The Moon Pool by A. Merritt - HTML preview
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The Moon Pool
Chapter 1. The Thing On The Moon Path ..................................................................... 3
Chapter 2. "Dead! All Dead!" ......................................................................................... 9
Chapter 3. The Moon Rock............................................................................................ 13
Chapter 4. The First Vanishings.................................................................................... 19
Chapter 5. Into The Moon Pool ..................................................................................... 23
Chapter 6. "The Shining Devil Took Them!".............................................................. 30
Chapter 7. Larry O'keefe ............................................................................................... 38
Chapter 8. Olaf's Story................................................................................................... 42
Chapter 9. A Lost Page Of Earth .................................................................................. 47
Chapter 10. The Moon Pool ........................................................................................... 52
Chapter 11. The Flame-Tipped Shadows ..................................................................... 62
Chapter 12. The End Of The Journey .......................................................................... 71
Chapter 13. Yolara, Priestess Of The Shining One ..................................................... 74
Chapter 14. The Justice Of Lora ................................................................................... 79
Chapter 15. The Angry, Whispering Globe.................................................................. 87
Chapter 16. Yolara Of Muria Vs. The O'keefe ............................................................ 94
Chapter 17. The Leprechaun ....................................................................................... 105
Chapter 18. The Amphitheatre Of Jet ........................................................................ 110
Chapter 19. The Madness Of Olaf............................................................................... 116
Chapter 20. The Tempting Of Larry .......................................................................... 126
Chapter 21. Larry's Defiance....................................................................................... 137
Chapter 22. The Casting Of The Shadow................................................................... 145
Chapter 23. Dragon Worm And Moss Death............................................................. 152
Chapter 24. The Crimson Sea...................................................................................... 160
Chapter 25. The Three Silent Ones............................................................................. 165
Chapter 26. The Wooing Of Lakla.............................................................................. 169
Chapter 27. The Coming Of Yolara............................................................................ 178
Chapter 28. In The Lair Of The Dweller.................................................................... 186
Chapter 29. The Shaping Of The Shining One .......................................................... 193
Chapter 30. The Building Of The Moon Pool ............................................................ 199
Chapter 31. Larry And The Frog-Men....................................................................... 204
Chapter 32. "Your Love; Your Lives; Your Souls!"................................................. 209
Chapter 33. The Meeting Of Titans ............................................................................ 215
Chapter 34. The Coming Of The Shining One........................................................... 221
Chapter 35. "Larry--Farewell!".................................................................................. 228
Chapter 1. The Thing On The Moon Path
FOR two months I had been on the d'Entrecasteaux Islands gathering data for the concluding chapters of my book upon the flora of the volcanic islands of the South Pacific. The day before I had reached Port Moresby and had seen my specimens safely stored on board the Southern Queen. As I sat on the upper deck I thought, with homesick mind, of the long leagues between me and Melbourne, and the longer ones between Melbourne and New York.
It was one of Papua's yellow mornings when she shows herself in her sombrest, most baleful mood. The sky was smouldering ochre. Over the island brooded a spirit sullen, alien, implacable, filled with the threat of latent, malefic forces waiting to be unleashed. It seemed an emanation out of the untamed, sinister heart of Papua herself--sinister even when she smiles. And now and then, on the wind, came a breath from virgin jungles, laden with unfamiliar odours, mysterious and menacing.
It is on such mornings that Papua whispers to you of her immemorial ancientness and of her power. And, as every white man must, I fought against her spell. While I struggled I saw a tall figure striding down the pier; a Kapa-Kapa boy followed swinging a new valise. There was something familiar about the tall man. As he reached the gangplank he looked up straight into my eyes, stared for a moment, then waved his hand.
And now I knew him. It was Dr. David Throckmartin-"Throck" he was to me always, one of my oldest friends and, as well, a mind of the first water whose power and achievements were for me a constant inspiration as they were, I know, for scores other.
Coincidentally with my recognition came a shock of surprise, definitely--unpleasant. It was Throckmartin--but about him was something disturbingly unlike the man I had known long so well and to whom and to whose little party I had bidden farewell less than a month before I myself had sailed for these seas. He had married only a few weeks before, Edith, the daughter of Professor William Frazier, younger by at least a decade than he but at one with him in his ideals and as much in love, if it were possible, as Throckmartin. By virtue of her father's training a wonderful assistant, by virtue of her own sweet, sound heart a--I use the word in its olden sense--lover. With his equally youthful associate Dr. Charles Stanton and a Swedish woman, Thora Halversen, who had been Edith Throckmartin's nurse from babyhood, they had set forth for the Nan-Matal, that extraordinary group of island ruins clustered along the eastern shore of Ponape in the Carolines.
I knew that he had planned to spend at least a year among these ruins, not only of Ponape but of Lele--twin centres of a colossal riddle of humanity, a weird flower of civilization that blossomed ages before the seeds of Egypt were sown; of whose arts we know little enough and of whose science nothing. He had carried with him unusually complete equipment for the work he had expected to do and which, he hoped, would be his monument.What then had brought Throckmartin to Port Moresby, and what was that change I had sensed in him?
Hurrying down to the lower deck I found him with the purser. As I spoke he turned, thrust out to me an eager hand--and then I saw what was that difference that had so moved me. He knew, of course by my silence and involuntary shrinking the shock my closer look had given me. His eyes filled; he turned brusquely from the purser, hesitated
-then hurried off to his stateroom.
I made some reply and went slowly up to my chair. There I sat, composed my mind and tried to define what it was that had shaken me so. Now it came to me. The old Throckmartin was on the eve of his venture just turned forty, lithe, erect, muscular; his controlling expression one of enthusiasm, of intellectual keenness, of--what shall I say -expectant search. His always questioning brain had stamped its vigor upon his face.
But the Throckmartin I had seen below was one who had borne some scaring shock of mingled rapture and horror; some soul cataclysm that in its climax had remoulded, deep from within, his face, setting on it seal of wedded ecstasy and despair; as though indeed these two had come to him hand in hand, taken possession of him and departing left behind, ineradicably, their linked shadows!Yes--it was that which appalled. For how could rapture and horror, Heaven and Hell mix, clasp hands--kiss? Yet these were what in closest embrace lay on Throckmartin's face!
Deep in thought, subconsciously with relief, I watched the shore line sink behind; welcomed the touch of the wind of the free seas. I had hoped, and within the hope was an inexplicable shrinking that I would meet Throckmartin at lunch. He did not come down, and I was sensible of deliverance within my disappointment. All that afternoon I lounged about uneasily but still he kept to his cabin--and within me was no strength to summon him. Nor did he appear at dinner.Dusk and night fell swiftly. I was warm and went back to my deck-chair. The Southern Queen was rolling to a disquieting swell and I had the place to myself.
Over the heavens was a canopy of cloud, glowing faintly and testifying to the moon riding behind it. There was much phosphorescence. Fitfully before the ship and at her sides arose those stranger little swirls of mist that swirl up from the Southern Ocean like breath of sea monsters, whirl for an instant and disappear.
Suddenly the deck door opened and through it came Throckmartin. He paused uncertainly, looked up at the sky with a curiously eager, intent gaze, hesitated, then closed the door behind him.
He stopped abruptly; rose from his chair, gazed intently toward the north. I followed his gaze. Far, far away the moon had broken through the clouds. Almost on the horizon, you could see the faint luminescence of it upon the smooth sea. The distant patch of light quivered and shook. The clouds thickened again and it was gone. The ship raced on southward, swiftly.Throckmartin dropped into his chair. He lighted a cigarette with a hand that trembled; then turned to me with abrupt resolution.
"Goodwin," he said. "I do need help. If ever man needed it, I do. Goodwin--can you imagine yourself in another world, alien, unfamiliar, a world of terror, whose unknown joy is its greatest terror of all; you all alone there, a stranger! As such a man would need help, so I need--"
He paused abruptly and arose; the cigarette dropped from his fingers. The moon had again broken through the clouds, and this time much nearer. Not a mile away was the patch of light that it threw upon the waves. Back of it, to the rim of the sea was a lane of moonlight; a gigantic gleaming serpent racing over the edge of the world straight and surely toward the ship.
Throckmartin stiffened to it as a pointer does to a hidden covey. To me from him pulsed a thrill of horror--but horror tinged with an unfamiliar, an infernal joy. It came to me and passed away--leaving me trembling with its shock of bitter sweet.
He bent forward, all his soul in his eyes. The moon path swept closer, closer still. It was now less than half a mile away. From it the ship fled--almost as though pursued. Down upon it, swift and straight, a radiant torrent cleaving the waves, raced the moon stream."Good God!" breathed Throckmartin, and if ever the words were a prayer and an invocation they were. And then, for the first time--I saw--IT!
The moon path stretched to the horizon and was bordered by darkness. It was as though the clouds above had been parted to form a lane-drawn aside like curtains or as the waters of the Red Sea were held back to let the hosts of Israel through. On each side of the stream was the black shadow cast by the folds of the high canopies And straight as a road between the opaque walls gleamed, shimmered, and danced the shining, racing, rapids of the moonlight
Far, it seemed immeasurably far, along this stream of silver fire I sensed, rather than saw, something coming. It drew first into sight as a deeper glow within the light. On and on it swept toward us--an opalescent mistiness that sped with the suggestion of some winged creature in arrowed flight. Dimly there crept into my mind memory of the Dyak legend of the winged messenger of Buddha-the Akla bird whose feathers are woven of the moon rays, whose heart is a living opal, whose wings in flight echo the crystal clear music of the white stars--but whose beak is of frozen flame and shreds the souls of unbelievers.Closer it drew and now there came to me sweet, insistent tinklings--like pizzicati on violins of glass; crystal clear; diamonds melting into sounds!
Now the Thing was close to the end of the white path; close up to the barrier of darkness still between the ship and the sparkling head of the moon stream. Now it beat up against that barrier as a bird against the bars of its cage. It whirled with shimmering plumes, with swirls of lacy light, with spirals of living vapour. It held within it odd, unfamiliar gleams as of shifting mother-of-pearl. Coruscations and glittering atoms drifted through it as though it drew them from the rays that bathed it.
Nearer and nearer it came, borne on the sparkling waves, and ever thinner shrank the protecting wall of shadow between it and us. Within the mistiness was a core, a nucleus of intenser light--veined, opaline, effulgent, intensely alive. And above it, tangled in the plumes and spirals that throbbed and whirled were seven glowing lights.
Through all the incessant but strangely ordered movement of the--THING--these lights held firm and steady. They were seven--like seven little moons. One was of a pearly pink, one of a delicate nacreous blue, one of lambent saffron, one of the emerald you see in the shallow waters of tropic isles; a deathly white; a ghostly amethyst; and one of the silver that is seen only when the flying fish leap beneath the moon.
The tinkling music was louder still. It pierced the ears with a shower of tiny lances; it made the heart beat jubilantly--and checked it dolorously. It closed the throat with a throb of rapture and gripped it tight with the hand of infinite sorrow!
Came to me now a murmuring cry, stilling the crystal notes. It was articulate--but as though from something utterly foreign to this world. The ear took the cry and translated with conscious labour into the sounds of earth. And even as it compassed, the brain shrank from it irresistibly, and simultaneously it seemed reached toward it with irresistible eagerness.
Throckmartin strode toward the front of the deck, straight toward the vision, now but a few yards away from the stern. His face had lost all human semblance. Utter agony and utter ecstasy--there they were side by side, not resisting each other; unholy inhuman companions blending into a look that none of God's creatures should wear-and deep, deep as his soul! A devil and a God dwelling harmoniously side by side! So must Satan, newly fallen, still divine, seeing heaven and contemplating hell, have appeared.
And then--swiftly the moon path faded! The clouds swept over the sky as though a hand had drawn them together. Up from the south came a roaring squall. As the moon vanished what I had seen vanished with it--blotted out as an image on a magic lantern; the tinkling ceased abruptly--leaving a silence like that which follows an abrupt thunder clap. There was nothing about us but silence and blackness!
Through me passed a trembling as one who has stood on the very verge of the gulf wherein the men of the Louisades says lurks the fisher of the souls of men, and has been plucked back by sheerest chance.Throckmartin passed an arm around me.
"It is as I thought," he said. In his voice was a new note; the calm certainty that has swept aside a waiting terror of the unknown. "Now I know! Come with me to my cabin, old friend. For now that you too have seen I can tell you"-he hesitated--"what it was you saw," he ended.As we passed through the door we met the ship's first officer. Throckmartin composed his face into at least a semblance of normality. "Going to have much of a storm?" he asked. "Yes," said the mate. "Probably all the way to Melbourne." Throckmartin straightened as though with a new thought. He gripped the officer's sleeve eagerly. "You mean at least cloudy weather--for"--he hesitated --"for the next three nights, say?" "And for three more," replied the mate. "Thank God!" cried Throckmartin, and I think I never heard such relief and hope as was in his voice.
The sailor stood amazed. "Thank God?" he repeated. "Thank--what d'ye mean?" But Throckmartin was moving onward to his cabin. I started to follow. The first officer stopped me."Your friend," he said, "is he ill?" "The sea!" I answered hurriedly. "He's not used to it. I am going to look after him."
Doubt and disbelief were plain in the seaman's eyes but I hurried on. For I knew now that Throckmartin was ill indeed--but with a sickness the ship's doctor nor any other could heal.
Chapter 2. "Dead! All Dead!"HE WAS SITTING, face in hands, on the side of his berth as I entered. He had taken off his coat. "Throck," I cried. "What was it? What are you flying from, man? Where is your wife-and Stanton?"
"Dead!" he replied monotonously. "Dead! All dead!" Then as I recoiled from him--"All dead. Edith, Stanton, Thora--dead--or worse. And Edith in the Moon Pool-with them-drawn by what you saw on the moon path-that has put its brand upon me--and follows me!"He ripped open his shirt.
"Look at this," he said. Around his chest, above his heart, the skin was white as pearl. This whiteness was sharply defined against the healthy tint of the body. It circled him with an even cincture about two inches wide.
"Burn it!" he said, and offered me his cigarette. I drew back. He gestured--peremptorily. I pressed the glowing end of the cigarette into the ribbon of white flesh. He did not flinch nor was there odour of burning nor, as I drew the little cylinder away, any mark upon the whiteness."Feel it!" he commanded again. I placed my fingers upon the band. It was cold--like frozen marble. He drew his shirt around him.
"Two things you have seen," he said. "IT--and its mark. Seeing, you must believe my story. Goodwin, I tell you again that my wife is dead--or worse--I do not know; the prey of--what you saw; so, too, is Stanton; so Thora. How--"Tears rolled down the seared face. "Why did God let it conquer us? Why did He let it take my Edith?" he cried in utter bitterness. "Are there things stronger than God, do you think, Walter?" I hesitated. "Are there? Are there?" His wild eyes searched me. "I do not know just how you define God," I managed at last through my astonishment to make answer. "If you mean the will to know, working through science--" He waved me aside impatiently. "Science," he said. "What is our science against--that? Or against the science of whatever devils that made it--or made the way for it to enter this world of ours?" With an effort he regained control.
"Goodwin," he said, "do you know at all of the ruins on the Carolines; the cyclopean, megalithic cities and harbours of Ponape and Lele, of Kusaie, of Ruk and Hogolu, and a score of other islets there? Particularly, do you know of the Nan-Matal and the Metalanim?""Of the Metalanim I have heard and seen photographs," I said. "They call it, don't they, the Lost Venice of the Pacific?" "Look at this map," said Throckmartin. "That," he went on, "is Christian's chart of Metalanim harbour and the NanMatal. Do you see the rectangles marked Nan-Tauach?" "Yes," I said.
"There," he said, "under those walls is the Moon Pool and the seven gleaming lights that raise the Dweller in the Pool, and the altar and shrine of the Dweller. And there in the Moon Pool with it lie Edith and Stanton and Thora.""The Dweller in the Moon Pool?" I repeated halfincredulously. "The Thing you saw," said Throckmartin solemnly.
A solid sheet of rain swept the ports, and the Southern Queen began to roll on the rising swells. Throckmartin drew another deep breath of relief, and drawing aside a curtain peered out into the night. Its blackness seemed to reassure him. At any rate, when he sat again he was entirely calm.
"There are no more wonderful ruins in the world," he began almost casually. "They take in some fifty islets and cover with their intersecting canals and lagoons about twelve square miles. Who built them? None knows. When were they built? Ages before the memory of present man, that is sure. Ten thousand, twenty thousand, a hundred thousand years ago--the last more likely.
"All these islets, Walter, are squared, and their shores are frowning seawalls of gigantic basalt blocks hewn and put in place by the hands of ancient man. Each inner water-front is faced with a terrace of those basalt blocks which stand out six feet above the shallow canals that meander between them. On the islets behind these walls are time-shattered fortresses, palaces, terraces, pyramids; immense courtyards strewn with ruins--and all so old that they seem to wither the eyes of those who look on them.
"There has been a great subsidence. You can stand out of Metalanim harbour for three miles and look down upon the tops of similar monolithic structures and walls twenty feet below you in the water.
"And all about, strung on their canals, are the bulwarked islets with their enigmatic walls peering through the dense growths of mangroves--dead, deserted for incalculable ages; shunned by those who live near.
"You as a botanist are familiar with the evidence that a vast shadowy continent existed in the Pacific--a continent that was not rent asunder by volcanic forces as was that legendary one of Atlantis in the Eastern Ocean.*1 My work in Java, in Papua, and in the Ladrones had set my mind upon this Pacific lost land. Just as the Azores are believed to be the last high peaks of Atlantis, so hints came to me steadily that Ponape and Lele and their basalt bulwarked islets were the last points of the slowly sunken western land clinging still to the sunlight, and had been the last refuge and sacred places of the rulers of that race which had lost their immemorial home under the rising waters of the Pacific.
*1 For more detailed observations on these points refer to G. Volkens, Uber die Karolinen Insel Yap, in Verhandlungen Gesellschaft Erdkunde Berlin, xxvii (1901); J. S. Karolinen Insel Yap, in Verhandlungen Gesellschaft Erdkunde Berlin, xxvii (1901); J. S. 1892); De Abrade Historia del Conflicto de las Carolinas, etc. (Madrid, 1886).--W. T. G."I believed that under these ruins I might find the evidence that I sought.
"My--my wife and I had talked before we were married of making this our great work. After the honeymoon we prepared for the expedition. Stanton was as enthusiastic as ourselves. We sailed, as you know, last May for fulfilment of my dreams.
"At Ponape we selected, not without difficulty, workmen to help us--diggers. I had to make extraordinary inducements before I could get together my force. Their beliefs are gloomy, these Ponapeans. They people their swamps, their forests, their mountains, and shores, with malignant spirits-ani they call them. And they are afraid--bitterly afraid of the isles of ruins and what they think the ruins hide. I do not wonder--now!
"When they were told where they were to go, and how long we expected to stay, they murmured. Those who, at last, were tempted made what I thought then merely a superstitious proviso that they were to be allowed to go away on the three nights of the full moon. Would to God we had heeded them and gone too!"
"We passed into Metalanim harbour. Off to our left--a mile away arose a massive quadrangle. Its walls were all of forty feet high and hundreds of feet on each side. As we drew by, our natives grew very silent; watched it furtively, fearfully. I knew it for the ruins that are called Nan-Tauach, the 'place of frowning walls.' And at the silence of my men I recalled what Christian had written of this place; of how he had come upon its 'ancient platforms and tetragonal enclosures of stonework; its wonder of tortuous alleyways and labyrinth of shallow canals; grim masses of stonework peering out from behind verdant screens; cyclopean barricades,' and of how, when he had turned 'into its ghostly shadows, straight-way the merriment of guides was hushed and conversation died down to whispers.'He was silent for a little time.
"Of course I wanted to pitch our camp there," he went on again quietly, "but I soon gave up that idea. The natives were panic-stricken--threatened to turn back. 'No,' they said, 'too great ani there. We go to any other place--but not there.'
"We finally picked for our base the islet called UschenTau. It was close to the isle of desire, but far enough away from it to satisfy our men. There was an excellent campingplace and a spring of fresh water. We pitched our tents, and in a couple of days the work was in full swing."
Chapter 3. The Moon Rock
"I DO not intend to tell you now," Throckmartin continued, "the results of the next two weeks, nor of what we found. Later--if I am allowed, I will lay all that before you. It is sufficient to say that at the end of those two weeks I had found confirmation for many of my theories.
"The place, for all its decay and desolation, had not infected us with any touch of morbidity--that is not Edith, Stanton, or myself. But Thora was very unhappy. She was a Swede, as you know, and in her blood ran the beliefs and superstitions of the Northland-some of them so strangely akin to those of this far southern land; beliefs of spirits of mountain and forest and water werewolves and beings malign. From the first she showed a curious sensitivity to what, I suppose, may be called the 'influences' of the place. She said it 'smelled' of ghosts and warlocks.
"I laughed at her then- "Two weeks slipped by, and at their end the spokesman for our natives came to us. The next night was the full of the moon, he said. He reminded me of my promise. They would go back to their village in the morning; they would return after the third night, when the moon had begun to wane. They left us sundry charms for our 'protection,' and solemnly cautioned us to keep as far away as possible from NanTauach during their absence. Half-exasperated, half-amused I watched them go.
"No work could be done without them, of course, so we decided to spend the days of their absence junketing about the southern islets of the group. We marked down several spots for subsequent exploration, and on the morning of the third day set forth along the east face of the breakwater for our camp on Uschen-Tau, planning to have everything in readiness for the return of our men the next day."We landed just before dusk, tired and ready for our cots. It was only a little after ten o'clock that Edith awakened me. "'Listen!' she said. 'Lean over with your ear close to the ground!'
"I did so, and seemed to hear, far, far below, as though coming up from great distances, a faint chanting. It gathered strength, died down, ended; began, gathered volume, faded away into silence."'It's the waves rolling on rocks somewhere,' I said. 'We're probably over some ledge of rock that carries the sound.'
"'It's the first time I've heard it,' replied my wife doubtfully. We listened again. Then through the dim rhythms, deep beneath us, another sound came. It drifted across the lagoon that lay between us and Nan-Tauach in little tinkling waves. It was music--of a sort; I won't describe the strange effect it had upon me. You've felt it--"
"You mean on the deck?" I asked. Throckmartin nodded.
"I went to the flap of the tent," he continued, "and peered out. As I did so Stanton lifted his flap and walked out into the moonlight, looking over to the other islet and listening. I called to him.
"'That's the queerest sound!' he said. He listened again. 'Crystalline! Like little notes of translucent glass. Like the bells of crystal on the sistrums of Isis at Dendarah Temple,' he added half-dreamily. We gazed intently at the island. Suddenly, on the sea-wall, moving slowly, rhythmically, we saw a little group of lights. Stanton laughed.
"'The beggars!' he exclaimed. 'That's why they wanted to get away, is it? Don't you see, Dave, it's some sort of a festival--rites of some kind that they hold during the full moon! That's why they were so eager to have us KEEP away, too.'"The explanation seemed good. I felt a curious sense of relief, although I had not been sensible of any oppression. "'Let's slip over,' suggested Stanton--but I would not.
"'They're a difficult lot as it is,' I said. 'If we break into one of their religious ceremonies they'll probably never forgive us. Let's keep out of any family party where we haven't been invited.'"'That's so,' agreed Stanton.
"The strange tinkling rose and fell, rose and fell- "'There's something--something very unsettling about it,' said Edith at last soberly. 'I wonder what they make those sounds with. They frighten me half to death, and, at the same time. they make me feel as though some enormous rapture were just around the corner.'"'It's devilish uncanny!' broke in Stanton.
"And as he spoke the flap of Thora's tent was raised and out into the moonlight strode the old Swede. She was the great Norse type--tall, deep-breasted, moulded on the old Viking lines. Her sixty years had slipped from her. She looked like some ancient priestess of Odin.
"She stood there, her eyes wide, brilliant, staring. She thrust her head forward toward Nan-Tauach, regarding the moving lights; she listened. Suddenly she raised her arms and made a curious gesture to the moon. It was--an archaic --movement; she seemed to drag it from remote antiquity-yet in it was a strange suggestion of power, Twice she repeated this gesture and--the tinklings died away! She turned to us.
"'Go!' she said, and her voice seemed to come from far distances. 'Go from here--and quickly! Go while you may. It has called--' She pointed to the islet. 'It knows you are here. It waits!' she wailed. 'It beckons--the--the--"
"We watched beside her throughout the night. The sounds from Nan-Tauach continued until about an hour before moon-set. In the morning Thora awoke, none the worse, apparently. She had had bad dreams, she said. She could not remember what they were-except that they had warned her of danger. She was oddly sullen, and throughout the morning her gaze returned again and again half-fascinatedly, halfwonderingly to the neighbouring isle."That afternoon the natives returned. And that night on Nan-Tauach the silence was unbroken nor were there lights nor sign of life.
"You will understand, Goodwin, how the occurrences I have related would excite the scientific curiosity. We rejected immediately, of course, any explanation admitting the supernatural.
"Our--symptoms let me call them--could all very easily be accounted for. It is unquestionable that the vibrations created by certain musical instruments have definite and sometimes extraordinary effect upon the nervous system. We accepted this as the explanation of the reactions we had experienced, hearing the unfamiliar sounds. Thora's nervousness, her superstitious apprehensions, had wrought her up to a condition of semisomnambulistic hysteria. Science could readily explain her part in the night's scene.
"We came to the conclusion that there must be a passageway between Ponape and NanTauach known to the natives --and used by them during their rites. We decided that on the next departure of our labourers we would set forth immediately to Nan-Tauach. We would investigate during the day, and at evening my wife and Thora would go back to camp, leaving Stanton and me to spend the night on the island, observing from some safe hiding-place what might occur.
"The moon waned; appeared crescent in the west; waxed slowly toward the full. Before the men left us they literally prayed us to accompany them. Their importunities only made us more eager to see what it was that, we were now convinced, they wanted to conceal from us. At least that was true of Stanton and myself. It was not true of Edith. She was thoughtful, abstracted--reluctant.
"When the men were out of sight around the turn of the harbour, we took our boat and made straight for NanTauach. Soon its mighty sea-wall towered above us. We passed through the water-gate with its gigantic hewn prisms of basalt and landed beside a halfsubmerged pier. In front of us stretched a series of giant steps leading into a vast court strewn with fragments of fallen pillars. In the centre of the court, beyond the shattered pillars, rose another terrace of basalt blocks, concealing, I knew, still another enclosure.
"And now, Walter, for the better understanding of what follows--and--and--" he hesitated. "Should you decide later to return with me or, if I am taken, to--to--follow us-listen carefully to my description of this place: Nan-Tauach is literally three rectangles. The first rectangle is the sea-wall, built up of monoliths--hewn and squared, twenty feet wide at the top. To get to the gateway in the sea-wall you pass along the canal marked on the map between Nan-Tauach and the islet named Tau. The entrance to the canal is bidden by dense thickets of mangroves; once through these the way is clear. The steps lead up from the landing of the sea-gate through the entrance to the courtyard.
"This courtyard is surrounded by another basalt wall, rectangular, following with mathematical exactness the march of the outer barricades. The sea-wall is from thirty to forty feet high--originally it must have been much higher, but there has been subsidence in parts. The wall of the first enclosure is fifteen feet across the top and its height varies from twenty to fifty feet--here, too, the gradual sinking of the land has caused portions of it to fall.
"Within this courtyard is the second enclosure. Its terrace, of the same basalt as the outer walls, is about twenty feet high. Entrance is gained to it by many breaches which time has made in its stonework. This is the inner court, the heart of Nan-Tauach! There lies the great central vault with which is associated the one name of living being that has come to us out of the mists of the past. The natives say it was the treasure-house of Chau-te-leur, a mighty king who reigned long 'before their fathers.' As Chan is the ancient Ponapean word both for sun and king, the name means, without doubt, 'place of the sun king.' It is a memory of a dynastic name of the race that ruled the Pacific continent, now vanished-just as the rulers of ancient Crete took the name of Minos and the rulers of Egypt the name of Pharaoh."And opposite this place of the sun king is the moon rock that hides the Moon Pool.
"It was Stanton who discovered the moon rock. We had been inspecting the inner courtyard; Edith and Thora were getting together our lunch. I came out of the vault of Chaute-leur to find Stanton before a part of the terrace studying it wonderingly.
"'What do you make of this?' he asked me as I came up. He pointed to the wall. I followed his finger and saw a slab of stone about fifteen feet high and ten wide. At first all I noticed was the exquisite nicety with which its edges joined the blocks about it. Then I realized that its colour was subtly different--tinged with grey and of a smooth, peculiar-deadness.
"'Looks more like calcite than basalt,' I said. I touched it and withdrew my hand quickly for at the contact every nerve in my arm tingled as though a shock of frozen electricity had passed through it. It was not cold as we know cold. It was a chill force--the phrase I have used--frozen electricity--describes it better than anything else. Stanton looked at me oddly."'So you felt it too,' he said. 'I was wondering whether I was developing hallucinations like Thora. Notice, by the way, that the blocks beside it are quite warm beneath the sun.'
"We examined the slab eagerly. Its edges were cut as though by an engraver of jewels. They fitted against the neighbouring blocks in almost a hair-line. Its base was slightly curved, and fitted as closely as top and sides upon the huge stones on which it rested. And then we noted that these stones had been hollowed to follow the line of the grey stone's foot. There was a semicircular depression running from one side of the slab to the other. It was as though the grey rock stood in the centre of a shallow cup--revealing half, covering half. Something about this hollow attracted me. I reached down and felt it. Goodwin, although the balance of the stones that formed it, like all the stones of the courtyard, were rough and age-worn--this was as smooth, as even surfaced as though it had just left the hands of the polisher."'It's a door!' exclaimed Stanton. 'It swings around in that little cup. That's what makes the hollow so smooth.' "'Maybe you're right,' I replied. 'But how the devil can we open it?'
"We went over the slab again--pressing upon its edges, thrusting against its sides. During one of those efforts I happened to look up--and cried out. A foot above and on each side of the corner of the grey rock's lintel was a slight convexity, visible only from the angle at which my gaze struck it.
"We carried with us a small scaling-ladder and up this I went. The bosses were apparently nothing more than chiseled curvatures in the stone. I laid my hand on the one I was examining, and drew it back sharply. In my palm, at the base of my thumb, I had felt the same shock that I had in touching the slab below. I put my hand back. The impression came from a spot not more than an inch wide. I went carefully over the entire convexity, and six times more the chill ran through my arm. There were seven circles an inch wide in the curved place, each of which communicated the precise sensation I have described. The convexity on the opposite side of the slab gave exactly the same results. But no amount of touching or of pressing these spots singly or in any combination gave the slightest promise of motion to the slab itself."'And yet--they're what open it,' said Stanton positively. "'Why do you say that?' I asked.
"'I--don't know,' he answered hesitatingly. 'But something tells me so. Throck,' he went on half earnestly, half laughingly, 'the purely scientific part of me is fighting the purely human part of me. The scientific part is urging me to find some way to get that slab either down or open. The human part is just as strongly urging me to do nothing of the sort and get away while I can!'"He laughed again--shamefacedly. "'Which shall it be?' he asked--and I thought that in his tone the human side of him was ascendant. "'It will probably stay as it is--unless we blow it to bits,' I said.
"'I thought of that,' he answered, 'and I wouldn't dare,' he added soberly enough. And even as I had spoken there came to me the same feeling that he had expressed. It was as though something passed out of the grey rock that struck my heart as a hand strikes an impious lip. We turned away--uneasily, and faced Thora coming through a breach on the terrace.
'Miss Edith wants you quick,' she began--and stopped. Her eyes went past me to the grey rock. Her body grew rigid; she took a few stiff steps forward and then ran straight to it. She cast herself upon its breast, hands and face pressed against it; we heard her scream as though her very soul were being drawn from her--and watched her fall at its foot. As we picked her up I saw steal from her face the look I had observed when first we heard the crystal music of Nan-Tauach --that unhuman mingling of opposites!"
Chapter 4. The First Vanishings
"WE CARRIED Thora back, down to where Edith was waiting. We told her what had happened and what we had found. She listened gravely, and as we finished Thora sighed and opened her eyes.
"'I would like to see the stone,' she said. 'Charles, you stay here with Thora.' We passed through the outer court silently --and stood before the rock. She touched it, drew back her hand as I had; thrust it forward again resolutely and held it there. She seemed to be listening. Then she turned to me.
"'David,' said my wife, and the wistfulness in her voice hurt me--'David, would you be very, very disappointed if we went from here--without trying to find out any more about it--would you?'
"Walter, I never wanted anything so much in my life as I wanted to learn what that rock concealed. Nevertheless, I tried to master my desire, and I answered--'Edith, not a bit if you want us to do it.'"She read my struggle in my eyes. She turned back toward the grey rock. I saw a shiver pass through her. I felt a tinge of remorse and pity! "'Edith,' I exclaimed, 'we'll go!' "She looked at me again. 'Science is a jealous mistress,' she quoted. 'No, after all it may be just fancy. At any rate, you can't run away. No! But, Dave, I'm going to stay too!' "And there was no changing her decision. As we neared the others she laid a hand on my arm.
"'Dave,' she said, 'if there should be something--well-inexplicable tonight--something that seems--too dangerous --will you promise to go back to our own islet tomorrow, if we can--and wait until the natives return?'"I promised eagerly--the desire to stay and see what came with the night was like a fire within me. "We picked a place about five hundred feet away from the steps leading into the outer court.
"The spot we had selected was well hidden. We could not be seen, and yet we had a clear view of the stairs and the gateway. We settled down just before dusk to wait for whatever might come. I was nearest the giant steps; next me Edith; then Thora, and last Stanton. "Night fell. After a time the eastern sky began to lighten, and we knew that the moon was rising; grew lighter still, and the orb peeped over the sea; swam into full sight. I glanced at Edith and then at Thora. My wife was intently listening. Thora sat, as she had since we had placed ourselves, elbows on knees, her hands covering her face.
"And then from the moonlight flooding us there dripped down on me a great drowsiness. Sleep seemed to seep from the rays and fall upon my eyes, closing them--closing them inexorably. Edith's hand in mine relaxed. Stanton's head fell upon his breast and his body swayed drunkenly. I tried to rise--to fight against the profound desire for slumber that pressed on me.
"And as I fought, Thora raised her head as though listening; and turned toward the gateway. There was infinite despair in her face--and expectancy. I tried again to rise--and a surge of sleep rushed over me. Dimly, as I sank within it, I heard a crystalline chiming; raised my lids once more with a supreme effort."Thora, bathed in light, was standing at the top of the stairs. "Sleep took me for its very own--swept me into the heart of oblivion!
"Dawn was breaking when I wakened. Recollection rushed back; I thrust a panic-stricken hand out toward Edith; touched her and my heart gave a great leap of thankfulness. She stirred, sat up, rubbing dazed eyes. Stanton lay on his side, back toward us, head in arms."Edith looked at me laughingly. 'Heavens! What sleep!' she said. Memory came to her. "'What happened?' she whispered. 'What made us sleep like that?' "Stanton awoke. "'What's the matter!' he exclaimed. 'You look as though you've been seeing ghosts.' "Edith caught my hands. "'Where's Thora?' she cried. Before I could answer she had run out into the open, calling.
"'Thora was taken,' was all I could say to Stanton, 'together we went to my wife, now standing beside the great stone steps, looking up fearfully at the gateway into the terraces. There I told them what I had seen before sleep had drowned me. And together then we ran up the stairs, through the court and to the grey rock.
"The slab was closed as it had been the day before, nor was there trace of its having opened. No trace? Even as I thought this Edith dropped to her knees before it and reached toward something lying at its foot. It was a little piece of gay silk. I knew it for part of the kerchief Thora wore about her hair. She lifted the fragment. It had been cut from the kerchief as though by a razor-edge; a few threads ran from it--down toward the base of the slab; ran on to the base of the grey rock and--under it!"The grey rock was a door! And it had opened and Thora had passed through it! "I think that for the next few minutes we all were a little insane. We beat upon that portal with our hands, with stones and sticks. At last reason came back to us.
"Goodwin, during the next two hours we tried every way in our power to force entrance through the slab. The rock resisted our drills. We tried explosions at the base with charges covered by rock. They made not the slightest impression on the surface, expending their force, of course, upon the slighter resistance of their coverings.
"Afternoon found us hopeless. Night was coming on and we would have to decide our course of action. I wanted to go to Ponape for help. But Edith objected that this would take hours and after we had reached there it would be impossible to persuade our men to return with us that night, if at all. What then was left? Clearly only one of two choices: to go back to our camp, wait for our men, and on their return try to persuade them to go with us to Nan-Tauach. But this would mean the abandonment of Thora for at least two days. We could not do it; it would have been too cowardly.
"The other choice was to wait where we were for night to come; to wait for the rock to open as it had the night before, and to make a sortie through it for Thora before it could close again."Our path lay clear before us. We had to spend that night on Nan-Tauach!
"We had, of course, discussed the sleep phenomena very fully. If our theory that lights, sounds, and Thora's disappearance were linked with secret religious rites of the natives, the logical inference was that the slumber had been produced by them, perhaps by vapours--you know as well as I, what extraordinary knowledge these Pacific peoples have of such things. Or the sleep might have been simply a coincidence and produced by emanations either gaseous or from plants, natural causes which had happened to coincide in their effects with the other manifestations. We made some rough and ready but effective respirators.
"As dusk fell we looked over our weapons. Edith was an excellent shot with both rifle and pistol. We had decided that my wife was to remain in the hiding-place. Stanton would take up a station on the far side of the stairway and I would place myself opposite him on the side near Edith. The place I picked out was less than two hundred feet from her, and I could reassure myself now and then as to her safety as it looked down upon the hollow wherein she crouched. From our respective stations Stanton and I could command the gateway entrance. His position gave him also a glimpse of the outer courtyard. "A faint glow in the sky heralded the moon. Stanton and I took our places. The moon dawn increased rapidly; the disk swam up, and in a moment it was shining in full radiance upon ruins and sea."As it rose there came a curious little sighing sound from the inner terrace. Stanton straightened up and stared intently through the gateway, rifle ready.
"'Stanton, what do you see?' I called cautiously. He waved a silencing hand. I turned my head to look at Edith. A shock ran through me. She lay upon her side. Her face, grotesque with its nose and mouth covered by the respirator, was turned full toward the moon. She was again in deepest sleep!
"As I turned again to call to Stanton, my eyes swept the head of the steps and stopped, fascinated. For the moonlight had thickened. It seemed to be--curdled--there; and through it ran little gleams and veins of shimmering white fire. A languor passed through me. It was not the ineffable drowsiness of the preceding night. It was a sapping of all will to move. I tried to cry out to Stanton. I had not even the will to move my lips. Goodwin--I could not even move my eyes!
"Stanton was in the range of my fixed vision. I watched him leap up the steps and move toward the gateway. The curdled radiance seemed to await him. He stepped into it-and was lost to my sight.
"For a dozen heart beats there was silence. Then a rain of tinklings that set the pulses racing with joy and at once checked them with tiny fingers of ice--and ringing through them Stanton's voice from the courtyard--a great cry--a scream--filled with ecstasy insupportable and horror unimaginable! And once more there was silence. I strove to burst the bonds that held me. I could not. Even my eyelids were fixed. Within them my eyes, dry and aching, burned.
"Then Goodwin--I first saw the--inexplicable! The crystalline music swelled. Where I sat I could take in the gateway and its basalt portals, rough and broken, rising to the top of the wall forty feet above, shattered, ruined portals-unclimbable. From this gateway an intenser light began to flow. It grew, it gushed, and out of it walked Stanton."Stanton! But--God! What a vision!" A deep tremor shook him. I waited--waited.
Chapter 5. Into The Moon Pool
"GOODWIN," Throckmartin went on at last, "I can describe him only as a thing of living light. He radiated light; was filled with light; overflowed with it. A shining cloud whirled through and around him in radiant swirls, shimmering tentacles, luminescent, coruscating spirals.
"His face shone with a rapture too great to be borne by living man, and was shadowed with insuperable misery. It was as though it had been remoulded by the hand of God and the hand of Satan, working together and in harmony. You have seen that seal upon my own. But you have never seen it in the degree that Stanton bore it. The eyes were wide open and fixed, as though upon some inward vision of hell and heaven!
"The light that filled and surrounded him had a nucleus, a core--something shiftingly human shaped--that dissolved and changed, gathered itself, whirled through and beyond him and back again. And as its shining nucleus passed through him Stanton's whole body pulsed radiance. As the luminescence moved, there moved above it, still and serene always, seven tiny globes of seven colors, like seven little moons.
"Then swiftly Stanton was lifted--levitated--up the unscalable wall and to its top. The glow faded from the moonlight, the tinkling music grew fainter. I tried again to move. The tears were running down now from my rigid lids and they brought relief to my tortured eyes.
"I have said my gaze was fixed. It was. But from the side, peripherally, it took in a part of the far wall of the outer enclosure. Ages seemed to pass and a radiance stole along it. Soon drifted into sight the figure that was Stanton. Far away he was--on the gigantic wall. But still I could see the shining spirals whirling jubilantly around and through him; felt rather than saw his tranced face beneath the seven moons. A swirl of crystal notes, and he had passed. And all the time, as though from some opened well of light, the courtyard gleamed and sent out silver fires that dimmed the moonrays, yet seemed strangely to be a part of them.
"At last the moon neared the horizon. There came a louder burst of sound; the second, and last, cry of Stanton, like an echo of his first! Again the soft sighing from the inner terrace. Then--utter silence!
"The light faded; the moon was setting and with a rush life and power to move returned to me. I made a leap for the steps, rushed up them, through the gateway and straight to the grey rock. It was closed--as I knew it would be. But did I dream it or did I bear, echoing through it as though from vast distances a triumphant shouting?
"I ran back to Edith. At my touch she wakened; looked at me wanderingly; raised herself on a hand.
"'Dave!' she said, 'I slept--after all.' She saw the despair on my face and leaped to her feet. 'Dave!' she cried. 'What is it? Where's Charles?'
"Never," he said, "did man welcome the sun as we did that morning. A soon as it had risen we went back to the courtyard. The walls whereon I had seen Stanton were black and silent. The terraces were as they had been. The grey slab was in its place. In the shallow hollow at its base was-nothing. Nothing--nothing was there anywhere on the islet of Stanton--not a trace.
"What were we to do? Precisely the same arguments that had kept us there the night before held good now--and doubly good. We could not abandon these two; could not go as long as there was the faintest hope of finding them--and yet for love of each other how could we remain? I loved my wife,--how much I never knew until that day; and she loved me as deeply.'It takes only one each night,' she pleaded. 'Beloved, let it take me.' "I wept, Walter. We both wept. "'We will meet it together,' she said. And it was thus at last that we arranged it." "That took great courage indeed, Throckmartin," I interrupted. He looked at me eagerly. "You do believe then?" he exclaimed. "I believe," I said. He pressed my hand with a grip that nearly crushed it. "Now," he told me. "I do not fear. If I--fail, you will follow with help?" I promised.
"We talked it over carefully," he went on, "bringing to bear all our power of analysis and habit of calm, scientific thought. We considered minutely the time element in the phenomena. Although the deep chanting began at the very moment of moonrise, fully five minutes had passed between its full lifting and the strange sighing sound from the inner terrace. I went back in memory over the happenings of the night before. At least ten minutes had intervened between the first heralding sigh and the intensification of the moonlight in the courtyard. And this glow grew for at least ten minutes more before the first burst of the crystal notes. Indeed, more than half an hour must have elapsed, I calculated, between the moment the moon showed above the horizon and the first delicate onslaught of the tinklings.
"'Edith!' I cried. 'I think I have it! The grey rock opens five minutes after upon the moonrise. But whoever or whatever it is that comes through it must wait until the moon has risen higher, or else it must come from a distance. The thing to do is not to wait for it, but to surprise it before it passes out the door. We will go into the inner court early. You will take your rifle and pistol and hide yourself where you can command the opening--if the slab does open. The instant it opens I will enter. It's our best chance, Edith. I think it's our only one.'
"My wife demurred strongly. She wanted to go with me. But I convinced her that it was better for her to stand guard without, prepared to help me if I were forced again into the open by what lay behind the rock.
"At the half-hour before moonrise we went into the inner court. I took my place at the side of the grey rock. Edith crouched behind a broken pillar twenty feet away; slipped her rifle-barrel over it so that it would cover the opening.
"The minutes crept by. The darkness lessened and through the breaches of the terrace I watched the far sky softly lighten. With the first pale flush the silence of the place intensified. It deepened; became unbearably--expectant. The moon rose, showed the quarter, the half, then swam up into full sight like a great bubble.
"Its rays fell upon the wall before me and suddenly upon the convexities I have described seven little circles of light sprang out. They gleamed, glimmered, grew brighter--shone. The gigantic slab before me glowed with them, silver wavelets of phosphorescence pulsed over its surface and then-it turned as though on a pivot, sighing softly as it moved!
"With a word to Edith I flung myself through the opening. A tunnel stretched before me. It glowed with the same faint silvery radiance. Down it I raced. The passage turned abruptly, passed parallel to the walls of the outer courtyard and then once more led downward.
"The passage ended. Before me was a high vaulted arch. It seemed to open into space; a space filled with lambent, coruscating, many-coloured mist whose brightness grew even as I watched. I passed through the arch and stopped in sheer awe!
"In front of me was a pool. It was circular, perhaps twenty feet wide. Around it ran a low, softly curved lip of glimmering silvery stone. Its water was palest blue. The pool with its silvery rim was like a great blue eye staring upward.
"Upon it streamed seven shafts of radiance. They poured down upon the blue eye like cylindrical torrents; they were like shining pillars of light rising from a sapphire floor. "One was the tender pink of the pearl; one of the aurora's green; a third a deathly white; the fourth the blue in motherof-pearl; a shimmering column of pale amber; a beam of amethyst; a shaft of molten silver. Such are the colours of the seven lights that stream upon the Moon Pool. I drew closer, awestricken. The shafts did not illumine the depths. They played upon the surface and seemed there to diffuse, to melt into it. The Pool drank them?
"Through the water tiny gleams of phosphorescence began to dart, sparkles and coruscations of pale incandescence. And far, far below I sensed a movement, a shifting glow as of a radiant body slowly rising.
"I looked upward, following the radiant pillars to their source. Far above were seven shining globes, and it was from these that the rays poured. Even as I watched their brightness grew. They were like seven moons set high in some caverned heaven. Slowly their splendour increased, and with it the splendour of the seven beams streaming from them.
"I tore my gaze away and stared at the Pool. It had grown milky, opalescent. The rays gushing into it seemed to be filling it; it was alive with sparklings, scintillations, glimmerings. And the luminescence I had seen rising from its depths was larger, nearer!
"A swirl of mist floated up from its surface. It drifted within the embrace of the rosy beam and hung there for a moment. The beam seemed to embrace it, sending through it little shining corpuscles, tiny rosy spiralings. The mist absorbed the rays, was strengthened by them, gained substance. Another swirl sprang into the amber shaft, clung and fed there, moved swiftly toward the first and mingled with it. And now other swirls arose, here and there, too fast to be counted; hung poised in the embrace of the light streams; flashed and pulsed into each other.
"Thicker and thicker still they arose until over the surface of the Pool was a pulsating pillar of opalescent mist steadily growing stronger; drawing within it life from the seven beams falling upon it; drawing to it from below the darting, incandescent atoms of the Pool. Into its centre was passing the luminescence rising from the far depths. And the pillar glowed, throbbed--began to send out questing swirls and tendrils- "There forming before me was That which had walked with Stanton, which had taken Thora--the thing I had come to find!"My brain sprang into action. My hand threw up the pistol and I fired shot after shot into the shining core.
"As I fired, it swayed and shook; gathered again. I slipped a second clip into the automatic and another idea coming to me took careful aim at one of the globes in the roof. From thence I knew came the force that shaped this Dweller in the Pool--from the pouring rays came its strength. If I could destroy them I could check its forming. I fired again and again. If I hit the globes I did no damage. The little motes in their beams danced with the motes in the mist, troubled. That was all.
"But up from the Pool like little bells, like tiny bursting bubbles of glass, swarmed the tinkling sounds--their pitch higher, all their sweetness lost, angry.
"It caught me above the heart; wrapped itself around me. There rushed through me a mingled ecstasy and horror. Every atom of me quivered with delight and shrank with despair. There was nothing loathsome in it. But it was as though the icy soul of evil and the fiery soul of good had stepped together within me. The pistol dropped from my hand.
"So I stood while the Pool gleamed and sparkled; the streams of light grew more intense and the radiant Thing that held me gleamed and strengthened. Its shining core had shape
-but a shape that my eyes and brain could not define. It was as though a being of another sphere should assume what it might of human semblance, but was not able to conceal that what human eyes saw was but a part of it. It was neither man nor woman; it was unearthly and androgynous. Even as I found its human semblance it changed. And still the mingled rapture and terror held me. Only in a little corner of my brain dwelt something untouched; something that held itself apart and watched. Was it the soul? I have never believed--and yet- "Over the head of the misty body there sprang suddenly out seven little lights. Each was the colour of the beam beneath which it rested. I knew now that the Dweller was-complete!
"I heard a scream. It was Edith's voice. It came to me that she had heard the shots and followed me. I felt every faculty concentrate into a mighty effort. I wrenched myself free from the gripping tentacle and it swept back. I turned to catch Edith, and as I did so slipped--fell."The radiant shape above the Pool leaped swiftly--and straight into it raced Edith, arms outstretched to shield me from it! God!
"She threw herself squarely within its splendour," he whispered. "It wrapped its shining self around her. The crystal tinklings burst forth jubilantly. The light filled her, ran through and around her as it had with Stanton; and dropped down upon her face--the look!
"But her rush had taken her to the very verge of the Moon Pool. She tottered; she fell-with the radiance still holding her, still swirling and winding around and through her-into the Moon Pool! She sank, and with her went--the Dweller!
"I dragged myself to the brink. Far down was a shining, many-coloured nebulous cloud descending; out of it peered Edith's face, disappearing; her eyes stared up at me--and she vanished!
"'Edith!' I cried again. 'Edith, come back to me!' "And then a darkness fell upon me. I remember running back through the shimmering corridors and out into the courtyard. Reason had left me. When it returned I was far out at sea in our boat wholly estranged from civilization. A day later I was picked up by the schooner in which I came to Port Moresby.
"I have formed a plan; you must bear it, Goodwin--" He fell upon his berth. I bent over him. Exhaustion and the relief of telling his story had been too much for him. He slept like the dead.All that night I watched over him. When dawn broke I went to my room to get a little sleep myself. But my slumber was haunted. The next day the storm was unabated. Throckmartin came to me at lunch. He had regained much of his old alertness. "Come to my cabin," he said. There, he stripped his shirt from him. "Something is happening," he said. "The mark is smaller." It was as he said.
"I'm escaping," he whispered jubilantly, "Just let me get to Melbourne safely, and then we'll see who'll win! For, Walter, I'm not at all sure that Edith is dead--as we know death
-nor that the others are. There is something outside experience there--some great mystery."
"There's a natural explanation, of course," he said. "My theory is that the moon rock is of some composition sensitive to the action of moon rays; somewhat as the metal selenium is to sun rays. The little circles over the top are, without doubt, its operating agency. When the light strikes them they release the mechanism that opens the slab, just as you can open doors with sun or electric light by an ingenious arrangement of selenium-cells. Apparently it takes the strength of the full moon both to do this and to summon the Dweller in the Pool. We will first try a concentration of the rays of the waning moon upon these circles to see whether that will open the rock. If it does we will be able to investigate the Pool without interruption from--from--what emanates.
"Look, here on the chart are their locations. I have made this in duplicate for you in the event--of something happening--to me. And if I lose--you'll come after us, Goodwin, with help--won't you?"And again I promised. A little later he complained of increasing sleepiness.
"But it's just weariness," he said. "Not at all like that other drowsiness. It's an hour till moonrise still," he yawned at last. "Wake me up a good fifteen minutes before." He lay upon the berth. I sat thinking. I came to myself with a guilty start. I had completely lost myself in my deep preoccupation. What time was it? I looked at my watch and jumped to the port-hole. It was full moonlight; the orb had been up for fully half an hour. I strode over to Throckmartin and shook him by the shoulder.
"Up, quick, man!" I cried. He rose sleepily. His shirt fell open at the neck and I looked, in amazement, at the white band around his chest. Even under the electric light it shone softly, as though little flecks of light were in it.Throckmartin seemed only half-awake. He looked down at his breast, saw the glowing cincture, and smiled. "Yes," he said drowsily, "it's coming--to take me back to Edith! Well, I'm glad." "Throckmartin!" I cried. "Wake up! Fight!" "Fight!" he said. "No use; come after us!"
He went to the port and sleepily drew aside the curtain. The moon traced a broad path of light straight to the ship. Under its rays the band around his chest gleamed brighter and brighter; shot forth little rays; seemed to writhe.The lights went out in the cabin; evidently also throughout the ship, for I heard shoutings above.
Throckmartin still stood at the open port. Over his shoulder I saw a gleaming pillar racing along the moon path toward us. Through the window cascaded a blinding radiance. It gathered Throckmartin to it, clothed him in a robe of living opalescence. Light pulsed through and from him. The cabin filled with murmurings- A wave of weakness swept over me, buried me in blackness. When consciousness came back, the lights were again burning brightly.But of Throckmartin there was no trace!
Chapter 6. "The Shining Devil Took Them!"
MY COLLEAGUES of the Association, and you others who may read this my narrative, for what I did and did not when full realization returned I must offer here, briefly as I can, an explanation; a defense--if you will.
My first act was to spring to the open port. The coma had lasted hours, for the moon was now low in the west! I ran to the door to sound the alarm. It resisted under my frantic hands; would not open. Something fell tinkling to the floor. It was the key and I remembered then that Throckmartin had turned it before we began our vigil. With memory a hope died that I had not known was in me, the hope that he had escaped from the cabin, found refuge elsewhere on the ship.
And as I stooped, fumbling with shaking fingers for the key, a thought came to me that drove again the blood from my heart, held me rigid. I could sound no alarm on the Southern Queen for Throckmartin!
Conviction of my appalling helplessness was complete. The ensemble of the vessel from captain to cabin boy was, to put it conservatively, average. None, I knew, save Throckmartin and myself had seen the first apparition of the Dweller. Had they witnessed the second? I did not know, nor could I risk speaking, not knowing. And not seeing, how could they believe? They would have thought me insane-or worse; even, it might be, his murderer.
I snapped off the electrics; waited and listened; opened the door with infinite caution and slipped, unseen, into my own stateroom. The hours until the dawn were eternities of waking nightmare. Reason, resuming sway at last, steadied me. Even had I spoken and been believed where in these wastes after all the hours could we search for Throckmartin? Certainly the captain would not turn back to Port Moresby. And even if he did, of what use for me to set forth for the NanMatal without the equipment which Throckmartin himself had decided was necessary if one hoped to cope with the mystery that lurked there?
There was but one thing to do--follow his instructions; get the paraphernalia in Melbourne or Sydney if it were possible; if not sail to America as swiftly as might be, secure it there and as swiftly return to Ponape. And this I determined to do.
Calmness came back to me after I had made this decision. And when I went up on deck I knew that I had been right. They had not seen the Dweller. They were still discussing the darkening of the ship, talking of dynamos burned out, wires short circuited, a half dozen explanations of the extinguishment. Not until noon was Throckmartin's absence discovered. I told the captain that I had left him early in the evening; that, indeed, I knew him but slightly, after all. It occurred to none to doubt me, or to question me minutely. Why should it have? His strangeness had been noted, commented upon; all who had met him had thought him half mad. I did little to discourage the impression. And so it came naturally that on the log it was entered that he had fallen or leaped from the vessel some time during the night.
A report to this effect was made when we entered Melbourne. I slipped quietly ashore and in the press of the war news Throckmartin's supposed fate won only a few lines in the newspapers; my own presence on the ship and in the city passed unnoticed.
I was fortunate in securing at Melbourne everything I needed except a set of Becquerel ray condensers--but these were the very keystone of my equipment. Pursuing my search to Sydney I was doubly fortunate in finding a firm who were expecting these very articles in a consignment due them from the States within a fortnight. I settled down in strictest seclusion to await their arrival.
And now it will occur to you to ask why I did not cable, during this period of waiting, to the Association; demand aid from it. Or why I did not call upon members of the University staffs of either Melbourne or Sydney for assistance. At the least, why I did not gather, as Throckmartin had hoped to do, a little force of strong men to go with me to the Nan-Matal.
To the first two questions I answer frankly--I did not dare. And this reluctance, this inhibition, every man jealous of his scientific reputation will understand. The story of Throckmartin, the happenings I had myself witnessed, were incredible, abnormal, outside the facts of all known science. I shrank from the inevitable disbelief, perhaps ridicule-nay, perhaps even the graver suspicion that had caused me to seal my lips while on the ship. Why I myself could only half believe! How then could I hope to convince others?
And as for the third question--I could not take men into the range of such a peril without first warning them of what they might encounter; and if I did warn them- It was checkmate! If it also was cowardice--well, I have atoned for it. But I do not hold it so; my conscience is clear.
That fortnight and the greater part of another passed before the ship I awaited steamed into port. By that time, between my straining anxiety to be after Throckmartin, the despairing thought that every moment of delay might be vital to him and his, and my intensely eager desire to know whether that shining, glorious horror on the moon path did exist or had been hallucination, I was worn almost to the edge of madness.
At last the condensers were in my hands. It was more than a week later, however, before I could secure passage back to Port Moresby and it was another week still before I started north on the Suwarna, a swift little sloop with a fiftyhorsepower auxiliary, heading straight for Ponape and the Nan-Matal.
We sighted the Brunhilda some five hundred miles south of the Carolines. The wind had fallen soon after Papua had dropped astern. The Suwarna's ability to make her twelve knots an hour without it had made me very fully forgive her for not being as fragrant as the Javan flower for which she was named. Da Costa, her captain, was a garrulous Portuguese; his mate was a Canton man with all the marks of long and able service on some pirate junk; his engineer was a half-breed China-Malay who had picked up his knowledge of power plants, Heaven alone knew where, and, I had reason to believe, had transferred all his religious impulses to the American built deity of mechanism he so faithfully served. The crew was made up of six huge, chattering Tonga boys.
The Suwarna had cut through Finschafen Huon Gulf to the protection of the Bismarcks. She had threaded the maze of the archipelago tranquilly, and we were then rolling over the thousand-mile stretch of open ocean with New Hanover far behind us and our boat's bow pointed straight toward Nukuor of the Monte Verdes. After we had rounded Nukuor we should, barring accident, reach Ponape in not more than sixty hours.
It was late afternoon, and on the demure little breeze that marched behind us came farflung sighs of spice-trees and nutmeg flowers. The slow prodigious swells of the Pacific lifted us in gentle, giant hands and sent us as gently down the long, blue wave slopes to the next broad, upward slope. There was a spell of peace over the ocean, stilling even the Portuguese captain who stood dreamily at the wheel, slowly swaying to the rhythmic lift and fall of the sloop.There came a whining hail from the Tonga boy lookout draped lazily over the bow. "Sail he b'long port side!"
Da Costa straightened and gazed while I raised my glass. The vessel was a scant mile away, and must have been visible long before the sleepy watcher had seen her. She was a sloop about the size of the Suwarna, without power. All sails set, even to a spinnaker she carried, she was making the best of the little breeze. I tried to read her name, but the vessel jibed sharply as though the hands of the man at the wheel had suddenly dropped the helm--and then with equal abruptness swung back to her course. The stern came in sight, and on it I read Brunhilda.
I shifted my glasses to the man at wheel. He was crouching down over the spokes in a helpless, huddled sort of way, and even as I looked the vessel veered again, abruptly as before. I saw the helmsman straighten up and bring the wheel about with a vicious jerk.
He stood so for a moment, looking straight ahead, entirely oblivious of us, and then seemed again to sink down within himself. It came to me that his was the action of a man striving vainly against a weariness unutterable. I swept the deck with my glasses. There was no other sign of life. I turned to find the Portuguese staring intently and with puzzled air at the sloop, now separated from us by a scant half mile.
"Something veree wrong I think there, sair," he said in his curious English. "The man on deck I know. He is captain and owner of the Br-rwun'ild. His name Olaf Huldricksson, what you say--Norwegian. He is eithair veree sick or veree tired--but I do not undweerstand where is the crew and the starb'd boat is gone--"
He shouted an order to the engineer and as he did so the faint breeze failed and the sails of the Brunhilda flapped down inert. We were now nearly abreast and a scant hundred yards away. The engine of the Suwarna died and the Tonga boys leaped to one of the boats.
The man at the wheel turned toward us. He was a giant; his shoulders enormous, thick chested, strength in every line of him, he towered like a viking of old at the rudder bar of his shark ship.I raised the glass again; his face sprang into the lens and never have I seen a visage lined and marked as though by ages of unsleeping misery as was that of Olaf Huldricksson! The Tonga boys had the boat alongside and were waiting at the oars. The little captain was dropping into it.
"Wait!" I cried. I ran into my cabin, grasped my emergency medical kit and climbed down the rope ladder. The Tonga boys bent to the oars. We reached the side and Da Costa and I each seized a lanyard dangling from the stays and swung ourselves on board. Da Costa approached Huldricksson softly.
"What's the matter, Olaf?" he began--and then was silent, looking down at the wheel. The hands of Huldricksson were lashed fast to the spokes by thongs of thin, strong cord; they were swollen and black and the thongs had bitten into the sinewy wrists till they were hidden in the outraged flesh, cutting so deeply that blood fell, slow drop by drop, at his feet! We sprang toward him, reaching out hands to his fetters to loose them. Even as we touched them, Huldricksson aimed a vicious kick at me and then another at Da Costa which sent the Portuguese tumbling into the scuppers.
"Let be!" croaked Huldricksson; his voice was thick and lifeless as though forced from a dead throat; his lips were cracked and dry and his parched tongue was black. "Let be! Go! Let be!"
The Portuguese had picked himself up, whimpering with rage and knife in hand, but as Huldricksson's voice reached him he stopped. Amazement crept into his eyes and as he thrust the blade back into his belt they softened with pity.
"Something veree wrong wit' Olaf," he murmured to me. "I think he crazee!" And then Olaf Huldricksson began to curse us. He did not speak--he howled from that hideously dry mouth his imprecations. And all the time his red eyes roamed the seas and his hands, clenched and rigid on the wheel, dropped blood."I go below," said Da Costa nervously. "His wife, his daughter--" he darted down the companionway and was gone. Huldricksson, silent once more, had slumped down over the wheel. Da Costa's head appeared at the top of the companion steps. "There is nobody, nobody," he paused--then--"nobody --nowhere!" His hands flew out in a gesture of hopeless incomprehension. "I do not understan'." Then Olaf Huldricksson opened his dry lips and as he spoke a chill ran through me, checking my heart.
"The sparkling devil took them!" croaked Olaf Huldricksson, "the sparkling devil took them! Took my Helma and my little Freda! The sparkling devil came down from the moon and took them!"He swayed; tears dripped down his cheeks. Da Costa moved toward him again and again Huldricksson watched him, alertly, wickedly, from his bloodshot eyes. I took a hypodermic from my case and filled it with morphine. I drew Da Costa to me. "Get to the side of him," I whispered, "talk to him." He moved over toward the wheel. "Where is your Helma and Freda, Olaf?" he said. Huldricksson turned his head toward him. "The shining devil took them," he croaked. "The moon devil that spark--"
A yell broke from him. I had thrust the needle into his arm just above one swollen wrist and had quickly shot the drug through. He struggled to release himself and then began to rock drunkenly. The morphine, taking him in his weakness, worked quickly. Soon over his face a peace dropped. The pupils of the staring eyes contracted. Once, twice, he swayed and then, his bleeding, prisoned hands held high and still gripping the wheel, he crumpled to the deck.
With utmost difficulty we loosed the thongs, but at last it was done. We rigged a little swing and the Tonga boys slung the great inert body over the side into the dory. Soon we had Huldricksson in my bunk. Da Costa sent half his crew over to the sloop in charge of the Cantonese. They took in all sail, stripping Huldricksson's boat to the masts and then with the Brunhilda nosing quietly along after us at the end of a long hawser, one of the Tonga boys at her wheel, we resumed the way so enigmatically interrupted.I cleansed and bandaged the Norseman's lacerated wrists and sponged the blackened, parched mouth with warm water and a mild antiseptic.
Suddenly I was aware of Da Costa's presence and turned. His unease was manifest and held, it seemed to me, a queer, furtive anxiety.
"What you think of Olaf, sair?" he asked. I shrugged my shoulders. "You think he killed his woman and his babee?" He went on. "You think he crazee and killed all?"
"Nonsense, Da Costa," I answered. "You saw the boat was gone. Most probably his crew mutinied and to torture him tied him up the way you saw. They did the same thing with Hilton of the Coral Lady; you'll remember.""No," he said. "No. The crew did not. Nobody there on board when Olaf was tied." "What!" I cried, startled. "What do you mean?" "I mean," he said slowly, "that Olaf tie himself!"
"Wait!" he went on at my incredulous gesture of dissent. "Wait, I show you." He had been standing with hands behind his back and now I saw that he held in them the cut thongs that had bound Huldricksson. They were blood-stained and each ended in a broad leather tip skilfully spliced into the cord. "Look," he said, pointing to these leather ends. I looked and saw in them deep indentations of teeth. I snatched one of the thongs and opened the mouth of the unconscious man on the bunk. Carefully I placed the leather within it and gently forced the jaws shut on it. It was true. Those marks were where Olaf Huldricksson's jaws had gripped.
"Wait!" Da Costa repeated, "I show you." He took other cords and rested his hands on the supports of a chair back. Rapidly he twisted one of the thongs around his left hand, drew a loose knot, shifted the cord up toward his elbow. This left wrist and hand still free and with them he twisted the other cord around the right wrist; drew a similar knot. His hands were now in the exact position that Huldricksson's had been on the Brunhilda but with cords and knots hanging loose. Then Da Costa reached down his head, took a leather end in his teeth and with a jerk drew the thong that noosed his left hand tight; similarly he drew tight the second.He strained at his fetters. There before my eyes he had pinioned himself so that without aid he could not release himself. And he was exactly as Huldricksson had been!
"You will have to cut me loose, sair," he said. "I cannot move them. It is an old trick on these seas. Sometimes it is necessary that a man stand at the wheel many hours without help, and he does this so that if he sleep the wheel wake him, yes, sair."I looked from him to the man on the bed. "But why, sair," said Da Costa slowly, "did Olaf have to tie his hands?" I looked at him, uneasily. "I don't know," I answered. "Do you?" He fidgeted, avoided my eyes, and then rapidly, almost surreptitiously crossed himself. "No," he replied. "I know nothing. Some things I have heard--but they tell many tales on these seas."
He started for the door. Before he reached it he turned. "But this I do know," he half whispered, "I am damned glad there is no full moon tonight." And passed out, leaving me staring after him in amazement. What did the Portuguese know?I bent over the sleeper. On his face was no trace of that unholy mingling of opposites the Dweller stamped upon its victims. And yet--what was it the Norseman had said? "The sparkling devil took them!" Nay, he had been even more explicit--"The sparkling devil that came down from the moon!" Could it be that the Dweller had swept upon the Brunhilda, drawing down the moon path Olaf Huldricksson's wife and babe even as it had drawn Throckmartin?
As I sat thinking the cabin grew suddenly dark and from above came a shouting and patter of feet. Down upon us swept one of the abrupt, violent squalls that are met with in those latitudes. I lashed Huldricksson fast in the berth and ran up on deck.The long, peaceful swells had changed into angry, choppy waves from the tops of which the spindrift streamed in long stinging lashes.
A half-hour passed; the squall died as quickly as it had arisen. The sea quieted. Over in the west, from beneath the tattered, flying edge of the storm, dropped the red globe of the setting sun; dropped slowly until it touched the sea rim.I watched it--and rubbed my eyes and stared again. For over its flaming portal something huge and black moved, like a gigantic beckoning finger!
Da Costa had seen it, too, and he turned the Suwarna straight toward the descending orb and its strange shadow. As we approached we saw it was a little mass of wreckage and that the beckoning finger was a wing of canvas, sticking up and swaying with the motion of the waves. On the highest point of the wreckage sat a tall figure calmly smoking a cigarette.
We brought the Suwarna to, dropped a boat, and with myself as coxswain pulled toward a wrecked hydroairplane. Its occupant took a long puff at his cigarette, waved a cheerful hand, shouted a greeting. And just as he did so a great wave raised itself up behind him, took the wreckage, tossed it high in a swelter of foam, and passed on. When we had steadied our boat, where wreck and man had been was--nothing.
There came a tug at the side--, two muscular brown hands gripped it close to my left, and a sleek, black, wet head showed its top between them. Two bright, blue eyes that held deep within them a laughing deviltry looked into mine, and a long, lithe body drew itself gently over the thwart and seated its dripping self at my feet.
I saw a lean, intelligent face whose fighting jaw was softened by the wistfulness of the clean-cut lips and the honesty that lay side by side with the deviltry in the laughing blue eyes; nose of a thoroughbred with the suspicion of a tilt; long, well-knit, slender figure that I knew must have all the strength of fine steel; the uniform of a lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps of Britain's navy.He laughed, stretched out a firm hand, and gripped mine. "Thank you really ever so much, old man," he said.
I liked Larry O'Keefe from the beginning--but I did not dream as the Tonga boys pulled us back to the Suwarna bow that liking was to be forged into man's strong love for man by fires which souls such as his and mine--and yours who read this--could never dream.
Larry! Larry O'Keefe, where are you now with your leprechauns and banshee, your heart of a child, your laughing blue eyes, and your fearless soul? Shall I ever see you again, Larry O'Keefe, dear to me as some best beloved younger brother? Larry!
Chapter 7. Larry O'keefe
PRESSING BACK the questions I longed to ask, I introduced myself. Oddly enough, I found that he knew me, or rather my work. He had bought, it appeared, my volume upon the peculiar vegetation whose habitat is disintegrating lava rock and volcanic ash, that I had entitled, somewhat loosely, I could now perceive, Flora of the Craters. For he explained naively that he had picked it up, thinking it an entirely different sort of a book, a novel in fact--something like Meredith's Diana of the Crossways, which he liked greatly.He had hardly finished this explanation when we touched the side of the Suwarna, and I was forced to curb my curiosity until we reached the deck.
"That thing you saw me sitting on," he said, after he had thanked the bowing little skipper for his rescue, "was all that was left of one of his Majesty's best little hydroairplanes after that cyclone threw it off as excess baggage. And by the way, about where are we?"Da Costa gave him our approximate position from the noon reckoning. O'Keefe whistled. "A good three hundred miles from where I left the H.M.S. Dolphin about four hours ago," he said. "That squall I rode in on was some whizzer!
"The Dolphin," he went on, calmly divesting himself of his soaked uniform, "was on her way to Melbourne. I'd been yearning for a joy ride and went up for an alleged scouting trip. Then that blow shot out of nowhere, picked me up, and insisted that I go with it."About an hour ago I thought I saw a chance to zoom up and out of it, I turned, and BLICK went my right wing, and down I dropped." "I don't know how we can notify your ship, Lieutenant O'Keefe," I said. "We have no wireless." "Doctair Goodwin," said Da Costa, "we could change our course, sair--perhaps--"
"Thanks--but not a bit of it," broke in O'Keefe. "Lord alone knows where the Dolphin is now. Fancy she'll be nosing around looking for me. Anyway, she's just as apt to run into you as you into her. Maybe we'll strike something with a wireless, and I'll trouble you to put me aboard." He hesitated. "Where are you bound, by the way?" he asked."For Ponape," I answered. "No wireless there," mused O'Keefe. "Beastly hole. Stopped a week ago for fruit. Natives seemed scared to death at us--or something. What are you going there for?" Da Costa darted a furtive glance at me. It troubled me. O'Keefe noted my hesitation. "Oh, I beg your pardon," he said. "Maybe I oughn't to have asked that?" "It's no secret, Lieutenant," I replied. "I'm about to undertake some exploration work--a little digging among the ruins on the Nan-Matal."
I looked at the Portuguese sharply as I named the place. A pallor crept beneath his skin and again he made swiftly the sign of the cross, glancing as he did so fearfully to the north. I made up my mind then to question him when opportunity came. He turned from his quick scrutiny of the sea and addressed O'Keefe."There's nothing on board to fit you, Lieutenant."
"Oh, just give me a sheet to throw around me, Captain," said O'Keefe and followed him. Darkness had fallen, and as the two disappeared into Da Costa's cabin I softly opened the door of my own and listened. Huldricksson was breathing deeply and regularly.
I drew my electric-flash, and shielding its rays from my face, looked at him. His sleep was changing from the heavy stupor of the drug into one that was at least on the borderland of the normal. The tongue had lost its arid blackness and the mouth secretions had resumed action. Satisfied as to his condition I returned to deck.
O'Keefe was there, looking like a spectre in the cotton sheet he had wrapped about him. A deck table had been cleated down and one of the Tonga boys was setting it for our dinner. Soon the very creditable larder of the Suwarna dressed the board, and O'Keefe, Da Costa, and I attacked it. The night had grown close and oppressive. Behind us the forward light of the Brunhilda glided and the binnacle lamp threw up a faint glow in which her black helmsman's face stood out mistily. O'Keefe had looked curiously a number of times at our tow, but had asked no questions.
"You're not the only passenger we picked up today," I told him. "We found the captain of that sloop, lashed to his wheel, nearly dead with exhaustion, and his boat deserted by everyone except himself.""What was the matter?" asked O'Keefe in astonishment.
"We don't know," I answered. "He fought us, and I had to drug him before we could get him loose from his lashings. He's sleeping down in my berth now. His wife and little girl ought to have been on board, the captain here says, but-they weren't.""Wife and child gone!" exclaimed O'Keefe.
"From the condition of his mouth he must have been alone at the wheel and without water at least two days and nights before we found him," I replied. "And as for looking for anyone on these waters after such a time--it's hopeless."
"That's true," said O'Keefe. "But his wife and baby! Poor, poor devil!"
He was silent for a time, and then, at my solicitation, began to tell us more of himself. He had been little more than twenty when he had won his wings and entered the war. He had been seriously wounded at Ypres during the third year of the struggle, and when he recovered the war was over. Shortly after that his mother had died. Lonely and restless, he had re-entered the Air Service, and had remained in it ever since.
"And though the war's long over, I get homesick for the lark's land with the German planes playing tunes on their machine guns and their Archies tickling the soles of my feet," he sighed. "If you're in love, love to the limit; and if you hate, why hate like the devil and if it's a fight you're in, get where it's hottest and fight like hell--if you don't life's not worth the living," sighed he.
I watched him as he talked, feeling my liking for him steadily increasing. If I could but have a man like this beside me on the path of unknown peril upon which I had set my feet I thought, wistfully. We sat and smoked a bit, sipping the strong coffee the Portuguese made so well.
Da Costa at last relieved the Cantonese at the wheel. O'Keefe and I drew chairs up to the rail. The brighter stars shone out dimly through a hazy sky; gleams of phosphorescence tipped the crests of the waves and sparkled with an almost angry brilliance as the bow of the Suwarna tossed them aside. O'Keefe pulled contentedly at a cigarette. The glowing spark lighted the keen, boyish face and the blue eyes, now black and brooding under the spell of the tropic night."Are you American or Irish, O'Keefe?" I asked suddenly. "Why?" he laughed. "Because," I answered, "from your name and your service I would suppose you Irish--but your command of pure Americanese makes me doubtful." He grinned amiably.
"I'll tell you how that is," he said. "My mother was an American--a Grace, of Virginia. My father was the O'Keefe, of Coleraine. And these two loved each other so well that the heart they gave me is half Irish and half American. My father died when I was sixteen. I used to go to the States with my mother every other year for a month or two. But after my father died we used to go to Ireland every other year. And there you are--I'm as much American as I am Irish.
"When I'm in love, or excited, or dreaming, or mad I have the brogue. But for the everyday purpose of life I like the United States talk, and I know Broadway as well as I do Binevenagh Lane, and the Sound as well as St. Patrick's Channel; educated a bit at Eton, a bit at Harvard; always too much money to have to make any; in love lots of times, and never a heartache after that wasn't a pleasant one, and never a real purpose in life until I took the king's shilling and earned my wings; something over thirty--and that's me
"It was that," he said somberly, and I heard the brogue creep over his voice like velvet and his eyes grew brooding again. "There's never an O'Keefe for these thousand years that has passed without his warning. An' twice have I heard the banshee calling--once it was when my younger brother died an' once when my father lay waiting to be carried out on the ebb tide."
He mused a moment, then went on: "An' once I saw an Annir Choille, a girl of the green people, flit like a shade of green fire through Carntogher woods, an' once at Dunchraig I slept where the ashes of the Dun of Cormac MacConcobar are mixed with those of Cormac an' Eilidh the Fair, all burned in the nine flames that sprang from the harping of Cravetheen, an' I heard the echo of his dead harpings--"He paused again and then, softly, with that curiously sweet, high voice that only the Irish seem to have, he sang:
Woman of the white breasts, Eilidh;
Woman of the gold-brown hair, and lips of the red, red rowan, Where is the swan that is whiter, with breast more soft, Or the wave on the sea that moves as thou movest, Eilidh.
Chapter 8. Olaf's Story
THERE was a little silence. I looked upon him with wonder. Clearly he was in deepest earnest. I know the psychology of the Gael is a curious one and that deep in all their hearts their ancient traditions and beliefs have strong and living roots. And I was both amused and touched.
Here was this soldier, who had faced war and its ugly realities open-eyed and fearless, picking, indeed, the most dangerous branch of service for his own, a modern if ever there was one, appreciative of most unmystical Broadway, and yet soberly and earnestly attesting to his belief in banshee, in shadowy people of the woods, and phantom harpers! I wondered what he would think if he could see the Dweller and then, with a pang, that perhaps his superstitions might make him an easy prey.He shook his head half impatiently and ran a hand over his eyes; turned to me and grinned: "Don't think I'm cracked, Professor," he said. "I'm not. But it takes me that way now and then. It's the Irish in me. And, believe it or not, I'm telling you the truth." I looked eastward where the moon, now nearly a week past the full, was mounting.
"You can't make me see what you've seen, Lieutenant," I laughed. "But you can make me hear. I've always wondered what kind of a noise a disembodied spirit could make without any vocal cords or breath or any other earthly soundproducing mechanism. How does the banshee sound?"O'Keefe looked at me seriously.
"All right," he said. "I'll show you." From deep down in his throat came first a low, weird sobbing that mounted steadily into a keening whose mournfulness made my skin creep. And then his hand shot out and gripped my shoulder, and I stiffened like stone in my chair--for from behind us, like an echo, and then taking up the cry, swelled a wail that seemed to hold within it a sublimation of the sorrows of centuries! It gathered itself into one heartbroken, sobbing note and died away! O'Keefe's grip loosened, and he rose swiftly to his feet."It's all right, Professor," he said. "It's for me. It found me--all this way from Ireland." Again the silence was rent by the cry. But now I had located it. It came from my room, and it could mean only one thing--Huldricksson had wakened.
"Forget your banshee!" I gasped, and made a jump for the cabin. Out of the corner of my eye I noted a look of half-sheepish relief flit over O'Keefe's face, and then he was beside me. Da Costa shouted an order from the wheel, the Cantonese ran up and took it from his hands and the little Portuguese pattered down toward us. My hand on the door, ready to throw it open, I stopped. What if the Dweller were within-what if we had been wrong and it was not dependent for its power upon that full flood of moon ray which Throckmartin had thought essential to draw it from the blue pool!
From within, the sobbing wail began once more to rise. O'Keefe pushed me aside, threw open the door and crouched low within it. I saw an automatic flash dully in his hand; saw it cover the cabin from side to side, following the swift sweep of his eyes around it. Then he straightened and his face, turned toward the berth, was filled with wondering pity.
Through the window streamed a shaft of the moonlight. It fell upon Huldricksson's staring eyes; in them great tears slowly gathered and rolled down his cheeks; from his opened mouth came the woe-laden wailing. I ran to the port and drew the curtains. Da Costa snapped the lights.
The Norseman's dolorous crying stopped as abruptly as though cut. His gaze rolled toward us. And at one bound he broke through the leashes I had buckled round him and faced us, his eyes glaring, his yellow hair almost erect with the force of the rage visibly surging through him. Da Costa shrunk behind me. O'Keefe, coolly watchful, took a quick step that brought him in front of me."Where do you take me?" said Huldricksson, and his voice was like the growl of a beast. "Where is my boat?" I touched O'Keefe gently and stood before the giant.
"Listen, Olaf Huldricksson," I said. "We take you to where the sparkling devil took your Helma and your Freda. We follow the sparkling devil that came down from the moon. Do you hear me?" I spoke slowly, distinctly, striving to pierce the mists that I knew swirled around the strained brain. And the words did pierce.He thrust out a shaking hand. "You say you follow?" he asked falteringly. "You know where to follow? Where it took my Helma and my little Freda?" "Just that, Olaf Huldricksson," I answered. "Just that! I pledge you my life that I know." Da Costa stepped forward. "He speaks true, Olaf. You go faster on the Suwarna than on the Br-rw-un'ilda, Olaf, yes."
The giant Norseman, still gripping my hand, looked at him. "I know you, Da Costa," he muttered. "You are all right. Ja! You are a fair man. Where is the Brunhilda?" "She follow be'ind on a big rope, Olaf," soothed the Portuguese. "Soon you see her. But now lie down an' tell us, if you can, why you tie yourself to your wheel an' what it is that happen, Olaf.""If you'll tell us how the sparkling devil came it will help us all when we get to where it is, Huldricksson," I said.
On O'Keefe's face there was an expression of well-nigh ludicrous doubt and amazement. He glanced from one to the other. The giant shifted his own tense look from me to the Irishman. A gleam of approval lighted in his eyes. He loosed me, and gripped O'Keefe's arm. "Staerk!" he said. "Ja-strong, and with a strong heart. A man--ja! He comes too-we shall need him--ja!"
"I tell," he muttered, and seated himself on the side of the bunk. "It was four nights ago. My Freda"--his voice shook --"Mine Yndling! She loved the moonlight. I was at the wheel and my Freda and my Helma they were behind me. The moon was behind us and the Brunhilda was like a swanboat sailing down with the moonlight sending her, ja.
"I heard my Freda say: 'I see a nisse coming down the track of the moon.' And I hear her mother laugh, low, like a mother does when her Yndling dreams. I was happy--that night
-with my Helma and my Freda, and the Brunhilda sailing like a swan-boat, ja. I heard the child say, 'The nisse comes fast!' And then I heard a scream from my Helma, a great scream--like a mare when her foal is torn from her. I spun around fast, ja! I dropped the wheel and spun fast! I saw--" He covered his eyes with his hands.
"I saw a white fire spring over the rail," whispered Olaf Huldricksson. "It whirled round and round, and it shone like --like stars in a whirlwind mist. There was a noise in my ears. It sounded like bells--little bells, ja! Like the music you make when you run your finger round goblets. It made me sick and dizzy--the hell noise.
"My Helma was--indeholde--what you say--in the middle of the white fire. She turned her face to me and she turned it on the child, and my Helma's face burned into my heart. Because it was full of fear, and it was full of happiness--of glaede. I tell you that the fear in my Helma's face made me ice here"--he beat his breast with clenched hand-"but the happiness in it burned on me like fire. And I could not move--I could not move.
"I said in here"--he touched his head--"I said, 'It is Loki come out of Helvede. But he cannot take my Helma, for Christ lives and Loki has no power to hurt my Helma or my Freda! Christ lives! Christ lives!' I said. But the sparkling devil did not let my Helma go. It drew her to the rail; half over it. I saw her eyes upon the child and a little she broke away and reached to it. And my Freda jumped into her arms. And the fire wrapped them both and they were gone! A little I saw them whirling on the moon track behind the Brunhilda--and they were gone!
"The sparkling devil took them! Loki was loosed, and he had power. I turned the Brunhilda, and I followed where my Helma and mine Yndling had gone. My boys crept up and asked me to turn again. But I would not. They dropped a boat and left me. I steered straight on the path. I lashed my hands to the wheel that sleep might not loose them. I steered on and on and on- "Where was the God I prayed when my wife and child were taken?" cried Olaf Huldricksson--and it was as though I heard Throckmartin asking that same bitter question. "I have left Him as He left me, ja! I pray now to Thor and to Odin, who can fetter Loki." He sank back, covering again his eyes.
"Olaf," I said, "what you have called the sparkling devil has taken ones dear to me. I, too, was following it when we found you. You shall go with me to its home, and there we will try to take from it your wife and your child and my friends as well. But now that you may be strong for what is before us, you must sleep again."
Olaf Huldricksson looked upon me and in his eyes was that something which souls must see in the eyes of Him the old Egyptians called the Searcher of Hearts in the Judgment Hall of Osiris."You speak truth!" he said at last slowly. "I will do what you say!"
He stretched out an arm at my bidding. I gave him a second injection. He lay back and soon he was sleeping. I turned toward Da Costa. His face was livid and sweating, and he was trembling pitiably. O'Keefe stirred."You did that mighty well, Dr. Goodwin," he said. "So well that I almost believed you myself." "What did you think of his story, Mr. O'Keefe?" I asked. His answer was almost painfully brief and colloquial. "Nuts!" he said. I was a little shocked, I admit. "I think he's crazy, Dr. Goodwin," he corrected himself, quickly. "What else could I think?" I turned to the little Portuguese without answering. "There's no need for any anxiety tonight, Captain," I said. "Take my word for it. You need some rest yourself. Shall I give you a sleeping draft?" "I do wish you would, Dr. Goodwin, sair," he answered gratefully. "Tomorrow, when I feel bettair--I would have a talk with you."
I nodded. He did know something then! I mixed him an opiate of considerable strength. He took it and went to his own cabin.
I locked the door behind him and then, sitting beside the sleeping Norseman, I told O'Keefe my story from end to end. He asked few questions as I spoke. But after I had finished he cross-examined me rather minutely upon my recollections of the radiant phases upon each appearance, checking these with Throckmartin's observations of the same phenomena in the Chamber of the Moon Pool.
"Not what you seem to think, Dr. Goodwin," he answered at last, gravely. "Let me sleep over it. One thing of course is certain--you and your friend Throckmartin and this man here saw--something. But--" he was silent again and then continued with a kindness that I found vaguely irritating-"but I've noticed that when a scientist gets superstitious it-er-takes very hard!
"Here's a few things I can tell you now though," he went on while I struggled to speak--"I pray in my heart that we'll meet neither the Dolphin nor anything with wireless on board going up. Because, Dr. Goodwin, I'd dearly love to take a crack at your Dweller.
"And another thing," said O'Keefe. "After this--cut out the trimmings, Doc, and call me plain Larry, for whether I think you're crazy or whether I don't, you're there with the nerve, Professor, and I'm for YOU."Good night!" said Larry and took himself out to the deck hammock he had insisted upon having slung for him, refusing the captain's importunities to use his own cabin.
And it was with extremely mixed emotions as to his compliment that I watched him go. Superstitious. I, whose pride was my scientific devotion to fact and fact alone! Superstitious--and this from a man who believed in banshees and ghostly harpers and Irish wood nymphs and no doubt in leprechauns and all their tribe!
Half laughing, half irritated, and wholly happy in even the part promise of Larry O'Keefe's comradeship on my venture, I arranged a couple of pillows, stretched myself out on two chairs and took up my vigil beside Olaf Huldricksson.