the sides, followed by a bump when it reached the end of its
short voyage.

Then he was hauled up through the air and carried some distance through
seemingly interminable passages, which he knew were well-lighted; for,
though he could not move, he was quite conscious, and could not only
hear but could see whatever came within the range of his eyes.

Presently he was cast down upon the floor of a small chamber, where he
was left to himself, his captors closing the door with noisy
accompaniments which sounded like the turning of keys and the shooting
of bolts into their sockets.

And there he lay, utterly unable to move, in an agony of mind which can
be better conceived than described.  He was like one in a trance; and
wild, weird tales came into his mind of persons who had fallen into a
similar state, and had been believed to be dead when they were really
still alive.  Did the people who had brought him there think he was
dead, he wondered, or were they aware of the true state of the case?
The question suggested terrible possibilities.  These strangers must be
formidable beings indeed! Seemingly, they possessed dread powers and
strange secrets.  It looked as though they could throw an enemy at will
into this terrible condition.  But why they should regard him as an
enemy to be treated thus, more especially after what he had been able to
do for the one who had fallen into the sea, poor Gerald was at a loss to
guess.

In his helplessness and dread of what the end might be, he prayed
earnestly for help and deliverance.  It seemed as though no earthly
friends could aid him, but he did not lose faith in the power of the one
Great Friend above, and to Him his prayers were many and fervent.  And
after a while it seemed as though those supplications were heard.
Slowly, but surely, feeling crept back into his useless muscles, and the
power to use them returned.  Little by little the control over his limbs
returned, until at last, with a long breath of relief and a grateful
prayer of thankfulness, he was able to stand up and move about his
prison-chamber.

First he examined himself to see if there was any wound which would
account for what had happened to him; but he could find nothing save a
slight mark on the right hand.  He remembered that he had felt a
pricking sensation there just before he had collapsed upon the beach;
after which there had been a tingling which had spread quickly all over
his body.  And that was all he knew.

Ere, however, he could carry his memory and his speculations further,
the door of the chamber was opened, and several persons entered abruptly
and stood for a while regarding him in silence.

Gerald, on his side, looked back at them curiously, and he was not by
any means favourably impressed by his first survey of them.  He decided
at once that they were soldiers, though their dress and accoutrements
were very different from anything he had ever seen before.  They all
wore beards, and were dark, both as to their hair and their complexions.

Their costumes, which were a curious dull-gray in tint, had that
peculiar, shimmering sheen which he had noted in the dress of the
stranger who had fallen into the sea.  The fashion, too, was much the
same, the principal garment being the tunic, with a belt, and the
picturesque head-dress.

These people all bore shields, which, strange to say, seemed to be of
glass, for they were perfectly transparent; and by way of arms each had
an odd-looking twisted pole or spear, which looked like two rods of
polished steel entwined together. At the top was a flat, spear-shaped
piece of light-coloured silvery metal, with three points or prongs
instead of one.  Stuck into the belt of each, as people might stick
pistols, were two or three smaller articles.  One of them looked like a
hunting-knife or dagger; but regarding the others, Gerald could form no
sort of idea as to their use or meaning, and could only vaguely guess
that they were probably weapons of a kind unknown to dwellers upon the
Earth.

One of these men, who appeared to be their officer, motioned to Gerald
to follow him, and turned and led the way.  Outside there were half a
dozen more men in waiting, all similarly dressed.  The officer signed to
Gerald to follow a couple of these, while he himself, with the others,
fell in behind; and thus they all marched onwards in double file, like a
squad of soldiers.

They traversed many passages and galleries, where Gerald saw plenty to
attract attention and excite wonder.  They passed also people standing
about in small groups, and these looked as curiously at the prisoner—for
such he felt himself to be—as did he at them.  There was, however, no
time or opportunity for more than a fleeting glance; he was hurried
onwards, till suddenly there came a great surprise.

Passing through an entrance, which in massiveness and design seemed to
the wondering captive more like the gateway to a medieval castle than a
doorway one might expect to find in such a place, they emerged into a
large open space.

Gerald looked round, and as he did so, a gasp of astonishment escaped
him.  He found himself in what had all the appearance of a spacious,
lofty hall, with a domed roof, around which glittered numerous lights.

But his attention was at once drawn to the other end of the room.  Here
was a dais, and upon it were several persons.  They were seated, for the
most part, on handsomely carved and upholstered armchairs; but two of
the latter were higher and larger than the rest, so that they partook
rather of the character of thrones, and of these one again was larger
and more important-looking than the other.  Very strange affairs were
these two high seats, ornamented as they were with carvings representing
heads of the queerest-looking creatures that can well be imagined.  The
high backs curled over above, fashioned again in the shapes of heads of
most horrible, fantastic monsters; smaller heads, vying with them in
frightful ugliness, formed the ends of the arms.

Behind this array of chairs hung a curtain on which was worked weird
pictures of the chase. They depicted men hunting, and the creatures they
were in pursuit of were again strange beasts, such as, Gerald thought,
seemed rather the outcome of a bad nightmare than the representation of
anything which had ever lived.  Over all was a canopy with more carved
heads as corner-pieces.

Noting these details in two or three quick glances, Gerald turned his
attention to the occupants of the chairs; and as he did so his spirits
fell considerably.

He had hoped—expected indeed.—that he was about to be ushered into the
presence of the man whom he had rescued from the sea.  Gerald had
already made up his mind to like this man of the noble countenance, and
therefore, notwithstanding that the treatment he had received had not
been over friendly, he had felt no great anxiety or misgiving as to what
was in store for him.

But now, as he looked round, he very quickly perceived that the one he
had hoped to meet was not there.  Instead, upon the large chairs or
thrones, he saw two dark, bearded men, who returned his looks with
anything but friendly gaze, and whose general appearance filled him with
feelings of dislike and alarm.  Looking round the semicircle, he found
it was much the same with the others.  There were no friendly glances at
all; they gazed at him in solemn, gloomy silence; and the expression
upon their faces was at the best merely a sort of contemptuous
curiosity.

As to one of them in the centre—the one who sat upon the second highest
seat—Gerald thought he had never looked upon a more unprepossessing
being.  His frame was large and muscular, his head massive; but his
dark, bearded face seemed full of brooding evil.  His eyes were crafty,
and lighted now and then with cruel, cunning gleams. He reminded Gerald
somehow of ancient tales of horrible old ogres, whose principal
amusement might consist in planning new tortures for the unfortunate
victims who fell into their power.

Nor was his master—as Gerald judged him to be, the one seated upon the
principal seat—much more attractive.  His, too, was a huge figure, and
his countenance was dark and forbidding; but it was relieved by a
certain air of haughty authority and natural ease, imparting to his
bearing a dignity which was lacking in the case of the other.

The more Gerald looked at the men before him the more he wondered at the
innocent, open-hearted expectation with which he and his friends on the
island had welcomed the coming of this wonderful ’chariot of the skies.’
Had they known—he now bitterly reflected—had they but known the sort of
beings it was peopled with, they would certainly have regarded its
advent with very different feelings!

What evil fate, he vaguely and sadly wondered, had they in store for
him?



                              *CHAPTER V.*

                             *KING IVANTA.*


Gerald stood in the midst of his captors, regarding them with steady
eyes and undaunted mien.  Critical though his situation might be, he was
determined that these strangers from another world should have no reason
for deeming him wanting in courage.  He gazed round, and took note of
everything about him with an outward appearance of calmness; though the
more he saw of the people in whose hands he was the more he
instinctively distrusted their intentions. He noted that the man who was
seated upon the higher of the two chairs was treated with great
deference by all the rest, and was evidently a sort of chief amongst
them.  The next in rank—the one Gerald had privately dubbed the
’Ogre’—appeared to be his principal councillor, while the others seated
on the dais were officers of lesser degree.  The rest of the people
present were attired much as the soldiers had been who had brought
Gerald to the place, save that their costumes were handsomer, and bore
many ornaments and special marks denoting superior rank.

As regards their ornaments, it was noticeable that only the chief and
the ’Ogre’ wore jewels.  The former had upon the breast of his robe a
large, curious figure worked in diamonds, and the latter a similar
ornamentation of a smaller kind.  But Gerald, who knew something about
precious stones, was surprised that these people, if they wore diamonds
at all, did not display something larger and finer. In his own mind he
appraised the value of those he saw at a very moderate figure, and
considered that they were altogether paltry as compared with what he
would have expected such men to wear.

’Diamonds must be scarce where these people come from!’ was the idea
which flashed through his mind; and therein he had made, as it
afterwards turned out, a very shrewd guess.

And now the chief addressed some words to the prisoner, which, being
spoken in a strange language, Gerald could not understand.  Then the
other one—the Ogre—rose up, and stepping off the dais, came close to
him.  Taking him by the shoulders, he turned and twisted him round, now
this way, now that, as one might a fat bullock that was offered for
sale.

Under this treatment Gerald became indignant. There was something in the
man’s manner so contemptuous, so insulting, that the young fellow’s
blood grew hot in his veins.  He clenched his hands and bit his lips,
striving his best to keep down his fast-rising anger.

But the man’s behaviour only became more intolerable; and another now
came up to join in the amusement—for such it seemed to be considered.
Then Gerald, exasperated beyond all control, struggled fiercely to get
free, throwing one of his persecutors off with so much force that he
fell backwards upon the floor.  His head must have struck against
something, for there was a heavy thump, which was followed at once by an
angry outcry from the man’s friends.

[Illustration: He fell backwards upon the floor.]

The latter rushed upon the hapless captive, and began to pommel him in
cruel and brutal fashion.

How the scene might have ended if no interruption had occurred it is
impossible to say.  As it happened, however, it was brought to an end in
an unexpected manner.

A man came rushing in, calling out in tones of warning.  Evidently he
was the bearer of news, for every one turned to listen to what he said;
and it was curious to see the effect it produced upon the assembly when
they had gathered its purport.  They appeared not unlike a lot of unruly
schoolboys who had ventured to amuse themselves in some forbidden manner
in the absence of their master.

They looked at one another inquiringly, and somewhat guiltily.  Those
who had been mixed up in the fray busied themselves in hastily trying to
remove all traces of the struggle; while others who felt themselves less
compromised tried their best to appear innocent and at their ease.

Then were heard the blare of trumpets, hoarse calls, as of men in
authority giving words of command or ordering people to clear the way,
and the rattle and clatter of accoutrements.  Great, massive doors at
the end opposite to the dais swung apart, throwing open to the view
another and larger hall, and a brilliant and unexpected scene.

Gerald turned and stared in mute wonder.  There, before him, was a vista
presenting one of the most magnificent spectacles it is possible to
imagine.  He had thought the hall he was in large and imposing when he
had been ushered into it; but it was small and almost commonplace
compared with the great space into which he now gazed.

Ranged on either side were ranks of magnificently dressed persons, who
looked like courtiers attending a levee.  Above, from the ceiling, hung
gorgeous banners, and the walls were decorated with beautifully coloured
frescoes.  Spiral columns of sparkling lights rose here and there, ever
turning and ever ascending, and dazzling the eyes with their splendour.
Music clashed from some unseen band of musicians; and, as the strains
floated through the air, they came mingled with the scent of subtle and
delicious perfumes.  At the farthest end of all was an empty throne,
evidently awaiting its occupant.

Gazing in wonder at all these things, Gerald shortly became aware that
he was himself becoming an object of curiosity to the whole of this
brilliant company.  He had turned his back to the dais upon which his
persecutors had been seated, and he was standing out alone in the open
space in front, his homely dress contrasting curiously with the splendid
costumes around.

The music ceased, there was another blare of trumpets, and then a man
entered near the throne. He stood upon the steps for a few moments, his
keen eyes travelling round the whole assembled throng as they all bowed
their heads in respectful salutation.  He was about to seat himself,
when his eagle glance fell upon the wondering captive.  At the same
moment Gerald recognised him—he was the man whose life he had saved!

Evidently he was the real chief.  He was the king of these people; not
the evil-looking, cruel man whose prisoner he had been.  Gerald’s heart
gave a great bound of relief and thankfulness; for he no longer felt
fear or doubt.  One look at that stately figure, one glance in return
from those flashing eyes, told him all he wished to know.  He felt that
he was saved!  Such a being as this was incapable of either cruelty or
injustice!

The king—for such he was—ordered Gerald to be brought up to him; and two
of the principal officers, whom he knew afterwards as Arelda and
Abralda, came down the long hall and conducted him to the steps of the
throne.

There Gerald stood, whilst he whom he afterwards knew as King Ivanta
made inquiries concerning him.  For as yet, though Gerald had recognised
him, he, on his side, had no idea that Gerald was the one who had saved
his life; having been, it will be remembered, insensible when he had
fallen into the sea.

There followed much talking in a strange language.  The king was
evidently making inquiries; and the more questions he asked the darker
grew the lowering cloud upon his brow. A tense silence fell upon the
assembled company, the hush that tells of coming trouble.

Then one of the officers suddenly recognised Gerald.  He was the officer
who had been with the king when he had fainted, and he was the only one
who had seen his rescuer’s face.  He now informed his master, who turned
and regarded the young stranger with new interest, in which there was a
kindly and friendly welcome.  Then his brow grew darker than ever, his
eyes seemed literally to flash fire, and he looked truly terrible, as,
with outstretched arm, he thundered out some stern orders.

What these were, or what was their effect, Gerald could not learn.
There was some stir near the place where his captors had been seated,
and he guessed that they were being brought forward to be dealt with.
But he himself was led out through a small side doorway into an
antechamber, where there were only a few officers in waiting; and these
in turn conducted him into another and still smaller room, where they
bade him be seated. Then they went out and left him alone.



                             *CHAPTER VI.*

                          *THE KING’S OFFER.*


Gerald felt like one in a dream.  His adventure had been such a strange
one, events had followed one another so quickly, the change from fear
and almost despair to hope and safety had come so unexpectedly, that he
had scarcely had time to realise all that was going forward.  And then
the stately magnificence of the scene at which he had been present, the
sudden revelation of the personality of the being he had rescued—all
these things, crowding into the short space of a single night, made his
brain reel.

For some time he remained alone, turning these things over and over in
his mind.  He almost doubted the evidence of his own senses, and began
vaguely to wonder whether it could all be real, or whether he had fallen
asleep and was dreaming some extraordinary, fantastic dream.

After what seemed a long time, the door opened, and some one entered
behind him; some one who, even before Gerald caught sight of him, was
adding to the confusion of his ideas by speaking to him in English!
Turning round sharply, he found himself face to face with a tall,
good-looking man with a shrewd, intellectual face, who was regarding him
with a smile which seemed to be half-kindly, half-amused.  He was
dressed like some of the principal officers he had seen; but there was
that in his manner and general appearance which, apart from his speech,
seemed to tell Gerald that he was one of his own race.

’Well, young sir, will you tell me your name?’ was the query which came
to Gerald’s consciousness after a moment or two of bewilderment.

’My name is Gerald Wilton,’ he said simply.

’And how did you come into these parts? Parents live round here?’

Gerald shook his head.  ’I have none,’ he answered sadly.  ’I have a
guardian, who is at present living on the island, however.  His name is
Armeath—Mr Marcus Armeath.’

The stranger uttered a long whistle, then he exclaimed, ’So, so!  Marcus
Armeath living on this island!  I knew him some years ago.  He was then
in England engaged in some experiments, trying to discover——  But never
mind that now.’

He broke off abruptly, and regarded Gerald again with his enigmatic
smile, which, however, now seemed to have in it more of friendly
interest. Then he took to pacing up and down the room, his hands behind
him, as though lost in thought.

’Young sir,’ said he presently, ’I don’t know what star you were born
under, but it seems perfectly clear that you are marked out for some
experiences such as scarcely any one else on this Earth can boast of.
You are in possession of a great secret, which we wished to keep to
ourselves; and, further, it has been ordained that you should save the
life of—of—well, of one who is never ungrateful to those who do him even
the smallest service.  He is my most gracious master, and he will talk
with you himself later on; but, meanwhile, he has deputed me to see you,
and prepare your mind for some tremendous facts which you might
otherwise find it difficult to grasp all at once.  I am instructed to
tell you certain things which must appear to you so incredible, so
impossible, that I doubt if you will believe them without further
proof.’

’I think I can give a good guess at one or two of them, sir; or, rather,
my guardian has done so. This monster airship, or whatever you call it,
has found its way here from some other planet—probably Mars’——

’My word, young gentleman, you’ve hit it!’ cried the other, in very
evident surprise.

’And,’ continued Gerald, ’you made some mistake in arriving here, and
very nearly came to awful grief.’

’Yes, yes!  There, too, you guessed well,’ returned the other.  ’It was
but a slight miscalculation, but it nearly smashed us up!  It was a
fearfully narrow escape!’  He drew out a handkerchief and passed it over
his forehead, as though the mere recollection made him hot.  ’I expect
that was Mr Armeath’s guess too, wasn’t it?’

’Yes, sir.’

’Ah well! there are certain other things, however, which you do not
know—cannot know—which I will now explain.  In the first place, you do
not know that my master is a great king in Mars—a mighty ruler over
nearly half the population of that globe.  His name is Ivanta; he reigns
over the empire of Ivenia—which, by-the-by, is the name of this airship,
as you called it.  He named her the _Ivenia_, after his own country.’

Gerald listened with growing wonder, and eyes that lighted up more and
more as the stranger continued:

’Very well!  The next thing is that this is not the first visit my
master has paid to this Earth. He came here some years ago.’

At this Gerald stared harder than ever.  ’Is it possible?’ he exclaimed.
’I never heard of it!’

’Nobody—on the Earth—ever heard of it, save myself and one or two others
who were all sworn to secrecy.  My royal master came here for purposes
of his own, and did not wish—and does not wish now—that his visits
should be made known.  If they were, he would have a lot of people
pestering him with questions, and possibly some one might imitate his
inventions and build airships like this one, and he might have explorers
from here coming over to Mars—which he does not wish. Do you
understand?’

’Yes, sir.’

’Very well!  At his first visit he came to this very island, and made it
his headquarters.  It was uninhabited then’——

’Yes; so it was when we came to it.  We have only been here a year or
so.’

’I see.  Well, my master hoped to find the place still uninhabited, and
that he would be able to hide the _Ivenia_ away here this time, as he
did before, when no one upon the Earth was ever the wiser, save the one
or two I have referred to.  He had brought with him a yacht of his own.
She made a bit of a stir, being unlike anything previously seen, but no
one suspected the truth.  In her he made a tour of the world, travelling
about for three years, during which time he and his chosen companions
picked up English, a little French, and so on.  They also picked me up,
and I also saved the king’s life, even as you have done, though in a
different manner.  He was so grateful for what I did that he told me his
secret, and offered to enrol me in his service and take me back to Mars
with him.  I had nothing particular to tie me here, and I am fond of
adventure, so I took him at his royal word.  Now you can begin to
understand how it is that I, an Englishman by birth, Kendal Monck by
name, engineer by profession, happen to be here, in these days, in the
suite of this great king from another planet, and talking to you in your
own tongue!’

’Yes, sir, I understand,’ answered Gerald, his face aglow with interest
and excitement.  ’It’s very, very wonderful!  What strange, marvellous
scenes and adventures you must have passed through!’

’I have that, my lad!  I have passed through many grave dangers too;
have had many hair-breadth escapes in the service of my royal master,
who is of a very adventurous disposition.  His search after knowledge
has led us into queer places, I can assure you.  But he is a wonderful
being!  This marvellous airship was constructed from his own inventions
and designs.  And then, as a man——  Ah!’  Here the stranger drew a long
breath.  ’His is a character which makes you feel you would go through
fire and water for him!’

’I ’m sure of it!’ cried Gerald with enthusiasm. ’I felt it the first
moment I set eyes upon him! How I should like to do as you have done—go
with him to Mars and back!  What an experience!’

’Ah!’ exclaimed the engineer again, ’it would do you good, my lad.  It
would do anybody—everybody—good, physically, morally, in every way.  It
gives you a different, a more glorious, outlook on life when you realise
that the mighty works of the Creator are not confined to this globe on
which we live, but extend through endless "universes" in space.  Even
comparatively near us there are great planets compared with which this
Earth is scarcely more than a big football. There is Saturn, for
instance.  When we were there’——

’You have visited other planets, then, as well?’ Gerald gasped.

Monck nodded.  ’Yes, even great Jupiter, but we could not get very near
to him.  Saturn, however, we landed on, and spent some weeks
there—awful, terrible weeks they were.  My young friend, even to think
of the things to be seen there is almost too much for the ordinary human
brain.  But, as I have said, it does one good.  It instils into the mind
some faint conception of the vastness, the greatness, the endless
variety to be everywhere found in what we call the creation!’

’Would that your king would make me the offer he made to you!’ cried
Gerald, with glistening eyes.

’Perhaps he will.  What if he has?’ was the unexpected reply.

Gerald started up from the chair he had been sitting on.  ’You cannot
mean it!’ he exclaimed.

’What would be your reply if he made you the offer?’

’I would accept only too gladly!’

’You see,’ Monck explained, ’the service you rendered is one that a man
like my master would never forget.  I dare say you wonder how it
happened that he fell into the sea.  It was because the air here is so
different from that which he is used to upon Mars, and which we all had
been living in inside this airship.  At his first visit to the Earth,
years ago, he was extremely careful, and made the change gradually and
cautiously. This time he seems to have been rash, or to have forgotten.
Hence the air here—which is thinner and lighter than that on Mars—served
him as the air on the top of a very high mountain would serve you if you
were suddenly transported there.  He was attacked with what you have
doubtless heard of as mountain-sickness.  There is vertigo, bleeding at
the nose and ears, and fainting.  However, his danger was your
opportunity; and I must say you acted very promptly and pluckily.’

’I only did what I would have done for any one,’ said Gerald modestly.

’I am sure of that, my boy.  But I won’t keep you in suspense any
longer.  To come to the point, my master said I could make you the offer
I have hinted at if I found you were likely to regard it with favour.  I
do not want your answer now, of course.  You can take time to
consider—there are lots of things we can talk over first. Briefly,
however, when we go back to Mars we shall only be away a few months.  At
the end of that time we shall return here again; and if you are then
tired of the adventure you will be free to leave his service and remain
here.’

’I do not need any time to make up my mind,’ Gerald burst out
impetuously.  ’All I should hesitate about would be as to whether my
guardian’——

’Well, we can talk to him.’

’And Jack!’

’Who is Jack?’

’My chum!  He must come too!’

’Oh—h’m!  I don’t know what to say about that!  You had better ask King
Ivanta yourself when you see him!’

’I will!’ cried Gerald.  And he did, with what result will presently
appear.



                             *CHAPTER VII*

                        *OFF ON A TRIP TO MARS.*


’Our last morning upon the Earth, Jack, for many a day to come!  Think
of it!  It scarcely seems possible, does it?’

’It’s true enough, though, old chap!  In a few hours we shall "sail
away," as the song says, and shall be winging our way through space!’

’Fancy gazing down and taking our last look at our own globe!  The
daring of the thing gives me a bit of a shock, now that the event itself
is so near at hand!  How is it with you?’

’Well, I confess, Gerald, that I have to brace my mind up to it, as it
were.  But it’s always the same when you start upon a journey or a new
adventure.  One never exactly likes saying good-bye to the old familiar
places.’

Many months had passed since the events recorded in the last chapter.
King Ivanta had been to Europe and finished the business he had in
hand—for it was generally understood, amongst those who knew of his
presence on the Earth, that he had come here on his second visit for
some definite purpose.  What the purpose was remained for the present a
secret confined to the Martian monarch himself and the few he chose to
take into his confidence.

Amongst those who shared the secret Mr Armeath was probably one; for he
had grown high in favour with the illustrious traveller, and had been
invited to accompany him in the forthcoming trip to Mars and back.  He
had also been accorded the privilege of taking with him his two wards
Gerald and Jack, and his two servitors Tom Clinch and Bob Reid; and the
latter, loyal and faithful followers that they were, had not shrunk from
the risks of the adventure.

There were some other passengers also—namely, Amos Zuanstroom the
multi-millionaire (the well-known ’Diamond King’), his son Silas (who
was about the same age as Jack), and a much younger lad, named Freddy
Whitcomb, his nephew.

Why King Ivanta should choose these particular persons from all the
millions of inhabitants of the Earth was another matter which was
wrapped in mystery, and which, for the time being, he kept strictly to
himself.

As the engineer Mr Monck had predicted, Gerald had good reason to
congratulate himself upon the fortunate chance which had enabled him to
render so great a service to the Martian king.  The latter had shown
himself extremely grateful, and had conferred upon the young fellow many
marks of his favour.  In particular, he had confirmed the offer Mr Monck
had made, and had graciously extended it, as stated, to his guardian and
his chum.

And now, behold them all, then, on board the _Ivenia_, the colossal
’chariot of the skies,’ awaiting the moment when she should rise in the
air and commence her tremendous journey.

She lay in a sort of natural harbour in the island, a spacious
salt-water lake almost landlocked.

From this she presently rose easily and smoothly, like a huge bird
wending its way upwards in a series of graceful circles.  Like a bird,
too, she had at first enormous wings spread out to the air.  But after a
time, as she gained the upper air, these were folded away, the upper
covering was replaced, and she became once more the great, egg-shaped
mass she had appeared when she had arrived beside the island.  How,
afterwards, she continued to force her way upwards against the
attraction of the Earth, was King Ivanta’s own secret.  It was believed
that he had discovered a means of using the sun’s more powerful
attractive force, and so controlling it as to make it do whatever he
required; but that was probably only a guess.  What is certain is that
the whole structure continued to rise steadily and smoothly upwards,
till presently Gerald and Jack were called by Mr Armeath and the
engineer, Mr Monck, to come to a sort of periscope, from which they
could take their last look at the Earth.

They stepped forward and stared through the opening in startled wonder.
There, they saw our globe, looking like an enormous ball.  The great
airship itself was perfectly steady, and appeared to be absolutely
motionless.  Not a tremor was to be felt, and it seemed as though it was
the Earth which was receding from them at a rapid rate, not they from
the Earth.  No longer, however, could they make out details upon its
surface; the distance was already too great.  All they could distinguish
were the respective masses of land and water, broadly mapped and marked
out as they are upon a school globe representing the Earth.  The side
they were looking at showed the New World—the great continents of North
and South America and the oceans surrounding them—and that was all.

Who shall attempt to describe their feelings, or guess their thoughts,
as they stood there gazing at this strange appearance of the planet upon
which they had lived all their lives?  Probably they then for the first
time fully realised the actual nature of the risks they were running;
and it is more than likely that they were wondering whether they were
looking their last upon the Earth, as they watched it sinking silently
away into the immeasurable distance!



                            *CHAPTER VIII.*

                           *A NARROW ESCAPE.*


The first part of the time which followed upon the departure from the
Earth of the _Ivenia_ on her long journey through space was one of great
enjoyment to the two chums.  The marvels and mysteries of the great
airship—or aerostat, as Mr Armeath preferred to call her—seemed to be
inexhaustible.  ’Every day’ the young people found something new and
strange, to puzzle over.  Every time they moved about they came upon
some unexpected revelation of the wondrous inventions and contrivances
which it had been necessary to bring to perfection before the great
machine could start upon the adventurous journeys she had undertaken.

The above words, ’every day,’ require an explanation.  Of course, once
they were really out in ’the realms of starry space,’ there were really
no alternations of day and night, for the sun shone upon them
continuously.  But within the aerostat artificial nights, so to speak,
were produced by drawing huge screens across the semi-transparent outer
casing.

Mr Monck explained this to the young voyagers, giving them,
incidentally, a little lecture, as it were, in astronomy and general
science; and on this occasion he had as his auditors all four of the
young passengers—including, that is to say, the two cousins, Silas and
Freddy.

’I expect you all know,’ he said, ’that out in what is called space,
where there is no atmosphere—no air—the sun’s rays seem to have no heat.
The cold there is most intense—far greater than anything ever
experienced upon Earth.  You feel the sun’s rays warm on your globe
because they pass through the Earth’s atmosphere, which acts like a lens
or magnifying-glass.  Here the same effect is obtained by passing them
through the wonderful semi-transparent metal of which the outer shell of
the airship is composed.  It is harder than the hardest steel, yet
almost transparent like glass, without being brittle, while it is far
lighter than aluminium.  It was discovered by King Ivanta, and is called
"ivantium" after him.  He found that when the sun’s rays were passed
through it the result was exactly the same as when they pass through the
atmosphere of the Earth or of Mars.  That is how it is we are so warm
and comfortable on board here.  But for the discovery of that metal such
a journey as we are taking would be impossible.  We should be frozen to
death.’

’Then there is no need to have day and night unless you like,’ Freddy
observed, his blue eyes opening in surprise.  He was a fair,
good-looking youngster, and a great favourite with Monck and the chums.

’No, my lad.  But King Ivanta considers it best to keep up the same
habits as those you and his people are all accustomed to "at home;" for
Mars turns on its axis in about the same time as the Earth—namely,
twenty-four hours or thereabouts.  That is to say, the average day on
Mars is just about the same length as the average day on the Earth.’

On many other occasions, when he had the time and opportunity, the
good-natured engineer ’trotted them round’ and explained to the young
people, in similar fashion, the why and the wherefore of many of the
things that puzzled them—so far, that is, as he himself understood them.
But as to a great many, and those some of the most surprising, he was
obliged to confess his own entire ignorance.

’There are most essential secrets connected with the structure and
working of this remarkable "chariot of the skies" which no one but my
master understands, and he takes good care to keep them to himself,’ he
declared.  ’When you reach Mars, for instance, you will see there
numerous airships and flying-machines of many kinds.  It has, indeed,
been much easier for the Martians to learn to build such contrivances
than for the dwellers upon the Earth, because, as I have before
mentioned, the air upon Mars is so much denser.  But though you will see
many such things flying about, you will not see one that can compare
with this; not one that can venture out into space, or, indeed, very far
above the surface of the planet.’

Often Mr Armeath accompanied the young people, and listened with
interest to the engineer’s explanations; for, scientist though he was,
he found he had almost as much to learn in their new surroundings as
they had.

Truly, the great airship was a wonder from every point of view.  It may
assist readers to understand the stupendous scale upon which she had
been designed if it is explained that she was more than twice the size
of Britain’s great warship the _Dreadnought_.  But nothing less in bulk
would have been of any use if we consider the tremendous strength
required, and the accommodation necessary for the number of people she
carried—of whom there were between two and three thousand.  In addition,
room had to be provided for enormous quantities of stores and other
equipment.

Another feature which illustrates the gigantic scale upon which
everything was carried out was to be found in the fact that a large
space was given up to ornamental gardens and conservatories. In these
were graceful, waving, palm-like trees, wondrous flowers and shrubs, and
trees growing delicious fruits, interspersed amongst fountains and
pleasant walks, with what appeared to be a sunny sky overhead.  There
was even a sort of ’Zoo’ or menagerie on board, in which were many very
curious animals which the new passengers had never seen or heard of
before.  To these had now been added quite a collection of more familiar
creatures which King Ivanta had acquired during his stay upon Earth, and
was taking back for the edification of his subjects at home.

The chums were fond of wandering about in this miniature zoological
garden, looking at those creatures which were new to them, and studying
their ways and habits.  Some were natives of Mars; these were mostly
small, for—as they soon learned from Monck—just as Mars was a smaller
globe than the Earth, so the animals generally were smaller in
proportion.  But in this Zoo were specimens brought, as it appeared,
from the great planet Saturn, some of which were large and terrible
creatures.

It was with one of these that Gerald met with an unpleasant adventure
one day when they had been but a short time ’out.’  He had strolled in
alone, in the early morning, as was now his almost constant habit, and
went towards the cage of a creature called by the Martians an _amalpi_.
Gerald was especially interested in it on account of its resemblance to
an immense unicorn.  It was, indeed, something between that fabled
creature and a rhinoceros.  It had a very long, straight, sharp horn
upon the frontal bone, and a body very much like a heavily-built
cart-horse, covered with skin almost as thick as that of an elephant.
It was a most savage, dangerous creature, and all attempts to tame it,
even in the smallest degree, had failed.

When Gerald walked up to its cage on this particular occasion he met
with a surprise, for the cage was empty and the barred gate was standing
ajar.  Ere he had time to consider what this might mean he received a
second surprise. There was a loud, bellowing roar, and the next he knew
was that the creature itself was charging down upon him with lowered
head like a bull, the terrible, long, sharp horn pointed straight at
him.

For an instant the young fellow stood as if spell-bound; then, by a
happy flash of thought, he dashed into the empty cage and pulled the
gate to after him.  It fastened, as he knew, automatically, with a huge
spring-catch.  A moment later there was a frightful crash as the
ferocious animal ran full tilt at the bars, its long horn pushing
between them, and just failing to reach Gerald by some few inches.

For some time he had the novel experience of being a prisoner in the
great cage, while his enemy, furious with disappointment, charged again
and again at the bars.  Such was the strength and determination of its
rushes that it seemed almost as if the bars must give way.

At last the noise of its bellowing brought some of the keepers upon the
scene.  Then Gerald had an opportunity of learning more of the weapons
the Martians were armed with, and how they used them.  Each keeper
carried in his hand one of the large wands or staves, with triple points
at the top, similar to those the soldiers had carried who had marched
Gerald as a prisoner before the ’Ogre’ and his chief.  Gerald had seen
similar wands many times since, but had never seen how they were used.
Nor was he, indeed, much the wiser now.  All he saw was a slight flash
of very brilliant light which seemed to leap from the tridents towards
the great roaring animal, as it stood for a moment tossing its head and
stamping its feet ere charging clown upon the rescue-party.  But it
never started upon its rush, for, lo! it suddenly sank upon its knees
and rolled helplessly over upon the ground, where it lay quiet and
still—a big, inert mass.

The keepers opened the gate, and Gerald walked out, wondering greatly at
what he had seen, but unable to ask any questions, because he could not
speak their language.

Just then, however, Monck arrived upon the scene.  He looked very grave
when informed what had occurred, and examined the lock with a perplexed
air and many dubious shakes of the head.

’What will they do with the dead _amalpi_?’ Gerald asked, as he walked
away with the engineer.

’Put it back again.  It is not dead; it will recover in a few hours, and
to-morrow will be as lively as ever,’ was the answer.  Then the speaker
went on to explain.  ’Those tridents,’ he said, alluding to the
three-pronged wands, ’are really a kind of electric gun, if I may use
the term.  This weapon also—like so many of the Martians’ greatest
discoveries—is the invention of our royal master, King Ivanta.  He tried
for years to discover a weapon which would stun or paralyse and not
kill.  He has a horror of bloodshed, and he set himself to devise a
weapon which should do away with the horrors of war by rendering killing
and maiming unnecessary. He found it at last in this weapon, which
simply paralyses the muscles for a certain time, without killing or
inflicting any permanent injury.  People or animals—even the largest and
most ferocious creatures, as you have here seen—struck in this way are
merely rendered quite helpless for a time, so that you can bind them, or
do what you please with them.’

’Ah! like I was!  I understand now!’ cried Gerald.  ’All I felt was a
slight prick, as if some one had hurt me with a needle, and immediately
I collapsed and rolled over, utterly unable to move, yet not
unconscious.’

Monck nodded thoughtfully.  ’Ay, I remember,’ said he.

’So do I,’ said Gerald, in a tone which indicated that the remembrance
was a sore one. ’And that reminds me that you have never given me any
explanation as to why I was treated in that fashion!  I frequently see
the chap I have to thank for it—who, I have been given to understand, is
a sort of king in his own country—and his confederate, the one I called
the Ogre.  I know their names too—Agrando and Kazzaro.  Whenever they
catch sight of me they glare at me as though they would like to eat me!’

’Well, they got a precious good wigging from King Ivanta over that
affair before the whole Court,’ Monck declared with a smile.  ’So it is
not surprising that they do not exactly fall upon your neck and embrace
you.’

’But what was their object?’ Gerald persisted.

Monck seemed to be ruminating.  ’I cannot say with certainty; I can only
guess,’ he answered thoughtfully.  ’Agrando, you must know, is the ruler
of one of the last countries which Ivanta conquered and brought under
his sway.  He reigned over a numerous and powerful nation, and there was
a long and bitter struggle ere Ivanta was completely successful.
Agrando did not like giving in, and I don’t think he has become quite
reconciled to it even yet.’

’Was that why King Ivanta brought him with him—so that he might be able
to keep an eye on him?’ asked Gerald shrewdly.

Monck laughed.  ’Perhaps,’ he said.

’Well, my impression is—and always has been—that the old ruffian
intended to keep me there as prisoner in secret, and carry me secretly
to his own country, and there exhibit me as a raree-show, or keep me as
a slave to wait on him, or some infamy of that sort.’

Monck looked puzzled.  ’I hardly know what to say as to that,’ he said
musingly.  ’But I feel sure that you have no friend in him or his chief
councillor.  I should keep clear of them if I were you.  Have you any
other enemies, think you, on board?’

Gerald started.  ’Why do you ask?’ he queried.

’Because this little business of the _amalpi_ is a rather strange
affair.  It looks to me as if it had been done on purpose.  That lock
did not open itself, nor did the animal burst it open.  It is not
injured in any way.  Now, you are in the habit of going there regularly
in the early morning, are you not?’

’Yes, Mr Monck,’ returned Gerald gravely.  ’But I don’t like to think
there is any one on board who hates me enough to plan such a wicked
thing!  I know, of course, that the Zuanstrooms are anything but pleased
at the fact that King Ivanta invited us to come with you on this trip;
and Silas has behaved very strangely once or twice, just as if he were
jealous, or envious, or something.  But still—I could not imagine they
would carry their dislike as far as that!’

’Well, to me it looks very much as though it had not been altogether an
accident,’ Monck declared bluntly.  ’So, take my advice, my lad, and
keep your eyes open; and if you get into any trouble, or suspect any
danger, do not hesitate to let me know at once.’



                             *CHAPTER IX.*

                          *ARMEATH’S SECRET.*


The weeks passed on, and still the _Ivenia_ continued on her tremendous
journey through space to meet the advancing planet Mars. She travelled
at a rate which would make the heads of young readers swim if it were
set down in figures.  Yet she glided on so smoothly that those on board
might well have thought she was all the time standing motionless in one
place. How this was accomplished was one of those secrets which Monck
confessed himself unable to explain. And the same may here be said of
some other mysteries which puzzled Mr Armeath not a little. One was,
that there was a feeling of weight or gravity on board much the same as
upon the Earth.  Another puzzle was, how was the supply of air kept
always pure and wholesome?  These were among the things that Ivanta kept
to himself. The Earth sank away into the distance, gradually diminishing
in size till it became no larger to the view than the moon when it is
full.  Then came a time when it looked like a rather large star of a
pale-bluish tint.

On board, the time passed, for the most part, pleasantly enough.  There
was plenty to do—plenty of work and plenty of amusement.  King Ivanta
was a ruler who believed in the policy of keeping his people busy in one
way or another. Every person on board was compelled to give a certain
amount of time each day to work or study of some kind; while a certain
interval was also set aside for recreations.  The latter were of many
kinds.  There were concerts—for the Martians seemed to be all fond of
music—games, somewhat after the style of football, tennis, and other
athletic sports; and, not least, military exercises, in which the
soldiers took part and contended for prizes.  These—which the chums
always watched with the utmost interest—often took the form of actual
combats.  Sometimes they were between two champions, sometimes between
parties of fifty or a hundred; and amongst the latter there were often
many ’slain’ on both sides; but they always came to life a little later,
none the worse for the experience.

Then it was that the chums saw the use made of the shields borne by the
soldiers, which Gerald had first noticed when he had been a prisoner.
They were, as stated, transparent, and it now appeared that they were
used as a protection against the mysterious power of the ’tridents,’ or
’electric guns.’  Just as electricity will not pass through glass, so
the curious ’flash’ from the tridents could not pass through these
shields. The heads, feet, and legs of the combatants, and some other
parts of their bodies, were also protected in similar fashion, so that
they appeared to be partly dressed in shining armour.  They wore
helmets, breastplates, and leg and thigh pieces, which looked like
glass, yet were not brittle, and which, like the shields, were proof
against the power of the tridents.

Thus, a duel between two antagonists equipped in this manner resolved
itself, to a great extent, into a trial of skill in the use of the
shield. Through it each could see the other; and many were the feints
and stratagems resorted to by a practised fighter to get at his foe
behind his shield.

Every night King Ivanta held a levee or other Court function, which all
who were off duty were free to attend, and at which very curious
entertainments were sometimes provided.

Altogether there was no lack either of occupation or amusement during
the three months which the voyage lasted.

Gerald and Jack applied themselves assiduously to learn the Martian
language, and in this they were joined by Mr Armeath.  Then, by way of
relaxation, they gained the king’s permission to learn the mysteries and
use of the trident and shield.  Monck fitted them out in suits of the
shining armour, and they practised under the instruction of one named
Aveena, a young noble of the Court.  Thanks to his tuition, they became
so expert that they entered for contests before the king, and came off
victorious in more than one bout with others of their own age.  Silas
Zuanstroom was one of those they each vanquished in turn; only with the
result, however, of increasing the coldness which had grown up between
the two parties of travellers from the Earth.

One day, Gerald met with yet another disagreeable adventure in the Zoo,
and again narrowly escaped a terrible death.  This time it was a large
venomous serpent of vicious and aggressive disposition, which (again by
some ’accident’) had got loose just about the time when Gerald, unarmed
and unsuspicious of danger, was taking his stroll round the cages.
Monck came upon him, a little later, clinging to the upper branches of a
tall palm-like tree, which the serpent was slowly climbing, bent on
reaching him.

This time the engineer reported the matter to the king, who sternly
ordered a strict inquiry with the object of finding out who was to
blame. But no evidence was forthcoming to show that the occurrence had
been other than an accident; and the affair ended in the punishment of
one of the keepers in charge for negligence.

But more exciting events were steadily preparing, and began to develop
as the voyage went on.

One morning the two chums were called into Armeath’s private apartment,
where he was awaiting them with Monck.  He explained that he had
received the king’s permission to impart to them an important piece of
information.  ’I am going to entrust you with a bit of a secret,’ said
he, ’and I must ask you to regard it as confidential, and say nothing
about it to any one—particularly to the Zuanstrooms; which, of course,
includes the two lads.  Doubtless you have wondered what it was which
induced King Ivanta to pay a second visit to our Earth.  It is this,
that what we call precious stones do not exist naturally in Mars. None
were ever seen there until the king brought back a quantity after his
first visit.’

Gerald burst into an exclamation.  ’Just what I guessed, sir,’ he cried.
’I have had that idea in my mind for some time!’

’It was a shrewd guess, lad,’ Monck observed. ’The fact is, that once
the Martians had set eyes on them they went almost mad over them, and
became clamorous for a larger supply to be brought, in order that those
who could afford it might be able to purchase some.

’Our gracious master, who is continually thinking what new thing he can
do to please his people, determined to pay a second visit to the Earth
specially to secure a large supply.  Hence his taking up with
Zuanstroom, the "Diamond King."  But Zuanstroom was not easy to arrange
with.  When he learned the actual state of the case, he insisted, as a
part of the bargain, that my master should promise to bring him over to
Mars for a trip, and take him safely back. Nothing less would satisfy
him.’

’I see,’ said Jack.  ’And I suppose his diamonds are on board too—a
whole shipload of them, so to speak?’

’Exactly.  The greatest load of treasure, I suppose, that has ever been
carried on any ship of the air or the sea.’

’But,’ said Gerald, ’the Zuanstrooms know all this.  Why mustn’t we
speak to them about it?’

’Because, at this point, I come to my story,’ Armeath said, with a
half-smile.  ’For years I have been experimenting, trying to manufacture
precious stones artificially.  At last I succeeded in getting diamonds
from a certain mineral; only to find, however, that the discovery was
almost valueless, because I could not get enough of the particular
mineral.  I found out that there was some in the island we have been
living on, and that was the reason I went there to stay for a time.
When, however, I understood what King Ivanta wanted, I told him of my
experiments, showed him the results, and he was highly delighted.  He
said it would be easier and cheaper to manufacture diamonds than to buy
them from the Diamond King on his own terms.’

’But how can that be done, sir, if the necessary material is so scarce?’
asked practical Jack.

’You shall hear.  King Ivanta recognised the mineral, and declares that
there is plenty of it to be obtained from the planet Saturn.  He saw
quantities of it when he was there!’

’Then we are to go to Saturn to obtain a supply; I suppose?’ cried
Gerald, full of enthusiasm at the prospect of this new and unexpected
addition to their programme of adventure.

’That I cannot yet say,’ replied Armeath.  ’We must hear what the king
says.’

’But, sir,’ exclaimed Jack, ’you would not think of leaving us
alone—stranded—upon a strange planet!  Suppose you never came back!’

’It is not a pleasant place to visit; I can tell you that much,’ Monck
put in.  ’Saturn, at the present time, is in the stage which the
scientists tell us the Earth was in, ages ago, when the great
antediluvian monsters existed.  Those monsters—or similar ones—are alive
now on Saturn; and terrible creatures they are, I can assure you!  The
_amalpi_—the unicorn-like animal which hunted you, Master Gerald—is one
which we managed to capture and bring back from Saturn.  But it is small
and almost harmless compared with some of the animals and reptiles we
saw there!  I do not think I would go there again, Mr Armeath, of my own
choice, even for the sake of bushels of diamonds!’

’If I go, it will not be exactly for the reason you suppose, my friend,’
returned Armeath.  He spoke very gravely, and with a note of sadness in
his tone.  ’Your king, in most things, has shown himself a very wise
monarch; but I think he has made a mistake in introducing jewels at all
amongst his subjects.  Upon our globe they have always been the cause of
heartburning, envy, jealousy, and all kinds of evil passions.  In too
many cases they have proved, as all of us know, a veritable curse, and
have led to crimes innumerable.  But, for good or for evil, your master
has made certain promises, and arranged certain things with the Diamond
King.  King Ivanta’s people are all agog, waiting in clamorous
impatience for the cargo of jewels which we are taking to them.  It is
too late now to alter that; but, look you! what if I prove to them that
jewels just as good can be made as cheaply as bits of glass?  What will
be the consequence?’

’Nobody will want them,’ Monck answered, laughing.

’Just so!  And that, in my opinion, would be for the future benefit of
all the inhabitants of Mars!  It is for that—and with that idea
alone—that I am ready to risk the danger of a trip to Saturn.’

’If that be so, then I am with you,’ exclaimed the engineer.  ’It is a
worthy object, and I will help you all I can!  But to obtain the mineral
you want will be almost like undertaking over again the fabled labours
of Hercules, for the place where it exists is guarded by creatures more
formidable than the fabled Hydra, and more terrible than the worst of
the ancient dragons!’



                              *CHAPTER X.*

                         *CAPTURED BY A COMET.*


The _Ivenia_, the great Martian airship, sped onwards upon its wonderful
voyage for a period of nearly two months without anything occurring to
interrupt its continuous progress. Then, one night, there came a
startling interruption of its smooth, gliding flight through space—one
that nearly terminated it for good and all.

It so happened that the two chums were sitting up that night with Mr
Armeath in the conning-tower, a privilege but seldom accorded to any one
not actually engaged in the navigation of the ship. The officer in
charge, however, was one named Malanda, the one who had been in
attendance on the king when Gerald had saved his life.  He it was who
had recognised the lad at the critical moment when he had been a
prisoner, and since that time he had treated him with marked kindness.

The conning-tower was a roomy apartment, very curiously constructed.  It
could be raised or depressed by mechanical means, so that at some times
it projected above the outer surface of the ship, while at others it was
just level with it. In the former case there was a clear view in all
directions except immediately beneath; in the latter there was no direct
view save upwards; but the images of outside objects were then thrown on
to a screen, as in a camera-obscura.

Upon this eventful night the conning-tower had been raised, and the two
chums had been amusing themselves by peering through powerful telescopes
at the heavenly bodies around them.

It was truly a wonderful, a fascinating sight, and one which Gerald,
especially, was never tired of contemplating.  The various
constellations blazed out with a vividness and beauty far exceeding
their appearance as seen through our atmosphere from the surface of the
Earth.  Thanks to Malanda, the two lads had learned to distinguish the
planets from the far-more distant fixed stars.  They knew that the
latter were at such tremendous distances that they ’didn’t count,’ as
Jack put it; the only ones they were likely to have anything to do with
being the planets, which, like our Earth, are always revolving round our
sun.

Of course, as they were going to visit Mars, they watched that orb
particularly; and they felt a special interest in noting how its
pinkish-red light increased in size and intensity as they drew nearer.
Next in interest came our Earth, which they had so recently left, whose
bluish light waned exactly in proportion as that of Mars waxed stronger.
Then there was beautiful Saturn, with its wondrous rings of light;
perhaps they were also to visit that mysterious orb, and learn what
those lustrous bands were composed of!

Besides these, there were plenty of curious things to watch and admire.
The planets had their moons in attendance upon them—some having two,
some as many as eight—all behaving as our own moon does—each, that is to
say, showing in turn as a thin crescent, a half-moon, a full-moon, and
so on; and the voyagers had watched these changes with interest which
never flagged.  It seemed such a strange thing to think of: several
moons round one planet; one, perhaps, a new moon; and two or three
others near the full, all shining at the same time!

Now, it was while they were gazing at these beautiful sights that Jack
noticed a tiny speck of light which struck him as unfamiliar.  He
mentioned it in an undertone to Gerald, who, just then, was
half-watching what was to be seen of Saturn, half-dreaming of what lay
beyond.  Gerald pointed his telescope in the direction indicated, and
looked at the speck of light, but seeing nothing particular in its
appearance, turned his attention again to other objects.

Jack, however, was more observant.  His acute, practical sense had told
him that here was something different from anything he had seen before.
He promptly recognised two or three very important points in connection
with it.  One was that its light was different in colour from that of
anything else he could see.  Another was that it was very unsteady, yet
it did not ’twinkle’ as do the far-distant stars; and yet another was
that it was growing in intensity very quickly.

’Therefore,’ said Jack to himself, ’I believe it must be comparatively
near, and coming towards us at a most tremendous rate.’  Finally, he
drew Mr Armeath’s attention to the phenomenon.

Armeath in turn pointed it out to Malanda, who had no sooner glanced at
it than he rushed across the floor of the chamber to some levers, which
he began to manipulate, at the same time setting a number of bells
ringing in various parts of the great aerostat.  One of these, as it
afterwards appeared, rang out its urgent message in the
sleeping-apartment of the king, who roused at once from his slumber and
hurried to the conning-tower.

Before his arrival, however, the alarm bells had summoned others to the
place, and from their excited talk the chums quickly learnt the cause of
the excitement.  For they had worked at the study of the Martian
language to such good purpose that by this time they could understand
most of what was said.

There were many confused exclamations, and much incoherent talk; but
amidst it all they heard again and again the cry, ’A comet!  A comet!’

Just then Jack found the engineer Monck beside him, and he asked for
further information.

’I cannot tell you much about it now, my lad,’ was the reply; ’but I
know that this is one of the gravest dangers of our voyage.  Comets have
well been called "the spectres of space."  The planets and their moons
move in certain well-defined orbits or tracks, and you know exactly
where you are likely to meet them and what to do if you wish to avoid
them.  But comets seem to be controlled by no known law, and you never
can tell where you may encounter them. Compared with any of the planets,
they are, of course, small; but they are enormous compared with our
aerostat, and quite big enough to accomplish our destruction if one of
them ran against us.  So you can understand that great care is necessary
when one is sighted.’

’These people seem very excited; do you think there is serious danger,
sir?’ Gerald asked.

’No, no—a—at least, I hope not.  But when a comet is anywhere near it is
always a relief when we are safely past it.  You will see, however, that
all will quiet down when our royal master is here.  He is the only one,
I believe, who really knows how to meet the danger.’

The words were scarcely spoken when they were verified by the king’s
arrival.  As his stately form strode into the chamber, a great hush fell
upon those assembled there, and, like magic, quiet and orderly procedure
took the place of what had looked very much like unreasoning panic.

He stood for a few moments gazing around to take in the situation, then
he looked at the advancing comet, which could now be plainly seen
without any telescope furiously rushing, at tremendous speed, seemingly
straight at the ship.

Flashes and bursts of light accompanied it like explosions of mighty
bombshells, lighting up the interior of the conning-tower as might
flashes of terrible lightning.  Already it had grown from a tiny speck
of light to a ball of fire as large as our moon looks at the full; and
it was rapidly growing bigger and bigger.

Then Ivanta gave a series of orders in sharp, commanding tones, and some
of the crowd of officers went off to execute them.  The doors of the
chamber were closed, and a moment later the conning-tower sank down, and
all became dark save for a fiery image which was now to be seen upon a
large screen.  This gave a view of the comet as it would have appeared
if they had still been looking direct at it.  From the apparent size of
a moon it had now grown to twice as large as our sun looks to us.  Its
shape was no longer round, but was changing each second, the continual
explosions sending out irregular masses of fire upon all sides in turn.

Even as seen upon the screen it was an awful sight to look upon.  It
seemed like some gigantic, fiery monster bent upon devouring them.

Armeath put a hand affectionately upon each of his wards.  He could see
that the position of the aerostat was critical, and that they were all
in terrible danger.  It was not a moment for talk or comment, but he
bent down and whispered a few words in the ears of the two lads.  ’We
are in the hands of God, my boys,’ he said devoutly. ’Such things as
these are but some of the smallest and most puny of His great works!  If
He so wills it we shall pass the danger safely, and live to remember it
with admiration and wonder in place of fear!’

The fiery shape grew in size till it covered the whole screen, and in
intensity till, even as thus reflected, the light from it was almost
blinding. Then there came a close, stifling feeling, and the chamber
grew so hot as to become almost intolerable. They were conscious of
something which whizzed past them with a frightful roar.  In a second it
was gone, and the heat and light grew perceptibly less.

’It has passed!’ murmured Armeath; and he breathed a prayer of
thankfulness.

Monck, who had remained alongside them, gave a gasp of relief.

’That’s the nearest brush we’ve ever had since I ’ve been on board!’ he
muttered.

’Has it really gone?  Are we safe now, do you think, sir?’ Gerald asked
in a whisper.  Both lads had held their breath at the critical moment.
Though they had shown no signs of panic, the strain had been pretty
severe, and they breathed more freely now.

’Yes, it has gone—shot past us like a flash. And now’——

Suddenly the aerostat gave a lurch, and then swerved from its course so
abruptly as almost to throw the voyagers off their feet.  To them it
felt as if it had swung round in a great half-circle, and was now flying
along in the opposite direction to that in which they had been going.

It was the first time since leaving the Earth that the travellers had
experienced anything that could be called a jar or swerve; and they now
stared at one another in startled surprise.

What could it mean?

Ivanta’s voice was heard issuing hurried orders, and his officers
hastened to execute them.  Malanda crossed the floor to handle a lever
near to where Monck was standing.

’What is it, friend Malanda?’ asked the engineer, in an anxious
undertone.

’We are caught in the attractive power of the comet,’ was the answer,
’and it is pulling us along after it.  Unless we can manage to fight
free, this ship will follow the comet through space as long as it may
continue to rush about on its erratic journey, which would probably mean
at least a thousand years!’



                             *CHAPTER XI.*

                          *’WELCOME TO MARS!’*


The minutes which followed Malanda’s startling announcement were anxious
ones indeed for those of the voyagers who had heard it. The great
majority on board, however, were happily ignorant of what had happened,
and knew nothing about it till subsequently.

Even Armeath and his companions could not afterwards tell much more
about it than has been here set down, for the reason that Ivanta ordered
the conning-tower to be cleared of every one save two or three of his
officers.  So they had to march out with the others; and of what went on
inside, or whether the aerostat was likely ever to struggle out of its
fearful position, they in the meanwhile knew nothing.  For what seemed a
long, weary time they could only wait on in suspense while the issue was
being decided.

It was a good half-hour before the welcome news was brought to them that
the king had succeeded in getting his ship free from the comet’s
sinister influence; and then no further particulars were vouchsafed.
How it had been done was again one of those secrets which Ivanta kept
strictly to himself.  All that was made known was that the aerostat had
now resumed her voyage, and that, as it happened, no harm had been done.

A few days later, Gerald was seated in one of the large conservatories,
reading a book which he had borrowed.  Both he and Jack could now read
the Martian language fairly well, and they found in the library on board
a new storehouse of wonders of the most fascinating description. Hearing
footsteps, he glanced up, and saw that Tom Clinch had come to seek him.

’Could I ’ave a wurd wi’ you, Mr Gerald?’ Clinch asked.

’Certainly, Tom.  What’s the trouble?’

’Well, Mr Gerald, it be like this.  I’ve ’eerd—it’s odd ’ow things do
get about—as we was nearly run down t’other night by a comet or some
such blamed foolishness.’

Gerald looked with surprise upon the weather-beaten features of the
faithful henchman, and with difficulty repressed a smile as he noted
their woe-begone expression.

’I don’t know how you managed to learn so much, Tom,’ he answered
quietly; ’but something of the kind did occur, I believe.  Still, there
is no occasion for you to take it so seriously.  The danger is past; and
they tell me it’s not likely to happen again during the rest of our
journey.’

But Tom Clinch was not so easily comforted. He shook his head with a
dissatisfied grunt.

’’Ow does they know?’ he asked dubiously. ’They doan’t keep a proper
lookout, Mr Gerald, that’s what’s the matter, else they ’d ’a sighted
this reckless galoot afore she got so near.  They’d ’a seen as she
wurn’t under proper control, an’ they should ’a sounded the siren.  Why
doan’t they ’ave somebody perched on the top, outside, in a little sort
o’ crow’s-nest?  They could ’ave a speakin’-tube to shout through if ye
like.’

’I ’m afraid it wouldn’t answer; it would be rather uncomfortable—and,
um—well, a little cold for the man outside,’ replied Gerald gravely,
though his eyes were twinkling.  ’But is that all you wish to say?’

’Why, no, sir.  Me an’ Bob Reid, we’ve talked it over, an’ we’s agreed
t’ offer t’ run the look-out for ’em, turn an’ turn about, if ye likes.
We’s old sailors, an’ we knows the ropes, an’ we ’d keep a proper watch.
Seems t’ me as the people aboord ’ere be mostly landlubbers, what ain’t
got no nautical knollidge like.’

Gerald listened with a sympathetic air, for though he was naturally
vastly amused, Tom looked so very much in earnest that he had not the
heart to seem to ridicule his well-meant suggestion.

Promising, therefore, that he would make the generous offer known in the
proper quarter, he dismissed the old sailor, just as his chum Jack came
upon the scene.

Gerald did not notice at the moment that Jack looked serious too, and
proceeded to tell him, with a laugh, what Clinch had been saying.

’Fancy the two honest old worthies talking this over, and coming
sedately to me with such an offer!’ said he.  ’What an idea—that they
should have a lookout placed outside, where the temperature runs far
below that of liquid air!  Jupiter!’

Then he noticed, for the first time, that his chum was also looking
troubled.

’Why, what’s amiss?’ he asked.  ’You and Tom Clinch seem alike
to-day—you both remind me of the Knight of the Troubled Countenance.
You look as if you wanted cheering up.  You should read this book I ’ve
got hold of; it would make you laugh.’

’What is it about?’

’It’s written by some old Martian crank of an astronomer, and contains
his speculations upon the subject of the Earth.  They call us, you know,
the evening star; for so our planet appears to them, just as Venus does
to us.  Well, he is writing and speculating about their evening
star—that is, about our world—and he declares his conviction that it
cannot be inhabited by human beings like those living on Mars.  He
argues that because the light from our Earth shines with a bluish tint,
therefore, if there are people on it, they must have blue skins.  He
brings forward a lot of most convincing arguments to support this
theory, and winds up by declaring that if our world is really inhabited,
it can only be by a race of ape-like creatures, with blue skins and
bodies partly covered with green hair!’

’H’m!  So much for some people’s scientific theories.  However, I ’ve
got something else to talk to you about just now.  While you ’ve been
reading and dreaming, and going about with your head in the clouds’——

’Above the clouds, Jack—far, far above the clouds!  Be practical, now.
Consider!  Are we not far above the clouds?’

’Will you listen, you incorrigible dreamer?’ exclaimed Jack impatiently.
’I want to tell you that I am afraid there is some fresh trouble brewing
in which those Zuanstrooms are mixed up. Two or three times lately I
have come upon their youngster, Freddy, wandering about in melancholy
fashion, and when I asked him why he was alone, he said, each time, that
they had sent him out because the "ugly old man" had come there to talk,
and he was in the way.  Now, by "ugly old man" Freddy means the one you
called the Ogre—Kazzaro.  The question naturally suggests itself, why
should there be secret conferences between that worthy and the Diamond
King?’

’Seems funny, doesn’t it?  Have you mentioned anything about it to our
guardian or Mr Monck?’

’Not yet.  You see, I haven’t anything definite to go upon.  But I ’m
going to keep my eyes open, and I mean, if I can, to find out what it
really is that is going on between the Zuanstrooms and the crowd they’ve
become so thick with.’

’Well, I’ll help you to keep an eye on them too.  Neither Kazzaro nor Mr
Zuanstroom is any friend of ours; that we know.  I do believe that if
they could have their way they would throw us off the ship, and leave us
to go whizzing about in space like a couple of little comets.’

However, time passed on without anything further occurring to strengthen
Jack’s suspicions; and soon they were almost forgotten in the interest
and excitement which sprang up and grew from day to day as they neared
the end of the voyage.

The apparent size of Mars was visibly increasing each time they looked
at it, till at last it seemed to take up the whole of the firmament in
front of them.  It was a wonderful, and in many ways an awe-inspiring,
sight.  For, just as when they had been leaving the Earth it seemed to
be our globe which was travelling away from them—not they from the
Earth—so now Mars appeared to be coming towards them, and at a frightful
pace. Majestic, magnificent, inconceivably grand, it certainly was; but
there was something oppressive in its very grandeur, something awful in
its swift, silent approach, something terrible in its overwhelming
greatness.

Seas and continents began to show upon its surface, till the wondering
spectators could see the whole of one side laid out as on a gigantic
map. And there, plain to the eye, were the so-called ’canals,’ those
curious constructions or formations which our earthly astronomers have
viewed through their telescopes and puzzled over for so many years, and
which are supposed to be artificial canals upon a gigantic scale.

At last, the _Ivenia_ entered the planet’s atmosphere, through which
they had been viewing everything as through a faint-pinkish haze.  Then
a great change took place in the outward appearance of the aerostat.
The upper covering was removed, the immense wings were spread, a
beautifully carved and decorated ’figurehead,’ like the head of a
colossal bird, was run out at one end and a tail-like addition at the
other.

Monck led Mr Armeath and his companions out on to the upper deck.

’You may now safely venture into the open air,’ he observed; ’for,
unknown to you, the air within the aerostat has been gradually changing,
and becoming denser.  We are all, therefore, now acclimatised, and you
will feel no ill effects.’

As they looked through their glasses, the two lads uttered exclamations
of astonishment and admiration.

Below them could be seen an extensive city, built beside an arm of the
sea, which, instead of being blue, was of an ethereal, rosy tint.  There
were towering palaces and noble buildings, vast embankments and
terraces, surrounded by beautiful gardens, amidst which could be
distinguished stately colonnades, winding streams, and glistening
fountains and cascades.

The _Ivenia_ swept downwards with a swift, gliding motion, in a series
of wide circles, like some giant bird poised on outstretched wings.
There was no vibration, no jar, no motion even of the wide-spreading
wings as she sank lightly and gracefully through the air.

And as she descended, the air below became filled with what at first had
the appearance of a great flight of birds.

Gerald asked what they were, and Monck bade him look again through his
glasses.  Then he saw that what he had mistaken for distant birds were
in reality numbers of flying-machines mounting upwards to meet the
_Ivenia_.

A little later these smaller air-craft were swarming round the great
aerostat, the occupants uttering shouts and cries of joyous welcome to
their returning king.  These flying-machines were of all shapes and
kinds, and they thronged round Ivanta’s superb ’chariot of the skies’ as
might a swarm of steamers, yachts, and other craft round a mighty
warship bearing our own king back to England’s shores after a foreign
trip.

Finally, the wondrous structure landed easily and quietly upon the
ground in the midst of a vast crowd of people; and, as she came to rest,
King Ivanta stepped out from the conning-tower and showed himself to the
shouting throng.

Then, turning to Armeath and the others whom he had brought with him as
guests, he said, with a charming mixture of royal dignity and kindly
condescension, ’Welcome, my friends!  Welcome to our world!  Welcome to
Mars!’



                             *CHAPTER XII.*

                           *PRINCE ALONDRA.*


As King Ivanta spoke to his visitors the words ’Welcome to Mars!’ there
came a rustling sound, and a strange figure, shining and glistening in
the sunlight, suddenly appeared on the deck beside him.

So rapidly had it arrived that the startled spectators scarcely saw more
than the sheen from its resplendent body before it was amongst them,
alighting with the grace and ease of a swallow close to the king, whom
it addressed in joyous, laughing accents, ’Welcome, father! welcome
home!’

Even King Ivanta was evidently taken by surprise, for at first he
scarcely seemed to understand this arrival any more than the strangers
from Earth did.  The next moment, however, he had clasped the radiant
vision in his arms in a close embrace.  Then he drew back and regarded
the youth—for such the figure was—critically. ’Why, Alondra, my son,’
said he, ’what is this surprise?’

Alondra, as the visitors were soon to learn, was Ivanta’s son, his only
child.  He was about the same age as Gerald, with an exceedingly
handsome, open, merry-looking countenance, lithe and graceful in figure
and in every movement.  On this occasion he was clad in a most bizarre
costume, which included two large wings, just now folded back behind the
shoulders, and trailing on the floor of the deck.

It was impossible to guess what these wings could be made of.  The
surface was composed of thin, feathery flakes in constant motion, which
glistened in the sunshine with iridescent brilliance, something between
the sheen of silver and the sparkle of crystal.  A tunic of the same
marvellous material covered the body to the knees, below which were
attachments like smaller wings, which now fitted closely round the
ankles.

Evidently this wondrous outfit was as new and surprising to the king as
it was to the strangers.

The youth seemed delighted at the impression he had created.  He walked
to and fro, opening and folding his wings, and turning this way and that
to show them off to advantage.

’Almost all my own invention, father,’ he laughed, as he moved
about—’mine and Amaldo’s! We were afraid we should not get it finished
and in working order before your return.  Indeed, I only took my
trial-flight in it yesterday!  Is it not a splendid creation’?’

He opened the wings and fluttered them in the sunlight.  Ripples of
light and dancing colours ran incessantly over the surface, producing
effects so exquisitely varied and beautiful as to be absolutely
indescribable.

’It is perfect, Alondra!  Truly, as you say, a splendid creation!’ said
Ivanta admiringly.

’These things, however, are a little too long when folded, as you can
see,’ Alondra continued, looking down at them with a critical air.  ’I
must have them shortened.  You can see that if you are not careful you
may catch your feet in them and get a tumble.’

In order the better to explain his meaning, he stepped backwards towards
Gerald, who was standing near, watching everything with intense
interest.

Scarcely had the young experimenter uttered the words than he
involuntarily illustrated them, in the most practical fashion, by
tripping on one of the wings, and rolling over at Gerald’s feet.

Gerald stepped quickly forward to help him up, and in doing so was
astonished at the youth’s seeming lightness.  So light was he that
Gerald, in trying to raise him, lifted him clean off his feet, almost as
though he had been made of cork. As a consequence, Alondra came near to
losing his balance and rolling over again.  Then the two stood staring
and smiling at one another.

’Why, how strong you must be!’ exclaimed the young prince.

’H—how light you must be!’ was Gerald’s answer.  And he looked so very
puzzled and perplexed that the other burst into a merry peal of
laughter.  Then he turned to the king.  ’Father,’ he began, but stopped
and hesitated.

Ivanta interpreted the inquiring look.  ’Your surprising creation has
made me forgetful of other matters, my son,’ said he.  ’I owe an apology
to our friends here.  These gentlemen, Alondra, are visitors from
Lokris, the planet I have been to visit.  They are our guests.  I need
not say more than that to commend them to your attention and care.—My
guests, this is my son, Prince Alondra, who, I am sure, is ready to add
his welcome to my own!’

’That I am!’ cried the young prince, his handsome face alight with
interest and surprise.  ’A warm welcome to you all!  Welcome to Zotis!’

’Ah, they do not know our world by our name!’ Ivanta reminded him.
’They call it Mars.’

’Welcome, then, to Mars!’ said Alondra.

He held out both hands at once; and, as it happened, he caught hold of
one each of Gerald and Jack, and they returned his greeting as heartily
as it was given.  Then he caught sight of Monck, who was standing a
little in the background.  At once he made a dart for him.

’Why, there is Monck Affelda!’ he cried.  ’You have returned, then!
Welcome, dear friend!  I was afraid that, perhaps, when you got back to
your own world you would stay there, and we should never see you more!’

’Alondra, here are others waiting to know you!’ the king reminded him.

And the lad at once turned obediently, with a look of quick apology at
Monck for not saying more at the moment.

All the rest of the strangers having been duly presented, Ivanta gave
his attention to his own subjects, who were now streaming up the ladders
which had been let down the sides of the aerostat and crowding the deck
to pay their respects to their sovereign.

Alondra, meantime, stepped back to where the two chums were standing
with their guardian and the engineer, and commenced a lively chat,
asking them a hundred questions concerning the world they came from, the
incidents of the voyage, and so forth.

Both Gerald and Jack took to him at once. It was almost impossible,
indeed, to do otherwise. His frank, gay, smiling manner, his attractive
face, and easy, graceful air captivated them completely. Never, they
afterwards declared, had they met so attractive a personality.  ’A true
son of the stars,’ Jack dubbed him.  Glad were they then that they had
made such good use of their time and had learned the language of their
hosts in advance. Even Silas, who presently joined the group, became
quite amiable under the young prince’s genial influence; and little
Freddy fell in love with him then and there.

Naturally, amongst these young people, there was a lot to ask about on
both sides.  Question followed question, inquiries and explanations were
interrupted with exclamations of surprise, wonder, admiration, and
delight.

Then Alondra caught sight of others who were known to him, among them
Aveena the young noble, and went off to greet them on their return.

’He is a splendid youngster, the prince,’ observed Monck admiringly.
’Everybody loves him.  Clever, too—quite a young inventor, I can assure
you.’

’What is this flying-dress affair?’ asked Jack. ’Do people fly here,
then?  Or is this the first time it has been done?’

’To the last question the reply would be both yes and no,’ Monck
answered.  ’If you had noticed, as we came down, you would have seen
many aeronauts flying about singly amongst the various airships and
flying-machines.’

’I thought I saw something of the kind,’ Jack returned.  ’But we circled
about so rapidly, and there were so many buzzing around, that I scarcely
had a chance to make them out.’

’As you now know, the air here is very dense.’

’To me it seems very light and exhilarating,’ Gerald put in.  ’I
expected, when you used to tell us it was so dense, to find, when we
arrived here, that we should scarcely be able to breathe.’

’Ah, that is another matter which I will explain directly.  As I have
told you before, the air here is so dense that to make a flying-machine
was never a matter of any great difficulty.  For the same reason, with a
properly constructed pair of wings, you can, after a little practice
under expert tuition, very soon learn to soar into the air, and fly
about after a fashion.  It has, however, hither-to, it must be
confessed, been a rather clumsy fashion.  Now, this is the first time I
have seen it really gracefully and easily done.  I knew before we went
away that Prince Alondra and his tutor—an old scientist named Amaldo,
who was also the king’s tutor when he was a boy—were at work upon some
new device which was understood to be the prince’s own idea originally.
What it was I never knew exactly, for they kept it a sort of
half-secret.  Here, however, it seems, is the outcome of the idea; and a
very successful outcome too, so far as I can judge.’

’What is the invention?’ asked practical Jack. ’Does it consist, I mean,
in the dress, in the material of which it is composed—wonderful stuff it
certainly seems to be—or in a new shape for the wings, or what?’

’Ah, that is exactly what I do not yet know any more than you.
Doubtless, the prince will enlighten us ere long—when he has enjoyed the
general mystification a little longer.

’Well, now, to turn to the other point.  You say the air here feels to
you light and exhilarating rather than dense and heavy.  It is not
exactly the air which gives you this feeling; it is due rather to the
difference in what we call gravity. On Mars, things weigh only half what
they would weigh on our Earth.  It follows that our muscles feel
stronger in proportion.  It requires less strength, less exertion, to
lift your leg or your arm.  Every action or movement, great or small, is
easier—even breathing.  Therefore, you have a sense of lightness, of
ease, of unusual strength.’

A light broke upon Gerald.  ’I see!  That was why the prince seemed so
light to me when I went to help him up just now!’ he cried.

’Exactly.  We who have come from Earth, and who possess muscles used to
the greater weight of everything there, are all "strong men" here.  You
will find this one of the first and one of the most curious of your
experiences here.’

Just then they saw King Ivanta approaching, bringing Alondra with him.
They had left the crowd of richly arrayed courtiers and officers to come
across to Gerald.

’Alondra,’ said the king, indicating Gerald as they drew near, ’I wish
to commend this brave young gentleman to your especial care; and I hope
you two will become good friends.  You must teach him to fly.  If he
learns to fly as well as he has learned to swim, then I can testify that
he should make a clever performer; for he saved your father’s life!’



                            *CHAPTER XIII.*

                      *THE PALACE IN THE CLOUDS.*


Ivanta said a few more kindly words, and then returned to the brilliant
circle he had left, this time beckoning the Diamond King to accompany
him.

’My father says I may conduct you to our home,’ said Alondra, as the
king went away.  ’So, if you are agreeable, we will start at once.  My
yacht is waiting close by.’

’We are ready, I think,’ said Armeath.  But in his manner there was some
hesitation.

Monck interposed.  ’You are thinking of your baggage,’ he said, with a
smile; ’but you need not trouble.  It will be looked after, and whatever
you want will be brought on afterwards.’

’Good!  That being so, we are at your service, Prince.  Shall our
attendants come with us?’

’I dare say they will feel a bit lost if you leave them alone in a
strange world,’ laughed Alondra.  ’So, by all means bring them with you,
if it so pleases you.’

So Tom Clinch and Bob Reid, looking very confused and wonderstruck at
their new surroundings, were sent for; and the whole party followed
Alondra—who had been joined by Aveena—to the other end of the deck.

Here, to their surprise, they found a most beautiful structure awaiting
them, moored, so to speak, to the _Ivenia_.

Compared with the great aerostat in which they had made their memorable
voyage, she was like a tiny, graceful yacht beside one of our modern
warships; yet she was large and roomy enough to accommodate a numerous
party.

Alondra led his guests across a gangway on to the deck, and then,
begging them to excuse him, he dived into a cabin.  In a minute or two
he returned, having divested himself of his ’flying dress,’ and
appearing now in a rich costume similar to that usually worn by the king
and his courtiers.

He gave the signal, ropes were cast off, unseen engines began to work
with a quiet, smooth, scarcely perceptible vibration, setting in motion
several curious spiral contrivances which revolved round three masts.

The ’yacht’ rose quietly through the air, and when she was clear of the
_Ivenia_, wings spread out on each side.  Then she sailed swiftly away
in a direction a little to the right of the city they had seen.

’What a curious arrangement!’ exclaimed Jack, as he watched the
revolving spirals.

’They take the place of fans,’ Monck explained. ’They are far more handy
and more powerful.’

’And far prettier too!’ cried Gerald.  ’What lovely coloured devices
they make as they twirl round!  They are like kaleidoscopes; and the
wings, too, seem to be spangled with gold.’

’She is a beautifully designed structure in every way,’ observed Monck.
’One of the latest and best, and also one of the fastest of our pleasure
yachts.’

Meanwhile, a little apart, Tom Clinch and Bob Reid sat together, staring
about, noticing everything, and making their comments in low, awe-struck
tones.

’Well, well! that ever I should live t’ see the likes o’ this!’ said
Clinch.  ’What d’ye think of it all, Bob?’

’I ’m thinkin’ what ’d happen if she was t’ shift ’er ballast, Tom.  I
do ’ope it be well stowed.’

’Ay, ay, Bob.  Theer be a lot in the way a ship be ballasted.  But ’ow
do she manage t’ keep up?  That ’s what beats me!  Them wings scarcely
moves at all.’

’Tom,’ said Reid, leaning over to speak almost in a whisper, ’don’t ye
notice what queer sort o’ air this be ’ere?  ’Tain’t a bit like ourn at
’ome.’

’No, it ain’t.  I notices that.  What about it?’

’It must be some o’ the liquid air I’ve read of, as scientific chaps
thinks a lot of in our world. Depend on it, this is where it comes
from!’

Tom slapped his thigh.

’Right ye are, mate!  That explanations it. That ’s ’ow ’tis she floats
like this ’ere.  They be all a-livin’ ’ere in liquid air!  An’ them
wings bain’t wings at all!  They be fins!’

Just then Monck drew Armeath’s attention to a comparatively large,
heavy-looking airship which was just rising into the air from near where
the _Ivenia_ lay.

’That,’ said he, ’is one of King Agrando’s war-vessels; or rather she
was formerly a war-craft, but now she serves the purpose of a private
yacht. She is just starting off to carry him and his people back to
their own country.’

’Is that far away, Mr Monck?’ Gerald asked.

’Yes.  A pretty good distance as distances are reckoned on this globe.’

’The farther away the better, I should say,’ muttered Jack.  ’Good
riddance go with him!’

A little while afterwards they neared a grand-looking mass of rock which
rose abruptly from the plains below.  It was a precipitous mountain, and
upon its lofty summit, literally amongst the clouds, rose the noble
towers and domes of the most stately building the strangers had ever
seen.

They realised at once that none of our earthly buildings could compare
with this magnificent pile. As the yacht rose in the air, and they
obtained a better view, their amazement increased, every moment
exhibiting more clearly its vast proportions and revealing some fresh
surprise.  What it might be built of was a puzzle; for it shone through
the rosy haze with a golden lustre, and looked a veritable fairy palace
of the upper air.

’Wh-what is that wonderful sight?  Is it another town—a real town—or an
effect of sunlight among the clouds?’ gasped Gerald.

’That is King Ivanta’s palace,’ said Monck quietly.  ’It is Alondra’s
home—the place we are going to stay at.’

’But how do you get to it?’

’The way we are getting to it now; there is no other way.  No person
could climb up that mountain.  There is no road, no path to it.  It can
only be approached by airship.’

Just then a hoarse shout was heard, and there came a loud clanging of
bells and gongs.

Amidst it all, Tom Clinch’s voice was clearly heard.  ’Avast theer, ye
galoots!’ he cried.  ’Port yer helm, ye blunderin’ lubbers!  Can’t ye
see yer runnin’ inter us?’

So absorbed had the strangers been in gazing at the palace on the
mountain-top that they had not noticed a flying-craft which had been
travelling behind them, and had almost overtaken them. Alondra and his
attendants, seeing the effect produced upon his guests by the scene
before them, had reduced the speed, and allowed the yacht to float
upwards in leisurely fashion, omitting to look out for what might be
behind them.

There was now a sudden bustle on board as the navigators rushed to the
various levers, and a moment later the yacht dropped suddenly with a
downward swoop, allowing the strange craft to pass harmlessly overhead.

’Jupiter!’ cried Gerald, ’that was a near squeak!  What careless people
they must be!  Is that sort of thing common here?’

Monck scowled and shook his head.  ’No,’ he said curtly.  ’And there
will be trouble about it to-morrow.  Some one will be called to account
for it, you may be sure!’

Alondra made no remark, but coolly resumed the journey as though nothing
out of the way had happened.

Gradually they drew nearer to the mountain-top, and all the while fresh
beauties burst upon their view.  Down the rocky sides tumbled mighty
waterfalls, which gleamed like masses of molten gold till they were lost
in clouds of golden spray below.  Around the wondrous edifice itself
were now seen groves and terraces upon a tableland broken by hills and
dales extending far into the clouds beyond.

The travellers from the distant Earth, reassured by Alondra’s coolness,
gazed upon the scene of grandeur and sublimity in wondering silence, and
seemed for a while scarcely to breathe.  So entranced were they that
they scarcely noticed when their yacht ’grounded’ upon the summit of the
mountain, at a short distance from an imposing gateway which formed the
main entrance to the palace.

A minute or two later they passed down a gangway, and then followed
their young host towards the gateway, which seemed to loom up larger and
higher as they approached it.

Suddenly the massive gates were thrown open, and a stream of attendants
sallied forth and ranged themselves in two rows, between which the
guests were ushered into the building.  Through wide galleries, open
courtyards, where fountains played among strange plants and flowers, and
up spacious staircases, they passed onwards to a central hall, where
they found another assembly of nobles and officials, evidently waiting
to receive them.

At one end, upon a dais, was a throne of ivory and gold, and on each
side of it a number of richly upholstered seats.

Alondra signed to his chief guests to seat themselves upon the latter,
while he himself occupied the throne.

’Good friends,’ said he, addressing the assembly, ’I bring you glorious
news—the news of the safe return of the king, my father!  You have
doubtless already seen that his "chariot of the skies" has arrived?  To
that I am rejoiced to be able to add the welcome tidings that my royal
father, and all who accompanied him, have come back safely and in good
health.’

At this there was much shouting and clapping of hands upon the part of
the hitherto silent crowd.  Evidently they had been awaiting news in
some suspense, anxious as to whether, though they knew the _Ivenia_ had
returned, some untoward accident might have happened to any of those on
board.

’I am also the bearer, good friends, of commands to you from the king,’
continued Alondra, when the shouting had died down.  ’By his wish I take
my seat here in his absence, to welcome in his name to his royal home
some strangers he has brought with him from a far-distant planet. Good
friends, that is all I need say to you!  These strangers are the king’s
friends and guests, and as such he bids you receive and treat them until
he comes himself to attend to their pleasure and comfort.’

Then such a clamour was heard as fairly took the visitors by surprise.
It seemed even to surpass that which had greeted the announcement of the
kind’s safe return.  Hands, handkerchiefs, banners, were waved, trumpets
blared, cymbals sounded.  Finally, at a sign from the prince, there was
a general rush towards the dais, the friendly crowd almost tumbling over
one another, as each seemed determined to be the first to shake hands
with these strangers from a distant world.



                             *CHAPTER XIV.*

                       *TOM CLINCH’S STATEMENT.*


When the plaudits which greeted the strangers had subsided, and the
strenuous handshaking had come to an end, Monck, at a signal from
Alondra, conducted them from the great hall to a private suite of
apartments.

’These are assigned to you for your own use during your stay here,’ he
explained.  ’I may tell you, in confidence, that they have never been
occupied by any save guests of consequence.  Therefore, the fact that
they have been allotted to you is one more proof that my royal master
desires to pay you special honour in the eyes of his people.’

’It is very kind of him,’ murmured Armeath, ’but a little embarrassing.
It is likely to cause misapprehension.  We are no royal visitors, you
know.’

’My master knows it also,’ Monck reminded him.  ’But he is not like
other monarchs.  You know by this time, for instance, that he never
allows any one to address him as "your Majesty."  He looks upon it as
unnecessary, and resents it as he does any kind of adulation or
flattery.  He expects that we shall treat him with due respect as the
head of the State.  If you go beyond that, so far from pleasing him, you
only offend him.’

’And if you do less,’ observed Gerald, ’why then’——

’I cannot tell you what would happen,’ returned Monck drily.  ’So far as
my experience extends, I have never seen it attempted.’

’Truly, these are sumptuous quarters,’ said Armeath, gazing round at the
richly furnished rooms.

’You will find your sleeping apartments equally comfortable, with marble
baths attached, where you can have a swim before breakfast if it so
please you.  Also, you will see there is an ample wardrobe from which to
select your Court dress’——

’Eh, what’s that?  Are we to put on Court dress, sir?’ Jack stared, and
looked first at the engineer and then at his guardian in serio-comic
distress.  ’Must we do that?  We’ve never been used to that sort of
thing, you know!’

’What does that matter?’ said Gerald.  ’When one goes to Rome one must
do as Rome does.’

A little while later the two chums were looking over a collection of the
most gorgeous raiment they had ever set eyes upon.  Gerald viewed the
dazzling costumes with enthusiastic admiration; but Jack was inclined to
regard them almost with disfavour.

’Beautiful!  Splendid!’ exclaimed Gerald.  ’Just what I have seen in my
sleep when I was a child, and I used to gaze at the stars and dream that
I went up into the heavens to visit them! In those dreams I went from
one star to another, and saw the most charming countries and places, and
all the good people in them were dressed in clothes something like
these.’

’And how were the bad ones dressed?’ asked Jack quizzically.

’There weren’t any,’ Gerald declared stoutly.

’What!  No ogres, or giants, or bad fairies? However, it’s odd, now, to
think of those old dreams of yours!  I remember how you used to recount
them to us afterwards.  It’s curious to think how, after all, they seem
to be coming true, isn’t it?’

’Yes,’ answered Gerald slowly, as the dreamy, far-away look came again
into his eyes.  ’But this is only the beginning.  If they are all coming
true, we have experiences before us more wonderful even than anything
that has happened yet!  Perhaps it will turn out so.  Who can tell?’

’Well, I’ve got to that state of mind now that I sha’n’t be so very much
surprised if they do; and if they don’t, I ’m quite content with what we
have in hand,’ said practical-minded Jack.

Their two attendants were lodged in adjacent rooms, so that they might
be within call when wanted.  Presently, Gerald looked in upon them to
see how they were getting on, and was much amused to see Reid staring
blankly at a heap of clothes, much as Jack had been doing but a little
while before.  These costumes, it is true, were much plainer and less
pretentious; but they were, nevertheless, far finer clothes than either
of the two worthies had ever yet worn, or ever expected to.

’Why, Bob, what’s the matter?’ Gerald asked. ’You look as dismal as if
you were going to have a tooth out!’

’’E ’s a poor sort o’ creechure sometimes, be Bob Reid,’ said Clinch
sententiously.  Tom was busy picking out the most showy dress he could
find, and attiring himself therein.  ’’E often doan’t seem to know when
’e’s in luck.  What’s these yer fine things sent for if we ain’t t’ wear
’em? Take what Providence sends ye, an’ be thankful! Them’s my
sentiments.’

As he spoke he selected a coloured hat with a very high crown and poised
it on his head, opposite a looking-glass.

’I never ’ad no ’igh ’at to wear afore, an’ I ain’t a-goin’ t’ throw
this chance away,’ said Tom.—’Look at that, Bob Reid,’ he continued, as
he surveyed himself in the glass and strutted to and fro.  ’See ’ow it
sets off yer figger, me lad!’

Gerald smiled, and was turning away, when Tom suddenly threw the hat on
one side, and, looking very serious, said, ’Mr Gerald, I wants a wurd
wi’ ye.  Ye knows as we was nearly run down a while since a-comin’ up
’ere?’

’Yes, Tom.  Well?’

’D’ ye know who was in that blunderin’ pirate as tried t’ send us
rattlin’ down on the rocks below?’

’No, I saw no one.  It was a strange-looking craft, and seemed to have
no one on board; though, I suppose, the people were really boxed up and
out of sight.’

Tom looked cautiously round, as if doubtful whether there were any
hidden listeners.  Then he came close to Gerald, and said in a whisper,
’But I see one on ’em!  ’E were a-peepin’ out o’ a porthole!  Nobody but
me was lookin’, an’ as soon as ’e see me ’e bobbed back.’

’Well, who was it?’ Gerald asked, impressed by Tom’s manner.  ’Any one
we—you or I—know?’

Tom nodded portentously.

’Ay, ay, sir; one who ain’t no frien’ o’ yourn—the one ye call the
Ogre—an’ a jolly good name for ’im too!’

’Are you sure—quite sure, Tom?  This may be a serious matter!  You
should not say such a thing unless you are absolutely certain.’

’As sure as I am that me ’ead be on me shoulders, sir.  The ugly swab!
As if anybody could mistake ’is phizog!’

Gerald reflected a while, then said, ’Say nothing to any one else about
this, Tom.  Keep your own counsel.  There may be nothing in it, and if
you talk it may get you into trouble.’

’Ay, ay, sir!  I shall be dumb about it onless ye tells me t’ speak.’

Presently a loud flourish of trumpets and sounds of shouting and a
general commotion announced that the king himself was approaching.
Monck led the visitors to a post of vantage outside the palace, from
which they could obtain a good view.

The sun was near to setting, and its beams cast a lurid glow over the
scene—redder than any sunset they had ever seen on Earth.

Below them was a vast plain with a few low hills, upon and round which
was the great city of Ivenia, looking vast and glorious, with
magnificent buildings extending in one direction pile upon pile almost
as far as the eye could see.  On the other side lay the sea, glistening
like molten copper.

The king’s air-yacht—larger and more beautiful even than the one they
had come in—was seen rising majestically towards them, surrounded by
hundreds of smaller air-craft, their decorations glittering and
sparkling in the sun’s red beams. There was no booming of cannon, as
would be the case with us, but a loud, musical, humming sound, which was
curiously agreeable to the ear.

When in due course Ivanta landed upon the height, a few of the craft
accompanying him landed also, and from them poured out a stream of
people splendidly arrayed, who trooped after him in procession to attend
the reception in the palace.

This was a repetition upon a larger scale, so to speak, of the function
at which Prince Alondra had presided, Ivanta this time occupying the
throne himself, with the young prince beside him.  As before, places of
honour were given to the strangers, amongst whom the Zuanstrooms were
now included; and the proceedings were even more enthusiastic and of
longer duration, winding up with a grand banquet.  It would take too
long to describe all that followed.  It must suffice to say that the two
chums voted it the most wonderful entertainment that they had ever heard
of or that imagination could picture; and when at last they lay down
together for their night’s rest they were both about tired out.

Now, however, that the dazzling excitement of this wonderful day was
over, and they were once more alone and quiet, the memory of their
narrow escape from death and of what Tom Clinch had said came back to
Gerald’s mind like the proverbial skeleton of the feast.

He had had a talk with Monck about it, and had been rather snubbed for
his pains.  The engineer said he had seen Kazzaro go with his master on
board the large ex-warship which he had pointed out as serving now as
Agrando’s private yacht.  Therefore, the Ogre could not possibly have
been where Clinch said he was.

And Monck had ended the talk by rather curtly advising Gerald not to
hunt for mares’ nests, and warning him to be careful not to mention such
suspicions to any one else.

’We shall make inquiries and find out who the people were who so nearly
ran us down,’ Monck assured him; ’and they will be called to account for
their reckless navigation of the air.  But I do not myself believe that
there was anything more than carelessness, nor that Kazzaro could have
been on board.’

Gerald felt a little sore at the engineer’s blunt refusal to believe
honest Tom Clinch; and Jack sympathised with him, and tried to comfort
him by declaring that he agreed with his view.

’Depend upon it, Tom would not be likely to make a mistake in such a
matter,’ Jack agreed. ’He is an old sailor, and is as sharp as a needle
in a case of emergency like that.  My own opinion—strictly, of course,
between ourselves—is that that imp of evil we call the Ogre was there,
and that he deliberately tried to run us down and to kill us all,
including the king’s son.  You will remember my saying I believed that
some understanding existed between the Ogre and Zuanstroom. I am still
positive that I was right, and that there is some sinister mischief
brewing.  Mr Monck may disbelieve it and laugh at the idea if he chooses
to, but don’t you feel sore, old chap.  I am afraid he will wish
by-and-by that he had treated our hints more seriously.’

Gerald shivered.  ’I would rather it should turn out that it is Monck
who is right and we who are wrong,’ he returned.  ’It’s horrible to
think that we have come all this way, and incurred so many risks, only
to meet with plots and murderous attempts.  It used not to be so in my
dreams,’ he added moodily.  ’I wonder why it should be so now?  Mr Monck
gave us to understand that we were coming to a place where there were no
more wars, where King Ivanta reigned in peace and security, beloved by
all his subjects.  Why does it not seem to be as he led us to believe?
Are we the cause?  Is it due simply to the fact that the Zuanstrooms
don’t like us—that they are angry because we came, or jealous because
the king shows more favour to you than he does to Silas?’

’No; I don’t think it is our fault,’ said Jack, with decision.
’Zuanstroom has brought with him the biggest cargo of diamonds ever
seen; and, as Mr Armeath said, trouble was sure to follow. Now, dismiss
it from your thoughts, old chap, and go to sleep.’

’I will; and perhaps some of the old dreams about the stars will come
back to me,’ Gerald finished, with a sigh.  ’I hope, if they do, there
will be no diamonds there!’



                             *CHAPTER XV.*

                    *HUNTING THE GREAT MARS EAGLE.*


The time that followed upon their arrival on Mars was a period of great
enjoyment for the two chums.  The gloomy feeling which had been caused
by their narrow escape upon that first day quickly passed away and was
now almost forgotten.

Agrando and the Ogre stayed at home in their own country, and the chums
saw and heard nothing of them.  Zuanstroom and his son went their own
way, for the most part making friends with the nobles and the chief
citizens, and seemingly bent only upon the acquisition of useful
knowledge concerning the country they were in and its inhabitants.

Gerald and Jack, on the other hand, became the daily companions of the
young prince; and the three grew more friendly and intimate as the weeks
passed by.

Alondra showed himself a charming host in his behaviour towards his
young guests, and did all he could to make their stay pleasant.  He took
them about, showing and explaining such things as were new to them and
likely to excite their interest, and in particular initiating them into
the mysteries of the Martian sports and pastimes.  In some of these, as
has been related, the two lads had already made themselves proficient
during the voyage; but those had necessarily been only of such a kind as
were possible in a comparatively confined space.

To attempt to tell of the many strange things the visitors met with, the
novel and surprising sights they saw, and all their curious experiences,
would, however, extend this narrative to too great a length.  It is only
possible to relate some of the more noteworthy.

The one great marvel of the place—naturally, the one which had first
attracted their attention, and which was always in evidence—was the fact
that everybody went about in the air.  No one ever thought of travelling
far in any other manner; no other kind of mechanical locomotion was to
be seen, except as regards the transport of heavy goods.  These were
still carried to and fro on railways of various kinds, or on other motor
vehicles—’slow, old-fashioned affairs,’ as Alondra called them—or still
slower ’electric ships.’  None of these, Monck explained, could travel
at a faster rate than a hundred miles or so an hour—reckoning miles as
we do on Earth, and that was far too slow to suit the Martians of
to-day.

’Fancy any one travelling at such an absurdly slow speed!’ observed
Alondra, laughing at the idea.  ’Yet, ages ago, in what some here call
the good, old-fashioned days, people, even upon the longest journeys,
had to be content with crawling about our world no faster than that!  We
can travel far more quickly now, in our racing air-yachts, and I suppose
that on your planet, which we know is bigger than ours, you travel more
swiftly still?’

Gerald thought of some of our old-fashioned, slow-going railways, and
blushed.  ’I am sorry to have to confess that we do not,’ he returned, a
little shamefacedly.  He did not like having to admit at every turn how
far his native Earth was ’behind the age,’ as things were understood in
Mars.  But it was constantly the case, nevertheless.

They sailed about almost daily in the young prince’s yacht—the one which
had carried them up to the king’s palace the first day—and they were
astounded at the speed she attained in the air.  No doubt, as Jack
remarked, the marvellous _Ivenia_ must have travelled immeasurably
faster, or they would have been years upon their journey instead of
months.  But they had scarcely been aware of her real speed, because
they had passed no object near enough to give any idea of the actual
rate at which they were being whirled through space.

It happened that the prince’s air-yacht had been named after our Earth.
She was called _Lokris_, which, as has been already made known, was the
name by which the Martians knew our planet.

’She was built shortly after my father’s return from his first visit to
your world,’ Alondra explained; ’and I felt so interested in all he had
to tell me about it that I called her by that name.’

At times there were ’air-regattas,’ at which races were arranged for
various classes of airships and flying-machines.  The prizes at these
were valuable and were eagerly competed for, and the _Lokris_ was
frequently one of the competitors.  In these contests the young prince
showed himself a skilful and daring navigator of the air; and sometimes,
when the two chums accompanied him, they had some exciting experiences,
as the competing yachts whirled along, often neck and neck, at almost
incredible speed.  At such times it was often the most
venturesome—almost, one might say, the most reckless—who came in
winners.

Alondra was delighted to discover that in his two visitors he had gained
sailing companions after his own heart.  He took special pains to teach
them to assist him in the handling of the yacht, and they soon grew
expert.  Then the two sailors were instructed, and took the place of the
former crew; and the five became celebrated for their skilful and
fearless manoeuvring and for the number of races they won.

Tom Clinch and Bob Reid entered into the spirit of the thing with great
gusto, and soon proved themselves as clever in the air as ever they had
been in the handling of sailing-boats on the water at home.  And when
the prizes began to come in—half of which Alondra allotted to them, the
other half being distributed in charity—their satisfaction and delight
may well be imagined.

It should be explained that these Earth-born assistants gained a
considerable advantage from the fact, which has already been noted, that
their muscles were stronger comparatively than those of the natives.
Thus the four on board the _Lokris_ could do the work of nearly double
the number of Martians—and as in this kind of racing the work was often
heavy, and required considerable physical exertion, the saving in weight
effected by carrying a smaller crew made an important difference.

But the great sport of the Martians, it presently appeared, was
eagle-hunting.  A species of eagle, very much larger than any on Earth,
had their eyries amongst some mountain peaks in a wild district some
distance away.  In regard to size, the visitors found that birds were
larger on the average, while some animals were often smaller, than those
species on our earth which correspond to them.  Certainly these
eagles—known by the name of krondos—were gigantic birds, swift and very
high flyers, and terribly savage, powerful creatures when attacked.

Doubtless they would have been exterminated long ago but for the fact
that they had been expressly preserved for the purposes of sport, just
as foxes are in England.

Packs of smaller tame eagles, of a different breed, were trained to hunt
them.  Assisted by these, a party of Martian nobles would sally forth in
their air-yachts and chase the formidable giant eagles from peak to
peak, following them in their circling flights into the upper air or
their dizzy downward swoops, until some expert hunter-aeronaut contrived
to throw a net over the quarry and capture it alive.

That was, briefly, the general procedure, Monck explained; but, as he
further remarked, it did not always come off as per programme.
Sometimes the krondos assumed the offensive against the hunters; and
cases had been even known of their dragging men out of the airships and
carrying them off, or dashing them down upon the rocks below.

’The king has arranged for a grand krondo-hunt to-morrow, in your
honour!’ Alondra one day informed the chums.  ’We must be astir early in
the morning.  You are to come with me in my yacht.  Now you will see
some truly royal sport. Our air-yacht races are but as a children’s game
compared with this!’

It came to pass, accordingly, that at dawn a great procession of
air-craft, headed by the king in his own yacht—known as the
_Nelda_—started off in the beams of the rising sun for the district
which was the haunt of the great birds.

An hour’s run brought them to the hunting-ground, and the chums thought
they had never seen a more desolate tract.  Great, rocky cliffs and
heights, and soaring mountain-peaks above, with dark, gloomy ravines and
valleys below, were its chief features—truly a suitable region for the
ferocious winged monsters they were in search of.

Alondra was the first to sight one of the creatures; and, following the
rules of the hunt, turned his yacht quickly and dashed away in pursuit.
He was wearing, as it happened, through a fancy of his own, his new
flying-dress.  Why, exactly, the chums who were with him did not know;
though he had hinted mysteriously at some new experiment he was desirous
of trying.

As the _Lokris_ shot upwards, and then swerved to round a towering peak,
something went wrong with one of the revolving spirals; and Gerald, as
he had done before in a similar case, climbed up the mast to try to
right it.

In the meantime, the speed was checked, and the craft passed closer to
the rock than had been intended.

Other yachts, which had turned aside to follow, were catching them up;
and Alondra, who did not like this, was shouting excited instructions to
Gerald, when there came a loud rushing of wings as two immense dark
forms rose unexpectedly from off the rock and sailed upwards within a
few yards of him.  One of the giant birds swung round in a narrow
circle, poised, and then swooped down upon the busy worker on the top of
the mast.

So sudden and unlocked for was the rush, so powerful the clutch which
gripped him, that Gerald was forced from his hold; and a moment later
the bird, with its prey, was seen either flying or falling headlong down
towards the valley, thousands of feet below.

A great shout of horror and dismay went up from the spectators; but,
even as the cries were heard, a glistening, shining figure flashed from
the side of the yacht.

Alondra had dived through the air after his friend!



                             *CHAPTER XVI.*

                            *IN DIRE PERIL.*


As Alondra disappeared over the side of the _Lokris_, Jack made a dart
at the controlling-gear and began handling the levers.  They were placed
on a raised platform or bridge situated in the bow, in such a position
as to give the best all-round view for directing and managing the craft.
He had seen that Gerald had cleared the spiral just before he had been
attacked by the giant eagle, and that everything, therefore, was now
again in working order.  Just before leaping off, Alondra had paused a
second to give him a look which said as plainly as words could have
done, ’I leave you in charge;’ and Jack acted promptly upon the unspoken
wish.

’Hold tight, everybody!’ he shouted, and a moment later the airship
plunged downward.

The _Nelda_, carrying King Ivanta and his party, had turned and dived
too; and the two airships came close together, and raced for a while
side by side in their swift descent.

King Ivanta was directing his own craft, and he made signs to Jack,
indicating in dumb show his line of action.

Below them, and, as yet, far ahead, could be seen the feathered monster
bearing off his prey, in what was now a more gradual downward sweep.
Alondra could be seen, too, in close pursuit behind.

Jack understood Ivanta’s meaning, and the two airships parted
company—one going off to the right and the other to the left.

Then followed a most strange and terribly exciting chase.

The desolate valley at its farther end opened out, and there, away in
the distance, could be seen a sheet of water forming an extensive lake.
It was the object of the pursuers to drive the krondo in that direction.

This required very delicate and careful manoeuvring. If, on the one
hand, the bird were pressed too closely, it might drop its prey upon the
rocks beneath, which would mean for Gerald certain death. On the other
hand, it was advisable to force it to fly its hardest, so that it would
have no leisure to peck at its victim _en route_.  Once it was over the
water, Alondra, who had armed himself with his trident, would probably
be able to deal with it.

All this King Ivanta had conveyed to Jack in pantomime, for no words
could be heard amidst the rush through the air as the airships plunged
madly downwards.  Jack had been quick to divine what was intended, and
now took his share in the hunt accordingly.

The krondo, however, also seemed to guess what its pursuers were trying
to do, and it exhibited a desire to balk them by making for one or other
of the rocky precipices which rose like colossal walls on either side of
the valley.  Every time it tried to do this, the king on the one side,
or Jack on the other, immediately swept round to head it off.

Behind them came a number of other airships, which had formed now into
more or less orderly ranks, some above and some below.  Their occupants
were watching all that took place with breathless interest, and held
themselves ready to close up if the bird should elude the leading
pursuers and break back.

The position was rendered yet more difficult by the appearance of four
other krondos, which swooped down with blood-curdling screams, and
followed the first one, quite ready and willing to fight it on their own
account for the possession of its prize.

In one respect this, perhaps, was an advantage, as it had the effect of
causing the robber to hold on to its prey more obstinately, and rendered
it less likely to drop it.  But there was also the danger of the other
krondos closing round and pecking Gerald to death amongst them.

Suddenly a new factor was added.  From the king’s yacht quite a flock of
birds emerged and began flying about with shrill cries and hoarse calls.
These were Ivanta’s tame eagles—small birds, comparatively speaking, but
still, in actual fact, strong creatures, which had been trained to hunt
their giant cousins.

At first they circled round and darted this way and that in seeming
confusion, no doubt dazzled by the light, for they had thus far been
kept hooded.  But they quickly became accustomed to their surroundings,
and then a close observer might have seen that they were all watching
their master the king, as he stood plainly in view upon the prow of his
craft.

He waved his hands, and away they flew in a compact cloud, heading
straight for the four krondos, just as they were beginning to ’mob’ the
one which was carrying Gerald.

Then ensued a battle-royal in mid-air, the sagacious, trained birds
dashing at the bigger ones and darting away again, harrying and worrying
them, as clever hounds will rush in at a wild boar, snap at it, and dart
away before the bigger beast has time to turn and rend them.

This attack of the trained birds had the effect of turning the pursuing
krondos from their intended purpose.  They had now enough to do to
defend themselves; and clouds of feathers could be seen falling through
the air, testifying to the severity of the combat.

During the melee the first robber, glad of the opportunity of making its
escape with its prize, winged its way steadily onwards until at last it
was over the waters of the lake.

Here its speed grew perceptibly less, and it began to dip in its
flight—unmistakable signs that it was tiring.  For, large and powerful
as the creature was, the weight it was carrying was bound to tell upon
it sooner or later.

The pursuing airships now came up, and while some forged on ahead, the
others closed round in such a manner as to hem the robber in.

Alondra, who had been following the heavily burdened thief without any
great effort, made a sudden spurt, and, sweeping round, passed close to
it.  There was a flash of light, and a sharp, crackling sound.

[Illustration: There was a flash of light, and a sharp, crackling
sound.]

Then the spreading wings drooped, the gigantic bird seemed to stagger
and shrink, and finally it collapsed.  Robber and prey fell together
into the lake, and the waters closed over them.

There were a few moments of anxious suspense. Was Gerald injured?  Would
he be able to swim? These and similar questions were in the minds of the
spectators as they scanned the surface of the lake.

Jack had turned his airship downwards as he saw Alondra make his rush,
and a moment or two after the bird’s fall the craft alighted on the
water and lay gently rocking within a few yards of the spot.

Jack and Clinch both sprang to the side, and there were two splashes as
they dived almost simultaneously.

Just, however, as they disappeared from sight beneath the water, two
other forms emerged.  One was the krondo, which floated motionless; the
other was Gerald, who was swimming vigorously, seemingly none the worse
for what he had undergone.

A great cheer went up from the assembled crowd, which was renewed again
and again as first Jack and then Clinch reappeared, and, catching sight
of their friend, hastened towards him to offer their help.

Just then the king’s yacht descended close to the swimmers; a ladder was
thrown from her side, and Ivanta himself stepped down and assisted them
to climb on hoard.

He soon satisfied himself by actual examination that no great harm had
been done.  Gerald had some nasty scratches, and the muscles were
bruised in places; but otherwise he was unhurt, and was inclined to make
light of his adventure.

’It’s an experience that no one on our own planet can boast of,’ he
observed with a smile. ’No one since the days of Sindbad the Sailor has
ever been carried off by a bird.’

’I am thankful that it has been no worse, my lad,’ said Ivanta, and in
his tone there was a note of deep and kindly feeling.  ’It is an
unpleasant variation of our usual sport.’

’I confess I was on tenterhooks the whole time,’ said Armeath, who was
one of the king’s party, ’and I am more relieved than I can tell you.’

’Oh, it’s all right, sir!’ answered Gerald cheerfully.  ’I am none the
worse, and I am quite ready to go on with the hunt.  Don’t let me spoil
your day’s sport.  Besides, I want to get a bit of my own back.  Those
feathered brutes have hunted me; I want to hunt them before I ’ve done
with them!’

’So you shall!’ returned the king.  ’But you must first put on some dry
clothes.  Go down to my cabin, and Alondra will find you a change.’

’I haven’t thanked him yet for following up the beast so promptly,’
cried Gerald, turning to Alondra, who had just alighted on the deck and
grasped his hand.  ’I saw all that went on!  I saw you, Alondra, leap
down after me; and it was that really which turned the bird in the right
direction, for he was heading the other way!’

’I noticed that,’ said Alondra modestly.  ’I remembered that there was
this lake ahead of us, and it struck me in a flash that the best—almost
the only—chance of saving you was to drive the krondo towards it.  Of
course, I could have overtaken him and mastered him; but I could not
have supported you and battled with him too—to say nothing of the others
which would have been after us.’

’’Twas wisely thought out, my son,’ Ivanta declared.  ’I caught your
idea directly I noted that you had purposely turned the bird from the
line it had first taken.  Our young friend here was prompt, too, in
following it up and aiding me to prevent it from breaking back,’ he
added, indicating Jack.  ’Now, go and change your clothes; and we will
give you your revenge upon the krondos.’

Half an hour later they were back again in the valley which had been the
scene of Gerald’s startling adventure.  A desultory fight was still
going on between Ivanta’s trained eagles and a pair of their foes.  Upon
the rocky ground below lay one dead krondo and several of the smaller
birds.  Of the fourth krondo nothing was to be seen; it had probably
taken refuge in flight.

Ivanta looked at his dead birds with grave concern and regret.

’This is my fault!  I forgot to call them off!’ said he.  ’I do not like
to have my faithful feathered friends treated like this.’

He put a whistle to his lips, and at the sound of it his eagles
obediently left the krondos they were ’mobbing;’ and the latter at once
flew off. Evidently they had had quite enough of the fray, and were glad
of the chance of making good their retreat without further trouble.

’We will find some more to chase presently,’ observed Ivanta.  ’First,
let us see what can be done for those of my eagles which are hurt but
not killed.’

Armeath and his wards looked on with wondering approval as they saw the
attention Ivanta proceeded to bestow upon his wounded birds.  It was
curiously characteristic of the man to delay the proceedings and keep
all his friends waiting for such a cause.

Later on, the hunt was resumed, and the visitors had some lively
experiences among the mountain-peaks, though none quite so startling as
the first one.

They found it, as Alondra had said they would, splendid sport.  The
krondos were hunted out and pursued by the small eagles in all their
turns, and these were followed by the airships, just as the huntsmen
follow the hounds.  There was the same rivalry, too, amongst the latter
to be ’in at the death.’

Naturally, this necessitated some bold manoeuvring on the part of the
airships.  At one time they would be circling through the upper air to
dizzy heights far above the highest mountains; then suddenly there would
be a turn and a mad plunge downwards for thousands of feet, as their
quarry swooped down almost to the level of the ground below.  There were
many hairbreadth escapes from collisions; and altogether the sport was
about as exciting as the most daring or the most reckless could desire.

’It beats the switchback railway business and all that sort of thing
hollow!’ exclaimed Gerald that evening, when relating their experiences
to Freddy; for the Zuanstrooms had not joined the hunting-party.

’Looping the loop’s nothing to it!’ Jack declared.

Freddy looked wistful.  ’How I wished I was with you!’ he sighed.

’H’m!  I ’m afraid you are not old enough yet for that sort of thing,
youngster,’ remarked Jack loftily.  ’What has Silas been doing to amuse
you to-day?’

’He hasn’t been amusing me at all,’ was the answer.  ’It’s been one of
my "bad days" again. The nasty, ugly old man has come back, and has been
with uncle and Silas all day; and whenever he comes I am always sent off
and left to amuse myself as best I can!’

Gerald and Jack looked at each other.  Jack gave a long, low whistle;
Gerald exclaimed under his breath, ’The Ogre again!’



                            *CHAPTER XVII.*

                          *LESSONS IN FLYING.*


’It bain’t no sort o’ use; I shall never l’arn t’ fly!’ grumbled Bob
Reid, as he stood rubbing his bruises.  He had just come ’a nasty
cropper,’ and seemed, as he expressed it, to have ’hurt meself all over
at wanst.’  One hand was rubbing a leg, while the other was busy with a
shoulder.  ’If I ’ad ’alf a dozen more ’ands I could find plenty for ’em
t’ do!’ he continued ruefully.  ’I seem t’ be bruised everywhere.  Let’s
give it up, Tom, afore we suicides ourselves unintentional.’

’Not I!’ cried Tom Clinch, who was balancing himself on a ladder.  He
flung his arms—to which two great wings were attached—about wildly, and
leaped into the air, gasping as he came floundering down.  ’You see,
Bob, I ’ll master it yet!’

The two sailors had had some ’flying-dresses’ lent them, and had been
practising and striving for all they were worth to learn the mystic art;
but somehow they could not, as Tom put it, ’fall into the knack.’

’It be like swimmin’,’ Tom went on, between leaps and jumps which would
have done credit to a Spring-heeled Jack.  ’It takes a long time t’ fall
inter the knack’——

’Ye’ll fall inter the ditch d’reckly,’ Bob tittered, as Tom rolled over
on the ground.  ’It’s no use, Tom!  Let’s be sensible, an’ give it up.
It ain’t dignerfied like fur us two chaps at our time o’ life!’

’I be goin’ t’ try another jump from that there ladder,’ returned Tom
obstinately.  ’You needn’t try no more if ye funks it!  But when I
starts out to do a thing I don’t like t’ be beat!  Other people ’ere
does it, so why shouldn’t we?’

’Ay, but they l’arns it in their young days,’ said Bob.

’Theer ’s Mr Gerald—he’s gettin’ on fine!  An’ Mr Jack, too, ain’t doin’
bad at it!  He be a-practisin’ now just out yonder—t’other side that
fence!  There he goes now—a-soarin’ up in grand style!  I ’d give ’alf
me month’s wages t’ be able t’ go like that!’

’It’s that puff o’ wind’s took ’old o’ ’im,’ Bob declared, as he watched
Jack perform some rather curious aerial evolutions.  ’Strikes me the
wind’s got ’old of ’im, an ’e can’t ’elp ’isself!  Yes! Look out fur ’im
t’ stop ’im, Tom!’

Tom had just succeeded, at the moment this urgent warning was uttered,
in again climbing laboriously up the ladder on to a narrow platform
which had been erected as a ’jumping-off place’ for fliers.

There were several of these platforms, of various heights, placed at
intervals in some spacious fields laid out specially near the city of
Ivenia, for the use of those who were learning to fly, or experimenting
with small flying-machines.  They might be likened to the
diving-platforms, with ladders leading up to them, which are to be seen
at some bathing-places.  They were open to all, and were freely used by
old and young—especially the latter. It was no uncommon sight to see
numbers of boys and girls—some almost babies—fluttering about like so
many large butterflies.

This particular morning the two sailors were practising on their own
account in one part, while Gerald and Jack were similarly engaged, not
far away, under Alondra’s tuition.

It was a windy day, with violent squalls at intervals, and lulls
between.  Just at the time Tom climbed to the platform there had arisen
a very violent gust, which came sweeping across, bearing with it the
figure of Jack, with large wings whirling about like the sails of a
windmill. Whether he was purposely heading for the platform as a refuge
to which he could cling, or whether the unexpected violence of the wind
carried him there, it would be difficult to say. All that is certain
about it is that he cannoned against Tom Clinch, and a moment later the
two were gyrating and spinning in the air like a couple of gigantic
bluebottles.  Then, as though poor Bob Reid had not already enough
bruises to attend to, the two descended like an avalanche plump on top
of him.  Finally, Gerald, who had followed Jack in his involuntary
flight, sailed straight into the struggling group.  Fortunately, at this
point Alondra arrived.  He had come after the two chums to render them
his assistance, and was now able to help to disentangle them.

’One o’ my wings is broke!’ cried Tom, as he sat up and surveyed the
wreck.

’I’m afraid both mine are,’ said Jack.

’You ’ve broke my back atween ye!’ Bob spluttered, as he rolled over.
’This settles it! No more flyin’ fur me!’

’I’ve had enough for to-day too!’ Jack laughingly owned, as he proceeded
to divest himself of his flying outfit.  ’It’s a mistake for beginners
to practise on a windy day.’

’I doan’t practise no more—wind or no wind,’ Bob declared in a tone of
conviction.  ’All I wants now be some limbrokation—an’ plenty on it!’

’I think you only require a little more practice,’ Alondra afterwards
assured the two chums, as they were walking home towards his yacht,
leaving their outfits to be brought after them by the two sailors.

’I don’t know,’ said Jack doubtfully.  ’We’ve been trying it for a good
while now, and we don’t seem to make much progress.  I begin to doubt if
we ever shall.  It’s different with you, you see.  Your people have
learnt it more or less for generations, and it’s in the blood, I fancy.
I think we shall have to be content with motor-wings.’

Jack referred to the smallest form of flying-machine in use.  It
consisted merely of a pair of wings worked by a small motor, a balancing
tail, and a saddle-seat on which the aeronaut perched himself.  In many
respects it might be described as the aerial counterpart of our
motor-bicycle.

From the incidents just related it will be gathered that the visitors
had not made much progress in learning the use of artificial wings.
Whether there was something different in their physical constitution, or
whether it was, as Jack was inclined to think, that the knack of flying
was becoming hereditary amongst the Martians, it is certain that neither
the youthful aspirants nor the two elderly sailors had so far been able
to master the tantalising secret of soaring into the air at will with
artificial wings alone.  They could come down—from a height; but then,
as Tom Clinch remarked, ’Most people can do that wi’out any l’arnin’.’

When, an hour or two later, Alondra’s yacht landed them again at
Karendia, as the king’s palace was called (the name meant literally ’the
palace in the clouds’), they found Monck awaiting them.

’I have some news for you young people,’ said he.  ’Our royal master has
honoured me by entrusting me with a special mission to Sedenia (King
Agrando’s country); and he will let you accompany me, so that you may
see something of another part of our world.’

’I ’m willing, if you others are going, of course,’ Gerald answered
readily, but without enthusiasm. He glanced at Alondra as he spoke.

’I shall like very much to go with you,’ said Alondra.  ’It is a country
well worth visiting. There are many curious natural wonders to be seen
there.  Moreover, we shall be able to visit other countries on our way.’

That night, as the two chums were retiring to rest, Gerald said, with a
shiver, ’Do you know, Jack, I would give a good deal if we could get out
of this trip.  I’ve got a feeling—a sort of presentiment’——

’Nerves again!’ murmured Jack sleepily.  ’We shall be all right!  We go
as the king’s guests or ambassadors, or whatever it is; and not even the
Ogre will dare to harm us.  Ivanta has a long arm, it strikes me.’

’Maybe he has, and maybe it will, as you say, be all right,’ was
Gerald’s reply.  ’All the same, something tells me we’re in for trouble
in some way or another.’



                            *CHAPTER XVIII.*

                          *A ROYAL PROGRESS.*


’There are the famous canals—the great waterways which the astronomers
of the Earth have seen through their telescopes and puzzled over for so
many years.  The curious thing is that the scientists of Mars have
puzzled over them almost as much, and can tell you practically just as
little about them.’

Thus spoke Monck, as the _Lokris_ sailed through the upper air on her
way to the country of King Agrando.

Below them the voyagers saw seas and continents spread out as upon an
enormous map. And there, quite plain to the eye, were the strange
channels Monck had referred to.  They looked like great arms of the sea;
but there was that in their regular shape which proclaimed, even to the
unscientific eye, that they must have been constructed artificially.

’Their origin is lost in the mists of past ages,’ Monck explained.
’Some mighty race in the past must have made them at a time when to be
able to travel by water was all-important.’

Jack, who was looking through a powerful telescope, exclaimed in
surprise, ’I can see vessels going about on them!  The curious thing is
that in one channel they are all going one way, and in the other channel
they are all moving along in the opposite direction.’

’Exactly!’ Monck replied.  ’And that, you perceive, seems to suggest a
reason for their construction.  There are strong currents running
through them just as you see the vessels going—that is to say, in
opposite directions.  It is supposed that the ancients, in the days
before mechanical propulsion was invented, saw in that fact an easy way
of getting about.  At any rate, that is the general supposition
nowadays.  Of course, it is only a guess.’

The _Lokris_ had been at this time two days and nights on her journey.
She was accompanied by several airships, forming, in effect, a small
squadron. ’Escorted’ would be perhaps a more fitting term, for several
of them were war-vessels, while others again were craft in attendance,
carrying supplies.

The progress of the whole fleet was methodical, and was conducted with a
good deal of ceremony. It was all ordered very much as would be the case
with the fleet of one of the Great Powers on Earth escorting the yacht
carrying the son of a powerful monarch on a visit or tour to a distant
realm.  One of the war-vessels carried the Diamond King and his party;
while Armeath and his wards travelled with Prince Alondra in his yacht.

As they continued their journey they passed over various cities and
countries.  Sometimes strange war-vessels, seeing from a distance that a
small fleet was approaching, came soaring up to inquire who and what
they were.  Continually, all day long, other craft, of every size and
kind, passed them.  Some were great liners, carrying passengers, going
swiftly to and fro like our greyhounds of the Atlantic; some were
private yachts; and others again war-craft, alone, or in twos and
threes.  All, as they went by, ran up signals; and when they learnt from
the answering signals who the illustrious travellers were, saluted in
token of respect.

Their progress was leisurely, and there were many halts.  There were
certain places where their coming was expected, and preparations had
been made to give them a brilliant reception.  Airships, splendidly
decorated, came up to welcome them, and beg them to descend to receive
addresses.

Then it was that the strangers saw how much diversity it was possible to
introduce into the decoration of the various air-craft, and how their
outward appearance could be varied and altered according to the taste
and ingenuity of the owners.  Every kind of bird was imitated upon a
large scale.  There were gigantic swans, eagles, swallows, and other
birds such as are familiar to us upon Earth, and a number of strange
bird-forms which exist only on Mars.  There were grotesque creatures,
too, representations of beasts and fish, and uncanny-looking monsters,
some of the latter resembling what we know as dragons, griffins,
wyverns, and so on.

At night there would be fêtes, when all these creatures were lighted up
in curious and ingenious fashion, revealing to the astonished and
delighted travellers most weird and marvellous effects, as they
performed intricate evolutions and manoeuvres in the air in the dark.
Then there were fireworks such as have probably never been dreamed of by
even our most skilful pyrotechnists. Illuminated airships soared up into
the heavens and formed brilliant constellations of huge coloured stars,
or rained down showers of fire, like colossal, inverted, fiery
fountains.  Chariots of fire sailed to and fro and engaged in races,
contests, or in sham-fights upon a grand scale.  Fiery monsters, which
left long, shining trails of light behind them like the tails of comets,
darted to and fro with a roar which startled those who heard it for the
first time.  Luminous clouds—red, yellow, blue, or green—formed
mysteriously, and aeronauts played hide-and-seek amongst them with their
lighted cars, vanishing suddenly into them and reappearing quite
unexpectedly in a different place.

Such were some—only a few—of the spectacles with which the travellers
from our Earth were entertained by the hospitable inhabitants of the
countries over which they passed in the course of their journey to
Sedenia.  It would require too much space to describe all the marvellous
sights they gazed upon, the novelties they met with, the quaint
costumes, manners, and customs of the various nations they encountered,
or the numerous zoological curiosities which were brought under their
notice.  Weeks were occupied in this manner, and it may safely be said
that each day brought some fresh surprise, something which was new,
unexpected, or curiously interesting to the visitors.

Altogether, the two chums and their guardian had a memorable journey—one
to be remembered with delight and wonder for the rest of their lives,
one which was in every sense a truly royal progress.  Not the least
interesting part of it consisted in the frank curiosity displayed by the
inhabitants in themselves as natives of another world.  Many showed
great surprise at finding that they were just human beings, very much
the same as the Martians were, neither more nor less.

’I suppose,’ remarked Gerald, ’they expected that we should turn out to
be monsters like those which that philosopher of theirs, whose book I
was reading on the way here, declared us to be: "ape-like creatures,
with blue skins covered with green hair."’

But whatever the expectations of the Martians had been, they soon
demonstrated that they were well pleased with the reality, for they
overwhelmed the visitors with the most lavish hospitality, and accorded
them places of great honour at every public function.

One note there was, however, not exactly of discord, but a jarring
note—an undercurrent—of disappointment and dissatisfaction,
nevertheless. In every place at which they arrived, one of the first
questions addressed to Monck was: ’Have you brought the diamonds?’ or
’When are the diamonds to be offered for sale?’  These, or some similar
inquiries concerning the great shipload of gems which it was now known
throughout the Martian world had been brought by King Ivanta from the
’evening star,’ met them at every halting-place.

It was evident that the answer which Monck, as the king’s messenger, was
compelled to make to these queries, caused considerable surprise and
disappointment.  In certain extreme cases they even threw a certain air
of restraint into the exhibitions of public rejoicings.

’What has been done with the diamonds, Mr Monck?’ asked Jack one day.
’What is going to be done with them?  If they were brought here to be
offered for sale to those who could afford to buy them, why are they
kept back?’

’At present they are under lock and key—that is to say, they are
deposited in the strong room of the treasury in the city of Ivenia.’

’When are they going to be brought out again?’

’That is more than I can say, young sir.  It is at present a secret
known only to my royal master.’

’It’s no business of mine, sir,’ Jack went on modestly, ’and perhaps you
will think I have no right to say anything; but I can’t help seeing that
keeping them locked up is causing a great deal of ill-feeling.  I know
that Mr Armeath thinks—and I feel sure that he is right—that it is a
pity they were ever brought here at all.  But since they have been
brought, it does seem a bit funny that so much time should be allowed to
go by without any one being allowed even to see them.’

’It is the king’s will, and that is all I can tell you.  I may just hint
to you privately, however, that I have an idea—it is only my own guess,
mind you—that the king wishes to defer taking any decided step till
after his return from his visit to Kondris—that is, to the planet you
know as Saturn.’

Jack whistled.  ’Oh, oh!’ he cried, nodding his head shrewdly.  ’I see!
Then he is really bent on making that trip?’

’Undoubtedly.  At least, I believe he is now completing the necessary
preparations.’

’Mr Zuanstroom—he won’t like that, will he?’

’He will have to wait the king’s pleasure.’

’I suppose he will; but he won’t like it.  And you will find he will
begin to kick if something isn’t done soon.  I have heard hints to that
effect. Silas let it out in an indiscreet moment.’

’My royal master has a way of doing what he chooses without regard to
the opinions of private individuals,’ was Monck’s answer; and it was
given in a tone which effectually closed the conversation.



                             *CHAPTER XIX.*

                            *A DARING PLOT.*


In due course the travellers reached the country of Sedenia.  They were
met upon—or rather over—its borders by the ruler of the realm, King
Agrando.  He was accompanied by his chief councillor, Kazzaro—otherwise
the Ogre—Gorondo his chief General, and his principal officers of State.
He also had with him a number of war-airships of various sizes.

Under his conduct the travellers passed on to his capital, the city of
Dyrania, a rambling town of considerable size, built upon the slopes of
a high mountain and overlooking a large lake.

The visitors left their airships, and took up their abode for the time
being in suites of apartments assigned to them for their use in the
royal palace.

Here King Agrando dispensed his hospitality with a sort of semi-barbaric
dignity.  To Gerald, in particular, as may be imagined, it seemed a
curious thing to find himself attending his Court as a guest.  It cannot
be said that it was a pleasant experience, and he entered into it with
very mixed feelings.

So far as the outward conduct of his host went, however, he had nothing
to complain of. He had come there with Prince Alondra and Monck, King
Ivanta’s special representative; and he, Mr Armeath, and Jack, were
treated upon that footing with the strictest regard to everything that
courtesy and etiquette required.  At the same time, try as he would, he
could not feel exactly comfortable.  Every time he attended any
function, and saw before him King Agrando and his chief officers, there
came back to him the memory of that time when he had been brought before
those same men as a helpless prisoner, and treated with contumely and
insult.  His cheeks would flush, and the hot blood rush through his
veins even now, as he recalled how Kazzaro had prodded and pommelled him
as a farmer might a bullock offered for sale, and remembered the
sinister and forbidding aspect of the whole crowd as they gazed upon
him.

Still, so far as they were concerned, all this might have been a mere
dream.  Nothing in their behaviour showed that they even recollected it.
The king, indeed, in a certain fashion of his own, seemed to wish to
convey to Gerald that he desired the whole ’regrettable incident’ to be
forgotten.

As King Agrando plays an important part in this history, some further
particulars concerning him may be given here.

His had been one of the last countries to be brought under the sway of
the all-powerful, all-conquering Ivanta.  He now occupied a
semi-independent position, one somewhat similar to that of some of the
richest and most powerful of the native princes of India.  In his time
he had himself been a great fighter and conqueror, having invaded and
conquered several adjoining countries. He had ruled over these—and over
his own subjects also—with an iron hand; and at times, it was said, with
tyrannical cruelty.  There had been, indeed, dark rumours afloat of
terrible deeds carried out by him with the aid of the band of
councillors he kept about him, of whom Kazzaro was the chief. If these
tales were anywhere near the truth, then the title of Ogre, which the
chums had bestowed upon Kazzaro, might have been quite as suitably given
to his master.

But those days were past—or supposed to be past.  Agrando was now on his
best behaviour. Ivanta had insisted that there should be no more
fighting or quarrelling with his neighbours, and no more cruelty and
oppression within his realm. Thus the tyrant’s ’occupation was gone,’
and he had little left to him to do save to occupy himself and his
select circle with such more or less harmless amusements as the
circumstances permitted.

For one thing, he had become a great collector of curios of all kinds,
animate and inanimate. That is to say, he had got together the finest
collection of curios and zoological and botanical specimens of any upon
the planet.  Some of these had been contributed by Ivanta—brought by him
from distant planets, Earth and Saturn—who possibly thought it good
policy to encourage his restless vassal in so blameless a hobby.  Thus
the gardens surrounding the palace formed a sort of glorified Zoo and
Kew Gardens rolled into one. His palace, too, was filled to overflowing
with the most remarkable works of art that money could buy and the
countries of his globe could produce. The fame of his collections had
spread throughout the world of Mars, and people travelled immense
distances and made long pilgrimages to see them.

It is scarcely a matter for surprise that such a man should now be
bitten with a craze for diamonds, with a burning, overmastering
desire—which later on became a determination—to become the possessor of
the finest collection of jewels upon his planet.

Now, it so happened that while Agrando’s desires in this direction had
been growing and growing until they had almost reached the length of
becoming a sort of madness, Ivanta’s thoughts had been working in an
exactly opposite direction. By degrees he had come to wish he had never
troubled himself about precious stones at all. Certainly, what he had
done had been planned with the best intentions; but his sagacious
instinct now began to lean to the idea that for once in his life he had
made a great mistake. Therefore, he was casting about for some plausible
excuse for undoing what he had travelled all the way to Earth specially
to accomplish.

Already, during the voyage home to Mars, he had noted many incidents
which his keen insight into human nature had told him were the little
seeds likely to grow into a big crop of future trouble.  He had seen,
with sorrow and alarm, that even his most trusted councillors and
dearest friends were beginning to give their chief thought and attention
to ’dividing up’ the cargo of diamonds they were carrying back.  Already
envy, covetousness, and greed were raising their ugly heads where before
all had been amiability and goodwill.  And if this were so even before
the distribution took place, what was likely to be the state of things
afterwards?

This alteration in his views had been greatly strengthened by his
conversations with Armeath. That honest sage, also deeply experienced in
human nature, fearlessly expressed his own opinions on the subject.  He
gave Ivanta endless illustrations and ’modern instances’ of the crimes
and misery which a covetous greed for precious stones might be expected
to introduce into his world.

Ivanta—convinced, yet, as an honourable man, hampered by his own
promises and undertakings—gladly jumped at Armeath’s suggestion of
making artificial stones in such quantities as to render them as ’common
as pieces of glass.’  Then, as Armeath had argued in his talk with
Monck, nobody would bother himself to be the possessor of any of the
’gems,’ whether real or artificial. For none could tell the former from
the latter when manufactured by Armeath’s process.

The great difficulty now seemed to be to get a sufficient quantity of
the necessary mineral; and to do this Ivanta would have to pay a visit
to Saturn, that being the only place he knew of where it could be
obtained.

Meantime, Ivanta had decided to keep the cargo he had brought locked up;
and to postpone its distribution until his return from his projected
journey.

Unfortunately, however, the mischief had already been done; the seeds of
serious trouble had been sown, and were now growing to a far larger
extent than King Ivanta knew of.

King Agrando, in particular, was hatching a double plot, which, if it
succeeded, was not only to gratify his newly-born craze for a big
collection of jewels, but to restore him to his former position of
independent ruler.  Even, perhaps—who could tell?—it might raise him to
the position now occupied by Ivanta himself!

Into this conspiracy Zuanstroom had entered. That, at first sight, may
appear a little strange; but the so-called Diamond King had newly
awakened ambitions of his own.  He saw that, as the owner of this great
cargo of precious stones, he was in a position which was absolutely
unique in the world of Mars.  Upon Earth he had only been the Diamond
King in a relative sense; here he was actually entitled to that name.
But why should he stop there?  Why should he not use his unique position
to make himself a king in actual fact?  Upon Earth, even with the help
of all his diamonds, he could never aspire to such a height; but here it
was different.  Ivanta, he knew, would never fall in with such an idea;
but Agrando, if approached in the right way, might—and he did.

The result of the conferences between the two plotters may be summed up
thus: Agrando had said, ’Let us use your diamonds to depose Ivanta and
put me in his shoes, and give me the biggest share of the treasure; and
I will then put you into a position similar to that I now myself occupy.
You shall be king over a large tract of country, subject only to me as
your overlord.’

And Zuanstroom’s ambition and unscrupulous nature had determined him to
seal the compact and risk the consequences.

The visitors to Agrando found plenty to amuse and interest them during
their stay.  The palace gardens alone were a never-ending source of
wonder and delight to the two chums.  Rumour had not exaggerated when it
had spread reports of the marvels to be seen there.  The friends spent a
good deal of their time exploring and investigating—for the gardens were
of very great extent—and every day they came upon something fresh.

At the beginning, Monck had given them this curious warning: ’Kazzaro
has asked me to put you on your guard,’ said he.  ’King Agrando
remembers the dangers which you, Gerald, so narrowly escaped during our
journey in the _Ivenia_; and he does not wish that a similar unhappy
occurrence should cast a reflection upon any of his people here. So he
has instructed Kazzaro to remind me that there are many specimens and
scientific curiosities in the gardens which may be dangerous to
strangers unacquainted with their characteristics—not merely among the
animals, and reptiles, and so on, he says, but even amongst the trees
and plants.  For King Agrando has devoted an immense amount of money and
trouble to collecting and cultivating specimens of most out-of-the-way
kinds, some of them with qualities never known or heard of before.
Apart from this consideration, you have the king’s permission to go
about freely wherever you choose!’

Later on, Gerald asked Jack his private opinion of this warning.  ’What
does it mean?’ he asked doubtfully.  ’Is it genuine, do you think, or
does it conceal some crafty trick?’

’Sounds straightforward enough!’ Jack declared. ’Where can the trick
come in?’

’I don’t know,’ Gerald mused.  ’I have no right, perhaps, to suspect any
trickery; yet, somehow, I don’t trust the Ogre!’

’No more do I, for that matter!  We’ll keep our eyes open!’ said Jack.

A few days later, Alondra, wandering alone in the gardens, one morning,
came upon an immense round glass-house, the door of which, he noticed,
was standing open for the first time.  He had paused at the place two or
three times before; but the door had always been shut and locked.
Moreover, there was a label upon it, which read: ’Private.  Contents
Dangerous.’

Naturally, such a placard had aroused his curiosity, and he had made
attempts to see what was inside; but everywhere the glass was screened
off within, and he could discover nothing.  Here, this morning, was an
opportunity to see for himself what the mysterious ’contents’ were.  He
had his trident with him—he had carried it every day in consequence of
the warning that had been given—so what had he to fear?

He passed through the open door, and came to a second door at one side.
Opening this, he made his way amongst a lot of thick shrubs, and came
out in an open space paved with white marble. In the centre was a large
marble pool, with steps leading down into it.  In the pool a fountain
was playing; the whole looking very cool and inviting. It had the
appearance of a plunge-bath; and seemed to tempt the stranger to take a
dive into its bubbling waters.

Alondra looked round.  Nothing was to be seen on any side but flowering
shrubs, the scent of which filled the air.  But the most beautiful
blooms of all, he noticed, were some large white lilies growing amongst
clusters of immense leaves in the pool.

Surprised and fascinated at the extreme beauty of these blooms, the like
of which he had never seen before, he walked down the steps as far as
the edge of the water, and put his hand amongst the green leaves to
pluck a flower.  Immediately the leaf curled over upon his hand, and to
his astonishment and dismay he found he could not withdraw it!  Not only
that, but the leaf was exercising a distinct pulling power; it was
steadily dragging him towards the water!  Then he put the other hand
down to try to free the first one, when another leaf curled round it,
and he found himself held as though his hands had been tied together
with a strong rope.  He struggled hard, but he could not cast off that
deadly grip; and, little by little, the horrible leaves dragged him
forward until he was forced into the pool.  Other leaves then began to
curl round his body, and forced him down, down, step by step, until the
water encircled his neck!



                             *CHAPTER XX.*

                           *THE DEATH POOL.*


It was well for Alondra that Gerald and Jack happened to be walking in
the gardens that particular morning.  They had, in fact, strolled out to
look for him, and Providence must have led them into the neighbourhood
of the large glass-house just at the critical moment.  They also
noticed—as he had done—that the outer door was standing open; and they
were reading the warning notice with great curiosity, and considering
whether, in despite of it, they should venture on a peep inside, when a
terrible cry rang out from within, a cry as of some one in urgent need
of help.

’It’s Alondra’s voice!’ exclaimed Gerald.  ’He’s inside there, and must
be in some trouble!  Come on, Jack!’

The two pushed open the inner door and rushed along the pathway amongst
the shrubs.

A moment later they came in sight of the pool with the fountain playing
in the middle; and there they saw Alondra—or, rather, his head, for that
was all there was above the water—with a look of terrible, deadly horror
upon his face.

’Help me quickly!’ he gasped.  ’Some awful thing is clinging round me
and is dragging me down!  Your knives!  Get out your knives!  But be
careful, or you may get drawn in yourselves—both of you!’

The two friends acted upon the hints thus given; and, drawing their
knives and joining hands, Gerald went boldly down the steps and seized
hold of the young prince just as he was being drawn completely under the
water.

The task of setting him free, however, proved a tougher one than they
had expected.  The clinging leaves, as though directed by some dreadful,
sinister intelligence, closed upon Gerald’s extended arm, and,
exercising a strength and tenacity which had about it something almost
superhuman, endeavoured to drag him in too.

A terrible struggle for dear life ensued between the three, on the one
side, and the horrible, silent power which they had to fight against, on
the other.

Gerald managed to free one of Alondra’s arms, and gave him his own
knife, taking Jack’s in place of it.  The two then hacked and slashed at
the slimy, slippery, but wonderfully tough leaves. As fast as they cut
themselves free from some, others laid hold of them; and it seemed at
one time as though all three would be dragged bodily into the water.

Just then Jack caught sight of a coil of strong rope lying upon the
floor in a corner, and he made a dart and possessed himself of it.  In a
trice he had passed one end to Gerald, and secured the other round one
of the columns supporting the roof.

Gerald, in his turn, managed to slip the end round Alondra and pass it
back to Jack, who caught hold of it, and, standing himself on the steps
out of reach, hauled with all his might. This enabled the two who were
struggling in the water—for by this time Gerald had also been drawn
in—to use both hands.  Little by little, step by step, they struggled
backwards, until at last they reached the water’s edge and were free.

Panting and exhausted, the three sat down on a low marble balustrade,
and looked first at the pool, then at one another.  Then they stared
once more at the treacherous pool, where all now was silent and still,
save for the bubbling and splashing of the water as it fell from the
fountain.

’Jupiter!’ cried Jack at last.  ’Of all the awful death-traps I ever saw
or heard of, commend me to this!  A horrible death pool!  But what in
the name of all that is fiendish is that awful plant?’

’It’s some kind of cannibal plant, I suppose,’ said Gerald.

’Yes, that is right,’ Alondra agreed.  ’I have heard there are such
plants on our globe in some remote corners, but I have never seen one
before.’

’What does anybody want to keep such a monstrous, uncanny affair for?’
queried Jack indignantly.

’I never heard that they grew to such a size,’ Alondra added.  ’This
must have been growing here many years to become so large, I should
say.’

’A nice sort of pet to cultivate and pamper!’ Jack grumbled.  ’What do
they feed it on, I wonder?  Such a thing ought not to be allowed! It’s a
public danger!’

’There’s a warning on the door,’ Gerald reminded him.  ’After all, it’s
our own fault, I ’m afraid people will say, for coming here.’

’My fault, you mean—for I was the one who yielded first to curiosity,
and so drew you here,’ Alondra confessed.

’Oh, we should have come in on our own, you may be pretty sure of that,’
Jack declared.  ’We were just discussing the point when we heard you
call out.’

’It’s a very beautiful flower,’ Gerald observed, looking attentively at
the large, handsome blossoms, ’and the scent is delicious.  Who would
imagine that anything so lovely to look at could be so treacherous—so
deadly?’

He walked cautiously up near to it to get a clear view, and Jack
followed him—partly, as it seemed, to satisfy his own curiosity, and
partly to see that his chum did not become too venturesome and get
unwittingly caught again.

Meantime, Alondra was evidently thinking deeply. He began to look and
search about, first in this direction, then in that.  Presently the
others noticed his proceedings, and, leaving the side of the pool, went
across and asked him what he was doing.

’Before I tell you,’ was the reply, ’you must promise that you will say
nothing to any one else. If what I am thinking of was mere fancy, I
don’t wish to be laughed at; and if it turns out that it was not
fancy—well, then I still wish that nothing should be said about it just
now.  Do you understand?’

The two friends readily gave the required promise. ’Well, then, what is
troubling me is this: Just as I called out—when I was struggling up to
my neck in the water—when, as it seemed to me, I was at my last gasp,
and all hope had gone—I saw, or imagined I saw, some one peering at me
from among those thick bushes!’

’My stars!  That sounds funny!’ was Jack’s comment.  ’D’you mean to say
that there was some one in here, some one so cold-blooded as to stand by
and look on at you, and never offer to help?’

’That is my—er—impression; but’——

’Who was it, then?  Anybody you know?’

Alondra hesitated.  Then he said slowly, ’I cannot say.  I could hardly
see more than the eyes, if I saw any one.  But, understand me, I cannot
declare positively that I saw any one at all. I was in such a state of
horror that I may have imagined it.  I was ready to imagine anything.’

Jack looked at him attentively.

’I don’t think you are one to lose your wits to that extent, my friend,’
he declared, shaking his head, ’though I admit it would be no discredit
to you if you did.  I can’t imagine a more frightful predicament, or one
better calculated to try the nerves of the bravest man.’

’Let’s all set to work and have a good hunt round,’ suggested Gerald.
’If any one was here, he must be somewhere in hiding now, unless there
is another way out.  If there is, let’s find it!’

They searched the place in all directions, but for some time could find
nothing to reward their trouble.  They could see no trace of any person
other than themselves having been there.

They were about to give it up and go away, when Jack suddenly uttered a
cry.  ’See!  What is that on the floor!’ he exclaimed.  ’Ah, I thought
so!  A diamond—a small diamond!’  He exhibited upon the open palm of his
hand a little sparkling stone.  While his companions were busy looking
at it, he went on to examine attentively a number of slabs of carved
marble which stood up from the floor some four or five feet, forming a
many-sided enclosure.  They made a ring, as it were, fifteen feet in
diameter or thereabouts, and upon each slab were figures or scenes
carved in bas-relief.

It was not unlike a huge, many-sided flower-pot; and it appeared to be
intended for a similar purpose; for the space it enclosed was filled
with mould up to the level of the top of the slabs, and this again was
thickly planted with large shrubs.

Jack walked all round this affair, peering keenly into the dense leafy
screen.  It was so thick that nothing could be seen of what was in the
middle. Then he returned to the starting-point—that opposite to the
place where he had picked up the diamond.  He caught hold of the
branches and pulled them apart.  Then he uttered a low whistle. ’Come
and look at this!’ he cried.

The other two ran up to the place and peered in.  There, upon the loose
mould, could be seen a footprint, and a little beyond it another.

Jack pointed to one of the bas-relief figures on the slab.  It was in a
kneeling position, and the head formed a convenient step to any one
wishing to mount to the top of the slab.  ’Do you see?’ he cried.  ’This
has been used as a step!  You place a foot on it—thus, take hold of
these branches—so, pull them apart—so, and you can spring up and through
quite easily. Then the branches close up after you and hide all trace.
But the last one who passed this way was in a great hurry.  He was in
such haste to get through that he snapped off a twig—here it is—and
another twig caught against his breast, and tore off a little diamond,
and cast it on to the floor where I found it.’

While talking, Jack had suited actions to words, and shown, by practical
illustration, how easily what he had suggested might happen.

’Where, then, is that person now, do you suppose?’ asked Gerald, in a
low tone.  ’Hiding in the middle of those bushes?’

Jack shook his head.  ’I should say not,’ he replied.  ’I should say
there must be a secret passage leading to this curious place, and that
those bushes conceal the entrance to it.  However, that’s a question
we’ll soon put to the test. I ’m going in to see what’s in the middle.
You fellows come after me!’



                             *CHAPTER XXI.*

                       *A SECRET TREASURE-HOUSE.*


Jack’s theory proved to be well founded.  In the middle of the clump of
bushes they discovered a portion of an old tree-trunk. It was about
three feet high by, perhaps, four feet in diameter.  A glance over the
side showed that it was hollow, and that inside it there were some steps
leading downwards.

Jack pointed to them in quiet triumph.  ’Are you going to explore
farther?’ he asked Alondra, in a low tone scarcely above a whisper.
’Because, if you are, I should suggest that we go very quietly.’

’Yes; I ’m going to find out what it all means,’ said Alondra firmly.

’What about arms?’ queried Jack dubiously.

’I have my trident, or I had,’ Alondra answered. ’I must have left it
somewhere about on the floor.’

Jack went back to look for it, and Alondra followed; but it was nowhere
to be seen.

’It has disappeared!’ exclaimed Alondra, bewildered.  ’What can have
become of it?  I remember putting it down when I went, towards the pool
to pick one of those terrible flowers. Are you sure you have not picked
it up, either of you?’

’What should we do with it—put it in one of our pockets?’ laughed Jack.
’No; this is one more proof that what you saw was reality and not a
vision of your fanciful brain.  Some one was here—some one who coolly
looked on while you were struggling for your life in the grasp of the
dreadful floral monster beside yonder pretty-looking fountain.  Some one
who wears diamonds on his breast, and was in too great a hurry to notice
that the bushes had scratched one off in passing.  Some one, finally,
who has walked off with your trident.’

’True.  But why did he take that?’

’It seems to me that the reason is not difficult to guess at.  It tells
a little tale to me by itself. He considered that you were as good as
dead, and would have no further use for your trident. So, as it is a
very beautifully ornamented one, he thought he might as well have it.’

’I ’m afraid you must be right!’ Alondra rejoined, with a slight shiver.
’Yet, I don’t understand it!  However, let us see what we can find out.
As to arms, who would dare to lay a hand openly on me?’

As Alondra asked this last question he drew himself up proudly, and his
eyes flashed.

’It’s not for me to say,’ Jack remarked, with a philosophical air.
’Gerald and I have our own arms—what we call revolvers when we are at
home.  They’re not like yours, though.  They hurt if they are used
properly, as you know.’

The two went back to where they had left Gerald, and a little later they
were all three creeping noiselessly down the steps inside the hollow
tree-trunk.  At the bottom they found themselves in another passage,
which they calculated must run under the floor of the glass-house, and
then under the garden.  It was in darkness, save for a little glimmer
which came down the steps they had descended.

’Now, I wonder where this goes to?’ muttered Jack.  ’It doesn’t seem to
me to lead to the palace.  I fancy it runs in the opposite direction.’

Alondra produced from his pocket a little electric lamp, and by its aid
they followed the passage for some distance.  Then they came to more
steps, which went much farther down into the ground.  They also came to
other side-passages, which branched off in different directions.  Soon
the passage became wider and higher, and finally ended in a heavily
barred door, which, however, was standing ajar.

They listened cautiously, and, hearing no one about, pushed it open, and
suddenly found themselves in a blaze of light.  Yet it was certain that
they were not in the open air.

They stared around, and then up, in wondering astonishment.  They seemed
to be in another glass-house, for certainly there was some kind of
transparent or semi-transparent roof overhead. But the light was not the
light of the sky exactly.  It was a strange reflected light, such as
puzzled the three who gazed at it.

Then an idea flashed into Jack’s mind.  ’I know what it is!’ he
whispered.  ’We are looking up through water!  This place is built
underneath the large lake in the gardens.’

’Yes, you are right.  It must be so,’ Alondra agreed.  ’But why?  This
must be some place constructed in this strange fashion on purpose that
its very existence should be kept a secret! Now, why is that, I wonder?
I do not believe that my father even knows of its existence.  But why
all this secrecy?  There seems to be no one about.  Let us try to find
out what it all means.’

One thing they found it undoubtedly was—a treasure-house.  They quickly
saw enough to convince them that Agrando had a great store of treasure
here.  But there were also roomy chambers, and a spacious central place,
with a great dome as large as a good-sized theatre, and not unlike one,
having banks of seats around, one behind the other, arranged like
semicircular steps.  The use of this building seemed very doubtful, as
did that of some small, dark side-chambers—mere cells—of which there
were quite a number about.

While the explorers were wondering what it all meant, they heard the
sound of voices.  Jack pointed to one of the small cells high up in the
wall, and led the way up the banks of seats, stepping from one to the
other like going upstairs.

The cell had a strong door, the upper part of which consisted of a
grille, and when they were well inside they pulled it to after them.
Then, peering through the grille, they could see nearly all over the
interior.  The voices drew nearer, and in a few moments there entered
King Agrando, Kazzaro, and Zuanstroom, with two attendants, each of whom
bore small sacks.  Judging by their manner, the sacks were pretty heavy.

’That will do.  Put them down there!’ ordered Agrando.  ’We can examine
them better here than in the other chambers.  This has the best light of
any.’  The centre was occupied by a circular platform or staging of
stonework, the use or meaning of which the three hidden spectators had
not been able to guess at.  Upon this the attendants deposited their
bags, and immediately withdrew.

When assured that their servitors were out of sight and hearing,
Zuanstroom opened the bags, and turned out from one a sparkling
collection of jewellery of all kinds and designs, and from the other a
dazzling heap of unset stones, some of them of great size and
brilliancy.

It was curious to see the expressions of greed and avarice which crept
into the features of the king and his favourite as they gazed upon this
display.

’There!’ cried Zuanstroom triumphantly, ’have I not kept my word?  Have
I not done as I promised?  You doubted whether I could perform what I
said; but you see I’ve managed it, spite of all Ivanta’s edicts and
precautions!  He little dreams that all these are now in your hands,
instead of reposing peacefully in his own treasure-house until it suits
his royal fancy to allow me to deal as I please with my own.  Ah, he is
a clever man, in many ways—a wonderful man; but he does not know
everything!  He has yet to learn the real power that lies in diamonds. I
learned it long ago!  There is nothing too difficult to attain, no
living being you cannot bribe, if you have only diamonds enough!’

Jack had put a hand on Alondra as a hint to keep his feelings under
control.  And it was well he had done so, for he felt him start, and
could tell that he was battling with his rising indignation as he
listened to this talk.  Jack, however, had quickly decided in his own
mind that it would be better to keep their presence there a secret if
possible, and the pressure of his hand upon the young prince said so
plainly. Alondra, on his side, was forced to admit to himself that Jack
was right as to this; though he did so all unwillingly.

There ensued a good deal of talk between Agrando and the other two, the
while that they turned the scintillating heaps over and over, but it was
carried on for the most part in such low tones that the listeners heard
but little of what was said.  Now and then they heard exclamations, or
caught scraps of sentences, but these did not convey much information.

At last the conspirators put the two heaps back into their respective
receptacles, which they themselves then carried into another chamber.
Presumably, they there locked them up in some vault, and went their way;
and all once more became quiet.

’Now’s our time!’ said Jack.  ’If you take my advice, Prince, we shall
slip back the way we came, and get out—if we’re lucky enough to meet no
one—through the glass-house where we found you.  I should keep what you
have learned to yourself till you are safely back home, and then tell
your royal father, who will know what to do better than you or I, or Mr
Monck.’

’I think you are right,’ said Alondra musingly, ’although’——

’I am sure Jack is right,’ Gerald put in.  ’Those men, now that the fire
of covetousness has been lighted in their breasts, would stick at
nothing. They would murder you, and me, and all your suite, as soon as
look at us, rather than give up their booty, or rather than risk our
telling King Ivanta.  So we’d better be discreet and keep still tongues
in our heads.’

They left their hiding-place and made their way down the rows of seats.
When, however, they reached the floor, Alondra looked round and
whispered, ’I should like very much to know what this place is used for.
It must have been constructed for some distinct purpose, and whatever
the purpose it was a secret one.  I see many things about, the uses of
which I confess I do not understand, and yet I cannot help guessing; but
I hope I am not right in my guesses, for they make me shudder.’

’I think I know what is in your mind,’ returned Jack gloomily.  ’I fancy
the same thoughts came into mine; but I deemed it better not to say
anything about them at present.’

As he spoke they distinctly heard a door opened and the sound of voices.
There was nothing for it but to regain their former place of
concealment. They had hardly entered it and closed the door, when a
number of people came bursting into the place, looking about them as
though in search of some one.



                            *CHAPTER XXII.*

                                *MALTO.*


In the shade of the cell in which they had concealed themselves, the
three friends talked in whispers, while watching, through the grille,
the doings of the new-comers.

Who were these people, and whom were they searching for?  At first the
watchers took it for granted that they were themselves the objects of
their search; but a few moments later they had doubts as to whether it
was so.  If it was, Alondra was ready to ’take the bull by the horns’
and show himself, quite believing that they would not dare to harm King
Ivanta’s son.  Jack, however, was for waiting a while to see what
happened.

’You can do that at any time—when it is forced upon us,’ he whispered.
’They may not be looking for us at all; and we may learn something if we
keep quiet.’

The reasoning seemed good, and Alondra agreed, though somewhat
unwillingly.  He was angry and indignant at what had already occurred,
and was becoming impatient at being compelled to play hide-and-seek in
what he considered was an undignified fashion.

At the same time, he was curious, and, for one thing, was wondering who
these people could be who were hunting about.  He had never seen them
before.  Not only were they strangers to him, but their dress was quite
different from that usually worn by Agrando’s followers.  Their costumes
were a very dark purple, and they were all big, powerful-looking men.
Moreover, when they called out to one another they spoke in a strange
language, one that even Alondra did not understand.

And now a fresh development occurred.  Into the midst of these strangers
strode three men in masks—men even bigger and taller than the rest. They
seemed to speak angrily, as though rating the others for something they
had done wrongly. Then they issued some sharp, short word of command,
and the first-comers turned and marched out in perfect military order,
the masked men walking behind them.

In a minute or two they had all disappeared. Sounds followed as of the
closing and fastening of heavy doors, and the place was once more empty
and quiet.

’What does it all mean?’ exclaimed Gerald perplexedly, addressing
Alondra.  ’What are all these strange comings and goings?  Who were
those chaps who came in last, and why do they wear masks?  It is all
very mysterious and extraordinary!  It seems to me there must be a good
deal more going on here than you have any idea of!’

’It seems so, indeed,’ Alondra replied, in a tone which showed that he
was not less puzzled.  ’I confess it is a mystery to me at present.  But
I mean to get to the bottom of it if the thing is possible.’

’What do you think King Ivanta will say to it all when you tell him?’
asked Jack.  ’What do you suppose he will do?  You will tell him, will
you not?’

’You may be sure I shall,’ returned Alondra, ’and I think the sooner he
knows the better.  We must find some excuse for cutting short our visit
here and getting back to Ivenia as quickly as possible,’ he added with
decision.

’If you will take me with you to King Ivanta,’ said a strange voice
behind them, ’I can tell him many more things which he ought to
know—which he ought to have known long ago!’

The three friends started and looked round. From somewhere in the
darkness, at the back of the cell, a figure now stepped forth, and stood
looking at them with as much interest as they showed themselves.

He was a young fellow of scarcely more than twenty years of age perhaps,
good-looking, well set up, and muscular in build.  He was dressed like
an official of Agrando’s household; but Alondra detected at once that he
was not a native of the country.

’Who are you?’ he asked, eying him curiously. ’And why have you been
hiding and listening to our talk?’

’Who I am doesn’t matter just now,’ returned the stranger quietly.  ’You
need not be afraid of me; you may trust me thoroughly.  I am a friend,
and you need a friend just now if you want to get out of this place
without being captured by Kazzaro’s myrmidons!’

’I am not afraid of them!  You do not know who I am!’ returned Alondra
proudly.

’It does not matter to me who you are, any more than it matters to you
who I am,’ was the cool answer.  ’You would need to be some one very
wonderful, or very clever, to get out of this place alive if Kazzaro
knew you were here.  If I help you to escape, will you promise to take
me to King Ivanta?  He will thank you for doing so when he hears what I
have to tell him, and I have little doubt will reward you handsomely.’

At this the three looked at each other and burst out laughing.  Jack was
about to tell the stranger that he was talking to the son of Ivanta,
when a look from Alondra stopped him.

’I suppose you expect to be rewarded too,’ said the young prince
shrewdly.  ’Well, I promise to take you to him; but if we do, and he
gives you the reward you expect, it is only fair that we should share
it.’

’That you cannot do,’ answered the stranger with a sigh.  ’I know not
whether he will be able to give me what I am hoping for; but if he
should it is not anything that I can share, or that you would care to
have.’

’You are very mysterious, my friend!’ Alondra commented.  ’Why are you
hiding in here?’

’Well, I came here upon a little errand of my own—one somewhat similar
to that which brought you, I fancy, judging by what I heard you say—to
look about and find out what I could.  As to who those people in purple
were, I will tell you that at another time.  The fact is, my friends, I
have no reason to love King Agrando, though I am an officer of his
household.  He brought me here against my will from a distant country,
and has forced me to be a sort of slave to him and to take part in
things that I loathe and detest. But that is not the worst; I have a
deeper wrong to set right.  I have long hoped that King Ivanta might pay
us a visit here so that I might appeal to him.  But if you can take me
to him it will be better still.  Will you swear to do so if I lead you
safely out of this den?’

’You have my promise,’ returned Alondra a little haughtily.  ’There is
no need for me to repeat it or to swear.’

The other looked at the young prince keenly, and then said, in a
satisfied tone, ’Your face is honest to look at, and I will trust to
your promise. Follow me and I will get you a disguise.’

’A disguise!’ exclaimed Alondra.  ’What next?’

’It is necessary.  We cannot get out without the chance of running
against some one.’

’We can get out the way we came,’ Alondra asserted; but the stranger
shook his head.

’No,’ he said decidedly.  ’I saw you come in, and the door you came
through is now locked and barred, and neither you nor I can open it.
You must come my way, or I must give up the idea of befriending you and
leave you to your own devices.’

’Very well,’ Alondra assented, somewhat ungraciously.  He was getting
restive at the masterful manner of this stranger, who, after all, was
only an under-official—or, as he himself had admitted, a kind of slave.
’What is your name?’ he added as an afterthought.

The stranger hesitated for a brief space, then said, ’You may call me
Malto.’

With that he turned away, and began stepping down from one row of seats
to another, walking as if plunged deep in thought, and seemingly taking
but little further notice of his companions.

As for Gerald and Jack, they glanced at one another with perplexed and
wondering looks.  This cool, self-possessed young fellow had somehow
impressed them favourably, and they were inclined to like him.  But they
did not in the least understand him; and, like Alondra, they were
half-disposed to resent his assumption of so authoritative a manner.

’My stars!’ muttered Jack, under his breath, to Gerald, ’I fancy he
thinks we are some of the hangers-on amongst Mr Monck’s suite!’

Meantime, the stranger had reached the floor of the place, and was now
leading the way towards one end of it, which was closed in by some huge,
massive-looking gates.  There was something grand yet repellent about
these gates.  Upon them were carved two great heads as of some kind of
giants, which frowned down upon them in forbidding ugliness.

Their leader turned to a small wicket gate at one side, and, taking a
key from his pocket, opened it, waited for the three to pass inside,
then closed it and locked it behind him.  They were then in a dark
lobby.  A moment later he opened another door, and they all passed
through it.

Here the three looked round in wondering silence. They were in what
might have been either an immense underground cavern or a large
enclosure roofed over.  The light was dim, the air was oppressive, and
there was a foul odour, which to the visitors seemed sickly and
nauseating.

Before them, at some little distance, there was a network of metal bars,
which rose to a great height like an immense cage.  It attracted their
attention at once to the exclusion of all other surroundings, for it
seemed to be the source of the evil smell which had assailed their
nostrils.

Suddenly they were startled by a terrible scream. It was followed by a
cry as of some one in the extreme of fear and dread.  At the same moment
a face distorted by terror came into view behind the bars.  It was only
visible for a moment, then melted again into the gloom beyond.



                            *CHAPTER XXIII.*

                             *A FOUL DEN.*


For a few moments the three friends stared without moving at the place
where the agonised face had appeared.  They were spellbound with horror
of they knew not what; for though they could not see anything of what
was going on in the den in front of them, they could hear strange sounds
and weird noises.

There was a rushing sound as of large bodies darting to and fro through
the air; they heard the beat of powerful wings, low gasps and gurgles,
yet could make out nothing in the obscurity.  Then another terrible cry
was heard—this time an unmistakably human one: ’Malto!  Malto!  Is it
you? Save me! save me!’

This appeal startled their new friend into instant action, and he dashed
toward the bars, crying out as he went, ’Have you arms, you three?  If
you have, come and help me!’

In a moment Gerald and Jack gripped their revolvers and raced after him.

He made for a small metal gate in the bars, and after applying a key to
the lock began feverishly to work away at other fastenings which still
held it. The two chums stood beside him, gazing into the cage, trying to
make out what was going on within. Suddenly something swished past them.
It had the general appearance of a monstrous bat—certainly it had what
looked like the body and wings of a bat—but it also had a human face!

’Malto!  Malto!’ cried this apparition, as it flew past—for it was
certainly flying—’make haste or it will be too late!  I am tired out!
I’——

The last words were lost as it disappeared again into the darkness
beyond.  Hardly had it passed when a huge shape came into view, beating
the air with great wings, evidently in hot pursuit of the other.  It was
undoubtedly a monster bat—much bigger than the strange apparition with
the human face.

Without waiting for instructions from Malto, both the chums fired at the
creature, but seemingly with no result; for it continued on its way, and
a moment later was lost in the shadows.

Malto looked up in surprise at the sound of the shots; then resumed his
work at the fastenings, in which he was now assisted by Alondra.

A moment later the gate was open.  Malto snatched up a long, heavy piece
of wood which was lying near, and, entering the cage, stood boldly
waiting for the expected return of the monster.

’This way, Malandris! this way!  The gate is open!’ he shouted, as he
looked about, trying to pierce the gloom.

There was a low answering cry, and the form of the man-bat—as he seemed
to be—came into view, made a desperate attempt to keep up, but fell
exhausted at Malto’s feet.

Then the great bat itself appeared, and made a swoop to seize its prey.
It was met with a blow from the heavy wooden bar, whereupon it turned
viciously upon the rescuer.

The great wings closed round him, and the immense claws with which they
were armed gripped him, striving to draw him within reach of the head,
with its open mouth and shining fangs.

The wooden bar, however, was jammed against its breast, and prevented it
for the moment from coming to close quarters.  Just then Gerald and
Jack, who had entered the cage behind Malto, fired their pistols
simultaneously.

As a result, one wing could be seen to be hanging limply, broken by a
bullet; and as the creature gave utterance to another scream, Jack
rushed in and despatched it.

Gerald and Alondra assisted the plucky young fellow to struggle out of
the enfolding wings. Directly he was clear he sprang up, and, seizing
upon the prostrate man, began to drag him towards the opening.

’Quick, quick!’ he cried.  ’That scream was to call its mate to its aid,
and it will be here in another minute!’

The man they had saved was unconscious; but the two chums laid hold of
him, and, picking him up with comparative ease, carried him out of the
cage.

Hardly had the gate been closed behind them when there was heard a
repetition of the scream. A second monster came rushing out of the gloom
and hurled itself against the bars with a force which shook them as
though they had been but wire.

Malto, badly mauled as he was, hastily fastened the gate, and then,
turning to the others, said hurriedly, ’There is no time to lose!  If
you can carry my friend, who has fainted, bear him this way.  The noise
will bring people here, and we shall be captured ourselves if they see
us!’

Between them they bore the one they had rescued across the floor to a
small door upon the side opposite that by which they had entered. Malto
unlocked it, and when they were well inside closed it quickly.

There were here, amongst other things, a number of queer-looking dresses
hung on pegs, and Malto took some down and urged the three friends to
dress themselves in them.

’Make haste, while I attend to my friend!’ he urged; and though Alondra
strongly disliked the idea of dressing himself up in a disguise, there
was that in their new friend’s tone and manner which somehow silenced
his objections.  The stranger, meantime, had obtained a bowl of water
from somewhere near, and sprinkled it in the face of the unconscious
man.  Then he drew from his pocket a flask, which he held to the man’s
lips, and a minute later the sufferer opened his eyes, gave a gasp, and
sat up.

Presently he seemed to recollect what had happened, and, realising the
need for action himself, he struggled to his feet.  He looked a
grotesque figure indeed, and the three who had helped to save him, busy
though they were, trying to fit on their strange garments, could not
help staring at him in wonder.  He was evidently ’got up’ in imitation
of a great bat—that much seemed certain—but the reason of such an
extraordinary get-up was for the time being a riddle to which they could
find no answer.

Whatever the original intention in wearing the dress may have been,
however, it was clear that Malto saw no use in its continuance, for he
proceeded to assist the wearer to discard it and attire himself in some
of the garments which were hanging on the pegs.  Then he rolled up the
whole affair into a bundle, and concealed it in a corner beneath a pile
of skins.

They were now all garbed in a quaint kind of costume, the chief points
of which consisted of a high hat and a loose cloak, which hid the
clothes they were still wearing underneath.  It was one of the dresses
worn by the attendants of the palace, so Malto briefly explained, while
peering out through a grating in the door to see what was going on in
the place they had just left.

As he had expected would be the case, the noise of the revolver shots
had brought some people upon the scene.  He could see a group gathered
near the cage, staring at the dead monster, while others were moving
about in search of a clue to the mystery of how it had come by its
death.

’They will be in here directly,’ Malto said in a low tone, after a brief
inspection.  ’We had better be off!—Do you think you can walk,
Malandris?’

’Ay, ay, and run too, if needs be,’ returned the rescued man briskly.
’I am all right now. I owe you my life’——

’Never mind that now.  This is no time for talk,’ Malto interrupted.
’Just take a last look round, to make sure we have left nothing to tell
that we have been here, and follow me!’

He unlocked a door on one side, and they passed out in silence into a
passage, which was almost in darkness.  A little farther on there were
several flights of steps, and, having ascended these, they came out,
after some careful reconnoitring through another door, into the open air
in a spacious courtyard.

Malto locked the door behind him, and, enjoining caution upon his
companions, led the way to a large gateway which they could see in front
of them.

’If any one addresses you, say nothing, but leave it to me,’ he said to
Alondra and his friends. ’Your speech would betray you at once.’

As they drew near the gates they were pushed open, and a number of men
in the purple dresses they had seen inside marched in, with soldierly
bearing and military precision.

One, who seemed to be an officer, stopped and spoke to Malto; and again
Alondra heard the strange tongue which he had noted before.

Malto remained a short time in talk, while his companions walked on with
as good an imitation of carelessness as they could summon up on the spur
of the moment.

When Malto came up with them he was smiling quietly to himself.

’It’s lucky they did not see us come out of that door,’ he said to
Malandris, ’or they would have asked awkward questions as to how I came
to have a key.’

’Ah, that is what has been puzzling me all this time,’ observed
Malandris.

’That is my secret for the present,’ returned Malto.  ’It is a little
secret which would interest Kazzaro even more than it does you, if he
happened to be aware that I had such a key.’

’What has been puzzling me,’ said Alondra, addressing Malandris, ’is how
you came to be in that cage, and in such an extraordinary dress—if one
can call it a dress.  I suppose some one must have placed you there.
Who could have been guilty of such an atrocious act?’

Malandris, who was a tall, elderly man, with grizzled hair and a worn,
haggard-looking face, shook his head with a sigh, as he answered, ’That
you should wonder, young sir, only shows that you must be a stranger
hereabouts—one who knows not the master we serve, or what he is capable
of.’

’Hark! what is that?’ exclaimed Malto suddenly. ’I ’m afraid they ’ve
got upon our track!  Do you see that tower yonder?’

Before them lay a wide, grassy expanse, at the end of which was a sort
of ornamental pavilion or small tower.

’That is the place we have to make for,’ he went on.  ’If we can reach
it, we shall be safe—at all events, for a time—till assistance comes.
If necessary, we must run for it.’

As he spoke, the low murmur which he had noted behind them grew into a
clamorous shouting, and a moment later a crowd of pursuers came running
through the gateway they had so recently passed through.



                            *CHAPTER XXIV.*

                           *AT THE PAVILION.*


’You said a little while ago that you could run if needs were,’ said
Malto, addressing Malandris.  ’You must try now, at any rate.  I will
help you.’

’I am quite recovered,’ was the answer.  ’We must look after these young
people.’

’Oh, that I had my wings!  Why did I leave them behind this morning!’
exclaimed Alondra.

’You may as well throw off those disguises,’ Malto advised.  ’They are
of no use now, and will only hamper you.’

As yet their pursuers were a long way off, for after the reconnoitre at
the gateway the fugitives had stepped out briskly, and had covered
nearly half the distance to the pavilion before the alarm had been
given.

They now set off at a run, after discarding their disguises, and at
first it seemed as though there would be no difficulty in reaching the
tower well ahead of their pursuers.  Indeed, the latter seemed, at one
time, to have almost given up the chase; for only a few were to be seen
coming towards them; the rest had halted.

A few moments later, however, the cause of the delay became clear.
Suddenly a man rose in the air on motor-wings and began to sail rapidly
towards them.  He was armed with a trident. Convinced that he would
easily effect the capture of the fugitives, who had, as could be seen,
neither shields nor tridents, the remainder of the crowd followed
quietly in the rear.  They would be in plenty of time, they reckoned, to
pick up the unconscious bodies when the man with the trident had dealt
with them.

Malto muttered something between his set teeth.

’I ’m afraid it is no use,’ said Malandris despondently, as he ran along
beside the others.  ’He is bound to overtake us, and we are all
unarmed.’

’Not quite,’ Jack answered.  ’If they think we are, so much the better;
it may give us a chance to get on equal terms with that flying chap.
His trident is no good at more than twenty yards.  We have something
here which reaches farther than that.’

He and Gerald had drawn their revolvers, and were looking to the hammers
as they raced onwards, to make quite sure that they were in working
order. Everything would depend upon making good practice with their
first shots.

’You aim at one wing, Gerald,’ said Jack; ’I will aim at the fellow’s
arm which carries the trident.  Take it easy!  Don’t run too fast; it
will make your hand shake.’

They continued on their way for some distance farther.  The pavilion was
now not far off; so also, unfortunately, was the flying man with his
trident.

Jack gave a sign to Gerald, and they both turned and faced him.  Alondra
stopped too; and the others, although they did not exactly understand
what was likely to happen, immediately halted, because they would not
leave the three to their fate.

As it happened, this was the best thing they could have done.  The
flying man interpreted their action as an abject surrender.  He
slackened speed and came on carelessly.

Then two shots rang out.  Jack’s aim was true; his bullet struck the
man’s right arm, and the trident flew from the hand which had grasped
it. Gerald’s first shot missed, but his second struck one wing and
smashed the light framework.  The wing drooped, and the flier fell
heavily to the ground.


            *[Illustration: The wing drooped, and the flier
                       fell heavily to the ground
                      (missing from source book)]*


’Good!  Good!  Capital!’ Malto and Malandris cried out, in surprised
wonder and delight at this turn of affairs, for neither of them
understood anything about pistols.

’Now, run for it, my friends!  We shall get there first yet!’ Jack
called out.

’Let me have his trident, though,’ said Alondra, as he picked up the
fallen man’s weapon.  ’This may come in useful, you know.’

There was a great outcry behind them as the pursuers witnessed the
discomfiture of the aeronaut. The crowd at once took up the chase in a
manner which showed how confidently they had been counting upon his
ability to capture the fugitives without their aid.

As has been stated, the men in the dark-purple dresses were big, fine
men, all of them.  There was that in their aspect, too, which betokened
a fierce nature, used to warfare.

They quickly made it evident that they were good runners, and they
started off now in earnest and came on swiftly.  But they had lost
whatever chance they might at first have had of overtaking those they
were chasing, by trusting too confidently to the man with the wings.

By the time they reached the base of the tower the fugitives had already
dashed up the steps leading to the entrance, had opened and passed
through some barred gates, fastened them behind them, and gained the
shelter of the doorway.

A minute or two afterwards they appeared upon a balcony, of which there
were several running round the tower on the outside, one above the
other, and complacently smiled down upon their baffled foes.

’Well, we ’ve beaten ’em so far,’ exclaimed Malto. ’I had almost given
up hope.  We should have been done for if it hadn’t been for those noisy
playthings of yours, young gentlemen.  May I ask what they are, and
where they come from?  I have never met with that kind of weapon
before.’

’They come from a far country, so far that your head would scarcely
carry the tale of the figures if I were to attempt to give them to you,’
Alondra declared laughingly.  ’Now, what is to be done next?  Our foes
will be sending an airship against us, I suppose; and if assistance
doesn’t reach us pretty soon I am afraid they will have the best of it,
after all.’

’No, I don’t think there is any fear of that. They won’t send an airship
against us,’ said Malto.

Malandris shook his head too.  ’Not during the day,’ he assented.  ’They
might when it gets dark, if we are still here.’

’Why not?’ asked Jack, in surprise.

’It would attract attention.  You see, our master has visitors.  Prince
Alondra, the son of King Ivanta, is staying here; and he, or some of his
people, might be cruising about in his air-yacht or in some of the
airships which came with him. If they caught sight of an airship engaged
in fighting operations down here their curiosity might be aroused, and
they might come and ask inconvenient questions.’

At this Gerald and Jack glanced at one another and then at Alondra, and
nearly burst out laughing; but the latter made a sign, and they turned
away and said nothing.  The young prince wished to keep his identity a
secret a little longer, in order that he might have an opportunity of
quietly probing farther into the meaning of the extraordinary events of
that eventful morning.

’What, then, do you suppose they will do?’ Alondra went on.

’Oh, very likely nothing at all!  Just loaf about to make sure that we
don’t get away during the day.  They know they can’t break into this
pavilion; it has been strongly built on purpose.  Then at night they
will make sure of us.  Our best hope is that we may see some passing
airship and attract the attention of the people in her, and that they
may come and take us off.’

’That doesn’t sound very hopeful.  It might be one of Agrando’s
airships,’ Jack pointed out.

’On the other hand, it might be one belonging to his visitors,’ said
Malto.  ’Then, I imagine, we should be all right.  I suppose you belong
to their party, don’t you?  I have been thinking it over, and can’t
guess who else you can be.  You said you could take me to King Ivanta,
and I don’t see how you could make such a promise unless you belonged to
the prince’s party.’

He looked searchingly at Alondra as he spoke, and there was in his tone
and look a suggestion of reproach at their keeping him in the dark.

’You are quite right, my friend,’ Alondra now said gravely.  ’We do
belong to the party of visitors you speak of.  I expect they are already
wondering where we have got to, and will be coming out to look for us
before long.  So I hope our troubles are over, or soon will be.  And
now, as we have time for a little talk, I want to hear your stories—you
two.  Explain to me the meaning of all that has happened.’

But Malto shook his head.

’I wish to tell it all to King Ivanta, and to no one else,’ he declared.
’You have promised to take me to him, and I shall ask you to keep your
promise, and to refrain from questioning me meantime.  Cannot you
understand that the king might not be pleased if he found I had been
talking freely of things which he may wish had been kept for his ear
alone?’

Alondra was silent.  He felt that Malto was right, and could not but
respect him for his caution.  At the same time, he was burning to have
some explanation of their adventures.

’But you said you wished for our testimony to back up yours,’ he
reminded him.  ’How can we help in that way if you do not enlighten us
as to what it is we are to testify about?’

It was now Malto’s turn to ponder, and he remained for a space gazing
out thoughtfully over the expanse of ground which lay upon the other
side of the pavilion.

The three followed his glance, and noted that the building formed part
of the boundary wall of an extensive enclosure, which just here
consisted of an extremely high and massive-looking stone fence, adorned
at the top with formidable metal spikes.

Farther round, to right and to left, the boundary wall consisted of
precipitous rocks, which shut the place in, and made it a kind of a
park.

Alondra noted this, and, breaking off from the subject of his last
question, asked why they could not descend from the pavilion into this
enclosure. It seemed to him that it would be a difficult matter for
their enemies to scale the wall in order to follow them.

Just as he had spoken there rose on the air a strange, weird, booming
sound.  It was a sort of bellowing roar, but far louder and more
startling than the bellow of a bull or the roar of the largest lion ever
seen or heard of.  The sound seemed to come from a distance; yet it was
so loud that it almost made the tower itself tremble.  That it was
produced by some member of the animal kingdom seemed pretty certain.
But what horrible monster could it be which could make such a sound?
There was something almost supernatural in its awful depth and power;
something appalling in the menacing tones of the hoarse, ferocious growl
into which it changed as it gradually died away.

’What in the name of all that is horrible is that?’ cried the startled
young prince.

’It is the answer to your question,’ returned Malto quietly.  ’That is
to say, it partly answers both your questions.  I may go so far as to
explain that my original object in coming here, before we were found out
and pursued, was that you might perhaps hear that terrible roar, and
possibly catch sight of the creature which gave utterance to it. But it
is not at present in sight, and I imagine that, after what you heard,
you will scarcely care to get out on the other side of the pavilion and
go to look for it?’

’I—I think not,’ said Alondra.  ’I will take your word for it that we
are probably safer even here than we should be down there.’

’You are,’ answered Malto drily.  ’It is a creature upon which neither
your trident nor the strange weapons of your young friends would make
more impression than upon yonder rocks!  Now you will be able, if we
ever come before King Ivanta, to confirm one part of what I wish him to
know. King Agrando has a name as a collector of all kinds of curiosities
and monstrosities.  King Ivanta has himself helped him to make his
collection the most comprehensive that has ever been seen’——

’Yes, yes, I know all that,’ Alondra put in impatiently.

’Ay, but what you do not know is this—that Agrando’s object in gathering
these out-of-the-way things about him is not altogether a mere harmless
love of the curious.  He is a monster of cruelty’——

’A perfect fiend!’ Malandris interjected.

’His craze—for such it is—is a sort of madness,’ Malto continued.  ’It
is to set men to fight for their lives with the most terrible creatures
he can find to pit against them.  That is the amusement he and that
demon Kazzaro delight in!  That is why they have constructed all these
secret places, which none know of save themselves and their myrmidons.
Little does the noble-minded Ivanta dream of the proceedings of these
two, or of the way in which he has himself contributed to them. If he
but knew’——

’Eh, what?  How dare—I mean, how can King Ivanta have contributed to
such horrible cruelties as you are hinting at?’ demanded Alondra hotly.

’I don’t wonder that you are moved to indignation, young sir.  But I am
not blaming King Ivanta.  He has been deceived.  For instance, he, it is
said, paid a visit to another planet, and brought back with him many
strange and horrible monsters never seen or heard of on our globe.  Is
it not so?’

’Well?’

’Many of them were the young of fearful creatures.  But, young or old,
he presented Agrando with specimens for his collection.’

’Very likely.  What then?  I see no harm in that.’

’No.  For King Ivanta little guessed the use which the tyrant’s
ingenious brain would put them to.  Agrando gave out that most of them
died in captivity, that the climate here did not suit them, and so on.
Was it not so?’

’Very likely.  I have heard something of the sort.  What then?’

’It is untrue that they died—at least, as regards most of them.  The
greater part—some of the most ferocious, terrible creatures amongst
them—he nursed with perverted tenderness and care. He has reared them
and brought them to maturity. Now his sole use for them is to pit them
against any one who happens to incur his anger; which means, of course,
simply dooming the hapless wretch to a cruel and terrible death.  You
have just heard the voice of one; you saw others—monster bats which they
call krudias—in the cage below; you have also seen one of the intended
victims, and helped me to rescue him at the last moment.’

’Ay, he sent me there—sentenced me to that awful fate merely in a fit of
passing temper,’ Malandris declared.  ’My crime was only that I had
mistaken an order he gave me!’

’Horrible!  Incredible!’ cried Alondra, his eyes flashing with
indignation and disgust.

’You may well say incredible,’ muttered Malto. ’That is why I wished you
to see some of the creatures for yourselves, you three, so that King
Ivanta might have your testimony to confirm mine.  Otherwise, he might
think my statements, as you say, incredible.  Little did I imagine then,
however, that you would witness such a convincing proof or that I should
find my friend Malandris in that cage!’

’And why were you dressed up in that grotesque fashion?’ Alondra asked
of Malandris.

’Oh, that is one of Kazzaro’s little jokes!  It is a whim of his
sometimes to dress his victims up like the creatures they are doomed to
fight against.’

’But he wasn’t there to look on to-day,’ Jack commented.

’I suppose he happened to be particularly busy over something else, or
he would have been,’ said Malandris grimly.  He shuddered, and looked
around half-apprehensively.  ’Now you can understand how much depends
upon our being able to escape from here, and what it will mean if we
fall again into his power.’

Gerald and Jack stared at one another, almost stupefied with horror.

’Did ever two such miscreants exist before, I wonder?’ said Jack.  ’How
right, Gerald, you were when you called Kazzaro the Ogre!’

’I am in for it, too, now, of course,’ Malto added. ’They know by this
time what I have done; and I shall find no mercy there if I am dragged
back into their clutches.’

’But you sha’n’t be!’ cried Alondra, impulsively. ’I will not allow it!
And King Agrando, strong as he may deem himself upon his own ground,
dares not attempt to take you against my will.’

Malto and Malandris looked at him in astonishment at this unexpected
outburst.

’Your feelings do you credit, young sir,’ said the elder man; ’but I
fear your brave words will not avail us much.’  He smiled slightly and
sighed.

’But who are you, then, to talk like that?’ exclaimed Malto
incredulously.

’This is King Ivanta’s son, Prince Alondra!’ said Jack.



                             *CHAPTER XXV.*

                     *AGRANDO THROWS OFF THE MASK.*


King Agrando sat in his own particular sanctum, watching, with absorbed
attention, the proceedings of the Diamond King, who was engaged in
fitting together, by way of trial, the several parts of a new crown.

Upon the table before him were spread out several heaps of lustrous,
sparkling loose stones, some of which must have been among the finest of
their kind in existence.

Agrando had made up his mind that this new crown was to be the most
magnificent that ever adorned the head of mortal potentate.  Had he not
here at hand to advise him the greatest living authority upon such
subjects—Zuanstroom to wit—who claimed that he had seen, handled,
examined, and photographed the most splendid crowns which graced the
various royal heads upon our planet?

Zuanstroom picked up the gems one by one, and placed them tentatively in
the golden framework, stepping back from time to time to observe the
effect, as does an artist with his picture.  Then, if the result did not
commend itself to his sense of the fitness of things, he would take some
of them out, and replace them with others of a different size or colour.

Agrando looked on, a curious variety of expressions flitting across his
face.  He could not but admire the beauty of the work of art which was
slowly growing under his eyes.  Yet he grudged the worker the delight of
handling the bewitching jewels.

To these two there entered Kazzaro.  It was easy to see that he was put
out about something or other, and that he was in a very bad humour even
for him, which is saying a good deal.  It should rather be said,
perhaps, that it would have been easy to perceive this if any one had
looked at him; as a matter of exact fact, no one did. Agrando’s gaze was
fixed upon the table as though he feared that if he removed it for a
single instant some one would snatch at an odd stone and hide it away.
He knew his henchman’s voice, and had no need to make use of his sight
to inform him who it was who had intruded upon his privacy.

’All gone wrong—miscarried!’ he heard Kazzaro grumble.  ’That young
upstart Alondra has escaped my snare after all!’

’So,’ said Agrando, without taking his glance off the table, ’you ’ve
managed to blunder again, then?’

’Blunder, indeed!’ growled the Ogre.  ’I thought he was safe.  I as good
as watched him drown! I saw him in the deadly coils which no one has
ever escaped before, up to his very neck in water. Then I came away in
haste, for fear some one might enter and find me there.  Some one did
enter—must have done, I imagine—and just in time to rescue him, after
all!’

The king muttered something between his teeth.

Just then an officer came in and said something to Kazzaro in a low
tone.  The latter started, turned visibly pale, and then, without a
word, left the apartment with him.

He was gone about a quarter of an hour, and when he returned he was
almost choking with rage.

’It’s all up!’ he cried, throwing his hands into the air.  ’There is
treachery—treason—at work! Some strangers have made their way below and
rescued Malandris from the cage.  He is missing, and so is Malto; and
there are signs that some of your visitors from the evening star have
been there, for they have killed one of the krudias with their
fire-weapons.  Did I not warn you against ever allowing these people to
come here prying about?  This is what has come of it!’

Agrando at last was roused, and he turned his eyes from his beloved
jewels.  But when his gaze fell upon Kazzaro there was in it a menace
which made even that hardened miscreant tremble.

’Miserable wretch!’ thundered his master.  ’You dare to say this to me
as an excuse for your own clumsy blundering and lack of vigilance!  By
Krondris, I’——

What awful threat he was about to utter, however, cannot be told, for he
was interrupted by the unceremonious entry of Zuanstroom’s son Silas.

’Father, father!’ he exclaimed, failing, in his excitement, to notice
the black looks cast at him by Agrando.  ’Gerald and Jack have been
shooting some of King Agrando’s soldiers, who have got them shut up in
the pavilion tower!  Alondra is with them, and two of King Agrando’s
officers.  I know their names—they are Malto and Malandris! I saw them
shoot down a man sent to bring them back when they were running away.’
Out of breath, first with running and then with this speech, poured
forth in a violent hurry, Silas subsided, panting, into a chair.

’They are in the pavilion—that tower by the side of the place where "the
great beast," as you call it, lives?’ asked Agrando with deadly
calmness.

’Yes, sir.  They are defying all your people there, hoping, I expect, to
be taken off by Alondra’s yacht.’

Agrando and Kazzaro looked at each other, the latter mutely asking for
orders.

’We must have them out of that tower,’ said Agrando, in a hard, resolute
tone, ’before they can be taken off!  Do you hear?  We must have them at
any cost.  Send out war-vessels!  Knock the tower down with the traitors
in it!  Crush them at any cost!’

’But how if Alondra’s yacht reaches him first?’ queried Kazzaro.

’Fight them!  I ’m sick of this dissembling! Everything is prepared!  We
will throw off the mask, and show Ivanta that we have some teeth beneath
it to bite with!’



                            *CHAPTER XXVI.*

                        *THE WIRELESS MESSAGE.*


While Agrando was issuing the orders which would precipitate his
long-thought-of revolt against his overlord King Ivanta, Alondra and his
four companions were waiting, with what patience they could command, for
the hoped-for arrival of their friends.

For a while there was a pause in the hostilities. Either their foes
recognised that it was not possible to attack them successfully with the
means then at their disposal, or they deemed it impolitic to do so.
After taking counsel together, they appeared resolved to content
themselves for the time with laying siege to the pavilion.

The only incident worthy of note during this interval was that a wind
sprang up, bringing with it heavy clouds.  Rumblings were heard more
than once as of distant thunder, and there were other indications of a
coming storm.

Jack’s abrupt announcement of Alondra’s identity had naturally produced
a great effect upon the two officers of Agrando with whom they had
become so strangely associated.  So surprising had the statement seemed
that Malto had at first been inclined to be incredulous.  He
half-suspected that the statement might be a bit of rather ill-timed
levity on the part of the one who had made it. But a little reflection
altered this view.

’I have been foolish—blind—not to have guessed it before!’ he exclaimed.
’Prince, I have to ask your pardon for several things I said which may
perhaps have displeased you, especially when I refused point-blank to
answer some of your questions.’

’Nay, I think you were right in the circumstances,’ said Alondra.  ’It
proves that one can rely upon you to be close and discreet when you deem
it necessary.’

Malandris also had apologies to make; but Jack and Gerald both noticed
that his demeanour was different from that of Malto.  The former spoke
and behaved just in the way that any one might be expected to do who is
confused at finding he has been all unknowingly talking rather freely in
the presence of a superior.  Malto, on the other hand, appeared in no
wise embarrassed.  He made his apologies with perfect self-possession,
and carried himself as though he were in the habit of associating with
distinguished personages every day of his life.

Alondra noticed this too, and at first was a little inclined to resent
it; but Malto’s manner was so entirely unconscious and free from offence
that, with his usual good nature, the young prince quickly thrust the
idea aside.  ’Well, now,’ he said, when he had listened to their
apologies and given kindly and suitable replies, ’we are wasting time.
As my people don’t seem to be coming to look for me of their own accord,
I must summon them.’

His companions stared at him with puzzled looks.

’I don’t see how you are going to do that!’ observed Jack.

’I will let you into a little secret, then.  My royal father lent me,
just before we came away, one of his pocket telegraph-boxes; and he lent
Monck Affelda another, so that we might be able to communicate with one
another if we were separated.  Perhaps he did not trust King Agrando
quite so much as he appeared to do.  Anyway, he lent us these.  He
usually keeps them for the exclusive use of himself and his most
confidential officers, and very few people even know of their existence.
He invented and designed them himself, and the working parts were made
by workmen he could trust, who were sworn to secrecy.’

The term ’Affelda,’ applied to Monck, it may be here explained, was a
term of courtesy and respect in use among the Martians.  It signified
rather more than our ’Mr’ and something less than ’lord.’

As Alondra spoke he drew from a side-pocket a small affair which looked
at first sight like a gold chronometer attached to a gold chain.  Just
then there came another rumbling warning of the approaching storm.

’Come inside.  We shall be quieter there,’ he said.

They left the outside gallery, or balcony, and went into an inner
chamber, where were seats and a plain wood table.  Upon the latter he
placed the little ’watch.’

’The wood acts as a sounding-board, and we shall hear better,’ he
explained.

He touched a spring and a lid flew open.  Then he touched other springs,
and at once there was heard the sound of little bells or gongs not
unlike those of a repeater watch.  He repeated this performance several
times, waiting a little while between, as though expecting some reply
which did not come.

The others stood around, looking on with perplexed curiosity and
wondering what it was all about.

’It seems to me it is a repeater watch,’ said Jack presently.  ’The
gongs are beautiful and silvery in tone; but how in the world they are
going to’——

’Hush!’ exclaimed Alondra, with a warning gesture.  He had placed the
instrument on the table and left it to itself; and now, lo! the little
gongs were ringing away on their own account. Alondra bent over it and
listened intently, holding up his hand the while to enjoin strict
silence on his companions.  Then, when the sounds ceased, he manipulated
the gongs himself in turn; immediately he left them alone they again
rung out by themselves.

It appeared to the onlookers as though a sort of conversation were being
carried on in some mysterious fashion between Alondra and the curious
little machine.

Then a thought flashed into Jack’s mind.  ’Wireless telegraphy—or I ’m a
Dutchman!’ he breathed. Still the curious performance went on, and the
longer it continued the graver grew Alondra’s face. His brow clouded
over, and at last, when there came a pause, and he drew himself up, it
could be seen that his face was flushed and his eyes flashing.

’Treason!’ he cried.  ’Foul treachery is at work! Agrando has made an
attempt to seize my whole party!  Some of them he has indeed already
basely captured; and he has now actually attacked some of our airships.
Monck is in difficulties himself, he tells me; but he hopes to be able
to send my yacht to our aid soon, now that I have told him where we are.
Whether he can do more than that, he says, he really does not yet know.’

There were exclamations of amazement at these sinister tidings, and the
friends stared at one another in bewildered perplexity.

’I can scarcely, even now, believe it!’ cried Alondra.

’You are sure there is no mistake?  Or may it be that some one is
playing a joke upon you?’ suggested Gerald rather vaguely.

’No one would dare to attempt such a thing!’ Alondra asserted haughtily.

’But—it sounds impossible,’ said Jack helplessly.

’It wouldn’t if you knew our master as well as we do,’ Malandris put in.
’I have had an idea for some time past that something of the kind was
hatching.’

’If it be as you say, Prince, our position is critical indeed,’ Malto
declared.  ’Agrando will not hesitate now to send one of his airships
against us—the very thing I thought we were safe from so long as
daylight lasted.  I am afraid we must make up our minds to the
inevitable—we shall all be his prisoners before another hour is over.
And what that means you can now guess; although what we have already
told you is but a small portion of the actual truth.’

’My father will rescue us; and they dare not harm us meantime!’ cried
Alondra proudly. ’Agrando knows too well the terrible vengeance that
would be exacted.’

Malto shook his head.

’Do not count too much upon that, Prince,’ he said.  ’It was partly the
fear that some such plot was brewing which made me wish to see King
Ivanta in order that I might warn him.  I had hoped that in return he
would be willing to assist me in another matter on which my heart is
set—to right a great wrong.  But I fear it is useless to dream of it
now.’  And he sighed.

’But is there no other way of escape open to us?’ Jack asked.  ’Surely,
if it be that our friends cannot come to our aid, we should do better to
try some other plan rather than stay on here to be tamely captured
whenever it pleases Agrando to send an airship to take us prisoners!’

’Yes, it might be better even to risk a run across the enclosure where
your monster lives,’ Gerald put in.  ’It is only a choice of
monsters—that or Agrando.’

’Very likely both—Agrando will give us to him later on,’ said Malandris
grimly.

’Well, then, what is this place that we are in?’ Jack went on.  ’Is it
empty?  Is there nothing in the place that might be useful to help us to
defend ourselves?’

’This pavilion is a sort of grand stand—a place of vantage from which
the privileged spectators obtain a good view—and a safe one—of what
takes place in the enclosure when there is anything exciting going on,’
Malandris explained.  ’It is not used for any other purpose, and is
empty’——

’Wait a moment!’ Malto interrupted, with a sudden light in his eyes.  ’I
am not so sure that it is quite empty.  Is there not a store-place
below, where they keep’——

’You are right, Malto,’ the other answered in some excitement.  ’I had
forgotten it.  There may be some arms and things there which would be
useful indeed if we have to try to hold out for a time till assistance
can reach us.  But I am afraid the place is locked up’——

’Perhaps my key will fit; if not, we must break it open.’

Just then there came a great gust of wind and another and louder growl
of thunder; and a little later there was heard an outburst of shouting
outside.  Malto ran out on to the balcony to see what it meant.

There was a good deal of excitement amongst their enemies below.  People
were talking one to another, and some were pointing up at the pavilion,
while a few were huddled together in a knot. In the middle of these last
were seen two men who were doing something with some wings, seemingly
preparatory to taking a flight in the air.

’They have thrown off all thought of concealment,’ said Malto, coming
inside again.  ’You can see that.  So what you told us, Prince, must be
only too true!  They are going to send a couple of fliers up to attempt
our capture.’

’But in that case, why does not Agrando send an airship and settle the
matter at once?’ Gerald asked.

’I expect just now all his airships are busy fighting my friends,’ said
Alondra.  ’They will attend to us presently, I suppose, if the people
here don’t succeed.’

’Well, we will make a fight of it, anyway!’ cried Malto sturdily.  ’I
believe we may find the means down below, if you can keep them at bay
for a little time while we search’——

’We can manage that, I think,’ Jack answered him.  ’Do you go below and
see what you can find to help us.’

Again there came a blustering gust of the fast-rising wind.  Then there
was a blinding flash, followed by a deafening crash of thunder which
shook the whole building to its foundations.



                            *CHAPTER XXVII.*

                         *A DESPERATE VENTURE.*


Malto and Malandris disappeared down a stairway; and Alondra and the two
chums strolled on to the outside gallery to watch their foes.

The wind was now very high, and the darkening sky grew blacker every
minute.  The swirling gusts whistled and shrieked amongst the outer
metal framework, and moaned dismally through the windows and doors.

On each floor of the pavilion there was one of these galleries which ran
the whole way round on the outside, being partitioned off from the
interior by glass windows only.  Hence there was almost as good a view
from the inside as from without; except that one could not look over and
see what was going on immediately beneath.

’The storm seems likely to be a bit of luck for us,’ Jack observed, as
he watched the preparations which were going on below.  ’They don’t seem
to find it to their liking.’

So boisterous had the weather become that they found wings almost
unmanageable.  The two men were trying their best to manipulate some
contrivances of the kind, but with scant success.  Every time an attempt
was made at a start, a blast would come along, swishing and buffeting
the outspread wings, and dashing one or other of them to the ground ere
the aeronaut could rise high enough to use them properly.

’Why, it doesn’t seem much use to think of attacking us in that way in
such a wind!’ exclaimed Gerald.  ’If they even succeed in making a
start, they will only run a risk of being either dashed against the
building or carried past it out of sight.  And they couldn’t hope to fly
back in face of this wind, could they?’

’No, you are quite right,’ Alondra returned.  ’I must say those two
fellows must be either unusually clever or uncommonly foolish, to think
they can attack us under such circumstances.  Nevertheless, we must be
on our guard.  One of them might, by some chance, get blown against the
framework here, and cling to it.  Then, with his trident, he would make
short work of us if he caught us within reach.’

’And if we were idle meantime,’ put in Jack, between his teeth.  ’There,
look at that!’

One of the daring aeronauts had taken advantage, as he thought, of a
slight lull, and had sprung up into the air.  But a sudden gust caught
one of the wings and dashed it violently to the ground again, causing
him to fall heavily.

’If that’s all they can do, we haven’t much to fear from them!’ cried
Gerald, rubbing his hands.

But his rejoicing came too soon, for even as he spoke there came another
lull; and the other aeronaut rose into the air and came straight towards
them.

Alondra laid a hand upon both of his companions and dragged them
promptly back through the door, and closed it.  Jack, who had been about
to fire at the assailant, looked not a little surprised.

’Another moment—before you could use your weapon—he would have had the
three of us!’ exclaimed the young prince.  ’We had better watch him from
behind the glass, where we are safe, and wait to see what happens next.’

The two chums could but recognise the wisdom of this advice.  They had
not at first realised that the man had risen high enough to bring them
within range.  They had been in imminent danger, therefore—supposing
their foe had been able to use his trident—of being assailed and
rendered helpless before their bullets could take effect. Inside the
glass they were safe, for the fateful flash could not penetrate it.

The attacker seemed to be coming on gaily, or, at least, without any
great trouble, when another blast caught him and spun him round like a
great top.  Then, ere he could reach the gallery, it carried him
downwards with a sudden swoop, and left him helpless, but unhurt, at the
foot of the building.

He picked himself up, and a crowd of his friends seized upon him and
half-carried, half-dragged him back to a distance which they considered
necessary for another attempt.

’We had a narrow escape,’ Alondra declared. ’He is a plucky fellow; and
he was as cool and unflustered just then as if there had been no roaring
wind playing around.  I saw it in his eye. It was lucky I did see it,
and rushed you two into shelter in time.’

’We have to thank you for being so prompt, then,’ Jack answered.  ’We
must be more careful next time.  He ’ll have another try, I suppose?’

’I don’t know.  I almost doubt if he will risk it, plucky as he
evidently is.  You can hear how the wind is increasing.’

He opened the door a little way as he spoke, and such a gust came in as
almost forced it out of his hand.

’It’s a regular tempest!’ cried Gerald.  ’The building itself seems to
rock about with it and almost feels as if it might blow over.’

’Yes, it will certainly stop any further attempts of that kind,’ Alondra
decided.  ’No man who is not a fool or a madman would trust himself on
wings in such a storm.  His life would not be worth a minute’s purchase.
He would be likely to be blown against the first thing that came in his
way, and have his brains dashed out.  No airship, even—unless it were
the great _Ivenia_—could make headway against such a wind.’

’What you say is true enough, Prince; yet I am afraid we shall have to
show ourselves mad enough to risk it,’ said Malto, who had re-entered
the apartment unperceived.  ’If the chance were offered you of trying to
escape on wings, now, at this moment, or waiting to be pounced upon by
Agrando’s people later on, which would you choose?’

’What is the use of asking such a question?’ Alondra queried in return,
somewhat impatiently. ’Surely we have something more urgent to think of
just now than’——

’Not at all,’ answered Malto coolly.  ’It happens to be the most urgent
question of the moment. To cut the matter short, Prince, we have met
with a great find.  We have discovered, besides the tridents and things
I had hoped for, several complete flying-outfits.  They are motor-wings,
and if you have the courage to try your luck with them in this storm,
there is no reason why we should not bid Agrando’s people a cheery
"Good-bye," and flit off before his airships come buzzing about our ears
in real earnest.’

The friends stared at one another in blank astonishment.  Here was an
unexpected turn indeed! Truly, it was a most momentous decision which
they were called upon to make—to do that which Alondra but a minute
before had pronounced none but a fool or madman would dare to risk, or
stay and take their chance of being rescued.

’Honestly, it seems to me our only plan,’ Malto declared.  ’Malandris
and I have been discussing it downstairs, and we came to the conclusion
that your friends would have been here before this if they were coming
at all.  I am sorry to say I fear they must have got the worst of it;
and Agrando is only waiting till the wind drops to come and seize us.
He thinks he is sure of us; and need not, therefore, risk one of his
airships in such a storm.’

’I fear you must be right, my friend,’ said Alondra sadly.  ’In that
case, your plan, wild as it would otherwise be, is the only one open to
us. For my part, I will risk it.’

’And I!’ exclaimed Gerald and Jack together.

’Then the sooner we act upon that decision the better,’ said Malto.  ’At
any moment the wind may drop, and our chance will have gone.  Everything
is ready.  From the top outside gallery we can get a better send-off
than those chaps down there had. We can slip out upon the farther side,
and be off and away before they have time to understand what’s afoot.
Then we must trust to the very force of the wind to carry us well beyond
their reach.  There is one suggestion I have to make. It is that we
shall be all five roped together with double ropes, so that we shall
keep together; in that way, if one is in trouble, the others may be able
to help him.  Otherwise, we shall probably be blown about like flies,
and lose touch with one another in the first ten minutes.’

No time was lost in further discussion.  They all set to work with a
will, dragging the necessary equipage up to the top floor.  There they
speedily completed their arrangements, went out on to the outside
gallery, and, after some preliminary manoeuvring, Malto gave the signal.

Being on the lee side, sheltered for the moment from the gale, they
managed to make a fairly good start.  They threw themselves fearlessly
from the gallery, and a great shout of rage and astonishment which came
to their ears from below told them that their foes had just caught sight
of them.

A moment more and the howling tempest had caught them and was whirling
them madly forward. Upwards they sailed with poised wings, like immense
birds, while their bewildered enemies below gazed after them with
staring eyes and open mouths.

There was another flash of lightning, followed on the instant by a crash
that seemed to shake the very rocks around; and then there were cries
and shrieks from the crowd as stones and pieces of metal-work came
flying through the air.

The lightning had struck the pavilion and wrecked it!



                           *CHAPTER XXVIII.*

                      *SAILING ON THE STORM-WIND.*


The five adventurous fliers were borne along by the wind in a fashion
which can be better imagined than described.

To Gerald and Jack, at least, it was an absolutely novel experience,
whatever it may have been to the others.  Every time they glanced down
it almost made them giddy to see the rate at which the various features
of the landscape were racing, as it were, past them.

Of the wrecking of the pavilion by lightning they knew nothing.  They
had been dazzled by the awful flash, and almost deafened by the terrible
crash which followed; but they were then already two or three hundred
yards from the scene.  A minute or two later, and they were a mile or
more away; and the place itself would have been out of sight even if
they could have looked round.

But they had no time to look round.  They scarcely seemed to have time
to look ahead.  No sooner did they catch sight of something—a large
building, a group of trees, or what not—in the distance, than, lo! it
seemed to make a mad rush towards them.  One moment it was half a mile
away; the next it had vanished behind them.

But it was very difficult to distinguish any individual object.

The whole landscape beneath them was one vast blur.  Cities, villages,
trees, fields, woods, streams, lakes, hills, valleys—all seemed to be
merged into a vague mass, and there was no time to single out details
before they had slipped past.

Curiously enough—and contrary to all expectations of the two visitors
from Earth—their progress, wild and mad as it seemed when they looked
down, was serene, easy, almost quiet, when they looked up.  So long as
they made no effort to stop or turn they scarcely felt any wind at all;
and so long as they could keep clear of possible obstacles in their
course by sailing over them there appeared to be no immediate danger.
Below them all was a wild, mad race amid a continuous, low, booming
roar; above, everything looked quiet, almost stationary, for the black
clouds travelled noiselessly and kept exact pace with them.

Whether they would be able to continue to travel thus so long as the
storm should last was another matter—as also was the question of where
they were being carried.  They had no control over their course, no idea
of what their ultimate destination was likely to be, no possible means
of arresting their wild career.  To have ventured on a lower course,
nearer the ground, in the hope of stopping, would have meant certain
death.

Nor could they so much as speak to one another.  They were all roped
together, it is true, and this proved a very wise precaution, for
without it they would undoubtedly have quickly become separated and
hopelessly lost to one another.  Malto had left plenty of rope between
each, and this was now extended to its utmost, leaving too great an
interval to permit even of shouting.  They all looked to Malto—who was
in the centre—for guidance; and he conveyed his directions and advice by
signs.

Of other fliers, or of airships of any kind, they saw none.  It was the
custom to send warnings ahead in such case, and for all air-craft to
seek shelter until the storm had passed.

The wings they had found and appropriated were a sort of
combination—that is to say, they were supplied with electric motors, but
could also be used as ordinary wings when the supply of electricity
stored in the batteries ran out, just as one can work a motor-cycle with
one’s feet.  At present the travellers were husbanding their power
carefully, using only just enough to keep them at what seemed to be a
safe height.

It had been Malto’s hope, when they had started, that the storm would
not continue in such fury for any length of time.  But this expectation
proved to be delusive.  Hour after hour passed, and still they were
carried along at a pace which would have rendered any attempt at
stopping sheer madness.  Cities and towns had long disappeared;
villages, even, now seemed to be no more.  The ground became hilly, and
less and less cultivated till they came upon a region which was little
more than a rocky desert.  Here the hills were growing into mountains;
and some of these towered up to such a height that possible collision
with their rocky peaks became a very ugly possibility.

Malto grew alarmed, and signalled to his companions to ascend yet
higher.  Upwards they mounted accordingly, and passed into the midst of
the swirling clouds.  Here they were in a thick mist, but presently, to
Malto’s relief, they struck into an upper current free from cloud, and
there they entered a region of perfect calm.

They could now even talk, and look round, and take rest of a sort.  The
sun was shining, and everything was bright and cheerful.  Beneath their
feet they could see nothing save great masses of sombre, heavy-looking
clouds scurrying furiously onwards.

’Whew!’ Jack uttered a long whistle of relief. ’This is a change indeed!
I began to wonder where on Earth—h’m, I mean where on Mars—we were
rushing to!  Where do you suppose we ’ve got to?  I mean, supposing we
dropped straight down, what part of your world should we be in?’  He
asked the question in a general sort of way, and Malto answered him as
vaguely, by admitting frankly that he had not the least idea.

’I confess I ’ve lost count of all landmarks,’ he declared.  ’I am very
much afraid we are now near what is known as the Great Desert.  It is a
more or less waterless tract which is uninhabited, save by some roaming
tribes of wanderers who do not bear the best of characters.’

’Ha!  You have deserts, then, as we have?’ said Gerald.

Malto looked at him in surprise.

’Why, of course; I thought everybody knew that!  Fully one-third of our
globe is waterless desert, and, what is worse, the tract is gradually
extending.  Our scientific men prophesy that the proportion will grow
larger and larger until the whole planet becomes a dried-up waste.  That
is the cheerful sort of doom they predict for future generations!’

’Curious, isn’t it?’ murmured Jack, glancing at Gerald.  ’That is
exactly what our earthly scientists have prophesied as likely to happen
to Mars in the future!’

’And to our own planet also, some day, I suppose,’ Gerald rejoined.
’Only, here, I suppose, the process has gone farther than it has with
us.’

’Well, desert or no desert, it will be better than Agrando’s dungeons,’
said Jack.  ’We shall have to go down into it, I suppose, when the storm
subsides?  We can’t stop up here indefinitely. What are we to do
meanwhile?  Can’t we try to work back in this upper current?’

Malto shook his head.

’It would probably be of very little use, and would certainly be
unwise,’ he counselled.  ’We have come hundreds of miles—much farther
than our whole store of electric force would carry us. If we expend it
all in trying to work back we shall be in bad case if, when we come to
the end of our store, we still find ourselves where we do not want to
be.  Now, to support ourselves up here quietly will take but very little
of our reserve force, and we shall have a good stock left for
emergencies.  That is my advice; in fact, that is practically all we can
do.  We must wait here till the storm below has blown itself out.  Then
we will go down and try to find out what country we have got into.’

’I think you are right,’ Alondra agreed.

’It is already well on in the afternoon—judging by the sun—and we have
had nothing to eat. I ’m getting hungry!’ Jack grumbled.  ’Don’t you
have aerial inns up in the clouds here, where storm-tossed travellers
can get a meal?’

Needless to say, they were all hungry, but there was nothing to be done
but wait.  So, to pass the time, they began to compare notes, and
Alondra related his adventure of the early morning in the pool in the
glass-house.  Malto and Malandris nodded their heads significantly as
they listened.

’Ah, there are strange tales afloat about that glass-house and the
deadly plant it shelters,’ the elder man declared.  ’I have never seen
it myself, but I have heard quite enough concerning it.’

The talk went on, and an hour or two slipped by; and then, just as the
sun drew near the horizon, Malto, looking down, suddenly ventured an
opinion that the wind below had subsided.

To test the point, they swept downwards, passed through several strata
of dense cloud, and found, sure enough, that the guess had been correct.
Below the cloud all was now almost as calm as above.  There was scarcely
breeze enough to carry them along.

They finally descended, just before sunset, in a gloomy, forbidding
valley of rocks, where there were no signs of Martian inhabitants to be
seen in any direction.  They found, however, a small stream—a fact which
surprised Malto—and this enabled them to quench their thirst.  But how
to obtain the wherewithal to satisfy their hunger was another and more
hopeless matter.



                            *CHAPTER XXIX.*

                        *ATTACKED IN THE DARK.*


Presently Malto uttered an exclamation of surprise.  He walked a short
distance up the little watercourse and examined carefully some bushes
growing on its banks.  They seemed to excite both interest and pleasure.

’I know those plants,’ he explained to his companions.  ’They will
provide us with a very fair and toothsome supper, and they also tell me
a story.  You wished to know where we had drifted to, and I can now tell
you almost exactly.

’This is not the Great Desert—fortunately, we have not travelled far
enough to reach that—but a tract lying upon its borders.  We are in a
region situated between the desert and the country of Iraynia, which,’
he added slowly, and with some sadness in his tone, ’is my native land.’

’Oh!’ said Alondra; ’so you are a native of Iraynia!  I have heard a
good deal about that country, though I have never been there.  Was there
not some great fuss or trouble there some years ago, before my father’——

’Before King Ivanta allowed the tyrant Agrando to annex it, would you
say?  Yes, Prince, there was.  And thereby hangs a tale.  I will not
tell it to you now, however—it will keep for another time; but I may say
that it is a tale of terrible, almost incredible wrong, and treachery,
and wickedness. It is that great wrong which I wished to induce King
Ivanta to inquire into, in order that the memory of a good man’s name
may be cleared from dishonour.  That man was my father, Prince; and that
was the reward I was hoping to win from King Ivanta.  Now you will
understand why I said I could not share my reward, if I obtained what I
hoped for, with any one else!’

There were notes of deep feeling and sadness in the young fellow’s voice
as he spoke in low, incisive tones, turning his face away the while as
though afraid he might break down.

There was a pause; then Alondra said gently and sympathetically, ’I am
sorry, indeed, that you have such a heavy trouble to bear.  Later on you
shall give me fuller particulars, and I will myself lay them before my
father.  He is just and fearless in punishing where wrong has been done,
and if he finds, on investigation, that your story is true, I am certain
he will right you, and the memory of your father, and punish the
wrongdoers.’

’He will have to fight to maintain his own position ere that can come
about, I fear!’ rejoined Malto gravely.  ’But I thank you, Prince, all
the same, for your sympathy and your promise. Another day I will, as you
say, give you the details—when the time comes.  Let me now explain how
we are situated here.  We are in a desolate territory known as Kubandia.
It is nothing but a maze of arid rocks and mountains, and wild, gloomy
gorges and valleys, almost waterless, but not so bad, in that respect,
as the Great Desert which lies beyond.  For the reasons I have mentioned
the tract has a bad name, and also for another—that there are bands of
reckless outlaws who have made it their fastness.  They are, I believe,
for the most part remnants or descendants of men who were originally
honest patriots—men who were driven into exile by Agrando’s heavy hand
when he took over the government of the country.  Now, I fear, they are,
most of them, no better than brigands and unscrupulous adventurers.  It
is said that there are many bands, under different heads, but all
directed by one leader—a clever, daring chief, of whom wild tales are
told.  His name is Fumenta; and it is a name held in terror by Agrando’s
followers. But for this man’s wonderful genius and bravery, it is
believed these brigands would all have been exterminated before this.
He has, somehow, managed to evade capture for many years, and carry on a
guerilla warfare, holding his own in these wild valleys and gorges in
spite of all the forces Agrando has sent against him.  Such, at least,
is what we hear.  I myself can say nothing as to this part from my own
knowledge, because I have been brought up in Agrando’s city and forced
to be one of his servitors.’

’Naturally, however, you cannot help feeling a certain amount of
sympathy for these outlaws, who are your own countrymen, and who have
been driven, as you think, perhaps unjustly, into exile, eh?’ queried
Alondra, eying the other keenly.

’It may be so—deep down in my mind,’ was the quiet answer.  ’Certainly,
however, I have no sympathy with tales of robbery and murder such as are
related of these bands.  But, of course, they may not be true, or they
may be very much exaggerated.  We only hear one side, that told by
Agrando’s people; and from my own experience I can tell you that it is
not safe to believe all they assert.’

’But how do you know where we are, if, as you say, you only know of all
these things by hearsay?’ was Alondra’s shrewd query.

’Oh, I have been in these parts before as a boy, and I know that those
plants yonder are peculiar to this region.  You do not find them
anywhere else.’

’I see.  Well, if they are good to eat, let us try them as soon as we
can.  For my part, I am hungry enough to devour anything that is fairly
eatable.’

’We must have a fire.  It is the root which is good to eat; and it
requires cooking,’ Malto returned.  ’I have dug these roots up and
cooked them many times when picnicking out here with other youngsters.
If you others will get some wood together, and start a fire, I will soon
have a first-rate supper ready for you.’

The young fellow proved as good as his word, and some half-hour later,
just as darkness fell, they were all sitting round a cheerful fire,
discussing a very agreeable meal off something which had a flavour not
unlike baked potatoes.

’Humph!  Not a bad thing to fall back upon in a wilderness like this!’
Jack declared.  ’And what are we going to do afterwards?  How are we to
get back to our friends?’

’That is not easy to say,’ Malto answered soberly.  ’We must have passed
right over my country to get here, and that alone means two or three
hundred miles.  It is a land which is full of Agrando’s followers, and
you may be sure that his airships will, by this time, be cruising about
in search of us.’

’That sounds cheerful!  Looks as if we shall have to stay here and do a
bit of outlaw business on our own account!’ cried Jack.

Malandris glanced at him with a very grave expression in his eyes.
’Your remark exactly describes the position, young sir, though spoken,
doubtless, half in jest.  I am sorry to have to say it, for it is not a
trifling matter.  For myself, I accept it as preferable to the fate from
which you all so pluckily aided to rescue me.  But it grieves me that I
should live to see the son of the good and wise King Ivanta in the
position of a hunted fugitive!’

Alondra started and flushed up at these plain words.  But there was in
the elder man’s eyes a look so thoroughly honest and kindly that it was
impossible to take offence.

’Perhaps such an experience will do me no harm,’ he answered, after a
minute’s thought. ’That is, provided it ends in the right way.  It is
better than passing the time in Agrando’s palace as his captive.  My
father is sure to rescue us in his own good time.  He will follow us up
and find us out, wherever we are, and the punishment he will inflict on
his daring enemies will be terrible.  Does Agrando hug to himself the
notion that he can pit himself against his overlord?’ Alondra continued,
with a proud curl of his lip. ’Why, where is his fleet?  What means has
he of resisting my father’s power?’

’He has been making secret preparations ever since his return from his
trip to the evening star. I feel sure of that!’ Malto declared.

’Why don’t you try a wireless message?’ Jack asked of Alondra.

The young prince shook his head.  ’It is useless. The little instrument
you saw does not carry far enough,’ he explained.  ’Monck Affelda cannot
hear me unless he is within a hundred miles.  But you may be sure of one
thing, the news of all that has happened has before this been flashed
through to my father, and he is already on his way to our assistance in
the _Ivenia_.  How can Agrando think he can prevail in the end against
such a monster of the skies as the _Ivenia_?’

As he spoke these words there was a sudden illumination of the spot
where they were sitting round their fire, and the sound of voices was
heard.  Lights were flashed upon them from the air above, dazzling their
eyes and rendering it impossible to make out what had happened or who
the speakers were.  But the words were unmistakable; some one had called
out in harsh, hoarse tones, ’Surrender!  You are my prisoners! If you
make any attempt at resistance you are all dead men!’



                             *CHAPTER XXX.*

                              *CAPTURED.*


When the ominous summons to surrender was heard, shouted down from some
invisible person in the air above them, it was Malto who took upon
himself to reply.

His brain had been working quickly.  At first he had feared that it was
Agrando’s people who had thus found them out, but a moment’s reflection
convinced him that such a thing was extremely improbable.  If it were
indeed so, then, such was his detestation of his late master, and horror
of again falling into his clutches, that he would rather have died
fighting than yield.

But Agrando’s men would have acted first. There would have been no
preliminary summons; they would simply have used their tridents to
render the fugitives powerless at once.  The inference was that these
must be some other people who were not armed with tridents.  All the
same, resistance was probably useless, as they could not even see their
adversaries, and a fight could only end in one way.  So he called out,
’Who are you?  And why do you threaten us?  We have no quarrel with you,
whoever you are.  We are peaceable folk.’

’You will find out who we are in good time,’ was the answer, given with
a grim laugh.  ’Will you surrender quietly, or shall we’——

The speaker did not finish the sentence, but waited for an answer, as
though he considered it unnecessary to say more.

There were other sounds, however, which had caught Malto’s quick
ear—sounds as of a number of men moving about amongst the surrounding
rocks, and from these he drew the inference that the threat that had
been made was not likely to prove an idle one.

’If we yield, what are you going to do with us?’ he asked again.

’That is for us to say.  We cannot make any bargain with you,’ was the
answer given roughly and impatiently.

’Will you guarantee us good treatment? Remember, I have told you we are
peaceable folk. Have you no fear that King Agrando will call you to
account?’

At this there was a harsh laugh.

’We have no fear of Agrando or his ruffians,’ the voice declared
jeeringly.  ’You will gain nothing by appealing to him here.’

’Then you ought to welcome us as friends instead of treating us as
enemies, for we have no more bitter foe than that same Agrando.’

’Why,’ cried another voice, ’the fellow is mocking us!  Is he not
himself one of Agrando’s myrmidons?  He is dressed in the tyrant’s
uniform—ay, and so is another I can see beside him!’

’A man may wear another’s uniform and yet be no friend of’—— Malto
began, when Malandris interrupted him.  It struck him that the second
speaker was not unknown to him.

’I ought to know that voice!’ he exclaimed. ’I should recognise it among
a thousand.  Surely it is Landris, who was once a friend of mine!’

’It is Malandris,’ they heard the second man then say; and there ensued
a colloquy in a low tone between the unseen speakers.  Presently the
second man’s voice was heard again.

’If you are Malandris, what are you doing here?  If you have come out at
the tyrant’s bidding to join in hunting us down’——

’We are fugitives, Landris.  We have run away from him, as you yourself
did once, and for the same reason—because we could put up with his
treatment no longer.  He condemned me to the cage of the krudias—his
great monstrous bats—but by good chance these brave gentlemen, who are
my companions, rescued me, and we all had to flee for our lives in
consequence.’

Again there was a conference in low tones, and what seemed to be an
argument ensued. At last the one called Landris said aloud, ’I tell you
I will have it so!  I know this Malandris to be an honest man, and once
he saved my life; and I insist that he and those with him shall go
before the chief and speak for themselves.’

’Oh, very well, if you insist!’ the other replied. ’But, recollect, if
there is trouble about it, it is your doing, not mine.’

’You will have to be bound and blindfolded, Malandris—all of you,’
Landris now said.  ’I will conduct you to our leader, and you can tell
your story to him.  If he believes that you speak the truth he will not
harm you—indeed, he may welcome you if so be that you care to join him
and fight against Agrando, even as he did with me.’

’Lead us to him, friend Landris.  That is all I ask,’ Malandris said.

A few moments later the fugitives found themselves in the midst of a
crowd of rough-looking men, who climbed down from the adjoining rocks,
bringing with them lanterns and pieces of rope.

They were certainly not by any means of attractive appearance, and their
apparel was of the coarsest.  Their hair and beards, too, were unkempt,
and their manners gruff and surly.  But they had the appearance of
alert, hardy veterans of the wilds; and in their handling of their
prisoners there was nothing cruel or insulting.

The one named Landris greeted Malandris with quiet friendliness, and his
companion—the one who had called upon them to surrender—also came and
conversed with the prisoners.  His name, it appeared, was Duralda.  He
was a fine, picturesque figure of a man, with bearded face, shaggy hair,
and dressed in what had probably once been a rich costume, but had
evidently seen its best days.  This man examined and questioned each
prisoner in turn, but showed no resentment when, acting upon a hint from
Malandris, they told him civilly that they preferred to tell what they
had to tell to his chief.

Their wings and other belongings were packed up by the band—of whom it
was now seen there were fully a hundred—and in due time the whole party
commenced a march over very difficult, rocky ground.

At the end of some two hours a halt was called.  They were then
blindfolded, and the march resumed in slow fashion, each captive being
led by two guards, one on each side.

[Illustration: They were then blindfolded, and the march resumed.]

This time, after ascending some steep, broken ground, they came to
steps, up which their guards assisted them.

At length there was another halt, and a low, tumultuous murmuring sound
told them that they must have arrived in the midst of a considerable
assembly.

Then the bandages were removed from their eyes, and they gazed round
upon a marvellous scene.



                            *CHAPTER XXXI.*

                        *AT HOME IN A VOLCANO.*


The prisoners found themselves in the middle of what they took to be a
vast round building, with an immense domed roof, open to the sky in the
centre.  As a matter of fact, they afterwards knew it to be the interior
of the crater of an extinct volcano.

Into the open part, one of Mars’ two moons was peeping, throwing down a
warm, mellow light, very different from the pale silvery beams of our
own moon.

But this soft radiance was lost in the bright illumination given out by
thousands of lights of some kind which were placed about within the
great dome—some round the rocky walls, others high up in the wide, lofty
roof.

Round the sides, below, were seats, rising tier upon tier, save at one
place, where was a platform or dais, upon which were raised seats with a
canopy over them.  Just in front of the highest seat stood a man of
commanding appearance, who gazed at the prisoners with a look of keen,
searching scrutiny.  This man, as they afterwards learned, was the chief
of whom Malto had spoken—the one who was known as Fumenta.  He was
dressed as plainly as his followers—indeed, more plainly than some of
them; but there was that in his face, in his manner, in his very pose,
which singled him out from all the rest, and proclaimed the fact that he
was their leader.

That he must be old was apparent from the gray beard and the gray hair
which showed beneath his head-covering—a kind of helmet.  His face, too,
was seamed and marked, and spoke eloquently of a life of hardship and
adventure. But his tall figure was upright and stalwart, and exhibited
no sign of failing strength; while his dark, piercing eyes were flashing
with a fire almost as of youth.

Duralda and Landris mounted, by means of three or four steps, on to the
platform, and, after a respectful salutation, conferred in a low tone
with their leader.  Meantime, those seated around—of whom there must
have been many hundreds—ceased their talk, and gazed in silence at the
prisoners.

Presently, Fumenta turned from his henchmen, and, fixing his eagle
glance upon the captives, began to question them.  ’Who are you?’ he
asked.  ’And what are you doing in these parts?’  His voice was
sonorous, and, though stern, not unpleasing.  He glanced from one to the
other, as if to mark the effect of his question upon each in turn; but
he evidently addressed himself more particularly to Malandris, who had
been pointed out by Landris.

’We were storm-tossed travellers at the time we were captured, my lord,’
Malandris answered. ’We had lost our way.  Apart from that, we were
fugitives fleeing from’——

Fumenta’s eyes flashed and his brow grew dark.

’I want a plain answer,’ he interrupted warningly.  ’You—you two—wear
Agrando’s hated livery; you are evidently his servitors—some of his
myrmidons!  Woe to you if you have come here to play the part of spy for
him!’

At the mention of the words ’livery’ and ’servitors,’ Malto had started
and flushed.  And now at the word ’spy’ he seemed to lose control of
himself.  He laid a hand on Malandris, as though asking that the
answering of the questions should be left to him.  Then, drawing himself
up, he said haughtily, ’Though we are your prisoners, sir, I fail to see
why we should endure your insults without protest!  It is true, alas!
that I have for many years been one of Agrando’s servitors—ay, even his
slave, I may almost say. But I am not the first, nor the only one, of
gentle birth, who has been forced by the tyrant to serve him thus.  At
last, however, I have escaped, and I only await the opportunity of
picking up some other suit of clothes to throw off for ever what you
aptly call his hated livery.  If you are, indeed, as I suspect, the
chief Fumenta of whom I have heard, I have no reason for fear, for I
have been told of him that he is brave and just, an upright, chivalrous
gentleman, though he has been sorely persecuted.  I have never heard,
however, that he was given to insulting his prisoners, and taunting them
with having been forced to serve a hateful tyrant.’

Alondra, who had been engaged in ’taking stock,’ so to speak, of
everything and every one around, turned and looked at Malto in surprise.
The young man had suddenly come out in a new character.  He was looking
his questioner squarely in the face, his eyes flashing back glance for
glance, his whole attitude full of indignant protest.  Yet was there in
it nothing of rudeness; on the contrary, even in his defiance, there was
a subtle suggestion of that deference which a young man may always pay
to age without lowering his own dignity.

But what was even more noticeable was the fact that Fumenta himself
appeared to be just as much taken aback as Alondra had been.  To the
surprise of every one there—his own people most of all—he showed no sign
of anger, and the look he cast at the speaker, shrewd, searching, as it
was, was free from all trace of irritation. There was a pause, while he
eyed the young man from head to foot.  He looked at him as if trying to
read his very soul.  Then, for a moment, a quick, eager expression came
into his face; but it faded again instantly, he passed his hand over his
forehead in a strange, dreamy way, and finally shook his head.

When he spoke again his tone was gentler. ’You are bold, young sir,’ he
said.  ’Few dare to speak to me as you have done.  Yet if you tell the
truth your boldness will be justified, for it shall never be said that
those who have called me a just man spoke falsely.  I confess I like
your spirit; you remind me of——  But it’s useless now to speak of that.
What is your name?’

’I have been known as Malto.  But it is not my true name.’

’How so?’

’Agrando chose, for purposes of his own, that I should be called Malto
while I was yet but a boy; and I had no choice but to submit.’

’Ha!  But why, then, after serving him and submitting to him for so many
years, did you suddenly wish to leave him?’

’Because, sir, something accidentally came to my knowledge of which I
had previously been ignorant.  It is rather a long story, but I may say
briefly that I wished to make a personal appeal to King Ivanta.
Instead, however, we had to flee for our lives in the midst of the great
storm which has but just passed, and we were carried here by the high
wind.’

’With these companions?’ asked Fumenta.  For the first time he seemed to
notice the prince’s rich dress.  Malto’s personality had so attracted
his attention that for the time being he had troubled little about the
others.  Now he seemed suddenly interested in Alondra.  ’And who, young
sir, are you?’ he queried.

Alondra drew himself up, and proudly answered, ’My name is Alondra, son
of King Ivanta!’

The words had a marvellous effect; they seemed to electrify the
assembly.  Till then every one had been silent, content to await quietly
the result of their chief’s questioning, and anxious to hear all that
was said.  Now there burst out a great commotion.  Every one present
sprang up in amazement.  Some simply stood and stared in helpless
astonishment; some leaned forward to gaze upon the youth as though
scarcely able to believe their ears; others, again, turned to their
nearest neighbours, and began talking and gesticulating excitedly.

Exclamations were heard, some of which gave a clue to the cause of this
excitement: ’What a piece of luck for us!’ ’What a hostage!’ ’Now King
Ivanta must listen to us; we can compel him!’

It was obvious that these outlaws regarded the young prince as a great
prize—one which they meant to turn to account in negotiating with
Ivanta.

As to Fumenta, he, it was easy to perceive, was nearly as much
astonished by the statement as were his followers.  He seemed, indeed,
almost too surprised for speech, and for a few minutes exhibited some
signs of incredulity.  Then, suddenly making up his mind, he bent his
head courteously, and said, ’It is a pity we did not know this sooner.
Had you told my people at first who you were, Prince, they would have
handled you a little more gently, I expect.  They are rough fellows; the
life we lead has made them so.’

’I have not complained,’ said Alondra, with one of his good-natured
smiles.  ’But certainly I wish now that I had spoken sooner, if it would
have been better for these friends of mine. They are my royal father’s
guests, and are supposed to be under his protection.  But Agrando has
suddenly revolted.  We went there on a peaceful visit, and he made a
treacherous attack upon my whole party, and sought to take us
prisoners.’

Fumenta started, while from the listening throng came loud exclamations.
Every one strained his ears in eager excitement.

’What do you tell me?’ exclaimed Fumenta, evidently utterly amazed.
’Agrando in revolt! Tried to seize you and your party!  Is that, then,
the reason you are fleeing from him?’

’Truly, we had no other course open to us, as we were situated.  I
myself and these companions were cut off from my followers, and we had
to make our escape as and how we could. It was a desperate venture, as
you know, to cast ourselves loose in the air in such a storm. But it was
our only chance.  Had we not taken the risk we should have been
Agrando’s prisoners. I do not even now know how his traitorous attack
turned out.  I don’t know whether my followers have got away or have
been captured.  But this I do know,’ he concluded, looking round
proudly, ’there will be a heavy reckoning for all this. My father King
Ivanta will be already on his way, by this time, to look for us, and to
punish Agrando and his treacherous crew.’

To the astonishment of Alondra and those with him, this speech was
received by the whole assembly with a great burst of cheering.  Again
and again, and yet again, did it ring out.  And the shouters, after
cheering themselves hoarse, pressed forward and crowded round the
’prisoners,’ seeking eagerly to kiss the prince’s hand, or, failing
that, to shake hands with one or another of his companions.

Gerald and Jack found themselves suddenly treated with exuberant
friendliness by those whom they had regarded but a few minutes before as
dangerous enemies.  They stared about them, bewildered, not
understanding such a sudden change.  Alondra was as perplexed as the
rest, and his face showed it.

Fumenta smiled, and proceeded to explain: ’These followers of mine,
rough fellows though they are, to whom Agrando and his tools have given
a bad name, are really honest patriots who have been driven into exile
to escape from the tyrant,’ he said.  ’We have fought against him, and
against his bloodthirsty followers, it is true; but otherwise we have
harmed no man.  And, above all, we have no quarrel with King Ivanta,
save in so far as he had been led—by false representations, doubtless—to
espouse Agrando’s cause against us.  Now, therefore, that you have told
us that Agrando has revolted, my friends are delighted, because they
know it must lead to the tyrant’s overthrow and to his just punishment.
As to the rest, you can command us all, Prince. Every man here will join
your standard and fight for you against Agrando.  We are ready to offer
our aid, our lives, to King Ivanta.  We will fight to the death for him
against that cruel monster.’

’We will!  We will!’ cried the shouting crowd. ’Long live King Ivanta!’
’Long live Prince Alondra!’

Just then a messenger entered in breathless haste, and saluting Fumenta,
spoke to him aside.

There was a brief colloquy between the two, after which Fumenta spoke
aloud, so that all might hear: ’Some airships have been sighted in the
distance, seemingly coming this way.  All lights must be extinguished.’
Then, addressing Alondra more particularly, he continued, ’There are two
squadrons, it seems; but our scouts could not tell whose ships they are.
They may carry your enemies or your friends, or a party of each, one in
chase of the other.  At the same time, a thick mist is rising, as is
often the case here after such a storm as we have had, and most likely
the airships will disappear in the fog and we shall see no more of
them.’

’But that would be a bad thing if some of them are my friends,’ said
Alondra.  ’Your people took charge of the motor-wings we brought with
us; let us go out in them to reconnoitre.  If we meet with friends we
will all join together; but if we discover that they are enemies, and
they do not look like going away, we will return and warn you.’

Fumenta considered for a few minutes, then answered, ’Very well; so be
it.’

By this time all lights had been put out, and the whole vast interior
was in black darkness, save for the opening in the centre, where some
rays of moonlight were still feebly struggling through the thickening
vapours.

Through this opening, a little later, Alondra and his companions rose,
flying like spectres on silent wings, and disappearing into the mist.



                            *CHAPTER XXXII.*

                          *IVANTA A FUGITIVE.*


Alondria’s companions in his scouting expedition were Gerald and Jack,
Malto and the outlaw chief Fumenta, the latter having taken the place of
Malandris, who had been left behind.

’You will want some one who knows this region as a guide, or you will
not be able to find your way through the mist,’ Fumenta had pointed out.
Alondra had been prompt to recognise the wisdom of the suggestion, and
gladly accepted it.

It seemed that these outlaws were without flying apparatus of any kind
except the roughest sort of wings.  They lived the life of hunted men,
and even if they had possessed airships or other flying machines, they
were without the necessary means of utilising them.

All kinds of air-craft required electricity to work them; which, in its
turn, as with us, required machinery to produce it.  Throughout Ivanta’s
dominions there were stations here and there at which passing aeronauts
could refill their storage batteries on payment of certain specified
sums.  At these stations gigantic engines of immense power were ever at
work, day and night, accumulating the necessary force, and it was upon
this constant supply that all airships were dependent. When they
journeyed beyond the districts in which these stations were situated,
travellers were compelled to be careful not to venture too far afield—no
farther, that is, than they could travel back again with the storage
power on board.

For the same reason, the outlaws had none of the usual weapons—those
tridents which wielded such strange, mysterious power; or, if they
possessed any, they were useless to them for want of the needful force.

Throughout the inhabited portion of the planet the same state of things
prevailed.  There were no small weapons other than the tridents, save
swords, spears, and the like.  Nor were there any large weapons like our
cannon and big guns. Owing to their great weight, all such contrivances
had long ago been abandoned as too heavy to be carried in the air, and
as being no longer of any use on the ground.  An airship depended for
its means of offence either upon ramming an adversary, or being able to
get above it, and drop upon it bombs, which, upon bursting, produced a
similar effect upon living beings around it to that of the tridents—that
is to say, they rendered them for the time being unconscious.  Thus,
warfare in the air resolved itself chiefly into a manoeuvring contest,
the one which could soar uppermost, and get exactly over its adversary,
usually—other things being equal—gaining the advantage.

Having no machinery for the production of electricity, and consequently
no flying apparatus save the clumsy, slow wings without motors, Fumenta
and the bands of which he was chief were for the most part restricted in
their operations to nocturnal expeditions.  They seldom ventured abroad
in the daytime, but remained hidden in their underground retreats.

Fortunately for their purpose, their leader had discovered, amid the
arid wilderness of rocky mountains into which he had been driven, an
extinct volcano with an ancient crater open to the sky.  Within was the
immense cavity which they had made their chief hiding-place, and running
into it from all points of the compass were endless galleries and
passages—a veritable labyrinth which extended for miles in every
direction.  These led to numerous underground grottos, large and lofty
caverns, which they had turned into dwelling-places. The whole formed a
sort of subterranean town.

Not the least remarkable thing about this retreat was the ingenious ruse
by which Fumenta had kept its existence unknown to his enemies. He had
discovered, in some of the lower galleries, considerable accumulations
of sulphur, and whenever, during the daytime, the approach of airships
was signalled by his scouts, he had sulphur fires lighted in the crater
just beneath the funnel-like opening, sending up columns of smoke and
sulphur fumes.

As a consequence, the report had gone forth that the supposedly extinct
volcano had become active again, and its neighbourhood was shunned as
dangerous by all not in the secret.  A few venturesome inquirers, who
had attempted to make explorations, had been baffled by the sulphur
fumes, and had returned declaring that there were evident signs of
renewed volcanic activity.

Similarly, if, as sometimes happened, an occasional airship, driven out
of her course by high winds, passed near the place at night, and saw a
light coming up through the opening, it was put down to the same cause.

These notes are necessary to explain the events which follow.

The mist seemed to grow thicker as the adventurers sailed cautiously
onwards, and it soon became obvious that they would quickly have lost
themselves if they had not had Fumenta to guide them.  He, however,
seemed to know his way about in it with as much certainty as if it had
been clear.  He was aided, no doubt, by a dim radiance which struggled
down from the moon above.

He led off to the right, mounting always upwards, till, after they had
travelled perhaps a mile, he brought them to a halt beside a towering
peak.

’Here,’ he said, in low, guarded tones, ’you had better rest for a
little time, while I reconnoitre from the top of the mountain, which
rises yet some hundreds of feet into the air.  It is one of the highest
peaks about here, and these occasional ground-mists scarcely ever reach
its top.  It may be that we can get a view from its summit over the top
of the mist, but at the same time we shall run some risk of being seen
ourselves.  Let me, therefore, make the trial first, as I am more used
to this kind of thing than you are.  I will return in a short time and
let you know the result.  Do not leave this spot, and, whatever you do,
do not talk loudly.  Voices travel far in this mist; you cannot tell how
near our enemies may be.’

With that he started off, mounting silently upwards, and the four he
left behind began discussing their recent adventures, and the possible
future, in low tones.

’So that’s the great outlaw chief!’ said Jack. ’What do you think of
him?  I suppose he is to be trusted?  I must say I am agreeably
surprised!  I like his looks; yet one never knows! He might betray you,
Prince, to your enemies. How if he could buy off Agrando’s hostility
that way?  It might be a great temptation!’

’I do not think he is one of that sort,’ Alondra returned.

’Nor do I,’ Gerald put in.

Malto had remained silent.  He had seemed to be pondering deeply over
something.  At these words from the others he suddenly woke up, as it
were, from his reverie, and spoke warmly.  ’I would stake my life on his
loyalty!’ he exclaimed passionately.  ’He is a good man—a great man—an
upright, brave, honourable man!  I feel it, I know it!  But why do I
know it?  Why does he rouse such a tumult of strange thoughts and ideas
in my breast?  That is what has been puzzling me ever since I set eyes
on him!  Have I seen him before?  It seems to me that I have—must have
done so!  Yet when?  Where?  How could it be?  My head seems to go round
puzzling it out, and trying to seize upon some thought, some memory,
which I feel, but cannot put into words!’

The others looked in surprise at this outburst.

’Hush!  We were warned to be quiet!’ said Alondra.  ’Our opinions are
really the same as yours.  What was said was only spoken in the way of
ordinary caution.  You need not take it to heart as though we were
wronging a friend of yours!’

’A friend of mine!’ Malto answered bitterly and somewhat incoherently.
’Would that I could call such a man my friend!  I have no such friend in
the world!  My life, since I was a boy, has been passed among deadly
enemies, who destroyed my father and brought me up as a slave!  I have
ever been a child of misfortune; and now, see how ill-fortune dogs me!
I come across you, and you promise to take me to King Ivanta, to give me
the opportunity of pleading my cause with him and asking for my rights;
but what comes of it? At once treachery steps in again, and instead of
your helping me, I only lead you into trouble and fresh misfortune!’

’Nay, it was no doing of yours,’ said Alondra gently.  ’Have patience,
my friend, and all will yet come right!  I feel sure it will!  My father
is not going to be beaten by people like Agrando and his confederates.
He will soon come to our aid and rescue us, have no fear!  Then you
shall tell him your story, and he will see that right is done.
Meantime, it seems to me, we have been fortunate in meeting with
Fumenta.  If he and his people are to be trusted—and I feel sure they
are—we have found useful and faithful allies, and a secure hiding-place
where we can await developments!’

As the young prince finished, he started.  While he had been speaking
the last few words there had been heard a tiny, muffled ’ting-ting,’ and
now, in the surrounding stillness, it was heard still more plainly.

’Ting—ting-ting—ting—ting!’ it rang out.

’By Jove!’ exclaimed Jack, ’that’s your wireless telegraph affair!’

Alondra plunged a hand into his breast and brought out the little
instrument they had seen when they had been in the pavilion.

He placed it on his outstretched palm, and again were heard the clear,
silvery notes of the little gongs.

Excitedly he opened it and began to manipulate the miniature levers and
pins.

’What did I tell you?’ he breathed, in low accents.  ’Said I not that my
father would be soon on his way to our assistance?’

Just then Fumenta came gliding back like some weird, mysterious shadow.

’Follow me,’ he said, ’and I will show you a strange sight!’

First, however, they told him the news.

’My father King Ivanta has come to seek us,’ Alondra said joyously.  ’He
is not far away!’

To their surprise the outlaw chief nodded his head and answered slowly,
’I know.  But he cannot help us.  He is in hiding, as we are.  He cannot
aid us at present.  I may, however, help him by offering him a temporary
refuge, as I have done to you.’

Alondra turned and faced him in amazement, his eyes flashing, and his
cheeks flushing with indignation.

’My father—in hiding?  You—offering him a refuge?’ he gasped.  ’Sir,
have you suddenly’——

’Peace, my son!  You speak too loudly,’ rejoined the old man quietly.
’However painful it may be to you to hear it, what I have said is but
the exact truth, as I will prove to you presently. Come with me, and I
will show you something that will surprise you.’

He commenced his upward flight as he spoke, and the others wonderingly
followed.  His words had, so to speak, struck them dumb; and no one
uttered another word.

After a few minutes’ flight it grew lighter, and they could tell that
they were nearing the limits of the mist above them.  Then Fumenta
stopped upon a sloping rock, and, looking round at his companions to
enjoin caution, signed to them to walk slowly up the incline.

They obeyed, and, behold! quite suddenly their heads were above the
mist.  It was almost as if they had put them up through a trap-door and
looked around.  The vapours closed round them below like a mantle.  They
could not see their own hands, but they could see for miles around on
every side.

A large fleet of airships could be seen in the air above, going
restlessly backwards and forwards. The moon which our astronomers call
Phobos was throwing a rather feeble light over what seemed to be a
pinkish-white sea, which was, in reality, the surface of the mist.

The airships were assisting the moonlight by throwing their searchlights
around in all directions, prowling to and fro, and making sudden dashes
here and there, exactly as might a swarm of huge birds of prey on the
wing seeking for food.

’Those,’ said Fumenta, indicating the airships, ’are the war-vessels of
Agrando and the allies who have joined him.  They know that King Ivanta,
in his yacht—not his great "chariot of the skies," the mighty _Ivenia_,
look you—is hiding somewhere in the mist below.  He must have come
hither to seek for you—why he should come in his yacht instead of the
_Ivenia_ I know not—and they have chased him here, and have lost him in
the fog!’



                           *CHAPTER XXXIII.*

                            *A QUEER HUNT.*


Even as Fumenta spoke, two dark shapes rose quickly above the fleecy
vapours as though to take a cautious observation.

Alondra and the two chums instantly recognised them as the two yachts
the _Nelda_ and the _Lokris_; but ere they could breathe a word both
craft had dived back into the fog.

At once two or three of the hostile airships made a dart at the place
where they had appeared, and so impetuous was their rush that they
narrowly missed ramming one another.  But for some reason they did not
dive after the fugitives.  They were evidently averse to trusting
themselves in those foggy depths.

Fumenta nudged his companions, and they crept down the rocky slope into
the concealment of the mist again.

’It wouldn’t do to stay up there,’ he said, when they had reached what
he considered a safe distance.  ’Now, Prince, if you can send a message
to your friends, will you please ask them to remain in one place till we
find them?  You can explain to them that they have nothing to fear at
present; evidently their enemies do not care to hunt for them down in
the fog.  They prefer to wait till it clears off, as they know it is
pretty sure to do in an hour or two.  In that hour or two we must manage
to find your friends and conduct them to a place of safety.’

’How can you do that?’ asked Alondra helplessly. ’I confess I feel
bewildered.  The world seems turned upside down!  I could not have
believed my father would’——  He hesitated to finish the sentence.

’My son,’ said the old chief kindly, ’you may comfort yourself with the
thought that your august father is doing what he finds best in the
circumstances.  Now the fox is going to aid the eagle, and hide him in
his burrow until the hunters have gone away.  Then we must offer what
assistance we can in finding and regaining possession of the _Ivenia_,
from which—as I read it—King Ivanta has become separated, probably
through a trick or some fresh treachery.  If we can help him to do that,
the eagle will then be able to turn on his enemies as though they were a
host of small birds, and all will be well!’

Alondra looked fixedly for a moment at the outlaw leader, and then
impulsively seized his hand and shook it, and there were tears in his
eyes as he exclaimed, ’I don’t know who you are, sir; but I know that
you are a friend in need. I shall leave it to the king my father to
thank you properly, later on; now I can only say your kindly words have
filled my heart with gratitude.’

’Let us say no more, Prince, but set to work,’ was the terse reply.

Alondra set to work accordingly, and after some delay, succeeded in
getting into communication with his friends again.

My father has understood my message,’ he presently said, ’and agrees to
your suggestion. They are resting on a hill-top below, and will stay
there until we get to them.’

’Good!’ observed Fumenta.  ’Now, the thing is to find out where that
hill-top is.’

’Is there any way of telling by means of that little instrument whether,
as we move about, we are getting nearer to them or farther away?’ asked
Jack.  ’In our world, when, as children, we played at hide-and-seek, we
used to say we were getting "cold" when we were on the wrong track, and
"hot" when we were on the right one.  Now, is there any way of telling
with the help of that little contrivance whether, as we move about, we
are getting "hot" or "cold"?’

’Why, yes, to some extent,’ Alondra returned, but not without
hesitation.  ’I think I shall be able to form an idea, as we go on, by
the sound it gives out.  The nearer we are, the stronger the current,
and the louder the little bells ring.’

’Exactly!  That’s what I was hoping for,’ said Jack.  ’With that to
guide us, it ought not to be such a very long business.’

And then there began the most extraordinary hunt for the airships hidden
in the mist that can well be imagined.

It proved to be more difficult and perplexing than the searchers had at
first thought would be the case.  They went up and down, to and fro,
going too far in one direction, then turning, only soon to find that
they had travelled too far in the opposite track.  It was a veritable
game of blindman’s-buff, and as time went on, and Fumenta’s prediction
about the mist clearing seemed likely to be realised, the seekers became
first anxious and then seriously alarmed.  It was true that the sounds
given out by Alondra’s wondrous little instrument varied according to
their distance from those who were signalling to them; but the
differences were so slight as to be extremely difficult to detect.

At last, however, their perseverance was rewarded.  Gerald was the first
to catch sight of what they sought.  A half-smothered exclamation from
him drew the attention of the others to what seemed no more than a dark
shadow.  They were all actually passing it, and in another moment or two
would have lost sight of it.  But when Gerald pointed it out, Alondra
made a dart towards it, and quickly called to his companions to follow
him.

A few minutes later they were standing on the deck of the king’s yacht,
and Alondra was folded in his father’s arms.

’What has happened, father?’ he asked.  ’Where is the _Ivenia_?’

’Ah, that is what I want to know!’ Ivanta confessed.  ’Some strange,
unforeseen occurrence—an accident, or treachery, I know not what—has
hidden her away.  Thanks to the machinations of Agrando and Zuanstroom,
the whole of the people of my realm seem to have gone mad and turned
against me.  For the time being, Alondra, your father is an exile, a
fugitive, with scarce a friend in the world.’

’You have one friend, oh king!—one who has some followers you may depend
upon,’ said Fumenta, stepping forward.  ’If you will accept my
services’——

’Who are you?’ the king asked, turning to him wonderingly.

Alondra explained, and Ivanta frowned.

’Fumenta!  The one who is in rebellion against me!’ he exclaimed, eying
the outlaw chief keenly and coldly.

’Not so, oh king!’ Fumenta answered, drawing himself up proudly.  ’No
rebel against you have I ever been!  No one can say it!  But against
your vassal Agrando, yes!  I have been his sworn enemy for many a year,
and not without good reason; but against you I have had no other
complaint to make than that you supported him against me.  Doubtless you
were misled by false and lying misrepresentations, and had you known the
truth——  But there is no time for the discussion of such matters now.  I
offer you safe asylum, not for yourself and your followers only, but for
your airships.  You will find that I and all my people are loyal to you,
and will fight to the death against Agrando and his allies.’

’But how can you hide my airships away?’ asked the king doubtfully.

’You shall soon see, oh king!  Do not delay, I pray you.  The mist is
already getting thinner.  A little longer, and our chance will be gone.’

Ivanta looked at Alondra, and the two conferred apart for a brief space.
Then Ivanta returned to Fumenta, and, holding out his hand, said, ’I
hear you have been a good friend to my son and his companions in the
time of their need.  That is enough for me!  Henceforth you are my
friends—you and all your followers.’

Fumenta thereupon took charge of the craft as a pilot might, issuing
instructions in low tones to the officers.  Under his guidance, the
_Nelda_ glided slowly through the mist, closely followed by the
_Lokris_, which had been resting a few yards away.

Then, as they went along, Alondra asked for tidings of their friends,
and heard bad news indeed.

Many of the party who had accompanied Alondra to Agrando’s court had
been treacherously seized.

Monck, it seemed, had got away in the _Lokris_, bringing with him the
two sailors and—somewhat curiously—Zuanstroom’s nephew Freddy, who had
sought shelter with him and begged piteously not to be left behind.
These were all safe on board the other yacht.

’But of others,’ said the king, ’I am sorry to say that they are now
held as prisoners by Agrando.  Aveena and several of your friends,
Alondra, are amongst them, and,’ he went on, slowly and bitterly, ’most
humiliating of all, for me to have to confess it—for it seems as though
I had failed in a host’s first duty—so, I am deeply pained to tell you,
is our friend Armeath.’



                            *CHAPTER XXXIV.*

                         *A NIGHT EXPEDITION.*


It was getting near dawn, and the mist was perceptibly clearing away,
when the two air-yachts approached the great funnel-shaped opening
leading down to the ancient volcano.

Ivanta, who had been wondering how Fumenta was going to keep the promise
he had made that he would hide the airships away, looked with great
curiosity at the dark, uninviting cavity.

’Are we to try to squeeze in there, friend Fumenta?’ he asked.  ’Is that
your idea?’

For answer the outlaw asked what was the length of the larger of the two
vessels, and Ivanta gave him the measurement upon the Martian scale.

’I thought so.  Then there is room,’ he declared.

And so it turned out.  By means of a little manoeuvring, the two vessels
were induced to sink slowly through the opening, without touching the
sides.  And when once through the funnel there was plenty of room for
them in the great dome-like space below to rest, all upstanding, on the
ground.

Then, upon some metal staging round the base of the funnel, high up in
the domed roof, fires were lighted, and upon them, after a time, when
they had started a sufficient draught, quantities of sulphur were
thrown.

The draught was so great from the maze of underground galleries that all
the fumes were carried up into the sky, while below the air was fresh
and pure.

’There!’ said Fumenta, in well-satisfied tones, when all was in working
order, ’those sulphur fumes are carried thousands of feet up into the
air.  That I know to be the fact, because I have been up to make sure.
No airships will come near us—they cannot do so without running the risk
of asphyxiating every soul on board!’

King Ivanta laughed good-humouredly.  His was just the nature to
appreciate a clever scientific stratagem such as he saw this was.

’Fumenta, you are a man after my own heart!’ he cried.  ’I love a man
who can use his brains and bend adverse circumstances to his will!  You
and I ought to have been acquainted before.  I can see you have the
capacity for ruling, by the way you have drilled and disciplined those
ragged followers of yours.  By the stars, I would have made you a king!’

’Perhaps I have been nearer to that than you think, King Ivanta,’ was
the unexpected answer.

Ivanta started and eyed him searchingly.  He frowned and puckered his
lips, and seemed to be thinking deeply.

’It almost seems to me that we have met before, and that I ought to know
who you are,’ he mused.  ’Yet I don’t see how such a thing could be.’

’Let us speak of the present and the future, oh king!’ returned Fumenta,
evidently desirous of changing the subject.  ’What are your plans, sir?’

’My friend, I have not yet formed any.  Until I know where my great
airship is I am tied down, I fear me, to playing a waiting game.  It is
a strange experience for one like myself, Fumenta,’ he went on
philosophically, ’to find one’s self a fugitive.  I, who have solved the
great problem of navigating space itself, who have visited distant
planets, have been outwitted by men of grovelling instincts like Agrando
and Zuanstroom; tricked, deceived, betrayed, and driven to welcome the
protection and hospitality of outlaws!’

’Of outlaws, truly, but not of criminals, King Ivanta,’ Fumenta answered
firmly.  ’All my followers are honest men, patriots, honourable fighters
for their own and their country’s rights, though their manner of life
has made them rough and perhaps somewhat soured.  Now, sir, let me make
a suggestion.  In Iraynia I have a much larger following than I have
here.  Let us go and show ourselves together there, and I warrant you
the whole land will rise in your favour, and you will find you have at
least one country loyal to you.’

Ivanta looked curiously at the old man, and hesitated.

’But we have need of airships,’ he said.

’They have them.’

’And—the sinews of war—money—gold, my friend, gold!  My treasure-house
is by this time in the hands of my foes.  Not only that, but they have
in their control the fascination of diamonds too.  But that would not
matter so much if I had my own treasury.  Without gold, even a king is
helpless, my friend.  We can do nothing without gold.’

’That I can supply also,’ was the startling reply, made quite quietly,
and without the least resemblance of boastfulness.

Again Ivanta started, and this time his keen eyes scrutinised the
other’s face as if doubtful whether he were a madman or a magician.
Suddenly he inclined his head and said, ’That your statement astonished
me I need scarcely say.  As, however, you have performed all that you
promised thus far, I will not pay you so poor a compliment as to doubt
you in this.  Well, now then, since you say you have plenty of gold,
there is only one other thing necessary—machinery.  Airships are of no
use without a supply-station.’

’We will seize one,’ answered the outlaw chief, with unexpected
decision.  ’Lend me your yacht and your outfit, and I will undertake to
seize one of Agrando’s chief power-stations.  It is, as I happen to
know, weakly held just now.  But when we have captured it I will show
you how you can defend it against the whole strength of your enemies.
It is now daylight.  The airships prowling around above us will draw off
during the day when they find you have disappeared; and at night I will
guide you to the place I have told you of, and we will seize it and hold
it for you.’

’If you do that, Fumenta, you shall be made’——

But the old chief held up his hand.  ’I am asking for no reward, oh
king—or, at least, none of the kind you have in your mind.  I have lived
a hard, adventurous life, and am now getting old. Those I loved are
dead, and I have none to care for, and no ambition for myself.  I may,
however, ask for some recognition in another form; one which, when the
time comes, it will give you no trouble, cost you nothing, to grant.  I
crave your permission to keep my own counsel, and say no more in the
meanwhile.’

’So be it, my friend,’ said the king, simply and kindly.  ’I have no
desire to inquire into your secrets before you are ready to reveal them
to me freely and of your own accord.’

Thus was the compact made between these two, who, but a few days before
had seemed so far apart—the great and powerful king, who had then been a
ruler over more than half the planet, and the outlaw leader, who led the
life of the hunted, and lived in burrows ’like a fox.’

While this talk was taking place the chums and Alondra were comparing
notes with Monck and the two sailors.

’We’ve seen some queer sort o’ fightin’, Mr Gerald, since we lost sight
o’ you,’ said Tom Clinch. ’The catamounts played every scurvy trick they
could think of against us!  But me and Bob Reid and Mr Monck, we give
’em as good as they brought, and we scraped through and got away
somehow.’

’Yes, but without Mr Armeath,’ said Gerald sadly.  ’I am not reproaching
you,’ he hastened to add, ’but I am terribly anxious about him.  Will
they harm him, do you think, Mr Monck?  Why should they?  He has nothing
to do with this upset between King Ivanta and Agrando!’

’Well,’ said Monck thoughtfully, ’Agrando and Zuanstroom have gone off
to Ivenia, taking Kazzaro with them.  They will have their hands pretty
full for the present, at any rate, with organising their forces and
establishing their position, not to mention the question of seizing and
dividing out the diamonds.  They have left Mr Armeath a prisoner behind
them, and I do not suppose he is in any personal danger so long as they
are absent.’

’That is some little comfort, though not much,’ muttered Jack.  ’If we
could but find some way to get at him and rescue him from those brutes
while they are away!’

’Just what I was thinking of,’ said Alondra. ’If my father would allow
me to take out my yacht, we might make a dash in the night, you know,
eh?  She and the _Nelda_ are the two fastest fliers in the whole world,
except the _Ivenia_.  What think you, Monck Affelda?  There are others
of our friends, too, you know—Aveena, and nearly a dozen besides, I
hear.’

’We will see, Prince.  I will speak to the king about it, and if his
consent can be gained I am quite ready to join in a forlorn hope of the
sort on the chance of rescuing our friends.’

When, however, Ivanta was asked to sanction the ’forlorn hope,’ he said
they must wait first to see the result of the expedition Fumenta had
planned, for which the services of both yachts would be required.  So,
for the moment, the one enterprise had to give place to the other.

The day was passed in telling one another their adventures on both
sides.  Scouts came in at intervals and reported the movement of the
hostile airships.  Some of the latter hovered about for some hours after
daylight had come and the mist had cleared, as though half-suspicious
that some trick had been played upon them.  They even made a
half-hearted attempt to approach the column of smoke which ascended
steadily from the mouth of the ’volcano.’  But the smell of suffocating
sulphur fumes was so strong that they came to the conclusion it would be
safer to give the place a wide berth.

Soon afterwards they divided into two parties, one returning by the way
they had come, while the other went off in the direction of the
waterless desert, to which they finally concluded the fugitives must
somehow have managed to flee.

Towards evening the fires were extinguished in readiness for the
departure of the yachts, and the interior of the old crater was filled
with Fumenta’s followers, who were paraded in honour of Ivanta.

’I need not call for volunteers, King Ivanta,’ said their chief.  ’Every
man is ready and willing to serve you!  Select what men you have room
for, and the rest will remain here awaiting your commands.  All are
ready to fight for you to the death.—Say, my men, is it not so?’

The great vaulted roof rang with the cheers and shouts which went up in
response to this appeal.

’Long live King Ivanta!’ ’Long live Prince Alondra!’ was heard on all
sides.

King Ivanta could not listen to their greetings given so heartily in his
present circumstances without emotion.  ’My children,’ he said, ’your
proffered devotion has touched my heart!  That you are trustworthy and
brave I feel assured; and I cannot quarrel with Destiny when, in my
greatest need, it sends me such sturdy supporters.’

As soon as it was quite dark the party of hardy adventurers set out in
the two yachts, Fumenta acting again as pilot on board the _Nelda_.
Alondra was in charge of his own craft; and he had with him Gerald and
Jack, Monck, the two sailors, and Malto and Malandris.  Their young
charge Freddy was left behind, with a couple of attendants to look after
him.

During the day Alondra had presented Malto to Ivanta, and explained that
he had some request to prefer; but Malto discreetly asked permission to
defer it to a more suitable season, and so the matter had dropped.

The two craft glided swiftly onwards for some hours over a country which
showed no signs of being inhabited.  Then a few lights were seen here
and there, telling of scattered villages, and at last a cluster of
lights indicated that they were approaching a large town.

While yet some distance away, Fumenta called a halt, and at his request
the king ordered a small airship to be got out which acted the part
which a steam pinnace fulfils in regard to one of our men-of-war.

Ivanta, with Arelda and Abralda, two of his officers, entered this with
Fumenta, and they dropped gently and silently down through the air, and
landed on the ground near a large building which stood alone on the
outskirts of the town.

From the town itself came the hum and low murmur of many people.

Fumenta gave a curious signal, which sounded like the cry of some bird
of the night.  At first there was no response, but after it had been
twice repeated, a door in the building opened, and a figure came out,
closed it, and advanced cautiously towards them.

There were further signs and countersigns given and received on both
sides, and then the stranger spoke.  ’Is it the Chief?’ he asked.

’It is the Chief,’ Fumenta replied.  ’You have heard the news, and know
that the hour has come? Is all prepared?’

’All is prepared, Chief,’ answered the man, saluting.  ’We have had
everything ready and waiting for you since the news came; for we thought
that you might be here to-night.  Do you wish to speak to the men before
we start?’

’Yes.  I have with me some one they will be very surprised to see.  Lead
the way.’

With another salute, the man turned and led the way towards the door
from which he had just emerged.



                            *CHAPTER XXXV.*

                      *HOW IVANTA GAINED A FLEET.*


Fumenta and those with him passed through the doorway into a spacious,
well-lighted vestibule, in which other doors could be seen leading to
the interior of the building.  In particular, there were two large ones
in the centre immediately opposite to that by which they had entered.
These were evidently very jealously guarded, for at the entrance of the
strangers some armed men, who had been standing in front of them,
advanced in a rather threatening manner.

The one who had gone out to meet Fumenta and had brought him in, spoke
to the officer in charge of these guards.

’Throw open the doors, friend Medro.  It is the Chief.’

’The Chief!  And who besides, good Lymento?’ asked the officer
cautiously.

’One for whom I will be answerable,’ answered Fumenta brusquely.  ’Waste
not time in idle talk. This will be a critical night for us; and we have
no time to lose.’

Without other reply than a salute, the officer turned on his heel and
ordered his men to throw open the doors.  And as they fell back he
advanced and cried in sonorous tones, ’Friends all, the Chief!’

Fumenta stepped past him, conducting Ivanta, and called out in ringing
accents, ’And with him the King!  Friends, I bring into your midst King
Ivanta.  He has been deserted by those he trusted. He is, indeed,
actually now being hunted by those upon whom he has conferred benefits,
and stands at the present moment in sore need of trustworthy friends I
assured him he would find them here. Tell me, have I promised aright?’

Before them was a great hall filled with people in varied dresses, as
though they had been brought together from many different parts.  There
were ragged, rough, but stalwart men, very much of the style of
Fumenta’s followers; and there were others, both soldiers and civilians,
of different grades, some plainly, some richly dressed.

It was, in fact, a meeting gathered from far and near of those of the
inhabitants of Iraynia who had secretly sympathised with Fumenta and his
outlaws, and who had been hoping for, almost expecting, some such ’burst
up’ as had now taken place between Agrando and Ivanta.  And they had
been secretly planning to rise, when that time arrived, against Agrando
themselves, and endeavour to throw off his yoke once and for all.

But they had not exactly expected what had actually happened.  King
Ivanta had always wielded such power, and had shown himself so strong,
that the possibility of his ever being in his present position had never
entered into their calculations. Consequently, Fumenta’s words fell upon
the assembly almost as a bombshell might have done—that is to say, with
a temporarily stunning effect.

For a space there was silence—a dead silence, which seemed at first to
be chilling, irresponsive. Then suddenly some one in the body of the
hall jumped up and shouted, ’We have no quarrel with King Ivanta.  We
are ready to help him against Agrando!  Fumenta, you have done well to
tell the king that in his present difficulty he will find friends here.’

At once others seized the cue, and hastened to declare their approval of
the words spoken.  A few moments more, and the scene at Fumenta’s
stronghold was being repeated here.

’Long live King Ivanta!’ was the cry which was taken up on all sides,
and repeated till the roof shook.

Fumenta turned to Ivanta with a slight smile upon his usually
hard-grained visage.  ’You hear, oh king!  These are the men of Iraynia!
You see that I did not act without reason in bringing you here.  All
these will be henceforth your followers, and they, again, have more—a
thousand times more—at their backs, who will flock to us as soon as the
news spreads.’

Ivanta was visibly affected.  Never in his life till this day had he
known what it meant to stand in need of a few true friends.  He who had
led conquering armies, and had listened to the acclamations of vast
multitudes representing nearly half the nations of the planet, and
received the homage of their rulers as his vassals—he was now listening
with gladness and gratitude to the kindly welcome of those whom he
had—unknowingly, it is true—treated with injustice, and allowed Agrando
to tyrannise over!

He now addressed them, telling them in simple but dignified language how
he thanked them all for their welcome; and after a brief conference with
their chiefs he gladly agreed to their request that he should become
their leader himself, and for the future take the direction of the
operations they had planned.

Then they conducted him to a large enclosure where a number of airships
were lying.

’These we seized immediately we heard the news of Agrando’s revolt,’
Lymento explained.  ’Their crews we made prisoners, and they are under
lock and key.  What we now need is a storage station to keep these craft
supplied with electricity.  They have enough reserve power to last a day
or two, but not longer.’

’That station we can seize this very night,’ Fumenta again declared.
’It is at a place called Crudia, some two hours’ journey from here, and,
as I have already said, I happen to know that it is at the present
moment weakly held.  But we have no time to lose, for one of the first
things Agrando will do will doubtless be to reinforce the garrison as a
precaution.  Extra men and airships may even now be on their way there,
so if we desire to get there first we must hasten.  Which of these
airships will you choose, sir, to sail in yourself?’

Rapidly Fumenta ran over the list of their sizes and special
characteristics.  At the end of it, Ivanta decided that he would keep to
his own yacht.

’My two yachts,’ he reminded his new friends, ’are, with the exception
of my great vessel, the _Ivenia_, the fastest craft in the world.  When
they cannot fight they can always run away,’ he went on meaningly.  ’It
may sound strange, perhaps, to some of you to hear me talk thus of
running away; but there are others doubtless among you who will
understand my meaning.  Of late years you have not seen much fighting in
the air, but you may nevertheless be aware that in such warfare
swiftness and quick manoeuvring often count for as much as size and
numbers.’

The cheers which greeted this speech showed that his words were
understood and their meaning appreciated; and the few remaining
preparations were quickly completed.

Half an hour later Ivanta and Alondra, in their respective yachts,
sailed off at the head of a strong squadron of airships, all filled with
crews of enthusiastic followers.



                            *CHAPTER XXXVI.*

                            *THE OLD WELL.*


Like weird, gigantic night-birds the fleet of flying craft sailed
onwards through the night.  The two moons of Mars—to which our
astronomers have given the names of Deimos and Phobos—were just then in
sight at the same time.  The former was near to setting, while the
latter had but just risen.  Together they were throwing a faint, mellow
light over the landscape, dimly illuminating hill and dale, rocky height
and sombre valley, slumbering villages and isolated dwellings, as they
seemed to slip away beneath the swift, silent airships.

Alondra was busy on board his yacht serving out tridents and shields and
other necessary articles.

’You are forgetting me, Prince,’ Jack presently observed, after
patiently waiting some time, and finding that he had been left out in
the distribution.

’And me,’ Gerald put in.  ’What have we done, friend Alondra, that we
should be left out?’

Alondra looked perplexed.

’Well, you see,’ he said hesitatingly, ’you are our guests.  It is not
fair to you to call upon you to take part in our quarrels, or help in
fighting our battles.’

’Pooh, what nonsense!’ exclaimed Jack.  ’Why, what new idea is this?
You did not talk like it in the pavilion, when we had to defend
ourselves.’

’Because there was no help for it.  My followers were far away, and we
had to do the best we could.  Here it is we who are going out to make an
attack, and’——

’And we are going to join and help all we can,’ Jack declared stoutly.
’Your quarrel is ours. Please say no more, but give us our share of your
arms—or would you prefer that we should trust to our pistols?’

’Better have our usual weapons, if you are determined, and keep your own
as a reserve,’ Alondra decided.

And so it was settled; and not only the two chums, but Clinch and
Reid—who had, during their visit, learned the use of the Martian
weapons—were duly fitted out after the fashion of the rest of Ivanta’s
following.

As they proceeded, the exact direction and other necessary instructions
were signalled from the leading yacht by means of curious devices in
coloured points of light, which appeared from time to time like tiny
coloured fireworks upon the masts.

After a run of a couple of hours, a halt was called, and Alondra was
signalled to come alongside the king’s yacht.

One moon had set, and the other had become obscured by clouds.  The
landscape was now in shadow, and the squadron was almost invisible from
below; for, save the occasional twinkling of the signals, the flying
craft showed no lights.

’The place we are going to attack,’ Ivanta explained, when the leaders
had been assembled in his cabin, ’may be, as our friend Fumenta
declares, weakly held so far as the number of the garrison is concerned,
but in other respects it is a most difficult place to assail.  No one
should know this better than I,’ he continued, a little bitterly,
’because I myself designed the fortress and its defences.  I knew that
it lay in a very exposed region, where it would be difficult to keep a
large garrison, and where a surprise might at any time be attempted. So
I did everything that my ingenuity could devise to render it practically
impregnable.’

’I know all that to be true, sir,’ observed Fumenta quietly.

’It is neither more nor less than a great cavern—or, rather, series of
caverns—in the side of a precipitous mountain,’ Ivanta went on.  ’One
can neither approach it nor leave it except by flying-machine.  There is
no path, no ledge, which anything but a fly could cling to.  There is
only one defensive wall—that which closes the outer side of the
caverns—and this has been so built in as to resemble a continuation of
the precipice.  One cannot tell by looking which is the natural rock and
which is the artificial stone wall.  There are gates, or rather iron
doors, and these are specially defended by being connected with the
electric storage batteries.  When the current is turned on—as is
supposed always to be the case at night, or when the doors are not in
actual use—it is death to any one who touches them.’

’All that I know, oh king!’ said Fumenta.  ’There is also an underground
waterfall—an immense body of water ever tumbling through the great
caverns.’

’Yes.  It works the engines which collect and store the electric power.’

’Exactly; and it cannot be used for any other purpose.  It is of no use,
for instance, for drinking purposes, because the water has a
disagreeable, brackish taste.  Therefore, there is a well of fresh
water.  Is it not so, sir?’

’True,’ returned Ivanta, eying him keenly.  ’But what of that?’

’That well was made by boring downwards till a stream of pure water was
found.  When this was met with it rushed into the bottom of the well and
found its own way out, thus affording an ample supply for the garrison
without further trouble. So no one bothered himself further about it as
to whence the stream came or whither it went.  But all that was many
years ago.  Since then, however, this fresh-water stream has been
gradually drying up; and now there is not enough to supply the people on
guard there.  That is one reason why the garrison is now so small.  Then
another well was bored in another part, which gave a sufficient supply
for the reduced garrison, and the very existence of the first well was
almost forgotten.  But where the stream once ran there is now an
underground passage or tunnel, which starts from a grotto high up in
another part of the mountain.’

Ivanto started.

’Say you so?  Are you sure?’ he exclaimed.

’Certain am I of what I say, oh king!  No one seems to have noted that
the drying up of this stream has opened a back way, so to speak, into
the stronghold, which renders it possible to attack it by a surprise
visit.  No one seems to have troubled about it, or to have made it his
business to report that so simple a fact has rendered useless all the
work and time and trouble expended upon your elaborate defences.’

At this Ivanta frowned a little; then a smile passed over his
countenance, and he cried, ’Said I not that you were a man after my own
heart, friend Fumenta?  Of a truth, the next time I design a fortress I
shall ask you to look at my plan, and tell me of all its weak points
before I carry it out.  But this seems to happen most fortunately for
us.  Do you mean to say we can make our way in by the channel of that
dried-up watercourse?  Can you guide us to it?’

’That is my plan.  It is a very simple one, after all,’ returned the
outlaw chief modestly; ’but I think you will find that it will suffice
for our purpose.  I suggest that you send out two parties, one to attack
the place in front, while I will guide the rest, so that they can creep
in by the route I have indicated.  The other party must show no sign
till we have gained the interior and manipulated the levers which cut
off the electric current from the doorways.  Then they can make a dash
and help us to overpower the garrison.’

’And thus easily,’ murmured Ivanta, with, a sigh—’thus simply are all my
elaborate and complicated defences to be set at nought and
overcome—laughed at, in fact!  However, so be it!  ’Tis a good plan; and
if it succeeds, the possession of such a stronghold, with its machinery
and underground waterfall, will be a piece of good fortune indeed.’

’And we will take good care,’ said Alondra, laughing, ’to have that back
entrance well guarded in future.  Now, I want to be one of your party,
friend Fumenta.  That will suit me better than waiting about with the
rest till some one else, having done all the fighting, opens the door to
us.’

At this Gerald and Jack and their party asked to be allowed to go with
Alondra, and pressed their claims so eagerly that at last Ivanta
acceded.

’I shall myself make one,’ he said.  ’And since you so much desire it,
you shall all join.’

Later on, the fleet of airships divided into two bodies, and one, the
smaller portion, made direct for the heights of the mountain in which
the stronghold was situated.  The rest were to wait about till the time
should come for making their presence known by a direct frontal attack.

Fumenta led his section into a small cave, which opened out, first into
a gallery, and then into a spacious grotto.  All were provided with
small glow-lamps, ropes, metal staples for climbing, and other
requisites, in addition to their arms, which consisted of tridents,
shields, and the usual swords or spears.

The grotto had several galleries running out of it, and selecting one of
these, Fumenta followed its windings for some distance, till he came to
a small stream running into a deep cutting.  A little farther on, this
little watercourse took a sudden turn and disappeared into a hole on the
left.

’That,’ said the outlaw chief, ’is all that is left of the stream which
formerly completely filled the tunnel it here plunges into.  Nowadays
you can walk along its bed and the water will not in any place reach to
your knees.’

’How do you know?’ Ivanta asked.

’I have traversed the whole distance,’ was the answer.  ’I even climbed
up the sides of the well to see whether it was fenced off in any way,
and I found it quite open.  Moreover, the place where I emerged was
empty and deserted.  One could see it is never used now.’

Fumenta then directed that some of the tridents and shields should be
tied into bundles, and these were given to bearers to carry on their
shoulders clear of the water.  By this means the leading adventurers
were left free to climb the sides of the well and attach ropes, which
could then be utilised, first to pull up the bundles, and afterwards to
assist the ascent of the rest of the party.

These details having been duly arranged, they entered the waterway in
twos and threes, wading in the water, which at first reached nearly to
their knees, but became much more shallow as they proceeded.

Presently those in front arrived at the well and halted, the others
crowding up as closely as they could get, some passing into the waterway
on the farther side, where they stood awaiting orders.

Fumenta and his lieutenants, Duralda and Landris, began the ascent,
pushing iron staples into the chalk sides to assist those who came after
them. Behind them followed Malto, Malandris, and others. Upon another
side of the well Ivanta and Alondra, with the two chums and the sailors,
imitated this operation.  All worked in perfect silence, and almost in
darkness, only the carefully screened gleams from their glow-lamps being
visible.

The leaders reached the top in safety, and found themselves in a roomy
cavern, which was in complete darkness.  No sound was to be heard; and,
satisfied that their presence was unsuspected, they secured one of the
ropes they had brought with them and threw the end down, that the
bearers below might attach their bundles to it.

Not until they had hauled up these indispensable weapons, and had them
in their hands, could they hope, should they be discovered and attacked,
to hold the mouth of the well long enough for the body of followers
behind to climb up to their assistance.  Every one lent a hand, for it
was necessary that their plan should be carried out as expeditiously as
possible.

Tom Clinch and Bob Reid were hauling up the first bundles, when the
former, in his zeal, leaned over too far, lost his balance, and fell
headlong into the well.  About half-way down, coming into collision with
one of the bundles, he managed to grip the rope, and thus saved himself
from going farther.  His weight, however, broke away the cord by which
it was fastened, and sent the whole lot of tridents clattering to the
bottom, where they created a panic by falling upon the heads of the
crowd waiting there.  A chorus of cries and shouts, mingled with groans
and shrieks of pain, followed, which sounds were magnified as they came
up the well as though it had been an immense speaking-trumpet, and were
echoed back from the rocky roof of the cavern.

There followed a brief silence—deep, tense, and anxious.  Then a high,
wide door swung open, the place was flooded with light, and a number of
armed men burst in and made a rush at the group gathered round the mouth
of the well.



                           *CHAPTER XXXVII.*

                    *THE FIGHT FOR THE STRONGHOLD.*


It was a critical moment for those of the adventurers who had gained the
top of the well.  Being without tridents and shields, they were
absolutely at the mercy of any enemy who carried them.  They were armed
only with swords, spears, or daggers, which were useless against the
other weapons.  It seemed as though they must all inevitably, within a
few minutes, be lying at the mercy of their foes.

A second glance, however, revealed an unexpected piece of good fortune.
Their enemies were no better armed than themselves!  The members of the
garrison had dwelt in the place so long in peace and security that it
had become their habit to stack away their tridents in their stores, as
articles for which they had no use from day to day.  Moreover, they knew
that their stronghold was reputed to be impregnable, and they never
dreamed of its being thus suddenly attacked.

Hence, when the outcry arose in the cavern in which was the old disused
well, they had rushed in on the spur of the moment, wondering what the
noise could be, and armed only with those weapons which formed part of
their everyday equipment.

Swords flashed from their scabbards on both sides, and a moment later
the two parties were engaged in a fierce hand-to-hand fight.  A number
of Fumenta’s people had followed him up his side of the well, while
those on the other side were hauling at their rope.  Thus, for the time
being, the adversaries were about equally matched in point of numbers as
well as weapons.  It was pretty certain, however, that the defenders
would be reinforced at a much greater rate than the assailants could be,
to say nothing of the fact that at any moment some of the former might
arrive on the scene bringing with them the dreaded tridents.

Ivanta turned to Jack and Gerald, and whispered a few words at the
moment of drawing his sword.

’You have your pistols!  Try to close the door and hold it fast.  That
will give us time!’

The hint was sufficient.  The two acted upon it at once, and calling to
Bob Reid to follow, they made a circuit, and avoiding the rush of the
defenders, got round to their rear.  The first group passed without
noticing them, and there was no one else inside the door.  But upon the
other side of it they could see another group, who were running to the
support of their friends, and two of them, who were in advance, were
carrying tridents.

It was doubtful which would reach the door first; but two shots rang
out, and the trident-bearers dropped their weapons.  They had each been
wounded in the arm.  Their comrades, wondering what was wrong, and,
startled by the reports of the firearms—added to by a hundred echoes
from the rocky vault overhead—paused in their advance, and crowded round
the wounded men.

The three near the door on the inside took advantage of their halt to
bang it to, and hastily shoot some bolts which they found upon it.

Then they turned to ascertain how it fared with their friends, and see
what they could do to help them.

Ivanta and Fumenta had apparently been singled out for special attack,
and each was defending himself against two or three adversaries.  Both
were fighting like heroes of old, and for a brief space the two chums
paused to watch them, spellbound by the fascination of the combat.

Fumenta was fighting as such an old war-dog might be expected to fight.
Grim, hard-visaged, and stalwart, his grizzled locks shaking at every
turn of his head, he rained blows so quickly upon his foes that two had
already fallen under them; and the others now seemed more anxious to
keep at arm’s length than to trust themselves near enough to strike.

Ivanta, on his side, was fighting not less valiantly, but in somewhat
different fashion.  As Gerald subsequently expressed it, he fought ’like
the king that he was.’  In his flashing glance there was nothing of the
cold gleam of hatred, bred of long experience as a hunted outcast, which
showed in the eyes of the outlaw chief.  Rather was there dignified
disdain, and even something of pity for those with whom circumstances
forced him into conflict.  In his whole appearance there was that which
reminded the spectators of a lion defending himself in contemptuous
fashion against the attacks of a number of curs; while Fumenta might be
likened rather to an old wolf driven to bay.

Suddenly one of those opposed to Ivanta lowered his sword, and stepped
backward, as if in surprise, crying out loudly, ’It is the king!  Down
with your swords!  It is the king!’

At this there was a general pause.  The man’s comrades imitated his
action, and the rest of the defending force desisted also in surprise.
Thus, for a space, there was a cessation of hostilities all round.

’What said you, Sedla?’ cried one near the speaker.  ’The king!  What
king?  We serve Agrando!  He is not here!’

’This is Agrando’s overlord, King Ivanta,’ the first one answered.  ’We
must not fight against him.’

’How do you know?’ ’What does it mean?’ ’How can we tell?’ ’How can such
a thing have come about?’ such were the questions which were called out,
first from one and then from another.

Evidently the garrison of this isolated post knew nothing as yet of
Agrando’s revolt.  No news of it had reached them, nor had any
messengers come from Agrando instructing them that he was now at war
with his overlord, and expected them to espouse his cause.  Neither, as
it seemed, were they—with one or two exceptions—acquainted with Ivanta’s
person.  Of those then present, only the one who had first spoken knew
him by sight.

Ivanta was quick to take advantage of this favourable turn.

’It is well that you spoke,’ he haughtily said. ’It explains, I suppose,
why you and your friends have attacked me.  Otherwise, you would be
guilty of treason!  Down with your weapons, all of you!’

’But,’ objected one who was evidently an officer, ’if you are King
Ivanta—I ask, sir, with all respect—why have you forced an entrance in
this strange fashion?’

’And,’ said another dubiously, ’how comes it that the great King Ivanta
is here attacking us hand and glove with the outlaw Fumenta and his
band—the sworn enemies of our master Agrando?’

Ivanta smiled.

’I can understand your perplexity, my friends. Strange things have
happened outside these walls of which I see you have as yet heard
nothing. Let your chief officers confer with me, and I will give them
the information which I see you are in need of.’

There ensued some discussion, carried on in a low tone amongst three or
four who were the leaders of the garrison.  Evidently there were
differences of opinion among them.  Some were for submitting to Ivanta;
while the others, doubtful of his identity, and fearing some trick, were
for continuing the combat.

Suddenly one of the little council broke away from the others and looked
angrily at Fumenta.

’You may do as you please with those others!’ he cried.  ’That gentleman
may be King Ivanta or he may not!  What is certain is that yonder old
villain is Fumenta, the leader of the outlaw bands, and I for one have
an old-standing grudge against him, which I mean to take this chance of
paying off!’

With sudden fury and upraised hand, in which gleamed a naked dagger, he
made a rush at the one he had denounced.  Fumenta had been quietly
talking to some of his people, and just then had his back to his
assailant.

Another moment and the weapon would have been buried in his breast, when
Malto, who had been standing near, threw himself between the two.  There
was a smothered exclamation, a blow, then Malto reeled back and was
caught by Malandris; while, with a cry like an enraged tiger, Fumenta
darted upon the would-be assassin.

One hand closed upon the man’s throat, and the other upon his wrist.
There was a brief, fierce struggle; then the assailant was lifted high
in the air and flung down with terrible force upon the rocky floor,
where he lay prone without a sign of life.

[Illustration: The assailant was lifted high in the air and flung down
with terrible force.]

Fumenta glanced round as though to challenge the man’s friends to try
conclusions with him; but as no one seemed inclined to take the quarrel
upon himself, he turned to where he now saw Malto lying, supported by a
group of anxious friends.

The young fellow was evidently badly wounded, for he had fainted, and
Malandris was engaged in trying to stanch the blood which flowed from a
wound in the breast.

’Let me come to him!  Leave him to me!’ cried Fumenta.  ’He offered his
life to save mine; it is my place to care for him!’

They made way for him, and formed a circle around to guard the two from
any more treacherous attacks; while Ivanta, seeing that these events had
roused bad blood on both sides, applied himself to preventing the
threatened renewal of the fighting.

Sedla, however, the one who had recognised Ivanta, was, fortunately,
firm in his refusal to take sides against him; and his particular
friends were content to follow his lead.  Those who were for continuing
the strife thus found themselves in a minority; and, recognising this,
they sullenly submitted.

All this time there had been much knocking and banging at the closed
door on the one side; while, on the other, men had come scrambling up
the well, adding, every moment, to the numbers of Ivanta’s supporters,
and bringing with them this time the tridents which had been left below.

Very soon Ivanta was in a position to dictate his own terms to those
present; but there was still the rest of the garrison to be considered.

After some talk, Sedla undertook to act as negotiator with these, and
presently the door was thrown open, and he and his friends stood in the
entrance.

It was a curious scene, that which followed. Behind Sedla, at a little
distance, was Ivanta, at the head of rank after rank of men, all armed
with their tridents and shields.  On the other side of the doorway there
were again to be seen rank upon rank of the garrison, similarly armed,
and evidently ready for the fray, yet wondering what had been going on
behind the closed door, and doubtless curious to know, before they
began, who it was they were to fight, and what it was all about.

Sedla cleverly took advantage of this natural curiosity to gain a
hearing for what he had to say, and followed it up so tactfully that he
eventually gained over the whole garrison.

Thus was the place captured with but little actual fighting; and Ivanta
gained thereby a valuable base for the supply of his aerial fleet, as
well as a stronghold in which he and his following could find secure
refuge in case of necessity.



                           *CHAPTER XXXVIII.*

                        *A GREAT AERIAL BATTLE.*


Having made his dispositions within and without—taking note of the
resources now at his disposal, sending out airships as scouts,
&c.—Ivanta turned his attention to the wounded.  He found Fumenta in
close attendance upon Malto, who was still lying in an almost
unconscious state; and Ivanta, who was himself well skilled in such
matters, made an examination of his wound.

’I think he will pull round,’ was his verdict.  ’I shall hope yet to see
him, with you, and others of my new friends, around me at my Court at
Karendia—my "palace in the clouds."’

Fumenta shook his head.  ’I am too old—ay, and too rough and rugged
now—for Court life, sir,’ he answered.  ’Time was—but we must wait and
see what happens.  I shall help you with might and main so long as you
need a trusty ally; after that, when you have succeeded in getting back
your own, I shall make the request which I have already prepared you
for.  Then I shall ask but one favour more—the permission to withdraw
into obscurity, and pass the rest of my days in peace.  But I am
meanwhile sorely concerned about this brave young fellow.  I was
strangely taken with him when I first saw him, and I need not say how
that feeling has been intensified by his heroic act of bravery and
self-sacrifice.  But for his devoted action I should now be lying in his
place, or more likely I should be already dead.’

’It was truly, as you say, an act of heroism,’ Ivanta declared with
emotion.  ’It is passing strange that you two should be joined, as it
were, by such a link; the more so that I have understood that you each
had some special request to make to me.  I shall be curious to see, when
the time comes, whether the two requests have any connection.’

’I do not see how that could possibly be,’ returned Fumenta, with
another shake of his head. ’I have never heard of him before, and he
knows no more about me.  But his future, if he lives, shall be my care.
I can make him rich, wealthy—ay, I can make him one of the wealthiest
men on our globe—and I will do so out of gratitude for what he did.  For
know, oh king, that I made but recently a great discovery!  In one of
the passages beneath the ancient volcano I came across a gold-mine—a
veritable cave of gold!  It was to that I referred when I said I could
supply you with gold to carry on your warfare with Agrando.  What you do
not require I shall divide between this young man and those who have
been my faithful followers.’

’You shall tell me more about it at another time,’ rejoined Ivanta
kindly.  ’As to what I shall myself require, it will, all being well, be
paid back later on; for I have no wish to make your friends’ share less
than it would otherwise have been. Send me word if you notice any change
in the young man’s condition,’ he added, as he left to continue his
round of inspection.

Meanwhile, the two chums and Alondra were constantly in and out asking
for news of Malto. To them the unexpected success, thus far, of their
expedition was cruelly saddened and overshadowed so long as his life was
in danger.

’We owe him much,’ Alondra declared.  ’But for him we should now be
Agrando’s prisoners, to a certainty.’

’There is no doubt as to that,’ Gerald agreed. ’But apart from any such
consideration, I like him immensely on his own account.  I wonder who he
is?  There is some mystery about him, I feel sure. Some sad event, I
fancy, must have happened to him which has thrown a blight over his
whole life.’

’For the matter of that, to be a sort of slave to Agrando is enough to
blight anybody’s life!’ cried Jack warmly.  ’Anyway, whoever he is, I
feel sure he is well-born.  His whole manner and bearing—ay, and his
instincts, so to speak—tell you that much.’

Thus, in low and sorrowful tones, did they speak of their wounded friend
while they waited about, anxious for bulletins.  It was curious to see
what a good impression the young fellow had made upon all those who had
been his companions, even for so short a time.

But their talk was suddenly ended, and their thoughts turned into other
channels, by news that was just then brought in that a large fleet of
airships had been descried by their aerial scouts.

’Those who think they know,’ Monck announced to Ivanta, ’declare that
Agrando himself is probably with them.  They recognised the _Alsperro_,
which, as you know, sir, is the former warship which he has been using
as a yacht.  She is now, I suppose, to act the part of a war-vessel once
more.’

Fumenta, on hearing the news, hurried from the couch of the wounded
youth to confer with Ivanta.

’The fleet which is approaching is far stronger than yours,’ Ivanta
explained to him.  ’You cannot hide your vessels here in the fortress,
so they must either fight or make their escape—if they can, which, as
you know, is doubtful.  As they are manned by and belong to your
friends, it is fitting that I should ask you which course they will
prefer to adopt.’

’I am for fighting at all hazards; and so will they be, I know,’
returned Fumenta, with grim determination.  ’You need not put the
question to them.’

’I am glad to hear that, since it accords with my own wishes,’ was
Ivanta’s answer.  ’I shall take my measures at once in accordance with
your decision.  But you must take charge of your fleet, and, for the
time being, do the best you can at first, as though my yachts were out
of it.  They are not fitted to bear the brunt of the first attack from
heavier craft, but you will find we shall be able to render you help in
another way.  We can rise higher and manoeuvre better than any airship
belonging either to you or to Agrando.’

’So be it,’ said Fumenta simply.  ’We will do our best, sir, rest
assured, apart from your yachts; and if you can help us so much the
better.’

It was the _Nelda_, the king’s yacht, from which Monck had observed the
approach of the hostile squadron.  She could soar so high that, by the
aid of powerful glasses, the strangers had been sighted at an immense
distance.  Then, thanks to her swiftness of flight, she had carried the
news to the fortress before the foe had appeared above the horizon.

When, an hour later, therefore, those in charge of Agrando’s powerful
fleet drew near, they found a smaller squadron waiting to give them
battle.

The oncoming fleet halted, and for a while the hostile forces remained
watching each other.  Then amongst Agrando’s airships there was seen the
flutter of a white flag, which on Mars, as on our own globe, is the
generally recognised sign of a desire for a parley.

Presently a small pinnace, bearing the white emblem, came flying towards
the vessel which Fumenta had made what we should term his ’flagship’—a
large-sized craft called by the Martian equivalent for Crescent.

As the pinnace approached, it was seen that the officer in charge of her
was Gorondo, Agrando’s generalissimo.  A little later he was within
speaking distance, and delivered his message, which conveyed to Fumenta
two or three pieces of information.  The first was that Agrando himself
was in command of his fleet; the second, that he had somehow heard of
the outlaw’s chief feat—the seizure of the Iraynian squadron; the third,
that he was still ignorant of the capture of the fortress.

The message itself was a haughty and peremptory demand for immediate and
unconditional surrender, the bearer taking the trouble to point out that
resistance would be useless, as not only were Agrando’s ships larger and
far more numerous than those opposed to him, but another fleet was on
its way to join him.  Between the two, Fumenta’s position would be
hopeless, more especially as he had no power-station to look to to renew
his supply of electricity.  This last assertion it was which showed that
Agrando was unaware of the capture of the fortress.

Fumenta did not enlighten him as to this, but contented himself with a
refusal to surrender, couched in terms as curt and peremptory as those
of the summons.

With a shrug of the shoulders and a sarcastic expression of pity for the
forthcoming fate of the ’rebels,’ the ambassador returned to his master.

Both fleets then began their aerial war manoeuvres. Agrando formed his
force into two divisions—not lines, but two planes or tiers, one above
the other. Fumenta replied by forming his vessels into three similar
divisions; whereupon Agrando altered his formation to four tiers.

Each side sent out a number of smaller craft—a kind of mosquito fleet,
consisting of different kinds of ’fliers.’  Many of these were parties
of boarders, whose duty it would be to watch their opportunities and
then swarm round any of the opposing vessels which met with a mishap or
got into difficulties.

Upon both sides the men had been already provided with ’parachute
costumes,’ which would enable them to float in the air for a while in
case of disaster to their vessel, and aid them in making a safe descent
to the ground.  Then a certain number were fitted out with motor-wings,
while others again had wings without motors, and all these different
classes were organised into separate groupings, just as we divide
fighting-men into various classes—such as infantry, cavalry, &c., on
land, and sailors, marines, and so on, upon the sea.

Agrando sent up first one, then others of his craft, soaring high into
the air, with the object of getting above the enemy and dropping down
missiles upon them.  But even as they mounted above their companion
vessels, similar craft were seen rising from the other side to oppose
them, and it was between these ’soarers’ that the actual conflict
commenced.

All the larger vessels on each side were provided with movable
turtle-decks or shields as a protection against missiles hurled from
above.  The real danger from these, however, lay in the injury which
might be done to the upright spirals or the extended wings, thereby
crippling the manoeuvring power of the craft, or causing her to fall
headlong to the ground.

On this account war-vessels did not depend upon one pair of wings alone,
but all were fitted with at least two pairs, and some—the biggest—with
even three or four pairs.  Spare wings were also held in readiness to be
run out at any moment to take the place of those which might suffer. The
soarers, as stated, began the actual fighting with the efforts of those
on one side to get above the vessels opposed to them, and of the other
to prevent them from doing so.

While these craft were darting to and fro, chasing each other round, now
shooting upwards, now diving to avoid a threatened collision, suddenly a
shock was heard, as two of them met in mid-air, with consequences
mutually disastrous.

A moment or two later both vessels were falling towards the ground,
though the course followed was in each case most erratic.  Just
previously they had met and remained for a brief space as though glued
together; then they flew apart, and began whirling and whizzing round in
seemingly mad fashion, like gigantic bluebottles which have singed their
wings.

As they pursued their eccentric, irresponsible flight, darting this way
and that, now spinning round like humming-tops, now rushing through the
air like stray rockets, dangerous alike to friends and foes, each left
behind it a sort of ’trail,’ which wound round and about, marking its
exact course.

This ’trail’ consisted of the members of the crews who had jumped or
been thrown off, and were now floating downwards in their parachute
dresses.

Occasionally there were conflicts in mid-air, as individual castaways
from the two airships happened to be thrown one against another in their
descent.

But such incidents as these were but trifles in an aerial battle; and,
since they exercised practically no effect in deciding its ultimate
issue, attracted little general notice.  The main struggle would have to
be fought out between the larger craft when they came to close
quarters—a state of things which Agrando was manoeuvring to bring about.

Fumenta, however, by previous arrangement with Ivanta, was equally
anxious to avoid close fighting just then.  Accordingly, he was
exercising every stratagem his lengthened experience could devise which
might tempt his enemies to alter their close formation and draw them on
to attack him in loose order.

Agrando, moving slowly forward, sent out yet more boarders, armed with
tridents and shields, in readiness for the attack, and these formed
another curious feature in this strange battle-scene.

They were towed through the air in long strings, holding on to ropes
made fast to their respective vessels, their parachute dress serving for
the most part to maintain their position, with the aid of the ropes, and
small motor-machines here and there.

As the great array advanced, Fumenta retired—at first as though with
reluctance, then more hurriedly, till at last the retreat began to look
like the beginning of a panic-stricken flight.

Then Agrando sent his swiftest vessels ahead, towing with them their
strings of boarders.  In the excitement of pursuit some went faster than
the rest, whilst others swerved off to right or to left to outflank the
fugitives and head them back, thus creating gaps and spaces in their own
ranks.

Meantime, where were Ivanta and his two yachts?  That was the question
that was being asked by Fumenta and his trusted lieutenants, and they
asked it more anxiously as the minutes went by.

The outlaw chief had—sorely, it must be confessed, against his own
feelings—consented to carry out a plan which involved the appearance of
ignominious flight.  The old fighter did not like the role he was thus
playing; but he had promised, and he was carrying out his part.  The
question was, would Ivanta arrive soon enough to carry out his part?  If
he was to do so it was time he put in an appearance.

Fumenta looked upwards and scanned the sky anxiously.  Nothing was to be
seen but some rather heavy-looking clouds, which were floating with the
wind, and would shortly be overhead.

Suddenly, in the midst of one of these clouds, two dark shadows showed.
A moment later they had taken form and burst out into the open, and then
the two yachts came swooping wildly down, with closed wings, like huge
birds stooping to strike their prey.



                            *CHAPTER XXXIX.*

                       *THE END OF THE STRUGGLE.*


When Ivanta, with the two yachts, had gone off, leaving Fumenta with his
fleet to face Agrando’s powerful force, he had not, in reality, gone
very far.

At first he had travelled swiftly to windward, till he met with a bank
of cloud drifting with the breeze.  Then he had been content to
penetrate into it just far enough to conceal his two vessels and remain
there, floating slowly back with the cloud in the direction from which
he had come.

Well versed in the movements of the varying currents of air and the
clouds they bore with them, he calculated that by remaining thus
inactive he would be carried back to the scene of the coming conflict
without any one suspecting his whereabouts, and that he would arrive
just about the time when he would be able to act with the best effect.

Gerald and Jack, on board Alondra’s yacht, watched from afar the
beginning of the battle. The yachts took up a station near the edge of
the cloud, just far enough from its fringe for concealment, yet not so
deep in the mist as to prevent them from watching, through powerful
glasses, all that was taking place.

Both yachts were supplied with turtle deck-shields, and these had been
duly fitted in their places.  The framework of the vessels was
constructed of ivantium, the light but marvellously hard metal which
formed the outer shell of the great aerostat, the _Ivenia_.  Moreover,
the ornamental prows were solid pieces of the same metal, and thus
formed formidable rams of enormous strength. These constituted
advantages which Ivanta’s fertile brain had planned to turn to good
account.

’The practice you have had when preparing for our racing competitions,’
he pointed out to his son and the two chums, when unfolding his scheme,
’will now come in useful.  What we have to do is to take the enemy by
surprise as soon as they are sufficiently scattered.  You must be ready
to execute some of those daring aerial dives with which you have many
times excited the wonder and admiration of the crowds of spectators
assembled at our aerial regattas.  Then they were executed merely as
feats of manoeuvring and aerial craftsmanship; now they may decide the
fate of the battle.  I am going to show you youngsters my reliance upon
your nerve and steadiness by trusting you to follow my lead.  It will be
a risky card to play, but if we keep our heads, and carry it through
successfully, it may mean the defeat of the whole hostile fleet and the
capture of Agrando himself—if he is there, as I believe he is!’

’We ’re ready, father!’ cried Alondra.  ’And you can trust Gerald and
Jack.  They know how to manage the _Lokris_ now as well as I do.’

’We’ll do our best, sir!’ said Gerald modestly. ’And thank you for
giving us the chance!  If we can do anything towards defeating Agrando
we shall feel we are aiding in the deliverance of Mr Armeath—especially
if, as you suggest may be the case, we can capture the tyrant himself.’

Preliminaries having been thus settled, the yachts drew apart and took
up positions in readiness for the work before them.

Meantime, they were as yet far from the contending forces, and there was
nothing to be done, while they were drifting slowly towards them, but
observe what went on through their glasses with such patience as they
could muster.

The two sailors were watching, too, not less eagerly than their leaders,
and their remarks and comments upon what they saw were both quaint and
original.

’What a queer way o’ fightin’!’ sniffed Tom Clinch scornfully.  ’No
smell o’ powder, no noise o’ big guns!  An’ look at their formation—one
lot above another, an’ another above them agen an’ agen!  A reg’lar
four-decker business!’

’Ay, it do seem stoopid like,’ Bob Reid agreed.

’S’pose some o’ the top uns dropped, they ’d go bang on top o’ them
below!  Did ye ever ’ear o’ sich a way o’ settin’ out in battle array?’

’By Jingo, Bob, look at them there strings o’ chaps bein’ towed inter
battle hangin’ on ter hawsers, an’ swingin’ an’ swayin’ about in the
air! Did ye ever ’ear o’ the likes o’ that, now?’

Presently a signal came from the king to be in readiness, and all talk
ceased.  For a while there was tense expectation, and those on board
Alondra’s yacht kept their eyes upon the _Nelda_.

Suddenly the king’s yacht lurched forward with poised wings, and then
dived headlong, the wings closing as it descended.

The spirals, working at high pressure, the flat bottom, which in itself
formed an aeroplane, aided by the fanlike stern or tail, were
sufficient, at the tremendous speed, to hold her up long enough to
effect the intended purpose, which was to force her way through the
outstretched wings of a line of the enemy’s ships.

In the line or row selected there were six vessels, one behind the
other, and the _Nelda_ passed along close to them like a whirlwind,
crashing through the wings, snapping them off like twigs, and
effectually disabling the whole line.

Alondra followed suit, selecting for his attack other six craft in line,
and managing the operation not less adroitly.

Both evolutions were effected with lightning-like rapidity.  It seemed
but an instant before they had passed, their wings had opened, and they
had shot upwards upon the other side so quickly that they appeared only
as specks in the upper air.

Then they turned in long, graceful curves, and came down in another
deadly plunge, selecting this time other vessels, which they served as
they had the first.

They left behind them a trail of wrecked craft, some of which fell at
once headlong to the ground, while others spun helplessly round and
round, their remaining wings assisting to break their fall, though
unable to prevent it.

Vainly those on board made desperate efforts to replace the broken wings
by the spare ones held in readiness.  One they could have quickly
replaced; but where all on the same side had gone the task was
difficult, almost hopeless.  But they were not allowed the time even to
attempt it, for Fumenta’s flying airships had turned, and were now
rushing back, heading straight for their crippled enemies.  They crashed
in amongst them, effectually finishing what the swifter-flying yachts
had begun.

With Fumenta’s larger craft came smaller ones, which dashed about
amongst the strings of ’boarders,’ breaking them up, and hurling whole
batches to the ground.

And still the yachts continued their deadly raids, flying to and fro
like thunderbolts, leaving everywhere in their track scenes of
indescribable confusion and panic.

It is but fair to Agrando to say that throughout he kept his head, and
struggled hard to avert the complete defeat which threatened him.  As
far as he could he huddled his vessels together for mutual support, thus
reducing the yachts’ power for mischief, since they could only work on
the outside lines.

Finally, Agrando retreated in the direction of the fortress, which he
imagined was still held by his own people.  There, close to the towering
precipice, his remaining warships would be safer from the yachts’ mad
rushes; and he and his chief officers, he reckoned, could in the last
resort, take refuge within and await the arrival of his second fleet.

Great was his dismay when, on his approach to the place, he met with a
hostile reception, and realised that it had been already captured by his
foes!

On all sides there was for him, now, nothing but disaster and defeat.
Fumenta’s vessels were cruising up and down almost unopposed, capturing
here, destroying there, triumphant everywhere, save as regards the few
remaining ships with which Agrando had surrounded himself.  He had
formed these into a circle, each one facing outwards, and in this way
managed for a while to keep their assailants at bay.

Then a great shout went up from them—a loud chorus of exultation and
defiance.  In the distance they had sighted the expected second fleet.

But their rejoicings were short-lived!  Far away, behind the oncoming
ships, there was visible a great mass, which it required but a second
glance to tell them was the _Ivenia_.  It was evident that she was in
chase of the longed-for reinforcements, which, in fact, were in headlong
flight.  They were making for the fortress, where they hoped they might
find a refuge.

Agrando next saw the two yachts signalling to the _Ivenia_, and watched
them sail off to meet her.  Then, somewhat to his surprise, the whole of
Fumenta’s forces followed.  But this only meant that Ivanta had called
them off in the midst of their half-finished work, contemptuously giving
his enemy an opportunity to rally his demoralised followers, if he
thought it worth while to do so.

But Agrando knew it was not worth while. He knew that nothing could
withstand the _Ivenia_. He realised too well that he was hopelessly
beaten; that the great coup which he and the Diamond King had played for
had failed, and come to an ignominious end.

It was now evident that, somehow or other, a few of Ivanta’s devoted
followers must have regained possession of the _Ivenia_, after Agrando’s
myrmidons had treacherously seized her, and had hastened to the aid of
their liege lord.  For the defeated tyrant and his aiders and abetters
there was therefore nothing now left but to throw themselves upon the
mercy of the conqueror.

This fact was, however, recognised by Agrando’s followers as quickly as
by himself.  With the great _Ivenia_ looming overhead, they too realised
that further fighting, or escape, would be alike impossible.  They were
wise in their generation, and perceived that their best hope lay in
forcing their leader to make surrender; and this they promptly did.

They surrounded him in a body, and under their coercion Agrando sullenly
sent out another messenger bearing the white flag.  The result was that,
less than an hour later, he and his principal officers were prisoners on
board the _Ivenia_.

Then an unpleasant discovery was made. Kazzaro was not among the
captives, and inquiry elicited the fact that, when he had perceived the
day was lost, he had slipped off in one of the fastest of Agrando’s
airships.  Further, it appeared that he had declared his intention of
returning to Agrando’s palace.

Thereupon, Ivanta decided to leave the completion of the arrangements on
the spot to Fumenta and his lieutenants, in whose charge he also left
the yachts.  Taking Alondra and his companions on board the _Ivenia_, he
started at once in pursuit of the runaway—the cunning, cruel, crafty old
’Ogre.’

Fortunately, the airship in which Kazzaro had gone off broke down before
she reached her destination, and thus the chase did not prove a very
long one.  Doubtless, the ’Ogre,’ in his fear of pursuit, and his
impatience to wreak a last vengeance upon the hapless prisoners Agrando
had left behind, had overstrained the machinery.

But the chase, if short, was certainly an exciting one, and afforded the
visitors from Earth an experience they had not had before—that of seeing
the _Ivenia_ put to her utmost speed through the air.  Ivanta, in his
righteous anger and his determination to rescue the prisoners, sent her
rushing along almost like a comet.  Had it been night, indeed, she would
certainly have seemed to leave a fiery, comet-like tail behind her, for
the tremendous, almost appalling, rate at which she tore through the
dense air caused an amount of friction which sent forth showers of
electric sparks.  To a structure built of any other metal than the
marvellous ivantium it would have meant utter destruction.

Before night the prisoners—including Mr Armeath, Aveena, and others of
Alondra’s friends—had been rescued; and the ’Ogre’ was safely locked up
in one of his own dungeons.



                             *CHAPTER XL.*

                             *CONCLUSION.*


With the defeat and capture of Agrando and his chief confederates, the
rebellion which they had fomented ignominiously collapsed.  None of
their allies in other parts of King Ivanta’s empire made any serious
attempt to continue the struggle.  The mere appearance of the great
_Ivenia_ was sufficient to enforce submission, as she visited in turn
each disaffected country or district.

With characteristic energy, the victor set to work to restore complete
order, and to efface the after-effects of the general disturbance.
Thanks to the wonderful tact and discernment he brought to bear upon
this delicate task, affairs settled down far more quickly than had at
first seemed possible.  It was but a few weeks ere King Ivanta returned
in triumph to his ’palace in the clouds,’ again the undisputed ruler of
his vast realm, his supremacy once more unchallenged throughout his
dominions.

Then commenced the further task of judging and punishing his vanquished
foes.  This was a longer and more tedious business, involving much
journeying to and fro, and the holding of numerous local inquiries and
state trials.

Here again King Ivanta surprised even his own friends, and heaped coals
of fire upon the heads of his enemies, by the nature of the treatment he
meted out.  Firm and determined in arriving at exact facts,
discriminating in apportioning blame, he showed himself generous and
magnanimous almost to a fault in regard to punishment.  Only those who,
like Agrando and Kazzaro, had been guilty of acts of deliberate cruelty
or injustice were severely dealt with; all others were let off far more
lightly than they had any right to expect.

’I feel, my friend,’ said Ivanta to Armeath, at the very beginning of
the inquiries, ’that I myself have been much to blame in ever
introducing among my people the costly toys you call diamonds and other
precious stones.  In the future they shall be unknown here, even as they
were before I first visited your planet.  They have been the means of
fostering greed and avarice, increasing vanity and envy, exciting evil
passions, and creating discord where peace and goodwill reigned before.
Every one—every stone, large or small—shall be collected.  I will compel
my subjects to give up those they have, and I will return them,
including all that Zuanstroom brought—with Zuanstroom himself—to the
world whence they came.  Henceforth I will have none of them; my
subjects—our globe—shall know them no more!’

This reference to the Diamond King is sufficient to indicate the extreme
leniency exhibited towards even the most blameworthy of those who had
rebelled against the Martian monarch.  Zuanstroom was, indeed,
imprisoned for the remainder of his visit; but no suggestion of any
severer punishment seemed to have entered King Ivanta’s thoughts.  And
even the imprisonment was more nominal than real; the captive’s son and
nephew were allowed free access to him, and they were allowed to make
occasional excursions together, under the escort of his jailers.

’He’s being treated a jolly sight better than he deserves, and so are
many others,’ observed practical-minded Jack.  ’They intended to kill
him, and us too, if they had succeeded in their plans.  I doubt if such
leniency will turn out to be altogether the wisest course for King
Ivanta’s own security in the future.’

’I don’t agree with you, Jack.  You are taking a wrong view of it.  To
my mind, the king is only acting just as I should have expected him to
do,’ cried Gerald enthusiastically.  ’What did I always say of him, from
the very first time I set eyes upon him?  I knew—yes, _knew_—something
seemed to tell me—how high-minded, how truly noble he was!  I always
declared it! But at that time it was only a feeling in my mind, a sort
of instinct.  Now we have before us proofs such as every one can see for
himself.—  What do you think, sir?’ he added, addressing his guardian.

’Truly, my son, your instinct in this case led you aright,’ returned
Armeath, nodding his head and smiling.  ’It is a goodly lesson for all
of us; a grand example, one worthy to be remembered and pondered for the
rest of our lives!’

It was a great time for the two chums and their guardian, that which
followed.  As the honoured guests of the king, and the special friends
and companions of the amiable prince his son, they travelled about
continually. Sometimes in the _Ivenia_, at others in the prince’s
splendid air-yacht, they made numerous journeys; and everywhere they met
with cordial receptions from the rulers and nobles of the various
nations, visited everything that was worth seeing, and enjoyed to the
full all the varied entertainments provided for their amusement.

One day there was a great assembly of nobles and dignitaries at the
’palace in the clouds,’ the special occasion being—so it had been given
out—to do honour to some of those whom King Ivanta wished to reward.
Foremost amongst these he placed the outlaw-chief Fumenta, and the young
stranger Malto, who had now quite recovered from his wound.

Then it was that King Ivanta made an announcement which came as a
surprise indeed. He began by calling upon Malto to declare the nature of
the request he wished to prefer.  ’My dear son Prince Alondra,’ the king
said, ’has never ceased to remind me again and again of the promise he
made to you, Malto.  Not, indeed, that I required any such reminders; I
am far too sensible of the great service you rendered him and his two
companions, our guests, when you enabled them to escape from Agrando’s
power.  No, I had not forgotten!  So far from forgetting, I may tell you
that I have been busily making inquiries of my own in anticipation of
what your request was likely to be.  At last my vague guesses have been
completely confirmed by certain confessions made to me by those two
traitors Agrando and his creature Kazzaro.  So, Malto, my friend, speak
out, and ask without fear.’

’It concerns my father, sir—my father who died many years ago in exile,
an outcast, driven from his country at your orders, owing to the
machinations of his enemies, of whom that same Kazzaro was the chief.’

King Ivanta nodded, and his fine features lighted up with one of his
kindliest smiles as he looked across at Fumenta.  ’And you, the Fox, as
you called yourself, who befriended the fugitive Eagle, and hid him from
his enemies in your burrow; what is your request?’

’Mine, oh king, is less unselfish than that of this persecuted young
gentleman, since it concerns myself alone.  Once upon a time’——

’Once upon a time,’ interrupted the king, ’you were known as Lufendis,
King of Iraynia.’

Here Malto started and turned pale.  He seemed to be trembling, and
stared first at the king and then at Fumenta—or Lufendis—with eyes that
were almost starting out of his head.  Ivanta paused and held his hand
out towards him.

’And you, Malto, are the son of the king whom I displaced and sent into
exile because of accusations which both Agrando and Kazzaro have now
admitted were false!’—’Lufendis! formerly King of Iraynia, henceforth
you are king not only of Iraynia but also of Sedenia, for I give to you
the position forfeited by the traitor Agrando!  There, oh king, is your
son, Prince Yumalda, whom you thought to be dead; but who was really
stolen by Kazzaro and brought up to be the slave of the tyrant he
served.—Malto! or rather, Prince Yumalda! this is your father whom you
have so long mourned as dead!’

Who shall describe the scene that followed? Who can worthily depict the
wondering delight of the father, the amazement of the son, or the
sympathetic emotions of those who stood around? Congratulations, eager,
tumultuous, poured in on all sides, Prince Alondra, Gerald, and Jack
being among the first to offer them.  Then the father and son, thus
strangely reunited, retired together to talk to one another alone.

At a later date the chums accompanied Prince Alondra and Monck on
another visit to Sedenia. This time they went as the guests of the newly
appointed King Lufendis.  And there they visited again, with Prince
Yumalda and Malandris, all those places where the former, as Malto, had
so adroitly aided them in their fortunate escape from Agrando’s
dungeons.  There, too, they saw the wrecked pavilion, and learned for
the first time how narrowly they had avoided being buried in its ruins.

Of Agrando, or the ’Ogre,’ they saw nothing. They had already gone to
their lifelong doom—exile and imprisonment in that same dismal
wilderness in which their victim, King Lufendis, had passed so many
years as the famous outlaw-chief.

                     *      *      *      *      *

And so it came to pass that when, in due time, the wondrous aerostat
_Ivenia_ set out upon her return to Earth, she brought back with her a
larger load of treasure even than she had carried to Mars.  What had
belonged to the Diamond King, Ivanta, with royal scrupulousness,
restored to him.  The rest of the jewels he presented to Armeath and his
two wards, who in turn made over a share to their faithful servitors,
all thus becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams.

At the last moment, before leaving Mars, the chums experienced a great
disappointment.  They had quite expected that Prince Alondra would
accompany them; but King Ivanta firmly refused his permission.  For the
present, at any rate, he said, his son must remain to represent him, and
to take his place in looking after his people. At some future time,
perhaps, things might be different.

’That means,’ Alondra whispered to Gerald and Jack, ’that he has it in
his mind to bring me to see you later on.  He is thinking of going upon
a voyage of discovery to another planet, and I think I may be able to
induce him to call for you to go with us.’

’Then,’ said Gerald, ’it is not "Good-bye," but "_Au revoir;_" which,
being freely interpreted, means "Perhaps Jack and I will see you again
before very long!"’

And perhaps they will.  Who can say?  The two chums, at least, firmly
believe that it will come to pass; and that they are destined to take
their part in yet other journeys through space in the company of the
genial King Ivanta and his vivacious son Alondra.



                                THE END.



           *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *



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