The Skylark of Space, E. E. "Doc" Smith, Amazing Stories August, September and October 1928. Note: The copyright for this magazine short fiction has expired in the United States and was not renewed, thus, The Skylark of Space now resides in the public domain.

Seaton awoke, hot and uncomfortable, but with a great surge of joy in his heart—this was his wedding day! Springing from the bed, he released the full stream of the "cold" water, filling the tank in a few moments. Poising lightly upon the edge, he made a clean, sharp dive, and yelled in surprise as he came snorting to the surface. For Dunark had made good his promise—the water was only a few degrees above the freezing point! After a few minutes of vigorous splashing in the icy water, he rubbed himself down with a coarse towel, shaved, threw on his clothes, and lifted his powerful, but musical, bass voice in the wedding chorus from "The Rose Maiden."

"Rise, sweet maid, arise, arise,
Rise, sweet maid, arise, arise,
'Tis the last fair morning for thy maiden eyes,"

he sang lustily, out of his sheer joy in being alive, and was surprised to hear Dorothy's clear soprano, Margaret's pleasing contralto, and Crane's mellow tenor chime in from the adjoining room. Crane threw open the door and Seaton joined the others.

"Good morning. Dick, you sound happy," said Crane.

"Who wouldn't be? Look what's doing today," as he ardently embraced his bride-to-be. "Besides, I found some cold water this morning."

"Everyone in the palace heard you discovering it," dryly returned Crane, and the girls laughed merrily.

"It surprised me at first," admitted Seaton, "but it's great after a fellow once gets wet."

"We warmed ours a trifle," said Dorothy. "I like a cold bath myself, but not in ice-water."

All four became silent, thinking of the coming event of the day, until Crane said:

"They have ministers here, I know, and I know something of their religion, but my knowledge is rather vague. You know more about it than we do, Dick, suppose you tell us about it while we wait."

Seaton paused a moment, with an odd look on his face. As one turning the pages of an unfamiliar book of reference, he was seeking the answer to Crane's question in the vast store of Osnomian information received from Dunark. His usually ready speech came a little slowly.

"Well, as nearly as I can explain it, it's a funny kind of a mixture—partly theology, partly Darwinism, or at least, making a fetish of evolution, and partly pure economic determinism. They believe in a Supreme Being, whom they call the First Cause—that is the nearest English equivalent—and they recognize the existence of an immortal and unknowable life-principle, or soul. They believe that the First Cause has decreed the survival of the fittest as the fundamental law, which belief accounts for their perfect physiques...."

"Perfect physiques? Why, they're as weak as children," interrupted Dorothy.

"Yes, but that is because of the smallness of the planet," returned Seaton. "You see, a man of my size weighs only eighty-six pounds here, on a spring balance, so he would need only the muscular development of a boy of twelve or so. In a contest of strength, either of you girls could easily handle two of the strongest men upon Osnome. In fact, the average Osnomian could stand up on our Earth only with the greatest difficulty. But that isn't the fault of the people; they are magnificently developed for their surroundings. They have attained this condition by centuries of weeding out the unfit. They have no hospitals for the feeble-minded or feeble-bodied—abnormal persons are not allowed to live. The same reasoning accounts for their perfect cleanliness, moral and physical. Vice is practically unknown. They believe that clean living and clean thinking are rewarded by the production of a better physical and mental type...."

"Yes, especially as they correct wrong living by those terrible punishments the Kofedix told us about," interrupted Margaret.

"That probably helps some. They also believe that the higher the type is, the faster will evolution proceed, and the sooner will mankind reach what they call the Ultimate Goal, and know all things. Believing as they do that the fittest must survive, and thinking themselves, of course, the superior type, it is ordained that Mardonale must be destroyed utterly, root and branch. They believe that the slaves are so low in the scale, millions of years behind in evolution, that they do not count. Slaves are simply intelligent and docile animals, little more than horses or oxen. Mardonalians and savages are unfit to survive and must be exterminated.

"Their ministers are chosen from the very fittest. They are the strongest, cleanest-living, and most vigorous men of this clean and vigorous nation, and are usually high army officers as well as ministers."

An attendant announced the coming of the Karfedix and his son, to pay the call of state. After the ceremonious greetings had been exchanged, all went into the dining hall for darprat. As soon as the meal was over, Seaton brought up the question of the double wedding that kokam, and the Karfedix was overjoyed.

"Karfedix Seaton," he said earnestly, "nothing could please us more than to have such a ceremony performed in our palace. Marriage between such highly-evolved persons as are you four is wished by the First Cause, whose servants we are. Aside from that, it is an unheard-of honor for any ruler to have even one karfedix married beneath his roof, and you are granting me the privilege of two! I thank you, and assure you that we will do our poor best to make the occasion memorable."

"Don't do anything fancy," said Seaton hastily. "A simple, plain wedding will do."

Unheeding Seaton's remark, the Karfedix took his wireless from its hook at his belt and sent a brief message.

"I have summoned Karbix Tarnan to perform the ceremony. Our usual time for ceremonies is just before koprat—is that time satisfactory to you?"

Assured that it was, he turned to his son.

"Dunark, you are more familiar than I with the customs of our illustrious visitors. May I ask you to take charge of the details?"

While Dunark sent a rapid succession of messages, Dorothy whispered to Seaton:

"They must be going to make a real function of our double wedding, Dick. The Karbix is the highest dignitary of the church, isn't he?"

"Yes, in addition to being the Commander-in-Chief of all the Kondalian armies. Next to the Karfedix he is the most powerful man in the empire. Something tells me, Dottie, that this is going to be SOME ceremony!"

As Dunark finished telegraphing, Seaton turned to him.

"Dorothy said, a while ago, that she would like to have enough of that tapestry-fabric for a dress. Do you suppose it could be managed?"

"Certainly. In all state ceremonials we always wear robes made out of the same fabric as the tapestries, but much finer and more delicate. I would have suggested it, but thought perhaps the ladies would prefer their usual clothing. I know that you two men do not care to wear our robes?"

"We will wear white ducks, the dressiest and coolest things we have along," replied Seaton. "Thank you for your offer, but you know how it is. We should feel out of place in such gorgeous dress."

"I understand. I will call in a few of our most expert robe-makers, who will weave the gowns. Before they come, let us decide upon the ceremony. I think you are familiar with our marriage customs, but I will explain them to make sure. Each couple is married twice. The first marriage is symbolized by the exchange of plain bracelets and lasts four karkamo, during which period divorce may be obtained at will. The children of such divorced couples formerly became wards of the state, but in my lifetime I have not heard of there being any such children—all divorces are now between couples who discover their incompatibility before children are conceived."

"That surprises me greatly," said Crane. "Some system of trial-marriage is advocated among us on Earth every few years, but they all so surely degenerate into free love that no such system has found a foothold."

"We are not troubled in that way at all. You see, before the first marriage, each couple, from the humblest peasantry to the highest royalty, must submit to a mental examination. If they are marrying for any reason at all other than love, such as any thought of trifling in the mind of the man, or if the woman is marrying him for his wealth or position, he or she is summarily executed, regardless of station."

No other questions being asked, Dunark continued:

"At the end of four karkamo the second marriage is performed, which is indissoluble. In this ceremony jeweled bracelets are substituted for the plain ones. In the case of highly-evolved persons it is permitted that the two ceremonies be combined into one. Then there is a third ceremony, used only in the marriage of persons of the very highest evolution, in which the 'eternal' vows are taken and the faidon, the eternal jewel, is exchanged. As you are all in the permitted class, you may use the eternal ceremony if you wish."

"I think we all know our minds well enough to know that we want to be married for good—the longer the better," said Seaton, positively. "We'll make it the eternal, won't we, folks?"

"I should like to ask one question," said Crane, thoughtfully. "Does that ceremony imply that my wife would be breaking her vows if she married again upon my death?"

"Far from it. Numbers of our men are killed every karkam. Their wives, if of marriageable age, are expected to marry again. Then, too, you know that most Kondalian men have several wives. No matter how many wives or husbands may be linked together in that way, it merely means that after death their spirits will be grouped into one. Just as in your chemistry," smiling in comradely fashion at Seaton, "a varying number of elements may unite to form a stable compound."

After a short pause, the speaker went on:

"Since you are from the Earth and unaccustomed to bracelets, rings will be substituted for them. The plain rings will take the place of your Earthly wedding rings, the jeweled ones that of your engagement rings. The only difference is that while we discard the plain bracelets, you will continue to wear them. Have you men any objections to wearing the rings during the ceremony? You may discard them later if you wish and still keep the marriage valid."

"Not I! I'll wear mine all my life," responded Seaton earnestly, and Crane expressed the same thought.

"There is only one more thing," added the Kofedix. "That is, about the mental examination. Since it is not your custom, it is probable that the justices would waive the ruling, especially since everyone must be examined by a jury of his own or a superior rank, so that only one man, my father alone, could examine you."

"Not in a thousand years!" replied Seaton emphatically. "I want to be examined, and have Dorothy see the record. I don't care about having her put through it, but I want her to know exactly the kind of a guy she is getting."

Dorothy protested at this, but as all four were eager that they themselves should be tested, the Karfedix was notified and Dunark clamped sets of multiple electrodes, connected to a set of instruments, upon the temples of his father, Dorothy, and Seaton. He pressed a lever, and instantly Dorothy and Seaton read each other's minds to the minutest detail, and each knew that the Karfedix was reading the minds of both.

After Margaret and Crane had been examined, the Karfedix expressed himself as more than satisfied.

"You are all of the highest evolution and your minds are all untainted by any base thoughts in your marriage. The First Cause will smile upon your unions," he said solemnly.

"Let the robe-makers appear," the Karfedix ordered, and four women, hung with spools of brilliantly-colored wire of incredible fineness and with peculiar looms under their arms, entered the room and accompanied the two girls to their apartment.

As soon as the room was empty save for the four men, Dunark said:

"While I was in Mardonale, I heard bits of conversation regarding an immense military discovery possessed by Nalboon, besides the gas whose deadly effects we felt. I could get no inkling of its nature, but feel sure that it is something to be dreaded. I also heard that both of these secrets had been stolen from Kondal, and that we were to be destroyed by our own superior inventions."

The Karfedix nodded his head gloomily.

"That is true, my son—partly true, at least. We shall not be destroyed, however. Kondal shall triumph. The discoveries were made by a Kondalian, but I am as ignorant as are you concerning their nature. An obscure inventor, living close to the bordering ocean, was the discoverer. He was rash enough to wireless me concerning them. He would not reveal their nature, but requested a guard. The Mardonalian patrol intercepted the message and captured both him and his discoveries before our guard could arrive."

"That's easily fixed," suggested Seaton. "Let's get the Skylark fixed up, and we'll go jerk Nalboon out of his palace—if he's still alive—bring him over here, and read his mind."

"That might prove feasible," answered the Kofedix, "and in any event we must repair the Skylark and replenish her supply of copper immediately. That must be our first consideration, so that you, our guests, will have a protection in any emergency."

The Karfedix went to his duties and the other three made their way to the wrecked space-car. They found that besides the damage done to the hull, many of the instruments were broken, including one of the object-compasses focused upon the Earth.

"It's a good thing you had three of them, Mart. I sure hand it to you for preparedness," said Seaton, as he tossed the broken instruments out upon the dock. Dunark protested at this treatment, and placed the discarded instruments in a strong metal safe, remarking:

"These things may prove useful at some future time."

"Well, I suppose the first thing to do is to get some powerful jacks and straighten these plates," said Seaton.

"Why not throw away this soft metal, steel, and build it of arenak, as it should be built? You have plenty of salt," suggested Dunark.

"Fine! We have lots of salt in the galley, haven't we, Mart?"

"Yes, nearly a hundred pounds. We are stocked for emergencies, with two years' supply of food, you know."

Dunark's eyes opened in astonishment at the amount mentioned, in spite of his knowledge of earthly conditions. He started to say something, then stopped in confusion, but Seaton divined his thought.

"We can spare him fifty pounds as well as not, can't we, Mart?"

"Certainly. Fifty pounds of salt is a ridiculously cheap price for what he is doing for us, even though it is very rare here."

Dunark acknowledged the gift with shining eyes and heartfelt, but not profuse, thanks, and bore the precious bag to the palace under a heavy escort. He returned with a small army of workmen, and after making tests to assure himself that the power-bar would work as well through arenak as through steel, he instructed the officers concerning the work to be done. As the wonderfully skilled mechanics set to work without a single useless motion, the prince stood silent, with a look of care upon his handsome face.

"Worrying about Mardonale, Dunark?"

"Yes. I cannot help wondering what that terrible new engine of destruction is, which Nalboon now has at his command."

"Say, why don't you build a bus like the Skylark, and blow Mardonale off the map?"

"Building the vessel would be easy enough, but X is as yet unknown upon Osnome."

"We've got a lot of it...."

"I could not accept it. The salt was different, since you have plenty. X, however, is as scarce upon Earth as salt is upon Osnome."

"Sure you can accept it. We stopped at a planet that has lots of it, and we've got an object-compass pointing at it so that we can go back and get more of it any time we want it. We've got more of it on hand now than we're apt to need for a long time, so have a hunk and get busy," and he easily carried one of the lumps out of his cabin and tossed it upon the dock, from whence it required two of Kondal's strongest men to lift it.

The look of care vanished from the face of the prince and he summoned another corps of mechanics.

"How thick shall the walls be? Our battleships are armed with arenak the thickness of a hand, but with your vast supply of salt you may have it any thickness you wish, since the materials of the matrix are cheap and abundant."

"One inch would be enough, but everything in the bus is designed for a four-foot shell, and if we change it from four feet we'll have to redesign our guns and all our instruments. Let's make it four feet."

Seaton turned to the crippled Skylark, upon which the first crew of Kondalian mechanics were working with skill and with tools undreamed-of upon Earth. The whole interior of the vessel was supported by a complex falsework of latticed metal, then the four-foot steel plates and the mighty embers, the pride of the great MacDougall, were cut away as though they were made of paper by revolving saws and enormous power shears. The sphere, grooved for the repellers and with the members, braces, and central machinery complete, of the exact dimensions of the originals, was rapidly moulded of a stiff, plastic substance resembling clay. This matrix soon hardened into a rock-like mass into which the doors, machine-gun emplacements, and other openings were carefully cut. All surfaces were then washed with a dilute solution of salt, which the workmen handled as though it were radium. Two great plates of platinum were clamped into place upon either side of the vessel, each plate connected by means of silver cables as large as a man's leg to the receiving terminal of an enormous wireless power station. The current was applied and the great spherical mass apparently disappeared, being transformed instantly into the transparent metal arenak. Then indeed had the Earth-men a vehicle such as had never been seen before! A four-foot shell of metal five hundred times as strong and hard as the strongest and hardest steel, cast in one piece with the sustaining framework designed by the world's foremost engineer—a structure that no conceivable force could deform or injure, housing an inconceivable propulsive force!

The falsework was rapidly removed and the sustaining framework was painted with opaque varnish to render it plainly visible. At Seaton's suggestion the walls of the cabins were also painted, leaving transparent several small areas to serve as windows.

The second work-period was drawing to a close, and as Seaton and Crane were to be married before koprat, they stopped work. They marveled at the amount that had been accomplished, and the Kofedix told them:

"Both vessels will be finished tomorrow, except for the controlling instruments, which we will have to make ourselves. Another crew will work during the sleeping-period, installing the guns and other fittings. Do you wish to have your own guns installed, or guns of our pattern? You are familiar with them now."

"Our own, please. They are slower and less efficient than yours, but we are used to them and have a lot of X-plosive ammunition for them," replied Seaton, after a short conference with Crane.

After instructing the officers in charge of the work, the three returned to the palace, the hearts of two of them beating high in anticipation. Seaton went into Crane's room, accompanied by two attendants bearing his suitcase and other luggage.

"We should have brought along dress clothes, Mart. Why didn't you think of that, too?"

"Nothing like this ever entered my mind. It is a good thing we brought along ducks and white soft shirts. I must say that this is extremely informal garb for a state wedding, but since the natives are ignorant of our customs, it will not make any difference."

"That's right, too—we'll make 'em think it's the most formal kind of dress. Dunark knows what's what, but he knows that full dress would be unbearable here. We'd melt down in a minute. It's plenty hot enough as it is, with only duck trousers and sport-shirts on. They'll look green instead of white, but that's a small matter."

Dunark, as best man, entered the room some time later.

"Give us a look, Dunark," begged Seaton, "and see if we'll pass inspection. I was never so rattled in my life."

They were clad in spotless white, from their duck oxfords to the white ties encircling the open collars of their tennis shirts. The two tall figures—Crane's slender, wiry, at perfect ease; Seaton's broad-shouldered, powerful, prowling about with unconscious, feline suppleness and grace—and the two handsome, high-bred, intellectual faces, each wearing a look of eager happiness, fully justified Dunark's answer.

"You sure will do!" he pronounced enthusiastically, and with Seaton's own impulsive good will he shook hands and wished them an eternity of happiness.

"When you have spoken with your brides," he continued, "I shall be waiting to escort you into the chapel. Sitar told me to say that the ladies are ready."

Dorothy and Margaret had been dressed in their bridal gowns by Sitar and several other princesses, under the watchful eyes of the Karfedir herself. Sitar placed the two girls side by side and drew off to survey her work.

"You are the loveliest creatures in the whole world!" she cried.

They looked at each other's glittering gowns, then Margaret glanced at Dorothy's face and a look of dismay overspread her own.

"Oh, Dottie!" she gasped. "Your lovely complexion! Isn't it terrible for the boys to see us in this light?"

There was a peal of delighted laughter from Sitar and she spoke to one of the servants, who drew dark curtains across the windows and pressed a switch, flooding the room with brilliant white light.

"Dunark installed lamps like those of your ship for you," she explained with intense satisfaction. "I knew in advance just how you would feel about your color."

Before the girls had time to thank their thoughtful hostess she disappeared and their bridegrooms stood before them. For a moment no word was spoken. Seaton stared at Dorothy hungrily, almost doubting the evidence of his senses. For white was white, pink was pink, and her hair shone in all its natural splendor of burnished bronze.

In their wondrous Osnomian bridal robes the beautiful Earth-maidens stood before their lovers. Upon their feet were jeweled slippers. Their lovely bodies were clothed in softly shimmering garments that left their rounded arms and throats bare—garments infinitely more supple than the finest silk, thick-woven of metallic threads of such fineness that the individual wires were visible only under a lens; garments that floated and clung about their perfect forms in lines of exquisite grace. For black-haired Margaret, with her ivory skin, the Kondalian princess had chosen a background of a rare white metal, upon which, in complicated figures, glistened numberless jewels of pale colors, more brilliant than diamonds. Dorothy's dress was of a peculiar, dark-green shade, half-hidden by an intricate design of blazing green gems—the strange, luminous jewels of this strange world. Both girls wore their long, heavy hair unbound, after the Kondalian bridal fashion, brushed until it fell like mist about them and confined at the temples by metallic bands entirely covered with jewels.

Seaton looked from Dorothy to Margaret and back again; looked down into her violet eyes, deep with wonder and with love, more beautiful than any jewel in all her gorgeous costume. Unheeding the presence of the others, she put her dainty hands upon his mighty shoulders and stood on tiptoe.

"I love you, Dick. Now and always, here or at home or anywhere in the Universe. We'll never be parted again," she whispered, and her own beloved violin had no sweeter tones than had her voice.

A few minutes later, her eyes wet and shining, she drew herself away from him and glanced at Margaret.

"Isn't she the most beautiful thing you ever laid eyes on?"

"No," Seaton answered promptly, "she is not—but poor old Mart thinks she is!"

Accompanied by the Karfedix and his son, Seaton and Crane went into the chapel, which, already brilliant, had been decorated anew with even greater splendor. Glancing through the wide arches they saw, for the first time, Osnomians clothed. The great room was filled with the highest nobility of Kondal, wearing their heavily-jeweled, resplendent robes of state. Every color of the rainbow and numberless fantastic patterns were there, embodied in the soft, lustrous, metallic fabric.

As the men entered one door Dorothy and Margaret, with the Karfedir and Sitar, entered the other, and the entire assemblage rose to its feet and snapped into the grand salute. Moving to the accompaniment of strange martial music from concealed instruments, the two parties approached each other, meeting at the raised platform or pulpit where Karbix Tarnan, a handsome, stately, middle-aged man who carried easily his hundred and fifty karkamo of age, awaited them. As he raised his arms, the music ceased.

It was a solemn and wonderfully impressive spectacle. The room, of burnished metal, with its bizarre decorations wrought in scintillating gems; the constantly changing harmony of colors as the invisible lamps were shifted from one shade to another; the group of mighty nobles standing rigidly at attention in a silence so profound that it was an utter absence of everything audible as the Karbix lifted both arms in a silent invocation of the great First Cause—all these things deepened the solemnity of that solemn moment.

When Tarnan spoke, his voice, deep with some great feeling, inexplicable even to those who knew him best, carried clearly to every part of the great chamber.

"Friends, it is our privilege to assist today in a most notable event, the marriage of four personages from another world. For the first time in the history of Osnome, one karfedix has the privilege of entertaining the bridal party of another. It is not for this fact alone, however, that this occasion is to be memorable. A far deeper reason is that we are witnessing, possibly for the first time in the history of the Universe, the meeting upon terms of mutual fellowship and understanding of the inhabitants of two worlds separated by unthinkable distances of trackless space and by equally great differences in evolution, conditions of life, and environment. Yet these strangers are actuated by the spirit of good faith and honor which is instilled into every worthy being by the great First Cause, in the working out of whose vast projects all things are humble instruments.

"In honor of the friendship of the two worlds, we will proceed with the ceremony.

"Richard Seaton and Martin Crane, exchange the plain rings with Dorothy Vaneman and Margaret Spencer."

They did so, and repeated, after the Karbix, simple vows of love and loyalty.

"May the First Cause smile upon this temporary marriage and render it worthy of being made permanent. As a lowly servant of the all-powerful First Cause I pronounce you two, and you two, husband and wife. But we must remember that the dull vision of mortal man cannot pierce the veil of futurity, which is as crystal to the all-beholding eye of the First Cause. Though you love each other truly, unforeseen things may come between you to mar the perfection of your happiness. Therefore a time is granted you during which you may discover whether or not your unions are perfect."

A pause ensued, then Tarnan went on:

"Martin Crane, Margaret Spencer, Richard Seaton, and Dorothy Vaneman, you are before us to take the final vows which shall bind your bodies together for life and your spirits together for eternity. Have you considered the gravity of this step sufficiently to enter into this marriage without reservation?"

"I have," solemnly replied the four, in unison.

"Exchange the jeweled rings. Do you, Richard Seaton and Dorothy Vaneman; and you, Martin Crane and Margaret Spencer; individually swear, here in the presence of the First Cause and that of the Supreme Justices of Kondal, that you will be true and loyal, each helping his chosen one in all things, great and small; that never throughout eternity, in thought or in action, will either your body or your mind or your conscious spirit stray from the path of fairness and truth and honor?"

"I do."

"I pronounce you married with the eternal marriage. Just as the faidon which you each now wear—the eternal jewel which no force of man, however applied, has yet been able to change or deform in any particular; and which continues to give off its inward light without change throughout eternity—shall endure through endless cycles of time after the metal of the ring which holds it shall have crumbled in decay: even so shall your spirits, formerly two, now one and indissoluble, progress in ever-ascending evolution throughout eternity after the base material which is your bodies shall have returned to the senseless dust from whence it arose."

The Karbix lowered his arms and the bridal party walked to the door through a double rank of uplifted weapons. From the chapel they were led to another room, where the contracting parties signed their names in a register. The Kofedix then brought forward two marriage certificates—heavy square plates of a brilliant purple metal, beautifully engraved in parallel columns of English and Kondalian script, and heavily bordered with precious stones. The principals and witnesses signed below each column, the signatures being deeply engraved by the royal engraver. Leaving the registry, they were escorted to the dining hall, where a truly royal repast was served. Between courses the highest nobles of the nation welcomed the visitors and wished them happiness in short but earnest addresses. After the last course had been disposed of, the Karbix rose at a sign from the Karfedix and spoke, his voice again agitated by the emotion which had puzzled his hearers during the marriage service.

"All Kondal is with us here in spirit, trying to aid us in our poor attempts to convey our welcome to these our guests, of whose friendship no greater warrant could be given than their willingness to grant us the privilege of their marriage. Not only have they given us a boon that will make their names revered throughout the nation as long as Kondal shall exist, but they have also been the means of showing us plainly that the First Cause is upon our side, that our age-old institution of honor is in truth the only foundation upon which can be built a race fitted to survive. At the same time they have been the means of showing us that our hated foe, entirely without honor, building his race upon a foundation of bloodthirsty savagery alone, is building wrongly and must perish utterly from the face of Osnome."

His hearers listened, impressed by his earnestness, but plainly not understanding his meaning.

"You do not understand?" he went on, with a deep light shining in his eyes. "It is inevitable that two peoples inhabiting worlds so widely separated as are our two should be possessed of widely-varying knowledge and abilities, and these strangers have already made it possible for us to construct engines of destruction which shall obliterate Mardonale completely...." A fierce shout of joy interrupted the speaker and the nobles sprang to their feet, saluting the visitors with upraised weapons. As soon as they had reseated themselves, the Karbix continued:

"That is the boon. The vindication of our system of evolution is easily explained. The strangers landed first upon Mardonale. Had Nalboon met them in honor, he would have gained the boon. But he, with the savagery characteristic of his evolution, attempted to kill his guests and steal their treasures, with what results you already know. We, on our part, in exchange for the few and trifling services we have been able to render them, have received even more than Nalboon would have obtained, had his plans not been nullified by their vastly superior state of evolution."

The orator seated himself and there was a deafening clamor of cheering as the nobles formed themselves into an escort of honor and conducted the two couples to their apartments.

Alone in their room, Dorothy turned to her husband with tears shining in her beautiful eyes.

"Dick, sweetheart, wasn't that the most wonderful thing that anybody ever heard of? Using the word in all its real meaning, it was indescribably grand, and that old man is simply superb. It makes me ashamed of myself to think that I was ever afraid or nervous here."

"It sure was all of that, Dottie mine, little bride of an hour. The whole thing gets right down to where a fellow lives—I've got a lump in my throat right now so big that it hurts me to think. Earthly marriages are piffling in comparison with that ceremony. It's no wonder they're happy, after taking those vows—especially as they don't have to take them until after they are sure of themselves.

"But we're sure already, sweetheart," as he embraced her with all the feeling of his nature. "Those vows are not a bit stronger than the ones we have already exchanged—bodily and mentally and spiritually we are one, now and forever."