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Title: Omega: The Last days of the World
Author: Flammarion, Camille
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.

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Internet Archive)



[Illustration:

  _By Jean Paul Laurens._
]



                                 OMEGA:
                       THE LAST DAYS OF THE WORLD


                                   BY

                           CAMILLE FLAMMARION


                         WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY

   JEAN PAUL LAURENS, SAUNIER, MÉAULLE, VOGEL, ROCHEGROSSE, GERADIN,
           CHOVIN, TOUSSAINT, GUILLONNET, SCHWABE, AND OTHERS


                               NEW YORK:
                  THE COSMOPOLITAN PUBLISHING COMPANY



                            COPYRIGHT, 1894,
                                   BY
                              J. B. WALKER


                                PRESS OF
                  THE COSMOPOLITAN PUBLISHING COMPANY

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           TABLE OF CONTENTS


                              CHAPTER I.
                              CHAPTER II.
                              CHAPTER III.
                              CHAPTER IV.
                              CHAPTER V.
                              CHAPTER VI.
                              CHAPTER VII.
                              SECOND PART.
                              CHAPTER I.
                              CHAPTER II.
                              CHAPTER III.
                              CHAPTER IV.
                              CHAPTER V.
                              CHAPTER VI.
                              EPILOGUE.

[Illustration]



                                 OMEGA:

                      THE LAST DAYS OF THE WORLD.



                               CHAPTER I.


The magnificent marble bridge which unites the Rue de Rennes with the
Rue de Louvre, and which, lined with the statues of celebrated
scientists and philosophers, emphasizes the monumental avenue leading to
the new portico of the Institute, was absolutely black with people. A
heaving crowd surged, rather than walked, along the quays, flowing out
from every street and pressing forward toward the portico, long before
invaded by a tumultuous throng. Never, in that barbarous age preceding
the constitution of the United States of Europe, when might was greater
than right, when military despotism ruled the world and foolish humanity
quivered in the relentless grasp of war—never before in the stormy
period of a great revolution, or in those feverish days which
accompanied a declaration of war, had the approaches of the house of the
people’s representatives, or the Place de la Concorde presented such a
spectacle. It was no longer the case of a band of fanatics rallied about
a flag, marching to some conquest of the sword, and followed by a throng
of the curious and the idle, eager to see what would happen; but of the
entire population, anxious, agitated, terrified, composed of every class
of society without distinction, hanging upon the decision of an oracle,
waiting feverishly the result of the calculations which a celebrated
astronomer was to announce that very Monday, at three o’clock, in the
session of the Academy of Sciences. Amid the flux of politics and
society the Institute survived, maintaining still in Europe its
supremacy in science, literature and art. The center of civilization,
however, had moved westward, and the focus of progress shone on the
shores of Lake Michigan, in North America.

This new palace of the Institute, with its lofty domes and terraces, had
been erected upon the ruins remaining after the great social revolution
of the international anarchists who, in 1950, had blown up the greater
portion of the metropolis as from the vent of a crater.

[Illustration:

  THE STREETS OF PARIS BY NIGHT
]

On the Sunday evening before, one might have seen from the car of a
balloon all Paris abroad upon the boulevards and public squares,
circulating slowly and as if in despair, without interest in anything.
The gay aerial ships no longer cleaved the air; aeroplanes and aviators
had all ceased to circulate. The aerial stations upon the summits of the
towers and buildings were empty and deserted. The course of human life
seemed arrested, and anxiety was depicted upon every face. Strangers
addressed each other without hesitation; and but one question fell from
pale and trembling lips: “Is it then true?” The most deadly pestilence
would have carried far less terror to the heart than the astronomical
prediction on every tongue; it would have made fewer victims, for
already, from some unknown cause, the death-rate was increasing. At
every instant one felt the electric shock of a terrible fear.

A few, less dismayed, wished to appear more confident, and sounded now
and then a note of doubt, even of hope, as: “It may prove a mistake;”
or, “It will pass on one side;” or, again: “It will amount to nothing;
we shall get off with a fright,” and other like assurances.

But expectation and uncertainty are often more terrible than the
catastrophe itself. A brutal blow knocks us down once for all,
prostrating us more or less completely. We come to our senses, we make
the best of it, we recover, and take up life again. But this was the
unknown, the expectation of something inevitable but mysterious,
terrible, coming from without the range of experience. One was to die,
without doubt, but how? By the sudden shock of collision, crushed to
death? By fire, the conflagration of a world? By suffocation, the
poisoning of the atmosphere? What torture awaited humanity? Apprehension
was perhaps more frightful than the reality itself. The mind cannot
suffer beyond a certain limit. To suffer by inches, to ask every evening
what the morning may bring, is to suffer a thousand deaths. Terror, that
terror which congeals the blood in the veins, which annihilates the
courage, haunted the shuddering soul like an invisible spectre.

[Illustration:

  THE OBSERVATORY ON GAURISANKAR.
]

For more than a month the business of the world had been suspended; a
fortnight before the committee of administrators (formerly the chamber
and senate) had adjourned, every other question having sunk into
insignificance. For a week the exchanges of Paris, London, New York and
Pekin, had closed their doors. What was the use of occupying oneself
with business affairs, with questions of internal or foreign policy, of
revenue or of reform, if the end of the world was at hand? Politics,
indeed! Did one even remember to have ever taken any interest in them?
The courts themselves had no cases; one does not murder when one expects
the end of the world. Humanity no longer attached importance to
anything; its heart beat furiously, as if about to stop forever. Every
face was emaciated, every countenance discomposed, and haggard with
sleeplessness. Feminine coquetry alone held out, but in a superficial,
hesitating, furtive manner, without thought of the morrow.

The situation was indeed serious, almost desperate, even in the eyes of
the most stoical. Never, in the whole course of history had the race of
Adam found itself face to face with such a peril. The portents of the
sky confronted it unceasingly with a question of life and death.

But, let us go back to the beginning.

Three months before the day of which we speak, the director of the
observatory of Mount Gaurisankar had sent the following telephonic
message to the principal observatories of the globe, and especially to
that of Paris:[1]

Footnote 1:

  For about 300 years the observatory of Paris had ceased to be an
  observing station, and had been perpetuated only as the central
  administrative bureau of French astronomy. Astronomical observations
  were made under far more satisfactory conditions upon mountain summits
  in a pure atmosphere, free from disturbing influences. Observers were
  in direct and constant communication by telephone with the central
  office, whose instruments were used only to verify certain discoveries
  or to satisfy the curiosity of savants detained in Paris by their
  sedentary occupation.

“A telescopic comet discovered tonight, in 290°, 15´ right ascension,
and 21°, 54´ south declination. Slight diurnal motion. Is of greenish
hue.”

Not a month passed without the discovery of telescopic comets, and
their announcement to the various observatories, especially since the
installation of intrepid astronomers in Asia on the lofty peaks of
Gaurisankar, Dapsang and Kanchinjinga; in South America, on Aconcagua,
Illampon and Chimborazo, as also in Africa on Kilimanjaro, and in
Europe on Elburz and Mont Blanc. This announcement, therefore, had not
excited more comment among astronomers than any other of a like nature
which they were constantly receiving. A large number of observers had
sought the comet in the position indicated, and had carefully followed
its motion. Their observations had been published in the
Neuastronomischenachrichten, and a German mathematician had calculated
a provisional orbit and ephemeris.

Scarcely had this orbit and ephemeris been published, when a Japanese
scientist made a very remarkable suggestion. According to these
calculations, the comet was approaching the sun from infinite space in a
plane but slightly inclined to that of the ecliptic, an extremely rare
occurrence, and, moreover, would traverse the orbit of Saturn. “It would
be exceedingly interesting,” he remarked, “to multiply observations and
revise the calculation of the orbit, with a view to determining whether
the comet will come in collision with the rings of Saturn; for this
planet will be exactly at that point of its path intersected by the
orbit of the comet, on the day of the latter’s arrival.”

[Illustration:

  THE YOUNG LAUREATE.
]

A young laureate of the Institute, a candidate for the directorship for
the observatory, acting at once on this suggestion, had installed
herself at the telephone office in order to capture on the wing every
message. In less than ten days she had intercepted more than one hundred
despatches, and, without losing an instant, had devoted three nights and
days to a revision of the orbit as based on this entire series of
observations. The result proved that the German computor had committed
an error in determining the perihelion distance and that the inference
drawn by the Japanese astronomer was inexact in so far as the date of
the comet’s passage through the plane of the ecliptic was concerned,
this date being five or six days earlier than that first announced; but
the interest in the problem increased, for the minimum distance of the
comet from the earth seemed now less than the Japanese calculator had
thought possible. Setting aside for the moment, the question of a
collision, it was hoped that the enormous perturbation which would
result from the attraction of the earth and moon would afford a new
method of determining with exhaustive precision the mass of both these
bodies, and perhaps even throw important light upon the density of the
earth’s interior. It was, indeed, established that the celestial visitor
was moving in a plane nearly coincident with that of the ecliptic, and
would pass near the system of Saturn, whose attraction would probably
modify to a sensible degree the primitive parabolic orbit, bringing it
nearer to the belated planet. But the comet, after traversing the orbits
of Jupiter and of Mars, was then to enter exactly that described
annually by the earth about the sun. The interest of astronomers was not
on this account any the less keen, and the young computor insisted more
forcibly than ever upon the importance of numerous and exact
observations.

It was at the observatory of Gaurisankar especially that the study of
the comet’s elements was prosecuted. On this highest elevation of the
globe, at an altitude of 8000 meters, among eternal snows which, by
newly discovered processes of electro-chemistry, were kept at a distance
of several kilometers from the station, towering almost always many
hundred meters above the highest clouds, in a pure and rarified
atmosphere, the visual power of both the eye and the telescope was
increased a hundred fold. The craters of the moon, the satellites of
Jupiter, and the phases of Venus could be readily distinguished by the
naked eye. For nine or ten generations several families of astronomers
had lived upon this Asiatic summit, and had gradually become accustomed
to its rare atmosphere. The first comers had succumbed; but science and
industry had succeeded in modifying the rigors of the temperature by the
storage of solar heat, and acclimatization slowly took place; as in
former times, at Quito and Bogota, where, in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, a contented population lived in plenty, and young
women might be seen dancing all night long without fatigue; whereas on
Mont Blanc in Europe, at the same elevation, a few steps only were
attended with painful respiration. By degrees a small colony was
installed upon the slopes of the Himalayas, and, through their
researches and discoveries, the observatory had acquired the reputation
of being the first in the world. Its principal instrument was the
celebrated equatorial of one hundred meters focal length, by whose aid
the hieroglyphic signals, addressed in vain for several thousand years
by the inhabitants of the planet Mars to the earth, had finally been
deciphered.

While the astronomers of Europe were discussing the orbit of the new
comet and establishing the precision of the computations which foretold
its convergence upon the earth and the collision of the two bodies in
space, a new phonographic message was sent out from the Himalayan
observatory:

“The comet will soon become visible to the naked eye. Still of greenish
hue. Its course is earthward.”

The complete agreement between the astronomical data, whether from
European, American, or Asiatic sources, could leave no further doubt of
their exactness. The daily papers sowed broadcast this alarming news,
embellished with sinister comments and numberless interviews in which
the most astonishing statements were attributed to scientists. Their
only concern was to outdo the ascertained facts, and to exaggerate their
bearing by more or less fanciful additions. As for that matter, the
journals of the world had long since become purely business enterprises.
The sole preoccupation of each was to sell every day the greatest
possible number of copies. They invented false news, travestied the
truth, dishonored men and women, spread scandal, lied without shame,
explained the devices of thieves and murderers, published the formulæ of
recently invented explosives, imperilled their own readers and betrayed
every class of society, for the sole purpose of exciting to the highest
pitch the curiosity of the public and of “selling copies.”

Everything had become a pure matter of business. For science, art,
literature, philosophy, study and research, the press cared nothing. An
acrobat, a runner or a jockey, an air-ship or water-velocipede, attained
more celebrity in a day than the most eminent scientist, or the most
ingenious inventor—for these two classes made no return to the
stockholders. Everything was adroitly decked out with the rhetoric of
patriotism, a sentiment which still exercised some empire over the minds
of men. In short, from every point of view, the pecuniary interests of
the publication dominated all considerations of public interest and
general progress. Of all this the public had been for a long time the
dupe; but, at the time of which we are now speaking, it had surrendered
to the situation, so that there was no longer any newspaper, properly
speaking, but only sheets of notices and advertisements of a commercial
nature. Neither the first announcement of the press, that a comet was
approaching with a high velocity and would collide with the earth at a
date already determined; nor the second, that the wandering star might
bring about a general catastrophe by rendering the atmosphere
irrespirable, had produced the slightest impression; this two-fold
prophecy, if noticed at all by the heedless reader, had been received
with profound incredulity, attracting no more attention than the
simultaneous announcement of the discovery of the fountain of perpetual
youth in the cellars of the Palais des Fées on Montmartre (erected on
the ruins of the cathedral of the Sacré-Cœur).

[Illustration:

  A SHOWER OF STARS.
]

Moreover, astronomers themselves had not, at first, evinced any anxiety
about the collision, so far as it affected the fate of humanity, and the
astronomical journals (which alone retained any semblance of authority)
had as yet referred to the subject simply as a computation to be
verified. Scientists had treated the problem as one of pure mathematics,
regarding it only as an interesting case of celestial mechanics. In the
interviews to which they had been subjected they had contented
themselves with saying that a collision was possible, even probable, but
of no interest to the public.

Meanwhile, a new message was received by telephone, this time from Mount
Hamilton in California, which produced a sensation among the chemists
and physiologists:

“Spectroscopic observation establishes the fact that the comet is a body
of considerable density, composed of several gases the chief of which is
carbonic-oxide.”

Matters were becoming serious. That a collision with the earth would
occur was certain. If astronomers were not especially preoccupied by
this fact, accustomed as they were for centuries to consider these
celestial conjunctions as harmless: if the most celebrated even of their
number had, at last, coldly shown the door to the many beardless
reporters constantly importuning them, declaring that this prediction
was of no interest to the people at large and was a strictly
astronomical question which did not concern them, physicians, on the
other hand, had begun to agitate the subject and to discuss gravely,
among each other, the possibilities of asphyxia, or poisoning. Less
indifferent to public opinion, so far from turning a cold shoulder to
the journalists, they had welcomed them, and in a few days the subject
suddenly entered upon a new phase. From the domain of astronomy it had
passed into that of philosophy, and the name of every well-known or
famous physician appeared in large letters on the title-pages of the
daily papers; their portraits were reproduced in the illustrated
journals, and the formula, “Interviews on the Comet,” was to be seen on
every hand. Already, even, the variety and diversity of conflicting
opinions had created hostile camps, which hurled at each other the most
grotesque abuse, and asserted that all physicians were “charlatans eager
for notoriety.”

In the mean time the director of the Paris observatory having at heart
the interests of science, was profoundly disturbed by an uproar which
had more than once, on former occasions, singularly misrepresented
astronomical facts. He was a venerable old man who had grown gray in the
study of the great problems of the constitution of the universe. His
utterances were respected by all, and he had decided to make a statement
to the press in which he declared that all conjectures, made prior to
the technical discussion authorized by the Institute, were premature.

It has been remarked, we believe, that the Paris observatory, always in
the van of every scientific movement, by virtue of the labors of its
members, and more especially, of improved methods of observation, had
become, on the one hand, the sanctuary of theoretical research, and on
the other the central telephone bureau for stations established at a
distance from the great cities on elevations favored by a perfectly
transparent atmosphere.

[Illustration:

  _By Jean Paul Laurens._
]

It was an asylum of peace, where perfect concord reigned, where
astronomers disinterestedly consecrated their whole lives to the
advancement of science, and mutually encouraged each other, without
experiencing any of the pangs of envy, each forgetting his own merit to
proclaim that of his colleagues. The director set the example, and when
he spoke it was in the name of all.

He published a technical discussion, and he was listened to—for a
moment. For the question appeared to be no longer one of astronomy. No
one denied or disputed the meeting of the comet with the earth. That was
a fact which mathematics had rendered certain. The absorbing question
now was the chemical constitution of the comet. If the earth, in its
passage through it, was to lose the oxygen of its atmosphere, death by
asphyxia was inevitable; if, on the other hand, the nitrogen was to
combine with the cometary gases, death was still certain; but death
preceded by an ungovernable exhilaration, a sort of universal
intoxication, a wild delirium of the senses being the necessary result
of the extraction of nitrogen from the respirable air and the
proportionate increase of oxygen.

The spectroscope indicated especially the presence of carbonic-oxide in
the chemical constitution of the comet. The chief point under discussion
in the scientific reviews was whether the mixture of this noxious gas
with the atmosphere would poison the entire population of the globe,
human and animal, as the president of the academy of medicine affirmed
would be the case.

Carbonic-oxide! Nothing else was talked of. The spectroscope could not
be in error. Its methods were too sure, its processes too precise.
Everybody knew that the smallest admixture of this gas with the air we
breathe meant a speedy death. Now, a later despatch from the observatory
of Gaurisankar had more than confirmed that received from Mount
Hamilton. This despatch read:

“The earth will be completely submerged in the nucleus of the comet,
whose diameter is already thirty times that of the globe and is daily
increasing.”

Thirty times the diameter of the earth! Even then, though the comet
should pass between the earth and the moon, it would touch them both,
since a bridge of thirty earths would span the distance between our
world and the moon.

Then, too, during the three months whose history we have recapitulated,
the comet had emerged from regions accessible only to the telescope and
had become visible to the naked eye. In full view of the earth it
hovered now like a threat from heaven among the army of stars. Terror
itself, advancing slowly but inexorably, was suspended like a mighty
sword above every head. A last effort was made, not indeed to turn the
comet from its path—an idea conceived by that class of visionaries who
recoil before nothing, and who had even imagined that an electric storm
of vast magnitude might be produced by batteries suitably distributed
over that face of the globe which was to receive the shock—but to
examine once more the great problem under every aspect, and perhaps to
reassure the public mind and rekindle hope by the discovery of some
error in the conclusions which had been drawn, some forgotten fact in
the observations or computations. This collision might not after all
prove so fatal as the pessimists had foretold. A general presentation of
the case from every point of view was announced for this very Monday at
the Institute, just four days before the prophesied moment of collision,
which would take place on Friday, July 13th. The most celebrated
astronomer of France, at that time director of the Paris observatory;
the president of the academy of medicine, an eminent physiologist and
chemist; the president of the astronomical society, a skillful
mathematician, and other orators also, among them a woman distinguished
for her discoveries in the physical sciences, were among the speakers
announced. The last word had not yet been spoken. Let us enter the
venerable dome and listen to the discussion.

But before doing so, let us ourselves consider this famous comet which
for the time being absorbed every thought.



                              CHAPTER II.


[Illustration:

  THE STREET TELESCOPES.
]

The stranger had emerged slowly from the depths of space. Instead of
appearing suddenly, as more than once the great comets have been
observed to do,—either because coming into view immediately after their
perihelion passage, or after a long series of storms or moonlight nights
has prevented the search of the sky by the comet-seekers—this floating
star-mist had at first remained in regions visible only to the
telescope, and had been watched only by astronomers. For several days
after its discovery, none but the most powerful equatorials of the
observatories could detect its presence. But the well-informed were not
slow to examine it for themselves. Every modern house was crowded with a
terrace, partly for the purpose of facilitating aerial embarkations.
Many of them were provided with revolving domes. Few well-to-do families
were without a telescope, and no home was complete without a library,
well furnished with scientific books.

The comet had been observed by everybody, so to speak, from the instant
it became visible to instruments of moderate power. As for the laboring
classes, whose leisure moments were always provided for, the telescopes
set up in the public squares had been surrounded by impatient crowds
from the first moment of visibility, and every evening the receipts of
these astronomers of the open air had been incredible and without
precedent. Many workmen, too, had their own instruments, especially in
the provinces, and justice, as well as truth, compels us to acknowledge
that the first discoverer of the comet (outside of the professional
observers) had not been a man of the world, a person of importance, or
an academician, but a plain workman of the town of Soissons, who passed
the greater portion of his nights under the stars, and who had succeeded
in purchasing out of his laboriously accumulated savings an excellent
little telescope with which he was in the habit of studying the wonders
of the sky. And it is a notable fact that prior to the twenty-fourth
century, nearly all the inhabitants of the earth had lived without
knowing where they were, without even feeling the curiosity to ask, like
blind men, with no other preoccupation than the satisfaction of their
appetites; but within a hundred years the human race had begun to
observe and reason upon the universe about them.

[Illustration]

To understand the path of the comet through space, it will be sufficient
to examine carefully the accompanying chart. It represents the comet
coming from infinite space obliquely towards the earth, and afterwards
falling into the sun which does not arrest it in its passage toward
perihelion. No account has been taken of the perturbation caused by the
earth’s attraction, whose effect would be to bring the comet nearer to
the earth’s orbit. All the comets which gravitate about the sun—and they
are numerous—describe similar elongated orbits,—ellipses, one of whose
foci is occupied by the solar star. The drawing on page 33 gives an idea
of the intersections of the cometary and planetary orbits, and the orbit
of the earth about the sun. On studying these intersections, we perceive
that a collision is neither an impossible nor an abnormal event.

The comet was now visible to the naked eye. On the night of the new
moon, the atmosphere being perfectly clear, it had been detected by a
few keen eyes without the aid of a glass, not far from the zenith near
the edge of the milky way to the south of the star Omicron in the
constellation of Andromeda, as a pale nebulæ, like a puff of very light
smoke, quite small, almost round, slightly elongated in a direction
opposed to that of the sun—a gaseous elongation, outlining a rudimentary
tail. This, indeed, had been its appearance since its first discovery by
the telescope. From its inoffensive aspect no one could have suspected
the tragic role which this new star was to play in the history of
humanity. Analysis alone indicated its march toward the earth.

But the mysterious star approached rapidly. The very next day the half
of those who searched for it had detected it, and the following day only
the near-sighted, with eyeglasses of insufficient power, had failed to
make it out. In less than a week every one had seen it. In all the
public squares, in every city, in every village, groups were to be seen
watching it, or showing it to others.

Day by day it increased in size. The telescope began to distinguish
distinctly a luminous nucleus. The excitement increased at the same
time, invading every mind. When, after the first quarter and during the
full moon, it appeared to remain stationary and even to lose something
of its brilliancy, as it had been expected to grow rapidly larger, it
was hoped that some error had crept into the computations, and a period
of tranquillity and relief followed. After the full moon the barometer
fell rapidly. A violent storm-center, coming from the Atlantic, passed
north of the British Isles. For twelve days the sky was entirely
obscured over nearly the whole of Europe.

[Illustration:

  THE COMET AS SEEN AT PARIS.
]

Once more the sun shone in purified atmosphere, the clouds dissolved and
the blue sky reappeared pure and unobscured; it was not without emotion
that men waited for the setting of the sun—especially as several aerial
expeditions had succeeded in rising above the cloud-belts, and aeronauts
had asserted that the comet was visibly larger. Telephone messages sent
out from the mountains of Asia and America announced also its rapid
approach. But great was the surprise when at nightfall every eye was
turned heavenward to seek the flaming star. It was no longer a comet, a
classic comet such as one had seen before, but an aurora borealis of a
new kind, a gigantic celestial fan, with seven branches, shooting into
space seven greenish streamers, which appeared to issue from a point
hidden below the horizon.

No one had the slightest doubt but that this fantastical aurora borealis
was the comet itself, a view confirmed by the fact that the former comet
could not be found anywhere among the starry host. The apparition
differed, it is true, from all popularly known cometary forms, and the
radiating beams of the mysterious visitor were, of all forms, the least
expected. But these gaseous bodies are so remarkable, so capricious, so
various, that everything is possible. Moreover, it was not the first
time that a comet had presented such an aspect. Astronomy contained
among its records that of an immense comet observed in 1744, which at
that time had been the subject of much discussion, and whose picturesque
delineation, made de visu by the astronomer Chèzeaux, at Lausanne, had
given it a wide celebrity. But even if nothing of this nature had been
seen before, the evidence of one’s eyes was indubitable.

Meanwhile, discussions multiplied, and a veritable astronomical
tournament was commenced in the scientific reviews of the entire
world—the only journals which inspired any confidence amid the epidemic
of buying and selling which had for so long a time possessed humanity.
The main question, now that there was no longer any doubt that the star
was moving straight toward the earth, was its position from day to day,
a question depending upon its velocity. The young computor of the Paris
observatory, chief of the section of comets, sent every day a note to
the official journal of the United States of Europe.

[Illustration]

A very simple mathematical relation exists between the velocity of every
comet and its distance from the sun. Knowing the former one can at once
find the latter. In fact the velocity of the comet is simply the
velocity of a planet multiplied by the square root of two. Now the
velocity of a planet, whatever its distance, is determined by Kepler’s
third law, according to which the squares of the times of revolution are
to each other as the cubes of the distances. Nothing evidently, can be
more simple. Thus, for example, the magnificent planet, Jupiter, moves
about the sun with a velocity of 13,000 meters per second. A comet at
this distance moves, therefore, with the above-mentioned velocity,
multiplied by the square root of two, that is to say by the number
1.4142. This velocity is consequently 18,380 meters per second.

The planet Mars revolves about the sun at the rate of 24,000 meters per
second. At this distance the comet’s velocity is 34,000 meters per
second.

The mean velocity of the earth in its orbit is 29,460 meters per second,
a little less in June, a little more in December. In the neighborhood of
the earth, therefore, the velocity of the comet is 41,660 meters,
independently of the acceleration which the earth might occasion.

These facts the laureate of the Institute called to the attention of the
public which, moreover, already possessed some general notions upon the
theory of celestial mechanics.

When the threatening star arrived at a distance from the sun equal to
that of Mars, the popular fear was no longer a vague apprehension; it
took definite form, based, as it was, upon the exact knowledge of the
comet’s rate of approach. Thirty-four thousand meters per second meant
2040 kilometers per minute, or 122,400 kilometers per hour!

[Illustration]

As the distance of the orbit of Mars from that of the earth is only
76,000,000 of kilometers, at the rate of 122,400 kilometers an hour,
this distance would be covered in 621 hours, or about twenty-six days.
But, as the comet approached the sun, its velocity would increase, since
at the distance of the earth its velocity would be 41,660 meters per
second. In virtue of this increase of speed, the distance between the
two orbits would be traversed by a comet in 558 hours, or in
twenty-three days, six hours.

But the earth at the moment of meeting with the comet, would not be
exactly at that point of its orbit intersected by a line from the comet
to the sun, because the former was not advancing directly toward the
latter; the collision, therefore, would not take place for nearly a week
later, namely: at about midnight on Friday, the 13th of July. It is
unnecessary to add that under such circumstances the usual arrangements
for the celebration of the national fête of July 14th had been
forgotten. National fête! No one thought of it. Was not that date far
more likely to mark the universal doom of men and things? As to that,
the celebration by the French of the anniversary of that famous day had
lasted—with some exceptions, it is true—for more than five centuries:
even among the Romans anniversaries had never been observed for so long
a period, and it was generally agreed that the 14th of July had outlived
its usefulness.

It was now Monday, the 8th of July. For five days the sky had been
perfectly clear, and every night the fan-like comet hovered in the sky
depths, its head, or nucleus, distinctly visible and dotted with
luminous points which might well be solid bodies several kilometers in
diameter, and which, according to the calculations, would be the first
to strike the earth, the tail being in a direction away from the sun and
in the present instance behind and obliquely situated with reference to
the direction of motion. The new star blazed in the constellation of
Pisces. According to observations taken on the preceding evening, July
8th, its exact position was: right ascension, 23h., 10m., 32s.;
declination north, 7°, 36´, 4˝. The tail lay entirely across the
constellation of Pegasus. The comet rose at 9h., 49m. and was visible
all night long.

During the lull of which we have spoken, a change in public opinion had
occurred. From a series of retrospective calculations an astronomer had
proved that the earth had already on several occasions encountered
comets, and that each time the only result had been a harmless shower of
shooting stars. But one of his colleagues had replied that the present
comet could not in any sense be compared to a swarm of meteors, that it
was gaseous, with a nucleus composed of solid bodies and he had in this
connection recalled the observations made upon a comet famous in
history, that of 1811.

This comet of 1811 justified, in a certain respect, a real apprehension.
Its dimensions were recalled to mind: its length of 180,000,000
kilometers, that is to say, a distance greater than that of the earth
from the sun; and the width of its tail at its extreme point, 24,000,000
kilometers. The diameter of its nucleus measured 1,800,000 kilometers,
forty thousand times that of the earth, and its nebulous and remarkably
regular elliptical head was a spot brilliant as a star, having itself a
diameter of no less than 200,000 kilometers. The spot appeared to be of
great density. It was observed for sixteen months and twenty-two days.
But the most remarkable feature of this comet was the immense
development to which it attained without approaching very close to the
sun; for it did not reach a point nearer than 150,000,000 kilometers,
and thus remained more than 170,000,000 kilometers from the earth. As
the size of comets increases as they near the sun, if this one had
experienced to a greater degree the solar action, its appearance would
certainly have been still more wonderful, and, doubtless, terrifying to
the observer. And as its mass was far from insignificant, if it had
fallen directly into the sun, its velocity, accelerated to the rate of
five or six hundred thousand meters per second at the moment of
collision, might, by the transformation of mechanical energy into
thermal energy, have suddenly increased the solar radiations to such a
degree as to have utterly destroyed in a few days every trace of
vegetable and animal life upon the earth.

A physicist, indeed, had made this curious remark, that a comet of the
same size as that of 1811, or greater, might thus bring about the end of
the world without actual contact, by a sort of expulsion of solar light
and heat, analogous to that observed in the case of temporary stars. The
impact would, indeed, give rise to a quantity of heat six times as great
as that which would be produced by the combustion of a mass of coal
equal to the mass of the comet.

It had been shown that if such a comet in its flight, instead of falling
into the sun, should collide with our planet, the end of the world would
be by fire. If it collided with Jupiter it would raise the temperature
of that globe to such a point as to restore to it its lost light, and to
make it for a time a sun again, so that the earth would be lighted by
two suns, Jupiter becoming a sort of minor night-sun, far brighter than
the moon, and shining by its own light—of a ruby-red or garnet color,
revolving about the earth in twelve years. A nocturnal sun! That is to
say, no more real night for the earth.

The most classical astronomical treatises had been consulted; chapters
on comets written by Newton, Halley, Maupertuis, Lalande, Laplace,
Arago, Faye, Newcomb, Holden, Denning, Robert Ball, and their
successors, had been re-read. The opinion of Laplace had made the
deepest impression and his language had been textually cited: “The
earth’s axis and rotary motion changed; the oceans abandoning their
old-time beds, to rush toward the new equator; the majority of men and
animals overwhelmed by this universal deluge, or destroyed by the
violent shock; entire species annihilated; every monument of human
industry overthrown; such are the disasters which might result from
collision with a comet.”

Thus discussion, researches into the past, calculations, conjectures
succeeded each other. But that which made the deepest impression on
every mind was first that, as proved by observation, the present comet
had a nucleus of considerable density, and second, that carbonic-oxide
gas was unquestionably the chief chemical constituent. Fear and terror
resumed their sway. Nothing else was thought of, or talked about, but
the comet. Already inventive minds sought some way, more or less
practicable, of evading the danger. Chemists pretended to be able to
preserve a part of the oxygen of the atmosphere. Methods were devised
for the isolation of this gas from the nitrogen and its storage in
immense vessels of glass hermetically sealed. A clever pharmacist
asserted that he had condensed it in pastilles, and in a fortnight
expended eight millions in advertising. Thus commerce made capital out
of everything, even universal death. All hope was not, however,
abandoned. People disputed, trembled, grew anxious, shuddered, died
even—but hoped on.

The latest news was to the effect that the comet, developing, as it
approached the thermal and electric influences of the sun, would have at
the moment of impact a diameter sixty-five times that of the earth, or
828,000 kilometers.

It was in the midst of this state of general anxiety that the session of
the Institute, whose utterance was awaited as the last word of an
oracle, was opened.

The director of the observatory of Paris was naturally to be the first
speaker; but what seemed to excite the greatest interest in the public
was the opinion of the president of the academy of medicine on the
probable effects of carbonic-oxide. The president of the geological
society of France was also to make an address, and the general object of
the session was to pass in review all the possible ways in which our
earth might come to an end. Evidently, however, the discussion of its
collision with the comet would hold the first place.

[Illustration:

  FRIGHTENED WATCHERS.
]

As we have just seen, the threatening star hung above every head;
everybody could see it; it was growing larger day by day; it was
approaching with an increasing velocity; it was known to be at a
distance of only 17,992,000 kilometers, and that this distance would be
passed over in five days. Every hour brought this menacing hand, ready
to strike, 149,000 kilometers nearer. In six days anxious humanity would
breathe freely—or not at all.

[Illustration:

  A GROUP OF LISTENERS.
]



                              CHAPTER III.


Never, within the history of man, had the immense hemicycle, constructed
at the end of the twentieth century, been invaded by so compact a crowd.
It would have been mechanically impossible for another person to force
an entrance. The amphitheater, the boxes, the tribunes, the galleries,
the aisles, the stairs, the corridors, the doorways, all, to the very
steps of the platform, were filled with people, sitting or standing.
Among the audience were the president of the United States of Europe,
the director of the French republic, the directors of the Italian and
Iberian republics, the chief ambassador of India, the ambassadors of the
British, German, Hungarian and Muscovite republics, the king of the
Congo, the president of the committee of administrators, all the
ministers, the prefect of the international exchange, the
cardinal-archbishop of Paris, the director-general of telephones, the
president of the council of aerial navigation and electric roads, the
director of the international bureau of time, the principal astronomers,
chemists, physiologists and physicians of France, a large number of
state officials (formerly called deputies or senators), many celebrated
writers and artists, in a word, a rarely assembled galaxy of the
representatives of science, politics, commerce, industry, literature and
every sphere of human activity. The platform was occupied by the
president, vice-presidents, permanent secretaries and orators of the
day, but they did not wear, as formerly, the green coat and chapeau or
the old-fashioned sword, they were dressed simply in civil costume, and
for two centuries and a half every European decoration had been
suppressed; those of central Africa, on the contrary, were of the most
brilliant description.

[Illustration:

  A DOMESTICATED MONKEY.
]

Domesticated monkeys, which for more than half a century had filled
every place of service—impossible otherwise to provide for—stood at the
doors, in conformity to the regulations, rather than to verify the cards
of admission; for long before the hour fixed upon every place had been
occupied.

The president opened the session as follows (it is needless to remind
the reader that the language of the XXXVth century is here translated
into that of the XIXth):

“Ladies and gentlemen: You all know the object for which we are
assembled. Never, certainly, has humanity passed through such a crisis
as this. Never, indeed, has this historic room of the twentieth century
contained such an audience. The great problem of the end of the world
has been for a fortnight the single object of discussion and study among
savants. The results of their discussions and researches are now to be
announced. Without further preamble I give place to the director of the
observatory.”

The astronomer immediately arose, holding a few notes in his hand. He
had an easy address, an agreeable voice, and a pleasant countenance. His
gestures were few and his expression pleasing. He had a broad forehead
and a magnificent head of curling, white hair framed his face. He was a
man of learning and of culture, as well as of science, and his whole
personality inspired both sympathy and respect. His temperament was
evidently optimistic, even under circumstances of great peril. Scarcely
had he begun to speak when the mournful and anxious faces before him
became suddenly calm and reassured.

“Ladies,” he began, “I address myself first to you, begging you not to
tremble in this way before a danger which may well be less terrible than
it seems. I hope presently to convince you, by the arguments which I
shall have the honor to lay before you, that the comet, whose approach
is expected by the entire race, will not involve the total ruin of the
earth. Doubtless, we may, and should, expect some catastrophe, but as
for the end of the world, really, everything would lead us to believe
that it will not take place in this manner. Worlds die of old age, not
by accident, and, ladies, you know better than I that the world is far
from being old.

“Gentlemen, I see before me representatives of every social sphere, from
the highest to the most humble. Before a danger so apparent, threatening
the destruction of all life, it is not surprising that every business
operation should be absolutely suspended. Nevertheless, as for myself, I
confess that if the bourse was not closed, and if I had never had the
misfortune to be interested in speculation, I should not hesitate today
to purchase securities which have fallen so low.”

This sentence was finished before a noted American Israelite—a prince of
finance—director of the journal The Twenty-fifth Century, occupying a
seat on one of the upper steps of the amphitheater, forced his way, one
hardly knows how, through the rows of benches, and rolled like a ball to
the corridor leading to an exit, through which he disappeared.

[Illustration:

  THE PRINCE OF FINANCE LEAVING THE INSTITUTE.
]

After the momentary interruption caused by this unexpected sequel to a
purely scientific remark, the orator resumed:

“Our subject,” he said, “may be considered under three heads: 1. Is the
collision of the comet with the earth certain? If this question is
answered in the affirmative, we shall have to examine: 2. The nature of
the comet, and, 3. The possible effects of a collision. I have no need
to remind so intelligent an audience as this that the prophetic words
‘End of the world,’ so often heard today, signify solely ‘End of the
earth,’ which moment indeed, of all others, has the most interest for
us.

“If we are able to answer the first question in the negative, it will be
quite superfluous to consider the other two, which would become of
secondary interest.

“Unfortunately, I must admit that the calculations of the astronomers
are in this case, as usual, entirely correct. Yes, the comet will strike
the earth, and, doubtless, with maximum force, since the impact will be
direct. The velocity of the earth is 29,400 meters per second; that of
the comet is 41,660 meters, plus the acceleration due to the attraction
of our planet. The initial velocity of contact, therefore, will be
72,000 meters per second. The collision, is inevitable, with all its
consequences, if the impact of the comet is direct; but it will be
slightly oblique. But do not for this reason, take matters so to heart.
In itself the collision proves nothing. If it were announced, for
example, that a railway train was to encounter a swarm of flies, this
prediction would not greatly trouble the traveller. It may well be that
the collision of our earth with this nebulous star will be of the same
nature.

“Permit me now to examine, calmly, the two remaining questions.

“First, what is the nature of the comet? That everyone knows already; it
is a gas whose principal constituent is carbonic-oxide. Invisible under
ordinary conditions, at the temperature of stellar space (273 degrees
below zero), this gas is in a state of vapor, even of solid particles.
The comet is saturated with them. I shall not in this matter dispute in
the least the discoveries of science.”

This confession deepened anew the painful expression on the faces of
most of the audience, and here a long sigh was drawn.

“But, gentlemen,” resumed the astronomer, “until one of our eminent
colleagues of the section of physiology, or of the academy of medicine,
deigns to prove for us that the density of the comet is sufficient to
admit of its penetration into our atmosphere, I do not believe that its
presence is likely to exert a fatal influence upon human life. I say is
likely, for it is not possible to affirm this with certainty, although
the probability is very great. One might perhaps wager a million to one.
In any case, only those affected with weak lungs will be victims. It
will be a simple influenza, which may increase three or fivefold the
daily death rate.

“If, however, as the telescope and camera agree in indicating, the
nucleus contains large mineral masses, probably of a metallic nature,
uranolites, measuring several kilometers in diameter, and weighing some
millions of tons, one cannot but admit that the localities where these
masses will fall, with the velocity referred to a moment ago, would be
utterly destroyed. Let us observe, however, that three-fourths of the
globe is covered with water. Here again is a contingency, not so
important doubtless as the first, but, nevertheless, in our favor; these
masses may perhaps fall into the sea, forming possibly new islands of
foreign origin, bringing in any case elements new to science, and, it
may be, germs of unknown life; Geodesy would in this case be interested,
and the form and rotary movement of the earth might be modified. Let us
note also that not a few deserts mark the earth’s surface. Danger
exists, assuredly, but it is not overwhelming.

[Illustration:

  “A FEW CITIES IN ASHES CANNOT ARREST THE HISTORY OF HUMANITY.”
]

“Besides these masses and these gases, perhaps also the bolides of which
we were speaking, coming in clouds, will kindle conflagrations at
various places on the continents; dynamite, nitroglycerine, panclastite
and royalite would be playthings in comparison with what may overtake
us, but this does not imply a universal cataclysm; a few cities in ashes
cannot arrest the history of humanity.

“You see, gentlemen, from this methodical examination of the three
points before us, it follows that the danger, while it exists, and is
even imminent, is not so great, so overwhelming, so certain, as is
asserted. I will even say more: this curious astronomical event, which
sets so many hearts beating and fills with anxiety so many minds, in the
eyes of the philosopher scarcely changes the usual aspect of things.
Each one of us must some day die, and this certainty does not prevent us
from living tranquilly. Why should the apprehension of a somewhat more
speedy death disturb the serenity of so many of us? Is the thought of
our dying together so disagreeable? This should prove rather a
consolation to our egotism. No, it is the thought that a stupendous
catastrophe is to shorten our lives by a few days or years. Life is
short, and each clings to the smallest fraction of it; it would even
seem, from what one hears, that each would prefer to see the whole world
perish, provided he himself survived, rather than die alone and know the
world was saved. This is pure egoism. But, gentlemen, I am firm in the
belief that this will be only a partial disaster, of the highest
scientific importance, but leaving behind it historians to tell its
story. There will be a collision, shock, and local ruin. It will be the
history of an earthquake, of a volcanic eruption, of a cyclone.”

Thus spoke the illustrious astronomer. The audience appeared satisfied,
calmed, tranquillized—in part, at least. It was no longer the question
of the absolute end of all things, but of a catastrophe, from which,
after all, one would probably escape. Whispered murmurs of conversation
were to be heard; people confided to each other their impressions;
merchants and politicians even seemed to have perfectly understood the
arguments advanced, when, at the invitation of the presiding officer,
the president of the academy of medicine was seen advancing slowly
toward the tribune.

[Illustration:

  “HE WAS A TALL, SPARE MAN.”
]

He was a tall man, spare, slender, erect, with a sallow face and ascetic
appearance, and melancholy countenance—bald-headed, and wearing
closely-trimmed, gray side-whiskers. His voice had something cadaverous
about it, and his whole personality called to mind the undertaker rather
than the physician fired with the hope of curing his patients. His
estimate of affairs was very different from that of the astronomer, as
was apparent from the very first word he uttered.

“Gentlemen,” said he, “I shall be as brief as the eminent savant to whom
we have just listened, although I have passed many a night in analyzing,
to the minutest detail, the properties of carbonic-oxide. It is about
this gas that I shall speak to you, since science has demonstrated that
it is the chief constituent of the comet, and that a collision with the
earth is inevitable.

“These properties are terrible; why not confess it? For the most
infinitesimal quantity of this gas in the air we breathe is sufficient
to arrest in three minutes the normal action of the lungs and to destroy
life.

“Everybody knows that carbonic-oxide (known in chemistry as CO) is a
permanent gas without odor, color or taste, and nearly insoluble in
water. Its density in comparison with the air is 0.96. It burns in the
air with a blue flame of slight illuminating power, like a funereal
fire, the product of this combustion being carbonic anhydride.

“Its most notable property is its tendency to absorb oxygen. (The orator
dwelt upon these two words with great emphasis.) In the great iron
furnaces, for example, carbon, in the presence of an insufficient
quantity of air, becomes transformed into carbonic-oxide, and it is
subsequently this oxide which reduces the iron to a metallic state, by
depriving it of the oxygen with which it was combined.

“In the sunlight carbonic-oxide combines with chlorine and gives rise to
an oxychlorine (COCL^2)—a gas with a disagreeable, suffocating odor.

“The fact which deserves our more serious attention, is that this gas is
of the most poisonous character—far more so than carbonic anhydride. Its
effect upon the hemoglobin is to diminish the respiratory capacity of
the blood, and even in very small doses, by its cumulative effect,
hinders, to a degree altogether out of proportion to the apparent cause,
the oxygenizing properties of the blood. For example: blood which
absorbs from twenty-three to twenty-four cubic centimeters of oxygen per
hundred volumes, absorbs only one-half as much in an atmosphere which
contains less than one-thousandth part of carbonic-oxide. The
one-ten-thousandth part even has a deleterious effect, sensibly
diminishing the respiratory action of the blood. The result is not
simple asphyxia, but an almost instantaneous blood-poisoning.
Carbonic-oxide acts directly upon the blood corpuscles, combining with
them and rendering them unfit to sustain life: hematosis, that is, the
conversion of venous into arterial blood, is arrested. Three minutes are
sufficient to produce death. The circulation of the blood ceases. The
black venous blood fills the arteries as well as the veins. The latter,
especially those of the brain, become surcharged, the substance of the
brain becomes punctured, the base of the tongue, the larynx, the
wind-pipe, the bronchial tubes become red with blood, and soon the
entire body presents the characteristic purple appearance which results
from the suspension of hematosis.

“But, gentlemen, the injurious properties of carbonic-oxide are not the
only ones to be feared; the mere tendency of this gas to absorb oxygen
would bring about fatal results. To suppress, nay, even only to diminish
oxygen, would suffice for the extinction of the human species. Everyone
here present is familiar with that incident which, with so many others,
marks the epoch of barbarism, when men assassinated each other legally
in the name of glory and of patriotism; it is a simple episode of one of
the English wars in India. Permit me to recall it to your memory:

“One hundred and forty-six prisoners had been confined in a room whose
only outlets were two small windows opening upon a corridor; the first
effect experienced by these unfortunate captives was a free and
persistent perspiration, followed by insupportable thirst, and soon by
great difficulty in breathing. They sought in various ways to get more
room and air; they divested themselves of their clothes; they beat the
air with their hats, and finally resorted to kneeling and rising
together at intervals of a few seconds; but each time some of those
whose strength failed them fell and were trampled under the feet of
their comrades. Before midnight, that is, during the fourth hour of
their confinement, all who were still living, and who had not succeeded
in obtaining purer air at the windows, had fallen into a lethargic
stupor, or a frightful delirium. When, a few hours later, the prison
door was opened, only twenty-three men came out alive; they were in the
most pitiable state imaginable; every face wearing the impress of the
death from which they had barely escaped.

[Illustration:

  THE BLACK HOLE OF CALCUTTA.
]

“I might add a thousand other examples, but it would be useless, for
doubt upon this point is impossible. I therefore affirm, gentlemen,
that, on the one hand, the absorption by the carbonic-oxide of a portion
of the atmospheric oxygen, or, on the other, the powerfully toxic
properties of this gas upon the vital elements of the blood, alike seem
to me to give to the meeting of our globe with the immense mass of the
comet—in the heart of which we shall be plunged for several hours—I
affirm, I repeat, that this meeting involves consequences absolutely
fatal. For my part, I see no chance of escape.

“I have not spoken of the transformation of mechanical motion into heat,
or of the mechanical and chemical consequences of the collision. I leave
this aspect of the question to the permanent secretary of the academy of
sciences and to the learned president of the astronomical society of
France, who have made it the subject of important investigations. As for
me, I repeat, terrestrial life is in danger, and I see not one only, but
two, three and four mortal perils confronting it. Escape will be a
miracle, and for centuries no one has believed in miracles.”

This speech, uttered with the tone of conviction, in a clear, calm and
solemn voice, again plunged the entire audience into a state of mind
from which the preceding address had, happily, released them. The
certainty of the approaching disaster was painted upon every face; some
had become yellow, almost green; others suddenly became scarlet and
seemed on the verge of apoplexy. Some few among the audience appeared to
have retained their self-possession, through scepticism or a philosophic
effort to make the best of it. A vast murmur filled the room; everyone
whispered his opinions to his neighbor, opinions generally more
optimistic than sincere, for no one likes to appear afraid.

The president of the astronomical society of France rose in his turn and
advanced toward the tribune. Instantly every murmur was hushed. Below we
give the main points of his speech, including the opening remarks and
the peroration:

“Ladies and gentlemen: After the statements which we have just heard, no
doubt can remain in any mind as to the certainty of the collision of the
comet with the earth, and the dangers attending this event. We must,
therefore, expect on Saturday—”

“On Friday,” interrupted a voice from the desk of the Institute.

“On Saturday, I repeat,” continued the orator, without noticing the
interruption, “an extraordinary event, one absolutely unique in the
history of the world.

“I say Saturday, although the papers announce that the collision will
take place on Friday, because it cannot occur before July 14th. I passed
the entire night with my learned colleague in comparing the observations
received, and we discovered an error in their transmission.”

This statement produced a sensation of relief among the audience; it was
like a slender ray of light in the middle of a somber night. A single
day of respite is of enormous importance to one condemned to death.
Already chimerical projects formed in every mind; the catastrophe was
put off; it was a kind of reprieve. It was not remembered that this
diversion was of a purely cosmographic nature, relating to the date and
not to the fact of the collision. But the least things play an important
role in public opinion. So it was not to be on Friday!

“Here,” he said, going to the black-board, “are the elements as finally
computed from all the observations.” The speaker traced upon the
black-board the following figures:

Perihelion passage August 11, at 0h., 42m., 44s.

Longitude of perihelion, 52°, 43´, 25˝.

Perihelion distance, 0.7607.

Inclination, 103°, 18´, 35˝.

Longitude of ascending node, 112°, 54´, 40˝.

“The comet,” he resumed, “will cross the ecliptic in the direction of
the descending node 28 minutes, 23 seconds after midnight of July 14th
just as the earth reaches the point of crossing. The attraction of the
earth will advance the moment of contact by only thirty seconds.

“The event, doubtless, will be altogether exceptional, but I do not
believe either, that it will be of so tragical a nature as has been
depicted, or that it can really bring about blood poison or universal
asphyxia. It will rather present the appearance of a brilliant display
of celestial fire-works, for the arrival in the atmosphere of these
solid and gaseous bodies cannot occur without the conversion into heat
of the mechanical motion thus destroyed; a magnificent illumination of
the sky will doubtless be the first phenomenon.

“The heat evolved must necessarily be very great. Every shooting star,
however small, entering the upper limits of our atmosphere with a
cometary velocity, immediately becomes so hot that it takes fire and is
consumed. You know, gentlemen, that the earth’s atmosphere extends far
into space about our planet; not without limit, as certain hypotheses
declare, since the earth turns on its axis and moves about the sun: the
mathematical limit is that height at which the centrifugal force
engendered by the diurnal rotary motion becomes equal to the weight;
this height is 6.64 times the equatorial radius of the earth, the latter
being 6,378,310 meters. The maximum height of the atmosphere, therefore,
is 35,973 kilometers.

“I do not here wish to enter into a mathematical discussion. But the
audience before me is too well informed not to know the mechanical
equivalent of heat. Every body whose motion is arrested produces a
quantity of heat expressed in caloric units by mv^2 divided by 8338, in
which _m_ is the mass of the body in kilograms and _v_ its velocity in
meters per second. For example, a body weighing 8338 kilograms, moving
with a velocity of one meter per second, would produce, if suddenly
stopped, exactly one heat unit; that is to say, the quantity of heat
necessary to raise one kilogram of water one degree in temperature.

“If the velocity of the body be 500 meters per second, it would produce
250,000 times as much heat, or enough to raise a quantity of water of
equal mass from 0° to 30°.

“If the velocity were 5000 meters per second, the heat developed would
be 5,000,000 times as great.

“Now, you know, gentlemen, that the velocity with which a comet may
reach the earth is 72,000 meters per second. At this figure the
temperature becomes five milliards of degrees.

“This, indeed, is the maximum and, I should add, a number altogether
inconceivable; but, gentlemen, let us take the minimum, if it be your
pleasure, and let us admit that the impact is not direct, but more or
less oblique, and that the mean velocity is not greater than 30,000
meters per second. Every kilogram of a bolide would develop in this case
107,946 heat units before its velocity would be destroyed by the
resistance of the air; in other words, it would generate sufficient heat
to raise the temperature of 1079 kilograms of water from 0° to 100°—that
is, from the freezing to the boiling point. A uranolite weighing 2000
kilograms would thus, before reaching the earth, develop enough heat to
raise the temperature of a column of air, whose cross-section is thirty
square meters and whose height is equal to that of our atmosphere,
3000°, or, to raise from 0° to 30° a column whose cross-section is 3000
square meters.

“These calculations, for the introduction of which I crave your pardon,
are necessary to show that the immediate consequence of the collision
will be the production of an enormous quantity of heat, and, therefore,
a considerable rise in the temperature of the air. This is exactly what
takes place on a small scale in the case of a single meteorite, which
becomes melted and covered superficially by a thin layer of vitrified
matter, resembling varnish. But its fall is so rapid that there is not
sufficient time for it to become heated to the center; if broken, its
interior is found to be absolutely cold. It is the surrounding air which
has been heated.

“One of the most curious results of the analysis which I have just had
the honor to lay before you, is that the solid masses which, it is
believed, have been seen by the telescope in the nucleus of the comet,
will meet with such resistance in traversing our atmosphere that, except
in rare instances, they will not reach the earth entire, but in small
fragments. There will be a compression of the air in front of the
bolide, a vacuum behind it, a superficial heating and incandescence of
the moving body, a roar produced by the air rushing into the vacuum, the
roll of thunder, explosions, the fall of the denser metallic portions
and the evaporation of the remainder. A bolide of sulphur, of
phosphorus, of tin or of zinc, would be consumed and dissipated long
before reaching the lower strata of our atmosphere. As for the shooting
stars, if, as seems probable, there is a veritable cloud of them, they
will only produce the effect of a vast inverted display of fire-works.

[Illustration:

  MAKING FOR THE ANTIPODES.
]

“If, therefore, there is any reason for alarm, it is not, in my opinion,
because we are to apprehend the penetration of the gaseous mass of
carbonic-oxide into our atmosphere, but a rise in temperature, which
cannot fail to result from the transformation of mechanical motion into
heat. If this be so, safety may be perhaps attained by taking refuge on
the side of the globe opposed to that which is to experience the direct
shock of the comet, for the air is a very bad conductor of heat.”

The permanent secretary of the academy rose in his turn. A worthy
successor to the Fontenelles and Aragos of the past, he was not only a
man of profound knowledge, but also an elegant writer and a persuasive
orator, rising sometimes even to the highest flights of eloquence.

“To the theory which we have just heard,” he said, “I have nothing to
add; I can only apply it to the case of some comet already known. Let us
suppose, for example, that a comet of the dimensions of that of 1811
should collide squarely with the earth in its path about the sun. The
terrestrial ball would penetrate the nebula of the comet without
experiencing any very sensible resistance. Admitting that this
resistance is very slight, and that the density of the comet’s nucleus
may be neglected, the passage of the earth through the head of a comet
of 1,800,000 kilometers in diameter, would require at least 25,000
seconds—that is, 417 minutes, or six hours, fifty-seven minutes—in round
numbers, seven hours—the velocity being 120 times greater than that of a
cannon-ball; and the earth continuing to rotate upon its axis, the
collision would commence about six o’clock in the morning.

[Illustration]

“Such a plunge into the cometary ocean, however rarified it might be,
could not take place without producing as a first and immediate
consequence, by reason of the thermodynamic principles which have been
just called to your attention, a rise in temperature such that probably
our entire atmosphere would take fire! It seems to me that in this
particular case the danger would be very serious.

“But it would be a fine spectacle for the inhabitants of Mars, and a
finer one still for those of Venus. Yes, that would indeed be a
magnificent spectacle, analogous to those we have ourselves seen in the
heavens, but far more splendid to our near neighbors.

“The oxygen of the air would prove insufficient to maintain the
combustion, but there is another gas which physicists do not often think
of, for the simple reason that they have never found it in their
analyses—hydrogen. What has become of all the hydrogen freed from the
soil these millions of years which have elapsed since prehistoric times?
The density of this gas being one-sixteenth that of the air, it must
have ascended, forming a highly rarified hydrogen envelope above our
atmosphere. In virtue of the law of diffusion of gases, a large part of
this hydrogen would become mixed with the atmosphere, but the upper air
layers must contain a considerable portion of it. There, doubtless, at
an elevation of more than one hundred kilometers, the shooting stars
take fire, and the aurora borealis is lighted. Notice here that the
oxygen of the air would furnish the carbon of the comet ample material
during collision to feed the celestial fire.

“Thus the destruction of the world will result from the combustion of
the atmosphere. For about seven hours—probably a little longer, as the
resistance to the comet cannot be neglected—there will be a continuous
transformation of motion into a heat. The hydrogen and the oxygen,
combining with the carbon of the comet, will take fire. The temperature
of the air will be raised several hundred degrees; woods, gardens,
plants, forests, habitations, edifices, cities, villages, will all be
rapidly consumed; the sea, the lakes and the rivers will begin to boil;
men and animals, enveloped in the hot breath of the comet, will die
asphyxiated before they are burned, their gasping lungs inhaling only
flame. Every corpse will be almost immediately carbonized, reduced to
ashes, and in this vast celestial furnace only the heart-rending voice
of the trumpet of the indestructible angel of the Apocalypse will be
heard, proclaiming from the sky, like a funeral knell, the antique
death-song: ‘Solvet sæculum in favilla.’ This is what may happen if a
comet like that of 1811 collides with the earth.”

At these words the cardinal-archbishop rose from his seat and begged to
be heard. The astronomer, perceiving him, bowed with a courtly grace and
seemed to await the reply of his eminence.

“I do not desire,” said the latter, “to interrupt the honorable speaker,
but if science announces that the drama of the end of the world is to be
ushered in by the destruction of the heavens by fire, I cannot refrain
from saying that this has always been the universal belief of the
church. ‘The heavens,’ says St. Peter, ‘shall pass away with a great
noise, and the elements shall meet with fervent heat, the earth also and
the works that are therein shall be burned up.’ St. Paul affirms also
its renovation by fire, and we repeat daily at mass his words: ‘Eum qui
venturus est judicare vivos et mortuos et sæculum per ignem.’”

“Science,” replied the astronomer, “has more than once been in accord
with the prophecies of our ancestors. Fire will first devour that
portion of the globe struck by the huge mass of the comet, consuming it
before the inhabitants of the other hemisphere realize the extent of the
catastrophe; but the air is a bad conductor of heat, and the latter will
not be immediately propagated to the opposite hemisphere.

“If our latitude were to receive the first shock of the comet, reaching
us, we will suppose, in summer, the tropic of Cancer, Morocco, Algeria,
Tunis, Greece and Egypt would be found in the front of the celestial
onset, while Australia, New Caledonia and Oceanica would be the most
favored. But the rush of air into this European furnace would be such
that a storm more violent than the most frightful hurricane and more
formidable even than the air-current which moves continuously on the
equator of Jupiter, with a velocity of 400,000 kilometers per hour,
would rage from the Antipodes towards Europe, destroying everything in
its path. The earth, turning upon its axis, would bring successively
into the line of collision, the regions lying to the west of the
meridian first blasted. An hour after Austria and Germany it would be
the turn of France, then of the Atlantic ocean, then of North America,
which would enter somewhat obliquely the dangerous area about five or
six hours after France—that is, towards the end of the collision.

“Notwithstanding the unheard-of velocities of the comet and the earth,
the pressure cannot be enormous, in view of the extremely rarified state
of the matter traversed by the earth; but this matter, containing so
much carbon, is combustible, and at perihelion these bodies are not
infrequently seen to shine by their own as well as by reflected light:
they become incandescent. What, then, must be the result of a collision
with the earth? The combustion of meteorites and bolides, the
superficial fusion of the uranolites which reach the earth’s surface on
fire, all lead us to believe that the moment of greatest heat will be
that of contact, which evidently will not prevent the massive elements
forming the nucleus of the comet from crushing the localities where they
fall, and perhaps even breaking up an entire continent.

[Illustration:

  DEATH BY SUFFOCATION.
]

“The terrestrial globe being thus entirely surrounded by the cometary
mass for nearly seven hours, and revolving in this incandescent gas, the
air rushing violently toward the center of disturbance, the sea boiling
and filling the atmosphere with new vapors, hot showers falling from the
sky-cataracts, the storm raging everywhere with electric deflagrations
and lightnings, the rolling of thunder heard above the scream of the
tempest, the blessed light of former days having been succeeded by the
mournful and sickly gleamings of the glowing atmosphere, the whole earth
will speedily resound with the funeral knell of universal doom, although
the fate of the dwellers in the Antipodes will probably differ from that
of the rest of mankind. Instead of being immediately consumed, they will
be stifled by the vapors, by the excess of nitrogen—the oxygen having
been rapidly abstracted—or poisoned by carbonic-oxide; the fire will
afterwards reduce their corpses to ashes, while the inhabitants of
Europe and Africa will have been burned alive.

“The well-known tendency of carbonic-oxide to absorb oxygen will
doubtless prove a sentence of instant death for those farthest from the
initial point of the catastrophe.

“I have taken as an example the comet of 1811; but I hasten to add that
the present one appears to be far less dense.”

“Is it absolutely sure?” cried a well-known voice (that of an
illustrious member of the chemical society) from one of the boxes. “Is
it absolutely sure the comet is composed chiefly of carbonic-oxide? Have
not the nitrogen lines also been detected in its spectrum? If it should
prove to be protoxide of nitrogen, the consequence of its mixture with
our atmosphere might be anæsthesia. Every one would be put to
sleep—perhaps forever, if the suspension of the vital functions were to
last but a little longer than is the case in our surgical operations. It
would be the same if the comet was composed of chloroform or ether. That
would be an end calm indeed.

“It would be less so if the comet should absorb the nitrogen instead of
the oxygen, for this partial or total absorption of nitrogen would bring
about, in a few hours, for all the inhabitants of the earth—for men and
women, for the young and the aged—a change of temperament, involving at
first nothing disagreeable—a charming sobriety, then gayety, followed by
universal joy, a feverish exultation, finally delirium and madness,
terminating, in all probability, by the sudden death of every human
being in the apotheosis of a wild saturnalia, an unheard-of frenzy of
the senses. Would that death be a sad one?”

“The discussion remains open,” replied the secretary. “What I have said
of the possible consequences of a collision applies to the direct impact
of a comet like that of 1811; the one that threatens us is less
colossal, and its impact will not be direct, but oblique. In common with
the astronomers who have preceded me on this floor, I am inclined to
believe, in this instance, in a mighty display of fire-works.”

While the orator was still speaking, a young girl belonging to the
central bureau of telephones, entered by a small door, conducted by a
domesticated monkey, and, darting like a flash to the seat occupied by
the president, put into his hands a large, square, international
envelope. It was immediately opened, and proved to be a despatch from
the observatory of Gaurisankar. It contained only the following words:

“The inhabitants of Mars are sending a photophonic message. Will be
deciphered in a few hours.”

“Gentlemen,” said the president, “I see several in the audience
consulting their watches, and I agree with them in thinking that it will
be physically impossible for us to finish in a single session this
important discussion, in which eminent representatives of geology,
natural history and geonomy are yet to take part. Moreover, the despatch
just read will doubtless introduce new problems. It is nearly six
o’clock. I propose that we adjourn to nine o’clock this evening. It is
probable that we shall have received, by that time, from Asia the
translation of the message from Mars. I will also beg the director of
the observatory to maintain constant communication, by telephone, with
Gaurisankar. In case the message is not deciphered by nine o’clock, the
president of the geological society of France will open the meeting with
a statement of the investigations which he has just finished, on the
natural end of the world. Everybody, at this moment, is absorbingly
interested in whatever relates to the question of the end of our world,
whether this is dependent upon the mysterious portent now suspended
above us, or upon other causes, of whatsoever nature, subject to
investigation.”

[Illustration]

[Illustration]



                              CHAPTER IV.


The multitude stationed without the doors of the Institute had made way
for those coming out, every one being eager to learn the particulars of
the session. Already the general result had in some way become known,
for immediately after the speech of the director of the Paris
observatory the rumor got abroad that the collision with the comet would
not entail consequences so serious as had been anticipated. Indeed,
large posters had just been placarded throughout Paris, announcing the
reopening of the Chicago stock exchange. This was an encouraging and
unlooked for indication of the resumption of business and the revival of
hope.

This is what had taken place. The financial magnate, whose abrupt exit
will be remembered by the reader of these pages, after rolling like a
ball from the top to the bottom row of the hemicycle, had rushed in an
aero-cab to his office on the boulevard St. Cloud, where he had
telegraphed to his partner in Chicago that new computations had just
been given out by the Institute of France, that the gravity of the
situation had been exaggerated, and that the resumption of business was
imminent; he urged, therefore, the opening of the central American
exchange at any cost, and the purchase of every security offered,
whatever its nature. When it is five o’clock at Paris it is eleven in
the morning at Chicago. The financier received the despatch from his
cousin while at breakfast. He found no difficulty in arranging for the
reopening of the exchange and invested several millions in securities.
The news of the resumption of business in Chicago had been at once made
public, and although it was too late to repeat the same game in Paris,
it was possible to prepare new plans for the morrow. The public had
innocently believed in a spontaneous and genuine revival of business in
America, and this fact, together with the satisfactory impression made
by the session of the Institute, was sufficient to rekindle the fires of
hope.

No less interest, however, was manifested in the evening session than in
that of the afternoon, and but for the exertions of an extra detachment
of the French guard it would have been impossible for those enjoying
special privileges to gain admission. Night had come, and with it the
flaming comet, larger, more brilliant, and more threatening than ever;
and if, perhaps, one-half the assembled multitude appeared somewhat
tranquillized, the remaining half was still anxious and fearful.

The audience was substantially the same, every one being eager to know
at first hand the issue of this general public discussion of the fate of
the planet, conducted by accredited and eminent scientists, whether its
destruction was to be the result of an extraordinary accident such as
now threatened it, or of the natural process of decay. But it was
noticed that the cardinal archbishop of Paris was absent, for he had
been summoned suddenly to Rome by the Pope to attend an œcumenical
council, and had left that very evening by the Paris-Rome-Palermo-Tunis
tube.

“Gentlemen,” said the president, “the translation of the despatch
received at the observatory of Gaurisankar from Mars has not arrived
yet, but we shall open the session at once, in order to hear the
important communication previously announced, which the president of the
geological society, and the permanent secretary of the academy of
meteorology, have to make to us.”

The former of these gentlemen was already at the desk. His remarks,
stenographically reproduced by a young geologist of the new school, were
as follows:

“The immense crowd gathered within these walls, the emotion I see
depicted upon every face, the impatience with which you await the
discussions yet to take place, all, gentlemen, would lead me to refrain
from laying before you the opinion which I have formed from my own study
of the problem which now excites the interest of the entire world, and
to yield the platform to those gifted with an imagination or an audacity
greater than mine. For, in my judgment, the end of the world is not at
hand, and humanity will have to wait for it several million years—yes,
gentlemen, I said _millions_, not thousands.

“You see that I am at this moment perfectly calm, and that, too, without
laying any claim to the sang froid of Archimedes, who was slain by a
Roman soldier at the siege of Syracuse while calmly tracing geometric
figures upon the sand. Archimedes knew the danger and forgot it; I do
not believe in any danger whatever.

“You will not then be surprised if I quietly submit to you the theory of
a natural end of the world, by the gradual levelling of the continents
and their slow submergence beneath the invading waters; but I shall
perhaps do better to postpone for a week this explanation, as I do not
for an instant doubt that we may all, or nearly all, reassemble here to
confer together upon the great epochs of the natural history of the
world.”

[Illustration:

  ARCHIMEDES.
]

The orator paused for a moment. The president had risen: “My dear and
honorable colleague,” he said, “we are all here to listen to you.
Happily, the panic of the last few days is partially allayed, and it is
to be hoped that the night of July 13–14 will pass like its
predecessors. Nevertheless, we are more than ever interested in all
which has any bearing upon this great problem and we shall listen to no
one with greater pleasure than to the illustrious author of the classic
Treatise on Geology.”

“In that case, gentlemen,” resumed the president of the geological
society of France, “I shall explain to you what, in my judgment, will be
the natural end of the world, if, as is probable, nothing disturbs the
present course of events; for accidents are rare in the cosmical order.

“Nature does not proceed by sudden leaps, and geologists do not believe
in such revolutions or cataclysms; for they have learned that in the
natural world everything is subject to a slow process of evolution. The
geological agents now at work are permanent ones.

“The destruction of the globe by some great catastrophe is a dramatic
conception; far more so, certainly, than that of the action of the
forces now in operation, though they threaten our planet with a
destruction equally certain. Does not the stability of our continent
seem permanent? Except through the intervention of some new agency, how
is it possible to doubt the durability of this earth which has supported
so many generations before our own, and whose monuments, of the greatest
antiquity, prove that if they have come down to us in a state of ruin,
it is not because the soil has refused to support them, but because they
have suffered from the ravages of time and especially from the hand of
man? The oldest historical traditions show us rivers flowing in the same
beds as today, mountains rising to the same height; and as for the few
river-mouths which have become obstructed, the few land-slides which
have occurred here and there, their importance is so slight relatively
to the enormous extent of the continents, that it seems gratuitous
indeed to seek here the omens of a final catastrophe.

“Such might be the reasoning of one who casts a superficial and
indifferent glance upon the external world. But the conclusions of one
accustomed to scrutinize closely the apparently insignificant changes
taking place about him would be quite different. At every step, however
little skilled in observation, he will discover the traces of a
perpetual conflict between the external powers of nature and all which
rises above the inflexible level of the ocean, in whose depths reign
silence and repose. Here, the sea beats furiously against the shore,
which recedes slowly from century to century. Elsewhere, mountain masses
have fallen, engulfing in a few moments entire villages and desolating
smiling valleys. Or, the tropical rains, assailing the volcanic cones,
have furrowed them with deep ravines and undermined their walls, so that
at last nothing but ruins of these giants remain.

[Illustration:

  THE SEA AT WORK.
]

[Illustration:

  STREAM EROSION.
]

“More silent, but not less efficacious, has been the action of the great
rivers, as the Ganges and the Mississippi, whose waters are so heavily
laden with solid particles in suspension. Each of these small particles,
which trouble the limpidity of their liquid carrier, is a fragment torn
from the shores washed by these rivers. Slowly but surely their currents
bear to the great reservoir of the sea every atom lost to the soil, and
the bars which form their deltas are as nothing compared with what the
sea receives and hides away in its abysses. How can any reflecting
person, observing this action, and knowing that it has been going on for
many centuries, escape the conclusion that the rivers, like the ocean,
are indeed preparing the final ruin of the habitable world?

“Geology confirms this conclusion in every particular. It shows us that
the surface of the soil is being constantly altered over entire
continents by variations of temperature, by alterations of drought and
humidity, of freezing and thawing, as also by the incessant action of
worms and of plants. Hence, a continuous process of dissolution, leading
even to the disintegration of the most compact rocks, reducing them to
fragments small enough to yield at last to the attraction of gravity,
especially when this is aided by running water. Thus they travel, first
down the slopes and along the torrent beds, where their angles are worn
away and they become little by little transformed into gravel, sand and
ooze; then in the rivers which are still able, especially at
flood-times, to carry away this broken up material, and to bear it
nearer and nearer to their outlets.

“It is easy to predict what must necessarily be the final result of this
action. Gravity, always acting, will not be satisfied until every
particle subject to its law has attained the most stable position
conceivable. Now, such will be the case only when matter is in the
lowest position possible. Every surface, must therefore disappear,
except the surface of the ocean, which is the goal of every agency of
motion; and the material borne away from the crumbling continents must
in the end be spread over the bottom of the sea. In brief, the final
outcome will be the complete levelling of the land, or, more exactly,
the disappearance of every prominence from the surface of the earth.

[Illustration:

  AT FLOOD-TIME.
]

“In the first place, we readily see that near the river mouths _the
final form of the dry land will be that of nearly horizontal plains_.
The effect of the erosion produced by running water will be the
formation on the water-sheds of a series of sharp ridges, succeeded by
almost absolutely horizontal plains, between which no final difference
in height greater than fifty meters can exist.

“But in no case can these sharp ridges, which, on this hypothesis, will
separate the basins, continue long; for gravity and the action of the
wind, filtration and change of temperature, will soon obliterate them.
It is thus legitimate to conclude that the end of this erosion of the
continents will be _their reduction to an absolute level_, a level
differing but little from that at the river outlets.”

The coadjutor of the archbishop of Paris, who occupied a seat in the
tribune reserved for distinguished functionaries, rose, and, as the
orator ceased speaking, added: “Thus will be fulfilled, to the letter,
the words of holy writ: ‘For the mountains shall depart and the hills be
removed.’”

“If, then,” resumed the geologist, “nothing occurs to modify the
reciprocal action of land and water, we cannot escape the conclusion
that every continental elevation is inevitably destined to disappear.

“How much time will this require?

“The dry land, if spread out in a layer of uniform thickness, would
constitute a plateau of about 700 meters altitude above the sea-level.
Admitting that its total area is 145,000,000 square kilometers, it
follows that its volume is about 101,500,000, or, in round numbers,
100,000,000 cubic kilometers. Such is the large, yet definite mass, with
which the external agencies of destruction must contend.

[Illustration:

  THE RIVERS CEASE TO FLOW.
]

“Taken together, the rivers of the world may be considered as emptying,
every year, into the sea 23,000 cubic kilometers of water (in other
words, 23,000 milliards of cubic meters). This would give a volume of
solid matter carried yearly to the sea, equal to 10.43 cubic kilometers,
if we accept the established ratio of thirty-eight parts of suspended
material in 100,000 parts of water. The ratio of this amount to the
total volume of the dry land is one to 9,730,000. If the dry land were a
level plateau of 700 meters altitude, it would lose, by fluid erosion
alone, a slice of about _seven one-hundredths of a millimeter in
thickness yearly_, or one millimeter every fourteen years—say _seven
millimeters per century_.

“Here we have a definite figure, expressing the actual yearly
continental erosion, showing that, if only this erosion were to operate,
the entire mass of unsubmerged land would disappear in _less than
10,000,000 years_.

“But rain and rivers are not the only agencies; there are other factors
which contribute to the gradual destruction of the dry land:

“First, there is the erosion of the sea. It is impossible to select a
better example of this than the Britannic isles; for they are exposed,
by their situation, to the onslaught of the Atlantic, whose billows,
driven by the prevailing southwest wind, meet with no obstacle to their
progress. Now, the average recession of the English coast is certainly
less than three meters per century. Let us apply this rate to the
sea-coasts of the world, and see what will happen.

“We may proceed in two ways: First, we may estimate the loss in volume
for the entire coast-line of the world, on the basis of three
centimeters per year. To do this, we should have to know the length of
the shore-line and the mean height of the coast. The former is about
200,000 kilometers. As to the present average height of the coasts above
the sea, 100 meters would certainly be a liberal estimate. Hence, a
recession of three centimeters corresponds to an annual loss of three
cubic meters per running meter, or, for the 200,000 kilometers of
coast-line, 600,000,000 cubic meters, which is only six-tenths of a
cubic kilometer. In other words, the erosion due to the sea would only
amount to one-seventeenth that of the rivers.

“It may perhaps be objected, that, as the altitude actually increases
from the coast-line toward the interior, the same rate of recession
would, in time, involve a greater loss in volume. Is this objection well
founded? No; for the tendency of the rain and water-courses being, as we
have said, to lower the surface-level, this action would keep pace with
that of the sea.

“Again, the area of the dry land being 145,000,000 square kilometers, a
circle of equal area would have a radius of 6800 kilometers. But the
circumference of this circle would be only 40,000 kilometers; that is to
say, the sea could exercise upon the circle but one-fifth the erosive
action which it actually does upon the indented outline of our shores.
We may, therefore, admit that the erosive action of the sea upon the dry
land is _five times greater_ than it would be upon an equivalent
circular area. Certainly this estimate is a maximum; for it is logical
to suppose that, when the narrow peninsulas have been eaten away by the
sea, the ratio of the perimeter to the surface will decrease more and
more—that is, the action of the sea will be less effective. In any
event, since, at the rate of three centimeters per year, a radius of
6800 kilometers would disappear in 226,600,000 years, one-fifth of this
interval, or about 45,000,000 years, would represent the minimum time
necessary for the destruction of the land by the sea; this would
correspond to an intensity of action scarcely more than _one-fifth_ that
of the rivers and rain.

“Taken together, these mechanical causes would, therefore, involve every
year a loss in volume of twelve cubic kilometers, which, for a total of
100,000,000, would bring about the complete submergence of the dry land
in a little more than _8,000,000 years_.

[Illustration:

  THE NILE.
]

“But we are far from having exhausted our analysis of the phenomena in
question. Water is not only a mechanical agent; it is also a powerful
dissolvent, far more powerful than we might suppose, because of the
large amount of carbonic acid which it absorbs either from the
atmosphere or from the decomposed organic matter of the soil. All
subterranean waters become charged with substances which it has thus
chemically abstracted from the minerals of the rocks through which it
percolates.

“River water contains, per cubic kilometer, about 182 tons of matter in
solution. The rivers of the world bring yearly to the sea, nearly _five
cubic kilometers_ of such matter. The annual loss to the dry land,
therefore, from these various causes, is _seventeen_ instead of twelve
cubic kilometers; so that the total of 100,000,000 would disappear, not
in eight, but in _a little less than six million years_.

“This figure must be still further modified. For we must not forget that
the sediment thus brought to the sea and displacing a certain amount of
water, will cause a rise of the sea-level, accelerating by just so much
the levelling process due to the wearing away of the continents.

“It is easy to estimate the effect of this new factor. Indeed, for a
given thickness lost by the plateau heretofore assumed, the sea-level
must rise by an amount corresponding to the volume of the submarine
deposit, which must exactly equal that of the sediment brought down.
Calculation shows that, in round numbers, the loss in volume will be
_twenty-four cubic kilometers_.

“Having accounted for an annual loss of twenty-four cubic kilometers,
are we now in a position to conclude what time will be necessary for the
complete disappearance of the dry land, always supposing the indefinite
continuance of present conditions?

“Certainly, gentlemen; for, after examining the objection which might be
made apropos of volcanic eruptions, we find that the latter aid rather
than retard the disintegrating process.

“We believe, therefore, that we may fearlessly accept the above estimate
of twenty-four cubic kilometers, as a basis of calculation; and as this
figure is contained 4,166,666 times in 100,000,000, which represents the
volume of the continents, we are authorized to infer that under the
_sole action of forces now in operation_, provided no other movements of
the soil occur, _the dry land will totally disappear within a period of
about 4,000,000 years_.

“But this disappearance, while interesting to a geologist or a thinker,
is not an event which need cause the present generation any anxiety.
Neither our children nor our grandchildren will be in a position to
detect in any sensible degree its progress.

“If I may be permitted, therefore, to close these remarks with a
somewhat fanciful suggestion, I will add that it would be assuredly the
acme of foresight to build today a new ark, in which to escape the
consequences of this coming universal deluge.”

[Illustration:

  THE WATERS COVERING THE FACE OF THE EARTH.
]

Such was the learnedly developed thesis of the president of the
geological society of France. His calm and moderate statement of the
secular action of natural forces, opening up a future of 4,000,000
years of life, had allayed the apprehension excited by the comet. The
audience had become wonderfully tranquillized. No sooner had the
orator left the platform and received the congratulations of his
colleagues than an animated conversation began on every side. A sort
of peace took possession of every mind. People talked of the end of
the world as they would of the fall of a ministry, or the coming of
the swallows—dispassionately and disinterestedly. A fatality put off
40,000 centuries does not really affect us at all.

But the permanent secretary of the academy of meteorology had just
ascended the tribune, and every one gave him at once the strictest
attention:

“Ladies and gentlemen: I am about to lay before you a theory
diametrically opposed to that of my eminent colleague of the Institute,
yet based upon facts no less definite and a process of reasoning no less
rigorous.

“Yes, gentlemen, diametrically opposed”—

The orator, gifted with an excellent voice, had perceived the
disappointment settling upon every face.

“Oh,” he said, “opposed, not as regards the time which nature allots to
the existence of humanity, but as to the manner in which the world will
come to an end; for I also believe in a future of several million years.

“Only, instead of seeing the subsidence and complete submergence of the
land beneath the invading waters, I foresee, on the contrary, death by
drouth, and the gradual diminution of the present water supply of the
earth. Some day there will be no more ocean, no more clouds, no more
rain, no more springs, no more moisture, and vegetable as well as animal
life will perish, not by drowning, _but through lack of water_.

“On the earth’s surface, indeed, the water of the sea, of the rivers, of
the clouds, and of the springs, is decreasing. Without going far in
search of examples, I would remind you, gentlemen, that in former times,
at the beginning of the quaternary period, the site now occupied by
Paris, with its 9,000,000 of inhabitants, from Mount Saint-Germain to
Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, was almost entirely occupied by water; only
the hill of Passy at Montmartre and Pere-Lachaise, and the plateau of
Montrouge at the Panthéon and Villejuif emerged above this immense
liquid sheet. The altitudes of these plateaus have not increased, there
have been no upheavals; it is the water which has diminished in volume.

“It is so in every country of the world, and the cause is easy to
assign. A certain quantity of water, very small, it is true, in
proportion to the whole, but not negligible, percolates through the
soil, either below the sea bottoms by crevices, fissures and openings
due to submarine eruptions, or on the dry land; for not all the rain
water falls upon impermeable soil. In general, that which is not
evaporated, returns to the sea by springs, rivulets, streams and rivers;
but for this there must be a bed of clay, over which it may follow the
slopes. Wherever this impermeable soil is lacking, it continues its
descent by infiltration and saturates the rocks below. This is the water
encountered in quarries.

“This water is lost to general circulation. It enters into chemical
combination and constitutes the hydrates. If it penetrates far enough,
it attains a temperature sufficient for its transformation into steam,
and such is generally the origin of volcanoes and earthquakes. But,
within the soil, as in the open air, a sensible proportion of the water
in circulation becomes changed into hydrates, and even into oxides;
there is nothing like humidity for the rapid formation of rust. Thus
recombined, the elements of water, hydrogen and oxygen, disappear as
water. Thermal waters also constitute another interior system of
circulation; they are derived from the surface, but they do not return
there, nor to the sea. The surface water of the earth, either by
entering into new combinations, or by penetrating the lower rock-strata,
is diminishing, and it will diminish more and more as the earth’s heat
is dissipated. The heat-wells which have been dug within a hundred
years, in the neighborhood of the principal cities of the world, and
which afford the heat necessary for domestic purposes, will become
exhausted as the internal temperature diminishes. The day will come when
the earth will be cold to its center, and that day will be coincident
with an almost total disappearance of water.

[Illustration:

  NO MORE WATER.
]

“For that matter, gentlemen, this is likely to be the fate of several
bodies in our solar system. Our neighbor the moon, whose volume and mass
are far inferior to those of the earth, has grown cold more rapidly, and
has traversed more quickly the phases of its astral life; its ancient
ocean-beds, on which we, today, recognize the indubitable traces of
water action, are entirely dry; there is no evidence of any kind of
evaporation; no cloud has been discovered, and the spectroscope reveals
no indication of the presence of the vapor of water. On the other hand,
the planet Mars, also smaller than the earth, has beyond a doubt reached
a more advanced phase of development, and is known not to possess a
single body of water worthy of the name of ocean, but only inland seas
of medium extent and slight depth, united with each other by canals.
That there is less water on Mars than on the earth is a fact proved by
observation; clouds are far less numerous, the atmosphere is much dryer,
evaporation and condensation take place with greater rapidity, and the
polar snows show variations, depending upon the season, much more
extensive than those which take place upon the earth. Again, the planet
Venus, younger than the earth, is surrounded by an immense atmosphere,
constantly filled with clouds. As for the large planet Jupiter, we can
only make out, as it were, an immense accumulation of vapors. Thus, the
four worlds of which we know the most, confirm, each in its own way, the
theory of a secular decrease in the amount of the earth’s water.

“I am very happy to say in this connection that the theory of a general
levelling process, maintained by my learned colleague, is confirmed by
the present condition of the planet Mars. That eminent geologist told us
a few moments ago, that, owing to the continuous action of rivers,
plains almost horizontal would constitute the final form of the earth’s
surface. That is what has already happened in the case of Mars. The
beaches near the sea are so flat that they are easily and frequently
inundated, as every one knows. From season to season hundreds of
thousands of square kilometers are alternately exposed or covered by a
thin layer of water. This is notably the case on the western shores of
the Kaiser sea. On the moon this levelling process has not taken place.
There was not time enough for it; before its consummation, the air, the
wind and the water had vanished.

“It is then certain that, while the earth is destined to undergo a
process of levelling, as my eminent colleague has so clearly explained,
it will at the same time gradually lose the water which it now
possesses. To all appearances, the latter process is now going on more
rapidly than the former. As the earth loses its internal heat and
becomes cold, crevasses will undoubtedly form, as in the case of the
moon. The complete extinction of terrestrial heat will result in
contractions, in the formation of hollow spaces below the surface, and
the contents of the ocean will flow into these hollows, without being
changed into vapor, and will be either absorbed or combined with the
metallic rocks, in the form of ferric hydrates. The amount of water will
thus go on diminishing indefinitely, and finally totally disappear.
Plants, deprived of their essential constituent, will become
transformed, but must at last perish.

“The animal species will also become modified, but there will always be
herbivora and carnivora, and the extinction of the former will involve,
inevitably, that of the latter; and at last, the human race itself,
notwithstanding its power of adaption, will die of hunger and of thirst,
on the bosom of a dried-up world.

“I conclude, therefore, gentlemen, that the end of the world will not be
brought about by a new deluge, but by the loss of its water. Without
water terrestrial life is impossible; water constitutes the chief
constituent of every living thing. It is present in the human body in
the enormous proportion of seventy per cent. Without it, neither plants
nor animals can exist. Either as a liquid, or in a state of vapor, it is
the condition of life. Its suppression would be the death-warrant of
humanity, and this death-warrant nature will serve upon us a dozen
million years hence. I will add that this will take place before the
completion of the erosion explained by the president of the geological
society of France; for he, himself, was careful to note that the period
of 4,000,000 years was dependent upon the hypothesis that the causes now
in operation continued to act as they do today; and, furthermore, he,
himself, admits that the manifestations of internal energy cannot
immediately cease. Upheavals, at various points, will occur for a long
period, and the growth of the land area from such causes as the
formation of deltas, and volcanic and coral islands, will still go on
for some time. The period which he indicated, therefore, represents only
the minimum.”

Such was the address of the permanent secretary of the academy of
meteorology. The audience had listened with the deepest attention to
both speakers, and it was evident, from its bearing, that it was fully
reassured concerning the fate of the world; it seemed even to have
altogether forgotten the existence of the comet.

“The president of the physical society of France has the floor.”

At this invitation, a young woman, elegantly dressed in the most perfect
taste, ascended the tribune.

[Illustration:

  THE LADY PRESIDENT OF THE PHYSICAL SOCIETY ADDRESSING THE INSTITUTE.
]

“My two learned colleagues,” she began, without further preamble, “are
both right; for, on the one hand, it is impossible to deny that
meteorological agents, with the assistance of gravity, are working
insensibly to level the world, whose crust is ever thickening and
solidifying; and, on the other hand, the amount of water on the surface
of our planet is decreasing from century to century. These two facts may
be considered as scientifically established. But, gentlemen, it does not
seem to me that the end of the world will be due to either the
submergence of the continents, or to an insufficient supply of water for
plant and animal life.”

This new declaration, this announcement of a third hypothesis, produced
in the audience an astonishment bordering upon stupor.

“Nor do I believe,” the graceful orator hastened to add, “that the final
catastrophe can be set down to the comet, for I agree with my two
eminent predecessors, that worlds do not die by accident, but of old
age.

“Yes, doubtless, gentlemen,” she continued, “the water will grow less,
and, perhaps, in the end totally disappear; yet, it is not this lack of
water which in itself will bring about the end of things, but its
climatic consequences. The decrease in the amount of aqueous vapor in
the atmosphere will lead to a general lowering of the temperature, and
humanity will perish _with cold_.

“I need inform no one here that the atmosphere we breathe is composed of
seventy-nine per cent. of nitrogen and twenty per cent. of oxygen, and
that of the remaining one per cent. about one-half is aqueous vapor and
three ten-thousandths is carbonic acid, the remainder being ozone, or
electrified oxygen, ammonia, hydrogen and a few other gases, in
exceedingly small quantities. Nitrogen and oxygen, then, form
ninety-nine per cent. of the atmosphere, and the vapor of water one-half
the remainder.

“But, gentlemen, from the point of view of vegetable and animal life,
this half of one per cent. of aqueous vapor is of supreme importance,
and so far as temperature and climate are concerned, I do not hesitate
to assert that it is more essential than all the rest of the atmosphere.

“The heat waves, coming from the sun to the earth, which warm the soil
and are thence returned and scattered through the atmosphere into space,
in their passage through the air meet with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms
and with the molecules of aqueous vapor. These molecules are so thinly
scattered (for they occupy but the hundredth part of the space occupied
by the others), that one might infer that the retention of any heat
whatever is due rather to the nitrogen and oxygen than to the aqueous
vapor. Indeed, if we consider the atoms alone, we find two hundred
oxygen and nitrogen atoms for one of aqueous vapor. Well, this one atom
has eighty times more energy, more effective power to retain radiant
heat, than the two hundred others; consequently, a molecule of the vapor
of water is 16,000 times more effective than a molecule of dry air, in
absorbing and in radiating heat—for these two properties are
reciprocally proportional.

“To diminish by any great amount the number of these invisible molecules
of the vapor of water, is to immediately render the earth uninhabitable,
notwithstanding its oxygen; even the equatorial and tropical regions
will suddenly lose their heat and will be condemned to the cold of
mountain summits covered with perpetual snow and frost: in place of
luxurious plants, of flowers and fruits, of birds and nests, of the life
which swarms in the sea and upon the land; instead of murmuring brooks
and limpid rivers, of lakes and seas, we shall be surrounded only by ice
in the midst of a vast desert—and when I say _we_, gentlemen, you
understand we shall not linger long as witnesses, for the very blood
would freeze in our veins and arteries, and every human heart would soon
cease to beat. Such would be the consequences of the suppression of this
half hundredth part of aqueous vapor which, disseminated through the
atmosphere, beneficently protects and preserves all terrestrial life as
in a hot-house.

[Illustration:

  PRIMARY VEGETATION AT THE NORTH POLE.
]

“The principles of thermodynamics prove that the temperature of space is
273° below zero. And this, gentlemen, is the more than glacial cold in
which our planet will sleep when it shall have lost this airy garment in
whose sheltering warmth it is today enwrapped. Such is the fate with
which the gradual loss of the earth’s water threatens the world, and
this death by cold will be inevitably ours, if our earthly sojourn is
long enough.

“This end is all the more certain, because not only the aqueous vapor is
diminishing, but also the oxygen and nitrogen, in brief, the entire
atmosphere. Little by little the oxygen becomes fixed in the various
oxides which are constantly forming on the earth’s surface; this is the
case also with the nitrogen, which disappears in the soil and
vegetation, never wholly regaining a gaseous state; and the atmosphere
penetrates by its weight into the land and sea, descending into
subterranean depths. Little by little, from century to century, it grows
less. Once, as for example in the early primary period, it was of vast
extent; the earth was almost wholly covered by water, only the first
granite upheaval broke the surface of the universal ocean, and the
atmosphere was saturated with a quantity of aqueous vapor immeasurably
greater than that it now holds. This is the explanation of the high
temperature of those bygone days, when the tropical plants of our time,
the tree ferns, such as the calamites, the equisetaceæ, the sigillaria
and the lepidodendrons flourished as luxuriously at the poles as at the
equator. Today, both the atmosphere and aqueous vapor have considerably
diminished in amount. In the future they are destined to disappear.
Jupiter, which is still in its primary period, possesses an immense
atmosphere full of vapors. The moon does not appear to have any at all,
so that the temperature is always below the freezing point, even in the
sunlight, and the atmosphere of Mars is sensibly rarer than ours.

“As to the time which must elapse before this reign of cold caused by
the diminution of the aqueous atmosphere which surrounds the globe, I
also would adopt the period of 10,000,000 years, as estimated by the
speaker who preceded me. Such, ladies, are the stages of world-life
which nature seems to have marked out, at least for the planetary system
to which we belong. I conclude, therefore, that the fate of the earth
will be the same as that of the moon, and that when it loses the airy
garment which now guarantees it against the loss of the heat received
from the sun, it will perish with cold.”

At this point the chancellor of the Columbian academy, who had come that
very day from Bogota by an electric air-ship to participate in the
discussion, requested permission to speak. It was known that he had
founded on the very equator itself, at an enormous altitude, an
observatory overlooking the entire planet, from which one might see both
the celestial poles at the same time, and which he had named in honor of
a French astronomer who had devoted his whole life to making known his
favorite science and to establishing its great philosophical importance.
He was received with marked sympathy and attention.

“Gentlemen,” he said, on reaching the desk, “in these two sessions we
have had an admirable resumé of the curious theories which modern
science is in a position to offer us, upon the various ways in which our
world may come to an end. The burning of the atmosphere, or suffocation
caused by the shock of the rapidly approaching comet; the submergence of
the continents in the far future beneath the sea; the drying up of the
earth as a result of the gradual loss of its water; and finally, the
freezing of our unhappy planet, grown old as the decaying and frozen
moon. Here, if I mistake not, are five distinct possible ends.

[Illustration:

  PERISHING FROM COLD.
]

“The director of the observatory has announced that he does not believe
in the first two, and that in his opinion a collision with the comet
will have only insignificant results. I agree with him in every respect,
and I now wish to add, after listening attentively to the learned
addresses of my distinguished colleagues, that I do not believe in the
other three either.

“Ladies,” continued the Columbian astronomer, “you know as well as we do
that nothing is eternal. In the bosom of nature all is change. The buds
of the spring burst into flowers, the flowers in their turn become
fruit, the generations succeed each other, and life accomplishes its
mission. So the world which we inhabit will have its end as it has had
its beginning, but neither the comet, nor water, nor the lack of water
are to cause its death agony. To my mind the whole question hangs upon a
single word in the closing sentence of the very remarkable address which
has just been made by our gracious colleague, the president of the
physical society.

“The sun! Yes, here is the key to the whole problem.

“Terrestrial life depends upon its rays. I say depends upon them—life is
a form of solar energy. It is the sun which maintains water in a liquid
state, and the atmosphere in a gaseous one; without it all would be
solid and lifeless; it is the sun which draws water from the sea, the
lakes, the rivers, the moist soil; which forms the clouds and sets the
air in motion; which produces rain and controls the fruitful circulation
of the water; thanks to the solar light and heat, the plants assimilate
the carbon contained in the carbonic acid of the atmosphere, and in
separating the oxygen from the carbon and appropriating the latter the
plant performs a great work; to this conversion of solar into vital
energy, as well as to the shade of the thick-leaved trees, is due the
freshness of the forests; the wood which blazes on our hearthstones does
but render up to us its store of solar heat, and when we consume gas or
coal today, we are only setting free the rays imprisoned millions of
years ago in the forests of the primary age. Electricity itself is but a
form of energy whose original source is the sun. It is, then, the sun
which murmurs in the brook, which whispers in the wind, which moans in
the tempest, which blossoms in the rose, which trills in the throat of
the nightingale, which gleams in the lightning, which thunders in the
storm, which sings or wails in the vast symphony of nature.

“Thus the solar heat is changed into air or water currents, into the
expansive force of gases and vapors, into electricity, into woods,
flowers, fruits and muscular energy. So long as this brilliant star
supplies us with sufficient heat the continuance of the world and of
life is assured.

“The probable cause of the heat of the sun is the condensation of the
nebula in which this central body of our system had its origin. This
conversion of mechanical energy must have produced 28,000,000 degrees
centigrade. You know gentlemen, that a kilogram of coal, falling from an
infinite distance to the sun, would produce, by its impact, six thousand
times more heat than by its combustion. At the present rate of
radiation, this supply of heat accounts for the emission of thermal
energy for a period of 22,000,000 years, and it is probable that the sun
has been burning far longer, for there is nothing to prove that the
elements of the nebula were absolutely cold; on the contrary they
themselves were originally a source of heat. The temperature of this
great day-star does not seem to have fallen any; for its condensation is
still going on, and it may make good the loss by radiation.
Nevertheless, everything has an end. If at some future stage of
condensation the sun’s density should equal that of the earth, this
condensation would yield a fresh amount of heat sufficient to maintain
for 17,000,000 years the same temperature which now sustains terrestrial
life, and this period may be prolonged if we admit a diminution in the
rate of radiation, a fall of meteorites, or a further condensation
resulting in a density greater than that of the earth. But, however far
we put off the end, it must come at last. The suns which are
extinguished in the heavens, offer so many examples of the fate reserved
for our own luminary; and in certain years such tokens of death are
numerous.

“But in that long period of seventeen or twenty million years, or more,
who can say what the marvellous power of adaptation, which physiology
and paleontology have revealed in every variety of animal and vegetable
life, may not do for humanity, leading it, step by step, to a state of
physical and intellectual perfection as far above ours, as ours is above
that of the iguanodon, the stegosaurus and the compsognathus? Who can
say that our fossil remains will not appear to our successors as
monstrous as those of the dinosaurus? Perhaps the stability of
temperature of that future time may make it seem doubtful whether any
really intelligent race could have existed in an epoch subjected, as
ours is, to such erratic variations of temperature, to the capricious
changes of weather which characterize our seasons. And, who knows if
before that time some immense cataclysm, some general change may not
bury the past in new geological strata and inaugurate new periods,
quinquennial, sexennial, differing totally from the preceding ones?

“One thing is certain, that the sun will finally lose its heat; it is
condensing and contracting, and its fluidity is decreasing. The time
will come when the circulation, which now supplies the photosphere, and
makes the central mass a reservoir of radiant energy, will be obstructed
and will slacken. The radiation of heat and light will then diminish,
and vegetable and animal life will be more and more restricted to the
earth’s equatorial regions. When this circulation shall have ceased, the
brilliant photosphere will be replaced by a dark opaque crust which will
prevent all luminous radiation. The sun will become a dark red ball,
then a black one, and night will be perpetual. The moon, which shines
only by reflection, will no longer illumine the lonely nights. Our
planet will receive no light but that of the stars. The solar heat
having vanished, the atmosphere will remain undisturbed, and an absolute
calm, unbroken by any breath of air, will reign.

“If the oceans still exist they will be frozen ones, no evaporation will
form clouds, no rain will fall, no stream will flow. Perhaps, as has
been observed in the case of stars on the eve of extinction, some last
flare of the expiring torch, some accidental development of heat, due to
the falling in of the sun’s crust, will give us back for a while the
old-time sun, but this will only be the precursor of the end; and the
earth, a dark ball, a frozen tomb, will continue to revolve about the
black sun, travelling through an endless night and hurrying away with
all the solar system into the abyss of space. _It is to the extinction
of the sun that the earth will owe its death, twenty, perhaps forty
million years hence._”

The speaker ceased, and was about to leave the platform, when the
director of the academy of fine arts begged to be heard:

“Gentlemen,” he said, from his chair, “if I have understood rightly, the
end of the world will in any case result from cold, and only several
million years hence. If, then, a painter should endeavor to represent
the last day, he ought to shroud the earth in ice, and cover it with
skeletons.”

[Illustration:

  A WORLD OF ICE.
]

“Not exactly,” replied the Columbian chancellor. “It is not cold which
produces glaciers,—it is _heat_.

“If the sun did not evaporate the sea water there would be no clouds,
and but for the sun there would be no wind. For the formation of
glaciers a sun is necessary, to vaporize the water and to transport it
in clouds and then to condense it. Every kilogram of vapor formed
represents a quantity of solar heat sufficient to raise five kilograms
of cast-iron to its fusing point (110°). By lessening the intensity of
the sun’s action we exhaust the glacier supply.

“So that it is not the snow, nor the glaciers which will cover the
earth, but the frozen remnant of the sea. For a long time previously
streams and rivers will have ceased to exist and every atmospheric
current will have disappeared, unless indeed, before giving up the
ghost, the sun shall have passed through one of those spasms to which we
referred a moment ago, shall have released the ice from sleep and have
produced new clouds and aerial currents, reawakened the springs, the
brooks and the rivers, and after this momentary but deceitful awakening,
shall have fallen back again into lethargy. That day will have no
morrow.”

Another voice, that of a celebrated electrician, was heard from the
center of the hemicycle.

“All these theories of death by cold,” he observed, “are plausible. But
the end of the world by fire? This has been referred to only in
connection with the comet. It may happen otherwise.

“Setting aside a possible sinking of the continents into the central
fire, brought about by an earthquake on a large scale, or some
widespread dislocation of the earth’s crust, it seems to me that,
without any collision, a superior will might arrest our planet midway in
its course and transform its motion into heat.”

“A will?” interrupted another voice. “But positive science does not
admit the possibility of miracles in nature.”

“Nor I, either,” replied the electrician. “When I say ‘will,’ I mean an
ideal, invisible force. Let me explain.

“The earth is flying through space with a velocity of 106,000 kilometers
per hour, or 29,460 meters per second. If some star, active or extinct,
should emerge from space, so as to form with the sun a sort of
electro-dynamic couple with our planet on its axis, acting upon it like
a brake—if, in a word, for any reason, the earth should be suddenly
arrested in its orbit, its mechanical energy would be changed into
molecular motion, and its temperature would be suddenly raised to such a
degree as to reduce it entirely to a gaseous state.”

“Gentlemen,” said the director of the Mont Blanc observatory, from his
chair, “the earth might perish by fire in still another manner. We have
lately seen in the sky a temporary star which, in a few weeks, passed
from the sixteenth to the fourth magnitude. This distant sun had
suddenly become 50,000 times hotter and more luminous. If such a fate
should overtake our sun, nothing living would be left upon our planet.
It is probable, from the study of the spectrum of the light emitted by
this burning star, that the cause of this sudden conflagration was the
entrance of this sun and its system into some kind of nebula. Our own
sun is travelling with a frightful velocity in the direction of the
constellation of Hercules, and may very well some day encounter an
obstacle of this nature.”

“To resume,” continued the director of the Paris observatory, “after all
we have just now heard, we see that our planet will be at a loss to
choose among so many modes of death. I have as little fear now as before
of any danger from the present comet. But it must be confessed that,
solely from the point of view of the astronomer, this poor, wandering
earth is exposed to more than one peril. The child born into this world,
and destined to reach the age of maturity, may be compared to a person
stationed at the entrance to a narrow street, one of those picturesque
streets of the sixteenth century, lined with houses at whose every
window is a marksman armed with a good weapon of the latest model. This
person must traverse the entire length of the street, without being
stricken down by the weapons levelled upon him at close range. Every
disease which lies in wait and threatens us, is on hand: dentition,
convulsion, croup, meningitis, measles, smallpox, typhoid fever,
pneumonia, enteritis, brain fever, heart disease, consumption, diabetes,
apoplexy, cholera, influenza, etc., etc., for we omit many, and our
hearers will have no difficulty in supplementing this off-hand
enumeration. Will our unhappy traveller reach the end of the street safe
and sound? If he does, it will only be to die, just the same.

[Illustration:

  “LIKE A CHARGE OF SHOT UPON A MEADOW LARK.”
]

“Thus our planet pursues its way along its heavenly path, with a speed
of more than 100,000 kilometers per hour, and, at the same time, the sun
hurries it on, with all the planets, toward the constellation of
Hercules. Recapitulating what has just been said, and allowing for what
may have been omitted: it may meet a comet ten or twenty times larger
than itself, composed of deleterious gases which would render the
atmosphere irrespirable; it may encounter a swarm of uranolites, which
would have upon it the effect of a charge of shot upon a meadow lark; it
may meet in its path an invisible sun, much larger than itself, whose
shock would reduce it to vapor; it may encounter a sun which would
consume it in the twinkling of an eye, as a furnace would consume an
apple thrown into it; it may be caught in a system of electric forces,
which would act like a brake upon its eleven motions, and which would
either melt it, or set it afire, like a platinum wire in a strong
current; it may lose the oxygen which supports life; it may be blown up
like the crust over a crater; it may collapse in some great earthquake;
its dry land may disappear, in a second deluge, more universal than the
first; it may, on the contrary, lose all its water, an element essential
to its organic life; under the attraction of some passing body, it may
be detached from the sun and carried away into the cold of stellar
space; it may part, not only with the last vestige of its internal heat,
which long since has ceased to have any influence upon its surface, but
also with the protecting envelope which maintains the temperature
necessary to life; one of these days, when the sun has grown dark and
cold, it may be neither lighted, nor warmed, nor fertilized; on the
other hand, it may be suddenly scorched by an outburst of heat,
analogous to what has been observed in temporary stars; not to speak of
many other sources of accidents and mortal peril, whose easy enumeration
we leave to the geologists, paleontologists, meteorologists, physicists,
chemists, biologists, physicians, botanists, and even to the veterinary
surgeons, inasmuch as the arrival of an army of invisible microbes, if
they be but deadly enough, or a well-established epidemic, would suffice
to destroy the human race and the principal animal and vegetable
species, without working the least harm to the planet itself, from a
strictly astronomical point of view.”

Just as the speaker was uttering these last words, a voice, which seemed
to come from a distance, fell, as it were, from the ceiling overhead.
But a few words of explanation may here perhaps be desirable.

As we have said, the observatories established on the higher mountains
of the globe were connected by telephone, with the observatory of Paris,
and the sender of the message could be heard at a distance from the
receiver, without being obliged to apply any apparatus directly to the
ear. The reader doubtless recollects that, at the close of the preceding
session, a phonogram from Mt. Gaurisankar stated that a photophonic
message, which would be at once deciphered, had been received from the
inhabitants of Mars. As the translation of this cipher had not arrived
at the opening of the evening session, the bureau of communications had
connected the Institute with the observatory by suspending a
telephonoscope from the dome of the amphitheater.

The voice from above said:

“The astronomers of the equatorial city of Mars warn the inhabitants of
the earth that the comet is moving directly toward the earth with a
velocity nearly double that of the orbital velocity of Mars. Mechanical
motion to be transformed into heat, and heat into electrical energy.
Terrible magnetic storms. Move away from Italy.”

The voice ceased amid general silence and consternation. There were,
however, a few sceptics left, one of whom, editor of La Libre Critique,
raising his monocle to his right eye, had risen from the reporters desk
and had exclaimed in a penetrating voice:

“I am afraid that the venerable doctors of the Institute are the victims
of a huge joke. No one can ever persuade me that the inhabitants of
Mars—admitting that there are any and they have really sent us a
warning—know Italy by name. I doubt very much if one of them ever heard
of the Commentaries of Cæsar or the History of the Popes, especially
as”—

The orator, who was launching into an interesting dithyrambus, was at
this point suddenly squelched by the turning off of the electric lights.
With the exception of the illuminated square in the ceiling, the room
was plunged in darkness and the voice added these six words: “This is
the despatch from Mars;” and thereupon the following symbols appeared on
the plate of the telephonoscope:

[Illustration]

As this picture could only be seen by holding the head in a very
fatiguing position, the president touched a bell and an assistant
appeared, who by means of a projector and mirror transferred these
hieroglyphics to a screen on the wall behind the desk, so that every one
could readily see and analyze them at their leisure. Their
interpretation was easy; nothing indeed could be more simple. The figure
representing the comet needed no explanation. The arrow indicates the
motion of the comet towards a heavenly body, which as seen from Mars
presents phases, and sparkles like a star; this means the earth,
naturally so delineated by the Martians, for their eyes, developed in a
medium less luminous than ours, are somewhat more sensitive and
distinguish the phases of the Earth, and this the more readily because
their atmosphere is rarer and more transparent. (For us the phases of
Venus are just on the limit of visibility.) The double globe represents
Mars looking at the Kaiser sea, the most characteristic feature of
Martian geography, and indicates a velocity for the comet double the
orbital velocity, or a little less, for the line does not quite reach
the edge. The flames indicate the transformation of motion into heat;
the aurora borealis and the lightning which follow, the transformation
into electric and magnetic force. Finally, we recognize the boot of
Italy, visible from Mars, and the black spot marks the locality
threatened, according to their calculation, by one of the most dangerous
fragments of the head of the comet; while the four arrows radiating in
the direction of the four cardinal points of the compass seem to counsel
removal from the point menaced.

The photophonic message from the Martians was much longer and far more
complicated. The astronomers on Mt. Gaurisankar had previously received
several such, and had discovered that they were sent from a very
important, intellectual and scientific center situated in the equatorial
zone not far from Meridian bay. The last message, whose general meaning
is given above, was the most important. The remainder of it had not been
transmitted, as it was obscure and it was not certain that its exact
meaning had been made out.

The president rang his bell for order. He was about to sum up what had
been said, before adjourning the meeting.

“Gentlemen,” he began, “although it is after midnight, it will be of
interest, before we separate, to summarize what has been told us in
these two solemn sessions.

“The last despatch from Gaurisankar may well impress you. It seems clear
that the inhabitants of Mars are farther advanced in science than
ourselves, and this is not surprising, for they are a far older race and
have had centuries innumerable in which to achieve this progress.
Moreover, they may be much more highly organized than we are, they may
possess better eyes, instruments of greater perfection, and intellectual
faculties of a higher order. We observe, too, that their calculations,
while in accord with ours as to the collision, are more precise, for
they designate the very point which is to receive the greatest shock.
The advice to flee from Italy should therefore be followed, and I shall
at once telephone the Pope, who at this very moment is assembling the
prelates of entire Christendom.

“So the comet will collide with the earth, and no one can yet foresee
the consequences. But in all probability the disturbance will be local
and the world will not be destroyed. The carbonic-oxide is not likely to
penetrate the respirable portions of the atmosphere, but there will be
an enormous development of heat.

“As to the veritable end of the world, of all the hypotheses which today
permit us to forecast that event the most probable is the last—that
explained to us by the learned chancellor of the Columbian academy: the
life of the planet depends upon the sun; so long as the sun shines
humanity is safe, unless indeed the diminution of the atmosphere and
aqueous vapor should usher in before that time the reign of cold. In the
former case we have yet before us twenty million years of life; in the
latter only ten.

“Let us then await the night of July 13–14 without despair. I advise
those who can to pass these fête days in Chicago, or better still in San
Francisco, Honolulu or Noumea. The trans-Atlantic electric air-ships are
so numerous and well managed that millions of travellers may make the
journey before Saturday night.”

[Illustration:

  THE LAST JUDGMENT.

  (From the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.)
]



                               CHAPTER V.


While the above scientific discussions were taking place at Paris,
meetings of a similar character were being held at London, Chicago, St.
Petersburg, Yokohama, Melbourne, New York, and in all the principal
cities of the world, in which every effort was made to throw light upon
the great problem which so universally preoccupied the attention of
humanity. At Oxford a theological council of the Reformed church was
convened, in which religious traditions and interpretations were
discussed at great length. To recite, or even to summarize here the
proceedings of all these congresses would be an endless task, but we
cannot omit reference to that of the Vatican as the most important from
a religious point of view, just as that of the Institute of Paris was
from a scientific one.

The council had been divided into a certain number of sections or
committees, and the then often discussed question of the end of the
world had been referred to one of these committees. Our duty here is to
reproduce as accurately as possible the physiognomy of the main session,
devoted to the discussion of this problem.

The patriarch of Jerusalem, a man of great piety and profound faith, was
the first to speak in Latin. “Venerable fathers,” he began, “I cannot do
better than to open before you the Holy Gospel. Permit me to quote
literally.” He then read the words of the evangelists[2] describing the
last days of the earth, and went on:

Footnote 2:

  St. Matthew, xxiv. and xvi.; St. Mark, xiii.; St. Luke, xvii. and xxi.

“These words are taken verbatim from the Gospels, and you know that on
this point the evangelists are in perfect accord.

[Illustration:

  THE PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM ADDRESSING THE COUNCIL.
]

“You also know, most reverend fathers, that the last great day is
pictured in still more striking language in the Apocalypse of St. John.
But every word of the Scriptures is known to you, and, in the presence
of so learned an audience, it seems to me superfluous, if not out of
place, to make further citations from what is upon every lip.”

Such was the beginning of the address of the patriarch of Jerusalem. His
remarks were divided under three heads: First, the teachings of Christ;
second, the traditions of the Church; third, the dogma of the
resurrection of the body, and of the last judgment. Taking first the
form of an historical statement, the address soon became a sort of
sermon, of vast range; and when the orator, passing from St. Paul to
Clement of Alexandria, Tertulian and Origen, reached the council of Nice
and the dogma of universal resurrection, he was carried away by his
subject in such a flight of eloquence as to move the heart of every
prelate before him. Several, who had renounced the apostolic faith of
the earlier centuries, felt themselves again under its spell. It must be
said that the surroundings lent themselves marvellously to the occasion.
The assembly took place in the Sistine chapel. The immense and imposing
painting of Michael Angelo, like a new apocalyptic heaven, was before
every eye. The awful mingling of bodies, arms and legs, so forcibly and
strangely foreshortened; Christ, the judge of the world; the damned
borne struggling away by hideous devils; the dead issuing from their
tombs; the skeletons returning to life and reclothing themselves with
flesh; the frightful terror of humanity trembling in the presence of the
wrath of God—all seemed to give a vividness, a reality, to the
magnificent periods of the patriarch’s oratory, and at times, in certain
effects of light, one might almost hear the advancing trumpet sounding
from heaven the call of judgment, and see between earth and sky the
moving hosts of the resurrection.

[Illustration:

  MAYERSTROSS.
]

Scarcely had the patriarch of Jerusalem finished his speech, when an
independent bishop, one of the most ardent dissenters of the council,
the learned Mayerstross, rushed to the tribune, and began to insist that
nothing in the Gospel, or the traditions of the Church, should be taken
literally.

“The letter kills,” he cried, “the spirit vivifies! Everything is
subject to the law of progress and change. The world moves. Enlightened
Christians cannot any longer admit the resurrection of the body. All
these images,” he added, “were good for the days of the catacombs. For a
long time no one has believed in them. Such ideas are opposed to
science, and, most reverend fathers you know, as well as I do, that we
must be in accord with science, which has ceased to be, as in the time
of Galileo, the humble servant of theology: theologiæ humilis ancilla.

“The body cannot be reconstituted, even by a miracle, so long as its
molecules return to nature and are appropriated, successively, by so
many beings—human, animal and vegetable. We are formed of the dust of
the dead, and, in the future, the molecules of oxygen, hydrogen,
nitrogen, carbon, phosphorus, sulphur, or iron, which make up our flesh
and our bones, will be incorporated in other human organisms. This
change is perpetual, even during life. One human being dies every
second; that is more than 86,000 each day, more than 30,000,000 each
year, more than three milliards each century. In a hundred centuries—not
a long period in the history of a planet, the number of the resurrected
would be three hundred milliards. If the human race lived but a 100,000
years—and no one here is ignorant of the fact that geological and
astronomical periods are estimated by millions of years—there would be
gathered before the judgment throne something like three thousand
milliards of men, women and children. My estimate is a modest one,
because I take no account of the secular increase in population. You may
reply to me, that only the saved will rise! What, then, will become of
the others? Two weights and two measures! Death and life! Night and day,
good and evil! Divine injustice and good-will, reigning together over
creation! But, no, you will not accept such a solution. The eternal law
is the same for all. Well! What will you do with these thousands of
milliards? Show me the valley of Jehoshaphat vast enough to contain
them. Will you spread them over the surface of the globe, do away with
the oceans and the icefields of the poles, and cover the world with a
forest of human bodies? So be it! And afterwards? What will become of
this immense host? No, most holy fathers, our beliefs must not, cannot,
be taken literally. Would that there were here no theologians with
closed eyes, that look only within, but astronomers with open eyes, that
look without.”

These words had been uttered in the midst of an indescribable tumult;
several times they wished to silence the Croatian bishop, gesticulating
violently and denouncing him as schismatic; but the rules did not permit
this, for the greatest liberty was allowed in the discussion. An Irish
cardinal called down upon him the thunders of the Church, and spoke of
excommunication and anathema; then, a distinguished prelate of the
Gallican church, no less a person than the archbishop of Paris himself,
ascended the rostrum and declared that the dogma of the resurrection of
the dead might be discussed without incurring any canonical blame, and
that it might be interpreted in entire harmony with reason and faith.
According to him one might admit the dogma, and at the same time
recognize the rational impossibility of a resurrection of the body!

“The Doctor Angelicus,” he said, speaking of St. Thomas, “maintained
that the complete dissolution of every human body by fire would take
place before the resurrection. (Summa theologica, III.) I readily
concede with Calmet (on the resurrection of the dead) that to the
omnipotence of the Creator it would not be impossible to reassemble the
scattered molecules in such a way that the resurrected body should not
contain a single one which did not belong to it at some time during its
mortal life. But such a miracle is not necessary. St. Thomas has himself
shown (loco citato) that this complete material identity is by no means
indispensable to establish the perfect identity of the resurrected body
with the body destroyed by death. I also think, therefore, that the
letter should give way to the spirit.

“What is the principle of identity in a living body? Assuredly it does
not consist in the complete and persistent identity of its _matter_. For
in this continual change and renewal, which is the very essence of
physiological life, the elements, which have belonged successively from
infancy to old age to the same human being, would form a colossal body.
In this torrent of life the elements pass and change ceaselessly; but
the organism remains the same, notwithstanding the modifications in its
size, its form and its constitution. Does the growing stem of the oak,
hidden between its two cotyledons, cease to be the same plant when it
has become a mighty oak? Is the embryo of the caterpillar, while yet in
the egg, no longer the same insect when it becomes a caterpillar, and
then a chrysalis, and then a butterfly? Is individuality lost as the
child passes through manhood to old age? Assuredly not. But in the case
of the oak, the butterfly, and the man, is there a single remaining
molecule of those which constituted the growing stem of the oak, the egg
of the caterpillar or the human embryo? What then is the principle which
persists through all these changes? This principle is a reality, not a
fiction. It is not the soul, for the plants have life, and yet no souls,
in the meaning of the word as we use it. Nevertheless, it must be an
imponderable agent. Does it survive the body? It is possible. St.
Gregory of Nyssus believed so. If it remains united to the soul, it may
be invoked to furnish it with a new body identical with that which death
has destroyed, even though this body should not possess _a single
molecule_ which it possessed at any period of its terrestrial life, and
this would be as truly our body as that which we had when five, fifteen,
or thirty, or sixty years of age.

“Such a conception agrees perfectly with the expressions of holy writ,
according to which it is certain that after a period of separation the
soul will again take on the body forever.

“In addition to St. Gregory of Nyssus, permit me, most reverend fathers,
to cite a philosopher Leibnitz, who held the opinion that the
physiological principle of life was imponderable but not incorporeal,
and that the soul remains united to this principle, although separated
from the ponderable and visible body. I do not pretend to either accept
or reject this hypothesis. I only note that it may serve to explain the
dogma of the resurrection, in which every Christian should firmly
believe.”

“This effort to conciliate reason and faith,” interrupted the Croatian
bishop, “is worthy of praise, but it seems to me more ingenious than
probable. Are these bodies, bodies like our own? If they are perfect,
incorruptible, fitted to their new conditions, they must not possess any
organ for which there is no use. Why a mouth, if they do not eat? Why
legs, if they do not walk? Why arms, if they do not work? One of the
fathers of the early church, Origen, whose personal sacrifice is not
forgotten, thought these bodies must be perfect spheres. That would be
logical but not very beautiful or interesting.”

“It is better to admit with St. Gregory of Nyssus and St. Augustin,”
replied the archbishop, “that the resurrected body will have the human
form, a transparent veil of the beauty of the soul.”

Thus was the modern theory of the Church on the resurrection of the body
summed up by the French cardinal. As to the objections on the score of
the locality of the resurrection, the number of the resurrected, the
insufficiency of surface on the globe, the final abode of the elect and
the damned, it was impossible to come to any common understanding for
the contradictions were irreconcilable. The resultant impression was,
however, that these matters also should be understood figuratively, that
neither the heaven or the hell of the theologian represented any
definite place, but rather states of the soul, of happiness or of
misery, and that life, whatever its form, would be perpetuated on the
countless worlds which people infinite space. And so it appeared that
Christian thought had gradually become transformed, among the
enlightened, and followed the progress of astronomy and the other
sciences.

The council had been held on Tuesday evening, that is to say on the day
following the two meetings of the Institute, of which an account has
been given above. The Pope had made public the advice of the president
of the Institute to leave Italy on the fatal day, but no attention had
been paid to it, partly because death is a deliverance for every
believer, and partly because most theologians denied the existence even
of inhabitants upon Mars.

[Illustration]



                              CHAPTER VI.


It is now time to pause, amid the eventful scenes through which we are
passing, in order to consider this new fear of the end of the world with
others which have preceded it, and to pass rapidly in review the
remarkable history of this idea, which has reappeared again and again in
the past. At the time of which we are speaking, this subject was the
sole theme of conversation in every land and in every tongue.

As to the dogma “Credo Resurrectionem Carnis,” the addresses of the
fathers of the Church before the council assembled in the Sistine chapel
at Rome, were, on the whole, in accord with the opinion expressed by the
cardinal archbishop of Paris. The clause “et vitam æternam” was tacitly
ignored, in view of the possible discoveries of astronomy and
psychology. These addresses epitomized, as it were, the history of the
doctrine of the end of the world as held by the Christian Church in all
ages.

This history is interesting, for it is also the history of the human
mind face to face with its own destiny, and we believe it of sufficient
importance to devote to it a separate chapter. For the time being,
therefore, we abandon our role as the chronicler of the twenty-fourth
century, and return to our own times, in order to consider this doctrine
from an historical point of view.

The existence of a profound and tenacious faith is as old as the
centuries, and it is a notable fact that all religions, irrespective of
Christian dogma, have opened the same door from this mortal life upon
the unknown which lies beyond, it is the door of the Divine Comedy of
Dante, although the conceptions of paradise, hell and purgatory peculiar
to the Christian Church, are not universal.

Zoroaster and the Zend-Avesta taught that the world would perish by
fire. The same idea is found in the Epistle of St. Peter. It seems that
the traditions of Noah and of Deucalion, according to which the first
great disaster to humanity came by flood, indicated that the second
great disaster would be of an exactly opposite character.

The apostles Peter and Paul died, probably, in the year 64, during the
horrible slaughter ordered by Nero after the burning of Rome, which had
been fired at his command and whose destruction he attributed to the
Christians in order that he might have a pretext for new persecutions.
St. John wrote the Apocalypse in the year 69. The reign of Nero was a
bloody one, and martyrdom seemed to be the natural consequence of a
virtuous life. Prodigies appeared on every hand; there were comets,
falling stars, eclipses, showers of blood, monsters, earthquakes,
famines, pestilences, and above all, there was the Jewish war and the
destruction of Jerusalem. Never, perhaps, were so many horrors, so much
cruelty and madness, so many catastrophes, crowded into so short a
period as in the years 64–69 A.D. The little church of Christ was
apparently dispersed. It was impossible to remain in Jerusalem. The
horrors of the reign of terror of 1793, and of the Commune of 1871, were
as nothing in comparison with those of the Jewish civil war. The family
of Jesus was obliged to leave the holy city and to seek safety in
flight. False prophets appeared, thus verifying former prophecies.
Vesuvius was preparing the terrible eruption of the year 79, and
already, in 63, Pompeii had been destroyed by an earthquake.

There was every indication that the end of the world was at hand.
Nothing was wanting. The Apocalypse announced it.

But a calm followed the storm. The terrible Jewish war came to an end;
Nero fell before Galba; under Vespasian and Titus, peace (71) succeeded
war, and—the end of the world was not yet.

Once more it became necessary to interpret anew the words of the
evangelists. The coming of Christ was put off until after the fall of
the Roman empire, and thus considerable margin was given to the
commentator. A firm belief in a final and even an imminent catastrophe
persisted, but it was couched in vague terms, which robbed the spirit as
well as the letter of the prophecy of all precision. Still, the
conviction remained.

St. Augustine devotes the XXth book of the City of God (426) to the
regeneration of the world, the resurrection, the last judgment, and the
New Jerusalem; in the XXIst book he describes the everlasting torments
of hell-fire. A witness to the fall of Rome and the empire, the bishop
of Carthage believed these events to be the first act of the drama. But
the reign of God was to continue a thousand years before the coming of
Satan.

St. Gregory, bishop of Tours (573), the first historian of the Franks,
began his history as follows: “As I am about to relate the wars of the
kings with hostile nations, I feel impelled to declare my belief. The
terror with which men await the end of the world decides me to chronicle
the years already passed, that thus one may know exactly how many have
elapsed since the beginning of the world.”

This tradition was perpetuated from year to year and from century to
century, notwithstanding that nature failed to confirm it. Every
catastrophe, earthquake, epidemic, famine and flood, every phenomenon,
eclipse, comet, storm, sudden darkness and tempest, was looked upon as
the forerunner and herald of the final cataclysm. Trembling like leaves
in the blast, the faithful awaited the coming judgment; and preachers
successfully worked upon this dread apprehension, so deeply rooted in
every heart.

But, as generation after generation passed, it became necessary to
define again the widespread tradition, and about this time the idea of a
millennium took form in the minds of commentators. There were many sects
which believed that Christ would reign with the saints a thousand years
before the day of judgment. St. Irenus, St. Papias, and St. Sulpicius
Severus shared this belief, which acquired an exaggerated and sensual
form in the minds of many, who looked forward to a day of general
rejoicing for the elect and a reign of pleasure. St. Jerome and St.
Augustine did much to discredit these views, but did not attack the
central doctrine of a resurrection. Commentators on the Apocalypse
continued to flourish through the somber night of the middle ages, and
in the tenth century especially the belief gained ground that the year
1000 was to usher in the great change.

This conviction of an approaching end of the world, if not universal,
was at least very general. Several charters of the period began with
this sentence: Termino mundi appropinquante: “The end of the world
drawing near.” In spite of some exceptions, it seems difficult not to
share the opinion of historians, notably of Michelet, Henry Martin,
Guizot, and Duruy, regarding the prevalence of this belief throughout
Christendom. Doubtless, neither the French monk Gerbert, at that time
Pope Sylvester II., nor King Robert of France, regulated their lives by
their superstition, but it had none the less penetrated the conscience
of the faint-hearted, and many a sermon was preached from this text of
the Apocalypse:

[Illustration:

  VICTIMS OF THE PLAGUE.
]

“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of
his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the
four quarters of the earth ... and another book was opened, which is the
Book of Life ... and the sea gave up the dead which were in it: and
death and hell gave up the dead which were in them: and they were judged
every man according to his works ... and I saw a new heaven and a new
earth.”

Bernard, a hermit of Thuringia, had taken these very words of Revelation
as the text of his preaching, and in about the year 960 he publicly
announced that the end of the world was at hand. He even fixed the fatal
day itself, as that on which “The Annunciation” and Holy Friday should
fall on the same day, a coincidence which really occurred in 992.

Druthmar, a monk of Corbie, prophesied the end of the world for the 24th
of March in the year 1000. In many cities popular terror was so great on
that day that the people sought refuge in the churches, remaining until
midnight, prostrate before the relics of the saints, in order to await
there the last trump and to die at the foot of the cross.

From this epoch date many gifts to the Church. Lands and goods were
given to the monasteries. Indeed, an authentic and very curious document
is preserved, written in the year 1000 by a certain monk, Raoul Glaber,
on whose first pages we find: “Satan will soon be unloosed, as
prophesied by St. John, _the thousand years having been accomplished_.
It is of these years that we are to speak.”

The end of the tenth century and the beginning of the eleventh century
was a truly strange and fearful period. From 980 to 1040 it seemed as if
the angel of death had spread his wings over the world. Famine and
pestilence desolated the length and breadth of Europe. There was in the
first place the “mal des ardents,” the flesh of its victims decaying and
falling from the bones, was consumed as by fire, and the members
themselves were destroyed and fell away. Wretches thus afflicted
thronged the roads leading to the shrines and besieged the churches,
filling them with terrible odors, and dying before the relics of the
saints. The fearful pest made more than forty thousand victims in
Acquitania, and devastated the southern portions of France.

Then came famine, ravaging a large part of Christendom. Of the
seventy-three years between 987 and 1060, forty-eight were years of
famine and pestilence. The invasion of the Huns, between 910 and 945,
revived the horrors of Attila, and the soil was so laid waste by wars
between domains and provinces that it ceased to be cultivated. For three
years rain fell continuously; it was impossible either to sow or to
reap. The earth became barren and was abandoned. “The price of a ‘muid’
of wheat,” writes Raoul Glaber, “rose to sixty gold sous; the rich waxed
thin and pale; the poor gnawed the roots of trees, and many were in such
extremity as to devour human flesh. The strong fell upon the weak in the
public highways, tore them in pieces, and roasted them for food.
Children were enticed by an egg or some fruit into byways, where they
were devoured. This frenzy of hunger was such that the beast was safer
than man. Famished children killed their parents, and mothers feasted
upon their children. One person exposed human flesh for sale in the
market place of Tournus, as if it were a staple article of food. He did
not deny the fact and was burned at the stake. Another, stealing this
flesh by night from the spot where it had been buried, was also burned
alive.”

[Illustration:

  THE HUT IN THE FOREST OF MÂCON.
]

This testimony is that of one who lived at the time and in many cases
was an eye witness to what he relates. On every side people were
perishing of hunger, and did not scruple to eat reptiles, unclean
animals, and even human flesh. In the depths of the forest of Mâcon, in
the vicinity of a church dedicated to St. John, a wretch had built a hut
in which he strangled pilgrims and wayfarers. One day a traveller
entering the hut with his wife to seek rest, saw in a corner the heads
of men, women and children. Attempting to fly, they were prevented by
their host. They succeeded, however, in escaping, and on reaching Mâcon,
related what they had seen. Soldiers were sent to the bloody spot, where
they counted forty-eight human heads. The murderer was dragged to the
town and burned alive. The hut and the ashes of the funeral pile were
seen by Raoul Glaber. So numerous were the corpses that burial was
impossible, and disease followed close upon famine. Hordes of wolves
preyed upon the unburied. Never before had such misery been known.

War and pillage were the universal rule, but these scourges from heaven
made men somewhat more reasonable. The bishops came together, and it was
agreed to establish a truce for four days of each week, from Wednesday
night to Monday morning. This was known as the truce of God.

It is not strange that the end of so miserable a world was both the hope
and the terror of this mournful period.

[Illustration:

  “BANDS OF WOLVES PREYED UPON THE UNBURIED.”
]

The year 1000, however, passed like its predecessors, and the world
continued to exist. Were the prophets wrong again, or did the thousand
years of Christendom point to the year 1033? The world waited and hoped.
In that very year occurred a total eclipse of the sun; “The great source
of light became saffron colored; gazing into each others faces men saw
that they were pale as death; every object presented a livid appearance;
stupor seized upon every heart and a general catastrophe was expected.”
But the end of the world was not yet.

It was to this critical period that we owe the construction of the
magnificent cathedrals which have survived the ravages of time and
excited the wonder of centuries. Immense wealth had been lavished upon
the clergy, and their riches increased by donations and inheritance. A
new era seemed to be at hand. “After the year 1000,” continues Raoul
Glaber, “the holy basilicas throughout the world were entirely
renovated, especially in Italy and Gaul, although for the most part they
were in no need of repair. Christian nations vied with each other in the
erection of magnificent churches. It seemed as if the entire world,
animated by a common impulse, shook off the rags of the past to put on a
new garment; and the faithful were not content to rebuild nearly all the
episcopal churches, but also embellished the monasteries dedicated to
the various saints, and even the chapels in the smaller villages.”

The somber year 1000 had followed the vanished centuries into the past,
but through what troubled times the Church had passed! The popes were
the puppets of the rival Saxon emperors and the princes of Latium. All
Christendom was in arms. The crisis had passed, but the problem of the
end of the world remained, and credence in this dread event, though
uncertain and vague,—was fostered by that profound belief in the devil
and in prodigies which was yet to endure for centuries in the popular
mind. The final scene of the last judgment was sculptured over the
portals of every cathedral, and on entering the sanctuary of the church
one passed under the balance of the archangel, on whose left writhed the
bodies of the devils and the damned, delivered over to the eternal
flames of hell.

[Illustration]

But the idea that the world was to end was not confined to the Church.
In the twelfth century astrologers terrified Europe by the announcement
of a conjunction of all the planets in the constellation of the scales.
This conjunction indeed, occurred, for on September 15th all the planets
were found between the 180th and 190th degrees of longitude. But the end
of the world did not come.

The celebrated alchemist, Arnauld de Villeneuve, foretold it again for
the year 1335. In 1406, under Charles VI., an eclipse of the sun,
occurring on June 16th, produced a general panic, which is chronicled by
Juvénal of the Ursuline Order: “It is a pitiable sight,” he says, “to
see people taking refuge in the churches as if the world were about to
perish.” In 1491 St. Vincent Ferrier wrote a treatise entitled, “De la
Fin du Monde et de la Science Spirituelle.” He allows Christendom as
many years of life as there are verses in the psalter, namely, 2537.
Then a German astrologer, one Stoffler, predicted that on February 20,
1524, a general deluge would result from a conjunction of the planets.
He was very generally believed, and the panic was extreme. Property
situated in valleys, along river banks, or near the sea, was sold to the
less credulous for a mere nothing. A certain doctor, Auriol, of
Toulouse, had an ark built for himself, his family and his friends, and
Bodin asserts that he was not the only one who took this precaution.

[Illustration]

There were few sceptics. The grand chancellor of Charles V. sought the
advice of Pierre Martyr, who told him that the event would not be as
fatal as was feared, but that the conjunction of the planets would
doubtless occasion grave disasters. The fatal day arrived ... and never
had the month of February been so dry! But this did not prevent new
predictions for the year 1532, by the astrologer of the elector of
Brandenburg, Jean Carion; and again for the year 1584, by the astrologer
Cyprian Lëowitz. It was again a question of a deluge, due to planetary
conjunctions. “The terror of the populace,” writes a contemporary, Louis
Guyon, “was extreme, and the churches could not hold the multitudes
which fled to them for refuge; many made their wills without stopping to
think that this availed little if the world was really to perish; others
donated their goods to the clergy, in the hope that their prayers would
put off the day of judgment.”

In 1588 there was another astrological prediction, couched in
apocalyptic language, as follows: “The eighth year following the fifteen
hundred and eightieth anniversary of the birth of Christ will be a year
of prodigies and terror. If in this terrible year the globe be not
dissolved in dust, and the land and the sea be not destroyed, every
kingdom will be overthrown and humanity will travail in pain.”

[Illustration]

As might be expected, the celebrated soothsayer, Nostradamus, is found
among these prophets of evil. In his book of rhymed prophecies, entitled
Centuries, we find the following quatrain, which excited much
speculation:

                     Quand Georges Dieu crucifiera,
                     Que Marc le ressuscitera,
                     Et que St. Jean le portera,
                     La fin du monde arrivera.

The meaning of which is, that when Easter falls on the twenty-fifth of
April (St. Mark’s day), Holy Friday will fall on the twenty-third (St.
George’s day), and Corpus Christi on the twenty-fourth of June (St.
John’s day), and the end of the world will come. This verse was not
without malice, for at this time (Nostradamus died in 1556) the calendar
had not been reformed; this was not done until 1582, and it was
impossible for Easter to fall on the twenty-fifth of April. In the
sixteenth century, the twenty-fifth of April corresponded to the
fifteenth; the day following November 4, 1582, was called the fifteenth.
After the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, Easter might fall on
the twenty-fifth of April, its latest possible date, and this was the
case in 1666, 1734, 1886, as it will be again in 1942, 2038, 2190, etc.,
the end of the world, however, not being a necessary consequence of this
coincidence.

[Illustration]

Planetary conjunctions, eclipses and comets were alike the basis for
prophecies of evil. Among the comets recorded in history we may mention,
as the most remarkable from this point of view, that of William the
Conqueror, which appeared in 1066, and which is pictured on the tapestry
of Queen Matilda, at Bayeux; that of 1264, which, it is said,
disappeared the very day of the death of Pope Urban IV.; that of 1327,
one of the largest and most imposing ever seen, which “presaged” the
death of Frederick, king of Sicily; that of 1399, which Juvénal, the
Ursuline, described as “the harbinger of coming evil;” that of 1402, to
which was ascribed the death of Gian Galeazzo, Visconti, duke of Milan;
that of 1456, which filled all Christendom with terror, under Pope
Calixtus III., during the war with the Turks, and which is associated
with the history of the Angelus; and that of 1472, which preceded the
death of the brother of Louis XI. There were others, also, associated
like the preceding, with catastrophes and wars, and especially with the
dreaded last hours of the race. That of 1527 is described by Ambroise
Paré, and by Simon Goulart, as formed of severed heads, poignards and
bloody clouds. The comet of 1531 was thought to herald the death of
Louise of Savoy, mother of Francis I., and this princess shared the
popular superstition in reference to evil stars: “Behold!” she exclaimed
from her bed, on perceiving the comet through the window, “behold an
omen which is not given to one of low degree. God sends it as a warning
to us. Let us prepare to meet death.” Three days after, she died. But
the famous comet of Charles V., appearing in 1556, was perhaps the most
memorable of all. It had been identified as the comet of 1264, and its
return was announced for 1848. But it did not reappear.

The comets of 1577, 1607, 1652 and 1665 were the subjects of endless
commentaries, forming a library by themselves. At the last of these
Alphonso VI., king of Portugal, angrily discharged his pistol, with the
most grotesque defiance. Pierre Petit, by order of Louis XIV., published
a work designed to counteract the foolish, and political, apprehensions
excited by comets. This illustrious king desired to be without a rival,
the only sun, “Nec pluribus impar!” and would not admit the supposition
that the glory of France could be imperilled even by a celestial
phenomenon.

One of the greatest comets which ever struck the imagination of men was
assuredly the famous comet of 1680, to which Newton devoted so much
attention. “It issued,” said Lemonnier, “with a frightful velocity from
the depths of space and seemed falling directly into the sun and was
seen to vanish with an equal velocity. It was visible for four months.
It approached quite near to the earth, and Whiston ascribed the deluge
to its former appearance.” Bayle wrote a treatise to prove the absurdity
of beliefs founded on these portents. Madame de Sévigné writing to her
cousin, Count de Bussy-Rabutin, says: “We have a comet of enormous size;
its tail is the most beautiful object conceivable. Every person of note
is alarmed and believes that heaven, interested in their fate, sends
them a warning in this comet. They say that the courtiers of Cardinal
Mazarin, who is despaired of by his physicians believe this prodigy is
in honor of his passing away, and tell him of the terror with which it
has inspired them. He had the sense to laugh at them, and to reply
facetiously that the comet did him too much honor. In truth we ought all
to agree with him, for human pride assumes too much when it believes
that death is attended by such signs from heaven.”

We see that comets were gradually losing their prestige. Yet we read in
a treatise of the astronomer Bernouilli this singular remark: “If the
head of the comet be not a visible sign of the anger of God, _the tail
may well be_.”

Fear of the end of the world was reawakened by the appearance of comets
in 1773; a great panic spread throughout Europe, and Paris itself was
alarmed. Here is an extract from the memoirs of Bachaumont, accessible
to every reader:

“May 6th, 1773. In the last public meeting of the Academy of Sciences,
M. de Lalande was to read by far the most interesting paper of all;
this, however, he was not able to do, for lack of time. It concerned the
comets which, by approaching the earth, may cause revolutions, and dealt
especially with that one whose return is expected in eighteen years. But
although he affirmed that it was not one of those which would harm the
earth, and that, moreover, he had observed that one could not fix, with
any exactness, the order of such occurrences, there exists,
nevertheless, a very general anxiety.

“May 9th. The cabinet of M. de Lalande is filled with the curious who
come to question him concerning the above memoir, and, in order to
reassure those who have been alarmed by the exaggerated rumors
circulated about it, he will doubtless be forced to make it public. The
excitement has been so great that some ignorant fanatics have besought
the archbishop to institute prayers for forty hours, in order to avert
the deluge which menaces us; and this prelate would have authorized
these prayers, had not the Academy shown him the ridicule which such a
step would produce.

“May 14th. The memoir of M. de Lalande has appeared. He says that it is
his opinion that, of the sixty known comets, eight, by their near
approach to the earth, might produce a pressure such that the sea would
leave its bed and cover a part of the world.”

In time, the excitement died away. The fear of comets assumed a new
form. They were no longer regarded as indications of the anger of God,
but their collision with the earth was discussed from a scientific point
of view, and these collisions were not considered free of danger. At the
close of the last century, Laplace stated his views on this question, in
the forcible language which we have quoted in Chapter II.

In this century, predictions concerning the end of the world have
several times been associated with the appearance of comets. It was
announced that the comet of Biela, for example, would intersect the
earth’s orbit on October 29, 1832, which it did, as predicted. There was
great excitement. Once more the end of things was declared at hand.
Humanity was threatened. What was going to happen?

The orbit, that is to say the path, of the earth had been confounded
with the earth itself. The latter was not to reach that point of its
orbit traversed by the comet until November 30th, more than a month
after the comet’s passage, and the latter was at no time to be within
20,000,000 leagues of us. Once more we got off with a fright.

It was the same in 1857. Some prophet of ill omen had declared that the
famous comet of Charles V., whose periodic time was thought to be three
centuries, would return on the 13th of June of that year. More than one
timid soul was rendered anxious, and the confessionals of Paris were
more than usually crowded with penitents. Another prediction was made
public in 1872, in the name of an astronomer, who, however, was not
responsible for it—M. Plantamour, director of the Geneva observatory.

As in the case of comets, so with other unusual phenomena, such as total
solar eclipses, mysterious suns appearing suddenly in the skies, showers
of shooting stars, great volcanic eruptions accompanied with the
darkness of night and seeming to threaten the burial of the world in
ashes, earthquakes overthrowing and engulfing houses and cities—all
these grand and terrible events have been connected with the fear of an
immediate and universal end of men and things.

The history of eclipses alone would suffice to fill a volume, no less
interesting than the history of comets. Confining our attention to a
modern example, one of the last total eclipses of the sun, visible in
France, that of August 12, 1654, had been foretold by astronomers, and
its announcement had produced great alarm. For some it meant the
overthrow of states and the fall of Rome; for others it signified a new
deluge; there were those who believed that nothing less than the
destruction of the world by fire was inevitable; while the more
collected anticipated the poisoning of the atmosphere. Belief in these
dreaded results were so widespread, that, in order to escape them, and
by the express order of physicians, many terrified people shut
themselves up in closed cellars, warmed and perfumed. We refer the
reader, especially, to the second evening of Les Mondes of Fontenelle.
Another writer of the same century, Petit, to whom we referred a moment
ago, in his Dissertation on the Nature of Comets says, that the
consternation steadily increased up to the fatal day, and that a country
curate, unable to confess all who believed their last hour was at hand,
at sermon time told his parishioners not to be in such haste, for the
eclipse had been put off for a fortnight; and these good people were as
ready to believe in the postponement of the eclipse as they had been in
its malign influence.

[Illustration:

  PEOPLE SEEKING REFUGE IN CLOSED CELLARS.
]

At the time of the last total solar eclipses visible in France, namely,
those of May 12, 1706; May 22, 1724, and July 8, 1842, as also of the
partial ones of October 9, 1847; July 28, 1851; March 15, 1858; July 18,
1860, and December 22, 1870, there was more or less apprehension on the
part of the timid; at least, we know, from trustworthy sources, that in
each of these cases these natural phenomena were interpreted by a
certain class in Europe as possible signs of divine wrath, and in
several religious educational establishments the pupils were requested
to offer up prayers as the time of the eclipse drew near. This mystical
interpretation of the order of nature is slowly disappearing among
enlightened nations, and the next total eclipse of the sun, visible in
southern France on May 28, 1900, will probably inspire no fear on the
French side of the Pyrenees; but it might be premature to make the same
statement regarding those who will observe it from the Spanish side of
the mountains.

Among uncivilized people these phenomena excite today the same terror
which they once did among us. This fact is frequently attested by
travellers, especially in Africa. During the eclipse of July 18, 1860,
in Algeria, men and women resorted to prayer or fled affrighted to their
homes. During the eclipse of July 29, 1878, which was total in the
United States, a negro, suddenly crazed with terror, and persuaded that
the end of the world was coming, cut the throats of his wife and
children.

It must be admitted that such phenomena are well calculated to overwhelm
the imagination. The sun, the god of day, the star upon whose light we
are dependent, grows dim; and, just before it becomes extinguished,
takes on a sickly and mournful hue. The light of the sky pales, the
animal creation is stricken with terror, the beast of burden falters at
his task, the dog flees to its master, the hen retreats with her brood
to the coop, the birds cease their songs, and have been seen even to
drop dead with fright. Arago relates that during the total eclipse of
the sun at Perpignan, on July 8, 1842, twenty thousand spectators were
assembled, forming an impressive spectacle. “When the solar disc was
nearly obscured, an irresistible anxiety took possession of everybody;
each felt the need of sharing his impressions with his neighbor. A deep
murmur arose, like that of the far away sea after a storm. This murmur
deepened as the crescent of light grew less, and when it had disappeared
and sudden darkness had supervened, the silence which ensued marked this
phase of the eclipse as accurately as the pendulum of our astronomical
clock. The magnificence of the spectacle triumphed over the petulance of
youth, over the frivolity which some people mistake for a sign of
superiority, over the indifference which the soldier frequently assumes.
A profound silence reigned also in the sky: the birds had ceased their
songs. After a solemn interval of about two minutes, joyous transports
and frantic applause greeted with the same spontaneity the first
reappearance of the solar rays, and the melancholy and indefinable sense
of depression gave way to a deep and unfeigned exultation which no one
sought to moderate or repress.”

Every one who witnessed this phenomenon, one of the most sublime which
nature offers, was profoundly moved, and took away with him an
impression never to be forgotten. The peasants especially were terrified
by the darkness, as they believed that they were losing their sight. A
poor child, tending his flock, completely ignorant of what was coming,
saw the sun slowly growing dim in a cloudless sky. When its light had
entirely disappeared the poor child, completely carried away by terror,
began to cry and call for help. His tears flowed again when the first
ray of light reappeared. Reassured, he clasped his hands, crying, “O,
beautiful sun!”

Is not the cry of this child the cry of humanity?

So long as eclipses were not known to be the natural consequences of the
motion of the moon about the earth, and before it was understood that
their occurrence could be predicted with the utmost precision, it was
natural that they should have produced a deep impression and been
associated with the idea of the end of the world. The same is true of
other celestial phenomena and notably of the sudden appearance of
unknown suns, an event much rarer than an eclipse.

[Illustration:

  “O, BEAUTIFUL SUN!”
]

The most celebrated of these appearances was that of 1572. On the 11th
of November of that year, about a month after the massacre of St.
Bartholomew, a brilliant star of the first magnitude suddenly appeared
in the constellation of Cassiopeia. The stupefaction was general, not
only on the part of the public, to which it was visible every night in
the sky, but also on the part of scientists, who could not explain its
appearance. Astrologers found a solution of the enigma in the assertion
that it was the star of the Magi, whose reappearance announced the
return of the Son of God, the last judgment and the resurrection. This
statement made a deep impression upon all classes of society. The star
gradually diminished in splendor, and at the end of about eighteen
months went out, without having caused any other disaster than that
which human folly itself adds to the misery of a none too prosperous
planet. Science records several apparitions of this nature, but the
above was the most remarkable. A like agitation has accompanied all the
grand phenomena of nature, especially those which have been unforeseen.
In the chronicles of the middle ages, and even in more recent memoirs,
we read of the terror which the aurora borealis, showers of shooting
stars and the fall of meteorites have produced among the alarmed
spectators. Recently, during the meteor shower of November 27, 1872,
when the sky was filled with more than forty thousand meteorites
belonging to the dispersed comet of Biela, women of the lower classes,
at Nice especially, as also at Rome, in their excitement sought
information of those whom they thought able to explain the cause of
these celestial fire-works, which they had at once associated with the
end of the world and with the fall of the stars, which it was foretold
would usher in that last great event.

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have sometimes attained such
proportions as to lead to the fear that the end of the world was at
hand. Imagine the state of mind of the inhabitants of Herculaneum and of
Pompeii when the eruption of Vesuvius buried them in showers of ashes!
Was not this for them the end of the world? And more recently, were not
those who witnessed the eruption of Krakatoa of the same opinion?
Impenetrable darkness lasting eighteen hours, an atmosphere like a
furnace, filling the eyes, nose and ears with ashes, the deep and
incessant cannonade of the volcano, the falling of pumice stones from
the black sky, the terrible scene illuminated only at intervals by the
lurid lightning or the fire-balls on the spars and rigging of vessels,
the thunder echoing from cloud and sea with an infernal musketry, the
shower of ashes turning into a deluge of mud—this was the experience of
the passengers of a Java vessel during the night of eighteen hours, from
the 26th to the 28th of August, 1883, when a portion of the island of
Krakatoa was hurled into the air, and the sea, after having first
retreated, swept upon the shore to a height of thirty-five meters and to
a distance of from one to ten kilometers over a coast-line of five
hundred kilometers, and in the reflux carried away with it the four
cities, Tjiringin, Mérak, Telok-Bétong and Anjer, and the entire
population of the region, more than forty thousand souls. For a long
time the progress of vessels was hindered by floating bodies
inextricably interlaced; and human fingers, with their nails, and
fragments of heads, with their hair were found in the stomachs of
fishes. Those who escaped, or who saw the catastrophe from some vessel,
and lived to welcome again the light of day, which had seemed forever
extinguished, relate in terror with what resignation they expected the
end of the world, persuaded that its very foundations were giving way
and that the knell of a universal doom had sounded. One eye-witness
assures us that he would not again pass through such an experience for
all the wealth that could be imagined. The sun was extinguished and
death seemed to reign sovereign over nature. This eruption, moreover,
was of such terrific violence that it was heard through the earth at the
antipodes; it reached an altitude of twenty thousand meters, producing
an atmospheric disturbance which made the circuit of the entire globe in
thirty-five hours (the barometer fell four millimeters in Paris even),
and left for more than a year in the upper layers of the atmosphere a
fine dust, which, illumined by the sun, gave rise to those magnificent
twilight displays admired so much throughout the world.

These are formidable disturbances, partial ends of the world. Certain
earthquakes deserve citation with these terrible volcanic eruptions, so
disastrous have been their consequences. In the earthquake of Lisbon,
November 1, 1755, thirty thousand persons perished; the shock was felt
over an area four times as large as that of Europe. When Lima was
destroyed, October 28, 1724, the sea rose twenty-seven meters above its
ordinary level, rushed upon the city and erased it so completely that
not a single house was left. Vessels were found in the fields several
kilometers from the shore. On December 10, 1869, the inhabitants of the
city of Onlah, in Asia Minor, alarmed by subterranean noises and a first
violent trembling of the earth, took refuge on a neighboring hilltop,
whence, to their stupefaction, they saw several crevasses open in the
city which within a few moments entirely disappeared in the bowels of
the earth. We have direct evidence that under circumstances far less
dramatic, as for example on the occasion of the earthquake at Nice,
February 23, 1887, the idea of the end of the world was the very first
which presented itself to the mind.

[Illustration:

  “FLOATING BODIES INEXTRICABLY INTERLACED.”
]

The history of the earth furnishes a remarkable number of like dramas,
catastrophes of a partial character, threatening the world’s final
destruction. It is fitting that we should devote a moment to the
consideration of these great phenomena, as also to the history of that
belief in the end of the world which has appeared in every age, though
modified by the progress of human knowledge. Faith has in part
disappeared; mystery and superstition, which struck the imagination of
our ancestors, and which has been so curiously represented in the
portals of our great cathedrals, and in the sculpture and painting
inspired by Christian traditions, this theological aspect of the last
great day, has given place to the scientific study of the probable life
of the solar system to which we belong. The geocentric and
anthropocentric conception of the universe, which makes man the center
and end of creation, has become gradually transformed and has at last
disappeared; for we know that our humble planet is but an island in the
infinite, that human history has thus far been founded on pure
illusions, and that the dignity of man consists in his intellectual and
moral worth. Is not the destiny and sovereign end of the human mind the
exact knowledge of things, the search after truth?

During the nineteenth century, evil prophets, more or less sincere, have
twenty-five times announced the end of the world, basing their
prophecies upon cabalistic calculations destitute of serious foundation.
Like predictions will recur so long as the race exists.

But this historic interlude, although opportune, has for a moment
interrupted our narrative. Let us hasten to return to the twenty-fifth
century, for we have reached its most critical moment.

[Illustration]



                              CHAPTER VII.


Inexorably, with a fatality no power could arrest, like a projectile
speeding from the mouth of a cannon toward the target, the comet
continued to advance, following its appointed path, and hurrying, with
an ever-increasing velocity, toward the point in space at which the
earth would be found on the night of July 14–15. The final calculations
were absolutely without error. These two heavenly bodies—the earth and
the comet—were to meet like two trains, rushing headlong upon each
other, with resistless momentum, as if impelled to mutual destruction by
an insatiable rage. But in the present instance the velocity of shock
would be 865 times that of two express trains having each a speed of one
hundred kilometers per hour.

During the night of July 13–14, the comet spread over nearly the entire
sky, and whirlwinds of fire could be seen by the naked eye, eddying
about an axis oblique to the zenith. The appearance was that of an army
of flaming meteors, in whose midst the flashing lightning produced the
effect of a furious combat. The burning star had a revolution of its
own, and seemed to be convulsed with pain, like a living thing. Immense
jets of flame issued from various centers, some of a greenish hue,
others red as blood, while the most brilliant were of a dazzling
whiteness. It was evident that the sun was acting powerfully upon this
whirlpool of gases, decomposing certain of them, forming detonating
compounds, electrifying the nearer portions, and repelling the smoke
from about the immense nucleus which was bearing down upon the world.
The comet itself emitted a light far different from the sunlight
reflected by the enveloping vapors; and its flames, shooting forth in
ever-increasing volume, gave it the appearance of a monster,
precipitating itself upon the earth to devour it. Perhaps the most
striking feature of this spectacle was the absence of all sound. At
Paris, as elsewhere, during that eventful night, the crowd instinctively
maintained silence, spellbound by an indescribable fascination,
endeavoring to catch some echo of the celestial thunder—but not a sound
was heard.

The moon rose full, showing green upon the fiery background of the sky,
but without brilliancy and casting no shadows. The night was no more
night, for the stars had disappeared, and the sky glowed with an intense
light.

The comet was approaching the earth with a velocity of 41,000 meters per
second, or 2460 kilometers per minute, that is, 147,600 kilometers per
hour; and the earth was itself travelling through space, from west to
east, at the rate of 29,000 meters per second, 1740 kilometers per
minute, or 104,400 kilometers per hour, in a direction oblique to the
orbit of the comet, which for any meridian appeared at midnight in the
northeast. Thus, in virtue of their velocities, these two celestial
bodies were nearing each other at the rate of 173,000 kilometers per
hour. When observation, which was in entire accord with the computations
previously made, established the fact that the nucleus of the comet was
at a distance no greater than that of the moon, everyone knew that two
hours later the first phenomena of the coming shock would begin.

Contrary to all expectation, Friday and Saturday, the 13th and 14th of
July were, like the preceding days, wonderfully beautiful; the sun shone
in a cloudless sky, the air was tranquil, the temperature rather high,
but cooled by a light, refreshing breeze. Nature was in a joyous mood,
the country was luxuriant with beauty, the streams murmured in the
valleys, the birds sang in the woods; but the dwelling places of man
were heartrendingly sad. Humanity was prostrated with terror, and the
impassible calm of nature stood over against the agonizing fear of the
human heart in painful and harrowing contrast.

[Illustration:

  PEOPLE LEAVING PARIS.
]

Two millions of people had fled to Australia from Paris, London, Vienna,
Berlin, St. Petersburg, Rome and Madrid. As the day of collision
approached, the Trans-Atlantic Navigation company had been obliged to
increase threefold, fourfold, and even tenfold, the number of air-ships,
which settled like flocks of birds upon San Francisco, Honolulu, Noumea,
and the Australian cities of Melbourne, Sidney and Pax. But this exodus
of millions represented only the fortunate minority, and their absence
was scarcely noticed in the towns and villages, swarming with restless
and anxious life.

Haunted by the fear of unknown perils, for several nights no one had
been able to close their eyes, or even dared to go to bed. To do so,
seemed to court the last sleep and to abandon all hope of awakening
again. Every face was livid with terror, every eye was sunken; the hair
was dishevelled, the countenance haggard and stamped with the impress of
the most frightful anguish which had ever preyed upon the human soul.

The atmosphere was growing drier and warmer. Since the evening before,
no one had bethought himself of food, and the stomach, usually so
imperious in its demands, craved for nothing. A burning thirst was the
first physiological effect of the dryness of the atmosphere, and the
most self-restrained sought, in every possible way, to quench it, though
without success. Physical pain had begun its work, and was soon to
dominate mental suffering. Hour by hour, respiration became more
difficult, more exhausting and more painful. Little children, in the
presence of this new suffering, appealed in tears to their mothers.

At Paris, London, Rome and St. Petersburg, in every capital, in every
city, in every village, the terrified population wandered about
distractedly, like ants when their habitations are disturbed. All the
business of ordinary life was neglected, abandoned, forgotten; every
project was set aside. No one cared any longer for anything, for his
house, his family, his life. There existed a moral prostration and
dejection, more complete than even that which is produced by
sea-sickness. Some few, abandoning themselves to the exaltation of love,
seemed to live only for each other, strangers to the universal panic.

[Illustration:

  “STRANGERS TO THE UNIVERSAL PANIC.”
]

Catholic and Protestant churches, Jewish synagogues, Greek chapels,
Mohammedan mosques and Buddhist temples, the sanctuaries of the new
Gallican religion—in short, the places of assembly of every sect into
which the idiosyncrasies of belief had divided mankind, were thronged by
the faithful on that memorable day of Friday, July 13th; and even at
Paris the crowds besieging the portals were such that no one could get
near the churches, within which were to be seen vast multitudes, all
prostrate upon the ground. Prayers were muttered in low tones, but no
chant, no organ, no bell was to be heard. The confessionals were
surrounded by penitents, waiting their turn, as in those early days of
sincere and naïve faith described by the historians of the middle ages.

Everywhere on the streets and on the boulevards the same silence
reigned; not a sound disturbed the hush, nothing was sold, no paper was
printed; aviators, aeroplanes, dirigible balloons were no more to be
seen; the only vehicles passing were the hearses bearing to the
crematories the first victims of the comet, already numerous. The days
of July 13th and 14th had passed without incident, but with what anxiety
the fateful night was awaited! Never, perhaps, had there been so
magnificent a sunset, never a sky so pure! The orb of day seemed to go
down in a sea of gold and purple; its red disc disappeared below the
horizon, but the stars did not rise—and night did not come! To the
daylight succeeded a day of cometary and lunar splendor, illuminated by
a dazzling light, recalling that of the aurora borealis, but more
intense, emanating from an immense blazing focus, which had not been
visible during the day because it had been below the horizon, but which
would certainly have rivalled the sun in brilliancy. Amid the universal
plaint of nature, this luminous center rose in the west almost at the
same time with the full moon, which climbed the sky with it like a
sacrificial victim ascending the funeral pyre. The moon paled as it
mounted higher, but the comet increased in brightness as the sun sank
below the western horizon, and now, when the hour of night had come, it
reigned supreme, a vaporous, scarlet sun, with flames of yellow and
green, like immense extended wings. To the terrified spectator it seemed
some enormous giant, taking sovereign possession of earth and sky.

Already the cometary fringes had invaded the lunar orbit. At any moment
they would reach the rarer limits of the earth’s atmosphere, only two
hundred kilometers away.

Then everyone beheld, as it were, a vast conflagration, kindled over the
whole extent of the horizon, throwing skyward little violet flames, and
almost immediately the brilliancy of the comet diminished, doubtless
because just before touching the earth it had entered into the shadow of
the planet and had lost that part of its light which came from the sun.
This apparent decrease in brilliancy was chiefly due to contrast, for
when the eye, less dazzled, had become accustomed to this new light, it
seemed almost as intense as the former, but of a sickly, lurid,
sepulchral hue. Never before had the earth been bathed in such a light,
which at first seemed to be colorless, emitting lightning flashes from
its pale and wan depths. The dryness of the air, hot as the breath of a
furnace, became intolerable, and a horrible odor of sulphur, probably
due to the super-electrified ozone, poisoned the atmosphere. Everyone
believed his last hour was at hand. A terrible cry dominated every other
sound. The earth is on fire! The earth is on fire! Indeed, the entire
horizon was now illuminated by a ring of bluish flame, surrounding the
earth like the flames of a funeral pile. This, as had been predicted,
was the carbonic-oxide, whose combustion in the air produced
carbonic-anhydride.

Suddenly, as the terrified spectator gazed silent and awestruck, holding
his very breath in a stupor of fear, the vault of heaven seemed rent
asunder from zenith to horizon, and from this yawning chasm, as from an
enormous mouth, was vomited forth jets of dazzling greenish flame,
enveloping the earth in a glare so blinding, that all who had not
already sought shelter, men and women, the old and the young, the bold
as well as the timid, all rushed with the impetuosity of an avalanche to
the cellarways, already choked with people. Many were crushed to death,
or succumbed to apoplexy, aneurismal ruptures, and wild delirium
resulting in brain fever.

On the terraces and in the observatories, however, the astronomers had
remained at their posts, and several had succeeded in taking an
uninterrupted series of photographs of the sky changes; and from this
time, but for a very brief interval, with the exception of a few
courageous spirits, who dared to gaze upon the awful spectacle from
behind the windows of some upper apartment, they were the sole witnesses
of the collision.

[Illustration:

  “A FIERY RAIN FELL FROM EVERY QUARTER OF THE SKY.”
]

Computation had indicated that the earth would penetrate the heart of
the comet as a bullet would penetrate a cloud, and that the transit,
reckoning from the first instant of contact of the outer zones of the
comet’s atmosphere with those of the earth, would consume four and
one-half hours,—a fact easily established, inasmuch as the comet, having
a diameter about sixty-five times that of the earth, would be traversed,
not centrally, but at one-quarter of the distance from the center, with
a velocity of about 173,000 kilometers per hour. Nearly forty minutes
after the first instant of contact, the heat of this incandescent
furnace, and the horrible odor of sulphur, became so suffocating that a
few moments more of such torture would have sufficed to destroy every
vestige of life. Even the astronomers crept painfully from room to room
within the observatories which they had endeavored to close
hermetically, and sought shelter in the cellars; and the young computor,
whose acquaintance we have already made, was the last to remain on the
terrace, at Paris,—a few seconds only, but long enough to witness the
explosion of a formidable bolide, which was rushing southward with the
velocity of lightning. But strength was lacking for further
observations. One could breathe no longer. Besides the heat and the
dryness, so destructive to every vital function, there was the
carbonic-oxide which was already beginning to poison the atmosphere. The
ears were filled with a dull, roaring sound, the heart beat ever more
and more violently; and still this choking odor of sulphur! At the same
time a fiery rain fell from every quarter of the sky, a rain of shooting
stars, the immense majority of which did not reach the earth, although
many fell upon the roofs, and the fires which they kindled could be seen
in every direction. To these fires from heaven the fires of earth now
made answer, and the world was surrounded with electric flashes, as by
an army. Everyone, without thinking for an instant of flight, had
abandoned all hope, expecting every moment to be buried in the ruins of
the world, and those who still clung to each other, and whose only
consolation was that of dying together, clung closer, in a last embrace.

But the main body of the celestial army had passed, and a sort of
rarefaction, of vacuum, was produced in the atmosphere, perhaps as the
result of meteoric explosions; for suddenly the windows were shattered,
blown outwards, and the doors opened of themselves. A violent wind
arose, adding fury to the conflagration. Then the rain fell in torrents,
but reanimating at the same time the extinguished hope of life, and
waking mankind from its nightmare.

“_The XXVth Century! Death of the Pope and all the bishops! Fall of the
comet at Rome! Paper, sir?_”

Scarcely a half hour had passed before people began to issue from their
cellars, feeling again the joy of living, and recovering gradually from
their apathy. Even before one had really begun to take any account of
the fires which were still raging, notwithstanding the deluge or rain,
the scream of the newsboy was heard in the hardly awakened streets.
Everywhere, at Paris, Marseilles, Brussels, London, Vienna, Turin and
Madrid, the same news was being shouted, and before caring for the fires
which were spreading on every side, everyone bought the popular one-cent
sheet, with its sixteen illustrated pages fresh from the press.

“_The Pope and the cardinals crushed to death! The sacred college
destroyed by the comet! Extra! Extra!_”

The newsboys drove a busy trade, for everyone was anxious to know the
truth of these announcements, and eagerly bought the great popular
socialistic paper.

[Illustration:

  “EXTRA!”
]

This is what had taken place. The American Hebrew, to whom we have
already referred, and who, on the preceding Tuesday, had managed to make
several millions by the reopening of the Paris and Chicago exchanges,
had not for a moment yielded to despair, and, as in other days, the
monasteries had accepted bequests made in view of the end of the world,
so our indefatigable speculator had thought best to remain at his
telephone, which he had caused to be taken down for the nonce into a
vast subterranean gallery, hermetically closed. Controlling special
wires uniting Paris with the principal cities of the world, he was in
constant communication with them. The nucleus of the comet had contained
within its mass of incandescent gas a certain number of solid
uranolites, some of which measured several kilometers in diameter. One
of these masses had struck the earth not far from Rome, and the Roman
correspondent had sent the following news by phonogram:

“All the cardinals and prelates of the council were assembled in solemn
fête under the dome of St. Peter. In this grandest temple of
Christendom, splendidly illuminated at the solemn hour of midnight, amid
the pious invocations of the chanting brotherhoods, the altars smoking
with the perfumed incense, and the organs filling the recesses of the
immense church with their tones of thunder, the Pope, seated upon his
throne, saw prostrate at his feet his faithful people from every quarter
of the world; but as he rose to pronounce the final benediction a mass
of iron, half as large as the city itself, falling from the sky with the
rapidity of lightning, crushed the assembled multitudes, precipitating
them into an abyss of unknown depth, a veritable pit of hell. All Italy
was shaken, and the roar of the thunder was heard at Marseilles.”

The bolide had been seen in every city throughout Italy, through the
showers of meteorites and the burning atmosphere. It had illumined the
earth like a new sun with a brilliant red light, and a terrible rending
had followed its fall, as if the sky had really been split from top to
bottom. (This was the bolide which the young calculator of the
observatory of Paris had observed when, in spite of her zeal, the
suffocating fumes had driven her from the terrace.)

Seated at his telephone, our speculator received his despatches and gave
his orders, dictating sensational news to his journal, which was printed
simultaneously in all the principal cities of the world. A quarter of an
hour later these despatches appeared on the first page of the XXVth
Century, in New York, St. Petersburg and Melbourne, as also in the
capitals nearer Paris; an hour after the first edition a second was
announced.

“_Paris in flames! The cities of Europe destroyed! Rome in ashes! Here’s
your XXVth Century, second edition!_”

And in this new edition there was a very closely written article, from
the pen of an accomplished correspondent, dealing with the consequences
of the destruction of the sacred college.

“_Twenty-fifth Century, fourth edition! New volcano in Italy! Revolution
in Naples! Paper, sir?_”

The second had been followed by the fourth edition without any regard to
a third. It told how a bolide, weighing ten thousand tons, or perhaps
more, had fallen with the velocity above stated upon the solfatara of
Pozzuoli, penetrating and breaking in the light and hollow crust of the
ancient crater. The flames below had burst forth in a new volcano,
which, with Vesuvius, illuminated the Elysian fields.

“_Twenty-fifth Century, sixth edition! New island in the Mediterranean!
Conquests of England!_”

A fragment of the head of the comet had fallen into the Mediterranean to
the west of Rome, forming an irregular island, fifteen hundred meters in
length by seven hundred in width, with an altitude of about two hundred
meters. The sea had boiled about it, and huge tidal waves had swept the
shores. But there happened to be an Englishman nearby, whose first
thought was to land in a creek of the newly formed island, and scaling a
rock, to plant the British flag upon its highest peak.

Millions of copies of the journal of the famous speculator were
distributed broadcast over the world during this night of July 14th,
with accounts of the disaster, dictated by telephone from the office of
its director, who had taken measures to monopolize every item of news.
Everywhere these editions were eagerly read, even before the necessary
precautions were taken to extinguish the conflagrations still raging.
From the outset, the rain had afforded unexpected succor, yet the
material losses were immense, notwithstanding the prevailing use of iron
in building construction.

“_Twenty-fifth Century, tenth edition! Great miracle at Rome!_”

What miracle, it was easy enough to explain. In this latest edition, the
XXVth Century announced that its correspondent at Rome had given
circulation to a rumor which proved to be without foundation; that the
bolide had not destroyed Rome at all, but had fallen quite a distance
outside the city. St. Peter and the Vatican had been miraculously
preserved. But hundreds of millions of copies were sold in every country
of the world. It was an excellent stroke of business.

The crisis had passed. Little by little, men recovered their
self-possession, rejoicing in the mere fact of living.

[Illustration:

  THE COUNCIL ASSEMBLED UNDER THE DOME OF ST. PETER’S.
]

Throughout the night, the sky overhead was illuminated by the lurid
light of the comet, and by the meteorites which still fell in showers,
kindled on every side new conflagrations. When day came, about half past
three in the morning, more than three hours had passed since the head of
the comet had collided with the earth; the nucleus had passed in a
southwesterly direction, and the earth was still entirely buried in the
tail. The shock had taken place at eighteen minutes after midnight; that
is to say, fifty-eight minutes after midnight, Paris time, exactly as
predicted by the president of the Astronomical society of France, whose
statement our readers may remember.

Although, at the instant of collision, the greater part of the
hemisphere on the side of the comet had been effected by the
constricting dryness, the suffocating heat and the poisonous sulphurous
odors, as well as by deadening stupor, due to the resistance encountered
by the comet in traversing the atmosphere, the supersaturation of the
ozone with electricity, and the mixture of nitrogen protoxide with the
upper air, the other hemisphere had experienced no other disturbance
than that which followed inevitably from the destroyed atmospheric
equilibrium. Fortunately, the comet had only skimmed the earth, and the
shock had not been central. Doubtless, also, the attraction of the earth
had had much to do with the fall of the bolides in Italy and the
Mediterranean. At all events, the orbit of the comet had been entirely
altered by this perturbation, while the earth and the moon continued
tranquilly on their way about the sun, as if nothing had happened. The
orbit of the comet had been changed by the earth’s attraction from a
parabola to an ellipse, its aphelion being situated near the ecliptic.
When later statistics of the comet’s victims were obtained, it was found
that the number of the dead was one-fortieth of the population of
Europe. In Paris alone, which extended over a part of the departments
formerly known as the Seine and Seine-et-Oise, and which contained nine
million inhabitants, there was more than two hundred thousand deaths.

Prior to the fatal week, the mortality had increased threefold, and on
the 10th fourfold. This rate of increase had been arrested by the
confidence produced by the sessions of the Institute, and had even
diminished sensibly during Wednesday. Unfortunately, as the threatening
star drew near, the panic had resumed its sway. On the following
Thursday the normal mortality rate had increased fivefold, and those of
weak constitution had succumbed. On Friday, the 13th, the day before the
disaster, owing to privations of every kind, the absence of food and
sleep, the heat and feverish condition which it induced, the effect of
the excitement upon the heart and brain, the mortality at Paris had
reached the hitherto unheard of figure of ten thousand! On the eventful
night of the 14th, owing to the crowded condition of the cellars, the
vitiation of the atmosphere by the carbonic-oxide gas, and suffocation
due to the drying up of the lining membrane of the throat, pulmonary
congestion, anæsthesia, and arrest of the circulation, the victims were
more numerous than those of the battles of former times, the total for
that day reaching the enormous sum of more than one hundred thousand.
Some of those mortally effected lived until the following day, and a
certain number survived longer, but in a hopeless condition. Not until a
week had elapsed was the normal death-rate re-established. During this
disastrous month 17,500 children were born at Paris, but nearly all
died. Medical statistics, subtracting from the general total the normal
mean, based upon a death-rate of twenty for every one thousand
inhabitants, that is, 492 per day, or 15,252 for the month, which
represents the number of those who would have died independently of the
comet, ascribed to the latter the difference between these two numbers,
namely, 222,633; of these, more than one-half, or more than one hundred
thousand, died of fear, by syncope, aneurisms or cerebral congestions.

But this cataclysm did not bring about the end of the world. The losses
were made good by an apparent increase in human vitality, such as had
been observed formerly after destructive wars; the earth continued to
revolve in the light of the sun, and humanity to advance toward a still
higher destiny.

The comet had, above all, been the pretext for the discussion of every
possible phase of this great and important subject—the end of the world.

[Illustration:

  GIRLS REFUSING TO MARRY.
]



                              SECOND PART.



                               CHAPTER I.


The events which we have just described, and the discussions to which
they gave rise, took place in the twenty-fifth century of the Christian
era. Humanity was not destroyed by the shock of the comet, although this
was the most memorable event in its entire history, and one never
forgotten, notwithstanding the many transformations which the race has
since undergone. The earth had continued to rotate and the sun to shine;
little children had become old men, and their places had been filled by
others in the eternal succession of generations. Centuries and ages had
succeeded each other, and humanity, slowly advancing in knowledge and
happiness, through a thousand transitory interruptions, had reached its
apogee and accomplished its destiny.

But how vast these series of transformations—physical and mental!

The population of Europe, from the year 1900 to the year 3000, had
increased from 375 to 700 millions; that of Asia, from 875 to 1000
millions; that of the Americas, from 120 to 1500 millions; that of
Africa, from 75 to 200 millions; that of Australia, from 5 to 60
millions; which, for the total population of the globe, gives an
increase of 2010 millions. And this increase had continued, with some
fluctuations.

Language had become transformed. The never-ceasing progress of science
and industry had created a large number of new words, generally of Greek
derivation. At the same time, the English language had spread over the
entire world. From the twenty-fifth to the thirtieth centuries, the
spoken language of Europe was based upon a mixture of English, of
French, and of Greek derivatives. Every effort to create artificially a
new universal language had failed.

Long before the twenty-fifth century, war had disappeared, and it became
difficult to conceive how a race which pretended to knowledge and reason
could have endured so long the yoke of clever rascals who lived at its
expense. In vain had later sovereigns proclaimed, in high-sounding
words, that war was a divine institution; that it was the natural result
of the struggle for existence; that it constituted the noblest of
professions; that patriotism was the chief of virtues. In vain were
battle-fields called fields of honor; in vain were the statues of the
victors erected in the most populous cities. It was, at last, observed
that, with the exception of certain ants, no animal species had set an
example of such boundless folly as the human race; that the struggle for
life did not consist in slaughtering one another, but in the conquest of
nature; that all the resources of humanity were absolutely wasted in the
bottomless gulf of standing armies; and that the mere obligation of
military service, as formulated by law, was an encroachment upon human
liberty, so serious that, under the guise of honor, slavery had been
re-established.

Men perceived that the military system meant the maintenance of an army
of parasites and idlers, yielding a passive obedience to the orders of
diplomats, who were simply speculating upon human credulity. In early
times, war had been carried on between villages, for the advantage and
glory of chieftains, and this kind of petty warfare still prevailed in
the nineteenth century, between the villages of central Africa, where
even young men and women, persuaded of their slavery, were seen, at
certain times, to present themselves voluntarily at the places where
they were to be sacrificed. Reason having, at last, begun to prevail,
men had then formed themselves into provinces, and a warfare between
provinces arose—Athens contending with Sparta, Rome with Carthage, Paris
with Dijon; and history had celebrated the glorious wars of the Duke of
Burgundy against the king of France, of the Normans against the
Parisians, of the Belgians against the Flemish, of the Saxons against
the Bavarians, of the Venetians against the Florentines, etc., etc.
Later, nations had been formed, thus doing away with provincial flags
and boundaries; but men continued to teach their children to hate their
neighbors, and citizens were accoutred for the sole purpose of mutual
extermination. Interminable wars arose, wars ceaselessly renewed,
between France, England, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Russia, Turkey,
etc. The development of weapons of destruction had kept pace with the
progress of chemistry, mechanics, aeronautics, and most of the other
sciences, and theorists were to be found, especially among statesmen,
who declared that war was the necessary condition of progress,
forgetting that it was only the sorry heritage of barbarism, and that
the majority of those who have contributed to the progress of science
and industry, electricity, physics, mechanics, etc., have all been the
most pacific of men. Statistics had proved that war regularly claimed
forty million victims per century, 1100 per day, without truce or
intermission, and had made 1200 million corpses in three thousand years.
It was not surprising that nations had been exhausted and ruined, since
in the nineteenth century alone they had expended, to this end, the sum
of 700,000 million francs. These divisions, appealing to patriotic
sentiments skillfully kept alive by politicians who lived upon them,
long prevented Europe from imitating the example of America in the
suppression of its armies, which consumed all its vital forces and
wasted yearly more than ten thousand million francs of the resources
acquired at such sacrifice by the laborer, and from forming a United
States of Europe. But though man could not make up his mind to do away
with the tinsel of national vanity, woman came to his rescue.

Under the inspiration of a woman of spirit, a league was formed of the
mothers of Europe, for the purpose of educating their children,
especially their daughters, to a horror of the barbarities of war. The
folly of men, the frivolity of the pretexts which arrayed nations
against each other, the knavery of statesmen who moved heaven and earth
to excite patriotism and blind the eyes of peoples; the absolute
uselessness of the wars of the past and of that European equilibrium
which was always disturbed and never established; the ruin of nations;
fields of battle strewn with the dead and the mangled, who, an hour
before, lived joyously in the bountiful sun of nature; widows and
orphans—in short, all the misery of war was forced upon the mind, by
conversation, recital and reading. In a single generation, this rational
education had freed the young from this remnant of animalism, and
inculcated a sentiment of profound horror for all which recalled the
barbarism of other days. Still, governments refused to disarm, and the
war budget was voted from year to year. It was then that the young girls
resolved never to marry a man who had borne arms; and they kept their
vow.

The early years of this league were trying ones, even for the young
girls: for the choice of more than one fell upon some fine-looking
officer, and, but for the universal reprobation, her heart might have
yielded. There were, it is true, some desertions; but, as those who
formed these marriages were, from the outset, despised and ostracized by
society, they were not numerous. Public opinion was formed, and it was
impossible to stem the tide.

For about five years there was scarcely a single marriage or union.
Every citizen was a soldier, in France, in Germany, in Italy, in Spain,
in every nation of Europe—all ready for a confederation of States, but
never recoiling before questions represented by the national flag. The
women held their ground; they felt that truth was on their side, but
their firmness would deliver humanity from the slavery which oppressed
it, and that they could not fail of victory. To the passionate
objurgations of certain men, they replied: “No; we will have nothing
more to do with fools;” and, if this state of affairs continued, they
had decided to keep their vow, or to emigrate to America, where,
centuries before, the military system had disappeared.

The most eloquent appeals for disarmament were made at every session to
the committee of administrators of the state, formerly called deputies
or senators. Finally, after a lapse of five years, face to face with
this wall of feminine opposition, which, day by day, grew stronger and
more impregnable, the deputies of every country, as if animated by a
common motive, eloquently advocated the cause of women, and that very
week disarmament was voted in Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Spain.

[Illustration]

It was spring-time. There was no disorder. Innumerable marriages
followed. Russia and England had held aloof from the movement, the
suffrage of women in these countries not having been unanimous. But as
all the states of Europe were formed into a republic the ensuing year,
uniting in a single confederated state, on the invitation of the
government of the United States of Europe, these two great nations also
decreed a gradual disarmament. Long before this time, India had been
lost to England, and the latter had become a republic. As for Russia,
the monarchical form of government still existed. It was then the middle
of the twenty-fourth century, and from that epoch the narrow sentiment
of patriotism was replaced by the general one of humanity.

Delivery from the ball and chain of military slavery, Europe had
immediately gotten rid of the bureaucracy which had also exhausted
nations, condemned to perish, as it were, by plethora. But for this a
radical revolution was necessary. From that time on, Europe had advanced
as by magic in a marvellous progress—social, scientific, artistic and
industrial. Taxation, diminished by nine-tenths, served only for the
maintenance of internal order, the security of life and property, the
support of schools, and the encouragement of new researches. But
individual initiative was far more effective than the old-time official
centralization which for so many years had stifled individual effort,
and bureaucracy was dead and buried.

At last one breathed freely, one lived. In order to pay 700,000
millions every century to citizens withdrawn from all productive work,
and to maintain the bureaucracy, governments had been obliged to
increase taxation to a fearful degree. The result was that everything
was taxed; the air one breathes, the water one drinks, the light and
heat of the sun, bread, wine and every article of food, clothing,
houses, the streets of cities, the country roads, animals, horses,
oxen, dogs, cats, hens, rabbits, birds in cages, plants, flowers,
musical instruments, pianos, organs, violins, zithers, flutes,
trumpets, trades and professions, the married and the unmarried,
children, furniture—everything, absolutely everything; and this
taxation had grown until it equalled the net product of all human
labor, with the single exception of the “daily bread.” Then, all work
had ceased. It seemed thenceforth impossible to live. It was this
state of affairs which led to the great social revolution of the
international socialists, of which mention was made at the beginning
of this book, and to others which followed it. But these upheavals had
not definitely liberated Europe from the barbarism of bygone days, and
it was to the young women’s league that humanity owes its deliverance.

The unification of nations, of ideas, of languages, had brought about
also that of weights and measures. No nation had resisted the universal
adoption of the metric system, based upon the dimensions of the planet
itself. A single kind of money was in circulation. One initial meridian
ruled in geography. This meridian passed through the observatory of
Greenwich, and at its antipode the day changed its name at noon.

[Illustration:

  “VOYAGES WERE MADE PREFERABLY BY AIR-SHIPS.”
]

Nations which we call modern had vanished like those of the past. France
had disappeared in the twenty-eighth century, after an existence of
about two thousand years. Germany disappeared in the thirty-second;
Italy in the twenty-ninth; England had spread over the surface of the
ocean.

Meteorology had attained the precision of astronomy, and about the
thirtieth century the weather could be predicted without error.

The forests, sacrificed to agriculture and the manufacture of paper, had
entirely disappeared.

The legal rate of interest had fallen to one-half of one per cent.

Electricity had taken the place of steam. Railroads and pneumatic tubes
were still in use, but only for the transportation of freight. Voyages
were made preferably by dirigible balloons, aeroplanes and air-ships,
especially in the daytime.

This very fact of aerial navigation would have done away with frontiers
if the progress of reason had not already abolished them. Constant
intercourse between all parts of the globe had brought about
internationalism, and the absolutely free exchange of goods and ideas.
Custom-houses had been suppressed.

The telephonoscope disseminated immediately the most important and
interesting news. A comedy played at Chicago or Paris could be heard and
seen in every city of the world.

Astronomy had attained its end: the knowledge of the life of other
worlds and the establishment of communication with them. All philosophy,
all religion, was founded upon the progress of astronomy.

Marvellous instruments in optics and physics had been invented. A new
substance took the place of glass, and had yielded the most unexpected
results to science. New natural forces had been conquered.

Social progress had been no less great than that of science. Machines
driven by electricity had gradually taken the place of manual labor. At
the same time the production of food had become entirely revolutionized.
Chemical synthesis had succeeded in producing sugar, albumen, the amides
and fats, from the air, water and vegetables, and, by skillfully varying
the proportions, in forming the most advantageous combinations of
carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, so that sumptuous repasts no
longer consisted of the smoking remains of slaughtered animals—beef,
veal, lamb, pork, chicken, fish and birds,—but were served amid the
harmonies of music in rooms adorned with plants ever green and flowers
ever in bloom, in an atmosphere laden with perfumes. Freed from the
vulgar necessity of masticating meats, the mouth absorbed the principles
necessary for the repair of organic tissues in exquisite drinks, fruits,
cakes and pills.

About the thirtieth century, especially, the nervous system began to
grow more delicate, and developed in unexpected ways. Woman was still
somewhat more narrow-minded than man, and her mental operations differed
from his as before (her exquisite sensibility responding to sentimental
considerations before reason could act in the lower cells), and her head
had remained smaller, her forehead narrower; but the former was so
elegantly placed upon a neck of such supple grace, and rose so nobly
from the shoulders and the bust, that it compelled more than ever the
admiration of man, not only as a whole, but also by the penetrating
sweetness and beauty of the mouth and the light curls of its luxuriant
hair. Although comparatively smaller than that of man, the head of woman
had nevertheless increased in size with the exercise of the intellectual
faculties; but the cerebral circonvolutions had experienced the most
change, having become more numerous and more pronounced in both sexes.
In short, the head had grown, the body had diminished in size. Giants
were no longer to be seen.

Four permanent causes had modified insensibly the human form; the
development of the intellectual faculties and of the brain, the decrease
in manual labor and bodily exercise, the transformation of food, and the
marriage system. The first had increased the size of the cranium as
compared with the rest of the body; the second had decreased the
strength of the limbs; the third had diminished the size of the abdomen
and made the teeth finer and smaller; the tendency of the fourth had
been rather to perpetuate the classic forms of human beauty: masculine
beauty, the nobility of an uplifted countenance, and the graceful
outlines of womanhood. About the two hundredth century of our era, a
single race existed, rather small in stature, light colored, in which
anthropologists might, perhaps, have discovered some form of Anglo-Saxon
and Chinese descent.

Humanity had tended towards unity, one race, one language, one general
government, one religion. There were no more state religions; only the
voice of an enlightened conscience, and in this unity former
anthropological differences had disappeared.

In former ages poets had prophesied that in the marvellous progress of
things man would finally acquire wings, and fly through the air by his
muscular force alone; but they had not studied the origin of
anthropomorphic structure and had forgotten that for a man to have at
the same time arms and wings, he must belong to a zoölogical order of
sextupeds which does not exist on our planet; for man belongs to the
quadrupeds, a type which has been gradually modified. But though he had
not acquired new natural organs, he had acquired artificial ones, to say
nothing of his physical transformation. He had conquered the region of
the air and could soar in the sky by light apparatus, whose motor power
was electricity, and the atmosphere had become his domain as it had been
that of the birds. It is very probable that if in the course of ages a
winged race could have acquired, by the development of its faculties of
observation, a brain analogous to that of even the most primitive man,
it would have soon dominated the human species and replaced it by a new
one,—a winged race of the same zoölogical type as the quadrupeds and
bipeds. But the force of gravity is an obstacle to any such organic
development of the winged species, and humanity, grown more perfect, had
remained master of the world.

At the same time, in the lapse of ages, the animal population of the
globe had completely changed. The wild species, lions, tigers, hyenas,
panthers, elephants, giraffes, kangaroos, as also whales and seals, had
become extinct.

[Illustration]



                              CHAPTER II.


[Illustration]

About the one hundredth century of the Christian era all resemblance
between the human race and monkeys had disappeared.

The nervous sensibility of man had become intensified to a marvellous
degree. The sense of sight, of hearing, of smell, of touch, and of
taste, had gradually acquired a delicacy far exceeding that of their
earlier and grosser manifestations. Through the study of the electrical
properties of living organisms, a seventh sense, the electric sense, was
created outright, so to speak; and everyone possessed the power of
attracting and repelling both living and inert matter, to a degree
depending upon the temperament of the individual. But by far the most
important of all the senses, the one which played the greatest role in
men’s relation to each other, was the eighth, the psychic sense, by
which communication at a distance became possible.

A glimpse has been had of two other senses also, but their development
had been arrested from the very outset. The first had to do with the
visibility of the ultra violet rays, so sensitive to chemical tests, but
wholly invisible to the human eye. Experiments made in this direction
has resulted in the acquisition of no new power, and had considerably
impaired those previously enjoyed. The second was the sense of
orientation; but every effort made to develop it had proved a failure,
notwithstanding the attempt to make use of the results of researches in
terrestrial magnetism.

For some time past, the offspring of the once titled and aristocratic
classes of society had formed a sickly and feeble race, and the
governing body was recruited from among the more virile members of the
lower class, who, however, were in their turn soon enervated by a
worldly life. Subsequently, marriages were regulated on established
principles of selection and heredity.

The development of man’s intellectual faculties, and the cultivation of
psychical science, had wrought great changes in humanity. Latent
faculties of the soul had been discovered, faculties which had remained
dormant for perhaps a million years, during the earlier reign of the
grosser instincts, and, in proportion as food based upon chemical
principles was substituted for the coarse nourishment which had
prevailed for so long a time, these faculties came to light and
underwent a brilliant development. As a mental operation, thought became
a different thing from what it now is. Mind acted readily upon mind at a
distance, by virtue of a transcendental magnetism, of which even
children knew how to avail themselves.

[Illustration:

  “EVEN CHILDREN KNEW HOW TO AVAIL THEMSELVES OF IT.”
]

The first interastral communication was with the planet Mars, and the
second with Venus, the latter being maintained to the end of the world;
the former was interrupted by the death of the inhabitants of Mars;
whereas intercourse with Jupiter was only just beginning as the human
race neared its own end. A rigid application of the principles of
selection in the formation of marriages had resulted in a really new
race, resembling ours in organic form, but possessing wholly different
intellectual powers. For the once barbarous and often blind methods of
medicine, and even of surgery, had been substituted by those derived
from a knowledge of hypnotic, magnetic and psychic forces, and telepathy
had become a great and fruitful science.

Simultaneously with man the planet also had been transformed. Industry
had produced mighty but ephemeral results. In the twenty-fifth century,
whose events we have just described, Paris had been for a long time a
seaport, and electric ships from the Atlantic, and from the Pacific by
the Isthmus of Panama, arrived at the quays of the abbey of Saint Denis,
beyond which the great capital extended far to the north. The passage
from the abbey of Saint Denis to the port of London was made in a few
hours, and many travellers availed themselves of this route, in
preference to the regular air route, the tunnel, and the viaduct over
the channel. Outside of Paris the same activity reigned; for, in the
twenty-fifth century also, the canal uniting the Mediterranean with the
Atlantic had been completed, and the long detour by way of the Straits
of Gibraltar had been abandoned; and on the other hand a metallic tube,
for carriages driven by compressed air, united the Iberian republic,
formerly Spain and Portugal, with western Algeria, formerly Morocco.
Paris and Chicago then had nine million inhabitants, London, ten; New
York, twelve. Paris, continuing its growth toward the west from century
to century, now extended from the confluence of the Marne beyond St.
Germain. All great cities had grown at the expense of the country.
Agricultural products were manufactured by electricity; hydrogen was
extracted from sea-water; the energy of waterfalls and tides were
utilized for lighting purposes at a distance; the solar rays, stored in
summer, were distributed in winter, and the seasons had almost
disappeared, especially since the introduction of heat wells, which
brought to the surface of the soil the seemingly inexhaustible heat of
the earth’s interior.

But what is the twenty-fifth century in comparison with the thirtieth,
the fortieth, the hundredth!

Everyone knows the legend of the Arab of Kazwani, as related by a
traveller of the thirteenth century, who at that time, moreover, had no
idea of the duration of the epochs of nature. “Passing one day,” he
said, “by a very ancient and very populous city, I asked one of its
inhabitants how long a time it had been founded. ‘Truly,’ he replied,
‘it is a powerful city, but we do not know how long it has existed, and
our ancestors are as ignorant upon this subject as we.’

[Illustration:

  THE CHINESE CAPITOL.
]

“Five centuries later I passed by the same spot, and could perceive no
trace of the city. I asked a peasant who was gathering herbs on its
former site, how long it had been destroyed. ‘Of a truth,’ he replied,
‘that is a strange question. This field has always been what it now is.’
‘But was there not formerly a splendid city here?’ I asked. ‘Never,’ he
answered, ‘at least so far as we can judge from what we have seen, and
our fathers have never told us of any such thing.’

“On my return five hundred years later to the same place I found it
occupied by the sea; on the shore stood a group of fishermen, of whom I
asked at what period the land had been covered by the ocean. ‘Is that
question worthy of a man like you?’ they replied; ‘this spot has always
been such as you see it today.’

“At the end of five hundred years I returned again, and the sea had
disappeared. I inquired of a solitary man whom I encountered, when this
change had taken place; and he gave me the same reply.

“Finally, after an equal lapse of time, I returned once more, to find a
flourishing city, more populous and richer in monuments than that which
I had at first visited; and when I sought information as to its origin,
its inhabitants replied: ‘The date of its foundation is lost in
antiquity. We do not know how long it has existed, and our fathers knew
no more of this than we do.’”

How this fable illustrates the brevity of human memory and the
narrowness of our horizons in time as well as in space! We think that
the earth has always been what it now is; we conceive with difficulty of
the secular changes through which it has passed; the vastness of these
periods overwhelms us, as in astronomy we are overwhelmed by the vast
distances of space.

The time had come when Paris had ceased to be the capital of the world.

After the fusion of the United States of Europe into a single
confederation, the Russian republic from St. Petersburg to
Constantinople had formed a sort of barrier against the invasion of the
Chinese, who had already established populous cities on the shores of
the Caspian sea. The nations of the past having disappeared before the
march of progress, and the nationalities of France, England, Germany,
Italy and Spain having for the same reason passed away, communication
between the east and west, between Europe and America, had become more
and more easy; and the sea being no longer an obstacle to the march of
humanity, free now as the sun, the new territory of the vast continent
of America had been preferred by industrial enterprise to the exhausted
lands of western Europe, and already in the twenty-fifth century the
center of civilization was located on the shores of Lake Michigan in a
new Athens of nine million inhabitants, rivalling Paris. Thereafter the
elegant French capital had followed the example of its predecessors,
Rome, Athens, Memphis, Thebes, Nineveh and Babylon. The wealth, the
resources of every kind, the great attractions, were elsewhere.

In Spain, Italy and France, gradually abandoned by their inhabitants,
solitude spread slowly over the ruins of former cities. Lisbon had
disappeared, destroyed by the sea; Madrid, Rome, Naples and Florence
were in ruins. A little later, Paris, Lyons and Marseilles were
overtaken by the same fate.

Human types and languages had undergone such transformations that it
would have been impossible for an ethnologist or a linguist to discover
anything belonging to the past. For a long time neither Spanish,
Portuguese, Italian, French, English nor German had been spoken. Europe
had migrated beyond the Atlantic, and Asia had invaded Europe. The
Chinese to the number of a thousand million had spread over western
Europe. Mingling with the Anglo-Saxon race, they formed in some measure
a new one. Their principal capital stretched like an endless street
along each side of the canal from Bordeaux to Toulouse and Narbonne.

The causes which led to the foundation of Lutetia on an island in the
Seine, which had raised this city of the Parisians to the zenith of its
power in the twenty-fourth century, were no longer operative, and Paris
had disappeared simultaneously with the causes to which it owed its
origin and splendor. Commerce had taken possession of the Mediterranean
and the great oceanic highways, and the Iberian canal had become the
emporium of the world.

The littoral of the south and west of ancient France had been protected
by dikes against the invasion of the sea, but, owing to the increase of
population in the south and southwest, the north and northwest had been
neglected, and the slow and continual subsidence of this region,
observed ever since the time of Cæsar, had reduced its level below that
of the sea; and as the channel was ever widening, and the cliffs between
Cape Helder and Havre were being worn away by the action of the sea, the
Dutch dikes had been abandoned to the ocean, which had invaded the
Netherlands, Belgium, and northern France, Amsterdam, Utrecht,
Rotterdam, Antwerp, Versailles, Lille, Amiens and Rouen had sunk below
the water, and ships floated above their sea-covered ruins.

[Illustration:

  THE RUINS OF PARIS.
]

Paris itself, finally abandoned in the sixtieth century, when the sea
had surrounded it as it now does Havre, was, in the eighty-fifth
century, covered with water to the height of the towers of Notre Dame,
and all that memorable plain, where were wrought out, during so many
years, the most brilliant of the world’s civilizations, was swept by
angry waves.[3]

Footnote 3:

  In the nineteenth century, researches in natural history had revealed
  the fact that secular vertical oscillations, vary with the locality,
  were taking place in the earth’s crust, and had proved that, from
  prehistoric times, the soil of western and southern France had been
  slowly sinking and the sea slowly gaining upon the land. One after
  another, the islands of Jersey, of Minquiers, of Chaussey, of Écrehou,
  of Cezembre, of Mont-Saint-Michel, had been detached from the
  continent by the sea; the cities of Is, Helion, Tommen, Portzmeûr,
  Harbour, Saint Louis, Monny, Bourgneuf, La Feillette, Paluel and
  Nazado had been buried beneath its waves, and the Armorican peninsula
  had slowly retreated before the advancing waters. The hour of this
  invasion by the sea had struck, from century to century, also for
  Herbavilla; to the west of Nantes; for Saint-Denis-Chef-de-Caux, to
  the north of Havre; for Saint-Etienne-de-Paluel and for Gardoine, to
  the north of Dol; for Tolente, to the west of Brest; more than eighty
  habitable cities of Holland had been submerged in the eleventh
  century, etc., etc. In other regions the reverse had taken place, and
  the sea had retired; but to the north and west of Paris this double
  action of the subsidence of the land and the wearing away of the
  shores had, in less than seven thousand years, made Paris accessible
  to ships of the greatest tonnage.

As in the case of languages, ideas, customs and laws, so, also, the
manner of reckoning time had changed. It was still reckoned by years and
centuries, but the Christian era had been discarded, as also the holy
days of the calendar and the eras of the Mussulman, Jewish, Chinese and
African chronologies. There was now a single calendar for the entire
race, composed of twelve months, divided into four equal trimesters of
three months of thirty-one, thirty, and thirty days, each trimester
containing exactly thirteen weeks. New Year’s Day was a fête day, and
was not reckoned in with the year; every bisextile year there were two.
The week had been retained. Every year commenced on the same day—Monday;
and the same dates always corresponded to the same days of the week. The
year began with the vernal equinox all over the world. The era, a purely
astronomical division of time, began with the coincidence of the
December solstice with perihelion, and was renewed every 25,765 years.
This rational method had succeeded the fantastic divisions of time
formerly in use.

The geographical features of France, of Europe and of the entire world
had become modified, from century to century. Seas had replaced
continents, and new deposits at the bottom of the ocean covered the
vanished ages, forming new geological strata. Elsewhere, continents had
taken the place of seas. At the mouth of the Rhone, for example, where
the dry land had already encroached upon the sea from Arles to the
littoral, the continent gained to the south; in Italy, the deposits of
the Po had continued to gain upon the Adriatic, as those of the Nile,
the Tiber, and other rivers of later origin, had gained upon the
Mediterranean; and in other places the dunes had increased, by various
amounts, the domain of the dry land. The contours of seas and continents
had so changed that it would have been absolutely impossible to make out
the ancient geographical maps of history.

The historian of nature does not deal with periods of five centuries,
like the Arab of the thirteenth century mentioned in the legend related
a moment ago. Ten times this period would scarcely suffice to modify,
sensibly, the configuration of the land, for five thousand years are but
a ripple on the ocean of time. It is by tens of thousands of years that
one must reckon if one would see continents sink below the level of
seas, and new territories emerging into the sunlight, as the result of
the secular changes in the level of the earth’s crust, whose thickness
and density varies from place to place, and whose weight, resting upon
the still plastic and mobile interior, causes vast areas to oscillate. A
slight disturbance of the equilibrium, an insignificant dip of the
scales, a change of less than a hundred meters, often, in the length of
the earth’s diameter of twelve thousand kilometers, is sufficient to
transform the surface of the world.

And if we examine the ensemble of the history of the earth, by periods
of one hundred thousand years, for example, we see, that in ten of these
great epochs, that is, in a million years, the surface of the globe has
been many times transformed.

If we advance into the future a period of one or two million years, we
witness a vast flux and reflux of life and things. How many times in
this period of ten or twenty thousand centuries, how many times have the
waves of the sea covered the former dwelling-places of man! How many
times the earth has emerged anew, fresh and regenerated, from the
abysses of the ocean! In primitive times, when the still warm and liquid
planet was covered only by a thin shell, cooling on the surface of the
burning ocean within, these changes took place brusquely, by sudden
breaking down of natural barriers, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and
the uprising of mountain ranges. Later, as this superficial crust grew
thicker and became consolidated, these transformations were more
gradual; the slow contraction of the earth had led to the formation of
hollow spaces within the solid envelope, to the falling in of portions
of this envelope upon the liquid nucleus, and finally to oscillating
movements which had changed the profile of the continents. Later still,
insensible modifications had been produced by external agents; on the
one hand the rivers, constantly carrying to their mouths the débris of
the mountains, had filled up the depths of the sea and slowly increased
the area of the dry land, making in time inland cities of ancient
seaports; and on the other hand, the action of the waves and of storms,
constantly eating away the shores, had increased the area of the ocean
at the expense of the dry land. Ceaselessly the geographical
configuration of the shore had changed. For the historian our planet had
become another world. Everything had changed: continents, seas, shores,
races, languages, customs, body and mind, sentiments, ideas—everything.
France beneath the waves, the bottom of the Atlantic in the light of the
sun, a portion of the United States gone, a continent in the place of
Oceanica, China submerged; death where was life, and life where was
death; and everywhere sunk into eternal oblivion all which had once
constituted the glory and greatness of nations. If today one of us
should emigrate to Mars, he would find himself more at home than if,
after the lapse of these future ages, he should return to the earth.

[Illustration]



                              CHAPTER III.


While these great changes in the planets were taking place, humanity had
continued to advance; for progress is the supreme law. Terrestrial life,
which began with the rudimentary protozoans, without mouths, blind,
deaf, mute and almost wholly destitute of sensation, had acquired
successively the marvellous organs of sense, and had finally reached its
climax in man, who, having also grown more perfect with the lapse of
centuries, had risen from his primitive savage condition as the slave of
nature to the position of a sovereign who ruled the world by mind, and
who had made it a paradise of happiness, of pure contemplation, of
knowledge and of pleasure.

Men had attained that degree of intelligence which enabled them to live
wisely and tranquilly. After a general disarmament had been brought
about, so rapid an increase in public riches and so great an
amelioration in the well-being of every citizen was observed, that the
efforts of intelligence and labor, no longer wasted by this intellectual
suicide, had been directed to the conquest of new forces of nature and
the constant improvement of civilization. The human body had become
insensibly transformed, or more exactly, transfigured.

Nearly all men were intelligent. They remembered with a smile the
childish ambitions of their ancestors whose aspiration was to be
some_one_ rather than some_thing_, and who had struggled so feverishly
for outward show. They had learned that happiness resides in the soul,
that contentment is found only in study, that love is the sun of the
heart, that life is short and ought not to be lived superficially; and
thus all were happy in the possession of liberty of conscience, and
careless of those things which one cannot carry away.

Woman had acquired a perfect beauty. Her form had lost the fullness of
the Greek model and had become more slender; her skin was of a
translucent whiteness; her eyes were illuminated by the light of dreams;
her long and silky hair, in whose deep chestnut were blended all the
ruddy tints of the setting sun, fell in waves of rippling light; the
heavy animal jaw had become idealized, the mouth had grown smaller, and
in the presence of its sweet smile, at the sight of its dazzling pearls
between the soft rose of the lips, one could not understand how lovers
could have pressed such fervent kisses upon the lips of women of earlier
times, specimens of whose teeth, resembling those of animals, had been
preserved in the museums of ethnography. It really seemed as if a new
race had come into existence, infinitely superior to that to which
Aristotle, Kepler, Victor Hugo, Phryne, or Diana of Poictiers had
belonged.

Thanks to the progress in physiology, hygiene, and antiseptic science,
as well as to the general well-being and intelligence of the race the
duration of human life had been greatly prolonged, and it was not
unusual to see persons who had attained the age of 150 years. Death had
not been conquered, but the secret of living without growing old had
been found, and the characteristics of youth were retained beyond the
age of one hundred.

But one fatherland existed on the planet, which, like a chorus heard
above the chords of some vast harmony, marched onward to its high
destiny, shining in the splendor of intellectual supremacy.

The internal heat of the globe, the light and warmth of the sun,
terrestrial magnetism, atmospheric electricity, inter-planetary
attraction, the psychic forces of the human soul, the unknown forces
which preside over destinies,—all these science had conquered and
controlled for the benefit of mankind. The only limits to its conquests
were the limitations of the human faculties themselves, which, indeed,
are feeble, especially when we compare them with those of certain
extra-terrestrial beings.

All the results of this vast progress, so slowly and gradually acquired
by the toil of centuries, must, in obedience to a law, mysterious and
inconceivable for the petty race of man, reach at last their apogee,
when further advance becomes impossible. The geometric curve which
represents this progress of the race, falls as it rises: starting from
zero, from the primitive nebulous cosmos, ascending through the ages of
planetary and human history to its lofty summit, to descend thereafter
into a night that knows no morrow.

[Illustration:

  THE VILLAGE CEMETERY.
]

Yes! all this progress, all this knowledge, all this happiness and
glory, must one day be swallowed up in oblivion, and the voice of
history itself be forever silenced. Life had a beginning: it must have
an end. The sun of human hopes had risen, had ascended victoriously to
its meridian, it was now to set and to disappear in endless night. To
what end then all this glory, all this struggling, all these conquests,
all these vanities, if light and life must come to an end?

Martyrs and apostles, in every cause, have poured out blood upon the
earth, destined also in its turn to perish.

Everything is doomed to decay, and death must remain the final sovereign
of the world. Have you ever thought, in viewing a village cemetery, how
small it is, to contain the generations buried there from time
immemorable? Man existed before the last glacial epoch, which dates back
200,000 years; and the age of man extends over a period of more than
250,000 years. Written history dates from yesterday. Cut and polished
flints have been found at Paris, proving the presence of man on the
banks of the Seine long before the first historic record of the Gauls.
The Parisians of the close of the nineteenth century walk upon ground
consecrated by more than ten thousand years of ancestry. What remains of
all who have swarmed in this forum of the world? What is left of the
Romans, the Greeks, and the Asiatics, whose empires lasted for
centuries? What remains of the millions who have existed? Not even a
handful of ashes.

A human being dies every second, or about 86,000 a day, and an equal
number, or to speak more exactly, a little more than 86,000 are born
daily. This figure, true for the nineteenth century, applies to a long
period, if we increase it proportionately to the time. The population of
the globe has increased from epoch to epoch. In the time of Alexander
there were perhaps a thousand million living beings on the surface of
the earth. At the end of the nineteenth century fifteen hundred million;
in the twenty-second century two thousand million; in the twenty-ninth
three thousand million; at its maximum the population of the globe had
reached one hundred thousand million. Then it had begun to decrease.

Of the innumerable human bodies which have lived, not one remains. All
have been resolved into their elements, which have again formed new
individuals.

All that fills the passing day—labor, pleasure, grief and
happiness—vanishes with it into oblivion. Time flies, and the past
exists no longer; what has been, has disappeared in the gulf of
eternity. The visible world is vanishing every instant. Only the
invisible is real and enduring.

During the ten million years of history, the human race, surviving
generation after generation, as if it were a real thing, had been
greatly modified from both a physical and moral point of view. It had
always remained master of the world, and no new race had aspired to its
sovereignty; for races do not come down from heaven or rise from hell;
no Minerva is born full-armed, no Venus awakes full-grown in a shell of
pearl on the seashore; everything grows, and the human race, with its
long line of ancestry, was from the very beginning the natural result of
the vital evolution of the planet. Under the law of progress, it had
emerged from the limbo of animalism, and by the continued action of this
same law of progress it had become gradually perfected, modified and
refined.

But the time had come when the conditions of terrestrial life began to
fail; when humanity, instead of advancing, was itself to enter upon its
downward path.

The internal heat of the globe, still considerable in the nineteenth
century, although it had ceased to have any effect upon surface
temperature, which was maintained solely by the sun, had slowly
diminished, and the earth had, at last, become entirely cold. This had
not directly influenced the physical conditions of terrestrial life,
which continued to depend upon the atmosphere and solar heat. The
cooling of the earth cannot bring about the end of the world.

Imperceptibly, from century to century, the earth’s surface had become
levelled. The action of the rain, snow, frost and solar heat upon the
mountains, the waters of torrents, rivulets and rivers, had slowly
carried to the sea the débris of every continental elevation. The bottom
of the sea had risen, and in nine million years the mountains had almost
entirely disappeared. Meanwhile, the planet had grown old faster than
the sun; the conditions favorable to life had disappeared more rapidly
than the solar light and heat.

This conception of the planet’s future conforms to our present knowledge
of the universe. Doubtless, our logic is radically incomplete, puerile
even, in comparison with the real and eternal Truth, and might be justly
compared with that of two ants talking together about the history of
France. But, confessing the modesty which befits the finite in presence
of the infinite, and acknowledging our nothingness as compared with the
universe, we cannot avoid the necessity of appearing logical to
ourselves; we cannot assume that the abdication of reason is a better
proof of wisdom than the use of it. We believe that an intelligent order
presides over the universe and controls the destiny of worlds and their
inhabitants; that the larger members of the solar system must last
longer than the lesser ones, and, consequently, that the life of each
planet is not equally dependent upon the sun, and cannot, therefore,
continue indefinitely, any more than the sun itself. Moreover, direct
observation confirms this general conception of the universe. The earth,
an extinct sun, has cooled more rapidly than the sun. Jupiter, so
immense, is still in its youth. The moon, smaller than Mars, has reached
the more advanced stages of astral life, perhaps even has reached its
end. Mars, smaller than the earth, is more advanced than the earth and
less so than the moon. Our planet, in its turn, must die before Jupiter,
and this, also, must take place before the sun becomes extinct.

Consider, in fact, the relative sizes of the earth and the other
planets. The diameter of Jupiter is eleven times that of the earth, and
the diameter of the sun about ten times that of Jupiter. The diameter of
Saturn is nine times that of the earth. It seems to us, therefore,
natural to believe that Jupiter and Saturn will endure longer than our
planet, Venus, Mars or Mercury, those pigmies of the system!

Events justified these deductions of science. Dangers lay in wait for us
in the immensity of space; a thousand accidents might have befallen us,
in the form of comets, extinct or flaming suns, nebulæ, etc. But the
planet did not perish by an accident. Old age awaited the earth, as it
waits for all other things, and it grew old faster than the sun. It lost
the conditions necessary for life more rapidly than the central luminary
lost its heat and its light.

During the long periods of its vital splendor, when, leading the chorus
of the worlds, it bore on its surface an intelligent race, victors over
the blind forces of nature, a protecting atmosphere, beneath which went
on all the play of life and happiness, guarded its flourishing empires.
An essential element of nature, water, regulated terrestrial life; from
the very beginning this element had entered into the composition of
every substance, vegetable, animal and human. It formed the active
principle of atmospheric circulation; it was the chief agent in the
changes of climate and seasons; it was the sovereign of the terrestrial
state.

From century to century the quantity of water in the sea, the rivers and
the atmosphere diminished. A portion of the rain water was absorbed by
the earth, and did not return to the sea; for, instead of flowing into
the sea over impermeable strata, and so forming either springs or
subterranean and submarine watercourses, it had filtered deeper within
the surface, insensibly filling every void, every fissure, and
saturating the rocks to a great depth. So long as the internal heat of
the globe was sufficient to prevent the indefinite descent of this
water, and to convert it into vapor, a considerable quantity remained
upon the surface; but the time came when the internal heat of the globe
was entirely dispersed in space and offered no obstacle to infiltration.
Then the surface water gradually diminished; it united with the rocks,
in the form of hydrates, and thus disappeared from circulation.

Indeed, were the loss of the surface water of the globe to amount only
to a few tenths of a millimeter yearly, in ten million years none would
remain.

This vapor of water in the atmosphere had made warmth and life possible;
with its disappearance came cold and death. If at present the aqueous
vapor of the atmosphere should disappear, the heat of the sun would be
incapable of maintaining animal and vegetable life; life which,
moreover, could not exist, inasmuch as vegetables and animals are
chiefly composed of water.[4]

Footnote 4:

  Of all terrestrial substances water has the greatest specific heat. It
  cools more slowly than any other. Its specific heat is four times
  greater than that of air. When the temperature of a kilogram of water
  falls one degree, it raises the temperature of four kilograms of air
  one degree. But water is seven hundred and seventy times heavier than
  air, so that if we compare two equal volumes of water and air, we find
  that a cubic meter of water, in losing one degree of temperature,
  raises the temperature of seven hundred and seventy times four, or
  3080 cubic meters of air by the same amount. This is the explanation
  of the influence of the sea in modifying the climate of continents.
  The heat of summer is stored in the ocean and is slowly given out in
  winter. This explains why islands and seashores have no extremes of
  climate. The heat of summer is tempered by the breezes, and the cold
  of winter is alleviated by the heat stored in the water.

The invisible vapor of water, distributed through the atmosphere,
exercises the greatest possible influence on temperature. In quantity
this vapor seems almost negligible, since oxygen and nitrogen alone form
ninety-nine and one-half per cent. of the air we breathe; and the
remaining one-half of one per cent. contains, besides the vapor of
water, carbonic acid, ammonia and other substances. There is scarcely
more than a quarter of one per cent. of aqueous vapor. If we consider
the constituent atoms of the atmosphere, the physicist tells us that for
two hundred atoms of oxygen and nitrogen there is scarcely one of
water-vapor; but this one atom has eighty times more absorptive energy
than the two hundred others.

The radiant heat of the sun, after traversing the atmosphere, warms the
surface of the earth. The heat waves reflected from the warmed earth are
not lost in space. The aqueous vapor atoms, acting like a barrier, turn
them back and preserve them for our benefit.

This is one of the most brilliant and the most fruitful discoveries of
modern physics. The oxygen and nitrogen molecules of dry air do not
oppose the radiation of heat; but, as we have just said, one molecule of
water-vapor possesses eighty times the absorptive energy of the other
two hundred molecules of dry air, and consequently such a molecule is
sixteen thousand times more efficacious in so far as the conservation of
heat is concerned. So that it is the vapor of water and not the air,
properly speaking, which regulates the conditions of life upon the
earth.

If one should remove this vapor from the surrounding atmosphere, a loss
of heat would go on at the surface similar to that which takes place in
high altitudes, for the atmosphere would then be as powerless to retain
heat as a vacuum is. A cold like that at the surface of the moon would
be the result. The soil would still receive heat directly from the sun,
but even during the daytime this heat would not be retained, and after
sunset the earth would be exposed to the glacial cold of space, which
appears to be about 273° below zero. Thus vegetable, animal and human
life would be impossible, if it had not already become so, through the
very disappearance of the water.

Certainly we may and must admit that water has not been so essential a
condition of life on all the worlds of space as it has been upon our
own. The resources of nature are not limited by human observation. There
must be, there are, in the limitless realms of space, millions and
millions of suns differing from ours, systems of worlds in which other
substances, other chemical combinations, other physical and mechanical
conditions, other environments, have produced beings absolutely unlike
ourselves, living another life, possessed of other senses, differing in
organization from ourselves far more than the fish or mollusk of the
deep sea differs from the bird or the butterfly. But we are here
studying the conditions of terrestrial life, and these conditions are
determined by the constitution of the planet itself.

[Illustration:

  FOSSIL SPECIMENS OF THE XXTH. CENTURY.
]

The gradual filtration of water into the interior of the earth, keeping
pace with the radiation of the earth’s original heat into space, the
slow formation of oxides and hydrates, in about eight million years
reduced by three-fourths the quantity of water in circulation on the
earth’s surface. As a consequence of the disappearance of continental
elevations, whose débris, obeying passively the laws of gravity, were
slowly carried by the rain, the wind, and the streams to the sea, the
earth had become almost level and the seas more shallow; but as
evaporation and the formation of aqueous vapor goes on only from the
surface and does not depend upon the depth, the atmosphere was still
rich in vapor. The conditions of life upon the planet were then similar
to those we now observe on Mars; where we see that great oceans have
disappeared or have become mere inland seas of slight depth, that the
continents are vast plains, that evaporation is active, that a
considerable quantity of aqueous vapor still exists, that rains are
rare, that snows abound in the polar regions and are almost entirely
melted during the summer of each year—in short, a world still habitable
by beings analogous to those that people the earth.

This epoch marked the apogee of the human race. Thenceforward the
conditions of life grew less favorable, and from century to century,
from generation to generation, underwent marked change. Vegetable and
animal species, the human race itself, everything in short, became
transformed. But whereas, hitherto, these metamorphoses had enriched,
embellished and perfected life, the day had come when decadence was to
begin.

During more than a hundred thousand years it was insensible, for the
parabolic curve of life did not suddenly fall away from its highest
point. Humanity had reached a degree of civilization, of intellectual
greatness, of physical and moral well-being, of scientific, artistic and
industrial perfection, incomparably beyond anything of which we know.
For several million years the central heat of the globe had been
utilized in winter for general warming purposes by towns, villages,
manufactories and every variety of industry. When this failing source of
heat had finally become exhausted, the heat of the sun had been stored
subject to the wants of the race, hydrogen had been extracted from
sea-water, the energy of waterfalls, and subsequently that of the tides,
had been transformed into light and heat, and the entire planet had
become the plaything of science, which disposed at will of all its
elements. The human senses, perfected to a degree which we should now
qualify as supernatural, and those newly acquired, mentioned above,
become with the lapse of time more highly developed; humanity released
more and more from the empire of matter; a new system of alimentation;
the spirit governing the body and the gross appetites of former times
forgotten; the psychic faculties in perpetual play, acting at a distance
over the entire surface of the globe, communicating under certain
conditions with even the inhabitants of Mars and Venus; apparatus which
we cannot imagine replacing those optical instruments with which
physical astronomy had begun its investigations; the whole world made
new in its perceptions and interests; an enlightened social condition
from which envy and jealousy, as well as robbery, suffering and murder
had disappeared—this, indeed, was a real humanity of flesh and bone like
our own, but as far above it in intellectual supremacy as we are above
the simians of the tertiary epoch.

Human intelligence had so completely mastered the forces of nature that
it seemed as if so glorious an era never could come to an end. The
decrease in the amount of water, however, commenced to alarm even the
most optimistic. The great oceans had disappeared. The crust of the
earth, once so thin and mobile, had gradually increased in thickness,
and, notwithstanding the internal pressure, the earth had become almost
completely solidified. Oscillations of the surface were no longer
possible, for it had become entirely rigid. The seas which remained were
confined to the tropics. The poles were frozen. The continents of olden
times, where so many other foci of civilization had shone so
brilliantly, were immense deserts. Step by step humanity had migrated
towards the tropical zone, still watered by streams, lakes and seas.
There were no more mountains, no more condensers of snow.

[Illustration:

  “RUDIMENTARY SPECIES OF CRYPTOGAMS ONLY SURVIVED.”
]

As the quantity of water and rainfall diminished, and, as the springs
failed and the aqueous vapor of the atmosphere grew less, vegetation had
entirely changed its aspect, increasing the volume of its leaves and the
length of its roots, seeking in every way to absorb the humidity
necessary for life. Species which had not been able to adjust themselves
to the new conditions had vanished; the rest were transformed. Not a
tree or a plant with which we are familiar was to be seen. There were no
oaks, nor ashes, nor elms, nor willows, and the landscape bore no
resemblance to that of today. Rudimentary species of cryptogams only
survived.

Like changes had taken place in the animal kingdom. Animal forms had
been greatly modified. The wild species had either disappeared or been
domesticated. The scarcity of water had modified the food of herbivora
as well as carnivora. The most recent species, evolved from those which
preceded them, were smaller, with less fat and a larger skeleton. The
number of plants had sensibly decreased. Less of the carbonic acid of
the air was absorbed, and a proportionally greater quantity existed in
the atmosphere. As for the human race, its metamorphosis was so absolute
that it was with an astonishment bordering on incredulity that one saw
in geological museums fossil specimens of men of the twentieth or one
hundredth century, with great brutal teeth and coarse intestines; it was
difficult to admit that organisms so gross could really be the ancestors
of intellectual man.

Though millions of years had passed, the sun still poured upon the earth
almost the same quantity of heat and light. At most, the loss had not
exceeded one-tenth. The only difference was that the sun appeared a
little yellower and a little smaller.

The moon still revolved about the earth, but more slowly. Its distance
from the earth had increased and its _apparent_ diameter had diminished.
At the same time the period of the earth’s rotation had lengthened. This
slower rotatory motion of the earth, increase in the distance of the
moon, and lengthening of the lunar month, were the results of the
friction of the tides, whose action resembled that of a brake. If the
earth and the moon last long enough, and there are still oceans and
tides, calculation would enable us to predict that the time would come
when the periodic time of the earth’s rotation would finally equal the
lunar month, so that there would be but five and one-quarter days in the
year: the earth would then always present the same side to the moon. But
this would require more than 150 million years. The period of which we
are speaking, ten million years, is but a fifteenth of the above; and
the time of the earth’s rotation, instead of being seventy times, was
only four and one-half times greater than it now is, or about 110 hours.

These long days exposed the earth to the prolonged action of the sun,
but except in those regions where its rays were normal to the surface,
that is to say in the equatorial zone between the two tropical circles,
this exposure availed nothing; the obliquity of the ecliptic had not
changed; the inclination of the axis of the earth being the same, about
two degrees, and the changes in the eccentricity of the earth’s orbit
had produced no sensible effect upon the seasons or the climate.

The human form, food, respiration, organic functions, physical and
intellectual life, ideas, opinions, religion, science, language—all had
changed. Of present man almost nothing survived.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]



                              CHAPTER IV.


The last habitable regions of the globe were two wide valleys near the
equator, the basins of dried up seas; valleys of slight depth, for the
general level was almost absolutely uniform. No mountain peaks, ravines
or wild gorges, not a single wooded valley or precipice was to be seen;
the world was one vast plain, from which rivers and seas had gradually
disappeared. But as the action of meteorological agents, rainfall and
streams, had diminished in intensity with the loss of water, the last
hollows of the sea bottom had not been entirely filled up, and shallow
valleys remained, vestiges of the former structure of the globe. In
these a little ice and moisture were left, but the circulation of water
in the atmosphere had ceased, and the rivers flowed in subterranean
channels as in invisible veins.

As the atmosphere contained no aqueous vapor, the sky was always
cloudless, and there was neither rain nor snow. The sun, less dazzling
and less hot than formerly, shone with the yellowish splendor of a
topaz. The color of the sky was sea-green rather than blue. The volume
of the atmosphere had diminished considerably. Its oxygen and nitrogen
had become in part fixed in metallic combinations, as oxides and
nitrides, and its carbonic acid had slowly increased, as vegetation,
deprived of water, became more and more rare and absorbed an ever
decreasing amount of this gas. But the mass of the earth, owing to the
constant fall of meteorites, bolides and uranolites, had increased with
time; so that the atmosphere, though considerably less in volume, had
retained its density and exerted nearly the same pressure.

Strangely enough, the snow and ice had diminished as the earth grew
cold; the cause of this low temperature was the absence of water vapor
from the atmosphere, which had decreased with the superficial area of
the sea. As the water penetrated the interior of the earth and the
general level became more uniform, first the depth and then the area of
seas had been reduced, the invisible envelope of aqueous vapor had lost
its protecting power, and the day came when the return of the heat
received from the sun was no longer prevented, it was radiated into
space as rapidly as it was received, as if it fell upon a mirror
incapable of absorbing its rays.

Such was the condition of the earth. The last representatives of the
human race had survived all these physical transformations solely by
virtue of its genius of invention and power of adaptation. Its last
efforts had been directed toward extracting nutritious substances from
the air, from subterranean water, and from plants, and replacing the
vanished vapor of the air by buildings and roofs of glass.

It was necessary at any cost to capture these solar rays and to prevent
their radiation into space. It was easy to store up this heat in large
quantities, for the sun shone unobscured by any cloud and the day was
long—fifty-five hours.

For a long time the efforts of architects had been solely directed
towards this imprisonment of the sun’s rays and the prevention of their
dispersion during the fifty-five hours of the night. They had succeeded
in accomplishing this by an ingenious arrangement of glass roofs,
superposed one upon the other, and by movable screens. All combustible
material had long before been exhausted; and even the hydrogen extracted
from water was difficult to obtain.

The mean temperature in the open air during the daytime was not very
low, not falling below –10°.[5] Notwithstanding the changes which the
ages had wrought in vegetable life, no species of plants could exist,
even in this equatorial zone.

Footnote 5:

  Many readers will regard this climate quite bearable, inasmuch, as in
  our own day regions may be cited whose mean temperature is much lower,
  yet which are nevertheless habitable, as, for example, Verchnoiansk,
  whose mean annual temperature is –19.3°. But in these regions there is
  a summer during which the ice melts; and if in January the temperature
  falls to –60°, and even lower, in July they enjoy a temperature of
  fifteen and twenty degrees above zero. But at the stage which we have
  now reached in the history of the world, this mean temperature of the
  equatorial zone was constant, and it was impossible for ice ever to
  melt again.

As for the other latitudes, they had been totally uninhabitable for
thousands of years, in spite of every effort made to live in them. In
the latitudes of Paris, Nice, Rome, Naples, Algiers and Tunis, all
protective atmospheric action had ceased, and the oblique rays of the
sun had proved insufficient to warm the soil which was frozen to a great
depth, like a veritable block of ice. The world’s population had
gradually diminished from ten milliards to nine, to eight, and then to
seven, one-half the surface of the globe being then habitable. As the
habitable zone became more and more restricted to the equator, the
population had still further diminished, as had also the mean length of
human life, and the day came when only a few hundred millions remained,
scattered in groups along the equator, and maintaining life only by the
artifices of a laborious and scientific industry.

Later still, toward the end, only two groups of a few hundred human
beings were left, occupying the last surviving centers of industry. From
all the rest of the globe the human race had slowly but inexorably
disappeared—dried up, exhausted, degenerated, from century to century,
through the lack of an assimilable atmosphere and sufficient food. Its
last remnants seemed to have lapsed back into barbarism, vegetating like
the Esquimaux of the north. These two ancient centers of civilization,
themselves yielding to decay, had survived only at the cost of a
constant struggle between industrial genius and implacable nature.

Even here, between the tropics and the equator, the two remaining groups
of human beings which still contrived to exist in face of a thousand
hardships which yearly became more insupportable, did so only by
subsisting, so to speak, on what their predecessors had left behind.
These two ocean valleys, one of which was near the bottom of what is now
the Pacific ocean, the other to the south of the present island of
Ceylon, had formerly been the sites of two immense cities of glass—iron
and glass having been, for a long time, the materials chiefly employed
in building construction. They resembled vast winter-gardens, without
upper stories, with transparent ceilings of immense height. Here were to
be found the last plants, except those cultivated in the subterranean
galleries leading to rivers flowing under ground.

Elsewhere the surface of the earth was a ruin, and even here only the
last vestiges of a vanished greatness were to be seen.

[Illustration:

  THE SOLE SURVIVORS.
]

In the first of these ancient cities of glass, the sole survivors were
two old men, and the grandson of one of them, Omegar, who had seen his
mother and sisters die, one after the other, of consumption, and who now
wandered in despair through these vast solitudes. Of these old men, one
had formerly been a philosopher and had consecrated his long life to the
study of the history of perishing humanity; the other was a physician
who had in vain sought to save from consumption the last inhabitants of
the world. Their bodies seemed wasted by anæmia rather than by age. They
were pale as specters, with long, white beards, and only their moral
energy sustained them yet an instant against the decree of destiny. But
they could not struggle longer against this destiny, and one day Omegar
found them stretched lifeless, side by side. From the dying hands of one
fell the last history ever written, the history of the final
transformations of humanity, written half a century before. The second
had died in his laboratory while endeavoring to keep in order the
nourishment tubes, automatically regulated by machinery propelled by
solar engines.

The last servants, long before developed by education from the simian
race, had succumbed many years before, as had also the great majority of
the animal species domesticated for the service of humanity. Horses,
dogs, reindeers, and certain large birds used in aerial service, yet
survived, but so entirely changed that they bore no resemblance to their
progenitors.

It was evident that the race was irrevocably doomed. Science had
disappeared with scientists, art with artists, and the survivors lived
only upon the past. The heart knew no more hope, the spirit no ambition.
The light was in the past; the future was an eternal night. All was
over. The glories of days gone by had forever vanished. If, in preceding
centuries, some traveller, wandering in these solitudes, thought he had
rediscovered the sites of Paris, Rome, or the brilliant capitals which
had succeeded them, he was the victim of his own imagination; for these
sites had not existed for millions of years, having been swept away by
the waters of the sea. Vague traditions had floated down through the
ages, thanks to the printing-press and the recorders of the great events
of history; but even these traditions were uncertain and often false.
For, as to Paris, the annals of history contained only some references
to a maritime Paris; of its existence as the capital of France for
thousands of years, there was no trace nor memory. The names which to us
seem immortal, Confucius, Plato, Mahomet, Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne,
and Napoleon, had perished and were forgotten. Art had, indeed,
preserved noble memories; but these memories did not extend as far back
as the infancy of humanity, and reached only a few million years into
the past. Omegar lingered in an ancient gallery of pictures, bequeathed
by former centuries, and contemplated the great cities which had
disappeared. Only one of these pictures related to what had once been
Europe, and was a view of Paris, consisting of a promontory projecting
into the sea, crowned by an astronomical temple and gay with
helicopterons circling above the lofty towers of its terraces. Immense
ships were plowing the sea. This classic Paris was the Paris of the one
hundred and seventieth century of the Christian era, corresponding to
the one hundred and fifty-seventh of the astronomical era—the Paris
which existed immediately prior to the final submergence of the land.
Even its name had changed; for words change like persons and things.
Nearby, other pictures portrayed the great but less ancient cities which
had risen in America, Australia, Asia, and afterwards upon the
continents which had emerged from the ocean. And so this museum of the
past recalled in succession the passing pomps of humanity down to the
end.

[Illustration:

  “ALL DAY LONG HE WANDERED THROUGH THE VAST GALLERIES.”
]

The end! The hour had struck on the timepiece of destiny. Omegar knew
the life of the world henceforth was in the past, that no future existed
for it, and that the present even was vanishing like the dream of a
moment. The last heir of the human race felt the overwhelming sentiment
of the vanity of things. Should he wait for some inconceivable miracle
to save him from his fate? Should he bury his companions, and share
their tomb with them? Should he endeavor to prolong for a few days, a
few weeks, a few years even, a solitary, useless and despairing
existence? All day long he wandered through the vast and silent
galleries, and at night abandoned himself to the drowsiness which
oppressed him. All about him was dark—the darkness of the sepulchre.

A sweet dream, however, stirred his slumbering thought, and surrounded
his soul with a halo of angelic brightness. Sleep brought him the
illusion of life. He was no longer alone. A seductive image which he had
seen more than once before, stood before him. Eyes caressing as the
light of heaven, deep as the infinite, gazed upon him and attracted him.
He was in a garden filled with the perfume of flowers. Birds sang in the
nests amid the foliage. And in the distant landscape, framed in plants
and flowers, were the vast ruins of dead cities. Then he saw a lake, on
whose rippling surface two swans glided, bearing a cradle from which a
new-born child stretched toward him its arms.

Never had such a ray of light illuminated his soul. So deep was his
emotion that he suddenly awoke, opened his eyes, and found confronting
him only the somber reality. Then a sadness more terrible even than any
he had known filled his whole being. He could not find an instant of
repose. He rose, went to his couch, and waited anxiously for the
morning. He remembered his dream, but he did not believe in it. He felt,
vaguely, that another human being existed somewhere; but his degenerate
race had lost, in part, its psychic power, and perhaps, also, woman
always exerts upon man an attraction more powerful than that which man
exerts upon woman. When the day broke, when the last man saw the ruins
of his ancient city standing out upon the sky of dawn, when he found
himself alone with the two last dead, he realized more than ever his
unavoidable destiny, and decided to terminate at once a life so
hopelessly miserable.

Going into the laboratory, he sought a bottle whose contents were well
known to him, uncorked it, and carried it to his lips, to empty it at a
draught. But, at the very moment the vial touched his lips, he felt a
hand upon his arm.

He turned suddenly. There was no one in the laboratory, and in the
gallery he found only the two dead.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]



                               CHAPTER V.


In the ruins of the other equatorial city, occupying a once submerged
valley south of the island of Ceylon, was a young girl, whose mother and
older sister had perished of consumption and cold, and who was now left
alone, the last surviving member of the last family of the race. A few
trees, of northern species, had been preserved under the spacious dome
of glass, and beneath their scanty foliage, holding the cold hands of
her mother who had died the night before, the young girl sat alone,
doomed to death in the very flower of her age. The night was cold. In
the sky above the full moon shone like a golden torch, but its yellow
rays were as cold as the silver beams of the ancient Selene. In the vast
room reigned the stillness and solitude of death, broken only by the
young girl’s breathing, which seemed to animate the silence with the
semblance of life.

[Illustration:

  “ALONE!”
]

She was not weeping. Her sixteen years contained more experience and
knowledge than sixty years of the world’s prime. She knew that she was
the sole survivor of this last group of human beings, and that every
happiness, every joy and every hope had vanished forever. There was no
present, no future; only solitude and silence, the physical and moral
impossibility of life, and soon eternal sleep. She thought of the woman
of bygone days, of those who had lived the real life of humanity, of
lovers, wives and mothers, but to her red and tearless eyes appeared
only images of death; while beyond the walls of glass stretched a barren
desert, covered by the last ice and the last snow. Now her young heart
beat violently in her breast, till her slender hands could no longer
compress its tumult; and now life seemed arrested in her bosom, and
every respiration suspended. If for a moment she fell asleep, in her
dreams she played again with her laughing and care-free sister, while
her mother sung in a pure and penetrating voice the beautiful
inspirations of the last poets; and she seemed to see, once more, the
last fêtes of a brilliant society, as if reflected from the surface of
some distant mirror. Then, on awakening, these magic memories faded into
the somber reality. Alone! Alone in the world, and tomorrow death,
without having known life! To struggle against this unavoidable fate was
useless; the decree of destiny was without appeal, and there was nothing
to do but to submit, to await the inevitable end, since without food or
air organic life was impossible—or else to anticipate death and deliver
oneself at once from a joyless existence and a certain doom. She passed
into the bath-room, where the warm water was still flowing, although the
appliances which art had designed to supply the wants of life were no
longer in working order; for the last remaining servants (descendants of
ancient simian species, modified, as the human race had been, by the
changing conditions of life,) had also succumbed to the insufficiency of
water. She plunged into the perfumed bath, turned the key which
regulated the supply of electricity derived from subterranean
water-courses still unfrozen, and for a moment seemed to forget the
decree of destiny in the enjoyment of this refreshing rest. Had any
indiscreet spectator beheld her as, standing upon the bear-skin before
the large mirror, she began to arrange the tresses of her long auburn
hair, he would have detected a smile upon her lips, showing that, for an
instant, she was oblivious of her dark future. Passing into another
room, she approached the apparatus which furnished the food of that
time, extracted from the water, air, and the plants and fruits
automatically cultivated in the greenhouses.

It was still in working order, like a clock which has been wound up. For
thousands of years the genius of man had been almost exclusively applied
to the struggle with destiny. The last remaining water had been forced
to circulate in subterranean canals, where also the solar heat had been
stored. The last animals had been trained to serve these machines, and
the nutritious properties of the last plants had been utilized to the
utmost. Men had finally succeeded in living upon almost nothing, so far
as quantity was concerned; every newly discovered form of food being
completely assimilable. Cities had finally been built of glass, open to
the sun, to which was conveyed every substance necessary to the
synthesis of the food which replaced the products of nature. But as time
passed, it became more and more difficult to obtain the necessaries of
life. The mine was at last exhausted. Matter had been conquered by
intelligence; but the day had come when intelligence itself was
overmatched, when every worker had died at his post and the earth’s
storehouse had been depleted. Unwilling to abandon this desperate
struggle, man had put forth every effort. But he could not prevent the
earth’s absorption of water, and the last resources of a science which
seemed greater even than nature itself had been exhausted.

[Illustration:

  _By G. Rochegrosse._

  “SHE FELT THAT ANOTHER HEARD AND UNDERSTOOD.”
]

Eva returned to the body of her mother, and once more took the cold
hands in her own. The psychic faculties of the race in these its latter
days had acquired, as we have said, transcendent powers, and she thought
for a moment to summon her mother from the tomb. It seemed to her as if
she must have one more approving glance, one more counsel. A single idea
took possession of her, so fascinating her that she even lost the desire
to die. She saw afar the soul which should respond to her own. Every man
belonging to that company of which she was the last survivor had died
before her birth. Woman had outlived the sex once called strong. In the
pictures upon the walls of the great library, in books, engravings and
statues, she saw represented the great men of the city, but she had
never seen a living man; and still dreaming, strange and disquieting
forms passed before her. She was transported into an unknown and
mysterious world, into a new life, and love did not seem to be yet
wholly banished from earth. During the reign of cold, all electrical
communication between the two last cities left upon the earth had been
interrupted. Their inhabitants could speak no more with each other, see
each other no more, nor feel each other’s presence. Yet she was as well
acquainted with the ocean city as if she had seen it, and when she fixed
her eyes upon the great terrestrial globe suspended from the ceiling of
the library, and then, closing them, concentrated all her will and
psychic power upon the object of her thoughts, she acted at a distance
as effectively, though in a different way, as in former days men had
done when communicating with each other by electricity. She called, and
felt that another heard and understood. The preceding night she had
transported herself to the ancient city in which Omegar lived, and had
appeared to him for an instant in a dream. That very morning she had
witnessed his despairing act and by a supreme effort of the will had
arrested his arm. And now, stretched in her chair beside the dead body
of her mother, heavy with sleep, her solitary soul wandered in dreams
above the ocean city, seeking the companionship of the only mate left
upon the earth. And far away, in that ocean city, Omegar heard her call.
Slowly, as in a dream, he ascended the platform from which the air-ships
used to take their flight. Yielding to a mysterious influence, he obeyed
the distant summons. Speeding toward the west, the electric air-ship
passed above the frozen regions of the tropics, once the site of the
Pacific ocean, Polynesia, Malaisia and the Sunda islands, and stopped at
the landing of the crystal palace. The young girl, startled from her
dream by the traveller, who fell from the air at her feet, fled in
terror to the farther end of the immense hall, lifting the heavy curtain
of skin which separated it from the library. When the young man reached
her side, he stopped, knelt, and took her hand in his, saying simply:
“You called me. I have come.” And then he added: “I have known you for a
long time. I knew that you existed, I have often seen you; you are the
constant thought of my heart, but I did not dare to come.”

[Illustration:

  “YOU CALLED ME. I HAVE COME.”
]

She bade him rise, saying: “My friend, I know that we are alone in the
world, and that we are about to die. A will stronger than my own
compelled me to call you. It seemed as if it were the supreme desire of
my mother, supreme even in death. See, she sleeps thus since yesterday.
How long the night is!”

The young man, kneeling, had taken the hand of the dead, and they both
stood there beside the funeral couch, as if in prayer.

He leaned gently toward the young girl, and their heads touched. He let
fall the hand of the dead.

Eva shuddered. “No,” she said.

Then, suddenly, he sprang to his feet in terror; the dead woman had
revived. She had withdrawn the hand which he had taken in his own, and
had opened her eyes. She made a movement, looking at them.

[Illustration:

  “‘BEHOLD, WHERE WE SHALL BE TOMORROW!’”
]

“I wake from a strange dream,” she said, without seeming surprised at
the presence of Omegar. “Behold, my children, my dream;” and she pointed
to the planet Jupiter, shining with dazzling splendor in the sky.

And as they gazed upon the star, to their astonished vision, it appeared
to approach them, to grow larger, to take the place of the frozen scene
about them.

Its immense seas were covered with ships. Aerial fleets cleaved the air.
The shores of its seas and the mouths of its great rivers were the
scenes of a prodigious activity. Brilliant cities appeared, peopled by
moving multitudes. Neither the details of their habitations nor the
forms of these new beings could be distinguished, but one divined that
here was a humanity quite different from ours, living in the bosom of
another nature, having other senses at its disposal; and one felt also
that this vast world was incomparably superior to the earth.

“Behold, where we shall be tomorrow!” said the dying woman. “We shall
find there all the human race, perfected and transformed. Jupiter has
received the inheritance of the earth. Our world has accomplished its
mission, and life is over here below. Farewell!”

She stretched out her arms to them; they bent over her pale face and
pressed a long kiss upon her forehead. But they perceived that this
forehead was cold as marble, in spite of this strange awakening.

The dead woman had closed her eyes, to open them no more.

[Illustration]



                              CHAPTER VI.


It is sweet to live. Love atones for every loss; in its joys all else is
forgotten. Ineffable music of the heart, thy divine melody fill the soul
with an ecstasy of infinite happiness! What illustrious historians have
celebrated the heroes of the world’s progress, the glories of war, the
conquests of mind and of spirit! Yet after so many centuries of labor
and struggle, there remained only two palpitating hearts, the kisses of
two lovers. All had perished except love; and love, the supreme
sentiment, endured, shining like an inextinguishable beacon over the
immense ocean of the vanished ages.

Death! They did not dream of it. Did they not suffice for each other?
What if the cold froze their very marrow? Did they not possess in their
hearts a warmth which defied the cold of nature? Did not the sun still
shine gloriously, and was not the final doom of the world yet far
distant? Omegar bent every energy to the maintenance of the marvellous
system which had been devised for the automatic extraction by chemical
processes of the nutritive principles of the air, water and plants, and
in this he seemed to be successful. So in other days, after the fall of
the Roman empire, the barbarians had been seen to utilize during
centuries the aqueducts, baths and thermal springs, all the creations of
the civilization of the Cæsars, and to draw from a vanished industry the
sources of their own strength.

But one day, wonderful as it was, this system gave out. The subterranean
waters themselves ceased to flow. The soil was frozen to a great depth.
The rays of the sun still warmed the air within the glass-covered
dwellings, but no plant could live longer; the supply of water was
exhausted.

The combined efforts of science and industry were impotent to give to
the atmosphere the nutritive qualities possessed by those of other
worlds, and the human organism constantly clamored for the regenerating
principles which, as we have seen, had been derived from the air, water
and plants. These sources were now exhausted.

This last human pair struggled against these insurmountable obstacles,
and recognized the uselessness of farther contest, yet they were not
resigned to death. Before knowing each other they had awaited it
fearlessly. Now each wished to defend the other, the beloved one,
against pitiless destiny. The very idea of seeing Omegar lying inanimate
beside her, filled Eva with such anguish that she could not bear the
thought. And he, too, vainly longed to carry away his well beloved from
a world doomed to decay, to fly with her to that brilliant Jupiter which
awaited them, and not to abandon to the earth the body he adored.

He thought that, perhaps, there still existed, somewhere upon the earth,
a spot which had retained a little of that life-giving water without
which existence was impossible; and, although already they were both
almost without strength, he formed the supreme resolution of setting out
to seek for it. The electric aeronef was still in working order.
Forsaking the city which was now only a tomb, the two last survivors of
a vanished humanity abandoned these inhospitable regions and set out to
seek some unknown oasis.

The ancient kingdoms of the world passed under their feet. They saw the
remains of great cities, made illustrious by the splendors of
civilization, lying in ruins along the equator. The silence of death
covered them all. Omegar recognized the ancient city which he had
recently left, but he knew that there, also the supreme source of life
was lacking, and they did not stop. They traversed thus, in their
solitary air-ship, the regions which had witnessed the last stages of
the life of humanity; but death, and silence, and the frozen desert was
everywhere. No more fields, no more vegetation; the watercourses were
visible as on a map, and it was evident that along their banks life had
been prolonged; but they were now dried up forever. And when, at times,
some motionless lake was distinguished in the lower level, it was like a
lake of stone; for even at the equator the sun was powerless to melt the
eternal ice. A kind of bear, with long fur, was still to be seen
wandering over the frozen earth, seeking in the crevices of the rocks
its scanty vegetable food. From time to time, also, they descried a kind
of penguin and sea-cows walking upon the ice, and large, gray polar
birds in awkward flight, or alighting mournfully.

Nowhere was the sought-for oasis found. The earth was indeed dead.

Night came. Not a cloud obscured the sky. A warmer current from the
south had carried them over what was formerly Africa, now a frozen
waste. The mechanism of the aeronef had ceased to work. Exhausted by
cold rather than by hunger, they threw themselves upon the bear-skins in
the bottom of the car.

[Illustration:

  _By O. Guillonnet._

  “A WHITE SHADOW STOPPED BEFORE THEIR ASTONISHED EYES.”
]

Perceiving a ruin, they alighted. It was an immense quadrangular base,
revealing traces of an enormous stone stairway. It was still possible to
recognize one of the ancient Egyptian pyramids which, in the middle of
the desert, survived the civilization which it represented. With all
Egypt, Nubia and Abyssinia, it had sunk below the level of the sea, and
had afterwards emerged into the light and been restored in the heart of
a new capital by a new civilization, more brilliant than that of Thebes
and of Memphis, and finally had been again abandoned to the desert. It
was the only remaining monument of the earlier life of humanity, and
owed its stability to its geometric form.

“Let us rest here,” said Eva, “since we are doomed to die. Who, indeed,
has escaped death? Let me die in peace in your arms.”

They sought a corner of the ruin and sat down beside each other, face to
face with the silent desert. The young girl cowered upon the ground,
pressing her husband in her arms, still striving with all her might
against the penetrating cold. He drew her to his heart, and warmed her
with his kisses.

“I love you, and I am dying,” she said. “But, no, we will not die. See
that star, which calls us!”

At the same moment they heard behind them a slight noise, issuing from
the ancient tomb of Cheops, a noise like that the wind makes in the
leaves. Shuddering, they turned, together, in the direction whence the
sound came. A white shadow, which seemed to be self-luminous, for the
night was already dark and there was no moon, glided rather than walked
toward them, and stopped before their astonished eyes.

“Fear nothing,” it said. “I come to seek you. No, you shall not die. No
one has ever died. Time flows into eternity; eternity remains.

“I was Cheops, King of Egypt, and I reigned over this country in the
early days of the world. As a slave, I have since expiated my crimes in
many existences, and when at length my soul deserved immortality I lived
upon Neptune, Ganymede, Rhea, Titan, Saturn, Mars, and other worlds as
yet unknown to you. Jupiter is now my home. In the days of humanity’s
greatness, Jupiter was not habitable for intelligent beings. It was
passing through the necessary stages of preparation. Now this immense
world is the heir to all human achievement. Worlds succeed each other in
time as in space. All is eternal, and merges into the divine. Confide in
me, and follow me.”

And as the old Pharaoh was still speaking, they felt a delicious fluid
penetrate their souls, as sometimes the ear is filled with an exquisite
melody. A sense of calm and transcendent happiness flowed in their
veins. Never, in any dream, in any ecstasy, had they ever experienced
such joy.

[Illustration:

  _By O. Guillonnet._

  “THE SPECTRE ROSE INTO SPACE.”
]

Eva pressed Omegar in her arms. “I love you,” she repeated. Her voice
was only a breath. He touched his lips to her already cold mouth, and
heard them murmur: “How I could have loved!”

Jupiter was shining majestically above them, and in the glorious light
of his rays their sight grew dim and their eyes gently closed.

The spectre rose into space and vanished. And one to whom it is given to
see, not with the bodily eyes, which perceive only material vibrations,
but with the eyes of the soul, which perceive psychical vibrations,
might have seen two small flames shining side by side, united by a
common attraction, and rising, together with the phantom, into the
heavens.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]



                               EPILOGUE.


  “And the angel lifted up his hand to heaven and sware by Him that
  liveth forever and ever that there should be time no longer.”—Rev.
  x., 6.


                                   Φ

The earth was dead. The other planets also had died one after the other.
The sun was extinguished. But the stars still shone; there were still
suns and worlds.

In the measureless duration of eternity, time, an essentially relative
conception, is determined by each world, and even in each world this
conception is dependent upon the consciousness of the individual. Each
world measures its own duration. The year of the earth is not that of
Neptune. The latter is 164 times the former, and yet is not longer
relatively to the absolute. There is no common measure between time and
eternity. In empty space there is no time, no years, no centuries; only
the possibility of a measurement of time which becomes real the moment a
revolving world appears. Without some periodic motion no conception
whatever of time is possible.

The earth no longer existed, nor her celestial companion, the little
isle of Mars, nor the beautiful sphere of Venus, nor the colossal world
of Jupiter, nor the strange universe of Saturn, which had lost its
rings, nor the slow-moving Uranus and Neptune—not even the glorious sun,
in whose fecundating heat these mansions of the heavens had basked for
so many centuries. The sun was a dark ball, the planets also; and still
this invisible system sped on in the glacial cold of starry space. So
far as life is concerned, all these worlds were dead, did not exist.
They survived their past history like the ruins of the dead cities of
Assyria which the archæologist uncovers in the desert, moving on their
way in darkness through the invisible and the unknown.

No genius, no magician could recall the vanished past, when the earth
floated bathed in light, with its broad green fields waking to the
morning sun, its rivers winding like long serpents through the verdant
meadows, its woods alive with the songs of birds, its forests filled
with deep and mysterious shadows, its seas heaving with the tides or
roaring in the tempest, its mountain slopes furrowed with rushing
streams and cascades, its gardens enameled with flowers, its nests of
birds and cradles of children, and its toiling population, whose
activity had transformed it and who lived so joyously a life perpetuated
by the delights of an endless love. All this happiness seemed eternal.
What has become of those mornings and evenings, of those flowers and
those lovers, of that light and perfume, of those harmonies and joys, of
those beauties and dreams? All is dead, has disappeared in the darkness
of night.

The world dead, all the planets dead, the sun extinguished. The solar
system annihilated, time itself suspended.

Time lapses into eternity. But eternity remains, and time is born again.

Before the existence of the earth, throughout an eternity, suns and
worlds existed, peopled with beings like ourselves. Millions of years
before the earth was, they were. The past of the universe has been as
brilliant as the present, the future will be as the past, the present is
of no importance.

In examining the past history of the earth, we might go back to a time
when our planet shone in space, a veritable sun, appearing as Jupiter
and Saturn do now, shrouded in a dense atmosphere charged with warm
vapors; and we might follow all its transformations down to the period
of man. We have seen that when its heat was entirely dissipated, its
waters absorbed, the aqueous vapor of its atmosphere gone, and this
atmosphere itself more or less absorbed, our planet must have presented
the appearance of those great lunar deserts seen through the telescope
(with certain differences due to the action of causes peculiar to the
earth), with its final geographical configurations, its dried-up shores
and water-courses, a planetary corpse, a dead and frozen world. It still
bears, however, within its bosom an unexpended energy—that of its motion
of translation about the sun, an energy which, transformed into heat by
the sudden destruction of its motion, would suffice to melt it and to
reduce it, in part, to a state of vapor, thus inaugurating a new epoch;
but for an instant only, for, if this motion of translation were
destroyed, the earth would fall into the sun and its independent
existence would come to an end. If suddenly arrested it would move in a
straight line toward the sun, with an increasing velocity, and reach the
sun in sixty-five days; were its motion gradually arrested, it would
move in a spiral, to be swallowed up, at last, in the central luminary.

The entire history of terrestrial life is before our eyes. It has its
commencement and its end; and its duration, however many the centuries
which compose it, is preceded and followed by eternity—is, indeed, but a
single instant lost in eternity.

For a long time after the earth had ceased to be the abode of life, the
colossal worlds of Jupiter and Saturn, passing more slowly from their
solar to their planetary stage, reigned in their turn among the planets,
with the splendor of a vitality incomparably superior to that of our
earth. But they, also, waxed old and descended into the night of the
tomb.


                                   Χ

Had the earth, like Jupiter, for example, retained long enough the
elements of life, death would have come only with the extinction of the
sun. But the length of the life of a world is proportional to its size
and its elements of vitality.

The solar heat is due to two principal causes—the condensation of the
original nebula, and the fall of meteorites. According to the best
established calculations of thermodynamics, the former has produced a
quantity of heat eighteen million times greater than that which the sun
radiates yearly, supposing the original nebula was cold, which there is
no reason to believe was the case. It is, therefore, certain that the
solar temperature produced by this condensation far exceeded the above.
If condensation continues, the radiation of heat may go on for centuries
without loss.

The heat emitted every second is equal to that which would result from
the combustion of eleven quadrillions six hundred thousand milliards of
tons of coal burning at once! The earth intercepts only one five
hundredth millionth part of the radiant heat, and this one five
hundredth millionth suffices to maintain all terrestrial life. Of
sixty-seven millions of light and heat rays which the sun radiates into
space, only one is received and utilized by the planets.

[Illustration]

Well! to maintain this source of heat it is only necessary that the rate
of condensation should be such that the sun’s diameter should decrease
seventy-seven meters a year, or one kilometer in thirteen years. This
contraction is so gradual that it would be wholly imperceptible. Nine
thousand five hundred years would be required to reduce the diameter by
one single second of arc. Even if the sun be actually in a gaseous
state, its temperature, so far from growing less, or even remaining
stationary, would increase by the very fact of contraction; for if on
the one hand the temperature of a gaseous body falls when it condenses,
on the other hand the heat generated by contraction is more than
sufficient to prevent a fall in temperature, and the amount of heat
increases until a liquid state is reached. The sun seems to have reached
this stage.

The condensation of the sun, whose density is only one-fourth that of
the earth, may thus of itself maintain for centuries, at least for ten
million years, the light and heat of this brilliant star. But we have
just spoken of a second source of heat: the fall of meteorites. One
hundred and forty-six million meteorites fall upon the earth yearly. A
vastly greater number fall into the sun, because of its greater
attraction. If their mass equals about the one hundredth part of the
mass of the earth, their fall would suffice to maintain the
temperature,—not by their combustion, for if the sun itself was being
consumed it would not have lasted more than six thousand years, but by
the sudden transformation of the energy of motion into heat, the
velocity of impact being 650,000 meters per second, so great is the
solar attraction.

If the earth should fall into the sun, it would make good for
ninety-five years the actual loss of solar energy; Venus would make good
this loss for eighty-four years; Mercury for seven; Mars for thirteen;
Jupiter for 32,254; Saturn for 9652; Uranus for 1610; and Neptune for
1890 years. That is to say, the fall of all the planets into the sun
would produce heat enough to maintain the present rate of expenditure
for about 46,000 years.

It is therefore certain that the fall of meteors greatly lengthens the
life of the sun. One thirty-third millionth of the solar mass added each
year would compensate for the loss, and half of this would be sufficient
if we admit that condensation shares equally with the fall of meteorites
in the maintenance of solar heat; centuries would have to pass before
any acceleration of the planets’ velocities would be apparent.

Owing to these two causes alone we may, therefore, admit a future for
the sun of at least twenty million years; and this period cannot but be
increased by other unknown causes, to say nothing of an encounter with a
swarm of meteorites.

The sun therefore was the last living member of the system; the last
animated by the warmth of life.

But the sun also went out. After having so long poured upon his
celestial children his vivifying beams, the black spots upon his surface
increased in number and in extent, his brilliant photosphere grew dull,
and his hitherto dazzling surface became congealed. An enormous red ball
took the place of the dazzling center of the vanished worlds.

For a long time this enormous star maintained a high surface
temperature, and a sort of phosphorescent atmosphere; its virgin soil,
illumined by the light of the stars and by the electric influences which
formed a kind of atmosphere, gave birth to a marvelous flora, to an
unknown fauna, to beings differing absolutely in organization from those
who had succeeded each other upon the worlds of its system.

But for the sun also the end came, and the hour sounded on the timepiece
of destiny when the whole solar system was stricken from the book of
life. And one after another the stars, each one of which is a sun, a
solar system, shared the same fate; yet the universe continued to exist
as it does today.


                                   Ψ

The science of mathematics tells us: “The solar system does not appear
to possess at present more than the one four hundred and fifty-fourth
part of the transformable energy which it had in the nebulous state.
Although this remainder constitutes a fund whose magnitude confounds our
imagination, it will also some day be exhausted. Later, the
transformation will be complete for the entire universe, resulting in a
general equilibrium of temperature and pressure.

“Energy will not then be susceptible of transformation. This does not
mean annihilation, a word without meaning, nor does it mean the absence
of motion, properly speaking, since the same sum of energy will always
exist in the form of atomic motion, but the absence of all sensible
motion, of all differentiation, the absolute uniformity of conditions,
that is to say, absolute death.”

Such is the present statement of the science of mathematics.

Experiment and observation prove that on the one hand the quantity of
matter, and on the other hand the quantity of energy also, remains
constant, whatever the change in form or in position; but they also show
that the universe tends to a state of equilibrium, a condition in which
its heat will be uniformly distributed.

The heat of the sun and of all the stars seems to be due to the
transformation of their initial energy of motion, to molecular impacts;
the heat thus generated is being constantly radiated into space, and
this radiation will go on until every sun is cooled down to the
temperature of space itself.

If we admit that the sciences of today, mechanics, physics and
mathematics, are trustworthy, and that the laws which now control the
operations of nature and of reason are permanent, this must be the fate
of the universe.

Far from being eternal, the earth on which we live has had a beginning.
In eternity a hundred million years, a thousand million years or
centuries, are as a day. There is an eternity behind us and before us,
and all apparent duration is but a point. A scientific investigation of
nature and acquaintance with its laws raises, therefore, the question
already raised by the theologians, whether Plato, Zoroaster, Saint
Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, or some young seminarist who has just
taken orders: “What was God doing before the creation of the universe,
and what will he do after its end?” Or, under a less anthromorphic form,
since God is unknowable: “What was the condition of the universe prior
to the present order of things, and what will it be after this order has
passed away?”

Note that the question is the same, whether we admit a personal God,
reasoning and acting toward a definite end, or, whether we deny the
existence of any spiritual being, and admit only the existence of
indestructible atoms and forces representing an invariable sum of
energy.

In the first case, why should God, an eternal and uncreated power,
remain inactive? Or, having remained inactive, satisfied with the
absolute infinity of his nature which nothing could augment, why did he
change this state and create matter and force?

The theologian may reply: “Because it was his good pleasure.” But
philosophy is not satisfied with this change in the divine purpose. In
the second case, since the origin of the present condition of things
only dates back a certain time, and since there can be no effect without
a cause, we have the right to ask what was the condition of things
anterior to the formation of the present universe.

Although energy is indestructible, we certainly cannot deny the tendency
toward its universal dissipation, and this must lead to absolute repose
and death, for the conclusions of mathematics are irresistible.

Nevertheless, we do not concede this.

Why?

Because the universe is not a definite quantity.


                                   Ω

It is impossible to conceive of a limit to the extension of matter.
Limitless space, the inexhaustible source of the transformation of
potential energy into visible motion, and thence into heat and other
forces, confronts us, and not a simple, finished piece of mechanism,
running like a clock and stopping forever.

The future of the universe is its past. If the universe were to have had
an end, this end would have been reached long ago, and we should not be
here to study this problem.

It is because our conceptions are finite, that things have a beginning
and an end. We cannot conceive of an absolutely endless series of
transformations, either in the future or in the past, nor that an
equally endless series of material combinations, of planets, suns,
sun-systems, milky ways, stellar universes, can succeed each other.
Nevertheless, the heavens are there to show us the infinite. Nor can we
comprehend any better the infinity of space or of time; yet it is
impossible for us to conceive of a limit to either, for our thought
overleaps the limit, and is impotent to conceive of bounds beyond which
there is no space nor time. One may travel forever, in any direction,
without reaching a boundary, and as soon as anyone affirms that at a
certain moment duration ceases, we refuse our assent; for we cannot
confound time with the human measures of it.

These measures are relative and arbitrary; but time itself exists, like
space, independently of them. Suppress everything, space and time would
still remain; that is to say, space which material things may occupy,
and the possibility of the succession of events. If this were not so,
neither space nor time would be really measurable, not even in thought,
since thought would not exist. But it is impossible for the mind even to
suppress either the one or the other. Strictly speaking, it is neither
space nor time that we are speaking of, but infinity and eternity,
relative to which every measure, however great, is but a point.

We do not comprehend or conceive of infinite space or time, because we
are incapable of it. But this incapacity does not invalidate the
existence of the absolute. In confessing that we do not comprehend
infinity, we feel it about us, and that space, as bounded by a wall or
any barrier whatever, is in itself an absurd idea. And we are equally
incapable of denying the possibility of the existence, at some instant
of time, of a system of worlds whose motions would measure time without
creating it. Do our clocks create time? No, they do but measure it. In
the presence of the absolute, our measures of both time and space
vanish; but the absolute remains.

[Illustration]

We live, then, in the infinite, without doubting it for an instant. The
hand which holds this pen is composed of eternal and indestructible
elements, and the atoms which constituted it existed in the solar nebula
whence our planet came, and will exist forever. Your lungs breathe, your
brains think, with matter and forces which acted millions of years ago
and will act endlessly. And the little globule which we inhabit floats,
not at the center of a limited universe, but in the depth of infinity,
as truly as does the most distant star which the telescope can discover.

The best definition of the universe ever given, to which there was
nothing to add, is Pascal’s, “A sphere whose center is everywhere and
circumference nowhere.”

It is this infinity which assures the eternity of the universe.

Stars, systems, myriads, milliards, universes succeed each other without
end in every direction.

We do not live near a center which does not exist, and the earth, like
the farthest star, lies in the fathomless infinite.

No bounds to space. Fly in thought in any direction with any velocity
for months, years, centuries, forever, we shall meet with no limit,
approach no boundary, we shall always remain in the vestibule of the
infinite before us.

No bounds to time. Live in imagination through future ages, add
centuries to centuries, epoch to epoch, we shall never attain the end,
we shall always remain in the vestibule of the eternity which opens
before us.

In our little sphere of terrestrial observation we see that, through all
the transformations of matter and motion, the same quantity of each
remains, though under new forms. Living beings afford a perpetual
illustration of this: they are born, they grow by appropriating
substances from the world without, and when they die they break up and
restore to nature the elements of which they are composed. But by a law
whose action never ceases other bodies are constituted from these same
elements. Every star may be likened to an organized being, even as
regards its internal heat. A body is alive so long as respiration and
the circulation of the blood makes it possible for the various organs to
perform their functions. When equilibrium and repose are reached, death
follows; but after death all the substances of which the body was formed
are wrought into other beings. Dissolution is the prelude to recreation.
Analogy leads us to believe that the same is true of the cosmos. Nothing
can be destroyed.

_There is an incommensurable Power, which we are obliged to recognize as
limitless in space and without beginning or end in time, and this Power
is that which persists through all the changes in those sensible
appearances under which the universe presents itself to us._

For this reason there will always be suns and worlds, not like ours, but
still suns and worlds succeeding each other through all eternity.

And for us this visible universe can only be the changing _appearance_
of the absolute and eternal _reality_.


                                   Α

It is in virtue of this transcendent law that, long after the death of
the earth, of the giant planets and the central luminary, while our old
and darkened sun was still speeding through boundless space, with its
dead worlds on which terrestrial and planetary life had once engaged in
the futile struggle for daily existence, another extinct sun, issuing
from the depths of infinity, collided obliquely with it and brought it
to rest!

Then in the vast night of space, from the shock of these two mighty
bodies was suddenly kindled a stupendous conflagration, and an immense
gaseous nebula was formed, which trembled for an instant like a flaring
flame, and then sped on into regions unknown. Its temperature was
several million degrees. All which here below had been earth, water,
air, minerals, plants, atoms; all which had constituted man, his flesh,
his palpitating heart, his flashing eye, his armed hand, his thinking
brain, his entrancing beauty; the victor and the vanquished, the
executioner and his victim, and those inferior souls still wearing the
fetters of matter,—all were changed into fire. And so with the worlds of
Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and the rest. It was the resurrection of
visible nature. But those superior souls which had acquired immortality
continued to live forever in the hierarchy of the invisible psychic
universe. The conscious existence of mankind had attained an ideal
state. Mankind had passed by transmigration through the worlds to a new
life with God, and freed from the burdens of matter, soared with an
endless progress in eternal light.

The immense gaseous nebula, which absorbed all former worlds, thus
transformed into vapor, began to turn upon itself. And in the zones of
condensation of this primordial star-mist, new worlds were born, as
heretofore the earth was.

So another universe began, whose genesis some future Moses and Laplace
would tell, a new creation, extra-terrestrial, superhuman,
inexhaustible, resembling neither the earth nor Mars, nor Saturn, nor
the sun.

And new humanities arose, new civilizations, new vanities, another
Babylon, another Thebes, another Athens, another Rome, another Paris,
new palaces, temples, glories and loves. And all these things possessed
nothing of the earth, whose very memory had passed away like a shadow.

And these universes passed away in their turn. But infinite space
remained, peopled with worlds, and stars, and souls, and suns; and time
went on forever.

For there can be neither end nor beginning.

[Illustration]

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES


 1. Added Table of Contents.
 2. The author used all lower case for genus names.
 3. Silently corrected typographical errors.
 4. Retained anachronistic and non-standard spellings as printed.
 5. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.
 6. Superscripts are denoted by a caret before a single superscript
      character or a series of superscripted characters enclosed in
      curly braces, e.g. M^r. or M^{ister}.





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