"A new person is to me always a great event, and hinders me from sleep." - Emerson.
You know how certain kinds of music will beat everything out of your consciousness except a wild delirium of joy; how love of a woman will take up every cranny of space in your being,—and fill the universe beside,—so that people who are not en rapport with the strains that delight you, or with the beauty that enthralls you, seem pitiable creatures, not in touch with the Divine Harmony, with Supreme Loveliness.
So it was with me, when I set my feet on Mars! My soul leaped to its highest altitude and I had but one vast thought,—"I have triumphed; I am here! And I am alone; Earth is unconscious of the glory that is mine!"
I shall not weary you with an account of my voyage, since you are more interested in the story of my sojourn on the red planet than in the manner of my getting there.
It is not literally red, by the way; that which makes it appear so at this distance is its atmosphere,—its "sky,"—which is of a soft roseate color, instead of being blue like ours. It is as beautiful as a blush.
I will just say, that the time consumed in making the journey was incredibly brief. Having launched my aeroplane on the current of attraction which flows uninterruptedly between this world and that, traveling was as swift as thought. My impression is that my speed was constantly accelerated until I neared my journey's end, when the planet's pink envelope interposed its soft resistance to prevent a destructive landing.
I settled down as gently as a dove alights, and the sensation was the most ecstatic I have ever experienced.
When I could distinguish trees, flowers, green fields, streams of water, and people moving about in the streets of a beautiful city, it was as if some hitherto unsuspected chambers of my soul were flung open to let in new tides of feeling.
My coming had been discovered. A college of astronomers in an observatory which stands on an elevation just outside the city, had their great telescope directed toward the Earth,—just as our telescopes were directed to Mars at that time,—and they saw me and made me out when I was yet a great way off.
They were able to determine the exact spot whereon I would land, about a mile distant from the observatory, and repaired thither with all possible speed,—and they have very perfect means of locomotion, superior even to our electrical contrivances.
Before I had time to look about me, I found myself surrounded, and unmistakably friendly hands outheld to welcome me.
There were eight or ten of the astronomers,—some young, some middle-aged, and one or two elderly men. All of them, including the youngest, who had not even the dawn of a beard upon his chin, and the oldest, whose hair was silky white, were strikingly handsome. Their features were extraordinarily mobile and expressive. I never saw a more lively interest manifest on mortal countenances than appeared on theirs, as they bent their glances upon me. But their curiosity was tempered by a dignified courtesy and self-respect.
They spoke, but of course I could not understand their words, though it was easy enough to interpret the tones of their voices, their manner, and their graceful gestures. I set them down for a people who had attained to a high state of culture and good-breeding.
I suddenly felt myself growing faint, for, although I had not fasted long, a journey such as I had just accomplished is exhausting.
Near by stood a beautiful tree on which there was ripe fruit. Some one instantly interpreted the glance I involuntarily directed to it, and plucked a cluster of the large rich berries and gave them to me, first putting one in his own mouth to show me that it was a safe experiment.
While I ate,—I found the fruit exceedingly refreshing,—the company conferred together, and presently one of the younger men approached and took me gently by the arm and walked me away toward the city. The others followed us.
We had not to go farther than the first suburb. My companion, whom they called Severnius, turned into a beautiful park, or grove, in the midst of which stood a superb mansion built of dazzling white stone. His friends waved us farewells with their hands,—we responding in like manner,—and proceeded on down the street.
I learned afterwards that the park was laid out with scientific precision. But the design was intricate, and required study to follow the curves and angles. It seemed to me then like an exquisite mood of nature.
The trees were of rare and beautiful varieties, and the shrubbery of the choicest. The flowers, whose colors could not declare themselves,—it being night,—fulfilled their other delightful function and tinctured the balmy air with sweet odors.
Paths were threaded like white ribbons through the thick greensward.
As we walked toward the mansion, I stopped suddenly to listen to a most musical and familiar and welcome sound,—the plash of water. My companion divined my thought. We turned aside, and a few steps brought us to a marble fountain. It was in the form of a chaste and lovely female figure, from whose chiseled fingers a shower of glittering drops continually poured. Severnius took an alabaster cup from the base of the statue, filled it, and offered me a drink. The water was sparkling and intensely cold, and had the suggestion rather than the fact of sweetness.
"Delicious!" I exclaimed. He understood me, for he smiled and nodded his head, a gesture which seemed to say, "It gives me pleasure to know that you find it good." I could not conceive of his expressing himself in any other than the politest manner.
We proceeded into the house. How shall I describe that house? Imagine a place which responds fully to every need of the highest culture and taste, without burdening the senses with oppressive luxury, and you have it! In a word, it was an ideal house and home. Both outside and inside, white predominated. But here and there were bits of color the most brilliant, like jewels. I found that I had never understood the law of contrast, or of economy in art; I knew nothing of "values," or of relationships in this wonderful realm, of which it maybe truly said, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread."
I learned subsequently that all Marsians of taste are sparing of rich colors, as we are of gems, though certain classes indulge in extravagant and gaudy displays, recognizing no law but that which permits them to have and to do whatsoever they like.
I immediately discovered that two leading ideas were carried out in this house; massiveness and delicacy. There was extreme solidity in everything which had a right to be solid and stable; as the walls, and the supporting pillars, the staircases, the polished floors, and some pieces of stationary furniture, and the statuary,—the latter not too abundant. Each piece of statuary, by the way, had some special reason for being where it was; either it served some practical purpose, or it helped to carry out a poetical idea,—so that one was never taken aback as by an incongruity.
Some of the floors were of marble, in exquisite mosaic-work, and others were of wood richly inlaid. The carpets were beautiful, but they were used sparingly. When we sat down in a room a servant usually brought a rug or a cushion for our feet. And when we went out under the trees they spread carpets on the grass and put pillows on the rustic seats.
The decorations inside the house were the most airy and graceful imaginable. The frescoes were like clouds penetrated by the rarest tints,—colors idealized,—cunningly wrought into surpassingly lovely pictures, which did not at once declare the artist's intention, but had to be studied. They were not only an indulgence to the eye, but a charming occupation for the thoughts. In fact, almost everything about the place appealed to the higher faculties as well as to the senses.
There comes to us, from time to time, a feeling of disenchantment toward almost everything life has to offer us. It never came to me with respect to Severnius' house. It had for me an interest and a fascination which I was never able to dissect, any more than you would be able to dissect the charm of the woman you love.
With all its fine artistic elaborations, there was a simplicity about it which made it possible for the smallest nature to measure its capacity there, as well as the greatest. The proper sort of a yardstick for all uses has inch-marks.
Severnius took me upstairs and placed a suite of rooms at my command, and indicated to me that he supposed I needed rest, which I did sorely. But I could not lie down until I had explored my territory.
The room into which I had been ushered, and where Severnius left me, closing the noiseless door behind him, looked to me like a pretty woman's boudoir,—almost everything in it being of a light and delicate color. The walls were cream-tinted, with a deep frieze of a little darker shade, relieved by pale green and brown decorations. The wood work was done in white enamel paint. The ceiling was sprinkled with silver stars. Two or three exquisite water-colors were framed in silver, and the andirons, tongs and shovel, and the fender round the fire-place, and even the bedstead, were silver-plated.
The bed, which stood in an alcove, was curtained with silk, and had delicacies of lace also, as fine and subtle as Arachne's web. The table and a few of the chairs looked like our spindle-legged Chippendale things. And two or three large rugs might have been of Persian lamb's wool. A luxurious couch was placed across one corner of the room and piled with down cushions. An immense easy chair, or lounging chair, stood opposite.
The dressing table, of a peculiarly beautiful cream-colored wood, was prettily littered with toilet articles in carved ivory or silver mountings. Above it hung a large mirror. There was a set of shelves for books and bric-a-brac; a porphyry lamp-stand with a lamp dressed in an exquisite pale-green shade; a chiffonier of marquetry.
The mantel ornaments were vases of fine pottery and marble statuettes. A musical instrument lay on a low bamboo stand. I could not play upon it, but the strings responded sweetly to the touch.
A little investigation revealed a luxurious bath-room. I felt the need of a bath, and turned on the water and plunged in. As I finished, a clock somewhere chimed the hour of midnight.
Before lying down, I put by the window draperies and looked out. I was amazed at the extreme splendor of the familiar constellations. Owing to the peculiarity of the atmosphere of Mars, the night there is almost as luminous as our day. Every star stood out, not a mere twinkling eye, or little flat, silver disk, but a magnificent sphere, effulgent and supremely glorious.
Notwithstanding that it was long before I slept, I awoke with the day. I think its peculiar light had something to do with my waking. I did not suppose such light was possible out of heaven! It did not dazzle me, however; it simply filled me, and gave me a sensation of peculiar buoyancy.
I had a singular feeling when I first stepped out of bed,—that the floor was not going to hold me. It was as if I should presently be lifted up, as a feather is lifted by a slight current of air skimming along on the ground. But I soon found that this was not going to happen. My feet clung securely to the polished wood and the soft wool of the rug at the bedside. I laughed quietly to myself. In fact I was in the humor to laugh. I felt so happy. Happiness seemed to be a quality of the air, which at that hour was particularly charming in its freshness and its pinkish tones.
I had made my ablutions and was taking up my trousers to put them on, when there was a tap at the door and Severnius appeared with some soft white garments, such as he himself wore, thrown over his arm. In the most delicate manner possible, he conveyed the wish that I might feel disposed to put them on.
I blushed,—they seemed such womanish things. He misinterpreted my confusion. He assured me by every means in his power that I was entirely welcome to them, that it would give him untold pleasure to provide for my every want. I could not stand out against such generosity. I reached for the things—swaddling clothes I called them—and Severnius helped me to array myself in them. I happened to glance into the mirror, and I did not recognize myself. I had some sense of how a barbarian must feel in his first civilized suit.
At my friend's suggestion I hung my own familiar apparel up in the closet,—you may imagine with what reluctance.
But I may say, right here, that I grew rapidly to my new clothes. I soon liked them. There was something very graceful in the cut and style of them.
They covered and adorned the body without disguising it. They left the limbs and muscles free and encouraged grace of pose and movement.
The elegant folds in which the garments hung from the shoulders and the waist, the tassels and fringes and artistic drapery arrangements, while seemingly left to their own caprice, were as secure in their place as the plumage of a bird,—which the wind may ruffle but cannot displace.
I suspect that it requires a great deal of skill to construct a Marsian costume, whether for male or female. They are not altogether dissimilar; the women's stuffs are of a little finer quality ordinarily, but their dress is not usually so elaborately trimmed as the men's garb, which struck me as very peculiar. Both sexes wear white, or a soft cream. The fabric is either a sort of fine linen, or a mixture of silk and wool.
After Severnius and I came to understand each other, as comrades and friends, he laughingly compared my dress, in which I had made my first appearance, to the saddle and housings of a horse. He declared that he and his friends were not quite sure whether I was a man or a beast. But he was too polite to give me the remotest hint, during our early acquaintance, that he considered my garb absurd.
When, having completed my toilet, I indicated to him that I was ready for the next thing on the program,—which I sincerely hoped might be breakfast,—he approached me and taking my hand placed a gold ring on my finger. It was set with a superb rubellite enhanced with pearls. The stone was the only bit of color in my entire dress. Even my shoes were of white canvas.
I thanked him as well as I was able for this especial mark of favor. I was pleased that he had given me a gem not only beautiful, but possessing remarkable qualities. I held it in a ray of sunlight and turned it this way and that, to show him that I was capable of appreciating its beauties and its peculiar characteristics.
He was delighted, and I had the satisfaction of feeling that I had made a good impression upon him.
He led the way down-stairs, and luckily into the breakfast room.
We were served by men dressed similarly to ourselves, though their clothing was without trimming and was of coarser material than ours. They moved about the room swiftly and noiselessly. Motion upon that planet seems so natural and so easy. There is very little inertia to overcome.
Our meal was rather odd; it consisted of fruits, some curiously prepared cereals, and a hot palatable drink. No meat.
After this light but entirely satisfactory repast we ascended the grand stairway—a marvel of beauty in its elaborate carvings—and entered a lofty apartment occupying a large part of the last etage.
I at first made out that it was a place devoted to the fine arts. I had noticed a somewhat conspicuous absence, in the rooms below, of the sort of things with which rich people in our country crowd their houses. I understood now, they were all marshaled up here.
There were exquisitely carved vessels of all descriptions, bronzes, marbles, royal paintings, precious minerals.
Here also were the riches of color.
The brilliant morning light came through the most beautiful windows I have ever seen, even in our finest cathedrals. The large central stained glasses were studded round with prisms that played extraordinary pranks with the sunbeams, which, as they glanced from them, were splintered into a thousand scintillating bits, as splendid as jewels.
We sat down, I filled—I do not know why—with a curious sense of expectancy that was half awe.
Across one end of the great room was stretched a superb curtain of tapestry,—a mosaic in silk and wool.
Severnius did not make any other sign or gesture to me except the one that bade me be seated.
I watched him wonderingly but furtively. He seemed to be composing himself, as I have seen saintly people compose themselves in church. Not that he was saintly; he did not strike me as being that kind of a man, though there was that about him which proclaimed him to be a good man, whose friendship would be a valuable acquisition.
He folded his hands loosely in his lap and sat motionless, his glance resting serenely on one of the great windows for a time and then passing on to other objects equally beautiful.
We were still enwrapped in this august silence when I became conscious that somewhere, afar off, beyond the tapestry curtain, there were stealing toward us strains of unusual, ineffable music, tantalizingly sweet and vague.
Gradually the almost indistinguishable sounds detached themselves from, and rose above, the pulsing silence,—or that unappreciable harmony we call silence,—and swelled up among the arches that ribbed the lofty ceiling, and rolled and reverberated through the great dome above, and came reflected down to us in refined and sublimated undulations.
Our souls—my soul,—in this new wonder and ecstasy I forgot Severnius,—awoke in responsive raptures, inconceivably thrilling and exalted.
I did not need to be told that it was sacred music, it invoked the Divine Presence unmistakably. No influence that had ever before been trained upon my spiritual senses had so compelled to adoration of the Supreme One who holds and rules all worlds.
"He lifts me to the golden doors; The flashes come and go; All heaven bursts her starry floors, And strows her lights below, And deepens on and up! the gates Roll back."
This I murmured, and texts of our scriptures, and fragments of anthems. It was as if I brought my earthly tribute to lay on this Marsian shrine.
The gates did roll back, the heavens were broken up, new spiritual heights were shown to me, up which my spirit mounted.
I looked at Severnius. His eyes were closed. His face, lighted as by an inner illumination, and his whole attitude, suggested a "waiting upon God," that
"Intercourse divine, Which God permits, ordains, across the line."
There stole insensibly upon the sound-burdened air, the hallowed perfume of burning incense.
I conjectured, and truly as I afterward learned, that I was in my friend's private sanctuary. It was his spiritual lavatory, in which he made daily ablutions. A service in which the soul lays aside the forms necessary in public worship and stands unveiled before its God.
It was a rare honor he paid me, in permitting me to accompany him. And he repeated it every morning during my stay in his house, except on one or two occasions. It speedily became almost a necessity to me. You know how it is when you have formed a habit of exercising your muscles in a gymnasium. If you leave it off, you are uncomfortable, you have a feeling that you have cheated your body out of its right. It was so with me, when for any reason I was obliged to forego this higher exercise. I was heavy in spirit, my conscience accused me of a wrong to one of the "selfs" in me,—for we have several selfs, I think.
There was not always music. Sometimes a wonderful voice chanted psalms and praises, and recited poems that troubled the soul's deepest waters. At first I did not understand the words, of course, but the intonations spoke to me the same as music does. And I felt that I knew what the words expressed.
Often there was nothing there but The Presence, which hushed our voices and set our souls in tune with heavenly things. No matter, I was fed and satisfied.
At the end of a sweet half-hour, the music died away, and we rose and passed out of the sacred place. I longed to question Severnius, but was powerless.
He led the way down into the library, which was just off the wide entrance hall. Books were ranged round the walls on shelves, the same as we dispose ours. But they were all bound in white cloth or white leather.
The lettering on the backs was gold.
I took one in my hand and flipped its leaves to show Severnius that I knew what a book was. He was delighted. He asked me, in a language which he and I had speedily established between ourselves, if I would not like to learn the Marsian tongue. I replied that it was what I wished above all things to do. We set to work at once. His teaching was very simple and natural, and I quickly mastered several important principles.
After a little a servant announced some visitors, and Severnius went out into the hall to receive them. He left the door open, and I saw that the visitors were the astronomers I had met the night before. They asked to see me, and Severnius ushered them into the library. I stood up and shook hands with each one, as he advanced, and repeated their own formula for "How do you do!" which quite amused them. I suppose the words sounded very parrot-like,—I did not know where to put the accent. They congratulated me with many smiles and gesticulations on my determination to learn the language,—Severnius having explained this fact to them. He also told them that I had perhaps better be left to myself and him until I had mastered it, when of course I should be much more interesting to them and they to me. They acquiesced, and with many bows and waves of the hand, withdrew.
The language, I found, was not at all difficult,—not so arbitrary as many of our modern languages. It was similar in form and construction to the ancient languages of southern Europe. The proper names had an almost familiar sound. That of the country I was in was Paleveria. The city was called Thursia, and there was a river flowing through it,—one portion of Severnius' grounds, at the back of the house, sloped to it,—named the Gyro.