From the time that he had taken up the study of astronomy as a pleasant means of spending his newly acquired leisure, and had built himself a small but well-equipped observatory as an adjunct to his house, which stood on one of the highest slopes of Leith Hill, Mequillen ...
From the time that he had taken up the study of astronomy as a pleasant
means of spending his newly acquired leisure, and had built himself a
small but well-equipped observatory as an adjunct to his house, which
stood on one of the highest slopes of Leith Hill, Mequillen had formed
the habit of rising from his bed every two or three hours of a cloudy
night to see if the sky had cleared. To some men such a habit would have
been highly inconvenient, for many obvious reasons. But Mequillen was in
a lucky position. He was unmarried; he possessed much more than ample
means; he had therefore no business or profession to attend to, and
accordingly no train to catch of a morning in order to keep office
hours. He could sleep at any time of the day he chose; and if he did
jump out of bed at two o'clock in the morning, to find that the sky was
still cloudy, he could jump back and go to sleep again on the instant.
And he was, moreover, an enthusiast of the first order.
On a certain night in the February of 19--, Mequillen, who had gone to
bed at ten o'clock, suddenly awoke, switched on the electric light at
the side of his bed, and, seeing that it was then ten minutes past
twelve, sprang out, shuffled himself into his thickly padded
dressing-gown, and hurried up the winding stair which led to the
observatory. One glance into the night showed him a perfectly clear sky.
From the vast dome of heaven, wondrously blue, the stars shone out like
points of fire. And Mequillen, with a sigh of satisfaction, began his
work at the telescope, comparing the sky, field by field, with his star
chart, on the chance of finding new variable stars. After his usual
fashion, he was immediately absorbed, and the sky remaining clear, he
went on working, unconscious of time, until a deep-toned clock in the
room beneath struck the hour of three. Then Mequillen started, and
realised that he had been so absorbed that he had not noticed the
striking of one or two, and he leaned back from the telescope in a
suddenly assumed attitude of relaxation, stretching his arms, and
casting up his eyes to the still clear vault above him. The next instant
he became rigid; the next he began to tremble with excitement; the next
he could have shouted for joy. For there, in the constellation which
astronomers have named Andromeda, Mequillen detected a new star!
He knew as he gazed and gazed, intoxicated with the delight and wonder
of his discovery, that the burning and glittering object at which he was
looking had never shown its light to man before. There was no need to
turn to his star charts. Mequillen, being a rich man, was always
equipped with the latest information from all the great observatories of
the world. That star, burning with such magnificence, was on no chart.
Nay, he himself had taken a photograph of that particular field in the
heavens only twenty-four hours previously, wherein were stars to the
twelfth magnitude; but the star at which he gazed was not amongst them.
It had suddenly blazed up and as he watched he saw it visibly, plainly,
increase in brightness and magnitude.