A Voyage to Arcturus HTML version
had no idea which quarter to attack. He grew frightened, and muttered to himself.
Craning his neck back, he stared upward and tried to discover the points of the compass
from the direction of the sunlight, but it was impossible.
While he was standing there, anxious and hesitating, he heard the drum taps. The
rhythmical beats proceeded from some distance off. The unseen drummer seemed to be
marching through the forest, away from him.
"Surtur!" he said, under his breath. The next moment he marvelled at himself for uttering
the name. That mysterious being had not been in his thoughts, nor was there any
ostensible connection between him and the drumming.
He began to reflect - but in the meantime the sounds were travelling away. Automatically
he started walking in the same direction. The drum beats had this peculiarity - though odd
and mystical, there was nothing awe-inspiring in them, but on the contrary they reminded
him of some place and some life with which he was perfectly familiar. Once again they
caused all his other sense impressions to appear false.
The sounds were intermittent. They would go on for a minute, or for five minutes, and
then cease for perhaps a quarter of an hour. Maskull followed them as well as he could.
He walked hard among the huge, indistinct trees, in the attempt to come up with the
origin of the noise, but the same distance always seemed to separate them. The forest
from now onward descended. The gradient was mostly gentle - about one foot in ten - but
in some places it was much steeper, and in other parts again it was practically level
ground for quite long stretches. There were great swampy marshes, through which
Maskull was obliged to splash. It was a matter of indifference to him how wet he became
- if only he could catch sight of that individual with the drum. Mile after mile was
covered, and still he was no nearer to doing so.
The gloom of the forest settled down upon his spirits. He felt despondent, tired, and
savage. He had not heard the drum beats for some while, and was half inclined to
discontinue the pursuit.
Passing around a great, columnar tree trunk, he almost stumbled against a man who was
standing on the farther side. He was leaning against the trunk with one hand, in an
attitude of repose. His other hand was resting on a staff. Maskull stopped short and
started at him.
He was nearly naked, and of gigantic build. He over-topped Maskull by a head. His face
and body were faintly phosphorescent. His eyes - three in number - were pale green and
luminous, shining like lamps. His skin was hairless, but the hair of his head was piled up
in thick, black coils, and fastened like a woman's. His features were absolutely tranquil,
but a terrible, quiet energy seemed to lie just underneath the surface.
Maskull addressed him. "Did the drumming come from you?"