Melbourne and Mars/Chapter 16

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CHAPTER XVI.


Life in Sidonia. Consciousness.

"YOU think, then, that you could enjoy life in the Great City?"

"I certainly could; it appears to be ever more and more interesting, I have no desire to return to Highton."

The speakers are Charles Frankston and Helen Vance. They are taking an afternoon walk along the Grand Avenue. Hundreds more are indulging in the same kind of recreation. The springy, silent footpaths enable them to move without clatter. The green aisles stretch an illimitable vista before them, broken by shrubs and clumps of sweet smelling and radient flowers. Mars is a paradise of color. The color rays are very abundant in the subdued sunlight, and the heat rays and chemical rays are not strong enough to destroy colors. There are little avenues of trees here and there also, but nothing is carried far enough to become monotonous.

Our young folks walk along a happy and well-matched pair, so pleasant to look upon and so friendly and happy in each others company that many of those passing to and fro, many who know them and meet them with nods and smiles and pleasant greetings are compelled to turn and give them a second glance.

"It is my intention," said Charles, "to make this my home. For one thing all that takes place in any part of our planet is at once known here, and for another what operations I have going on can be easily controlled from here. I have reclaimed from the snowfields more than a thousand square miles,"

"Why do you not do the same for the south as for the north?" asked Helen.

"Probably that will come about in good time. At present, however, there is no hurry; and further, the south is better off than the north, for being nearer the sun in summer it gets about ten per cent. more fine days, than, the northern hemisphere has. Somehow or other our population is denser in the north also."

"Is the warming plan turning out a success in the temperate regions where it is being tried?"

"For some growths, yes for others the answer is yet scarcely available. Tubers, esculents and ground fruits, berries of various kinds are much increased, the increase paying the coat of laying wires and pipes in about three seasons."

"You were speaking the other night about going to the Observatory some evening," said Helen. "I and Harry would take a great delight in looking at my old home."

"Ah, yes! the home you left a thousand days ago. How strange that you so young and fresh and fair—"

"There, there that is enough for the present."

"Yes; but seriously, how strange that you should have undergone death, as they term it, down there, and should be here so full of life and ministering to the happiness of all of us."

"Leave compliments: it is our universal duty to minister to happiness, as you term it. Did I not run the risk of passing away here before dying on earth, a thing that has happened to many? Where would my lot have been cast this bright afternoon if your boat had not been available that memorable night?"

"Well, well we'll cry quits and go on trying to make everybody happy, that is, if there is anything to add to the cup of human happiness. I ask for something more, and yet I ought to be content. I love the north for the friends it gave me, and sometimes hope that—"

"Oh dear, you are spoiling the afternoon by being too sentimental; let us change the subject. How soon may we expect to see sister Emma again?"

"You are commissioned to ask that question, I suppose?"

"Well, if I am, what then?" said Helen, archly; "that brother of mine is a tease."

"I wish I had a brother who would negotiate as you do for yours."

"Poor fellow; what will you wish for next? You might find a brother inconvenient. He would probably negotiate for himself; be thankful you have a sister, and please answer my question."

"I will since you seem in earnest about it. I phoned them this morning. Mother, father and sister will all be here in fifteen days, and I am full of the most pleasant anticipations regarding their visit."

"I suppose you are going to enjoy a little of the long-promised leisure you have spoken of for more than a year? Considering that you are free of the planet, and can please yourself whether you ever do anything more or not, you seem to me to work a good deal."

"Perhaps the 'Freedom' may mean freedom to work. I take it as such, and I am sure that if I sunk into a state of ignoble idleness and self-indulgence you would be the first to condemn me. Look at Grayson, he has the badge, and he works as hard as ever spite his fifty years."

"That is all very well," said Helen, "but you know what all work and no play means. Generally we have plenty of play here, and surely when our modicum of work is finished we may play without feeling that any moral law is thereby infringed. Just look over our day's programme. At the club this afternoon we have a lecture on 'prehistoric history' of the earth. Our friend Phillips is going to people again those Asiatic cities that were full of life when the world was young. Then to-night we have one of Shakespeare's plays, 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' I will not miss that. At the Equatorial you have an opera, and there are about two hundred other entertainments inside the Urban radius all for to-night. We are fond of amusements and a fair modicum of instruction, and who can say that we are less happy or less virtuous on that account?"

"I am afraid that we push amusement too far, and that we are in danger of making our lives a little too empty. Too much play is as bad as too much work."

"Well you are in no danger anyway; too much, play has not hurt you so far."

"I grant that," said Charles, "and it is really my intention to share in a grand excursion up the Sidon, I invite you and your brother. My father and Emma will go, and perhaps mother."

"Oh, well you know Harry will go wherever there is a chance of Emma's company; as for me I will stay at home and keep mother company. There will be plenty of you for a very nice party." Helen went on with this kind of conversation for some time, showing how well they could enjoy themselves, and picturing herself at home helping mother, and doing up some neglected duties and attending to some studies that had fallen a little behind. She pretended not to see the look of absolute distress that pained the face of her companion.

"I shall be very sorry if you cannot go," said Charles; "your absence will take all the brightness out of the trip. You see we have been companions and friends so long. I have grown quite used to you. It is strange that a similar feeling has not sprung up in you."

"Oh, well, we'll see what mother says; perhaps she will spare me. At any rate you can count upon me for a visit to the Observatory. We will turn back now, if you please, and go to the Club. I want to read the Shakespearian play before seeing the performance to-night."

"May I have the pleasure of accompanying you to the play to-night?"

"Of course you can come," replied Helen; "who is to hinder you? Your membership entitles you, and even your medal would pass you. I am going to strain my privilege and take with me a poor young man who has neither of your advantages. Fred Harley is about to he introduced to our great Earth Poet to-night."

"Well, Fred is a good fellow, and I am glad to see that you interest yourself in his welfare. He has only a few days in town; he has entered heart and soul into helping on my work. I have given him the position of Chief Engineer on the Humbrian Plains contract. It will occupy him, his staff and cadets, and some two hundred men for five years. It is highly probable that he will obtain the Badge at the end of that term if his work is thoroughly well performed, and it will be. He has already obtained a very important concession, The Ministers of Railways, Air Boats and Sea Boats have each given him a Life Pass, so he may travel how he likes, and his journeys will never be charged against his labor."

"I am pleased to hear that," said Helen. "How pleasant it is to live under a government that recognises services and gives rewards, in the world we come from all they have learned to give is a pension or a title. More frequently the latter than the former. The highest of these is a new name and a seat in an obsolete parliament. Some men get a lot of titles; so many that they seem to drag the alphabet after their names."

"Yes, and there is another vast difference. On earth there is no authority that can grant anything equal to that which Fred now has, much less what he will have bye-and-bye. Speaking of earth: do you remember much of it? You rarely mention it to me. To hear you name it is a new sensation, and yet you were conscious of the dual life all the time.

"Conscious on this side; not on the other. My condition was just the reverse of yours. On Earth I knew nothing of Mars."

"You were married and lived a long life there; I have been told that you were over sixty and had a family and that your husband is still alive."

"All that is true but you will excuse me if I do not at present talk about it; I have found it best since childhood never to let the lives mix; I do not think much about my earth life; I believe it was a school or a nursery of a hard sort and that to be born here is a promotion. I have several reasons for not saying much; you will find out some of them when you gain consciousness—but here we are—good afternoon."

"I will not trouble you to-night; I wish our mutual friend Fred to spend a really enjoyable evening and that he is sure to do if with you."

"Oh how kind; have you any more like that. Ta-ta till we meet again."

Sidonian life is evidently a pleasant thing going by the peeps of it that we get from these diaries. No need to lock a door; all amusements free to all. No class distinction in evening or afternoon gatherings or in public worship. No dust, no heat, no noise nor jar. No grinding toil, no anxiety regarding business, no money, no poverty, no burdensome riches; plenty for all and all nearly as free us water or air. No demands to meet except twenty hours a week of labor and that itself be much a privilege that those to whom it was denied owing to mental or physical incapacity are the only sufferers or nearly so. Women and men are free and equal; a woman, does not resign her name or any social right. She has her voice in selecting a representative for either District or Central Executives and from within that body her vote in selecting the most suitable from the selected. Nothing but disablement or transference can remove a member, hence the best three are selected and one elected for a council wants some voice in picking men whom it can not send away. The fifth day is the Sabbath and every kind of work stops that can by any possibility be allowed to stop that the people can attend morning Thanksgiving and be free to spend the day as they please. They do not travel that day except on foot or by private air boat; because they will not partake of any pleasure that deprives another of his chance of enjoying the same. They cannot endure the picture of one man working for the gratification of two or three more. Still this altruism works two ways; any man if asked would work for the benefit of the rest or even to minister to others pleasure. The religious life of the community is free from sectarianism and free from cant. Little is said regarding the ten commandments but the eleventh is always obeyed. No one will wrong another. The religious faith may best be defined as a pure Theism and the worship is mostly musical and full of praise and thanksgiving. It is catered into by all with great heartiness. In Summer and even in Winter if the weather is fine and dry worship is conducted in amphitheatres. One near the junction of the avenues will seat twenty-five thousand people and when used it is filled. An orchestra of two hundred performers is backed up by a trained choir of a thousand voices, and in the parts of the service that allows of both priest and people speaking in unison the effect is overwhelming.

At least Frankston so defines it. Says he, "My little village ideas were all sent adrift. When I got through a long wide passage at the level of the street I found myself with about three or four thousand more people at one end of a great oval. The other half of the oval was occupied by a high platform for a reader; he was near the centre of the vast assemblage. Looking up on both sides I saw seven galleries separated from each other by broad, shallow flights of steps. One gallery was opposite the priest and would seat four thousand people; then there were three, more on each aide capable of holding each three thousand more. In the oval where I was there were no seats but four thousand could stand comfortably.

I went in to see one of the Sabbath morning sights of Sidonia, and up to this time I had not regarded public worship as a thing of much account. I had been inside the walls about three minutes when I saw the man in the high reading desk stand up and place an open book before him. I then felt the whole audience, as it were, getting itself ready for an effort. All the musicians that I could see were in position and ready. Then the minister touched a gong and twenty-two thousand people rose as a cloud, and the orchestra, broke into music and the choir and congregation burst into a jubilant song, beginning

'We Praise Thee, O God.
We thank Thee, Giver of All Good.'

From this moment, for an hour and a half (fifty minutes) I was carried beyond myself. I felt as if I could burst all but burst with joyful cries. I have never missed a service of the kind since. When it was over each line of spectators divided in the middle and walked off quickly each way. As one line went the next above it rose. Glancing round I saw that the same thing was going on in each gallery, and that the broad steps were never crowded, and that no one pushed against anyone else or moved with indecorous haste. In less than ten of our little minutes twenty-five thousand people had got into the streets. Where there is a population of one thousand millions there are crowds now and then."

The information above given is gathered from many pages of our diary.

A few more days have passed. Harley has gone to his work. Thomas Frankston and Mary and Emma Vaughan, Charley's mother and sister have taken up their quarters at the Equatorial. Harry Hern can scarcely be found anywhere else. Next second day a party of five go for a grand tour to see more of the Great City. Mother Vaughan has decided to remain and keep Mother Vance company, so that the party will now consist of five most congenial spirits. They are Thomas and Charles Frankston, father and son, but more like brothers. Harry Hern, a grand young fellow of eleven, with a reddish beard and a body like an athlete, and the inseparables, the blonde Helen Vance and the beautiful, laughing and arch-looking brunette Emma Vaughan. Full of health and happiness, and two of them wearers of the Magic Badge.

A railway line runs under the Grand Avenue to the Sea of Marmon, a distance of two hundred and fifty miles. This is the seaport of Sidonia. Our five friends went down by the morning express, and in two hours and a half they were on the shore of the second largest ocean on the planet. There is a great amount of traffic to this port, all the southern half of the city being supplied from it. The river Sidon, which cuts the city from its north-eastern corner diagonally, pours its clear flood into the ocean at this point.

For five hundred miles the Sidon is navigable for large vessels, and at that distance up and near to the Central Avenue there is an inland port, consisting of a pool two miles square and wharf accommodation for a score of great vessels. The whole course of the river from its mouth is never polluted. Ships going up are not allowed to discharge deck washings or any dirt into the river, and no sewage is permitted to flow into the river from any part. Ships, while on the river, in the pool, or at the wharves, are occupied as if they were houses on land, and their sewage has to be deodorised and dessicated day by day.

Our party took a launch driven by electric motors and propelled by a revolving keel, and Thomas Frankston made himself into sailing master and left the young people to their holiday and their freedom. It was decided that they should only travel by day. They wanted to see the country through its entire length, and to make the most of what they saw.

In one respect the river is a little monotonous in its lower portions. It is always clear, and though thirty feet in depth the bottom is generally visible. Its banks, too, are grassed to the water's edge, except where a ferry boat crosses; that is every two miles or so. Railway tunnels run underneath at frequent intervals. Charley Frankston told the party that the river was to a great extent a work of art. Through ages it had been dredged and widened. When the first Sidonia was built, a little village on the ocean shore, the river was a useless thing, emptying itself into the ocean through half a dozen shallow mouths. Sidonia grew and became a national capital, and the Sidonians became a commercial and warlike nation. The Sea of Marmon was at last a Sidonian lake. Centuries of war and peace rolled on, and the empire grew, and the Sidonian speech became the language of commerce. The world grew sick of war, and the men of various nations entered into bonds of labor; they would not reduce the wages rate by underworking each other; they would not join military organisations to fight each other; they would work shorter hours, and have some share of what they produced and made.

And it was time; for men had fought on land and on sea and had at length carried on battles in the air and a rain of blood had fallen upon the cities and the plains and bodies and mangled limbs had fallen into the streets.

Sidonia had become strong and rich and peaceful; she would not fight but all the nations knew that her power and wealth would give her victory even if all the other nations were arrayed against her. Her power made for peace and she became the arbitrator of the nations. Her speech grew to be the language of the schools and the date line and the time ball were found in Sidonia. She grew into a sort of cosmopolitan capital—all men of mark had to drift towards her from all centres of population.

Still generations passed away and still Sidonia grew and grew. Within her boundaries the ambassadors of the nations met to discuss the terms of the Perpetual Peace and there they signed it. Sidonia then became a Federal Capital. The "Black Century" came and taxed to the very uttermost, the resources of the Sidonian Empire and the great Federation. In this time man grew to man, and each did what he could for the other; when this term was past all private fortunes were melted away. Meanwhile the Federal Council of ambassadors took upon itself the duties of the Central Executive and that body has been in existence ever since, always electing one from three selected ones when a member passed away or became unable to perform his or her arduous duties.

In song and story; in much friendly conversation; as well as in comparison of the old and new Sidonias our party travels on. Love making, too, is not wanting; Harry Hern seems to be successful and happy. Plainly Emma is little likely to return to her antipodean home.

The Sabbath is spent in the River Port and all our party but; Thomas Frankston, who is glad to excuse himself sometimes, spend part of the afternoon in the Central Avenue.

The next morning all are back in the river. They pass under the Central Avenue bridge which divided the navigable from the ornamental parts of the river. Monotony ends here. From this point to its source the Sidon is a thing of beauty. A mile on each side is reserved as a public recreation, ground for all time. The ground is broken and hilly and the landscape gardeners for centuries have been making the most of every advantage. There is no going up by the river; the launch has to be sent back from the first falls, which are wonderfully like the falls of Lodore about, which a Martial Southey might have written in the game strain. Beetling crags, rockeries, islets, grottoes, ferneries, deep lagoons, riverside caves, deep pools, waterfalls, arches, funnels, shelters behind sheets of falling water; all in short, that human ingenuity can design or conceive is there. Here and there models of machinery in motion are placed for the pleasure of the children.

For two weeks our party travelled through the Great Park of Sidonia. Sometimes on one bank of the river, sometimes on the other, and their daily meal was sweetened by the sauce of appetite and their rest ensured by pleasant fatigue. No one was happier than Thomas Frankston. Daily he communicated with his dear wife and watching his son and daughter he felt his own youth renewed.

One day his Emma comes and strokes his hair and beard and plants herself on his knee and asks him if she has been guilty of neglect.

"No my child, I have no blame for you on any count."

"May I tell you something very serious father?" This time putting glowing face with red tingling shells of ears under her father's great brown, beard.

"Yes, tell me what you will,"

"I am going to be married to Harry Hern."

"Well," said Thomas, "I have no objection; mother and I have known all about it for a long time, I will tell her this very hour." Emma jumped up and ran away and in a few minutes Harry came to plead in person. His plea was granted.

Next day they came to the boundary of the Great Park. It is the extreme north-eastern limit of Sidonia at this point there is erected a triumphal arch a hundred feet in height. On one side are the words "Welcome to Sidonia." On the other aide is written "Sidonia welcomes the river Sidon." Before it reaches this point the Sidon does a vast amount of irrigation work; it was feared that there would be no river left. Instead of that it has been found that irrigation increases the river flow.

Further north is the sweetwater sea but our party had spent three weeks in going from one part of the city to another and now they wanted to go home. They started back at thirteen o'clock by a local train to the north of Central Avenue; there they got the sixteen o'clock express that would land them at the Equatorial Hostel at twenty-one o'clock.

Thomas Frankston went to the reading room; Harry Hern and his beloved Emma might have been found sitting very near each other in a little conversational compartment; the five hours would not prove wearisome to them. Charles Frankston and Helen Vance were left to amuse each other.

"Well Helen we shall be home again in five hours; we cannot say that our pleasures will then be over but this delightful time will be a memory."

"For me a most pleasant one, Charley; kind friends, delightful weather, and a constant succession of experiences all new and changeful."

"I, too, Helen, look back on this as the very most enjoyable time of my life; and after all the time spent in your company is the enjoyment. If you had remained at home all would have been spoiled."

"There was never any serious danger of that. Emma could scarcely have gone so well if I had not been at liberty, and I will confess that I wished all the time to join the party."

"You did?" said Charley. "Then possibly what animates me has perhaps some influence upon you. Oh, Helen, how often a question has trembled on my tongue, and I have not put it because you appeared so practical and friendly, so like a sister. I have feared to ask lest the pleasant times we spend together should cease. I have feared again because there seemed to me some selfishness in asking you to devote your life to mine. I ask it now; can you love me? May we sweeten the cup of life for each other? Barry and Emma have set us the example, shall we follow them?"

Helen Vance again looked as she did when first she met Charley on Mars. As for the strange vibration in her voice that had never ceased. That far away look, that deep dumb something in the eye, what was it? Charley could never see it without a quiver; there was some meaning for him in it. "I would like to ask you a question or two, Charley, about your earth life. Mine has been finished for three earth years, yours is not yet over. I have heard you say that you have a wife and children there; I left a husband and three sons in Melbourne."

"But you have never told me much about your earth life, and when I have tried to lead up to the subject you have always turned from it. You never even said so much as you have just told me; never mentioned Melbourne, to which city Grayson took me for half an hour long since. We have dwelt in the same city; we may have seen and known each other. From our first meeting I have felt as if we had some memory in common; indeed, that feeling has always had a strong hold upon me: you have always made me wish to remember,"

"Your missing memory is coming, coming fast," said Helen. "It is almost time that you knew as much as I have known from the first. What sort of woman was your earth-wife when you saw her in the state induced by Grayson?"

"She was a robust woman of nearly sixty years of age, wifelike and motherly. I felt when I saw her as if I were at once a grandson and a husband to her. Her voice was deep and full, and had a verve in it." Here Charley paused as if forced into silence, and sat swaying to and fro as if only partly conscious. He put his face between his hands and bowed himself forward, Helen watched him with every faculty upon the stretch. Again he looked up into her face of Helen Vance, and continued. "It was your voice, and the eyes, with the wrinkled forehead and the crown of gray hair above them, were your eyes; you, you, YOU are the same; my loved wife for forty years; the same! the same!! the SAME!!! Thank God we meet again." Charley rose from his seat in his emotion and tried to clasp Helen in his arms. In doing so he staggered from side to side and then fell. The rush of consciousness had suspended animation. A moment more and his father, Harry, and Emma were there, and the unconscious man was made comfortable while the train rushed on to Sidonia.

In two hours he was in Grayson's house, and Dr. Somers was in attendance upon him.