A Journey in Other Worlds

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Author: John Jacob Astor

Chapter IV. A Providential Intervention.

The valley narrowed as they advanced, the banks rising gently on both sides. Both dragons had flown straight to a grove of tall, spreading trees. On coming near to this, they noticed a faint smell like that of the dragon, and also like the trace they found in the air on leaving the Callisto the day before, after they had sought safety within it. Soon it almost knocked them down.

"We must get to windward," said Cortlandt. "I already feel faint, and believe those dragons could kill a man by breathing on him."

Accordingly, they skirted around the grove, and having made a quarter circle—for they did not wish the dragons to wind them—again drew nearer. Tree after tree was passed, and finally they saw an open space twelve or fifteen acres in area at the centre of the grove, when they were arrested by a curious sound of munching. Peering among the trunks of the huge trees, they advanced cautiously, but stopped aghast. In the opening were at least a hundred dragons devouring the toadstools with which the ground was covered. Many of them were thirty to forty feet long, with huge and terribly long, sharp claws, and jaws armed with gleaming batteries of teeth. Though they had evidently lungs, and the claws and mouth of an animal, they reminded the observers in many respects of insects enormously exaggerated, for their wings, composed of a sort of transparent scale, were small, and moved, as they had already seen, at far greater speed than those of a bird. Their projecting eyes were also set rigidly in their heads instead of turning, and consisted of a number of flat surfaces or facets, like a fly’s eye, so that they could see backward and all around, each facet seeing anything the rays from which came at right angles to its surface. This beautiful grove was doubtless their feeding-ground, and, as such, was likely to be visited by many more. Concluding it would be wise to let their wounded game escape, the three men were about to retreat, having found it difficult to breathe the air even at that distance from the monsters, when the wounded dragon that they had observed moving about in a very restless manner, and evidently suffering a good deal from the effect of its wounds, espied them, and, with a roar that made the echoes ring, started towards them slowly along the ground, followed by the entire herd, the nearer of which now also saw them. Seeing that their lives were in danger, the hunters quickly regained the open, and then stretched their legs against the wind. The dragons came through the trees on the ground, and then, raising themselves by their wings, the whole swarm, snorting, and darkening the air with their deadly breath, made straight for the men, who by comparison looked like Lilliputians. With the slug from his right barrel Bearwarden ended the wounded dragon’s career by shooting him through the head, and with his left laid low the one following. Ayrault also killed two huge monsters, and Cortlandt killed one and wounded another. Their supply of prepared cartridges was then exhausted, and they fell back on their revolvers and ineffective spreading shot. Resolved to sell their lives dearly, they retreated, keeping their backs to the wind, with the poisonous dragons in front. But the breeze was very slight, and they were being rapidly blinded and asphyxiated by the loathsome fumes, and deafened by the hideous roaring and snapping of the dragons’ jaws. Realizing that they could not much longer reply to the diabolical host with lead, they believed their last hour had come, when the ground on which they were making their last stand shook, there was a rending of rocks and a rush of imprisoned steam that drowned even the dragons’ roar, and they were separated from them by a long fissure and a wall of smoke and vapour. Struggling back from the edge of the chasm, they fell upon the ground, and then for the first time fully realized that the earthquake had saved them, for the dragons could not come across the opening, and would not venture to fly through the smoke and steam. When they recovered somewhat from the shock, they cut a number of cartridges in the same way that they had prepared those that had done them such good service, and kept one barrel of each gun loaded with that kind.

"We may thank Providence," said Bearwarden, "for that escape. I hope we shall have no more such close calls."

With a parting glance at the chasm that had saved their lives, and from which a cloud still arose, they turned slightly to the right of their former course and climbed the gently rising bank. When near the top, being tired of their exciting experiences, they sat down to rest. The ground all about them was covered with mushrooms, white on top and pink underneath.

"This is a wonderful place for fungi," said Ayrault. "Here, doubtless, we shall be safe from the dragons, for they seemed to prefer the toadstools." As he lay on the ground he watched one particular mushroom that seemed to grow before his eyes. Suddenly, as he looked, it vanished. Dumfounded at this unmistakable manifestation of the phenomenon they thought they had seen on landing, he called his companions, and, choosing another mushroom, the three watched it closely. Presently, without the least noise or commotion, that also disappeared, leaving no trace, and the same fate befell a number of others. At a certain point of their development they vanished as completely as a bubble of air coming to the surface of water, except that they caused no ripple, leaving merely a small depression where they had stood.

"Well," said Bearwarden, "in all my travels I never have seen anything like this. If I were at a sleight-of-hand performance, and the prestidigitateur, after doing that, asked for my theory, I should say, ’I give it up.’ How is it with you, doctor?" he asked, addressing Cortlandt.

"There must be an explanation," replied Cortlandt, "only we do not know the natural law to which the phenomenon is subject, having had no experience with it on earth. We know that all substances can be converted into gases, and that all gases can be reduced to liquids, and even solids, by the application of pressure and cold. If there is any way by which the visible substance of these fungi can be converted into its invisible gases, as water into oxygen and hydrogen, what we have seen can be logically explained. Perhaps, favoured by some affinity of the atmosphere, its constituent parts are broken up and become gases at this barometric pressure and temperature. We must ask the spirit, if he visits us again."

"I wish he would," said Ayrault; "there are lots of things I should like to ask him."

"Presidents of corporations and other chairmen," said Bearwarden, "are not usually superstitious, and I, of course, take no stock in the supernatural; but somehow I have a well-formed idea that our friend the bishop, with the great power of his mind over matter, had a hand in that earthquake. He seems to have an exalted idea of our importance, and may be exerting himself to make things pleasant."

At this point the sun sank below the horizon, and they found themselves confronted with night.

"Dear, dear!" said Bearwarden, "and we haven’t a crumb to eat. I’ll stand the drinks and the pipes," he continued, passing around his ubiquitous flask and tobacco-pouch.

"If I played such pranks with my interior on earth," said Cortlandt, helping himself to both, "as I do on this planet, it would give me no end of trouble, but here I seem to have the digestion of an ostrich."

So they sat and smoked for an hour, till the stars twinkled and the rings shone in their glory.

"Well," said Ayrault, finally, "since we have nothing but motions to lay on the table, I move we adjourn."

"The only motion I shall make," said Cortlandt, who was already undressed, "will be that of getting into bed," saying which, he rolled himself in his blanket and soon was fast asleep.

Having decided that, on account of the proximity of the dragons, a man must in any event be on the watch, they did not set the protection-wires. From the shortness of the nights, they divided them into only two watches of from two hours to two and a half each, so that, even when constant watch duty was necessary, each man had one full night’s sleep in three. On this occasion Ayrault and Cortlandt were the watchers, Cortlandt having the morning and Ayrault the evening watch. Many curious quadruped birds, about the size of large bears, and similar in shape, having bear-shaped heads, and several creatures that looked like the dragons, flew about them in the moonlight; but neither watcher fired a shot, as the creatures showed no desire to make an attack. All these species seemed to belong to the owl or bat tribe, for they roamed abroad at night.

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Chicago: John Jacob Astor, "Chapter IV. A Providential Intervention.," A Journey in Other Worlds in A Journey in Other Worlds (New York: The Century Co., 1918), Original Sources, accessed August 7, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4TWKQSRJ1MS66XY.

MLA: Astor, John Jacob. "Chapter IV. A Providential Intervention." A Journey in Other Worlds, in A Journey in Other Worlds, New York, The Century Co., 1918, Original Sources. 7 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4TWKQSRJ1MS66XY.

Harvard: Astor, JJ, 'Chapter IV. A Providential Intervention.' in A Journey in Other Worlds. cited in 1918, A Journey in Other Worlds, The Century Co., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 7 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4TWKQSRJ1MS66XY.